P. G. Wodehouse
The Ripton match was fixed for July the second, on the Ripton ground.
Wrykyn was more anxious than usual to beat Ripton this year. Wrykyn played five schools at football, and four at cricket, and at both games a victory over Ripton would have made up for two defeats in other games.
Every public school which keeps the same fixtures on its card year after year sooner or later comes to regard a particular match as the match to be won. Sometimes this is because the other school has gained a long run of victories, or it may be because neither can get far ahead in its score of wins, but wins and loses every other year.
This was the case with Wrykyn and Ripton.
Last year Ripton had won by eleven runs. In the year before that Wrykyn had pulled it off by two wickets. Three years back the match had ended in a draw. And so on, back to the Flood.
Wrykyn had another reason for wanting to win this year. A victory over Ripton would make the season a record one, for each of the other three schools had been defeated, and also the MCC and Old Wrykinians. Wrykyn had never won both these games and all its school-matches too. Twice it had beaten the schools and the old boys, only to fall before what was very nearly a county team sent down by the MCC. That is the drawback to a successful season. The more matches a school wins the stronger is the team sent against it from Lord's.
This year, however, the match had come on early, before the strength of the school team had got abroad, and Wrykyn, having dismissed the visitors before lunch for ninety-seven, had spent a very pleasant afternoon running up three hundred for six wickets.
It was in this match that
If he were bored by anything he could not resist from showing the fact. He would instantly proceed to amuse himself in some other way. Form-work always bored him, and he was, as a result, the originator of a number of ingenious methods of passing the time.
Fortunately for him, Mr Spence—who was the master of his form as well as
of his house—was the master who looked after the school cricket. So, where
other masters would have set him extra lessons on half-holidays, Mr Spence, not
wishing to deprive the team of its best man, used to give him lines to write.
But, unhappily, the staff was not entirely composed of masters like Mr Spence.
There were others.
And by far the worst of these others was Mr Dexter.
It was not often that
The Ripton match was fixed, as I have stated,
for July 2nd. On the afternoon of June 30th, Henfrey,
of Day's, who was captain of cricket, met
"Oh, I say, Henfrey," remarked
"Don't be more of an ass than you can help," pleaded Henfrey. "Go and get your pads on."
"I'm not rotting. I'm in 'extra'."
If you had told Henfrey that the Bank of England had smashed he would have said: "Oh!"
If you had told him that the country was on the brink of war he would have replied: "Really! After you with the paper." But tell him on the eve of the Ripton match that his best batsman was in extra lesson, and you really did interest him.
"What!" he shouted.
"Who's put you in?"
"Ragging in French."
"Idiot you are to go and rag!"
"What else can you do in French?" asked
"Go on," said Henfrey, with forced calm; "you may as well tell me all about it."
"For some reason or other," he began, "old Gaudinois couldn't turn up today—got brain fag or something."
M. Gaudinois was the master to whom the Upper
"Well?" said Henfrey.
"So I'm hanged if the Old Man didn't go and send Dexter to take the Upper Fifth French. Bit low, don't you know, sending a man like that. You know what Dexter is. He's down on you for every single thing you do. It's like eight hours at the seaside to him if he catches you at anything. I do bar a man like that. I don't mind a man being strict; but Dexter doesn't play the game."
"Well, buck up!" said Henfrey impatiently; "don't be all night. I know all about Dexter. What happened?"
The injured youth resumed, in the injured tone of one who feels that he has been shamefully used.
This was the burden of his story:
From his earliest years he had been in the habit of regarding French lessons as two hours specially set apart in each week for pure amusement. His conduct in the form room was perfect compared with what he did in French.
"And it didn't occur to me somehow," said he, "that one couldn't rag with Dexter as one can with Gaudinois. I always thought it my right, so to speak, to rag. But the other chaps in the form lay low when they saw Dexter, and chucked rotting for the afternoon. That's why he spotted me, I suppose."
This was indeed the case. Their exemplary behaviour
had formed a background for
So far all was well. It was no novelty for him to be sent out of that room. Indeed, he had come to look upon being sent out as the legitimate end to his afternoon's amusement, and, as a rule, he kept a book in his pocket to read in the passage. A humble apology to M. Gaudinois at four o'clock always set him free.
But with Mr Dexter it was different. Apologies were useless. He attempted one, but got by it nothing but a severe snub. It now became clear that the matter was serious.
One of Mr Dexter's peculiarities was that, while he nearly always sent a boy whom he had fallen foul of into extra lesson—which meant spending from two to four o'clock on the next half-holiday doing punishment work in a form room—he never told him of his fate. With a refinement of cruelty, he liked to let him linger on in the hope that his sins had been forgotten until, on the afternoon before the fatal half-holiday, the porter copied the names of the victims out of the extra-lesson book and posted them up outside the school Shop.
Henfrey, having heard the story, waxed bitter and personal on the subject of lunatics who made idiots of themselves in school and lost Ripton matches by being in extra on the day on which they were played.
He was concluding his bright and instructive remarks on
"What's the matter?" enquired he.
