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Home -> P.G. Wodehouse -> A Prefect's Uncle -> Chapter 11

A Prefect's Uncle - Chapter 11

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


The Old Beckfordians' match came off in due season, and Pringle enjoyed
it thoroughly. Though he only contributed a dozen in the first innings,
he made up for this afterwards in the second, when the School had a
hundred and twenty to get in just two hours. He went in first with
Marriott, and they pulled the thing off and gave the School a ten
wickets victory with eight minutes to spare. Pringle was in rare form.
He made fifty-three, mainly off the bowling of a certain J.R. Smith,
whose fag he had been in the old days. When at School, Smith had always
been singularly aggressive towards Pringle, and the latter found that
much pleasure was to be derived from hitting fours off his bowling.
Subsequently he ate more strawberries and cream than were, strictly
speaking, good for him, and did the honours at the study tea-party with
the grace of a born host. And, as he had hoped, Miss Mabel Lorimer
_did_ ask what that silver-plate was stuck on to that bat for.

It is not to be wondered at that in the midst of these festivities such
trivialities as Lorimer's poem found no place in his thoughts. It was
not until the following day that he was reminded of it.

That Sunday was a visiting Sunday. Visiting Sundays occurred three
times a term, when everybody who had friends and relations in the
neighbourhood was allowed to spend the day with them. Pringle on such
occasions used to ride over to Biddlehampton, the scene of Farnie's
adventures, on somebody else's bicycle, his destination being the
residence of a certain Colonel Ashby, no relation, but a great friend
of his father's.

The gallant Colonel had, besides his other merits--which were
numerous--the pleasant characteristic of leaving his guests to
themselves. To be left to oneself under some circumstances is apt to be
a drawback, but in this case there was never any lack of amusements.
The only objection that Pringle ever found was that there was too much
to do in the time. There was shooting, riding, fishing, and also
stump-cricket. Given proper conditions, no game in existence yields to
stump-cricket in the matter of excitement. A stable-yard makes the best
pitch, for the walls stop all hits and you score solely by boundaries,
one for every hit, two if it goes past the coach-room door, four to the
end wall, and out if you send it over. It is perfect.

There were two junior Ashbys, twins, aged sixteen. They went to school
at Charchester, returning to the ancestral home for the weekend.
Sometimes when Pringle came they would bring a school friend, in which
case Pringle and he would play the twins. But as a rule the programme
consisted of a series of five test matches, Charchester _versus_
Beckford; and as Pringle was almost exactly twice as good as each of
the twins taken individually, when they combined it made the sides very
even, and the test matches were fought out with the most deadly

After lunch the Colonel was in the habit of taking Pringle for a stroll
in the grounds, to watch him smoke a cigar or two. On this Sunday the
conversation during the walk, after beginning, as was right and proper,
with cricket, turned to work.

'Let me see,' said the Colonel, as Pringle finished the description of
how point had almost got to the square cut which had given him his
century against Charchester, 'you're out of the Upper Fifth now, aren't
you? I always used to think you were going to be a fixture there. You
are like your father in that way. I remember him at Rugby spending
years on end in the same form. Couldn't get out of it. But you did get
your remove, if I remember?'

'Rather,' said Pringle, 'years ago. That's to say, last term. And I'm
jolly glad I did, too.'

His errant memory had returned to the poetry prize once more.

'Oh,' said the Colonel, 'why is that?'

Pringle explained the peculiar disadvantages that attended membership
of the Upper Fifth during the summer term.

'I don't think a man ought to be allowed to spend his money in these
special prizes,' he concluded; 'at any rate they ought to be Sixth Form
affairs. It's hard enough having to do the ordinary work and keep up
your cricket at the same time.'

'They are compulsory then?'

'Yes. Swindle, I call it. The chap who shares my study at Beckford is
in the Upper Fifth, and his hair's turning white under the strain. The
worst of it is, too, that I've promised to help him, and I never seem
to have any time to give to the thing. I could turn out a great poem if
I had an hour or two to spare now and then.'

'What's the subject?'

'Death of Dido this year. They are always jolly keen on deaths. Last
year it was Cato, and the year before Julius Caesar. They seem to have
very morbid minds. I think they might try something cheerful for a

'Dido,' said the Colonel dreamily. 'Death of Dido. Where have I heard
either a story or a poem or a riddle or something in some way connected
with the death of Dido? It was years ago, but I distinctly remember
having heard somebody mention the occurrence. Oh, well, it will come
back presently, I dare say.'

It did come back presently. The story was this. A friend of Colonel
Ashby's--the one-time colonel of his regiment, to be exact--was an
earnest student of everything in the literature of the country that
dealt with Sport. This gentleman happened to read in a publisher's list
one day that a limited edition of _The Dark Horse,_ by a Mr Arthur
James, was on sale, and might be purchased from the publisher by all
who were willing to spend half a guinea to that end.

'Well, old Matthews,' said the Colonel, 'sent off for this book.
Thought it must be a sporting novel, don't you know. I shall never
forget his disappointment when he opened the parcel. It turned out to
be a collection of poems. _The Dark Horse, and Other Studies in the
Tragic,_ was its full title.'

