Keeping it from Harold
by P.G. Woodhouse
Full text explained in appropriate words ….
Para 1 … This is a scene in Bill Bramble’s house. The highly gifted son Harold sits at the table and addresses his mother Mrs. Bramble, “Ma!”. She is a nice little woman with a rather mediocre brain. She dotes on her academically brilliant son. For her, the world revolves around her husband, Mr. Bill Bramble and her son, Harold. Harold has a book kept open on the red table cloth of the table. He is somewhat lost in thought while reading the book.
Para 2 .. The mother lovingly answers, “Yes, dearie?’.
Para 3 … Harold asks, “Will you hear me?”
Para 4 … Mrs. Bramble took the book.
Para 5 .. She answers, “Yes, mother will hear you, precious.” Mrs. Bramble had developed the habit of answering her son in the third person, perhaps as a show of her excessive affection towards him.
Para 6. .. Harold is growing up. His mother’s mannerism makes him uncomfortable. He resents the way his mother addressed him in the third person, which implied that she still treated him as a toddler.
He frowns, being discomforted with her mother’s response.
Para 7 … Harold clears his throat and fixes his gaze on the cut-glass chandelier hanging from the ceiling.
Para 8 … Harold recites the first line of the poem, “Be good, sweet maid.” It was devoid of emotion.
Para 9 … Mrs. Bramble is worried at the hard work put in by Harold for his studies. Sympathizing with her studious son, she advises him to go for a half an hour saunter down the river side to refresh himself.
Para 10 …. Harold thought over his mother’s suggestion and decided to abide by her advice. He quietly stepped out of the front door.
Para 11 … Harold was an extraordinarily talented child. He was impeccable in his manners too. Mrs. Bramble often wondered how she could have given birth to such an adorable child, when neither her husband nor she had even a fraction of Harold’s intellectual caliber. But her elation was also shrouded by sadness. Harold’s father was in a profession that was not befitting for a boy like Harold. This mismatch between Harold’s all-round goodness was somewhat disconcerting to the parents. Deep in their hearts, the Brambles felt the profession that bread and butter and butter was lowly. With a sense of inferioroty and indignation, they decided to keep this fact away from Harold. However, Mrs. Bramble felt mean and distressed at her attempt to keep her son in dark about his father’s profession.
Para 12 … When Harold was a baby, this fact never bothered the parents. But, he grew up to a fine, well-behaved boy. His blossoming talent became evident when he won two prizes at the Sunday school. When the Bramble’s were in the midst of this dilemma, the curate of the local parish came into suggest that the nature of Bramble’s job must be hidden from Harold.
Despite the huge popularity of boxing among the people, it was perceived to be rather a boorish sport, not meant for the gentry.
Para 13 … The situation headed for the worse when Major Percy Stokes, brother of Mrs. Bramble, dropped in for a cup of tea. He was a man who was given to speaking boastfully and indiscreetly. During the chat, he spoke in a rather demeaning tone about Bramble’s profession. Percy took this opportunity to remind his sister to ensure Harold never got to know of his father’s profession.
Para 14 .. Mr. Bramble, an embodiment of civility and politeness, readily succumbed to the persuasiveness of Major Stokes. Bramble had always been like this. When Harold was born, he did not insist on giving the baby the name chosen prior to the birth. Instead he gave the name Harold to the baby boy, because his wife wanted so.
Para 15 .. When it became certain that his wife was in the family way, he chose the names ‘John’ after Mr. John. S. Sullivan (If it was to be a son) and ‘Marie’ after Miss Marie Lloyd (if it was to be a daughter). Finally, it was his wife whose choice prevailed and the boy got the name ‘Harold’ instead of ‘John’. On this matter Mr. Bramble gracefully ceded ground to his loving wife.
Para 16 … Bramble endeared him to one and all by his cool temperament and cheerful exterior.
Para 17 .. One thing that caused him much disquiet was his profession — he was a professional boxer. Boxing needs more brawn than brain.
Para 18 .. Before the arrival of Harold, Bramble had been proud of his profession as a boxer. In his profession, he was as much feared as he was respected. His redoubtable boxing acumen had earned him name, fame and money. He looked back at his exploits with satisfaction.
For the millions of boxing lovers in London and beyond, he was a legend. He was as formidable inside the ring as he was adorable outside, among his fans.
His trademark ‘left hook’ was acclaimed by sports writers.
Para 19 … With the coming of Harold, his flamboyance began to wane. He began to avoid publicity and media attention.
