THE WORLD’S SPELLING CHAMPION
First episode, taken from Rover and Wizard issue:
A great new yarn about two strangely-assorted partners – a fairground showman and a “human dictionary!”
The fair was over for the day, and the lights in the various sideshows were going out one by one. Tired showmen, who had been on their feet since early dawn had only one thought in their heads, and that thought was – sleep. But Tich Kelly, the proprietor of Kelly’s Boxing Booth and manager of Professor Kelly’s troupe of boxers, was wide awake. He sat in his caravan laboriously scrawling figures on a sheet of paper. Finally he gave a grunt of disgust and flung down his pencil. “I’m losing money hand over fist,” he growled. “Unless things improve, I’ll have to drop out of the game altogether, and it’s going to be hard looking for another job at my time of life.” Tich had been connected with the boxing game ever since he left school. In his time he had been feather-weight champion, but for years now his boxing booth had been a familiar sight at fairs all over the country. The little showman was still scowling at the scrawled figures in front of him, when there was a tap at the door, and a red-faced, jovial-looking man entered. Tich scowled, for his visitor was Buck Burton, the proprietor of a rival boxing booth. “I thought I’d look in,” said Buck, “and suggest a game for half an hour or so. I’ve had a rotten day, and a hand of poker might liven me up a little.” Almost automatically Tich Kelly produced a pack of playing cards, for gambling was a common interest with these two strangely-assorted characters. They immediately got down to the game and played for about half an hour. At the end of that half-hour, Tich pushed his chair back. “That cleans me right out,” he said. “I’m flat broke.” Buck Burton stared at his companion, and for a moment a cunning gleam showed in his eyes. Placing his hand in his pocket, he pulled out a couple of dice. With a carelessness that was just a little too obvious, he rolled them over the table. “Look here, Tich,” he said. “I’ve a proposition to make to you. You and I have been rivals for years now, and I’ve reason to believe that both of us are losing money. This particular fair has been a dead loss so far as I’m concerned.” “Same here,” commented Tich, “I haven’t had more than thirty people into any show today.” Buck Burton leaned across the table. “We’ve known each other for a long time, Tich,” he said eagerly. “We’ve always been rivals, yet we’ve managed to remain friends.
If we go on as we’re doing now, both of us
are going to become bankrupt. “Well, I’ve been thinking the matter over for a
long time, and if you’re the sportsman I think you are, you’ll agree to my
proposition,” he went on. “What are you getting at?” demanded Tich. “This,” was
the reply. “There’s a couple of dice on the table. Are you prepared to roll
them with me with our teams of boxers as the prize?” “Say that again,” replied
Tich, as if hardly able to credit his ears. “We’ll throw the dice,” explained
Buck Burton patiently, “and if you throw the highest number I’ll hand over all
my boxers to you, and I’ll clear out of the game. “You’ll have no opposition
then, and you’ll begin to make profits immediately. On the other hand, if you
lose, you’ll hand over your boxers to me. “It’s a sporting proposition, Tich,”
he went on. “If we remain rivals, we’re both going to suffer. My suggestion
gives one of us a chance to carry on. What do you say?” Tich Kelly looked down
at the dice, then smiled. “All right, Buck,” he said. “All my life I’ve taken
chances, and I’m prepared to take one now.” Tich won the toss, and picked up
the two dice. He shook them in his fist, then rolled them on the table.
