XIV. The White Figure.
 

"Suppose," said Shoeblossom to Barry, as they were walking over to school on the morning following the day on which Milton's study had passed through the hands of the League, "suppose you thought somebody had done something, but you weren't quite certain who, but you knew it was some one, what would you do?"

"What on earth do you mean?" inquired Barry.

"I was trying to make an A.B. case of it," explained Shoeblossom.

"What's an A.B. case?"

"I don't know," admitted Shoeblossom, frankly. "But it comes in a book of Stevenson's. I think it must mean a sort of case where you call everyone A. and B. and don't tell their names."

"Well, go ahead."

"It's about Milton's study."

"What! what about it?"

"Well, you see, the night it was ragged I was sitting in my study with a dark lantern--"

"What!"

Shoeblossom proceeded to relate the moving narrative of his night-walking adventure. He dwelt movingly on his state of mind when standing behind the door, waiting for Mr Seymour to come in and find him. He related with appropriate force the hair-raising episode of the weird white figure. And then he came to the conclusions he had since drawn (in calmer moments) from that apparition's movements.

"You see," he said, "I saw it coming out of Milton's study, and that must have been about the time the study was ragged. And it went into Rigby's dorm. So it must have been a chap in that dorm, who did it."

Shoeblossom was quite clever at rare intervals. Even Barry, whose belief in his sanity was of the smallest, was compelled to admit that here, at any rate, he was talking sense.

"What would you do?" asked Shoeblossom.

"Tell Milton, of course," said Barry.

"But he'd give me beans for being out of the dorm, after lights-out."

This was a distinct point to be considered. The attitude of Barry towards Milton was different from that of Shoeblossom. Barry regarded him--through having played with him in important matches--as a good sort of fellow who had always behaved decently to him. Leather-Twigg, on the other hand, looked on him with undisguised apprehension, as one in authority who would give him lines the first time he came into contact with him, and cane him if he ever did it again. He had a decided disinclination to see Milton on any pretext whatever.

"Suppose I tell him?" suggested Barry.

"You'll keep my name dark?" said Shoeblossom, alarmed.

Barry said he would make an A.B. case of it.

After school he went to Milton's study, and found him still brooding over its departed glories.

"I say, Milton, can I speak to you for a second?"

"Hullo, Barry. Come in."

Barry came in.

"I had forty-three photographs," began Milton, without preamble. "All destroyed. And I've no money to buy any more. I had seventeen of Edna May."

Barry, feeling that he was expected to say something, said, "By Jove! Really?"

"In various positions," continued Milton. "All ruined."

"Not really?" said Barry.

"There was one of Little Tich--"

But Barry felt unequal to playing the part of chorus any longer. It was all very thrilling, but, if Milton was going to run through the entire list of his destroyed photographs, life would be too short for conversation on any other topic.

"I say, Milton," he said, "it was about that that I came. I'm sorry--"

Milton sat up.

"It wasn't you who did this, was it?"

"No, no," said Barry, hastily.

"Oh, I thought from your saying you were sorry--"

"I was going to say I thought I could put you on the track of the chap who did do it--"

For the second time since the interview began Milton sat up.

"Go on," he said.

"--But I'm sorry I can't give you the name of the fellow who told me about it."

"That doesn't matter," said Milton. "Tell me the name of the fellow who did it. That'll satisfy me."

"I'm afraid I can't do that, either."

"Have you any idea what you can do?" asked Milton, satirically.

"I can tell you something which may put you on the right track."

"That'll do for a start. Well?"

"Well, the chap who told me--I'll call him A.; I'm going to make an A.B. case of it--was coming out of his study at about one o'clock in the morning--"

"What the deuce was he doing that for?"

"Because he wanted to go back to bed," said Barry.

"About time, too. Well?"

"As he was going past your study, a white figure emerged--"

"I should strongly advise you, young Barry," said Milton, gravely, "not to try and rot me in any way. You're a jolly good wing three-quarters, but you shouldn't presume on it. I'd slay the Old Man himself if he rotted me about this business."

Barry was quite pained at this sceptical attitude in one whom he was going out of his way to assist.

"I'm not rotting," he protested. "This is all quite true."

"Well, go on. You were saying something about white figures emerging."

"Not white figures. A white figure," corrected Barry. "It came out of your study--"

"--And vanished through the wall?"

