The Spike: or, Victoria University College Review, June 1929
1.—Professor of Traffic.
He composed himself in the depth of his sumptuously upholstered chair (how well these professors do themselves!) and, producing a brier that looked as if it had led a bad life, he proceeded to pack it with tobacco of the odorous sort made by camel-drivers for pirates. His twinkling eyes the while appeared to be calculating my intelligence quotient.
"Oho!" he at length observed. "So you have come to interview me on behalf of the Spike?"
I hadn't, but I like to keep in with Great; so I replied in the affirmative—as well as I could through the clouds of smoke that belched from the bowl of the portable destructor.
"I've heard quite a bit about that Spike" he remarked, with some approval. "It's one of the dark goings-on of that gang of conspirators that locks themselves up in that little two-by-four cubby hatch nearby where the railing's gone from the gym. balcony."
"Indeed?" I murmured.
"Too right," he assured me. "I've had my suspicions of what goes on there ever since the Aussie footballers tried to dance the Maypole on the tennis court in the wee sma' hours the other morning. I don't mind the dancing—it sort of takes the kinks out of the asphalt—but it's the wrong time of the day to go singing 'Here we go Gathering Snails in Mud,' or whatever it was. It sounded like that, anyway."
"They were showing us how they found Kingsford Smith," I explained.
"Found nothing!" he snorted. "Unless perhaps over the wireless. Ill give it to you, though, they were fair up in the air that morning. How else could they have let you score 27 against them?"
I admitted that there was something in that.
"Too right there is," said the Professor. He fixed his gaze beyond me and appeared to meditate. "Tell me this," he demanded suddenly, "how many miles did they do the gallon?" Without giving me a chance to hazard a guess he went on animatedly. "Have you heard what that little bus of mine can do? Go on, have a guess. You wouldn't credit it unless I told you. That there little speed-waggon went all the way to Terawhiti and back last Saturday and didn't do an inch less than ninety to the gallon. Hills and all. I didn't have to take her out of top once—except when a traffic cop stopped me and said he didn't think a Ford had it in it. I tell you, she's some bonny little bone-shaker. I don't have to keep her to the roads neither —she takes the fences like a bird. Some of the things that bus can do when she's tanked would make your eyes stick out. Now, just by way of example—"
"Oh, look here, Professor," I remonstrated. "Jimmy Dunn talks like that all day long. It's a pearl of a car, I know, but I don't want to buy it. It's you I'm after. Tell us about yourself."
"Well," he said, reluctantly, "maybe you're right. I won't go so far page 6 as to say as I'm as interesting as that there little juice-hog. but—what is it you want to know, anyway?"
"Well—er—," I said. "Er —" For the life of me I couldn't think of what I wanted to know. A student is often like that.
"I'll give you a shove-off," volunteered the Professor. "Maybe you've noticed me about this place of an evening?"
As a matter of fact, I had. Many a delicious little tete-a-tete had been rudely terminated by the same Professor.
"You're thinking I don't like seeing this here hall turned into a matrimonial bureau," he suggested, eyeing me keenly. "Well, there's something in that. Mind you, I wouldn't like anybody to think I was a spoil-sport, not for all the tea in China. But I've got my orders. Discipline must be maintained in this here place or somebody'll want to know why."
He looked at me severely.
"I suppose so," I murmured feebly.
"You suppose so, do you?" he took me up. "Now look here, young man. If you knew some of the things I've got to put up with from you boys and girls, you'd go into a corner and have a good cry. Just look out there now."
He rose and stood in the doorway. I heard the sounds of hasty adieus from the region of the letter-rack, then a scurrying of feet. The Professor returned and gloomily resumed his seat.
"It's not a bit of good me talking to them." he complained, stuffing pieces of bitumen into his pipe. "Result is, I blinkin' well don't talk to them any more. I just stand there and look at them instead. Like this."
I put my hand over my eyes. When I dared look at him again he was smiling in his customary benign manner.
"I won't mention no names," he said. "It don't do. Have you ever noticed that young A.B., now—she's a blinkin' caution. She don't get a letter more'n once a day and then it's only a bill, from the look of it; but that don't stop her from blocking up the gangway any more than if she was an old cart-horse instead of a spring chicken. And that little one with the short skirts and silk stockings and shingled hair—you must have noticed her." Indeed I had—many of her. "She's a holy terror. Can talk the leg off an iron pot. 'Oh, Brookie," she says, just as if face-cream wouldn't melt in her mouth, "is it really ten past? Go and put the clock back, there's an old dear." Now what can you say to the likes of her? If she was one of you chaps, I'd hustle her on quick and lively."
