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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMike - Chapter XLV - PURSUIT
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Mike - Chapter XLV - PURSUIT Post by :sonata01 Category :Long Stories Author :P G Wodehouse Date :June 2011 Read :2078

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Mike - Chapter XLV - PURSUIT

CHAPTER XLV - PURSUIT

These things are Life's Little Difficulties. One can never tell
precisely how one will act in a sudden emergency. The right thing for
Mike to have done at this crisis was to have ignored the voice,
carried on up the water-pipe, and through the study window, and gone
to bed. It was extremely unlikely that anybody could have recognised
him at night against the dark background of the house. The position
then would have been that somebody in Mr. Outwood's house had been
seen breaking in after lights-out; but it would have been very
difficult for the authorities to have narrowed the search down any
further than that. There were thirty-four boys in Outwood's, of whom
about fourteen were much the same size and build as Mike.

The suddenness, however, of the call caused Mike to lose his head. He
made the strategic error of sliding rapidly down the pipe, and
running.

There were two gates to Mr. Outwood's front garden. The carriage drive
ran in a semicircle, of which the house was the centre. It was from
the right-hand gate, nearest to Mr. Downing's house, that the voice
had come, and, as Mike came to the ground, he saw a stout figure
galloping towards him from that direction. He bolted like a rabbit for
the other gate. As he did so, his pursuer again gave tongue.

"Oo-oo-oo yer!" was the exact remark.

Whereby Mike recognised him as the school sergeant.

"Oo-oo-oo yer!" was that militant gentleman's habitual way of
beginning a conversation.

With this knowledge, Mike felt easier in his mind. Sergeant Collard
was a man of many fine qualities, (notably a talent for what he was
wont to call "spott'n," a mysterious gift which he exercised on the
rifle range), but he could not run. There had been a time in his hot
youth when he had sprinted like an untamed mustang in pursuit of
volatile Pathans in Indian hill wars, but Time, increasing his girth,
had taken from him the taste for such exercise. When he moved now it
was at a stately walk. The fact that he ran to-night showed how the
excitement of the chase had entered into his blood.

"Oo-oo-oo yer!" he shouted again, as Mike, passing through the gate,
turned into the road that led to the school. Mike's attentive ear
noted that the bright speech was a shade more puffily delivered this
time. He began to feel that this was not such bad fun after all. He
would have liked to be in bed, but, if that was out of the question,
this was certainly the next best thing.

He ran on, taking things easily, with the sergeant panting in his
wake, till he reached the entrance to the school grounds. He dashed in
and took cover behind a tree.

Presently the sergeant turned the corner, going badly and evidently
cured of a good deal of the fever of the chase. Mike heard him toil on
for a few yards and then stop. A sound of panting was borne to him.

Then the sound of footsteps returning, this time at a walk. They
passed the gate and went on down the road.

The pursuer had given the thing up.

Mike waited for several minutes behind his tree. His programme now was
simple. He would give Sergeant Collard about half an hour, in case the
latter took it into his head to "guard home" by waiting at the gate.
Then he would trot softly back, shoot up the water-pipe once more, and
so to bed. It had just struck a quarter to something--twelve, he
supposed--on the school clock. He would wait till a quarter past.

Meanwhile, there was nothing to be gained from lurking behind a tree.
He left his cover, and started to stroll in the direction of the
pavilion. Having arrived there, he sat on the steps, looking out on to
the cricket field.

His thoughts were miles away, at Wrykyn, when he was recalled to
Sedleigh by the sound of somebody running. Focussing his gaze, he saw
a dim figure moving rapidly across the cricket field straight for him.

His first impression, that he had been seen and followed, disappeared
as the runner, instead of making for the pavilion, turned aside, and
stopped at the door of the bicycle shed. Like Mike, he was evidently
possessed of a key, for Mike heard it grate in the lock. At this point
he left the pavilion and hailed his fellow rambler by night in a
cautious undertone.

The other appeared startled.

"Who the dickens is that?" he asked. "Is that you, Jackson?"

Mike recognised Adair's voice. The last person he would have expected
to meet at midnight obviously on the point of going for a bicycle
ride.

"What are you doing out here, Jackson?"

"What are you, if it comes to that?"

Adair was lighting his lamp.

"I'm going for the doctor. One of the chaps in our house is bad."

"Oh!"

"What are you doing out here?"

"Just been for a stroll."

"Hadn't you better be getting back?"

"Plenty of time."

"I suppose you think you're doing something tremendously brave and
dashing?"

"Hadn't you better be going to the doctor?"

"If you want to know what I think----"

"I don't. So long."

Mike turned away, whistling between his teeth. After a moment's pause,
Adair rode off. Mike saw his light pass across the field and through
the gate. The school clock struck the quarter.

It seemed to Mike that Sergeant Collard, even if he had started to
wait for him at the house, would not keep up the vigil for more than
half an hour. He would be safe now in trying for home again.

He walked in that direction.

Now it happened that Mr. Downing, aroused from his first sleep by the
news, conveyed to him by Adair, that MacPhee, one of the junior
members of Adair's dormitory, was groaning and exhibiting other
symptoms of acute illness, was disturbed in his mind. Most
housemasters feel uneasy in the event of illness in their houses, and
Mr. Downing was apt to get jumpy beyond the ordinary on such
occasions. All that was wrong with MacPhee, as a matter of fact, was a
very fair stomach-ache, the direct and legitimate result of eating six
buns, half a cocoa-nut, three doughnuts, two ices, an apple, and a
pound of cherries, and washing the lot down with tea. But Mr. Downing
saw in his attack the beginnings of some deadly scourge which would
sweep through and decimate the house. He had despatched Adair for the
doctor, and, after spending a few minutes prowling restlessly about
his room, was now standing at his front gate, waiting for Adair's
return.

