The Gold Bat/Chapter 5
Trevor’s first idea was that somebody had sent the letter for a joke,—Clowes for choice.
He sounded him on the subject after breakfast.
“Did you send me that letter?” he inquired, when Clowes came into his study to borrow a Sportsman.
“What letter? Did you send the team for tomorrow up to the sporter? I wonder what sort of a lot the Town are bringing.”
“About not giving Barry his footer colours?”
Clowes was reading the paper.
“Giving whom?” he asked.
“Barry. Can’t you listen?”
“Giving him what?”
“What about them?”
Trevor sprang at the paper, and tore it away from him. After which he sat on the fragments.
“Did you send me a letter about not giving Barry his footer colours?”
Clowes surveyed him with the air of a nurse to whom the family baby has just said some more than usually good thing.
“Don’t stop,” he said, “I could listen all day.”
Trevor felt in his pocket for the note, and flung it at him. Clowes picked it up, and read it gravely.
“What are footer colours?” he asked.
“Well,” said Trevor, “it’s a pretty rotten sort of joke, whoever sent it. You haven’t said yet whether you did or not.”
“What earthly reason should I have for sending it? And I think you’re making a mistake if you think this is meant as a joke.”
“You don’t really believe this League rot?”
“You didn’t see Mill’s study ‘after treatment’. I did. Anyhow, how do you account for the card I showed you?”
“But that sort of thing doesn’t happen at school.”
“Well, it has happened, you see.”
“Who do you think did send the letter, then?”
“The President of the League.”
“And who the dickens is the President of the League when he’s at home?”
“If I knew that, I should tell Mill, and earn his blessing. Not that I want it.”
“Then, I suppose,” snorted Trevor, “you’d suggest that on the strength of this letter I’d better leave Barry out of the team?”
“Satirically in brackets,” commented Clowes.
“It’s no good your jumping on me,” he added. “I’ve done nothing. All I suggest is that you’d better keep more or less of a look-out. If this League’s anything like the old one, you’ll find they’ve all sorts of ways of getting at people they don’t love. I shouldn’t like to come down for a bath some morning, and find you already in possession, tied up like Robinson. When they found Robinson, he was quite blue both as to the face and speech. He didn’t speak very clearly, but what one could catch was well worth hearing. I should advise you to sleep with a loaded revolver under your pillow.”
“The first thing I shall do is find out who wrote this letter.”
“I should,” said Clowes, encouragingly. “Keep moving.”
In Seymour’s house the Mill’s study incident formed the only theme of conversation that morning. Previously the sudden elevation to the first fifteen of Barry, who was popular in the house, at the expense of Rand-Brown, who was unpopular, had given Seymour’s something to talk about. But the ragging of the study put this topic entirely in the shade. The study was still on view in almost its original condition of disorder, and all day comparative strangers flocked to see Mill in his den, in order to inspect things. Mill was a youth with few friends, and it is probable that more of his fellow-Seymourites crossed the threshold of his study on the day after the occurrence than had visited him in the entire course of his school career. Brown would come in to borrow a knife, would sweep the room with one comprehensive glance, and depart, to be followed at brief intervals by Smith, Robinson, and Jones, who came respectively to learn the right time, to borrow a book, and to ask him if he had seen a pencil anywhere. Towards the end of the day, Mill would seem to have wearied somewhat of the proceedings, as was proved when Master Thomas Renford, aged fourteen (who fagged for Milton, the head of the house), burst in on the thin pretence that he had mistaken the study for that of his rightful master, and gave vent to a prolonged whistle of surprise and satisfaction at the sight of the ruins. On that occasion, the incensed owner of the dismantled study, taking a mean advantage of the fact that he was a prefect, and so entitled to wield the rod, produced a handy swagger-stick from an adjacent corner, and, inviting Master Renford to bend over, gave him six of the best to remember him by. Which ceremony being concluded, he kicked him out into the passage, and Renford went down to the junior day-room to tell his friend Harvey about it.
“Gave me six, the cad,” said he, “just because I had a look at his beastly study. Why shouldn’t I look at his study if I like? I’ve a jolly good mind to go up and have another squint.”
Harvey warmly approved the scheme.
“No, I don’t think I will,” said Renford with a yawn. “It’s such a fag going upstairs.”
“Yes, isn’t it?” said Harvey.
“And he’s such a beast, too.”
“Yes, isn’t he?” said Harvey.
“I’m jolly glad his study has been ragged,” continued the vindictive Renford.
“It’s jolly exciting, isn’t it?” added Harvey. “And I thought this term was going to be slow. The Easter term generally is.”
This remark seemed to suggest a train of thought to Renford, who made the following cryptic observation. “Have you seen them today?”
To the ordinary person the words would have conveyed little meaning. To Harvey they appeared to teem with import.
“Yes,” he said, “I saw them early this morning.”
“Were they all right?”
“Good,” said Renford.
Barry’s friend Drummond was one of those who had visited the scene of the disaster early, before Mill’s energetic hand had repaired the damage done, and his narrative was consequently in some demand.
“The place was in a frightful muck,” he said. “Everything smashed except the table; and ink all over the place. Whoever did it must have been fairly sick with him, or he’d never have taken the trouble to do it so thoroughly. Made a fair old hash of things, didn’t he, Bertie?”
“Bertie” was the form in which the school elected to serve up the name of De Bertini. Raoul de Bertini was a French boy who had come to Wrykyn in the previous term. Drummond’s father had met his father in Paris, and Drummond was supposed to be looking after Bertie. They shared a study together. Bertie could not speak much English, and what he did speak was, like Mill’s furniture, badly broken.
“Pardon?” he said.
“Doesn’t matter,” said Drummond, “it wasn’t anything important. I was only appealing to you for corroborative detail to give artistic verisimilitude to a bald and unconvincing narrative.”
Bertie grinned politely. He always grinned when he was not quite equal to the intellectual pressure of the conversation. As a consequence of which, he was generally, like Mrs Fezziwig, one vast, substantial smile.
“I never liked Mill much,” said Barry, “but I think it’s rather bad luck on the man.”
“Once,” announced M’Todd, solemnly, “he kicked me—for making a row in the passage.” It was plain that the recollection rankled.
Barry would probably have pointed out what an excellent and praiseworthy act on Mill’s part that had been, when Rand-Brown came in.
“Prefects’ meeting?” he inquired. “Or haven’t they made you a prefect yet, M’Todd?”
M’Todd said they had not.
Nobody present liked Rand-Brown, and they looked at him rather inquiringly, as if to ask what he had come for. A friend may drop in for a chat. An acquaintance must justify his intrusion.
Rand-Brown ignored the silent inquiry. He seated himself on the table, and dragged up a chair to rest his legs on.
“Talking about Mill, of course?” he said.
“Yes,” said Drummond. “Have you seen his study since it happened?”
Rand-Brown smiled, as if the recollection amused him. He was one of those people who do not look their best when they smile.
“Playing for the first tomorrow, Barry?”
“I don’t know,” said Barry, shortly. “I haven’t seen the list.”
He objected to the introduction of the topic. It is never pleasant to have to discuss games with the very man one has ousted from the team.
Drummond, too, seemed to feel that the situation was an embarrassing one, for a few minutes later he got up to go over to the gymnasium.
“Any of you chaps coming?” he asked.
Barry and M’Todd thought they would, and the three left the room.
“Nothing like showing a man you don’t want him, eh, Bertie? What do you think?” said Rand-Brown.
Bertie grinned politely.