Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler

Part 4 out of 8

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 1.0 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

One so angry and, of late, so little used to contradiction might be
trusted, however, to avenge himself upon someone, and Theobald had
long since developed the organ, by means of which he might vent
spleen with least risk and greatest satisfaction to himself. This
organ, it may be guessed, was nothing else than Ernest; to Ernest
therefore he proceeded to unburden himself, not personally, but by

"You ought to know," he wrote, "that your Aunt Alethea had given
your mother and me to understand that it was her wish to make you
her heir--in the event, of course, of your conducting yourself in
such a manner as to give her confidence in you; as a matter of fact,
however, she has left you nothing, and the whole of her property has
gone to your godfather, Mr Overton. Your mother and I are willing
to hope that if she had lived longer you would yet have succeeded in
winning her good opinion, but it is too late to think of this now.

"The carpentering and organ-building must at once be discontinued.
I never believed in the project, and have seen no reason to alter my
original opinion. I am not sorry for your own sake, that it is to
be at an end, nor, I am sure, will you regret it yourself in after

"A few words more as regards your own prospects. You have, as I
believe you know, a small inheritance, which is yours legally under
your grandfather's will. This bequest was made inadvertently, and,
I believe, entirely through a misunderstanding on the lawyer's part.
The bequest was probably intended not to take effect till after the
death of your mother and myself; nevertheless, as the will is
actually worded, it will now be at your command if you live to be
twenty-one years old. From this, however, large deductions must be
made. There will be legacy duty, and I do not know whether I am not
entitled to deduct the expenses of your education and maintenance
from birth to your coming of age; I shall not in all likelihood
insist on this right to the full, if you conduct yourself properly,
but a considerable sum should certainly be deducted, there will
therefore remain very little--say 1000 pounds or 2000 pounds at the
outside, as what will be actually yours--but the strictest account
shall be rendered you in due time.

"This, let me warn you most seriously, is all that you must expect
from me (even Ernest saw that it was not from Theobald at all) at
any rate till after my death, which for aught any of us know may be
yet many years distant. It is not a large sum, but it is sufficient
if supplemented by steadiness and earnestness of purpose. Your
mother and I gave you the name Ernest, hoping that it would remind
you continually of--" but I really cannot copy more of this
effusion. It was all the same old will-shaking game and came
practically to this, that Ernest was no good, and that if he went on
as he was going on now, he would probably have to go about the
streets begging without any shoes or stockings soon after he had
left school, or at any rate, college; and that he, Theobald, and
Christina were almost too good for this world altogether.

After he had written this Theobald felt quite good-natured, and sent
to the Mrs Thompson of the moment even more soup and wine than her
usual not illiberal allowance.

Ernest was deeply, passionately upset by his father's letter; to
think that even his dear aunt, the one person of his relations whom
he really loved, should have turned against him and thought badly of
him after all. This was the unkindest cut of all. In the hurry of
her illness Miss Pontifex, while thinking only of his welfare, had
omitted to make such small present mention of him as would have made
his father's innuendoes stingless; and her illness being infectious,
she had not seen him after its nature was known. I myself did not
know of Theobald's letter, nor think enough about my godson to guess
what might easily be his state. It was not till many years
afterwards that I found Theobald's letter in the pocket of an old
portfolio which Ernest had used at school, and in which other old
letters and school documents were collected which I have used in
this book. He had forgotten that he had it, but told me when he saw
it that he remembered it as the first thing that made him begin to
rise against his father in a rebellion which he recognised as
righteous, though he dared not openly avow it. Not the least
serious thing was that it would, he feared, be his duty to give up
the legacy his grandfather had left him; for if it was his only
through a mistake, how could he keep it?

During the rest of the half year Ernest was listless and unhappy.
He was very fond of some of his schoolfellows, but afraid of those
whom he believed to be better than himself, and prone to idealise
everyone into being his superior except those who were obviously a
good deal beneath him. He held himself much too cheap, and because
he was without that physical strength and vigour which he so much
coveted, and also because he knew he shirked his lessons, he
believed that he was without anything which could deserve the name
of a good quality; he was naturally bad, and one of those for whom
there was no place for repentance, though he sought it even with
tears. So he shrank out of sight of those whom in his boyish way he
idolised, never for a moment suspecting that he might have
capacities to the full as high as theirs though of a different kind,
and fell in more with those who were reputed of the baser sort, with
whom he could at any rate be upon equal terms. Before the end of
the half year he had dropped from the estate to which he had been
raised during his aunt's stay at Roughborough, and his old
dejection, varied, however, with bursts of conceit rivalling those
of his mother, resumed its sway over him. "Pontifex," said Dr
Skinner, who had fallen upon him in hall one day like a moral
landslip, before he had time to escape, "do you never laugh? Do you
always look so preternaturally grave?" The doctor had not meant to
be unkind, but the boy turned crimson, and escaped.

There was one place only where he was happy, and that was in the old
church of St Michael, when his friend the organist was practising.
About this time cheap editions of the great oratorios began to
appear, and Ernest got them all as soon as they were published; he
would sometimes sell a school-book to a second-hand dealer, and buy
a number or two of the "Messiah," or the "Creation," or "Elijah,"
with the proceeds. This was simply cheating his papa and mamma, but
Ernest was falling low again--or thought he was--and he wanted the
music much, and the Sallust, or whatever it was, little. Sometimes
the organist would go home, leaving his keys with Ernest, so that he
could play by himself and lock up the organ and the church in time
to get back for calling over. At other times, while his friend was
playing, he would wander round the church, looking at the monuments
and the old stained glass windows, enchanted as regards both ears
and eyes, at once. Once the old rector got hold of him as he was
watching a new window being put in, which the rector had bought in
Germany--the work, it was supposed, of Albert Durer. He questioned
Ernest, and finding that he was fond of music, he said in his old
trembling voice (for he was over eighty), "Then you should have
known Dr Burney who wrote the history of music. I knew him
exceedingly well when I was a young man." That made Ernest's heart
beat, for he knew that Dr Burney, when a boy at school at Chester,
used to break bounds that he might watch Handel smoking his pipe in
the Exchange coffee house--and now he was in the presence of one
who, if he had not seen Handel himself, had at least seen those who
had seen him.

These were oases in his desert, but, as a general rule, the boy
looked thin and pale, and as though he had a secret which depressed
him, which no doubt he had, but for which I cannot blame him. He
rose, in spite of himself, higher in the school, but fell ever into
deeper and deeper disgrace with the masters, and did not gain in the
opinion of those boys about whom he was persuaded that they could
assuredly never know what it was to have a secret weighing upon
their minds. This was what Ernest felt so keenly; he did not much
care about the boys who liked him, and idolised some who kept him as
far as possible at a distance, but this is pretty much the case with
all boys everywhere.

At last things reached a crisis, below which they could not very
well go, for at the end of the half year but one after his aunt's
death, Ernest brought back a document in his portmanteau, which
Theobald stigmatised as "infamous and outrageous." I need hardly
say I am alluding to his school bill.

This document was always a source of anxiety to Ernest, for it was
gone into with scrupulous care, and he was a good deal cross-
examined about it. He would sometimes "write in" for articles
necessary for his education, such as a portfolio, or a dictionary,
and sell the same, as I have explained, in order to eke out his
pocket money, probably to buy either music or tobacco. These frauds
were sometimes, as Ernest thought, in imminent danger of being
discovered, and it was a load off his breast when the cross-
examination was safely over. This time Theobald had made a great
fuss about the extras, but had grudgingly passed them; it was
another matter, however, with the character and the moral
statistics, with which the bill concluded.

The page on which these details were to be found was as follows:


Classics--Idle, listless and unimproving.
Mathematics " " "
Divinity " " "
Conduct in house.--Orderly.
General Conduct--Not satisfactory, on account of his great
unpunctuality and inattention to duties.
Monthly merit money 1s. 6d. 6d. 0d. 6d. Total 2s. 6d.
Number of merit marks 2 0 1 1 0 Total 4
Number of penal marks 26 20 25 30 25 Total 126
Number of extra penals 9 6 10 12 11 Total 48
I recommend that his pocket money be made to depend upon his merit
S. SKINNER, Headmaster.


Ernest was thus in disgrace from the beginning of the holidays, but
an incident soon occurred which led him into delinquencies compared
with which all his previous sins were venial.

Among the servants at the Rectory was a remarkably pretty girl named
Ellen. She came from Devonshire, and was the daughter of a
fisherman who had been drowned when she was a child. Her mother set
up a small shop in the village where her husband had lived, and just
managed to make a living. Ellen remained with her till she was
fourteen, when she first went out to service. Four years later,
when she was about eighteen, but so well grown that she might have
passed for twenty, she had been strongly recommended to Christina,
who was then in want of a housemaid, and had now been at Battersby
about twelve months.

As I have said the girl was remarkably pretty; she looked the
perfection of health and good temper, indeed there was a serene
expression upon her face which captivated almost all who saw her;
she looked as if matters had always gone well with her and were
always going to do so, and as if no conceivable combination of
circumstances could put her for long together out of temper either
with herself or with anyone else. Her complexion was clear, but
high; her eyes were grey and beautifully shaped; her lips were full
and restful, with something of an Egyptian Sphinx-like character
about them. When I learned that she came from Devonshire I fancied
I saw a strain of far away Egyptian blood in her, for I had heard,
though I know not what foundation there was for the story, that the
Egyptians made settlements on the coast of Devonshire and Cornwall
long before the Romans conquered Britain. Her hair was a rich
brown, and her figure--of about the middle height--perfect, but
erring if at all on the side of robustness. Altogether she was one
of those girls about whom one is inclined to wonder how they can
remain unmarried a week or a day longer.

Her face (as indeed faces generally are, though I grant they lie
sometimes) was a fair index to her disposition. She was good nature
itself, and everyone in the house, not excluding I believe even
Theobald himself after a fashion, was fond of her. As for Christina
she took the very warmest interest in her, and used to have her into
the dining-room twice a week, and prepare her for confirmation (for
by some accident she had never been confirmed) by explaining to her
the geography of Palestine and the routes taken by St Paul on his
various journeys in Asia Minor.

When Bishop Treadwell did actually come down to Battersby and hold a
confirmation there (Christina had her wish, he slept at Battersby,
and she had a grand dinner party for him, and called him "My lord"
several times), he was so much struck with her pretty face and
modest demeanour when he laid his hands upon her that he asked
Christina about her. When she replied that Ellen was one of her own
servants, the bishop seemed, so she thought or chose to think, quite
pleased that so pretty a girl should have found so exceptionally
good a situation.

