VIII. O'Hara on the Track.
 

Tuesday mornings at Wrykyn were devoted--up to the quarter to eleven interval--to the study of mathematics. That is to say, instead of going to their form-rooms, the various forms visited the out-of-the-way nooks and dens at the top of the buildings where the mathematical masters were wont to lurk, and spent a pleasant two hours there playing round games or reading fiction under the desk. Mathematics being one of the few branches of school learning which are of any use in after life, nobody ever dreamed of doing any work in that direction, least of all O'Hara. It was a theory of O'Hara's that he came to school to enjoy himself. To have done any work during a mathematics lesson would have struck him as a positive waste of time, especially as he was in Mr Banks' class. Mr Banks was a master who simply cried out to be ragged. Everything he did and said seemed to invite the members of his class to amuse themselves, and they amused themselves accordingly. One of the advantages of being under him was that it was possible to predict to a nicety the moment when one would be sent out of the room. This was found very convenient.

O'Hara's ally, Moriarty, was accustomed to take his mathematics with Mr Morgan, whose room was directly opposite Mr Banks'. With Mr Morgan it was not quite so easy to date one's expulsion from the room under ordinary circumstances, and in the normal wear and tear of the morning's work, but there was one particular action which could always be relied upon to produce the desired result.

In one corner of the room stood a gigantic globe. The problem--how did it get into the room?--was one that had exercised the minds of many generations of Wrykinians. It was much too big to have come through the door. Some thought that the block had been built round it, others that it had been placed in the room in infancy, and had since grown. To refer the question to Mr Morgan would, in six cases out of ten, mean instant departure from the room. But to make the event certain, it was necessary to grasp the globe firmly and spin it round on its axis. That always proved successful. Mr Morgan would dash down from his dais, address the offender in spirited terms, and give him his marching orders at once and without further trouble.

Moriarty had arranged with O'Hara to set the globe rolling at ten sharp on this particular morning. O'Hara would then so arrange matters with Mr Banks that they could meet in the passage at that hour, when O'Hara wished to impart to his friend his information concerning the League.

O'Hara promised to be at the trysting-place at the hour mentioned.

He did not think there would be any difficulty about it. The news that the League had been revived meant that there would be trouble in the very near future, and the prospect of trouble was meat and drink to the Irishman in O'Hara. Consequently he felt in particularly good form for mathematics (as he interpreted the word). He thought that he would have no difficulty whatever in keeping Mr Banks bright and amused. The first step had to be to arouse in him an interest in life, to bring him into a frame of mind which would induce him to look severely rather than leniently on the next offender. This was effected as follows:--

It was Mr Banks' practice to set his class sums to work out, and, after some three-quarters of an hour had elapsed, to pass round the form what he called "solutions". These were large sheets of paper, on which he had worked out each sum in his neat handwriting to a happy ending. When the head of the form, to whom they were passed first, had finished with them, he would make a slight tear in one corner, and, having done so, hand them on to his neighbour. The neighbour, before giving them to his neighbour, would also tear them slightly. In time they would return to their patentee and proprietor, and it was then that things became exciting.

"Who tore these solutions like this?" asked Mr Banks, in the repressed voice of one who is determined that he will be calm.

No answer. The tattered solutions waved in the air.

He turned to Harringay, the head of the form.

"Harringay, did you tear these solutions like this?"

Indignant negative from Harringay. What he had done had been to make the small tear in the top left-hand corner. If Mr Banks had asked, "Did you make this small tear in the top left-hand corner of these solutions?" Harringay would have scorned to deny the impeachment. But to claim the credit for the whole work would, he felt, be an act of flat dishonesty, and an injustice to his gifted collaborateurs.

"No, sir," said Harringay.

"Browne!"

"Yes, sir?"

"Did you tear these solutions in this manner?"

"No, sir."

And so on through the form.

Then Harringay rose after the manner of the debater who is conscious that he is going to say the popular thing.

"Sir--" he began.

"Sit down, Harringay."

Harringay gracefully waved aside the absurd command.

"Sir," he said, "I think I am expressing the general consensus of opinion among my--ahem--fellow-students, when I say that this class sincerely regrets the unfortunate state the solutions have managed to get themselves into."

"Hear, hear!" from a back bench.

"It is with--"

"Sit down, Harringay."

"It is with heartfelt--"

"Harringay, if you do not sit down--"

"As your ludship pleases." This sotto voce.

And Harringay resumed his seat amidst applause. O'Hara got up.

"As me frind who has just sat down was about to observe--"

"Sit down, O'Hara. The whole form will remain after the class."

"--the unfortunate state the solutions have managed to get thimsilves into is sincerely regretted by this class. Sir, I think I am ixprissing the general consensus of opinion among my fellow-students whin I say that it is with heart-felt sorrow--"

"O'Hara!"

