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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWhite Feather - Chapter X - SHEEN'S PROGRESS
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White Feather - Chapter X - SHEEN'S PROGRESS Post by :healthimage Category :Long Stories Author :P G Wodehouse Date :June 2011 Read :841

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White Feather - Chapter X - SHEEN'S PROGRESS

CHAPTER X - SHEEN'S PROGRESS


Sheen improved. He took to boxing as he had taken to fives. He found
that his fives helped him. He could get about on his feet quickly, and
his eye was trained to rapid work.

His second lesson was not encouraging. He found that he had learned
just enough to make him stiff and awkward, and no more. But he kept on,
and by the end of the first week Joe Bevan declared definitely that he
would do, that he had the root of the matter in him, and now required
only practice.

"I wish you could see like I can how you're improving," he said at the
end of the sixth lesson, as they were resting after five minutes'
exercise with the medicine-ball. "I get four blows in on some of the
gentlemen I teach to one what I get in on you. But it's like riding.
When you can trot, you look forward to when you can gallop. And when
you can gallop, you can't see yourself getting on any further. But
you're improving all the time."

"But I can't gallop yet," said Sheen.

"Well, no, not gallop exactly, but you've only had six lessons. Why, in
another six weeks, if you come regular, you won't know yourself. You'll
be making some of the young gentlemen at the college wish they had
never been born. You'll make babies of them, that's what you'll do."

"I'll bet I couldn't, if I'd learnt with some one else," said Sheen,
sincerely. "I don't believe I should have learnt a thing if I'd gone to
the school instructor."

"Who is your school instructor, sir?"

"A man named Jenkins. He used to be in the army."

"Well, there, you see, that's what it is. I know old George Jenkins. He
used to be a pretty good boxer in his time, but there! boxing's a
thing, like everything else, that moves with the times. We used to go
about in iron trucks. Now we go in motor-cars. Just the same with
boxing. What you're learning now is the sort of boxing that wins
championship fights nowadays. Old George, well, he teaches you how to
put your left out, but, my Golly, he doesn't know any tricks. He hasn't
studied it same as I have. It's the ring-craft that wins battles. Now
sir, if you're ready."

They put on the gloves again. When the round was over, Mr Bevan had
further comments to make.

"You don't hit hard enough, sir," he said. "Don't flap. Let it come
straight out with some weight behind it. You want to be earnest in the
ring. The other man's going to do his best to hurt you, and you've got
to stop him. One good punch is worth twenty taps. You hit him. And when
you've hit him, don't you go back; you hit him again. They'll only give
you three rounds in any competition you go in for, so you want to do
the work you can while you're at it."

As the days went by, Sheen began to imbibe some of Joe Bevan's rugged
philosophy of life. He began to understand that the world is a place
where every man has to look after himself, and that it is the stronger
hand that wins. That sentence from _Hamlet which Joe Bevan was so
fond of quoting practically summed up the whole duty of man--and boy
too. One should not seek quarrels, but, "being in," one should do one's
best to ensure that one's opponent thought twice in future before
seeking them. These afternoons at the "Blue Boar" were gradually giving
Sheen what he had never before possessed--self-confidence. He was
beginning to find that he was capable of something after all, that in
an emergency he would be able to keep his end up. The feeling added a
zest to all that he did. His work in school improved. He looked at the
Gotford no longer as a prize which he would have to struggle to win. He
felt that his rivals would have to struggle to win it from him.

After his twelfth lesson, when he had learned the ground-work of the
art, and had begun to develop a style of his own, like some nervous
batsman at cricket who does not show his true form till he has been at
the wickets for several overs, the dog-loving Francis gave him a trial.
This was a very different affair from his spars with Joe Bevan. Frank
Hunt was one of the cleverest boxers at his weight in England, but he
had not Joe Bevan's gift of hitting gently. He probably imagined that
he was merely tapping, and certainly his blows were not to be compared
with those he delivered in the exercise of his professional duties;
but, nevertheless, Sheen had never felt anything so painful before, not
even in his passage of arms with Albert. He came out of the encounter
with a swollen lip and a feeling that one of his ribs was broken, and
he had not had the pleasure of landing a single blow upon his slippery
antagonist, who flowed about the room like quicksilver. But he had not
flinched, and the statement of Francis, as they shook hands, that he
had "done varry well," was as balm. Boxing is one of the few sports
where the loser can feel the same thrill of triumph as the winner.
There is no satisfaction equal to that which comes when one has forced
oneself to go through an ordeal from which one would have liked to have
escaped.

"Capital, sir, capital," said Joe Bevan. "I wanted to see whether you
would lay down or not when you began to get a few punches. You did
capitally, Mr Sheen."

"I didn't hit him much," said Sheen with a laugh.

"Never mind, sir, you got hit, which was just as good. Some of the
gentlemen I've taught wouldn't have taken half that. They're all right
when they're on top and winning, and to see them shape you'd say to
yourself, By George, here's a champion. But let 'em get a punch or two,
and hullo! says you, what's this? They don't like it. They lay down.
But you kept on. There's one thing, though, you want to keep that guard
up when you duck. You slip him that way once. Very well. Next time he's
waiting for you. He doesn't hit straight. He hooks you, and you don't
want many of those."

