XXIV. Conclusion.
 

Into the story at this point comes the narrative of Charles Mereweather Cook, aged fourteen, a day-boy.

Cook arrived at the school on the tenth of March, at precisely nine o'clock, in a state of excitement.

He said there was a row on in the town.

Cross-examined, he said there was no end of a row on in the town.

During morning school he explained further, whispering his tale into the attentive ear of Knight of the School House, who sat next to him.

What sort of a row, Knight wanted to know.

Cook deposed that he had been riding on his bicycle past the entrance to the Recreation Grounds on his way to school, when his eye was attracted by the movements of a mass of men just inside the gate. They appeared to be fighting. Witness did not stop to watch, much as he would have liked to do so. Why not? Why, because he was late already, and would have had to scorch anyhow, in order to get to school in time. And he had been late the day before, and was afraid that old Appleby (the master of the form) would give him beans if he were late again. Wherefore he had no notion of what the men were fighting about, but he betted that more would be heard about it. Why? Because, from what he saw of it, it seemed a jolly big thing. There must have been quite three hundred men fighting. (Knight, satirically, "Pile it on!") Well, quite a hundred, anyhow. Fifty a side. And fighting like anything. He betted there would be something about it in the Wrykyn Patriot tomorrow. He shouldn't wonder if somebody had been killed. What were they scrapping about? How should he know!

Here Mr Appleby, who had been trying for the last five minutes to find out where the whispering noise came from, at length traced it to its source, and forthwith requested Messrs Cook and Knight to do him two hundred lines, adding that, if he heard them talking again, he would put them into the extra lesson. Silence reigned from that moment.

Next day, while the form was wrestling with the moderately exciting account of Caesar's doings in Gaul, Master Cook produced from his pocket a newspaper cutting. This, having previously planted a forcible blow in his friend's ribs with an elbow to attract the latter's attention, he handed to Knight, and in dumb show requested him to peruse the same. Which Knight, feeling no interest whatever in Caesar's doings in Gaul, and having, in consequence, a good deal of time on his hands, proceeded to do. The cutting was headed "Disgraceful Fracas", and was written in the elegant style that was always so marked a feature of the Wrykyn Patriot.

"We are sorry to have to report," it ran, "another of those deplorable ebullitions of local Hooliganism, to which it has before now been our painful duty to refer. Yesterday the Recreation Grounds were made the scene of as brutal an exhibition of savagery as has ever marred the fair fame of this town. Our readers will remember how on a previous occasion, when the fine statue of Sir Eustace Briggs was found covered with tar, we attributed the act to the malevolence of the Radical section of the community. Events have proved that we were right. Yesterday a body of youths, belonging to the rival party, was discovered in the very act of repeating the offence. A thick coating of tar had already been administered, when several members of the rival faction appeared. A free fight of a peculiarly violent nature immediately ensued, with the result that, before the police could interfere, several of the combatants had received severe bruises. Fortunately the police then arrived on the scene, and with great difficulty succeeded in putting a stop to the fracas. Several arrests were made.

"We have no desire to discourage legitimate party rivalry, but we feel justified in strongly protesting against such dastardly tricks as those to which we have referred. We can assure our opponents that they can gain nothing by such conduct."

There was a good deal more to the effect that now was the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party, and that the constituents of Sir Eustace Briggs must look to it that they failed not in the hour of need, and so on. That was what the Wrykyn Patriot had to say on the subject.

O'Hara managed to get hold of a copy of the paper, and showed it to Clowes and Trevor.

"So now," he said, "it's all right, ye see. They'll never suspect it wasn't the same people that tarred the statue both times. An' ye've got the bat back, so it's all right, ye see."

"The only thing that'll trouble you now," said Clowes, "will be your conscience."

O'Hara intimated that he would try and put up with that.

"But isn't it a stroke of luck," he said, "that they should have gone and tarred Sir Eustace again so soon after Moriarty and I did it?"

Clowes said gravely that it only showed the force of good example.

"Yes. They wouldn't have thought of it, if it hadn't been for us," chortled O'Hara. "I wonder, now, if there's anything else we could do to that statue!" he added, meditatively.

"My good lunatic," said Clowes, "don't you think you've done almost enough for one term?"

"Well, 'myes," replied O'Hara thoughtfully, "perhaps we have, I suppose."

       *       *       *       *       *

The term wore on. Donaldson's won the final house-match by a matter of twenty-six points. It was, as they had expected, one of the easiest games they had had to play in the competition. Bryant's, who were their opponents, were not strong, and had only managed to get into the final owing to their luck in drawing weak opponents for the trial heats. The real final, that had decided the ownership of the cup, had been Donaldson's v. Seymour's.

Aldershot arrived, and the sports. Drummond and O'Hara covered themselves with glory, and brought home silver medals. But Moriarty, to the disappointment of the school, which had counted on his pulling off the middles, met a strenuous gentleman from St Paul's in the final, and was prematurely outed in the first minute of the third round. To him, therefore, there fell but a medal of bronze.

It was on the Sunday after the sports that Trevor's connection with the bat ceased--as far, that is to say, as concerned its unpleasant character (as a piece of evidence that might be used to his disadvantage). He had gone to supper with the headmaster, accompanied by Clowes and Milton. The headmaster nearly always invited a few of the house prefects to Sunday supper during the term. Sir Eustace Briggs happened to be there. He had withdrawn his insinuations concerning the part supposedly played by a member of the school in the matter of the tarred statue, and the headmaster had sealed the _entente cordiale_ by asking him to supper.

An ordinary man might have considered it best to keep off the delicate subject. Not so Sir Eustace Briggs. He was on to it like glue. He talked of little else throughout the whole course of the meal.

"My suspicions," he boomed, towards the conclusion of the feast, "which have, I am rejoiced to say, proved so entirely void of foundation and significance, were aroused in the first instance, as I mentioned before, by the narrative of the man Samuel Wapshott."

Nobody present showed the slightest desire to learn what the man Samuel Wapshott had had to say for himself, but Sir Eustace, undismayed, continued as if the whole table were hanging on his words.

"The man Samuel Wapshott," he said, "distinctly asserted that a small gold ornament, shaped like a bat, was handed by him to a lad of age coeval with these lads here."

The headmaster interposed. He had evidently heard more than enough of the man Samuel Wapshott.

"He must have been mistaken," he said briefly. "The bat which Trevor is wearing on his watch-chain at this moment is the only one of its kind that I know of. You have never lost it, Trevor?"

Trevor thought for a moment. He had never lost it. He replied diplomatically, "It has been in a drawer nearly all the term, sir," he said.

"A drawer, hey?" remarked Sir Eustace Briggs. "Ah! A very sensible place to keep it in, my boy. You could have no better place, in my opinion."

And Trevor agreed with him, with the mental reservation that it rather depended on whom the drawer belonged to.