WHEN Bill came back for longleave that autumn half, he had before him a complicated programme of entertainment. Thomas, the keeper, whom he revered more than anyone else in the world, was to take him in the afternoon to try for a duck in the big marsh called Alemoor. In the evening Hallowe’en was to be celebrated in the nursery with his small brother Peter, and he was to be permitted to come down to dinner, and to sit up afterwards until ten o’clock. Next day, which was Sunday, would be devoted to wandering about with Peter, hearing from him all the appetising home news, and pouring into his greedy ears the gossip of the foreign world of school. On Monday morning, after a walk with the dogs, he was to motor to London, lunch with Aunt Alice, and then, after a noble tea, return to school in time for lockup.This seemed to Bill to be all that could be desired in the way of excitement. But he did not know just how exciting that longleave was destined to be.The first shadow of a cloud appeared after luncheon, when he had changed into knickerbockers and Thomas and the dogs were waiting by the gunroom door. Bill could not find his own proper stick. It was a long hazel staff, given him by the second stalker at Glenmore the year beforea staff rather taller than Bill, a glossy hazel, with a shapely polished crook, and without a ferrule, like all good stalkingsticks.He hunted for it high and low, but it could not be found. Without it in his hand Bill felt that the expedition lacked something vital, and he was not prepared to take instead one of his father’s shootingsticks, as Groves, the butler, recommended. Nor would he accept a knobbly cane proffered by Peter. Feeling a little aggrieved and imperfectly equipped, he rushed out to join Thomas. He would cut himself an ashplant in the first hedge.In the first halfmile he met two magpies, and this should have told him that something was going to happen. It is right to take off your cap to a single magpie, or to three, or to five, but never to an even number, for an even number means mischief. But Bill, looking out for ashplants, was heedless, and had uncovered his head before he remembered the rule.