P. G. Wodehouse
Part 6 out of 8
"This isn't a real house match. Only a friendly. Downing always turns
out on Mid-term Service day. I say, do play."
"Think of the rag."
"But the team's full," said Mike.
"The list isn't up yet. We'll nip across to Barnes' study, and make
him alter it."
They dashed out of the room. From down the passage Mike heard yells of
"_Barnes_!" the closing of a door, and a murmur of excited
conversation. Then footsteps returning down the passage.
Barnes appeared, on his face the look of one who has seen visions.
"I say," he said, "is it true? Or is Stone rotting? About Wrykyn, I
"Yes, I was in the team."
Barnes was an enthusiastic cricketer. He studied his _Wisden_,
and he had an immense respect for Wrykyn cricket.
"Are you the M. Jackson, then, who had an average of fifty-one point
nought three last year?"
[Illustration: "ARE YOU THE M. JACKSON, THEN, WHO HAD AN AVERAGE OF
FIFTY-ONE POINT NOUGHT THREE LAST YEAR?"]
Barnes's manner became like that of a curate talking to a bishop.
"I say," he said, "then--er--will you play against Downing's to-morrow?"
"Rather," said Mike. "Thanks awfully. Have some tea?"
THE MATCH WITH DOWNING'S
It is the curious instinct which prompts most people to rub a thing in
that makes the lot of the average convert an unhappy one. Only the
very self-controlled can refrain from improving the occasion and
scoring off the convert. Most leap at the opportunity.
It was so in Mike's case. Mike was not a genuine convert, but to Mr.
Downing he had the outward aspect of one. When you have been
impressing upon a non-cricketing boy for nearly a month that
(_a_) the school is above all a keen school, (_b_) that all
members of it should play cricket, and (_c_) that by not playing
cricket he is ruining his chances in this world and imperilling them
in the next; and when, quite unexpectedly, you come upon this boy
dressed in cricket flannels, wearing cricket boots and carrying a
cricket bag, it seems only natural to assume that you have converted
him, that the seeds of your eloquence have fallen on fruitful soil and
Mr. Downing assumed it.
He was walking to the field with Adair and another member of his team
when he came upon Mike.
"What!" he cried. "Our Jackson clad in suit of mail and armed for the
This was Mr. Downing's No. 2 manner--the playful.
"This is indeed Saul among the prophets. Why this sudden enthusiasm
for a game which I understood that you despised? Are our opponents so
Psmith, who was with Mike, took charge of the affair with a languid
grace which had maddened hundreds in its time, and which never failed
to ruffle Mr. Downing.
"We are, above all, sir," he said, "a keen house. Drones are not
welcomed by us. We are essentially versatile. Jackson, the
archaeologist of yesterday, becomes the cricketer of to-day. It is the
right spirit, sir," said Psmith earnestly. "I like to see it."
"Indeed, Smith? You are not playing yourself, I notice. Your
enthusiasm has bounds."
"In our house, sir, competition is fierce, and the Selection Committee
unfortunately passed me over."
* * * * *
There were a number of pitches dotted about over the field, for there
was always a touch of the London Park about it on Mid-term Service
day. Adair, as captain of cricket, had naturally selected the best for
his own match. It was a good wicket, Mike saw. As a matter of fact the
wickets at Sedleigh were nearly always good. Adair had infected the
ground-man with some of his own keenness, with the result that that
once-leisurely official now found himself sometimes, with a kind of
mild surprise, working really hard. At the beginning of the previous
season Sedleigh had played a scratch team from a neighbouring town on a
wicket which, except for the creases, was absolutely undistinguishable
from the surrounding turf, and behind the pavilion after the match
Adair had spoken certain home truths to the ground-man. The latter's
reformation had dated from that moment.
* * * * *
Barnes, timidly jubilant, came up to Mike with the news that he had
won the toss, and the request that Mike would go in first with him.
In stories of the "Not Really a Duffer" type, where the nervous new
boy, who has been found crying in the boot-room over the photograph of
his sister, contrives to get an innings in a game, nobody suspects
that he is really a prodigy till he hits the Bully's first ball out of
the ground for six.
With Mike it was different. There was no pitying smile on Adair's face
as he started his run preparatory to sending down the first ball.
Mike, on the cricket field, could not have looked anything but a
cricketer if he had turned out in a tweed suit and hobnail boots.
Cricketer was written all over him--in his walk, in the way he took
guard, in his stand at the wickets. Adair started to bowl with the
feeling that this was somebody who had more than a little knowledge of
how to deal with good bowling and punish bad.
Mike started cautiously. He was more than usually anxious to make runs
to-day, and he meant to take no risks till he could afford to do so.
He had seen Adair bowl at the nets, and he knew that he was good.
The first over was a maiden, six dangerous balls beautifully played.
The fieldsmen changed over.
The general interest had now settled on the match between Outwood's
and Downing's. The fact in Mike's case had gone round the field, and,
as several of the other games had not yet begun, quite a large crowd
had collected near the pavilion to watch. Mike's masterly treatment of
the opening over had impressed the spectators, and there was a popular
desire to see how he would deal with Mr. Downing's slows. It was
generally anticipated that he would do something special with them.
Off the first ball of the master's over a leg-bye was run.
Mike took guard.
Mr. Downing was a bowler with a style of his own. He took two short
steps, two long steps, gave a jump, took three more short steps, and
ended with a combination of step and jump, during which the ball
emerged from behind his back and started on its slow career to
the wicket. The whole business had some of the dignity of the
old-fashioned minuet, subtly blended with the careless vigour of
a cake-walk. The ball, when delivered, was billed to break from
leg, but the programme was subject to alterations.
If the spectators had expected Mike to begin any firework effects with
the first ball, they were disappointed. He played the over through
with a grace worthy of his brother Joe. The last ball he turned to leg
for a single.
His treatment of Adair's next over was freer. He had got a sight of
the ball now. Half-way through the over a beautiful square cut forced
a passage through the crowd by the pavilion, and dashed up against the
rails. He drove the sixth ball past cover for three.
The crowd was now reluctantly dispersing to its own games, but it
stopped as Mr. Downing started his minuet-cake-walk, in the hope that
it might see something more sensational.
This time the hope was fulfilled.
The ball was well up, slow, and off the wicket on the on-side. Perhaps
if it had been allowed to pitch, it might have broken in and become
quite dangerous. Mike went out at it, and hit it a couple of feet from
the ground. The ball dropped with a thud and a spurting of dust in the
road that ran along one side of the cricket field.
It was returned on the instalment system by helpers from other games,
and the bowler began his manoeuvres again. A half-volley this time.
Mike slammed it back, and mid-on, whose heart was obviously not in the
thing, failed to stop it.
"Get to them, Jenkins," said Mr. Downing irritably, as the ball came
back from the boundary. "Get to them."
"Sir, please, sir----"
"Don't talk in the field, Jenkins."
Having had a full-pitch hit for six and a half-volley for four, there
was a strong probability that Mr. Downing would pitch his next ball
The expected happened. The third ball was a slow long-hop, and hit the
road at about the same spot where the first had landed. A howl of
untuneful applause rose from the watchers in the pavilion, and Mike,
with the feeling that this sort of bowling was too good to be true,
waited in position for number four.
There are moments when a sort of panic seizes a bowler. This happened
now with Mr. Downing. He suddenly abandoned science and ran amok. His
run lost its stateliness and increased its vigour. He charged up to
the wicket as a wounded buffalo sometimes charges a gun. His whole
idea now was to bowl fast.
When a slow bowler starts to bowl fast, it is usually as well to be
batting, if you can manage it.
By the time the over was finished, Mike's score had been increased by
sixteen, and the total of his side, in addition, by three wides.
And a shrill small voice, from the neighbourhood of the pavilion,
uttered with painful distinctness the words, "Take him off!"
That was how the most sensational day's cricket began that Sedleigh
A description of the details of the morning's play would be
monotonous. It is enough to say that they ran on much the same lines
as the third and fourth overs of the match. Mr. Downing bowled one
more over, off which Mike helped himself to sixteen runs, and then
retired moodily to cover-point, where, in Adair's fifth over, he
missed Barnes--the first occasion since the game began on which that
mild batsman had attempted to score more than a single. Scared by this
escape, Outwood's captain shrank back into his shell, sat on the
splice like a limpet, and, offering no more chances, was not out at
lunch time with a score of eleven.
Mike had then made a hundred and three.
* * * * *
As Mike was taking off his pads in the pavilion, Adair came up.
"Why did you say you didn't play cricket?" he asked abruptly.
