The Fifth Form at St. Dominic's/Chapter XIII
Cripps’s letter was as follows:
“Hon. Sir,—This comes hoping you are well. You may like to know Sir Patrick won. The tip was all out. Hon. Sir,—My friend would like his ten pounds sharp, as he’s a poor man. Please call in on Saturday afternoon. Your very humble servant, Ben Cripps.”
This letter was startling enough to drive fifty Dominicans out of Loman’s head, and for a long time he could hardly realise how bad the news it contained was.
He had reckoned to a dead certainty on winning the bet which Cripps had advised him to make with his friend. Not that Loman knew anything about racing matters, but Cripps had been so confident, and it seemed so safe to bet against this one particular horse, that the idea of events turning out otherwise had never once entered his head.
He went to the door and shouted for Stephen, who presently appeared with a paper dart in his hand.
“Greenfield,” said Loman, “cut down at once to Maltby and bring me a newspaper.”
“I’ve got my lessons to do,” he said.
“Leave them here, I’ll do them,” replied Loman; “look sharp.”
Still Stephen hesitated.
“We aren’t allowed out after seven without leave,” he faltered, longing to get back to the war preparations in the Fourth Junior.
“I know that, and I give you leave—there!” said Loman, with all the monitorial dignity he could assume.
This quite disarmed Stephen. Of course a monitor could do no wrong, and it was no use objecting on that score.
Still he was fain to find some other excuse.
“I say, will it do in the morning?” he began.
Loman’s only reply was a book shied at his fag’s head—quite explicit enough for all practical purposes. So Stephen hauled down his colours and prepared to start.
“Look sharp back,” said Loman, “and don’t let any one see you going out. Look here, you can get yourself some brandy-balls with this.”
Stephen was not philosopher enough to argue with himself why, if he had leave to go out, he ought to avoid being seen going out. He pocketed Loman’s extra penny complacently, and giving one last longing look in the direction of the Fourth Junior, slipped quietly out of the school and made the best of his way down to Maltby.
It was not easy at that time of day to get a paper. Stephen tried half a dozen stationers’ shops, but they were all sold out. They were evidently more sought after than brandy-balls, of which he had no difficulty in securing a pennyworth at an early stage of his pilgrimage. The man in the sweet-shop told him his only chance of getting a paper was at the railway station.
So to the station he strolled, with a brandy-ball in each cheek. Alas! the stall was closed for the day.
Stephen did not like to be beaten, but there was nothing for it now but to give up this “paper-chase,” and return to Loman with the report of his ill-success.
As he trotted back up High Street, looking about everywhere but in the direction in which he was going (as is the habit of small boys) and wondering in his heart whether his funds could possibly stand the strain of another pennyworth of brandy-balls, he suddenly found himself in sharp collision with a man who expressed himself on the subject of clumsy boys generally in no very measured terms.
Stephen looked up and saw Mr. Cripps the younger standing before him.
“Why!” exclaimed that worthy, giving over his irascible expletives, and adopting an air of unfeigned pleasure, “why, if it ain’t young Master Greenhorn. Ha, ha! How do, my young bantam? Pretty bobbish, eh?”
Stephen did not know exactly what was meant by “bobbish,” but replied that he was quite well, and sorry he had trodden on Mr. Cripps’s toes.
“Never mind,” said Mr. Cripps, magnanimously, “you’re a light weight. And so you’re taking a dander down town, are you? looking for lollipops, eh?”
Stephen blushed very red at this. However had Mr. Cripps guessed about the brandy-balls?
“I came to get a paper for Loman,” he said, “but they’re all sold out.”
“No, are they? I wonder what Mr. Loman wants with a paper, now?”
“He said it was very important, and I was to be sure to get one of to-day’s,” said Stephen. “Do you know where I can get one?”
“Of course. Come along with me; I’ve got one at home you can have. And so he said it was very important, did he? That’s queer. There’s nothing in to-day’s paper at all. Only something about a low horse-race. He don’t want it for that, I guess; eh?”
“Oh, no, I shouldn’t think,” said Stephen, trotting along beside his amiable acquaintance.
Mr. Cripps was certainly a very friendly man, and as he conducted Stephen to the Cockchafer, Stephen felt quite a liking for him, and couldn’t understand why Oliver and Wraysford both ran him down.
