home | authors | books | about

Home -> P.G. Wodehouse -> A Prefect's Uncle -> Chapter 3

A Prefect's Uncle - Chapter 3

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


'But, dash it,' said Gethryn, when he had finished gasping, 'that must
be rot!'

'Not a bit,' said the self-possessed youth. 'Your mater was my elder
sister. You'll find it works out all right. Look here. A, the daughter
of B and C, marries. No, look here. I was born when you were four.

Then the demoralized Bishop remembered. He had heard of his juvenile
uncle, but the tales had made little impression upon him. Till now they
had not crossed one another's tracks.

'Oh, all right,' said he, 'I'll take your word for it. You seem to have
been getting up the subject.'

'Yes. Thought you might want to know about it. I say, how far is it to
Beckford, and how do you get there?'

Up till now Gethryn had scarcely realized that his uncle was actually
coming to the School for good. These words brought the fact home to

'Oh, Lord,' he said, 'are you coming to Beckford?'

The thought of having his footsteps perpetually dogged by an uncle four
years younger than himself, and manifestly a youth with a fine taste in
cheek, was not pleasant.

'Of course,' said his uncle. 'What did you think I was going to do?
Camp out on the platform?'

'What House are you in?'


The worst had happened. The bitter cup was full, the iron neatly
inserted in Gethryn's soul. In his most pessimistic moments he had
never looked forward to the coming term so gloomily as he did now. His
uncle noted his lack of enthusiasm, and attributed it to anxiety on
behalf of himself.

'What's up?' he asked. 'Isn't Leicester's all right? Is Leicester a

'No. He's a perfectly decent sort of man. It's a good enough House. At
least it will be this term. I was only thinking of something.'

'I see. Well, how do you get to the place?'

'Walk. It isn't far.'

'How far?'

'Three miles.'

'The porter said four.'

'It may be four. I never measured it.'

'Well, how the dickens do you think I'm going to walk four miles with
luggage? I wish you wouldn't rot.'

And before Gethryn could quite realize that he, the head of
Leicester's, the second-best bowler in the School, and the best centre
three-quarter the School had had for four seasons, had been requested
in a peremptory manner by a youth of fourteen, a mere kid, not to rot,
the offender was talking to a cabman out of the reach of retaliation.
Gethryn became more convinced every minute that this was no ordinary

'This man says,' observed Farnie, returning to Gethryn, 'that he'll
drive me up to the College for seven bob. As it's a short four miles,
and I've only got two boxes, it seems to me that he's doing himself
fairly well. What do you think?'

'Nobody ever gives more than four bob,' said Gethryn.

'I told you so,' said Farnie to the cabman. 'You are a bally swindler,'
he added admiringly.

'Look 'ere,' began the cabman, in a pained voice.

'Oh, dry up,' said Farnie. 'Want a lift, Gethryn?'

The words were spoken not so much as from equal to equal as in a tone
of airy patronage which made the Bishop's blood boil. But as he
intended to instil a few words of wisdom into his uncle's mind, he did
not refuse the offer.

The cabman, apparently accepting the situation as one of those slings
and arrows of outrageous fortune which no man can hope to escape,
settled down on the box, clicked up his horse, and drove on towards the

'What sort of a hole is Beckford?' asked Farnie, after the silence had
lasted some time.

'I find it good enough personally,' said Gethryn. 'If you'd let us know
earlier that you were coming, we'd have had the place done up a bit for

This, of course, was feeble, distinctly feeble. But the Bishop was not
feeling himself. The essay in sarcasm left the would-be victim entirely
uncrushed. He should have shrunk and withered up, or at the least have
blushed. But he did nothing of the sort. He merely smiled in his
supercilious way, until the Bishop felt very much inclined to spring
upon him and throw him out of the cab.

There was another pause.

'Farnie,' began Gethryn at last.


'Doesn't it strike you that for a kid like you you've got a good deal
of edge on?' asked Gethryn.

Farnie effected a masterly counter-stroke. He pretended not to be able
to hear. He was sorry, but would the Bishop mind repeating his remark.

'Eh? What?' he said. 'Very sorry, but this cab's making such a row. I
say, cabby, why don't you sign the pledge, and save your money up to
buy a new cab? Eh? Oh, sorry! I wasn't listening.' Now, inasmuch as the
whole virtue of the 'wretched-little-kid-like-you' argument lies in the
crisp despatch with which it is delivered, Gethryn began to find, on
repeating his observation for the third time, that there was not quite
so much in it as he had thought. He prudently elected to change his
style of attack.

