P. G. Wodehouse
Part 3 out of 8
"I know. It's rather hard to see what to do. I suppose if the Gazeka
insists, one's bound to support him."
"I suppose so."
"Awful rot. Prefects' lickings aren't meant for that sort of thing.
They're supposed to be for kids who steal buns at the shop or muck
about generally. Not for a chap who curses a fellow who runs him out.
I tell you what, there's just a chance Firby-Smith won't press the
thing. He hadn't had time to get over it when he saw me. By now he'll
have simmered down a bit. Look here, you're a pal of his, aren't you?
Well, go and ask him to drop the business. Say you'll curse your
brother and make him apologise, and that I'll kick him out of the team
for the Geddington match."
It was a difficult moment for Bob. One cannot help one's thoughts, and
for an instant the idea of going to Geddington with the team, as he
would certainly do if Mike did not play, made him waver. But he
"Don't do that," he said. "I don't see there's a need for anything of
that sort. You must play the best side you've got. I can easily talk
the old Gazeka over. He gets all right in a second if he's treated the
right way. I'll go and do it now."
Burgess looked miserable.
"I say, Bob," he said.
"Oh, nothing--I mean, you're not a bad sort." With which glowing
eulogy he dashed out of the room, thanking his stars that he had won
through a confoundedly awkward business.
Bob went across to Wain's to interview and soothe Firby-Smith.
He found that outraged hero sitting moodily in his study like Achilles
in his tent.
Seeing Bob, he became all animation.
"Look here," he said, "I wanted to see you. You know, that frightful
young brother of yours----"
"I know, I know," said Bob. "Burgess was telling me. He wants
"He wants a frightful licking from the prefects," emended the
"Well, I don't know, you know. Not much good lugging the prefects into
it, is there? I mean, apart from everything else, not much of a catch
for me, would it be, having to sit there and look on. I'm a prefect,
too, you know."
Firby-Smith looked a little blank at this. He had a great admiration
"I didn't think of you," he said.
"I thought you hadn't," said Bob. "You see it now, though, don't you?"
Firby-Smith returned to the original grievance.
"Well, you know, it was frightful cheek."
"Of course it was. Still, I think if I saw him and cursed him, and
sent him up to you to apologise--How would that do?"
"All right. After all, I did run him out."
"Yes, there's that, of course. Mike's all right, really. It isn't as
if he did that sort of thing as a habit."
"No. All right then."
"Thanks," said Bob, and went to find Mike.
* * * * *
The lecture on deportment which he read that future All-England
batsman in a secluded passage near the junior day-room left the latter
rather limp and exceedingly meek. For the moment all the jauntiness
and exuberance had been drained out of him. He was a punctured
balloon. Reflection, and the distinctly discouraging replies of those
experts in school law to whom he had put the question, "What d'you
think he'll do?" had induced a very chastened frame of mind.
He perceived that he had walked very nearly into a hornets' nest, and
the realisation of his escape made him agree readily to all the
conditions imposed. The apology to the Gazeka was made without
reserve, and the offensively forgiving, say-no-more-about-it-but-take
care-in-future air of the head of the house roused no spark of
resentment in him, so subdued was his fighting spirit. All he wanted
was to get the thing done with. He was not inclined to be critical.
And, most of all, he felt grateful to Bob. Firby-Smith, in the course
of his address, had not omitted to lay stress on the importance of
Bob's intervention. But for Bob, he gave him to understand, he, Mike,
would have been prosecuted with the utmost rigour of the law. Mike
came away with a confused picture in his mind of a horde of furious
prefects bent on his slaughter, after the manner of a stage "excited
crowd," and Bob waving them back. He realised that Bob had done him a
good turn. He wished he could find some way of repaying him.
Curiously enough, it was an enemy of Bob's who suggested the
way--Burton, of Donaldson's. Burton was a slippery young gentleman,
fourteen years of age, who had frequently come into contact with
Bob in the house, and owed him many grudges. With Mike he had always
tried to form an alliance, though without success.
He happened to meet Mike going to school next morning, and unburdened
his soul to him. It chanced that Bob and he had had another small
encounter immediately after breakfast, and Burton felt revengeful.
"I say," said Burton, "I'm jolly glad you're playing for the first
"Thanks," said Mike.
"I'm specially glad for one reason."
"What's that?" inquired Mike, without interest.
"Because your beast of a brother has been chucked out. He'd have been
playing but for you."
At any other time Mike would have heard Bob called a beast without
active protest. He would have felt that it was no business of his to
fight his brother's battles for him. But on this occasion he deviated
from his rule.
He kicked Burton. Not once or twice, but several times, so that
Burton, retiring hurriedly, came to the conclusion that it must be
something in the Jackson blood, some taint, as it were. They were
* * * * *
Mike walked on, weighing this remark, and gradually made up his mind.
It must be remembered that he was in a confused mental condition, and
that the only thing he realised clearly was that Bob had pulled him
out of an uncommonly nasty hole. It seemed to him that it was
necessary to repay Bob. He thought the thing over more fully during
school, and his decision remained unaltered.
On the evening before the Geddington match, just before lock-up, Mike
tapped at Burgess's study door. He tapped with his right hand, for his
left was in a sling.
"Come in!" yelled the captain. "Hullo!"
"I'm awfully sorry, Burgess," said Mike. "I've crocked my wrist a
"How did you do that? You were all right at the nets?"
"Slipped as I was changing," said Mike stolidly.
"Is it bad?"
"Nothing much. I'm afraid I shan't be able to play to-morrow."
"I say, that's bad luck. Beastly bad luck. We wanted your batting,
too. Be all right, though, in a day or two, I suppose?"
"Oh, yes, rather."
"Hope so, anyway."
And Burgess, with the comfortable feeling that he had managed to
combine duty and pleasure after all, wrote a note to Bob at
Donaldson's, telling him to be ready to start with the team for
Geddington by the 8.54 next morning.
AN EXPERT EXAMINATION
Mike's Uncle John was a wanderer on the face of the earth. He had been
an army surgeon in the days of his youth, and, after an adventurous
career, mainly in Afghanistan, had inherited enough money to keep him
in comfort for the rest of his life. He had thereupon left the
service, and now spent most of his time flitting from one spot of
Europe to another. He had been dashing up to Scotland on the day when
Mike first became a Wrykynian, but a few weeks in an uncomfortable
hotel in Skye and a few days in a comfortable one in Edinburgh had
left him with the impression that he had now seen all that there was
to be seen in North Britain and might reasonably shift his camp again.
Coming south, he had looked in on Mike's people for a brief space,
and, at the request of Mike's mother, took the early express to Wrykyn
in order to pay a visit of inspection.
His telegram arrived during morning school. Mike went down to the
station to meet him after lunch.
Uncle John took command of the situation at once.
"School playing anybody to-day, Mike? I want to see a match."
"They're playing Geddington. Only it's away. There's a second match
"Why aren't you--Hullo, I didn't see. What have you been doing to
"Crocked my wrist a bit. It's nothing much."
"How did you do that?"
"Slipped while I was changing after cricket."
"Not much, thanks."
"Doctor seen it?"
"No. But it's really nothing. Be all right by Monday."
"H'm. Somebody ought to look at it. I'll have a look later on."
Mike did not appear to relish this prospect.
"It isn't anything, Uncle John, really. It doesn't matter a bit."
"Never mind. It won't do any harm having somebody examine it who knows
a bit about these things. Now, what shall we do. Go on the river?"
"I shouldn't be able to steer."
"I could manage about that. Still, I think I should like to see the
place first. Your mother's sure to ask me if you showed me round. It's
like going over the stables when you're stopping at a country-house.
Got to be done, and better do it as soon as possible."
It is never very interesting playing the part of showman at school.
Both Mike and his uncle were inclined to scamp the business. Mike
pointed out the various landmarks without much enthusiasm--it is only
after one has left a few years that the school buildings take to
themselves romance--and Uncle John said, "Ah yes, I see. Very nice,"
two or three times in an absent voice; and they passed on to the
cricket field, where the second eleven were playing a neighbouring
engineering school. It was a glorious day. The sun had never seemed to
Mike so bright or the grass so green. It was one of those days when
the ball looks like a large vermilion-coloured football as it leaves
the bowler's hand. If ever there was a day when it seemed to Mike that
a century would have been a certainty, it was this Saturday. A sudden,
bitter realisation of all he had given up swept over him, but he
choked the feeling down. The thing was done, and it was no good
brooding over the might-have-beens now. Still--And the Geddington
ground was supposed to be one of the easiest scoring grounds of all
the public schools!
