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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Gold Bat - Chapter I - THE FIFTEENTH PLACE
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The Gold Bat - Chapter I - THE FIFTEENTH PLACE Post by :joedavison Category :Long Stories Author :P G Wodehouse Date :June 2011 Read :1936

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The Gold Bat - Chapter I - THE FIFTEENTH PLACE



"Don't be an idiot, man. I bagged it first."

"My dear chap, I've been waiting here a month."

"When you fellows have _quite finished rotting about in front of
that bath don't let _me detain you."

"Anybody seen that sponge?"

"Well, look here"--this in a tone of compromise--"let's toss for it."

"All right. Odd man out."

All of which, being interpreted, meant that the first match of the
Easter term had just come to an end, and that those of the team who,
being day boys, changed over at the pavilion, instead of performing the
operation at leisure and in comfort, as did the members of houses, were
discussing the vital question--who was to have first bath?

The Field Sports Committee at Wrykyn--that is, at the school which
stood some half-mile outside that town and took its name from it--were
not lavish in their expenditure as regarded the changing accommodation
in the pavilion. Letters appeared in every second number of the
_Wrykinian_, some short, others long, some from members of the
school, others from Old Boys, all protesting against the condition of
the first, second, and third fifteen dressing-rooms. "Indignant" would
inquire acidly, in half a page of small type, if the editor happened to
be aware that there was no hair-brush in the second room, and only half
a comb. "Disgusted O. W." would remark that when he came down with the
Wandering Zephyrs to play against the third fifteen, the water supply
had suddenly and mysteriously failed, and the W.Z.'s had been obliged
to go home as they were, in a state of primeval grime, and he thought
that this was "a very bad thing in a school of over six hundred boys",
though what the number of boys had to do with the fact that there was
no water he omitted to explain. The editor would express his regret in
brackets, and things would go on as before.

There was only one bath in the first fifteen room, and there were on
the present occasion six claimants to it. And each claimant was of the
fixed opinion that, whatever happened subsequently, he was going to
have it first. Finally, on the suggestion of Otway, who had reduced
tossing to a fine art, a mystic game of Tommy Dodd was played. Otway
having triumphantly obtained first innings, the conversation reverted
to the subject of the match.

The Easter term always opened with a scratch game against a mixed team
of masters and old boys, and the school usually won without any great
exertion. On this occasion the match had been rather more even than the
average, and the team had only just pulled the thing off by a couple of
tries to a goal. Otway expressed an opinion that the school had played

"Why on earth don't you forwards let the ball out occasionally?" he
asked. Otway was one of the first fifteen halves.

"They were so jolly heavy in the scrum," said Maurice, one of the
forwards. "And when we did let it out, the outsides nearly always
mucked it."

"Well, it wasn't the halves' fault. We always got it out to the

"It wasn't the centres," put in Robinson. "They played awfully well.
Trevor was ripping."

"Trevor always is," said Otway; "I should think he's about the best
captain we've had here for a long time. He's certainly one of the best

"Best there's been since Rivers-Jones," said Clephane.

Rivers-Jones was one of those players who mark an epoch. He had been in
the team fifteen years ago, and had left Wrykyn to captain Cambridge
and play three years in succession for Wales. The school regarded the
standard set by him as one that did not admit of comparison. However
good a Wrykyn centre three-quarter might be, the most he could hope to
be considered was "the best _since Rivers-Jones". "Since"
Rivers-Jones, however, covered fifteen years, and to be looked on as
the best centre the school could boast of during that time, meant
something. For Wrykyn knew how to play football.

Since it had been decided thus that the faults in the school attack did
not lie with the halves, forwards, or centres, it was more or less
evident that they must be attributable to the wings. And the search for
the weak spot was even further narrowed down by the general verdict
that Clowes, on the left wing, had played well. With a beautiful
unanimity the six occupants of the first fifteen room came to the
conclusion that the man who had let the team down that day had been the
man on the right--Rand-Brown, to wit, of Seymour's.

"I'll bet he doesn't stay in the first long," said Clephane, who was
now in the bath, _vice Otway, retired. "I suppose they had to try
him, as he was the senior wing three-quarter of the second, but he's no
earthly good."

"He only got into the second because he's big," was Robinson's opinion.
"A man who's big and strong can always get his second colours."

"Even if he's a funk, like Rand-Brown," said Clephane. "Did any of you
chaps notice the way he let Paget through that time he scored for them?
He simply didn't attempt to tackle him. He could have brought him down
like a shot if he'd only gone for him. Paget was running straight along
the touch-line, and hadn't any room to dodge. I know Trevor was jolly
sick about it. And then he let him through once before in just the same
way in the first half, only Trevor got round and stopped him. He was

"Missed every other pass, too," said Otway.

Clephane summed up.

"He was rank," he said again. "Trevor won't keep him in the team long."

"I wish Paget hadn't left," said Otway, referring to the wing
three-quarter who, by leaving unexpectedly at the end of the Christmas
term, had let Rand-Brown into the team. His loss was likely to be felt.
Up till Christmas Wrykyn had done well, and Paget had been their scoring
man. Rand-Brown had occupied a similar position in the second fifteen.
He was big and speedy, and in second fifteen matches these qualities
make up for a great deal. If a man scores one or two tries in nearly
every match, people are inclined to overlook in him such failings as
timidity and clumsiness. It is only when he comes to be tried in
football of a higher class that he is seen through. In the second
fifteen the fact that Rand-Brown was afraid to tackle his man had
almost escaped notice. But the habit would not do in first fifteen

"All the same," said Clephane, pursuing his subject, "if they don't
play him, I don't see who they're going to get. He's the best of the
second three-quarters, as far as I can see."

