The Captain, March 1904
the league revealed.
HAT do you think of that?” said Clowes.
Trevor said nothing. He could not quite grasp the situation. It was not only that he had got the idea so firmly into his head that it was Rand-Brown who had sent the letters and appropriated the bat. Even supposing he had not suspected Rand-Brown, he would never have dreamed of suspecting Ruthven. They had been friends. Not very close friends—Trevor’s keenness for games and Ruthven’s dislike of them prevented that—but a good deal more than acquaintances. He was so constituted that he could not grasp the frame of mind required for such an action as Ruthven’s. It was something absolutely abnormal.
Clowes was equally surprised, but for a different reason. It was not so much the enormity of Ruthven’s proceedings that took him aback. He believed him, with that cheerful intolerance which a certain type of mind affects, capable of anything. What surprised him was the fact that Ruthven had had the ingenuity and even the daring to conduct a campaign of this description. Cribbing in examinations he would have thought the limit of his crimes. Something backboneless and underhand of that kind would not have surprised him in the least. He would have said that it was just about what he had expected all along. But that Ruthven should blossom out suddenly as quite an ingenious and capable criminal in this way, was a complete surprise.
“Well, perhaps you’ll make a remark?” he said, turning to Ruthven.
Ruthven, looking very much like a passenger on a Channel steamer who has just discovered that the motion of the vessel is affecting him unpleasantly, had fallen into a chair when Clowes handed him off. He sat there with a look on his pasty face which was not good to see, as silent as Trevor. It seemed that whatever conversation there was going to be would have to take the form of a soliloquy from Clowes.
Clowes took a seat on the corner of the table.
“It seems to me, Ruthven,” he said, “that you’d better say something. At present there’s a lot that wants explaining. As this bat has been found lying in your drawer, I suppose we may take it that you’re the impolite letter-writer?”
Ruthven found his voice at last.
“I’m not,” he cried; “I never wrote a line.”
“Now we’re getting at it,” said Clowes. “I thought you couldn’t have had it in you to carry this business through on your own. Apparently you’ve only been the sleeping partner in this show. Though I suppose it was you who ragged Trevor’s study? Not much sleeping about that. You took over the acting branch of the concern for that day only, I expect. Was it you who ragged the study?”
Ruthven stared into the fire, but said nothing.
“Must be polite, you know, Ruthven, and answer when you’re spoken to. Was it you who ragged Trevor’s study?”
“Yes,” said Ruthven.
“Why, of course, I met you just outside,” said Trevor, speaking for the first time. “You were the chap who told me what had happened.”
Ruthven said nothing.
“The ragging of the study seems to have been all the active work he did,” remarked Clowes.
“No,” said Trevor, “he posted the letters, whether he wrote them or not. Milton was telling me—you remember? I told you. No, I didn’t. Milton found out that the letters were posted by a small, light-haired fellow.”
“That’s him,” said Clowes, as regardless of grammar as the monks of Rheims, pointing with the poker at Ruthven’s immaculate locks. “Well, you ragged the study, and posted the letters. That was all your share. Am I right in thinking Rand-Brown was the other partner?”
Silence from Ruthven.
“Am I?” persisted Clowes.
“You may think what you like. I don’t care.”
“Now we’re getting rude again,” complained Clowes. “Was Rand-Brown in this?”
“Yes,” said Ruthven.
“Thought so. And who else?”
“I tell you there was no one else. Can’t you believe a word a chap says?”
“A word here and there, perhaps,” said Clowes, as one making a concession, “but not many, and this isn’t one of them. Have another shot.”
Ruthven relapsed into silence.
