IGCSE English (First Language): Specimen Questions with Answers 96 - 97 of 179

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Part 1 of the Story

The talk was running on the critical situations in which we had found ourselves — those of us whose lives were adventurous enough to comprise any. One man had been caught by the tide in Brittany and escaped with little to spare. Another had been on an elephant when a wounded tiger charged at it. A third had been on the top story of a burning house. A fourth was torpedoed in the War. “But you all talk,” said one of the companies, as though tight corners were always physical affairs. Surely, they can be tighter when they are mental. The tightest comer I was ever in was at Christie՚s. “Christie՚s?” Yes. I had been lunching rather well at a club in St. James՚s Street with an old friend from abroad, and passing along King Street afterwards, he persuaded me to look in at the sale-room. The place was full.

They were selling Barbizon pictures, and getting tremendous sums for each: two thousand, three thousand, for little bits of things — forest scenes, pools at evening, shepherdesses, the regular subjects. Nothing went for three figures at all. Well, we watched for a little while and then I found myself bidding too just for fun. I had exactly sixty-three pounds in the bank and not enough securities to borrow five hundred on, and here I was nodding away to the auctioneer like a bloatocrat.

“You՚ll get caught” , my friend said to me. “No, I shan՚t,” I said. “I՚m not going to run any risks.”

And for a long time, I didn՚t. And then a picture was put up and a short red- faced man in a new top-hat — some well-known dealer — who had bought quite a number, electrified the room by starting the bidding at a figure a little higher than any that he had yet given or that anything had reached. Although the previous lots had run into four figures, they had all been modestly started at fifty guineas or a hundred guineas, with a gradual crescendo to which I had often been safely contributing. But no sooner was the new picture displayed than the dealer made his sensational bid, “Four thousand guineas,” he said. There was a rustle of excitement, and at the end of it I heard my own voice saying, “And fifty!” A terrible silence followed, during which the auctioneer looked inquiringly first at the opener and then at the company generally. To my surprise and horror, the red-faced dealer gave no sign of life. I realized now, as I ought to have done at first, that he had shot his bolt.

Part 2 of the Story

Four thousand and fifty guineas offered, said the auctioneer, again searching the room. My heart stopped; my blood congealed. There was no sound but a curious smothered noise from my friend. Four thousand and fifty guineas. Any advance on four thousand and fifty guineas? — and the hammer fell.

That was a nice pickle to be in! Here was I, with sixty-three pounds in the world and not five hundred pounds worth of securities, the purchaser of a picture which I didn՚t want, for four thousand and fifty guineas, the top price of the day. Turning for some kindly support to my friend I found that he had left me; but not, as I feared now, from baseness, but, as I afterwards discovered, in order to find a remote place in which to lean against the hall and laugh.

Stunned and dazed as I was, I pulled myself together sufficiently to hand my card, nonchalantly (I hope) to the clerk who came for the millionaire collector՚s name, and then I set to pondering on the problem what to do next. Picture after picture was put up and sold, but I saw none of them. I was running over the names of uncles and other persons from whom it might be possible to borrow, but wasn՚t; wondering if the moneylenders who talk so glibly about ‘note of hand only’ really mean it; speculating on the possibility of confessing my poverty to one of Christie՚s staff and having the picture put up again. That was the best way — and yet how could I do it after all the other bids I had made? The staff looked so prosperous and unsympathetic, and no one would believe it was a mistake. A genuine mistake of such a kind would have been rectified at once.

Meanwhile the sale ended and I stood on the outskirts of the little knot of buyers round the desk who were writing cheques and giving instructions. Naturally I preferred to be the last. It was there that I was joined by my friend; but only for a moment, for on a look at my face he rammed his handkerchief in his mouth and again disappeared. Alone I was to dree this awful weird. I have never felt such a fool or had colder feet in all my life. I believe I should have welcomed a firing party. And then the unexpected happened, and I realized that a career of rectitude sometimes has rewards beyond the mere consciousness of virtue. A voice at my ear suddenly said, Beg pardon. Sir, but was you the gent that bought the big Daubigny? I admitted it. Well, the gent who offered four thousand guineas wants to know if you՚ll take fifty guineas for your bid. If ever a messenger of the high gods wore a green baize apron and spoke in husky Cockney tones this was, he. I could have embraced him and wept for joy. Would I take fifty guineas. Why, I would have taken fifty farthings.

But how near the surface and ready, even in the best of us, is worldly guile! “Is that the most he would offer?” I had the presence of mind to ask. “it՚s not for me to say,” he replied. “No arm in trying for a bit more, is there?” “Tell him I՚ll take a hundred,” I said. And I got it.

When I found my friend I was laughing too, but he became grave at once on seeing the cheque. “Well, I՚m hanged!” he said. “Of all the luck! Well, I՚m hanged!” Then he said, “Don՚t forget that if it hadn՚t been for me, you wouldn՚t have come into Christie՚s at all.” “I shall never forget it,” I said. “It is indelibly branded in letters of fire on my heart. My hair hasn՚t gone white, has it?”

Question 96 (2 of 3 Based on Passage)


Write in Short

Short Answer▾

Narrate the circumstances that led to the narrator getting into a tight corner by his own folly. (Marks 10)


  • The narrator՚s friend took him to the Christie՚s, an auction house in king street. In the sale room Barbizon pictures were auctioned and many dealers were participating.
  • The narrator had just sixty-three guineas in his bank, but he joined the bidding, just for fun.
  • Every time after his bidding, some other person out bid him. The narrator felt happy and safe. His friend warned him against bidding, but the narrator did not listen to him
  • Then, a picture was put up and a red-faced dealer offered “Four thousand Guineas.”
  • Immediately the narrator offered and fifty expecting the red-faced dealer would outbid him.
  • But nothing happened. The auctioneer announced that the narrator had bought the picture. Thus, the narrator was caught in a tight corner.

Question 97 (3 of 3 Based on Passage)


Write in Short

Short Answer▾

As the narrator, make a diary entry about the tight corner you faced at Christie՚s and how you were saved from the dire situation. (Marks 20)


  • My friend Smith took me to Christie՚s auction house. They were auctioning Barbizon pictures. I had only sixty-three guineas in my bank, but I started bidding. I was sure that somebody would outbid me. Smith warned me, but I ignored his warning. It was going on well for some time and I was feeling safe.
  • But when one picture was put up a red-faced dealer offered four thousand guineas.
  • Immediately and thoughtlessly I shouted “And fifty more,” expecting that the red-faced man would outbid me. But nothing happened and I was declared the buyer. I was caught.
  • But after sometime a messenger from the red-faced dealer told me that the dealer offered fifty guineas and would buy the picture. Thus, I was saved. Smith had talked to the dealer and saved me.

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