The Gold Bat/Chapter 2

Trevor did not take long to resume a garb of civilisation. He never wasted much time over anything. He was gifted with a boundless energy, which might possibly have made him unpopular had he not justified it by results. The football of the school had never been in such a flourishing condition as it had attained to on his succeeding to the captaincy. It was not only that the first fifteen was good. The excellence of a first fifteen does not always depend on the captain. But the games, even down to the very humblest junior game, had woken up one morning—­at the beginning of the previous term—­to find themselves, much to their surprise, organised going concerns. Like the immortal Captain Pott, Trevor was “a terror to the shirker and the lubber”. And the resemblance was further increased by the fact that he was “a toughish lot”, who was “little, but steel and india-rubber”. At first sight his appearance was not imposing. Paterfamilias, who had heard his son’s eulogies on Trevor’s performances during the holidays, and came down to watch the school play a match, was generally rather disappointed on seeing five feet six where he had looked for at least six foot one, and ten stone where he had expected thirteen. But then, what there was of Trevor was, as previously remarked, steel and india-rubber, and he certainly played football like a miniature Stoddart. It was characteristic of him that, though this was the first match of the term, his condition seemed to be as good as possible. He had done all his own work on the field and most of Rand-Brown’s, and apparently had not turned a hair. He was one of those conscientious people who train in the holidays.

When he had changed, he went down the passage to Clowes’ study. Clowes was in the position he frequently took up when the weather was good—­wedged into his window in a sitting position, one leg in the study, the other hanging outside over space. The indoor leg lacked a boot, so that it was evident that its owner had at least had the energy to begin to change. That he had given the thing up after that, exhausted with the effort, was what one naturally expected from Clowes. He would have made a splendid actor: he was so good at resting.

“Hurry up and dress,” said Trevor; “I want you to come over to the baths.”

“What on earth do you want over at the baths?”

“I want to see O’Hara.”

“Oh, yes, I remember. Dexter’s are camping out there, aren’t they? I heard they were. Why is it?”

“One of the Dexter kids got measles in the last week of the holidays, so they shunted all the beds and things across, and the chaps went back there instead of to the house.”

In the winter term the baths were always boarded over and converted into a sort of extra gymnasium where you could go and box or fence when there was no room to do it in the real gymnasium. Socker and stump-cricket were also largely played there, the floor being admirably suited to such games, though the light was always rather tricky, and prevented heavy scoring.

“I should think,” said Clowes, “from what I’ve seen of Dexter’s beauties, that Dexter would like them to camp out at the bottom of the baths all the year round. It would be a happy release for him if they were all drowned. And I suppose if he had to choose any one of them for a violent death, he’d pick O’Hara. O’Hara must be a boon to a house-master. I’ve known chaps break rules when the spirit moved them, but he’s the only one I’ve met who breaks them all day long and well into the night simply for amusement. I’ve often thought of writing to the S.P.C.A. about it. I suppose you could call Dexter an animal all right?”

“O’Hara’s right enough, really. A man like Dexter would make any fellow run amuck. And then O’Hara’s an Irishman to start with, which makes a difference.”

There is usually one house in every school of the black sheep sort, and, if you go to the root of the matter, you will generally find that the fault is with the master of that house. A house-master who enters into the life of his house, coaches them in games—­if an athlete—­or, if not an athlete, watches the games, umpiring at cricket and refereeing at football, never finds much difficulty in keeping order. It may be accepted as fact that the juniors of a house will never be orderly of their own free will, but disturbances in the junior day-room do not make the house undisciplined. The prefects are the criterion. If you find them joining in the general “rags”, and even starting private ones on their own account, then you may safely say that it is time the master of that house retired from the business, and took to chicken-farming. And that was the state of things in Dexter’s. It was the most lawless of the houses. Mr Dexter belonged to a type of master almost unknown at a public school—­the usher type. In a private school he might have passed. At Wrykyn he was out of place. To him the whole duty of a house-master appeared to be to wage war against his house.

When Dexter’s won the final for the cricket cup in the summer term of two years back, the match lasted four afternoons—­four solid afternoons of glorious, up-and-down cricket. Mr Dexter did not see a single ball of that match bowled. He was prowling in sequestered lanes and broken-down barns out of bounds on the off-chance that he might catch some member of his house smoking there. As if the whole of the house, from the head to the smallest fag, were not on the field watching Day’s best bats collapse before Henderson’s bowling, and Moriarty hit up that marvellous and unexpected fifty-three at the end of the second innings!

