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First episode taken from The Skipper No. 302 - June 13th 1936.

Why did the best batsmen in Midshire wear dark glasses?



As the landmarks grew more and more familiar Larry Trent stood up and leaned out of the carriage window. The train swung round a corner and Larry grinned happily. Ahead of him lay the small town of Sunchester. An exile abroad for over three years, Larry had been looking forward to this moment for many months. “One of the prettiest towns in the country,” he murmured. “And—and I’ll just be in time.” Picking up a newspaper he turned to the sporting page. He looked again at the paragraph that had so interested him. It was a list of players who were representing the Midshire County Cricket team in the match again that day. The first name on the list was that of “John Trent.” “It must be young John,” Larry told himself. “He must have improved in amazing fashion during the three years I’ve been away. He never gave any promise of ever becoming a first-class cricketer. It’s amazing!” No matter where cricket is talked, the names of Midshire and Sunchester invariably crop up. Ever since the birth of cricket Sunchester had been concerned with it. Some of the finest players of all time had been Sunchester men. Larry had been brought up on cricket. His father had been a very famous test player in his day and was now President of Midshire. Larry had been given a cricket bat almost as soon as he could walk. Three years ago he had been on the fringe of the County Eleven himself. Leaving his luggage at the railway station, Larry hurried through the quiet streets of the town. Quite a number of the few passers-by turned to stare at him. Quite a number, total strangers to Larry nodded. “It must be my likeness to John,” he murmured. “John can’t have changed much these last few years if people still mistake him for me.” The two Trent brothers had always been tremendously alike. As he came in sight of the County ground Larry’s pulses leapt. His fingers itched with the longing to hold a cricket bat again, he was sure he could already smell the scent of the short green turf. “It’ll be good to get back to cricket again,” he murmured. He realised that there must be less than an hour left for play. Anxious not to miss a single moment of it, Larry entered the first gate he came to and a few moments later was standing at the ropes. One of the batsmen out at the wicket was his younger brother, John. He turned to a man standing alongside. “What’s been happening?” he demanded. “I’ve only just arrived.” The other’s face shone with enthusiasm. “Westhampton batted first,” he said. “But our boys skittled them out for one hundred and sixty-three runs. We’ve been batting for an hour and our first pair are still in. There’s fifty runs on the board already. At that moment one of the bowlers commenced to run to the wicket. Larry saw his brother prepare to receive the ball. From the ropes it looked a fast and deadly ball, but the batsman stepped coolly from his crease with swinging bat. Crack! Instantly there was loud clapping all round the ground. The ball soared over Larry’s head for a boundary.

Despite himself, Larry blinked. Down came the next ball—a swinger that swerved in nasty fashion from the off. Confidently the batsman played back to it. The next ball, John Trent, with a perfect stroke of the bat, glided through the slips for a two. At the end of the over he had added twelve runs to his score. As the fielders crossed over, Larry’s companion turned to him. “Did you ever see better batting than that?” he demanded. “Young Trent is playing marvellous cricket this season. He’s one of the prettiest bats I’ve ever watched. And he’s not the only one, either. There are six amateurs in this side and at the moment they’re six of the strongest amateurs in the country. They’re all young, too. I’m telling you that Midshire are booked for the County Championship this year. Larry wondered whether the man would spot any likeness between him and the batsman. However, the man’s attention was so taken up with the happenings on the field that he had only given Larry a passing glance. Larry settled down to revel in his first day of English cricket for three years, and, as the match proceeded his sense of amazement grew. It seemed impossible that it should be John out there, so calmly and so cleverly piling up the runs. Larry and John had been taught cricket together. Larry had always been wildly enthusiastic about the game and he had shown great promise as a youngster. John, on the other hand, had never been keen and his progress had been slow. Larry knew that his father had long ago given up hopes of making a County cricketer out of John. It seemed amazing that the boy should have improved in such fashion. Both batsmen at the wicket had complete control of the bowling now. Runs were coming easily and freely and the spectators were kept on their toes with excitement. Great bursts of cheering went up when the hundred was reached. Shortly afterwards an even greater burst went up, for John Trent had got his century. Never once had he given a single chance. Came another burst of cheering as a boundary from his bat brought the scores level. A little later stumps were drawn with the Midshire score at one hundred and eighty runs for no wickets.