"Well hit, by George!" remarked Uncle John, as Trevor, who had gone in
first wicket for the second eleven, swept a half-volley to leg round
to the bank where they were sitting.
"That's Trevor," said Mike. "Chap in Donaldson's. The fellow at the
other end is Wilkins. He's in the School House. They look as if they
were getting set. By Jove," he said enviously, "pretty good fun
batting on a day like this."
Uncle John detected the envious note.
"I suppose you would have been playing here but for your wrist?"
"No, I was playing for the first."
"For the first? For the school! My word, Mike, I didn't know that. No
wonder you're feeling badly treated. Of course, I remember your father
saying you had played once for the school, and done well; but I
thought that was only as a substitute. I didn't know you were a
regular member of the team. What bad luck. Will you get another
"Depends on Bob."
"Has Bob got your place?"
"If he does well to-day, they'll probably keep him in."
"Isn't there room for both of you?"
"Such a lot of old colours. There are only three vacancies, and
Henfrey got one of those a week ago. I expect they'll give one of the
other two to a bowler, Neville-Smith, I should think, if he does well
against Geddington. Then there'll be only the last place left."
"Rather awkward, that."
"Still, it's Bob's last year. I've got plenty of time. But I wish I
could get in this year."
After they had watched the match for an hour, Uncle John's restless
nature asserted itself.
"Suppose we go for a pull on the river now?" he suggested.
They got up.
"Let's just call at the shop," said Mike. "There ought to be a
telegram from Geddington by this time. I wonder how Bob's got on."
Apparently Bob had not had a chance yet of distinguishing himself. The
telegram read, "Geddington 151 for four. Lunch."
"Not bad that," said Mike. "But I believe they're weak in bowling."
They walked down the road towards the school landing-stage.
"The worst of a school," said Uncle John, as he pulled up-stream with
strong, unskilful stroke, "is that one isn't allowed to smoke on the
grounds. I badly want a pipe. The next piece of shade that you see,
sing out, and we'll put in there."
"Pull your left," said Mike. "That willow's what you want."
Uncle John looked over his shoulder, caught a crab, recovered himself,
and steered the boat in under the shade of the branches.
"Put the rope over that stump. Can you manage with one hand? Here, let
me--Done it? Good. A-ah!"
He blew a great cloud of smoke into the air, and sighed contentedly.
"I hope you don't smoke, Mike?"
"Rotten trick for a boy. When you get to my age you need it. Boys
ought to be thinking about keeping themselves fit and being good at
games. Which reminds me. Let's have a look at the wrist."
A hunted expression came into Mike's eyes.
"It's really nothing," he began, but his uncle had already removed the
sling, and was examining the arm with the neat rapidity of one who has
been brought up to such things.
To Mike it seemed as if everything in the world was standing still and
waiting. He could hear nothing but his own breathing.
His uncle pressed the wrist gingerly once or twice, then gave it a
"That hurt?" he asked.
"Ye--no," stammered Mike.
Uncle John looked up sharply. Mike was crimson.
"What's the game?" inquired Uncle John.
Mike said nothing.
There was a twinkle in his uncle's eyes.
"May as well tell me. I won't give you away. Why this wounded warrior
business when you've no more the matter with you than I have?"
"I only wanted to get out of having to write this morning. There was
an exam, on."
The idea had occurred to him just before he spoke. It had struck him
as neat and plausible.
To Uncle John it did not appear in the same light.
"Do you always write with your left hand? And if you had gone with the
first eleven to Geddington, wouldn't that have got you out of your
exam? Try again."
When in doubt, one may as well tell the truth. Mike told it.
"I know. It wasn't that, really. Only----"
"Oh, well, dash it all then. Old Bob got me out of an awful row the
day before yesterday, and he seemed a bit sick at not playing for the
first, so I thought I might as well let him. That's how it was. Look
here, swear you won't tell him."
Uncle John was silent. Inwardly he was deciding that the five
shillings which he had intended to bestow on Mike on his departure
should become a sovereign. (This, it may be mentioned as an
interesting biographical fact, was the only occasion in his life
on which Mike earned money at the rate of fifteen shillings a
"Swear you won't tell him. He'd be most frightfully sick if he knew."
"I won't tell him."
Conversation dwindled to vanishing-point. Uncle John smoked on in
weighty silence, while Mike, staring up at the blue sky through the
branches of the willow, let his mind wander to Geddington, where his
fate was even now being sealed. How had the school got on? What had
Bob done? If he made about twenty, would they give him his cap?
A faint snore from Uncle John broke in on his meditations. Then there
was a clatter as a briar pipe dropped on to the floor of the boat, and
his uncle sat up, gaping.
"Jove, I was nearly asleep. What's the time? Just on six? Didn't know
it was so late."
"I ought to be getting back soon, I think. Lock-up's at half-past."
"Up with the anchor, then. You can tackle that rope with two hands
now, eh? We are not observed. Don't fall overboard. I'm going to shove
"There'll be another telegram, I should think," said Mike, as they
reached the school gates.
"Shall we go and look?"
They walked to the shop.
A second piece of grey paper had been pinned up under the first. Mike
pushed his way through the crowd. It was a longer message this time.
It ran as follows:
"Geddington 247 (Burgess six wickets, Neville-Smith four).
Wrykyn 270 for nine (Berridge 86, Marsh 58, Jackson 48)."
Mike worked his way back through the throng, and rejoined his uncle.
"Well?" said Uncle John.
He paused for a moment.
"Bob made forty-eight," he added carelessly.
Uncle John felt in his pocket, and silently slid a sovereign into
It was the only possible reply.
Wyatt got back late that night, arriving at the dormitory as Mike was
going to bed.
"By Jove, I'm done," he said. "It was simply baking at Geddington. And
I came back in a carriage with Neville-Smith and Ellerby, and they
ragged the whole time. I wanted to go to sleep, only they wouldn't let
me. Old Smith was awfully bucked because he'd taken four wickets. I
should think he'd go off his nut if he took eight ever. He was singing
comic songs when he wasn't trying to put Ellerby under the seat. How's
"Oh, better, thanks."
Wyatt began to undress.
"Any colours?" asked Mike after a pause. First eleven colours were
generally given in the pavilion after a match or on the journey home.
"No. Only one or two thirds. Jenkins and Clephane, and another chap,
can't remember who. No first, though."
"What was Bob's innings like?"
"Not bad. A bit lucky. He ought to have been out before he'd scored,
and he was out when he'd made about sixteen, only the umpire didn't
seem to know that it's l-b-w when you get your leg right in front of
the wicket and the ball hits it. Never saw a clearer case in my life.
I was in at the other end. Bit rotten for the Geddington chaps. Just
lost them the match. Their umpire, too. Bit of luck for Bob. He didn't
give the ghost of a chance after that."
"I should have thought they'd have given him his colours."
"Most captains would have done, only Burgess is so keen on fielding
that he rather keeps off it."
"Why, did he field badly?"
"Rottenly. And the man always will choose Billy's bowling to drop
catches off. And Billy would cut his rich uncle from Australia if he
kept on dropping them off him. Bob's fielding's perfectly sinful. He
was pretty bad at the beginning of the season, but now he's got so
nervous that he's a dozen times worse. He turns a delicate green when
he sees a catch coming. He let their best man off twice in one over,
off Billy, to-day; and the chap went on and made a hundred odd.
Ripping innings bar those two chances. I hear he's got an average of
eighty in school matches this season. Beastly man to bowl to. Knocked
me off in half a dozen overs. And, when he does give a couple of easy
chances, Bob puts them both on the floor. Billy wouldn't have given
him his cap after the match if he'd made a hundred. Bob's the sort of
man who wouldn't catch a ball if you handed it to him on a plate, with
watercress round it."
Burgess, reviewing the match that night, as he lay awake in his
cubicle, had come to much the same conclusion. He was very fond of
Bob, but two missed catches in one over was straining the bonds of
human affection too far. There would have been serious trouble between
David and Jonathan if either had persisted in dropping catches off the
other's bowling. He writhed in bed as he remembered the second of the
two chances which the wretched Bob had refused. The scene was
indelibly printed on his mind. Chap had got a late cut which he
fancied rather. With great guile he had fed this late cut. Sent down a
couple which he put to the boundary. Then fired a third much faster
and a bit shorter. Chap had a go at it, just as he had expected: and
he felt that life was a good thing after all when the ball just
touched the corner of the bat and flew into Bob's hands. And Bob
The memory was too bitter. If he dwelt on it, he felt, he would get
insomnia. So he turned to pleasanter reflections: the yorker which had
shattered the second-wicket man, and the slow head-ball which had led
to a big hitter being caught on the boundary. Soothed by these
memories, he fell asleep.