“Three!” he grunted disgustedly. “I guess my luck’s dead out tonight.” “You
never know,” said Buck, as he shook up the dice. “Here’s my throw.” The dice
rolled over the table, to turn up a five and a two. “Seven,” exclaimed Buck
excitedly. “I reckon I’m the lucky guy, after all. But we both had equal
chances, Tich.” “I’m not complaining,” was the reply. “I’ll see the boys
tonight, and tell them to report to you in the morning. I take it that it
doesn’t matter if they don’t want to work for you?” “Not in the least,”
THE BET AT THE BUTT
The fair had another two days to go, and Tich was up bright and early next morning, only to realise with a sudden shock that he had no work to do. His boxers went over to the Burton Booth, and Tich busied himself taking down some of the signs and pictures which were hung outside the front of the booth. Steam whistles were soon blowing and the organs of roundabouts were grinding out tunes. Tich had become so used to the noise of the fair that normally, he never noticed it. This morning, however, it began to get on his nerves. In order to get away from it all, he decided to take a stroll round the town. Tich did not realise it, but that walk was to be one of the most momentous happenings of his life – he could not possibly foresee that it was to bring him contact for the first time with Bartholomew Bandy. Sunk in his own thoughts, Tich was on the outskirts of the town when he came in sight of a small school. He was looking into the playground, when he saw one of the school doors burst open and a large, heavily-built man come dashing out, tearing at his hair with both hands. “Gee!” commented Tich. “Something’s annoying that fellow.” Then suddenly the little showman’s eyes nearly started out of his head, for the big schoolmaster had raced across to a water-butt, seized the edge of it with both hands, and then dipped his head under the water – six times in quick succession. “What’s wrong, mate?” he inquired. The other was drying himself with an outsize in pocket handkerchiefs, paying particular care to the drying of one of the longest and shaggiest moustaches Tich had ever seen.
“There’s nothing wrong with me,” he snapped. “I’m a schoolmaster here, and it’s driving me crazy. I’ve been in a classroom trying to teach boys spelling. Now, spelling is the easiest thing under the sun – there’s not a word I can’t spell. But do you think I can teach those boys in there? Not a bit! “It’s impossible to drive a three-letter word into their heads. Every time I take a spelling lesson, this sort of thing happens – I have to come out here and stick my head in the water-butt,” he added. “So spelling’s easy is it?” said Tich, who found it difficult to spell two consecutive words correctly. “I don’t think so. There must be thousands of words you can’t spell.” “What’s that?” demanded the other. “You don’t believe me? Let me tell you, my friend, there’s no word in the English Dictionary that I can’t spell.” Tich’s eyes were gleaming now. He thought he saw a chance of making some easy money. “Say,” he said. “I’d like to have a little wager with you about spelling. I’ll bet you ten shillings that you can’t spell half a dozen words that I’ll give you.” “Splendid,” replied the schoolmaster. “Your ten shillings is already as good as in my pocket. Go ahead.” Tich thought for a moment. “Spell antidisestablishmenta-rianism,” he said. The schoolmaster did so, and then went on to rattle off Tich’s other five words. With a gesture of defeat, Tich took a ten-shilling note from his pocket. “Guess you win, matey,” he said. “I sure wish I’d a headpiece like yours. If I did –” Tich broke off as an angry figure stalked out of the school doorway and bore down upon the school teacher. “Mister Bandy,” barked the newcomer, “what’s the meaning of this? Your class is creating a riot inside. Why are you wasting your time out here?” He absolutely ignored the presence of Tich. “Mister Bandy,” went on the man whom Tich guessed was the headmaster. “I’ve come to the end of my patience. Your class is always in a state of uproar. You’ve no idea of discipline, and therefore I must complain to the Education Committee. They will probably ask you to resign -” “Mister Crabb,” interrupted Mr Bandy. “There’s no need for you to complain to the Education Committee. I resign here and now. I’ve never been interested in ordinary school subjects – I am only interested in spelling. And spelling come so easily to me that I don’t have the patience to teach it. “If I stay in your school any longer, I’ll become stark, raving mad, so I’m leaving while I’m sane. Good-bye, Mister Crabb – you can teach ‘em spelling yourself in future,” he finished.
Mr Bandy strode across the yard, leaving the headmaster looking absolutely thunder-struck. “It’s queer,” said Tich, as he broke into a jog-trot to keep up with his big companion. “I fell out of a job last night, and now you’re out of a job. But you’ll soon get another with a headpiece like yours. Why, you must be the world’s champion speller. You -” Tich suddenly broke off and caught hold of his companion’s arm. “Champion,” he echoed. “That’s the word. All my life I’ve been dealing with champions, but they’ve usually been boxing champions. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t manage a different kind of champ.” “What on earth are you talking about?” demanded Mr Bandy. “Let me tell you who I am,” said Tich. “You’d better know all about me first of all.” He explained about his boxing booth up at the fairground. “A few minutes ago I was thinking I’d have to sell it,” he said, “but I’ve changed my mind. If you place yourself under my management, I’ll undertake to make a real world champion of you. “We’ll offer prizes to anyone who can give you a word that you can’t spell. People will pay their admission money in the hope of seeing you fail. I can see my booth being filled up as it used to be in the good old days,” he continued. He talked at such length, and explained his plan in such detail, that at last the schoolmaster became enthusiastic. “All right,” he said, “we’ll shake on it.” And that was the beginning of the strange partnership between Bartholomew Bandy and Tich Kelly.
