The Bankruptcy of Bannister
I AM Bannister, and what happened to me was a very gradual thing at first; but it grew and grew until finally something had to be done; and that something was called “ bankruptcy.”
Curiously enough I had heard the word before at home. In fact, as I told Gideon, who kindly let me explain my position to him, my father had once been bankrupted, and when he was a bankrupt my mother cried a good deal, and my father talked about “ everlasting disgrace and bloodthirsty creditors,” and something in the pound. And then there came a day when my father told my mother gladly that he had been discharged, whatever that was, and my mother seemed much pleased. In fact, she said, “Thank God, Gerald;” and they had a bottle of champagne for lunch. It was in holidays and I heard it all, and tasted the champagne, and did n’t like it.
So, remembering this, when Gideon talked of me being a bankrupt, I said, “All right, and the sooner the better.”
As I say, one gets hard up very gradually, and the debts seem nothing in themselves; but when, owing to chaps bothering, you go into it all on paper, you may often be much surprised to find how serious things are, taken altogether.
What I found was that my pocket money was absolutely all owed for about three terms in advance; and that Steggles, who lent me a shilling upon a thing called a mortgage, the mortgage being my bat, was not going to give up the bat, which was a spliced bat and cost eight shillings and sixpence. He said, what with interest and one thing and another, his shilling had gained six shillings more, and that if he did n’t take the bat at once, he woidd be out of pocket. So he took it, and he played with it in a match, and got a duck’s egg, and I was jolly glad. Then the tuckwoman, who is allowed to come up to the playground after school, with fruit and sweets and such like, was owed by me seven shillings and fourpence, and she would n’t sell anything more to me and asked me rather often to pay the money. I told her that all would be paid sooner or later, and she seemed inclined not to believe it. Other debts were one and six owed to Corkey minimus for a mouse that he said was going to have young mice but it didn’t; and he had consented to take ninepence owing to being mistaken. Tin Lin Chow, the Chinese boy, was owed four shillings and threepence for a charm. It was a good enough charm made of ivory and carved into a very hideous face. All the same, it never had done me much good, for here I was bankrupted six months after buying it, and the charm itself not even paid for.
There were a lot of other small debts — some merely a question of pens and pencils; but they all mounted up, and so I felt something must be done, because being in such a beastly mess made me ill and kept me awake a good deal at night thinking what to do.
Therefore I went to Gideon, who is a Jew and very rich and well known to lend money at interest. He is first in the whole school for arithmetic, and his father is a diamond merchant and a banker, and many other things that bring in enormous sums of money. Gideon has no side and he is known to be absolutely fair even to the smallest kids. So I went to him and I said, —
“Please, Gideon, if it won’t be troubling you, I should like to speak to you about my affairs. I am very hard up, in fact, and fellows are being rather beastly about money I owe them.”
“I’m afraid I can’t finance you, Bannister,” said Gideon awfully kindly. “My money’s all out at interest just now, and, as a matter of fact, I’m rather funky about some of it.”
“I don’t want you to finance me,” I said; “and that would be jolly poor fun for you anyway, because I’ve got nothing and never shall have in this world as far as I can see. I only want you to advise me. I’m fourteen and three-quarters, and when I was twelve and a half, my father got into pretty much the same mess that I’m in now; and he got out again with ease, and even had champagne afterwards, by the simple plan of being bankrupt.”
“It’s not always an honorable thing — I warn you of that,” said Gideon.
“I’m sure it was perfectly honorable in my father’s case,” I said, “because he’s a frightfully honorable man. And I am honorable too, and want to do what is right and proper as soon as possible.”
“ Why don’t you write to your father ? ” asked Gideon.
“Because he once warned me — when he was being bankrupted, in fact — that if ever I owed any man a farthing he would break my neck; and my mother said at the same time — blubbing into her handkerchief as she said it — that she would rather see me in my coffin than in the bankruptcy court. All the same, they both cheered up like any thing after it was all over, and father said he should not hesitate to go through it all again if necessary; but still I would n’t for the world tell them what I’ve done. In fact, they think that I have money in hand and subscribe to the chapel offertories and do all sorts of good with my ten bob a term; whereas the truth is that I have to pay it all away instantly on the first day of the term, and have had to ever since two terms after I first came.”