True, Mr. Cripps did use some words which didn’t seem exactly proper, but that Stephen put down to the habit of men in that part. The man seemed to take such an interest in boys generally, and in Stephen in particular, and was so interested and amused to hear all about the Guinea-pigs, and the Dominican, and the Sixth versus School, that Stephen felt quite drawn out to him. And then he told Stephen such a lot of funny stories, and treated him with such evident consideration, that the small boy felt quite flattered and delighted.
So they reached the Cockchafer. Here Stephen, whose former visits had all been to the lock-house, pulled up.
“I say,” said he, “is this a public-house?”
“Getting on that way,” said Mr. Cripps.
“We aren’t allowed to go in public-houses,” said Stephen, “it’s one of the rules.”
“Ah, quite right too; not a good thing for boys at all. We’ll go in by the private door into my house,” said Mr. Cripps.
Stephen was not quite comfortable at this evasion, but followed Mr. Cripps by the side door into his bar parlour.
“You won’t forget the paper,” he said, “please. I’ve got to be back in school directly.”
“I’ll have a look for it. Now, I guess you like ginger-beer, don’t you?”
Stephen was particularly partial to ginger-beer, as it happened, and said so.
“That’s the style,” said Mr. Cripps, producing a battle. “Walk into that while I go and get the paper.”
Stephen did walk into it with great relish, and began to think Mr. Cripps quite a gentleman. He was certain, even if that bat had been a poor one, it was quite worth the money paid for it, and Oliver was unjust in calling Cripps hard names.
The landlord very soon returned with the paper.
“Here you are, young governor. Now don’t hurry away. It’s lonely here all by myself, and I like a young gentleman like you to talk to. I knew a nice little boy once, just your age, that used to come and see me regular once a week and play bagatelle with me. He was a good player at it too!”
“Could he get clear-board twice running with two balls?” asked Stephen, half jealous of the fame of this unknown rival.
“Eh!—no, scarcely that. He wasn’t quite such a dab as that.”
“I can do it,” said Stephen with a superior smile.
“You? Not a bit of you!” said Mr. Cripps, incredulously.
“Yes, I can,” reiterated Stephen, delighted to have astonished his host.
“I must see it before I can believe that,” said Mr. Cripps. “Suppose you show me on my board.”
Stephen promptly accepted the challenge, and forgetting in his excitement all about school rules or Loman’s orders, accompanied Cripps to the bagatelle-room, with its sanded floor, smelling of stale tobacco and beer-dregs. His first attempt, greatly to Mr. Cripps’s glee, was unsuccessful.
“I knew you couldn’t,” exclaimed that worthy.
“I know I can do it,” said Stephen, excitedly. “Let’s try again.”
After a few more trials he made the two clear-boards, and Mr. Cripps was duly astonished and impressed.
“That’s what I call smart play,” said he. “Now, if I was a betting man, I’d wager a sixpence you couldn’t do it again.”
“Yes, I can, but I won’t bet,” said Stephen. He did do it again, and Mr. Cripps said it was a good job for him the young swell didn’t bet, or he would have lost his sixpence. Stephen was triumphant.
How long he would have gone on showing off his prowess to the admiring landlord of the Cockchafer, and how far he might have advanced in the art of public-house bagatelle, I cannot say, but the sudden striking of a clock and the entry of visitors into the room reminded him where he was.
“I must go back now,” he said, hurriedly.
“Must you? Well, come again soon. I’ve a great fancy to learn that there stroke. I’m a born fool at bagatelle. What do you say to another ginger-beer before you go?”
Stephen said “Thank you,” and then taking the newspaper in his hand bade Cripps good-bye.
“Good-bye, my fine young fellow. You’re one of the right sort, you are. No stuck-up nonsense about you. That’s why I fancy you. Bye-bye. My love to Mr. Loman.”
Stephen hurried back to Saint Dominic’s as fast as his legs would carry him. He was not quite comfortable about his evening’s proceedings, although he was not aware of having done anything wicked. Loman, a monitor, had given him leave to go down to Maltby, so that was hardly a crime; and as to the Cockchafer—well, he had only been in the private part of the house, and not the public bar, and surely there had been no harm in drinking ginger-beer and playing bagatelle, especially when he had distinctly refused to bet on the latter. But, explain it as he would, Stephen felt uncomfortable enough to determine him to say as little as possible about his expedition.
