The Fifth Form at St. Dominic's/Chapter VII
The eventful day had come at last. Anthony and his confederates had worked hard, evening after evening, in the secrecy of their studies, and the first number of the Dominican was ready for publication. The big frame had been smuggled in, and the big sheet was now safely lodged behind the glass, with its eight broad columns of clearly-written manuscript all ready to astonish Saint Dominic’s.
Two nails had surreptitiously been driven into the wall outside the Fifth Form room, on which the precious document was to be suspended, and Tony only waited for “lights out” to creep down and, with the aid of Ricketts and Bullinger, fix it in position. Everything succeeded well. The secret had been kept most carefully, and when, next morning, Saint Dominic’s woke up and swarmed down the passage past the Fifth Form class-room, the sight of a huge frame, with the words The Dominican staring out from it, and several yards of writing underneath, fairly startled them. Master Paul, the fag who had been deputed to the no easy task of preserving the structure from injury, had a hard time of it, there was such a hustling and crowding in front of it whenever classes were not going on. The little boys squeezed in front; the bigger boys read over their heads; the Sixth examined it from the back of the crowd, and the Fifth Form from various positions watched with complacency the effect of this venture.
At first it was looked upon as a curiosity, then as a joke; then gradually it dawned on Saint Dominic’s that it was a Fifth Form production, and finally it appeared in its true light as a school newspaper.
Loman, attracted by the crowd of boys, strolled down the passage to the place and joined the group, just as a small boy was reading aloud the following descriptive extract from “Our Special Correspondent in Guinea-pig Land:—
“Last night the ceremony of admitting a new member into the ancient and honourable craft of Guinea-pigs was celebrated with the usual mysteries. The event took place in the fourth junior class-room. The Guinea-pigs assembled in force, with blackened faces and false whiskers. The lights being put out, Brother Bilke proposed, and Brother Smudge seconded, the election of the new aspirant, and the motion being put to the Guinea-pigs, was received with a unanimous grunt. The Guinea-pig elect was then admitted. He was classically attired in a pair of slippers and a collar, and the ceremony of initiation at once commenced. The candidate was stretched across the lowest desk, face downwards, and in this position greeted with the flat side of a cricket-bat by the junior brother present. He was then advanced to the next desk, where a similar compliment was paid by the next youngest; and so on to the senior brother present. Half-way through the ceremony the new member expressed a desire to withdraw his candidature, but this motion was negatived by a large majority. When our reporter left, the ceremony was being repeated with the round side of the bat. We understand the new Guinea-pig is keeping his bed to-day after the exciting ceremony of initiation.”
This was capital fun, and greatly appreciated by all—even by Stephen, who knew it was intended to represent his own experience, which, mercifully, had not been nearly so sore as pictured.
But the next extract was not quite as pleasing.
“The Alphabet Match will be played on Saturday. The following are the two elevens [and here the list followed]. Of these twenty-two players, it is worthy of mention that fourteen are from the Fifth, and only eight from the Sixth. What is our Sixth coming to?”
This was not at all gratifying to the Sixth Form fellows present. It was unfortunately true, but they did not at all fancy such prominence being given to the fact. The next extract was still more pointed.
“Sixth Form Debating Society.
“The usual meeting of the Sixth Form Debating Society was held last week, the Doctor in the chair. A sprinkling of lads from the Fifth, in their Sunday coats and collars, was present, by kind permission. The subject for discussion was, ‘That the present Sixth is degenerate.’ In the absence of any member of the Sixth to open the discussion, Master Bramble, captain of the Tadpoles, kindly undertook the task. He had no hesitation in asserting that the Sixth were degenerate. They had fallen off in cricket since he could remember, and in intellect, he was sorry to say, the falling-off was still worse. If they would take his advice, they would avoid the playground during the present season, and by all means withdraw their candidate for the Nightingale Scholarship, as he was certain to be beaten by boys in a lower form. As to behaviour, he could point to virtuous behaviour among the Tadpoles, quite equal to that of the monitors. He didn’t wish to ask questions, but would like to know what they all found so attractive in Maltby. Then, too, they all oiled their hair. No previous Sixth had ever been guilty of this effeminacy, or of wearing lavender kid gloves on Sundays. He repeated, ‘What were we coming to?’