As the teams left the field Larry walked round to the pavilion. He had some difficulty in getting inside because of the crowds who were filling out of the exits. Entering the members’ waiting room he spoke to the groundsman on duty. “Will you please tell Mr Trent that a visitor has called to see him?” he said. The groundsman nodded. Larry waited. Nobody was expecting his return. He wondered what his father would say when he set eyes on him. As he waited, his eyes roamed round the familiar walls. Here were a number of photographs—faded photographs that dated back many years. Larry looked at them one after the other to finally pull up at a photograph which hung in an out-of-the-way corner. It was the Midshire County Team of Eighteen-ninety-nine. There was something queer about the photograph, for one of the seated figures had been completely blacked out. The work had been done with extraordinary care and the name at the foot of the picture had also been erased with the same care. Larry had made many inquiries about that picture, but never had he been able to gain satisfaction. His father refused point-blank to discuss the matter. Oftentimes Larry wondered about the identity of the man whose photograph and name had been removed from the picture. He was still looking at it when the groundsman returned. “I’m sorry, sir,” he said, “but Mr Trent left the premises just before the end of the match.” Larry looked at his watch. By this time John should be changed. He would meet him outside the players’ entrance and they would walk home together. John would certainly be surprised to see him. Glancing down the corridor Larry saw the door of a dressing-room open. It was the one that had always been used by the Midshire Amateurs. A single figure came out and Larry stared at him with great curiosity. Instead of coming towards him the figure continued on down the corridor, so that there was no chance of Larry seeing his face. What made Larry stare was the fact that this figure was wearing a hat with an extraordinary wide brim and a long black cloak that reached down to his ankles. Certainly a queer figure to see inside a cricket pavilion. “I wonder who he is?” murmured Larry. He for got the figure then, for half a dozen men had emerged from the room and were now walking towards him.

All the amateurs were evidently leaving together. And then Larry started. For every one of these men was wearing dark glasses. These couldn’t be Midshire cricketers—men who played cricket wouldn’t need to wear dark glasses. His astonishment increased, for, despite the glasses, he recognised one of them as his brother, John! He’d never had anything wrong with his eyesight. Why was he wearing dark glasses? John would have passed right by him if Larry had not stepped directly into his path. “Hullo, John,” he said; “how are you?” His brother John looked full at him. Behind those dark glasses Larry could see little of his eyes. His face showed no change of expression either. “Why,” cried Larry, “surely you recognise your brother?” He saw John start. “Why,” he said, “Larry!” Larry caught his arm. “Yes,” he said. “I saw the end of the match. You played a magnificent innings. I only got back just over an hour ago. I haven’t seen father yet. I thought we’d walk up together and—” He broke off as John pulled his arm free. “I’ve got to go,” he muttered quickly, and he looked about him as though he were scared. “I—I don’t live at home any more. I—I must hurry away now.” Wrenching his arm free, he almost raced after the other cricketers. Larry stared after him. Why had John acted so strangely? They had always been the best of pals, and yet John hadn’t shown the slightest pleasure at seeing him. And what did he mean by stating that he no longer lived at home? And then again—why did he wear dark glasses? A queer feeling of apprehension descended upon Larry. “The sooner I see father the better,” he murmured. “There—there’s something wrong somewhere.” He hurried away.


