He dropped my arm, and, falling back a pace, looked nervously about him.
“Between you and me and the gatepost, eh?” he asked.
His hand went down and tapped his pocket slily, and with that he turned and shuffled away down the street. I stared after him into the foggy darkness, listening to the tap of his stick upon the cobbles.
CAPTAIN COFFIN STUDIES NAVIGATION.
Events soon to be narrated made my sojourn in tutelage of Mr. Stimcoe a brief one, and I will pass it lightly over.
The school consisted of four boarders and six backward sons of gentlemen resident in the town, and assembled daily in a large outhouse furnished with desks of a peculiar pattern, known to us as “scobs.” Mr. Stimcoe, who had received his education as a “querister” at Winchester (and afterwards as a “servitor” at Pembroke College, Oxford), habitually employed and taught us to employ the esoteric slang—or “notions,” as he called it—of that great public school; so that in “preces,” “morning lines,” “book-chambers,” and what-not we had the names if not the things, and a vague and quite illusory sense of high connection, on the strength of which, and of our freedom from what Mrs. Stimcoe called “the commercial taint,” we made bold to despise the more prosperous Rogerses up the hill.
Upon commerce in the concrete—that is to say, upon the butchers, bakers, and other honest tradesmen of Falmouth—Mrs. Stimcoe waged a predatory war, and waged it without quarter. She had a genius for opening accounts, and something more than genius for keeping her creditors at bay. She never wheedled nor begged them for time; she never compromised nor parleyed, nor condescended to yield an inch to their claims for decent human treatment. She relied simply upon browbeating and the efficacy of the straight-spoken lie. A more dauntless, unblushing, majestic liar never stood up in petticoats.
She was a byword in Falmouth; yet, strange to say, her victims kept a sneaking fondness for her, a soft spot In their hearts; while as sporting onlookers we boys took something like a fearful pride in the Warrior, as we called her. It was not in her nature to encourage any such weakness, or to use it. She would not have thanked us for it. But we had this amount of excuse: that she fed us liberally when she could browbeat the butcher; and if at times we went short, she shared our privation. Also, there must have been some good in the woman, to stand so unflinchingly by Stimcoe. Stimcoe’s books had gone into storage at the pawnbroker’s; but in his bare “study,” where he heard our construing of Caesar and Homer, stood a screen, and behind it an eighteen-gallon cask. A green baize tablecloth covered the cask from sight, and partially muffled the sound of its running tap when Stimcoe withdrew behind the screen, to consult (as he put it) his lexicon.