Part 5 out of 8
but a babe, my eldest sister was bribed with a shilling an hour by my
nurse to keep an rye on me, and see that I did not raise Cain. At the
end of the first day she struck for one-and six, and got it. We now
pass to my boyhood. At an early age, I was sent to Eton, everybody
predicting a bright career for me. But," said Psmith solemnly, fixing
an owl-like gaze on Mike through the eye-glass, "it was not to be."
"No?" said Mike.
"No. I was superannuated last term."
"For Eton, yes. But what Eton loses, Sedleigh gains."
"But why Sedleigh, of all places?"
"This is the most painful part of my narrative. It seems that a
certain scug in the next village to ours happened last year to collar
"Not Barlitt!" exclaimed Mike.
"That was the man. The son of the vicar. The vicar told the curate,
who told our curate, who told our vicar, who told my father, who sent
me off here to get a Balliol too. Do _you_ know Barlitt?"
"His pater's vicar of our village. It was because his son got a
Balliol that I was sent here."
"Do you come from Crofton?"
"I've lived at Lower Benford all my life. We are practically long-lost
brothers. Cheer a little, will you?"
Mike felt as Robinson Crusoe felt when he met Friday. Here was a
fellow human being in this desert place. He could almost have embraced
Psmith. The very sound of the name Lower Benford was heartening. His
dislike for his new school was not diminished, but now he felt that
life there might at least be tolerable.
"Where were you before you came here?" asked Psmith. "You have heard
my painful story. Now tell me yours."
"Wrykyn. My pater took me away because I got such a lot of bad
"My reports from Eton were simply scurrilous. There's a libel action
in every sentence. How do you like this place from what you've seen of
"I am with you, Comrade Jackson. You won't mind my calling you
Comrade, will you? I've just become a Socialist. It's a great scheme.
You ought to be one. You work for the equal distribution of property,
and start by collaring all you can and sitting on it. We must stick
together. We are companions in misfortune. Lost lambs. Sheep that have
gone astray. Divided, we fall, together we may worry through. Have you
seen Professor Radium yet? I should say Mr. Outwood. What do you think
"He doesn't seem a bad sort of chap. Bit off his nut. Jawed about
apses and things."
"And thereby," said Psmith, "hangs a tale. I've been making inquiries
of a stout sportsman in a sort of Salvation Army uniform, whom I met
in the grounds--he's the school sergeant or something, quite a solid
man--and I hear that Comrade Outwood's an archaeological cove. Goes
about the country beating up old ruins and fossils and things. There's
an Archaeological Society in the school, run by him. It goes out on
half-holidays, prowling about, and is allowed to break bounds and
generally steep itself to the eyebrows in reckless devilry. And,
mark you, laddie, if you belong to the Archaeological Society you
get off cricket. To get off cricket," said Psmith, dusting his right
trouser-leg, "was the dream of my youth and the aspiration of my riper
years. A noble game, but a bit too thick for me. At Eton I used to have
to field out at the nets till the soles of my boots wore through. I
suppose you are a blood at the game? Play for the school against
Loamshire, and so on."
"I'm not going to play here, at any rate," said Mike.
He had made up his mind on this point in the train. There is a certain
fascination about making the very worst of a bad job. Achilles knew
his business when he sat in his tent. The determination not to play
cricket for Sedleigh as he could not play for Wrykyn gave Mike a sort
of pleasure. To stand by with folded arms and a sombre frown, as it
were, was one way of treating the situation, and one not without its
meed of comfort.
Psmith approved the resolve.
"Stout fellow," he said. "'Tis well. You and I, hand in hand, will
search the countryside for ruined abbeys. We will snare the elusive
fossil together. Above all, we will go out of bounds. We shall thus
improve our minds, and have a jolly good time as well. I shouldn't
wonder if one mightn't borrow a gun from some friendly native, and do
a bit of rabbit-shooting here and there. From what I saw of Comrade
Outwood during our brief interview, I shouldn't think he was one of
the lynx-eyed contingent. With tact we ought to be able to slip away
from the merry throng of fossil-chasers, and do a bit on our own
"Good idea," said Mike. "We will. A chap at Wrykyn, called Wyatt, used
to break out at night and shoot at cats with an air-pistol."
"It would take a lot to make me do that. I am all against anything
that interferes with my sleep. But rabbits in the daytime is a scheme.
We'll nose about for a gun at the earliest opp. Meanwhile we'd better
go up to Comrade Outwood, and get our names shoved down for the
"I vote we get some tea first somewhere."
"Then let's beat up a study. I suppose they have studies here. Let's
go and look."
They went upstairs. On the first floor there was a passage with doors
on either side. Psmith opened the first of these.
"This'll do us well," he said.
It was a biggish room, looking out over the school grounds. There were
a couple of deal tables, two empty bookcases, and a looking-glass,
hung on a nail.
"Might have been made for us," said Psmith approvingly.
"I suppose it belongs to some rotter."
"You aren't going to collar it!"
"That," said Psmith, looking at himself earnestly in the mirror, and
straightening his tie, "is the exact programme. We must stake out our
claims. This is practical Socialism."
"But the real owner's bound to turn up some time or other."
"His misfortune, not ours. You can't expect two master-minds like us
to pig it in that room downstairs. There are moments when one wants to
be alone. It is imperative that we have a place to retire to after a
fatiguing day. And now, if you want to be really useful, come and help
me fetch up my box from downstairs. It's got an Etna and various
things in it."
STAKING OUT A CLAIM
Psmith, in the matter of decorating a study and preparing tea in it,
was rather a critic than an executant. He was full of ideas, but he
preferred to allow Mike to carry them out. It was he who suggested
that the wooden bar which ran across the window was unnecessary, but
it was Mike who wrenched it from its place. Similarly, it was Mike who
abstracted the key from the door of the next study, though the idea
"Privacy," said Psmith, as he watched Mike light the Etna, "is what we
chiefly need in this age of publicity. If you leave a study door
unlocked in these strenuous times, the first thing you know is,
somebody comes right in, sits down, and begins to talk about himself.
I think with a little care we ought to be able to make this room quite
decently comfortable. That putrid calendar must come down, though.
Do you think you could make a long arm, and haul it off the parent
tin-tack? Thanks. We make progress. We make progress."
"We shall jolly well make it out of the window," said Mike, spooning
up tea from a paper bag with a postcard, "if a sort of young
Hackenschmidt turns up and claims the study. What are you going to do
"Don't let us worry about it. I have a presentiment that he will be an
insignificant-looking little weed. How are you getting on with the
"Just ready. What would you give to be at Eton now? I'd give something
to be at Wrykyn."
"These school reports," said Psmith sympathetically, "are the very
dickens. Many a bright young lad has been soured by them. Hullo.
What's this, I wonder."
A heavy body had plunged against the door, evidently without a
suspicion that there would be any resistance. A rattling at the handle
followed, and a voice outside said, "Dash the door!"
"Hackenschmidt!" said Mike.
"The weed," said Psmith. "You couldn't make a long arm, could you, and
turn the key? We had better give this merchant audience. Remind me
later to go on with my remarks on school reports. I had several bright
things to say on the subject."
Mike unlocked the door, and flung it open. Framed in the entrance was
a smallish, freckled boy, wearing a bowler hat and carrying a bag. On
his face was an expression of mingled wrath and astonishment.
Psmith rose courteously from his chair, and moved forward with slow
stateliness to do the honours.
"What the dickens," inquired the newcomer, "are you doing here?"
[Illustration: "WHAT THE DICKENS ARE YOU DOING HERE?"]
"We were having a little tea," said Psmith, "to restore our tissues
after our journey. Come in and join us. We keep open house, we
Psmiths. Let me introduce you to Comrade Jackson. A stout fellow.
Homely in appearance, perhaps, but one of us. I am Psmith. Your own
name will doubtless come up in the course of general chit-chat over
"My name's Spiller, and this is my study."
Psmith leaned against the mantelpiece, put up his eyeglass, and
harangued Spiller in a philosophical vein.
"Of all sad words of tongue or pen," said he, "the saddest are these:
'It might have been.' Too late! That is the bitter cry. If you had
torn yourself from the bosom of the Spiller family by an earlier
train, all might have been well. But no. Your father held your hand
and said huskily, 'Edwin, don't leave us!' Your mother clung to you
weeping, and said, 'Edwin, stay!' Your sisters----"
"I want to know what----"
"Your sisters froze on to your knees like little octopuses (or
octopi), and screamed, 'Don't go, Edwin!' And so," said Psmith, deeply
affected by his recital, "you stayed on till the later train; and, on
arrival, you find strange faces in the familiar room, a people that
know not Spiller." Psmith went to the table, and cheered himself with
a sip of tea. Spiller's sad case had moved him greatly.