"Yes, sir?"

"Leave the room instantly."

"Yes, sir."

From the tower across the gravel came the melodious sound of chimes. The college clock was beginning to strike ten. He had scarcely got into the passage, and closed the door after him, when a roar as of a bereaved spirit rang through the room opposite, followed by a string of words, the only intelligible one being the noun-substantive "globe", and the next moment the door opened and Moriarty came out. The last stroke of ten was just booming from the clock.

There was a large cupboard in the passage, the top of which made a very comfortable seat. They climbed on to this, and began to talk business.

"An' what was it ye wanted to tell me?" inquired Moriarty.

O'Hara related what he had learned from Trevor that morning.

"An' do ye know," said Moriarty, when he had finished, "I half suspected, when I heard that Mill's study had been ragged, that it might be the League that had done it. If ye remember, it was what they enjoyed doing, breaking up a man's happy home. They did it frequently."

"But I can't understand them doing it to Trevor at all."

"They'll do it to anybody they choose till they're caught at it."

"If they are caught, there'll be a row."

"We must catch 'em," said Moriarty. Like O'Hara, he revelled in the prospect of a disturbance. O'Hara and he were going up to Aldershot at the end of the term, to try and bring back the light and middle-weight medals respectively. Moriarty had won the light-weight in the previous year, but, by reason of putting on a stone since the competition, was now no longer eligible for that class. O'Hara had not been up before, but the Wrykyn instructor, a good judge of pugilistic form, was of opinion that he ought to stand an excellent chance. As the prize-fighter in Rodney Stone says, "When you get a good Irishman, you can't better 'em, but they're dreadful 'asty." O'Hara was attending the gymnasium every night, in order to learn to curb his "dreadful 'astiness", and acquire skill in its place.

"I wonder if Trevor would be any good in a row," said Moriarty.

"He can't box," said O'Hara, "but he'd go on till he was killed entirely. I say, I'm getting rather tired of sitting here, aren't you? Let's go to the other end of the passage and have some cricket."

So, having unearthed a piece of wood from the debris at the top of the cupboard, and rolled a handkerchief into a ball, they adjourned.

Recalling the stirring events of six years back, when the League had first been started, O'Hara remembered that the members of that enterprising society had been wont to hold meetings in a secluded spot, where it was unlikely that they would be disturbed. It seemed to him that the first thing he ought to do, if he wanted to make their nearer acquaintance now, was to find their present rendezvous. They must have one. They would never run the risk involved in holding mass-meetings in one another's studies. On the last occasion, it had been an old quarry away out on the downs. This had been proved by the not-to-be-shaken testimony of three school-house fags, who had wandered out one half-holiday with the unconcealed intention of finding the League's place of meeting. Unfortunately for them, they had found it. They were going down the path that led to the quarry before-mentioned, when they were unexpectedly seized, blindfolded, and carried off. An impromptu court-martial was held--in whispers--and the three explorers forthwith received the most spirited "touching-up" they had ever experienced. Afterwards they were released, and returned to their house with their zeal for detection quite quenched. The episode had created a good deal of excitement in the school at the time.

On three successive afternoons, O'Hara and Moriarty scoured the downs, and on each occasion they drew blank. On the fourth day, just before lock-up, O'Hara, who had been to tea with Gregson, of Day's, was going over to the gymnasium to keep a pugilistic appointment with Moriarty, when somebody ran swiftly past him in the direction of the boarding-houses. It was almost dark, for the days were still short, and he did not recognise the runner. But it puzzled him a little to think where he had sprung from. O'Hara was walking quite close to the wall of the College buildings, and the runner had passed between it and him. And he had not heard his footsteps. Then he understood, and his pulse quickened as he felt that he was on the track. Beneath the block was a large sort of cellar-basement. It was used as a store-room for chairs, and was never opened except when prize-day or some similar event occurred, when the chairs were needed. It was supposed to be locked at other times, but never was. The door was just by the spot where he was standing. As he stood there, half-a-dozen other vague forms dashed past him in a knot. One of them almost brushed against him. For a moment he thought of stopping him, but decided not to. He could wait.

On the following afternoon he slipped down into the basement soon after school. It was as black as pitch in the cellar. He took up a position near the door.

It seemed hours before anything happened. He was, indeed, almost giving up the thing as a bad job, when a ray of light cut through the blackness in front of him, and somebody slipped through the door. The next moment, a second form appeared dimly, and then the light was shut off again.

O'Hara could hear them groping their way past him. He waited no longer. It is difficult to tell where sound comes from in the dark. He plunged forward at a venture. His hand, swinging round in a semicircle, met something which felt like a shoulder. He slipped his grasp down to the arm, and clutched it with all the force at his disposal.