FORMING A SOCIETYCategory: Education
Anyone who had chanced to glance into the Lower Fifth classroom on Thursday, soon after the close of the morning school, might have supposed that a considerable portion of the class was undergoing some penalty in the shape of extra work. A brief notice, however, written on a half-sheet of noteparer, which out of working hours, had been displayed affixed to the wall with a drawing-pin proclaimed the real object of the gathering.
The members of the Lower Fifth are requested to meet in this room at 12.15, to discuss the advisability of forming a Literary and Debating Society.
A. C. Vlair
The proceedings had commenced with some little difficulty over the selection of a chairman, a point which had been settled by Upridge, the biggest though by no means the most gifted member of the Form, who had calmly voted himself into the chair. Upridge, who had never before been chairman of anything in his life, seemed to fancy that his duties could be best performed by the assumption of a tone and manner reminiscent of the absent form-master, Mr Clark, at whose official desk he was then seated.
“Stop talking!” commanded Upridge. “There’s far too much noise in the room. I’ve much pleasure in calling on Mr Vlair, who has an important announcement to make to which I hope you boys will listen with proper attention.”
Vlair, who was a pallid, solemn looking youth, met with what is sometimes termed a “mixed reception”, a number of discordant sounds being mingled with the applause, one young gentleman, for reasons only known to himself, giving vent to his feelings by bleating like a lost lamb. [...]
“As you already know,” began Vlair, in rather a thin voice, “my idea is that we should form a Literary and Debating Society for the members of the Lower Fifth — ”
An explosive guffaw came from the chairman. “Sorry, — beastly cough I’ve got, ” he murmured apologetically, and regarded the audience with increased severity.
“There is, of course, a similar society already in existence in the school, but that is open only to members of the Sixth Form. I have asked Mr Clark’s permission for the room to be used for the purpose I have named one evening a week between tea and prep., and he said he saw no objection; and I have also arranged with a fellow to read a paper, which I am sure you will all find intersting. What I have, therefore, to propose is that the society be formed, and that we hold the first meeting to-morrow, that is Friday, evening.”
The words had hardly been spoken when up sprang the argumentative Jakes.
‘Mr Chairman,” began Jakes, in an injured tone, “I object to this on the ground that it is most irregular.”[...]
“What d’you mean by ‘irregular’?” asked Vlairin a peevish tone. “Why, you’ve arranged the whole thing before obtaining the consent of this meeting,” returned Jakes, evidently-in his element. “Out of school hours this room belongs to the members of the Form, and you can’t arrange to take possession of it without asking their consent.”
‘Tm doing that now.”
“Not a bit of good that,” returned Jakes triumphantly. “They aren’t all here.”
“Well, they’ve all seen and read the notice I put up.” “Besides,” continued the objector, “I don’t see why you should have spoken to Clark; you should have asked Harriston.”
“If you want my permission, it’s granted,” remarked Gerald Harriston, with an air of magnificent generosity, though he knew the remark applied to his cousin, the Senior Prefect.
“What’s more,” went on the other, paying no heed to this interruption, “what I should like to ask is — ”
“Jakes, you’re talking!” shouted Upridge suddenly. “Who gave you permission to speak?”
“As this is a public meeting — ” began the other.
“Jakes, be careful!” thundered the chairman. “Another word, sir, and you’ll leave the room!”
The objector subsided amidst a burst of merriment. Gerald held up his hand.
“Please, sir, may I say something?”
“Well, what is it?”
“I only wanted to tell Vlair that his tie’s all rucked up at the back of his neck.”
There was a shriek of delight. [...]
“Order!” cried Upridge, but here Royd, braving the chairman’s displeasure, promptly rose to his feet.
“I don’t see the good of it,” began Royd. “There’s never been such a thing as a junior debating society before — ”
“Yes, there was. I was a member of it myself.”
There was a laugh, The last speaker was an individual named Prode, whose foible it was to pose as the time-worn veteran of the school. Having entered school at an unusually early age of ten, he was able to recall events which had transpired before the advent of his present comrades in form, who, as a rule, had not joined the school till after they had passed their thirteenth birthday.
“There was a debating society once,” continued Prode. “I mean one for the lower forms. Mr Grant started it. I don’t suppose any of you fellows were here in his time. As far as I remember it lasted all one winter term and part of the next.”
“What stopped it?” inquired the chairman.
“I forget exactly,” began Prode, in his hollow voice. “But wai a bit — I think it must have been the measles.”
The audience exploded.
“It’s right enough,” went on Prode seriously. “Half the schoo was down with ’em. Yes, that was it; debating society stopped becaus all the fellows who’d promised to speak got measles. Grant lef at the end of the term, and the thing fell through.”
“Did you get ’em?” inquired a voice. -
“No such luck,” replied Prode gloomily.
Once more the listeners gave vent to their feelings with a cackh of laughter.
“Order!” cried Upridge. “What Prode says proves that there ha: been a junior debating society in the school, and there’s no reasoi why something of the same sort shouldn’t be attempted again.’ “I don’t see that,” began the irrepressible Jakes. “It’s an entirely different matter. In the first place — ”
“Jakes, you’re talking again, sir!” roared the chairman. “I shall give you an imposition. I don’t see there’s any need for us to prolong this meeting. There’s no doubt that a society such as Mr Vla’r suggests w’ould be of great benefit to — er — umah — well, to fellows who will have to speak when they get into the Sixth, and I have much pleasure in seconding his proposal. I may say lie’s arranged with Mr Prode to read the first paper, the subject being ‘The Good Old Times’, to be followed by a discussion on the question as to whether the school has degenerated. Now then, it has been proposed and seconded that a Literary and Debating Society for the Lower Fifth be formed and the first meeting be held in this room tomorrow evening before prep. Those in favour kindly signify in the usual way.”
About a dozen boys held up their hands.
“To the contrary.”
As he spoke the words Upridge seized a big dictionary and raised it in a threatening manner as if intimating his intention of hurling it at the first person who dared to signify dissent.
“Carried unanimously. Then that’s settled. You may pass on, with the exception of Jakes, who will remain at his place till dinner time.”
“Hanged if I do!” muttered Jakes, and promptly made a bolt for the door. The chairman endeavoured to intercept him and the meeting broke up in disorder.
(From The Head of the School by H. Avery)