“All right, then,” said Clowes, “we’ll accept that statement. There’s just a chance that it may be true. And that’s about all, I think. This isn’t my affair at all, really. It’s yours, Trevor. I’m only a spectator and camp-follower. It’s your business. You’ll find me in my study.” And putting the poker carefully in its place, Clowes left the room. He went into his study, and tried to begin some work. But the beauties of the second book of Thucydides failed to appeal to him. His mind was elsewhere. He felt too excited with what had just happened to translate Greek. He pulled up a chair in front of the fire, and gave himself up to speculating how Trevor was getting on in the neighbouring study. He was glad he had left him to finish the business. If he had been in Trevor’s place, there was nothing he would so greatly have disliked as to have some one—however familiar a friend—interfering in his wars and settling them for him. Left to himself, Clowes would probably have ended the interview by kicking Ruthven into the nearest approach to pulp compatible with the laws relating to manslaughter. He had an uneasy suspicion that Trevor would let him down far too easily.
The handle turned. Trevor came in, and pulled up another chair in silence. His face wore a look of disgust. But there were no signs of combat upon him. The toe of his boot was not worn and battered, as Clowes would have liked to have seen it. Evidently he had not chosen to adopt active and physical measures for the improvement of Ruthven’s moral well-being.
“Well?” said Clowes.
“My word, what a hound!” breathed Trevor, half to himself.
“My sentiments to a hair,” said Clowes, approvingly. “But what have you done?”
“I didn’t do anything.”
“I was afraid you wouldn’t. Did he give any explanation? What made him go in for the thing at all? What earthly motive could he have for not wanting Barry to get his colours, bar the fact that Rand-Brown didn’t want him to? And why should he do what Rand-Brown told him? I never even knew they were pals, before to-day.”
“He told me a good deal,” said Trevor. “It’s one of the beastliest things I ever heard. They neither of them come particularly well out of the business, but Rand-Brown comes worse out of it even than Ruthven. My word, that man wants killing.”
“That’ll keep,” said Clowes, nodding. “What’s the yarn?”
“Do you remember about a year ago a chap named Patterson getting sacked?”
Clowes nodded again. He remembered the case well. Patterson had had gambling transactions with a Wrykyn tradesman, had been found out, and had gone.
“You remember what a surprise it was to everybody. It wasn’t one of those cases where half the school suspects what’s going on. Those cases always come out sooner or later. But Patterson nobody knew about.”
“Nobody,” said Trevor, “except Ruthven, that is. Ruthven got to know somehow. I believe he was a bit of a pal of Patterson’s at the time. Anyhow,—they had a row, and Ruthven went to Dexter—Patterson was in Dexter’s—and sneaked. Dexter promised to keep his name out of the business, and went straight to the old man, and Patterson got turfed out on the spot. Then somehow or other Rand-Brown got to know about it—I believe Ruthven must have told him by accident some time or other. After that he simply had to do everything Rand-Brown wanted him to. Otherwise he said that he would tell the chaps about the Patterson affair. That put Ruthven in a dead funk.”
“Of course,” said Clowes; “I should imagine friend Ruthven would have got rather a bad time of it. But what made them think of starting the League? It was a jolly smart idea. Rand-Brown’s, of course?”
“Yes. I suppose he’d heard about it, and thought something might be made out of it if it were revived.”
“And were Ruthven and he the only two in it?”
“Ruthven swears they were, and I shouldn’t wonder if he wasn’t telling the truth, for once in his life. You see, everything the League’s done so far could have been done by him and Rand-Brown, without anybody else’s help. The only other studies that were ragged were Mill’s and Milton’s—both in Seymour’s.”
“Yes,” said Clowes.
There was a pause. Clowes put another shovelful of coal on the fire.
“What are you going to do to Ruthven?”
“Nothing? Hang it, he doesn’t deserve to get off like that. He isn’t as bad as Rand-Brown—quite—but he’s pretty nearly as finished a little beast as you could find.”
“Finished is just the word,” said Trevor. “He’s going at the end of the week.”
“Going? What! sacked?”
“Yes. The Old Man’s been finding out things about him, apparently, and this smoking row has just added the finishing-touch to his discoveries. He’s particularly keen against smoking just now for some reason.”
“But was Ruthven in it?”
“Yes. Didn’t I tell you? He was one of the fellows Dexter caught in the vault. There were two in this house, you remember?”
“Who was the other?”
