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Mike - Chapter LV - CLEARING THE AIR Post by :tabernacle Category :Long Stories Author :P G Wodehouse Date :June 2011 Read :2368

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Mike - Chapter LV - CLEARING THE AIR


Psmith was one of those people who lend a dignity to everything they
touch. Under his auspices the most unpromising ventures became somehow
enveloped in an atmosphere of measured stateliness. On the present
occasion, what would have been, without his guiding hand, a mere
unscientific scramble, took on something of the impressive formality
of the National Sporting Club.

"The rounds," he said, producing a watch, as they passed through a
gate into a field a couple of hundred yards from the house gate, "will
be of three minutes' duration, with a minute rest in between. A man
who is down will have ten seconds in which to rise. Are you ready,
Comrades Adair and Jackson? Very well, then. Time."

After which, it was a pity that the actual fight did not quite live up
to its referee's introduction. Dramatically, there should have been
cautious sparring for openings and a number of tensely contested
rounds, as if it had been the final of a boxing competition. But
school fights, when they do occur--which is only once in a decade
nowadays, unless you count junior school scuffles--are the outcome of
weeks of suppressed bad blood, and are consequently brief and furious.
In a boxing competition, however much one may want to win, one does
not dislike one's opponent. Up to the moment when "time" was called,
one was probably warmly attached to him, and at the end of the last
round one expects to resume that attitude of mind. In a fight each
party, as a rule, hates the other.

So it happened that there was nothing formal or cautious about the
present battle. All Adair wanted was to get at Mike, and all Mike
wanted was to get at Adair. Directly Psmith called "time," they rushed
together as if they meant to end the thing in half a minute.

It was this that saved Mike. In an ordinary contest with the gloves,
with his opponent cool and boxing in his true form, he could not have
lasted three rounds against Adair. The latter was a clever boxer,
while Mike had never had a lesson in his life. If Adair had kept away
and used his head, nothing could have prevented him winning.

As it was, however, he threw away his advantages, much as Tom Brown
did at the beginning of his fight with Slogger Williams, and the
result was the same as on that historic occasion. Mike had the greater
strength, and, thirty seconds from the start, knocked his man clean
off his feet with an unscientific but powerful right-hander.

This finished Adair's chances. He rose full of fight, but with all the
science knocked out of him. He went in at Mike with both hands. The
Irish blood in him, which for the ordinary events of life made him
merely energetic and dashing, now rendered him reckless. He abandoned
all attempt at guarding. It was the Frontal Attack in its most futile
form, and as unsuccessful as a frontal attack is apt to be. There was
a swift exchange of blows, in the course of which Mike's left elbow,
coming into contact with his opponent's right fist, got a shock which
kept it tingling for the rest of the day; and then Adair went down in
a heap.

He got up slowly and with difficulty. For a moment he stood blinking
vaguely. Then he lurched forward at Mike.

In the excitement of a fight--which is, after all, about the most
exciting thing that ever happens to one in the course of one's life--it
is difficult for the fighters to see what the spectators see. Where
the spectators see an assault on an already beaten man, the fighter
himself only sees a legitimate piece of self-defence against an
opponent whose chances are equal to his own. Psmith saw, as anybody
looking on would have seen, that Adair was done. Mike's blow had taken
him within a fraction of an inch of the point of the jaw, and he was
all but knocked out. Mike could not see this. All he understood was
that his man was on his feet again and coming at him, so he hit out
with all his strength; and this time Adair went down and stayed down.

"Brief," said Psmith, coming forward, "but exciting. We may take that,
I think, to be the conclusion of the entertainment. I will now have a
dash at picking up the slain. I shouldn't stop, if I were you. He'll
be sitting up and taking notice soon, and if he sees you he may want
to go on with the combat, which would do him no earthly good. If it's
going to be continued in our next, there had better be a bit of an
interval for alterations and repairs first."

"Is he hurt much, do you think?" asked Mike. He had seen knock-outs
before in the ring, but this was the first time he had ever effected
one on his own account, and Adair looked unpleasantly corpse-like.

"_He's all right," said Psmith. "In a minute or two he'll be
skipping about like a little lambkin. I'll look after him. You go away
and pick flowers."

Mike put on his coat and walked back to the house. He was conscious of
a perplexing whirl of new and strange emotions, chief among which was
a curious feeling that he rather liked Adair. He found himself
thinking that Adair was a good chap, that there was something to be
said for his point of view, and that it was a pity he had knocked him
about so much. At the same time, he felt an undeniable thrill of pride
at having beaten him. The feat presented that interesting person, Mike
Jackson, to him in a fresh and pleasing light, as one who had had a
tough job to face and had carried it through. Jackson, the cricketer,
he knew, but Jackson, the deliverer of knock-out blows, was strange to
him, and he found this new acquaintance a man to be respected.

The fight, in fact, had the result which most fights have, if they are
fought fairly and until one side has had enough. It revolutionised
Mike's view of things. It shook him up, and drained the bad blood out
of him. Where, before, he had seemed to himself to be acting with
massive dignity, he now saw that he had simply been sulking like some
wretched kid. There had appeared to him something rather fine in his
policy of refusing to identify himself in any way with Sedleigh, a
touch of the stone-walls-do-not-a-prison-make sort of thing. He now
saw that his attitude was to be summed up in the words, "Sha'n't

It came upon Mike with painful clearness that he had been making an
ass of himself.

He had come to this conclusion, after much earnest thought, when
Psmith entered the study.

"How's Adair?" asked Mike.

"Sitting up and taking nourishment once more. We have been chatting.
He's not a bad cove."

"He's all right," said Mike.

There was a pause. Psmith straightened his tie.

