The Gold Bat by P.G. Wodehouse
X. Being a Chapter of Accidents.
On the evening following O'Hara's adventure in the vaults, Barry and M'Todd were in their study, getting out the tea-things. Most Wrykinians brewed in the winter and Easter terms, when the days were short and lock-up early. In the summer term there were other things to do--nets, which lasted till a quarter to seven (when lock-up was), and the baths--and brewing practically ceased. But just now it was at its height, and every evening, at a quarter past five, there might be heard in the houses the sizzling of the succulent sausage and other rare delicacies. As a rule, one or two studies would club together to brew, instead of preparing solitary banquets. This was found both more convivial and more economical. At Seymour's, studies numbers five, six, and seven had always combined from time immemorial, and Barry, on obtaining study six, had carried on the tradition. In study five were Drummond and his friend De Bertini. In study seven, which was a smaller room and only capable of holding one person with any comfort, one James Rupert Leather-Twigg (that was his singular name, as Mr Gilbert has it) had taken up his abode. The name of Leather-Twigg having proved, at an early date in his career, too great a mouthful for Wrykyn, he was known to his friends and acquaintances by the euphonious title of Shoeblossom. The charm about the genial Shoeblossom was that you could never tell what he was going to do next. All that you could rely on with any certainty was that it would be something which would have been better left undone.
It was just five o'clock when Barry and M'Todd started to get things ready. They were not high enough up in the school to have fags, so that they had to do this for themselves.
Barry was still in football clothes. He had been out running and passing with the first fifteen. M'Todd, whose idea of exercise was winding up a watch, had been spending his time since school ceased in the study with a book. He was in his ordinary clothes. It was therefore fortunate that, when he upset the kettle (he nearly always did at some period of the evening's business), the contents spread themselves over Barry, and not over himself. Football clothes will stand any amount of water, whereas M'Todd's "Youth's winter suiting at forty-two shillings and sixpence" might have been injured. Barry, however, did not look upon the episode in this philosophical light. He spoke to him eloquently for a while, and then sent him downstairs to fetch more water. While he was away, Drummond and De Bertini came in.
"Hullo," said Drummond, "tea ready?"
"Not much," replied Barry, bitterly, "not likely to be, either, at this rate. We'd just got the kettle going when that ass M'Todd plunged against the table and upset the lot over my bags. Lucky the beastly stuff wasn't boiling. I'm soaked."
"While we wait--the sausages--Yes?--a good idea--M'Todd, he is downstairs--but to wait? No, no. Let us. Shall we? Is it not so? Yes?" observed Bertie, lucidly.
"Now construe," said Barry, looking at the linguist with a bewildered expression. It was a source of no little inconvenience to his friends that De Bertini was so very fixed in his determination to speak English. He was a trier all the way, was De Bertini. You rarely caught him helping out his remarks with the language of his native land. It was English or nothing with him. To most of his circle it might as well have been Zulu.
Drummond, either through natural genius or because he spent more time with him, was generally able to act as interpreter. Occasionally there would come a linguistic effort by which even he freely confessed himself baffled, and then they would pass on unsatisfied. But, as a rule, he was equal to the emergency. He was so now.
"What Bertie means," he explained, "is that it's no good us waiting for M'Todd to come back. He never could fill a kettle in less than ten minutes, and even then he's certain to spill it coming upstairs and have to go back again. Let's get on with the sausages."
The pan had just been placed on the fire when M'Todd returned with the water. He tripped over the mat as he entered, and spilt about half a pint into one of his football boots, which stood inside the door, but the accident was comparatively trivial, and excited no remark.
"I wonder where that slacker Shoeblossom has got to," said Barry. "He never turns up in time to do any work. He seems to regard himself as a beastly guest. I wish we could finish the sausages before he comes. It would be a sell for him."
"Not much chance of that," said Drummond, who was kneeling before the fire and keeping an excited eye on the spluttering pan, "you see. He'll come just as we've finished cooking them. I believe the man waits outside with his ear to the keyhole. Hullo! Stand by with the plate. They'll be done in half a jiffy."
Just as the last sausage was deposited in safety on the plate, the door opened, and Shoeblossom, looking as if he had not brushed his hair since early childhood, sidled in with an attempt at an easy nonchalance which was rendered quite impossible by the hopeless state of his conscience.
"Ah," he said, "brewing, I see. Can I be of any use?"
"We've finished years ago," said Barry.
"Ages ago," said M'Todd.