“That man Dashwood. Has the study next to Paget’s old one. He’s going, too.”
“Scarcely knew him. What sort of a chap was he?”
“Outsider. No good to the house in any way. He won’t be missed.”
“And what are you going to do about Rand-Brown?”
“Fight him, of course. What else could I do?”
“But you’re no match for him.”
“But you aren’t,” persisted Clowes. “He can give you a stone easily, and he’s not a bad boxer either. Moriarty didn’t beat him so very cheaply in the middle-weight this year. You wouldn’t have a chance.”
Trevor flared up.
“Heavens, man,” he cried, “do you think I don’t know all that myself? But what on earth would you have me do? Besides, he may be a good boxer, but he’s got no pluck at all. I might outstay him.”
“Hope so,” said Clowes.
But his tone was not hopeful.
a dress rehearsal.
OME people in Trevor’s place might have taken the earliest opportunity of confronting Rand-Brown, so as to settle the matter in hand without delay. Trevor thought of doing this, but finally decided to let the matter rest for a day, until he should have found out with some accuracy what chance he stood.
After four o’clock, therefore, on the next day, having had tea in his study, he went across to the baths, in search of O’Hara. He intended that before the evening was over the Irishman should have imparted to him some of his skill with the hands. He did not know that for a man absolutely unscientific with his fists there is nothing so fatal as to take a boxing lesson on the eve of battle. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. He is apt to lose his recklessness—which might have stood by him well—in exchange for a little quite useless science. He is neither one thing nor the other, neither a natural fighter nor a skilful boxer.
This point O’Hara endeavoured to press upon him as soon as he had explained why it was that he wanted coaching on this particular afternoon.
The Irishman was in the gymnasium, punching the ball, when Trevor found him. He generally put in a quarter of an hour with the punching-ball every evening, before Moriarty turned up for the customary six rounds.
“Want me to teach ye a few tricks?” he said. “What’s that for?”
“I’ve got a mill coming on soon,” explained Trevor, trying to make the statement as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world for a school prefect, who was also captain of football, head of a house, and in the cricket eleven, to be engaged for a fight in the near future.
“Mill!” exclaimed O’Hara. “You! An’ why?”
“Never mind why,” said Trevor. “I’ll tell you afterwards, perhaps. Shall I put on the gloves now?”
“Wait,” said O’Hara, “I must do my quarter of an hour with the ball before I begin teaching other people how to box. Have ye a watch?”
“Then time me. I’ll do four rounds of three minutes each, with a minute’s rest in between. That’s more than I’ll do at Aldershot, but it’ll get me fit. Ready?”
“Time,” said Trevor.
He watched O’Hara assailing the swinging ball with considerable envy. Why, he wondered, had he not gone in for boxing? Everybody ought to learn to box. It was bound to come in useful some time or other. Take his own case. He was very much afraid—no, afraid was not the right word, for he was not that. He was very much of opinion that Rand-Brown was going to have a most enjoyable time when they met. And the final house-match was to be played next Monday. If events turned out as he could not help feeling they were likely to turn out, he would be too battered to play in that match. Donaldson’s would probably win whether he played or not, but it would be bitter to be laid up on such an occasion. On the other hand, he must go through with it. He did not believe in letting other people take a hand in settling his private quarrels.
But he wished he had learned to box. If only he could hit that dancing, jumping ball with a fifth of the skill that O’Hara was displaying, his wiriness and pluck might see him through. O’Hara finished his fourth round with his leathern opponent, and sat down, panting.
“Pretty useful, that,” commented Trevor, admiringly.
“Ye should see Moriarty,” gasped O’Hara.
“Now, will ye tell me why it is you’re going to fight, and with whom you’re going to fight?”
“Very well. It’s with Rand-Brown.”
“Rand-Brown!” exclaimed O’Hara. “But, me dearr man, he’ll ate you.”
Trevor gave a rather annoyed laugh. “I must say I’ve got a nice, cheery, comforting lot of friends,” he said. “That’s just what Clowes has been trying to explain to me.”