THE CHAMPION’S FIRST PERFORMANCE
Tich Kelly was not the sort of man to let the grass grow underneath his feet. Having decided to run a spelling champion, he knew that the sooner he started the better. Besides, there was only a day and a half of the fair left. Entering the caravan at the fair, he locked the door behind him. “Our first job starts early this afternoon,” he said. “So we’ve got to get busy right away.” An hour later Tich went outside and hung an enormous poster outside the front of his booth. It read as follows: - STUPENDOUS ATTRACTION – WORLD’S GREATEST MARVAL – FIRST APPEARANCE IN ENGLAND. ENTERTAINMENT COMBINED WITH INSTRUCTION. THE GREATEST PHENOMENON OF ALL TIME APPEARS AT THIS AFTERNOON. WONDERFUL PRIZES TO BE WON. MISS YOUR MEALS – MISS YOUR OWN FUNERAL – BUT DON’T MISS SEEING THE GREATEST SENSATION OF THE AGE. “Now,” said Tich, “I must get something to eat and then you must go into training for his first appearance.” “Training?” echoed Bartholomew. “What do you mean?” “You’ll see,” was the grim reply. “You’ll see.” It didn’t take Tich long to cook a meal. As soon as this had been eaten, he ran all the way to town. When he returned, he was staggering under the weight of a heavy parcel. Dumping this down in front of Bartholomew Bandy, the little showman cut the string and displayed half a dozen bulky volumes. They were all well-known dictionaries. “There you are,” said Tich. “You can go into training straight away. We mustn’t have any failures on our first day, so you’d better start looking up the hardest words as quickly as you can. I’ll go out and see if our notice has attracted attention. Tich strolled outside and discovered that quite a number of people were staring at the front of the booth. The notice had aroused quite a lot of curiosity, and several showmen went out of their way to tackle Tich and ask him what he had up his sleeve. Buck Burton came across, and Tich had the greatest difficulty in shaking his former rival off, but he gave nothing away. Then when Tich peered through the front of the booth just before , he rubbed his has with intense satisfaction, for a truly enormous crowd was now gathering outside. It seemed that everybody who had visited the fair was anxious to obtain a glimpse of the new wonder.
Tich glanced over his shoulder at Bartholomew Bandy. “I’m going out to do my stuff now,” he said. “Be ready when I call.” A number of rival showmen were looking anxiously at the booth, and they certainly received a shock when Tich appeared. At one time he had been ringmaster of a circus, and this was the outfit he had then worn. He raised his hand for silence. Having spent the whole of his life in the show business, there was very little that Tich didn’t know about getting the crowd interested. First he contented himself by giving a list of the normal attractions at a fair. “But this time, ladies and gents,” he went on, “I am bringing you something entirely novel. When you pay your entrance money of one shilling you stand a chance of picking up a really valuable prize. Any person of average intelligence stands a chance of winning one of our prizes. “And mark this,” he went on. “Our prizes are real prizes. If you win – if you can defeat the world’s wonder at his own game – you won’t be given a box of chocolates. If you win you’ll be given a cash prize of ten pounds! “There’s no limit to the prizes, gents. It’s up to you. Every time you beat the world’s wonder you collect ten pounds! “Now,” went on Tich after an impressive pause, “I present for the first time on any stage one of the world’s greatest wonders. Gents, I present to you Bartholomew Bandy, the Human Dictionary. The crowd were now keyed up with expectation, and they blinked when the cloth behind Tich was pulled aside and a tall figure wearing a scholastic cap and gown appeared. “Gents,” said Tich again, “meet Bartholomew Bandy, the World’s Spelling Champion.” Instead of bowing, Bartholomew clasped his hands together above his head and shook them in the direction of the crowd, for all the world like a boxer acknowledging applause. “Here he is, gents,” went on Tich. “The Human Dictionary. There’s not a word in the whole of the English language that he can’t spell. All his life he’s been fed on dictionaries. I invite you all to come inside and test him. Try him with any word you like; if he fails to spell it correctly inside half a minute, then collect ten pounds. “There’s no fake in this show – if the spelling champion fails, you get ten pounds. And you get ten pounds every time he fails. There’s not a man in front of me who doesn’t know at least one unusual word. Well, come inside and try it on the champ. “The admission is only one shilling. Put down a bob and pick up a tenner!