"I think I'd better be going." I said, a little nervously.
"Oh, it's all right, I don't mind you," conceded the Professor, "though I won't say there ain't room for improvement. Now, that Miss O. X. don't give me no trouble. Sharp at ten past, no matter who she's talking to, she takes one flying leap over the bannisters and away she goes, up as far as the clock before you can say Jack Robinson. I wish to goodness P.O. and A.M.. and P.M. and O.K. and that fluffy big thing that's out there now only knew their basketball half as well. They won't shift for the old boy himself. And jabber! To hear them you'd thing you'd tuned in on China by mistake."page 7
"You seem to know them all," I murmured.
"Know them? I should think I did," he declared. "And more besides. I could tell you things if I wanted to. And," here he pointed an accusing finger at me. "it ain't only them. Some of you chaps is old enough and ugly enough, if you only knew it, to get a move on when you're told."
He clicked his fingers. Somebody outside took a header over the railing that led to the men's cloak room.
"I will say this, though." continued the Professor. "When I say 'Boys, get in and under," they don't generally'stop to argue. They know better than that. Next day they'll come hanging around—girls too—and 'Brookie, any inks going about? Anything flying around, Brookie? I want to go to the pictures to-night.' And I says, 'Boys, you'd better keep off pictures to-night.' That gets them going."
"I'll tell you what happened the other night, though. One of the lecturers was a bit late and the boys were chuckling chalks. You never heard such a row in your life. I'd defy anybody to shut up that mob. Jumping over desks, too. Here's what I did. I just took a trayfull of inks into the room and set them down. Then I walks out, cool as a cucumber. Oh, Lord, talk about hearing a pin drop. You never in all your born days sec chaps look so sick all of a sudden. Two of them had to be carried out."
He chuckled some more.
"Have you a bike?" he asked me.
"More or less," I answered, thinking of the payments still to be made.
"Well, he said, "if you bring it here, you've got to put it in the shed and that'll cost you ten-and-six. If you don't put it in the shed, I'm going to grab it. So mind your eye, old chappie."
"You stick to your murder-car," said I. "Tell us something about the other Professors."
"Ha," he said darkly. "Now you're trying to pump me, old son. A true Barbadoan never splits. Me and the rest of the staff—"
"Board," I corrected.
"Staff or board, whichever you like," he proceeded, "sticks together as if we were morticed. I won't go so far as to say as how I don't have no difficulties with them—there's Professor So-and-so, for instance-but that's not for your ears."
"I'm all ears. Go on," I implored.
"Like the rest of the Stud. Ass." he sniggered. 'But, my lad, you haven't all the hoofs—not in this here stable."
"Well, then," I said, trying another trick, "perhaps you could unburden yourself a little upon the subject of higher education?"
"How higher?" he asked, in an innocent voice. "First floor, second floor, or top?"
"Oh, bother," I said. "You know what I mean. Wisdom is more than gold and so on."
"Who's been telling you that?" he asked, rather sardonically, I thought.page 8
I aired my knowledge to him.
"Well," he said, "I'll make a bargain with you. You show me the wisdom and I'll show you the gold—piles and piles of it."
"You don't say. "I exclaimed. "You must be a Croesus."
"I didn't say I was anything." he said crossly, "and if you want to call names, don't call German ones. That's all."
I departed rapidly in the direction of the letter-rack, about which a number of visions clustered.
2.—President of the Students' Soviet.
I Stood on my head, gyrated three times, turned my back to the door, and tapped upon it timidly with my heel. Stealthy feet sounded within and I followed in imagination their owner as he took down the bar, drew the bolt, unfastened the chain and turned key after key in the series of padlocks designed to hinder the careless from bursting in upon the sacred sessions of the Stud. Ass. Executive. Then the door opened half-an-inch and a cold eye peered interrogation at me.
"Three sheets of notepaper at eightpence. Please—" I timidly commenced. The eye gave way to an ear.
"Are you sitting on that notepaper, Bill?" came a voice.
"— and an interview with the President," I concluded.
"Crow!" yelled the voice. "Here's another nut after information."
"Fair dinkum?" I heard.