Para 20 … As Harold grew up, his talent blossomed. It brought much joy to his parents. But, the boy’s extra-ordinary talent affected the Brambles in a rather unintended way. Before their prodigious Harold, they felt small, and un-fit for the task of parenting such a hugely gifted child. This was a very awkward situation for the father and mother to be in. They applauded and, at times, sulked at the accomplishments of their gifted son.
Para 21 … Harold excelled in academics, much the same way his father Bill excelled in the ring. Harold had singing talent too. He sang at the choir.
Para 22 … The young boy studied in the local private school. He wore the school’s academic cap and behaved dignifiedly. He was ten then. He won prizes in spelling and dictation. Harold had been told by his father that he worked as a commercial traveler. For a boy of such caliber and refined taste, to be told that his father was the boxer ‘Young Perky’ — the embodiment of brawn, rage and brute force idolized by boisterous crowds — was too unfair and uncharitable.
Para 23 … Harold blossomed in his school with his multi-faceted genius, quite oblivious of the real profession of his father. Bill had a square jaw and a slightly distorted nose. Their brick-red house stood apart from other houses. Harold was too focused in his studies to bother about his father’s real profession. He had no time for this. Days went by.
Para 24 … Mrs. Bramble was busy mending her shocks.
Her son Harold was growing in age. The worries of parenting a child had begun to recede. Soon, he will be on his own.
It was an occasion that was important for another reason too. A week from that day, Bill would fight his last fight. Then he would hang up his gloves for good.
This fight was to be a 20-round bout against the American boxer Murphy at the National Sporting Club. In preparation for the fight, Bramble was training at his favourite training centre White Hart situated at a short distance from his house.
Bramble was determined to make this fight his last. He was 31. Continuing the fighting would sap his muscles and bones irreparably, he concluded.
He planned to retire, and than take up the job of boxing instructor in a school. That would be much less taxing and somewhat respectable too. School authorities preferred instructors with sober temperament, not the boorish types generally associated with the game. And, he knew his reputation would help him land a job with not much difficulty. Some of Bramble’s friends were already working as instructors.
Lost in these comforting thoughts, Mrs. Bramble continued to darn her socks.
Para 25 … A knock on the front door diverted her attention. She kept down her shocks and listened.
Para 26 .. Martha, the maid servant, was coming in through the passage. Then there was a muted chorus of voices. The door opened. Major Percy peeped in.
Para 27 … Major Percy Stokes stared at her sister.
Para 28 .. He enquired if Harold was around.
Para 29 .. Mrs. Bramble replied that Harold had stepped out for a walk. She wondered what had brought her brother so late in that day.
Para 30 … Percy stood there saying nothing.
Para 31 … At that time, Percy’s full figure came forward. He held the door open with a broad grin in his face. He ushered in a man with square jaws and an awkward nose. The guy had managed to put up a smile. Mrs. Bramble was clearly surprised. She stood up dropping her shocks. Out of curiosity, she asked, “Bill’.
Para 32 … Bill appeared to be in the defensive. He gave a nervous smile and looked on to the Major for some support.
Para 33 .. Percy said how the scales had fallen from Bramble’s eyes. What he meant that Bramble had begun to see the reality.
Para 34 … It took his wife by surprise. She asked, “What scales?” She demanded to know why Bill had not gone to the practice yet.
Part 35 … Percy butted in explaining that he had struggled with Bill to drive home the point that commercial boxing was no longer the career option for Bill. He declared that he had succeeded in convincing his brother-in-law on this.
Para 36 … Mrs. Bramble was somewhat puzzled to notice her brother’s role in brainwashing her husband. She gave an angry look at her brother Percy.
Para 37 .. Percy proceeded to say that he had failed to talk things over with Jerry Fisher, the trainer at White Hart as he did not like the idea of outsiders meeting his trainees.
Para 38 … Major Percy disclosed how he wrote letters to Bill Bramble pleading for giving up boxing once and for all.
Para 39 … At this point, Bill said that he was not as affected by Percy’s letters as he was with what he had written about Perce in them.
Para 40 … Restless to have her say, a disturbed Mrs. Bramble asked her brother Perce to keep quiet for a moment so that she can hear from her husband Bill why he had failed to go to White Hart for training.
Para 41 … Mr. Bramble looked at his wife helplessly.
Para 42 … He fumbled saying that it was Perce who had influenced him top take the decision.
Para 43 .. Mrs. Jane Bramble was in no mood to hear all this. In a stern voice she asked Bill why he had skipped his training at White Hart.