Next morning he found himself in a softened frame of mind. He thought
of Bob's iniquities with sorrow rather than wrath. He felt towards him
much as a father feels towards a prodigal son whom there is still a
chance of reforming. He overtook Bob on his way to chapel.
Directness was always one of Burgess's leading qualities.
"Look here, Bob. About your fielding. It's simply awful."
Bob was all remorse.
"It's those beastly slip catches. I can't time them."
"That one yesterday was right into your hands. Both of them were."
"I know. I'm frightfully sorry."
"Well, but I mean, why _can't_ you hold them? It's no good being
a good bat--you're that all right--if you're going to give away runs
in the field."
"Do you know, I believe I should do better in the deep. I could get
time to watch them there. I wish you'd give me a shot in the deep--for
"Second be blowed! I want your batting in the first. Do you think
you'd really do better in the deep?"
"I'm almost certain I should. I'll practise like mad. Trevor'll hit me
up catches. I hate the slips. I get in the dickens of a funk directly
the bowler starts his run now. I know that if a catch does come, I
shall miss it. I'm certain the deep would be much better."
"All right then. Try it."
The conversation turned to less pressing topics.
* * * * *
In the next two matches, accordingly, Bob figured on the boundary,
where he had not much to do except throw the ball back to the bowler,
and stop an occasional drive along the carpet. The beauty of fielding
in the deep is that no unpleasant surprises can be sprung upon one.
There is just that moment or two for collecting one's thoughts which
makes the whole difference. Bob, as he stood regarding the game from
afar, found his self-confidence returning slowly, drop by drop.
As for Mike, he played for the second, and hoped for the day.
* * * * *
His opportunity came at last. It will be remembered that on the
morning after the Great Picnic the headmaster made an announcement in
Hall to the effect that, owing to an outbreak of chicken-pox in the
town, all streets except the High Street would be out of bounds. This
did not affect the bulk of the school, for most of the shops to which
any one ever thought of going were in the High Street. But there were
certain inquiring minds who liked to ferret about in odd corners.
Among these was one Leather-Twigg, of Seymour's, better known in
criminal circles as Shoeblossom.
Shoeblossom was a curious mixture of the Energetic Ragger and the
Quiet Student. On a Monday evening you would hear a hideous uproar
proceeding from Seymour's junior day-room; and, going down with a
swagger-stick to investigate, you would find a tangled heap of
squealing humanity on the floor, and at the bottom of the heap,
squealing louder than any two others, would be Shoeblossom, his collar
burst and blackened and his face apoplectically crimson. On the
Tuesday afternoon, strolling in some shady corner of the grounds you
would come upon him lying on his chest, deep in some work of fiction
and resentful of interruption. On the Wednesday morning he would be in
receipt of four hundred lines from his housemaster for breaking three
windows and a gas-globe. Essentially a man of moods, Shoeblossom.
It happened about the date of the Geddington match that he took out
from the school library a copy of "The Iron Pirate," and for the next
day or two he wandered about like a lost spirit trying to find a
sequestered spot in which to read it. His inability to hit on such a
spot was rendered more irritating by the fact that, to judge from the
first few chapters (which he had managed to get through during prep.
one night under the eye of a short-sighted master), the book was
obviously the last word in hot stuff. He tried the junior day-room,
but people threw cushions at him. He tried out of doors, and a ball
hit from a neighbouring net nearly scalped him. Anything in the nature
of concentration became impossible in these circumstances.
Then he recollected that in a quiet backwater off the High Street
there was a little confectioner's shop, where tea might be had at a
reasonable sum, and also, what was more important, peace.
He made his way there, and in the dingy back shop, all amongst the
dust and bluebottles, settled down to a thoughtful perusal of chapter
Upstairs, at the same moment, the doctor was recommending that Master
John George, the son of the house, be kept warm and out of draughts
and not permitted to scratch himself, however necessary such an action
might seem to him. In brief, he was attending J. G. for chicken-pox.
Shoeblossom came away, entering the High Street furtively, lest
Authority should see him out of bounds, and returned to the school,
where he went about his lawful occasions as if there were no such
thing as chicken-pox in the world.
But all the while the microbe was getting in some unostentatious but
clever work. A week later Shoeblossom began to feel queer. He had
occasional headaches, and found himself oppressed by a queer distaste
for food. The professional advice of Dr. Oakes, the school doctor, was
called for, and Shoeblossom took up his abode in the Infirmary, where
he read _Punch_, sucked oranges, and thought of Life.
Two days later Barry felt queer. He, too, disappeared from Society.
Chicken-pox is no respecter of persons. The next victim was Marsh, of
the first eleven. Marsh, who was top of the school averages. Where
were his drives now, his late cuts that were wont to set the pavilion
in a roar. Wrapped in a blanket, and looking like the spotted marvel
of a travelling circus, he was driven across to the Infirmary in a
four-wheeler, and it became incumbent upon Burgess to select a
substitute for him.
And so it came about that Mike soared once again into the ranks of the
elect, and found his name down in the team to play against the
BOB HAS NEWS TO IMPART
Wrykyn went down badly before the Incogs. It generally happens at
least once in a school cricket season that the team collapses
hopelessly, for no apparent reason. Some schools do it in nearly every
match, but Wrykyn so far had been particularly fortunate this year.
They had only been beaten once, and that by a mere twenty odd runs in
a hard-fought game. But on this particular day, against a not
overwhelmingly strong side, they failed miserably. The weather may
have had something to do with it, for rain fell early in the morning,
and the school, batting first on the drying wicket, found themselves
considerably puzzled by a slow left-hander. Morris and Berridge left
with the score still short of ten, and after that the rout began. Bob,
going in fourth wicket, made a dozen, and Mike kept his end up, and
was not out eleven; but nobody except Wyatt, who hit out at everything
and knocked up thirty before he was stumped, did anything to
distinguish himself. The total was a hundred and seven, and the
Incogniti, batting when the wicket was easier, doubled this.
The general opinion of the school after this match was that either
Mike or Bob would have to stand down from the team when it was
definitely filled up, for Neville-Smith, by showing up well with the
ball against the Incogniti when the others failed with the bat, made
it practically certain that he would get one of the two vacancies.
"If I do" he said to Wyatt, "there will be the biggest bust of modern
times at my place. My pater is away for a holiday in Norway, and I'm
alone, bar the servants. And I can square them. Will you come?"
"Tea!" said Neville-Smith scornfully.
"Well, what then?"
"Don't you ever have feeds in the dorms. after lights-out in the
"Used to when I was a kid. Too old now. Have to look after my
digestion. I remember, three years ago, when Wain's won the footer
cup, we got up and fed at about two in the morning. All sorts of
luxuries. Sardines on sugar-biscuits. I've got the taste in my mouth
still. Do you remember Macpherson? Left a couple of years ago. His
food ran out, so he spread brown-boot polish on bread, and ate that.
Got through a slice, too. Wonderful chap! But what about this thing of
yours? What time's it going to be?"
"Eleven suit you?"
"How about getting out?"
"I'll do it as quickly as the team did to-day. I can't say more than
"You were all right."
"I'm an exceptional sort of chap."
"What about the Jacksons?"
"It's going to be a close thing. If Bob's fielding were to improve
suddenly, he would just do it. But young Mike's all over him as a bat.
In a year or two that kid'll be a marvel. He's bound to get in next
year, of course, so perhaps it would be better if Bob got the place as
it's his last season. Still, one wants the best man, of course."
* * * * *
Mike avoided Bob as much as possible during this anxious period; and
he privately thought it rather tactless of the latter when, meeting
him one day outside Donaldson's, he insisted on his coming in and
having some tea.
Mike shuffled uncomfortably as his brother filled the kettle and lit
the Etna. It required more tact than he had at his disposal to carry
off a situation like this.
Bob, being older, was more at his ease. He got tea ready, making
desultory conversation the while, as if there were no particular
reason why either of them should feel uncomfortable in the other's
presence. When he had finished, he poured Mike out a cup, passed him
the bread, and sat down.
"Not seen much of each other lately, Mike, what?"
Mike murmured unintelligibly through a mouthful of bread-and-jam.
"It's no good pretending it isn't an awkward situation," continued
Bob, "because it is. Beastly awkward."
"Awful rot the pater sending us to the same school."
"Oh, I don't know. We've all been at Wrykyn. Pity to spoil the record.
