A Ripping School Yarn for Guy Fawkes’ Day

Two boys carry a "Guy" for Bonfire Night.

Two boys carry a “Guy” for Bonfire Night.

I was hoping to find a story about the ghost of Guido Fawkes for today, but only found snippets  to the effect that Fawkes haunts the crypt of Parliament where the barrels of gunpowder were stowed, so I present instead this Ripping School Yarn.  Call it Improving Literature for the Young. It opens with a strangely sympathetic view of a “brave” Fawkes. I suspect the original was altered for the American anti-monarchist market. Or perhaps this was set in an American school where a dim schoolboy might actually think that Fawkes succeeded in blowing up Parliament.


“Don’t you know, Tommy, I think it’s a shame, just because a fellow was brave enough to blow up a whole house of parliament way back in November 1605, that he should have to be burned in effigy every November since that time!”

Billy Berkely grinned as he replied: “You’re more an admirer of Guy Fawkes than old Gruffy is, then. You remember Gruffy called him a cowardly sneak. Anyway, he was careful enough to place a long fuse that led to the barrels of gunpowder stored in the cellar beneath the house; so you can’t say that he was in any particular danger.”

“I don’t care; Gruffy’s said, too, that you should act from ‘principle’—and you can’t tell me that Guy Fawkes didn’t act from his principle.” Tommy Fowler kicked his heels defiantly against his desk, awaiting further comment from his chum.

Billy, however, refused to enter into an argument. “That’s neither here nor there,” said he; “we’ve got to have some fun to-morrow, and since it’s November 5, we might as well burn a Guy Fawkes as anything. You can pretend it’s an effigy of some person other than Guy Fawkes, if you want to, but you’ve got to help us rig out a dummy of some sort.”

“Only wish we could burn Jack Croton. He’s the cheekiest chap and the biggest bully we’ve got in Chesterville Academy, and he’s getting worse every day,” Tommy muttered.

Billy remained in deep thought for several minutes. Then he responded:

“You’re right, Tommy. And we’ve just got to take him down six or seven pegs. The way he fags those little chaps is shameful. What do you say to thinking up some sort of scheme to make him whistle to-morrow?”

Nothing was more agreeable to Tommy. Indeed, he was in in his element when plotting mischief with Billy Berkeley—and there hardly ever passed a day during which the results of these warlike conferences did not show themselves.

Jimmy Durkin was taken into the confidence of the two conspirators. All that afternoon they toiled in secrecy, making a dummy that, when completed, was the exact counterpart of Gruffy Jenkins, the Latin master—more often known as “Old Gruffy.”

The next evening, in a secluded corner of the playground, they built a good-sized bonfire. Then they bound the arms of the dummy tighter in the back, drew an old slouch hat down over the “face” and put the effigy in the midst of the material for the fire.

When this was done Tommy and Billy hid themselves behind neighbouring trees, while Jimmy went in search of Jack Croton.

Jimmy approached Jack Croton when he found him, and whispered in his ear: “I say, Jack, those chaps Tommy Fowler and Billy Berkely, have a Guy Fawkes all to themselves down in a corner of the playground. They’ve just gone away for a few minutes for something, and left it. It’d be great fun to go and fire it off, and burn the whole thing before they got back.”

The next instant found the bonfire in flames. Jack was standing by, laughing at his work, when Billy and Tommy rushed up, demanding fiercely:

“What have you done? Help us! Have you burned Gruffy”

“Burned Gruffy?” stammered Jack.

“Of course, didn’t you understand? Billy and I have had a long grudge against him, so we tripped him up, and before he knew what was being done had him gagged and bound. Then, to frighten him, we sat him up amidst the bonfire to make him believe we were going to burn him! Jack Croton, you’re a murderer!”

Tommy and Billy shrank back aghast.

“Moses!” huskily gasped the bully; “seems to me that coat and hat did look familiar. But you know I didn’t mean it! You know I didn’t mean it, boys!”

Jimmy’s voice shook, though not with terror, as he said: “Yes, but you’ve got to tell that to the doctor.”

“Tell the doctor? Oh, I can’t!” and the big fellow whimpered like one of the little chaps he had often treated so cruelly.

Then the three led the shrinking fellow up the steps of the doctor’s house, and watched him disappear within the door.

Jack Croton left he school a few days later! He couldn’t stand the chaff that went round about the burning of Gruffy. And the last message he left was:

“Tell Tom Fowler and Bill Berkely that I’ll be revenged on them if it takes a lifetime.”

But the two had heard threats from bullies before, and had no other feeling but joy that the enemy of nearly every one in the academy had at last departed.

Los Angeles Times.

The Virginia [MN] Enterprise 14 February 1908: p. 6

It’s a good plot–the ingeniously murderous Mrs Daffodil will note it for future reference–and I would have liked to have seen what Saki or P.G. Wodehouse could have done with the material. I’m fairly certain it was an episode of Midsomer Murders. And Dr Watson was nearly burnt in a Guy Fawkes bonfire on Sherlock. Any true tales of living Guys being burnt?  Remember, remember to tell Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the DeadThe Ghost Wore BlackThe Headless HorrorThe Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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