'Matthews never had a soul for poetry, good or bad. _The Dark
Horse_ itself was about a knight in the Middle Ages, you know. Great
nonsense it was, too. Matthews used to read me passages from time to
time. When he gave up the regiment he left me the book as a farewell
gift. He said I was the only man he knew who really sympathized with
him in the affair. I've got it still. It's in the library somewhere, if
you care to look at it. What recalled it to my mind was your mention of
Dido. The second poem was about the death of Dido, as far as I can
remember. I'm no judge of poetry, but it didn't strike me as being very
good. At the same time, you might pick up a hint or two from it. It
ought to be in one of the two lower shelves on the right of the door as
you go in. Unless it has been taken away. That is not likely, though.
We are not very enthusiastic poetry readers here.'

Pringle thanked him for his information, and went back to the
stable-yard, where he lost the fourth test match by sixteen runs, owing
to preoccupation. You can't play a yorker on the leg-stump with a thin
walking-stick if your mind is occupied elsewhere. And the leg-stump
yorkers of James, the elder (by a minute) of the two Ashbys, were
achieving a growing reputation in Charchester cricket circles.

One ought never, thought Pringle, to despise the gifts which Fortune
bestows on us. And this mention of an actual completed poem on the very
subject which was in his mind was clearly a gift of Fortune. How much
better it would be to read thoughtfully through this poem, and quarry
out a set of verses from it suitable to Lorimer's needs, than to waste
his brain-tissues in trying to evolve something original from his own
inner consciousness. Pringle objected strongly to any unnecessary waste
of his brain-tissues. Besides, the best poets borrowed. Virgil did it.
Tennyson did it. Even Homer--we have it on the authority of Mr
Kipling--when he smote his blooming lyre went and stole what he thought
he might require. Why should Pringle of the School House refuse to
follow in such illustrious footsteps?

It was at this point that the guileful James delivered his insidious
yorker, and the dull thud of the tennis ball on the board which served
as the wicket told a listening world that Charchester had won the
fourth test match, and that the scores were now two all.

But Beckford's star was to ascend again. Pringle's mind was made up. He
would read the printed poem that very night, and before retiring to
rest he would have Lorimer's verses complete and ready to be sent in
for judgement to the examiner. But for the present he would dismiss the
matter from his mind, and devote himself to polishing off the
Charchester champions in the fifth and final test match. And in this he
was successful, for just as the bell rang, summoning the players in to
a well-earned tea, a sweet forward drive from his walking-stick crashed
against the end wall, and Beckford had won the rubber.

'As the young batsman, undefeated to the last, reached the pavilion,'
said Pringle, getting into his coat, 'a prolonged and deafening salvo
of cheers greeted him. His twenty-three not out, compiled as it was
against the finest bowling Charchester could produce, and on a wicket
that was always treacherous (there's a brick loose at the top end), was
an effort unique in its heroism.'

'Oh, _come_ on,' said the defeated team.

'If you have fluked a win,' said James, 'it's nothing much. Wait till
next visiting Sunday.'

And the teams went in to tea.

In the programme which Pringle had mapped out for himself, he was to go
to bed with his book at the highly respectable hour of ten, work till
eleven, and then go to sleep. But programmes are notoriously subject to
alterations. Pringle's was altered owing to a remark made immediately
after dinner by John Ashby, who, desirous of retrieving the fallen
fortunes of Charchester, offered to play Pringle a hundred up at
billiards, giving him thirty. Now Pringle's ability in the realm of
sport did not extend to billiards. But the human being who can hear
unmoved a fellow human being offering him thirty start in a game of a
hundred has yet to be born. He accepted the challenge, and permission
to play having been granted by the powers that were, on the
understanding that the cloth was not to be cut and as few cues broken
as possible, the game began, James acting as marker.

There are doubtless ways by which a game of a hundred up can be got
through in less than two hours, but with Pringle and his opponent
desire outran performance. When the highest break on either side is
six, and the average break two, matters progress with more stateliness
than speed. At last, when the hands of the clock both pointed to the
figure eleven, Pringle, whose score had been at ninety-eight since
half-past ten, found himself within two inches of his opponent's ball,
which was tottering on the very edge of the pocket. He administered the
_coup de grace_ with the air of a John Roberts, and retired
triumphant; while the Charchester representatives pointed out that as
their score was at seventy-four, they had really won a moral victory by
four points. To which specious and unsportsmanlike piece of sophistry
Pringle turned a deaf ear.

It was now too late for any serious literary efforts. No bard can do
without his sleep. Even Homer used to nod at times. So Pringle
contented himself with reading through the poem, which consisted of
some thirty lines, and copying the same down on a sheet of notepaper
for future reference. After which he went to bed.

In order to arrive at Beckford in time for morning school, he had to
start from the house at eight o'clock punctually. This left little time
for poetical lights. The consequence was that when Lorimer, on the
following afternoon, demanded the poem as per contract, all that
Pringle had to show was the copy which he had made of the poem in the
book. There was a moment's suspense while Conscience and Sheer
Wickedness fought the matter out inside him, and then Conscience, which
had started on the encounter without enthusiasm, being obviously flabby
and out of condition, threw up the sponge.

'Here you are,' said Pringle, 'it's only a rough copy, but here it

Lorimer perused it hastily.

'But, I say,' he observed in surprised and awestruck tones, 'this is
rather good.'

It seemed to strike him as quite a novel idea. 'Yes, not bad, is it?'

'But it'll get the prize.'

'Oh, we shall have to prevent that somehow.'

He did not mention how, and Lorimer did not ask.

'Well, anyhow,' said Lorimer, 'thanks awfully. I hope you've not fagged
about it too much.'

'Oh no,' said Pringle airily, 'rather not. It's been no trouble at

He thus, it will be noticed, concluded a painful and immoral scene by
speaking perfect truth. A most gratifying reflection.

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