Para 44 .. Bill innocently replied that he had returned home because he did not want to train.
Para 45 .. Major Percy applauded Bill for his decision.
Para 46 .. Mrs. Bramble was very annoyed. She admonished her brother Perce and returned to her husband angrily reminding that the fight was just about a week away.
Para 47 .. The Major, unruffled by her sister’s anger, said aloud, “The fight is over. And Bill has won, along with me.”
Para 48 .. Mrs. Bramble yelled, “Percy”.
Para 49 .. Mr. Bramble knew what was coming. He pulled himself together for his wife’s onslaught.
Para 50 .. He said rather meekly, “I am not going to fight anymore.”
Para 51 .. Mrs. Bramble asked in astonishment and anger, “You are not going —!”
Para 52 .. Mr. Percy came to his brother-in-law’s defense saying, “He has realized the undesirability of his profession. So, he has decided to hang up his gloves, although so late.”
Para 53 .. Percy further added, how he had waited for that joyful moment.
Para 54 … In a commanding voice he asked his brother-in-law, “Bill, you are not going to fight.”
Para 55 … Mr. Bramble, not having the courage to look into his wife’s angry eyes, simply nodded in agreement.
Para 56 … His wife shot back, “And how about the money?”
Para 57 .. The major sneered, “What money?”
Para 58 .. Mrs. Bramble was furious with her brother. She roared, “You ought to know the value of money. You have borrowed enough of it me whenever you needed.”
Para 59 … The Major took his sister’s angry comments as an affront. His body language was dismissive.”
Para 60 … Mrs. Bramble repeated her snide at Percy saying, “How about the money?” Turning to her husband, she said, “I never liked your profession Bill. But, it has enabled us to live a fairly comfortable life thus far, giving our son Harold good education.” She further added that in the event of he beating Murphy, he would 500 ponds as reward, which could go a long way in financing Harold’s education. Even if he lost, he would still get 125 pounds that was a decent sum too.
She wondered how and why Bill had decided to take such a decision to stay away from the scheduled fight.
Para 61 … A strange silence descended on the house. Even the Major, struck by his sister’s barrage of questions, stood speechless. Mrs. Bramble was exasperated too. She began to sob. Mr. Bramble shuffled his feet.
Para 62 … Bramble knew he owed an explanation. He needed to clear the air. He said it was Harold for whom he had walked away from the pre-fight training sessions at the White Hart. He went on how he dreaded the thought of his photo and description appearing in the newspapers before the fight. It would uncover the mask he had managed to wear so far, trying to hide his real self from Harold. It would be a disaster for him. It might shatter Harold to know that his father was a ‘paid’ boxer. Major Percy had also expressed the same fear.
Para 63 …. To support Bill Bramble’s long-winded explanation, Major Percy added that Bill had taken the decision only at the eleventh hour.
Para 64 .. Just when Bramble was beginning to say something more to buttress his stand, a stranger came in. He wore loose-fitting trousers and looked rather uncouth.
Para 65 … The man said to look Bramble up and see why he had not been seen at the training.
Para 66 … He stood apart, maintaining a certain distance.
Para 67 … The outsider said, “I thought so!” and gave an angry look at Major Percy.
Para 68 … Bill called out, perhaps to cease the initiative, ‘Bill’.
Para 69 .. Mrs. Bramble also called, ‘Mr. Fisher!’
Para 70 … To fend off the raging Mr. Fisher, Major Percy called out, “Be reasonable”.
Para 71 .. Fisher was in a combative mood. He wanted to square things up with the Major. “Let me get at him,” cried Fisher trying to shake off Bill’s hands that were already restraining him.
Para 72 … Mrs. Bramble, distraught to see what was going on, banged on the table.
Para 73 … She reminded Fisher saying, “Kindly remember, there is a lady present.”
Para 74 … Fisher was as angry as he was sorry for his unseemly behaviour.
Para 75 … Fisher decided to pull back. He concluded that it was the Major who had made Bill to renege on his contract to fight. In his boxer’s tone, he said, “I just wanted to break his (Major’s) neck for him (Bill). I suppose it’s not to be. I know it’s him that’s at the bottom of it. And here I find them together, so I know it’s him.” Fisher obviously had been ashamed of his boorish behaviour in front of Mrs. Bramble.
In a friendly gesture, he put his hand around Bill and coaxed him to come to White Hart for training. He praised Bill for his past conduct. He assured this incident would be soon forgotten as it was because of bad company (Percy’s company) that had caused this aberration in Bramble.