“Clowes is quite right,” said O’Hara, seriously. “Has the thing gone too far for ye to back out? Without climbing down, of course,” he added.
“Yes,” said Trevor, “there’s no question of my getting out of it. I daresay I could. In fact, I know I could. But I’m not going to.”
“But, me dearr man, ye haven’t an earthly chance. I assure ye ye haven’t. I’ve seen Rand-Brown with the gloves on. That was last term. He’s not put them on since Moriarty bate him in the middles, so he may be out of practice. But even then he’d be a bad man to tackle. He’s big an’ he’s strong, an’ if he’d only had the heart in him he’d have been going up to Aldershot instead of Moriarty. That’s what he’d be doing. An’ you can’t box at all. Never even had the gloves on.”
“Never. I used to scrap when I was a kid, though.”
“That’s no use,” said O’Hara decidedly. “But you haven’t said what it is that ye’ve got against Rand-Brown. What is it?”
“I don’t see why I shouldn’t tell you. You’re in it as well. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the bat turning up, you’d have been considerably more in it than I am.”
“What!” cried O’Hara. “Where did you find it? Was it in the grounds? When was it you found it?”
Whereupon Trevor gave him a very full and exact account of what had happened. He showed him the two letters from the League, touched on Milton’s connection with the affair, traced the gradual development of his suspicions, and described with some approach to excitement the scene in Ruthven’s study, and the explanations that had followed it.
“Now do you wonder,” he concluded, “that I feel as if a few rounds with Rand-Brown would do me good?”
O’Hara breathed hard.
“My word!” he said, “I’d like to see ye kill him.”
“But,” said Trevor, “as you and Clowes have been pointing out to me, if there’s going to be a corpse, it’ll be me. However, I mean to try. Now perhaps you wouldn’t mind showing me a few tricks.”
“Take my advice,” said O’Hara, “and don’t try any of that foolery.”
“Why, I thought you were such a believer in science,” said Trevor in surprise.
“So I am, if you’ve enough of it. But it’s the worst thing ye can do to learn a trick or two just before a fight, if you don’t know anything about the game already. A tough, rushing fighter is ten times as good as a man who’s just begun to learn what he oughtn’t to do.”
“Well, what do you advise me to do, then?” asked Trevor, impressed by the unwonted earnestness with which the Irishman delivered this pugilistic homily, which was a paraphrase of the views dinned into the ears of every novice by the school instructor.
“I must do something.”
“The best thing ye can do,” said O’Hara, thinking for a moment, “is to put on the gloves and have a round or two with me. Here’s Moriarty at last. We’ll get him to time us.”
As much explanation as was thought good for him having been given to the newcomer, to account for Trevor’s newly-acquired taste for things pugilistic, Moriarty took the watch, with instructions to give them two minutes for the first round.
“Go as hard as you can,” said O’Hara to Trevor, as they faced one another, “and hit as hard as you like. It won’t be any practice if you don’t. I sha’n’t mind being hit. It’ll do me good for Aldershot. See?”
Trevor said he saw.
“Time,” said Moriarty.
Trevor went in with a will. He was a little shy at first of putting all his weight into his blows. It was hard to forget that he felt friendly towards O’Hara. But he speedily awoke to the fact that the Irishman took his boxing very seriously, and was quite a different person when he had the gloves on. When he was so equipped, the man opposite him ceased to be either friend or foe in a private way. He was simply an opponent, and every time he hit him was one point. And, when he entered the ring, his only object in life for the next three minutes was to score points. Consequently Trevor, sparring lightly and in rather a futile manner at first, was woken up by a stinging flush hit between the eyes. After that he, too, forgot that he liked the man before him, and rushed him in all directions. There was no doubt as to who would have won if it had been a competition. Trevor’s guard was of the most rudimentary order, and O’Hara got through when and how he liked. But though he took a good deal, he also gave a good deal, and O’Hara confessed himself not altogether sorry when Moriarty called “Time.”
“Man,” he said regretfully, “why ever did ye not take up boxing before? Ye’d have made a splendid middle-weight.”
