Alas! poor slacker. I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of
most excellent fancy. Where be his gibes now? How is he to cope with
the fiendish ingenuity of the examiners? How is he to master the
contents of a book of Thucydides in a couple of days? It is a fearsome
problem. Perhaps he will get up in the small hours and work by candle
light from two till eight o'clock. In this case he will start his day a
mental and physical wreck. Perhaps he will try to work and be led away
by the love of light reading.
In any case he will fail to obtain enough marks to satisfy the
examiners, though whether examiners ever are satisfied, except by Harry
the hero of the school story (Every Lad's Library, uniform edition, 2s
6d), is rather a doubtful question.
In such straits, matters resolve themselves into a sort of drama with
three characters. We will call our hero Smith.
_Scene:_ a Study
_Enter_ SMITH (_down centre_)
_He seats himself at table and opens a Thucydides._
_Enter_ CONSCIENCE _through ceiling_ (R.), MEPHISTOPHELES
_through floor_ (L.).
CONSCIENCE (_with a kindly smile_): Precisely what I was about to
remark, my dear lad. A little Thucydides would be a very good thing.
Thucydides, as you doubtless know, was a very famous Athenian
SMITH: Er--um--let me see.
MEPH. (_aside_): Look in the Introduction and pretend you did it
SMITH (_having done so_): 431 B.C. _circ_.
CONSCIENCE _wipes away a tear_.
CONSCIENCE: Thucydides made himself a thorough master of the concisest
MEPH.: And in doing so became infernally obscure. Excuse shop.
SMITH (_gloomily_): Hum!
MEPH. (_sneeringly_): Ha!
CONSCIENCE (_gently_): Do you not think, my dear lad, that you had
better begin? Time and tide, as you are aware, wait for no man. And--
CONSCIENCE: You have not, I fear, a very firm grasp of the subject.
However, if you work hard till eleven--
SMITH (_gloomily_): Hum! Three hours!
MEPH. (_cheerily_): Exactly so. Three hours. A little more if
anything. By the way, excuse me asking, but have you prepared the
subject thoroughly during the term?
SMITH: My _dear_ sir! Of _course!_
SMITH: Well, perhaps, not quite so much as I might have done. Such a
lot of things to do this term. Cricket, for instance.
MEPH.: Rather. Talking of cricket, you seemed to be shaping rather well
last Saturday. I had just run up on business, and someone told me you
made eighty not out. Get your century all right?
SMITH (_brightening at the recollection_): Just a bit--117 not
out. I hit--but perhaps you've heard?
MEPH.: Not at all, not at all. Let's hear all about it.
_CONSCIENCE seeks to interpose, but is prevented by MEPH., who eggs
SMITH on to talk cricket for over an hour._
CONSCIENCE _(at last; in an acid voice)_: That is a history of the
Peloponnesian War by Thucydides on the table in front of you. I thought
I would mention it, in case you had forgotten.
SMITH: Great Scott, yes! Here, I say, I must start.
CONSCIENCE: Hear! Hear!
MEPH. _(insinuatingly)_: One moment. Did you say you _had_
prepared this book during the term? Afraid I'm a little hard of
hearing. Eh, what?
SMITH: Well--er--no, I have not. Have you ever played billiards with a
walking-stick and five balls?
MEPH.: Quite so, quite so. I quite understand. Don't you distress
yourself, old chap. You obviously can't get through a whole book of
Thucydides in under two hours, can you?
CONSCIENCE _(severely)_: He might, by attentive application to
study, master a considerable portion of the historian's _chef
d'oeuvre_ in that time.
MEPH.: Yes, and find that not one of the passages he had prepared was
set in the paper.
CONSCIENCE: At the least, he would, if he were to pursue the course
which I have indicated, greatly benefit his mind.
MEPH. _gives a short, derisive laugh. Long pause._
MEPH. _(looking towards bookshelf)_: Hullo, you've got a decent
lot of books, pommy word you have. _Rodney Stone, Vice Versa, Many
Cargoes._ Ripping. Ever read _Many Cargoes?_
CONSCIENCE _(glancing at his watch)_: I am sorry, but I must
really go now. I will see you some other day.
MEPH.: Well, thank goodness _he's_ gone. Never saw such a fearful
old bore in my life. Can't think why you let him hang on to you so. We
may as well make a night of it now, eh? No use your trying to work at
this time of night.
SMITH: Not a bit.
MEPH.: Did you say you'd not read _Many Cargoes?_
SMITH: Never. Only got it today. Good?
MEPH.: Simply ripping. All short stories. Make you yell.
SMITH _(with a last effort)_: But don't you think--
MEPH.: Oh no. Besides, you can easily get up early tomorrow for the
SMITH: Of course I can. Never thought of that. Heave us _Many
_Begins to read. MEPH. grins fiendishly, and vanishes through floor
enveloped in red flame. Sobbing heard from the direction of the
Next morning, of course, he will oversleep himself, and his Thucydides
paper will be of such a calibre that that eminent historian will writhe
in his grave.