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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHead Of Kay's - Chapter XXIII - THE HOUSE-MATCHES
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Head Of Kay's - Chapter XXIII - THE HOUSE-MATCHES Post by :Anthony Category :Long Stories Author :P G Wodehouse Date :June 2011 Read :888

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Head Of Kay's - Chapter XXIII - THE HOUSE-MATCHES

CHAPTER XXIII - THE HOUSE-MATCHES


The chances of Kay's in the inter-house Football Competition were not
thought very much of by their rivals. Of late years each of the other
houses had prayed to draw Kay's for the first round, it being a
certainty that this would mean that they got at least into the second
round, and so a step nearer the cup. Nobody, however weak compared to
Blackburn's, which was at the moment the crack football house, ever
doubted the result of a match with Kay's. It was looked on as a sort
of gentle trial trip.

But the efforts of the two captains during the last weeks of the
winter term had put a different complexion on matters. Football is not
like cricket. It is a game at which anybody of average size and a
certain amount of pluck can make himself at least moderately
proficient. Kennedy, after consultations with Fenn, had picked out
what he considered the best fifteen, and the two set themselves to
knock it into shape. In weight there was not much to grumble at. There
were several heavy men in the scrum. If only these could be brought to
use their weight to the last ounce when shoving, all would be well as
far as the forwards were concerned. The outsides were not so
satisfactory. With the exception, of course, of Fenn, they lacked
speed. They were well-meaning, but they could not run any faster by
virtue of that. Kay's would have to trust to its scrum to pull it
through. Peel, the sprinter whom Kennedy had discovered in his search
for athletes, had to be put in the pack on account of his weight,
which deprived the three-quarter line of what would have been a good
man in that position. It was a drawback, too, that Fenn was accustomed
to play on the wing. To be of real service, a wing three-quarter must
be fed by his centres, and, unfortunately, there was no centre in
Kay's--or Dencroft's, as it should now be called--who was capable of
making openings enough to give Fenn a chance. So he had to play in the
centre, where he did not know the game so well.

Kennedy realised at an early date that the one chance of the house was
to get together before the house-matches and play as a coherent team,
not as a collection of units. Combination will often make up for lack
of speed in a three-quarter line. So twice a week Dencroft's turned
out against scratch teams of varying strength.

It delighted Kennedy to watch their improvement. The first side they
played ran through them to the tune of three goals and four tries to a
try, and it took all the efforts of the Head of the house to keep a
spirit of pessimism from spreading in the ranks. Another frost of this
sort, and the sprouting keenness of the house would be nipped in the
bud. He conducted himself with much tact. Another captain might have
made the fatal error of trying to stir his team up with pungent abuse.
He realised what a mistake this would be. It did not need a great deal
of discouragement to send the house back to its old slack ways.
Another such defeat, following immediately in the footsteps of the
first, and they would begin to ask themselves what was the good of
mortifying the flesh simply to get a licking from a scratch team by
twenty-four points. Kay's, they would feel, always had got beaten, and
they always would, to the end of time. A house that has once got
thoroughly slack does not change its views of life in a moment.

Kennedy acted craftily.

"You played jolly well," he told his despondent team, as they trooped
off the field. "We haven't got together yet, that's all. And it was a
hot side we were playing today. They would have licked Blackburn's."

A good deal more in the same strain gave the house team the
comfortable feeling that they had done uncommonly well to get beaten
by only twenty-four points. Kennedy fostered the delusion, and in the
meantime arranged with Mr Dencroft to collect fifteen innocents and
lead them forth to be slaughtered by the house on the following
Friday. Mr Dencroft entered into the thing with a relish. When he
showed Kennedy the list of his team on the Friday morning, that
diplomatist chuckled. He foresaw a good time in the near future. "You
must play up like the dickens," he told the house during the
dinner-hour. "Dencroft is bringing a hot lot this afternoon. But I
think we shall lick them."

They did. When the whistle blew for No-side, the house had just
finished scoring its fourteenth try. Six goals and eight tries to nil
was the exact total. Dencroft's returned to headquarters, asking
itself in a dazed way if these things could be. They saw that cup on
their mantelpiece already. Keenness redoubled. Football became the
fashion in Dencroft's. The play of the team improved weekly. And its
spirit improved too. The next scratch team they played beat them by a
goal and a try to a goal. Dencroft's was not depressed. It put the
result down to a fluke. Then they beat another side by a try to
nothing; and by that time they had got going as an organised team, and
their heart was in the thing.