It was this very problem that was puzzling Trevor, as he walked off the
field with Paget and Clowes, when they had got into their blazers after
the match. Clowes was in the same house as Trevor--Donaldson's--and
Paget was staying there, too. He had been head of Donaldson's up to

"It strikes me," said Paget, "the school haven't got over the holidays
yet. I never saw such a lot of slackers. You ought to have taken thirty
points off the sort of team you had against you today."

"Have you ever known the school play well on the second day of term?"
asked Clowes. "The forwards always play as if the whole thing bored
them to death."

"It wasn't the forwards that mattered so much," said Trevor. "They'll
shake down all right after a few matches. A little running and passing
will put them right."

"Let's hope so," Paget observed, "or we might as well scratch to Ripton
at once. There's a jolly sight too much of the mince-pie and Christmas
pudding about their play at present." There was a pause. Then Paget
brought out the question towards which he had been moving all the time.

"What do you think of Rand-Brown?" he asked.

It was pretty clear by the way he spoke what he thought of that player
himself, but in discussing with a football captain the capabilities of
the various members of his team, it is best to avoid a too positive
statement one way or the other before one has heard his views on the
subject. And Paget was one of those people who like to know the
opinions of others before committing themselves.

Clowes, on the other hand, was in the habit of forming his views on his
own account, and expressing them. If people agreed with them, well and
good: it afforded strong presumptive evidence of their sanity. If they
disagreed, it was unfortunate, but he was not going to alter his
opinions for that, unless convinced at great length that they were
unsound. He summed things up, and gave you the result. You could take
it or leave it, as you preferred.

"I thought he was bad," said Clowes.

"Bad!" exclaimed Trevor, "he was a disgrace. One can understand a chap
having his off-days at any game, but one doesn't expect a man in the
Wrykyn first to funk. He mucked five out of every six passes I gave
him, too, and the ball wasn't a bit slippery. Still, I shouldn't mind
that so much if he had only gone for his man properly. It isn't being
out of practice that makes you funk. And even when he did have a try at
you, Paget, he always went high."

"That," said Clowes thoughtfully, "would seem to show that he was

Nobody so much as smiled. Nobody ever did smile at Clowes' essays in
wit, perhaps because of the solemn, almost sad, tone of voice in which
he delivered them. He was tall and dark and thin, and had a pensive
eye, which encouraged the more soulful of his female relatives to
entertain hopes that he would some day take orders.

"Well," said Paget, relieved at finding that he did not stand alone in
his views on Rand-Brown's performance, "I must say I thought he was
awfully bad myself."

"I shall try somebody else next match," said Trevor. "It'll be rather
hard, though. The man one would naturally put in, Bryce, left at
Christmas, worse luck."

Bryce was the other wing three-quarter of the second fifteen.

"Isn't there anybody in the third?" asked Paget.

"Barry," said Clowes briefly.

"Clowes thinks Barry's good," explained Trevor.

"He _is good," said Clowes. "I admit he's small, but he can

"The question is, would he be any good in the first? A chap might do
jolly well for the third, and still not be worth trying for the first."

"I don't remember much about Barry," said Paget, "except being collared
by him when we played Seymour's last year in the final. I certainly
came away with a sort of impression that he could tackle. I thought he
marked me jolly well."

"There you are, then," said Clowes. "A year ago Barry could tackle
Paget. There's no reason for supposing that he's fallen off since then.
We've seen that Rand-Brown _can't tackle Paget. Ergo, Barry is
better worth playing for the team than Rand-Brown. Q.E.D."

"All right, then," replied Trevor. "There can't be any harm in trying
him. We'll have another scratch game on Thursday. Will you be here
then, Paget?"

"Oh, yes. I'm stopping till Saturday."

"Good man. Then we shall be able to see how he does against you. I wish
you hadn't left, though, by Jove. We should have had Ripton on toast,
the same as last term."

Wrykyn played five schools, but six school matches. The school that
they played twice in the season was Ripton. To win one Ripton match
meant that, however many losses it might have sustained in the other
matches, the school had had, at any rate, a passable season. To win two
Ripton matches in the same year was almost unheard of. This year there
had seemed every likelihood of it. The match before Christmas on the
Ripton ground had resulted in a win for Wrykyn by two goals and a try
to a try. But the calculations of the school had been upset by the
sudden departure of Paget at the end of term, and also of Bryce, who
had hitherto been regarded as his understudy. And in the first Ripton
match the two goals had both been scored by Paget, and both had been
brilliant bits of individual play, which a lesser man could not have
carried through.

The conclusion, therefore, at which the school reluctantly arrived, was
that their chances of winning the second match could not be judged by
their previous success. They would have to approach the Easter term
fixture from another--a non-Paget--standpoint. In these circumstances
it became a serious problem: who was to get the fifteenth place?
Whoever played in Paget's stead against Ripton would be certain, if the
match were won, to receive his colours. Who, then, would fill the

"Rand-Brown, of course," said the crowd.

But the experts, as we have shown, were of a different opinion.

Content of CHAPTER I - THE FIFTEENTH PLACE (P G Wodehouse's novel: The Gold Bat)

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