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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Unbearable Bassington - Chapter II
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The Unbearable Bassington - Chapter II Post by :JohnFoutz Category :Long Stories Author :Saki Date :May 2011 Read :851

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The Unbearable Bassington - Chapter II

Lancelot Chetrof stood at the end of a long bare passage,
restlessly consulting his watch and fervently wishing himself half
an hour older with a certain painful experience already registered
in the past; unfortunately it still belonged to the future, and
what was still more horrible, to the immediate future. Like many
boys new to a school he had cultivated an unhealthy passion for
obeying rules and requirements, and his zeal in this direction had
proved his undoing. In his hurry to be doing two or three
estimable things at once he had omitted to study the notice-board
in more than a perfunctory fashion and had thereby missed a
football practice specially ordained for newly-joined boys. His
fellow juniors of a term's longer standing had graphically
enlightened him as to the inevitable consequences of his lapse; the
dread which attaches to the unknown was, at any rate, deleted from
his approaching doom, though at the moment he felt scarcely
grateful for the knowledge placed at his disposal with such lavish
solicitude.

"You'll get six of the very best, over the back of a chair," said
one.

"They'll draw a chalk line across you, of course you know," said
another.

"A chalk line?"

"Rather. So that every cut can be aimed exactly at the same spot.
It hurts much more that way."

Lancelot tried to nourish a wan hope that there might be an element
of exaggeration in this uncomfortably realistic description.

Meanwhile in the prefects' room at the other end of the passage,
Comus Bassington and a fellow prefect sat also waiting on time, but
in a mood of far more pleasurable expectancy. Comus was one of the
most junior of the prefect caste, but by no means the least well-
known, and outside the masters' common-room he enjoyed a certain
fitful popularity, or at any rate admiration. At football he was
too erratic to be a really brilliant player, but he tackled as if
the act of bringing his man headlong to the ground was in itself a
sensuous pleasure, and his weird swear-words whenever he got hurt
were eagerly treasured by those who were fortunate enough to hear
them. At athletics in general he was a showy performer, and
although new to the functions of a prefect he had already
established a reputation as an effective and artistic caner. In
appearance he exactly fitted his fanciful Pagan name. His large
green-grey eyes seemed for ever asparkle with goblin mischief and
the joy of revelry, and the curved lips might have been those of
some wickedly-laughing faun; one almost expected to see embryo
horns fretting the smoothness of his sleek dark hair. The chin was
firm, but one looked in vain for a redeeming touch of ill-temper in
the handsome, half-mocking, half-petulant face. With a strain of
sourness in him Comus might have been leavened into something
creative and masterful; fate had fashioned him with a certain
whimsical charm, and left him all unequipped for the greater
purposes of life. Perhaps no one would have called him a lovable
character, but in many respects he was adorable; in all respects he
was certainly damned.

Rutley, his companion of the moment, sat watching him and
wondering, from the depths of a very ordinary brain, whether he
liked or hated him; it was easy to do either.

"It's not really your turn to cane," he said.

"I know it's not," said Comus, fingering a very serviceable-looking
cane as lovingly as a pious violinist might handle his Strad. "I
gave Greyson some mint-chocolate to let me toss whether I caned or
him, and I won. He was rather decent over it and let me have half
the chocolate back."

The droll lightheartedness which won Comus Bassington such measure
of popularity as he enjoyed among his fellows did not materially
help to endear him to the succession of masters with whom he came
in contact during the course of his schooldays. He amused and
interested such of them as had the saving grace of humour at their
disposal, but if they sighed when he passed from their immediate
responsibility it was a sigh of relief rather than of regret. The
more enlightened and experienced of them realised that he was
something outside the scope of the things that they were called
upon to deal with. A man who has been trained to cope with storms,
to foresee their coming, and to minimise their consequences, may be
pardoned if he feels a certain reluctance to measure himself
against a tornado.

Men of more limited outlook and with a correspondingly larger
belief in their own powers were ready to tackle the tornado had
time permitted.

"I think I could tame young Bassington if I had your
opportunities," a form-master once remarked to a colleague whose
House had the embarrassing distinction of numbering Comus among its
inmates.

"Heaven forbid that I should try," replied the housemaster.

"But why?" asked the reformer.

"Because Nature hates any interference with her own arrangements,
and if you start in to tame the obviously untameable you are taking
a fearful responsibility on yourself."

"Nonsense; boys are Nature's raw material."

"Millions of boys are. There are just a few, and Bassington is one
of them, who are Nature's highly finished product when they are in
the schoolboy stage, and we, who are supposed to be moulding raw
material, are quite helpless when we come in contact with them."

"But what happens to them when they grow up?"

