Bradshaw's Little Story by P. G. Wodehouse
The qualities which in later years rendered Frederick Wackerbath
Bradshaw so conspicuous a figure in connection with the now celebrated
affair of the European, African, and Asiatic Pork Pie and Ham Sandwich
Supply Company frauds, were sufficiently in evidence during his school
career to make his masters prophesy gloomily concerning his future. The
boy was in every detail the father of the man. There was the same
genial unscrupulousness, upon which the judge commented so bitterly
during the trial, the same readiness to seize an opportunity and make
the most of it, the same brilliance of tactics. Only once during those
years can I remember an occasion on which Justice scored a point
against him. I can remember it, because I was in a sense responsible
for his failure. And he can remember it, I should be inclined to think,
for other reasons. Our then Headmaster was a man with a straight eye
and a good deal of muscular energy, and it is probable that the
talented Frederick, in spite of the passage of years, has a tender
recollection of these facts.
It was the eve of the Euripides examination in the Upper Fourth.
Euripides is not difficult compared to some other authors, but he does
demand a certain amount of preparation. Bradshaw was a youth who did
less preparation than anybody I have ever seen, heard of, or read of,
partly because he preferred to peruse a novel under the table during
prep., but chiefly, I think, because he had reduced cribbing in form to
such an exact science that he loved it for its own sake, and would no
sooner have come tamely into school with a prepared lesson than a
sportsman would shoot a sitting bird. It was not the marks that he
cared for. He despised them. What he enjoyed was the refined pleasure
of swindling under a master's very eye. At the trial the judge, who
had, so ran report, been himself rather badly bitten by the Ham
Sandwich Company, put the case briefly and neatly in the words, 'You
appear to revel in villainy for villainy's sake,' and I am almost
certain that I saw the beginnings of a gratified smile on Frederick's
expressive face as he heard the remark. The rest of our study—the
juniors at St Austin's pigged in quartettes—were in a state of
considerable mental activity on account of this Euripides examination.
There had been House-matches during the preceding fortnight, and
House-matches are not a help to study, especially if you are on the
very fringe of the cock-house team, as I was. By dint of practising
every minute of spare time, I had got the eleventh place for my
fielding. And, better still, I had caught two catches in the second
innings, one of them a regular gallery affair, and both off the
captain's bowling. It was magnificent, but it was not Euripides, and I
wished now that it had been. Mellish, our form-master, had an
unpleasant habit of coming down with both feet, as it were, on members
of his form who failed in the book-papers.
We were working, therefore, under forced draught, and it was distinctly
annoying to see the wretched Bradshaw lounging in our only armchair
with one of Rider Haggard's best, seemingly quite unmoved at the
prospect of Euripides examinations. For all he appeared to care,
Euripides might never have written a line in his life.
Kendal voiced the opinion of the meeting.
'Bradshaw, you worm,' he said. 'Aren't you going to do any
'Think not. What's the good? Can't get up a whole play of Euripides in
'Mellish'll give you beans.'
'You'll get a jolly bad report.'
'Shan't get a report at all. I always intercept it before my guardian
can get it. He never says anything.'
'Mellish'll probably run you in to the Old Man,' said White, the fourth
occupant of the study.
Bradshaw turned on us with a wearied air.
'Oh, do give us a rest,' he said. 'Here you are just going to do a most
important exam., and you sit jawing away as if you were paid for it.
Oh, I say, by the way, who's setting the paper tomorrow?'
'Mellish, of course,' said White.
'No, he isn't,' I said. 'Shows what a lot you know about it. Mellish is
setting the Livy paper.'
'Then, who's doing this one?' asked Bradshaw.
Yorke was the master of the Upper Fifth. He generally set one of the
upper fourth book-papers.
'Certain?' said Bradshaw.
'Thanks. That's all I wanted to know. By Jove, I advise you chaps to
read this. It's grand. Shall I read out this bit about a fight?'
'No!' we shouted virtuously, all together, though we were dying to hear
it, and we turned once more to the loathsome inanities of the second
chorus. If we had been doing Homer, we should have felt more in touch
with Bradshaw. There's a good deal of similarity, when you come to
compare them, between Homer and Haggard. They both deal largely in
bloodshed, for instance. As events proved, the Euripides paper, like
many things which seem formidable at a distance, was not nearly so bad
as I had expected. I did a fair-to-moderate paper, and Kendal and White
both seemed satisfied with themselves. Bradshaw confessed without
emotion that he had only attempted the last half of the last question,
and on being pressed for further information, merely laughed
mysteriously, and said vaguely that it would be all right.
It now became plain that he had something up his sleeve. We expressed a
unanimous desire to know what it was.
'You might tell a chap,' I said.
'Out with it, Bradshaw, or we'll lynch you,' added Kendal.
Bradshaw, however, was not to be drawn. Much of his success in the
paths of crime, both at school and afterwards, was due to his secretive
habits. He never permitted accomplices.
On the following Wednesday the marks were read out. Out of a possible
hundred I had obtained sixty—which pleased me very much indeed—White,
fifty-five, Kendal, sixty-one. The unspeakable Bradshaw's net total was
Mellish always read out bad marks in a hushed voice, expressive of
disgust and horror, but four per cent was too much for him. He shouted
it, and the form yelled applause, until Ponsonby came in from the Upper
Fifth next door with Mr Yorke's compliments, 'and would we recollect
that his form were trying to do an examination'.
