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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMike - Chapter XXIII - A SURPRISE FOR MR. APPLEBY
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Mike - Chapter XXIII - A SURPRISE FOR MR. APPLEBY Post by :SiteMiracle Category :Long Stories Author :P G Wodehouse Date :June 2011 Read :1269

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Mike - Chapter XXIII - A SURPRISE FOR MR. APPLEBY

CHAPTER XXIII - A SURPRISE FOR MR. APPLEBY


"You may not know it," said Wyatt to Mike in the dormitory that night,
"but this is the maddest, merriest day of all the glad New Year."

Mike could not help thinking that for himself it was the very reverse,
but he did not state his view of the case.

"What's up?" he asked.

"Neville-Smith's giving a meal at his place in honour of his getting
his first. I understand the preparations are on a scale of the utmost
magnificence. No expense has been spared. Ginger-beer will flow like
water. The oldest cask of lemonade has been broached; and a sardine is
roasting whole in the market-place."

"Are you going?"

"If I can tear myself away from your delightful society. The kick-off
is fixed for eleven sharp. I am to stand underneath his window and
heave bricks till something happens. I don't know if he keeps a dog.
If so, I shall probably get bitten to the bone."

"When are you going to start?"

"About five minutes after Wain has been round the dormitories to see
that all's well. That ought to be somewhere about half-past ten."

"Don't go getting caught."

"I shall do my little best not to be. Rather tricky work, though,
getting back. I've got to climb two garden walls, and I shall probably
be so full of Malvoisie that you'll be able to hear it swishing about
inside me. No catch steeple-chasing if you're like that. They've no
thought for people's convenience here. Now at Bradford they've got
studies on the ground floor, the windows looking out over the
boundless prairie. No climbing or steeple-chasing needed at all. All
you have to do is to open the window and step out. Still, we must make
the best of things. Push us over a pinch of that tooth-powder of
yours. I've used all mine."

Wyatt very seldom penetrated further than his own garden on the
occasions when he roamed abroad at night. For cat-shooting the Wain
spinneys were unsurpassed. There was one particular dustbin where one
might be certain of flushing a covey any night; and the wall by the
potting-shed was a feline club-house.

But when he did wish to get out into the open country he had a special
route which he always took. He climbed down from the wall that ran
beneath the dormitory window into the garden belonging to Mr. Appleby,
the master who had the house next to Mr. Wain's. Crossing this, he
climbed another wall, and dropped from it into a small lane which
ended in the main road leading to Wrykyn town.

This was the route which he took to-night. It was a glorious July
night, and the scent of the flowers came to him with a curious
distinctness as he let himself down from the dormitory window. At any
other time he might have made a lengthy halt, and enjoyed the scents
and small summer noises, but now he felt that it would be better not
to delay. There was a full moon, and where he stood he could be seen
distinctly from the windows of both houses. They were all dark, it is
true, but on these occasions it was best to take no risks.

He dropped cautiously into Appleby's garden, ran lightly across it,
and was in the lane within a minute.

There he paused, dusted his trousers, which had suffered on the
two walls, and strolled meditatively in the direction of the town.
Half-past ten had just chimed from the school clock. He was in plenty
of time.

"What a night!" he said to himself, sniffing as he walked.

* * * * *

Now it happened that he was not alone in admiring the beauty of that
particular night. At ten-fifteen it had struck Mr. Appleby, looking
out of his study into the moonlit school grounds, that a pipe in the
open would make an excellent break in his night's work. He had
acquired a slight headache as the result of correcting a batch of
examination papers, and he thought that an interval of an hour in the
open air before approaching the half-dozen or so papers which still
remained to be looked at might do him good. The window of his study
was open, but the room had got hot and stuffy. Nothing like a little
fresh air for putting him right.

For a few moments he debated the rival claims of a stroll in the
cricket-field and a seat in the garden. Then he decided on the latter.
The little gate in the railings opposite his house might not be
open, and it was a long way round to the main entrance. So he took a
deck-chair which leaned against the wall, and let himself out of the
back door.

He took up his position in the shadow of a fir-tree with his back to
the house. From here he could see the long garden. He was fond of his
garden, and spent what few moments he could spare from work and games
pottering about it. He had his views as to what the ideal garden
should be, and he hoped in time to tinker his own three acres up to
the desired standard. At present there remained much to be done. Why
not, for instance, take away those laurels at the end of the lawn, and
have a flower-bed there instead? Laurels lasted all the year round,
true, whereas flowers died and left an empty brown bed in the winter,
but then laurels were nothing much to look at at any time, and a
garden always had a beastly appearance in winter, whatever you did to
it. Much better have flowers, and get a decent show for one's money in
summer at any rate.