[Illustration: "WHY DID YOU SAY YOU DIDN'T PLAY CRICKET?" HE ASKED]
When one has been bowling the whole morning, and bowling well, without
the slightest success, one is inclined to be abrupt.
Mike finished unfastening an obstinate strap. Then he looked up.
"I didn't say anything of the kind. I said I wasn't going to play
here. There's a difference. As a matter of fact, I was in the Wrykyn
team before I came here. Three years."
Adair was silent for a moment.
"Will you play for us against the Old Sedleighans to-morrow?" he said
Mike tossed his pads into his bag and got up.
There was a silence.
"Above it, I suppose?"
"Not a bit. Not up to it. I shall want a lot of coaching at that end
net of yours before I'm fit to play for Sedleigh."
There was another pause.
"Then you won't play?" asked Adair.
"I'm not keeping you, am I?" said Mike, politely.
It was remarkable what a number of members of Outwood's house appeared
to cherish a personal grudge against Mr. Downing. It had been that
master's somewhat injudicious practice for many years to treat his
own house as a sort of Chosen People. Of all masters, the most
unpopular is he who by the silent tribunal of a school is convicted
of favouritism. And the dislike deepens if it is a house which he
favours and not merely individuals. On occasions when boys in his
own house and boys from other houses were accomplices and partners
in wrong-doing, Mr. Downing distributed his thunderbolts unequally,
and the school noticed it. The result was that not only he himself,
but also--which was rather unfair--his house, too, had acquired a
good deal of unpopularity.
The general consensus of opinion in Outwood's during the luncheon
interval was that, having got Downing's up a tree, they would be fools
not to make the most of the situation.
Barnes's remark that he supposed, unless anything happened and wickets
began to fall a bit faster, they had better think of declaring
somewhere about half-past three or four, was met with a storm of
"Declare!" said Robinson. "Great Scott, what on earth are you talking
"Declare!" Stone's voice was almost a wail of indignation. "I never
saw such a chump."
"They'll be rather sick if we don't, won't they?" suggested Barnes.
"Sick! I should think they would," said Stone. "That's just the gay
idea. Can't you see that by a miracle we've got a chance of getting a
jolly good bit of our own back against those Downing's ticks? What
we've got to do is to jolly well keep them in the field all day if we
can, and be jolly glad it's so beastly hot. If they lose about a dozen
pounds each through sweating about in the sun after Jackson's drives,
perhaps they'll stick on less side about things in general in future.
Besides, I want an innings against that bilge of old Downing's, if I
can get it."
"So do I," said Robinson.
"If you declare, I swear I won't field. Nor will Robinson."
"Well, I won't then," said Barnes unhappily. "Only you know they're
rather sick already."
"Don't you worry about that," said Stone with a wide grin. "They'll be
a lot sicker before we've finished."
And so it came about that that particular Mid-term Service-day match
made history. Big scores had often been put up on Mid-term Service
day. Games had frequently been one-sided. But it had never happened
before in the annals of the school that one side, going in first early
in the morning, had neither completed its innings nor declared it
closed when stumps were drawn at 6.30. In no previous Sedleigh match,
after a full day's play, had the pathetic words "Did not bat" been
written against the whole of one of the contending teams.
These are the things which mark epochs.
Play was resumed at 2.15. For a quarter of an hour Mike was
comparatively quiet. Adair, fortified by food and rest, was bowling
really well, and his first half-dozen overs had to be watched
carefully. But the wicket was too good to give him a chance, and Mike,
playing himself in again, proceeded to get to business once more.
Bowlers came and went. Adair pounded away at one end with brief
intervals between the attacks. Mr. Downing took a couple more overs,
in one of which a horse, passing in the road, nearly had its useful
life cut suddenly short. Change-bowlers of various actions and paces,
each weirder and more futile than the last, tried their luck. But
still the first-wicket stand continued.
The bowling of a house team is all head and no body. The first pair
probably have some idea of length and break. The first-change pair are
poor. And the rest, the small change, are simply the sort of things
one sees in dreams after a heavy supper, or when one is out without
Time, mercifully, generally breaks up a big stand at cricket before
the field has suffered too much, and that is what happened now.
At four o'clock, when the score stood at two hundred and twenty
for no wicket, Barnes, greatly daring, smote lustily at a rather
wide half-volley and was caught at short-slip for thirty-three. He
retired blushfully to the pavilion, amidst applause, and Stone came
As Mike had then made a hundred and eighty-seven, it was assumed by
the field, that directly he had topped his second century, the closure
would be applied and their ordeal finished. There was almost a sigh of
relief when frantic cheering from the crowd told that the feat had
been accomplished. The fieldsmen clapped in quite an indulgent sort of
way, as who should say, "Capital, capital. And now let's start
_our_ innings." Some even began to edge towards the pavilion.
But the next ball was bowled, and the next over, and the next after
that, and still Barnes made no sign. (The conscience-stricken captain
of Outwood's was, as a matter of fact, being practically held down by
Robinson and other ruffians by force.)
A grey dismay settled on the field.
The bowling had now become almost unbelievably bad. Lobs were being
tried, and Stone, nearly weeping with pure joy, was playing an innings
of the How-to-brighten-cricket type. He had an unorthodox style, but
an excellent eye, and the road at this period of the game became
absolutely unsafe for pedestrians and traffic.
Mike's pace had become slower, as was only natural, but his score,
too, was mounting steadily.
"This is foolery," snapped Mr. Downing, as the three hundred and fifty
went up on the board. "Barnes!" he called.
There was no reply. A committee of three was at that moment engaged in
sitting on Barnes's head in the first eleven changing-room, in order
to correct a more than usually feverish attack of conscience.
"Please, sir," said Stone, some species of telepathy telling him what
was detaining his captain. "I think Barnes must have left the field.
He has probably gone over to the house to fetch something."
"This is absurd. You must declare your innings closed. The game has
become a farce."
"Declare! Sir, we can't unless Barnes does. He might be awfully
annoyed if we did anything like that without consulting him."
"He's very touchy, sir."
"It is perfect foolery."
"I think Jenkins is just going to bowl, sir."
Mr. Downing walked moodily to his place.
* * * * *
In a neat wooden frame in the senior day-room at Outwood's, just above
the mantelpiece, there was on view, a week later, a slip of paper. The
writing on it was as follows:
OUTWOOD'S _v_. DOWNING'S
_Outwood's. First innings._
J. P. Barnes, _c_. Hammond, _b_. Hassall... 33
M. Jackson, not out........................ 277
W. J. Stone, not out....................... 124
Total (for one wicket)...... 471
Downing's did not bat.
THE SINGULAR BEHAVIOUR OF JELLICOE
Outwood's rollicked considerably that night. Mike, if he had cared to
take the part, could have been the Petted Hero. But a cordial
invitation from the senior day-room to be the guest of the evening at
about the biggest rag of the century had been refused on the plea of
fatigue. One does not make two hundred and seventy-seven runs on a hot
day without feeling the effects, even if one has scored mainly by the
medium of boundaries; and Mike, as he lay back in Psmith's deck-chair,
felt that all he wanted was to go to bed and stay there for a week.
His hands and arms burned as if they were red-hot, and his eyes were
so tired that he could not keep them open.
Psmith, leaning against the mantelpiece, discoursed in a desultory way
on the day's happenings--the score off Mr. Downing, the undeniable
annoyance of that battered bowler, and the probability of his venting
his annoyance on Mike next day.
"In theory," said he, "the manly what-d'you-call-it of cricket and all
that sort of thing ought to make him fall on your neck to-morrow and
weep over you as a foeman worthy of his steel. But I am prepared to
bet a reasonable sum that he will give no Jiu-jitsu exhibition of this
kind. In fact, from what I have seen of our bright little friend, I
should say that, in a small way, he will do his best to make it
distinctly hot for you, here and there."
"I don't care," murmured Mike, shifting his aching limbs in the chair.
"In an ordinary way, I suppose, a man can put up with having his
bowling hit a little. But your performance was cruelty to animals.
Twenty-eight off one over, not to mention three wides, would have made
Job foam at the mouth. You will probably get sacked. On the other
hand, it's worth it. You have lit a candle this day which can never be
blown out. You have shown the lads of the village how Comrade
Downing's bowling ought to be treated. I don't suppose he'll ever take
"He doesn't deserve to."
Psmith smoothed his hair at the glass and turned round again.
"The only blot on this day of mirth and good-will is," he said, "the
singular conduct of our friend Jellicoe. When all the place was
ringing with song and merriment, Comrade Jellicoe crept to my side,
and, slipping his little hand in mine, touched me for three quid."
This interested Mike, fagged as he was.
"What! Three quid!"
"Three jingling, clinking sovereigns. He wanted four."