The victim of Fate seemed in no way consoled.
"It's beastly cheek, that's what I call it. Are you new chaps?"
"The very latest thing," said Psmith.
"Well, it's beastly cheek."
Mike's outlook on life was of the solid, practical order. He went
straight to the root of the matter.
"What are you going to do about it?" he asked.
Spiller evaded the question.
"It's beastly cheek," he repeated. "You can't go about the place
"But we do," said Psmith. "In this life, Comrade Spiller, we must be
prepared for every emergency. We must distinguish between the unusual
and the impossible. It is unusual for people to go about the place
bagging studies, so you have rashly ordered your life on the
assumption that it is impossible. Error! Ah, Spiller, Spiller, let
this be a lesson to you."
"Look here, I tell you what it----"
"I was in a motor with a man once. I said to him: 'What would happen
if you trod on that pedal thing instead of that other pedal thing?' He
said, 'I couldn't. One's the foot-brake, and the other's the
accelerator.' 'But suppose you did?' I said. 'I wouldn't,' he said.
'Now we'll let her rip.' So he stamped on the accelerator. Only it
turned out to be the foot-brake after all, and we stopped dead, and
skidded into a ditch. The advice I give to every young man starting
life is: 'Never confuse the unusual and the impossible.' Take the
present case. If you had only realised the possibility of somebody
some day collaring your study, you might have thought out dozens of
sound schemes for dealing with the matter. As it is, you are
unprepared. The thing comes on you as a surprise. The cry goes round:
'Spiller has been taken unawares. He cannot cope with the situation.'"
"Can't I! I'll----"
"What _are_ you going to do about it?" said Mike.
"All I know is, I'm going to have it. It was Simpson's last term, and
Simpson's left, and I'm next on the house list, so, of course, it's my
"But what steps," said Psmith, "are you going to take? Spiller, the
man of Logic, we know. But what of Spiller, the Man of Action? How
do you intend to set about it? Force is useless. I was saying to
Comrade Jackson before you came in, that I didn't mind betting you
were an insignificant-looking little weed. And you _are_ an
insignificant-looking little weed."
"We'll see what Outwood says about it."
"Not an unsound scheme. By no means a scaly project. Comrade Jackson
and myself were about to interview him upon another point. We may as
well all go together."
The trio made their way to the Presence, Spiller pink and determined,
Mike sullen, Psmith particularly debonair. He hummed lightly as he
walked, and now and then pointed out to Spiller objects of interest by
Mr. Outwood received them with the motherly warmth which was evidently
the leading characteristic of his normal manner.
"Ah, Spiller," he said. "And Smith, and Jackson. I am glad to see that
you have already made friends."
"Spiller's, sir," said Psmith, laying a hand patronisingly on
the study-claimer's shoulder--a proceeding violently resented by
Spiller--"is a character one cannot help but respect. His nature
expands before one like some beautiful flower."
Mr. Outwood received this eulogy with rather a startled expression,
and gazed at the object of the tribute in a surprised way.
"Er--quite so, Smith, quite so," he said at last. "I like to see boys
in my house friendly towards one another."
"There is no vice in Spiller," pursued Psmith earnestly. "His heart is
the heart of a little child."
"Please, sir," burst out this paragon of all the virtues, "I----"
"But it was not entirely with regard to Spiller that I wished to speak
to you, sir, if you were not too busy."
"Not at all, Smith, not at all. Is there anything----"
"Please, sir--" began Spiller.
"I understand, sir," said Psmith, "that there is an Archaeological
Society in the school."
Mr. Outwood's eyes sparkled behind their pince-nez. It was a
disappointment to him that so few boys seemed to wish to belong to his
chosen band. Cricket and football, games that left him cold, appeared
to be the main interest in their lives. It was but rarely that he
could induce new boys to join. His colleague, Mr. Downing, who
presided over the School Fire Brigade, never had any difficulty in
finding support. Boys came readily at his call. Mr. Outwood pondered
wistfully on this at times, not knowing that the Fire Brigade owed its
support to the fact that it provided its light-hearted members with
perfectly unparalleled opportunities for ragging, while his own band,
though small, were in the main earnest.
"Yes, Smith." he said. "Yes. We have a small Archaeological Society.
I--er--in a measure look after it. Perhaps you would care to become a
"Please, sir--" said Spiller.
"One moment, Spiller. Do you want to join, Smith?"
"Intensely, sir. Archaeology fascinates me. A grand pursuit, sir."
"Undoubtedly, Smith. I am very pleased, very pleased indeed. I will
put down your name at once."
"And Jackson's, sir."
"Jackson, too!" Mr. Outwood beamed. "I am delighted. Most delighted.
This is capital. This enthusiasm is most capital."
"Spiller, sir," said Psmith sadly, "I have been unable to induce to
"Oh, he is one of our oldest members."
"Ah," said Psmith, tolerantly, "that accounts for it."
"Please, sir--" said Spiller.
"One moment, Spiller. We shall have the first outing of the term on
Saturday. We intend to inspect the Roman Camp at Embury Hill, two
miles from the school."
"We shall be there, sir."
"Please, sir--" said Spiller.
"One moment, Spiller," said Psmith. "There is just one other matter,
if you could spare the time, sir."
"Certainly, Smith. What is that?"
"Would there be any objection to Jackson and myself taking Simpson's
"By all means, Smith. A very good idea."
"Yes, sir. It would give us a place where we could work quietly in the
"Quite so. Quite so."
"Thank you very much, sir. We will move our things in."
"Thank you very much, sir," said Mike.
"Please, sir," shouted Spiller, "aren't I to have it? I'm next on the
list, sir. I come next after Simpson. Can't I have it?"
"I'm afraid I have already promised it to Smith, Spiller. You should
have spoken before."
Psmith eyed the speaker pityingly.
"This tendency to delay, Spiller," he said, "is your besetting fault.
Correct it, Edwin. Fight against it."
He turned to Mr. Outwood.
"We should, of course, sir, always be glad to see Spiller in our
study. He would always find a cheery welcome waiting there for him.
There is no formality between ourselves and Spiller."
"Quite so. An excellent arrangement, Smith. I like this spirit of
comradeship in my house. Then you will be with us on Saturday?"
"On Saturday, sir."
"All this sort of thing, Spiller," said Psmith, as they closed the
door, "is very, very trying for a man of culture. Look us up in our
study one of these afternoons."
"There are few pleasures," said Psmith, as he resumed his favourite
position against the mantelpiece and surveyed the commandeered study
with the pride of a householder, "keener to the reflective mind than
sitting under one's own roof-tree. This place would have been wasted
on Spiller; he would not have appreciated it properly."
Mike was finishing his tea. "You're a jolly useful chap to have by you
in a crisis, Smith," he said with approval. "We ought to have known
each other before."
"The loss was mine," said Psmith courteously. "We will now, with your
permission, face the future for awhile. I suppose you realise that we
are now to a certain extent up against it. Spiller's hot Spanish blood
is not going to sit tight and do nothing under a blow like this."
"What can he do? Outwood's given us the study."
"What would you have done if somebody had bagged your study?"
"Made it jolly hot for them!"
"So will Comrade Spiller. I take it that he will collect a gang and
make an offensive movement against us directly he can. To all
appearances we are in a fairly tight place. It all depends on how big
Comrade Spiller's gang will be. I don't like rows, but I'm prepared to
take on a reasonable number of bravoes in defence of the home."
Mike intimated that he was with him on the point. "The difficulty is,
though," he said, "about when we leave this room. I mean, we're all
right while we stick here, but we can't stay all night."
"That's just what I was about to point out when you put it with such
admirable clearness. Here we are in a stronghold, they can only get at
us through the door, and we can lock that."
"And jam a chair against it."
"_And_, as you rightly remark, jam a chair against it. But what
of the nightfall? What of the time when we retire to our dormitory?"
"Or dormitories. I say, if we're in separate rooms we shall be in the
Psmith eyed Mike with approval. "He thinks of everything! You're the
man, Comrade Jackson, to conduct an affair of this kind--such
foresight! such resource! We must see to this at once; if they put us
in different rooms we're done--we shall be destroyed singly in the
watches of the night."
"We'd better nip down to the matron right off."
"Not the matron--Comrade Outwood is the man. We are as sons to him;
there is nothing he can deny us. I'm afraid we are quite spoiling his
afternoon by these interruptions, but we must rout him out once more."