Sheen enjoyed his surreptitious visits to the "Blue Boar." Twice he
escaped being caught in the most sensational way; and once Mr Spence,
who looked after the Wrykyn cricket and gymnasium, and played
everything equally well, nearly caused complications by inviting Sheen
to play fives with him after school. Fortunately the Gotford afforded
an excellent excuse. As the time for the examination drew near, those
who had entered for it were accustomed to become hermits to a great
extent, and to retire after school to work in their studies.

"You mustn't overdo it, Sheen," said Mr Spence. "You ought to get some
exercise."

"Oh, I do, sir," said Sheen. "I still play fives, but I play before
breakfast now."

He had had one or two games with Harrington of the School House, who
did not care particularly whom he played with so long as his opponent
was a useful man. Sheen being one of the few players in the school who
were up to his form, Harrington ignored the cloud under which Sheen
rested. When they met in the world outside the fives-courts Harrington
was polite, but made no overtures of friendship. That, it may be
mentioned, was the attitude of every one who did not actually cut
Sheen. The exception was Jack Bruce, who had constituted himself
audience to Sheen, when the latter was practising the piano, on two
further occasions. But then Bruce was so silent by nature that for all
practical purposes he might just as well have cut Sheen like the
others.

"We might have a game before breakfast some time, then," said Mr
Spence.

He had noticed, being a master who did notice things, that Sheen
appeared to have few friends, and had made up his mind that he would
try and bring him out a little. Of the real facts of the case, he knew
of course, nothing.

"I should like to, sir," said Sheen.

"Next Wednesday?"

"All right, sir."

"I'll be there at seven. If you're before me, you might get the second
court, will you?"

The second court from the end nearest the boarding-house was the best
of the half-dozen fives-courts at Wrykyn. After school sometimes you
would see fags racing across the gravel to appropriate it for their
masters. The rule was that whoever first pinned to the door a piece of
paper with his name on it was the legal owner of the court-and it was a
stirring sight to see a dozen fags fighting to get at the door. But
before breakfast the court might be had with less trouble.

* * * * *

Meanwhile, Sheen paid his daily visits to the "Blue Boar," losing flesh
and gaining toughness with every lesson. The more he saw of Joe Bevan
the more he liked him, and appreciated his strong, simple outlook on
life. Shakespeare was a great bond between them. Sheen had always been
a student of the Bard, and he and Joe would sit on the little verandah
of the inn, looking over the river, until it was time for him to row
back to the town, quoting passages at one another. Joe Bevan's
knowledge, of the plays, especially the tragedies, was wide, and at
first inexplicable to Sheen. It was strange to hear him declaiming long
speeches from _Macbeth or _Hamlet_, and to think that he was
by profession a pugilist. One evening he explained his curious
erudition. In his youth, before he took to the ring in earnest, he had
travelled with a Shakespearean repertory company. "I never played a
star part," he confessed, "but I used to come on in the Battle of
Bosworth and in Macbeth's castle and what not. I've been First Citizen
sometimes. I was the carpenter in _Julius Caesar_. That was my
biggest part. 'Truly sir, in respect of a fine workman, I am but, as
you would say, a cobbler.' But somehow the stage--well..._you_
know what it is, sir. Leeds one week, Manchester the next, Brighton the
week after, and travelling all Sunday. It wasn't quiet enough for me."

The idea of becoming a professional pugilist for the sake of peace and
quiet tickled Sheen. "But I've always read Shakespeare ever since
then," continued Mr Bevan, "and I always shall read him."

It was on the next day that Mr Bevan made a suggestion which drew
confidences from Sheen, in his turn.

"What you want now, sir," he said, "is to practise on someone of about
your own form, as the saying is. Isn't there some gentleman friend of
yours at the college who would come here with you?"

They were sitting on the verandah when he asked this question. It was
growing dusk, and the evening seemed to invite confidences. Sheen,
looking out across the river and avoiding his friend's glance,
explained just what it was that made it so difficult for him to produce
a gentleman friend at that particular time. He could feel Mr Bevan's
eye upon him, but he went through with it till the thing was
told--boldly, and with no attempt to smooth over any of the unpleasant
points.

"Never you mind, sir," said Mr Bevan consolingly, as he finished. "We
all lose our heads sometimes. I've seen the way you stand up to
Francis, and I'll eat--I'll eat the medicine-ball if you're not as
plucky as anyone. It's simply a question of keeping your head. You
wouldn't do a thing like that again, not you. Don't you worry yourself,
sir. We're all alike when we get bustled. We don't know what we're
doing, and by the time we've put our hands up and got into shape, why,
it's all over, and there you are. Don't you worry yourself, sir."

"You're an awfully good sort, Joe," said Sheen gratefully.

Content of CHAPTER X - SHEEN'S PROGRESS (P G Wodehouse's novel: White Feather)

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