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The Fifth Form at St. Dominic's/Chapter VI

Loman was a comparatively new boy at Saint Dominic’s. He had entered eighteen months ago, in the Fifth Form, having come direct from another school. He was what many persons would call an agreeable boy, although for some reason or other he was never very popular. What that something was, no one could exactly define. He was clever, and good-tempered, and inoffensive. He rarely quarrelled or interfered with any one, and he had been known to do more than one good-natured act. But whether it was that he was conceited, or selfish, or not quite straight, or a little bit of all three, he never made any very great friends at Saint Dominic’s, and since he had got into the Sixth and been made a monitor, he had quite lost the favour of his old comrades in the Fifth.

As far as Wraysford and Greenfield were concerned, this absence of goodwill had ripened into something like soreness, by the way in which Loman had made use of his own position as a monitor, on a casual reference by Oliver to the probable coming of Stephen to Saint Dominic’s, to secure that young gentleman as his fag, although he quite well knew that Wraysford was counting on having him. Though of course the captain’s word was final, the two friends felt that they had not been quite fairly dealt with in the matter. They took no trouble to conceal what they thought from Loman himself, who seemed to derive considerable satisfaction from the fact, and to determine to keep his hand on the new boy quite as much for the sake of “scoring off” his rivals as on the fag’s own account.

Loman, Wraysford, and Greenfield were rivals in more matters than one. They were all three candidates for a place in the school eleven, and all three candidates for the Nightingale Scholarship next autumn; and besides this, they each of them aspired to control the Junior Dominicans; and it was a sore mortification to Loman to find that, though a monitor, his influence among the small fry was by no means as great as that of the two Fifth Form boys, who were notoriously popular, and thought much of by their juniors.

For these and other reasons, the relations between the two friends and Loman were at the present time a little “strained.”

To Stephen, however, Loman was all civility. He helped him in his lessons, and gave him the reversion of his feasts, and exercised his monitorial authority against Master Bramble in a way that quite charmed the new boy, and made him consider himself fortunate to have fallen into the hands of so considerate a lord.

When he entered Loman’s study after his first morning’s work in class, he found that youth in a highly amiable frame of mind, and delighted to see him.

“Hullo, Greenfield!” he said; “how are you? and how are you getting on? I hear you are in the Fourth Junior; all among the Guinea-pigs and Tadpoles, eh? Which do you belong to?”

“I don’t know,” said Stephen; “they are going to draw lots for me to-morrow.”

“That’s a nice way of being elected! I say, have you any classes this afternoon?”

“No; Mr. Rastle has given us a half-holiday.”

“That’s just the thing. I’m going to scull up the river a bit after dinner, and if you’d like you can come and steer for me.”

Stephen was delighted. Of all things he liked boating. They lived near a river at home, he said, and he always used to steer for Oliver there.

So, as soon as dinner was over, the two went down to the boat-house and embarked.

“Which way shall you row?” asked Stephen, as he made himself comfortable in the stern of the boat, and took charge of the rudder-lines.

“Oh, up stream. Keep close in to the bank, out of the current.”

It was a beautiful afternoon, and Loman paddled lazily and luxuriously up, giving ample time to Stephen, if so inclined, to admire the wooded banks and picturesque windings of the Shar. Gusset Lock was reached in due time, and here Loman suggested that Stephen should get out and go round and look at the weir, while he went on and took the boat through. Stephen acceded and landed, and Loman paddled on to the lock.

“Hello, maister,” called down a feeble old voice, as he got up to the gate.

“Hullo, Jeff, is Cripps about?” replied Loman.

“Yas; he be inside or somewheres, maister,” replied the old lock-keeper.

“All right! take the boat up; I want to see Cripps.”

Cripps was the son of the old man whom Loman had addressed as Jeff. He was not exactly a gentleman, for he kept the Cockchafer public-house at Maltby, and often served behind the bar in his own person. Neither was he altogether a reputable person, for he frequently helped himself to an overdose of his own beverages, besides being a sharp hand at billiards, and possessing several packs of cards with extra aces in them. Neither was he a particularly refined personage, for his choice of words was often more expressive than romantic, and his ordinary conversation was frequently the reverse of edifying; it mainly had to do with details of the stable or the card-room, and the anecdotes with which he enlivened it were often “broader than they were long,” to put it mildly. In short, Cripps was a blackguard by practice, whatever he was by profession. He had, however, one redeeming virtue; he was very partial to young gentlemen, and would go a good bit out of his way to meet one. He always managed to know of something that young gentlemen had a fancy for. He could put them into the way of getting a thoroughbred bull-dog dirt-cheap; he could put them up to all the tips at billiards and “Nap,” and he could make up a book for them on the Derby or any other race, that was bound to win. And he did it all in such a pleasant, frank way that the young gentlemen quite fell in love with him, and entrusted their cash to him with as much confidence as if he were the Bank of England.