As they got up, the door handle rattled again, and this time there
followed a knocking.
"This must be an emissary of Comrade Spiller's," said Psmith. "Let us
parley with the man."
Mike unlocked the door. A light-haired youth with a cheerful, rather
vacant face and a receding chin strolled into the room, and stood
giggling with his hands in his pockets.
"I just came up to have a look at you," he explained.
"If you move a little to the left," said Psmith, "you will catch the
light and shade effects on Jackson's face better."
The new-comer giggled with renewed vigour. "Are you the chap with the
eyeglass who jaws all the time?"
"I _do_ wear an eyeglass," said Psmith; "as to the rest of the
"My name's Jellicoe."
"Mine is Psmith--P-s-m-i-t-h--one of the Shropshire Psmiths. The
object on the skyline is Comrade Jackson."
"Old Spiller," giggled Jellicoe, "is cursing you like anything
downstairs. You _are_ chaps! Do you mean to say you simply bagged
his study? He's making no end of a row about it."
"Spiller's fiery nature is a byword," said Psmith.
"What's he going to do?" asked Mike, in his practical way.
"He's going to get the chaps to turn you out."
"As I suspected," sighed Psmith, as one mourning over the frailty of
human nature. "About how many horny-handed assistants should you say
that he would be likely to bring? Will you, for instance, join the
"Me? No fear! I think Spiller's an ass."
"There's nothing like a common thought for binding people together.
_I_ think Spiller's an ass."
"How many _will_ there be, then?" asked Mike.
"He might get about half a dozen, not more, because most of the chaps
don't see why they should sweat themselves just because Spiller's
study has been bagged."
"Sturdy common sense," said Psmith approvingly, "seems to be the chief
virtue of the Sedleigh character."
"We shall be able to tackle a crowd like that," said Mike. "The only
thing is we must get into the same dormitory."
"This is where Comrade Jellicoe's knowledge of the local geography
will come in useful. Do you happen to know of any snug little room,
with, say, about four beds in it? How many dormitories are there?"
"Five--there's one with three beds in it, only it belongs to three
"I believe in the equal distribution of property. We will go to
Comrade Outwood and stake out another claim."
Mr. Outwood received them even more beamingly than before. "Yes,
Smith?" he said.
"We must apologise for disturbing you, sir----"
"Not at all, Smith, not at all! I like the boys in my house to come to
me when they wish for my advice or help."
"We were wondering, sir, if you would have any objection to Jackson,
Jellicoe and myself sharing the dormitory with the three beds in it. A
very warm friendship--" explained Psmith, patting the gurgling
Jellicoe kindly on the shoulder, "has sprung up between Jackson,
Jellicoe and myself."
"You make friends easily, Smith. I like to see it--I like to see it."
"And we can have the room, sir?"
"Certainly--certainly! Tell the matron as you go down."
"And now," said Psmith, as they returned to the study, "we may say
that we are in a fairly winning position. A vote of thanks to Comrade
Jellicoe for his valuable assistance."
"You _are_ a chap!" said Jellicoe.
The handle began to revolve again.
"That door," said Psmith, "is getting a perfect incubus! It cuts into
one's leisure cruelly."
This time it was a small boy. "They told me to come up and tell you to
come down," he said.
Psmith looked at him searchingly through his eyeglass.
"The senior day-room chaps."
"Spiller and Robinson and Stone, and some other chaps."
"They want us to speak to them?"
"They told me to come up and tell you to come down."
"Go and give Comrade Spiller our compliments and say that we can't
come down, but shall be delighted to see him up here. Things," he
said, as the messenger departed, "are beginning to move. Better leave
the door open, I think; it will save trouble. Ah, come in, Comrade
Spiller, what can we do for you?"
Spiller advanced into the study; the others waited outside, crowding
in the doorway.
"Look here," said Spiller, "are you going to clear out of here or
"After Mr. Outwood's kindly thought in giving us the room? You suggest
a black and ungrateful action, Comrade Spiller."
"You'll get it hot, if you don't."
"We'll risk it," said Mike.
Jellicoe giggled in the background; the drama in the atmosphere
appealed to him. His was a simple and appreciative mind.
"Come on, you chaps," cried Spiller suddenly.
There was an inward rush on the enemy's part, but Mike had been
watching. He grabbed Spiller by the shoulders and ran him back against
the advancing crowd. For a moment the doorway was blocked, then the
weight and impetus of Mike and Spiller prevailed, the enemy gave back,
and Mike, stepping into the room again, slammed the door and locked
"A neat piece of work," said Psmith approvingly, adjusting his tie at
the looking-glass. "The preliminaries may now be considered over, the
first shot has been fired. The dogs of war are now loose."
A heavy body crashed against the door.
"They'll have it down," said Jellicoe.
"We must act, Comrade Jackson! Might I trouble you just to turn that
key quietly, and the handle, and then to stand by for the next
There was a scrambling of feet in the passage outside, and then a
repetition of the onslaught on the door. This time, however, the door,
instead of resisting, swung open, and the human battering-ram
staggered through into the study. Mike, turning after re-locking the
door, was just in time to see Psmith, with a display of energy of
which one would not have believed him capable, grip the invader
scientifically by an arm and a leg.
Mike jumped to help, but it was needless; the captive was already
on the window-sill. As Mike arrived, Psmith dropped him on to the
Psmith closed the window gently and turned to Jellicoe. "Who was our
guest?" he asked, dusting the knees of his trousers where they had
pressed against the wall.
"Robinson. I say, you _are_ a chap!"
"Robinson, was it? Well, we are always glad to see Comrade Robinson,
always. I wonder if anybody else is thinking of calling?"
Apparently frontal attack had been abandoned. Whisperings could be
heard in the corridor.
Somebody hammered on the door.
"Yes?" called Psmith patiently.
"You'd better come out, you know; you'll only get it hotter if you
"Leave us, Spiller; we would be alone."
A bell rang in the distance.
"Tea," said Jellicoe; "we shall have to go now."
"They won't do anything till after tea, I shouldn't think," said Mike.
"There's no harm in going out."
The passage was empty when they opened the door; the call to food was
evidently a thing not to be treated lightly by the enemy.
In the dining-room the beleaguered garrison were the object of general
attention. Everybody turned to look at them as they came in. It was
plain that the study episode had been a topic of conversation.
Spiller's face was crimson, and Robinson's coat-sleeve still bore
traces of garden mould.
Mike felt rather conscious of the eyes, but Psmith was in his element.
His demeanour throughout the meal was that of some whimsical monarch
condescending for a freak to revel with his humble subjects.
Towards the end of the meal Psmith scribbled a note and passed it to
Mike. It read: "Directly this is over, nip upstairs as quickly as you
Mike followed the advice; they were first out of the room. When they
had been in the study a few moments, Jellicoe knocked at the door.
"Lucky you two cut away so quick," he said. "They were going to try
and get you into the senior day-room and scrag you there."
"This," said Psmith, leaning against the mantelpiece, "is exciting,
but it can't go on. We have got for our sins to be in this place for a
whole term, and if we are going to do the Hunted Fawn business all the
time, life in the true sense of the word will become an impossibility.
My nerves are so delicately attuned that the strain would simply reduce
them to hash. We are not prepared to carry on a long campaign--the thing
must be settled at once."
"Shall we go down to the senior day-room, and have it out?" said Mike.
"No, we will play the fixture on our own ground. I think we may take
it as tolerably certain that Comrade Spiller and his hired ruffians
will try to corner us in the dormitory to-night. Well, of course, we
could fake up some sort of barricade for the door, but then we should
have all the trouble over again to-morrow and the day after that.
Personally I don't propose to be chivvied about indefinitely like
this, so I propose that we let them come into the dormitory, and see
what happens. Is this meeting with me?"
"I think that's sound," said Mike. "We needn't drag Jellicoe into it."
"As a matter of fact--if you don't mind--" began that man of peace.
"Quite right," said Psmith; "this is not Comrade Jellicoe's scene at
all; he has got to spend the term in the senior day-room, whereas we
have our little wooden _chalet_ to retire to in times of stress.
Comrade Jellicoe must stand out of the game altogether. We shall be
glad of his moral support, but otherwise, _ne pas_. And now, as
there won't be anything doing till bedtime, I think I'll collar this
table and write home and tell my people that all is well with their
UNPLEASANTNESS IN THE SMALL HOURS
Jellicoe, that human encyclopaedia, consulted on the probable
movements of the enemy, deposed that Spiller, retiring at ten, would
make for Dormitory One in the same passage, where Robinson also had a
bed. The rest of the opposing forces were distributed among other and
more distant rooms. It was probable, therefore, that Dormitory One
would be the rendezvous. As to the time when an attack might be
expected, it was unlikely that it would occur before half-past eleven.
