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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWhite Feather - Chapter II - SHEEN AT HOME
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White Feather - Chapter II - SHEEN AT HOME Post by :CaptainLou Category :Long Stories Author :P G Wodehouse Date :June 2011 Read :2406

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White Feather - Chapter II - SHEEN AT HOME

CHAPTER II - SHEEN AT HOME

On the afternoon following the Oxford A match, Sheen, of Seymour's, was
sitting over the gas-stove in his study with a Thucydides. He had been
staying in that day with a cold. He was always staying in. Everyone has
his hobby. That was Sheen's.

Nobody at Wrykyn, even at Seymour's, seemed to know Sheen very well,
with the exception of Drummond; and those who troubled to think about
the matter at all rather wondered what Drummond saw in him. To the
superficial observer the two had nothing in common. Drummond was good
at games--he was in the first fifteen and the second eleven, and had
won the Feather Weights at Aldershot--and seemed to have no interests
outside them. Sheen, on the other hand, played fives for the house, and
that was all. He was bad at cricket, and had given up football by
special arrangement with Allardyce, on the plea that he wanted all his
time for work. He was in for an in-school scholarship, the Gotford.
Allardyce, though professing small sympathy with such a degraded
ambition, had given him a special dispensation, and since then Sheen
had retired from public life even more than he had done hitherto. The
examination for the Gotford was to come off towards the end of the
term.

The only other Wrykinians with whom Sheen was known to be friendly were
Stanning and Attell, of Appleby's. And here those who troubled to think
about it wondered still more, for Sheen, whatever his other demerits,
was not of the type of Stanning and Attell. There are certain members
of every public school, just as there are certain members of every
college at the universities, who are "marked men". They have never been
detected in any glaring breach of the rules, and their manner towards
the powers that be is, as a rule, suave, even deferential. Yet it is
one of the things which everybody knows, that they are in the black
books of the authorities, and that sooner or later, in the picturesque
phrase of the New Yorker, they will "get it in the neck". To this class
Stanning and Attell belonged. It was plain to all that the former was
the leading member of the firm. A glance at the latter was enough to
show that, whatever ambitions he may have had in the direction of
villainy, he had not the brains necessary for really satisfactory
evildoing. As for Stanning, he pursued an even course of life, always
rigidly obeying the eleventh commandment, "thou shalt not be found
out". This kept him from collisions with the authorities; while a ready
tongue and an excellent knowledge of the art of boxing--he was, after
Drummond, the best Light-Weight in the place--secured him at least
tolerance at the hand of the school: and, as a matter of fact, though
most of those who knew him disliked him, and particularly those who,
like Drummond, were what Clowes had called the Old Brigade, he had,
nevertheless, a tolerably large following. A first fifteen man, even in
a bad year, can generally find boys anxious to be seen about with him.

That Sheen should have been amongst these surprised one or two people,
notably Mr Seymour, who, being games' master had come a good deal into
contact with Stanning, and had not been favourably impressed. The fact
was that the keynote of Sheen's character was a fear of giving offence.
Within limits this is not a reprehensible trait in a person's
character, but Sheen overdid it, and it frequently complicated his
affairs. There come times when one has to choose which of two people
one shall offend. By acting in one way, we offend A. By acting in the
opposite way, we annoy B. Sheen had found himself faced by this problem
when he began to be friendly with Drummond. Their acquaintance, begun
over a game of fives, had progressed. Sheen admired Drummond, as the
type of what he would have liked to have been, if he could have managed
it. And Drummond felt interested in Sheen because nobody knew much
about him. He was, in a way, mysterious. Also, he played the piano
really well; and Drummond at that time would have courted anybody who
could play for his benefit "Mumblin' Mose", and didn't mind obliging
with unlimited encores.

So the two struck up an alliance, and as Drummond hated Stanning only a
shade less than Stanning hated him, Sheen was under the painful
necessity of choosing between them. He chose Drummond. Whereby he
undoubtedly did wisely.

Sheen sat with his Thucydides over the gas-stove, and tried to interest
himself in the doings of the Athenian expedition at Syracuse. His brain
felt heavy and flabby. He realised dimly that this was because he took
too little exercise, and he made a resolution to diminish his hours of
work per diem by one, and to devote that one to fives. He would mention
it to Drummond when he came in. He would probably come in to tea. The
board was spread in anticipation of a visit from him. Herbert, the
boot-boy, had been despatched to the town earlier in the afternoon, and
had returned with certain food-stuffs which were now stacked in an
appetising heap on the table.

