The Gold Bat/Chapter 20

Trevor waited till the headmaster had gone back to his library, gave him five minutes to settle down, and then went in.

The headmaster looked up inquiringly.

“My essay, sir,” said Trevor.

“Ah, yes. I had forgotten.”

Trevor opened the notebook and began to read what he had written. He finished the paragraph which owed its insertion to Clowes, and raced hurriedly on to the next. To his surprise the flippancy passed unnoticed, at any rate, verbally. As a rule the headmaster preferred that quotations from back numbers of Punch should be kept out of the prefects’ English Essays. And he generally said as much. But today he seemed strangely preoccupied. A split infinitive in paragraph five, which at other times would have made him sit up in his chair stiff with horror, elicited no remark. The same immunity was accorded to the insertion (inspired by Clowes, as usual) of a popular catch phrase in the last few lines. Trevor finished with the feeling that luck had favoured him nobly.

“Yes,” said the headmaster, seemingly roused by the silence following on the conclusion of the essay. “Yes.” Then, after a long pause, “Yes,” again.

Trevor said nothing, but waited for further comment.

“Yes,” said the headmaster once more, “I think that is a very fair essay. Very fair. It wants a little more—­er—­not quite so much—­um—­yes.”

Trevor made a note in his mind to effect these improvements in future essays, and was getting up, when the headmaster stopped him.

“Don’t go, Trevor. I wish to speak to you.”

Trevor’s first thought was, perhaps naturally, that the bat was going to be brought into discussion. He was wondering helplessly how he was going to keep O’Hara and his midnight exploit out of the conversation, when the headmaster resumed. “An unpleasant thing has happened, Trevor—­”

“Now we’re coming to it,” thought Trevor.

“It appears, Trevor, that a considerable amount of smoking has been going on in the school.”

Trevor breathed freely once more. It was only going to be a mere conventional smoking row after all. He listened with more enjoyment as the headmaster, having stopped to turn down the wick of the reading-lamp which stood on the table at his side, and which had begun, appropriately enough, to smoke, resumed his discourse.

“Mr Dexter—­”

Of course, thought Trevor. If there ever was a row in the school, Dexter was bound to be at the bottom of it.

“Mr Dexter has just been in to see me. He reported six boys. He discovered them in the vault beneath the junior block. Two of them were boys in your house.”

Trevor murmured something wordless, to show that the story interested him.

“You knew nothing of this, of course—­”

“No, sir.”

“No. Of course not. It is difficult for the head of a house to know all that goes on in that house.”

Was this his beastly sarcasm? Trevor asked himself. But he came to the conclusion that it was not. After all, the head of a house is only human. He cannot be expected to keep an eye on the private life of every member of his house.

“This must be stopped, Trevor. There is no saying how widespread the practice has become or may become. What I want you to do is to go straight back to your house and begin a complete search of the studies.”

“Tonight, sir?” It seemed too late for such amusement.

“Tonight. But before you go to your house, call at Mr Seymour’s, and tell Milton I should like to see him. And, Trevor.”

“Yes, sir?”

“You will understand that I am leaving this matter to you to be dealt with by you. I shall not require you to make any report to me. But if you should find tobacco in any boy’s room, you must punish him well, Trevor. Punish him well.”

This meant that the culprit must be “touched up” before the house assembled in the dining-room. Such an event did not often occur. The last occasion had been in Paget’s first term as head of Donaldson’s, when two of the senior day-room had been discovered attempting to revive the ancient and dishonourable custom of bullying. This time, Trevor foresaw, would set up a record in all probability. There might be any number of devotees of the weed, and he meant to carry out his instructions to the full, and make the criminals more unhappy than they had been since the day of their first cigar. Trevor hated the habit of smoking at school. He was so intensely keen on the success of the house and the school at games, that anything which tended to damage the wind and eye filled him with loathing. That anybody should dare to smoke in a house which was going to play in the final for the House Football Cup made him rage internally, and he proposed to make things bad and unrestful for such.

To smoke at school is to insult the divine weed. When you are obliged to smoke in odd corners, fearing every moment that you will be discovered, the whole meaning, poetry, romance of a pipe vanishes, and you become like those lost beings who smoke when they are running to catch trains. The boy who smokes at school is bound to come to a bad end. He will degenerate gradually into a person that plays dominoes in the smoking-rooms of A.B.C. shops with friends who wear bowler hats and frock coats.

Much of this philosophy Trevor expounded to Clowes in energetic language when he returned to Donaldson’s after calling at Seymour’s to deliver the message for Milton.

Clowes became quite animated at the prospect of a real row.