'It doesn't matter,' he said wearily, as Farnie opened his mouth to
demand a fourth encore, 'it wasn't anything important. Now, look here,
I just want to give you a few tips about what to do when you get to the
Coll. To start with, you'll have to take off that white tie you've got
on. Black and dark blue are the only sorts allowed here.'

'How about yours then?' Gethryn was wearing a somewhat sweet thing in
brown and yellow.

'Mine happens to be a First Eleven tie.'

'Oh! Well, as a matter of fact, you know, I was going to take off my
tie. I always do, especially at night. It's a sort of habit I've got

'Not quite so much of your beastly cheek, please,' said Gethryn.

'Right-ho!' said Farnie cheerfully, and silence, broken only by the
shrieking of the cab wheels, brooded once more over the cab. Then
Gethryn, feeling that perhaps it would be a shame to jump too severely
on a new boy on his first day at a large public school, began to think
of something conciliatory to say. 'Look here,' he said, 'you'll get on
all right at Beckford, I expect. You'll find Leicester's a fairly
decent sort of House. Anyhow, you needn't be afraid you'll get bullied.
There's none of that sort of thing at School nowadays.'


'Yes, and there's another thing I ought to warn you about. Have you
brought much money with you?'

'Bout fourteen pounds, I fancy,' said Farnie carelessly.

'Fourteen _what_!' said the amazed Bishop. '_Pounds!_'

'Or sovereigns,' said Farnie. 'Each worth twenty shillings, you know.'

For a moment Gethryn's only feeling was one of unmixed envy. Previously
he had considered himself passing rich on thirty shillings a term. He
had heard legends, of course, of individuals who come to School
bursting with bullion, but never before had he set eyes upon such an
one. But after a time it began to dawn upon him that for a new boy at a
public school, and especially at such a House as Leicester's had become
under the rule of the late Reynolds and his predecessors, there might
be such a thing as having too much money.

'How the deuce did you get all that?' he asked.

'My pater gave it me. He's absolutely cracked on the subject of
pocket-money. Sometimes he doesn't give me a sou, and sometimes he'll
give me whatever I ask for.'

'But you don't mean to say you had the cheek to ask for fourteen quid?'

'I asked for fifteen. Got it, too. I've spent a pound of it. I said I
wanted to buy a bike. You can get a jolly good bike for five quid
about, so you see I scoop ten pounds. What?'

This ingenious, if slightly unscrupulous, feat gave Gethryn an insight
into his uncle's character which up till now he had lacked. He began to
see that the moral advice with which he had primed himself would be out
of place. Evidently this youth could take quite good care of himself on
his own account. Still, even a budding Professor Moriarty would be none
the worse for being warned against Gethryn's _bete noire_, Monk,
so the Bishop proceeded to deliver that warning.

'Well,' he said, 'you seem to be able to look out for yourself all
right, I must say. But there's one tip I really can give you. When you
get to Leicester's, and a beast with a green complexion and an oily
smile comes up and calls you "Old Cha-a-p", and wants you to swear
eternal friendship, tell him it's not good enough. Squash him!'

'Thanks,' said Farnie. 'Who is this genial merchant?'

'Chap called Monk. You'll recognize him by the smell of scent. When you
find the place smelling like an Eau-de-Cologne factory, you'll know
Monk's somewhere near. Don't you have anything to do with him.'

'You seem to dislike the gentleman.'

'I bar the man. But that isn't why I'm giving you the tip to steer
clear of him. There are dozens of chaps I bar who haven't an ounce of
vice in them. And there are one or two chaps who have got tons. Monk's
one of them. A fellow called Danvers is another. Also a beast of the
name of Waterford. There are some others as well, but those are the
worst of the lot. By the way, I forgot to ask, have you ever been to
school before?'

'Yes,' said Farnie, in the dreamy voice of one who recalls memories
from the misty past, 'I was at Harrow before I came here, and at
Wellington before I went to Harrow, and at Clifton before I went to

Gethryn gasped.

'Anywhere before you went to Clifton?' he enquired.

'Only private schools.'

The recollection of the platitudes which he had been delivering, under
the impression that he was talking to an entirely raw beginner, made
Gethryn feel slightly uncomfortable. What must this wanderer, who had
seen men and cities, have thought of his harangue?