"I've only his say-so for it," said the ear.
"Perhaps he's from 'Form'." came from inside. "Let him down—I mean, in."
The guardian ear opened the door another five inches and I sidled through. Immediately I was seized and blindfolded. Hands went through my pockets.
"He's paid his levy all right," said a disgusted voice, "and there's no broken hatpegs on him. Put his money back."
I take it that this was done. In any case, the bandage was removed from my eyes and I was able to examine the scene before me.
Around a table upon which rested a dilapidated typewriter—Ford make, T model—sat a number of cowled and hooded figures, their expressionless eyes fixed on me. One, evidently the President, sat on a gas heater. Photos of great antiquity obscured the walls. Rubbish of all descriptions was stacked here and there. Near me stood a piano, with a mutilated kewpie resting on the keys. I was regarding with interest a small silver cup that somehow suggested chocolate sundaes when the voice of the leader of the gang recalled me to the business in hand.
"What's the interview for?" he inquired.
"The Spike," I answered.
"Oh. h—!" I heard him mutter, in perfect English. "What is that jolly rag after now?"
"Something about football would do," I ventured.page 9
"Hum." he commented. "That's a jolly lot more sense than it usually displays. Tell it there's no need to worry—things are going all right. That's all, isn't it?"
"Heaven forbid!" I ejaculated.
"I don't like you saying things like that in my hearing," said the President, reproachfully. 'I don't hold with any place where you can't stick up a pair of goal posts. It jolly well doesn't exist. Fair dinkum, don't you think so?"
May I venture to suggest," said I, "that the Cricket Association might hold a different opinion. I seem to remember a perfectly heavenly noise about a certain cricket tour during the long vacation."
"Well, what can a fellow do?" he protested. "To tell you the honest truth, it's the only way I can get into touch with the rural Police. There are some jolly fine fellows among them—a bit difficult to reason with. I must admit, but—"
"I never stop to reason with them." I informed him. "I often think they'd be broadened a bit if we sang some of our College songs to them." he remarked. "It's a pity our chaps can't sing."
"Haven't you ever listened to the Haeremai Club?" I asked, incredulously.
"Drunk and sober." he confessed, "and fair dinkum. I reckon those fellows don't know the difference between 'Aedem colimus' —er, how does it go, Bill?"
"Er—laboriosae, I think," said Bill, a little uncertainly.
"Yes, as I was saying." continued the President, "they can't distinguish between 'Aedem'—er, that good old College song, you know—and that whiskery old hymn tune 'Clementine.' Would you believe it, at the jolly old Undergranulated Supper the other night they got mixed—"
"No, no." I assured him. "That was at the Smoke Concert. You wouldn't bar a shandy or two, would you?"
"Eh?" he said. "Oh, yes, I see. No, really, fair dinkum, I like the students to be noisy at those functions. It gives me a chance to be consistent. I've got a little speech specially prepared for noisy functions and it sort of loses its kick when I have to alter it to fit a quiet show. Now, at Capping—"
He shook his head regretfully:
"You speak in mysteries," I confessed. "Tell me—what did you think of 'The Mystery of the Purloined Cup'?"
"Nothing," he snapped. "I happened to be occupied in Bond Street when that incident occurred."
"The culprit was a student. I believe?" suggested I. "Ridiculous nonsense," he exclaimed. "I have it on jolly good authority that he was a dignitary of the church."
"Same church as you?" I hinted, somewhat impertinently.
"Look here." said the President. "You must lay off that subject."
"Pardon," said I. "I merely heard you were converted."page 10
"That's a football expression," he evaded. "I can talk for hours about Rugby. Fair dinkum. Honest. I think every college student should play it."
"The women too?" I enquired.
"Why not?" he demanded. "They wouldn't come fluttering around me for grants for their Basketball Club then. We can't go on shovelling out grants for ever. Fair dinkum. Honestly now, it really beats me what these clubs want money for. I could understand it if it were football. Give me my way and I'd make even the Professors play football."
"Great, great!" I almost shouted, grabbing my notebook and pencil. "What Professors would you play in the forwards?"
He appeared to ponder this question, then in a moment his manner changed. I fancy he detected some hidden implication in my innocent question.
"Get out of this," he ordered roughly. "Quick and lively!"
I have a confused recollection of what followed, but I feel that if ever I play football again I'll hit the first man I see kicking the jolly old ball.