When order had been restored, Mellish settled his glasses and glared
through them at Bradshaw, who, it may be remarked, had not turned a
'Bradshaw,' he said, 'how do you explain this?'
It was merely a sighting shot, so to speak. Nobody was ever expected to
answer the question. Bradshaw, however, proved himself the exception to
'I can explain, sir,' he said, 'if I may speak to you privately
I have seldom seen anyone so astonished as Mellish was at these words.
In the whole course of his professional experience, he had never met
with a parallel case. It was hard on the poor man not to be allowed to
speak his mind about a matter of four per cent in a book-paper, but
what could he do? He could not proceed with his denunciation, for if
Bradshaw's explanation turned out a sufficient excuse, he would have to
withdraw it all again, and vast stores of golden eloquence would be
wasted. But, then, if he bottled up what he wished to say altogether,
it might do him a serious internal injury. At last he hit on a
compromise. He said, 'Very well, Bradshaw, I will hear what you have to
say,' and then sprang, like the cat in the poem, 'all claws', upon an
unfortunate individual who had scored twenty-nine, and who had been
congratulating himself that Bradshaw's failings would act as a sort of
lightning-conductor to him. Bradshaw worked off his explanation in
under five minutes. I tried to stay behind to listen, on the pretext of
wanting to tidy up my desk, but was ejected by request. Bradshaw
explained that his statement was private.
After a time they came out together like long-lost brothers, Mellish
with his hand on Bradshaw's shoulder. It was some small comfort to me
to remember that Bradshaw had the greatest dislike to this sort of
It was evident that Bradshaw, able exponent of the art of fiction that
he was, must have excelled himself on this occasion. I tried to get the
story out of him in the study that evening. White and Kendal assisted.
We tried persuasion first. That having failed, we tried taunts. Then we
tried kindness. Kendal sat on his legs, and I sat on his head, and
White twisted his arm. I think that we should have extracted something
soon, either his arm from its socket or a full confession, but we were
interrupted. The door flew open, and Prater (the same being our
House-master, and rather a good sort) appeared.
'Now then, now then,' he said. Prater's manner is always abrupt.
'What's this? I can't have this. I can't have this. Get up at once.
I rose gracefully to my feet, thereby disclosing the classic features
of the lost one.
'The Headmaster wants to see you at once, Bradshaw, at the School
House. You others had better find something to do, or you will be
getting into trouble.'
He and Bradshaw left together, while we speculated on the cause of the
We were not left very long in suspense. In a quarter of an hour
Bradshaw returned, walking painfully, and bearing what, to the expert's
eye, are the unmistakable signs of a 'touching up', which, being
interpreted, is corporal punishment.
'Hullo,' said White, as he appeared, 'what's all this?'
'How many?' enquired the statistically-minded Kendal. 'You'll be
thankful for this when you're a man, Bradshaw.'
'That's what I always say to myself when I'm touched up,' added Kendal.
I said nothing, but it was to me that the wounded one addressed
'You utter ass,' he said, in tones of concentrated venom.
'Look here, Bradshaw—' I began, protestingly.
'It's all through you—you idiot,' he snarled. 'I got twelve.'
'Twelve isn't so dusty,' said White, critically. 'Most I ever got was
'But why was it?' asked Kendal. 'That's what we want to know. What have
you been and gone and done?'
'It's about that Euripides paper,' said Bradshaw.
'Ah!' said Kendal.
'Yes, I don't mind telling you about it now. When Mellish had me up
after school today, I'd got my yarn all ready. There wasn't a flaw in
it anywhere as far as I could see. My idea was this. I told him I'd
been to Yorke's room the day before the exam, to ask him if he had any
marks for us. That was all right. Yorke was doing the two Unseen
papers, and it was just the sort of thing a fellow would do to go and
ask him about the marks.'
'Then when I got there he was out, and I looked about for the marks,
and on the table I saw the Euripides paper.'
'By Jove!' said Kendal. We began to understand, and to realize that
here was a master-mind.
'Well, of course, I read it, not knowing what it was, and then, as the
only way of not taking an unfair advantage, I did as badly as I could
in the exam. That was what I told Mellish. Any beak would have
'Well, didn't he?'
'Mellish did all right, but the rotter couldn't keep it to himself.
Went and told the Old Man. The Old Man sent for me. He was as decent as
anything at first. That was just his guile. He made me describe exactly
where I had seen the paper, and so on. That was rather risky, of
course, but I put it as vaguely as I could. When I had finished, he
suddenly whipped round, and said, "Bradshaw, why are you telling me all
these lies?" That's the sort of thing that makes you feel rather a
wreck. I was too surprised to say anything.'
'I can guess the rest,' said Kendal. 'But how on earth did he know it
was all lies? Why didn't you stick to your yarn?'
'And, besides,' I put in, 'where do I come in? I don't see what I've
got to do with it.'
Bradshaw eyed me fiercely. 'Why, the whole thing was your fault,' he
said. 'You told me Yorke was setting the paper.'
'Well, so he did, didn't he?'
'No, he didn't. The Old Man set it himself,' said Bradshaw, gloomily.