The Captain, October 1903
 


CHAPTER I.

the fifteenth place.

“OUTSIDE!”

“Don’t be an idiot, man. I bagged it first.”

“My dear chap, I’ve been waiting here a month.”

“When you fellows have quite finished rotting about in front of that bath, don’t let me detain you.”

“Anybody seen that sponge?”

“Well, look here”—this in a tone of compromise—“let’s toss for it.”

“All right. Odd man out.”

All of which, being interpreted, meant that the first match of the Easter term had just come to an end, and that those of the team who, being day boys, changed over at the pavilion, instead of performing the operation at leisure and in comfort, as did the members of houses, were discussing the vital question—who was to have first bath?

The Field Sports Committee at Wrykyn—that is, at the school which stood some half-mile outside that town and took its name from it—were not lavish in their expenditure as regarded the changing accommodation in the pavilion. Letters appeared in every second number of the Wrykinian, some short, others long, some from members of the school, others from Old Boys, all protesting against the condition of the first, second, and third fifteen dressing-rooms. “Indignant” would inquire acidly, in half a page of small type, if the editor happened to be aware that there was no hair-brush in the second room, and only half a comb. “Disgusted O. W.” would remark that when he came down with the Wandering Zephyrs to play against the third fifteen, the water supply had suddenly and mysteriously failed, and the W.Z.’s had been obliged to go home as they were in a state of primeval grime, and he thought that this was “a very bad thing in a school of over six hundred boys,” though what the number of boys had to do with the fact that there was no water he omitted to explain. The editor would express his regret in brackets, and things would go on as before.

There was only one bath in the first fifteen room, and there were on the present occasion six claimants to it. And each claimant was of the fixed opinion that, whatever happened subsequently, he was going to have it first. Finally, on the suggestion of Otway, who had reduced tossing to a fine art, a mystic game of Tommy Dodd was played. Otway having triumphantly obtained first innings, the conversation reverted to the subject of the match.

The Easter term always opened with a scratch game against a mixed team of masters and old boys, and the school usually won without any great exertion. On this occasion the match had been rather more even than the average, and the team had only just pulled the thing off by a couple of tries to a goal. Otway expressed an opinion that the school had played badly.

“Why on earth don’t you forwards let the ball out occasionally?” he asked. Otway was one of the first fifteen halves.

“They were so jolly heavy in the scrum,” said Maurice, one of the forwards. “And when we did let it out, the outsides nearly always mucked it.”

“Well, it wasn’t the halves’ fault. We always got it out to the centres.”

“It wasn’t the centres,” put in Robinson. “They played awfully well. Trevor was ripping.”

“Trevor always is,” said Otway; “I should think he’s about the best captain we’ve had here for a long time. He’s certainly one of the best centres.”

“Best there’s been since Rivers-Jones,” said Clephane.

Rivers-Jones was one of those players who mark an epoch. He had been in the team fifteen years ago, and had left Wrykyn to captain Cambridge and play three years in succession for Wales. The school regarded the standard set by him as one that did not admit of comparison. However good a Wrykyn centre three-quarter might be, the most he could hope to be considered was “the best since Rivers-Jones.” “Since” Rivers-Jones, however, covered fifteen years, and to be looked on as the best centre the school could boast of during that time, meant something. For Wrykyn knew how to play football.

Since it had been decided thus that the faults in the school attack did not lie with the halves, forwards, or centres, it was more or less evident that they must be attributable to the wings. And the search for the weak spot was even further narrowed down by the general verdict that Clowes, on the left wing, had played well. With a beautiful unanimity the six occupants of the first fifteen room came to the conclusion that the man who had let the team down that day had been the man on the right—Rand-Brown, to wit, of Seymour’s.

“I’ll bet he doesn’t stay in the first long,” said Clephane, who was now in the bath, vice Otway, retired. “I suppose they had to try him, as he was the senior wing three-quarter of the second, but he’s no earthly good.”

“He only got into the second because he’s big,” was Robinson’s opinion. “A man who’s big and strong can always get his second colours.”