Mr. Outwood went the round of the dormitories at eleven.
"And touching," said Psmith, "the matter of noise, must this business
be conducted in a subdued and _sotto voce_ manner, or may we let
ourselves go a bit here and there?"
"I shouldn't think old Outwood's likely to hear you--he sleeps miles
away on the other side of the house. He never hears anything. We often
rag half the night and nothing happens."
This appears to be a thoroughly nice, well-conducted establishment.
What would my mother say if she could see her Rupert in the midst of
these reckless youths!"
"All the better," said Mike; "we don't want anybody butting in and
stopping the show before it's half started."
"Comrade Jackson's Berserk blood is up--I can hear it sizzling. I
quite agree these things are all very disturbing and painful, but it's
as well to do them thoroughly when one's once in for them. Is there
nobody else who might interfere with our gambols?"
"Barnes might," said Jellicoe, "only he won't."
"Who is Barnes?"
"Head of the house--a rotter. He's in a funk of Stone and Robinson;
they rag him; he'll simply sit tight."
"Then I think," said Psmith placidly, "we may look forward to a very
pleasant evening. Shall we be moving?"
Mr. Outwood paid his visit at eleven, as predicted by Jellicoe,
beaming vaguely into the darkness over a candle, and disappeared
again, closing the door.
"How about that door?" said Mike. "Shall we leave it open for them?"
"Not so, but far otherwise. If it's shut we shall hear them at it when
they come. Subject to your approval, Comrade Jackson, I have evolved
the following plan of action. I always ask myself on these occasions,
'What would Napoleon have done?' I think Napoleon would have sat in a
chair by his washhand-stand, which is close to the door; he would have
posted you by your washhand-stand, and he would have instructed
Comrade Jellicoe, directly he heard the door-handle turned, to give
his celebrated imitation of a dormitory breathing heavily in its
sleep. He would then----"
"I tell you what," said Mike, "how about tying a string at the top of
"Yes, Napoleon would have done that, too. Hats off to Comrade Jackson,
the man with the big brain!"
The floor of the dormitory was below the level of the door. There were
three steps leading down to it. Psmith lit a candle and they examined
the ground. The leg of a wardrobe and the leg of Jellicoe's bed made
it possible for the string to be fastened in a satisfactory manner
across the lower step. Psmith surveyed the result with approval.
"Dashed neat!" he said. "Practically the sunken road which dished the
Cuirassiers at Waterloo. I seem to see Comrade Spiller coming one of
the finest purlers in the world's history."
"If they've got a candle----"
"They won't have. If they have, stand by with your water-jug and douse
it at once; then they'll charge forward and all will be well. If they
have no candle, fling the water at a venture--fire into the brown!
Lest we forget, I'll collar Comrade Jellicoe's jug now and keep it
handy. A couple of sheets would also not be amiss--we will enmesh the
"Right ho!" said Mike.
"These humane preparations being concluded," said Psmith, "we will
retire to our posts and wait. Comrade Jellicoe, don't forget to
breathe like an asthmatic sheep when you hear the door opened; they
may wait at the top of the steps, listening."
"You _are_ a chap!" said Jellicoe.
Waiting in the dark for something to happen is always a trying
experience, especially if, as on this occasion, silence is essential.
Mike found his thoughts wandering back to the vigil he had kept with
Mr. Wain at Wrykyn on the night when Wyatt had come in through the
window and found authority sitting on his bed, waiting for him. Mike
was tired after his journey, and he had begun to doze when he was
jerked back to wakefulness by the stealthy turning of the door-handle;
the faintest rustle from Psmith's direction followed, and a slight
giggle, succeeded by a series of deep breaths, showed that Jellicoe,
too, had heard the noise.
There was a creaking sound.
It was pitch-dark in the dormitory, but Mike could follow the invaders'
movements as clearly as if it had been broad daylight. They had opened
the door and were listening. Jellicoe's breathing grew more asthmatic;
he was flinging himself into his part with the whole-heartedness of the
The creak was followed by a sound of whispering, then another creak.
The enemy had advanced to the top step.... Another creak.... The
vanguard had reached the second step.... In another moment----
And at that point the proceedings may be said to have formally opened.
A struggling mass bumped against Mike's shins as he rose from his
chair; he emptied his jug on to this mass, and a yell of anguish
showed that the contents had got to the right address.
Then a hand grabbed his ankle and he went down, a million sparks
dancing before his eyes as a fist, flying out at a venture, caught him
on the nose.
Mike had not been well-disposed towards the invaders before, but now
he ran amok, hitting out right and left at random. His right missed,
but his left went home hard on some portion of somebody's anatomy. A
kick freed his ankle and he staggered to his feet. At the same moment
a sudden increase in the general volume of noise spoke eloquently of
good work that was being put in by Psmith.
Even at that crisis, Mike could not help feeling that if a row of this
calibre did not draw Mr. Outwood from his bed, he must be an unusual
kind of house-master.
He plunged forward again with outstretched arms, and stumbled and fell
over one of the on-the-floor section of the opposing force. They
seized each other earnestly and rolled across the room till Mike,
contriving to secure his adversary's head, bumped it on the floor with
such abandon that, with a muffled yell, the other let go, and for the
second time he rose. As he did so he was conscious of a curious
thudding sound that made itself heard through the other assorted
noises of the battle.
All this time the fight had gone on in the blackest darkness, but now
a light shone on the proceedings. Interested occupants of other
dormitories, roused from their slumbers, had come to observe the
sport. They were crowding in the doorway with a candle.
By the light of this Mike got a swift view of the theatre of war. The
enemy appeared to number five. The warrior whose head Mike had bumped
on the floor was Robinson, who was sitting up feeling his skull in a
gingerly fashion. To Mike's right, almost touching him, was Stone. In
the direction of the door, Psmith, wielding in his right hand the cord
of a dressing-gown, was engaging the remaining three with a patient
smile. They were clad in pyjamas, and appeared to be feeling the
dressing-gown cord acutely.
The sudden light dazed both sides momentarily. The defence was the
first to recover, Mike, with a swing, upsetting Stone, and Psmith,
having seized and emptied Jellicoe's jug over Spiller, getting to work
again with the cord in a manner that roused the utmost enthusiasm of
[Illustration: PSMITH SEIZED AND EMPTIED JELLICOE'S JUG OVER SPILLER]
Agility seemed to be the leading feature of Psmith's tactics. He was
everywhere--on Mike's bed, on his own, on Jellicoe's (drawing a
passionate complaint from that non-combatant, on whose face he
inadvertently trod), on the floor--he ranged the room, sowing
The enemy were disheartened; they had started with the idea that this
was to be a surprise attack, and it was disconcerting to find the
garrison armed at all points. Gradually they edged to the door, and a
final rush sent them through.
"Hold the door for a second," cried Psmith, and vanished. Mike was
alone in the doorway.
It was a situation which exactly suited his frame of mind; he stood
alone in direct opposition to the community into which Fate had
pitchforked him so abruptly. He liked the feeling; for the first time
since his father had given him his views upon school reports that
morning in the Easter holidays, he felt satisfied with life. He hoped,
outnumbered as he was, that the enemy would come on again and not give
the thing up in disgust; he wanted more.
On an occasion like this there is rarely anything approaching
concerted action on the part of the aggressors. When the attack came,
it was not a combined attack; Stone, who was nearest to the door, made
a sudden dash forward, and Mike hit him under the chin.
Stone drew back, and there was another interval for rest and
It was interrupted by the reappearance of Psmith, who strolled back
along the passage swinging his dressing-gown cord as if it were some
"Sorry to keep you waiting, Comrade Jackson," he said politely. "Duty
called me elsewhere. With the kindly aid of a guide who knows the lie
of the land, I have been making a short tour of the dormitories. I
have poured divers jugfuls of water over Comrade Spiller's bed,
Comrade Robinson's bed, Comrade Stone's--Spiller, Spiller, these are
harsh words; where you pick them up I can't think--not from me. Well,
well, I suppose there must be an end to the pleasantest of functions.
The door closed behind Mike and himself. For ten minutes shufflings
and whisperings went on in the corridor, but nobody touched the
Then there was a sound of retreating footsteps, and silence reigned.
On the following morning there was a notice on the house-board. It
Dormitory-raiders are informed that in future neither
Mr. Psmith nor Mr. Jackson will be at home to visitors.
This nuisance must now cease.
