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Home -> P.G. Wodehouse -> Mike and Psmith -> Chapter 16

Mike and Psmith - Chapter 16

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



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 recognized 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 running.

There were two gates to Mr. Outwood's front garden. The drive ran in a
semicircle, of which the house was the center. 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
toward 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 recognized 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 tonight 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 program 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 onto the
cricket field.

His thoughts were miles away, at Wrykyn, when he was recalled to
Sedleigh by the sound of somebody running. Focusing 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
cautious undertone.

The other appeared startled.

"Who the dickens is that?" he asked. "Is that you, Jackson?"

Mike recognized Adair's voice. The last person he would have expected to
meet at midnight obviously on the point of going for a bicycle ride.

"What are you doing out here. Jackson?"

"What are you, if it comes to that?"

Adair was adjusting his front light.

"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 stomachache, the direct
and legitimate result of eating six buns, half a coconut, 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 dispatched 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 return.

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 gate.

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 dais--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 at once.

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, marshaling 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 in
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 "practicing escaping." This was done by means of canvas chutes,
kept in the dormitories. At the sound of the bell the prefect of the
dormitory would heave one end of the chute out of the 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 chute 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 halfway 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 a Bannister 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
bell rope.

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 onto 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.

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