by P. G. Wodehouse
The main difficulty in writing a story is to convey to the reader
clearly yet tersely the natures and dispositions of one's leading
characters. Brevity, brevity—that is the cry. Perhaps, after all, the
play-bill style is the best. In this drama of love, football
(Association code), and politics, then, the principals are as follows,
in their order of entry:
ISABEL RACKSTRAW (an angel).
THE HON. CLARENCE TRESILLIAN (a Greek god).
LADY RUNNYMEDE (a proud old aristocrat).
MR RACKSTRAW (a multi-millionaire City man and Radical politician).
More about Clarence later. For the moment let him go as a Greek god.
There were other sides, too, to Mr Rackstraw's character, but for the
moment let him go as a multi-millionaire City man and Radical
politician. Not that it is satisfactory; it is too mild. The Radical
politics of other Radical politicians were as skim-milk to the Radical
politics of Radical Politician Rackstraw. Where Mr Lloyd George
referred to the House of Lords as blithering backwoodsmen and asinine
anachronisms, Mr Rackstraw scorned to be so guarded in his speech. He
did not mince his words. His attitude towards a member of the peerage
was that of the terrier to the perambulating cat.
It was at a charity bazaar that Isabel and Clarence first met.
Isabel was presiding over the Billiken, Teddy—bear, and Fancy Goods
stall. There she stood, that slim, radiant girl, bouncing Ardent Youth
out of its father's hard—earned with a smile that alone was nearly
worth the money, when she observed, approaching, the handsomest man she
had ever seen. It was—this is not one of those mystery stories—it was
Clarence Tresillian. Over the heads of the bevy of gilded youths who
clustered round the stall their eyes met. A thrill ran through Isabel.
She dropped her eyes. The next moment Clarence had made his spring; the
gilded youths had shredded away like a mist, and he was leaning towards
her, opening negotiations for the purchase of a yellow Teddy-bear at
sixteen times its face value.
He returned at intervals during the afternoon. Over the second
Teddy-bear they became friendly, over the third intimate. He proposed
as she was wrapping up the fourth golliwog, and she gave him her heart
and the parcel simultaneously. At six o'clock, carrying four
Teddy-bears, seven photograph frames, five golliwogs, and a billiken,
Clarence went home to tell the news to his parents.
Clarence, when not at the University, lived with his father and
mother in Belgrave Square. His mother had been a Miss Trotter, of
Chicago, and it was on her dowry that the Runnymedes contrived to make
both ends meet. For a noble family they were in somewhat straitened
circumstances financially. They lived, simply and without envy of their
rich fellow-citizens, on their hundred thousand pounds a year. They
asked no more. It enabled them to entertain on a modest scale. Clarence
had been able to go to Oxford; his elder brother, Lord Staines, into
the Guards. The girls could buy an occasional new frock. On the whole,
they were a thoroughly happy, contented English family of the best
sort. Mr Trotter, it is true, was something of a drawback. He was a
rugged old tainted millionaire of the old school, with a fondness for
shirt-sleeves and a tendency to give undue publicity to toothpicks. But
he had been made to understand at an early date that the dead-line for
him was the farther shore of the Atlantic Ocean, and he now gave little
Having dressed for dinner, Clarence proceeded to the library, where
he found his mother in hysterics and his father in a state of collapse
on the sofa. Clarence was too well-bred to make any comment. A true
Runnymede, he affected to notice nothing, and, picking up the evening
paper, began to read. The announcement of his engagement could be
postponed to a more suitable time.
'Clarence!' whispered a voice from the sofa.
The silver-haired old man gasped for utterance.
'I've lost my little veto,' he said, brokenly, at length.
'Where did you see it last?' asked Clarence, ever practical.
'It's that fellow Rackstraw!' cried the old man, in feeble rage.
'That bounder Rackstraw! He's the man behind it all. The robber!'
It was his mother who spoke. Her voice seemed to rip the air into a
million shreds and stamp on them. There are few things more terrible
than a Chicago voice raised in excitement or anguish.
'Never mind your pop and his old veto. He didn't know he had one
till the paper said he'd lost it. You listen to me. Clarence, we are
Clarence looked at her inquiringly.
'Ruined much?' he asked.
'Bed-rock,' said his mother. 'If we have sixty thousand dollars a
year after this, it's all we shall have.'
A low howl escaped from the stricken old man on the sofa.
Clarence betrayed no emotion.
'Ah,' he said, calmly. 'How did it happen?'