Of all the young gentlemen whose privilege it had been to make the acquaintance of Mr. Cripps—and there were a good many—he professed the greatest esteem and admiration for Loman, of Saint Dominic’s school, to whom he had been only recently introduced. The two had met at the lock-keeper’s house a week ago, when Loman was detained there an hour or two by stress of weather, and, getting into conversation, as gentlemen naturally would, Loman chanced to mention that he wanted to come across a really good fishing-rod.

By a most curious coincidence, Mr. Cripps had only the other day been asked by a particular friend of his, who was removing from the country to London—“where,” said Mr. Cripps, “there ain’t over much use for a rod”—if he knew of any one in want of a really good fishing-rod. It was none of your ordinary ones, made out of green wood with pewter joints, but a regular first-class article, and would do for trout or perch or jack, or any mortal fish you could think of. Cripps had seen it, and flattered himself he knew something about rods, but had never seen one to beat this. Reel and all, too, and a book of flies into the bargain, if he liked. He had been strongly tempted to get it for himself—it seemed a downright sin to let such a beauty go—and would have it if he had not already got a rod, but of a far inferior sort, of his own. And he believed his friend would part with it cheap.

“I tell you what, young gentleman,” said he, “I’ll bring it up with me next time I come, and you shall have a look at it. Of course, you can take it or not, as you like, but if my advice is worth anything—well, never mind, I suppose you are sure to be up stream in the course of the next week or so.”

“Oh yes,” said Loman, who in the presence of this universal genius was quite deferential; “when can you bring it?”

“Well, my time ain’t so very valuable, and I’d like to oblige you over this little affair. Suppose we say to-day week. I’ll have the rod here, and you can try him.”

“Thank you—have you—that is—about what—”

“You mean, about what figure will he want for it? Well, I don’t know exactly. They run so very various, do good rods. You could get what they call a rod for ten bob, I dare say. But you wouldn’t hardly fancy that style of thing.”

“Oh no; if it was a really good one,” said Loman, “I wouldn’t mind giving a good price. I don’t want a rotten one.”

“That’s just it. This one I’m telling you of is as sound as a bell, and as strong as iron. And you know, as well as I do, these things are always all the better after a little use. My friend has only used this twice. But I’ll find out about the price, and drop you a line, you know. May be £2 or £3, or so.”

“I suppose that’s about what a really good rod ought to cost?” said Loman, who liked to appear to know what was what, but secretly rather taken aback by this estimate.

“So it is. It’s just a guess of mine though; but I know for me he’ll put it as low as he can.”

“I’m sure I shall be very much obliged to you,” said Loman, “if you can manage it for me.”

“Not at all, young gentleman. I always like to oblige where I can; besides, you would do as much for me, I’ll wager. Well, good-day, Mr. — what’s your name?”

“Loman—at Saint Dominic’s. You’ll send me a line, then, about the price?”

“Yes, sir. Good-day, sir.”

But Mr. Cripps had forgotten to send the line, and to-day, when Loman, according to arrangement, came up to the lock-keeper’s to receive the rod, the keeper of the Cockchafer was most profuse in his apologies. He was most sorry, but his friend had been ill and not able to attend to business. He had been a trifle afraid from what he heard that he was not quite as anxious to part with that rod as formerly. But Cripps had gone over on purpose and seen him, and got his promise that he should have it to-morrow certain, and if Mr. Loman would call or send up, it should be ready for him, without failing. At this stage, Stephen, having explored the weir, rejoined his school-fellow, and the two, after partaking of a bottle of ginger-beer at Mr. Cripp’s urgent request, returned with the stream to Saint Dominic’s.

The result of this delay was to make Loman doubly anxious to secure this famous fishing-rod, on which his heart was set. Next day, however, he had classes all the afternoon, and could not go himself. He therefore determined to send Stephen.