“We shall be able to see the skeletons in their cupboards,” he observed. “Every man has a skeleton in his cupboard, which follows him about wherever he goes. Which study shall we go to first?”

“We?” said Trevor.

“We,” repeated Clowes firmly. “I am not going to be left out of this jaunt. I need bracing up—­I’m not strong, you know—­and this is just the thing to do it. Besides, you’ll want a bodyguard of some sort, in case the infuriated occupant turns and rends you.”

“I don’t see what there is to enjoy in the business,” said Trevor, gloomily. “Personally, I bar this kind of thing. By the time we’ve finished, there won’t be a chap in the house I’m on speaking terms with.”

“Except me, dearest,” said Clowes. “I will never desert you. It’s of no use asking me, for I will never do it. Mr Micawber has his faults, but I will never desert Mr Micawber.”

“You can come if you like,” said Trevor; “we’ll take the studies in order. I suppose we needn’t look up the prefects?”

“A prefect is above suspicion. Scratch the prefects.”

“That brings us to Dixon.”

Dixon was a stout youth with spectacles, who was popularly supposed to do twenty-two hours’ work a day. It was believed that he put in two hours sleep from eleven to one, and then got up and worked in his study till breakfast.

He was working when Clowes and Trevor came in. He dived head foremost into a huge Liddell and Scott as the door opened. On hearing Trevor’s voice he slowly emerged, and a pair of round and spectacled eyes gazed blankly at the visitors. Trevor briefly explained his errand, but the interview lost in solemnity owing to the fact that the bare notion of Dixon storing tobacco in his room made Clowes roar with laughter. Also, Dixon stolidly refused to understand what Trevor was talking about, and at the end of ten minutes, finding it hopeless to try and explain, the two went. Dixon, with a hazy impression that he had been asked to join in some sort of round game, and had refused the offer, returned again to his Liddell and Scott, and continued to wrestle with the somewhat obscure utterances of the chorus in Æschylus’ Agamemnon. The results of this fiasco on Trevor and Clowes were widely different. Trevor it depressed horribly. It made him feel savage. Clowes, on the other hand, regarded the whole affair in a spirit of rollicking farce, and refused to see that this was a serious matter, in which the honour of the house was involved.

The next study was Ruthven’s. This fact somewhat toned down the exuberances of Clowes’s demeanour. When one particularly dislikes a person, one has a curious objection to seeming in good spirits in his presence. One feels that he may take it as a sort of compliment to himself, or, at any rate, contribute grins of his own, which would be hateful. Clowes was as grave as Trevor when they entered the study.

Ruthven’s study was like himself, overdressed and rather futile. It ran to little china ornaments in a good deal of profusion. It was more like a drawing-room than a school study.

“Sorry to disturb you, Ruthven,” said Trevor.

“Oh, come in,” said Ruthven, in a tired voice. “Please shut the door; there is a draught. Do you want anything?”

“We’ve got to have a look round,” said Clowes.

“Can’t you see everything there is?”

Ruthven hated Clowes as much as Clowes hated him.

Trevor cut into the conversation again.

“It’s like this, Ruthven,” he said. “I’m awfully sorry, but the Old Man’s just told me to search the studies in case any of the fellows have got baccy.”

Ruthven jumped up, pale with consternation.

“You can’t. I won’t have you disturbing my study.”

“This is rot,” said Trevor, shortly, “I’ve got to. It’s no good making it more unpleasant for me than it is.”

“But I’ve no tobacco. I swear I haven’t.”

“Then why mind us searching?” said Clowes affably.

“Come on, Ruthven,” said Trevor, “chuck us over the keys. You might as well.”

“I won’t.”

“Don’t be an ass, man.”

“We have here,” observed Clowes, in his sad, solemn way, “a stout and serviceable poker.” He stooped, as he spoke, to pick it up.

“Leave that poker alone,” cried Ruthven.

Clowes straightened himself.

“I’ll swop it for your keys,” he said.

“Don’t be a fool.”

“Very well, then. We will now crack our first crib.”

Ruthven sprang forward, but Clowes, handing him off in football fashion with his left hand, with his right dashed the poker against the lock of the drawer of the table by which he stood.

The lock broke with a sharp crack. It was not built with an eye to such onslaught.

“Neat for a first shot,” said Clowes, complacently. “Now for the Umustaphas and shag.”

But as he looked into the drawer he uttered a sudden cry of excitement. He drew something out, and tossed it over to Trevor.

“Catch, Trevor,” he said quietly. “Something that’ll interest you.”

Trevor caught it neatly in one hand, and stood staring at it as if he had never seen anything like it before. And yet he had—­often. For what he had caught was a little golden bat, about an inch long by an eighth of an inch wide.