Sheen was just making something more or less like sense out of an
involved passage of Nikias' speech, in which that eminent general
himself seemed to have only a hazy idea of what he was talking about,
when the door opened.

He looked up, expecting to see Drummond, but it was Stanning. He felt
instantly that "warm shooting" sensation from which David Copperfield
suffered in moments of embarrassment. Since the advent of Drummond he
had avoided Stanning, and he could not see him without feeling
uncomfortable. As they were both in the sixth form, and sat within a
couple of yards of one another every day, it will be realised that he
was frequently uncomfortable.

"Great Scott!" said Stanning, "swotting?"

Sheen glanced almost guiltily at his Thucydides. Still, it was
something of a relief that the other had not opened the conversation
with an indictment of Drummond.

"You see," he said apologetically, "I'm in for the Gotford."

"So am _I_. What's the good of swotting, though? I'm not going to
do a stroke."

As Stanning was the only one of his rivals of whom he had any real
fear, Sheen might have replied with justice that, if that was the case,
the more he swotted the better. But he said nothing. He looked at the
stove, and dog's-eared the Thucydides.

"What a worm you are, always staying in!" said Stanning.

"I caught a cold watching the match yesterday."

"You're as flabby as--" Stanning looked round for a simile, "as a
dough-nut. Why don't you take some exercise?"

"I'm going to play fives, I think. I do need some exercise."

"Fives? Why don't you play footer?"

"I haven't time. I want to work."

"What rot. I'm not doing a stroke."

Stanning seemed to derive a spiritual pride from this admission.

"Tell you what, then," said Stanning, "I'll play you tomorrow after
school."

Sheen looked a shade more uncomfortable, but he made an effort, and
declined the invitation.

"I shall probably be playing Drummond," he said.

"Oh, all right," said Stanning. "_I don't care. Play whom you
like."

There was a pause.

"As a matter of fact," resumed Stanning, "what I came here for was to
tell you about last night. I got out, and went to Mitchell's. Why
didn't you come? Didn't you get my note? I sent a kid with it."

Mitchell was a young gentleman of rich but honest parents, who had left
the school at Christmas. He was in his father's office, and lived in
his father's house on the outskirts of the town. From time to time his
father went up to London on matters connected with business, leaving
him alone in the house. On these occasions Mitchell the younger would
write to Stanning, with whom when at school he had been on friendly
terms; and Stanning, breaking out of his house after everybody had gone
to bed, would make his way to the Mitchell residence, and spend a
pleasant hour or so there. Mitchell senior owned Turkish cigarettes and
a billiard table. Stanning appreciated both. There was also a piano,
and Stanning had brought Sheen with him one night to play it. The
getting-out and the subsequent getting-in had nearly whitened Sheen's
hair, and it was only by a series of miracles that he had escaped
detection. Once, he felt, was more than enough; and when a fag from
Appleby's had brought him Stanning's note, containing an invitation to
a second jaunt of the kind, he had refused to be lured into the
business again.

"Yes, I got the note," he said.

"Then why didn't you come? Mitchell was asking where you were."

"It's so beastly risky."

"Risky! Rot."

"We should get sacked if we were caught."

"Well, don't get caught, then."

Sheen registered an internal vow that he would not.

"He wanted us to go again on Monday. Will you come?"

"I--don't think I will, Stanning," said Sheen. "It isn't worth it."

"You mean you funk it. That's what's the matter with you."

"Yes, I do," admitted Sheen.

As a rule--in stories--the person who owns that he is afraid gets
unlimited applause and adulation, and feels a glow of conscious merit.
But with Sheen it was otherwise. The admission made him if possible,
more uncomfortable than he had been before.

"Mitchell will be sick," said Stanning.

Sheen said nothing.

Stanning changed the subject.

"Well, at anyrate," he said, "give us some tea. You seem to have been
victualling for a siege."

"I'm awfully sorry," said Sheen, turning a deeper shade of red and
experiencing a redoubled attack of the warm shooting, "but the fact is,
I'm waiting for Drummond."

Stanning got up, and expressed his candid opinion of Drummond in a few
words.

He said more. He described Sheen, too in unflattering terms.

"Look here," he said, "you may think it jolly fine to drop me just
because you've got to know Drummond a bit, but you'll be sick enough
that you've done it before you've finished."

"It isn't that--" began Sheen.

"I don't care what it is. You slink about trying to avoid me all day,
and you won't do a thing I ask you to do."

"But you see--"

"Oh, shut up," said Stanning.

Content of CHAPTER II - SHEEN AT HOME (P G Wodehouse's novel: White Feather)

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