“Well, have I a chance, do you think?” inquired Trevor.
“Ye might do it with luck,” said O’Hara, very doubtfully. “But,” he added, “I’m afraid ye’ve not much chance.”
And with this poor encouragement from his trainer and sparring-partner, Trevor was forced to be content.
what renford saw.
HE health of Master Harvey of Seymour’s was so delicately constituted that it was an absolute necessity that he should consume one or more hot buns during the quarter of an hour’s interval which split up morning school. He was tearing across the junior gravel towards the shop on the morning following Trevor’s sparring practice with O’Hara, when a melodious treble voice called his name. It was Renford. He stopped, to allow his friend to come up with him, and then made as if to resume his way to the shop. But Renford proposed an amendment. “Don’t go to the shop,” he said, “I want to talk.”
“Well, can’t you talk in the shop?”
“Not what I want to tell you. It’s private. Come for a stroll.”
Harvey hesitated. There were few things he enjoyed so much as exclusive items of school gossip (scandal preferably), but hot new buns were among those few things. However, he decided on this occasion to feed the mind at the expense of the body. He accepted Renford’s invitation.
“What is it?” he asked, as they made for the football field. “What’s been happening?”
“It’s frightfully exciting,” said Renford.
“You mustn’t tell any one.”
“All right. Of course not.”
“Well, then, there’s been a big fight, and I’m one of the only chaps who know about it so far.”
“A fight!” Harvey became excited. “Who between?”
Renford paused before delivering his news, to emphasise the importance of it.
“It was between O’Hara and Rand-Brown,” he said at length.
“By Jove!” said Harvey. Then a suspicion crept into his mind.
“Look here, Renford,” he said, “if you’re trying to green me——”
“I’m not, you ass,” replied Renford indignantly. “It’s perfectly true. I saw it myself.”
“By Jove, did you really? Where was it? When did it come off? Was it a good one? Who won?”
“It was the best one I’ve ever seen.”
“Did O’Hara beat him? I hope he did. O’Hara’s a jolly good sort.”
“Yes. They had six rounds. Rand-Brown got knocked out in the middle of the sixth.”
“What, do you mean really knocked out, or did he just chuck it?”
“No. He was really knocked out. He was on the floor for quite a time. By Jove, you should have seen it. O’Hara was ripping in the sixth round. He was all over him.”
“Tell us about it,” said Harvey, and Renford told.
“I’d got up early,” he said, “to feed the ferrets, and I was just cutting over to the fives courts with their grub, when, just as I got across the senior gravel, I saw O’Hara and Moriarty standing waiting near the second court. O’Hara knows all about the ferrets, so I didn’t try and cut or anything. I went up and began talking to him. I noticed he didn’t look particularly keen on seeing me at first. I asked him if he was going to play fives. Then he said no, and told me what he’d really come for. He said he and Rand-Brown had had a row, and they’d agreed to have it out that morning in one of the fives-courts. Of course, when I heard that, I was all on to see it, so I said I’d wait, if he didn’t mind. He said he didn’t care, so long as I didn’t tell everybody, so I said I wouldn’t tell anybody except you, so he said all right, then, I could stop if I wanted to. So that was how I saw it. Well, after we’d been waiting a few minutes, Rand-Brown came in sight, with that beast Merrett in our house, who’d come to second him. It was just like one of those duels you read about, you know. Then O’Hara said that as I was the only one there with a watch—he and Rand-Brown were in footer clothes, and Merrett and Moriarty hadn’t got their tickers on them—I’d better act as timekeeper. So I said all right, I would, and we went to the second fives-court. It’s the biggest of them, you know. I stood outside on the bench, looking through the wire netting over the door, so as not to be in the way when they started scrapping. O’Hara and Rand-Brown took off their blazers and sweaters, and chucked them to Moriarty and Merrett, and then Moriarty and Merrett went and stood in two corners, and O’Hara and Rand-Brown walked into the middle and stood up to one another. Rand-Brown was miles the heaviest—by a stone, I should think—and he was taller and had a longer reach. But O’Hara looked much fitter. Rand-Brown looked rather flabby.
