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by [?]

The scene was the up-platform of Knype railway station on a summer afternoon, and, more particularly, that part of the platform round about the bookstall. There were three persons in the neighbourhood of the bookstall. The first was the principal bookstall clerk, who was folding with extraordinary rapidity copies of the special edition of the Staffordshire Signal; the second was Mr Sandbach, an earthenware manufacturer, famous throughout the Five Towns for his ingenious invention of teapots that will pour the tea into the cup instead of all over the table; and a very shabby man, whom Mr Sandbach did not know. This very shabby man was quite close to the bookstall, while Mr Sandbach stood quite ten yards away. Mr Sandbach gazed steadily at the man, but the man, ignoring Mr Sandbach, allowed dreamy and abstracted eyes to rest on the far distance, where a locomotive or so was impatiently pushing and pulling waggons as an excitable mother will drag and shove an inoffensive child. The platform as a whole was sparsely peopled; the London train had recently departed, and the station was suffering from the usual reaction; only a local train was signalled.

Mr Gale, a friend of Mr Sandbach’s, came briskly on to the platform from the booking-office, caught sight of Mr Sandbach, and accosted him.

“Hello, Sandbach!”

“How do, Gale?”

To a slight extent they were rivals in the field of invention. But both had succeeded in life, and both had the alert and prosperous air of success. Born about the same time, they stood nearly equal after forty years of earthly endeavour.

“What are you doing here?” asked Gale, casually.

“I’ve come to meet someone off the Crewe train.”

“And I’m going by it–to Derby,” said Mr Gale. “They say it’s thirteen minutes late.”

“Look here,” said Mr Sandbach, taking no notice of this remark, “you see that man there?”

“Which one–by the bookstall?”


“Well, what about him?”

“I bet you you can’t make him move from where he is–no physical force, of course.”

Mr Gale hesitated an instant, and then his eye glistened with response to the challenge, and he replied:

“I bet you I can.”

“Well, try,” said Mr Sandbach.

Mr Sandbach and Mr Gale frequently threw down the glove to each other in this agreeable way. Either they asked conundrums, or they set test questions, or they suggested feats. When Mr Sandbach discovered at a Christmas party that you cannot stand with your left side close against a wall and then lift your right leg, his first impulse was to confront Mr Gale with the trick. When Mr Gale read in a facetious paper an article on the lack of accurate observation in the average man, entitled, “Do ‘bus horses wear blinkers?” his opening remark to Mr Sandbach at their next meeting was: “I say, Sandbach, do ‘bus horses wear blinkers? Answer quick!” And a phrase constantly in their mouths was, “I’ll try that on Gale;” or, “I wonder whether Sandbach knows that?” All that was required to make their relations artistically complete was an official referee for counting the scores. Such a basis of friendship may seem bizarre, but it is by no means uncommon in the Five Towns, and perhaps elsewhere.

So that when Mr Sandbach defied Mr Gale to induce the shabby man to move from where he stood, the nostrils of the combatants twitched with the scent of battle.

Mr Gale conceived his tactics instantly and put them into execution. He walked along the platform some little distance, then turned, and taking a handful of silver from his pocket, began to count it. He passed slowly by the shabby man, almost brushing his shoulder; and, just as he passed, he left fall half-a-crown. The half-crown rolled round in a circle and lay down within a yard and a half of the shabby man. The shabby man calmly glanced at the half-crown and then at Mr Gale, who, strolling on, magnificently pretended to be unaware of his loss; and then the shabby man resumed his dreamy stare into the distance.