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Home -> P.G. Wodehouse -> Mike and Psmith -> Chapter 9

Mike and Psmith - Chapter 9

1. Preface

2. Chapter 1

3. Chapter 2

4. Chapter 3

5. Chapter 4

6. Chapter 5

7. Chapter 6

8. Chapter 7

9. Chapter 8

10. Chapter 9

11. Chapter 10

12. Chapter 11

13. Chapter 12

14. Chapter 13

15. Chapter 14

16. Chapter 15

17. Chapter 16

18. Chapter 17

19. Chapter 18

20. Chapter 19

21. Chapter 20

22. Chapter 21

23. Chapter 22

24. Chapter 23

25. Chapter 24

26. Chapter 25

27. Chapter 26

28. Chapter 27

29. Chapter 28

30. Chapter 29

31. Chapter 30



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
gray. 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 decent

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 healthy instincts which should
be implanted in the healthy boy. Mr. Downing was rather strong on the
healthy boy.

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 laborer in place of their star batsman, employed doing

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 organized. 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, lighthearted dog with a white coat,
an engaging expression, the tongue of an anteater, 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 favorite 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 clockwork rat, much in request during
French lessons.

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.

Today 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.

"Well, Wilson?"

"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 color.

"Shall I put it to the vote, sir?" asked Stone.

"One moment, Stone."

"Those in favor of the motion move to the left, those against it to the

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?"

"Please, sir--"

"Si-_lence!_ The idea of a uniform is, of course, out of the question."

"Oo-oo-oo-oo, sir-r-r!"

"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 favor ..." began Stone.

Mr. Downing banged on his desk. "Silence! Silence!! Silence!!! Helmets
are, of course, perfectly preposterous."

"Oo-oo-oo-oo, sir-r-r!"

"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 burned itself out just as
the rescuers had succeeded in fastening the hose to the hydrant.


"Then, please, sir, couldn't we have an honor 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 tasseled caps
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 clockwork
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 helpfully.

"A bird, I think, sir," said Robinson.

"Don't be absurd!" snapped Mr. Downing. "It's outside the door. Wilson!"

"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 shoes, sir," added Robinson.

"Silence! Wilson?"

"Yes, sir?" bellowed the unseen one.

"Don't shout at me from the corridor like that. Come in."

"Yes, sir!"

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 alleyway 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.

Chaos reigned.

"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 onto forms, others flung books, all shouted. It was a
stirring, bustling scene.

Sammy had by this time disposed of the clockwork 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 away.

Mr. Downing shot out orders, threats, and penalties with the rapidity of
a Bren 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 blackboard with a movement
of your hand--one hundred lines. Go quietly from the room, everybody."

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.

"Well, Wilson?"

"Please, sir, I was playing with a clockwork rat--"

"What business have you to be playing with clockwork 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.

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