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A Thief in the Night

The Field of Phillipi
Nipper Nasmyth had been head of our school when Raffles was captain of
cricket. I believe he owed his nickname entirely to the popular prejudice against a
day-boy; and in view of the special reproach which the term carried in my time,
as also of the fact that his father was one of the school trustees, partner in a
banking firm of four resounding surnames, and manager of the local branch,
there can be little doubt that the stigma was undeserved. But we did not think so
then, for Nasmyth was unpopular with high and low, and appeared to glory in the
fact. A swollen conscience caused him to see and hear even more than was
warranted by his position, and his uncompromising nature compelled him to act
on whatsoever he heard or saw: a savage custodian of public morals, he had in
addition a perverse enthusiasm for lost causes, loved a minority for its own sake,
and untenable tenets for theirs. Such, at all. events, was my impression of Nipper
Nasmyth, after my first term, which was also his last I had never spoken to him,
but I had heard him speak with extraordinary force and fervor in the school
debates. I carried a clear picture of his unkempt hair, his unbrushed coat, his
dominant spectacles, his dogmatic jaw. And it was I who knew the combination at
a glance, after years and years, when the fateful whim seized Raffles to play
once more in the Old Boys' Match, and his will took me down with him to
participate in the milder festivities of Founder's Day.
It was, however, no ordinary occasion. The bicentenary loomed but a year
ahead, and a movement was on foot to mark the epoch with an adequate statue
of our pious founder. A special meeting was to be held at the school-house, and
Raffles had been specially invited by the new head master, a man of his own
standing, who had been in the eleven with him up at Cambridge. Raffles had not
been near the old place for years; but I had never gone down since the day I left;
and I will not dwell on the emotions which the once familiar journey awakened in
my unworthy bosom. Paddington was alive with Old Boys of all. ages - but very
few of ours - if not as lively as we used to make it when we all. landed back for
the holidays. More of us had moustaches and cigarettes and "loud" ties. That
was all. Yet of the throng, though two or three looked twice and thrice at Raffles,
neither he nor I knew a soul until we had to change at the junction near our
journey's end, when, as I say, it was I who recognized Nipper Nasmyth at sight.
The man was own son of the boy we both remembered. He had grown a ragged
beard and a moustache that hung about his face like a neglected creeper. He
was stout and bent and older than his years. But he spurned the platform with a
stamping stride which even I remembered in an instant, and which was enough
for Raffles before he saw the man's face.
"The Nipper it is!" he cried. "I could swear to that walk in a pantomime
procession! See the independence in every step: that's his heel on the neck of
the oppressor: it's the nonconformist conscience in baggy breeches. I must
speak to him, Bunny. There was a lot of good in the old Nipper, though he and I
did bar each other."
 
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