On the same morning Mike met Adair for the first time.
He was going across to school with Psmith and Jellicoe, when a group
of three came out of the gate of the house next door.
"That's Adair," said Jellicoe, "in the middle."
His voice had assumed a tone almost of awe.
"Who's Adair?" asked Mike.
"Captain of cricket, and lots of other things."
Mike could only see the celebrity's back. He had broad shoulders and
wiry, light hair, almost white. He walked well, as if he were used to
running. Altogether a fit-looking sort of man. Even Mike's jaundiced
eye saw that.
As a matter of fact, Adair deserved more than a casual glance. He was
that rare type, the natural leader. Many boys and men, if accident, or
the passage of time, places them in a position where they are expected
to lead, can handle the job without disaster; but that is a very
different thing from being a born leader. Adair was of the sort that
comes to the top by sheer force of character and determination. He
was not naturally clever at work, but he had gone at it with a dogged
resolution which had carried him up the school, and landed him high in
the Sixth. As a cricketer he was almost entirely self-taught. Nature
had given him a good eye, and left the thing at that. Adair's
doggedness had triumphed over her failure to do her work thoroughly.
At the cost of more trouble than most people give to their life-work
he had made himself into a bowler. He read the authorities, and
watched first-class players, and thought the thing out on his own
account, and he divided the art of bowling into three sections. First,
and most important--pitch. Second on the list--break. Third--pace. He
set himself to acquire pitch. He acquired it. Bowling at his own pace
and without any attempt at break, he could now drop the ball on an
envelope seven times out of ten.
Break was a more uncertain quantity. Sometimes he could get it at the
expense of pitch, sometimes at the expense of pace. Some days he could
get all three, and then he was an uncommonly bad man to face on
anything but a plumb wicket.
Running he had acquired in a similar manner. He had nothing
approaching style, but he had twice won the mile and half-mile at the
Sports off elegant runners, who knew all about stride and the correct
timing of the sprints and all the rest of it.
Briefly, he was a worker. He had heart.
A boy of Adair's type is always a force in a school. In a big public
school of six or seven hundred, his influence is felt less; but in a
small school like Sedleigh he is like a tidal wave, sweeping all
before him. There were two hundred boys at Sedleigh, and there was not
one of them in all probability who had not, directly or indirectly,
been influenced by Adair. As a small boy his sphere was not large, but
the effects of his work began to be apparent even then. It is human
nature to want to get something which somebody else obviously values
very much; and when it was observed by members of his form that Adair
was going to great trouble and inconvenience to secure a place in the
form eleven or fifteen, they naturally began to think, too, that it
was worth being in those teams. The consequence was that his form
always played hard. This made other forms play hard. And the net
result was that, when Adair succeeded to the captaincy of football
and cricket in the same year, Sedleigh, as Mr. Downing, Adair's
house-master and the nearest approach to a cricket-master that
Sedleigh possessed, had a fondness for saying, was a keen school.
As a whole, it both worked and played with energy.
All it wanted now was opportunity.
This Adair was determined to give it. He had that passionate fondness
for his school which every boy is popularly supposed to have, but
which really is implanted in about one in every thousand. The average
public-school boy _likes_ his school. He hopes it will lick
Bedford at footer and Malvern at cricket, but he rather bets it won't.
He is sorry to leave, and he likes going back at the end of the
holidays, but as for any passionate, deep-seated love of the place, he
would think it rather bad form than otherwise. If anybody came up to
him, slapped him on the back, and cried, "Come along, Jenkins, my boy!
Play up for the old school, Jenkins! The dear old school! The old
place you love so!" he would feel seriously ill.
Adair was the exception.
To Adair, Sedleigh was almost a religion. Both his parents were dead;
his guardian, with whom he spent the holidays, was a man with
neuralgia at one end of him and gout at the other; and the only really
pleasant times Adair had had, as far back as he could remember, he
owed to Sedleigh. The place had grown on him, absorbed him. Where
Mike, violently transplanted from Wrykyn, saw only a wretched little
hole not to be mentioned in the same breath with Wrykyn, Adair,
dreaming of the future, saw a colossal establishment, a public school
among public schools, a lump of human radium, shooting out Blues and
Balliol Scholars year after year without ceasing.
It would not be so till long after he was gone and forgotten, but he
did not mind that. His devotion to Sedleigh was purely unselfish. He
did not want fame. All he worked for was that the school should grow
and grow, keener and better at games and more prosperous year by year,
till it should take its rank among _the_ schools, and to be an
Old Sedleighan should be a badge passing its owner everywhere.
"He's captain of cricket and footer," said Jellicoe impressively.
"He's in the shooting eight. He's won the mile and half two years
running. He would have boxed at Aldershot last term, only he sprained
his wrist. And he plays fives jolly well!"
"Sort of little tin god," said Mike, taking a violent dislike to Adair
from that moment.
Mike's actual acquaintance with this all-round man dated from the
dinner-hour that day. Mike was walking to the house with Psmith.
Psmith was a little ruffled on account of a slight passage-of-arms he
had had with his form-master during morning school.
"'There's a P before the Smith,' I said to him. 'Ah, P. Smith, I see,'
replied the goat. 'Not Peasmith,' I replied, exercising wonderful
self-restraint, 'just Psmith.' It took me ten minutes to drive the
thing into the man's head; and when I _had_ driven it in, he sent
me out of the room for looking at him through my eye-glass. Comrade
Jackson, I fear me we have fallen among bad men. I suspect that we are
going to be much persecuted by scoundrels."
"Both you chaps play cricket, I suppose?"
They turned. It was Adair. Seeing him face to face, Mike was aware of
a pair of very bright blue eyes and a square jaw. In any other place
and mood he would have liked Adair at sight. His prejudice, however,
against all things Sedleighan was too much for him. "I don't," he said
"Haven't you _ever_ played?"
"My little sister and I sometimes play with a soft ball at home."
Adair looked sharply at him. A temper was evidently one of his
"Oh," he said. "Well, perhaps you wouldn't mind turning out this
afternoon and seeing what you can do with a hard ball--if you can
manage without your little sister."
"I should think the form at this place would be about on a level with
hers. But I don't happen to be playing cricket, as I think I told
Adair's jaw grew squarer than ever. Mike was wearing a gloomy scowl.
Psmith joined suavely in the dialogue.
"My dear old comrades," he said, "don't let us brawl over this matter.
This is a time for the honeyed word, the kindly eye, and the pleasant
smile. Let me explain to Comrade Adair. Speaking for Comrade Jackson
and myself, we should both be delighted to join in the mimic warfare
of our National Game, as you suggest, only the fact is, we happen to
be the Young Archaeologists. We gave in our names last night. When you
are being carried back to the pavilion after your century against
Loamshire--do you play Loamshire?--we shall be grubbing in the hard
ground for ruined abbeys. The old choice between Pleasure and Duty,
Comrade Adair. A Boy's Cross-Roads."
"Then you won't play?"
"No," said Mike.
"Archaeology," said Psmith, with a deprecatory wave of the hand, "will
brook no divided allegiance from her devotees."
Adair turned, and walked on.
Scarcely had he gone, when another voice hailed them with precisely
the same question.
"Both you fellows are going to play cricket, eh?"
It was a master. A short, wiry little man with a sharp nose and a
general resemblance, both in manner and appearance, to an excitable
"I saw Adair speaking to you. I suppose you will both play. I like
every new boy to begin at once. The more new blood we have, the
better. We want keenness here. We are, above all, a keen school. I
want every boy to be keen."
"We are, sir," said Psmith, with fervour.
Mr. Downing--for it was no less a celebrity--started, as one who
perceives a loathly caterpillar in his salad.
"We gave in our names to Mr. Outwood last night, sir. Archaeology is a
passion with us, sir. When we heard that there was a society here, we
went singing about the house."
"I call it an unnatural pursuit for boys," said Mr. Downing
vehemently. "I don't like it. I tell you I don't like it. It is not
for me to interfere with one of my colleagues on the staff, but I tell
you frankly that in my opinion it is an abominable waste of time for a
boy. It gets him into idle, loafing habits."
"I never loaf, sir," said Psmith.
"I was not alluding to you in particular. I was referring to the
principle of the thing. A boy ought to be playing cricket with other
boys, not wandering at large about the country, probably smoking and
going into low public-houses."
"A very wild lot, sir, I fear, the Archaeological Society here,"
sighed Psmith, shaking his head.
"If you choose to waste your time, I suppose I can't hinder you. But
in my opinion it is foolery, nothing else."
He stumped off.
