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Home -> P.G. Wodehouse -> A Prefect's Uncle -> Chapter 9

A Prefect's Uncle - Chapter 9

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 had started on his ride handicapped by two things. He did not
know his way after the first two miles, and the hedges at the roadside
had just been clipped, leaving the roads covered with small thorns.

It was the former of these circumstances that first made itself
apparent. For two miles the road ran straight, but after that it was
unexplored country. The Bishop, being in both cricket and football
teams, had few opportunities for cycling. He always brought his machine
to School, but he very seldom used it.

At the beginning of the unexplored country, an irresponsible person
recommended him to go straight on. He couldn't miss the road, said he.
It was straight all the way. Gethryn thanked him, rode on, and having
gone a mile came upon three roads, each of which might quite well have
been considered a continuation of the road on which he was already. One
curved gently off to the right, the other two equally gently to the
left. He dismounted and the feelings of gratitude which he had borne
towards his informant for his lucid directions vanished suddenly. He
gazed searchingly at the three roads, but to single out one of them as
straighter than the other two was a task that baffled him completely. A
sign-post informed him of three things. By following road one he might
get to Brindleham, and ultimately, if he persevered, to Corden. Road
number two would lead him to Old Inns, whatever they might be, with the
further inducement of Little Benbury, while if he cast in his lot with
road three he might hope sooner or later to arrive at Much
Middlefold-on-the-Hill, and Lesser Middlefold-in-the-Vale. But on the
subject of Anfield and Anfield Junction the board was silent.

Two courses lay open to him. Should he select a route at random, or
wait for somebody to come and direct him? He waited. He went on
waiting. He waited a considerable time, and at last, just as he was
about to trust to luck, and make for Much Middlefold-on-the-Hill, a
figure loomed in sight, a slow-moving man, who strolled down the Old
Inns road at a pace which seemed to argue that he had plenty of time on
his hands.

'I say, can you tell me the way to Anfield, please?' said the Bishop as
he came up.

The man stopped, apparently rooted to the spot. He surveyed the Bishop
with a glassy but determined stare from head to foot. Then he looked
earnestly at the bicycle, and finally, in perfect silence, began to
inspect the Bishop again.

'Eh?' he said at length.

'Can you tell me the way to Anfield?'


'Yes. How do I get there?'

The man perpended, and when he replied did so after the style of the
late and great Ollendorf.

'Old Inns,' he said dreamily, waving a hand down the road by which he
had come, 'be over there.'

'Yes, yes, I know,' said Gethryn.

'Was born at Old Inns, I was,' continued the man, warming to his
subject. 'Lived there fifty-five years, I have. Yeou go straight down
the road an' yeou cam t' Old Inns. Yes, that be the way t' Old Inns.'

Gethryn nobly refrained from rending the speaker limb from limb.

'I don't want to know the way to Old Inns,' he said desperately. 'Where
I want to get is Anfield. Anfield, you know. Which way do I go?'

'Anfield?' said the man. Then a brilliant flash of intelligence
illumined his countenance. 'Whoy, Anfield be same road as Old Inns.
Yeou go straight down the road, an'--'

'Thanks very much,' said Gethryn, and without waiting for further
revelations shot off in the direction indicated. A quarter of a mile
farther he looked over his shoulder. The man was still there, gazing
after him in a kind of trance.

The Bishop passed through Old Inns with some way on his machine. He had
much lost time to make up. A signpost bearing the legend 'Anfield four
miles' told him that he was nearing his destination. The notice had
changed to three miles and again to two, when suddenly he felt that
jarring sensation which every cyclist knows. His back tyre was
punctured. It was impossible to ride on. He got off and walked. He was
still in his cricket clothes, and the fact that he had on spiked boots
did not make walking any the easier. His progress was not rapid.

Half an hour before his one wish had been to catch sight of a
fellow-being. Now, when he would have preferred to have avoided his
species, men seemed to spring up from nowhere, and every man of them
had a remark to make or a question to ask about the punctured tyre.
Reserve is not the leading characteristic of the average yokel.

Gethryn, however, refused to be drawn into conversation on the subject.
At last one, more determined than the rest, brought him to bay.

'Hoy, mister, stop,' called a voice. Gethryn turned. A man was running
up the road towards him.

He arrived panting.

'What's up?' said the Bishop.

'You've got a puncture,' said the man, pointing an accusing finger at
the flattened tyre.

It was not worth while killing the brute. Probably he was acting from
the best motives.

'No,' said Gethryn wearily, 'it isn't a puncture. I always let the air
out when I'm riding. It looks so much better, don't you think so? Why
did they let you out? Good-bye.'

And feeling a little more comfortable after this outburst, he wheeled
his bicycle on into Anfield High Street.

Minds in the village of Anfield worked with extraordinary rapidity. The
first person of whom he asked the way to the Junction answered the
riddle almost without thinking. He left his machine out in the road and
went on to the platform. The first thing that caught his eye was the
station clock with its hands pointing to five past four. And when he
realized that, his uncle's train having left a clear half hour before,
his labours had all been for nothing, the full bitterness of life came
home to him.

