A loyal teacher is rewarded in the end.
Six of the Best
I cannot imagine why Mr. and Mrs. Buck named their son Donald. To add insult to injury, Donald was blessed with - or rather cursed by - a long pointed chin and a rasping, squeaky kind of voice. You can imagine what the students at St. Thomas' called Donald Buck.
I first met Donald when I joined the staff at St. Thomas' as a newly qualified mathematics teacher. Donald was about ten years older than I was, and taught French. He had lived for most of his life in Canada, and emigrated with his wife and family to come to New Zealand about five years before I met him. He still maintained a pronounced Canadian accent.
Being a new teacher and a stranger to the town, I was grateful for Donald's friendship. As an older and more experienced teacher, Donald 'took me under his wing', and helped me through those early, difficult days. He used to chat with me during the breaks. He decided to call me 'Lester B.', after the former Canadian Prime Minister, Lester B. Pearson.
"Lester B.," he used to say, "I've got some advice for you ..." He would continue, his squeaky voice rising and falling with the rise and fall of the emotion in his words. He was an emotional man, but full of common sense and sound ideas.
Donald was a devout Catholic. He rarely missed mass, and every morning during the staff devotional meetings, his voice could be heard above the others quoting the words, "Hail Mary, full of Grace ..."
I forget the rest. I am not a Catholic.
But I remember his stories, such as the time he saw the Holy Father give his Easter message in Rome. I never grew tired of listening to Donald's stories.
The students loved him too. Although they made fun of him behind his back, he really was a popular teacher and held the respect of the boys. He alone of all the teachers at St. Thomas' used to wear his university gown around the college. Whenever he entered a classroom, he removed the gown and rolled it up neatly before placing it on the edge of his desk, where it would remain until the end of the period. Next he would write 'La verbe' - the verb of the day - on the board. The students were required to learn the conjugation of all the common French verbs, and were tested on a different one each day.
I remember hearing about the time Jimmy Tucker beat Donald to the classroom, and wrote the verb of the day on the board - 'Sexoir'. This caused great amusement amongst the students.
Mr. Buck was not amused.
Neither was Jimmy Tucker after he had been wacked and couldn't sit down for several hours.
Donald was not a big man, but knew how to use the cane with the minimum of effort and to the greatest effect. I rarely saw sweat on his forehead, or his bald patch. Not that he needed to use the cane often; he was too well respected by the boys.
He enjoyed the respect of the staff too, including Brother Stephen, the Principal. As far as Brother Stephen was concerned, Donald could not put a foot wrong. He was an honest, hard-working and well-liked teacher whose students always did well in their exams. Donald Buck was an exceptional man.
Every year during the first term, around about Easter time, St Thomas' held a college gala day. Everyone, students and teachers alike, worked hard to prepare stalls for the gala; but nobody worked harder than Donald. Donald was the gala day treasurer, entrusted with utilising money borrowed from the college funds to make purchases for the gala, with receiving and counting all the proceeds, and with banking the profits for use on future occasions. Donald had being doing this job for several years, and no one doubted his honesty.
There was no need for anyone to doubt his honesty. The money was always banked, the books balanced and independently audited. But then no one at St. Thomas' knew Donald's little secret, and no one had any reason to suspect.
It was 1974, when I had been at the college just over two years, and it was a Friday in April, the day of the gala. The gala was over and everyone was packing up when Donald asked me if I could help him count the money. I was delighted to accept since Donald had been so helpful to me over the past two years.
"Come on Lester B.," he said. "Let's go to the office where it's nice and quiet and we can lock ourselves in safely."
It had been a chilly April day and Donald wore his cloth cap to protect his balding head from the cold. When we entered the office, he hung his hat on a hook on the door.
After about forty minutes, we had finished counting the money, and put it in bags ready for Donald to take to the bank.
Since Brother Stephen was working in his own office, there was no need for Donald to lock up, and he went on his way. He seemed to be in a bit of a hurry, but I needed to stay on to make a trip to the Gents. When I returned, I put my head around Brother Stephen's door to say "Good evening". When I did so, I glanced in the school office and noticed that Donald had left his cap behind. I set off at a brisk walk to follow Donald, knowing that he was on his way to the bank and that I should surely catch him there.
When I approached the bank, I saw Donald disappear into the doorway of a building, but it was not the bank; it was the betting shop. You can imagine my surprise seeing this man whom I trusted and admired, a devout catholic, a man of God, disappearing into the doorway of the betting shop!
My curiosity was aroused, so I decided to wait in a small caf/SPAN> opposite the betting shop, and to have a cup of tea.