“Hello, dad!” Larry entered the Trent dining-room with outstretched hand. His step faltered slightly, however, as the figure advanced to meet him. Larry found himself looking at a man who was almost a stranger. When Larry had left for his trip abroad, his father had been the picture of health. He was extraordinarily fit and well, and still capable of putting up a good showing upon the cricket pitch. But this was an old man! George Trent’s hair had turned white, his shoulders stooped and there were lines in his face that Larry had never seen before. But there was no mistaking his obvious delight. “Why, Larry!” he exclaimed. “It’s wonderful to see you! Thank goodness you’re home at last.” Their hands met in a firm grip. For some ten minutes or so they talked entirely of personal matters. Then, from the pocket of the light raincoat he had been carrying, Larry produced a small brown-paper parcel. “This is something I’ve brought for you, Dad,” he said. “I think you’ll like it.” Undoing the parcel, he held up a small, golden image of exquisite workmanship. George Trent took the object and regarded it with the gaze of a connoisseur. “But this is valuable,” he said. “It—it must have cost a mint of money!” “Not a cent,” said Larry. “I happened to do a good turn to an old monk at a monastery up in the Himalayas, and he presented it to me as a thank-offering. I guessed you’d like it.” “I’m most reluctant to take it,” said George Trent. “But you can trust me to take good care of it.” He carefully wrapped the golden figure up again. “Dad,” said Larry abruptly. “What’s wrong?” George Trent started. “Wrong?” he echoed. “Yes,” said Larry. “You see, I arrived in town in time to see the end of the match. I’ve seen and spoken to John.” He explained exactly what had taken place.

There was no mistaking the cloud on George Trent’s features now. “I don’t know what’s come over John,” he said. “He began to act strangely at the end of last season. It was when he started going about with those young fellows who wear dark glasses. He became sullen and morose, not his usual self at all. We could hardly get a word out of him. Finally, he lost his temper over some absurd incident and walked out of the house.” “But these dark glasses,” demanded Larry, “why do they wear them? All the amateurs in to-day’s team were wearing glasses.” “It’s a fad,” said George Trent. “Nothing but a fad. As you know, they’re all good cricketers. They’re all young men who have come along in amazing fashion these last two seasons. They say, as cricketers, it’s up to them to shield their eyes as much as possible when they’re actually playing cricket. I have reason to believe it was Simon Ferris who put the idea into their heads. George Trent’s face changed slightly as he spoke that last sentence, and Larry looked at him. “Who is Simon Ferris?” he demanded. For no apparent reason George Trent hesitated. “He’s a stranger,” he said. “At least, he’s only been in this town two years. He’s taken a great interest in the club and he has been very generous. He is on the committee, and I believe it was he who suggested that our young fellows should protect their eyesight as much as possible.” He walked to the window and stood looking out. “It’s amazing about young John,” said Larry. “I never expected that I’d see him playing cricket in the style I saw him this afternoon.” “He’s improved in amazing fashion,” said his father slowly. “But so have these other youngsters. Maybe there is something in protecting their eyes, after all. They’ve certainly put Midshire back to our old position—one of the premier cricket sides in the country!” “This man Simon Ferris,” began Larry, who—” At that moment there was a tap on the door and a servant entered. “Mr Simon Ferris to see you, sir,” he said. Larry, looking at his father, was amazed at the way George Trent’s face changed. The colour drained out of his cheeks and a look of fear came into his eyes. Larry noticed that his father’s knuckles were gleaming white as the nails bit into the palms of his hands. “All right,” said Mr Trent thickly. “I—I’ll see him in my study.” He picked up the parcel containing the small image. He turned it over nervously for a moment or two. “We-we’ll continue our conversation later on Larry,” he said. “I must not keep Ferris waiting and I—I don’t know how long he’ll keep me. Make yourself at home, my boy.” George Trent hurried from the room. Larry looked at his reflection in the large mirror over the mantelpiece. “What’s wrong?” he asked his reflection. “What’s the matter with young John and what trouble has changed the guv’nor in such a terrible manner? He’s worried out of his life over something. I can tell that it is not all John. And he was scared stiff when he heard that this man Ferris was in the house!” He nodded his head. “It looks as though I’ve come home just in time. I’m hanging on now until I get to the bottom of all this funny business!” An hour went by. Then Larry heard footsteps in the hall, the murmur of voices and then the closing of the door.

