The Gold Bat by P.G. Wodehouse
XIII. Victim Number Three.
"With reference to our last communication," ran the letter--the writer evidently believed in the commercial style--"it may interest you to know that the bat you lost by the statue on the night of the 26th of January has come into our possession. _We observe that Barry is still playing for the first fifteen._"
"And will jolly well continue to," muttered Trevor, crumpling the paper viciously into a ball.
He went on writing the names for the Ripton match. The last name on the list was Barry's.
Then he sat back in his chair, and began to wrestle with this new development. Barry must play. That was certain. All the bluff in the world was not going to keep him from playing the best man at his disposal in the Ripton match. He himself did not count. It was the school he had to think of. This being so, what was likely to happen? Though nothing was said on the point, he felt certain that if he persisted in ignoring the League, that bat would find its way somehow--by devious routes, possibly--to the headmaster or some one else in authority. And then there would be questions--awkward questions--and things would begin to come out. Then a fresh point struck him, which was, that whatever might happen would affect, not himself, but O'Hara. This made it rather more of a problem how to act. Personally, he was one of those dogged characters who can put up with almost anything themselves. If this had been his affair, he would have gone on his way without hesitating. Evidently the writer of the letter was under the impression that he had been the hero (or villain) of the statue escapade.
If everything came out it did not require any great effort of prophecy to predict what the result would be. O'Hara would go. Promptly. He would receive his marching orders within ten minutes of the discovery of what he had done. He would be expelled twice over, so to speak, once for breaking out at night--one of the most heinous offences in the school code--and once for tarring the statue. Anything that gave the school a bad name in the town was a crime in the eyes of the powers, and this was such a particularly flagrant case. Yes, there was no doubt of that. O'Hara would take the first train home without waiting to pack up. Trevor knew his people well, and he could imagine their feelings when the prodigal strolled into their midst--an old Wrykinian _malgre lui_. As the philosopher said of falling off a ladder, it is not the falling that matters: it is the sudden stopping at the other end. It is not the being expelled that is so peculiarly objectionable: it is the sudden homecoming. With this gloomy vision before him, Trevor almost wavered. But the thought that the selection of the team had nothing whatever to do with his personal feelings strengthened him. He was simply a machine, devised to select the fifteen best men in the school to meet Ripton. In his official capacity of football captain he was not supposed to have any feelings. However, he yielded in so far that he went to Clowes to ask his opinion.
Clowes, having heard everything and seen the letter, unhesitatingly voted for the right course. If fifty mad Irishmen were to be expelled, Barry must play against Ripton. He was the best man, and in he must go.
"That's what I thought," said Trevor. "It's bad for O'Hara, though."
Clowes remarked somewhat tritely that business was business.
"Besides," he went on, "you're assuming that the thing this letter hints at will really come off. I don't think it will. A man would have to be such an awful blackguard to go as low as that. The least grain of decency in him would stop him. I can imagine a man threatening to do it as a piece of bluff--by the way, the letter doesn't actually say anything of the sort, though I suppose it hints at it--but I can't imagine anybody out of a melodrama doing it."
"You can never tell," said Trevor. He felt that this was but an outside chance. The forbearance of one's antagonist is but a poor thing to trust to at the best of times.
"Are you going to tell O'Hara?" asked Clowes.
"I don't see the good. Would you?"
"No. He can't do anything, and it would only give him a bad time. There are pleasanter things, I should think, than going on from day to day not knowing whether you're going to be sacked or not within the next twelve hours. Don't tell him."
"I won't. And Barry plays against Ripton."
"Certainly. He's the best man."
"I'm going over to Seymour's now," said Trevor, after a pause, "to see Milton. We've drawn Seymour's in the next round of the house-matches. I suppose you knew. I want to get it over before the Ripton match, for several reasons. About half the fifteen are playing on one side or the other, and it'll give them a good chance of getting fit. Running and passing is all right, but a good, hard game's the thing for putting you into form. And then I was thinking that, as the side that loses, whichever it is--"
"Seymour's, of course."
"Hope so. Well, they're bound to be a bit sick at losing, so they'll play up all the harder on Saturday to console themselves for losing the cup."
"My word, what strategy!" said Clowes. "You think of everything. When do you think of playing it, then?"
"Wednesday struck me as a good day. Don't you think so?"
