The Odd Trick by P. G. Wodehouse
The attitude of Philip St H. Harrison, of Merevale's House, towards his
fellow-man was outwardly one of genial and even sympathetic toleration.
Did his form-master intimate that his conduct was not his idea
of what Young England's conduct should be, P. St H. Harrison agreed
cheerfully with every word he said, warmly approved his intention of
laying the matter before the Headmaster, and accepted his punishment
with the air of a waiter booking an order for a chump chop and fried
potatoes. But the next day there would be a squeaking desk in the
form-room, just to show the master that he had not been forgotten. Or,
again, did the captain of his side at football speak rudely to him on
the subject of kicking the ball through in the scrum, Harrison would
smile gently, and at the earliest opportunity tread heavily on the
captain's toe. In short, he was a youth who made a practice of taking
very good care of himself. Yet he had his failures. The affair of
Graham's mackintosh was one of them, and it affords an excellent
example of the truth of the proverb that a cobbler should stick to his
last. Harrison's forte was diplomacy. When he forsook the arts
of the diplomatist for those of the brigand, he naturally went wrong.
And the manner of these things was thus.
Tony Graham was a prefect in Merevale's, and part of his duties was to
look after the dormitory of which Harrison was one of the ornaments. It
was a dormitory that required a good deal of keeping in order. Such
choice spirits as Braithwaite of the Upper Fourth, and Mace, who was
rapidly driving the master of the Lower Fifth into a premature grave,
needed a firm hand. Indeed, they generally needed not only a firm hand,
but a firm hand grasping a serviceable walking-stick. Add to these
Harrison himself, and others of a similar calibre, and it will be seen
that Graham's post was no sinecure. It was Harrison's custom to throw
off his mask at night with his other garments, and appear in his true
character of an abandoned villain, willing to stick at nothing as long
as he could do it strictly incog. In this capacity he had come into
constant contact with Graham. Even in the dark it is occasionally
possible for a prefect to tell where a noise comes from. And if the
said prefect has been harassed six days in the week by a noise, and
locates it suddenly on the seventh, it is wont to be bad for the
producer and patentee of same.
And so it came about that Harrison, enjoying himself one night, after
the manner of his kind, was suddenly dropped upon with violence. He had
constructed an ingenious machine, consisting of a biscuit tin, some
pebbles, and some string. He put the pebbles in the tin, tied the
string to it, and placed it under a chest of drawers. Then he took the
other end of the string to bed with him, and settled down to make a
night of it. At first all went well. Repeated inquiries from Tony
failed to produce the author of the disturbance, and when finally the
questions ceased, and the prefect appeared to have given the matter up
as a bad job, P. St H. Harrison began to feel that under certain
circumstances life was worth living. It was while he was in this happy
frame of mind that the string, with which he had just produced a
triumphant rattle from beneath the chest of drawers, was seized, and
the next instant its owner was enjoying the warmest minute of a
chequered career. Tony, like Brer Rabbit, had laid low until he was
certain of the direction from which the sound proceeded. He had then
slipped out of bed, crawled across the floor in a snake-like manner
which would have done credit to a Red Indian, found the tin, and traced
the string to its owner. Harrison emerged from the encounter feeling
sore and unfit for any further recreation. This deed of the night left
its impression on Harrison. The account had to be squared somehow, and
in a few days his chance came. Merevale's were playing a 'friendly'
with the School House, and in default of anybody better, Harrison had
been pressed into service as umpire. This in itself had annoyed him.
Cricket was not in his line—he was not one of your flannelled
fools—and of all things in connection with the game he loathed
When, however, Tony came on to bowl at his end, vice Charteris,
who had been hit for three fours in an over by Scott, the School
slogger, he recognized that even umpiring had its advantages, and
resolved to make the most of the situation.
Scott had the bowling, and he lashed out at Tony's first ball in his
usual reckless style. There was an audible click, and what the sporting
papers call confident appeals came simultaneously from Welch,
Merevale's captain, who was keeping wicket, and Tony himself. Even
Scott seemed to know that his time had come. He moved a step or two
away from the wicket, but stopped before going farther to look at the
umpire, on the off-chance of a miracle happening to turn his decision
in the batsman's favour.
The miracle happened.
'Not out,' said Harrison.
'Awfully curious,' he added genially to Tony, 'how like a bat those
bits of grass sound! You have to be jolly smart to know where a noise
comes from, don't you!'
Tony grunted disgustedly, and walked back again to the beginning of his
If ever, in the whole history of cricket, a man was out
leg-before-wicket, Scott was so out to Tony's second ball. It was
hardly worth appealing for such a certainty. Still, the formality had
to be gone through.
'How was that?' inquired Tony.
'Not out. It's an awful pity, don't you think, that they don't bring in
that new leg-before rule?'
'Seems to me,' said Tony bitterly, 'the old rule holds pretty good when
a man's leg's bang in front.'
'Rather. But you see the ball didn't pitch straight, and the rule
'Oh, all right,' said Tony.
The next ball Scott hit for four, and the next after that for a couple.
The fifth was a yorker, and just grazed the leg stump. The sixth was a
beauty. You could see it was going to beat the batsman from the moment
it left Tony's hand. Harrison saw it perfectly.
'No ball,' he shouted. And just as he spoke Scott's off-stump
ricocheted towards the wicket-keeper.
'Heavens, man,' said Tony, fairly roused out of his cricket manners, a
very unusual thing for him. 'I'll swear my foot never went over the
crease. Look, there's the mark.'
