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Orpheus in Mayfair and Other Short Stories

The Thief
To Jack Gordon
Hart Minor and Smith were behind-hand with their sums. It was Hart Minor's first
term: Smith had already been one term at school. They were in the fourth
division at St. James's. A certain number of sums in short division had to be
finished. Hart Minor and Smith got up early to finish these sums before breakfast,
which was at half-past seven. Hart Minor divided slowly, and Smith reckoned
quickly. Smith finished his sums with ease. When half-past seven struck, Hart
Minor had finished four of them and there was still a fifth left: 3888 had to be
divided by 36; short division had to be employed. Hart Minor was busily trying to
divide 3888 by 4 and by 9; he had got as far as saying, "Four's into 38 will go six
times and two over; four's into twenty-eight go seven times; four's into eight go
twice." He was beginning to divide 672 by 9, an impossible task, when the
breakfast bell rang, and Smith said to him: "Come on!"
"I can't," said Hart Minor, "I haven't finished my sum."
Smith glanced at his page and said: "Oh that's all right, don't you see? The
answer's 108."
Hart Minor wrote down 108 and put a large R next to the sum, which meant
Right.
The boys went in to breakfast. After breakfast they returned to the fourth division
schoolroom, where they were to be instructed in arithmetic for an hour by Mr.
Whitehead. Mr. Whitehead called for the sums. He glanced through Smith's and
found them correct, and then through Hart Minor's. His attention was arrested by
the last division.
"What's this?" he demanded. "Four's into thirty-eight don't go six times. You've
got the right answer and the wrong working. What does this mean?" And Mr.
Whitehead bit his knuckles savagely. "Somebody," he said, "has been helping
you."
Hart Minor owned that he had received help from Smith. Mr. Whitehead shook
him violently, and said, "Do you know what this means?"
Hart Minor had no sort of idea as to the inner significance of his act, except that
he had finished his sums.
"It means," said Mr. Whitehead, "that you're a cheat and a thief: you've been
stealing marks. For the present you can stand on the stool of penitence and I'll
see what is to be done with you later."
The stool of penitence was a high, three-cornered stool, very narrow at the top.
When boys in this division misbehaved themselves they had to stand on it during
the rest of the lesson in the middle of the room.
Hart Minor fetched the stool of penitence and climbed up on it. It wobbled
horribly.
After the lesson, which was punctuated throughout by Mr. Whitehead with bitter
comments on the enormity of theft, the boys went to chapel. Smith and Hart were
in the choir: they wore white surplices which were put on in the vestry. Hart
Minor, who knew that he was in for a terrific row of some kind, thought he
 
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