He crossed to the window. In the gathering gloom he saw a strange figure walk down the short drive. It was a tall figure wearing a long, black cloak that swept almost to his ankles. It was crowned by a black hat with a tremendously wide brim. It was the same figure that Larry had seen leaving the cricket pavilion. So that was Simon Ferris! Larry hoped that the figure would turn at the gate so that he could see his face, but in this he was disappointed. Larry waited, expecting his father to return. Time went by, and still George Trent failed to show up. Finally one of the servants entered the room. Larry inquired after his father. “Your father isn’t feeling too well,” he was told. “He retired shortly after Mr Ferris left the house and he gave instructions that he was not to be disturbed on any account.” Larry bit his lip. Here was still further proof that something was terribly wrong. This was his first night home after three years; yet at the very beginning of the evening, his conversation unfinished, his father had gone to bed and had not even returned to say good-night! “To-morrow,” said Larry, “I’m finding out where young John lives and I’m calling on him. Before I’m through with him he’ll have told me the exact reason for his leaving home!” It certainly had been a very strange home-coming for Larry Trent!


Larry expected to see his father next morning at breakfast. Another disappointment was in store for him. He was told that Mr Trent was indisposed and must not be disturbed, but that he would be down later in the morning. Again Larry was conscious of a sense of chill. The meal over, Larry discovered from one of the servants that John was staying at an address in Belton Road. He set out at once. He was passing down one of the tree-lined avenues for which Sunchester was famous when a garden gate ahead of him opened and a tall figure came out. Instantly Larry’s eyes widened. There was no mistaking the wide-brimmed black hat, or the long, flowing cloak. Simon Ferris! And the man was walking towards him. Maybe it was the black hat and the black that intensified the paleness of Simon Ferris’s face. At least, it seemed to Larry that the face had no colour. It was a narrow face with a long, pointed nose that seemed to overshadow every other feature. As Simon Ferris came towards him, Larry saw the man start. His head jerked forward for all the world like some gaunt bird of prey. Larry was instinctively conscious of a strange feeling of loathing. As he walked towards him, Simon Ferris tapped impatiently on the gravel with the long stick he carried. “You,” he said. “I want to speak to you. Come with me.” Larry’s eyes opened wide, for Simon Ferris had uttered a command, there was no mistaking it. Larry half started forward. No man, no stranger, was going to speak to him like that. But already Simon Ferris had turned and was walking quickly back towards his garden gate. Larry kept his anger under control. He wanted to meet Simon Ferris. His brother John was supposed to be friendly with this man, and there was no doubt that his father feared him. Maybe Ferris was going to tell him something. He followed the cloak-garbed figure up a small drive. The lawns on each side were in a very neglected state. The house itself bore the same neglected air. Dirty curtains were drawn at most of the windows. Simon Ferris let himself into the house and turned sharply in to a room on the right. Larry followed, to find himself in a very barely furnished room—a room that was evidently used as a study. As he entered, Simon Ferris swung round. “Well,” he snarled, and his voice was charged with venom, “where are your glasses?” Larry could only stare. “I beg your pardon?” he said. Ferris sat down in a chair and took a pair of glasses out of a drawer. “How dare you answer me back?” he snapped. “I asked you a question—where are your glasses? Put these on!” In a flash the truth burst upon Larry. Simon Ferris was making a big mistake—he had been fooled by the likeness between the two brothers. He was mistaking Larry for John. But what right had Simon Ferris to talk in such a way even to John Trent? “I’ll ask you a question,” said Larry. “My eyes are perfectly all right. Why should I wear glasses?” He saw Simon Ferris’s eyes narrow until they were mere slits. All in a flash a tremendous change came over him.