He found Loman impatiently awaiting him.
“Wherever have you been to all this time?” he demanded.
“The papers were all sold out,” said Stephen. “I tried seven places.”
Loman had eagerly caught up and opened the paper while Stephen nervously made this explanation, and he took no further heed of his fag, who presently, seeing he was no longer wanted, and relieved to get out of reach of questions, prudently retired.
A glance sufficed to confirm the bad news about the Derby. Sir Patrick had won, and it was a fact therefore that Loman owed Cripps and his friend between them thirty pounds, without the least possibility of paying them.
One thing was certain. He must see Cripps on Saturday, and trust to his luck (though that of late had not been very trustworthy) to pull him through, somehow.
Alas! what a spirit this in which to meet difficulties! Loman had yet to learn that it is one thing to regret, and another thing to repent; that it is one thing to call one’s self a fool, and another thing, quite, to cease to be one.
But, as he said to himself, he must go through with it now, and the first step took him deeper than ever into the mire.
For the coming Saturday was the day of the great cricket match, Sixth versus School, from which a Dominican would as soon think of deserting as of emigrating.
But Loman must desert if he was to keep his appointment, and he managed the proceeding with his now characteristic untruthfulness; a practice he would have scorned only a few months ago. How easy the first wrong step! What a long, weary road when one, with aching heart, attempts to retrace the way! And at present Loman had made no serious effort in that direction.
On the Friday morning, greatly to the astonishment of all his class-fellows, he appeared in his place with his arm in a sling.
“Hullo, Loman!” said Wren, the first whom he encountered, “what’s the row with you?”
“Sprained my wrist,” said Loman, to whom, alas!—so easy is the downward path when once entered on—a lie had become an easy thing to utter.
“How did you manage that?” exclaimed Callonby. “Mind you get it right by to-morrow, or we shall be in a fix.”
This little piece of flattery pleased Loman, who said—
“I’m afraid I shan’t be able to play.”
“What! Who’s that won’t be able to play?” said Raleigh, coming up in unwonted excitement.
“Loman; he’s sprained his wrist.”
“Have you shown it to Dr. Splints?” said Raleigh.
“No,” said Loman, beginning to feel uncomfortable. “It’s hardly bad enough for that.”
“Then it’s hardly bad enough to prevent your playing,” said Raleigh, drily.
Loman did not like this. He and Raleigh never got on well together, and it was evident the captain was more angry than sympathetic now.
“Whatever shall we do for bowlers?” said some one.
“I’m awfully sorry,” said Loman, wishing he was anywhere but where he was; “but how am I to help?”
“Whatever induced you to sprain your wrist?” said Wren. “You might just as well have put it off till Monday.”
“Just fancy how foolish we shall look if those young beggars beat us, as they are almost sure to do,” said Winter.
Loman was quickly losing his temper, for all this was, or seemed to be, addressed pointedly to him.
“What’s the use of talking like that?” he retorted. “You ass, you! as if I could help.”
“Shouldn’t wonder if you could help,” replied Winter.
“Perhaps,” suggested some one, “it was the Dominican put him out of joint. It certainly did give him a rap over the knuckles.”
“What do you mean?” exclaimed Loman, angrily, and half drawing his supposed sprained hand out of the sling.
“Shut up, you fellows,” interposed Raleigh, authoritatively. “Baynes will play in the eleven to-morrow instead of Loman, so there’s an end of the matter.”
Loman was sorely mortified. He had expected his defection would create quite a sensation, and that his class-fellows would be inconsolable at his accident. Instead of that, he had only contrived to quarrel with nearly all of them, alienating their sympathy; and in the end he was to be quietly superseded by Baynes, and the match was to go on as if he had never been heard of at Saint Dominic’s.
“Never mind; I’m bound to go and see Cripps. Besides,” said he to himself, “they’ll miss me to-morrow, whatever they say to-day.”
Next day, just when the great match was beginning, and the entire school was hanging breathless on the issue of every ball, Loman quietly slipped out of Saint Dominic’s, and walked rapidly and nervously down to the Cockchafer in Maltby.