“Even if he’s a funk, like Rand-Brown,” said Clephane. “Did any of you chaps notice the way he let Paget through that time he scored for them? He simply didn’t attempt to tackle him. He could have brought him down like a shot if he’d only gone for him. Paget was running straight along the touch-line, and hadn’t any room to dodge. I know Trevor was jolly sick about it. And then he let him through once before in just the same way in the first half, only Trevor got round and stopped him. He was rank.”

“Missed every other pass, too,” said Otway.

Clephane summed up.

“He was rank,” he said again. “Trevor won’t keep him in the team long.”

“I wish Paget hadn’t left,” said Otway, referring to the wing three-quarter who, by leaving unexpectedly at the end of the Christmas term, had let Rand-Brown into the team. His loss was likely to be felt. Up till Christmas Wrykyn had done well, and Paget had been their scoring man. Rand-Brown had occupied a similar position in the second fifteen. He was big and speedy, and in second fifteen matches these qualities make up for a great deal. If a man scores one or two tries in nearly every match, people are inclined to overlook in him such failings as timidity and clumsiness. It is only when he comes to be tried in football of a higher class that he is seen through. In the second fifteen the fact that Rand-Brown was afraid to tackle his man had almost escaped notice. But the habit would not do in first fifteen circles.

“All the same,” said Clephane, pursuing his subject, “if they don’t play him, I don’t see who they’re going to get. He’s the best of the second three-quarters, as far as I can see.”

It was this very problem that was puzzling Trevor, as he walked off the field with Paget and Clowes, when they had got into their blazers after the match. Clowes was in the same house as Trevor—Donaldson’s—and Paget was staying there, too. He had been head of Donaldson’s up to Christmas.

“It strikes me,” said Paget, “the school haven’t got over the holidays yet. I never saw such a lot of slackers. You ought to have taken thirty points off the sort of team you had against you to-day.”

“Have you ever known the school play well on the second day of term?” asked Clowes. “The forwards always play as if the whole thing bored them to death.”

“It wasn’t the forwards that mattered so much,” said Trevor. “They’ll shake down all right after a few matches. A little running and passing will put them right.”

“Let’s hope so,” Paget observed, “or we might as well scratch to Ripton at once. There’s a jolly sight too much of the mince-pie and Christmas pudding about their play at present.” There was a pause. Then Paget brought out the question towards which he had been moving all the time.

“What do you think of Rand-Brown?” he asked.

It was pretty clear by the way he spoke what he thought of that player himself, but in discussing with a football captain the capabilities of the various members of his team, it is best to avoid a too positive statement one way or the other before one has heard his views on the subject. And Paget was one of those people who like to know the opinions of others before committing themselves.

Clowes, on the other hand, was in the habit of forming his views on his own account, and expressing them. If people agreed with them, well and good: it afforded strong presumptive evidence of their sanity. If they disagreed, it was unfortunate, but he was not going to alter his opinions for that, unless convinced at great length that they were unsound. He summed things up, and gave you the result. You could take it or leave it, as you preferred.

“I thought he was bad,” said Clowes.

“Bad!” exclaimed Trevor, “he was a disgrace. One can understand a chap having his off-days at any game, but one doesn’t expect a man in the Wrykyn first to funk. He mucked five out of every six passes I gave him, too, and the ball wasn’t a bit slippery. Still, I shouldn’t mind that so much if he had only gone for his man properly. It isn’t being out of practice that makes you funk. And even when he did have a try at you, Paget, he always went high.”

“That,” said Clowes thoughtfully, “would seem to show that he was game.”

Nobody so much as smiled. Nobody ever did smile at Clowes’ essays in wit, perhaps because of the solemn, almost sad, tone of voice in which he delivered them. He was tall and dark and thin, and had a pensive eye, which encouraged the more soulful of his female relatives to entertain hopes that he would some day take orders.

“Well,” said Paget, relieved at finding that he did not stand alone in his views on Rand-Brown’s performance, “I must say I thought he was awfully bad myself.”

“I shall try somebody else next match,” said Trevor. “It’ll be rather hard, though. The man one would naturally put in, Bryce, left at Christmas, worse luck.”

