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Title: The Lottery Ticket
Author: Arthur Gask
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1202431h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: June 2012
Date most recently updated: June 2012

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The Lottery Ticket
Arthur Gask

Published in The Mail, Adelaide, S.A., Saturday 23 September, 1944.

THE Rev. Samuel Popplecockle ought never to have been a clergyman, and no one realised it better than did he himself.

It was not that he was not a good little man—he was only 5 ft. 4 in. in his boots—for he was good and moral in all respects. In all his life he had only kissed one girl, and she his wife. He drank only water, tea, and big glasses of milk, and he had never had a penny on a horse. He was good tempered too, kind-hearted, and in every way inoffensive. The mistake was he had taken orders, not as a calling, but just as a pleasant and not over-laborious way of earning his living.

It was all his Uncle Ebenezer's fault, and that gentleman had a lot to answer for. When Sammy left school—he was always Sammy then—he went first into a broker's office in the city, but he was not considered sharp enough there and, after a month's trial, was told his services were no longer required. He next went into a bank, but there he got on no better and no bouquets were showered upon him when he left.

Then Uncle Ebenezer came upon the scene. He was serious and earnest and, from his appearance, it might perhaps have been judged there was not much enjoyment in life. He told Samuel—Samuel now—that his mission was the Church. He led his nephew to believe that if he became a clergyman, in due time in a parish of his own, he would become a leader of men. He would rank almost as important as the doctor.

Certainly, Samuel was dazzled at the aspect, so temptingly held out to him. He thought he would love to be a leader of men. He was interested in sicknesses and accidents, too, and always curious about other people's affairs. It might have been that at present he did not feel equal to presiding at meetings and all that, but his uncle assured him it would come, that he would rise to the occasions and do important work in the world.

So, at Uncle Ebenezer's expense, he was sent to a theological college to be trained, and in due time was ordained. As a curate in a city parish he was not much of a success, though people liked him for his simplicity and gentle ways. When he had got over his nervousness he could take a service without making any mistakes, though preaching was always a terrible ordeal for him. There, however, his good-natured vicar called upon him as little as possible.

Falling in love, he married a pretty girl almost as retiring as himself, and they managed to live contentedly upon his £200 a year stipend. His only hobby was raising chickens in their little back garden. For this purpose he had acquired a small incubator and, when a batch of chickens was hatched out, he would sit for hours and hours watching them, in the hope that one day he would be able to tell by their appearance, and without handling them, which were going to turn out pullets and which cockerels. He was confident he would discover the secret eventually.

So, up to his thirtieth year, his life was quite a happy one and, no doubt, it would have continued happy if Uncle Ebenezer had not interfered again. The latter was a town councillor and somewhat of an important personage in the city, and he thought it only right that he should use his influence on his nephew's behalf and, as he called it, pull strings.

Samuel found himself installed as rector of the little town of Buggawolla, about 150 miles up in the country, and right from the beginning realised that the responsibilities thrust upon him were more than he could carry. He was not fitted to take any lead in social affairs, being much too shy. He could not give advice, as it was advice he wanted himself, and he could not make speeches. The matter of his sermons, however, he did get over, as he took to buying them at 5/- each from a man in Tasmania, whose advertisement he had happened to come upon one day in a Melbourne newspaper. That their quality was not high, he did not think mattered very much and, at any rate, they occupied the usually allotted 10 minutes.

As time went on it was obvious to even the most careless observer that Samuel was not a success in the parish. His congregations became smaller and smaller, the offertories dropped alarmingly, and the enrolments in the Sunday school showed a progressive falling off. It was not that anyone disliked Samuel. He was too inoffensive to dislike and he, really, had no enemies. It was just that he was a nonentity, a misfit, and the proverbial round peg in the square hole. The bishop was very annoyed and, time after time, expressed his disappointment when he came to the town. His reproofs, however, did no good, and poor Samuel came to dread his visits as a schoolboy dreads the headmaster when he is carpeted before him.

Added to all these worries, Samuel began to get badly into debt. His nice little wife was as bad a manager as was he and had no idea of running a household in any methodical or economical way. Accordingly, they lived beyond their means and were soon owing money everywhere.