Ernest used to get up early during the holidays so that he might
play the piano before breakfast without disturbing his papa and
mamma--or rather, perhaps, without being disturbed by them. Ellen
would generally be there sweeping the drawing-room floor and dusting
while he was playing, and the boy, who was ready to make friends
with most people, soon became very fond of her. He was not as a
general rule sensitive to the charms of the fair sex, indeed he had
hardly been thrown in with any women except his Aunts Allaby, and
his Aunt Alethea, his mother, his sister Charlotte and Mrs Jay;
sometimes also he had had to take off his hat to the Miss Skinners,
and had felt as if he should sink into the earth on doing so, but
his shyness had worn off with Ellen, and the pair had become fast

Perhaps it was well that Ernest was not at home for very long
together, but as yet his affection though hearty was quite Platonic.
He was not only innocent, but deplorably--I might even say guiltily-
-innocent. His preference was based upon the fact that Ellen never
scolded him, but was always smiling and good tempered; besides she
used to like to hear him play, and this gave him additional zest in
playing. The morning access to the piano was indeed the one
distinct advantage which the holidays had in Ernest's eyes, for at
school he could not get at a piano except quasi-surreptitiously at
the shop of Mr Pearsall, the music-seller.

On returning this midsummer he was shocked to find his favourite
looking pale and ill. All her good spirits had left her, the roses
had fled from her cheek, and she seemed on the point of going into a
decline. She said she was unhappy about her mother, whose health
was failing, and was afraid she was herself not long for this world.
Christina, of course, noticed the change. "I have often remarked,"
she said, "that those very fresh-coloured, healthy-looking girls are
the first to break up. I have given her calomel and James's powders
repeatedly, and though she does not like it, I think I must show her
to Dr Martin when he next comes here."

"Very well, my dear," said Theobald, and so next time Dr Martin came
Ellen was sent for. Dr Martin soon discovered what would probably
have been apparent to Christina herself if she had been able to
conceive of such an ailment in connection with a servant who lived
under the same roof as Theobald and herself--the purity of whose
married life should have preserved all unmarried people who came
near them from any taint of mischief.

When it was discovered that in three or four months more Ellen would
become a mother, Christina's natural good nature would have prompted
her to deal as leniently with the case as she could, if she had not
been panic-stricken lest any mercy on her and Theobald's part should
be construed into toleration, however partial, of so great a sin;
hereon she dashed off into the conviction that the only thing to do
was to pay Ellen her wages, and pack her off on the instant bag and
baggage out of the house which purity had more especially and
particularly singled out for its abiding city. When she thought of
the fearful contamination which Ellen's continued presence even for
a week would occasion, she could not hesitate.

Then came the question--horrid thought!--as to who was the partner
of Ellen's guilt? Was it, could it be, her own son, her darling
Ernest? Ernest was getting a big boy now. She could excuse any
young woman for taking a fancy to him; as for himself, why she was
sure he was behind no young man of his age in appreciation of the
charms of a nice-looking young woman. So long as he was innocent
she did not mind this, but oh, if he were guilty!

She could not bear to think of it, and yet it would be mere
cowardice not to look such a matter in the face--her hope was in the
Lord, and she was ready to bear cheerfully and make the best of any
suffering He might think fit to lay upon her. That the baby must be
either a boy or girl--this much, at any rate, was clear. No less
clear was it that the child, if a boy, would resemble Theobald, and
if a girl, herself. Resemblance, whether of body or mind, generally
leaped over a generation. The guilt of the parents must not be
shared by the innocent offspring of shame--oh! no--and such a child
as this would be . . . She was off in one of her reveries at once.

The child was in the act of being consecrated Archbishop of
Canterbury when Theobald came in from a visit in the parish, and was
told of the shocking discovery.

Christina said nothing about Ernest, and I believe was more than
half angry when the blame was laid upon other shoulders. She was
easily consoled, however, and fell back on the double reflection,
firstly, that her son was pure, and secondly, that she was quite
sure he would not have been so had it not been for his religious
convictions which had held him back--as, of course, it was only to
be expected they would.

Theobald agreed that no time must be lost in paying Ellen her wages
and packing her off. So this was done, and less than two hours
after Dr Martin had entered the house Ellen was sitting beside John
the coachman, with her face muffled up so that it could not be seen,
weeping bitterly as she was being driven to the station.


Ernest had been out all the morning, but came in to the yard of the
Rectory from the spinney behind the house just as Ellen's things
were being put into the carriage. He thought it was Ellen whom he
then saw get into the carriage, but as her face had been hidden by
her handkerchief he had not been able to see plainly who it was, and
dismissed the idea as improbable.

He went to the back-kitchen window, at which the cook was standing
peeling the potatoes for dinner, and found her crying bitterly.
Ernest was much distressed, for he liked the cook, and, of course,
wanted to know what all the matter was, who it was that had just
gone off in the pony carriage, and why? The cook told him it was
Ellen, but said that no earthly power should make it cross her lips
why it was she was going away; when, however, Ernest took her au
pied de la lettre and asked no further questions, she told him all
about it after extorting the most solemn promises of secrecy.

It took Ernest some minutes to arrive at the facts of the case, but
when he understood them he leaned against the pump, which stood near
the back-kitchen window, and mingled his tears with the cook's.

Then his blood began to boil within him. He did not see that after
all his father and mother could have done much otherwise than they
actually did. They might perhaps have been less precipitate, and
tried to keep the matter a little more quiet, but this would not
have been easy, nor would it have mended things very materially.
The bitter fact remains that if a girl does certain things she must
do them at her peril, no matter how young and pretty she is nor to
what temptation she has succumbed. This is the way of the world,
and as yet there has been no help found for it.

Ernest could only see what he gathered from the cook, namely, that
his favourite, Ellen, was being turned adrift with a matter of three
pounds in her pocket, to go she knew not where, and to do she knew
not what, and that she had said she should hang or drown herself,
which the boy implicitly believed she would.

With greater promptitude than he had shown yet, he reckoned up his
money and found he had two shillings and threepence at his command;
there was his knife which might sell for a shilling, and there was
the silver watch his Aunt Alethea had given him shortly before she
died. The carriage had been gone now a full quarter of an hour, and
it must have got some distance ahead, but he would do his best to
catch it up, and there were short cuts which would perhaps give him
a chance. He was off at once, and from the top of the hill just
past the Rectory paddock he could see the carriage, looking very
small, on a bit of road which showed perhaps a mile and a half in
front of him.

One of the most popular amusements at Roughborough was an
institution called "the hounds"--more commonly known elsewhere as
"hare and hounds," but in this case the hare was a couple of boys
who were called foxes, and boys are so particular about correctness
of nomenclature where their sports are concerned that I dare not say
they played "hare and hounds"; these were "the hounds," and that was
all. Ernest's want of muscular strength did not tell against him
here; there was no jostling up against boys who, though neither
older nor taller than he, were yet more robustly built; if it came
to mere endurance he was as good as any one else, so when his
carpentering was stopped he had naturally taken to "the hounds" as
his favourite amusement. His lungs thus exercised had become
developed, and as a run of six or seven miles across country was not
more than he was used to, he did not despair by the help of the
short cuts of overtaking the carriage, or at the worst of catching
Ellen at the station before the train left. So he ran and ran and
ran till his first wind was gone and his second came, and he could
breathe more easily. Never with "the hounds" had he run so fast and
with so few breaks as now, but with all his efforts and the help of
the short cuts he did not catch up the carriage, and would probably
not have done so had not John happened to turn his head and seen him
running and making signs for the carriage to stop a quarter of a
mile off. He was now about five miles from home, and was nearly
done up.

He was crimson with his exertion; covered with dust, and with his
trousers and coat sleeves a trifle short for him he cut a poor
figure enough as he thrust on Ellen his watch, his knife, and the
little money he had. The one thing he implored of her was not to do
those dreadful things which she threatened--for his sake if for no
other reason.

Ellen at first would not hear of taking anything from him, but the
coachman, who was from the north country, sided with Ernest. "Take
it, my lass," he said kindly, "take what thou canst get whiles thou
canst get it; as for Master Ernest here--he has run well after thee;
therefore let him give thee what he is minded."

Ellen did what she was told, and the two parted with many tears, the
girl's last words being that she should never forget him, and that
they should meet again hereafter, she was sure they should, and then
she would repay him.

Then Ernest got into a field by the roadside, flung himself on the
grass, and waited under the shadow of a hedge till the carriage
should pass on its return from the station and pick him up, for he
was dead beat. Thoughts which had already occurred to him with some
force now came more strongly before him, and he saw that he had got
himself into one mess--or rather into half-a-dozen messes--the more.

In the first place he should be late for dinner, and this was one of
the offences on which Theobald had no mercy. Also he should have to
say where he had been, and there was a danger of being found out if
he did not speak the truth. Not only this, but sooner or later it
must come out that he was no longer possessed of the beautiful watch
which his dear aunt had given him--and what, pray, had he done with
it, or how had he lost it? The reader will know very well what he
ought to have done. He should have gone straight home, and if
questioned should have said, "I have been running after the carriage
to catch our housemaid Ellen, whom I am very fond of; I have given
her my watch, my knife and all my pocket money, so that I have now
no pocket money at all and shall probably ask you for some more
sooner than I otherwise might have done, and you will also have to
buy me a new watch and a knife." But then fancy the consternation
which such an announcement would have occasioned! Fancy the scowl
and flashing eyes of the infuriated Theobald! "You unprincipled
young scoundrel," he would exclaim, "do you mean to vilify your own
parents by implying that they have dealt harshly by one whose
profligacy has disgraced their house?"

Or he might take it with one of those sallies of sarcastic calm, of
which he believed himself to be a master.

"Very well, Ernest, very well: I shall say nothing; you can please
yourself; you are not yet twenty-one, but pray act as if you were
your own master; your poor aunt doubtless gave you the watch that
you might fling it away upon the first improper character you came
across; I think I can now understand, however, why she did not leave
you her money; and, after all, your godfather may just as well have
it as the kind of people on whom you would lavish it if it were

Then his mother would burst into tears and implore him to repent and
seek the things belonging to his peace while there was yet time, by
falling on his knees to Theobald and assuring him of his unfailing
love for him as the kindest and tenderest father in the universe.
Ernest could do all this just as well as they could, and now, as he
lay on the grass, speeches, some one or other of which was as
certain to come as the sun to set, kept running in his head till
they confuted the idea of telling the truth by reducing it to an
absurdity. Truth might be heroic, but it was not within the range
of practical domestic politics.

Having settled then that he was to tell a lie, what lie should he
tell? Should he say he had been robbed? He had enough imagination
to know that he had not enough imagination to carry him out here.
Young as he was, his instinct told him that the best liar is he who
makes the smallest amount of lying go the longest way--who husbands
it too carefully to waste it where it can be dispensed with. The
simplest course would be to say that he had lost the watch, and was
late for dinner because he had been looking for it. He had been out
for a long walk--he chose the line across the fields that he had
actually taken--and the weather being very hot, he had taken off his
coat and waistcoat; in carrying them over his arm his watch, his
money, and his knife had dropped out of them. He had got nearly
home when he found out his loss, and had run back as fast as he
could, looking along the line he had followed, till at last he had
given it up; seeing the carriage coming back from the station, he
had let it pick him up and bring him home.

