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Home -> P.G. Wodehouse -> A Prefect's Uncle -> Chapter 15

A Prefect's Uncle - Chapter 15

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


From the fact that he had left his team so basely in the lurch on the
day of an important match, a casual observer might have imagined that
Norris did not really care very much whether his House won the cup or
not. But this was not the case. In reality the success of Jephson's was
a very important matter to him. A sudden whim had induced him to accept
his uncle's invitation, but now that that acceptance had had such
disastrous results, he felt inclined to hire a sturdy menial by the
hour to kick him till he felt better. To a person in such a frame of
mind there are three methods of consolation. He can commit suicide, he
can take to drink, or he can occupy his mind with other matters, and
cure himself by fixing his attention steadily on some object, and
devoting his whole energies to the acquisition of the same.

Norris chose the last method. On the Saturday week following his
performance for Little Bindlebury, the Beckford Eleven was due to
journey to Charchester, to play the return match against that school on
their opponents' ground, and Norris resolved that that match should be
won. For the next week the team practised assiduously, those members of
it who were not playing in House matches spending every afternoon at
the nets. The treatment was not without its effect. The team had been a
good one before. Now every one of the eleven seemed to be at the very
summit of his powers. New and hitherto unsuspected strokes began to be
developed, leg glances which recalled the Hove and Ranjitsinhji, late
cuts of Palairetical brilliance. In short, all Nature may be said to
have smiled, and by the end of the week Norris was beginning to be
almost cheerful once more. And then, on the Monday before the match,
Samuel Wilberforce Gosling came to school with his right arm in a
sling. Norris met him at the School gates, rubbed his eyes to see
whether it was not after all some horrid optical illusion, and finally,
when the stern truth came home to him, almost swooned with anguish.

'What? How? Why?' he enquired lucidly.

The injured Samuel smiled feebly.

'I'm fearfully sorry, Norris,' he said.

'Don't say you can't play on Saturday,' moaned Norris.

'Frightfully sorry. I know it's a bit of a sickener. But I don't see
how I can, really. The doctor says I shan't be able to play for a
couple of weeks.'

Now that the blow had definitely fallen, Norris was sufficiently
himself again to be able to enquire into the matter.

'How on earth did you do it? How did it happen?'

Gosling looked guiltier than ever.

'It was on Saturday evening,' he said. 'We were ragging about at home a
bit, you know, and my young sister wanted me to send her down a few
balls. Somebody had given her a composition bean and a bat, and she's
been awfully keen on the game ever since she got them.'

'I think it's simply sickening the way girls want to do everything we
do,' said Norris disgustedly.

Gosling spoke for the defence.

'Well, she's only thirteen. You can't blame the kid. Seemed to me a
jolly healthy symptom. Laudable ambition and that sort of thing.'


'Well, I sent down one or two. She played 'em like a book. Bit inclined
to pull. All girls are. So I put in a long hop on the off, and she let
go at it like Jessop. She's got a rattling stroke in mid-on's
direction. Well, the bean came whizzing back rather wide on the right.
I doubled across to bring off a beefy c-and-b, and the bally thing took
me right on the tips of the fingers. Those composition balls hurt like
blazes, I can tell you. Smashed my second finger simply into hash, and
I couldn't grip a ball now to save my life. Much less bowl. I'm awfully
sorry. It's a shocking nuisance.'

Norris agreed with him. It was more than a nuisance. It was a
staggerer. Now that Gethryn no longer figured for the First Eleven,
Gosling was the School's one hope. Baynes was good on his wicket, but
the wickets he liked were the sea-of-mud variety, and this summer fine
weather had set in early and continued. Lorimer was also useful, but
not to be mentioned in the same breath as the great Samuel. The former
was good, the latter would be good in a year or so. His proper sphere
of action was the tail. If the first pair of bowlers could dismiss five
good batsmen, Lorimer's fast, straight deliveries usually accounted for
the rest. But there had to be somebody to pave the way for him. He was
essentially a change bowler. It is hardly to be wondered at that Norris
very soon began to think wistfully of the Bishop, who was just now
doing such great things with the ball, wasting his sweetness on the
desert air of the House matches. Would it be consistent with his
dignity to invite him back into the team? It was a nice point. With
some persons there might be a risk. But Gethryn, as he knew perfectly
well, was not the sort of fellow to rub in the undeniable fact that the
School team could not get along without him. He had half decided to ask
him to play against Charchester, when Gosling suggested the very same

'Why don't you have Gethryn in again?' he said. 'You've stood him out
against the O.B.s and the Masters. Surely that's enough. Especially as
he's miles the best bowler in the School.'

'Bar yourself.'

'Not a bit. He can give me points. You take my tip and put him in

'Think he'd play if I put him down? Because, you know, I'm dashed if
I'm going to do any grovelling and that sort of thing.'

'Certain to, I should think. Anyhow, it's worth trying.'

Pringle, on being consulted, gave the same opinion, and Norris was
convinced. The list went up that afternoon, and for the first time
since the M.C.C. match Gethryn's name appeared in its usual place.

'Norris is learning wisdom in his old age,' said Marriott to the
Bishop, as they walked over to the House that evening.

Leicester's were in the middle of their semi-final, and looked like
winning it.

'I was just wondering what to do about it,' said Gethryn. 'What would
you do? Play, do you think?'

'Play! My dear man, what else did you propose to do? You weren't
thinking of refusing?'

'I was.'

'But, man! That's rank treason. If you're put down to play for the
School you must play. There's no question about it. If Norris knocked
you down with one hand and put you up on the board with the other,
you'd have to play all the same. You mustn't have any feelings where
the School is concerned. Nobody's ever refused to play in a first
match. It's one of the things you can't do. Norris hasn't given you
much of a time lately, I admit. Still, you must lump that. Excuse
sermon. I hope it's done you good.'

