23 FEBRUARY 1940, Page 34


THE usual prizes were offered for a short story, of not more than 30o words, beginning with the words " I had not the slightest doubt " and ending " I think you will agree that my suspicions were justified." This competition was not quite as easy as it looked. The opening sentence was not hard to manage, but the majority of competitors found it difficult to work in the final sentence plausibly : in many cases it was not led up to, but was merely appended incon- sequently to a mildly mysterious story. Three competitors solved the problem boldly ; one by omitting the final sentence altogether, one by omitting the proper opening sentence and

transferring the final sentence to its place, and one by writing a story, not of 30o but of 3,000 words, correctly assuming that with so much space it would be easy to introduce the final sentence naturally. On the whole, however, the standard was high, and even where the key sentences gave trouble, the stories themselves were often good. The prizes go to Mr. E. Moore Darling and H. C. ; Mr. Allan M. Laing, Mr. Richard Lane and Mr. Paul Long are particularly commended.

First Prize.

I had not the slightest doubt, after his first sentence, that he was mad. I was the sole occupant of a third-class compartment when he got on the train at a small station, the name of which I forget, somewhere north of Cambridge. At once he took out a packet of cress sandwiches and began to eat. " With Taurus in the ascendant," he said, " I find this a safe diet. The cress was sown in pentagram under a waning moon. Have one." I did. Between bites he dripped out words as from a tap, without emphasis, without expression, without in- terest. As his talk was divided up by intervals of mastication succeeded by regurgitation I have adopted the colon as the only adequate means 9f punctuation. " Had an aunt: ate lobster salad when the Crab was Master: died of cancer: three physicians and the King's surgeon." I made sympathetic noises when he paused. He waved his last cress sandwich at me and said "Safe if dull: Taurus in ascendant: lot of foot and mouth disease about: aunt horrible warning."

We were nearing Cambridge where I had to change, and he, too, began to reach down a suitcase from the rack. Preparations completed we both sat down. " Soon be in London after this," he said. I asked, as one does, if London were his final destin- ation. " No," he said. " I left Birmingham for Shrewsbury this morning." " But," I said, " There's a fast, direct route via Wol- verhampton." He looked at me as at a nice but stupid child. " What? " he said, " and travel anti-clockwise? " I think you'll agree that my suspicions were justified. E. MOORE DARLING.

Second Prize.

I had not the slightest doubt that the Last Trump had sounded; my doubt was only whether the best method had been chosen. For one thing there was no privacy: the earth all round me was popping like a breakfast cereal, and an undesirable set of people rapidly filled the graveyard. You must understand I had chosen my resting place with care ; I had paid a heavy price, and I had the right to assume that everybody else had paid a heavy price too. What I had not questioned was the age of the cemetery— it looked brand-new, with marble and trim cypresses, on the edge of a good suburb. I daresay there was no fraud—the same thing might happen anywhere if one dug down far enough. In that case one knows who to blame for a grotesque situation: in- formed creatures in no clothes at all—little better than skeletons many of them—mixed up with some of the soundest people. Mrs. Mandrel for example (her husband practically was Lake and Burgess's) had been buried in evening dress, wearing some fine jewellery, and there she stood, pressed against an ape-like fellow with an axe who regarded her without any respect—hungrily almost. She was casting piteous looks at his axe which had already laddered a stocking. You see there was no room to move ; they had occupied the same graves at different levels, and the only space they gained was in the change from horizontal to vertical. It was then I really began to suspect that the affair was an unpleasant practical joke—there was no dignity about it. I called out sharply, " Put down that axe," and when I tell you that the creature didn't even understand English, I think you will agree that my suspicions were justified.

H. C. Commended.

"I had not the slightest doubt Popocatepetl would win, sir." " But, dash it all, Jeeves, why didn't you say so yesterday? " I said, with all the bitterness of one who sees a packet floating in the air just too late for the old arm grab.

" I did mention the subject, sir."

" Yes, but you were so dashed casual about it, I thought it was just one of your minor hunches. The italics, Jeeves! Why weren't they yours? "

" Sorry, sir, but there is a soupcon of ,doubt in even the hottest racecourse certainties. I did not care for the responsibility of pressing the matter." And Jeeves shimmered out with the breakfast things.

Well, there you are. It was my own fault. We Woosters have a suspicious nature. When a notoriously unreliable Egg like Tuppy Prosser blasts the shell-like ear with "Popocatepetl ' and subsequently fails to connect with a fiver, and when, on top of that, Stingy Postlethwaite (than whom a scalier Bean has never loitered on the Drones' doorstep) murmurs in a wave of pepper- mint : " Popocateped it is, laddie," even a Jeeves hunch sounds like an also-ran. It is known in the wilds of Mayfair, in the clubs of posh Pall Mall, that if Stingy and Tuppy favour the same horse, the owner might as well engage Teddy Brown to ride it. I backed Mannerheim Line, and it came in seventh.

But I don't admit I was wrong. Dash it all, an omen is an omen, and the sinister conjunction of Stingy and Tuppy mutter- ing low was a pale augur no Wooster could ignore. Anyone would have smelt a rat, or, as Jeeves would put it : I think you will agree that my suspicions were justified. ALLAN M. LAING.