This covered everything, the running and all; for his face still
showed that he must have been running hard; the only question was
whether he had been seen about the Rectory by any but the servants
for a couple of hours or so before Ellen had gone, and this he was
happy to believe was not the case; for he had been out except during
his few minutes' interview with the cook. His father had been out
in the parish; his mother had certainly not come across him, and his
brother and sister had also been out with the governess. He knew he
could depend upon the cook and the other servants--the coachman
would see to this; on the whole, therefore, both he and the coachman
thought the story as proposed by Ernest would about meet the
requirements of the case.


When Ernest got home and sneaked in through the back door, he heard
his father's voice in its angriest tones, inquiring whether Master
Ernest had already returned. He felt as Jack must have felt in the
story of Jack and the Bean Stalk, when from the oven in which he was
hidden he heard the ogre ask his wife what young children she had
got for his supper. With much courage, and, as the event proved,
with not less courage than discretion, he took the bull by the
horns, and announced himself at once as having just come in after
having met with a terrible misfortune. Little by little he told his
story, and though Theobald stormed somewhat at his "incredible folly
and carelessness," he got off better than he expected. Theobald and
Christina had indeed at first been inclined to connect his absence
from dinner with Ellen's dismissal, but on finding it clear, as
Theobald said--everything was always clear with Theobald--that
Ernest had not been in the house all the morning, and could
therefore have known nothing of what had happened, he was acquitted
on this account for once in a way, without a stain upon his
character. Perhaps Theobald was in a good temper; he may have seen
from the paper that morning that his stocks had been rising; it may
have been this or twenty other things, but whatever it was, he did
not scold so much as Ernest had expected, and, seeing the boy look
exhausted and believing him to be much grieved at the loss of his
watch, Theobald actually prescribed a glass of wine after his
dinner, which, strange to say, did not choke him, but made him see
things more cheerfully than was usual with him.

That night when he said his prayers, he inserted a few paragraphs to
the effect that he might not be discovered, and that things might go
well with Ellen, but he was anxious and ill at ease. His guilty
conscience pointed out to him a score of weak places in his story,
through any one of which detection might even yet easily enter.
Next day and for many days afterwards he fled when no man was
pursuing, and trembled each time he heard his father's voice calling
for him. He had already so many causes of anxiety that he could
stand little more, and in spite of all his endeavours to look
cheerful, even his mother could see that something was preying upon
his mind. Then the idea returned to her that, after all, her son
might not be innocent in the Ellen matter--and this was so
interesting that she felt bound to get as near the truth as she

"Come here, my poor, pale-faced, heavy-eyed boy," she said to him
one day in her kindest manner; "come and sit down by me, and we will
have a little quiet confidential talk together, will we not?"

The boy went mechanically to the sofa. Whenever his mother wanted
what she called a confidential talk with him she always selected the
sofa as the most suitable ground on which to open her campaign. All
mothers do this; the sofa is to them what the dining-room is to
fathers. In the present case the sofa was particularly well adapted
for a strategic purpose, being an old-fashioned one with a high
back, mattress, bolsters and cushions. Once safely penned into one
of its deep corners, it was like a dentist's chair, not too easy to
get out of again. Here she could get at him better to pull him
about, if this should seem desirable, or if she thought fit to cry
she could bury her head in the sofa cushion and abandon herself to
an agony of grief which seldom failed of its effect. None of her
favourite manoeuvres were so easily adopted in her usual seat, the
arm-chair on the right hand side of the fire-place, and so well did
her son know from his mother's tone that this was going to be a sofa
conversation that he took his place like a lamb as soon as she began
to speak and before she could reach the sofa herself.

"My dearest boy," began his mother, taking hold of his hand and
placing it within her own, "promise me never to be afraid either of
your dear papa or of me; promise me this, my dear, as you love me,
promise it to me," and she kissed him again and again and stroked
his hair. But with her other hand she still kept hold of his; she
had got him and she meant to keep him.

The lad hung down his head and promised. What else could he do?

"You know there is no one, dear, dear Ernest, who loves you so much
as your papa and I do; no one who watches so carefully over your
interests or who is so anxious to enter into all your little joys
and troubles as we are; but my dearest boy, it grieves me to think
sometimes that you have not that perfect love for and confidence in
us which you ought to have. You know, my darling, that it would be
as much our pleasure as our duty to watch over the development of
your moral and spiritual nature, but alas! you will not let us see
your moral and spiritual nature. At times we are almost inclined to
doubt whether you have a moral and spiritual nature at all. Of your
inner life, my dear, we know nothing beyond such scraps as we can
glean in spite of you, from little things which escape you almost
before you know that you have said them."

The boy winced at this. It made him feel hot and uncomfortable all
over. He knew well how careful he ought to be, and yet, do what he
could, from time to time his forgetfulness of the part betrayed him
into unreserve. His mother saw that he winced, and enjoyed the
scratch she had given him. Had she felt less confident of victory
she had better have foregone the pleasure of touching as it were the
eyes at the end of the snail's horns in order to enjoy seeing the
snail draw them in again--but she knew that when she had got him
well down into the sofa, and held his hand, she had the enemy almost
absolutely at her mercy, and could do pretty much what she liked.

"Papa does not feel," she continued, "that you love him with that
fulness and unreserve which would prompt you to have no concealment
from him, and to tell him everything freely and fearlessly as your
most loving earthly friend next only to your Heavenly Father.
Perfect love, as we know, casteth out fear: your father loves you
perfectly, my darling, but he does not feel as though you loved him
perfectly in return. If you fear him it is because you do not love
him as he deserves, and I know it sometimes cuts him to the very
heart to think that he has earned from you a deeper and more willing
sympathy than you display towards him. Oh, Ernest, Ernest, do not
grieve one who is so good and noble-hearted by conduct which I can
call by no other name than ingratitude."

Ernest could never stand being spoken to in this way by his mother:
for he still believed that she loved him, and that he was fond of
her and had a friend in her--up to a certain point. But his mother
was beginning to come to the end of her tether; she had played the
domestic confidence trick upon him times without number already.
Over and over again had she wheedled from him all she wanted to
know, and afterwards got him into the most horrible scrape by
telling the whole to Theobald. Ernest had remonstrated more than
once upon these occasions, and had pointed out to his mother how
disastrous to him his confidences had been, but Christina had always
joined issue with him and showed him in the clearest possible manner
that in each case she had been right, and that he could not
reasonably complain. Generally it was her conscience that forbade
her to be silent, and against this there was no appeal, for we are
all bound to follow the dictates of our conscience. Ernest used to
have to recite a hymn about conscience. It was to the effect that
if you did not pay attention to its voice it would soon leave off
speaking. "My mamma's conscience has not left off speaking," said
Ernest to one of his chums at Roughborough; "it's always jabbering."

When a boy has once spoken so disrespectfully as this about his
mother's conscience it is practically all over between him and her.
Ernest through sheer force of habit, of the sofa, and of the return
of the associated ideas, was still so moved by the siren's voice as
to yearn to sail towards her, and fling himself into her arms, but
it would not do; there were other associated ideas that returned
also, and the mangled bones of too many murdered confessions were
lying whitening round the skirts of his mother's dress, to allow him
by any possibility to trust her further. So he hung his head and
looked sheepish, but kept his own counsel.

"I see, my dearest," continued his mother, "either that I am
mistaken, and that there is nothing on your mind, or that you will
not unburden yourself to me: but oh, Ernest, tell me at least this
much; is there nothing that you repent of, nothing which makes you
unhappy in connection with that miserable girl Ellen?"

Ernest's heart failed him. "I am a dead boy now," he said to
himself. He had not the faintest conception what his mother was
driving at, and thought she suspected about the watch; but he held
his ground.

I do not believe he was much more of a coward than his neighbours,
only he did not know that all sensible people are cowards when they
are off their beat, or when they think they are going to be roughly
handled. I believe, that if the truth were known, it would be found
that even the valiant St Michael himself tried hard to shirk his
famous combat with the dragon; he pretended not to see all sorts of
misconduct on the dragon's part; shut his eyes to the eating up of I
do not know how many hundreds of men, women and children whom he had
promised to protect; allowed himself to be publicly insulted a dozen
times over without resenting it; and in the end when even an angel
could stand it no longer he shilly-shallied and temporised an
unconscionable time before he would fix the day and hour for the
encounter. As for the actual combat it was much such another wurra-
wurra as Mrs Allaby had had with the young man who had in the end
married her eldest daughter, till after a time behold, there was the
dragon lying dead, while he was himself alive and not very seriously
hurt after all.

"I do not know what you mean, mamma," exclaimed Ernest anxiously and
more or less hurriedly. His mother construed his manner into
indignation at being suspected, and being rather frightened herself
she turned tail and scuttled off as fast as her tongue could carry

"Oh!" she said, "I see by your tone that you are innocent! Oh! oh!
how I thank my heavenly Father for this; may He for His dear Son's
sake keep you always pure. Your father, my dear"--(here she spoke
hurriedly but gave him a searching look) "was as pure as a spotless
angel when he came to me. Like him, always be self-denying, truly
truthful both in word and deed, never forgetful whose son and
grandson you are, nor of the name we gave you, of the sacred stream
in whose waters your sins were washed out of you through the blood
and blessing of Christ," etc.

But Ernest cut this--I will not say short--but a great deal shorter
than it would have been if Christina had had her say out, by
extricating himself from his mamma's embrace and showing a clean
pair of heels. As he got near the purlieus of the kitchen (where he
was more at ease) he heard his father calling for his mother, and
again his guilty conscience rose against him. "He has found all out
now," it cried, "and he is going to tell mamma--this time I am done
for." But there was nothing in it; his father only wanted the key
of the cellaret. Then Ernest slunk off into a coppice or spinney
behind the Rectory paddock, and consoled himself with a pipe of
tobacco. Here in the wood with the summer sun streaming through the
trees and a book and his pipe the boy forgot his cares and had an
interval of that rest without which I verily believe his life would
have been insupportable.

Of course, Ernest was made to look for his lost property, and a
reward was offered for it, but it seemed he had wandered a good deal
off the path, thinking to find a lark's nest, more than once, and
looking for a watch and purse on Battersby piewipes was very like
looking for a needle in a bundle of hay: besides it might have been
found and taken by some tramp, or by a magpie of which there were
many in the neighbourhood, so that after a week or ten days the
search was discontinued, and the unpleasant fact had to be faced
that Ernest must have another watch, another knife, and a small sum
of pocket money.