A look of intense alarm appeared on Shoeblossom's classical features.
"You've not finished, really?"
"We've finished cooking everything," said Drummond. "We haven't begun tea yet. Now, are you happy?"
Shoeblossom was. So happy that he felt he must do something to celebrate the occasion. He felt like a successful general. There must be something he could do to show that he regarded the situation with approval. He looked round the study. Ha! Happy thought--the frying-pan. That useful culinary instrument was lying in the fender, still bearing its cargo of fat, and beside it--a sight to stir the blood and make the heart beat faster--were the sausages, piled up on their plate.
Shoeblossom stooped. He seized the frying-pan. He gave it one twirl in the air. Then, before any one could stop him, he had turned it upside down over the fire. As has been already remarked, you could never predict exactly what James Rupert Leather-Twigg would be up to next.
When anything goes out of the frying-pan into the fire, it is usually productive of interesting by-products. The maxim applies to fat. The fat was in the fire with a vengeance. A great sheet of flame rushed out and up. Shoeblossom leaped back with a readiness highly creditable in one who was not a professional acrobat. The covering of the mantelpiece caught fire. The flames went roaring up the chimney.
Drummond, cool while everything else was so hot, without a word moved to the mantelpiece to beat out the fire with a football shirt. Bertie was talking rapidly to himself in French. Nobody could understand what he was saying, which was possibly fortunate.
By the time Drummond had extinguished the mantelpiece, Barry had also done good work by knocking the fire into the grate with the poker. M'Todd, who had been standing up till now in the far corner of the room, gaping vaguely at things in general, now came into action. Probably it was force of habit that suggested to him that the time had come to upset the kettle. At any rate, upset it he did--most of it over the glowing, blazing mass in the grate, the rest over Barry. One of the largest and most detestable smells the study had ever had to endure instantly assailed their nostrils. The fire in the study was out now, but in the chimney it still blazed merrily.
"Go up on to the roof and heave water down," said Drummond, the strategist. "You can get out from Milton's dormitory window. And take care not to chuck it down the wrong chimney."
Barry was starting for the door to carry out these excellent instructions, when it flew open.
"Pah! What have you boys been doing? What an abominable smell. Pah!" said a muffled voice. It was Mr Seymour. Most of his face was concealed in a large handkerchief, but by the look of his eyes, which appeared above, he did not seem pleased. He took in the situation at a glance. Fires in the house were not rarities. One facetious sportsman had once made a rule of setting the senior day-room chimney on fire every term. He had since left (by request), but fires still occurred.
"Is the chimney on fire?"
"Yes, sir," said Drummond.
"Go and find Herbert, and tell him to take some water on to the roof and throw it down." Herbert was the boot and knife cleaner at Seymour's.
Barry went. Soon afterwards a splash of water in the grate announced that the intrepid Herbert was hard at it. Another followed, and another. Then there was a pause. Mr Seymour thought he would look up to see if the fire was out. He stooped and peered into the darkness, and, even as he gazed, splash came the contents of the fourth pail, together with some soot with which they had formed a travelling acquaintance on the way down. Mr Seymour staggered back, grimy and dripping. There was dead silence in the study. Shoeblossom's face might have been seen working convulsively.
The silence was broken by a hollow, sepulchral voice with a strong Cockney accent.
"Did yer see any water come down then, sir?" said the voice.
Shoeblossom collapsed into a chair, and began to sob feebly.
* * * * *
"--disgraceful ... scandalous ... get up, Leather-Twigg ... not to be trusted ... babies ... three hundred lines, Leather-Twigg ... abominable ... surprised ... ought to be ashamed of yourselves ... double, Leather-Twigg ... not fit to have studies ... atrocious ...--"
Such were the main heads of Mr Seymour's speech on the situation as he dabbed desperately at the soot on his face with his handkerchief. Shoeblossom stood and gurgled throughout. Not even the thought of six hundred lines could quench that dauntless spirit.
"Finally," perorated Mr Seymour, as he was leaving the room, "as you are evidently not to be trusted with rooms of your own, I forbid you to enter them till further notice. It is disgraceful that such a thing should happen. Do you hear, Barry? And you, Drummond? You are not to enter your studies again till I give you leave. Move your books down to the senior day-room tonight."
And Mr Seymour stalked off to clean himself.
"Anyhow," said Shoeblossom, as his footsteps died away, "we saved the sausages."
It is this indomitable gift of looking on the bright side that makes us Englishmen what we are.