'Why did you leave Harrow?' asked he.

'Sacked,' was the laconic reply.

Have you ever, asks a modern philosopher, gone upstairs in the dark,
and trodden on the last step when it wasn't there? That sensation and
the one Gethryn felt at this unexpected revelation were identical. And
the worst of it was that he felt the keenest desire to know why Harrow
had seen fit to dispense with the presence of his uncle.

'Why?' he began. 'I mean,' he went on hurriedly, 'why did you leave

'Sacked,' said Farnie again, with the monotonous persistence of a
Solomon Eagle.

Gethryn felt at this juncture much as the unfortunate gentleman in
_Punch_ must have felt, when, having finished a humorous story,
the point of which turned upon squinting and red noses, he suddenly
discovered that his host enjoyed both those peculiarities. He struggled
manfully with his feelings for a time. Tact urged him to discontinue
his investigations and talk about the weather. Curiosity insisted upon
knowing further details. Just as the struggle was at its height, Farnie
came unexpectedly to the rescue.

'It may interest you,' he said, 'to know that I was not sacked from

Gethryn with some difficulty refrained from thanking him for the

'I never stop at a school long,' said Farnie. 'If I don't get sacked my
father takes me away after a couple of terms. I went to four private
schools before I started on the public schools. My pater took me away
from the first two because he thought the drains were bad, the third
because they wouldn't teach me shorthand, and the fourth because he
didn't like the headmaster's face. I worked off those schools in a year
and a half.' Having finished this piece of autobiography, he relapsed
into silence, leaving Gethryn to recollect various tales he had heard
of his grandfather's eccentricity. The silence lasted until the College
was reached, when the matron took charge of Farnie, and Gethryn went
off to tell Marriott of these strange happenings.

Marriott was amused, nor did he attempt to conceal the fact. When he
had finished laughing, which was not for some time, he favoured the
Bishop with a very sound piece of advice. 'If I were you,' he said, 'I
should try and hush this affair up. It's all fearfully funny, but I
think you'd enjoy life more if nobody knew this kid was your uncle. To
see the head of the House going about with a juvenile uncle in his wake
might amuse the chaps rather, and you might find it harder to keep
order; I won't let it out, and nobody else knows apparently. Go and
square the kid. Oh, I say though, what's his name? If it's Gethryn,
you're done. Unless you like to swear he's a cousin.'

'No; his name's Farnie, thank goodness.'

'That's all right then. Go and talk to him.'

Gethryn went to the junior study. Farnie was holding forth to a knot of
fags at one end of the room. His audience appeared to be amused at

'I say, Farnie,' said the Bishop, 'half a second.'

Farnie came out, and Gethryn proceeded to inform him that, all things
considered, and proud as he was of the relationship, it was not
absolutely essential that he should tell everybody that he was his
uncle. In fact, it would be rather better on the whole if he did not.
Did he follow?

Farnie begged to observe that he did follow, but that, to his sorrow,
the warning came too late.

'I'm very sorry,' he said, 'I hadn't the least idea you wanted the
thing kept dark. How was I to know? I've just been telling it to some
of the chaps in there. Awfully decent chaps. They seemed to think it
rather funny. Anyhow, I'm not ashamed of the relationship. Not yet, at
any rate.'

For a moment Gethryn seemed about to speak. He looked fixedly at his
uncle as he stood framed in the doorway, a cheerful column of cool,
calm, concentrated cheek. Then, as if realizing that no words that he
knew could do justice to the situation, he raised his foot in silence,
and 'booted' his own flesh and blood with marked emphasis. After which
ceremony he went, still without a word, upstairs again.

As for Farnie, he returned to the junior day-room whistling 'Down
South' in a soft but cheerful key, and solidified his growing
popularity with doles of food from a hamper which he had brought with
him. Finally, on retiring to bed and being pressed by the rest of his
dormitory for a story, he embarked upon the history of a certain
Pollock and an individual referred to throughout as the Porroh Man, the
former of whom caused the latter to be decapitated, and was ever
afterwards haunted by his head, which appeared to him all day and every
day (not excepting Sundays and Bank Holidays) in an upside-down
position and wearing a horrible grin. In the end Pollock very sensibly
committed suicide (with ghastly details), and the dormitory thanked
Farnie in a subdued and chastened manner, and tried, with small
success, to go to sleep. In short, Farnie's first evening at Beckford
had been quite a triumph.

© Art Branch Inc. | English Dictionary