“You miserable beast! You’ll be dead to-morrow.” He shook the door violently, but Cherry was not quite the utter fool Grim took him for, for he had locked the door. Grim stood outside on the corridor for some seconds, petrified with rage and disgust, and then flew like a madman back to the concert-room. He cannoned up against some one leisurely strolling up to the dressing-room, and was darting on again sans apology. A hand gently closed upon his collar and pulled him back.
“Hallo, young shaver! Little boys used to apologize when they—Why, it’s Grim! What in the name——”
Grim, almost blubbing with anger and shame, poured out his tale, and Acton listened with an amused smile. “Sheer funk, Grim. Well, go on, and tell ’em their Cherry has rotted, but that I’ll come and tell ’em a little tale instead.”
Grim would have embraced Acton if he’d been a little taller, but he gurgled, “Acton, you are a brick,” and darted on to the stage.
He was received with deafening cheers, and shrieks of “No waits!” “Manager!” “Don’t hurry, Grim!” “We’ll send out for supper!” “We want Cherry!” “Go off,” etc.
When Grim could get a word in he panted, “Gentlemen, I am sorry to say B.A.M. Cherry is indisposed and cannot favour you with the epilogue.”
“Funked it!” roared all the delighted juniors.
“He says he is unwell,” said Grim, anger getting the better of him, “but he’ll be a jolly sight worse in the morning.”
There was a hurricane of thunderous cheers at this sally, but Grim managed to shout above the laughing, “I have great pleasure in announcing that John Acton, Esq., will take Fruity’s—I mean Cherry’s—place and tell you a little tale; even Corker fags will understand it,” added Grim, viciously.
Acton came on and received his hearty welcome with easy good nature. He plunged right into his contribution: “A London cabby’s account of his different fares”—from the double-superfine gilt-edged individual to the fat old dowager who will have the parrot inside with her. Acton gave it perfectly. Grim, who had his ears glued to the exit door, vowed he could almost hear the swell drop his eyeglass.
Sharpe stepped on to the stage amid the polite attentions of his natural enemies. “Be a man, Sharpe.” “Don’t cry.” “You’ll see mamma soon.” “Speak up.” “He did it all alone, remember.” “No help.” “Oh, dear no!”
“When on the bosom
of the sleeping pool,
That’s shaded o’er by trees in greenest dress,
Upon its breast of snow its gem of gold
The water lily swims—”
The juniors howled with dismay at this commencement, and Corker juniors instantly began to keep time to Sharpe’s delivery in the organ-grinder’s fashion. But Sharpe toiled remorselessly on. He compared Biffen’s house to a water lily growing in a muddy pond, and again as a Phoenix risen from the ashes; and he gave us, with circumstantial details, every round of the footer housers, their two eleven caps, and the Perry Exhibition, and darkly hinted at Acton’s exclusion from the eleven.