“What you must do then is to go bankrupt,” said Gideon thoughtfully.
“Yes,” I said, “that’s just the whole thing. How do you begin?”
“Generally other people begin,” said Gideon. “Creditors as a rule do what they think will pay them best. Sometimes they will show great patience if they think it is worth while; and sometimes they won’t. My father has told me about these things. He has had to bankrupt a few people in his time; though he is always very sorry to do it.”
“In my case nobody will show patience because it’s gone on too long.” I said. “In fact, the only one who has got anything out of me for three terms is Steggles, who has taken my bat.”
“He has foreclosed on a mortgage. He is quite within his rights for once,” said Gideon, who rather hated Steggles because Steggles always called him Shylock junior.
“To begin,” continued Gideon, “two things generally happen, I believe: there is a meeting of creditors, and soon afterwards the bailiffs come in.”
“I remember my father mentioning bailiffs wildly to my mother,” I said. “But I don’t think they ever came in. If they did, I never saw them.”
“Then no doubt the meeting of creditors decided against it; and a meeting of creditors is what you’d better have,” declare Gideon. “Tell everybody you owe money to that there is to be a meeting in the gym, on Thursday evening, to go into the affair. I will be there if you like, as I understand these things pretty well. ”
I thanked Gideon very much indeed and asked him if he could tell what happened next after the meeting.
“The claims are put in against you,” he explained, “and then you say what you’ve got to say and give a reason why you can’t pay. And then your assets are stated.”
“What are assets?” I asked.
“What you’ve got to pay with, or what you hope to have in course of time.”
“I’ve got nothing at all,” I said, “and never shall have until I’m old enough to go into an office and earn money.”
“Then the assets will be nil,” said Gideon. “But they can’t be absolutely nil in your case. For instance, you have a watch, and you have that Chinese charm you bought from Tin Lin Chow, and various other things, including the green lizard you found on the common last Saturday, if it’s still alive.”
“I can’t give up the watch,” I said. " It is n’t mine. It’s only lent to me by my mother. The lizard died yesterday, I’m sorry to say.”
“Well, at any rate, there’s enough to declare something in the pound,” Gideon told me.
“There may be,” I said, “but first get your pound. You can’t declare anything in the pound if you have n’t got a pound. At least I don’t see how.”
He seemed doubtful about that and changed the subject.
“Anyway, I’ll be at the meeting of creditors,” he promised; and I knew he would be, because Gideon was never known to lie.
A good deal happened before the meeting of creditors. Among other things I went down three places in my form, owing to my mind being so much occupied with going bankrupt; and I also got into a beast of a row with the Doctor, which was serious and might have been still more serious if he had insisted on knowing the truth. It was at a very favorite lesson of the Doctor’s, namely, the Scripture lesson; and as a rule he simply takes the top of the class and leaves the bottom pretty much alone, because at the top are Macmillan and Forbes and Prodgers — all flyers at Scripture; and their answers give the Doctor great pleasure; and at the bottom are me and Willson minor and West and others; and our answers don’t give him any pleasure at all. But sometimes he pounces down upon us with a sudden question to see if we are attending; and he pounced down upon me to see if I was attending; and I was not, because my mind was full of the meeting of creditors and other matters more important to me for the minute than the people in the Old Testament.
So when the Doctor suddenly said, “Tell us what you know of Gideon, Bannister, if you please,” I clean forgot there was more than one Gideon and said, —
“ Gideon is an awfully decent sort, and he has advised me to offer something in the pound.”
Naturally the Doctor did not like this. In fact, he liked it so little that he made me go straight out of the class and wait for him in his study. Then he caned me for insolence combined with irreverence, and made me write out about Gideon and the dew upon the fleece twenty-four times, which I did.