It's your fault for being such a young Infant Prodigy, and mine for not
being able to field like an ordinary human being."
"You get on much better in the deep."
"Bit better, yes. Liable at any moment to miss a sitter, though. Not
that it matters much really whether I do now."
"That's what I wanted to see you about. Has Burgess said anything to
"No. Why? What about?"
"Well, I've a sort of idea our little race is over. I fancy you've
"I've not heard a word----"
"I have. I'll tell you what makes me think the thing's settled. I
was in the pav. just now, in the First room, trying to find a
batting-glove I'd mislaid. There was a copy of the _Wrykynian_
lying on the mantelpiece, and I picked it up and started reading it.
So there wasn't any noise to show anybody outside that there was some
one in the room. And then I heard Burgess and Spence jawing on the
steps. They thought the place was empty, of course. I couldn't help
hearing what they said. The pav.'s like a sounding-board. I heard every
word. Spence said, 'Well, it's about as difficult a problem as any
captain of cricket at Wrykyn has ever had to tackle.' I had a sort of
idea that old Billy liked to boss things all on his own, but apparently
he does consult Spence sometimes. After all, he's cricket-master, and
that's what he's there for. Well, Billy said, 'I don't know what to
do. What do you think, sir?' Spence said, 'Well, I'll give you my
opinion, Burgess, but don't feel bound to act on it. I'm simply saying
what I think.' 'Yes, sir,' said old Bill, doing a big Young Disciple
with Wise Master act. '_I_ think M.,' said Spence. 'Decidedly M.
He's a shade better than R. now, and in a year or two, of course,
there'll be no comparison.'"
"Oh, rot," muttered Mike, wiping the sweat off his forehead. This was
one of the most harrowing interviews he had ever been through.
"Not at all. Billy agreed with him. 'That's just what I think, sir,'
he said. 'It's rough on Bob, but still----' And then they walked down
the steps. I waited a bit to give them a good start, and then sheered
off myself. And so home."
Mike looked at the floor, and said nothing.
There was nothing much to _be_ said.
"Well, what I wanted to see you about was this," resumed Bob. "I don't
propose to kiss you or anything; but, on the other hand, don't let's
go to the other extreme. I'm not saying that it isn't a bit of a brick
just missing my cap like this, but it would have been just as bad for
you if you'd been the one dropped. It's the fortune of war. I don't
want you to go about feeling that you've blighted my life, and so on,
and dashing up side-streets to avoid me because you think the sight of
you will be painful. As it isn't me, I'm jolly glad it's you; and I
shall cadge a seat in the pavilion from you when you're playing for
England at the Oval. Congratulate you."
It was the custom at Wrykyn, when you congratulated a man on getting
colours, to shake his hand. They shook hands.
"Thanks, awfully, Bob," said Mike. And after that there seemed to be
nothing much to talk about. So Mike edged out of the room, and tore
across to Wain's.
He was sorry for Bob, but he would not have been human (which he
certainly was) if the triumph of having won through at last into the
first eleven had not dwarfed commiseration. It had been his one
ambition, and now he had achieved it.
The annoying part of the thing was that he had nobody to talk to about
it. Until the news was official he could not mention it to the common
herd. It wouldn't do. The only possible confidant was Wyatt. And Wyatt
was at Bisley, shooting with the School Eight for the Ashburton. For
bull's-eyes as well as cats came within Wyatt's range as a marksman.
Cricket took up too much of his time for him to be captain of the
Eight and the man chosen to shoot for the Spencer, as he would
otherwise almost certainly have been; but even though short of
practice he was well up in the team.
Until he returned, Mike could tell nobody. And by the time he returned
the notice would probably be up in the Senior Block with the other
In this fermenting state Mike went into the house.
The list of the team to play for Wain's _v_. Seymour's on the
following Monday was on the board. As he passed it, a few words
scrawled in pencil at the bottom caught his eye.
"All the above will turn out for house-fielding at 6.30 to-morrow
"Oh, dash it," said Mike, "what rot! Why on earth can't he leave us
For getting up an hour before his customary time for rising was not
among Mike's favourite pastimes. Still, orders were orders, he felt.
It would have to be done.
MIKE GOES TO SLEEP AGAIN
Mike was a stout supporter of the view that sleep in large quantities
is good for one. He belonged to the school of thought which holds that
a man becomes plain and pasty if deprived of his full spell in bed. He
aimed at the peach-bloom complexion.
To be routed out of bed a clear hour before the proper time, even on a
summer morning, was not, therefore, a prospect that appealed to him.
When he woke it seemed even less attractive than it had done when
he went to sleep. He had banged his head on the pillow six times
over-night, and this silent alarm proved effective, as it always
does. Reaching out a hand for his watch, he found that it was five
minutes past six.
This was to the good. He could manage another quarter of an hour
between the sheets. It would only take him ten minutes to wash and get
into his flannels.
He took his quarter of an hour, and a little more. He woke from a sort
of doze to find that it was twenty-five past.
Man's inability to get out of bed in the morning is a curious thing.
One may reason with oneself clearly and forcibly without the slightest
effect. One knows that delay means inconvenience. Perhaps it may spoil
one's whole day. And one also knows that a single resolute heave will
do the trick. But logic is of no use. One simply lies there.
Mike thought he would take another minute.
And during that minute there floated into his mind the question, Who
_was_ Firby-Smith? That was the point. Who _was_ he, after all?
This started quite a new train of thought. Previously Mike had firmly
intended to get up--some time. Now he began to waver.
The more he considered the Gazeka's insignificance and futility and
his own magnificence, the more outrageous did it seem that he should
be dragged out of bed to please Firby-Smith's vapid mind. Here was he,
about to receive his first eleven colours on this very day probably,
being ordered about, inconvenienced--in short, put upon by a worm who
had only just scraped into the third.
Was this right, he asked himself. Was this proper?
And the hands of the watch moved round to twenty to.
What was the matter with his fielding? _It_ was all right. Make
the rest of the team fag about, yes. But not a chap who, dash it all,
had got his first _for_ fielding!
It was with almost a feeling of self-righteousness that Mike turned
over on his side and went to sleep again.
And outside in the cricket-field, the massive mind of the Gazeka was
filled with rage, as it was gradually borne in upon him that this was
not a question of mere lateness--which, he felt, would be bad enough,
for when he said six-thirty he meant six-thirty--but of actual
desertion. It was time, he said to himself, that the foot of Authority
was set firmly down, and the strong right hand of Justice allowed to
put in some energetic work. His comments on the team's fielding that
morning were bitter and sarcastic. His eyes gleamed behind their
The painful interview took place after breakfast. The head of the
house despatched his fag in search of Mike, and waited. He paced up
and down the room like a hungry lion, adjusting his pince-nez (a
thing, by the way, which lions seldom do) and behaving in other
respects like a monarch of the desert. One would have felt, looking at
him, that Mike, in coming to his den, was doing a deed which would
make the achievement of Daniel seem in comparison like the tentative
effort of some timid novice.
And certainly Mike was not without qualms as he knocked at the door,
and went in in response to the hoarse roar from the other side of it.
Firby-Smith straightened his tie, and glared.
"Young Jackson," he said, "look here, I want to know what it all
means, and jolly quick. You weren't at house-fielding this morning.
Didn't you see the notice?"
Mike admitted that he had seen the notice.
"Then you frightful kid, what do you mean by it? What?"
Mike hesitated. Awfully embarrassing, this. His real reason for not
turning up to house-fielding was that he considered himself above such
things, and Firby-Smith a toothy weed. Could he give this excuse? He
had not his Book of Etiquette by him at the moment, but he rather
fancied not. There was no arguing against the fact that the head of
the house _was_ a toothy weed; but he felt a firm conviction that
it would not be politic to say so.
Happy thought: over-slept himself.
He mentioned this.
"Over-slept yourself! You must jolly well not over-sleep yourself.
What do you mean by over-sleeping yourself?"
Very trying this sort of thing.
"What time did you wake up?"
"Six," said Mike.
It was not according to his complicated, yet intelligible code of
morality to tell lies to save himself. When others were concerned he
could suppress the true and suggest the false with a face of brass.
"Why didn't you get up then?"
"I went to sleep again."
"Oh, you went to sleep again, did you? Well, just listen to me. I've
had my eye on you for some time, and I've seen it coming on. You've
got swelled head, young man. That's what you've got. Frightful swelled
head. You think the place belongs to you."
"I don't," said Mike indignantly.