The show is now open, gents, so roll up, roll up!” Tich had hit the nail on the head when he had stated that every man in the audience knew at least one unusual word. The chance of picking up ten pounds for a shilling was a tremendous bait, and the result was that the crowd surged towards the pay-box. Tich was very busy indeed, and he did not stop raking in the shillings until the booth was packed tight. Making his way through the crowd, he climbed into the boxing ring in the centre, and Bartholomew climbed through after him. “Now, gents,” bawled Tich. “Will all those who have their word ready kindly raise their hands? They will give their word as I point to them. “I ask for complete silence all the time, because this performance can only last half an hour, and I want the champion to spell as many words as possible.” Tich was a cleaver little person and after presenting Bartholomew with the dictionaries he had gone into the booth, and here he had rigged up an enormous clock face. It was divided into sixty minutes, and one big arm was already ticking slowly round it. “You understand the rules,” said Tich. “The champ gets half a minute to spell any word. If he fails to spell the word correctly before the time is up, then I hand over ten pounds to the lucky winner. Raise your hands, gents.” A forest of hands immediately went into the air, and Tich pointed to the nearest man. “Idiosyncrasy!” cried the contestant. Bartholomew spelled “Idiosyncrasy” without a moment’s hesitation. “You now!” said Tich. “Avoirdupois!” cried a voice. Bartholomew made short work of “Avoirdupois”. “You!” said Tich. “Imperspicuity!” Bartholomew rolled out the letters of “Imperspicuity.” “This’ll beat him,” said a little bespectacled man. “Ectoparasite.” But Bartholomew was already spelling the word. So it went on. The first house audience left and the second house poured in. But the first audience went home, fetched dictionaries, and queued up to get the next show, determined to beat Bandy and win a tenner. Dense crowds gathered and extra police had to be drafted to the fairground to keep them in order. Quite a number of people had been inside the booth half a dozen times, and many of them carried bulky volumes which they continually consulted. They were determined to defeat the spelling champ.
Some amazing words were shouted at
Bartholomew that night, and quite a number of them nearly gave Tich heart
failure. But no word seemed capable of upsetting Bartholomew. He dealt with
strange words of twenty letters as easily as he dealt with words of six
letters. After the last performance, Tich almost flung his arms round his
partners neck. “Bartholomew,” he chuckled, “you’re a world’s marvel. What a day
we’ve had, and this is only the start. Before long your name’s going to be
known all over the country – we’re going to be the super attraction of every
fair.” For once Bartholomew smiled broadly, and his gleaming white teeth showed
underneath his long moustache. “It’s been the happiest day of my life, Tich,”
he confided. “I’m never so happy as when I’m spelling words. Quite a number of
the show people were discussing the new attraction. They were inclined to be
bitter about it, because Tich had taken away practically all their custom. Buck
Burton was nearly raving. His booth had started the day well, but after his audiences had
never been larger than half a dozen at a time. “It’s not fair!” he raved. “It
isn’t the sort of entertainment that should be given on a fairground. I’m going
to do something about it. I’m not going to stand by and watch myself being
ruined by Tich Kelly.
