The Guardian by
P. G. Wodehouse
In his Sunday suit (with ten shillings in specie in the right-hand
trouser pocket) and a brand-new bowler hat, the youngest of the
Shearnes, Thomas Beauchamp Algernon, was being launched by the
combined strength of the family on his public-school career. It was a
solemn moment. The landscape was dotted with relatives — here a small
sister, awed by the occasion into refraining from insult; there an
aunt, vaguely admonitory. "Well, Tom," said Mr Shearne, "you'll soon
be off now. You're sure to like Eckleton. Remember to cultivate your
bowling. Everyone can bat nowadays. And play forward, not outside. The
outsides get most of the fun, certainly, but then if you're a forward,
you've got eight chances of getting into a team."
"All right, father."
"Oh, and work hard." This by way of an afterthought.
"All right, father."
"And, Tom," said Mrs Shearne, "you are sure to be comfortable at
school, because I asked Mrs Davy to write to her sister, Mrs Spencer,
who has a son at Eckleton, and tell her to tell him to look after you
when you get there. He is in Mr Dencroft's house, which is next door
to Mr Blackburn's, so you will be quite close to one another. Mind you
write directly you get there."
"All right, mother."
"And look here, Tom." His eldest brother stepped to the front and
spoke earnestly. "Look here, don't you forget what I've been telling
"You'll be right enough if you don't go sticking on side. Don't
forget that, however much of a blood you may have been at that rotten
little private school of yours, you're not one at Eckleton."
"You look clean, which is a great thing. There's nothing much wrong
with you except cheek. You've got enough of that to float a ship. Keep
"All right. Keep your hair on."
"There you go," said the expert, with gloomy triumph. "If you say
that sort of thing at Eckleton, you'll get jolly well sat on, by
"Bai Jove, old chap!" murmured the younger brother, "we're devils
in the Forty-twoth!"
The other, whose chief sorrow in life was that he could not get the
smaller members of the family to look with proper awe on the fact that
he had just passed into Sandhurst, gazed wistfully at the speaker, but
realising that there was a locked door between them, tried no active
"Well, anyhow," he said, "you'll soon get it knocked out of you,
that's one comfort. Look here, if you do get scrapping with anybody,
don't forget all I've taught you. And I should go on boxing there if I
were you, so as to go down to Aldershot some day. You ought to make a
fairly decent featherweight if you practise."
"Let us know when Eckleton's playing Haileybury, and I'll come and
look you up. I want to see that match."
"Goodbye, Tom, dear."
Chorus of aunts and other supers: "Goodbye, Tom."
Tom (comprehensively): "G'bye."
The train left the station.
* * * * *
Kennedy, the head of Dencroft's, said that when he wanted his study
turned into a beastly furnace, he would take care to let Spencer know.
He pointed out that just because it was his habit to warm the study
during the winter months, there was no reason why Spencer should light
the gas-stove on an afternoon in the summer term when the thermometer
was in the eighties. Spencer thought he might want some muffins cooked
for tea, did he? Kennedy earnestly advised Spencer to give up
thinking, as Nature had not equipped him for the strain. Thinking
necessitated mental effort, and Spencer, in Kennedy's opinion, had no
mind, but rubbed along on a cheap substitute of mud and putty.
More chatty remarks were exchanged, and then Spencer tore himself
away from the pleasant interview, and went downstairs to the junior
study, where he remarked to his friend Phipps that Life was getting a
"What's up now?" enquired Phipps.
"Everything. We've just had a week of term, and I've been in extra
once already for doing practically nothing, and I've got a hundred
lines, and Kennedy's been slanging me for lighting the stove. How was
I to know he didn't want it lit? Wish I was fagging for somebody
"All the while you're jawing," said Phipps, "there's a letter for
you on the mantelpiece, staring at you."
"So there is. Hullo!"
"What's up? Hullo! is that a postal order? How much for?"
"Five bob. I say, who's Shearne?"
"New kid in Blackburn's. Why?"
"Great Scott! I remember now. They told me to look after him. I
haven't seen him yet. And listen to this: 'Mrs Shearne has sent me
the enclosed to give to you. Her son writes to say that he is very
happy and getting on very well, so she is sure you must have been
looking after him.' Why, I don't know the kid by sight. I clean forgot
all about him."
"Well, you'd better go and see him now, just to say you've done
"Beastly nuisance having a new kid hanging on to you. He's probably
a frightful rotter."
