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Home -> P.G. Wodehouse -> A Prefect's Uncle -> Chapter 10

A Prefect's Uncle - Chapter 10

1. Chapter 1

2. Chapter 2

3. Chapter 3

4. Chapter 4

5. Chapter 5

6. Chapter 6

7. Chapter 7

8. Chapter 8

9. Chapter 9

10. Chapter 10

11. Chapter 11

12. Chapter 12

13. Chapter 13

14. Chapter 14

15. Chapter 15

16. Chapter 16

17. Chapter 17

18. Chapter 18


Gethryn was right in thinking that the interviews would be unpleasant.
They increased in unpleasantness in arithmetical progression, until
they culminated finally in a terrific encounter with the justly
outraged Norris.

Reece was the first person to institute inquiries, and if everybody had
resembled him, matters would not have been so bad for Gethryn. Reece
possessed a perfect genius for minding his own business. The dialogue
when they met was brief.

'Hullo,' said Reece.

'Hullo,' said the Bishop.

'Where did you get to yesterday?' said Reece.

'Oh, I had to go somewhere,' said the Bishop vaguely.

'Oh? Pity. Wasn't a bad match.' And that was all the comment Reece made
on the situation.

Gethryn went over to the chapel that morning with an empty sinking
feeling inside him. He was quite determined to offer no single word of
explanation, and he felt that that made the prospect all the worse.
There was a vast uncertainty in his mind as to what was going to
happen. Nobody could actually do anything to him, of course. It would
have been a decided relief to him if anybody had tried that line of
action, for moments occur when the only thing that can adequately
soothe the wounded spirit, is to hit straight from the shoulder at
someone. The punching-ball is often found useful under these
circumstances. As he was passing Jephson's House he nearly ran into
somebody who was coming out.

'Be firm, my moral pecker,' thought Gethryn, and braced himself up for

'Well, Gethryn?' said Mr Jephson.

The question 'Well?' especially when addressed by a master to a boy, is
one of the few questions to which there is literally no answer. You can
look sheepish, you can look defiant, or you can look surprised
according to the state of your conscience. But anything in the way of
verbal response is impossible.

Gethryn attempted no verbal response.

'Well, Gethryn,' went on Mr Jephson, 'was it pleasant up the river

Mr Jephson always preferred the rapier of sarcasm to the bludgeon of

'Yes, sir,' said Gethryn, 'very pleasant.' He did not mean to be
massacred without a struggle.

'What!' cried Mr Jephson. 'You actually mean to say that you did go up
the river?'

'No, sir.'

'Then what do you mean?'

'It is always pleasant up the river on a fine day,' said Gethryn.

His opponent, to use a metaphor suitable to a cricket master, changed
his action. He abandoned sarcasm and condescended to direct inquiry.

'Where were you yesterday afternoon?' he said.

The Bishop, like Mr Hurry Bungsho Jabberjee, B.A., became at once the
silent tomb.

'Did you hear what I said, Gethryn?' (icily). 'Where were you yesterday

'I can't say, sir.'

These words may convey two meanings. They may imply ignorance, in which
case the speaker should be led gently off to the nearest asylum. Or
they may imply obstinacy. Mr Jephson decided that in the present case
obstinacy lay at the root of the matter. He became icier than ever.

'Very well, Gethryn,' he said, 'I shall report this to the Headmaster.'

And Gethryn, feeling that the conference was at an end, proceeded on
his way.

After chapel there was Norris to be handled. Norris had been rather
late for chapel that morning, and had no opportunity of speaking to the
Bishop. But after the service was over, and the School streamed out of
the building towards their respective houses, he waylaid him at the
door, and demanded an explanation. The Bishop refused to give one.
Norris, whose temper never had a chance of reaching its accustomed
tranquillity until he had consumed some breakfast--he hated early
morning chapel--raved. The Bishop was worried, but firm.

'Then you mean to say--you don't mean to say--I mean, you don't intend
to explain?' said Norris finally, working round for the twentieth time
to his original text.

'I can't explain.'

'You won't, you mean.'

'Yes. I'll apologize if you like, but I won't explain.'

Norris felt the strain was becoming too much for him.

'Apologize!' he moaned, addressing circumambient space. 'Apologize! A
man cuts off in the middle of the M.C.C. match, loses us the game, and
then comes back and offers to apologize.'

'The offer's withdrawn,' put in Gethryn. 'Apologies and explanations
are both off.' It was hopeless to try and be conciliatory under the
circumstances. They did not admit of it.

Norris glared.

'I suppose,' he said, 'you don't expect to go on playing for the First
after this? We can't keep a place open for you in the team on the off
chance of your not having a previous engagement, you know.'

'That's your affair,' said the Bishop, 'you're captain. Have you
finished your address? Is there anything else you'd like to say?'

Norris considered, and, as he went in at Jephson's gate, wound up with
this Parthian shaft--

'All I can say is that you're not fit to be at a public school. They
ought to sack a chap for doing that sort of thing. If you'll take my
advice, you'll leave.'

About two hours afterwards Gethryn discovered a suitable retort, but,
coming to the conclusion that better late than never does not apply to
repartees, refrained from speaking it.

It was Mr Jephson's usual custom to sally out after supper on Sunday
evenings to smoke a pipe (or several pipes) with one of the other
House-masters. On this particular evening he made for Robertson's,
which was one of the four Houses on the opposite side of the School
grounds. He could hardly have selected a better man to take his
grievance to. Mr Robertson was a long, silent man with grizzled hair,
and an eye that pierced like a gimlet. He had the enviable reputation
of keeping the best order of any master in the School. He was also one
of the most popular of the staff. This was all the more remarkable from
the fact that he played no games.