"Yes, you do," said the Gazeka shrilly. "You think the whole frightful
place belongs to you. You go siding about as if you'd bought it. Just
because you've got your second, you think you can do what you like;
turn up or not, as you please. It doesn't matter whether I'm only in
the third and you're in the first. That's got nothing to do with it.
The point is that you're one of the house team, and I'm captain of it,
so you've jolly well got to turn out for fielding with the others when
I think it necessary. See?"
Mike said nothing.
"Do--you--see, you frightful kid?"
[Illustration: "DO--YOU--SEE, YOU FRIGHTFUL KID?"]
Mike remained stonily silent. The rather large grain of truth in what
Firby-Smith had said had gone home, as the unpleasant truth about
ourselves is apt to do; and his feelings were hurt. He was determined
not to give in and say that he saw even if the head of the house
invoked all the majesty of the prefects' room to help him, as he had
nearly done once before. He set his teeth, and stared at a photograph
on the wall.
Firby-Smith's manner became ominously calm. He produced a
swagger-stick from a corner.
"Do you see?" he asked again.
Mike's jaw set more tightly.
What one really wants here is a row of stars.
* * * * *
Mike was still full of his injuries when Wyatt came back. Wyatt was
worn out, but cheerful. The school had finished sixth for the
Ashburton, which was an improvement of eight places on their last
year's form, and he himself had scored thirty at the two hundred and
twenty-seven at the five hundred totals, which had put him in a very
good humour with the world.
"Me ancient skill has not deserted me," he said, "That's the cats. The
man who can wing a cat by moonlight can put a bullet where he likes on
a target. I didn't hit the bull every time, but that was to give the
other fellows a chance. My fatal modesty has always been a hindrance
to me in life, and I suppose it always will be. Well, well! And what
of the old homestead? Anything happened since I went away? Me old
father, is he well? Has the lost will been discovered, or is there a
mortgage on the family estates? By Jove, I could do with a stoup of
Malvoisie. I wonder if the moke's gone to bed yet. I'll go down and
look. A jug of water drawn from the well in the old courtyard where my
ancestors have played as children for centuries back would just about
save my life."
He left the dormitory, and Mike began to brood over his wrongs once
Wyatt came back, brandishing a jug of water and a glass.
"Oh, for a beaker full of the warm south, full of the true, the
blushful Hippocrene! Have you ever tasted Hippocrene, young Jackson?
Rather like ginger-beer, with a dash of raspberry-vinegar. Very heady.
Failing that, water will do. A-ah!"
He put down the glass, and surveyed Mike, who had maintained a moody
silence throughout this speech.
"What's your trouble?" he asked. "For pains in the back try Ju-jar. If
it's a broken heart, Zam-buk's what you want. Who's been quarrelling
"It's only that ass Firby-Smith."
"Again! I never saw such chaps as you two. Always at it. What was the
trouble this time? Call him a grinning ape again? Your passion for the
truth'll be getting you into trouble one of these days."
"He said I stuck on side."
"I don't know."
"I mean, did he buttonhole you on your way to school, and say,
'Jackson, a word in your ear. You stick on side.' Or did he lead up to
it in any way? Did he say, 'Talking of side, you stick it on.' What
had you been doing to him?"
"It was the house-fielding."
"But you can't stick on side at house-fielding. I defy any one to.
It's too early in the morning."
"I didn't turn up."
"Oh, I don't know."
"No, but, look here, really. Did you simply bunk it?"
Wyatt leaned on the end of Mike's bed, and, having observed its
occupant thoughtfully for a moment, proceeded to speak wisdom for the
good of his soul.
"I say, I don't want to jaw--I'm one of those quiet chaps with
strong, silent natures; you may have noticed it--but I must put in
a well-chosen word at this juncture. Don't pretend to be dropping
off to sleep. Sit up and listen to what your kind old uncle's got to
say to you about manners and deportment. Otherwise, blood as you are
at cricket, you'll have a rotten time here. There are some things you
simply can't do; and one of them is bunking a thing when you're put
down for it. It doesn't matter who it is puts you down. If he's
captain, you've got to obey him. That's discipline, that 'ere is. The
speaker then paused, and took a sip of water from the carafe which
stood at his elbow. Cheers from the audience, and a voice 'Hear!
Mike rolled over in bed and glared up at the orator. Most of his face
was covered by the water-jug, but his eyes stared fixedly from above
it. He winked in a friendly way, and, putting down the jug, drew a
"Nothing like this old '87 water," he said. "Such body."
"I like you jawing about discipline," said Mike morosely.
"And why, my gentle che-ild, should I not talk about discipline?"
"Considering you break out of the house nearly every night."
"In passing, rather rum when you think that a burglar would get it
hot for breaking in, while I get dropped on if I break out. Why
should there be one law for the burglar and one for me? But you were
saying--just so. I thank you. About my breaking out. When you're a
white-haired old man like me, young Jackson, you'll see that there
are two sorts of discipline at school. One you can break if you feel
like taking the risks; the other you mustn't ever break. I don't know
why, but it isn't done. Until you learn that, you can never hope to
become the Perfect Wrykynian like," he concluded modestly, "me."
Mike made no reply. He would have perished rather than admit it, but
Wyatt's words had sunk in. That moment marked a distinct epoch in his
career. His feelings were curiously mixed. He was still furious with
Firby-Smith, yet at the same time he could not help acknowledging to
himself that the latter had had the right on his side. He saw and
approved of Wyatt's point of view, which was the more impressive to
him from his knowledge of his friend's contempt for, or, rather,
cheerful disregard of, most forms of law and order. If Wyatt, reckless
though he was as regarded written school rules, held so rigid a
respect for those that were unwritten, these last must be things which
could not be treated lightly. That night, for the first time in his
life, Mike went to sleep with a clear idea of what the public school
spirit, of which so much is talked and written, really meant.
THE TEAM IS FILLED UP
When Burgess, at the end of the conversation in the pavilion with Mr.
Spence which Bob Jackson had overheard, accompanied the cricket-master
across the field to the boarding-houses, he had distinctly made up his
mind to give Mike his first eleven colours next day. There was only
one more match to be played before the school fixture-list was
finished. That was the match with Ripton. Both at cricket and football
Ripton was the school that mattered most. Wrykyn did not always win
its other school matches; but it generally did. The public schools of
England divide themselves naturally into little groups, as far as
games are concerned. Harrow, Eton, and Winchester are one group:
Westminster and Charterhouse another: Bedford, Tonbridge, Dulwich,
Haileybury, and St. Paul's are a third. In this way, Wrykyn, Ripton,
Geddington, and Wilborough formed a group. There was no actual
championship competition, but each played each, and by the end of the
season it was easy to see which was entitled to first place. This
nearly always lay between Ripton and Wrykyn. Sometimes an exceptional
Geddington team would sweep the board, or Wrykyn, having beaten
Ripton, would go down before Wilborough. But this did not happen
often. Usually Wilborough and Geddington were left to scramble for the
Secretaries of cricket at Ripton and Wrykyn always liked to arrange
the date of the match towards the end of the term, so that they might
take the field with representative and not experimental teams. By July
the weeding-out process had generally finished. Besides which the
members of the teams had had time to get into form.
At Wrykyn it was the custom to fill up the team, if possible, before
the Ripton match. A player is likely to show better form if he has got
his colours than if his fate depends on what he does in that
Burgess, accordingly, had resolved to fill up the first eleven just a
week before Ripton visited Wrykyn. There were two vacancies. One gave
him no trouble. Neville-Smith was not a great bowler, but he was
steady, and he had done well in the earlier matches. He had fairly
earned his place. But the choice between Bob and Mike had kept him
awake into the small hours two nights in succession. Finally he had
consulted Mr. Spence, and Mr. Spence had voted for Mike.
Burgess was glad the thing was settled. The temptation to allow
sentiment to interfere with business might have become too strong if
he had waited much longer. He knew that it would be a wrench
definitely excluding Bob from the team, and he hated to have to do it.
The more he thought of it, the sorrier he was for him. If he could
have pleased himself, he would have kept Bob In. But, as the poet has
it, "Pleasure is pleasure, and biz is biz, and kep' in a sepyrit jug."
The first duty of a captain is to have no friends.
From small causes great events do spring. If Burgess had not picked up
a particularly interesting novel after breakfast on the morning of
Mike's interview with Firby-Smith in the study, the list would have
gone up on the notice-board after prayers. As it was, engrossed in his
book, he let the moments go by till the sound on the bell startled him
into movement. And then there was only time to gather up his cap, and
sprint. The paper on which he had intended to write the list and the
pen he had laid out to write it with lay untouched on the table.