Para 76 .. Bramble looked at his brother-in-law with hurt-innocence.
Para 77 .. Now the problem was who would bell the cat, and make Fisher to let Bramble stay away from the fight. Bramble pleaded with Major Percy to plead with Fisher for his case for a reprieve from the match.
Para 78 … Even the army man Percy could not summon the courage to pick up the cudgels on Bramble’s behalf. He asked his sister Jane (Mrs. Bramble) to speak to Fisher to make him withdraw from his apparently un-yielding position.
Para 79 … Jane refused.
Para 80 … Fisher, still unable to fathom what was in the back of the trio’s mind wondered what was there left to be talked about.
Para 81 … Fisher demanded the Bramble to clear the air.
Para 82 … Finally, Bramble dropped the bombshell. He asserted that he was not going to fight that Monday.
Para 83 … Fisher was taken aback.
Para 84 .. The Major opened up. Moving to the left to keep the table as a barrier between him and Fisher (Just in case Fisher exploded …) he mentioned how Bill Bramble had a bright new idea about his future life, and how Bramble planned to bury his past by giving up fighting for good. Quite brazenly, he said how much Bramble detested fighting as a profession and how elated was his brother-in-law to turn a new leaf in his life by doing something decent. Percy told Fisher how joyous was the occasion and even suggested that Fisher share the joy.
Para 85 … Fisher growled like a wounded lion.
Para 86 … Bramble concurred to what Percy had just narrated. He reiterated to Fisher that he was withdrawing from the Monday fight.
Para 87 … Rather impetuously, the Major rejoiced, saying ‘Glory!’
Para 88 .. The refusal of Bramble infuriated Fisher enormously. In an unintended show of the rage burning in him, he clutched the table cloth.
Para 89 … Bill stepped in to assuage the deeply disturbed Fisher by saying how reluctant he had been to let Fisher down in refusing to fight that Monday. He said how it was for his son Harold that he had taken that decision. He explained the scheduled fight with Jimmy Murphy would attract widespread publicity in the press drawing the media light on to him. A boy like Harold would come to know who were fighting. The knowledge that his father was one of the fighters in the match was sure to embarrass the little boy. This would shatter him, because till then he never knew that his father was a professional boxer – considered disreputable by some.
Para 90 .. It hurt Fisher emotionally. His eyes welled up.
Para 91 .. Fisher reminded Bramble that there was big money involved and Bill Bramble was anything but reckless to take such a decision.
Para 92 … Mrs. Bramble seemed to agree.
Para 93 .. Fisher again persisted telling Bramble that a good fight was going to bring great cheer and applause from the boxing crowd.
Para 94 … Bramble again declined saying Harold’s sentiments could not be hurt.
Para 95 .. Fisher was not to give up. He reminded Bramble how intensely he had practiced in the last few weeks.
Para 96 .. Bramble meekly repeated his position saying, ‘I know, but Harold’s sensitivity is paramount.’
Para 97 .. Fisher was very emphatic. He put his strong foot down saying that Bramble simply could not refuse to fight.
Para 98 .. Bramble again pleaded his case invoking the name of Harold. He said how humiliated Harold would be to discover that his father made his living through a rough and tumble sport like boxing. After all, boxing was a disreputable profession to be in.
Para 99 .. At this point of time, Harold came in from nowhere inquiring why his name had cropped up. Apparently, he had overheard the animated discussion among the four adults. Bramble was deeply embarrassed. He became utterly nervous seeing how the cat had leapt out of the bag in the most awkward moment.
Para 100 .. There stood Harold with his chubby face, oblivious of the raging storm at the centre of which he stood.
Para 101 .. Harold was as usual jovial saying how he would recite a new poem to his mother.
Para 102 .. The four adults looked at the innocent face of Harold, unsure of how to respond.
Para 103 .. Anxiety was writ large in the faces of Bill Bramble, Major Percy and Jane Bramble. Fisher stood there barely able to rein in the anger sweeping inside him. He was too rugged a man to yield so easily. He burned with a desire to get back at the three for the way they had let him down. He could wait no longer to vent his wrath on his erstwhile friend Bill Bramble and, to a lesser extent, on Major Percy.
Para 104 .. Fisher called Harold to his side. Fisher saw it was an opportunity for sweet revenge.
Para 105 .. Bill Bramble knew what was coming. Fisher would soon spill the beans to scar Harold mentally. Bill wanted to stop Fisher in his tracks, by any means. He came charging at Fisher virtually ordering him to shut up.