“Mr. R—g—h opened in the negative. He denied all the charges made by the young gentleman who had last spoken. He undertook to get up an eleven to beat any eleven the Tadpoles could put into the field; and as to intellect, why, didn’t the Tadpoles, some of them, get their sums done by the Sixth? Besides, even if their intellect was weak, couldn’t they use cribs? He didn’t use them himself, but he knew one or two who did. He didn’t understand the objection to the hair-oil; he used it to make the hair sit down on his head. [Raleigh, it should be said, had a most irrepressible bunch of curls on his head.] He wore kid gloves on Sunday because he had had a pair given him by his great-aunt Jane Ann. He maintained the Sixth was not degenerate.
“Mr. L—m—n followed on the same side. He thought it the greatest liberty of any one to discuss the Sixth. He was a Sixth Form fellow, and a monitor, and if he wasn’t looked up to he ought to be, he intended to be. He was in the cricket eleven, and he was intellectual—very, very much so. He was going in for the Nightingale Scholarship, and had no doubt in his own mind as to the result. He hardly understood his friend’s reference to Maltby. Why shouldn’t he go there and take his fag too if he chose? He didn’t see what right the Fifth had to fags at all. He had a fag, but then he was in the Sixth. His fag admired him, and he never told him not to. The Sixth could not be degenerate so long as he was in it.
“Other speakers followed, including Mr. W—r—n, who maintained that Michael Angelo was a greater musician than Queen Anne. He was here called to order, and reminded that Michael Angelo had nothing to do with the degeneracy of the Sixth. He begged leave to explain—
“At this point our reporter fell asleep.”
The laughter which greeted the reading of this extract was by no means shared by the Sixth Form boys present, who, had the next selection been in a similar strain, would have quitted the scene and taken their chance of satisfying their curiosity as to the rest of the contents of the paper at a more convenient season.
But the next lucubration was the unfortunate Stephen’s examination paper, with the answers thereto embellished, and in many cases bodily supplied, by the fertile Anthony. The luckless Stephen, who was wedged up in the front row of readers, could have sunk into the earth on meeting once more that hateful paper face to face, and feeling himself an object of ridicule to the whole school. For the wonderful answers which now appeared were hardly any of them his own composition, and he did not even get credit for the few correct things he had said. Shouts of laughter greeted the reading, during which he dared not lift his eyes from the ground. But the answer to Question 6, “What is a minus?” was more than human flesh and blood could endure.
“What is a Minus?
“‘Minus’ is derived from two English words, ‘my,’ meaning my, and ‘nus,’ which is the London way of pronouncing ‘nurse.’ My nurse is a dear creature; I love her still, especially now she doesn’t wash my face. I hated having my face washed. My nurse’s name is Mrs. Blake, but I always call her my own Noodle-oodle-oo. I do love her so! How I would like to hug her! She sewed the strings of my little flannel waistcoat on in front just before I came here because she knew I couldn’t tie them behind by myself—”
“She didn’t!” shouted Stephen, in a voice trembling with indignation.
Poor boy! The laughter which greeted this simple exclamation was enough to finish up any one, and, with a bursting heart, and a face crimson with confusion, he struggled out of the crowd and ran as fast as his legs would take him to his own class-room.
But if he imagined in his misery that the whole school was going to spend the entire day jeering at him, and him alone, he was greatly mistaken, for once out of sight Stephen soon passed out of mind in presence of the next elegant extract read out for the benefit of the assembled audience. This was no other than Simon’s “Love-Ballad.”
Simon, it should be known, was one of the dullest boys in Saint Dominic’s, and it was a standing marvel how he ever came to be in the Fifth, for he was both a dunce and an idiot. But he had one ambition and one idea, which was that he could write poetry; and the following touching ballad from his pen he offered to the Dominican, and the Dominican showed its appreciation of real talent by inserting it:—
“I wish I was a buttercup,
Upon the mountain top,
That you might sweetly pick me up.
And sweetly let me drop.
I wish I was a little worm,
All rigling in the sun,
That I myself towards thee might turn
When thou along didst come.
