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A Prank on Silver-tongue Finch | Oxford 1664


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Put twenty boys into a crowded schoolroom together, and it doesn’t matter how expensive the fees are, there is going to be trouble.  

“Who can provide me with a strawman argument against the statement that ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away?” The teacher intoned without any emotion.  Several of the boys were dozing, one was studying for a math exam, while another pair were snickering with Booth over a deck of ‘dirty' cards. Heneage, however, sat upright at his desk and now raised his hand.   Without even looking up the teacher said, “Go ahead Finch.”

Taking his time to stand, Heneage paused a moment, then began his argument. “Apples being a seasonal fruit, this suggestion of eating them every day of the year only reveals a feeble lack of knowledge by the speaker. Furthermore, on behalf of pears and quinces, I object to this glorification of apples, and protest that their kind has been favoured for far too long, for instance as an ingredient for tarts, pies and sauces.”

Heneage was just getting into his stride and wanted to carry on, at least long enough to make the teacher look up from his desk -- but in a change from his usual eloquent verbosity, he abruptly halted there and quietly sat.

Which had the effect on the teacher that he wanted.

The teacher's eyebrows pitched upward with surprise that Finch had, uncharacteristically, cut it short. Lifting his head from his book, he looked around the room. “And who shall make a reply to that argument?”

A sudden silence fell, and in the lack of a volunteer the teacher chose, “You - Booth.”

More snickers rippled through the room, though this time not over the cards. James Booth glared at his rival as he stood and drew a stalling breath...



Possibly due to the long history of lawyers in his family, debating was Heneage 'silver-tongue' Finch’s favourite class. There was nothing like an 'equivocation argument', a 'false dilemma premise', or a 'bandwagon fallacy to excite his intellect. The challenge of structuring an argument in a disarming way was a thrill like little other! It was no wonder that he was top of this particular class, the only lament that Heneage could make was the woeful lack of competition from his fellows.

But soon the Oxford vs. Cambridge competition would be here; and a proper chance to get hot under the collar. He would defend his Debating Champion title.



The evening before the championship Heneage went to bed early, he wanted to be in prime form on the morrow. So you might imagine his confusion when he awoke with others in his room, shapeless figures that were sensed more than seen, while his face felt like flames were upon it!

“Th-oy!” And this was not his own voice that shouted at his assailants, but a fat-tongued and croaky imposter. "Th-op!"

“Let's get out of here Booth!” one of the boys shouted at the other, while Finch, stumbling around and groping in the dark, tried to give chase but instead doubled over. Gasping for breath, the lower half of his face, especially his mouth, was burning.

The sleepy halls of residence awoke to find Heneage fighting for his life!



The next morning, from where he lay on a cot in the sick bay, Heneage overheard the doctor and headmaster talking. 

"Stinging nettle was the culprit, there was a quantity of it found on the floor next to the boy's bed. Seems like they put it on his face... however, I doubt the allergic reaction was expected." The doctor had literally saved Heneage's life.

"It's rather unfortunate. I don't suppose he can still enter the debate?" The headmaster had lost his best horse in that race.

"No, I'm sorry sir. The boy can barely swallow let alone talk."



It was the greatest tragedy in his young life, and Heneage was not about to forget the name Booth with thoughts of wringing revenge one day. But for now, once he was well again, Finch penned the doctor a thank you letter with a postscript that he hoped would make the other smile, ‘I count it as my greatest fortune that I had not eaten an apple for days prior’.

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