"But the man must be living at the rate of I don't know what. It was
only yesterday that he borrowed a quid from _me_!"
"He must be saving money fast. There appear to be the makings of a
financier about Comrade Jellicoe. Well, I hope, when he's collected
enough for his needs, he'll pay me back a bit. I'm pretty well cleaned
"I got some from my brother at Oxford."
"Perhaps he's saving up to get married. We may be helping towards
furnishing the home. There was a Siamese prince fellow at my dame's at
Eton who had four wives when he arrived, and gathered in a fifth
during his first summer holidays. It was done on the correspondence
system. His Prime Minister fixed it up at the other end, and sent him
the glad news on a picture post-card. I think an eye ought to be kept
on Comrade Jellicoe."
* * * * *
Mike tumbled into bed that night like a log, but he could not sleep.
He ached all over. Psmith chatted for a time on human affairs in
general, and then dropped gently off. Jellicoe, who appeared to be
wrapped in gloom, contributed nothing to the conversation.
After Psmith had gone to sleep, Mike lay for some time running over in
his mind, as the best substitute for sleep, the various points of his
innings that day. He felt very hot and uncomfortable.
Just as he was wondering whether it would not be a good idea to get up
and have a cold bath, a voice spoke from the darkness at his side.
"Are you asleep, Jackson?"
"Me--Jellicoe. I can't get to sleep."
"Nor can I. I'm stiff all over."
"I'll come over and sit on your bed."
There was a creaking, and then a weight descended in the neighbourhood
of Mike's toes.
Jellicoe was apparently not in conversational mood. He uttered no word
for quite three minutes. At the end of which time he gave a sound
midway between a snort and a sigh.
"I say, Jackson!" he said.
"Have you--oh, nothing."
"I say, what would your people say if you got sacked?"
"All sorts of things. Especially my pater. Why?"
"Oh, I don't know. So would mine."
"Everybody's would, I expect."
The bed creaked, as Jellicoe digested these great thoughts. Then he
"It would be a jolly beastly thing to get sacked."
Mike was too tired to give his mind to the subject. He was not really
listening. Jellicoe droned on in a depressed sort of way.
"You'd get home in the middle of the afternoon, I suppose, and you'd
drive up to the house, and the servant would open the door, and you'd
go in. They might all be out, and then you'd have to hang about, and
wait; and presently you'd hear them come in, and you'd go out into the
passage, and they'd say 'Hullo!'"
Jellicoe, in order to give verisimilitude, as it were, to an otherwise
bald and unconvincing narrative, flung so much agitated surprise into
the last word that it woke Mike from a troubled doze into which he had
"Hullo?" he said. "What's up?"
"Then you'd say. 'Hullo!' And then they'd say, 'What are you doing
here? 'And you'd say----"
"What on earth are you talking about?"
"About what would happen."
"When you got home. After being sacked, you know."
"Who's been sacked?" Mike's mind was still under a cloud.
"Nobody. But if you were, I meant. And then I suppose there'd be an
awful row and general sickness, and all that. And then you'd be sent
into a bank, or to Australia, or something."
Mike dozed off again.
"My pater would be frightfully sick. My mater would be sick. My sister
would be jolly sick, too. Have you got any sisters, Jackson? I say,
"Hullo! What's the matter? Who's that?"
"I asked you if you'd got any sisters."
"Yours. I asked if you'd got any."
"What about them?"
The conversation was becoming too intricate for Jellicoe. He changed
"I say, Jackson!"
"I say, you don't know any one who could lend me a pound, do you?"
"What!" cried Mike, sitting up in bed and staring through the darkness
in the direction whence the numismatist's voice was proceeding. "Do
"I say, look out. You'll wake Smith."
"Did you say you wanted some one to lend you a quid?"
"Yes," said Jellicoe eagerly. "Do you know any one?"
Mike's head throbbed. This thing was too much. The human brain could
not be expected to cope with it. Here was a youth who had borrowed a
pound from one friend the day before, and three pounds from another
friend that very afternoon, already looking about him for further
loans. Was it a hobby, or was he saving up to buy an aeroplane?
"What on earth do you want a pound for?"
"I don't want to tell anybody. But it's jolly serious. I shall get
sacked if I don't get it."
Those who have followed Mike's career as set forth by the present
historian will have realised by this time that he was a good long way
from being perfect. As the Blue-Eyed Hero he would have been a rank
failure. Except on the cricket field, where he was a natural genius,
he was just ordinary. He resembled ninety per cent. of other members
of English public schools. He had some virtues and a good many
defects. He was as obstinate as a mule, though people whom he liked
could do as they pleased with him. He was good-natured as a general
thing, but on occasion his temper could be of the worst, and had, in
his childhood, been the subject of much adverse comment among his
aunts. He was rigidly truthful, where the issue concerned only
himself. Where it was a case of saving a friend, he was prepared to
act in a manner reminiscent of an American expert witness.
He had, in addition, one good quality without any defect to balance
it. He was always ready to help people. And when he set himself to do
this, he was never put off by discomfort or risk. He went at the thing
with a singleness of purpose that asked no questions.
Bob's postal order, which had arrived that evening, was reposing in
the breast-pocket of his coat.
It was a wrench, but, if the situation was so serious with Jellicoe,
it had to be done.
* * * * *
Two minutes later the night was being made hideous by Jellicoe's
almost tearful protestations of gratitude, and the postal order had
moved from one side of the dormitory to the other.
JELLICOE GOES ON THE SICK-LIST
Mike woke next morning with a confused memory of having listened to a
great deal of incoherent conversation from Jellicoe, and a painfully
vivid recollection of handing over the bulk of his worldly wealth to
him. The thought depressed him, though it seemed to please Jellicoe,
for the latter carolled in a gay undertone as he dressed, till Psmith,
who had a sensitive ear, asked as a favour that these farm-yard
imitations might cease until he was out of the room.
There were other things to make Mike low-spirited that morning. To
begin with, he was in detention, which in itself is enough to spoil a
day. It was a particularly fine day, which made the matter worse. In
addition to this, he had never felt stiffer in his life. It seemed to
him that the creaking of his joints as he walked must be audible to
every one within a radius of several yards. Finally, there was the
interview with Mr. Downing to come. That would probably be unpleasant.
As Psmith had said, Mr. Downing was the sort of master who would be
likely to make trouble. The great match had not been an ordinary
match. Mr. Downing was a curious man in many ways, but he did not make
a fuss on ordinary occasions when his bowling proved expensive.
Yesterday's performance, however, stood in a class by itself. It stood
forth without disguise as a deliberate rag. One side does not keep
another in the field the whole day in a one-day match except as a
grisly kind of practical joke. And Mr. Downing and his house realised
this. The house's way of signifying its comprehension of the fact was
to be cold and distant as far as the seniors were concerned, and
abusive and pugnacious as regards the juniors. Young blood had been
shed overnight, and more flowed during the eleven o'clock interval
that morning to avenge the insult.
Mr. Downing's methods of retaliation would have to be, of necessity,
more elusive; but Mike did not doubt that in some way or other his
form-master would endeavour to get a bit of his own back.
As events turned out, he was perfectly right. When a master has got
his knife into a boy, especially a master who allows himself to be
influenced by his likes and dislikes, he is inclined to single him out
in times of stress, and savage him as if he were the official
representative of the evildoers. Just as, at sea, the skipper, when he
has trouble with the crew, works it off on the boy.
Mr. Downing was in a sarcastic mood when he met Mike. That is to say,
he began in a sarcastic strain. But this sort of thing is difficult to
keep up. By the time he had reached his peroration, the rapier had
given place to the bludgeon. For sarcasm to be effective, the user of
it must be met half-way. His hearer must appear to be conscious of the
sarcasm and moved by it. Mike, when masters waxed sarcastic towards
him, always assumed an air of stolid stupidity, which was as a suit of
mail against satire.
So Mr. Downing came down from the heights with a run, and began to
express himself with a simple strength which it did his form good to
listen to. Veterans who had been in the form for terms said afterwards
that there had been nothing to touch it, in their experience of the
orator, since the glorious day when Dunster, that prince of raggers,
who had left at Christmas to go to a crammer's, had introduced three
lively grass-snakes into the room during a Latin lesson.
"You are surrounded," concluded Mr. Downing, snapping his pencil in
two in his emotion, "by an impenetrable mass of conceit and vanity and
selfishness. It does not occur to you to admit your capabilities as a
cricketer in an open, straightforward way and place them at the
disposal of the school. No, that would not be dramatic enough for you.
It would be too commonplace altogether. Far too commonplace!" Mr.