"It would do splendidly. It'll be a good match. For all practical purposes, of course, it's the final. If we beat Seymour's, I don't think the others will trouble us much."
There was just time to see Milton before lock-up. Trevor ran across to Seymour's, and went up to his study.
"Come in," said Milton, in answer to his knock.
Trevor went in, and stood surprised at the difference in the look of the place since the last time he had visited it. The walls, once covered with photographs, were bare. Milton, seated before the fire, was ruefully contemplating what looked like a heap of waste cardboard.
Trevor recognised the symptoms. He had had experience.
"You don't mean to say they've been at you, too!" he cried.
Milton's normally cheerful face was thunderous and gloomy.
"Yes. I was thinking what I'd like to do to the man who ragged it."
"It's the League again, I suppose?"
Milton looked surprised.
"Again?" he said, "where did you hear of the League? This is the first time I've heard of its existence, whatever it is. What is the confounded thing, and why on earth have they played the fool here? What's the meaning of this bally rot?"
He exhibited one of the variety of cards of which Trevor had already seen two specimens. Trevor explained briefly the style and nature of the League, and mentioned that his study also had been wrecked.
"Your study? Why, what have they got against you?"
"I don't know," said Trevor. Nothing was to be gained by speaking of the letters he had received.
"Did they cut up your photographs?"
"I tell you what it is, Trevor, old chap," said Milton, with great solemnity, "there's a lunatic in the school. That's what I make of it. A lunatic whose form of madness is wrecking studies."
"But the same chap couldn't have done yours and mine. It must have been a Donaldson's fellow who did mine, and one of your chaps who did yours and Mill's."
"Mill's? By Jove, of course. I never thought of that. That was the League, too, I suppose?"
"Yes. One of those cards was tied to a chair, but Clowes took it away before anybody saw it."
Milton returned to the details of the disaster.
"Was there any ink spilt in your room?"
"Pints," said Trevor, shortly. The subject was painful.
"So there was here," said Milton, mournfully. "Gallons."
There was silence for a while, each pondering over his wrongs.
"Gallons," said Milton again. "I was ass enough to keep a large pot full of it here, and they used it all, every drop. You never saw such a sight."
Trevor said he had seen one similar spectacle.
"And my photographs! You remember those photographs I showed you? All ruined. Slit across with a knife. Some torn in half. I wish I knew who did that."
Trevor said he wished so, too.
"There was one of Mrs Patrick Campbell," Milton continued in heartrending tones, "which was torn into sixteen pieces. I counted them. There they are on the mantelpiece. And there was one of Little Tich" (here he almost broke down), "which was so covered with ink that for half an hour I couldn't recognise it. Fact."
Trevor nodded sympathetically.
"Yes," said Milton. "Soaked."
There was another silence. Trevor felt it would be almost an outrage to discuss so prosaic a topic as the date of a house-match with one so broken up. Yet time was flying, and lock-up was drawing near.
"Are you willing to play--" he began.
"I feel as if I could never play again," interrupted Milton. "You'd hardly believe the amount of blotting-paper I've used today. It must have been a lunatic, Dick, old man."
When Milton called Trevor "Dick", it was a sign that he was moved. When he called him "Dick, old man", it gave evidence of an internal upheaval without parallel.
"Why, who else but a lunatic would get up in the night to wreck another chap's study? All this was done between eleven last night and seven this morning. I turned in at eleven, and when I came down here again at seven the place was a wreck. It must have been a lunatic."
"How do you account for the printed card from the League?"
Milton murmured something about madmen's cunning and diverting suspicion, and relapsed into silence. Trevor seized the opportunity to make the proposal he had come to make, that Donaldson's v. Seymour's should be played on the following Wednesday.
Milton agreed listlessly.
"Just where you're standing," he said, "I found a photograph of Sir Henry Irving so slashed about that I thought at first it was Huntley Wright in San Toy."
"Start at two-thirty sharp," said Trevor.
"I had seventeen of Edna May," continued the stricken Seymourite, monotonously. "In various attitudes. All destroyed."
"On the first fifteen ground, of course," said Trevor. "I'll get Aldridge to referee. That'll suit you, I suppose?"
"All right. Anything you like. Just by the fireplace I found the remains of Arthur Roberts in H.M.S. Irresponsible. And part of Seymour Hicks. Under the table--"