The Gold Bat/Chapter 3
One of the rules that governed the life of Donough O’Hara, the light-hearted descendant of the O’Haras of Castle Taterfields, Co. Clare, Ireland, was “Never refuse the offer of a free tea”. So, on receipt—per the Dexter’s fag referred to—of Trevor’s invitation, he scratched one engagement (with his mathematical master—not wholly unconnected with the working-out of Examples 200 to 206 in Hall and Knight’s Algebra), postponed another (with his friend and ally Moriarty, of Dexter’s, who wished to box with him in the gymnasium), and made his way at a leisurely pace towards Donaldson’s. He was feeling particularly pleased with himself today, for several reasons. He had begun the day well by scoring brilliantly off Mr Dexter across the matutinal rasher and coffee. In morning school he had been put on to translate the one passage which he happened to have prepared—the first ten lines, in fact, of the hundred which formed the morning’s lesson. And in the final hour of afternoon school, which was devoted to French, he had discovered and exploited with great success an entirely new and original form of ragging. This, he felt, was the strenuous life; this was living one’s life as one’s life should be lived.
He met Trevor at the gate. As they were going in, a carriage and pair dashed past. Its cargo consisted of two people, the headmaster, looking bored, and a small, dapper man, with a very red face, who looked excited, and was talking volubly. Trevor and O’Hara raised their caps as the chariot swept by, but the salute passed unnoticed. The Head appeared to be wrapped in thought.
“What’s the Old Man doing in a carriage, I wonder,” said Trevor, looking after them. “Who’s that with him?”
“That,” said O’Hara, “is Sir Eustace Briggs.”
“Who’s Sir Eustace Briggs?”
O’Hara explained, in a rich brogue, that Sir Eustace was Mayor of Wrykyn, a keen politician, and a hater of the Irish nation, judging by his letters and speeches.
They went into Trevor’s study. Clowes was occupying the window in his usual manner.
“Hullo, O’Hara,” he said, “there is an air of quiet satisfaction about you that seems to show that you’ve been ragging Dexter. Have you?”
“Oh, that was only this morning at breakfast. The best rag was in French,” replied O’Hara, who then proceeded to explain in detail the methods he had employed to embitter the existence of the hapless Gallic exile with whom he had come in contact. It was that gentleman’s custom to sit on a certain desk while conducting the lesson. This desk chanced to be O’Hara’s. On the principle that a man may do what he likes with his own, he had entered the room privily in the dinner-hour, and removed the screws from his desk, with the result that for the first half-hour of the lesson the class had been occupied in excavating M. Gandinois from the ruins. That gentleman’s first act on regaining his equilibrium had been to send O’Hara out of the room, and O’Hara, who had foreseen this emergency, had spent a very pleasant half-hour in the passage with some mixed chocolates and a copy of Mr Hornung’s Amateur Cracksman. It was his notion of a cheerful and instructive French lesson.
“What were you talking about when you came in?” asked Clowes. “Who’s been slanging Ireland, O’Hara?”
“The man Briggs.”
“What are you going to do about it? Aren’t you going to take any steps?”
“Is it steps?” said O’Hara, warmly, “and haven’t we——”
“Ye know,” he said, seriously, “ye mustn’t let it go any further. I shall get sacked if it’s found out. An’ so will Moriarty, too.”
“Why?” asked Trevor, looking up from the tea-pot he was filling, “what on earth have you been doing?”
“Wouldn’t it be rather a cheery idea,” suggested Clowes, “if you began at the beginning.”
“Well, ye see,” O’Hara began, “it was this way. The first I heard of it was from Dexter. He was trying to score off me as usual, an’ he said, ‘Have ye seen the paper this morning, O’Hara?’ I said, no, I had not. Then he said, ‘Ah,’ he said, ’ye should look at it. There’s something there that ye’ll find interesting.’ I said, ‘Yes, sir?’ in me respectful way. ‘Yes,’ said he, ‘the Irish members have been making their customary disturbances in the House. Why is it, O’Hara,’ he said, ‘that Irishmen are always thrusting themselves forward and making disturbances for purposes of self-advertisement?’ ‘Why, indeed, sir?’ said I, not knowing what else to say, and after that the conversation ceased.”
“Go on,” said Clowes.
