Chapter 44

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 couldn't.'

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 within?

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.