XV. A Sprain and a Vacant Place.
 

"I say," said Clowes, helping him up, "I'm awfully sorry. Did I do it? How did it happen?"

Barry was engaged in making various attempts at standing on the injured leg. The process seemed to be painful.

"Shall I get a stretcher or anything? Can you walk?"

"If you'd help me over to the house, I could manage all right. What a beastly nuisance! It wasn't your fault a bit. Only you tackled me when I was just trying to swerve, and my ankle was all twisted."

Drummond came up, carrying Barry's blazer and sweater.

"Hullo, Barry," he said, "what's up? You aren't crocked?"

"Something gone wrong with my ankle. That my blazer? Thanks. Coming over to the house? Clowes was just going to help me over."

Clowes asked a Donaldson's junior, who was lurking near at hand, to fetch his blazer and carry it over to the house, and then made his way with Drummond and the disabled Barry to Seymour's. Having arrived at the senior day-room, they deposited the injured three-quarter in a chair, and sent M'Todd, who came in at the moment, to fetch the doctor.

Dr Oakes was a big man with a breezy manner, the sort of doctor who hits you with the force of a sledge-hammer in the small ribs, and asks you if you felt anything then. It was on this principle that he acted with regard to Barry's ankle. He seized it in both hands and gave it a wrench.

"Did that hurt?" he inquired anxiously.

Barry turned white, and replied that it did.

Dr Oakes nodded wisely.

"Ah! H'm! Just so. 'Myes. Ah."

"Is it bad?" asked Drummond, awed by these mystic utterances.

"My dear boy," replied the doctor, breezily, "it is always bad when one twists one's ankle."

"How long will it do me out of footer?" asked Barry.

"How long? How long? How long? Why, fortnight. Fortnight," said the doctor.

"Then I shan't be able to play next Saturday?"

"Next Saturday? Next Saturday? My dear boy, if you can put your foot to the ground by next Saturday, you may take it as evidence that the age of miracles is not past. Next Saturday, indeed! Ha, ha."

It was not altogether his fault that he treated the matter with such brutal levity. It was a long time since he had been at school, and he could not quite realise what it meant to Barry not to be able to play against Ripton. As for Barry, he felt that he had never loathed and detested any one so thoroughly as he loathed and detested Dr Oakes at that moment.

"I don't see where the joke comes in," said Clowes, when he had gone. "I bar that man."

"He's a beast," said Drummond. "I can't understand why they let a tout like that be the school doctor."

Barry said nothing. He was too sore for words.

What Dr Oakes said to his wife that evening was: "Over at the school, my dear, this afternoon. This afternoon. Boy with a twisted ankle. Nice young fellow. Very much put out when I told him he could not play football for a fortnight. But I chaffed him, and cheered him up in no time. I cheered him up in no time, my dear."

"I'm sure you did, dear," said Mrs Oakes. Which shows how differently the same thing may strike different people. Barry certainly did not look as if he had been cheered up when Clowes left the study and went over to tell Trevor that he would have to find a substitute for his right wing three-quarter against Ripton.

Trevor had left the field without noticing Barry's accident, and he was tremendously pleased at the result of the game.

"Good man," he said, when Clowes came in, "you saved the match."

"And lost the Ripton match probably," said Clowes, gloomily.

"What do you mean?"

"That last time I brought down Barry I crocked him. He's in his study now with a sprained ankle. I've just come from there. Oakes has seen him, and says he mustn't play for a fortnight."

"Great Scott!" said Trevor, blankly. "What on earth shall we do?"

"Why not move Strachan up to the wing, and put somebody else back instead of him? Strachan is a good wing."

Trevor shook his head.

"No. There's nobody good enough to play back for the first. We mustn't risk it."

"Then I suppose it must be Rand-Brown?"

"I suppose so."

"He may do better than we think. He played quite a decent game today. That try he got wasn't half a bad one."

"He'd be all right if he didn't funk. But perhaps he wouldn't funk against Ripton. In a match like that anybody would play up. I'll ask Milton and Allardyce about it."

"I shouldn't go to Milton today," said Clowes. "I fancy he'll want a night's rest before he's fit to talk to. He must be a bit sick about this match. I know he expected Seymour's to win."

He went out, but came back almost immediately.

"I say," he said, "there's one thing that's just occurred to me. This'll please the League. I mean, this ankle business of Barry's."

The same idea had struck Trevor. It was certainly a respite. But he regretted it for all that. What he wanted was to beat Ripton, and Barry's absence would weaken the team. However, it was good in its way, and cleared the atmosphere for the time. The League would hardly do anything with regard to the carrying out of their threat while Barry was on the sick-list.