Downing laughed bitterly. "No, you must conceal your capabilities. You
must act a lie. You must--who is that shuffling his feet? I will not
have it, I _will_ have silence--you must hang back in order to
make a more effective entrance, like some wretched actor who--I will
_not_ have this shuffling. I have spoken of this before. Macpherson,
are you shuffling your feet?"
"Sir, no, sir."
"I think it's the noise of the draught under the door, sir."
Instant departure of Parsons for the outer regions. And, in the
excitement of this side-issue, the speaker lost his inspiration, and
abruptly concluded his remarks by putting Mike on to translate in
Cicero. Which Mike, who happened to have prepared the first half-page,
did with much success.
* * * * *
The Old Boys' match was timed to begin shortly after eleven o'clock.
During the interval most of the school walked across the field to look
at the pitch. One or two of the Old Boys had already changed and were
practising in front of the pavilion.
It was through one of these batsmen that an accident occurred which
had a good deal of influence on Mike's affairs.
Mike had strolled out by himself. Half-way across the field Jellicoe
joined him. Jellicoe was cheerful, and rather embarrassingly grateful.
He was just in the middle of his harangue when the accident happened.
To their left, as they crossed the field, a long youth, with the faint
beginnings of a moustache and a blazer that lit up the surrounding
landscape like a glowing beacon, was lashing out recklessly at a
friend's bowling. Already he had gone within an ace of slaying a small
boy. As Mike and Jellicoe proceeded on their way, there was a shout of
The almost universal habit of batsmen of shouting "Heads!" at whatever
height from the ground the ball may be, is not a little confusing. The
average person, on hearing the shout, puts his hands over his skull,
crouches down and trusts to luck. This is an excellent plan if the
ball is falling, but is not much protection against a skimming drive
along the ground.
When "Heads!" was called on the present occasion, Mike and Jellicoe
instantly assumed the crouching attitude.
Jellicoe was the first to abandon it. He uttered a yell and sprang
into the air. After which he sat down and began to nurse his ankle.
The bright-blazered youth walked up.
"Awfully sorry, you know, man. Hurt?"
Jellicoe was pressing the injured spot tenderly with his finger-tips,
uttering sharp howls whenever, zeal outrunning discretion, he prodded
himself too energetically.
"Silly ass, Dunster," he groaned, "slamming about like that."
"Awfully sorry. But I did yell."
"It's swelling up rather," said Mike. "You'd better get over to the
house and have it looked at. Can you walk?"
Jellicoe tried, but sat down again with a loud "Ow!" At that moment
the bell rang.
"I shall have to be going in," said Mike, "or I'd have helped you
"I'll give you a hand," said Dunster.
He helped the sufferer to his feet and they staggered off together,
Jellicoe hopping, Dunster advancing with a sort of polka step. Mike
watched them start and then turned to go in.
MIKE RECEIVES A COMMISSION
There is only one thing to be said in favour of detention on a fine
summer's afternoon, and that is that it is very pleasant to come out
of. The sun never seems so bright or the turf so green as during the
first five minutes after one has come out of the detention-room. One
feels as if one were entering a new and very delightful world. There
is also a touch of the Rip van Winkle feeling. Everything seems to
have gone on and left one behind. Mike, as he walked to the cricket
field, felt very much behind the times.
Arriving on the field he found the Old Boys batting. He stopped and
watched an over of Adair's. The fifth ball bowled a man. Mike made his
way towards the pavilion.
Before he got there he heard his name called, and turning, found
Psmith seated under a tree with the bright-blazered Dunster.
"Return of the exile," said Psmith. "A joyful occasion tinged with
melancholy. Have a cherry?--take one or two. These little acts of
unremembered kindness are what one needs after a couple of hours in
extra pupil-room. Restore your tissues, Comrade Jackson, and when you
have finished those, apply again.
"Is your name Jackson?" inquired Dunster, "because Jellicoe wants to
"Alas, poor Jellicoe!" said Psmith. "He is now prone on his bed in the
dormitory--there a sheer hulk lies poor Tom Jellicoe, the darling of
the crew, faithful below he did his duty, but Comrade Dunster has
broached him to. I have just been hearing the melancholy details."
"Old Smith and I," said Dunster, "were at a private school together.
I'd no idea I should find him here."
"It was a wonderfully stirring sight when we met," said Psmith; "not
unlike the meeting of Ulysses and the hound Argos, of whom you have
doubtless read in the course of your dabblings in the classics. I was
Ulysses; Dunster gave a life-like representation of the faithful
"You still jaw as much as ever, I notice," said the animal delineator,
fondling the beginnings of his moustache.
"More," sighed Psmith, "more. Is anything irritating you?" he added,
eyeing the other's manoeuvres with interest.
"You needn't be a funny ass, man," said Dunster, pained; "heaps of
people tell me I ought to have it waxed."
"What it really wants is top-dressing with guano. Hullo! another man
out. Adair's bowling better to-day than he did yesterday."
"I heard about yesterday," said Dunster. "It must have been a rag!
Couldn't we work off some other rag on somebody before I go? I shall
be stopping here till Monday in the village. Well hit, sir--Adair's
bowling is perfectly simple if you go out to it."
"Comrade Dunster went out to it first ball," said Psmith to Mike.
"Oh! chuck it, man; the sun was in my eyes. I hear Adair's got a match
on with the M.C.C. at last."
"Has he?" said Psmith; "I hadn't heard. Archaeology claims so
much of my time that I have little leisure for listening to cricket
"What was it Jellicoe wanted?" asked Mike; "was it anything
"He seemed to think so--he kept telling me to tell you to go and see
"I fear Comrade Jellicoe is a bit of a weak-minded blitherer----"
"Did you ever hear of a rag we worked off on Jellicoe once?" asked
Dunster. "The man has absolutely no sense of humour--can't see when
he's being rotted. Well it was like this--Hullo! We're all out--I
shall have to be going out to field again, I suppose, dash it! I'll
tell you when I see you again."
"I shall count the minutes," said Psmith.
Mike stretched himself; the sun was very soothing after his two hours
in the detention-room; he felt disinclined for exertion.
"I don't suppose it's anything special about Jellicoe, do you?" he
said. "I mean, it'll keep till tea-time; it's no catch having to sweat
across to the house now."
"Don't dream of moving," said Psmith. "I have several rather profound
observations on life to make and I can't make them without an
audience. Soliloquy is a knack. Hamlet had got it, but probably only
after years of patient practice. Personally, I need some one to listen
when I talk. I like to feel that I am doing good. You stay where you
are--don't interrupt too much."
Mike tilted his hat over his eyes and abandoned Jellicoe.
It was not until the lock-up bell rang that he remembered him. He went
over to the house and made his way to the dormitory, where he found
the injured one in a parlous state, not so much physical as mental.
The doctor had seen his ankle and reported that it would be on the
active list in a couple of days. It was Jellicoe's mind that needed
Mike found him in a condition bordering on collapse.
"I say, you might have come before!" said Jellicoe.
"What's up? I didn't know there was such a hurry about it--what did
"It's no good now," said Jellicoe gloomily; "it's too late, I shall
"What on earth are you talking about? What's the row?"
"It's about that money."
"What about it?"
"I had to pay it to a man to-day, or he said he'd write to the
Head--then of course I should get sacked. I was going to take the
money to him this afternoon, only I got crocked, so I couldn't move.
I wanted to get hold of you to ask you to take it for me--it's too
Mike's face fell. "Oh, hang it!" he said, "I'm awfully sorry. I'd no
idea it was anything like that--what a fool I was! Dunster did say he
thought it was something important, only like an ass I thought it
would do if I came over at lock-up."
"It doesn't matter," said Jellicoe miserably; "it can't be helped."
"Yes, it can," said Mike. "I know what I'll do--it's all right. I'll
get out of the house after lights-out."
Jellicoe sat up. "You can't! You'd get sacked if you were caught."
"Who would catch me? There was a chap at Wrykyn I knew who used to
break out every night nearly and go and pot at cats with an air-pistol;
it's as easy as anything."
The toad-under-the-harrow expression began to fade from Jellicoe's
face. "I say, do you think you could, really?"
"Of course I can! It'll be rather a rag."
"I say, it's frightfully decent of you."
"What absolute rot!"
"But, look here, are you certain----"
"I shall be all right. Where do you want me to go?"
"It's a place about a mile or two from here, called Lower Borlock."
"Yes, do you know it?"
"Rather! I've been playing cricket for them all the term."
"I say, have you? Do you know a man called Barley?"
"Barley? Rather--he runs the 'White Boar'."
"He's the chap I owe the money to."