And, as it was not his habit to put up notices except during the
morning, he postponed the thing. He could write it after tea. After
all, there was a week before the match.
* * * * *
When school was over, he went across to the Infirmary to Inquire about
Marsh. The report was more than favourable. Marsh had better not see
any one just yet, In case of accident, but he was certain to be out in
time to play against Ripton.
"Doctor Oakes thinks he will be back in school on Tuesday."
"Banzai!" said Burgess, feeling that life was good. To take the field
against Ripton without Marsh would have been to court disaster.
Marsh's fielding alone was worth the money. With him at short slip,
Burgess felt safe when he bowled.
The uncomfortable burden of the knowledge that he was about
temporarily to sour Bob Jackson's life ceased for the moment to
trouble him. He crooned extracts from musical comedy as he walked
towards the nets.
Recollection of Bob's hard case was brought to him by the sight of
that about-to-be-soured sportsman tearing across the ground in the
middle distance in an effort to get to a high catch which Trevor had
hit up to him. It was a difficult catch, and Burgess waited to see if
he would bring it off.
Bob got to it with one hand, and held it. His impetus carried him on
almost to where Burgess was standing.
"Well held," said Burgess.
"Hullo," said Bob awkwardly. A gruesome thought had flashed across his
mind that the captain might think that this gallery-work was an
"I couldn't get both hands to it," he explained.
"You're hot stuff in the deep."
"Easy when you're only practising."
"I've just been to the Infirmary."
"Oh. How's Marsh?"
"They wouldn't let me see him, but it's all right. He'll be able to
play on Saturday."
"Good," said Bob, hoping he had said it as if he meant it. It was
decidedly a blow. He was glad for the sake of the school, of course,
but one has one's personal ambitions. To the fact that Mike and not
himself was the eleventh cap he had become partially resigned: but he
had wanted rather badly to play against Ripton.
Burgess passed on, his mind full of Bob once more. What hard luck it
was! There was he, dashing about in the sun to improve his fielding,
and all the time the team was filled up. He felt as if he were playing
some low trick on a pal.
Then the Jekyll and Hyde business completed itself. He suppressed his
personal feelings, and became the cricket captain again.
It was the cricket captain who, towards the end of the evening, came
upon Firby-Smith and Mike parting at the conclusion of a conversation.
That it had not been a friendly conversation would have been evident
to the most casual observer from the manner in which Mike stumped off,
swinging his cricket-bag as if it were a weapon of offence. There are
many kinds of walk. Mike's was the walk of the Overwrought Soul.
"What's up?" inquired Burgess.
"Young Jackson, do you mean? Oh, nothing. I was only telling him that
there was going to be house-fielding to-morrow before breakfast."
"Didn't he like the idea?"
"He's jolly well got to like it," said the Gazeka, as who should say,
"This way for Iron Wills." "The frightful kid cut it this morning.
There'll be worse trouble if he does it again."
There was, it may be mentioned, not an ounce of malice in the head
of Wain's house. That by telling the captain of cricket that Mike had
shirked fielding-practice he might injure the latter's prospects of a
first eleven cap simply did not occur to him. That Burgess would feel,
on being told of Mike's slackness, much as a bishop might feel if he
heard that a favourite curate had become a Mahometan or a Mumbo-Jumboist,
did not enter his mind. All he considered was that the story of his
dealings with Mike showed him, Firby-Smith, in the favourable and
dashing character of the fellow-who-will-stand-no-nonsense, a sort
of Captain Kettle on dry land, in fact; and so he proceeded to tell
it in detail.
Burgess parted with him with the firm conviction that Mike was a young
slacker. Keenness in fielding was a fetish with him; and to cut
practice struck him as a crime.
He felt that he had been deceived in Mike.
* * * * *
When, therefore, one takes into consideration his private bias in
favour of Bob, and adds to it the reaction caused by this sudden
unmasking of Mike, it is not surprising that the list Burgess made out
that night before he went to bed differed in an important respect from
the one he had intended to write before school.
Mike happened to be near the notice-board when he pinned it up. It was
only the pleasure of seeing his name down in black-and-white that made
him trouble to look at the list. Bob's news of the day before
yesterday had made it clear how that list would run.
The crowd that collected the moment Burgess had walked off carried him
right up to the board.
He looked at the paper.
"Hard luck!" said somebody.
Mike scarcely heard him.
He felt physically sick with the shock of the disappointment. For the
initial before the name Jackson was R.
There was no possibility of mistake. Since writing was invented, there
had never been an R. that looked less like an M. than the one on that
Bob had beaten him on the tape.
MARJORY THE FRANK
At the door of the senior block Burgess, going out, met Bob coming in,
hurrying, as he was rather late.
"Congratulate you, Bob," he said; and passed on.
Bob stared after him. As he stared, Trevor came out of the block.
"Congratulate you, Bob."
"What's the matter now?"
"Haven't you seen?"
"Why the list. You've got your first."
"My--what? you're rotting."
"No, I'm not. Go and look."
The thing seemed incredible. Had he dreamed that conversation between
Spence and Burgess on the pavilion steps? Had he mixed up the names?
He was certain that he had heard Spence give his verdict for Mike, and
Burgess agree with him.
Just then, Mike, feeling very ill, came down the steps. He caught
sight of Bob and was passing with a feeble grin, when something told
him that this was one of those occasions on which one has to show a
Red Indian fortitude and stifle one's private feelings.
"Congratulate you, Bob," he said awkwardly.
"Thanks awfully," said Bob, with equal awkwardness. Trevor moved on,
delicately. This was no place for him. Bob's face was looking like a
stuffed frog's, which was Bob's way of trying to appear unconcerned
and at his ease, while Mike seemed as if at any moment he might burst
into tears. Spectators are not wanted at these awkward interviews.
There was a short silence.
"Jolly glad you've got it," said Mike.
"I believe there's a mistake. I swear I heard Burgess say to Spence----"
"He changed his mind probably. No reason why he shouldn't."
"Well, it's jolly rummy."
Bob endeavoured to find consolation.
"Anyhow, you'll have three years in the first. You're a cert. for next
"Hope so," said Mike, with such manifest lack of enthusiasm that Bob
abandoned this line of argument. When one has missed one's colours,
next year seems a very, very long way off.
They moved slowly through the cloisters, neither speaking, and up the
stairs that led to the Great Hall. Each was gratefully conscious of
the fact that prayers would be beginning in another minute, putting an
end to an uncomfortable situation.
"Heard from home lately?" inquired Mike.
Bob snatched gladly at the subject.
"Got a letter from mother this morning. I showed you the last one,
didn't I? I've only just had time to skim through this one, as the
post was late, and I only got it just as I was going to dash across to
school. Not much in it. Here it is, if you want to read it."
"Thanks. It'll be something to do during Math."
"Marjory wrote, too, for the first time in her life. Haven't had time
to look at it yet."
"After you. Sure it isn't meant for me? She owes me a letter."
"No, it's for me all right. I'll give it you in the interval."
The arrival of the headmaster put an end to the conversation.
* * * * *
By a quarter to eleven Mike had begun to grow reconciled to his fate.
The disappointment was still there, but it was lessened. These things
are like kicks on the shin. A brief spell of agony, and then a dull
pain of which we are not always conscious unless our attention is
directed to it, and which in time disappears altogether. When the bell
rang for the interval that morning, Mike was, as it were, sitting up
and taking nourishment.
He was doing this in a literal as well as in a figurative sense when
Bob entered the school shop.
Bob appeared curiously agitated. He looked round, and, seeing Mike,
pushed his way towards him through the crowd. Most of those present
congratulated him as he passed; and Mike noticed, with some surprise,
that, in place of the blushful grin which custom demands from the man
who is being congratulated on receipt of colours, there appeared on
his face a worried, even an irritated look. He seemed to have
something on his mind.
"Hullo," said Mike amiably. "Got that letter?"
"Yes. I'll show it you outside."
"Why not here?"
Mike resented the tone, but followed. Evidently something had happened
to upset Bob seriously. As they went out on the gravel, somebody
congratulated Bob again, and again Bob hardly seemed to appreciate
Bob led the way across the gravel and on to the first terrace. When
they had left the crowd behind, he stopped.
"What's up?" asked Mike.
"I want you to read----"
They both turned. The headmaster was standing on the edge of the
Bob pushed the letter into Mike's hands.
"Read that," he said, and went up to the headmaster. Mike heard the
words "English Essay," and, seeing that the conversation was
apparently going to be one of some length, capped the headmaster and
walked off. He was just going to read the letter when the bell rang.