"Now _he's_ cross," said Psmith, looking after him. "I'm afraid
we're getting ourselves disliked here."
"Good job, too."
"At any rate, Comrade Outwood loves us. Let's go on and see what sort
of a lunch that large-hearted fossil-fancier is going to give us."
MIKE FINDS OCCUPATION
There was more than one moment during the first fortnight of term when
Mike found himself regretting the attitude he had imposed upon himself
with regard to Sedleighan cricket. He began to realise the eternal
truth of the proverb about half a loaf and no bread. In the first
flush of his resentment against his new surroundings he had refused to
play cricket. And now he positively ached for a game. Any sort of a
game. An innings for a Kindergarten _v._ the Second Eleven of a
Home of Rest for Centenarians would have soothed him. There were
times, when the sun shone, and he caught sight of white flannels on a
green ground, and heard the "plonk" of bat striking ball, when he felt
like rushing to Adair and shouting, "I _will_ be good. I was in
the Wrykyn team three years, and had an average of over fifty the last
two seasons. Lead me to the nearest net, and let me feel a bat in my
But every time he shrank from such a climb down. It couldn't be done.
What made it worse was that he saw, after watching behind the nets
once or twice, that Sedleigh cricket was not the childish burlesque of
the game which he had been rash enough to assume that it must be.
Numbers do not make good cricket. They only make the presence of good
cricketers more likely, by the law of averages.
Mike soon saw that cricket was by no means an unknown art at Sedleigh.
Adair, to begin with, was a very good bowler indeed. He was not a
Burgess, but Burgess was the only Wrykyn bowler whom, in his three
years' experience of the school, Mike would have placed above him. He
was a long way better than Neville-Smith, and Wyatt, and Milton, and
the others who had taken wickets for Wrykyn.
The batting was not so good, but there were some quite capable men.
Barnes, the head of Outwood's, he who preferred not to interfere with
Stone and Robinson, was a. mild, rather timid-looking youth--not
unlike what Mr. Outwood must have been as a boy--but he knew how to
keep balls out of his wicket. He was a good bat of the old plodding
Stone and Robinson themselves, that swash-buckling pair, who now
treated Mike and Psmith with cold but consistent politeness, were both
fair batsmen, and Stone was a good slow bowler.
There were other exponents of the game, mostly in Downing's house.
Altogether, quite worthy colleagues even for a man who had been a star
* * * * *
One solitary overture Mike made during that first fortnight. He did
not repeat the experiment. It was on a Thursday afternoon, after
school. The day was warm, but freshened by an almost imperceptible
breeze. The air was full of the scent of the cut grass which lay in
little heaps behind the nets. This is the real cricket scent, which
calls to one like the very voice of the game.
Mike, as he sat there watching, could stand it no longer.
He went up to Adair.
"May I have an innings at this net?" he asked. He was embarrassed and
nervous, and was trying not to show it. The natural result was that
his manner was offensively abrupt.
Adair was taking off his pads after his innings. He looked up. "This
net," it may be observed, was the first eleven net.
"What?" he said.
Mike repeated his request. More abruptly this time, from increased
"This is the first eleven net," said Adair coldly. "Go in after Lodge
"Over there" was the end net, where frenzied novices were bowling on a
corrugated pitch to a red-haired youth with enormous feet, who looked
as if he were taking his first lesson at the game.
Mike walked away without a word.
* * * * *
The Archaeological Society expeditions, even though they carried with
them the privilege of listening to Psmith's views on life, proved but
a poor substitute for cricket. Psmith, who had no counter-attraction
shouting to him that he ought to be elsewhere, seemed to enjoy them
hugely, but Mike almost cried sometimes from boredom. It was not
always possible to slip away from the throng, for Mr. Outwood
evidently looked upon them as among the very faithful, and kept them
by his aide.
Mike on these occasions was silent and jumpy, his brow "sicklied o'er
with the pale cast of care." But Psmith followed his leader with the
pleased and indulgent air of a father whose infant son is showing him
round the garden. Psmith's attitude towards archaeological research
struck a new note in the history of that neglected science. He was
amiable, but patronising. He patronised fossils, and he patronised
ruins. If he had been confronted with the Great Pyramid, he would have
He seemed to be consumed by a thirst for knowledge.
That this was not altogether a genuine thirst was proved on the third
expedition. Mr. Outwood and his band were pecking away at the site of
an old Roman camp. Psmith approached Mike.
"Having inspired confidence," he said, "by the docility of our
demeanour, let us slip away, and brood apart for awhile. Roman camps,
to be absolutely accurate, give me the pip. And I never want to see
another putrid fossil in my life. Let us find some shady nook where a
man may lie on his back for a bit."
Mike, over whom the proceedings connected with the Roman camp had long
since begun to shed a blue depression, offered no opposition, and they
strolled away down the hill.
Looking back, they saw that the archaeologists were still hard at it.
Their departure had passed unnoticed.
"A fatiguing pursuit, this grubbing for mementoes of the past," said
Psmith. "And, above all, dashed bad for the knees of the trousers.
Mine are like some furrowed field. It's a great grief to a man of
refinement, I can tell you, Comrade Jackson. Ah, this looks a likely
They had passed through a gate into the field beyond. At the further
end there was a brook, shaded by trees and running with a pleasant
sound over pebbles.
"Thus far," said Psmith, hitching up the knees of his trousers, and
sitting down, "and no farther. We will rest here awhile, and listen to
the music of the brook. In fact, unless you have anything important to
say, I rather think I'll go to sleep. In this busy life of ours these
naps by the wayside are invaluable. Call me in about an hour." And
Psmith, heaving the comfortable sigh of the worker who by toil has
earned rest, lay down, with his head against a mossy tree-stump, and
closed his eyes.
Mike sat on for a few minutes, listening to the water and making
centuries in his mind, and then, finding this a little dull, he got
up, jumped the brook, and began to explore the wood on the other side.
He had not gone many yards when a dog emerged suddenly from the
undergrowth, and began to bark vigorously at him.
Mike liked dogs, and, on acquaintance, they always liked him. But when
you meet a dog in some one else's wood, it is as well not to stop in
order that you may get to understand each other. Mike began to thread
his way back through the trees.
He was too late.
"Stop! What the dickens are you doing here?" shouted a voice behind
In the same situation a few years before, Mike would have carried on,
and trusted to speed to save him. But now there seemed a lack of
dignity in the action. He came back to where the man was standing.
"I'm sorry if I'm trespassing," he said. "I was just having a look
"The dickens you--Why, you're Jackson!"
Mike looked at him. He was a short, broad young man with a fair
moustache. Mike knew that he had seen him before somewhere, but he
could not place him.
"I played against you, for the Free Foresters last summer. In passing,
you seem to be a bit of a free forester yourself, dancing in among my
"I'm frightfully sorry."
"That's all right. Where do you spring from?"
"Of course--I remember you now. You're Prendergast. You made
fifty-eight not out."
"Thanks. I was afraid the only thing you would remember about me was
that you took a century mostly off my bowling."
"You ought to have had me second ball, only cover dropped it."
"Don't rake up forgotten tragedies. How is it you're not at Wrykyn?
What are you doing down here?"
"I've left Wrykyn."
Prendergast suddenly changed the conversation. When a fellow tells you
that he has left school unexpectedly, it is not always tactful to
inquire the reason. He began to talk about himself.
"I hang out down here. I do a little farming and a good deal of
"Get any cricket?" asked Mike, turning to the subject next his heart.
"Only village. Very keen, but no great shakes. By the way, how are you
off for cricket now? Have you ever got a spare afternoon?"
Mike's heart leaped.
"Any Wednesday or Saturday. Look here, I'll tell you how it is."
And he told how matters stood with him.
"So, you see," he concluded, "I'm supposed to be hunting for ruins and
things"--Mike's ideas on the subject of archaeology were vague--"but I
could always slip away. We all start out together, but I could nip
back, get on to my bike--I've got it down here--and meet you anywhere
you liked. By Jove, I'm simply dying for a game. I can hardly keep my
hands off a bat."
"I'll give you all you want. What you'd better do is to ride straight
to Lower Borlock--that's the name of the place--and I'll meet you on
the ground. Any one will tell you where Lower Borlock is. It's just
off the London road. There's a sign-post where you turn off. Can you
come next Saturday?"
"Rather. I suppose you can fix me up with a bat and pads? I don't want
to bring mine."
"I'll lend you everything. I say, you know, we can't give you a Wrykyn
wicket. The Lower Borlock pitch isn't a shirt-front."
"I'll play on a rockery, if you want me to," said Mike.