He smiled and his hand fell on Larry’s shoulder. “It’s all right, my boy,” he said, and his voice was now smooth and silky. “It was only my little joke, one of old Simon Ferris’s jokes. I knew who you were the moment I set eyes on you. You’re John Trent’s brother, the one I’ve heard so much about. I expect you soon will be playing for the County team.” “But I still don’t understand your remark about the glasses,” Larry said. “I—” Simon Ferris flung back his head and laughed. “Oh,” he said, “that didn’t mean a thing. John, very wisely I think, always wears dark glasses. I was only playing a little joke on you. I’m always playing a little jokes on people. When you get to know me better you’ll get quite used to my little jokes. I hope I shall be seeing a lot of you, Mr Trent. You know that I’m very interested in the County Club. I hope you’ll often be a visitor in this house. You can always count upon my hospitality. Any son of a father like George Trent will be welcome here.” Larry’s eyes roved round the barely furnished room. He saw the bookcase with its few dusty books. Then his eyes came to rest on a small sideboard, and every nerve in his body stiffened. For there, standing in the centre of the sideboard, was a small golden idol. There could be no mistaking it. It was the golden image that had been given to him by the Tibetan monk, the image he had presented to his father only the night before. He remembered that his father had been holding the image in his hand when he had gone out to Simon Ferris. Why had George Trent given the image to Simon Ferris? A question trembled upon his lips, but he bit it back. With elaborate politeness Simon Ferris took him to the front door. “I am delighted to have met you, my boy,” he said. “Always remember that my house is wide open where you are concerned. I look forward to seeing you down at the cricket ground, too.” And Larry could have smashed his fist into that blandly smiling face. Only when he was out in the open did he breathe freely. Somewhat to his disgust he discovered that he was walking along at a furious pace. “Almost as if I’m running away,” he muttered. “But that house and it’s owner certainly gave me the horrors.” He pictured the small golden figure standing on Simon Ferris’s sideboard. His present to his father! Had George Trent given the small idol to Simon Ferris and then been ashamed to face his son afterwards? Simon Ferris stood smiling on his doorstep and rubbing his hands until Larry was out of sight. Then, closing the door behind him, he walked back into the study. He was smiling no longer. Instead, his face was distorted by diabolical rage. “Dolt!” he hissed at himself. “Fool! You nearly gave yourself away. You should have seen from the very beginning that that wasn’t John Trent. You might have known that he wouldn’t have dared to walk about the streets without his glasses.” He shook his fists in the air. “Why wasn’t I told that he was so like his brother? George Trent shall answer to me for this. I should have been told of the likeness. Had I been warned, I should not have made such a fool of myself. And I’ve made him suspicious!” His mouth became nothing except a thin, almost imperceptible line. “For years I’ve waited for my revenge,” he went on. “Nothing is going to stand in its way now. I’ve made young Trent suspicious, and so he must be forced to leave Sunchester at once. To-night I shall see his father, and if young Larry Trent hasn’t left within twenty-four hours, then Mr George Trent shall find that I never make an idle threat.” Going to his desk, he unlocked the middle drawer and pulled out a faded photograph. Larry would have recognised that photograph. It was a copy of the one he had been looking at in the waiting room at the cricket pavilion on the Saturday afternoon, the photograph from which one figure had been erased. But no erasures had taken place on the photograph Ferris was holding. But there was something queer about this photograph, for the faces of six of the players had been scored across with two heavy black lines. One of the faces so scored across was the face of George Trent, Larry’s father. Simon Ferris stared gloatingly at the photograph. Then, slinging it back into the drawer, he turned the key in the lock. “I’ll see George Trent to-night,” he said, “and to-morrow his son, Larry, will be compelled to leave Sunchester.”