Mike knew the landlord of the "White Boar" well; he was the wag of the
village team. Every village team, for some mysterious reason, has its
comic man. In the Lower Borlock eleven Mr. Barley filled the post. He
was a large, stout man, with a red and cheerful face, who looked
exactly like the jovial inn-keeper of melodrama. He was the last man
Mike would have expected to do the "money by Monday-week or I write to
the headmaster" business.
But he reflected that he had only seen him in his leisure moments,
when he might naturally be expected to unbend and be full of the milk
of human kindness. Probably in business hours he was quite different.
After all, pleasure is one thing and business another.
Besides, five pounds is a large sum of money, and if Jellicoe owed it,
there was nothing strange in Mr. Barley's doing everything he could to
He wondered a little what Jellicoe could have been doing to run up a
bill as big as that, but it did not occur to him to ask, which was
unfortunate, as it might have saved him a good deal of inconvenience.
It seemed to him that it was none of his business to inquire into
Jellicoe's private affairs. He took the envelope containing the money
"I shall bike there, I think," he said, "if I can get into the shed."
The school's bicycles were stored in a shed by the pavilion.
"You can manage that," said Jellicoe; "it's locked up at night, but I
had a key made to fit it last summer, because I used to go out in the
early morning sometimes before it was opened."
"Got it on you?"
"Smith's got it."
"I'll get it from him."
"Don't tell Smith why you want it, will you? I don't want anybody to
know--if a thing once starts getting about it's all over the place in
"All right, I won't tell him."
"I say, thanks most awfully! I don't know what I should have done,
"Oh, chuck it!" said Mike.
AND FULFILS IT
Mike started on his ride to Lower Borlock with mixed feelings. It is
pleasant to be out on a fine night in summer, but the pleasure is to a
certain extent modified when one feels that to be detected will mean
Mike did not want to be expelled, for many reasons. Now that he had
grown used to the place he was enjoying himself at Sedleigh to a
certain extent. He still harboured a feeling of resentment against the
school in general and Adair in particular, but it was pleasant in
Outwood's now that he had got to know some of the members of the
house, and he liked playing cricket for Lower Borlock; also, he was
fairly certain that his father would not let him go to Cambridge if he
were expelled from Sedleigh. Mr. Jackson was easy-going with his
family, but occasionally his foot came down like a steam-hammer, as
witness the Wrykyn school report affair.
So Mike pedalled along rapidly, being wishful to get the job done
Psmith had yielded up the key, but his inquiries as to why it was
needed had been embarrassing. Mike's statement that he wanted to get
up early and have a ride had been received by Psmith, with whom early
rising was not a hobby, with honest amazement and a flood of advice
and warning on the subject.
"One of the Georges," said Psmith, "I forget which, once said that a
certain number of hours' sleep a day--I cannot recall for the moment
how many--made a man something, which for the time being has slipped
my memory. However, there you are. I've given you the main idea of the
thing; and a German doctor says that early rising causes insanity.
Still, if you're bent on it----" After which he had handed over the
Mike wished he could have taken Psmith into his confidence. Probably
he would have volunteered to come, too; Mike would have been glad of a
It did not take him long to reach Lower Borlock. The "White Boar"
stood at the far end of the village, by the cricket field. He rode
past the church--standing out black and mysterious against the light
sky--and the rows of silent cottages, until he came to the inn.
The place was shut, of course, and all the lights were out--it was
some time past eleven.
The advantage an inn has over a private house, from the point of view
of the person who wants to get into it when it has been locked up, is
that a nocturnal visit is not so unexpected in the case of the former.
Preparations have been made to meet such an emergency. Where with a
private house you would probably have to wander round heaving rocks
and end by climbing up a water-spout, when you want to get into an inn
you simply ring the night-bell, which, communicating with the boots'
room, has that hard-worked menial up and doing in no time.
After Mike had waited for a few minutes there was a rattling of chains
and a shooting of bolts and the door opened.
"Yes, sir?" said the boots, appearing in his shirt-sleeves. "Why,
'ullo! Mr. Jackson, sir!"
Mike was well known to all dwellers in Lower Borlock, his scores being
the chief topic of conversation when the day's labours were over.
"I want to see Mr. Barley, Jack."
"He's bin in bed this half-hour back, Mr. Jackson."
"I must see him. Can you get him down?"
The boots looked doubtful. "Roust the guv'nor outer bed?" he said.
Mike quite admitted the gravity of the task. The landlord of the
"White Boar" was one of those men who need a beauty sleep.
"I wish you would--it's a thing that can't wait. I've got some money
to give to him."
"Oh, if it's _that_--" said the boots.
Five minutes later mine host appeared in person, looking more than
usually portly in a check dressing-gown and red bedroom slippers of
the _Dreadnought_ type.
"You can pop off, Jack."
Exit boots to his slumbers once more.
"Well, Mr. Jackson, what's it all about?"
"Jellicoe asked me to come and bring you the money."
"The money? What money?"
"What he owes you; the five pounds, of course."
"The five--" Mr. Barley stared open-mouthed at Mike for a moment;
then he broke into a roar of laughter which shook the sporting prints
on the wall and drew barks from dogs in some distant part of the
house. He staggered about laughing and coughing till Mike began to
expect a fit of some kind. Then he collapsed into a chair, which
creaked under him, and wiped his eyes.
"Oh dear!" he said, "oh dear! the five pounds!"
Mike was not always abreast of the rustic idea of humour, and
now he felt particularly fogged. For the life of him he could
not see what there was to amuse any one so much in the fact that
a person who owed five pounds was ready to pay it back. It was an
occasion for rejoicing, perhaps, but rather for a solemn, thankful,
eyes-raised-to-heaven kind of rejoicing.
"What's up?" he asked.
"You might tell us the joke."
Mr. Barley opened the letter, read it, and had another attack; when
this was finished he handed the letter to Mike, who was waiting
patiently by, hoping for light, and requested him to read it.
"Dear, dear!" chuckled Mr. Barley, "five pounds! They may teach you
young gentlemen to talk Latin and Greek and what not at your school,
but it 'ud do a lot more good if they'd teach you how many beans make
five; it 'ud do a lot more good if they'd teach you to come in when it
rained, it 'ud do----"
Mike was reading the letter.
"DEAR MR. BARLEY," it ran.--"I send the £5, which I could not get
before. I hope it is in time, because I don't want you to write to
the headmaster. I am sorry Jane and John ate your wife's hat and
the chicken and broke the vase."
There was some more to the same effect; it was signed "T. G.
"What on earth's it all about?" said Mike, finishing this curious
Mr. Barley slapped his leg. "Why, Mr. Jellicoe keeps two dogs here; I
keep 'em for him till the young gentlemen go home for their holidays.
Aberdeen terriers, they are, and as sharp as mustard. Mischief! I
believe you, but, love us! they don't do no harm! Bite up an old shoe
sometimes and such sort of things. The other day, last Wednesday it
were, about 'ar parse five, Jane--she's the worst of the two, always
up to it, she is--she got hold of my old hat and had it in bits before
you could say knife. John upset a china vase in one of the bedrooms
chasing a mouse, and they got on the coffee-room table and ate half a
cold chicken what had been left there. So I says to myself, 'I'll have
a game with Mr. Jellicoe over this,' and I sits down and writes off
saying the little dogs have eaten a valuable hat and a chicken and
what not, and the damage'll be five pounds, and will he kindly remit
same by Saturday night at the latest or I write to his headmaster.
Love us!" Mr. Barley slapped his thigh, "he took it all in, every
word--and here's the five pounds in cash in this envelope here! I
haven't had such a laugh since we got old Tom Raxley out of bed at
twelve of a winter's night by telling him his house was a-fire."
It is not always easy to appreciate a joke of the practical order if
one has been made even merely part victim of it. Mike, as he reflected
that he had been dragged out of his house in the middle of the night,
in contravention of all school rules and discipline, simply in order
to satisfy Mr. Barley's sense of humour, was more inclined to be
abusive than mirthful. Running risks is all very well when they are
necessary, or if one chooses to run them for one's own amusement, but
to be placed in a dangerous position, a position imperilling one's
chance of going to the 'Varsity, is another matter altogether.
But it is impossible to abuse the Barley type of man. Barley's
enjoyment of the whole thing was so honest and child-like. Probably it
had given him the happiest quarter of an hour he had known for years,
since, in fact, the affair of old Tom Raxley. It would have been cruel
to damp the man.
So Mike laughed perfunctorily, took back the envelope with the five
pounds, accepted a stone ginger beer and a plateful of biscuits, and
rode off on his return journey.
* * * * *
Mention has been made above of the difference which exists between
getting into an inn after lock-up and into a private house. Mike was
to find this out for himself.
