Public School Magazine, October 1901
THE words “Under the Flail by return Editor” on a post-card probably conveyed no meaning to the many people who read it before it reached me. The postman, for one, was quite puzzled over it. He stood reading it with a dazed look on his face, evidently trying to find out where the pun came in, or what was the answer, if it was a conundrum. At last he gave it up, and handed it on.
“Under the Flail by return” sounds harmless enough, but owing to the hot weather my brain has ceased temporarily to act. Brilliant and original article, therefore, not to be thought of. I might tell that story—but you have probably heard it. Or that riddle. No, I forget the second half of it. I must fall back on a story I have been meaning for a long time to lay before a thoughtful and discriminating public. It is melancholy, but so full of human interest, that it cannot fail to charm. Besides, it constitutes an answer to the vexed question whether two brothers should go to the same school or not. I myself think not. So, apparently, does the author of the following statement, now a member of one of our best-known convict establishments. I was so fortunate as to secure his views on the subject when I was collecting information for my monograph on “Public Schoolmen in the Prisons.”
“My name” (begins he), “is Orlando Adolphus Applebody. I am sorry for this. It gives me a mean idea of the taste and intelligence of my god-parents. I went to school at an early age, and when I had been there a year my brother joined me. All who have themselves had brothers at school will readily appreciate my case. At various times during the previous year I had been in the habit of trying to impress my brother with anecdotes of my doings at school, I having then no suspicion that he would also be sent there. Among these anecdotes were tales of my prowess (1) in the field; (2) in the form-room; and (3) in the company of several of the school celebrities who were probably unaware of my existence. The sequel is easily told. All these stories became public property, and in the course of the next week I was required by a committee of my contemporaries to prove by ocular demonstration my ability
(a) To do the hat-trick in a house-match.
(b) To put a lizard in my form-master’s desk.
(c) To call the head of the house “old chap.”
I failed in the first test, and wished subsequently that I had failed in the two others. I will pass over the trying moments I spent in listening to my brother telling a gratified audience the tale of how I was chastised by my nurse for stealing jam, and similar reminiscences of a chequered infancy, and come to the second stage of my downward career.
It was about four years after this that my brother began to display an ignoble passion for work. He rose rapidly, until, while I was still in the upper fourth, he was in the sixth. Under these circumstances, only one course lay before me. I went to him, and pointed out that such a state of things could not but injure my prestige, and that, if he wished to retain my esteem, he would do my verses for me. He complied with this request, not only on that, but on other occasions. In another year I had forgotten all I had ever known, and my parents withdrew me and sent me to the Metropolis to plunge into the vortex of a commercial life. In the words of the poet, “They gave me the post of junior clerk” in a respectable, but unromantic, shipping firm. My brother went to Cambridge, and while I was drinking the lukewarm cup of sorrow and eating the ærated bread of affliction, he lived on the fat of the land, and from all accounts outraged nature by working really hard.
And now we come to the most mournful part of this statement. Everybody I met who had heard of his existence would persist in asking me what he was going to do when he “came down.” To the uninitiated this may seem trivial, but when you have answered fifty or so enquirers with the words “I don’t know, I don’t think he’s decided on anything yet,” the thing becomes monotonous. Mine was a somewhat irritable nature, and I confess that after the seventieth time of repetition, I began to feel that, unless this ceased, somebody might get injured.
One evening I was returning to my home in a third-class compartment of an underground train. I was feeling ruffled, for I had just been engaged in an argument with the senior partner on a subject of handwriting. I had wished to keep the argument general but he had insisted on giving a personal turn to the conversation, and we had not parted on very cordial terms.
I was beginning to regain my composure under the influence of the fresh breezes and magnificent scenery of Charing Cross station, when the door opened, and a man I knew entered the carriage. There was only one vacant seat, exactly opposite me. He looked searchingly at me as he took it. Then he said “Isn’t your name Applebody?” I admitted that this was substantially correct. “I thought so,” he said, “and how’s your brother getting on?” “Very well, I think,” I replied. “Good, and what’s he going to do when he comes down?”
I had begun feeling for a handy little sheath-knife, which I always carried with me, before he had finished the sentence. I am glad to say, looking back at that moment, that there was nothing ostentatious about my actions. I drew my knife, leant confidentially across the carriage, and, with a murmured apology to the gentleman on my right, whom I fear I jostled slightly, stabbed him—I think to the heart, but I am not quite certain. I was not aware for the instant that I had attracted notice. It was purely a personal matter, and no business of anybody else’s. But it is the curse of the age we live in that very few people confine themselves to their own business. I was wiping the blade of my knife on the leg of my friend’s trousers when somebody tapped me on the shoulder. It was the gentleman on my right, a clergyman. “Excuse me, sir,” said he, “but—you will forgive my presumption—was that entirely judicious? I do not speak from any private bias—the-er-vital fluid appears to have fallen for the most part on the floor—but was it not little hasty of you?—” I turned to him.
“Are you, sir,” I asked, “an admirer of Mr. Crockett’s books?”
“Yes,” said he, “I have read a hundred or two of them, and enjoyed them very much.”
“Then you have heard of the stickit minister? Exactly. I should be sorry to stick a minister myself, but if you speak to me just now, I cannot answer for the consequences.”
He dropped the subject then, but at Victoria some meddling busy-body called the guard, and I was arrested. In consideration of the extenuating circumstances my sentence was commuted, and here I am, through no fault of my own. I hold my brother entirely responsible for everything that has happened.” Signed, A. O. Applebody, on oath.
The case of the unhappy man who wrote the above is, perhaps, an extreme one, but it bears out what I have always said, that brothers ought to go to different schools.
The account here has not previously been listed among Wodehouse’s short fiction, but deserves to be; I have given it the title of “Statement of Orlando Applebody” merely for purposes of reference and assigned it the Garrison code of 01SO.
The dash after “hasty of you?” was typeset in the original as a short hyphen; corrected here for consistency with the magazine’s usual style.
hot weather: A clue that Wodehouse prepared these items a few months in advance; August and September 1901 had near average temperatures in London, but a hot dry spell in July peaked on the 19th with a temperature of 30.9°C (87.6°F).
I myself think not: Wodehouse was preceded at Dulwich College by his elder brother Ernest Armine, whose academic success and extracurricular talents gave Plum much to live up to. See also “Concerning Relations”.
hat-trick: in cricket, when a bowler takes three wickets with three consecutive balls.
In the words of the poet, “They gave me the post of junior clerk”: W. S. Gilbert, from “When I was a lad” (Sir Joseph Porter’s song from H.M.S. Pinafore). Wodehouse himself, of course, went into the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank while his brother went to Oxford.
drinking the lukewarm cup of sorrow and eating the ærated bread of affliction: A double reference to Biblical travails and the mean fare of a City clerk. For instance, the unleavened bread of the Exodus is called the bread of affliction in Deuteronomy 16:3. The Aerated Bread Company developed a yeast-free bread raised using carbon dioxide gas, and operated a chain of A.B.C. tea shops throughout England, offering a convenient and inexpensive but unsatisfying midday repast for an office worker. Wodehouse recalls in Over Seventy (1957):
from now on all I would be able to afford in the way of lunch would be a roll and butter and a cup of coffee, a discovery which, after the lavish midday meals of school, shook me to my foundations.
Mr. Crockett: Samuel Rutherford Crockett (1860–1914), author of The Stickit Minister (1893), a book of short stories mostly set in Scotland
sentence was commuted: that is, reduced from capital punishment to life in prison.
—Notes by Neil Midkiff