"Well, anyway, you ought to," said Phipps, who possessed the
scenario of a conscience.
"All right, don't then. But you ought to send back that postal
"Look here, Phipps," said Spencer plaintively, "you needn't be an
idiot, you know."
And the trivial matter of Thomas B. A. Shearne was shelved.
* * * * *
Thomas, as he had stated in his letter to his mother, was
exceedingly happy at Eckleton, and getting on very nicely indeed. It
is true that there had been one or two small unpleasantnesses at
first, but those were over now, and he had settled down completely.
The little troubles alluded to above had begun on his second day at
Blackburn's. Thomas, as the reader may have gathered from his glimpse
of him at the station, was not a diffident youth. He was quite
prepared for anything Fate might have up its sleeve for him, and he
entered the junior day-room at Blackburn's ready for emergencies. On
the first day nothing happened. One or two people asked him his name,
but none enquired what his father was — a question which, he had
understood from books of school life, was invariably put to the new
boy. He was thus prevented from replying "coolly, with his eyes fixed
on his questioners": "A gentleman. What's yours?" and this of course,
had been a disappointment. But he reconciled himself to it, and on the
whole enjoyed his first day at Eckleton.
On the second there occurred an Episode.
Thomas had inherited from his mother a pleasant, rather meek cast
of countenance. He had pink cheeks and golden hair — almost
indecently golden in one who was not a choirboy.
Now, if you are going to look like a Ministering Child or a Little
Willie, the Sunbeam of the Home, when you go to a public school, you
must take the consequences. As Thomas sat by the window of the junior
day-room reading a magazine, and deeply interested in it, there fell
upon his face such a rapt, angelic expression that the sight of it,
silhouetted against the window, roused Master P. Burge, his
fellow-Blackburnite, as it had been a trumpet-blast. To seize a
Bradley Arnold's Latin Prose Exercises and hurl it across the room was
with Master Burge the work of a moment. It struck Thomas on the ear.
He jumped, and turned some shades pinker Then he put down his
magazine, picked up the Bradley Arnold, and sat on it. After which he
resumed the magazine.
The acute interest of the junior day-room, always fond of a break
in the monotony of things, induced Burge to go further into the
"You with the face!" said Burge rudely.
Thomas looked up.
"What the dickens are you doing with my book? Pass it back!"
"Oh, is this yours?" said Thomas. "Here you are."
He walked towards him, carrying the book. At two yards range he
fired it in. It hit Burge with some force in the waistcoat, and there
was a pause while he collected his wind.
Then the thing may be said to have begun.
Yes, said Burge, interrogated on the point five minutes later; he
had had enough.
"Good," said Thomas pleasantly. "Want a handkerchief?" That evening
he wrote to his mother and, thanking her for kind enquiries, stated
that he was not being bullied. He added, also in answer to enquiries,
that he had not been tossed in a blanket, and that — so far — no
Hulking Senior (with scowl) had let him down from the dormitory window
after midnight by a sheet, in order that he might procure gin from the
local public-house. As far as he could gather, the seniors were mostly
teetotallers. Yes, he had seen Spencer several times. He did not add
that he had seen him from a distance.
* * * * *
"I'm so glad I asked Mrs Davy to get her nephew to look after Tom,"
said Mrs Shearne, concluding the reading of the epistle at breakfast.
"It makes such a difference to a new boy having somebody to protect
him at first."
"Only drawback is," said his eldest brother gloomily— "won't get
cheek knocked out of him. Tom's kid wh'ought get 'sheadsmacked reg'ly.
Be no holding him."
And he helped himself to marmalade, of which delicacy his mouth was
full, with a sort of magnificent despondency.
By the end of the first fortnight of his school career, Thomas
Beauchamp Algernon had overcome all the little ruggednesses which
relieve the path of the new boy from monotony. He had been taken in by
a primeval "sell" which the junior day-room invariably sprang on the
new-comer. But as he had sat on the head of the engineer of the same
for the space of ten minutes, despite the latter's complaints of pain
and forecasts of what he would do when he got up, the laugh had not
been completely against him. He had received the honourable
distinction of extra lesson for ragging in French. He had been
"touched up" by the prefect of his dormitory for creating a
disturbance in the small hours. In fact, he had gone through all the
usual preliminaries, and become a full-blown Eckletonian.