“I want you to run up to Gusset Weir,” said he to his fag, “to fetch me a rod the keeper’s son is getting for me. Be quick back, will you? and ask him what the price is.”

So off Stephen trotted, as soon as school was over, in spite of the counter attraction of a Guinea-pig cricket match. When he reached the lock, Cripps had not arrived.

“He warn’t be long, young maister,” said old Jeff, who was one of the snivelling order. “Take a seat, do ’ee. Nice to be a young gemm’un, I says—us poor coves as works wery ’ard, we’d like to be young gemm’un too, with lots o’ money, and all so comfortable off. Why, young maister, you don’t know now what it is to be in want of a shillun. I do!”

Stephen promptly pulled out one of his five shillings of pocket-money in answer to this appeal, and felt rather ashamed to appear “comfortable off” in the presence of this patriarch.

“Not that I complains o’ my lot, young gemm’un,” continued old Cripps, pulling his forelock with one hand and pocketing the shilling with the other. “No, I says, the honest working man don’t do no good a-grumblin’, but when he’s got his famerly to feed,” (old Cripps was a widower, and his family consisted of the landlord of the Cockchafer), “and on’y this here shillin’ to do it with—”

Stephen was very green. He almost cried at the sight of this destitute, tottering honest old man, and before the latter could get farther in his lament another shilling was in his palsied old hand, and the grey old forelock was enduring another tug.

It was well for Stephen that Mr. Cripps junior turned up at this juncture, or the entire five shillings might have made its way into the old man’s pouch.

Mr. Cripps junior had the rod. He had had a rare job, he said, to get it, for his friend had only yesterday had an offer of £3 15 shillings, and was all but taking it. However, here it was, and for only £3 10 shillings, tell Mr. Loman; such a bargain as he wouldn’t often make in his life, and he could get him the fly-book for a sov. if he liked. And Mr. Cripps would charge him nothing for his trouble.

After this Mr. Cripps junior and the boy got quite friendly. The former was greatly interested in hearing about Saint Dominic’s, especially when he understood Stephen was a new boy. Cripps could remember the day when he was a new boy, and had to fight three boys in three hours the first afternoon. He was awfully fond of cricket when he was a boy. Was Stephen?

“Oh, yes,” said Stephen; “I like it more than anything.”

“Ah, you should have seen the way we played. Bless me! I’d a bat, my boy, that could tip the balls clean over the school-house. You’ve got a bat, of course, or else—”

“No, I haven’t,” said Stephen. “I shall get one as soon as I can.”

“Well, that is lucky! Look here, young gentleman,” continued Cripps confidentially; “I’ve taken a fancy to you. It’s best to be plain and speak out. I’ve taken a fancy to you, and you shall have that bat. It’s just your size, and the finest bit of willow you ever set eyes on. I’ll wager you’ll make top score every time you use it. You shall have it. Never mind about the stumpy—”

“Stumpy!” ejaculated Stephen; “I don’t want stumps, only a bat.”

“What I meant to say was, never mind about the price. You can give me what you like for it. I wish I could make you a present of it. My eye, it’s a prime bat! Spliced! Yes. Treble-cane, as I’m a poor man. I’ll send it up to you, see if I don’t, and you can pay when you like.”

And so he chattered on, in a way which quite charmed Stephen, and made him rejoice in his new friend, and still more at the prospect of the bat.

“If it’s awfully dear,” he said, at parting, with a sort of sigh, “I couldn’t afford it. My pocket-money’s nearly all gone.”

He did not say how.

“Oh, never mind, not if you don’t pay at all,” replied the genial Cripps. “You’ll be having more tin soon, I bet.”

“Not till June,” said Stephen.

“Well, leave it till June—no matter. But you may as well have the use of the bat now. Good-day, Master Green—”

“Greenfield, Stephen Greenfield,” said Stephen.

“Good-day, and give my respects to Mr. Loman, and I hope I shall see you both again.”

Stephen hoped so too, and went off, highly elated, with Loman’s rod under his arm.

Loman pulled rather a long face at hearing the price, and pulled a still longer face when Stephen told him about the bat. He read his fag a long lecture about getting into debt and pledging his pocket-money in advance.

That evening Stephen was solemnly tossed up for by the Guinea-pigs and Tadpoles. “Heads, Guinea-pigs; tails, Tadpoles.” It turned up heads, and from that time forward Greenfield junior was a Guinea-pig.