Bryce was the other wing three-quarter of the second fifteen.

“Isn’t there anybody in the third?” asked Paget.

“Barry,” said Clowes briefly.

“Clowes thinks Barry’s good,” explained Trevor.

“He is good,” said Clowes. “I admit he’s small, but he can tackle.”

“The question is, would he be any good in the first? A chap might do jolly well for the third, and still not be worth trying for the first.”

“I don’t remember much about Barry,” said Paget, “except being collared by him when we played Seymour’s last year in the final. I certainly came away with a sort of impression that he could tackle. I thought he marked me jolly well.”

“There you are, then,” said Clowes. “A year ago Barry could tackle Paget. There’s no reason for supposing that he’s fallen off since then. We’ve seen that Rand-Brown can’t tackle Paget. Ergo, Barry is better worth playing for the team than Rand-Brown. Q.E.D.”

“All right, then,” replied Trevor. “There can’t be any harm in trying him. We’ll have another scratch game on Thursday. Will you be here then, Paget?”

“Oh, yes. I’m stopping till Saturday.”

“Good man. Then we shall be able to see how he does against you. I wish you hadn’t left, though, by Jove. We should have had Ripton on toast, the same as last term.”

Wrykyn played five schools, but six school matches. The school that they played twice in the season was Ripton. To win one Ripton match meant that, however many losses it might have sustained in the other matches, the school had had, at any rate, a passable season. To win two Ripton matches in the same year was almost unheard of. This year there had seemed every likelihood of it. The match before Christmas on the Ripton ground had resulted in a win for Wrykyn by two goals and a try to a try. But the calculations of the school had been upset by the sudden departure of Paget at the end of term, and also of Bryce, who had hitherto been regarded as his understudy. And in the first Ripton match the two goals had both been scored by Paget, and both had been brilliant bits of individual play, which a lesser man could not have carried through.

The conclusion, therefore, at which the school reluctantly arrived, was that their chances of winning the second match could not be judged by their previous success. They would have to approach the Easter term fixture from another—a non-Paget—standpoint. In these circumstances it became a serious problem: who was to get the fifteenth place? Whoever played in Paget’s stead against Ripton would be certain, if the match were won, to receive his colours. Who, then, would fill the vacancy?

“Rand-Brown, of course,” said the crowd.

But the experts, as we have shown, were of a different opinion.


CHAPTER II.

the gold bat.

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 indiarubber.” 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 indiarubber, 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. 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 sha’n’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.”

“Come to tea and bring your bat,” repeated the fag, obediently; “all right—I won’t forget.”


CHAPTER III.

the mayor’s statue.

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 300 to 306 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 to-day, for several reasons. He had begun the day well by scoring brilliantly off 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——”

He stopped.

“Well?”

“No. Ye’re prefects.”

“What’s that got to do with it?”

“Ye won’t report it?”

“If you want a plug in the eye, George,” said Clowes, in the deathless words of Mr. W. W. Jacobs’ able-bodied seaman, “you’ve only to say so, you know. What do you take us for? Go ahead.”

O’Hara explained that he “did but jest.”

“But really, 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 dishturbances in the House. Why is it, O’Hara,’ he said, ‘that Irishmen are always thrusting themselves forward and making dishturbances 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?”

“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 boathouse 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.


CHAPTER IV.

the league’s warning.

THE team to play in any match was always put upon the notice-board at the foot of the stairs in the senior block a day before the date of the fixture. Both first and second fifteens had matches on the Thursday of this week. The second were playing a team brought down by an old Wrykinian. The first had a scratch game.

When Barry, accompanied by McTodd, who shared his study at Seymour’s and rarely left him for two minutes on end, passed by the notice-board at the quarter to eleven interval, it was to the second fifteen list that he turned his attention. Now that Bryce had left, he thought he might have a chance of getting into the second. His only real rival, he considered, was Crawford, of the School House, who was the other wing three-quarter of the third fifteen. The first name he saw on the list was Crawford’s. It seemed to be written twice as large as any of the others, and his own was nowhere to be seen. The fact that he had half expected the calamity made things no better. He had set his heart on playing for the second this term.