* * * * *
"You're going to what?" asked Psmith, sleepily, on being awakened and
told the news.
"I'm going to play cricket, for a village near here. I say, don't tell
a soul, will you? I don't want it to get about, or I may get lugged in
to play for the school."
"My lips are sealed. I think I'll come and watch you. Cricket I
dislike, but watching cricket is one of the finest of Britain's manly
sports. I'll borrow Jellicoe's bicycle."
* * * * *
That Saturday, Lower Borlock smote the men of Chidford hip and thigh.
Their victory was due to a hurricane innings of seventy-five by a
new-comer to the team, M. Jackson.
THE FIRE BRIGADE MEETING
Cricket is the great safety-valve. If you like the game, and are in a
position to play it at least twice a week, life can never be entirely
grey. As time went on, and his average for Lower Borlock reached the
fifties and stayed there, Mike began, though he would not have
admitted it, to enjoy himself. It was not Wrykyn, but it was a very
The only really considerable element making for discomfort now was Mr.
Downing. By bad luck it was in his form that Mike had been placed on
arrival; and Mr. Downing, never an easy form-master to get on with,
proved more than usually difficult in his dealings with Mike.
They had taken a dislike to each other at their first meeting; and it
grew with further acquaintance. To Mike, Mr. Downing was all that a
master ought not to be, fussy, pompous, and openly influenced in his
official dealings with his form by his own private likes and dislikes.
To Mr. Downing, Mike was simply an unamiable loafer, who did nothing
for the school and apparently had none of the instincts which should
be implanted in the healthy boy. Mr. Downing was rather strong on the
The two lived in a state of simmering hostility, punctuated at
intervals by crises, which usually resulted in Lower Borlock having to
play some unskilled labourer in place of their star batsman, employed
One of the most acute of these crises, and the most important, in that
it was the direct cause of Mike's appearance in Sedleigh cricket, had
to do with the third weekly meeting of the School Fire Brigade.
It may be remembered that this well-supported institution was under
Mr. Downing's special care. It was, indeed, his pet hobby and the
apple of his eye.
Just as you had to join the Archaeological Society to secure the
esteem of Mr. Outwood, so to become a member of the Fire Brigade was a
safe passport to the regard of Mr. Downing. To show a keenness for
cricket was good, but to join the Fire Brigade was best of all.
The Brigade was carefully organised. At its head was Mr. Downing,
a sort of high priest; under him was a captain, and under the captain
a vice-captain. These two officials were those sportive allies, Stone
and Robinson, of Outwood's house, who, having perceived at a very early
date the gorgeous opportunities for ragging which the Brigade offered
to its members, had joined young and worked their way up.
Under them were the rank and file, about thirty in all, of whom
perhaps seven were earnest workers, who looked on the Brigade in the
right, or Downing, spirit. The rest were entirely frivolous.
The weekly meetings were always full of life and excitement.
At this point it is as well to introduce Sammy to the reader.
Sammy, short for Sampson, was a young bull-terrier belonging to Mr.
Downing. If it is possible for a man to have two apples of his eye,
Sammy was the other. He was a large, light-hearted dog with a white
coat, an engaging expression, the tongue of an ant-eater, and a manner
which was a happy blend of hurricane and circular saw. He had long
legs, a tenor voice, and was apparently made of india-rubber.
Sammy was a great favourite in the school, and a particular friend of
Mike's, the Wrykynian being always a firm ally of every dog he met
after two minutes' acquaintance.
In passing, Jellicoe owned a clock-work rat, much in request during
We will now proceed to the painful details.
* * * * *
The meetings of the Fire Brigade were held after school in Mr.
Downing's form-room. The proceedings always began in the same way, by
the reading of the minutes of the last meeting. After that the
entertainment varied according to whether the members happened to be
fertile or not in ideas for the disturbing of the peace.
To-day they were in very fair form.
As soon as Mr. Downing had closed the minute-book, Wilson, of the
School House, held up his hand.
"Please, sir, couldn't we have a uniform for the Brigade?"
"A uniform?" Mr. Downing pondered
"Red, with green stripes, sir,"
Red, with a thin green stripe, was the Sedleigh colour.
"Shall I put it to the vote, sir?" asked Stone.
"One moment, Stone."
"Those in favour of the motion move to the left, those against it to
A scuffling of feet, a slamming of desk-lids and an upset blackboard,
and the meeting had divided.
Mr. Downing rapped irritably on his desk.
"Sit down!" he said, "sit down! I won't have this noise and
disturbance. Stone, sit down--Wilson, get back to your place."
"Please, sir, the motion is carried by twenty-five votes to six."
"Please, sir, may I go and get measured this evening?"
"Si-_lence_! The idea of a uniform is, of course, out of the
"Be _quiet!_ Entirely out of the question. We cannot plunge into
needless expense. Stone, listen to me. I cannot have this noise and
disturbance! Another time when a point arises it must be settled by a
show of hands. Well, Wilson?"
"Please, sir, may we have helmets?"
"Very useful as a protection against falling timbers, sir," said
"I don't think my people would be pleased, sir, if they knew I was
going out to fires without a helmet," said Stone.
The whole strength of the company: "Please, sir, may we have helmets?"
"Those in favour--" began Stone.
Mr. Downing banged on his desk. "Silence! Silence!! Silence!!! Helmets
are, of course, perfectly preposterous."
"But, sir, the danger!"
"Please, sir, the falling timbers!"
The Fire Brigade had been in action once and once only in the memory
of man, and that time it was a haystack which had burnt itself out
just as the rescuers had succeeded in fastening the hose to the
"Then, please, sir, couldn't we have an honour cap? It wouldn't be
expensive, and it would be just as good as a helmet for all the
timbers that are likely to fall on our heads."
Mr. Downing smiled a wry smile.
"Our Wilson is facetious," he remarked frostily.
"Sir, no, sir! I wasn't facetious! Or couldn't we have footer-tops,
like the first fifteen have? They----"
"Wilson, leave the room!"
"Sir, _please_, sir!"
"This moment, Wilson. And," as he reached the door, "do me one hundred
A pained "OO-oo-oo, sir-r-r," was cut off by the closing door.
Mr. Downing proceeded to improve the occasion. "I deplore this growing
spirit of flippancy," he said. "I tell you I deplore it! It is not
right! If this Fire Brigade is to be of solid use, there must be less
of this flippancy. We must have keenness. I want you boys above all to
be keen. I--What is that noise?"
From the other side of the door proceeded a sound like water gurgling
from a bottle, mingled with cries half-suppressed, as if somebody were
being prevented from uttering them by a hand laid over his mouth. The
sufferer appeared to have a high voice.
There was a tap at the door and Mike walked in. He was not alone.
Those near enough to see, saw that he was accompanied by Jellicoe's
clock-work rat, which moved rapidly over the floor in the direction of
the opposite wall.
"May I fetch a book from my desk, sir?" asked Mike.
"Very well--be quick, Jackson; we are busy."
Being interrupted in one of his addresses to the Brigade irritated Mr.
The muffled cries grew more distinct.
"What--is--that--noise?" shrilled Mr. Downing.
"Noise, sir?" asked Mike, puzzled.
"I think it's something outside the window, sir," said Stone
"A bird, I think, sir," said Robinson.
"Don't be absurd!" snapped Mr. Downing. "It's outside the door.
"Yes, sir?" said a voice "off."
"Are you making that whining noise?"
"Whining noise, sir? No, sir, I'm not making a whining noise."
"What _sort_ of noise, sir?" inquired Mike, as many Wrykynians
had asked before him. It was a question invented by Wrykyn for use in
just such a case as this.
"I do not propose," said Mr. Downing acidly, "to imitate the noise;
you can all hear it perfectly plainly. It is a curious whining noise."
"They are mowing the cricket field, sir," said the invisible Wilson.
"Perhaps that's it."
"It may be one of the desks squeaking, sir," put in Stone. "They do
"Or somebody's boots, sir," added Robinson.
"Yes, sir?" bellowed the unseen one.
"Don't shout at me from the corridor like that. Come in."
As he spoke the muffled whining changed suddenly to a series of tenor
shrieks, and the india-rubber form of Sammy bounded into the room like
an excited kangaroo.
Willing hands had by this time deflected the clockwork rat from the
wall to which it had been steering, and pointed it up the alley-way
between the two rows of desks. Mr. Downing, rising from his place, was
just in time to see Sammy with a last leap spring on his prey and
begin worrying it.
"A rat!" shouted Robinson.
The twenty-three members of the Brigade who were not earnest instantly
dealt with the situation, each in the manner that seemed proper to
him. Some leaped on to forms, others flung books, all shouted. It was
a stirring, bustling scene.