Para 106 .. Fisher stepped back, grabbed a chair and swung it over his head menacingly to demonstrate that he was ready for a nasty showdown.
Para 107 … He made Bill aware of his violent intentions.
Para 108 … For Mrs. Bramble, the situation was looking too unsavoury. Urging Fisher to behave himself, she said, “Mr. Fisher, do be a gentleman.”
Para 109 .. It was Major Percy’s turn to try to make Fisher calm down and see reason. He implored Fisher to desist from doing anything nasty, and, instead, sympathize with Bill in his predicament.
Para 110 .. All these remonstrations failed to change Fisher’s vengeful attitude in any manner. He addressed Harold as Tommy and told him that his father (Bill Bramble) was not a commercial traveler at all. He earned his bread through boxing, and was known among his fans as ‘Young Porky’.
Thus, Fisher dropped the bombshell.
Para 111 … Bill had dreaded this situation. He slumped on to a chair. Harold’s quizzical gaze was fixed on him.
Para 112 … Bramble was devastated by the blow Fisher had given to his prestige. He felt his position before Harold had been compromised too badly. In a spiteful voice he chided Fisher for his meanness. Seething with resentment, he told Fisher that had it been someone else, he (Harold’s tormentor) would not have remained unscathed.
Para 113 … Fisher retaliated equally strongly. Bramble had reneged on his commitment to fight so close to the final day. Had it been anyone other than Bill, he (Fisher) would have broken his jaws.
Para 114 .. Sensing that Harold had been deeply hurt by Fisher’s disclosures, Major Percy wanted to do something to salvage the position of his father. He told the boy that his father (Bill Bramble) had got into boxing as there was no other option available then. Now that a more respectable profession was there to take up, his father had made his choice to switch his job.
Para 115 .. Major Percy’s advice to Harold energized Bill Bramble.
Para 116 … Bill assured his son that his decision not to fight the American boxer Murphy the next Monday was irrevocable. Come what may, he was not going to fight.
Para 117 … Harold sighed. His brain was in a tizzy.
Para 118 … Harold appeared both sad and surprised. He rued how he was going to lose the bet with his friend Dicky Sanders. Harold had boasted that Murphy was going to be defeated by his opponent before the tenth round.
Para 119 .. He looked round the room rather angrily, with hurt pride.
Para 120 .. Harold began to narrate how deceived he felt to know that the fight was off. As a young boxing enthusiast, he had studied the merits of the two antagonists and concluded that the American Murphy had no chance against the home-town hero ‘Young Porky’. Harold was dejected. To be the son of the much-admired Young Porky and not know it was a rude awakening for him. He said how one of his friends had boasted about an autograph of Phil Scott that he flaunted so often. Now, here he was — the son of one of the most celebrated boxers without knowing a word about it! Being known as the son of the most dreaded and loved boxer would have earned him great respect and awe from his peers. They would have stopped calling him ‘Goggles’.
Harold didn’t stop there. He wondered how beating Murphy could pave the way for a stiffer fight against Sid Sampson for the Lonsdale belt.
Harold was an avid watcher of the boxing scene. He reeled off names of eminent boxers whom his father could get to fight if he vanquished Murphy.
Para 121 .. Fisher looked on approvingly, quite pleased with Harold.
Para 122 … Fisher told Harold how he had tried to argue the same way with his father, but in vain. Fisher was impressed with Harold’s knowledge of the boxing circuit.
Para 123 .. Harold had some more soft blows to give to his ‘Pa-! He said how crazy his friends were about boxing heroes, and how they treasured their photos – real or fake. Harold begged his father to give him a real ‘action photograph’ of his. He could show it off to his friends to earn their respect. At least, that would save him from the embarrassment of being called ‘Goggles’.
Para 124 … Fisher ceased this opportunity to ask Bill to accompany him to White Hart – for the training.
Para 125 … Like a man in trance, Bill followed his trainer.
Para 126 … Harold slipped to a reflective mood as soon as the duo left. He appeared to have forgotten his boxing heroes – Sid Sampson and Ginger Nut.
Para 127 … Harold turned to his mother.
Para 128 … Mrs. Bramble had become a bundle of nerves by then.
Para 129 … She responded to her son as lovingly as always.
Para 130 … Harold demanded her attention.
Para 131 … She took the book in hand.
Para 132 … She replied, “Yes, your mother will hear you, precious.”
Para 133 … Harold gazed at the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.
Para 134 … Clearly Harold was unaware of the storm that had blown over. He was back to his studies, as usual. He continued, “Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever’-clever.’Do noble things.”