I waited for several minutes before I saw Donald emerge from the betting shop. I watched him hesitate while he waited on the pavement outside. He took a few steps towards the bank, then stopped, turned and set off in the opposite direction. By this time I was quite concerned, so I paid for my tea, and ran after Donald. When I caught him, I could see that he was disturbed, and his face was ashen white.
"Oh, Lester B.," he mumbled, "what have I done?"
We walked in the direction of his house. When we got there, he invited me in. He wanted to talk.
Donald's wife and children were not there. "They're probably out shopping," he said. "Just as well, I've got some confessing to do, and I need a good friend right now."
He told me that he had developed a gambling problem over the last three years, and that he had got into some debt with a lending company. Nobody knew about this, not even Joan, his wife.
"I saw an easy way to regain the money," he said. "I heard Bob Roberts, the P.E. teacher, talking about this horse, 'Ce Soir'. 'A dead cert', Bob said. I liked the name too. It means 'This evening' in French. So I put the gala money on the horse and expected to make enough money to pay the debt, and make a good profit too at 11 to 2. But the horse fell and I lost all the money, all of it!"
We talked for several minutes, trying to find a way out for Donald, and a way to recover the college's gala money. It was obvious nothing further could be done that day since everything would be closing for the weekend; but while we talked, we began to hatch a plan for the following Monday. We had come to some agreement when Joan and the kids came home, so we decided to continue making our plans at school on Monday. Nobody would know that the money hadn't been banked by then, and there was nothing else that could be done at the moment. Donald looked a bit more relaxed as I was leaving. "You're a good friend, Lester B.," he said.
Monday was a difficult day at school for Donald. Brother Stephen announced at the morning staff meeting that the gala had made a record profit of $1,526.35, and thanked everyone for their hard work, especially Mr. Buck for his organisation of the financial matters. The students seemed pretty badly behaved to Donald that day, but it was all in his imagination; they were just the same as usual.
The verb of the day was 'Esper' - To hope. Donald was not placing much hope in the success of our plan.
At the end of the day, I joined Donald in his classroom. "Here it is," he said. He removed a toy pistol from his desk drawer. "This is the one I confiscated from Harry Tucker the other day. Looks like the real thing, doesn't it?"
I had to agree that it did.
"Come on, Lester B. Let's go and get this business over and done with."
We drove into town and Donald parked his car in front of the betting shop. We hesitated to tie masks around our necks. As we entered the betting shop, we drew the masks over our faces. Donald pulled the toy pistol from his pocket and pointed it at the young man behind the counter.
"Give us the money," Donald yelled with his Canadian accent.
The young man was startled, but did not do as he was ordered. Instead, his face broke into a smile, then a grin, and finally he burst out laughing.
Donald became agitated. "Give me the money, young man, quickly."
"Why, Mr. Buck," the young man replied. "I could recognise you anywhere with the voice, and that ... chin."
Donald began to panic. I imagine his face must have been bright red if it could have been seen. "Quick, Lester B., let's get out of here."
"It's Mr. Pearson," responded the young man, looking straight at me. "You probably won't remember me, Mr. Pearson. You never taught me. You came in my last year at St. Thomas'."
He turned back to Donald. "Mr. Buck, what exactly are you doing with my brother's toy pistol? And why are you wearing those ridiculous masks? Anyway, did you forget 'Sex War', Mr. Buck?"
"Sexoir, sexoir is it? You get to Brother Stephen's office and wait for me there, Jimmy Tucker. It's six of the best for you. How dare you make fun of my verb of the day?" Donald spoke the words without thinking, until he realised what he was saying and remembered where he was. After he had calmed down a little, he continued, "What made you say that Jimmy? "Sexoir', I mean. Didn't we kill that joke years ago?"
"No, no, Mr. Buck. I didn't say 'Sexoir', I said "Sex War'. That's the name of the horse you bet on last Friday. It came in at 4 to 1. You've won over six thousand dollars, Mr. Buck. Why didn't you collect your winnings on Friday?"
"But my horse was called 'Ce Soir'. It fell at the third fence. I watched it on your T.V. I lost."
"No, Mr. Buck, you placed your bet on 'Sex War'. You take another look at your betting slip."
Donald searched through his wallet to find the slip, and discovered that the name printed there was indeed 'Sex War'. He had won!
Jimmy Tucker wrote out a cheque to Mr. Donald Buck for just over six thousand dollars. He handed it to his old teacher.
"Thank you, Jimmy," Donald said. "This really is six of the best."