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The Master of the Shell   By: (1852-1893)

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The Master of the Shell

By Talbot Baines Reed I did find the start of this book to be rather annoying, for it can never have been realistic that a school would advertise for a form master and house master. Even in those days it would have been absolutely normal that a house master would undergo a long period as a junior master before even being asked to take a house at some time in the future. This would be something like five years on the staff, and then a further ten years before actually taking charge of a house. As for being Master of the Shell, again, there would be a period of probation while a young man was learning the ropes about teaching, before he would become head of a Block, such as Shell. In my school there was a Shell, but it was rather a side alley, rather than the broad avenue leading to the Sixth Form. It was usual for the Head of a Block to be a man who had done his fifteen years as a house master, and who had therefore been on the staff for thirty years or more.

One last point about appointing a young master to a school: he would be expected to play a full part in sport or other outdoor activities. Our hero had indeed been an Oxford Blue, and he could have got a job on the basis of this and his academic record. But he would never have been accepted if he mentioned that he was planning soon to marry, for the school needed him heart and soul as a bachelor for at least five years. On the other hand it was quite desirable that he should marry before becoming a house master, though on the whole the most excellent house masters are the unmarried ones.

It takes quite a few chapters to get past the welter of nineteenth century school boy slang before we get to any decisive fresh action. There was another house master, who was an exceedingly nasty man. Some of the boys lay a trap for him, catch him, tie him up with a rope, and leave him for the night in the boot box, after which none of the boys will admit to this misdemeanour. By chance the hero, Mr Railsford, finds out who did it, but under circumstances which make it impossible for him to tell anyone. The nasty man tries to pin the deed on him, and it comes to the point where he has to resign rather than tell.

Luckily he is saved at the very last moment, so late that his cab has arrived to take him to the station. When all is revealed, it is the nasty man that has to resign. We are left to presume that the school continued harmoniously for many a year, with Railsford still a house master, and Master of the Shell. N.H. THE MASTER OF THE SHELL




The reader is requested kindly to glance through the following batch of letters, which, oddly enough, are all dated September 9th, 18 :

Number 1. William Grover, M.A., Grandcourt School, to Mark Railsford, M.A., Lucerne.

"Grandcourt, September 9th.

"Dear Railsford, I suppose this will catch you at Lucerne, on your way back to England. I was sorry to hear you had been seedy before you left London. Your trip is sure to have done you good, and if you only fell in with pleasant people I expect you will have enjoyed yourself considerably. What are you going to do when you get home still follow the profession of a gentleman at large, or what? Term opened here again last week, and the Sixth came back to day. I'm getting more reconciled to the place by this time; indeed, there is no work I like better than teaching, and if I was as certain it was as good for the boys as it is congenial to me I should be perfectly contented. My fellow masters, with an exception or two, are good fellows, and let me alone. The exceptions are harder to get on with.

"As for the boys, I have a really nice lot in my house. One or two rowdies, who give me some bother, and one or two cads, with whom I am at war; but the rest are a festive, jovial crew, who tolerate their master when he lets them have their own way, and growl when he doesn't; who work when they are so disposed, and drop idle with the least provocation; who lead me many a weary dance through the lobbies after the gas is out, and now and then come and make themselves agreeable in my rooms when I invite them... Continue reading book >>

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