"Look here," he said, "I seldom interfere in terrestrial strife, but
it seems to me that there's an opening here for a capable peace-maker,
not afraid of work, and willing to give his services in exchange for a
comfortable home. Comrade Adair's rather a stoutish fellow in his way.
I'm not much on the 'Play up for the old school, Jones,' game, but
every one to his taste. I shouldn't have thought anybody would get
overwhelmingly attached to this abode of wrath, but Comrade Adair
seems to have done it. He's all for giving Sedleigh a much-needed
boost-up. It's not a bad idea in its way. I don't see why one
shouldn't humour him. Apparently he's been sweating since early
childhood to buck the school up. And as he's leaving at the end of the
term, it mightn't be a scaly scheme to give him a bit of a send-off,
if possible, by making the cricket season a bit of a banger. As a
start, why not drop him a line to say that you'll play against the
M.C.C. to-morrow?"

Mike did not reply at once. He was feeling better disposed towards
Adair and Sedleigh than he had felt, but he was not sure that he was
quite prepared to go as far as a complete climb-down.

"It wouldn't be a bad idea," continued Psmith. "There's nothing like
giving a man a bit in every now and then. It broadens the soul and
improves the action of the skin. What seems to have fed up Comrade
Adair, to a certain extent, is that Stone apparently led him to
understand that you had offered to give him and Robinson places in
your village team. You didn't, of course?"

"Of course not," said Mike indignantly.

"I told him he didn't know the old _noblesse oblige spirit of
the Jacksons. I said that you would scorn to tarnish the Jackson
escutcheon by not playing the game. My eloquence convinced him.
However, to return to the point under discussion, why not?"

"I don't--What I mean to say--" began Mike.

"If your trouble is," said Psmith, "that you fear that you may be in
unworthy company----"

"Don't be an ass."

"----Dismiss it. _I am playing."

Mike stared.

"You're what? You?"

"I," said Psmith, breathing on a coat-button, and polishing it with
his handkerchief.

"Can you play cricket?"

"You have discovered," said Psmith, "my secret sorrow."

"You're rotting."

"You wrong me, Comrade Jackson."

"Then why haven't you played?"

"Why haven't you?"

"Why didn't you come and play for Lower Borlock, I mean?"

"The last time I played in a village cricket match I was caught at
point by a man in braces. It would have been madness to risk another
such shock to my system. My nerves are so exquisitely balanced that a
thing of that sort takes years off my life."

"No, but look here, Smith, bar rotting. Are you really any good at

"Competent judges at Eton gave me to understand so. I was told that
this year I should be a certainty for Lord's. But when the cricket
season came, where was I? Gone. Gone like some beautiful flower that
withers in the night."

"But you told me you didn't like cricket. You said you only liked
watching it."

"Quite right. I do. But at schools where cricket is compulsory you
have to overcome your private prejudices. And in time the thing
becomes a habit. Imagine my feelings when I found that I was
degenerating, little by little, into a slow left-hand bowler with a
swerve. I fought against it, but it was useless, and after a while I
gave up the struggle, and drifted with the stream. Last year, in a
house match"--Psmith's voice took on a deeper tone of melancholy--"I
took seven for thirteen in the second innings on a hard wicket. I did
think, when I came here, that I had found a haven of rest, but it was
not to be. I turn out to-morrow. What Comrade Outwood will say, when
he finds that his keenest archaeological disciple has deserted, I hate
to think. However----"

Mike felt as if a young and powerful earthquake had passed. The whole
face of his world had undergone a quick change. Here was he, the
recalcitrant, wavering on the point of playing for the school, and
here was Psmith, the last person whom he would have expected to be a
player, stating calmly that he had been in the running for a place in
the Eton eleven.

Then in a flash Mike understood. He was not by nature intuitive, but
he read Psmith's mind now. Since the term began, he and Psmith had
been acting on precisely similar motives. Just as he had been
disappointed of the captaincy of cricket at Wrykyn, so had Psmith been
disappointed of his place in the Eton team at Lord's. And they had
both worked it off, each in his own way--Mike sullenly, Psmith
whimsically, according to their respective natures--on Sedleigh.

If Psmith, therefore, did not consider it too much of a climb-down to
renounce his resolution not to play for Sedleigh, there was nothing to
stop Mike doing so, as--at the bottom of his heart--he wanted to do.

"By Jove," he said, "if you're playing, I'll play. I'll write a note
to Adair now. But, I say--" he stopped--"I'm hanged if I'm going to
turn out and field before breakfast to-morrow."

"That's all right. You won't have to. Adair won't be there himself.
He's not playing against the M.C.C. He's sprained his wrist."

Content of CHAPTER LV - CLEARING THE AIR (P G Wodehouse's novel: Mike)

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CHAPTER LVI - IN WHICH PEACE IS DECLARED"Sprained his wrist?" said Mike. "How did he do that?""During the brawl. Apparently one of his efforts got home on yourelbow instead of your expressive countenance, and whether it was thatyour elbow was particularly tough or his wrist particularly fragile, Idon't know. Anyhow, it went. It's nothing bad, but it'll keep him outof the game to-morrow.""I say, what beastly rough luck! I'd no idea. I'll go round.""Not a bad scheme. Close the door gently after you, and if you seeanybody downstairs who looks as if he were likely to be going over tothe shop,


CHAPTER LIV - ADAIR HAS A WORD WITH MIKEMike, all unconscious of the stirring proceedings which had been goingon below stairs, was peacefully reading a letter he had received thatmorning from Strachan at Wrykyn, in which the successor to the cricketcaptaincy which should have been Mike's had a good deal to say in alugubrious strain. In Mike's absence things had been going badly withWrykyn. A broken arm, contracted in the course of some rashexperiments with a day-boy's motor-bicycle, had deprived the team ofthe services of Dunstable, the only man who had shown any signs ofbeing able to bowl a side out.