It was only right, however, that Ernest should pay half the cost of
the watch; this should be made easy for him, for it should be
deducted from his pocket money in half-yearly instalments extending
over two, or even it might be three years. In Ernest's own
interests, then, as well as those of his father and mother, it would
be well that the watch should cost as little as possible, so it was
resolved to buy a second-hand one. Nothing was to be said to
Ernest, but it was to be bought, and laid upon his plate as a
surprise just before the holidays were over. Theobald would have to
go to the county town in a few days, and could then find some
second-hand watch which would answer sufficiently well. In the
course of time, therefore, Theobald went, furnished with a long list
of household commissions, among which was the purchase of a watch
for Ernest.

Those, as I have said, were always happy times, when Theobald was
away for a whole day certain; the boy was beginning to feel easy in
his mind as though God had heard his prayers, and he was not going
to be found out. Altogether the day had proved an unusually
tranquil one, but, alas! it was not to close as it had begun; the
fickle atmosphere in which he lived was never more likely to breed a
storm than after such an interval of brilliant calm, and when
Theobald returned Ernest had only to look in his face to see that a
hurricane was approaching.

Christina saw that something had gone very wrong, and was quite
frightened lest Theobald should have heard of some serious money
loss; he did not, however, at once unbosom himself, but rang the
bell and said to the servant, "Tell Master Ernest I wish to speak to
him in the dining-room."


Long before Ernest reached the dining-room his ill-divining soul had
told him that his sin had found him out. What head of a family ever
sends for any of its members into the dining-room if his intentions
are honourable?

When he reached it he found it empty--his father having been called
away for a few minutes unexpectedly upon some parish business--and
he was left in the same kind of suspense as people are in after they
have been ushered into their dentist's ante-room.

Of all the rooms in the house he hated the dining-room worst. It
was here that he had had to do his Latin and Greek lessons with his
father. It had a smell of some particular kind of polish or varnish
which was used in polishing the furniture, and neither I nor Ernest
can even now come within range of the smell of this kind of varnish
without our hearts failing us.

Over the chimney-piece there was a veritable old master, one of the
few original pictures which Mr George Pontifex had brought from
Italy. It was supposed to be a Salvator Rosa, and had been bought
as a great bargain. The subject was Elijah or Elisha (whichever it
was) being fed by the ravens in the desert. There were the ravens
in the upper right-hand corner with bread and meat in their beaks
and claws, and there was the prophet in question in the lower left-
hand corner looking longingly up towards them. When Ernest was a
very small boy it had been a constant matter of regret to him that
the food which the ravens carried never actually reached the
prophet; he did not understand the limitation of the painter's art,
and wanted the meat and the prophet to be brought into direct
contact. One day, with the help of some steps which had been left
in the room, he had clambered up to the picture and with a piece of
bread and butter traced a greasy line right across it from the
ravens to Elisha's mouth, after which he had felt more comfortable.

Ernest's mind was drifting back to this youthful escapade when he
heard his father's hand on the door, and in another second Theobald

"Oh, Ernest," said he, in an off-hand, rather cheery manner,
"there's a little matter which I should like you to explain to me,
as I have no doubt you very easily can." Thump, thump, thump, went
Ernest's heart against his ribs; but his father's manner was so much
nicer than usual that he began to think it might be after all only
another false alarm.

"It had occurred to your mother and myself that we should like to
set you up with a watch again before you went back to school" ("Oh,
that's all," said Ernest to himself quite relieved), "and I have
been to-day to look out for a second-hand one which should answer
every purpose so long as you're at school."

Theobald spoke as if watches had half-a-dozen purposes besides time-
keeping, but he could hardly open his mouth without using one or
other of his tags, and "answering every purpose" was one of them.

Ernest was breaking out into the usual expressions of gratitude,
when Theobald continued, "You are interrupting me," and Ernest's
heart thumped again.

"You are interrupting me, Ernest. I have not yet done." Ernest was
instantly dumb.

"I passed several shops with second-hand watches for sale, but I saw
none of a description and price which pleased me, till at last I was
shown one which had, so the shopman said, been left with him
recently for sale, and which I at once recognised as the one which
had been given you by your Aunt Alethea. Even if I had failed to
recognise it, as perhaps I might have done, I should have identified
it directly it reached my hands, inasmuch as it had 'E. P., a
present from A. P.' engraved upon the inside. I need say no more to
show that this was the very watch which you told your mother and me
that you had dropped out of your pocket."

Up to this time Theobald's manner had been studiously calm, and his
words had been uttered slowly, but here he suddenly quickened and
flung off the mask as he added the words, "or some such cock and
bull story, which your mother and I were too truthful to disbelieve.
You can guess what must be our feelings now."

Ernest felt that this last home-thrust was just. In his less
anxious moments he had thought his papa and mamma "green" for the
readiness with which they believed him, but he could not deny that
their credulity was a proof of their habitual truthfulness of mind.
In common justice he must own that it was very dreadful for two such
truthful people to have a son as untruthful as he knew himself to

"Believing that a son of your mother and myself would be incapable
of falsehood I at once assumed that some tramp had picked the watch
up and was now trying to dispose of it."

This to the best of my belief was not accurate. Theobald's first
assumption had been that it was Ernest who was trying to sell the
watch, and it was an inspiration of the moment to say that his
magnanimous mind had at once conceived the idea of a tramp.

"You may imagine how shocked I was when I discovered that the watch
had been brought for sale by that miserable woman Ellen"--here
Ernest's heart hardened a little, and he felt as near an approach to
an instinct to turn as one so defenceless could be expected to feel;
his father quickly perceived this and continued, "who was turned out
of this house in circumstances which I will not pollute your ears by
more particularly describing.

"I put aside the horrid conviction which was beginning to dawn upon
me, and assumed that in the interval between her dismissal and her
leaving this house, she had added theft to her other sin, and having
found your watch in your bedroom had purloined it. It even occurred
to me that you might have missed your watch after the woman was
gone, and, suspecting who had taken it, had run after the carriage
in order to recover it; but when I told the shopman of my suspicions
he assured me that the person who left it with him had declared most
solemnly that it had been given her by her master's son, whose
property it was, and who had a perfect right to dispose of it.

"He told me further that, thinking the circumstances in which the
watch was offered for sale somewhat suspicious, he had insisted upon
the woman's telling him the whole story of how she came by it,
before he would consent to buy it of her.

"He said that at first--as women of that stamp invariably do--she
tried prevarication, but on being threatened that she should at once
be given into custody if she did not tell the whole truth, she
described the way in which you had run after the carriage, till as
she said you were black in the face, and insisted on giving her all
your pocket money, your knife and your watch. She added that my
coachman John--whom I shall instantly discharge--was witness to the
whole transaction. Now, Ernest, be pleased to tell me whether this
appalling story is true or false?"

It never occurred to Ernest to ask his father why he did not hit a
man his own size, or to stop him midway in the story with a
remonstrance against being kicked when he was down. The boy was too
much shocked and shaken to be inventive; he could only drift and
stammer out that the tale was true.

"So I feared," said Theobald, "and now, Ernest, be good enough to
ring the bell."

When the bell had been answered, Theobald desired that John should
be sent for, and when John came Theobald calculated the wages due to
him and desired him at once to leave the house.

John's manner was quiet and respectful. He took his dismissal as a
matter of course, for Theobald had hinted enough to make him
understand why he was being discharged, but when he saw Ernest
sitting pale and awe-struck on the edge of his chair against the
dining-room wall, a sudden thought seemed to strike him, and turning
to Theobald he said in a broad northern accent which I will not
attempt to reproduce:

"Look here, master, I can guess what all this is about--now before I
goes I want to have a word with you."

"Ernest," said Theobald, "leave the room."

"No, Master Ernest, you shan't," said John, planting himself against
the door. "Now, master," he continued, "you may do as you please
about me. I've been a good servant to you, and I don't mean to say
as you've been a bad master to me, but I do say that if you bear
hardly on Master Ernest here I have those in the village as 'll hear
on't and let me know; and if I do hear on't I'll come back and break
every bone in your skin, so there!"

John's breath came and went quickly, as though he would have been
well enough pleased to begin the bone-breaking business at once.
Theobald turned of an ashen colour--not, as he explained afterwards,
at the idle threats of a detected and angry ruffian, but at such
atrocious insolence from one of his own servants.

"I shall leave Master Ernest, John," he rejoined proudly, "to the
reproaches of his own conscience." ("Thank God and thank John,"
thought Ernest.) "As for yourself, I admit that you have been an
excellent servant until this unfortunate business came on, and I
shall have much pleasure in giving you a character if you want one.
Have you anything more to say?"

"No more nor what I have said," said John sullenly, "but what I've
said I means and I'll stick to--character or no character."

"Oh, you need not be afraid about your character, John," said
Theobald kindly, "and as it is getting late, there can be no
occasion for you to leave the house before to-morrow morning."

To this there was no reply from John, who retired, packed up his
things, and left the house at once.

When Christina heard what had happened she said she could condone
all except that Theobald should have been subjected to such
insolence from one of his own servants through the misconduct of his
son. Theobald was the bravest man in the whole world, and could
easily have collared the wretch and turned him out of the room, but
how far more dignified, how far nobler had been his reply! How it
would tell in a novel or upon the stage, for though the stage as a
whole was immoral, yet there were doubtless some plays which were
improving spectacles. She could fancy the whole house hushed with
excitement at hearing John's menace, and hardly breathing by reason
of their interest and expectation of the coming answer. Then the
actor--probably the great and good Mr Macready--would say, "I shall
leave Master Ernest, John, to the reproaches of his own conscience."
Oh, it was sublime! What a roar of applause must follow! Then she
should enter herself, and fling her arms about her husband's neck,
and call him her lion-hearted husband. When the curtain dropped, it
would be buzzed about the house that the scene just witnessed had
been drawn from real life, and had actually occurred in the
household of the Rev. Theobald Pontifex, who had married a Miss
Allaby, etc., etc.

As regards Ernest the suspicions which had already crossed her mind
were deepened, but she thought it better to leave the matter where
it was. At present she was in a very strong position. Ernest's
official purity was firmly established, but at the same time he had
shown himself so susceptible that she was able to fuse two
contradictory impressions concerning him into a single idea, and
consider him as a kind of Joseph and Don Juan in one. This was what
she had wanted all along, but her vanity being gratified by the
possession of such a son, there was an end of it; the son himself
was naught.

No doubt if John had not interfered, Ernest would have had to
expiate his offence with ache, penury and imprisonment. As it was
the boy was "to consider himself" as undergoing these punishments,
and as suffering pangs of unavailing remorse inflicted on him by his
conscience into the bargain; but beyond the fact that Theobald kept
him more closely to his holiday task, and the continued coldness of
his parents, no ostensible punishment was meted out to him. Ernest,
however, tells me that he looks back upon this as the time when he
began to know that he had a cordial and active dislike for both his
parents, which I suppose means that he was now beginning to be aware
that he was reaching man's estate.