He put the missive in his pocket, and went to his form-room wondering
what Marjory could have found to say to Bob to touch him on the raw to
such an extent. She was a breezy correspondent, with a style of her
own, but usually she entertained rather than upset people. No
suspicion of the actual contents of the letter crossed his mind.
He read it during school, under the desk; and ceased to wonder. Bob
had had cause to look worried. For the thousand and first time in her
career of crime Marjory had been and done it! With a strong hand she
had shaken the cat out of the bag, and exhibited it plainly to all
whom it might concern.
There was a curious absence of construction about the letter. Most
authors of sensational matter nurse their bomb-shell, lead up to
it, and display it to the best advantage. Marjory dropped hers into
the body of the letter, and let it take its chance with the other
"DEAR BOB" (the letter ran),--
"I hope you are quite well. I am quite well. Phyllis has a cold,
Ella cheeked Mademoiselle yesterday, and had to write out 'Little
Girls must be polite and obedient' a hundred times in French. She
was jolly sick about it. I told her it served her right. Joe made
eighty-three against Lancashire. Reggie made a duck. Have you got
your first? If you have, it will be all through Mike. Uncle John
told Father that Mike pretended to hurt his wrist so that you could
play instead of him for the school, and Father said it was very
sporting of Mike but nobody must tell you because it wouldn't be
fair if you got your first for you to know that you owed it to Mike
and I wasn't supposed to hear but I did because I was in the room
only they didn't know I was (we were playing hide-and-seek and I was
hiding) so I'm writing to tell you,
"From your affectionate sister
There followed a P.S.
"I'll tell you what you ought to do. I've been reading a jolly good
book called 'The Boys of Dormitory Two,' and the hero's an awfully
nice boy named Lionel Tremayne, and his friend Jack Langdale saves
his life when a beast of a boatman who's really employed by Lionel's
cousin who wants the money that Lionel's going to have when he grows
up stuns him and leaves him on the beach to drown. Well, Lionel is
going to play for the school against Loamshire, and it's _the_
match of the season, but he goes to the headmaster and says he wants
Jack to play instead of him. Why don't you do that?
"P.P.S.--This has been a frightful fag to write."
For the life of him Mike could not help giggling as he pictured what
Bob's expression must have been when his brother read this document.
But the humorous side of the thing did not appeal to him for long.
What should he say to Bob? What would Bob say to him? Dash it all, it
made him look such an awful _ass_! Anyhow, Bob couldn't do much.
In fact he didn't see that he could do anything. The team was filled
up, and Burgess was not likely to alter it. Besides, why should he
alter it? Probably he would have given Bob his colours anyhow. Still,
it was beastly awkward. Marjory meant well, but she had put her foot
right in it. Girls oughtn't to meddle with these things. No girl ought
to be taught to write till she came of age. And Uncle John had behaved
in many respects like the Complete Rotter. If he was going to let out
things like that, he might at least have whispered them, or looked
behind the curtains to see that the place wasn't chock-full of female
kids. Confound Uncle John!
Throughout the dinner-hour Mike kept out of Bob's way. But in a small
community like a school it is impossible to avoid a man for ever. They
met at the nets.
"Well?" said Bob.
"How do you mean?" said Mike.
"Did you read it?"
"Well, is it all rot, or did you--you know what I mean--sham a crocked
"Yes," said Mike, "I did."
Bob stared gloomily at his toes.
"I mean," he said at last, apparently putting the finishing-touch to
some train of thought, "I know I ought to be grateful, and all that. I
suppose I am. I mean it was jolly good of you--Dash it all," he broke
off hotly, as if the putting his position into words had suddenly
showed him how inglorious it was, "what did you want to do if
_for_? What was the idea? What right have you got to go about
playing Providence over me? Dash it all, it's like giving a fellow
money without consulting him."
"I didn't think you'd ever know. You wouldn't have if only that ass
Uncle John hadn't let it out."
"How did he get to know? Why did you tell him?"
"He got it out of me. I couldn't choke him off. He came down when you
were away at Geddington, and would insist on having a look at my arm,
and naturally he spotted right away there was nothing the matter with
it. So it came out; that's how it was."
Bob scratched thoughtfully at the turf with a spike of his boot.
"Of course, it was awfully decent----"
Then again the monstrous nature of the affair came home to him.
"But what did you do it _for_? Why should you rot up your own
chances to give me a look in?"
"Oh, I don't know.... You know, you did _me_ a jolly good turn."
"I don't remember. When?"
"That Firby-Smith business."
"What about it?"
"Well, you got me out of a jolly bad hole."
"Oh, rot! And do you mean to tell me it was simply because of that----?"
Mike appeared to him in a totally new light. He stared at him as if he
were some strange creature hitherto unknown to the human race. Mike
shuffled uneasily beneath the scrutiny.
"Anyhow, it's all over now," Mike said, "so I don't see what's the
point of talking about it."
"I'm hanged if it is. You don't think I'm going to sit tight and take
my first as if nothing had happened?"
"What can you do? The list's up. Are you going to the Old Man to ask
him if I can play, like Lionel Tremayne?"
The hopelessness of the situation came over Bob like a wave. He looked
helplessly at Mike.
"Besides," added Mike, "I shall get in next year all right. Half a
second, I just want to speak to Wyatt about something."
He sidled off.
"Well, anyhow," said Bob to himself, "I must see Burgess about it."
WYATT IS REMINDED OF AN ENGAGEMENT
There are situations in life which are beyond one. The sensible man
realises this, and slides out of such situations, admitting himself
beaten. Others try to grapple with them, but it never does any good.
When affairs get into a real tangle, it is best to sit still and let
them straighten themselves out. Or, if one does not do that, simply to
think no more about them. This is Philosophy. The true philosopher is
the man who says "All right," and goes to sleep in his arm-chair.
One's attitude towards Life's Little Difficulties should be that of
the gentleman in the fable, who sat down on an acorn one day, and
happened to doze. The warmth of his body caused the acorn to
germinate, and it grew so rapidly that, when he awoke, he found
himself sitting in the fork of an oak, sixty feet from the ground. He
thought he would go home, but, finding this impossible, he altered his
plans. "Well, well," he said, "if I cannot compel circumstances to my
will, I can at least adapt my will to circumstances. I decide to
remain here." Which he did, and had a not unpleasant time. The oak
lacked some of the comforts of home, but the air was splendid and the
To-day's Great Thought for Young Readers. Imitate this man.
Bob should have done so, but he had not the necessary amount of
philosophy. He still clung to the idea that he and Burgess, in
council, might find some way of making things right for everybody.
Though, at the moment, he did not see how eleven caps were to be
divided amongst twelve candidates in such a way that each should have
And Burgess, consulted on the point, confessed to the same inability
to solve the problem. It took Bob at least a quarter of an hour to get
the facts of the case into the captain's head, but at last Burgess
grasped the idea of the thing. At which period he remarked that it was
a rum business.
"Very rum," Bob agreed. "Still, what you say doesn't help us out much,
seeing that the point is, what's to be done?"
"Why do anything?"
Burgess was a philosopher, and took the line of least resistance, like
the man in the oak-tree.
"But I must do something," said Bob. "Can't you see how rotten it is
"I don't see why. It's not your fault. Very sporting of your brother
and all that, of course, though I'm blowed if I'd have done it myself;
but why should you do anything? You're all right. Your brother stood
out of the team to let you in it, and here you _are_, in it.
What's he got to grumble about?"
"He's not grumbling. It's me."
"What's the matter with you? Don't you want your first?"
"Not like this. Can't you see what a rotten position it is for me?"
"Don't you worry. You simply keep on saying you're all right. Besides,
what do you want me to do? Alter the list?"
But for the thought of those unspeakable outsiders, Lionel Tremayne
and his headmaster, Bob might have answered this question in the
affirmative; but he had the public-school boy's terror of seeming to
pose or do anything theatrical. He would have done a good deal to put
matters right, but he could _not_ do the self-sacrificing young
hero business. It would not be in the picture. These things, if they
are to be done at school, have to be carried through stealthily, after
"I suppose you can't very well, now it's up. Tell you what, though, I
don't see why I shouldn't stand out of the team for the Ripton match.
I could easily fake up some excuse."
"I do. I don't know if it's occurred to you, but the idea is rather to
win the Ripton match, if possible. So that I'm a lot keen on putting
the best team into the field. Sorry if it upsets your arrangements in
"You know perfectly well Mike's every bit as good as me."
"He isn't so keen."
"What do you mean?"
"Fielding. He's a young slacker."
When Burgess had once labelled a man as that, he did not readily let
the idea out of his mind.