“I sang out ‘Time’ through the wire netting, and they started off at once. O’Hara offered to shake hands, but Rand-Brown wouldn’t. So they began without it.
“The first round was awfully fast. They kept having long rallies all over the place. O’Hara was a jolly sight quicker, and Rand-Brown didn’t seem able to guard his hits at all. But he hit frightfully hard himself, great, heavy slogs, and O’Hara kept getting them in the face. At last he got one bang in the mouth which knocked him down flat. He was up again in a second, and was starting to rush, when I looked at the watch, and found that I’d given them nearly half a minute too much already. So I shouted ‘Time,’ and made up my mind I’d keep more of an eye on the watch next round. I’d got so jolly excited, watching them, that I’d forgot I was supposed to be keeping time for them. They had only asked for a minute between the rounds, but as I’d given them half a minute too long in the first round, I chucked in a bit extra in the rest, so that they were both pretty fit by the time I started them again.
“The second round was just like the first, and so was the third. O’Hara kept getting the worst of it. He was knocked down three or four times more, and once, when he’d rushed Rand-Brown against one of the walls, he hit out and missed, and barked his knuckles jolly badly against the wall. That was in the middle of the third round, and Rand-Brown had it all his own way for the rest of the round—for about two minutes, that is to say. He hit O’Hara about all over the shop. I was so jolly keen on O’Hara’s winning, that I had half a mind to call time early, so as to give him time to recover. But I thought it would be a low thing to do, so I gave them their full three minutes.
“Directly they began the fourth round, I noticed that things were going to change a bit. O’Hara had given up his rushing game, and was waiting for his man, and when he came at him he’d put in a hot counter, nearly always at the body. After a bit Rand-Brown began to get cautious, and wouldn’t rush, so the fourth round was the quietest there had been. In the last minute they didn’t hit each other at all. They simply sparred for openings. It was in the fifth round that O’Hara began to forge ahead. About half way through he got in a ripper, right in the wind, which almost doubled Rand-Brown up, and then he started rushing again. Rand-Brown looked awfully bad at the end of the round.
“Round six was ripping. I never saw two chaps go for each other so. It was one long rally. Then—how it happened I couldn’t see, they were so quick—just as they had been at it a minute and a half, there was a crack, and the next thing I saw was Rand-Brown on the ground, looking beastly. He went down absolutely flat; his heels and head touched the ground at the same time.
“I counted ten out loud in the professional way like they do at the National Sporting Club, you know, and then said ‘O’HARA WINS.’ I felt an awful swell. After about another half-minute, Rand-Brown was all right again, and he got up and went back to the house with Merrett, and O’Hara and Moriarty went off to Dexter’s, and I gave the ferrets their grub, and cut back to breakfast.”
“Rand-Brown wasn’t at breakfast,” said Harvey.
“No. He went to bed. I wonder what’ll happen. Think there’ll be a row about it?”
“Shouldn’t think so,” said Harvey. “They never do make rows about fights, and neither of them is a prefect, so I don’t see what it matters if they do fight. But, I say——”
“I wish,” said Harvey, his voice full of acute regret, “that it had been my turn to feed those ferrets.”
“I don’t,” said Renford cheerfully. “I wouldn’t have missed that mill for something. Hullo, there’s the bell. We’d better run.”
When Trevor called at Seymour’s that afternoon to see Rand-Brown, with a view to challenging him to deadly combat, and found that O’Hara had been before him, he ought to have felt relieved. His actual feeling was one of acute annoyance. It seemed to him that O’Hara had exceeded the limits of friendship. It was all very well for him to take over the Rand-Brown contract, and settle it himself, in order to save Trevor from a very bad quarter of an hour, but Trevor was one of those people who object strongly to the interference of other people in their private business. He sought out O’Hara and complained. Within two minutes O’Hara’s golden eloquence had soothed him and made him view the matter in quite a different light. What O’Hara pointed out was that it was not Trevor’s affair at all, but his own. Who, he asked, had been likely to be damaged most by Rand-Brown’s manœuvres in connection with the lost bat? Trevor was bound to admit that O’Hara was that person. Very well, then, said O’Hara, then who had a better right to fight Rand-Brown? And Trevor confessed that no one else had a better.