About a week before he went back to school his father again sent for
him into the dining-room, and told him that he should restore him
his watch, but that he should deduct the sum he had paid for it--for
he had thought it better to pay a few shillings rather than dispute
the ownership of the watch, seeing that Ernest had undoubtedly given
it to Ellen--from his pocket money, in payments which should extend
over two half years. He would therefore have to go back to
Roughborough this half year with only five shillings' pocket money.
If he wanted more he must earn more merit money.

Ernest was not so careful about money as a pattern boy should be.
He did not say to himself, "Now I have got a sovereign which must
last me fifteen weeks, therefore I may spend exactly one shilling
and fourpence in each week"--and spend exactly one and fourpence in
each week accordingly. He ran through his money at about the same
rate as other boys did, being pretty well cleaned out a few days
after he had got back to school. When he had no more money, he got
a little into debt, and when as far in debt as he could see his way
to repaying, he went without luxuries. Immediately he got any money
he would pay his debts; if there was any over he would spend it; if
there was not--and there seldom was--he would begin to go on tick

His finance was always based upon the supposition that he should go
back to school with 1 pounds in his pocket--of which he owed say a
matter of fifteen shillings. There would be five shillings for
sundry school subscriptions--but when these were paid the weekly
allowance of sixpence given to each boy in hall, his merit money
(which this half he was resolved should come to a good sum) and
renewed credit, would carry him through the half.

The sudden failure of 15/- was disastrous to my hero's scheme of
finance. His face betrayed his emotions so clearly that Theobald
said he was determined "to learn the truth at once, and THIS TIME
without days and days of falsehood" before he reached it. The
melancholy fact was not long in coming out, namely, that the
wretched Ernest added debt to the vices of idleness, falsehood and
possibly--for it was not impossible--immorality.

How had he come to get into debt? Did the other boys do so? Ernest
reluctantly admitted that they did.

With what shops did they get into debt?

This was asking too much, Ernest said he didn't know!

"Oh, Ernest, Ernest," exclaimed his mother, who was in the room, "do
not so soon a second time presume upon the forbearance of the
tenderest-hearted father in the world. Give time for one stab to
heal before you wound him with another."

This was all very fine, but what was Ernest to do? How could he get
the school shopkeepers into trouble by owning that they let some of
the boys go on tick with them? There was Mrs Cross, a good old
soul, who used to sell hot rolls and butter for breakfast, or eggs
and toast, or it might be the quarter of a fowl with bread sauce and
mashed potatoes for which she would charge 6d. If she made a
farthing out of the sixpence it was as much as she did. When the
boys would come trooping into her shop after "the hounds" how often
had not Ernest heard her say to her servant girls, "Now then, you
wanches, git some cheers." All the boys were fond of her, and was
he, Ernest, to tell tales about her? It was horrible.

"Now look here, Ernest," said his father with his blackest scowl, "I
am going to put a stop to this nonsense once for all. Either take
me fully into your confidence, as a son should take a father, and
trust me to deal with this matter as a clergyman and a man of the
world--or understand distinctly that I shall take the whole story to
Dr Skinner, who, I imagine, will take much sterner measures than I

"Oh, Ernest, Ernest," sobbed Christina, "be wise in time, and trust
those who have already shown you that they know but too well how to
be forbearing."

No genuine hero of romance should have hesitated for a moment.
Nothing should have cajoled or frightened him into telling tales out
of school. Ernest thought of his ideal boys: they, he well knew,
would have let their tongues be cut out of them before information
could have been wrung from any word of theirs. But Ernest was not
an ideal boy, and he was not strong enough for his surroundings; I
doubt how far any boy could withstand the moral pressure which was
brought to bear upon him; at any rate he could not do so, and after
a little more writhing he yielded himself a passive prey to the
enemy. He consoled himself with the reflection that his papa had
not played the confidence trick on him quite as often as his mamma
had, and that probably it was better he should tell his father, than
that his father should insist on Dr Skinner's making an inquiry.
His papa's conscience "jabbered" a good deal, but not as much as his
mamma's. The little fool forgot that he had not given his father as
many chances of betraying him as he had given to Christina.

Then it all came out. He owed this at Mrs Cross's, and this to Mrs
Jones, and this at the "Swan and Bottle" public house, to say
nothing of another shilling or sixpence or two in other quarters.
Nevertheless, Theobald and Christina were not satiated, but rather
the more they discovered the greater grew their appetite for
discovery; it was their obvious duty to find out everything, for
though they might rescue their own darling from this hotbed of
iniquity without getting to know more than they knew at present,
were there not other papas and mammas with darlings whom also they
were bound to rescue if it were yet possible? What boys, then, owed
money to these harpies as well as Ernest?

Here, again, there was a feeble show of resistance, but the
thumbscrews were instantly applied, and Ernest, demoralised as he
already was, recanted and submitted himself to the powers that were.
He told only a little less than he knew or thought he knew. He was
examined, re-examined, cross-examined, sent to the retirement of his
own bedroom and cross-examined again; the smoking in Mrs Jones'
kitchen all came out; which boys smoked and which did not; which
boys owed money and, roughly, how much and where; which boys swore
and used bad language. Theobald was resolved that this time Ernest
should, as he called it, take him into his confidence without
reserve, so the school list which went with Dr Skinner's half-yearly
bills was brought out, and the most secret character of each boy was
gone through seriatim by Mr and Mrs Pontifex, so far as it was in
Ernest's power to give information concerning it, and yet Theobald
had on the preceding Sunday preached a less feeble sermon than he
commonly preached, upon the horrors of the Inquisition. No matter
how awful was the depravity revealed to them, the pair never
flinched, but probed and probed, till they were on the point of
reaching subjects more delicate than they had yet touched upon.
Here Ernest's unconscious self took the matter up and made a
resistance to which his conscious self was unequal, by tumbling him
off his chair in a fit of fainting.

Dr Martin was sent for and pronounced the boy to be seriously
unwell; at the same time he prescribed absolute rest and absence
from nervous excitement. So the anxious parents were unwillingly
compelled to be content with what they had got already--being
frightened into leading him a quiet life for the short remainder of
the holidays. They were not idle, but Satan can find as much
mischief for busy hands as for idle ones, so he sent a little job in
the direction of Battersby which Theobald and Christina undertook
immediately. It would be a pity, they reasoned, that Ernest should
leave Roughborough, now that he had been there three years; it would
be difficult to find another school for him, and to explain why he
had left Roughborough. Besides, Dr Skinner and Theobald were
supposed to be old friends, and it would be unpleasant to offend
him; these were all valid reasons for not removing the boy. The
proper thing to do, then, would be to warn Dr Skinner confidentially
of the state of his school, and to furnish him with a school list
annotated with the remarks extracted from Ernest, which should be
appended to the name of each boy.

Theobald was the perfection of neatness; while his son was ill
upstairs, he copied out the school list so that he could throw his
comments into a tabular form, which assumed the following shape--
only that of course I have changed the names. One cross in each
square was to indicate occasional offence; two stood for frequent,
and three for habitual delinquency.

Smoking Drinking beer Swearing Notes
at the "Swan and Obscene
and Bottle." Language.
Smith O O XX Will smoke
next half
Brown XXX O X
Jones X XX XXX
Robinson XX XX X

And thus through the whole school.

Of course, in justice to Ernest, Dr Skinner would be bound over to
secrecy before a word was said to him, but, Ernest being thus
protected, he could not be furnished with the facts too completely.


So important did Theobald consider this matter that he made a
special journey to Roughborough before the half year began. It was
a relief to have him out of the house, but though his destination
was not mentioned, Ernest guessed where he had gone.

To this day he considers his conduct at this crisis to have been one
of the most serious laches of his life--one which he can never think
of without shame and indignation. He says he ought to have run away
from home. But what good could he have done if he had? He would
have been caught, brought back and examined two days later instead
of two days earlier. A boy of barely sixteen cannot stand against
the moral pressure of a father and mother who have always oppressed
him any more than he can cope physically with a powerful full-grown
man. True, he may allow himself to be killed rather than yield, but
this is being so morbidly heroic as to come close round again to
cowardice; for it is little else than suicide, which is universally
condemned as cowardly.

On the re-assembling of the school it became apparent that something
had gone wrong. Dr Skinner called the boys together, and with much
pomp excommunicated Mrs Cross and Mrs Jones, by declaring their
shops to be out of bounds. The street in which the "Swan and
Bottle" stood was also forbidden. The vices of drinking and
smoking, therefore, were clearly aimed at, and before prayers Dr
Skinner spoke a few impressive words about the abominable sin of
using bad language. Ernest's feelings can be imagined.

Next day at the hour when the daily punishments were read out,
though there had not yet been time for him to have offended, Ernest
Pontifex was declared to have incurred every punishment which the
school provided for evil-doers. He was placed on the idle list for
the whole half year, and on perpetual detentions; his bounds were
curtailed; he was to attend junior callings-over; in fact he was so
hemmed in with punishments upon ever side that it was hardly
possible for him to go outside the school gates. This unparalleled
list of punishments inflicted on the first day of the half year, and
intended to last till the ensuing Christmas holidays, was not
connected with any specified offence. It required no great
penetration therefore, on the part of the boys to connect Ernest
with the putting Mrs Cross's and Mrs Jones's shops out of bounds.

Great indeed was the indignation about Mrs Cross who, it was known,
remembered Dr Skinner himself as a small boy only just got into
jackets, and had doubtless let him have many a sausage and mashed
potatoes upon deferred payment. The head boys assembled in conclave
to consider what steps should be taken, but hardly had they done so
before Ernest knocked timidly at the head-room door and took the
bull by the horns by explaining the facts as far as he could bring
himself to do so. He made a clean breast of everything except about
the school list and the remarks he had made about each boy's
character. This infamy was more than he could own to, and he kept
his counsel concerning it. Fortunately he was safe in doing so, for
Dr Skinner, pedant and more than pedant though he was, had still
just sense enough to turn on Theobald in the matter of the school
list. Whether he resented being told that he did not know the
characters of his own boys, or whether he dreaded a scandal about
the school I know not, but when Theobald had handed him the list,
over which he had expended so much pains, Dr Skinner had cut him
uncommonly short, and had then and there, with more suavity than was
usual with him, committed it to the flames before Theobald's own

Ernest got off with the head boys easier than he expected. It was
admitted that the offence, heinous though it was, had been committed
under extenuating circumstances; the frankness with which the
culprit had confessed all, his evidently unfeigned remorse, and the
fury with which Dr Skinner was pursuing him tended to bring about a
reaction in his favour, as though he had been more sinned against
than sinning.