To him came Mr Jephson, primed to bursting point with his grievance.

'Anything wrong, Jephson?' said Mr Robertson.

'Wrong? I should just think there was. Did you happen to be looking at
the match yesterday, Robertson?'

Mr Robertson nodded.

'I always watch School matches. Good match. Norris missed a bad catch
in the slips. He was asleep.'

Mr Jephson conceded the point. It was trivial.

'Yes,' he said, 'he should certainly have held it. But that's a mere
detail. I want to talk about Gethryn. Do you know what he did
yesterday? I never heard of such a thing in my life, never. Went off
during the luncheon interval without a word, and never appeared again
till lock-up. And now he refuses to offer any explanation whatever. I
shall report the whole thing to Beckett. I told Gethryn so this

'I shouldn't,' said Mr Robertson; 'I really think I shouldn't. Beckett
finds the ordinary duties of a Headmaster quite sufficient for his
needs. This business is not in his province at all.'

'Not in his province? My dear sir, what is a headmaster for, if not to
manage affairs of this sort?'

Mr Robertson smiled in a sphinx-like manner, and answered, after the
fashion of Socrates, with a question.

'Let me ask you two things, Jephson. You must proceed gingerly. Now,
firstly, it is a headmaster's business to punish any breach of school
rules, is it not?'


'And school prefects do not attend roll-call, and have no restrictions
placed upon them in the matter of bounds?'

'No. Well?'

'Then perhaps you'll tell me what School rule Gethryn has broken?' said
Mr Robertson.

'You see you can't,' he went on. 'Of course you can't. He has not
broken any School rule. He is a prefect, and may do anything he likes
with his spare time. He chooses to play cricket. Then he changes his
mind and goes off to some unknown locality for some reason at present
unexplained. It is all perfectly legal. Extremely quaint behaviour on
his part, I admit, but thoroughly legal.'

'Then nothing can be done,' exclaimed Mr Jephson blankly. 'But it's
absurd. Something must be done. The thing can't be left as it is. It's

'I should imagine,' said Mr Robertson, 'from what small knowledge I
possess of the Human Boy, that matters will be made decidedly
unpleasant for the criminal.'

'Well, I know one thing; he won't play for the team again.'

'There is something very refreshing about your logic, Jephson. Because
a boy does not play in one match, you will not let him play in any of
the others, though you admit his absence weakens the team. However, I
suppose that is unavoidable. Mind you, I think it is a pity. Of course
Gethryn has some explanation, if he would only favour us with it.
Personally I think rather highly of Gethryn. So does poor old
Leicester. He is the only Head-prefect Leicester has had for the last
half-dozen years who knows even the rudiments of his business. But it's
no use my preaching his virtues to you. You wouldn't listen. Take
another cigar, and let's talk about the weather.'

Mr Jephson took the proffered weed, and the conversation, though it did
not turn upon the suggested topic, ceased to have anything to do with

The general opinion of the School was dead against the Bishop. One or
two of his friends still clung to a hope that explanations might come
out, while there were also a few who always made a point of thinking
differently from everybody else. Of this class was Pringle. On the
Monday after the match he spent the best part of an hour of his
valuable time reasoning on the subject with Lorimer. Lorimer's vote
went with the majority. Although he had fielded for the Bishop, he was
not, of course, being merely a substitute, allowed to bowl, as the
Bishop had had his innings, and it had been particularly galling to him
to feel that he might have saved the match, if it had only been
possible for him to have played a larger part.

'It's no good jawing about it,' he said, 'there isn't a word to say for
the man. He hasn't a leg to stand on. Why, it would be bad enough in a
House or form match even, but when it comes to first matches--!' Here
words failed Lorimer.

'Not at all,' said Pringle, unmoved. 'There are heaps of reasons, jolly
good reasons, why he might have gone away.'

'Such as?' said Lorimer.

'Well, he might have been called away by a telegram, for instance.'

'What rot! Why should he make such a mystery of it if that was all?'

'He'd have explained all right if somebody had asked him properly. You
get a chap like Norris, who, when he loses his hair, has got just about
as much tact as a rhinoceros, going and ballyragging the man, and no
wonder he won't say anything. I shouldn't myself.'

'Well, go and talk to him decently, then. Let's see you do it, and I'll
bet it won't make a bit of difference. What the chap has done is to go
and get himself mixed up in some shady business somewhere. That's the
only thing it can be.'

'Rot,' said Pringle, 'the Bishop isn't that sort of chap.'

'You can't tell. I say,' he broke off suddenly, 'have you done that
poem yet?'

Pringle started. He had not so much as begun that promised epic.

'I--er--haven't quite finished it yet. I'm thinking it out, you know.
Getting a sort of general grip of the thing.'

'Oh. Well, I wish you'd buck up with it. It's got to go in tomorrow

'Tomorrow week. Tuesday the what? Twenty-second, isn't it? Right. I'll
remember. Two days after the O.B.s' match. That'll fix it in my mind.
By the way, your people are going to come down all right, aren't they?
I mean, we shall have to be getting in supplies and so on.'

'Yes. They'll be coming. There's plenty of time, though, to think of
that. What you've got to do for the present is to keep your mind glued
on the death of Dido.'

'Rather,' said Pringle, 'I won't forget.'

This was at six twenty-two p.m. By the time six-thirty boomed from the
College clock-tower, Pringle was absorbing a thrilling work of fiction,
and Dido, her death, and everything connected with her, had faded from
his mind like a beautiful dream.

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