“After breakfast Moriarty came to me with a paper, and showed me what they had been saying about the Irish. There was a letter from the man Briggs on the subject. ‘A very sensible and temperate letter from Sir Eustace Briggs’, they called it, but bedad! if that was a temperate letter, I should like to know what an intemperate one is. Well, we read it through, and Moriarty said to me, ‘Can we let this stay as it is?’ And I said, ‘No. We can’t.’ ‘Well,’ said Moriarty to me, ‘what are we to do about it? I should like to tar and feather the man,’ he said. ‘We can’t do that,’ I said, ‘but why not tar and feather his statue?’ I said. So we thought we would. Ye know where the statue is, I suppose? It’s in the recreation ground just across the river.”
“I know the place,” said Clowes. “Go on. This is ripping. I always knew you were pretty mad, but this sounds as if it were going to beat all previous records.”
“Have ye seen the baths this term,” continued O’Hara, “since they shifted Dexter’s house into them? The beds are in two long rows along each wall. Moriarty’s and mine are the last two at the end farthest from the door.”
“Just under the gallery,” said Trevor. “I see.”
“That’s it. Well, at half-past ten sharp every night Dexter sees that we’re all in, locks the door, and goes off to sleep at the Old Man’s, and we don’t see him again till breakfast. He turns the gas off from outside. At half-past seven the next morning, Smith”—Smith was one of the school porters—“unlocks the door and calls us, and we go over to the Hall to breakfast.”
“Well, directly everybody was asleep last night—it wasn’t till after one, as there was a rag on—Moriarty and I got up, dressed, and climbed up into the gallery. Ye know the gallery windows? They open at the top, an’ it’s rather hard to get out of them. But we managed it, and dropped on to the gravel outside.”
“Long drop,” said Clowes.
“Yes. I hurt myself rather. But it was in a good cause. I dropped first, and while I was on the ground, Moriarty came on top of me. That’s how I got hurt. But it wasn’t much, and we cut across the grounds, and over the fence, and down to the river. It was a fine night, and not very dark, and everything smelt ripping down by the river.”
“Don’t get poetical,” said Clowes. “Stick to the point.”
“We got into the boat-house—”
“How?” asked the practical Trevor, for the boat-house was wont to be locked at one in the morning. “Moriarty had a key that fitted,” explained O’Hara, briefly. “We got in, and launched a boat—a big tub—put in the tar and a couple of brushes—there’s always tar in the boat-house—and rowed across.”
“Wait a bit,” interrupted Trevor, “you said tar and feathers. Where did you get the feathers?”
“We used leaves. They do just as well, and there were heaps on the bank. Well, when we landed, we tied up the boat, and bucked across to the Recreation Ground. We got over the railings—beastly, spiky railings—and went over to the statue. Ye know where the statue stands? It’s right in the middle of the place, where everybody can see it. Moriarty got up first, and I handed him the tar and a brush. Then I went up with the other brush, and we began. We did his face first. It was too dark to see really well, but I think we made a good job of it. When we had put about as much tar on as we thought would do, we took out the leaves—which we were carrying in our pockets—and spread them on. Then we did the rest of him, and after about half an hour, when we thought we’d done about enough, we got into our boat again, and came back.”
“And what did you do till half-past seven?”
“We couldn’t get back the way we’d come, so we slept in the boat-house.”
“Well—I’m—hanged,” was Trevor’s comment on the story.
Clowes roared with laughter. O’Hara was a perpetual joy to him.
As O’Hara was going, Trevor asked him for his gold bat.
“You haven’t lost it, I hope?” he said.
O’Hara felt in his pocket, but brought his hand out at once and transferred it to another pocket. A look of anxiety came over his face, and was reflected in Trevor’s.
“I could have sworn it was in that pocket,” he said.
“You haven’t lost it?” queried Trevor again.
“He has,” said Clowes, confidently. “If you want to know where that bat is, I should say you’d find it somewhere between the baths and the statue. At the foot of the statue, for choice. It seems to me—correct me if I am wrong—that you have been and gone and done it, me broth av a bhoy.”
O’Hara gave up the search.
“It’s gone,” he said. “Man, I’m most awfully sorry. I’d sooner have lost a ten-pound note.”
“I don’t see why you should lose either,” snapped Trevor. “Why the blazes can’t you be more careful.”
O’Hara was too penitent for words. Clowes took it on himself to point out the bright side.
“There’s nothing to get sick about, really,” he said. “If the thing doesn’t turn up, though it probably will, you’ll simply have to tell the Old Man that it’s lost. He’ll have another made. You won’t be asked for it till just before Sports Day either, so you will have plenty of time to find it.”
The challenge cups, and also the bats, had to be given to the authorities before the sports, to be formally presented on Sports Day.
“Oh, I suppose it’ll be all right,” said Trevor, “but I hope it won’t be found anywhere near the statue.”
O’Hara said he hoped so too.