One Sunday he was in the depths of depression. Besides the pressure of his creditors, he was behind with his assurance premiums, he had only a pound or two of ready money and, to crown all, only a few days before his bank manager had written him his account was overdrawn £37 and must be set straight as soon as possible. One Sunday evening his incubator had gone wrong and, stopping to try to get it right he was almost late for the evening service. He had not even had time to read the sermon he was going to preach that night but had snatched up the top one of a new batch which had arrived only the previous day from Tasmania, and run in haste to the church.

Then, when in due time he mounted into the pulpit and started upon his sermon, greatly to his annoyance he found it was a fierce denunciation of the evils of all forms of gambling. It was certainly a most unfortunate sermon for him to have picked up, as it happened the Melbourne Cup was close at hand and a popular station owner in the district was running a well-favored horse in the race. All the townspeople were backing it.

Most unfortunately for Samuel, the editor of the local newspaper happened to be among the congregation at the church that evening and, instantly sensing the sermon to be good copy, he took copious notes, with the result that in the next issue of his paper a good summary of the sermon appeared, causing not a little interest in the town. Some people were annoyed, but others only amused, and the idea came to a few young sporting bloods to play what they considered a good joke upon the preacher. Accordingly, Samuel received a letter announcing that in appreciation of his sermon, some of his admirers had subscribed to purchase him a ticket in the forthcoming 'Great Australian Lottery,' and the letter was signed Bert Bar-one, 'bookie.' and William Winner, Percy Pickemall, and Thomas Ten-to-one, 'happy punters.'

Samuel tore up the letter contemptuously, believing it to be only a stupid joke. However, at the end of the week the promised ticket duly arrived, with the number all sevens, 77777. Samuel tossed it over to his wife. "Throw it into the fire," he said. "A pretty scandal it would be if it got out I had a ticket in a lottery." Then, to his consternation and amazement a telegram came, addressed in full to the Rev. Samuel Popplecockle, announcing that number 77777 had drawn the first prize in the great lottery.

"But does it really mean, Samuel," asked his wife, all of a twitter, "that you've won some money? How much will it be?"

"I don't know," he replied irritably, "and at any rate they wouldn't pay it, as I've thrown away the ticket."

"But I picked it up," exclaimed his wife excitedly, "and wrapped it round the candle in baby's candle stick to make it keep in."

The soiled and crumpled ticket was found, and she asked tremblingly, "Now what are you going to do?"

"Nothing," snapped Samuel. "I'll have nothing to do with it."

"Nonsense," she exclaimed fiercely. "Of course, you will." She flared up. "Here are we as hard up as any family can be, with me afraid to order another pound of sugar from the grocer—and you tell me you're not going to take money which will get us out of all our troubles." She spoke with surprising decision for her. "Put on your hat at once and go round and see Mr. Brown. As a bank manager he'll tell you what's best to do."

So a nervous and very reluctant Samuel went round to the bank and, thinking he had come to ask for a further overdraft, the manager looked very grim and stern. His eyes, however, popped like marbles when he took in the lottery ticket and the telegram Samuel handed to him. "Good heavens," he exclaimed, "you've won £20,000!" His eyebrows went up with a jerk, and he looked most amused. "So you ventured on a ticket, even after that sermon you preached!"

"No, no," almost wailed Samuel. "I didn't send for it. It was sent to me for a joke," and he went on to relate about the letter he had received first.

"But my conscience won't let me take it," choked Samuel. "I shan't touch a penny."

"Not touch a penny!" exclaimed the bank manager. He spoke drily. "But I should have thought your conscience would trouble you less if you took the money and paid your debts. I happen to know the milkman badly wants that £22 you owe him."

"Now you go home and think it over," he said kindly. "Don't decide anything in a hurry. You take my advice and shut yourself away from everybody. Don't go to the door and don't you answer the phone. Directly it gets known, you'll have all the begging people in the State after you. Let your wife attend to them and say you're away or ill. In the meantime I'll arrange about this ticket with our Sydney branch." He patted him on the shoulder. "Remember, you can do a lot of good in the world with £20,000."

Samuel and his wife spent a very worried four days, but the latter rose splendidly to the occasion. She denied Samuel to everyone and, when the result slips arrived in the State, which they did on the Thursday, her job was no easy one. All sorts of people wanted to have speech with the clergyman winner of the £20,000, the worst being two newspaper men.

The climax came on the Friday, just after the bank manager had sent round a note saying the £20,000 had now been credited to Samuel's account. The telephone rang, and Mrs. Popplecockle came to fetch Samuel. Her face was white and anxious. "The bishop," she mouthed breathlessly, "and he won't go away. He insists upon speaking to you."