He was turning away from the station when he stopped. Something else
had caught his eye. On a bench at the extreme end of the platform sat a
youth. And a further scrutiny convinced the Bishop of the fact that the
youth was none other than Master Reginald Farnie, late of Beckford, and
shortly, or he would know the reason why, to be once more of Beckford.
Other people besides himself, it appeared, could miss trains.

Farnie was reading one of those halfpenny weeklies which--with a nerve
which is the only creditable thing about them--call themselves comic.
He did not see the Bishop until a shadow falling across his paper
caused him to look up.

It was not often that he found himself unequal to a situation. Monk in
a recent conversation had taken him aback somewhat, but his feelings on
that occasion were not to be compared with what he felt on seeing the
one person whom he least desired to meet standing at his side. His jaw
dropped limply, _Comic Blitherings_ fluttered to the ground.

The Bishop was the first to speak. Indeed, if he had waited for Farnie
to break the silence, he would have waited long.

'Get up,' he said. Farnie got up.

'Come on.' Farnie came.

'Go and get your machine,' said Gethryn. 'Hurry up. And now you will
jolly well come back to Beckford, you little beast.'

But before that could be done there was Gethryn's back wheel to be
mended. This took time. It was nearly half past four before they

'Oh,' said Gethryn, as they were about to mount, 'there's that money. I
was forgetting. Out with it.'

Ten pounds had been the sum Farnie had taken from the study. Six was
all he was able to restore. Gethryn enquired after the deficit.

'I gave it to Monk,' said Farnie.

To Gethryn, in his present frame of mind, the mere mention of Monk was
sufficient to uncork the vials of his wrath.

'What the blazes did you do that for? What's Monk got to do with it?'

'He said he'd get me sacked if I didn't pay him,' whined Farnie.

This was not strictly true. Monk had not said. He had hinted. And he
had hinted at flogging, not expulsion.

'Why?' pursued the Bishop. 'What had you and Monk been up to?'

Farnie, using his out-of-bounds adventures as a foundation, worked up a
highly artistic narrative of doings, which, if they had actually been
performed, would certainly have entailed expulsion. He had judged
Gethryn's character correctly. If the matter had been simply a case for
a flogging, the Bishop would have stood aside and let the thing go on.
Against the extreme penalty of School law he felt bound as a matter of
family duty to shield his relative. And he saw a bad time coming for
himself in the very near future. Either he must expose Farnie, which he
had resolved not to do, or he must refuse to explain his absence from
the M.C.C. match, for by now there was not the smallest chance of his
being able to get back in time for the visitors' innings. As he rode on
he tried to imagine what would happen in consequence of that desertion,
and he could not do it. His crime was, so far as he knew, absolutely
without precedent in the School history.

As they passed the cricket field he saw that it was empty. Stumps were
usually drawn early in the M.C.C. match if the issue of the game was
out of doubt, as the Marylebone men had trains to catch. Evidently this
had happened today. It might mean that the School had won easily--they
had looked like making a big score when he had left the ground--in
which case public opinion would be more lenient towards him. After a
victory a school feels that all's well that ends well. But it might, on
the other hand, mean quite the reverse.

He put his machine up, and hurried to the study. Several boys, as he
passed them, looked curiously at him, but none spoke to him.

Marriott was in the study, reading a book. He was still in flannels,
and looked as if he had begun to change but had thought better of it.
As was actually the case.

'Hullo,' he cried, as Gethryn appeared. 'Where the dickens have you
been all the afternoon? What on earth did you go off like that for?'

'I'm sorry, old chap,' said the Bishop, 'I can't tell you. I shan't be
able to tell anyone.'

'But, man! Try and realize what you've done. Do you grasp the fact that
you've gone and got the School licked in the M.C.C. match, and that we
haven't beaten the M.C.C. for about a dozen years, and that if you'd
been there to bowl we should have walked over this time? Do try and
grasp the thing.'

'Did they win?'

'Rather. By a wicket. Two wickets, I mean. We made 213. Your bowling
would just have done it.'

Gethryn sat down.

'Oh Lord,' he said blankly, 'this is awful!'

'But, look here, Bishop,' continued Marriott, 'this is all rot. You
can't do a thing like this, and then refuse to offer any explanation,
and expect things to go on just as usual.'

'I don't,' said Gethryn. 'I know there's going to be a row, but I can't
explain. You'll have to take me on trust.'

'Oh, as far as I am concerned, it's all right,' said Marriott. 'I know
you wouldn't be ass enough to do a thing like that without a jolly good
reason. It's the other chaps I'm thinking about. You'll find it jolly
hard to put Norris off, I'm afraid. He's most awfully sick about the
match. He fielded badly, which always makes him shirty. Jephson, too.
You'll have a bad time with Jephson. His one wish after the match was
to have your gore and plenty of it. Nothing else would have pleased him
a bit. And think of the chaps in the House, too. Just consider what a
pull this gives Monk and his mob over you. The House'll want some
looking after now, I fancy.'

'And they'll get it,' said Gethryn. 'If Monk gives me any of his
beastly cheek, I'll knock his head off.'

But in spite of the consolation which such a prospect afforded him, he
did not look forward with pleasure to the next day, when he would have
to meet Norris and the rest. It would have been bad in any case. He did
not care to think what would happen when he refused to offer the
slightest explanation.

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