"They never do grow up," said the housemaster; "that is their
tragedy. Bassington will certainly never grow out of his present
stage."

"Now you are talking in the language of Peter Pan," said the form-
master.

"I am not thinking in the manner of Peter Pan," said the other.
"With all reverence for the author of that masterpiece I should say
he had a wonderful and tender insight into the child mind and knew
nothing whatever about boys. To make only one criticism on that
particular work, can you imagine a lot of British boys, or boys of
any country that one knows of, who would stay contentedly playing
children's games in an underground cave when there were wolves and
pirates and Red Indians to be had for the asking on the other side
of the trap door?"

The form-master laughed. "You evidently think that the 'Boy who
would not grow up' must have been written by a 'grown-up who could
never have been a boy.' Perhaps that is the meaning of the 'Never-
never Land.' I daresay you're right in your criticism, but I don't
agree with you about Bassington. He's a handful to deal with, as
anyone knows who has come in contact with him, but if one's hands
weren't full with a thousand and one other things I hold to my
opinion that he could be tamed."

And he went his way, having maintained a form-master's inalienable
privilege of being in the right.

* * * * *

In the prefects' room, Comus busied himself with the exact position
of a chair planted out in the middle of the floor.

"I think everything's ready," he said.

Rutley glanced at the clock with the air of a Roman elegant in the
Circus, languidly awaiting the introduction of an expected
Christian to an expectant tiger.

"The kid is due in two minutes," he said.

"He'd jolly well better not be late," said Comus.

Comus had gone through the mill of many scorching castigations in
his earlier school days, and was able to appreciate to the last
ounce the panic that must be now possessing his foredoomed victim,
probably at this moment hovering miserably outside the door. After
all, that was part of the fun of the thing, and most things have
their amusing side if one knows where to look for it.

There was a knock at the door, and Lancelot entered in response to
a hearty friendly summons to "come in."

"I've come to be caned," he said breathlessly; adding by way of
identification, "my name's Chetrof."

"That's quite bad enough in itself," said Comus, "but there is
probably worse to follow. You are evidently keeping something back
from us."

"I missed a footer practice," said Lancelot

"Six," said Comus briefly, picking up his cane.

"I didn't see the notice on the board," hazarded Lancelot as a
forlorn hope.

"We are always pleased to listen to excuses, and our charge is two
extra cuts. That will be eight. Get over."

And Comus indicated the chair that stood in sinister isolation in
the middle of the room. Never had an article of furniture seemed
more hateful in Lancelot's eyes. Comus could well remember the
time when a chair stuck in the middle of a room had seemed to him
the most horrible of manufactured things.

"Lend me a piece of chalk," he said to his brother prefect.

Lancelot ruefully recognised the truth of the chalk-line story.

Comus drew the desired line with an anxious exactitude which he
would have scorned to apply to a diagram of Euclid or a map of the
Russo-Persian frontier.

"Bend a little more forward," he said to the victim, "and much
tighter. Don't trouble to look pleasant, because I can't see your
face anyway. It may sound unorthodox to say so, but this is going
to hurt you much more than it will hurt me."

There was a carefully measured pause, and then Lancelot was made
vividly aware of what a good cane can be made to do in really
efficient hands. At the second cut he projected himself hurriedly
off the chair.

"Now I've lost count," said Comus; "we shall have to begin all over
again. Kindly get back into the same position. If you get down
again before I've finished Rutley will hold you over and you'll get
a dozen."

Lancelot got back on to the chair, and was re-arranged to the taste
of his executioner. He stayed there somehow or other while Comus
made eight accurate and agonisingly effective shots at the chalk
line.

"By the way," he said to his gasping and gulping victim when the
infliction was over, "you said Chetrof, didn't you? I believe I've
been asked to be kind to you. As a beginning you can clean out my
study this afternoon. Be awfully careful how you dust the old
china. If you break any don't come and tell me but just go and
drown yourself somewhere; it will save you from a worse fate."

"I don't know where your study is," said Lancelot between his
chokes.

"You'd better find it or I shall have to beat you, really hard this
time. Here, you'd better keep this chalk in your pocket, it's sure
to come in handy later on. Don't stop to thank me for all I've
done, it only embarrasses me."

As Comus hadn't got a study Lancelot spent a feverish half-hour in
looking for it, incidentally missing another footer practice.

"Everything is very jolly here," wrote Lancelot to his sister
Emmeline. "The prefects can give you an awful hot time if they
like, but most of them are rather decent. Some are Beasts.
Bassington is a prefect though only a junior one. He is the Limit
as Beasts go. At least I think so."

Schoolboy reticence went no further, but Emmeline filled in the
gaps for herself with the lavish splendour of feminine imagination.
Francesca's bridge went crashing into the abyss.

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