As the half year wore on his spirits gradually revived, and when
attacked by one of his fits of self-abasement he was in some degree
consoled by having found out that even his father and mother, whom
he had supposed so immaculate, were no better than they should be.
About the fifth of November it was a school custom to meet on a
certain common not far from Roughborough and burn somebody in
effigy, this being the compromise arrived at in the matter of
fireworks and Guy Fawkes festivities. This year it was decided that
Pontifex's governor should be the victim, and Ernest though a good
deal exercised in mind as to what he ought to do, in the end saw no
sufficient reason for holding aloof from proceedings which, as he
justly remarked, could not do his father any harm.

It so happened that the bishop had held a confirmation at the school
on the fifth of November. Dr Skinner had not quite liked the
selection of this day, but the bishop was pressed by many
engagements, and had been compelled to make the arrangement as it
then stood. Ernest was among those who had to be confirmed, and was
deeply impressed with the solemn importance of the ceremony. When
he felt the huge old bishop drawing down upon him as he knelt in
chapel he could hardly breathe, and when the apparition paused
before him and laid its hands upon his head he was frightened almost
out of his wits. He felt that he had arrived at one of the great
turning points of his life, and that the Ernest of the future could
resemble only very faintly the Ernest of the past.

This happened at about noon, but by the one o'clock dinner-hour the
effect of the confirmation had worn off, and he saw no reason why he
should forego his annual amusement with the bonfire; so he went with
the others and was very valiant till the image was actually produced
and was about to be burnt; then he felt a little frightened. It was
a poor thing enough, made of paper, calico and straw, but they had
christened it The Rev. Theobald Pontifex, and he had a revulsion of
feeling as he saw it being carried towards the bonfire. Still he
held his ground, and in a few minutes when all was over felt none
the worse for having assisted at a ceremony which, after all, was
prompted by a boyish love of mischief rather than by rancour.

I should say that Ernest had written to his father, and told him of
the unprecedented way in which he was being treated; he even
ventured to suggest that Theobald should interfere for his
protection and reminded him how the story had been got out of him,
but Theobald had had enough of Dr Skinner for the present; the
burning of the school list had been a rebuff which did not encourage
him to meddle a second time in the internal economics of
Roughborough. He therefore replied that he must either remove
Ernest from Roughborough altogether, which would for many reasons be
undesirable, or trust to the discretion of the head master as
regards the treatment he might think best for any of his pupils.
Ernest said no more; he still felt that it was so discreditable to
him to have allowed any confession to be wrung from him, that he
could not press the promised amnesty for himself.

It was during the "Mother Cross row," as it was long styled among
the boys, that a remarkable phenomenon was witnessed at
Roughborough. I mean that of the head boys under certain conditions
doing errands for their juniors. The head boys had no bounds and
could go to Mrs Cross's whenever they liked; they actually,
therefore, made themselves go-betweens, and would get anything from
either Mrs Cross's or Mrs Jones's for any boy, no matter how low in
the school, between the hours of a quarter to nine and nine in the
morning, and a quarter to six and six in the afternoon. By degrees,
however, the boys grew bolder, and the shops, though not openly
declared in bounds again, were tacitly allowed to be so.


I may spare the reader more details about my hero's school days. He
rose, always in spite of himself, into the Doctor's form, and for
the last two years or so of his time was among the praepostors,
though he never rose into the upper half of them. He did little,
and I think the Doctor rather gave him up as a boy whom he had
better leave to himself, for he rarely made him construe, and he
used to send in his exercises or not, pretty much as he liked. His
tacit, unconscious obstinacy had in time effected more even than a
few bold sallies in the first instance would have done. To the end
of his career his position inter pares was what it had been at the
beginning, namely, among the upper part of the less reputable class-
-whether of seniors or juniors--rather than among the lower part of
the more respectable.

Only once in the whole course of his school life did he get praise
from Dr Skinner for any exercise, and this he has treasured as the
best example of guarded approval which he has ever seen. He had had
to write a copy of Alcaics on "The dogs of the monks of St Bernard,"
and when the exercise was returned to him he found the Doctor had
written on it: "In this copy of Alcaics--which is still excessively
bad--I fancy that I can discern some faint symptoms of improvement."
Ernest says that if the exercise was any better than usual it must
have been by a fluke, for he is sure that he always liked dogs,
especially St Bernard dogs, far too much to take any pleasure in
writing Alcaics about them.

"As I look back upon it," he said to me but the other day, with a
hearty laugh, "I respect myself more for having never once got the
best mark for an exercise than I should do if I had got it every
time it could be got. I am glad nothing could make me do Latin and
Greek verses; I am glad Skinner could never get any moral influence
over me; I am glad I was idle at school, and I am glad my father
overtasked me as a boy--otherwise, likely enough I should have
acquiesced in the swindle, and might have written as good a copy of
Alcaics about the dogs of the monks of St Bernard as my neighbours,
and yet I don't know, for I remember there was another boy, who sent
in a Latin copy of some sort, but for his own pleasure he wrote the
following -

The dogs of the monks of St Bernard go
To pick little children out of the snow,
And around their necks is the cordial gin
Tied with a little bit of bob-bin.

I should like to have written that, and I did try, but I couldn't.
I didn't quite like the last line, and tried to mend it, but I

I fancied I could see traces of bitterness against the instructors
of his youth in Ernest's manner, and said something to this effect.

"Oh, no," he replied, still laughing, "no more than St Anthony felt
towards the devils who had tempted him, when he met some of them
casually a hundred or a couple of hundred years afterwards. Of
course he knew they were devils, but that was all right enough;
there must be devils. St Anthony probably liked these devils better
than most others, and for old acquaintance sake showed them as much
indulgence as was compatible with decorum.

"Besides, you know," he added, "St Anthony tempted the devils quite
as much as they tempted him; for his peculiar sanctity was a greater
temptation to tempt him than they could stand. Strictly speaking,
it was the devils who were the more to be pitied, for they were led
up by St Anthony to be tempted and fell, whereas St Anthony did not
fall. I believe I was a disagreeable and unintelligible boy, and if
ever I meet Skinner there is no one whom I would shake hands with,
or do a good turn to more readily."

At home things went on rather better; the Ellen and Mother Cross
rows sank slowly down upon the horizon, and even at home he had
quieter times now that he had become a praepostor. Nevertheless the
watchful eye and protecting hand were still ever over him to guard
his comings in and his goings out, and to spy out all his ways. Is
it wonderful that the boy, though always trying to keep up
appearances as though he were cheerful and contented--and at times
actually being so--wore often an anxious, jaded look when he thought
none were looking, which told of an almost incessant conflict

Doubtless Theobald saw these looks and knew how to interpret them,
but it was his profession to know how to shut his eyes to things
that were inconvenient--no clergyman could keep his benefice for a
month if he could not do this; besides he had allowed himself for so
many years to say things he ought not to have said, and not to say
the things he ought to have said, that he was little likely to see
anything that he thought it more convenient not to see unless he was
made to do so.

It was not much that was wanted. To make no mysteries where Nature
has made none, to bring his conscience under something like
reasonable control, to give Ernest his head a little more, to ask
fewer questions, and to give him pocket money with a desire that it
should be spent upon menus plaisirs . . .

"Call that not much indeed," laughed Ernest, as I read him what I
have just written. "Why it is the whole duty of a father, but it is
the mystery-making which is the worst evil. If people would dare to
speak to one another unreservedly, there would be a good deal less
sorrow in the world a hundred years hence."

To return, however, to Roughborough. On the day of his leaving,
when he was sent for into the library to be shaken hands with, he
was surprised to feel that, though assuredly glad to leave, he did
not do so with any especial grudge against the Doctor rankling in
his breast. He had come to the end of it all, and was still alive,
nor, take it all round, more seriously amiss than other people. Dr
Skinner received him graciously, and was even frolicsome after his
own heavy fashion. Young people are almost always placable, and
Ernest felt as he went away that another such interview would not
only have wiped off all old scores, but have brought him round into
the ranks of the Doctor's admirers and supporters--among whom it is
only fair to say that the greater number of the more promising boys
were found.

Just before saying good-bye the Doctor actually took down a volume
from those shelves which had seemed so awful six years previously,
and gave it to him after having written his name in it, and the
words [Greek text], which I believe means "with all kind wishes from
the donor." The book was one written in Latin by a German--
Schomann: "De comitiis Atheniensibus"--not exactly light and
cheerful reading, but Ernest felt it was high time he got to
understand the Athenian constitution and manner of voting; he had
got them up a great many times already, but had forgotten them as
fast as he had learned them; now, however, that the Doctor had given
him this book, he would master the subject once for all. How
strange it was! He wanted to remember these things very badly; he
knew he did, but he could never retain them; in spite of himself
they no sooner fell upon his mind than they fell off it again, he
had such a dreadful memory; whereas, if anyone played him a piece of
music and told him where it came from, he never forgot that, though
he made no effort to retain it, and was not even conscious of trying
to remember it at all. His mind must be badly formed and he was no

Having still a short time to spare, he got the keys of St Michael's
church and went to have a farewell practice upon the organ, which he
could now play fairly well. He walked up and down the aisle for a
while in a meditative mood, and then, settling down to the organ,
played "They loathed to drink of the river" about six times over,
after which he felt more composed and happier; then, tearing himself
away from the instrument he loved so well, he hurried to the

As the train drew out he looked down from a high embankment on to
the little house his aunt had taken, and where it might be said she
had died through her desire to do him a kindness. There were the
two well-known bow windows, out of which he had often stepped to run
across the lawn into the workshop. He reproached himself with the
little gratitude he had shown towards this kind lady--the only one
of his relations whom he had ever felt as though he could have taken
into his confidence. Dearly as he loved her memory, he was glad she
had not known the scrapes he had got into since she died; perhaps
she might not have forgiven them--and how awful that would have
been! But then, if she had lived, perhaps many of his ills would
have been spared him. As he mused thus he grew sad again. Where,
where, he asked himself, was it all to end? Was it to be always
sin, shame and sorrow in the future, as it had been in the past, and
the ever-watchful eye and protecting hand of his father laying
burdens on him greater than he could bear--or was he, too, some day
or another to come to feel that he was fairly well and happy?

There was a gray mist across the sun, so that the eye could bear its
light, and Ernest, while musing as above, was looking right into the
middle of the sun himself, as into the face of one whom he knew and
was fond of. At first his face was grave, but kindly, as of a tired
man who feels that a long task is over; but in a few seconds the
more humorous side of his misfortunes presented itself to him, and
he smiled half reproachfully, half merrily, as thinking how little
all that had happened to him really mattered, and how small were his
hardships as compared with those of most people. Still looking into
the eye of the sun and smiling dreamily, he thought how he had
helped to burn his father in effigy, and his look grew merrier, till
at last he broke out into a laugh. Exactly at this moment the light
veil of cloud parted from the sun, and he was brought to terra firma
by the breaking forth of the sunshine. On this he became aware that
he was being watched attentively by a fellow-traveller opposite to
him, an elderly gentleman with a large head and iron-grey hair.