I also asked our Gideon if he was by any chance related to the Bible Gideon, and he said that it was impossible to prove that he was not; and that it was also impossible to prove that he was. In any case, he said, such things did not trouble him, though a friend of his father, wanting to prove he was related to a man who died in the year 731 A.D., went to a place called the Herald’s Office and gave them immense sums of money and they proved it easily. He said also that it was a jolly good thing the Doctor did not ask for particulars, because if he had known I was a bankrupt and going to offer something in the pound, he would probably have expelled me on the spot.
Gideon asked me if I had done anything about the bankruptcy, and I told him privately that I had. But I did not tell him what. I had, in fact, taken a desperate step and written a letter to my grandmother. I marked it “ private ” in three places, and begged her, on every page, not to tell my father, because my father was her son and he had often told me that if I wrote to her for money he would punish me in a very terrible manner. How, he never mentioned, but he meant it, and so I had to make my grandmother promise not to tell him. I wrote the letter seven or eight times before I got it up to the mark; then I borrowed one of Foster’s envelopes, already stamped with pink stamps for writing home, and sent it off. It was the best letter I ever wrote, or ever shall write, and this was how it went: —
MY DEAR GRANDMOTHER, —
I write this line, though very busy, to hope that you are exceedingly well and enjoying the fine weather. I hope your lovely little clever dog, “ Fido,” is well also. I never see such a clever and beautiful dog anywhere else. My parents write to me that they are well. I am quite well. At least I am quite well in body, though I have grown rather thin lately through not being able to eat enough food. This is not the fault of the food. It is my mind. You will be very sorry to hear, dear Grandmother, that I am a bankrupt. I hope you may never know what it is to be one, for it is very terrible, especially if you are honorable and honest as I am, owing to the books you always give me so very kindly at Christmas. To be a bankrupt is to be called upon at any moment to have to pay something in the pound; and this is a dreadful position, but even more dreadful in my case than in some others. For instance, when dear father was bankrupted, he paid something in the pound and had something over; but in my case I have not even got the pound.
I don’t mean, of course, dear grannie, that I want anybody to give me the necessary pound; but the terrible thing is I can’t be a bankrupt without it, and so really I don’t know what will happen to me if I don’t get it. If by any wonderfully kind and lucky chance you could lend me a pound, my dreadful situation would improve at once and I should no doubt get fatter and cheerfullcr in a few days; but as it is, I lie awake and sigh all night, and even wake chaps with the loudness of my sighs, which fling things at me for keeping them awake. But I cannot help it. I don’t tell you these things to worry you, dear grannie, as very likely you have worries of your own; but it would not be honest not to tell you how very badly I want a pound just now. There is to be a meeting of my creditors in the gymnasium in a few days, and how I am going to declare anything in the pound I don’t know. It makes me feel terribly old and I have gone down several places in my class and been terribly caned by Dr. Dunstan. But nothing matters if I can honorably get that pound. It would change the whole course of my life in fact. My beautiful bat has gone. I have to borrow it now when I play cricket. But I am playing very badly this term, because you cannot be in good form if the brain is worrying about a pound. I shall lose my place in the second eleven, I expect. I have missed several catches lately and I fancy my eyes are growing dim and old, owing to being awake worrying so much at night about that pound.
Of course if you can give me any sort of idea where I can get that pound, I shall be very thankful. Unfortunately in this case five shillings would be no good, and even ten would be no good, strange though it may seem. Only a pound is any use. I must now conclude dear Grannie, with best love and good wishes from your affectionate
ARTHUR MORTIMER BANNISTER.
P. S. Though all this fearful brain worry has thrown me back a lot in class, still my Scripture is all right and I shall be able to say the Kings of Israel either backwards or forwards next holidays in a way that will surprise you. I have been a good deal interested in Gideon and the dew upon the fleece lately.
Well, I sent off this letter, which was far, far the longest and best I had ever written in my life; and before sending it I printed at the top of each page, “Don’t tell father” — feeling that to be very important. Then I waited and hoped that my grandmother would read the letter as I meant her to; and great was my relief when I found that she did. On the very morning of the meeting of the creditors she wrote a long letter and sent a postal order for a pound; and the letter I put aside for future reading, and the postal order I took to Mr. Browne who always changes postal orders into money for boys.
