The Gold Bat/Chapter 21
“What 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 someone—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 today.”
“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.