"Slacker? What rot! He's as keen as anything."
"Anyhow, his keenness isn't enough to make him turn out for
house-fielding. If you really want to know, that's why you've
got your first instead of him. You sweated away, and improved
your fielding twenty per cent.; and I happened to be talking to
Firby-Smith and found that young Mike had been shirking his, so
out he went. A bad field's bad enough, but a slack field wants
"Smith oughtn't to have told you."
"Well, he did tell me. So you see how it is. There won't be any
changes from the team I've put up on the board."
"Oh, all right," said Bob. "I was afraid you mightn't be able to do
anything. So long."
"Mind the step," said Burgess.
* * * * *
At about the time when this conversation was in progress, Wyatt,
crossing the cricket-field towards the school shop in search of
something fizzy that might correct a burning thirst acquired at the
nets, espied on the horizon a suit of cricket flannels surmounted by a
huge, expansive grin. As the distance between them lessened, he
discovered that inside the flannels was Neville-Smith's body and
behind the grin the rest of Neville-Smith's face. Their visit to the
nets not having coincided in point of time, as the Greek exercise
books say, Wyatt had not seen his friend since the list of the team
had been posted on the board, so he proceeded to congratulate him on
"Thanks," said Neville-Smith, with a brilliant display of front teeth.
"Not the word for it. I feel like--I don't know what."
"I'll tell you what you look like, if that's any good to you. That
slight smile of yours will meet behind, if you don't look out, and
then the top of your head'll come off."
"I don't care. I've got my first, whatever happens. Little Willie's
going to buy a nice new cap and a pretty striped jacket all for his
own self! I say, thanks for reminding me. Not that you did, but
supposing you had. At any rate, I remember what it was I wanted to
say to you. You know what I was saying to you about the bust I meant
to have at home in honour of my getting my first, if I did, which I
have--well, anyhow it's to-night. You can roll up, can't you?"
"Delighted. Anything for a free feed in these hard times. What time
did you say it was?"
"Eleven. Make it a bit earlier, if you like."
"No, eleven'll do me all right."
"How are you going to get out?"
"'Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage.' That's what
the man said who wrote the libretto for the last set of Latin Verses
we had to do. I shall manage it."
"They ought to allow you a latch-key."
"Yes, I've often thought of asking my pater for one. Still, I get on
very well. Who are coming besides me?"
"No boarders. They all funked it."
"The race is degenerating."
"Said it wasn't good enough."
"The school is going to the dogs. Who did you ask?"
"Clowes was one. Said he didn't want to miss his beauty-sleep. And
Henfrey backed out because he thought the risk of being sacked wasn't
"That's an aspect of the thing that might occur to some people. I
don't blame him--I might feel like that myself if I'd got another
couple of years at school."
"But one or two day-boys are coming. Clephane is, for one. And
Beverley. We shall have rather a rag. I'm going to get the things
"When I get to your place--I don't believe I know the way, now I come
to think of it--what do I do? Ring the bell and send in my card? or
smash the nearest window and climb in?"
"Don't make too much row, for goodness sake. All the servants'll have
gone to bed. You'll see the window of my room. It's just above the
porch. It'll be the only one lighted up. Heave a pebble at it, and
I'll come down."
"So will the glass--with a run, I expect. Still, I'll try to do as
little damage as possible. After all, I needn't throw a brick."
"You _will_ turn up, won't you?"
"Nothing shall stop me."
As Wyatt was turning away, a sudden compunction seized upon
Neville-Smith. He called him back.
"I say, you don't think it's too risky, do you? I mean, you always are
breaking out at night, aren't you? I don't want to get you into a
"Oh, that's all right," said Wyatt. "Don't you worry about me. I
should have gone out anyhow to-night."
A SURPRISE FOR MR. APPLEBY
"You may not know it," said Wyatt to Mike in the dormitory that night,
"but this is the maddest, merriest day of all the glad New Year."
Mike could not help thinking that for himself it was the very reverse,
but he did not state his view of the case.
"What's up?" he asked.
"Neville-Smith's giving a meal at his place in honour of his getting
his first. I understand the preparations are on a scale of the utmost
magnificence. No expense has been spared. Ginger-beer will flow like
water. The oldest cask of lemonade has been broached; and a sardine is
roasting whole in the market-place."
"Are you going?"
"If I can tear myself away from your delightful society. The kick-off
is fixed for eleven sharp. I am to stand underneath his window and
heave bricks till something happens. I don't know if he keeps a dog.
If so, I shall probably get bitten to the bone."
"When are you going to start?"
"About five minutes after Wain has been round the dormitories to see
that all's well. That ought to be somewhere about half-past ten."
"Don't go getting caught."
"I shall do my little best not to be. Rather tricky work, though,
getting back. I've got to climb two garden walls, and I shall probably
be so full of Malvoisie that you'll be able to hear it swishing about
inside me. No catch steeple-chasing if you're like that. They've no
thought for people's convenience here. Now at Bradford they've got
studies on the ground floor, the windows looking out over the
boundless prairie. No climbing or steeple-chasing needed at all. All
you have to do is to open the window and step out. Still, we must make
the best of things. Push us over a pinch of that tooth-powder of
yours. I've used all mine."
Wyatt very seldom penetrated further than his own garden on the
occasions when he roamed abroad at night. For cat-shooting the Wain
spinneys were unsurpassed. There was one particular dustbin where one
might be certain of flushing a covey any night; and the wall by the
potting-shed was a feline club-house.
But when he did wish to get out into the open country he had a special
route which he always took. He climbed down from the wall that ran
beneath the dormitory window into the garden belonging to Mr. Appleby,
the master who had the house next to Mr. Wain's. Crossing this, he
climbed another wall, and dropped from it into a small lane which
ended in the main road leading to Wrykyn town.
This was the route which he took to-night. It was a glorious July
night, and the scent of the flowers came to him with a curious
distinctness as he let himself down from the dormitory window. At any
other time he might have made a lengthy halt, and enjoyed the scents
and small summer noises, but now he felt that it would be better not
to delay. There was a full moon, and where he stood he could be seen
distinctly from the windows of both houses. They were all dark, it is
true, but on these occasions it was best to take no risks.
He dropped cautiously into Appleby's garden, ran lightly across it,
and was in the lane within a minute.
There he paused, dusted his trousers, which had suffered on the
two walls, and strolled meditatively in the direction of the town.
Half-past ten had just chimed from the school clock. He was in plenty
"What a night!" he said to himself, sniffing as he walked.
* * * * *
Now it happened that he was not alone in admiring the beauty of that
particular night. At ten-fifteen it had struck Mr. Appleby, looking
out of his study into the moonlit school grounds, that a pipe in the
open would make an excellent break in his night's work. He had
acquired a slight headache as the result of correcting a batch of
examination papers, and he thought that an interval of an hour in the
open air before approaching the half-dozen or so papers which still
remained to be looked at might do him good. The window of his study
was open, but the room had got hot and stuffy. Nothing like a little
fresh air for putting him right.
For a few moments he debated the rival claims of a stroll in the
cricket-field and a seat in the garden. Then he decided on the latter.
The little gate in the railings opposite his house might not be
open, and it was a long way round to the main entrance. So he took a
deck-chair which leaned against the wall, and let himself out of the
He took up his position in the shadow of a fir-tree with his back to
the house. From here he could see the long garden. He was fond of his
garden, and spent what few moments he could spare from work and games
pottering about it. He had his views as to what the ideal garden
should be, and he hoped in time to tinker his own three acres up to
the desired standard. At present there remained much to be done. Why
not, for instance, take away those laurels at the end of the lawn, and
have a flower-bed there instead? Laurels lasted all the year round,
true, whereas flowers died and left an empty brown bed in the winter,
but then laurels were nothing much to look at at any time, and a
garden always had a beastly appearance in winter, whatever you did to
it. Much better have flowers, and get a decent show for one's money in
summer at any rate.
The problem of the bed at the end of the lawn occupied his complete
attention for more than a quarter of an hour, at the end of which
period he discovered that his pipe had gone out.
He was just feeling for his matches to relight it when Wyatt dropped
with a slight thud into his favourite herbaceous border.
The surprise, and the agony of feeling that large boots were trampling
among his treasures kept him transfixed for just the length of time
necessary for Wyatt to cross the garden and climb the opposite wall.
As he dropped into the lane, Mr. Appleby recovered himself
sufficiently to emit a sort of strangled croak, but the sound was too
slight to reach Wyatt. That reveller was walking down the Wrykyn road
before Mr. Appleby had left his chair.
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