His first act on arriving at Sedleigh was to replace his bicycle in
the shed. This he accomplished with success. It was pitch-dark in the
shed, and as he wheeled his machine in, his foot touched something on
the floor. Without waiting to discover what this might be, he leaned
his bicycle against the wall, went out, and locked the door, after
which he ran across to Outwood's.
Fortune had favoured his undertaking by decreeing that a stout
drain-pipe should pass up the wall within a few inches of his and
Psmith's study. On the first day of term, it may be remembered he
had wrenched away the wooden bar which bisected the window-frame,
thus rendering exit and entrance almost as simple as they had been
for Wyatt during Mike's first term at Wrykyn.
He proceeded to scale this water-pipe.
He had got about half-way up when a voice from somewhere below cried,
These things are Life's Little Difficulties. One can never tell
precisely how one will act in a sudden emergency. The right thing for
Mike to have done at this crisis was to have ignored the voice,
carried on up the water-pipe, and through the study window, and gone
to bed. It was extremely unlikely that anybody could have recognised
him at night against the dark background of the house. The position
then would have been that somebody in Mr. Outwood's house had been
seen breaking in after lights-out; but it would have been very
difficult for the authorities to have narrowed the search down any
further than that. There were thirty-four boys in Outwood's, of whom
about fourteen were much the same size and build as Mike.
The suddenness, however, of the call caused Mike to lose his head. He
made the strategic error of sliding rapidly down the pipe, and
There were two gates to Mr. Outwood's front garden. The carriage drive
ran in a semicircle, of which the house was the centre. It was from
the right-hand gate, nearest to Mr. Downing's house, that the voice
had come, and, as Mike came to the ground, he saw a stout figure
galloping towards him from that direction. He bolted like a rabbit for
the other gate. As he did so, his pursuer again gave tongue.
"Oo-oo-oo yer!" was the exact remark.
Whereby Mike recognised him as the school sergeant.
"Oo-oo-oo yer!" was that militant gentleman's habitual way of
beginning a conversation.
With this knowledge, Mike felt easier in his mind. Sergeant Collard
was a man of many fine qualities, (notably a talent for what he was
wont to call "spott'n," a mysterious gift which he exercised on the
rifle range), but he could not run. There had been a time in his hot
youth when he had sprinted like an untamed mustang in pursuit of
volatile Pathans in Indian hill wars, but Time, increasing his girth,
had taken from him the taste for such exercise. When he moved now it
was at a stately walk. The fact that he ran to-night showed how the
excitement of the chase had entered into his blood.
"Oo-oo-oo yer!" he shouted again, as Mike, passing through the gate,
turned into the road that led to the school. Mike's attentive ear
noted that the bright speech was a shade more puffily delivered this
time. He began to feel that this was not such bad fun after all. He
would have liked to be in bed, but, if that was out of the question,
this was certainly the next best thing.
He ran on, taking things easily, with the sergeant panting in his
wake, till he reached the entrance to the school grounds. He dashed in
and took cover behind a tree.
Presently the sergeant turned the corner, going badly and evidently
cured of a good deal of the fever of the chase. Mike heard him toil on
for a few yards and then stop. A sound of panting was borne to him.
Then the sound of footsteps returning, this time at a walk. They
passed the gate and went on down the road.
The pursuer had given the thing up.
Mike waited for several minutes behind his tree. His programme now was
simple. He would give Sergeant Collard about half an hour, in case the
latter took it into his head to "guard home" by waiting at the gate.
Then he would trot softly back, shoot up the water-pipe once more, and
so to bed. It had just struck a quarter to something--twelve, he
supposed--on the school clock. He would wait till a quarter past.
Meanwhile, there was nothing to be gained from lurking behind a tree.
He left his cover, and started to stroll in the direction of the
pavilion. Having arrived there, he sat on the steps, looking out on to
the cricket field.
His thoughts were miles away, at Wrykyn, when he was recalled to
Sedleigh by the sound of somebody running. Focussing his gaze, he saw
a dim figure moving rapidly across the cricket field straight for him.
His first impression, that he had been seen and followed, disappeared
as the runner, instead of making for the pavilion, turned aside, and
stopped at the door of the bicycle shed. Like Mike, he was evidently
possessed of a key, for Mike heard it grate in the lock. At this point
he left the pavilion and hailed his fellow rambler by night in a
The other appeared startled.
"Who the dickens is that?" he asked. "Is that you, Jackson?"
Mike recognised Adair's voice. The last person he would have expected
to meet at midnight obviously on the point of going for a bicycle
"What are you doing out here, Jackson?"
"What are you, if it comes to that?"
Adair was lighting his lamp.
"I'm going for the doctor. One of the chaps in our house is bad."
"What are you doing out here?"
"Just been for a stroll."
"Hadn't you better be getting back?"
"Plenty of time."
"I suppose you think you're doing something tremendously brave and
"Hadn't you better be going to the doctor?"
"If you want to know what I think----"
"I don't. So long."
Mike turned away, whistling between his teeth. After a moment's pause,
Adair rode off. Mike saw his light pass across the field and through
the gate. The school clock struck the quarter.
It seemed to Mike that Sergeant Collard, even if he had started to
wait for him at the house, would not keep up the vigil for more than
half an hour. He would be safe now in trying for home again.
He walked in that direction.
Now it happened that Mr. Downing, aroused from his first sleep by the
news, conveyed to him by Adair, that MacPhee, one of the junior
members of Adair's dormitory, was groaning and exhibiting other
symptoms of acute illness, was disturbed in his mind. Most
housemasters feel uneasy in the event of illness in their houses, and
Mr. Downing was apt to get jumpy beyond the ordinary on such
occasions. All that was wrong with MacPhee, as a matter of fact, was a
very fair stomach-ache, the direct and legitimate result of eating six
buns, half a cocoa-nut, three doughnuts, two ices, an apple, and a
pound of cherries, and washing the lot down with tea. But Mr. Downing
saw in his attack the beginnings of some deadly scourge which would
sweep through and decimate the house. He had despatched Adair for the
doctor, and, after spending a few minutes prowling restlessly about
his room, was now standing at his front gate, waiting for Adair's
It came about, therefore, that Mike, sprinting lightly in the
direction of home and safety, had his already shaken nerves further
maltreated by being hailed, at a range of about two yards, with a cry
of "Is that you, Adair?" The next moment Mr. Downing emerged from his
Mike stood not upon the order of his going. He was off like an
arrow--a flying figure of Guilt. Mr. Downing, after the first
surprise, seemed to grasp the situation. Ejaculating at intervals
the words, "Who is that? Stop! Who is that? Stop!" he dashed after
the much-enduring Wrykynian at an extremely creditable rate of
speed. Mr. Downing was by way of being a sprinter. He had won
handicap events at College sports at Oxford, and, if Mike had
not got such a good start, the race might have been over in the
first fifty yards. As it was, that victim of Fate, going well,
kept ahead. At the entrance to the school grounds he led by a
dozen yards. The procession passed into the field, Mike heading
as before for the pavilion.
As they raced across the soft turf, an idea occurred to Mike which he
was accustomed in after years to attribute to genius, the one flash of
it which had ever illumined his life.
It was this.
One of Mr. Downing's first acts, on starting the Fire Brigade at
Sedleigh, had been to institute an alarm bell. It had been rubbed into
the school officially--in speeches from the daïs--by the headmaster,
and unofficially--in earnest private conversations--by Mr. Downing,
that at the sound of this bell, at whatever hour of day or night,
every member of the school must leave his house in the quickest
possible way, and make for the open. The bell might mean that the
school was on fire, or it might mean that one of the houses was on
fire. In any case, the school had its orders--to get out into the open
Nor must it be supposed that the school was without practice at this
feat. Every now and then a notice would be found posted up on the
board to the effect that there would be fire drill during the dinner
hour that day. Sometimes the performance was bright and interesting,
as on the occasion when Mr. Downing, marshalling the brigade at his
front gate, had said, "My house is supposed to be on fire. Now let's
do a record!" which the Brigade, headed by Stone and Robinson,
obligingly did. They fastened the hose to the hydrant, smashed a
window on the ground floor (Mr. Downing having retired for a moment to
talk with the headmaster), and poured a stream of water into the room.
When Mr. Downing was at liberty to turn his attention to the matter,
he found that the room selected was his private study, most of the
light furniture of which was floating on a miniature lake. That
episode had rather discouraged his passion for realism, and fire drill
since then had taken the form, for the most part, of "practising
escaping." This was done by means of canvas shoots, kept in the
dormitories. At the sound of the bell the prefect of the dormitory
would heave one end of the shoot out of window, the other end being
fastened to the sill. He would then go down it himself, using his
elbows as a brake. Then the second man would follow his example, and
these two, standing below, would hold the end of the shoot so that the
rest of the dormitory could fly rapidly down it without injury, except
to their digestions.