“What shall I say to Cripps?” was the wild question he kept asking himself as he went along; and the answer had not come by the time he found himself standing within that worthy’s respectable premises.
Mr. Cripps was in his usual good humour.
“Why, it’s Mr. Loman! so it is!” he exclaimed, in a rapture. “Now who would have thought of seeing you here?”
Loman was perplexed.
“Why, you told me to come this afternoon,” said he.
“Did I? Ah, I dare say! Never mind. Very kind of a young gentleman like you to come and see the likes of me. What’ll you take?”
Loman did not know what to make of this at all.
“I came to see you about that—that horse you told me to bet against,” he said.
“I remember. What’s his name? Sir Patrick, wasn’t it? My friend told me that he’d, had the best of that. What was it? Ten bob?”
This affected ignorance of the whole matter in hand was utterly bewildering to Loman, who had fully expected that, instead of having to explain himself, he would have the matter pretty plainly explained to him by his sportive acquaintance.
“No, ten pounds. That was what I was to pay if the horse won; and, Cripps, I can’t pay it, or the twenty pounds either, to you.”
“That’s a go and no mistake!” he said. “Afraid it won’t do, mister.”
“You told me Sir Patrick was sure not to win,” said Loman.
“Ah, there was several of us took in over that there horse,” coolly said Mr. Cripps. “I lost a shilling myself over him. Nice to be you, flush of cash, and able to pay straight down.”
“I can’t pay,” said Loman.
“Ah, but the governor can, I’ll wager,” insinuated Cripps.
“He would never do it! It’s no use asking him,” said Loman.
Cripps whistled again.
“That’s awkward. And my friend wants his money, too, and so do I.”
“I really can’t pay,” said Loman. “I say, Cripps, let us off that twenty pounds. I really didn’t mean about that rod.”
Mr. Cripps fired up in righteous indignation.
“Ah, I dare say, mister. You’ll come and snivel now, will you? But you were ready enough to cheat a honest man when you saw a chance. No, I’ll have my twenty or else there’ll be a rumpus. Make no mistake of that!”
The bare idea of a “rumpus” cowed Loman at once. Anything but that.
“Come, now,” said Cripps, encouragingly, “I’d wager you can raise the wind somewheres.”
“I wish I knew how. I see no chance whatever, unless—” and here a brilliant idea suddenly struck him—“unless I get the Nightingale. Of course; I say, Cripps, will you wait till September?”
“What! Three months! And how do you suppose I’m to find bread to eat till then?” exclaimed Mr. Cripps.
“Oh, do!” said Loman. “I’m certain to be able to pay then. I forgot all about the Nightingale.”
“The Nightingale? It must be an uncommon spicy bird to fetch in thirty pound!”
“It’s not a bird,” said Loman, laughing; “it’s a scholarship.”
“A scholarship. I’m in for an examination, you know, and whoever’s first gets fifty pounds a year for three years.”
“But suppose you ain’t first? what then?”
“Oh, but I’m sure to be. I’ve only got Fifth Form fellows against me, and I’m certain to beat them!”
“Well,” said Mr. Cripps, “I don’t so much care about your nightingales and cock-sparrows and scholarships, and all them traps, but I’d like to oblige you.”
“Oh, thank you!” cried Loman, delighted; and feeling already as if the debt was paid. “And you’ll get your friend to wait too, won’t you?”
“Can’t do that. I shall have to square up with him and look to you for the lot, and most likely drop into the workhouse for my pains.”
“Oh, no. You can be quite certain of getting the money.”
“Well, blessed if I ain’t a easy-going cove,” said Mr. Cripps, with a grin. “It ain’t every one as ’ud wait three months on your poll-parrot scholarships, or whatever you call ’em. Come, business is business. Give us your promise on a piece of paper—if you must impose upon me.”
Loman, only too delighted, wrote at Mr. Cripps’s dictation a promise to pay the thirty pounds, together with five pounds interest, in September, and quitted the Cockchafer with as light a heart as if he had actually paid off every penny of the debt.
“Of course I’m safe to get it! Why ever didn’t I think of that before? Won’t I just work the rest of the term! Nothing like having an object when you’re grinding.”
With this philosophical reflection, he re-entered Saint Dominic’s, and unobserved rejoined the spectators in the cricket-field, just in time to witness a very exciting finish to a fiercely contested encounter.