'Very well. I'll play. It's rather rot, though.'

'No, it's all right, really. It's only that you've got into a groove.
You're so used to doing the heavy martyr, that the sudden change has
knocked you out rather. Come and have an ice before the shop shuts.'

So Gethryn came once more into the team, and travelled down to
Charchester with the others. And at this point a painful alternative
faces me. I have to choose between truth and inclination. I should like
to say that the Bishop eclipsed himself, and broke all previous records
in the Charchester match. By the rules of the dramatic, nothing else is
possible. But truth, though it crush me, and truth compels me to admit
that his performance was in reality distinctly mediocre. One of his
weak points as a bowler was that he was at sea when opposed to a
left-hander. Many bowlers have this failing. Some strange power seems
to compel them to bowl solely on the leg side, and nothing but long
hops and full pitches. It was so in the case of Gethryn. Charchester
won the toss, and batted first on a perfect wicket. The first pair of
batsmen were the captain, a great bat, who had scored seventy-three not
out against Beckford in the previous match, and a left-handed fiend.
Baynes's leg-breaks were useless on a wicket which, from the hardness
of it, might have been constructed of asphalt, and the rubbish the
Bishop rolled up to the left-handed artiste was painful to witness. At
four o'clock--the match had started at half-past eleven--the
Charchester captain reached his century, and was almost immediately
stumped off Baynes. The Bishop bowled the next man first ball, the one
bright spot in his afternoon's performance. Then came another long
stand, against which the Beckford bowling raged in vain. At five
o'clock, Charchester by that time having made two hundred and forty-one
for two wickets, the left-hander ran into three figures, and the
captain promptly declared the innings closed. Beckford's only chance
was to play for a draw, and in this they succeeded. When stumps were
drawn at a quarter to seven, the score was a hundred and three, and
five wickets were down. The Bishop had the satisfaction of being not
out with twenty-eight to his credit, but nothing less than a century
would have been sufficient to soothe him after his shocking bowling
performance. Pringle, who during the luncheon interval had encountered
his young friends the Ashbys, and had been duly taunted by them on the
subject of leather-hunting, was top scorer with forty-one. Norris, I
regret to say, only made three, running himself out in his second over.
As the misfortune could not, by any stretch of imagination, be laid at
anybody else's door but his own, he was decidedly savage. The team
returned to Beckford rather footsore, very disgusted, and abnormally
silent. Norris sulked by himself at one end of the saloon carriage, and
the Bishop sulked by himself at the other end, and even Marriott
forbore to treat the situation lightly. It was a mournful home-coming.
No cheering wildly as the brake drove to the College from Horton, no
shouting of the School song in various keys as they passed through the
big gates. Simply silence. And except when putting him on to bowl, or
taking him off, or moving him in the field, Norris had not spoken a
word to the Bishop the whole afternoon.

It was shortly after this disaster that Mr Mortimer Wells came to stay
with the Headmaster. Mr Mortimer Wells was a brilliant and superior
young man, who was at some pains to be a cynic. He was an old pupil of
the Head's in the days before he had succeeded to the rule of Beckford.
He had the reputation of being a 'ripe' scholar, and to him had been
deputed the task of judging the poetical outbursts of the bards of the
Upper Fifth, with the object of awarding to the most deserving--or,
perhaps, to the least undeserving--the handsome prize bequeathed by his
open-handed highness, the Rajah of Seltzerpore.

This gentleman sat with his legs stretched beneath the Headmaster's
generous table. Dinner had come to an end, and a cup of coffee, acting
in co-operation with several glasses of port and an excellent cigar,
had inspired him to hold forth on the subject of poetry prizes. He held

'The poetry prize system,' said he--it is astonishing what nonsense a
man, ordinarily intelligent, will talk after dinner--'is on exactly the
same principle as those penny-in-the-slot machines that you see at
stations. You insert your penny. You set your prize subject. In the
former case you hope for wax vestas, and you get butterscotch. In the
latter, you hope for something at least readable, and you get the most
complete, terrible, uninspired twaddle that was ever written on paper.
The boy mind'--here the ash of his cigar fell off on to his
waistcoat--'the merely boy mind is incapable of poetry.'

From which speech the shrewd reader will infer that Mr Mortimer Wells
was something of a prig. And perhaps, altogether shrewd reader, you're

Mr Lawrie, the master of the Sixth, who had been asked to dinner to
meet the great man, disagreed as a matter of principle. He was one of
those men who will take up a cause from pure love of argument.

'I think you're wrong, sir. I'm perfectly convinced you're wrong.'

Mr Wells smiled in his superior way, as if to say that it was a pity
that Mr Lawrie was so foolish, but that perhaps he could not help it.

'Ah,' he said, 'but you have not had to wade through over thirty of
these gems in a single week. I have. I can assure you your views would
undergo a change if you could go through what I have. Let me read you a
selection. If that does not convert you, nothing will. If you will
excuse me for a moment, Beckett, I will leave the groaning board, and
fetch the manuscripts.'

He left the room, and returned with a pile of paper, which he deposited
in front of him on the table.

'Now,' he said, selecting the topmost manuscript, 'I will take no
unfair advantage. I will read you the very pick of the bunch. None of
the other--er--poems come within a long way of this. It is a case of
Eclipse first and the rest nowhere. The author, the gifted author, is a
boy of the name of Lorimer, whom I congratulate on taking the Rajah's
prize. I drain this cup of coffee to him. Are you ready? Now, then.'

He cleared his throat.

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