After the first novelty of the thing had worn off, the school
had taken a rooted dislike to fire drill. It was a matter for
self-congratulation among them that Mr. Downing had never been
able to induce the headmaster to allow the alarm bell to be sounded
for fire drill at night. The headmaster, a man who had his views on
the amount of sleep necessary for the growing boy, had drawn the line
at night operations. "Sufficient unto the day" had been the gist of
his reply. If the alarm bell were to ring at night when there was no
fire, the school might mistake a genuine alarm of fire for a bogus
one, and refuse to hurry themselves.
So Mr. Downing had had to be content with day drill.
The alarm bell hung in the archway leading into the school grounds.
The end of the rope, when not in use, was fastened to a hook half-way
up the wall.
Mike, as he raced over the cricket field, made up his mind in a flash
that his only chance of getting out of this tangle was to shake his
pursuer off for a space of time long enough to enable him to get to
the rope and tug it. Then the school would come out. He would mix with
them, and in the subsequent confusion get back to bed unnoticed.
The task was easier than it would have seemed at the beginning of the
chase. Mr. Downing, owing to the two facts that he was not in the
strictest training, and that it is only an Alfred Shrubb who can run
for any length of time at top speed shouting "Who is that? Stop! Who
is that? Stop!" was beginning to feel distressed. There were bellows
to mend in the Downing camp. Mike perceived this, and forced the pace.
He rounded the pavilion ten yards to the good. Then, heading for the
gate, he put all he knew into one last sprint. Mr. Downing was not
equal to the effort. He worked gamely for a few strides, then fell
behind. When Mike reached the gate, a good forty yards separated them.
As far as Mike could judge--he was not in a condition to make nice
calculations--he had about four seconds in which to get busy with that
Probably nobody has ever crammed more energetic work into four seconds
than he did then.
The night was as still as only an English summer night can be, and the
first clang of the clapper sounded like a million iron girders falling
from a height on to a sheet of tin. He tugged away furiously, with an
eye on the now rapidly advancing and loudly shouting figure of the
And from the darkened house beyond there came a gradually swelling
hum, as if a vast hive of bees had been disturbed.
The school was awake.
THE DECORATION OF SAMMY
Smith leaned against the mantelpiece in the senior day-room at
Outwood's--since Mike's innings against Downing's the Lost Lambs had
been received as brothers by that centre of disorder, so that even
Spiller was compelled to look on the hatchet as buried--and gave his
views on the events of the preceding night, or, rather, of that
morning, for it was nearer one than twelve when peace had once more
fallen on the school.
"Nothing that happens in this luny-bin," said Psmith, "has power to
surprise me now. There was a time when I might have thought it a
little unusual to have to leave the house through a canvas shoot at
one o'clock in the morning, but I suppose it's quite the regular thing
here. Old school tradition, &c. Men leave the school, and find that
they've got so accustomed to jumping out of window that they look on
it as a sort of affectation to go out by the door. I suppose none of
you merchants can give me any idea when the next knockabout
entertainment of this kind is likely to take place?"
"I wonder who rang that bell!" said Stone. "Jolly sporting idea."
"I believe it was Downing himself. If it was, I hope he's satisfied."
Jellicoe, who was appearing in society supported by a stick, looked
meaningly at Mike, and giggled, receiving in answer a stony stare.
Mike had informed Jellicoe of the details of his interview with Mr.
Barley at the "White Boar," and Jellicoe, after a momentary splutter
of wrath against the practical joker, was now in a particularly
light-hearted mood. He hobbled about, giggling at nothing and at
peace with all the world.
"It was a stirring scene," said Psmith. "The agility with which
Comrade Jellicoe boosted himself down the shoot was a triumph of mind
over matter. He seemed to forget his ankle. It was the nearest thing
to a Boneless Acrobatic Wonder that I have ever seen."
"I was in a beastly funk, I can tell you."
"So was I," he said, "for a bit. Then, when I saw that it was all a
rag, I began to look about for ways of doing the thing really well. I
emptied about six jugs of water on a gang of kids under my window."
"I rushed into Downing's, and ragged some of the beds," said Robinson.
"It was an invigorating time," said Psmith. "A sort of pageant. I was
particularly struck with the way some of the bright lads caught hold
of the idea. There was no skimping. Some of the kids, to my certain
knowledge, went down the shoot a dozen times. There's nothing like
doing a thing thoroughly. I saw them come down, rush upstairs, and be
saved again, time after time. The thing became chronic with them. I
should say Comrade Downing ought to be satisfied with the high state
of efficiency to which he has brought us. At any rate I hope----"
There was a sound of hurried footsteps outside the door, and Sharpe, a
member of the senior day-room, burst excitedly in. He seemed amused.
"I say, have you chaps seen Sammy?"
"Seen who?" said Stone. "Sammy? Why?"
"You'll know in a second. He's just outside. Here, Sammy, Sammy,
Sammy! Sam! Sam!"
A bark and a patter of feet outside.
"Come on, Sammy. Good dog."
There was a moment's silence. Then a great yell of laughter burst
forth. Even Psmith's massive calm was shattered. As for Jellicoe, he
sobbed in a corner.
Sammy's beautiful white coat was almost entirely concealed by a thick
covering of bright red paint. His head, with the exception of the
ears, was untouched, and his serious, friendly eyes seemed to
emphasise the weirdness of his appearance. He stood in the doorway,
barking and wagging his tail, plainly puzzled at his reception. He was
a popular dog, and was always well received when he visited any of the
houses, but he had never before met with enthusiasm like this.
"Good old Sammy!"
"What on earth's been happening to him?"
"Who did it?"
Sharpe, the introducer, had no views on the matter.
"I found him outside Downing's, with a crowd round him. Everybody
seems to have seen him. I wonder who on earth has gone and mucked him
up like that!"
Mike was the first to show any sympathy for the maltreated animal.
"Poor old Sammy," he said, kneeling on the floor beside the victim,
and scratching him under the ear. "What a beastly shame! It'll take
hours to wash all that off him, and he'll hate it."
"It seems to me," said Psmith, regarding Sammy dispassionately through
his eyeglass, "that it's not a case for mere washing. They'll either
have to skin him bodily, or leave the thing to time. Time, the Great
Healer. In a year or two he'll fade to a delicate pink. I don't see
why you shouldn't have a pink bull-terrier. It would lend a touch of
distinction to the place. Crowds would come in excursion trains to see
him. By charging a small fee you might make him self-supporting. I
think I'll suggest it to Comrade Downing."
"There'll be a row about this," said Stone.
"Rows are rather sport when you're not mixed up in them," said
Robinson, philosophically. "There'll be another if we don't start off
for chapel soon. It's a quarter to."
There was a general move. Mike was the last to leave the room. As he
was going, Jellicoe stopped him. Jellicoe was staying in that Sunday,
owing to his ankle.
"I say," said Jellicoe, "I just wanted to thank you again about
"Oh, that's all right."
"No, but it really was awfully decent of you. You might have got into
a frightful row. Were you nearly caught?"
"It _was_ you who rang the bell, wasn't it?"
"Yes, it was. But for goodness sake don't go gassing about it, or
somebody will get to hear who oughtn't to, and I shall be sacked."
"All right. But, I say, you _are_ a chap!"
"What's the matter now?"
"I mean about Sammy, you know. It's a jolly good score off old
Downing. He'll be frightfully sick."
"Sammy!" cried Mike. "My good man, you don't think I did that, do you?
What absolute rot! I never touched the poor brute."
"Oh, all right," said Jellicoe. "But I wasn't going to tell any one,
"What do you mean?"
"You _are_ a chap!" giggled Jellicoe.
Mike walked to chapel rather thoughtfully.
MR. DOWNING ON THE SCENT
There was just one moment, the moment in which, on going down to the
junior day-room of his house to quell an unseemly disturbance, he was
boisterously greeted by a vermilion bull terrier, when Mr. Downing was
seized with a hideous fear lest he had lost his senses. Glaring down
at the crimson animal that was pawing at his knees, he clutched at his
reason for one second as a drowning man clutches at a lifebelt.
Then the happy laughter of the young onlookers reassured him.
"Who--" he shouted, "WHO has done this?"
[Illustration: "WHO--" HE SHOUTED, "WHO HAS DONE THIS?"]
"Please, sir, we don't know," shrilled the chorus.
"Please, sir, he came in like that."
"Please, sir, we were sitting here when he suddenly ran in, all red."
A voice from the crowd: "Look at old Sammy!"