"My young friend," said he, good-naturedly, "you really must not
carry on conversations with people in the sun, while you are in a
public railway carriage."

The old gentleman said not another word, but unfolded his Times and
began to read it. As for Ernest, he blushed crimson. The pair did
not speak during the rest of the time they were in the carriage, but
they eyed each other from time to time, so that the face of each was
impressed on the recollection of the other.


Some people say that their school days were the happiest of their
lives. They may be right, but I always look with suspicion upon
those whom I hear saying this. It is hard enough to know whether
one is happy or unhappy now, and still harder to compare the
relative happiness or unhappiness of different times of one's life;
the utmost that can be said is that we are fairly happy so long as
we are not distinctly aware of being miserable. As I was talking
with Ernest one day not so long since about this, he said he was so
happy now that he was sure he had never been happier, and did not
wish to be so, but that Cambridge was the first place where he had
ever been consciously and continuously happy.

How can any boy fail to feel an ecstasy of pleasure on first finding
himself in rooms which he knows for the next few years are to be his
castle? Here he will not be compelled to turn out of the most
comfortable place as soon as he has ensconced himself in it because
papa or mamma happens to come into the room, and he should give it
up to them. The most cosy chair here is for himself, there is no
one even to share the room with him, or to interfere with his doing
as he likes in it--smoking included. Why, if such a room looked out
both back and front on to a blank dead wall it would still be a
paradise, how much more then when the view is of some quiet grassy
court or cloister or garden, as from the windows of the greater
number of rooms at Oxford and Cambridge.

Theobald, as an old fellow and tutor of Emmanuel--at which college
he had entered Ernest--was able to obtain from the present tutor a
certain preference in the choice of rooms; Ernest's, therefore, were
very pleasant ones, looking out upon the grassy court that is
bounded by the Fellows' gardens.

Theobald accompanied him to Cambridge, and was at his best while
doing so. He liked the jaunt, and even he was not without a certain
feeling of pride in having a full-blown son at the University. Some
of the reflected rays of this splendour were allowed to fall upon
Ernest himself. Theobald said he was "willing to hope"--this was
one of his tags--that his son would turn over a new leaf now that he
had left school, and for his own part he was "only too ready"--this
was another tag--to let bygones be bygones.

Ernest, not yet having his name on the books, was able to dine with
his father at the Fellows' table of one of the other colleges on the
invitation of an old friend of Theobald's; he there made
acquaintance with sundry of the good things of this life, the very
names of which were new to him, and felt as he ate them that he was
now indeed receiving a liberal education. When at length the time
came for him to go to Emmanuel, where he was to sleep in his new
rooms, his father came with him to the gates and saw him safe into
college; a few minutes more and he found himself alone in a room for
which he had a latch-key.

From this time he dated many days which, if not quite unclouded,
were upon the whole very happy ones. I need not however describe
them, as the life of a quiet steady-going undergraduate has been
told in a score of novels better than I can tell it. Some of
Ernest's schoolfellows came up to Cambridge at the same time as
himself, and with these he continued on friendly terms during the
whole of his college career. Other schoolfellows were only a year
or two his seniors; these called on him, and he thus made a
sufficiently favourable entree into college life. A
straightforwardness of character that was stamped upon his face, a
love of humour, and a temper which was more easily appeased than
ruffled made up for some awkwardness and want of savoir faire. He
soon became a not unpopular member of the best set of his year, and
though neither capable of becoming, nor aspiring to become, a
leader, was admitted by the leaders as among their nearer hangers-

Of ambition he had at that time not one particle; greatness, or
indeed superiority of any kind, seemed so far off and
incomprehensible to him that the idea of connecting it with himself
never crossed his mind. If he could escape the notice of all those
with whom he did not feel himself en rapport, he conceived that he
had triumphed sufficiently. He did not care about taking a good
degree, except that it must be good enough to keep his father and
mother quiet. He did not dream of being able to get a fellowship;
if he had, he would have tried hard to do so, for he became so fond
of Cambridge that he could not bear the thought of having to leave
it; the briefness indeed of the season during which his present
happiness was to last was almost the only thing that now seriously
troubled him.

Having less to attend to in the matter of growing, and having got
his head more free, he took to reading fairly well--not because he
liked it, but because he was told he ought to do so, and his natural
instinct, like that of all very young men who are good for anything,
was to do as those in authority told him. The intention at
Battersby was (for Dr Skinner had said that Ernest could never get a
fellowship) that he should take a sufficiently good degree to be
able to get a tutorship or mastership in some school preparatory to
taking orders. When he was twenty-one years old his money was to
come into his own hands, and the best thing he could do with it
would be to buy the next presentation to a living, the rector of
which was now old, and live on his mastership or tutorship till the
living fell in. He could buy a very good living for the sum which
his grandfather's legacy now amounted to, for Theobald had never had
any serious intention of making deductions for his son's maintenance
and education, and the money had accumulated till it was now about
five thousand pounds; he had only talked about making deductions in
order to stimulate the boy to exertion as far as possible, by making
him think that this was his only chance of escaping starvation--or
perhaps from pure love of teasing.

When Ernest had a living of 600 pounds or 700 pounds a year with a
house, and not too many parishioners--why, he might add to his
income by taking pupils, or even keeping a school, and then, say at
thirty, he might marry. It was not easy for Theobald to hit on any
much more sensible plan. He could not get Ernest into business, for
he had no business connections--besides he did not know what
business meant; he had no interest, again, at the Bar; medicine was
a profession which subjected its students to ordeals and temptations
which these fond parents shrank from on behalf of their boy; he
would be thrown among companions and familiarised with details which
might sully him, and though he might stand, it was "only too
possible" that he would fall. Besides, ordination was the road
which Theobald knew and understood, and indeed the only road about
which he knew anything at all, so not unnaturally it was the one he
chose for Ernest.

The foregoing had been instilled into my hero from earliest boyhood,
much as it had been instilled into Theobald himself, and with the
same result--the conviction, namely, that he was certainly to be a
clergyman, but that it was a long way off yet, and he supposed it
was all right. As for the duty of reading hard, and taking as good
a degree as he could, this was plain enough, so he set himself to
work, as I have said, steadily, and to the surprise of everyone as
well as himself got a college scholarship, of no great value, but
still a scholarship, in his freshman's term. It is hardly necessary
to say that Theobald stuck to the whole of this money, believing the
pocket-money he allowed Ernest to be sufficient for him, and knowing
how dangerous it was for young men to have money at command. I do
not suppose it even occurred to him to try and remember what he had
felt when his father took a like course in regard to himself.

Ernest's position in this respect was much what it had been at
school except that things were on a larger scale. His tutor's and
cook's bills were paid for him; his father sent him his wine; over
and above this he had 50 pounds a year with which to keep himself in
clothes and all other expenses; this was about the usual thing at
Emmanuel in Ernest's day, though many had much less than this.
Ernest did as he had done at school--he spent what he could, soon
after he received his money; he then incurred a few modest
liabilities, and then lived penuriously till next term, when he
would immediately pay his debts, and start new ones to much the same
extent as those which he had just got rid of. When he came into his
5000 pounds and became independent of his father, 15 pounds or 20
pounds served to cover the whole of his unauthorised expenditure.

He joined the boat club, and was constant in his attendance at the
boats. He still smoked, but never took more wine or beer than was
good for him, except perhaps on the occasion of a boating supper,
but even then he found the consequences unpleasant, and soon learned
how to keep within safe limits. He attended chapel as often as he
was compelled to do so; he communicated two or three times a year,
because his tutor told him he ought to; in fact he set himself to
live soberly and cleanly, as I imagine all his instincts prompted
him to do, and when he fell--as who that is born of woman can help
sometimes doing?--it was not till after a sharp tussle with a
temptation that was more than his flesh and blood could stand; then
he was very penitent and would go a fairly long while without
sinning again; and this was how it had always been with him since he
had arrived at years of indiscretion.

Even to the end of his career at Cambridge he was not aware that he
had it in him to do anything, but others had begun to see that he
was not wanting in ability and sometimes told him so. He did not
believe it; indeed he knew very well that if they thought him clever
they were being taken in, but it pleased him to have been able to
take them in, and he tried to do so still further; he was therefore
a good deal on the look-out for cants that he could catch and apply
in season, and might have done himself some mischief thus if he had
not been ready to throw over any cant as soon as he had come across
another more nearly to his fancy; his friends used to say that when
he rose he flew like a snipe, darting several times in various
directions before he settled down to a steady straight flight, but
when he had once got into this he would keep to it.


When he was in his third year a magazine was founded at Cambridge,
the contributions to which were exclusively by undergraduates.
Ernest sent in an essay upon the Greek Drama, which he has declined
to let me reproduce here without his being allowed to re-edit it. I
have therefore been unable to give it in its original form, but when
pruned of its redundancies (and this is all that has been done to
it) it runs as follows -

"I shall not attempt within the limits at my disposal to make a
resume of the rise and progress of the Greek drama, but will confine
myself to considering whether the reputation enjoyed by the three
chief Greek tragedians, AEschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, is one
that will be permanent, or whether they will one day be held to have
been overrated.

"Why, I ask myself, do I see much that I can easily admire in Homer,
Thucydides, Herodotus, Demosthenes, Aristophanes, Theocritus, parts
of Lucretius, Horace's satires and epistles, to say nothing of other
ancient writers, and yet find myself at once repelled by even those
works of AEschylus, Sophocles and Euripides which are most generally

"With the first-named writers I am in the hands of men who feel, if
not as I do, still as I can understand their feeling, and as I am
interested to see that they should have felt; with the second I have
so little sympathy that I cannot understand how anyone can ever have
taken any interest in them whatever. Their highest flights to me
are dull, pompous and artificial productions, which, if they were to
appear now for the first time, would, I should think, either fall
dead or be severely handled by the critics. I wish to know whether
it is I who am in fault in this matter, or whether part of the blame
may not rest with the tragedians themselves.

"How far I wonder did the Athenians genuinely like these poets, and
how far was the applause which was lavished upon them due to fashion
or affectation? How far, in fact, did admiration for the orthodox
tragedians take that place among the Athenians which going to church
does among ourselves?

"This is a venturesome question considering the verdict now
generally given for over two thousand years, nor should I have
permitted myself to ask it if it had not been suggested to me by one
whose reputation stands as high, and has been sanctioned for as long
time as those of the tragedians themselves, I mean by Aristophanes.

"Numbers, weight of authority, and time, have conspired to place
Aristophanes on as high a literary pinnacle as any ancient writer,
with the exception perhaps of Homer, but he makes no secret of
heartily hating Euripides and Sophocles, and I strongly suspect only
praises AEschylus that he may run down the other two with greater
impunity. For after all there is no such difference between
AEschylus and his successors as will render the former very good and
the latter very bad; and the thrusts at AEschylus which Aristophanes
puts into the mouth of Euripides go home too well to have been
written by an admirer.