He seemed surprised at the great size of the postal order, but gave me a golden pound and told me to be careful of it. I was so excited that I very nearly got kept in at morning school; but I escaped, and when the time came I went to Gideon and he walked up to the gym with me to meet the creditors.
Ten chaps were assembled for the bankruptcy, but I jolly soon cleared out. Browne, because the sixpence he said I owed him had been paid at the beginning of the term, and Westcott was able to prove it. So Browne went, but reluctantly. Steggles also went. He wanted me to take back my mortgaged bat and owe him about six shillings instead, but knowing Steggles, I felt sure that something must have gone wrong with the bat; and when I examined it, I found that it was so. In fact, the bat was badly sprung; and Gideon said it was like Steggles, and a beastly paltry thing to try to do. So Steggles also went, and that left eight fellows. These eight chaps were told to make their claims, and when they had, Gideon made me examine them to see they were all right. Only four claimed too much; and Mathers, who is an awfully kind-hearted and sporting chap, claimed too little.
So I said, “I’m afraid I owe you one and nine, not one and three, Mathers.”
And he said, “That’s all right. I knocked off a tanner when you won the house match against Browne a week ago.” Which shows the sort of chap that Mathers was.
I said, “Does anybody else feel inclined to knock off anything owing to my winning the house match against Browne’s ?”
But nobody did, and seeing that five of the creditors actually belonged to Browne’s house, I could n’t expect that they would.
“When you’ve admitted the claims,” said Gideon, “I’ll add them up myself.”
So I went through the claims and had to admit them all.
Then Gideon added them up and said, “The claims lodged against you, Bannister, amount to exactly one pound, twelve shillings, and eightpence; but I think you told me that the tuck-woman was also a creditor. If so, she ought to be here.”
“I have spoken to her,” I said, “and she says that I owe her seven shillings and fourpence. That is the figure. I told her that I was going to have a meeting of creditors, and she said I was beginning early, and that she wished she could let me off, but that she had an invalid husband and twenty small children at home — or some such number.”
“Anyway, the debt ranks good,” said Gideon. Then he added the seven and fourpence to the one pound twelve shillings and eightpence.
“The total liabilities are exactly two pounds ” said Gideon. “Now, Bannister, as the debts are admitted to be two pounds, the next question is, what are the assets. I may tell you kids,” he continued, turning to Corkey minimus and Fairlawn and Frost, who were the smallest of the creditors in size and age, “that the word ‘assets,’ which you very likely do not know, means what Bannister has got to pay you with, You have made him a bankrupt and he owes you two pounds; so now the simple question is, how much can he pay of that money ? Of course he can’t pay it all — else he would n’t be a bankrupt — but he is going to pay according to his assets. Now Bannister,” he concluded, turning to me, “you’d better tell the meeting what your assets are. Does everybody understand ? ”
Everybody understood, or said they did, except Frost, and he kept on saying over and over again, like a parrot, that I owed him five pence and a lead pencil, till Gideon at last had to tell him to shut up and not interfere with the meeting.
Then I spoke. I said, in quite a quiet sort of way, as if it was an everyday thing, “I have decided to pay something in the pound, Gideon.”
But Gideon was rather impatient.
“ We all know that. That’s what we ’re here for,” he said.
“You could n’t all know it,” I answered, “because none of you knew that I’d got a pound. You can’t pay something in the pound unless you’ve got one. And I thought it might interest the creditors at this meeting to know that I have got one.”
They were frightfully interested, naturally, and even Gideon was. I put it into his hand and he looked at it and turned it. over and nodded.
“The assets are a pound,” said Gideon. “I’ve no doubt you’ll all be glad to hear that.”
The chaps evidently felt very different to me when they heard the assets were a pound; because most of them, as they told me afterwards, did n’t know there were any assets at all. They got rather excited, in fact, and Thwaites even asked if there might be any more assets.
