The Spike: or, Victoria College Review, October 1913
Puck at Salamanca
Puck at Salamanca.
It was too hot for tennis on the exposed courts at Salamanca, so Dan and Una decided to visit their old friend, Mr. Brook, the janitor. They found him in his room, as full of wise saws and mystical sayings as ever. He took the children to afternoon tea with him, in the cool, little room beneath the stairway, and afterwards the three retired to the shade of the trees in the old plantation which faced the Park. They sat down on a pretty rustic bench beneath a large birch tree, labelled with a huge Latin name, over which Dan puzzled his brain for some time.
"Who was Hon. A. L. Herdman?" finally demanded Dan. Dan pronounced the first word as Cockneys pronounce the preposition.
"Oh, 'e was the gentleman 'oo planted this tree," responded the concierge. "But that was a long time ago, w'en my great-great-uncle was 'ere in charge. The stoodents worked 'ard in those days to make the grounds pretty-at least some of them did. Two of the professors 'elped them. It was a hold identity named Kirk 'oo gave this tree its 'orrid name."
"Yes," cried Una, clapping her hands. "I've heard mother say that her grandfather used to speak of that. He was a student then, and helped Professor Kirk and another funny little professor to dig holes and plant trees. Oh-you're not going, are you?" she added, as Mr. Brook rose to his feet.
"Yes, I must. I 'ear a noise in the hall, and I must go and stop it, or I shall get into trouble."
As he disappeared, they heard a rustling in the bushes behind them, and Puck suddenly appeared with the usual grin on his freckled face. His cap seemed more pointed than ever, and his eyes twinkled with amusement.
"By Oak, Ash, and Thorn," he cried, "those unruly young rips will be the death of poor Brook. They have page 17 not changed a bit since the days when this plantation was nothing but a clay patch." Then, turning round, he added to someone whom he was evidently expecting, "Come on, Baron. It's only the children."
A tall, large-boned man, with pince-nez well forward on his nose, his chin tilted high in the air, and a shrewd look on his face, came briskly forward. Dan was fascinated by the manner in which he incessantly fingered his watch-chain, allowing the links to trickle through his fingers, and then twisting the chain into knots, only to unloosen them and re-commence.
"Well, Sir Von," Puck boomed. "Back once again to your old haunts?"
The stranger looked at Puck over the rims of his pince-nez, and twisted his chain more violently than before.
"I am a modest man," he began, snapping his lips tightly at each final consonant.
"We know that," said Puck, drily. "But these young people wish to hear of the days when this shady grove was not."
"Y' zee, it was in this way," began he whom Puck had called Sir Von; but Dan's eyes remained fixed on the chain, while Una murmured, "What a dear old thing."
"Don't do that," whispered Puck to Dan. "The ancients of 1911 used to make fun of him for that, and he doesn't like it."
Dan reluctantly took his eyes from the stranger's fancy waistcoat, and looked at the high forehead and intelligent face of the visitor as Puck whispered, "You shall hear what you shall hear."
"You want to hear of the struggle, um—m? Well—it was thus, meine lieben Kinder. We of the higher rank in those days had a grievance against the Chancelloric powers that were so did the students, and they showed their disapproval in a very decided way—such ways, of course, we could not adopt."
"The students stampeded," whispered Puck in explanation to Una.
"Of course the newspapers, knowing nothing, as usual, sided with the man in power."page 18
"That was Sir Robert," said Puck.
"We seized our pens and wrote volumes to the newspapers we circulated petitions we summoned meetings we gave evidence before Commissions. Ah! how we worked, did we not, um—m? Y'zee, we wanted to have the sole right to 'pluck' students.'
Una's eyes opened very wide, but Dan, with fuller knowledge, whispered proudly, "Silly! he means fail them" while Puck grinned approval.
"We Salamancans were workers. I was diplomatic, 'though I say it, as shouldn't,' as my old friend Mr. Brook would observe."
"Your Brook's great-great-uncle," explained Puck.
"There were the rasher spirits, such as Hunter and Picken the cannier men, such as anti-Garland Mac. and myself; and the trimmers, like my classical friend of those days. The Chancellor repulsed us in every way. He even termed us—us—unruly! Oh! he called us heaps and heaps of names."
Dan, whose eyes had again wandered to the watch-chain, looked up quickly as the stranger snapped out the labial consonants.
"However," Sir Von continued, "like Brer Rabbit, we lay low and bided our time. Our ex-student, Eich, the genial, ein schlauer Kerl, prepared a lengthy statement, which even the Chancellor could not understand. Zee—he used such quite overwhelming legal and technical phraseology that Sir Robert was flabbergasted. I am a modest man"—Puck grinned broadly—"and I confess that even I could not understand it, though I attended the lectures of my estimable colleague, Garrow, and carefully studied his notes. On reading Siegfried's statement, the Chancellor fainted—for the first and only time in his life. When he had recovered, he fell back on his old terms—'unruly students, disgraceful scenes, never happened at Cambridge, unmannerly, ignorant boys, backed by young and inexperienced professors'—but all was useless. The newspaper reporters didn't understand Eichel's article, so they concluded it was very clever and learned; and without the support of the highly-trained staffs of the dailies the 'justice' was powerless. He resigned; the page 19 Senate elected our man, and from that time we examined."
"But didn't you examine before that?" queried Puck for the benefit of the children.
"You know," said Sir Von. "But now the professors in New Zealand alone do it and the students so inclined can drown their sorrows in December instead of waiting till March."
"Look," whispered Una to Dan. "There's Mr. Brook coming back. He'll see Sir Von."
"Yes," said Dan, "and Puck can't magic us this time. But what's drown your sorrows, and who was anti-Garland Mac., and Ike?" he ungrammatically added, turning to the visitor.
"And what did the students do?" asked Una excitedly." And who was elected Chancellor, and what did Sir Robert do, and what's a 'slauer kerl'?"
"Another time—um-m?" Sir Von's voice sounded far-off. Then they heard Brook say, "Come along, Dan and Una it's time to go home."
"We had such a good game," said Dan. And he honestly believed they had for he had not noticed the Oak, Ash, and Thorn leaves, which Puck had taken from the neighbouring trees, and had slyly thrown into their laps.