His letters home were so cheerful at this point that a second
postal order relieved the dwindling fortune of Spencer. And it was
this, coupled with the remonstrances of Phipps, that induced the
Dencroftian to break through his icy reserve,
"Look here, Spencer," said Phipps, his conscience thoroughly
stirred by this second windfall, "it's all rot. You must either send
back that postal order, or go and see the chap. Besides, he's quite a
decent kid. We're in the same game at cricket. He's rather a good
bowler. I'm getting to know him quite well. I've got a jolly sight
more right to those postal orders than you have."
"But he's an awful ass to look at," pleaded Spencer.
"What's wrong with him? Doesn't look nearly such a goat as you,"
said Phipps, with the refreshing directness of youth.
"He's got yellow hair," argued Spencer.
"Why shouldn't he have?"
"He looks like a sort of young Sunday-school kid."
"Well, he jolly well isn't, then, because I happen to know that
he's had scraps with some of the fellows in his house, and simply
"Well, all right, then," said Spencer reluctantly.
The historic meeting took place outside the school Shop at the
quarter to eleven interval next morning. Thomas was leaning against
the wall, eating a bun. Spencer approached him with half a jam
sandwich in his hand. There was an awkward pause.
"Hullo!" said Spencer at last.
"Hullo!" said Thomas.
Spencer finished his sandwich and brushed the crumbs off his
trousers. Thomas continued operations on the bun with the concentrated
expression of a lunching python.
"I believe your people know my people," said Spencer.
"We have some awfully swell friends," said Thomas. Spencer chewed
this thoughtfully awhile.
"Beastly cheek," he said at last.
"Sorry," said Thomas, not looking it.
Spencer produced a bag of gelatines.
"Have one?" he asked.
"What's wrong with 'em?"
"All right, don't."
He selected a gelatine and consumed it.
"Ever had your head smacked?" he enquired courteously.
A slightly strained look came into Thomas's blue eyes.
"Not often," he replied politely. "Why?"
"Oh, I don't know," said Spencer. "I was only wondering."
"Look here," said Spencer, "my mater told me to look after you."
"Well, you can look after me now if you want to, because I'm
And Thomas dissolved the meeting by walking off in the direction of
[Image] the junior block. e
"That kid," said Spencer to his immortal soul, "wants his head
At lunch Phipps had questions to ask.
[Image] "Saw you talking to Shearne in the interval," he said.
"What were you g9g9g9g Text Size: 9[Image] talking about?"
"Oh, nothing in particular."
"What did you think of him?"
"Ask him to tea this afternoon?"
"You must. Dash it all, you must do something for him. You've had
ten bob out of his people."
Spencer made no reply.
Going to the school Shop that afternoon, he found Thomas seated
there with Phipps, behind a pot of tea. As a rule, he and Phipps tea'd
together, and he resented this desertion.
"Come on," said Phipps. "We were waiting for you."
"Pining away," added Thomas unnecessarily.
Spencer frowned austerely.
"Come and look after me," urged Thomas.
Spencer sat down in silence. For a minute no sound could be heard
but the champing of Thomas's jaws as he dealt with a slab of
"Buck up," said Phipps uneasily.
"Give me," said Thomas, "just one loving look."
Spencer ignored the request. The silence became tense once more.
"Coming to the house net, Phipps?" asked Spencer.
"We were going to the baths. Why don't you come?"
"All right," said Spencer.
Doctors tell us that we should allow one hour to elapse between
taking food and bathing, but the rule was not rigidly adhered to at
Eckleton. The three proceeded straight from the tea-table to the
The place was rather empty when they arrived. It was a little
earlier than the majority of Eckletonians bathed. The bath filled up
as lock-up drew near. With the exception of a couple of infants
splashing about in the shallow end, and a stout youth who dived in
from the spring-board, scrambled out, and dived in again, each time
flatter than the last, they had the place to themselves.
"What's it like, Gorrick?" enquired Phipps of the stout youth, who
had just appeared above the surface again, blowing like a whale. The
question was rendered necessary by the fact that many years before the
boiler at the Eckleton baths had burst, and had never been repaired,
with the consequence that the temperature of the water was apt to
vary. That is to say, most days it was colder than others.
"Simply boiling," said the man of weight, climbing out. "I say, did
I go in all right then?"
"Not bad," said Phipps.
"Bit flat," added Thomas critically.