Meanwhile Larry had lost no time in reaching Belton Road. A maidservant who answered his knock looked rather taken aback when Larry asked to see his brother. “Mr Trent doesn’t like visitors,” she said. “I don’t think—” Larry strode past her. “I’m seeing him,” he said. “Which is his room?” She pointed to a door. Larry tapped upon it and instantly entered. At sight of him his brother, still wearing the dark glasses, came to his feet. “Why have you come here?” he demanded. Larry closed the door behind him. “John,” he said, “in the old days you and I were great pals. We didn’t keep many secrets from each other. I want an explanation from you now. What’s gone wrong?” John stood by the fireplace, his fingers nervously intertwisted. “There’s nothing wrong,” he said. “I’ve left home, and I don’t want to go back, that’s all.” Larry came close to him. “But why?” he demanded. “I thought I’d be better by myself,” was the reply. “That’s all.” Larry realised then that he would never have recognised John by his voice, for John was speaking in a flat monotone that was absolutely devoid of any shade of expression whatsoever. “Who is this man Ferris?” demanded Larry. “What hold has he over you and father?” Yes,” he added fiercely, “he’s got some hold over father. Something that’s changed him during the three years that I’ve been away. In those three years he’s grown terribly old. This man Ferris has got something to do with it, just the same as he’s got something to do with your leaving home. He mistook me for you this morning, and he spoke to me as though he were speaking to a dog. What hold has he over you?” Larry saw that his brother’s face was chalk-white. He shrank back against the fireplace. “There’s nothing wrong,” he said huskily. “I only know Mr Ferris because he happens to be on the board of the county team. There’s nothing wrong, I tell you. And I don’t want to be bothered. I’d rather cut myself adrift from all of you.” Larry strove to keep his temper. “Why are you wearing dark glasses?” he demanded. “What’s wrong with your eyes?” “My eyes aren’t strong,” was the reply. “I’ve been playing good cricket lately, and playing county cricket every day makes tremendous demands upon them, so I protect them when I can by wearing dark glasses.” Larry seized his brother by the shoulders and forced him back against the wall. “John,” he said, “you’re lying to me. For some reason you’re terrified of this man Ferris. You’ve got it written all over you. Well, I’m not terrified of him; he’s got no hold over me. You’re going to tell me everything you know about him.” His brother sagged in his grasp. “There’s nothing to tell,” he said feebly. “Nothing to tell.” A terrible conviction came to Larry that at any moment his brother might collapse. What on earth was wrong with him? Suddenly he made up his mind. His hand fell from the other’s shoulder, and he stood back. “John,” he said. “I’m not worrying you with any more questions. We’ve always been pals, and we’re going to continue pals. This afternoon I’m going out to see old Collinson and his wife. I don’t suppose you’ve seen him for ages. Well, you’re coming with me. It’ll be a treat to see old Collie again. You’re coming with me. You understand?” John Trent nodded. “All right, Larry,” he said. “I’ll come.” He spoke like a man without a will of his own.


Larry did not return home. Instead, he hired a car and within the hour was back at John’s address. The latter was waiting for him, and raised no objections to accompanying him. Once again Larry was appalled at the change. What had happened to the brother he had once known, the rather wild, impulsive brother who had feared nothing on earth? That had been John Trent. He remembered the way he had pushed John against the wall. In the old days not even Larry would have been allowed to do that, John would have hit out at once. What terrible thing had happened to him? As he drove out of Sunchester, John sat alongside him with nothing to say. Larry tried to keep a conversation going—he talked of their old days together, but never once did he succeed in striking sparks from his companion. John’s answers were monosyllabic, and never once did he himself add anything to the conversation. Larry fell silent at last. In his mind he went over all the queer things that had happened since his return. He remembered how people, mistaking him for John, had nodded to him in the streets, he remembered how Simon Ferris had been taken in by the likeness. And suddenly Larry’s eyes began to blaze. Why shouldn’t he take advantage of that likeness? Suppose he took John’s place, suppose he succeeded in convincing everyone that he was John? He would soon know exactly what power Ferris possessed over John. Once he had got to the bottom of things, he could start to clear them up! But John would never consent to such an arrangement. “He’s got to consent!” Larry told himself. He thought of old Collinson. The latter had spent his whole life in the service of the Trent family. When Larry and John had been small boys, old Collinson had been their chief confident. And Mrs Collinson, in their younger days, had been their nurse. For some years now the old couple had been living in retirement in a cottage buried deep in the country. “The very place for John,” Larry thought. “Nobody need know that he’s there. Something’s wrong with him, and with old Collinson and Mrs Collinson to look after him, he’ll probably soon snap out of it. Yes, John is staying with old Collinson!” He pulled up at the small cottage at last. There was no mistaking the delight of the old couple. Larry was quite as delighted to see them. But John did nothing at all. He shook hands limply and that was all. “Dinner’s ready,” said Mrs Collinson. “There’s plenty to go round.” During the meal the old man and his wife, many times exchanged glances. It was quite evident that they could not understand John. The meal over, old Collinson beckoned Larry outside. “What’s the matter with Master John?” he demanded. “It looks to me as though he’s terribly ill.” “I don’t know what’s the matter with him,” said Larry. “But I’ve brought him here for a purpose. I want your help, Collie. I want you to keep him here, whether he wants to stay or not. I don’t want you to ask any questions about it all. It’s obvious that John is ill. If he stays here for a month or so he’ll probably get back to normal. But, Collie, it’s up to you and me to keep him here, by main force if necessary. If you’ll get your wife out of the way for a little while, I’ll talk to him.” Ten minutes later Larry faced John in the small sitting-room. “John,” he said firmly. “I’ve got something of a shock for you. You’re not well, I saw that the moment I set eyes on you. So you’re staying here until you recover.” John’s mouth dropped. Then, stepping forward, he caught Larry’s arm. “But I can’t stay here,” he protested. “I must go back. There’s the cricket and—and Simon Ferris.” “What about Simon Ferris?” demanded Larry. John shook his head. “Nothing,” he said, “nothing. But I must go back! I can’t stay here!” Once again Larry grasped his shoulders. He was determined to force his will upon this strange brother of his. “John,” he said, “you’re staying here. I know that you’re scared stiff of Simon Ferris, and it’s useless your trying to deny it. Well, I’m going to take on Simon Ferris. I’m going back to Sunchester, but I’m not going back as Larry Trent. I’m going back as John Trent. Yes, dark glasses and all!” He shook his brother. “Do you understand that?” he said. “You’ll have nothing more to fear from Simon Ferris. You’ll be able to stay here quietly with old Collie. He’ll look after you. He’ll see to it, too, that nobody knows that you are here. And back in Sunchester I will be John Trent, and I’ll find a way of dealing with Simon Ferris.” He forced himself to glare at John. “You understand?” he said. “You’re staying here!” John tried to hold his gaze for a moment. Then his shoulders slumped. “All right,” he said. “I’ll stay.” And, sure enough, Larry left the cottage by himself an hour later.