But I said, “No. There is only this pound. When I became bankrupt I determined that I would pay something in the pound, and I wrote to private friends and put the position before them; and they quite agreed with me and sent the pound; and now I am going to pay something in it. I don’t quite know what that means; but it is an honorable and proper thing to do; and Gideon does know what it means; and I shall be very much obliged to him if he will explain.”
“It is quite easy,” said Gideon. “You have a debt; you can’t pay it all, so you pay so much in the pound.”
“That’s what I’m going to do,” I said.
“The question is, how much you’re going to pay in the pound,” said Forrest, who had made more row than all the rest of the creditors put together, though I only owed him a penny.
“I know that’s the question without your telling me,” I answered. “Gideon has the pound and he will say what I am to pay in it.”
Gideon looked rather puzzled.
“You don’t seem to understand even yet, Bannister,” he said. “You don’t pay so much in the pound of the assets; you pay so much in the pound of the debts.”
I did n’t pretend to understand what Gideon meant by this complicated way of putting it, and told him so.
“All I want,” I said, “is to do the strictly honorable thing and pay so much in the pound, which I have handed over to Gideon for that reason.”
But Gideon, much to my surprise, seemed to feel rather annoyed at this.
“I wish you’d try and understand the situation,” he said. “When you speak of so much in the pound, it’s a figure of speech in a sort of way. It is n’t a real, single, solitary pound.”
“It’s real enough,” I said. “For Browne gave it to me in exchange for a postal order.”
“ This pound is real, but—” then Gideon broke off in a helpless sort of way; and then he began again.
“You owe two pounds — d’you see that ? ”
“Of course,” I said. “That’s the whole thing.”
“And you ’ve got one pound — d ’ you see that ? ”
He held it up as if he was going to do a conjuring trick with it.
Of course I said I did see it.
“Then, if you owe two pounds and can only find one, how much are you going to pay in the pound?”
“Whatever you think would be sportsmanlike, Gideon,” I said.
“It isn’t a question of being sportsmanlike; it’s a question of simple arithmetic,” he said. “You’ve got twenty shillings and you owe forty; you owe just twice as many as you’ve got; therefore it follows that you’ll pay ten shillings in the pound; and that’s a good deal more than many people can.”
“I’ll pay more than that,” I said. “I’ll pay fifteen shillings.”
“What an ass you are, Bannister!” answered Gideon. “You can’t pay fifteen shillings — you have n’t got it to pay.”
“My dear chap,” I said, “I’ve got a pound.”
“You’ve got nothing at all,” he said. “You pay ten shillings in each of the two pounds you owed, and then there’s nothing left.”
After that I began to see; and when we went into it all, and got change, and paid each chap exactly half of what I owed him, it turned out that Gideon was perfectly right and there was n’t a farthing left over. Everybody was fairly well satisfied except the tuck-woman, but nobody seemed much obliged to me; and I could n’t help thinking that though Gideon had been awfully decent about it, and managed it all frightfully well, that nevertheless, a grown man would have managed it even better. Because, take my father’s bankruptcy and look how jolly different that turned out to mine. I don’t know what he paid in the pound, but I do know there was enough left over for him to buy a bottle of champagne and for mother to say, “ Thank God.” Whereas my bankruptcy appeared to have left me exactly where I was before, and there was nothing whatever left over to buy even a bottle of ginger beer.
I pointed this out to Gideon, and he said, “Of course I don’t know how much your father paid in the pound.”
Presently I said, “I’m awfully obliged to you, Gideon, and I shall never forget how kind you have been. And I wonder if you’d mind adding to your fearful kindness by lending me a penny.”
“What for?” said Gideon. “Ginger beer ?”
“No,” I said, “for a stamp to write to my grandmother. I may tell you privately that she sent me that pound out of her own money, and it was very sporting of her, and of course I must thank her.”
Gideon did n’t much like it, I could see; but at last he brought out the penny and entered it in his book.
“If you can pay by the end of the term, I’ll charge no interest,” he said.
And just to show what luck Gideon always has, the very next Sunday at church I found a threepenny piece, doubtless dropped by somebody, so Gideon had his penny back in three days; and I went so far as to offer him a halfpenny interest, but he would not take it from me.