Gorrick blinked severely at the speaker. A head-waiter at a
fashionable restaurant is cordial in his manner compared with a boy
who has been at a public school a year, when addressed familiarly by a
new boy. After reflecting on the outrage for a moment, he dived in
"Worse than ever," said Truthful Thomas.
"Look here!" said Gorrick.
"Oh, come on!" exclaimed Phipps, and led Thomas away.
"That kid," said Gorrick to Spencer, "wants his head smacked,
"That's just what I say," agreed Spencer, with the eagerness of a
great mind which has found another that thinks alike with itself.
Spencer was the first of the trio ready to enter the water. His
movements were wary and deliberate. There was nothing of the
professional diver about Spencer. First he stood on the edge and
rubbed his arms, regarding the green water beneath with suspicion and
dislike. Then, crouching down, he inserted three toes of his left
foot, drew them back sharply, and said "Oo!" Then he stood up again.
His next move was to slap his chest and dance a few steps, after which
he put his right foot into the water, again remarked "Oo!" and resumed
"Thought you said it was warm," he shouted to Gorrick.
"So it is; hot as anything. Come on in."
And Spencer came on in. Not because he wanted to — for by rights,
there were some twelve more movements to be gone through before he
should finally creep in at the shallow end — but because a cold hand,
placed suddenly on the small of his back, urged him forward. Down he
went, with the water fizzing and bubbling all over and all round him.
He swallowed a good deal of it, but there was still plenty left; and
what there was was colder than one would have believed possible.
He came to the surface after what seemed to him a quarter of an
hour, and struck out for the side. When he got out, Phipps and Thomas
had just got in. Gorrick was standing at the end of the coconut
matting which formed a pathway to the spring-board. Gorrick was blue,
"I say! Did I go in all right then?" enquired Gorrick.
"How the dickens do I know?" said Spencer, stung to fresh wrath by
the inanity of the question.
"Spencer did," said Thomas, appearing in the water below them and
holding on to the rail.
"Look here!" cried Spencer; "did you shove me in then?"
"Me! Shove!" Thomas's voice expressed horror and pain. "Why, you
dived in. Jolly good one, too. Reminded me of the diving elephants at
And he swam off.
"That kid," said Gorrick, gazing after him, "wants his head
"Badly," agreed Spencer "Look here! Did he shove me in? Did you see
"I was doing my dive. But it must have been him. Phipps never rags
in the bath."
Spencer grunted — an expressive grunt — and, creeping down the
steps, entered the water again.
It was Spencer's ambition to swim ten lengths of the bath. He was
not a young Channel swimmer, and ten lengths represented a very
respectable distance to him. He proceeded now to attempt to lower his
record. It was not often that he got the bath so much to himself.
Usually, there was barely standing-room in the water, and
long-distance swimming was impossible. But now, with a clear field, he
should, he thought, be able to complete the desired distance.
He was beginning the fifth length before interruption came. Just as
he reached halfway, a reproachful voice at his side said: "Oh, Percy,
you'll tire yourself!" and a hand on the top of his head propelled him
firmly towards the bottom.
Every schoolboy, as Honble. Macaulay would have put it, knows the
sensation of being ducked. It is always unpleasant — sometimes more,
sometimes less. The present case belonged to the former class. There
was just room inside Spencer for another half-pint of water. He
swallowed it. When he came to the surface, he swam to the side without
a word and climbed out. It was the last straw. Honour could now be
satisfied only with gore.
He hung about outside the baths till Phipps and Thomas appeared,
then, with a steadfast expression on his face, he walked up to the
latter and kicked him.
Thomas seemed surprised, but not alarmed. His eyes grew a little
rounder, and the pink on his cheeks deepened. He looked like a
choirboy in a bad temper.
"Hullo! What's up, you ass, Spencer?" enquired Phipps.
Spencer said nothing.
"Where shall we go?" asked Thomas.
"Oh, chuck it!" said Phipps the peacemaker.
Spencer and Thomas were eyeing each other warily.
"You chaps aren't going to fight?" said Phipps.
The notion seemed to distress him.
"Unless he cares to take a kicking," said Spencer suavely.
"Not today, I think, thanks," replied Thomas without heat.
"Then, look here!" said Phipps briskly, I know a ripping little
place just off the Ledby Road. It isn't five minutes' walk, and
there's no chance of being booked there. Rot if someone was to come
and stop it half-way through. It's in a field; thick hedges. No one
can see. And I tell you what — I'll keep time. I've got a watch. Two
minute rounds, and half-a-minute in between, and I'm the referee; so,
if anybody fouls the other chap, I'll stop the fight. See? Come on!