Larry’s fingers gripped the steering-wheel fiercely, and the expression on his face boded no good for Simon Ferris. Larry was utterly convinced that Ferris was the man responsible. He knew that taking on John’s identity was not going to be easy. Nobody must be allowed to suspect. Larry Trent must disappear from Sunchester. For the time being it meant a complete break with his father. As the miles reeled by he wrestled with the problem. His face became even grimmer. “Yes,” he told himself, “it’s going to be another blow for dad, but it’s the way! He must think that I’ve fled the country. If Simon Ferris has a hold over him he’ll force the truth out of dad. If Simon Ferris thinks Larry Trent is out of the country, so much the better!” Reaching Sunchester, Larry returned the car to the garage. Later, he entered his home without being seen. He was inside some half-hour. When he left he was carrying his suitcase. Out of sight of the house, Larry donned a pair of dark glasses. They were an extra pair John had been carrying. The maidservant admitted him to the house in Belton Road, and Larry entered John’s sitting-room. The great impersonation had started! That night George Trent had just finished dinner when Simon Ferris was announced. Once again a grey tinge came into the old cricketer’s face. There was fear in his eyes when he entered his study. Simon Ferris was smiling. “Good evening, George,” he said. “I trust you don’t mind the liberty I have taken in calling upon you?” “Of course not,” said George Trent nervously. Simon Ferris seated himself. “I had somewhat of a surprise this morning,” he said. “I happened to meet your elder son, Larry, quite by chance. I remember that you told me some time ago that you expected him shortly. There is one thing you didn’t tell me, George.” He shook his finger in the air. “You didn’t tell me of his remarkable likeness to John,” he said. “You should have told me that, George.” The old cricketer stared at him. “I never thought about it,” he said. “Everybody in the town knows how alike the two are.” Simon Ferris still smiled, but his voice grew a shade harder. “Mistaking Larry for John this morning,” he said, “I committed a slight indiscretion. I’m afraid, George, you’ll have to do me a further service.” George Trent sat huddled up in his chair. “But I can’t,” he gasped. “You know what happened last night.” Simon Ferris waved a hand in the air. “It’s nothing to do with money,” he said. “As a matter of fact, if I practise the strictest economy, I may be able to make things a little easier for you. You know how unwilling I have been to press you. But, after all, I am but a poor man, as you know. But, for certain reasons, I don’t want Larry to stay in Sunchester. I suggest that you advise him to leave the town almost immediately, and—” George Trent, his face suddenly red, had started up in his chair. But at that moment there was a knock at the door, and a servant entered. “This note has just been delivered by hand, sir,” he said. “The boy said there was no answer.” George Trent looked at the envelope, opened it, and pulled out the enclosure. As he read, a gasp escaped him. Simon Ferris, watching closely, saw his hands begin to tremble and his face go grey. The note fluttered to the desk then, and George Trent got to his feet. With faltering steps he walked to a bureau against the wall. As he did so, Simon Ferris leaned over and snatched the note from the desk.