"It went into Rigby's dorm.," said Barry, sulkily. It was maddening to have an exclusive bit of news treated in this way.

"Did it, by Jove!" said Milton, interested at last. "Are you sure the chap who told you wasn't pulling your leg? Who was it told you?"

"I promised him not to say."

"Out with it, young Barry."

"I won't," said Barry.

"You aren't going to tell me?"

"No."

Milton gave up the point with much cheerfulness. He liked Barry, and he realised that he had no right to try and make him break his promise.

"That's all right," he said. "Thanks very much, Barry. This may be useful."

"I'd tell you his name if I hadn't promised, you know, Milton."

"It doesn't matter," said Milton. "It's not important."

"Oh, there was one thing I forgot. It was a biggish chap the fellow saw."

"How big! My size?"

"Not quite so tall, I should think. He said he was about Seymour's size."

"Thanks. That's worth knowing. Thanks very much, Barry."

When his visitor had gone, Milton proceeded to unearth one of the printed lists of the house which were used for purposes of roll-call. He meant to find out who were in Rigby's dormitory. He put a tick against the names. There were eighteen of them. The next thing was to find out which of them was about the same height as Mr Seymour. It was a somewhat vague description, for the house-master stood about five feet nine or eight, and a good many of the dormitory were that height, or near it. At last, after much brain-work, he reduced the number of "possibles" to seven. These seven were Rigby himself, Linton, Rand-Brown, Griffith, Hunt, Kershaw, and Chapple. Rigby might be scratched off the list at once. He was one of Milton's greatest friends. Exeunt also Griffith, Hunt, and Kershaw. They were mild youths, quite incapable of any deed of devilry. There remained, therefore, Chapple, Linton, and Rand-Brown. Chapple was a boy who was invariably late for breakfast. The inference was that he was not likely to forego his sleep for the purpose of wrecking studies. Chapple might disappear from the list. Now there were only Linton and Rand-Brown to be considered. His suspicions fell on Rand-Brown. Linton was the last person, he thought, to do such a low thing. He was a cheerful, rollicking individual, who was popular with everyone and seemed to like everyone. He was not an orderly member of the house, certainly, and on several occasions Milton had found it necessary to drop on him heavily for creating disturbances. But he was not the sort that bears malice. He took it all in the way of business, and came up smiling after it was over. No, everything pointed to Rand-Brown. He and Milton had never got on well together, and quite recently they had quarrelled openly over the former's play in the Day's match. Rand-Brown must be the man. But Milton was sensible enough to feel that so far he had no real evidence whatever. He must wait.

On the following afternoon Seymour's turned out to play Donaldson's.

The game, like most house-matches, was played with the utmost keenness. Both teams had good three-quarters, and they attacked in turn. Seymour's had the best of it forward, where Milton was playing a great game, but Trevor in the centre was the best outside on the field, and pulled up rush after rush. By half-time neither side had scored.

After half-time Seymour's, playing downhill, came away with a rush to the Donaldsonites' half, and Rand-Brown, with one of the few decent runs he had made in good class football that term, ran in on the left. Milton took the kick, but failed, and Seymour's led by three points. For the next twenty minutes nothing more was scored. Then, when five minutes more of play remained, Trevor gave Clowes an easy opening, and Clowes sprinted between the posts. The kick was an easy one, and what sporting reporters term "the major points" were easily added.

When there are five more minutes to play in an important house-match, and one side has scored a goal and the other a try, play is apt to become spirited. Both teams were doing all they knew. The ball came out to Barry on the right. Barry's abilities as a three-quarter rested chiefly on the fact that he could dodge well. This eel-like attribute compensated for a certain lack of pace. He was past the Donaldson's three-quarters in an instant, and running for the line, with only the back to pass, and with Clowes in hot pursuit. Another wriggle took him past the back, but it also gave Clowes time to catch him up. Clowes was a far faster runner, and he got to him just as he reached the twenty-five line. They came down together with a crash, Clowes on top, and as they fell the whistle blew.

"No-side," said Mr. Aldridge, the master who was refereeing.

Clowes got up.

"All over," he said. "Jolly good game. Hullo, what's up?"

For Barry seemed to be in trouble.

"You might give us a hand up," said the latter. "I believe I've twisted my beastly ankle or something."