They had improved out of all knowledge when the house-matches began.
Blair's was the lucky house that drew against them in the first round.

"Good business," said the men of Blair. "Wonder who we'll play in the
second round."

They left the field marvelling. For some unaccountable reason,
Dencroft's had flatly refused to act in the good old way as a doormat
for their opponents. Instead, they had played with a dash and
knowledge of the game which for the first quarter of an hour quite
unnerved Blair's. In that quarter of an hour they scored three times,
and finished the game with two goals and three tries to their name.

The School looked on it as a huge joke. "Heard the latest?" friends
would say on meeting one another the day after the game. "Kay's--I
mean Dencroft's--have won a match. They simply sat on Blair's. First
time they've ever won a house-match, I should think. Blair's are
awfully sick. We shall have to be looking out."

Whereat the friend would grin broadly. The idea of Dencroft's making a
game of it with his house tickled him.

When Dencroft's took fifteen points off Mulholland's, the joke began
to lose its humour.

"Why, they must be some good," said the public, startled at the
novelty of the idea. "If they win another match, they'll be in the
final!"

Kay's in the final! Cricket? Oh, yes, they had got into the final at
cricket, of course. But that wasn't the house. It was Fenn. Footer was
different. One man couldn't do everything there. The only possible
explanation was that they had improved to an enormous extent.

Then people began to remember that they had played in scratch games
against the house. There seemed to be a tremendous number of fellows
who had done this. At one time or another, it seemed, half the School
had opposed Dencroft's in the ranks of a scratch side. It began to
dawn on Eckleton that in an unostentatious way Dencroft's had been
putting in about seven times as much practice as any other three
houses rolled together. No wonder they combined so well.

When the School House, with three first fifteen men in its team, fell
before them, the reputation of Dencroft's was established. It had
reached the final, and only Blackburn's stood now between it and the
cup.

All this while Blackburn's had been doing what was expected of them by
beating each of their opponents with great ease. There was nothing
sensational about this as there was in the case of Dencroft's. The
latter were, therefore, favourites when the two teams lined up against
one another in the final. The School felt that a house that had had
such a meteoric flight as Dencroft's must--by all that was
dramatic--carry the thing through to its obvious conclusion, and pull
off the final.

But Fenn and Kennedy were not so hopeful. A certain amount of science,
a great deal of keenness, and excellent condition, had carried them
through the other rounds in rare style, but, though they would
probably give a good account of themselves, nobody who considered the
two teams impartially could help seeing that Dencroft's was a weaker
side than Blackburn's. Nothing but great good luck could bring them
out victorious today.

And so it proved. Dencroft's played up for all they were worth from
the kick-off to the final solo on the whistle, but they were
over-matched. Blackburn's scrum was too heavy for them, with its three
first fifteen men and two seconds. Dencroft's pack were shoved off the
ball time after time, and it was only keen tackling that kept the
score down. By half-time Blackburn's were a couple of tries ahead.
Fenn scored soon after the interval with a great run from his own
twenty-five, and for a quarter of an hour it looked as if it might be
anybody's game. Kennedy converted the try, so that Blackburn's only
led by a single point. A fluky kick or a mistake on the part of a
Blackburnite outside might give Dencroft's the cup.

But the Blackburn outsides did not make mistakes. They played a
strong, sure game, and the forwards fed them well. Ten minutes before
No-side, Jimmy Silver ran in, increasing the lead to six points. And
though Dencroft's never went to pieces, and continued to show fight to
the very end, Blackburn's were not to be denied, and Challis scored a
final try in the corner. Blackburn's won the cup by the comfortable,
but not excessive, margin of a goal and three tries to a goal.

Dencroft's had lost the cup; but they had lost it well. Their credit
had increased in spite of the defeat.

"I thought we shouldn't be able to manage Blackburn's," said Kennedy,
"What we must do now is win that sports' cup."

Content of CHAPTER XXIII - THE HOUSE-MATCHES (P G Wodehouse's novel: Head of Kay's)

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