It came about, therefore, that Mike, sprinting lightly in the
direction of home and safety, had his already shaken nerves further
maltreated by being hailed, at a range of about two yards, with a cry
of "Is that you, Adair?" The next moment Mr. Downing emerged from his
gate.

Mike stood not upon the order of his going. He was off like an
arrow--a flying figure of Guilt. Mr. Downing, after the first
surprise, seemed to grasp the situation. Ejaculating at intervals
the words, "Who is that? Stop! Who is that? Stop!" he dashed after
the much-enduring Wrykynian at an extremely creditable rate of
speed. Mr. Downing was by way of being a sprinter. He had won
handicap events at College sports at Oxford, and, if Mike had
not got such a good start, the race might have been over in the
first fifty yards. As it was, that victim of Fate, going well,
kept ahead. At the entrance to the school grounds he led by a
dozen yards. The procession passed into the field, Mike heading
as before for the pavilion.

As they raced across the soft turf, an idea occurred to Mike which he
was accustomed in after years to attribute to genius, the one flash of
it which had ever illumined his life.

It was this.

One of Mr. Downing's first acts, on starting the Fire Brigade at
Sedleigh, had been to institute an alarm bell. It had been rubbed into
the school officially--in speeches from the daïs--by the headmaster,
and unofficially--in earnest private conversations--by Mr. Downing,
that at the sound of this bell, at whatever hour of day or night,
every member of the school must leave his house in the quickest
possible way, and make for the open. The bell might mean that the
school was on fire, or it might mean that one of the houses was on
fire. In any case, the school had its orders--to get out into the open
at once.

Nor must it be supposed that the school was without practice at this
feat. Every now and then a notice would be found posted up on the
board to the effect that there would be fire drill during the dinner
hour that day. Sometimes the performance was bright and interesting,
as on the occasion when Mr. Downing, marshalling the brigade at his
front gate, had said, "My house is supposed to be on fire. Now let's
do a record!" which the Brigade, headed by Stone and Robinson,
obligingly did. They fastened the hose to the hydrant, smashed a
window on the ground floor (Mr. Downing having retired for a moment to
talk with the headmaster), and poured a stream of water into the room.
When Mr. Downing was at liberty to turn his attention to the matter,
he found that the room selected was his private study, most of the
light furniture of which was floating on a miniature lake. That
episode had rather discouraged his passion for realism, and fire drill
since then had taken the form, for the most part, of "practising
escaping." This was done by means of canvas shoots, kept in the
dormitories. At the sound of the bell the prefect of the dormitory
would heave one end of the shoot out of window, the other end being
fastened to the sill. He would then go down it himself, using his
elbows as a brake. Then the second man would follow his example, and
these two, standing below, would hold the end of the shoot so that the
rest of the dormitory could fly rapidly down it without injury, except
to their digestions.

After the first novelty of the thing had worn off, the school
had taken a rooted dislike to fire drill. It was a matter for
self-congratulation among them that Mr. Downing had never been
able to induce the headmaster to allow the alarm bell to be sounded
for fire drill at night. The headmaster, a man who had his views on
the amount of sleep necessary for the growing boy, had drawn the line
at night operations. "Sufficient unto the day" had been the gist of
his reply. If the alarm bell were to ring at night when there was no
fire, the school might mistake a genuine alarm of fire for a bogus
one, and refuse to hurry themselves.

So Mr. Downing had had to be content with day drill.

The alarm bell hung in the archway leading into the school grounds.
The end of the rope, when not in use, was fastened to a hook half-way
up the wall.

Mike, as he raced over the cricket field, made up his mind in a flash
that his only chance of getting out of this tangle was to shake his
pursuer off for a space of time long enough to enable him to get to
the rope and tug it. Then the school would come out. He would mix with
them, and in the subsequent confusion get back to bed unnoticed.

The task was easier than it would have seemed at the beginning of the
chase. Mr. Downing, owing to the two facts that he was not in the
strictest training, and that it is only an Alfred Shrubb who can run
for any length of time at top speed shouting "Who is that? Stop! Who
is that? Stop!" was beginning to feel distressed. There were bellows
to mend in the Downing camp. Mike perceived this, and forced the pace.
He rounded the pavilion ten yards to the good. Then, heading for the
gate, he put all he knew into one last sprint. Mr. Downing was not
equal to the effort. He worked gamely for a few strides, then fell
behind. When Mike reached the gate, a good forty yards separated them.

As far as Mike could judge--he was not in a condition to make nice
calculations--he had about four seconds in which to get busy with that
bell rope.

Probably nobody has ever crammed more energetic work into four seconds
than he did then.

The night was as still as only an English summer night can be, and the
first clang of the clapper sounded like a million iron girders falling
from a height on to a sheet of tin. He tugged away furiously, with an
eye on the now rapidly advancing and loudly shouting figure of the
housemaster.

And from the darkened house beyond there came a gradually swelling
hum, as if a vast hive of bees had been disturbed.

The school was awake.

Content of CHAPTER XLV - PURSUIT (P G Wodehouse's novel: Mike)

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