'I've just had a cable from Chicago, from your grand-pop. He's been
trying to corner wheat. He always was an impulsive old gazook.'
'But surely,' said Clarence, a dim recollection of something he had
heard or read somewhere coming to him, 'isn't cornering wheat a rather
'Sure,' said his mother. 'Sure it is. I guess dad's try at cornering
wheat was about the most profitable thing that ever happened—to the
other fellows. It seems like they got busy and clubbed fifty-seven
varieties of Hades out of your old grand-pop. He's got to give up a lot
of his expensive habits, and one of them is sending money to us. That's
how it is.'
'And on top of that, mind you,' moaned Lord Runnymede, 'I lose my
little veto. It's bitter—bitter.'
Clarence lit a cigarette and drew at it thoughtfully. 'I don't see
how we're going to manage on twelve thousand quid a year,' he said.
His mother crisply revised his pronouns.
'We aren't,' she said. 'You've got to get out and hustle.'
Clarence looked at her blankly.
Clarence drew a deep breath.
'Work? Well, of course, mind you, fellows do work,' he went
on, thoughtfully. 'I was lunching with a man at the Bachelor's only
yesterday who swore he knew a fellow who had met a man whose cousin
worked. But I don't see what I could do, don't you know.'
His father raised himself on the sofa.
'Haven't I given you the education of an English gentleman?'
'That's the difficulty,' said Clarence.
'Can't you do anything?' asked his mother.
'Well, I can play footer. By Jove, I'll sign on as a pro. I'll take
a new name. I'll call myself Jones. I can get signed on in a minute.
Any club will jump at me.'
This was no idle boast. Since early childhood Clarence had
concentrated his energies on becoming a footballer, and was now an
exceedingly fine goal-keeper. It was a pleasing sight to see him,
poised on one foot in the attitude of a Salome dancer, with one eye on
the man with the ball, the other gazing coldly on the rest of the
opposition forward line, uncurl abruptly like the main-spring of a
watch and stop a hot one. Clarence in goal was the nearest approach to
an india-rubber acrobat and society contortionist to be seen off the
music-hall stage. He was, in brief, hot stuff. He had the goods.
Scarcely had he uttered these momentous words when the butler
entered with the announcement that he was wanted by a lady on the
It was Isabel, disturbed and fearful.
'Oh, Clarence,' she cried, 'my precious angel wonder-child, I don't
know how to begin.'
'Begin just like that,' said Clarence, approvingly. 'It's topping.
You can't beat it.'
'Clarence, a terrible thing has happened. I told papa of our
engagement, and he wouldn't hear of it. He c-called you a a p-p-p—'
'He's wrong. I'm nothing of the sort. He must be thinking of someone
'A preposterous excrescence on the social cosmos. He doesn't like
your father being an earl.'
'A man may be an earl and still a gentleman,' said Clarence, not
without a touch of coldness in his voice.
'I forgot to tell him that. But I don't think it would make any
difference. He says I shall only marry a man who works.'
'I am going to work, dearest,' said Clarence. 'I am going to work
like a horse. Something—I know not what—tells me I shall be rather
good at work. And one day when I—'
'Good-bye,' said Isabel, hastily. 'I hear papa coming.'
* * * * *
Clarence, as he had predicted, found no difficulty in obtaining
employment. He was signed on at once, under the name of Jones, by
Houndsditch Wednesday, the premier metropolitan club, and embarked at
once on his new career.
The season during which Clarence Tresillian kept goal for
Houndsditch Wednesday is destined to live long in the memory of
followers of professional football. Probably never in the history of
the game has there been such persistent and widespread mortality among
the more distant relatives of office-boys and junior clerks.
Statisticians have estimated that if all the grandmothers alone who
perished between the months of September and April that season could
have been placed end to end, they would have reached from Hyde Park
Corner to the outskirts of Manchester. And it was Clarence who was
responsible for this holocaust. Previous to the opening of the season
sceptics had shaken their heads over the Wednesday's chances in the
First League. Other clubs had bought up the best men in the market,
leaving only a mixed assortment of inferior Scotsmen, Irishmen, and
Northcountrymen to uphold the honour of the London club.
And then, like a meteor, Clarence Tresillian had flashed upon the
world of football. In the opening game he had behaved in the goal-mouth
like a Chinese cracker, and exhibited an absolutely impassable defence;
and from then onward, except for an occasional check, Houndsditch
Wednesday had never looked back.
Among the spectators who flocked to the Houndsditch ground to watch
Clarence perform there appeared week after week a little, grey,
dried-up man, insignificant except for a certain happy choice of
language in moments of emotion and an enthusiasm far surpassing that of
the ordinary spectator. To the trained eye there are subtle
distinctions between football enthusiasts. This man belonged to the
comparatively small class of those who have football on the cerebrum.
Fate had made Daniel Rackstraw a millionaire and a Radical, but at
heart he was a spectator of football. He never missed a match. His
library of football literature was the finest in the country. His
football museum had but one equal, that of Mr Jacob Dodson, of
Manchester. Between them the two had cornered, at enormous expense, the
curio market of the game. It was Rackstraw who had secured the
authentic pair of boots in which Bloomer had first played for England;
but it was Dodson who possessed the painted india-rubber ball used by
Meredith when a boy—probably the first thing except a nurse ever
kicked by that talented foot. The two men were friends, as far as rival
connoisseurs can be friends; and Mr Dodson, when at leisure, would
frequently pay a visit to Mr Rackstraw's country house, where he would
spend hours gazing wistfully at the Bloomer boots, buoyed up only by
the thoughts of the Meredith ball at home.
Isabel saw little of Clarence during the winter months, except from
a distance. She contented herself with clipping photographs of him from
the sporting papers. Each was a little more unlike him than the last,
and this lent variety to the collection. Her father marked her new-born
enthusiasm for the game with approval. It had been secretly a great
grief to the old gentleman that his only child did not know the
difference between a linesman and an inside right, and, more, did not
seem to care to know. He felt himself drawn closer to her. An
understanding, as pleasant as it was new and strange, began to spring
up between parent and child.
As for Clarence, how easy it would be to haul up one's slacks to
practically an unlimited extent on the subject of his emotions at this
time. One can figure him, after the game is over and the gay throng has
dispersed, creeping moodily—but what's the use? Brevity—that is the
cry. Brevity. Let us on.
The months sped by; the Cup-ties began, and soon it was evident that
the Final must be fought out between Houndsditch Wednesday and Mr Jacob
Dodson's pet team, Manchester United. With each match the Wednesday
seemed to improve. Clarence was a Gibraltar among goal-keepers.
Those were delirious days for Daniel Rackstraw. Long before the
fourth round his voice had dwindled to a husky whisper. Deep lines
appeared on his forehead; for it is an awful thing for a football
enthusiast to be compelled to applaud, in the very middle of the
Cup-ties, purely by means of facial expression. In this time of
affliction he found Isabel an ever-increasing comfort to him. Side by
side they would sit, and the old man's face would lose its drawn look,
and light up, as her clear young soprano pealed out over the din,
urging this player to shoot, that to kick some opponent in the face; or
describing the referee in no uncertain terms as a reincarnation of the
late Mr Dick Turpin.
And now the day of the Final at the Crystal Palace approached, and
all England was alert, confident of a record-breaking contest. But
alas! How truly does Epictetus observe: 'We know not what awaiteth us
round the corner, and the hand that counteth its chickens ere they be
hatched oft-times doth but step on the banana-skin.' The prophets who
anticipated a struggle keener than any in football history were
destined to be proved false.
It was not that their judgement of form was at fault. On the run of
the season's play Houndsditch Wednesday v. Manchester United
should have been the two most evenly-matched teams in the history of
the game. Forward, the latter held a slight superiority; but this was
balanced by the inspired goal-keeping of Clarence Tresillian. Even the
keenest supporters of either side were not confident. They argued at
length, figuring out the odds with the aid of stubs of pencils and the
backs of envelopes, but they were not confident. Out of all those
frenzied millions two men alone had no doubts. Mr Daniel Rackstraw said
that he did not desire to be unfair to Manchester United. He wished it
to be clearly understood that in their own class Manchester United
might quite possibly show to considerable advantage. In some rural
league, for instance, he did not deny that they might sweep all before
them. But when it came to competing with Houndsditch Wednesday—here
words failed Mr Rackstraw.
Mr Jacob Dodson, interviewed by the Manchester Weekly Football
Boot, stated that his decision, arrived at after a close and
careful study of the work of both teams, was that Houndsditch Wednesday
had rather less chance in the forthcoming tourney than a stuffed rat in
the Battersea Dogs' Home. It was his carefully-considered opinion that
in a contest with the second eleven of a village Church Lads' Brigade,
Houndsditch Wednesday might, with an effort (conceding them that slice
of luck which so often turns the tide of a game), scrape home. But when
it was a question of meeting a team like Manchester United—here Mr
Dodson, shrugging his shoulders despairingly, sank back in his chair,
and watchful secretaries brought him round with oxygen.
Throughout the whole country nothing but the approaching match was
discussed. Wherever civilization reigned, and in portions of Liverpool,
one question alone was on every lip: Who would win? Octogenarians
mumbled it. Infants lisped it. Tired City men, trampled under foot in
the rush for their tram, asked it of the ambulance attendants who
carried them to the hospital.
And then, one bright, clear morning, when the birds sang and all
Nature seemed fair and gay, Clarence Tresillian developed mumps.
London was in a ferment. I could have wished to go into details, to
describe in crisp, burning sentences the panic that swept like a
tornado through a million homes. A little encouragement, the slightest
softening of the editorial austerity and the thing would have been
done. But no. Brevity. That was the cry. Brevity. Let us on.
Houndsditch Wednesday met Manchester United at the Crystal Palace,
and for nearly two hours the sweat of agony trickled unceasingly down
the corrugated foreheads of the patriots in the stands. The men from
Manchester, freed from the fear of Clarence, smiled grim smiles and
proceeded to pile up points. It was in vain that the Houndsditch backs
and halfbacks skimmed like swallows about the field. They could not
keep the score down. From start to finish Houndsditch were a beaten
London during that black period was a desert. Gloom gripped the
City. In distant Brixton red-eyed wives faced silently-scowling
husbands at the evening meal, and the children were sent early to bed.
Newsboys called the extras in a whisper.
Few took the tragedy more nearly to heart than Daniel Rackstraw.
Leaving the ground with the air of a father mourning over some prodigal
son, he encountered Mr Jacob Dodson, of Manchester.
Now, Mr Dodson was perhaps the slightest bit shy on the finer
feelings. He should have respected the grief of a fallen foe. He should
have abstained from exulting. But he was in too exhilarated a condition
to be magnanimous. Sighting Mr Rackstraw, he addressed himself joyously
to the task of rubbing the thing in. Mr Rackstraw listened in silent
'If we had had Jones—' he said at length.
'That's what they all say,' whooped Mr Dodson, 'Jones! Who's Jones?'
'If we had had Jones, we should have—' He paused. An idea had
flashed upon his overwrought mind. 'Dodson,' he said, 'look here. Wait
till Jones is well again, and let us play this thing off again for
anything you like a side in my private park.'
Mr Dodson reflected.
'You're on,' he said. 'What side bet? A million? Two million?
Mr Rackstraw shook his head scornfully.
'A million? Who wants a million? I'll put up my Bloomer boot against
your Meredith ball. Does that go?'
'I should say it did,' said Mr Dodson, joyfully. 'I've been wanting
that boot for years. It's like finding it in one's Christmas stocking.'
'Very well,' said Mr Rackstraw. 'Then let's get it fixed up.'
Honestly, it is but a dog's life, that of the short-story writer. I
particularly wished at this point to introduce a description of Mr
Rackstraw's country house and estate, featuring the private football
ground with its fringe of noble trees. It would have served a double
purpose, not only charming the lover of nature, but acting as a fine
stimulus to the youth of the country, showing them the sort of home
they would be able to buy some day if they worked hard and saved their
money. But no. You shall have three guesses as to what was the cry. You
give it up? It was Brevity—brevity! Let us on.
The two teams arrived at Mr Rackstraw's house in time for lunch.
Clarence, his features once more reduced to their customary
finely-chiselled proportions, alighted from the automobile with a
swelling heart. Presently he found an opportunity to slip away and meet
Isabel. I will pass lightly over the meeting of the two lovers. I will
not describe the dewy softness of their eyes, the catching of their
breath, their murmured endearments. I could, mind you. It is at just
such descriptions that I am particularly happy. But I have grown
discouraged. My spirit is broken. It is enough to say that Clarence had
reached a level of emotional eloquence rarely met with among
goal-keepers of the First League, when Isabel broke from him with a
startled exclamation, and vanished; and, looking over his shoulder,
Clarence observed Mr Daniel Rackstraw moving towards him.
It was evident from the millionaire's demeanour that he had seen
nothing. The look on his face was anxious, but not wrathful. He sighted
Clarence, and hurried up to him.
'Jones,' he said, 'I've been looking for you. I want a word with
'A thousand, if you wish it,' said Clarence, courteously.
'Now, look here,' said Mr Rackstraw. 'I want to explain to you just
what this game means to me. Don't run away with the idea I've had you
fellows down to play an exhibition game just to keep me merry and
bright. If Houndsditch wins today, K means that I shall be able to hold
up my head again and look my fellow-man in the face, instead of
crawling round on my stomach and feeling like a black-beetle under a
steam-roller. Do you get that?'