Next day, having given him time to get over the bitterness of defeat in accordance with Clowes' thoughtful suggestion, Trevor called on Milton, and asked him what his opinion was on the subject of the inclusion of Rand-Brown in the first fifteen in place of Barry,

"He's the next best man," he added, in defence of the proposal.

"I suppose so," said Milton. "He'd better play, I suppose. There's no one else."

"Clowes thought it wouldn't be a bad idea to shove Strachan on the wing, and put somebody else back."

"Who is there to put?"

"Jervis?"

"Not good enough. No, it's better to be weakish on the wing than at back. Besides, Rand-Brown may do all right. He played well against you."

"Yes," said Trevor. "Study looks a bit better now," he added, as he was going, having looked round the room. "Still a bit bare, though."

Milton sighed. "It will never be what it was."

"Forty-three theatrical photographs want some replacing, of course," said Trevor. "But it isn't bad, considering."

"How's yours?"

"Oh, mine's all right, except for the absence of photographs."

"I say, Trevor."

"Yes?" said Trevor, stopping at the door. Milton's voice had taken on the tone of one who is about to disclose dreadful secrets.

"Would you like to know what I think?"

"What?"

"Why, I'm pretty nearly sure who it was that ragged my study?"

"By Jove! What have you done to him?"

"Nothing as yet. I'm not quite sure of my man."

"Who is the man?"

"Rand-Brown."

"By Jove! Clowes once said he thought Rand-Brown must be the President of the League. But then, I don't see how you can account for my study being wrecked. He was out on the field when it was done."

"Why, the League, of course. You don't suppose he's the only man in it? There must be a lot of them."

"But what makes you think it was Rand-Brown?"

Milton told him the story of Shoeblossom, as Barry had told it to him. The only difference was that Trevor listened without any of the scepticism which Milton had displayed on hearing it. He was getting excited. It all fitted in so neatly. If ever there was circumstantial evidence against a man, here it was against Rand-Brown. Take the two cases. Milton had quarrelled with him. Milton's study was wrecked "with the compliments of the League". Trevor had turned him out of the first fifteen. Trevor's study was wrecked "with the compliments of the League". As Clowes had pointed out, the man with the most obvious motive for not wishing Barry to play for the school was Rand-Brown. It seemed a true bill.

"I shouldn't wonder if you're right," he said, "but of course one can't do anything yet. You want a lot more evidence. Anyhow, we must play him against Ripton, I suppose. Which is his study? I'll go and tell him now."

"Ten."

Trevor knocked at the door of study Ten. Rand-Brown was sitting over the fire, reading. He jumped up when he saw that it was Trevor who had come in, and to his visitor it seemed that his face wore a guilty look.

"What do you want?" said Rand-Brown.

It was not the politest way of welcoming a visitor. It increased Trevor's suspicions. The man was afraid. A great idea darted into his mind. Why not go straight to the point and have it out with him here and now? He had the League's letter about the bat in his pocket. He would confront him with it and insist on searching the study there and then. If Rand-Brown were really, as he suspected, the writer of the letter, the bat must be in this room somewhere. Search it now, and he would have no time to hide it. He pulled out the letter.

"I believe you wrote that," he said.

Trevor was always direct.

Rand-Brown seemed to turn a little pale, but his voice when he replied was quite steady.

"That's a lie," he said.

"Then, perhaps," said Trevor, "you wouldn't object to proving it."

"How?"

"By letting me search your study?"

"You don't believe my word?"

"Why should I? You don't believe mine."

Rand-Brown made no comment on this remark.

"Was that what you came here for?" he asked.

"No," said Trevor; "as a matter of fact, I came to tell you to turn out for running and passing with the first tomorrow afternoon. You're playing against Ripton on Saturday."

Rand-Brown's attitude underwent a complete transformation at the news. He became friendliness itself.

"All right," he said. "I say, I'm sorry I said what I did about lying. I was rather sick that you should think I wrote that rot you showed me. I hope you don't mind."

"Not a bit. Do you mind my searching your study?"

For a moment Rand-Brown looked vicious. Then he sat down with a laugh.

"Go on," he said; "I see you don't believe me. Here are the keys if you want them."

Trevor thanked him, and took the keys. He opened every drawer and examined the writing-desk. The bat was in none of these places. He looked in the cupboards. No bat there.

"Like to take up the carpet?" inquired Rand-Brown.

"No, thanks."

"Search me if you like. Shall I turn out my pockets?"

"Yes, please," said Trevor, to his surprise. He had not expected to be taken literally.

Rand-Brown emptied them, but the bat was not there. Trevor turned to go.

"You've not looked inside the legs of the chairs yet," said Rand-Brown. "They may be hollow. There's no knowing."

"It doesn't matter, thanks," said Trevor. "Sorry for troubling you. Don't forget tomorrow afternoon."

And he went, with the very unpleasant feeling that he had been badly scored off.