Sammy had by this time disposed of the clock-work rat, and was now
standing, like Marius, among the ruins barking triumphantly.
The banging on Mr. Downing's desk resembled thunder. It rose above all
the other noises till in time they gave up the competition and died
Mr. Downing shot out orders, threats, and penalties with the rapidity
of a Maxim gun.
"Stone, sit down! Donovan, if you do not sit down, you will be
severely punished. Henderson, one hundred lines for gross disorder!
Windham, the same! Go to your seat, Vincent. What are you doing,
Broughton-Knight? I will not have this disgraceful noise and disorder!
The meeting is at an end; go quietly from the room, all of you.
Jackson and Wilson, remain. _Quietly_, I said, Durand! Don't
shuffle your feet in that abominable way."
"Wolferstan, I distinctly saw you upset that black-board with a
movement of your hand--one hundred lines. Go quietly from the room,
The meeting dispersed.
"Jackson and Wilson, come here. What's the meaning of this disgraceful
conduct? Put that dog out of the room, Jackson."
Mike removed the yelling Sammy and shut the door on him.
"Please, sir, I was playing with a clock-work rat----"
"What business have you to be playing with clock-work rats?"
"Then I remembered," said Mike, "that I had left my Horace in my desk,
so I came in----"
"And by a fluke, sir," said Wilson, as one who tells of strange
things, "the rat happened to be pointing in the same direction, so he
came in, too."
"I met Sammy on the gravel outside and he followed me."
"I tried to collar him, but when you told me to come in, sir, I had to
let him go, and he came in after the rat."
It was plain to Mr. Downing that the burden of sin was shared equally
by both culprits. Wilson had supplied the rat, Mike the dog; but Mr.
Downing liked Wilson and disliked Mike. Wilson was in the Fire
Brigade, frivolous at times, it was true, but nevertheless a member.
Also he kept wicket for the school. Mike was a member of the
Archaeological Society, and had refused to play cricket.
Mr. Downing allowed these facts to influence him in passing sentence.
"One hundred lines, Wilson," he said. "You may go."
Wilson departed with the air of a man who has had a great deal of fun,
and paid very little for it.
Mr. Downing turned to Mike. "You will stay in on Saturday afternoon,
Jackson; it will interfere with your Archaeological studies, I fear,
but it may teach you that we have no room at Sedleigh for boys who
spend their time loafing about and making themselves a nuisance. We
are a keen school; this is no place for boys who do nothing but waste
their time. That will do, Jackson."
And Mr. Downing walked out of the room. In affairs of this kind a
master has a habit of getting the last word.
ACHILLES LEAVES HIS TENT
They say misfortunes never come singly. As Mike sat brooding over his
wrongs in his study, after the Sammy incident, Jellicoe came into the
room, and, without preamble, asked for the loan of a sovereign.
When one has been in the habit of confining one's lendings and
borrowings to sixpences and shillings, a request for a sovereign comes
as something of a blow.
"What on earth for?" asked Mike.
"I say, do you mind if I don't tell you? I don't want to tell anybody.
The fact is, I'm in a beastly hole."
"Oh, sorry," said Mike. "As a matter of fact, I do happen to have a
quid. You can freeze on to it, if you like. But it's about all I have
got, so don't be shy about paying it back."
Jellicoe was profuse in his thanks, and disappeared in a cloud of
Mike felt that Fate was treating him badly. Being kept in on Saturday
meant that he would be unable to turn out for Little Borlock against
Claythorpe, the return match. In the previous game he had scored
ninety-eight, and there was a lob bowler in the Claythorpe ranks whom
he was particularly anxious to meet again. Having to yield a sovereign
to Jellicoe--why on earth did the man want all that?--meant that,
unless a carefully worded letter to his brother Bob at Oxford had the
desired effect, he would be practically penniless for weeks.
In a gloomy frame of mind he sat down to write to Bob, who was playing
regularly for the 'Varsity this season, and only the previous week had
made a century against Sussex, so might be expected to be in a
sufficiently softened mood to advance the needful. (Which, it may be
stated at once, he did, by return of post.)
Mike was struggling with the opening sentences of this letter--he was
never a very ready writer--when Stone and Robinson burst into the
Mike put down his pen, and got up. He was in warlike mood, and
welcomed the intrusion. If Stone and Robinson wanted battle, they
should have it.
But the motives of the expedition were obviously friendly. Stone
beamed. Robinson was laughing.
"You're a sportsman," said Robinson.
"What did he give you?" asked Stone.
They sat down, Robinson on the table, Stone in Psmith' s deck-chair.
Mike's heart warmed to them. The little disturbance in the dormitory
was a thing of the past, done with, forgotten, contemporary with
Julius Caesar. He felt that he, Stone and Robinson must learn to know
and appreciate one another.
There was, as a matter of fact, nothing much wrong with Stone and
Robinson. They were just ordinary raggers of the type found at every
public school, small and large. They were absolutely free from brain.
They had a certain amount of muscle, and a vast store of animal
spirits. They looked on school life purely as a vehicle for ragging.
The Stones and Robinsons are the swashbucklers of the school world.
They go about, loud and boisterous, with a whole-hearted and cheerful
indifference to other people's feelings, treading on the toes of their
neighbour and shoving him off the pavement, and always with an eye
wide open for any adventure. As to the kind of adventure, they are not
particular so long as it promises excitement. Sometimes they go
through their whole school career without accident. More often they
run up against a snag in the shape of some serious-minded and muscular
person who objects to having his toes trodden on and being shoved off
the pavement, and then they usually sober down, to the mutual
advantage of themselves and the rest of the community.
One's opinion of this type of youth varies according to one's point of
view. Small boys whom they had occasion to kick, either from pure high
spirits or as a punishment for some slip from the narrow path which
the ideal small boy should tread, regarded Stone and Robinson as
bullies of the genuine "Eric" and "St. Winifred's" brand. Masters were
rather afraid of them. Adair had a smouldering dislike for them. They
were useful at cricket, but apt not to take Sedleigh as seriously as
he could have wished.
As for Mike, he now found them pleasant company, and began to get out
"Those Fire Brigade meetings," said Stone, "are a rag. You can do what
you like, and you never get more than a hundred lines."
"Don't you!" said Mike. "I got Saturday afternoon."
"Is Wilson in too?"
"No. He got a hundred lines."
Stone and Robinson were quite concerned.
"What a beastly swindle!"
"That's because you don't play cricket. Old Downing lets you do what
you like if you join the Fire Brigade and play cricket."
"'We are, above all, a keen school,'" quoted Stone. "Don't you ever
"I have played a bit," said Mike.
"Well, why don't you have a shot? We aren't such flyers here. If you
know one end of a bat from the other, you could get into some sort of
a team. Were you at school anywhere before you came here?"
"I was at Wrykyn."
"Why on earth did you leave?" asked Stone. "Were you sacked?"
"No. My pater took me away."
"Wrykyn?" said Robinson. "Are you any relation of the Jacksons
there--J. W. and the others?"
"Well, didn't you play at all there?"
"Yes," said Mike, "I did. I was in the team three years, and I should
have been captain this year, if I'd stopped on."
There was a profound and gratifying sensation. Stone gaped, and
Robinson nearly dropped his tea-cup.
Stone broke the silence.
"But I mean to say--look here! What I mean is, why aren't you playing?
Why don't you play now?"
"I do. I play for a village near here. Place called Little Borlock. A
man who played against Wrykyn for the Free Foresters captains them. He
asked me if I'd like some games for them."
"But why not for the school?"
"Why should I? It's much better fun for the village. You don't get
ordered about by Adair, for a start."
"Adair sticks on side," said Stone.
"Enough for six," agreed Robinson.
"By Jove," said Stone, "I've got an idea. My word, what a rag!"
"What's wrong now?" inquired Mike politely.
"Why, look here. To-morrow's Mid-term Service day. It's nowhere near
the middle of the term, but they always have it in the fourth week.
There's chapel at half-past nine till half-past ten. Then the rest of
the day's a whole holiday. There are always house matches. We're
playing Downing's. Why don't you play and let's smash them?"
"By Jove, yes," said Robinson. "Why don't you? They're always sticking
on side because they've won the house cup three years running. I say,
do you bat or bowl?"
Robinson rocked on the table.
"Why, old Downing fancies himself as a bowler. You _must_ play,
and knock the cover off him."
"Masters don't play in house matches, surely?"
"This isn't a real house match. Only a friendly. Downing always turns
out on Mid-term Service day. I say, do play."