Then suddenly he noticed a remarkable phenomenon. The other wing three-quarter was Rand-Brown. If Rand-Brown was playing for the second, who was playing for the first?

He looked at the list.

Come on,” he said hastily to McTodd. He wanted to get away somewhere where his agitated condition would not be noticed. He felt quite faint at the shock of seeing his name on the list of the first fifteen. There it was, however, as large as life. “M. Barry.” Separated from the rest by a thin red line, but still there. In his most optimistic moments he had never dreamed of this. McTodd was reading slowly through the list of the second. He did everything slowly, except eating.

“Come on,” said Barry again.

McTodd had, after much deliberation, arrived at a profound truth. He turned to Barry, and imparted his discovery to him in the weighty manner of one who realises the importance of his words.

“Look here,” he said, “your name’s not down here.”

“I know. Come on.”

“But that means you’re not playing for the second.”

“Of course it does. Well, if you aren’t coming, I’m off.”

“But, look here——”

Barry disappeared through the door. After a moment’s pause, McTodd followed him. He came up with him on the senior gravel.

“What’s up?” he inquired.

“Nothing,” said Barry.

“Are you sick about not playing for the second?”

“No.”

“You are, really. Come and have a bun.”

In the philosophy of McTodd it was indeed a deep-rooted sorrow that could not be cured by the internal application of a new, hot bun. It had never failed in his own case.

“Bun!” Barry was quite shocked at the suggestion. “I can’t afford to get myself out of condition with beastly buns.”

“But if you aren’t playing——”

“You ass. I’m playing for the first. Now do you see?”

McTodd gaped. His mind never worked very rapidly. “What about Rand-Brown, then?” he said.

“Rand-Brown’s been chucked out. Can’t you understand? You are an idiot. Rand-Brown’s playing for the second, and I’m playing for the first.”

“But you’re——”

He stopped. He had been going to point out that Barry’s tender years—he was only sixteen—and smallness would make it impossible for him to play with success for the first fifteen. He refrained owing to a conviction that the remark would not be wholly judicious. Barry was touchy on the subject of his size, and McTodd had suffered before now for commenting on it in a disparaging spirit.

“I tell you what we’ll do after school,” said Barry, “we’ll have some running and passing. It’ll do you a lot of good, and I want to practise taking passes at full speed. You can trot along at your ordinary pace, and I’ll sprint up from behind.”

McTodd saw no objection to that. Trotting along at his ordinary pace—five miles an hour—would just suit him.

“Then after that,” continued Barry, with a look of enthusiasm, “I want to practise passing back to my centre. Paget used to do it awfully well last term, and I know Trevor expects his wing to. So I’ll buck along, and you race up to take my pass. See?”

This was not in McTodd’s line at all. He proposed a slight alteration in the scheme.

“Hadn’t you better get somebody else——?” he began.

“Don’t be a slack beast,” said Barry. “You want exercise awfully badly.”

And, as McTodd always did exactly as Barry wished, he gave in, and spent from four-thirty to five that afternoon in the prescribed manner. A suggestion on his part at five sharp that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to go and have some tea was not favourably received by the enthusiastic three-quarter, who proposed to devote what time remained before lock-up to practising drop-kicking. It was a painful alternative that faced McTodd. His allegiance to Barry demanded that he should consent to the scheme. On the other hand, his allegiance to afternoon tea—equally strong—called him back to the house, where there was cake, yea, and muffins. In the end the question was solved by the appearance of Drummond, of Seymour’s, garbed in football things, and also anxious to practise drop-kicking. So McTodd was dismissed to his tea with opprobrious epithets, and Barry and Drummond settled down to a little serious and scientific work.