OUT TO BEAT THE CHAMP
The fair didn’t really get going until in the morning, but long before that time crowds were assembled before Tich’s booth. They were rather strange crowds to be seen upon a fairground, because there was a large number of university students and schoolboys. At , Tich appeared, made his usual speech and then started to rake in the shillings at the pay-box. Earlier that morning, Buck Burton had had a long conversation with six boys. A certain amount of money passed hands, and these six boys were present at the spelling champ’s first performance. Having taken his stand in the ring, Tich pointed to a very learned-looking old gentleman. “You sir!” he said. “What is your word?” “Coriaceous,” replied the old gentleman. “Ah!” said Bartholomew. “Coriaceous – something consisting of leather. C-Oh!” He clapped his hand to his face and spun round. “Go on!” said Tich anxiously. “Spell it!” Bartholomew tried again. “C-O-R-Ouch.” This time the ex-schoolmaster clapped both hands to his face and jumped nearly a foot in the air. “Go on!” Tich howled. “The seconds are slipping by! I’ll be handing out ten pounds in a minute. Go on!” Bartholomew, looking furiously angry, tried again. “C-O-R-Ouch! - - Ouch!” A terrific yell went up, for Bartholomew his gown flapping about his legs, had commenced to dart frantically about all over the ring. But this time, with only a few seconds to spare, he managed to complete the word. “What’s the matter with you?” demanded Tich. “What’s wrong?” “Something keeps stinging my face,” roared Bartholomew. “It might be peas from a pea-shooter.” But the crowd were already clamouring for other words to be spelt.
The words came fast and furious, and at the end of the half-hour Bartholomew was nearly in a state of collapse. Every time he started to spell a word he raced round and round the ring. It was the only way to avoid the stinging peas that seemed to be coming from every direction. As soon as the half-hour was up, Tich, with a face as black as thunder, stationed himself at the exit from the booth. One by one he collared the six boys, up-ended them, and dragged pea-shooters and bags of peas from their pockets. They were a very sorry-looking six when at last Tich let them go. Tich took it for granted that it had only been a boyish prank, so he didn’t make any inquiries as to whether they had been put up to it. The next two performances passed off quite normally and Bartholomew was still unbeaten at the end of them. Then, after lunch further trouble started. It had been a very long day for Bartholomew, and towards the end of the evening his mouth had become exceptionally dry. Thus, when a man at the ringside offered him a lozenge from a small bag, Bartholomew was only glad to accept. He took one, popped it into his mouth, and brought his teeth down over it. Instantly, a look of horror spread over his face. “You, sir!” said Tich, pointing to a man at the back of the booth. “What’s your word?” “Inflorescence,” came the reply. Tich turned to Bartholomew and then stepped back a pace, for the spelling champ’s face was dreadful to look upon – it was twisted in a truly terrifying manner. “Go on!” said Tich hoarsely. “Spell the word! What’s the matter with you?” Bartholomew caught his jaw with both hands. “Gug! Gug!” he stammered. “Brr-gug!-gig!” A great shout went up from inside the booth. “He’s beaten! The Spelling Champ’s beaten!” Tich was dancing like a cat on hot bricks now. “Spell the word!” he yelled. “You’ve less than ten seconds now. Don’t spoil your record, man. Spell it! Spell it!” Bartholomew looked at the clock face, and a look of absolute misery came over his face. Clapping his handkerchief to his mouth, he withdrew it again, and then lifted his head. In a queer lisping voice he spelled the word correctly at top speed. A tremendous shout of applause went up, but Tich was staring pop-eyed at Bartholomew, and Bartholomew was looking very shamefaced indeed. “Strike me pink!” gasped Tich. “Those teeth you’ve been swanking about – they’re not real after all. They – they’re false teeth!” No wonder Bartholomew had been unable to speak, for the lozenge he had placed inside his mouth had absolutely welded his teeth together. He finished that performance by lisping the spelling of every word.
During the interval, however, he managed
to rid the teeth of the gummy substance, and when the last performance began he
was his old self again. “What a day it’s been!” gasped Tich. “We’ve absolutely
raked in the money. You’ve been a far greater success than I dared to hope.”
The partners were at their supper when the door of the caravan opened and
Tich’s old group of boxers crowded in. “Look here, Tich,” said Basher Johnson,
“we’re through with
WORLD’S SPELLING CHAMPION - 14 WEEKS The Rover
© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd
Vic Whittle 2003