"It may be observed that while Euripides accuses AEschylus of being
'pomp-bundle-worded,' which I suppose means bombastic and given to
rodomontade, AEschylus retorts on Euripides that he is a 'gossip
gleaner, a describer of beggars, and a rag-stitcher,' from which it
may be inferred that he was truer to the life of his own times than
AEschylus was. It happens, however, that a faithful rendering of
contemporary life is the very quality which gives its most permanent
interest to any work of fiction, whether in literature or painting,
and it is a not unnatural consequence that while only seven plays by
AEschylus, and the same number by Sophocles, have come down to us,
we have no fewer than nineteen by Euripides.

"This, however, is a digression; the question before us is whether
Aristophanes really liked AEschylus or only pretended to do so. It
must be remembered that the claims of AEschylus, Sophocles and
Euripides, to the foremost place amongst tragedians were held to be
as incontrovertible as those of Dante, Petrarch, Tasso and Ariosto
to be the greatest of Italian poets, are held among the Italians of
to-day. If we can fancy some witty, genial writer, we will say in
Florence, finding himself bored by all the poets I have named, we
can yet believe he would be unwilling to admit that he disliked them
without exception. He would prefer to think he could see something
at any rate in Dante, whom he could idealise more easily, inasmuch
as he was more remote; in order to carry his countrymen the farther
with him, he would endeavour to meet them more than was consistent
with his own instincts. Without some such palliation as admiration
for one, at any rate, of the tragedians, it would be almost as
dangerous for Aristophanes to attack them as it would be for an
Englishman now to say that he did not think very much of the
Elizabethan dramatists. Yet which of us in his heart likes any of
the Elizabethan dramatists except Shakespeare? Are they in reality
anything else than literary Struldbrugs?

"I conclude upon the whole that Aristophanes did not like any of the
tragedians; yet no one will deny that this keen, witty, outspoken
writer was as good a judge of literary value, and as able to see any
beauties that the tragic dramas contained as nine-tenths, at any
rate, of ourselves. He had, moreover, the advantage of thoroughly
understanding the standpoint from which the tragedians expected
their work to be judged, and what was his conclusion? Briefly it
was little else than this, that they were a fraud or something very
like it. For my own part I cordially agree with him. I am free to
confess that with the exception perhaps of some of the Psalms of
David I know no writings which seem so little to deserve their
reputation. I do not know that I should particularly mind my
sisters reading them, but I will take good care never to read them

This last bit about the Psalms was awful, and there was a great
fight with the editor as to whether or no it should be allowed to
stand. Ernest himself was frightened at it, but he had once heard
someone say that the Psalms were many of them very poor, and on
looking at them more closely, after he had been told this, he found
that there could hardly be two opinions on the subject. So he
caught up the remark and reproduced it as his own, concluding that
these psalms had probably never been written by David at all, but
had got in among the others by mistake.

The essay, perhaps on account of the passage about the Psalms,
created quite a sensation, and on the whole was well received.
Ernest's friends praised it more highly than it deserved, and he was
himself very proud of it, but he dared not show it at Battersby. He
knew also that he was now at the end of his tether; this was his one
idea (I feel sure he had caught more than half of it from other
people), and now he had not another thing left to write about. He
found himself cursed with a small reputation which seemed to him
much bigger than it was, and a consciousness that he could never
keep it up. Before many days were over he felt his unfortunate
essay to be a white elephant to him, which he must feed by hurrying
into all sorts of frantic attempts to cap his triumph, and, as may
be imagined, these attempts were failures.

He did not understand that if he waited and listened and observed,
another idea of some kind would probably occur to him some day, and
that the development of this would in its turn suggest still further
ones. He did not yet know that the very worst way of getting hold
of ideas is to go hunting expressly after them. The way to get them
is to study something of which one is fond, and to note down
whatever crosses one's mind in reference to it, either during study
or relaxation, in a little note-book kept always in the waistcoat
pocket. Ernest has come to know all about this now, but it took him
a long time to find it out, for this is not the kind of thing that
is taught at schools and universities.

Nor yet did he know that ideas, no less than the living beings in
whose minds they arise, must be begotten by parents not very unlike
themselves, the most original still differing but slightly from the
parents that have given rise to them. Life is like a fugue,
everything must grow out of the subject and there must be nothing
new. Nor, again, did he see how hard it is to say where one idea
ends and another begins, nor yet how closely this is paralleled in
the difficulty of saying where a life begins or ends, or an action
or indeed anything, there being an unity in spite of infinite
multitude, and an infinite multitude in spite of unity. He thought
that ideas came into clever people's heads by a kind of spontaneous
germination, without parentage in the thoughts of others or the
course of observation; for as yet he believed in genius, of which he
well knew that he had none, if it was the fine frenzied thing he
thought it was.

Not very long before this he had come of age, and Theobald had
handed him over his money, which amounted now to 5000 pounds; it was
invested to bring in 5 pounds per cent and gave him therefore an
income of 250 pounds a year. He did not, however, realise the fact
(he could realise nothing so foreign to his experience) that he was
independent of his father till a long time afterwards; nor did
Theobald make any difference in his manner towards him. So strong
was the hold which habit and association held over both father and
son, that the one considered he had as good a right as ever to
dictate, and the other that he had as little right as ever to

During his last year at Cambridge he overworked himself through this
very blind deference to his father's wishes, for there was no reason
why he should take more than a poll degree except that his father
laid such stress upon his taking honours. He became so ill, indeed,
that it was doubtful how far he would be able to go in for his
degree at all; but he managed to do so, and when the list came out
was found to be placed higher than either he or anyone else
expected, being among the first three or four senior optimes, and a
few weeks later, in the lower half of the second class of the
Classical Tripos. Ill as he was when he got home, Theobald made him
go over all the examination papers with him, and in fact reproduce
as nearly as possible the replies that he had sent in. So little
kick had he in him, and so deep was the groove into which he had
got, that while at home he spent several hours a day in continuing
his classical and mathematical studies as though he had not yet
taken his degree.


Ernest returned to Cambridge for the May term of 1858, on the plea
of reading for ordination, with which he was now face to face, and
much nearer than he liked. Up to this time, though not religiously
inclined, he had never doubted the truth of anything that had been
told him about Christianity. He had never seen anyone who doubted,
nor read anything that raised a suspicion in his mind as to the
historical character of the miracles recorded in the Old and New

It must be remembered that the year 1858 was the last of a term
during which the peace of the Church of England was singularly
unbroken. Between 1844, when "Vestiges of Creation" appeared, and
1859, when "Essays and Reviews" marked the commencement of that
storm which raged until many years afterwards, there was not a
single book published in England that caused serious commotion
within the bosom of the Church. Perhaps Buckle's "History of
Civilisation" and Mill's "Liberty" were the most alarming, but they
neither of them reached the substratum of the reading public, and
Ernest and his friends were ignorant of their very existence. The
Evangelical movement, with the exception to which I shall revert
presently, had become almost a matter of ancient history.
Tractarianism had subsided into a tenth day's wonder; it was at
work, but it was not noisy. The "Vestiges" were forgotten before
Ernest went up to Cambridge; the Catholic aggression scare had lost
its terrors; Ritualism was still unknown by the general provincial
public, and the Gorham and Hampden controversies were defunct some
years since; Dissent was not spreading; the Crimean war was the one
engrossing subject, to be followed by the Indian Mutiny and the
Franco-Austrian war. These great events turned men's minds from
speculative subjects, and there was no enemy to the faith which
could arouse even a languid interest. At no time probably since the
beginning of the century could an ordinary observer have detected
less sign of coming disturbance than at that of which I am writing.

I need hardly say that the calm was only on the surface. Older men,
who knew more than undergraduates were likely to do, must have seen
that the wave of scepticism which had already broken over Germany
was setting towards our own shores, nor was it long, indeed, before
it reached them. Ernest had hardly been ordained before three works
in quick succession arrested the attention even of those who paid
least heed to theological controversy. I mean "Essays and Reviews,"
Charles Darwin's "Origin of Species," and Bishop Colenso's
"Criticisms on the Pentateuch."

This, however, is a digression; I must revert to the one phase of
spiritual activity which had any life in it during the time Ernest
was at Cambridge, that is to say, to the remains of the Evangelical
awakening of more than a generation earlier, which was connected
with the name of Simeon.

There were still a good many Simeonites, or as they were more
briefly called "Sims," in Ernest's time. Every college contained
some of them, but their headquarters were at Caius, whither they
were attracted by Mr Clayton who was at that time senior tutor, and
among the sizars of St John's.

Behind the then chapel of this last-named college, there was a
"labyrinth" (this was the name it bore) of dingy, tumble-down rooms,
tenanted exclusively by the poorest undergraduates, who were
dependent upon sizarships and scholarships for the means of taking
their degrees. To many, even at St John's, the existence and
whereabouts of the labyrinth in which the sizars chiefly lived was
unknown; some men in Ernest's time, who had rooms in the first
court, had never found their way through the sinuous passage which
led to it.

In the labyrinth there dwelt men of all ages, from mere lads to
grey-haired old men who had entered late in life. They were rarely
seen except in hall or chapel or at lecture, where their manners of
feeding, praying and studying, were considered alike objectionable;
no one knew whence they came, whither they went, nor what they did,
for they never showed at cricket or the boats; they were a gloomy,
seedy-looking conferie, who had as little to glory in in clothes and
manners as in the flesh itself.

Ernest and his friends used to consider themselves marvels of
economy for getting on with so little money, but the greater number
of dwellers in the labyrinth would have considered one-half of their
expenditure to be an exceeding measure of affluence, and so
doubtless any domestic tyranny which had been experienced by Ernest
was a small thing to what the average Johnian sizar had had to put
up with.

A few would at once emerge on its being found after their first
examination that they were likely to be ornaments to the college;
these would win valuable scholarships that enabled them to live in
some degree of comfort, and would amalgamate with the more studious
of those who were in a better social position, but even these, with
few exceptions, were long in shaking off the uncouthness they
brought with them to the University, nor would their origin cease to
be easily recognisable till they had become dons and tutors. I have
seen some of these men attain high position in the world of politics
or science, and yet still retain a look of labyrinth and Johnian

Unprepossessing then, in feature, gait and manners, unkempt and ill-
dressed beyond what can be easily described, these poor fellows
formed a class apart, whose thoughts and ways were not as the
thoughts and ways of Ernest and his friends, and it was among them
that Simeonism chiefly flourished.

Destined most of them for the Church (for in those days "holy
orders" were seldom heard of), the Simeonites held themselves to
have received a very loud call to the ministry, and were ready to
pinch themselves for years so as to prepare for it by the necessary
theological courses. To most of them the fact of becoming clergymen
would be the entree into a social position from which they were at
present kept out by barriers they well knew to be impassable;

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest