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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHead Of Kay's - Chapter VIII - A NIGHT ADVENTURE--THE DETHRONEMENT OF FENN
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Head Of Kay's - Chapter VIII - A NIGHT ADVENTURE--THE DETHRONEMENT OF FENN Post by :Moriones Category :Long Stories Author :P G Wodehouse Date :June 2011 Read :2881

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Head Of Kay's - Chapter VIII - A NIGHT ADVENTURE--THE DETHRONEMENT OF FENN

CHAPTER VIII - A NIGHT ADVENTURE--THE DETHRONEMENT OF FENN


One of the things which make life on this planet more or less
agreeable is the speed with which alarums, excursions, excitement, and
rows generally, blow over. A nine-days' wonder has to be a big
business to last out its full time nowadays. As a rule the third day
sees the end of it, and the public rushes whooping after some other
hare that has been started for its benefit. The guard-tent row, as far
as the bulk of camp was concerned, lasted exactly two days; at the end
of which period it was generally agreed that all that could be said on
the subject had been said, and that it was now a back number. Nobody,
except possibly the authorities, wanted to find out the authors of the
raid, and even Private Jones had ceased to talk about it--this owing
to the unsympathetic attitude of his tent.

"Jones," the corporal had observed, as the ex-sentry's narrative of
his misfortunes reached a finish for the third time since
_reveille that morning, "if you can't manage to switch off that
infernal chestnut of yours, I'll make you wash up all day and sit on
your head all night."

So Jones had withdrawn his yarn from circulation. Kennedy's interest in
detective work waned after his interview with Walton. He was quite sure
that Walton had been one of the band, but it was not his business to
find out; even had he found out, he would have done nothing. It was
more for his own private satisfaction than for the furtherance of
justice that he wished to track the offenders down. But he did not
look on the affair, as Jimmy Silver did, as rather sporting; he had
a tender feeling for the good name of the school, and he felt that
it was not likely to make Eckleton popular with the other schools
that went to camp if they got the reputation of practical jokers.
Practical jokers are seldom popular until they have been dead a
hundred years or so.

As for Walton and his colleagues, to complete the list of those who
were interested in this matter of the midnight raid, they lay
remarkably low after their successful foray. They imagined that
Kennedy was spying on their every movement. In which they were quite
wrong, for Kennedy was doing nothing of the kind. Camp does not allow
a great deal of leisure for the minding of other people's businesses.
But this reflection did not occur to Walton, and he regarded Kennedy,
whenever chance or his duties brought him into the neighbourhood of
that worthy's tent, with a suspicion which increased whenever the
latter looked at him.

On the night before camp broke up, a second incident of a sensational
kind occurred, which, but for the fact that they never heard of it,
would have given the schools a good deal to talk about. It happened
that Kennedy was on sentry-go that night. The manner of sentry-go is
thus. At seven in the evening the guard falls in, and patrols the
fringe of the camp in relays till seven in the morning. A guard
consists of a sergeant, a corporal, and ten men. They are on duty for
two hours at a time, with intervals of four hours between each spell,
in which intervals they sleep the sleep of tired men in the
guard-tent, unless, as happened on the occasion previously described,
some miscreant takes it upon himself to loose the ropes. The ground to
be patrolled by the sentries is divided into three parts, each of
which is entrusted to one man.

Kennedy was one of the ten privates, and his first spell of sentry-go
began at eleven o'clock.

On this night there was no moon. It was as black as pitch. It is
always unpleasant to be on sentry-go on such a night. The mind
wanders, in spite of all effort to check it, through a long series of
all the ghastly stories one has ever read. There is one in particular
of Conan Doyle's about a mummy that came to life and chased people on
lonely roads--but enough! However courageous one may be, it is
difficult not to speculate on the possible horrors which may spring
out on one from the darkness. That feeling that there is somebody--or
something--just behind one can only be experienced in all its force by
a sentry on an inky night at camp. And the thought that, of all the
hundreds there, he and two others are the only ones awake, puts a sort
of finishing touch to the unpleasantness of the situation.

Kennedy was not a particularly imaginative youth, but he looked
forward with no little eagerness to the time when he should be
relieved. It would be a relief in two senses of the word. His beat
included that side of the camp which faces the road to Aldershot.
Between camp and this road is a ditch and a wood. After he had been on
duty for an hour this wood began to suggest a variety of
possibilities, all grim. The ditch, too, was not without associations.
It was into this that Private Jones had been hurled on a certain
memorable occasion. Such a thing was not likely to happen again in the
same week, and, even if it did, Kennedy flattered himself that he
would have more to say in the matter than Private Jones had had; but
nevertheless he kept a careful eye in that direction whenever his beat
took him along the ditch.

It was about half-past twelve, and he had entered upon the last
section of his two hours, when Kennedy distinctly heard footsteps in
the wood. He had heard so many mysterious sounds since his patrol
began at eleven o'clock that at first he was inclined to attribute
this to imagination. But a crackle of dead branches and the sound of
soft breathing convinced him that this was the real thing for once,
and that, as a sentry of the Public Schools' Camp on duty, it behoved
him to challenge the unknown.

He stopped and waited, peering into the darkness in a futile endeavour
to catch a glimpse of his man. But the night was too black for the
keenest eye to penetrate it. A slight thud put him on the right track.
It showed him two things; first, that the unknown had dropped into the
ditch, and, secondly, that he was a camp man returning to his tent
after an illegal prowl about the town at lights-out. Nobody save one
belonging to the camp would have cause to cross the ditch.

Besides, the man walked warily, as one not ignorant of the danger of
sentries. The unknown had crawled out of the ditch now. As luck would
have it he had chosen a spot immediately opposite to where Kennedy
stood. Now that he was nearer Kennedy could see the vague outline of
him.

"Who goes there?" he said.

From an instinctive regard for the other's feelings he did not shout
the question in the regulation manner. He knew how he would feel
himself if he were out of camp at half-past twelve, and the voice of
the sentry were to rip suddenly through the silence _fortissimo_.

As it was, his question was quite loud enough to electrify the person
to whom it was addressed. The unknown started so violently that he
nearly leapt into the air. Kennedy was barely two yards from him when
he spoke.

The next moment this fact was brought home to him in a very practical
manner. The unknown, sighting the sentry, perhaps more clearly against
the dim whiteness of the tents than Kennedy could sight him against
the dark wood, dashed in with a rapidity which showed that he knew
something of the art of boxing. Kennedy dropped his rifle and flung up
his arm. He was altogether too late. A sudden blaze of light, and he
was on the ground, sick and dizzy, a feeling he had often experienced
before in a slighter degree, when sparring in the Eckleton gymnasium
with the boxing instructor.

The immediate effect of a flush hit in the regions about the jaw is to
make the victim lose for the moment all interest in life. Kennedy lay
where he had fallen for nearly half a minute before he fully realised
what it was that had happened to him. When he did realise the
situation, he leapt to his feet, feeling sick and shaky, and staggered
about in all directions in a manner which suggested that he fancied
his assailant would be waiting politely until he had recovered. As was
only natural, that wily person had vanished, and was by this time
doing a quick change into garments of the night. Kennedy had the
satisfaction of knowing--for what it was worth--that his adversary was
in one of those tents, but to place him with any greater accuracy was
impossible.

So he gave up the search, found his rifle, and resumed his patrol. And
at one o'clock his successor relieved him.

On the following day camp broke up.

* * * * *

Kennedy always enjoyed going home, but, as he travelled back to
Eckleton on the last day of these summer holidays, he could not help
feeling that there was a great deal to be said for term. He felt
particularly cheerful. He had the carriage to himself, and he had also
plenty to read and eat. The train was travelling at forty miles an
hour. And there were all the pleasures of a first night after the
holidays to look forward to, when you dashed from one friend's study
to another's, comparing notes, and explaining--five or six of you at a
time--what a good time you had had in the holidays. This was always a
pleasant ceremony at Blackburn's, where all the prefects were intimate
friends, and all good sorts, without that liberal admixture of weeds,
worms, and outsiders which marred the list of prefects in most of the
other houses. Such as Kay's! Kennedy could not restrain a momentary
gloating as he contrasted the state of affairs in Blackburn's with
what existed at Kay's. Then this feeling was merged in one of pity for
Fenn's hard case. How he must hate the beginning of term, thought
Kennedy.

All the well-known stations were flashing by now. In a few minutes he
would be at the junction, and in another half-hour back at
Blackburn's. He began to collect his baggage from the rack.

Nobody he knew was at the junction. This was the late train that he
had come down by. Most of the school had returned earlier in the
afternoon.

He reached Blackburn's at eight o'clock, and went up to his study to
unpack. This was always his first act on coming back to school. He
liked to start the term with all his books in their shelves, and all
his pictures and photographs in their proper places on the first day.
Some of the studies looked like lumber-rooms till near the end of the
first week.

He had filled the shelves, and was arranging the artistic decorations,
when Jimmy Silver came in. Kennedy had been surprised that he had not
met him downstairs, but the matron had answered his inquiry with the
statement that he was talking to Mr Blackburn in the other part of the
house.

"When did you arrive?" asked Silver, after the conclusion of the first
outbreak of holiday talk.

"I've only just come."

"Seen Blackburn yet?"

"No. I was thinking of going up after I had got this place done
properly."

Jimmy Silver ran his eye over the room.

"I haven't started mine yet," he said. "You're such an energetic man.
Now, are all those books in their proper places?"

"Yes," said Kennedy.

"Sure?"

"Yes."

"How about the pictures? Got them up?"

"All but this lot here. Shan't be a second. There you are. How's that
for effect?"

"Not bad. Got all your photographs in their places?"

"Yes."

"Then," said Jimmy Silver, calmly, "you'd better start now to pack
them all up again. And why, my son? Because you are no longer a
Blackburnite. That's what."

Kennedy stared.

"I've just had the whole yarn from Blackburn," continued Jimmy Silver.
"Our dear old pal, Mr Kay, wanting somebody in his house capable of
keeping order, by way of a change, has gone to the Old Man and
borrowed you. So _you're head of Kay's now. There's an honour
for you."

Content of CHAPTER VIII - A NIGHT ADVENTURE--THE DETHRONEMENT OF FENN (P G Wodehouse's novel: Head of Kay's)

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