That sort of thing definitely stamps a master.

“What do you want to see O’Hara about?” asked Clowes.

“He’s got my little gold bat. I lent it him in the holidays.”

A remark which needs a footnote. The bat referred to was made of gold, and was about an inch long by an eighth broad. It had come into existence some ten years previously, in the following manner. The inter-house cricket cup at Wrykyn had originally been a rather tarnished and unimpressive vessel, whose only merit consisted in the fact that it was of silver. Ten years ago an Old Wrykinian, suddenly reflecting that it would not be a bad idea to do something for the school in a small way, hied him to the nearest jeweller’s and purchased another silver cup, vast withal and cunningly decorated with filigree work, and standing on a massive ebony plinth, round which were little silver lozenges just big enough to hold the name of the winning house and the year of grace. This he presented with his blessing to be competed for by the dozen houses that made up the school of Wrykyn, and it was formally established as the house cricket cup. The question now arose: what was to be done with the other cup? The School House, who happened to be the holders at the time, suggested disinterestedly that it should become the property of the house which had won it last. “Not so,” replied the Field Sports Committee, “but far otherwise. We will have it melted down in a fiery furnace, and thereafter fashioned into eleven little silver bats. And these little silver bats shall be the guerdon of the eleven members of the winning team, to have and to hold for the space of one year, unless, by winning the cup twice in succession, they gain the right of keeping the bat for yet another year. How is that, umpire?” And the authorities replied, “O men of infinite resource and sagacity, verily is it a cold day when you get left behind. Forge ahead.” But, when they had forged ahead, behold! it would not run to eleven little silver bats, but only to ten little silver bats. Thereupon the headmaster, a man liberal with his cash, caused an eleventh little bat to be fashioned—­for the captain of the winning team to have and to hold in the manner aforesaid. And, to single it out from the others, it was wrought, not of silver, but of gold. And so it came to pass that at the time of our story Trevor was in possession of the little gold bat, because Donaldson’s had won the cup in the previous summer, and he had captained them—­and, incidentally, had scored seventy-five without a mistake.

“Well, I’m hanged if I would trust O’Hara with my bat,” said Clowes, referring to the silver ornament on his own watch-chain; “he’s probably pawned yours in the holidays. Why did you lend it to him?”

“His people wanted to see it. I know him at home, you know. They asked me to lunch the last day but one of the holidays, and we got talking about the bat, because, of course, if we hadn’t beaten Dexter’s in the final, O’Hara would have had it himself. So I sent it over next day with a note asking O’Hara to bring it back with him here.”

“Oh, well, there’s a chance, then, seeing he’s only had it so little time, that he hasn’t pawned it yet. You’d better rush off and get it back as soon as possible. It’s no good waiting for me. I shan’t be ready for weeks.”

“Where’s Paget?”

“Teaing with Donaldson. At least, he said he was going to.”

“Then I suppose I shall have to go alone. I hate walking alone.”

“If you hurry,” said Clowes, scanning the road from his post of vantage, “you’ll be able to go with your fascinating pal Ruthven. He’s just gone out.”

Trevor dashed downstairs in his energetic way, and overtook the youth referred to.

Clowes brooded over them from above like a sorrowful and rather disgusted Providence. Trevor’s liking for Ruthven, who was a Donaldsonite like himself, was one of the few points on which the two had any real disagreement. Clowes could not understand how any person in his senses could of his own free will make an intimate friend of Ruthven.

“Hullo, Trevor,” said Ruthven.

“Come over to the baths,” said Trevor, “I want to see O’Hara about something. Or were you going somewhere else.”

“I wasn’t going anywhere in particular. I never know what to do in term-time. It’s deadly dull.”

Trevor could never understand how any one could find term-time dull. For his own part, there always seemed too much to do in the time.

“You aren’t allowed to play games?” he said, remembering something about a doctor’s certificate in the past.

“No,” said Ruthven. “Thank goodness,” he added.

Which remark silenced Trevor. To a person who thanked goodness that he was not allowed to play games he could find nothing to say. But he ceased to wonder how it was that Ruthven was dull.

They proceeded to the baths together in silence. O’Hara, they were informed by a Dexter’s fag who met them outside the door, was not about.

“When he comes back,” said Trevor, “tell him I want him to come to tea tomorrow directly after school, and bring my bat. Don’t forget.”

The fag promised to make a point of it.