“Then I suppose,” he said, “that I shall have to do nothing about it?”
“That’s it,” said O’Hara.
“It’ll be rather beastly meeting the man after this,” said Trevor, presently. “Do you think he might possibly leave at the end of term?”
“He’s leaving at the end of the week,” said O’Hara. “He was one of the fellows Dexter caught in the vault that evening. You won’t see much more of Rand-Brown.”
“I’ll try and put up with that,” said Trevor.
“And so will I,” replied O’Hara. “And I shouldn’t think Milton would be so very grieved.”
“No,” said Trevor. “I tell you what will make him sick, though, and that is your having milled with Rand-Brown. It’s a job he’d have liked to have taken on himself.”
NTO the story at this point comes the narrative of Charles Mereweather Cook, aged fourteen, a day-boy.
Cook arrived at the school on the tenth of March at precisely nine o’clock in a state of excitement.
He said there was a row on in the town.
Cross-examined, he said there was no end of a row on in the town.
During morning school he explained further, whispering his tale into the attentive ear of Knight of the School House, who sat next to him.
What sort of a row, Knight wanted to know.
Cook deposed that he had been riding on his bicycle past the entrance to the Recreation Grounds on his way to school, when his eye was attracted by the movements of a mass of men just inside the gate. They appeared to be fighting. Witness did not stop to watch, much as he would have liked to do so. Why not? Why, because he was late already, and would have had to scorch anyhow, in order to get to school in time. And he had been late the day before, and was afraid that old Appleby (the master of the form) would give him beans if he were late again. Wherefore he had no notion of what the men were fighting about, but he betted that more would be heard about it. Why? Because, from what he saw of it, it seemed a jolly big thing. There must have been quite three hundred men fighting. (Knight, satirically, “Pile it on!”) Well, quite a hundred, anyhow. Fifty a side. And fighting like anything. He betted there would be something about it in the Wrykyn Patriot to-morrow. He shouldn’t wonder if somebody had been killed. What were they scrapping about? How should he know?
Here Mr. Appleby, who had been trying for the last five minutes to find out where the whispering noise came from, at length traced it to its source, and forthwith requested Messrs. Cook and Knight to do him two hundred lines, adding that, if he heard them talking again, he would put them into the extra lesson. Silence reigned from that moment.
Next day, while the form was wrestling with the moderately exciting account of Cæsar’s doings in Gaul, Master Cook produced from his pocket a newspaper cutting. This, having previously planted a forcible blow in his friend’s ribs with an elbow to attract the latter’s attention, he handed to Knight, and in dumb show requested him to peruse the same. Which Knight, feeling no interest whatever in Cæsar’s doings in Gaul, and having, in consequence, a good deal of time on his hands, proceeded to do. The cutting was headed “Disgraceful Fracas,” and was written in the elegant style that was always so marked a feature of the Wrykyn Patriot.
“We are sorry to have to report,” it ran, “another of those deplorable ebullitions of local Hooliganism, to which it has before now been our painful duty to refer. Yesterday the Recreation Grounds were made the scene of as brutal an exhibition of savagery as has ever marred the fair fame of this town. Our readers will remember how on a previous occasion, when the fine statue of Sir Eustace Briggs was found covered with tar, we attributed the act to the malevolence of the Radical section of the community. Events have proved that we were right. Yesterday a body of youths, belonging to the rival party, was discovered in the very act of repeating the offence. A thick coating of tar had already been administered, when several members of the rival faction appeared. A free fight of a peculiarly violent nature immediately ensued, with the result that, before the police could interfere, several of the combatants had received severe bruises. Fortunately the police then arrived on the scene, and with great difficulty succeeded in putting a stop to the fracas. Several arrests were made.