'Rather not. Only, you see, it seemed to me you chucked that time. Of
course, I know you didn't mean to, and all that sort of thing, but
still, the rules—'
Tony would probably have liked to have said something very forcible
about the rules at this point, but it occurred to him that after all
Harrison was only within his rights, and that it was bad form to
dispute the umpire's decision. Harrison walked off towards square-leg
with a holy joy.
But he was too much of an artist to overdo the thing. Tony's next over
passed off without interference. Possibly, however, this was because it
was a very bad one. After the third over he asked Welch if he could get
somebody else to umpire, as he had work to do. Welch heaved a sigh of
relief, and agreed readily.
'Conscientious sort of chap that umpire of yours,' said Scott to Tony,
after the match. Scott had made a hundred and four, and was feeling
pleased. 'Considering he's in your House, he's awfully fair.'
'You mean that we generally swindle, I suppose?'
'Of course not, you rotter. You know what I mean. But, I say, that
catch Welch and you appealed for must have been a near thing. I could
have sworn I hit it.'
'Of course you did. It was clean out. So was the lbw. I say, did you
think that ball that bowled you was a chuck? That one in my first over,
'Chuck! My dear Tony, you don't mean to say that man pulled you up for
chucking? I thought your foot must have gone over the crease.'
'I believe the chap's mad,' said Tony.
'Perhaps he's taking it out of you this way for treading on his corns
somehow. Have you been milling with this gentle youth lately?'
'By Jove,' said Tony, 'you're right. I gave him beans only the other
night for ragging in the dormitory.'
'Well, he seems to have been getting a bit of his own back today. Lucky
the game was only a friendly. Why will you let your angry passions
rise, Tony? You've wrecked your analysis by it, though it's improved my
average considerably. I don't know if that's any solid satisfaction to
'You don't say so! Well, so long. If I were you, I should keep an eye
on that conscientious umpire.'
'I will,' said Tony. 'Good-night.'
The process of keeping an eye on Harrison brought no results. When he
wished to behave himself well, he could. On such occasions Sandford and
Merton were literally not in it with him, and the hero of a
Sunday-school story would simply have refused to compete. But Nemesis,
as the poets tell us, though no sprinter, manages, like the celebrated
Maisie, to get right there in time. Give her time, and she will arrive.
She arrived in the case of Harrison. One morning, about a fortnight
after the House-match incident, Harrison awoke with a new sensation. At
first he could not tell what exactly this sensation was, and being too
sleepy to discuss nice points of internal emotion with himself, was
just turning over with the intention of going to sleep again, when the
truth flashed upon him. The sensation he felt was loneliness, and the
reason he felt lonely was because he was the only occupant of the
dormitory. To right and left and all around were empty beds.
As he mused drowsily on these portents, the distant sound of a bell
came to his ears and completed the cure. It was the bell for chapel. He
dragged his watch from under his pillow, and looked at it with
consternation. Four minutes to seven. And chapel was at seven. Now
Harrison had been late for chapel before. It was not the thought of
missing the service that worried him. What really was serious was that
he had been late so many times before that Merevale had hinted at
serious steps to be taken if he were late again, or, at any rate, until
a considerable interval of punctuality had elapsed.
That threat had been uttered only yesterday, and here he was in all
probability late once more.
There was no time to dress. He sprang out of bed, passed a sponge over
his face as a concession to the decencies, and looked round for
something to cover his night-shirt, which, however suitable for
dormitory use, was, he felt instinctively, scarcely the garment to wear
Fate seemed to fight for him. On one of the pegs in the wall hung a
mackintosh, a large, blessed mackintosh. He was inside it in a moment.
Four minutes later he rushed into his place in chapel.
The short service gave him some time for recovering himself. He left
the building feeling a new man. His costume, though quaint, would not
call for comment. Chapel at St Austin's was never a full-dress
ceremony. Mackintoshes covering night-shirts were the rule rather than
But between his costume and that of the rest there was this subtle
distinction. They wore their own mackintoshes. He wore somebody else's.
The bulk of the School had split up into sections, each section making
for its own House, and Merevale's was already in sight, when Harrison
felt himself grasped from behind. He turned, to see Graham.
'Might I ask,' enquired Tony with great politeness, 'who said you might
wear my mackintosh?'
'I suppose you didn't know it was mine?'
'No, no, rather not. I didn't know.'
'And if you had known it was mine, you wouldn't have taken it, I
'Oh no, of course not,' said Harrison. Graham seemed to be taking an
unexpectedly sensible view of the situation.
'Well,' said Tony, 'now that you know that it is mine, suppose you give
'Give it up!'
'Yes; buck up. It looks like rain, and I mustn't catch cold.'
'But, Graham, I've only got on—'
'Spare us these delicate details. Mack up, please, I want it.'
Finally, Harrison appearing to be difficult in the matter, Tony took
the garment off for him, and went on his way.
Harrison watched him go with mixed feelings. Righteous indignation
struggled with the gravest apprehension regarding his own future. If
Merevale should see him! Horrible thought. He ran. He had just reached
the House, and was congratulating himself on having escaped, when the
worst happened. At the private entrance stood Merevale, and with him
the Headmaster himself. They both eyed him with considerable interest
as he shot in at the boys' entrance.
'Harrison,' said Merevale after breakfast.
'The Headmaster wishes to see you—again.'
'Yes, sir,' said Harrison.
There was a curious lack of enthusiasm in his voice.