The situation was impossible. There was nothing to be done. He could
not find out by verbal inquiry who had painted the dog. The
possibility of Sammy being painted red during the night had never
occurred to Mr. Downing, and now that the thing had happened he had no
scheme of action. As Psmith would have said, he had confused the
unusual with the impossible, and the result was that he was taken by
While he was pondering on this the situation was rendered still more
difficult by Sammy, who, taking advantage of the door being open,
escaped and rushed into the road, thus publishing his condition to all
and sundry. You can hush up a painted dog while it confines itself to
your own premises, but once it has mixed with the great public this
becomes out of the question. Sammy's state advanced from a private
trouble into a row. Mr. Downing's next move was in the same direction
that Sammy had taken, only, instead of running about the road, he went
straight to the headmaster.
The Head, who had had to leave his house in the small hours in his
pyjamas and a dressing-gown, was not in the best of tempers. He had a
cold in the head, and also a rooted conviction that Mr. Downing, in
spite of his strict orders, had rung the bell himself on the previous
night in order to test the efficiency of the school in saving
themselves in the event of fire. He received the housemaster frostily,
but thawed as the latter related the events which had led up to the
ringing of the bell.
"Dear me!" he said, deeply interested. "One of the boys at the school,
"I am certain of it," said Mr. Downing.
"Was he wearing a school cap?"
"He was bare-headed. A boy who breaks out of his house at night would
hardly run the risk of wearing a distinguishing cap."
"No, no, I suppose not. A big boy, you say?"
"You did not see his face?"
"It was dark and he never looked back--he was in front of me all the
"There is another matter----"
"This boy, whoever he was, had done something before he rang the
bell--he had painted my dog Sampson red."
The headmaster's eyes protruded from their sockets. "He--he--_what_,
"He painted my dog red--bright red." Mr. Downing was too angry to see
anything humorous in the incident. Since the previous night he had
been wounded in his tenderest feelings. His Fire Brigade system had
been most shamefully abused by being turned into a mere instrument in
the hands of a malefactor for escaping justice, and his dog had been
held up to ridicule to all the world. He did not want to smile, he
The headmaster, on the other hand, did want to smile. It was not his
dog, he could look on the affair with an unbiased eye, and to him
there was something ludicrous in a white dog suddenly appearing as a
"It is a scandalous thing!" said Mr. Downing.
"Quite so! Quite so!" said the headmaster hastily. "I shall punish the
boy who did it most severely. I will speak to the school in the Hall
Which he did, but without result. A cordial invitation to the criminal
to come forward and be executed was received in wooden silence by the
school, with the exception of Johnson III., of Outwood's, who,
suddenly reminded of Sammy's appearance by the headmaster's words,
broke into a wild screech of laughter, and was instantly awarded two
The school filed out of the Hall to their various lunches, and Mr.
Downing was left with the conviction that, if he wanted the criminal
discovered, he would have to discover him for himself.
The great thing in affairs of this kind is to get a good start, and
Fate, feeling perhaps that it had been a little hard upon Mr. Downing,
gave him a most magnificent start. Instead of having to hunt for a
needle in a haystack, he found himself in a moment in the position of
being set to find it in a mere truss of straw.
It was Mr. Outwood who helped him. Sergeant Collard had waylaid the
archaeological expert on his way to chapel, and informed him that at
close on twelve the night before he had observed a youth, unidentified,
attempting to get into his house _via_ the water-pipe. Mr. Outwood,
whose thoughts were occupied with apses and plinths, not to mention
cromlechs, at the time, thanked the sergeant with absent-minded
politeness and passed on. Later he remembered the fact _à propos_
of some reflections on the subject of burglars in mediaeval England,
and passed it on to Mr. Downing as they walked back to lunch.
"Then the boy was in your house!" exclaimed Mr. Downing.
"Not actually in, as far as I understand. I gather from the sergeant
that he interrupted him before----"
"I mean he must have been one of the boys in your house."
"But what was he doing out at that hour?"
"He had broken out."
"Impossible, I think. Oh yes, quite impossible! I went round the
dormitories as usual at eleven o'clock last night, and all the boys
were asleep--all of them."
Mr. Downing was not listening. He was in a state of suppressed
excitement and exultation which made it hard for him to attend to his
colleague's slow utterances. He had a clue! Now that the search had
narrowed itself down to Outwood's house, the rest was comparatively
easy. Perhaps Sergeant Collard had actually recognised the boy. Or
reflection he dismissed this as unlikely, for the sergeant would
scarcely have kept a thing like that to himself; but he might very
well have seen more of him than he, Downing, had seen. It was only
with an effort that he could keep himself from rushing to the sergeant
then and there, and leaving the house lunch to look after itself. He
resolved to go the moment that meal was at an end.
Sunday lunch at a public-school house is probably one of the longest
functions in existence. It drags its slow length along like a languid
snake, but it finishes in time. In due course Mr. Downing, after
sitting still and eyeing with acute dislike everybody who asked for a
second helping, found himself at liberty.
Regardless of the claims of digestion, he rushed forth on the trail.
* * * * *
Sergeant Collard lived with his wife and a family of unknown
dimensions in the lodge at the school front gate. Dinner was just over
when Mr. Downing arrived, as a blind man could have told.
The sergeant received his visitor with dignity, ejecting the family,
who were torpid after roast beef and resented having to move, in order
to ensure privacy.
Having requested his host to smoke, which the latter was about to do
unasked, Mr. Downing stated his case.
"Mr. Outwood," he said, "tells me that last night, sergeant, you saw a
boy endeavouring to enter his house."
The sergeant blew a cloud of smoke. "Oo-oo-oo, yer," he said; "I did,
sir--spotted 'im, I did. Feeflee good at spottin', I am, sir. Dook of
Connaught, he used to say, ''Ere comes Sergeant Collard,' he used to
say, ''e's feeflee good at spottin'.'"
"What did you do?"
"Do? Oo-oo-oo! I shouts 'Oo-oo-oo yer, yer young monkey, what yer
"But 'e was off in a flash, and I doubles after 'im prompt."
"But you didn't catch him?"
"No, sir," admitted the sergeant reluctantly.
"Did you catch sight of his face, sergeant?"
"No, sir, 'e was doublin' away in the opposite direction."
"Did you notice anything at all about his appearance?"
"'E was a long young chap, sir, with a pair of legs on him--feeflee
fast 'e run, sir. Oo-oo-oo, feeflee!"
"You noticed nothing else?"
"'E wasn't wearing no cap of any sort, sir."
"Bare-'eaded, sir," added the sergeant, rubbing the point in.
"It was undoubtedly the same boy, undoubtedly! I wish you could have
caught a glimpse of his face, sergeant."
"So do I, sir."
"You would not be able to recognise him again if you saw him, you
"Oo-oo-oo! Wouldn't go so far as to say that, sir, 'cos yer see, I'm
feeflee good at spottin', but it was a dark night."
Mr. Downing rose to go.
"Well," he said, "the search is now considerably narrowed down,
considerably! It is certain that the boy was one of the boys in Mr.
"Young monkeys!" interjected the sergeant helpfully.
"Good-afternoon to you, sir."
"Pray do not move, sergeant."
The sergeant had not shown the slightest inclination of doing anything
of the kind.
"I will find my way out. Very hot to-day, is it not?"
"Feeflee warm, sir; weather's goin' to break--workin' up for thunder."
"I hope not. The school plays the M.C.C. on Wednesday, and it would be
a pity if rain were to spoil our first fixture with them. Good
And Mr. Downing went out into the baking sunlight, while Sergeant
Collard, having requested Mrs. Collard to take the children out for a
walk at once, and furthermore to give young Ernie a clip side of the
'ead, if he persisted in making so much noise, put a handkerchief over
his face, rested his feet on the table, and slept the sleep of the
For the Doctor Watsons of this world, as opposed to the Sherlock
Holmeses, success in the province of detective work must always be, to
a very large extent, the result of luck. Sherlock Holmes can extract a
clue from a wisp of straw or a flake of cigar-ash. But Doctor Watson
has got to have it taken out for him, and dusted, and exhibited
clearly, with a label attached.
The average man is a Doctor Watson. We are wont to scoff in a
patronising manner at that humble follower of the great investigator,
but, as a matter of fact, we should have been just as dull ourselves.
We should not even have risen to the modest level of a Scotland Yard
Bungler. We should simply have hung around, saying:
"My dear Holmes, how--?" and all the rest of it, just as the
downtrodden medico did.
It is not often that the ordinary person has any need to see what he
can do in the way of detection. He gets along very comfortably in the
humdrum round of life without having to measure footprints and smile
quiet, tight-lipped smiles. But if ever the emergency does arise, he
thinks naturally of Sherlock Holmes, and his methods.
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