The Renascence Of Britain by A. A. Milne

Peter Riley was one of those lucky people who take naturally to games. Actually he got his blue for cricket, rugger, and boxing, but his perfect eye and wrist made him a beautiful player of any game with a ball. Also he rode and shot well, and knew all about the inside of a car. But, although he was always enthusiastic about anything he was doing, he was not really keen on games. He preferred wandering about the country looking for birds’ nests or discovering the haunts of rare butterflies; he liked managing a small boat single-handed in a stiff breeze; he would have enjoyed being upset and having to swim a long way to shore. Most of all, perhaps, he loved to lie on the top of the cliffs and think of the wonderful things that he would do for England when he was a Cabinet Minister. For politics was to be his profession, and he had just taken a first in History by way of preparation for it.

There were a lot of silly people who envied Peter’s mother. They thought, poor dears, that she must be very, very proud of him, for they regarded Peter as the ideal of the modern young Englishman. “If only my boy grows up to be like Peter Riley!” they used to say to themselves; and then add quickly, “But of course he’ll be much nicer.” In their ignorance they didn’t see that it was the Peters of England who were making our country the laughing-stock of the world.

If you had been in Berlin in 1916, you would have seen Peter; for he had been persuaded, much against his will, to uphold the honour of Great Britain in the middle-weights at the Olympic Games. He got a position in the papers as “P. Riley, disqualified”–the result, he could only suppose, of his folly in allowing his opponent to butt him in the stomach. He was both annoyed and amused about it; offered to fight his vanquisher any time in England; and privately thanked Heaven that he could now get back to London in time for his favourite sister’s wedding.

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But he didn’t. The English trainer, who had been sent, at the public expense, to America for a year, to study the proper methods, got hold of him.

“I’ve been watching you, young man,” he said. “You’ll have to give yourself up to me now. You’re the coming champion.”

“I’m sorry,” said Peter politely, “but I shan’t be fighting again.”

“Fighting!” said the trainer scornfully. “Don’t you worry; I’ll take good care that you don’t fight any more. The event you’re going to win is ‘Pushing the Chisel.’ I’ve been watching you, and you’ve got the most perfect neck and calf-muscles for it I’ve ever seen. No more fighting for you, my boy; nor cricket, nor anything else. I’m not going to let you spoil those muscles.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever pushed the Chisel,” said Peter. “Besides, it’s over, isn’t it?”

“Over? Of course it’s over, and that confounded American won. ‘Poor old England,’ as all the papers said.”

“Then it’s too late to begin to practise,” said Peter thankfully.

“Well, it’s too late for the 1920 games. But we can do a lot in eight years, and I think I can get you fit for the 1924 games at Pekin.”

Peter stared at him in amazement.

“My good man,” he said at last, “in 1924 I shall be in London; and I hope in the House of Commons.”

“And what about the honour of your country? Do you want to read the jeers in the American papers when we lose ‘Pushing the Chisel’ in 1924?”

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“I don’t care a curse what the American papers say,” said Peter angrily.

“Then you’re very different from other Englishmen,” said the trainer sternly.

. . . . .

Of course, Peter was persuaded; he couldn’t let England be the laughing-stock of the world. So for eight years he lived under the eye of the trainer, rising at five and retiring to bed at seven-thirty. This prevented him from taking much part in the ordinary social activities of the evening; and even his luncheon and garden-party invitations had to be declined in some such words as “Mr. Peter Riley regrets that he is unable to accept Lady Vavasour’s kind invitation for Monday the 13th, as he will be hopping round the garden on one leg then.” His career, too, had to be abandoned; for it was plain that, even if he had the leisure to get into Parliament, the early hours he kept would not allow him to take part in any important divisions.

But there were compensations. As he watched his calves swell; as he looked in the glass and noticed each morning that his head was a little more on one side–sure sign of the expert Chisel-pusher; as, still surer sign, his hands became more knuckly and his mouth remained more permanently open, he knew that his devotion to duty would not be without its reward. He saw already his country triumphing, and heard the chorus of congratulation in the newspapers that England was still a nation of sportsmen….

In 1924 Pekin was crowded. There were, of course, the ordinary million inhabitants; and, in addition, people had thronged from all parts to see the great Chisel-pusher of whom so much had been heard. That they did not come in vain, we in London knew one July morning as we opened our papers.

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“PUSHING THE CHISEL (Free Style).

“1. P. Riley (Great Britain), 5-3/4 in. (World’s Record). 2. H. Biffpoffer (America), 5-1/2 in. A. Wafer (America) was disqualified for going outside the wood.”

. . . . .

And so England was herself again. There was only one discordant note in her triumph. Mr. P. A. Vaile pointed out in all the papers that Peter Riley, in the usual pig-headed English way, had been employing entirely the wrong grip. Mr. Vaile’s book, How to Push the Chisel, illustrated with 50 full plates of Mr. Vaile in knickerbockers pushing the Chisel, explained the correct method.

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