O'Hara, as his name may suggest, was an Irish boy. In the matter of
wildness he resembled
Five years' constant guerrilla warfare with Dexter, who regarded his house
as a warder might a gang of convicts, and treated them accordingly, had
rendered him a youth of infinite resource. Henfrey
went away to bat at the nets, leaving
"Dexter always does," said O'Hara. "I know the man. There's no getting away from him if you give him an opening. I suppose you tried apologising?"
"Yes. No good—rot, I call it. Gaudinois always takes an apology."
"Well, I'll try and think of something. There's bound to be some way out of it. I've got out of much tighter places."
After he had had his innings at the nets O'Hara strolled off to the
porter's lodge. He wished to see whether
O'Hara turned the pages till he came to the heading "Saturday, July
2nd." One of the first items was "
"Has Dexter said anything about it yet?" said O'Hara.
"Not a word. But that doesn't mean anything."
"It means a lot. I think I've got it now."
"Good man! What is it?"
"I can't tell you. I wish I could. Ye'd be amused. But the whole point of it is that ye can say, if they ask afterwards, that ye knew nothing about it at all. But anyhow, go with the team to-morrow."
"But, if my name's up for extra?"
"That's all right. Never mind that."
"But, I say, you know" (simply to cut extra lesson was a feat more daring than even he had ever dreamed of), "there'll be a ghastly row."
"I've allowed for that. What you've got to do is to keep clear of Dexter today and go to Ripton tomorrow. I give ye my word 'twill be all right."
"Right!" he said. "I'll go."
"Good!" said O'Hara. "Now, there's one other thing. How much will ye give not to be in extra tomorrow? Oh, it's not for me, ye know, it's necessary expenses. Will ye give me half-a-crown?"
"Half-a-crown! Rather! Like a bird!"
"Hand it over, then."
"You might tell me what it's all about," complained
But O'Hara would not say a word. Tombs were talkative compared with him.
That afternoon the extra-lesson list went up, with
When Wrykyn played away from home two telegrams were always sent to the school, one at the luncheon interval, the other when the match was over. The first of these telegrams read as follows:
"Ripton, one-six-eight for five. Lunch."
A hundred and sixty-eight for five wickets! It was a good start. The Wrykyn team would have to do all they knew, the school felt, when their turn came to bat.
At seven o'clock Mr Dexter, returning to his house for dinner, looked in at the school Shop to buy some fives-balls. Fives was his one relaxation.
As he waited to be served his eyes were attracted by two telegrams fixed to the woodwork over the counter. The first was the one that had been sent at the luncheon interval.
The other was the one that had caused such a sensation in Wrykyn. And it created a considerable sensation in the mind of Mr Dexter. The sensation was a blend of anger, surprise, and incredulity.
This was the telegram:
"Ripton 219. Wrykyn 221 for 2. Trevor 52; Henfrey 20; Jackson 103 not; O'Hara 41 not."
Only that and nothing more!
Mr Dexter, having made sure, by a second perusal, that he was not mistaken, went straight off to the Headmaster.
"But, Mr Dexter," said the Head, "surely you are mistaken.
"I was referring to a younger boy, W. P. Jackson, who is in your house. Was he not the boy you sent into the extra lesson?"
Mr Dexter's face darkened. Like the celebrated M.P., "he smelt a rat; he saw it floating in the air."
"This is a trick," he said. "I will see
He saw Jackson—W. P. Jackson, that is to say; aged fourteen; ordinary fag; no special characteristics.
"What is this I hear,
"You were in extra lesson this afternoon?"
"Who told you to go?"
"Please, sir, I saw my name on the list."
"But you knew you had done nothing to deserve this."
"Please, sir, I thought I might have done."
This was so true—the average fag at Wrykyn did
do a good many things for which he might well have received extra lesson—that
Mr Dexter was baffled for the moment. But he suspected there was more in this
than met the eye, and he was resolved to find out who was the power behind
"Did anybody tell you that you were in 'extra'?" he asked.
"Please, sir, O'Hara."
A gleam of triumph appeared in the master's eye. The aroma of the rat increased. O'Hara and he were ancient enemies.
"Tell O'Hara I wish to see him."
Exit W. P.
"O'Hara, why did you tell
"I saw his name on the list, sir."
"And, may I ask, O'Hara, if it is your custom to inform every boy on these occasions?"
"No, sir," said O'Hara stolidly.
"Then why did you tell
"I happened to meet him in the house, and mentioned it casually— in a joking way," added O'Hara.
"Oh, in a joking way?"
Silence for two minutes.
"You may go, O'Hara," said Dexter finally. "You will hear more of this."
O'Hara made no comment; but Mr Dexter was wrong—he heard no more of the matter. It dawned on the Housemaster by degrees that he had no case. A second conversation with the Head strengthened this view.
"I have been speaking to
"But," added Mr Dexter, "his name was on the list for extra lesson."
"I have examined the list, and I find that you omitted to insert any
And that was the end of the affair.
It was an accident, of course—a very curious—and lucky— accident.
And, of course, it was simply a guilty conscience that induced the younger