'I do,' replied Clarence.
'And not only that,' went on the millionaire. 'There's more. I have
put up my Bloomer boot against Mr Dodson's Meredith hall as a side bet.
You understand what that means? It means that either you win or my life
is soured for ever. See?'
'I have got you,' said Clarence.
'Good. Then what I wanted to say was this. Today is your day for
keeping goal as you've never kept goal before. Everything depends on
you. With you keeping goal like mother used to make it, Houndsditch are
safe. Otherwise they are completely in the bouillon. It's one thing or
the other. It's all up to you. Win, and there's four thousand pounds
waiting for you above what you share with the others.'
Clarence waved his hand deprecatingly.
'Mr Rackstraw,' he said, 'keep your dross. I care nothing for money.
All I ask of you,' proceeded Clarence, 'is your consent to my
engagement to your daughter.'
Mr Rackstraw looked sharply at him.
'Repeat that,' he said. 'I don't think I quite got it.'
'All I ask is your consent to my engagement to your daughter.'
'Young man,' said Mr Rackstraw, not without a touch of admiration,
'I admire cheek. But there is a limit. That limit you have passed so
far that you'd need to look for it with a telescope.'
'You refuse your consent?'
'I never said you weren't a clever guesser.'
Mr Rackstraw laughed. One of those nasty, sharp, metallic laughs
that hit you like a bullet.
'How would you support my daughter?'
'I was thinking that you would help to some extent.'
'You were, were you?'
Mr Rackstraw emitted another of those laughs.
'Well,' he said, 'it's off. You can take that as coming from an
authoritative source. No wedding-bells for you.'
Clarence drew himself up, fire flashing from his eyes and a bitter
smile curving his expressive lips.
'And no Meredith ball for you!' he cried.
Mr Rackstraw started as if some strong hand had plunged an auger
'What?' he shouted.
Clarence shrugged his superbly-modelled shoulders in silence.
'Come, come,' said Mr Rackstraw, 'you wouldn't let a little private
difference like that influence you in a really important thing like
this football match, would you?'
'You would practically blackmail the father of the girl you love?'
'Her white-haired old father?'
'The colour of his hair would not affect me.'
'Nothing would move you?'
'Then, by George, you're just the son-in-law I want. You shall marry
Isabel; and I'll take you into partnership in my business this very
day. I've been looking for a good able-bodied bandit like you for
years. You make Captain Kidd look like a preliminary three-round bout.
My boy, we'll be the greatest combination, you and I, that the City has
ever seen. Shake hands.'
For a moment Clarence hesitated. Then his better nature prevailed,
and he spoke.
'Mr Rackstraw,' he said, 'I cannot deceive you.'
'That won't matter,' said the enthusiastic old man. 'I bet you'll be
able to deceive everybody else. I see it in your eye. My boy, we'll be
'My name is not Jones.'
'Nor is mine. What does that matter?'
'My name is Tresillian. The Hon. Tresillian. I am the younger son of
the Earl of Runnymede. To a man of your political views—'
'Nonsense, nonsense,' said Mr Rackstraw. 'What are political views
compared with the chance of getting a goal-keeper like you into the
family? I remember Isabel saying something to me about you, but I
didn't know who you were then.'
'I am a preposterous excrescence on the social cosmos,' said
Clarence, eyeing him doubtfully.
'Then I'll be one too,' cried Mr Rackstraw. 'I own I've set my face
against it hitherto, but circumstances alter cases. I'll ring up the
Prime Minister on the phone tomorrow, and buy a title myself.'
Clarence's last scruple was removed. Silently he gripped the old
man's hand, outstretched to meet his.
Little remains to be said, but I am going to say it, if it snows. I
am at my best in these tender scenes of idyllic domesticity.
Four years have passed. Once more we are in the Rackstraw home. A
lady is coming down the stairs, leading by the hand her little son. It
is Isabel. The years have dealt lightly with her. She is still the same
stately, beautiful creature whom I would have described in detail long
ago if I had been given half a chance. At the foot of the stairs the
child stops and points at a small, round object in a glass case.
'Wah?' he says.
'That?' said Isabel. 'That is the ball Mr Meredith used to play with
when he was a little boy.'
She looks at a door on the left of the hall, and puts a finger to
'Hush!' she says. 'We must be quiet. Daddy and grandpa are busy in
there cornering wheat.'
And softly mother and child go out into the sunlit garden.