(It will be recalled Mr. Tasker expected to learn during young Buckminster’s next guitar lesson the identity of the bullies tormenting him; but the boy never appeared.)
The growing swell of nervous, anxious, angry conversations ended abruptly with the arrival of the Headmaster. He was a large man, portly, his appearance altogether fitting for his role. He took his seat at the head of the long table with a harrumph. The room was not large, with the full complement of administrators and boarding staff seated at the table, the entire faculty room was necessarily dedicated to the purpose of the meeting. All eyes turned to Headmaster Rockhill, who in turn studied each face, moving in a clockwise direction around the table, pausing longer on the visages of Mr. Porthall, Mr. Gardner and my unworthy self, to scathing effect. It was immediately apparent to all he considered us in some way responsible for the meeting.
“We have a runner,” he said, finally, harrumphing once again.
This pronouncement was followed by silence. The headmaster allowed it to continue, played it as he watched us search each other’s faces for hints. Who knew about this? Which child had run? What was the cause?
Once satisfied his pause had the desired effect, Mr. Rockhill fixed his eyes upon Mr. Porthall. “Please report your findings, sir,” he said, and sat back, tapping a tattoo with his fingers upon the wooden arm of his chair.
Mr. Porthall bounded to his feet. “Yes sir, thank you, sir,” he said and cast sheep eyes at Mr. Rockhill. He now toured the faces at the table one by one in a weaker imitation of the headmaster’s manner, but finding his own attempt falling short, he began to speak.
“Last night at precisely 7:26 pm I released Mr. Connor Buckminster from the schoolroom to attend his guitar lesson with Mr. Tasker, as I do every Tuesday night at that precise time.” Mr. Porthall’s gaze turned pointedly to me and moved on, flitting away as if I were unworthy of more detailed inspection. “Mr. Tasker waited the entire half hour for young Buckminster to arrive. It is unfortunate Mr. Tasker did not report this absence before the entire period had passed.”
Caught by surprise, I opened my mouth to object, but with a flick of his hand Headmaster Rockhill motioned me to silence.
“When Mr. Tasker did finally come to the schoolroom to report young Connor’s unaccountable absence, I immediately impelled a complete search of the building, beginning with Mr. Buckminster’s quarters in the Cave.”
Mr. Porthall now fixed his gaze upon Mr. Gardner, who could not completely conceal his dismay and presented for all the look of a dog having puddled on a new carpet. Cringing in anticipation, he waited his turn to become the object of Porthall’s verbal assault. His wait was not long.
“Mr. Gardner informed me he had not seen Mr. Buckminster all evening, indeed not since his charge departed for dinner. He stated that the young man had not returned to his cubicle following the meal, nor at any time since. Mr. Gardner also informed me of his concerns regarding ongoing incidents of bullying he believes the lad has suffered since the term began, incidents which should have been reported up the chain of command, but unfortunately were not. Had we known of this behavior, we most certainly would have initiated an immediate response.”
At this juncture Mr. Porthall paused to glance at the Headmaster, who nodded his head to punctuate the seriousness of these charges.
Mr. Gardner’s face had turned ghostly white.
“Our search produced no results,” Mr. Porthall said. “Further, nothing appeared to be missing from Buckminster’s wardrobe. His wallet and personal items were all in place. Of course, I let no time lapse before reporting all of this to Headmaster Rockhill. Our search continued into other buildings and eventually the entire campus. Up to this moment, we have seen neither hide nor hair of Mr. Buckminster.”
Having completed his statement, Porthall stood, a reed swaying in the breeze, until Headmaster Rockhill indicated he might sit. The headmaster turned next to the school business manager, a man with hawk-like nose mounted upon a sharp predatory countenance.
“Mr. Fremont, what is the condition of Mr. Buckminster’s account, if you please?”
“It is paid in full, Sir.”
“I see. Then I suppose we should try to find the young man.”
The assembled staff smiled obediently at this apparent attempt at humor. The Headmaster, however, turned to Mr. Fremont with creased brow.
“My question was in regard to withdrawals, not deposits, Sir. Is there any indication the lad had withdrawn sufficient funds for travel?”
Mr. Fremont turned quite red in the face. “Oh, of course. That is, no, he has not withdrawn any large sums. His last withdrawal”––here he considered an account book––”was five dollars and fifty cents.”
“Hardly enough.” Headmaster Rockhill looked around the table. “Those of you who have not been with us long may be surprised to learn how determined some boys are to run away. It is not this institution they seek to escape, it is their perceived lot in life. We had one young man make it as far as Detroit.” He harrumphed and cast an eye upon Mr. Fremont. “However, five dollars and fifty cents suggests more of an appetite for candy bars than a journey.” He looked around the table. “It is apparent to me the lad had no preconceived plan to depart the premises. The fact he left his wallet and other valuables behind strongly suggests he wandered off on impulse once he departed the schoolroom last evening. I have alerted the local police in case he has left the campus. However, I should not be surprised to find he has not even left the building and might at this very moment be closeted somewhere, dispirited and afraid.”
He stood. Placing his palms on the surface of the table, the Headmaster leaned forward. “We shall carry on with our regular schedule. However, during your free periods I expect all hands on deck. We shall mount a continuous and extremely thorough search of all the buildings on campus.”