The problem of the bed at the end of the lawn occupied his complete
attention for more than a quarter of an hour, at the end of which
period he discovered that his pipe had gone out.

He was just feeling for his matches to relight it when Wyatt dropped
with a slight thud into his favourite herbaceous border.

The surprise, and the agony of feeling that large boots were trampling
among his treasures kept him transfixed for just the length of time
necessary for Wyatt to cross the garden and climb the opposite wall.
As he dropped into the lane, Mr. Appleby recovered himself
sufficiently to emit a sort of strangled croak, but the sound was too
slight to reach Wyatt. That reveller was walking down the Wrykyn road
before Mr. Appleby had left his chair.

It is an interesting point that it was the gardener rather than the
schoolmaster in Mr. Appleby that first awoke to action. It was not the
idea of a boy breaking out of his house at night that occurred to him
first as particularly heinous; it was the fact that the boy had broken
out _via his herbaceous border. In four strides he was on the
scene of the outrage, examining, on hands and knees, with the aid of
the moonlight, the extent of the damage done.

As far as he could see, it was not serious. By a happy accident
Wyatt's boots had gone home to right and left of precious plants but
not on them. With a sigh of relief Mr. Appleby smoothed over the
cavities, and rose to his feet.

At this point it began to strike him that the episode affected him as
a schoolmaster also.

In that startled moment when Wyatt had suddenly crossed his line of
vision, he had recognised him. The moon had shone full on his face as
he left the flowerbed. There was no doubt in his mind as to the
identity of the intruder.

He paused, wondering how he should act. It was not an easy question.
There was nothing of the spy about Mr. Appleby. He went his way
openly, liked and respected by boys and masters. He always played the
game. The difficulty here was to say exactly what the game was.
Sentiment, of course, bade him forget the episode, treat it as if it
had never happened. That was the simple way out of the difficulty.
There was nothing unsporting about Mr. Appleby. He knew that there
were times when a master might, without blame, close his eyes or look
the other way. If he had met Wyatt out of bounds in the day-time, and
it had been possible to convey the impression that he had not seen
him, he would have done so. To be out of bounds is not a particularly
deadly sin. A master must check it if it occurs too frequently, but he
may use his discretion.

Breaking out at night, however, was a different thing altogether. It
was on another plane. There are times when a master must waive
sentiment, and remember that he is in a position of trust, and owes a
duty directly to his headmaster, and indirectly, through the
headmaster, to the parents. He receives a salary for doing this duty,
and, if he feels that sentiment is too strong for him, he should
resign in favour of some one of tougher fibre.

This was the conclusion to which Mr. Appleby came over his relighted
pipe. He could not let the matter rest where it was.

In ordinary circumstances it would have been his duty to report the
affair to the headmaster but in the present case he thought that a
slightly different course might be pursued. He would lay the whole
thing before Mr. Wain, and leave him to deal with it as he thought
best. It was one of the few cases where it was possible for an
assistant master to fulfil his duty to a parent directly, instead of
through the agency of the headmaster.

* * * * *

Knocking out the ashes of his pipe against a tree, he folded his
deck-chair and went into the house. The examination papers were
spread invitingly on the table, but they would have to wait. He
turned down his lamp, and walked round to Wain's.

There was a light in one of the ground-floor windows. He tapped on the
window, and the sound of a chair being pushed back told him that he
had been heard. The blind shot up, and he had a view of a room
littered with books and papers, in the middle of which stood Mr. Wain,
like a sea-beast among rocks.

Mr. Wain recognised his visitor and opened the window. Mr. Appleby
could not help feeling how like Wain it was to work on a warm summer's
night in a hermetically sealed room. There was always something queer
and eccentric about Wyatt's step-father.

"Can I have a word with you, Wain?" he said.

"Appleby! Is there anything the matter? I was startled when you
tapped. Exceedingly so."

"Sorry," said Mr. Appleby. "Wouldn't have disturbed you, only it's
something important. I'll climb in through here, shall I? No need to
unlock the door." And, greatly to Mr. Wain's surprise and rather to
his disapproval, Mr. Appleby vaulted on to the window-sill, and
squeezed through into the room.

Content of CHAPTER XXIII - A SURPRISE FOR MR. APPLEBY (P G Wodehouse's novel: Mike)

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