Of the details of that conflict we have no very clear record.
Phipps is enthusiastic, but vague. He speaks in eulogistic terms of a
"corker" which Spencer brought off in the second round, and, again, of
a "tremendous biff" which Thomas appears to have consummated in the
fourth. But of the more subtle points of the fighting he is content
merely to state comprehensively that they were "top-hole". As to the
result, it would seem that, in the capacity of referee, he declared
the affair a draw at the end of the seventh round; and, later, in his
capacity of second to both parties, helped his principals home by back
and secret ways, one on each arm.
The next items to which the chronicler would call the attention of
the reader are two letters.
The first was from Mrs Shearne to Spencer, and ran as follows—
My Dear Spencer — I am writing to you direct, instead of
through your aunt, because I want to thank you so much for looking
after my boy so well. I know what a hard time a new boy has at a
public school if he has got nobody to take care of him at first. I
heard from Tom this morning. He seems so happy, and so fond of you. He
says you are "an awfully decent chap" and "the only chap who has
stood up to him at all." I suppose he means "for him." I hope you
will come and spend part of your holidays with us. ("Catch me!"
P.S. — I hope you will manage to buy something nice with the
The enclosed was yet another postal order for five shillings. As
somebody wisely observed, a woman's P.S. is always the most important
part of her letter.
"That kid," murmured Spencer between swollen lips, "has got cheek
enough for eighteen! 'Awfully decent chap!'"
He proceeded to compose a letter in reply, and for dignity combined
with lucidity it may stand as a model to young writers.
5 College Grounds, Eckleton.
Mr C. F. Spencer begs to present his compliments to Mrs Shearne,
and returns the postal order, because he doesn't see why he should
have it. He notes your remarks re my being a decent chap in your
favour of the 13th pros., but cannot see where it quite comes in, as
the only thing I've done to Mrs Shearne's son is to fight seven rounds
with him in a field, W. G. Phipps refereeing. It was a draw. I got a
black eye and rather a whack in the mouth, but gave him beans also,
particularly in the wind, which I learned to do from reading "Rodney
Stone" — the bit where Bob Whittaker beats the Eyetalian Gondoleery
Cove. Hoping that this will be taken in the spirit which is meant.
C. F Spencer.
He sent this off after prep, and retired to bed full of spiritual
On the following morning, going to the Shop during the interval, he
came upon Thomas negotiating a hot bun.
"Hullo!" said Thomas.
As was generally the case after he had had a fair and spirited
turnout with a fellow human being, Thomas had begun to feel that he
loved his late adversary as a brother. A wholesome respect, which had
hitherto been wanting, formed part of his opinion of him.
"Hullo!" said Spencer, pausing.
"I say," said Thomas.
"I say, I don't believe we shook hands, did we?"
"I don't remember doing it."
They shook hands. Spencer began to feel that there were points
about Thomas, after all.
"I say," said Thomas.
"I'm sorry about in the bath, you know. I didn't know you minded
"Oh, all right!" said Spencer awkwardly.
Eight bars rest.
"I say," said Thomas.
"Doing anything this afternoon?"
"Nothing special. Why?"
"Come and have tea?"
"All right. Thanks."
"I'll wait for you outside the house."
It was just here that Spencer regretted that he had sent back that
five-shilling postal order. Five good shillings.
Simply chucked away.
Oh, Life, Life!
But they were not, after all. On his plate at breakfast next day
Spencer found a letter. This was the letter—
Messrs J. K Shearne (father of T. B. A. Shearne) and P. W. Shearne
(brother of same) beg to acknowledge receipt of Mr C. F. Spencer's
esteemed communication of yesterday's date, and in reply desire to
inform Mr Spencer of their hearty approval of his attentions to Mr T.
B. A. Shearne's wind. It is their opinion that the above, a nice boy
but inclined to cheek, badly needs treatment on these lines
occasionally. They therefore beg to return the postal order, together
with another for a like sum, and trust that this will meet with Mr
(Signed) J. K. Shearne, P. W. Shearne. Two enclosures.
"Of course, what's up really," said Spencer to himself, after
reading this, "is that the whole family's jolly well cracked."
His eye fell on the postal orders.
"Still!—" he said.
That evening he entertained Phipps and Thomas B. A Shearne lavishly