His eyes devoured its contents. “My dear father,” he read. “This letter will come as a great shock to you. I have been back in England for some time, and I am afraid I have fallen into serious trouble. I wanted to tell you last night, but you didn’t give me a chance. It’s necessary for me to get out of the country as quickly as possible. I cannot risk staying in Sunchester any longer. So to-day I entered your study and took twenty-five pounds from your writing desk. I had to take the money, otherwise it meant prison. I advise you to forget all about me. –Larry.” George Trent stepped away from the bureau. “The money’s gone!” he whispered. “Gone!” Simon Ferris was now lying back in his chair. “Is anything wrong?” he inquired. “You look very upset.” George Trent turned to him. He made a palpable effort to recover his composure. “Wrong?” he said. “Why should there be anything wrong?” Advancing to the desk, he picked up the note and pushed it quickly into his pocket. Simon Ferris smiled. “I’m glad of that,” he said. “Then perhaps you’ll permit me to return to the subject of our conversation. We were discussing your son Larry. Without going into particulars, it would please me greatly if he left town for some little while. He—” Tight-lipped, George Trent interrupted him. “There is no need to worry about Larry, Ferris,” he said. “He only came home for a very short stay. As a matter of fact, he left Sunchester this afternoon. You see, he’s gone back to a job abroad, and it’ll be years before he returns.” Simon Ferris got to his feet. “Then I’ve wasted your time for nothing,” he said. He laid a hand on George Trent’s shoulder. “I liked that boy, George,” he said. “A fine upstanding fellow he seemed to me. I’m very glad indeed that he’s doing so well abroad. Tell him from me that I wish him all the luck in the world.” Simon Ferris tapped his way out of the room. George Trent made no attempt to follow him. For Simon Ferris’s words had struck a bitter blow at his pride. Nobody heard Simon Ferris chuckling to himself as he made his way down the drive.

On the Monday Larry steeled himself for his great test. This was the second day of the Westhampton match. Could he live the part of John without attracting suspicion to himself? He was recognised by quite a number of people making their way to the ground. One or two groups gave him a cheer. Larry changed. He had just finished when he heard a tap-tap-tapping sound outside the door. It opened and Simon Ferris entered. To Larry’s great surprise, he locked the door behind him. “Here you are,” he snapped. From a pocket inside his black cloak, he drew out six tiny phials. He handed one to each man. Larry, watching, saw the other men take off their dark glasses. Then, holding their heads well back, they lifted the phials they were using and dropped a little liquid into each eye. Larry knowing he must play his part, lifted his head back, and he also held the phial aloft. But he saw to it that nothing at all went into his eyes. What on earth did the small phials contain? “Good,” said Ferris. “Let me have them back now.” He collected them all. Then Larry’s heart jumped, for Ferris had stepped directly in front of him. “Trent,” he said, “at the moment your score is one hundred and thirteen. Well, you will go on batting until you reach a double century. As soon as you reach two hundred runs, you will throw your wicket away. The rest of you must not score more than fifty runs apiece. That will give us an excellent total—fully sufficient to beat Westhampton by an innings.” He tapped his way to the door. So far, Larry’s impersonation had been successful. Simon Ferris had had no suspicion. But how could he possibly be sure that John Trent would score the necessary eighty-seven runs to get his double century? Why had each of the other men been told to keep their scores down to a certain level? What was the liquid that had been dropped in their eyes? Did it have any effect upon their batting? Larry knew that his great test was coming. In a few moments now he would have to go out to the field. He must play well enough to make Simon Ferris and everyone else believed that he was John Trent. He remembered how John had played on the Saturday. Was he good enough cricketer to carry the impersonation through? In a very short time now he would know. He found himself trembling as he waited for the summons that would take him out to the wicket.

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd

Vic Whittle 2007