"All right," choked Samuel. "I knew it had to come sooner or later, and I may as well get it over now."

The bishop's voice was very cold and stern. "I learn, Popplecockle," he said icily, "that you've won £20,000 in a lottery."

"Yes, sir," agreed Samuel in shaking tones, "but I didn't buy the ticket. Someone sent it to me as a joke," and he related once again how it had happened.

"Then the whole story is to be made public," ordered the bishop. His voice rose. "And you can't take the money."

"But it was paid into my bank this morning, sir," said Samuel, feeling like a rabbit before a snake. "It was sent from Sydney."

"But we'll soon settle that," cried the bishop. "You shall give it to charity. You can endow our cathedral institute here and we can do with two thousand for a new organ." He considered for a few moments. "Now, can you put me up for the week-end if I come down tomorrow. You can hand me over the cheque then."

"Yes, sir," agreed Samuel, with his heart in his boots, and, telling him then to expect him on the evening train, the bishop rang off.

"I'm to give it to him for charity," almost wept Samuel, leaning hard against his wife. "He's coming for it tomorrow evening and going to stay over the week-end with us."

"Oh, is he?" she snapped. "He's certainly not." She spoke fiercely. "Charity, indeed! But it's me and the children you've got to consider first." She stamped her foot. "Look here, Samuel, I'm sick of waiting for you to make up your mind, and so I'm going to make it up for you. We'll keep that money——" her eyes flashed excitedly, "—and we'll leave here by the quarter to 6 train tomorrow morning. We'll take only what we can pack in our suitcases, and we'll get as far away from this little pokey town as we can. It has only unhappy memories for us both. Now, you write me a cheque for £100 and I'll go round to the bank and cash it at once. And I'll arrange, too, with Mr. Brown for him to settle up everything for us after we've gone."

"But the bishop, when he comes tomorrow," wailed Samuel, "he'll——"

"Find Emma here to look after him, and you'll leave a letter for him saying you've accepted a call in another State."

Samuel wavered. "But what can I do if we go somewhere else?" he asked. "No one will take me, even as a curate, if I run away like this."

"You'll not want them to," she retorted, "it's poultry farming you'll take up." She almost whispered the next words. "And you'll buy an incubator which hatches a thousand chicks."

Samuel trembled, but wrote out the cheque.

* * * * *

Ten years later, when the bishop was returning by train from a church congress in Brisbane, he got into conversation with a fellow traveller and, the train pulling up at a small station, the latter suddenly pointed to a man who had just alighted from another carriage. "See that chap," he exclaimed excitedly, "that little fellow with the big stomach and a paper in his hand? Well, in a few days he will probably be regarded as a great man, a great benefactor to humankind."

"Then is he particularly good at some kind of game," asked the bishop with heavy sarcasm, "golf, cricket, or ping-pong, for instance?"

"No, he's a poultry farmer," laughed the other, "about the most successful in the State, and he says he's at last discovered a most simple way of finding out the sex of chickens, directly they are hatched. He says it is only a matter of taking note of their preference for color. One half of a little run is painted a violent red and the other a dull grey. The chicks are put in and, when they've settled down, he swears all the pullets gather in the red part and the cockerels in the grey. He says the test never fails."

The bishop was mildly interested. "But how are they going to prove whether he's right or wrong?" he asked.

"Oh, next week hundreds of poultry fanciers are coming here from all parts of the Commonwealth, and he's going to put 200 chicks to the test. Then, when these chicks have chosen their color, they're all going to be killed and cut open to see what sex they are. If it's found he's right, it will be of most wonderful benefit to all the poultry world."

"What's his name?" frowned the bishop. "I seem to remember his face."

"Smith, just Smith," replied the other. "Another humble Smith."

For days the poultryman's face worried the bishop, and then one night he sat up suddenly in bed and shouted, "I have it. I can place him now. He was Popplecockle! That's who he was!"

His startled wife sat up, too. "What's the matter with you, Augustus?" she asked anxiously. "What's happened?"

"Oh, nothing much, Jane," he sighed. "Only that I've just remembered a wandering sheep."

"Then go to sleep again at once," she exclaimed irritably. "You drank too much claret at dinner. That's what's upsetting you."


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