Making allowances for the inevitable attack of nerves that attends a first appearance in higher football circles than one is accustomed to, Barry did well against the scratch team—certainly far better than Rand-Brown had done. His smallness was, of course, against him, and, on the only occasion on which he really got away, Paget overtook him and brought him down. But then Paget was exceptionally fast. In the two most important branches of the game, the taking of passes and tackling, Barry did well. As far as pluck went he had enough for two, and when the whistle blew for no-side he had not let Paget through once, and Trevor felt that his inclusion in the team had been justified. There was another scratch game on the Saturday. Barry played in it, and did much better. Paget had gone away by an early train, and the man he had to mark now was one of the masters, who had been good in his time, but was getting a trifle old for football. Barry scored twice, and on one occasion, by passing back to Trevor after the manner of Paget, enabled the captain to run in. And Trevor, like the captain in “Billy Taylor,” “werry much approved of what he’d done.” Barry began to be regarded in the school as a regular member of the fifteen. The first of the fixture-card matches, versus the Town, was due on the following Saturday, and it was generally expected that he would play. McTodd’s devotion increased every day. He even went to the length of taking long runs with him. And if there was one thing in the world that McTodd loathed, it was a long run.

On the Thursday before the match against the Town, Clowes came chuckling to Trevor’s study after preparation, and asked him if he had heard the latest.

“Have you ever heard of The League?” he said.

Trevor pondered.

“I don’t think so,” he replied.

“How long have you been at the school?”

“Let’s see. It’ll be five years at the end of the summer term.”

“Ah, then you wouldn’t remember. I’ve been here a couple of terms longer than you, and the row about the league was in my first term.”

“What was the row?”

“Oh, only some chaps formed a sort of secret society in the place. Kind of Vehmgericht, you know. If they got their knife into any one, he usually got beans, and could never find out where they came from. At first, as a matter of fact, the thing was quite a philanthropical concern. There used to be a good deal of bullying in the place then—at least, in some of the houses—and, as the prefects couldn’t or wouldn’t stop it, some fellows started this League.”

“Did it work?”

“Work! By Jove, I should think it did. Chaps who previously couldn’t get through the day without making some wretched kid’s life not worth living used to go about as nervous as cats, looking over their shoulders every other second. There was one man in particular, a chap called Leigh. He was hauled out of bed one night, blindfolded, and ducked in a cold bath. He was in the School House.”

“Why did the League bust up?”

“Well, partly because the fellows left, but chiefly because they didn’t stick to the philanthropist idea. If anybody did anything they didn’t like, they used to go for him. At last they put their foot into it badly. A chap called Robinson—in this house, by the way—offended them in some way, and one morning he was found tied up in the bath, up to his neck in cold water. Apparently he’d been there about an hour. He got pneumonia, and almost died, and then the authorities began to get going. Robinson thought he had recognised the voice of one of the chaps—I forget his name. The chap was had up by the Old Man, and gave the show away entirely. About a dozen fellows were sacked, clean off the reel. Since then the thing has been dropped.”

“But what about it? What were you going to say when you came in?”

“Why, it’s been revived!”

“Rot!”

“It’s a fact. Do you know Mill, a prefect, in Seymour’s?”

“Only by sight.”

“I met him just now. He’s in a raving condition. His study’s been wrecked. You never saw such a sight. Everything upside down or smashed. He has been showing me the ruins.”

“I believe Mill is awfully barred in Seymour’s,” said Trevor. “Anybody might have ragged his study.”

“That’s just what I thought. He’s just the sort of man the League used to go for.”

“That doesn’t prove that it’s been revived, all the same,” objected Trevor.

“No, friend. But this does. Mill found it tied to a chair.”

It was a small card. It looked like an ordinary visiting card. On it, in neat print, were the words, “With the compliments of the League.”

“That’s exactly the same sort of card as they used to use,” said Clowes. “I’ve seen some of them. What do you think of that?”

“I think whoever has started the thing is a pretty average-sized idiot. He’s bound to get caught some time or other, and then out he goes. The Old Man wouldn’t think twice about sacking a chap of that sort.”

“A chap of that sort,” said Clowes, “will take jolly good care he isn’t caught. But it’s rather sport, isn’t it!”

And he went off to his study.

Next day there was further evidence that the League was an actual going concern. When Trevor came down to breakfast, he found a letter by his plate. It was printed, as the card had been. It was signed “The President of the League.” And the purport of it was that the League did not wish Barry to continue to play for the first fifteen.

(To be continued.)