Oh, I wish I was a doormat, sweet,
All prostrate on the floor,
If only thou wouldst wipe thy feet,
On me, what could I want more?”
[Note: “rigling” should possibly be “wriggling”.]
Simon, who, with true poet’s instinct, was standing among the crowd listening to his own poem, was somewhat perplexed by the manner in which his masterpiece was received. That every one was delighted there could be no doubt. But he had an impression he had meant the ballad to be pathetic. Saint Dominic’s, however, had taken it up another way, and appeared to regard it as facetious. At any rate his fame was made, and looking as if a laurel wreath already encircled his brow, he modestly retired, feeling no further interest, now his own piece was ended.
Oliver’s poem on the Tadpoles, with its marvellous rhymes, fell comparatively flat after this; and Bullinger’s first chapter of the History of Saint Dominic’s failed to rivet the attention of the audience, which, however, became suddenly and painfully absorbed in the “Diary of the Sixth Form Mouse,” from the pen of Wraysford. We must inflict a few passages from this document on the reader, as the paper was the cause of some trouble hereafter.
“Diary of the Sixth Form Mouse.
“Monday.—Up early and took a good breakfast in one of the desks where there was a jam sandwich and several toffee-drops. The Sixth seem to like jam sandwiches and toffee-drops, there are some of them in nearly every desk. The desk I was in had a packet of cigarettes in one corner. They were labelled ‘Mild.’ I wonder why the Sixth like their cigarettes mild. In the same desk were one or two books written by a man called Bohn; they seemed queer books, for they had Latin and Greek names outside, but all the reading inside was English. It is sad to see the quarrelling that goes on in this room. You would not suppose, to see these monitors walking grandly up and down the passages, striking terror into the hearts of all the small boys, that they could possibly condescend to quarrel over the possession of an ink-pot or the ownership of an acid-drop found among the cinders. Alas! it is very sad. They don’t seem anything like the Sixth of old days. I shall emigrate if this goes on.
“Wednesday.—A great row to-day when the Doctor was out of the room. The two senior monitors engaged in a game of marbles—knuckle down—in the course of which one player accused the other of cheating. There was nearly a fight, only neither seemed exactly to like to begin, and both appeared relieved when the Doctor came in and confiscated the marbles.”
And so the diary went on, in a strain highly offensive to the Sixth and equally delighting to the lower forms. After this the Sixth withdrew, not caring to face further taunts of the kind, and leaving a free field to the rest of Saint Dominic’s, who perused this wonderful broadside to the end with unflagging interest. Some of the advertisements with which Tony had filled up the gaps caused considerable mirth—such as this: “A gentleman about to clear out his desk, begs to give notice that he will Sell by Auction to-morrow after ‘Lights out,’ all those rare and valuable articles, to wit:—1½ gross best cherry-stones, last year’s, in excellent condition. About twelve assorted bread crusts, warranted dry and hard—one with a covering of fossilised sardine. Six quires of valuable manuscript notes on various subjects, comprising Latin, Greek, Mathematics, French, and Crambo. One apple, well seasoned, and embellished with a brilliant green fur of two years’ growth. And many other miscellaneous treasures, such as slate pencils, nutshells, an antique necktie, several defunct silkworms, a noble three-bladed knife (deficient of the blades), and half a pound of putty. No reserve price. Must be cleared out at whatever sacrifice.”
And this was another:—
“This is to give notice, that whereas certain parties calling themselves Guinea-pigs have infringed on our patent rights, we, the Tadpoles of Saint Dominic’s, have been and are from time immemorial entitled to the exclusive privilege of appearing in public with dirty faces, uncombed hair, and inky fingers. We have also the sole right of making beasts of ourselves on every possible occasion; and we hereby declare that it is our intention to institute proceedings against all parties, of whatever name, who shall hereafter trespass on these our inalienable rights. By order, B. Smudgeface and T. Blacknose, Secretaries.”
This final onslaught broke up the party. The aggrieved Tadpoles rushed to their quarters and fumed and raged themselves into a state bordering on madness; and vowed revenge till they were hoarse.
It was a curious fact, nevertheless, that at prayers that evening there were more clean faces among the Tadpoles than had been seen there since the formation of that ancient and honourable fraternity.