“We have no desire to discourage legitimate party rivalry, but we feel justified in strongly protesting against such dastardly tricks as those to which we have referred. We can assure our opponents that they can gain nothing by such conduct.”
There was a good deal more to the effect that now was the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party, and that the constituents of Sir Eustace Briggs must look to it that they failed not in the hour of need, and so on. That was what the Wrykyn Patriot had to say on the subject.
O’Hara managed to get hold of a copy of the paper, and showed it to Clowes and Trevor.
“So now,” he said, “it’s all right, ye see. They’ll never suspect it wasn’t the same people that tarred the statue both times. An’ ye’ve got the bat back, so it’s all right, ye see.”
“The only thing that’ll trouble you now,” said Clowes, “will be your conscience.”
O’Hara intimated that he would try and put up with that.
“But isn’t it a stroke of luck,” he said, “that they should have gone and tarred Sir Eustace again so soon after Moriarty and I did it?”
Clowes said gravely that it only showed the force of good example.
“Yes. They wouldn’t have thought of it, if it hadn’t been for us,” chortled O’Hara. “I wonder, now, if there’s anything else we could do to that statue!” he added, meditatively.
“My good lunatic,” said Clowes, “don’t you think you’ve done almost enough for one term?”
“Well, ’myes,” replied O’Hara thoughtfully, “perhaps we have, I suppose.”
The term wore on. Donaldson’s won the final house-match by a matter of twenty-six points. It was, as they had expected, one of the easiest games they had had to play in the competition. Bryant’s, who were their opponents, were not strong, and had only managed to get into the final owing to their luck in drawing weak opponents for the trial heats. The real final, that had decided the ownership of the cup, had been Donaldson’s v. Seymour’s.
Aldershot arrived, and the sports. Drummond and O’Hara covered themselves with glory, and brought home silver medals. But Moriarty, to the disappointment of the school, which had counted on his pulling off the middles, met a strenuous gentleman from St. Paul’s in the final, and was prematurely outed in the first minute of the third round. To him, therefore, there fell but a medal of bronze.
It was on the Sunday after the sports that Trevor’s connection with the bat ceased—as far, that is to say, as concerned its unpleasant character (as a piece of evidence that might be used to his disadvantage). He had gone to supper with the headmaster, accompanied by Clowes and Milton. The headmaster nearly always invited a few of the house prefects to Sunday supper during the term. Sir Eustace Briggs happened to be there. He had withdrawn his insinuations concerning the part supposedly played by a member of the school in the matter of the tarred statue, and the headmaster had sealed the entente cordiale by asking him to supper.
An ordinary man might have considered it best to keep off the delicate subject. Not so Sir Eustace Briggs. He was on to it like glue. He talked of little else throughout the whole course of the meal.
“My suspicions,” he boomed, towards the conclusion of the feast, “which have, I am rejoiced to say, proved so entirely void of foundation and significance, were aroused in the first instance, as I mentioned before, by the narrative of the man Samuel Wapshott.”
Nobody present showed the slightest desire to learn what the man Samuel Wapshott had had to say for himself, but Sir Eustace, undismayed, continued as if the whole table were hanging on his words.
“The man Samuel Wapshott,” he said, “distinctly asserted that a small gold ornament, shaped like a bat, was handed by him to a lad of age coeval with these lads here.”
The headmaster interposed. He had evidently heard more than enough of the man Samuel Wapshott.
“He must have been mistaken,” he said briefly. “The bat which Trevor is wearing on his watch-chain at this moment is the only one of its kind that I know of. You have never lost it, Trevor?”
Trevor thought for a moment. He had never lost it. He replied diplomatically, “It has been in a drawer nearly all the term, sir,” he said.
“A drawer, hey?” remarked Sir Eustace Briggs. “Ah! A very sensible place to keep it in, my boy. You could have no better place, in my opinion.”
And Trevor agreed with him, with the mental reservation that it rather depended on whom the drawer belonged to.