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Screws; and what happened to Bob Fotheringham

“WHEN I was a youngster there was a sort of Prize Boy in our village called Bob Fotheringham. He came to my mother’s Sunday Class, and was the best boy in it. Every one liked Bob; he was good at everything, and especially clever with his fingers, and his father wanted him to follow his own business of carpenter. But Bob had a rich uncle who kept a public-house. On busy Saturdays the boy used to go there and bear a hand in an amateur sort of way. Sometimes a drunk man would take a fancy to him and give him money, so that Bob learned to get money easily and became rather fond of it. Just as he finished school his uncle offered to make a publican of him. He had no sons of his own, and he half promised Bob that one day the business would be his.

“Now Bob did not like the public-house. But how could he lose such a chance? He need not touch drink himself, he argued; and if he did not sell it some one else would. So he decided. His parents solemnly warned him to let it alone, but Bob urged that it would only be for a few years, and then he would set up in some other business and do good with the fortune he would make. Bob’s heart was full of good, and I verily believe he meant to end his days by becoming a great philanthropist.

“But there was a screw on that ball. A screw goes wide at first and then suddenly rounds upon you and twists in among your wickets before you know where you are. For three or four years Bob lived as straight as a parson. When his uncle died he found he had to sample what he bought. What harm? Better to sell good stuff than bad. The business went swimmingly, and Bob had to sample a good deal oftener than he liked. Finally, he “liked” a good deal oftener than he had to sample. After that he was always “sampling.” You know the rest. One day a bail fell off. Bob thought no one noticed it and went on with the game for a year or two. Then a wicket fell—Truth then Honour. Do you remember that blackguard who used to sell Cards at the Sports? That was Bob.”

“There’s something all wrong there,” cried Baxter almost fiercely. “I don’t blame Bob. How was he to know that was a screw?”

“My boy,” said the Captain, “I’m glad to see you frightened.”

“Frightened! Why, this might happen to any of us. How is a fellow to know he is not being taken in all the time?”

“You mean if you were Bob you would just have done the same?”

“Certainly; I would do it to-morrow.”

“No, you would not, Baxter.”

“Why?”

“Because you are frightened. Bob was not frightened. A man who underrates the strength of an enemy is pretty sure of a licking. When you are constantly on the watch for screws the game is half won.”

“But I don’t see how he could have escaped this trap. It looked all right.”

“Screws always do,” replied the Captain. “That’s where they differ from swifts. But where Bob went off the rails is plain. First, he disobeyed his parents; second, he wanted to make money regardless of consequences either to himself or others; third, he trifled with one of the biggest temptations in the world.”

“I hope that’s all,” said Baxter.

“No, there is one thing more. I won’t mention it unless you wish, Baxter.”

“What was it?”

“Well, he did not—he did not pray.

“Perhaps he thought that was only for women.”

“The people who need it most are boys,” said the Captain seriously. “If Bob had done that he would not have “entered” Temptation. Bob saw the gate open and walked straight in.”

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