Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh

30. CHAPTER XXX (continued)

He was himself, as has been said, in Mr Templer's form, who was snappish, but not downright wicked, and was very easy to crib under. Ernest used to wonder how Mr Templer could be so blind, for he supposed Mr Templer must have cribbed when he was at school, and would ask himself whether he should forget his youth when he got old, as Mr Templer had forgotten his. He used to think he never could possibly forget any part of it.

Then there was Mrs Jay, who was sometimes very alarming. A few days after the half year had commenced, there being some little extra noise in the hall, she rushed in with her spectacles on her forehead and her cap strings flying, and called the boy whom Ernest had selected as his hero the "rampingest--scampingest--rackety--tackety--tow-row-roaringest boy in the whole school." But she used to say things that Ernest liked. If the Doctor went out to dinner, and there were no prayers, she would come in and say, "Young gentlemen, prayers are excused this evening"; and, take her for all in all, she was a kindly old soul enough.

Most boys soon discover the difference between noise and actual danger, but to others it is so unnatural to menace, unless they mean mischief, that they are long before they leave off taking turkey-cocks and ganders au serieux. Ernest was one of the latter sort, and found the atmosphere of Roughborough so gusty that he was glad to shrink out of sight and out of mind whenever he could. He disliked the games worse even than the squalls of the class-room and hall, for he was still feeble, not filling out and attaining his full strength till a much later age than most boys. This was perhaps due to the closeness with which his father had kept him to his books in childhood, but I think in part also to a tendency towards lateness in attaining maturity, hereditary in the Pontifex family, which was one also of unusual longevity. At thirteen or fourteen he was a mere bag of bones, with upper arms about as thick as the wrists of other boys of his age; his little chest was pigeon-breasted; he appeared to have no strength or stamina whatever, and finding he always went to the wall in physical encounters, whether undertaken in jest or earnest, even with boys shorter than himself, the timidity natural to childhood increased upon him to an extent that I am afraid amounted to cowardice. This rendered him even less capable than he might otherwise have been, for as confidence increases power, so want of confidence increases impotence. After he had had the breath knocked out of him and been well shinned half a dozen times in scrimmages at football--scrimmages in which he had become involved sorely against his will--he ceased to see any further fun in football, and shirked that noble game in a way that got him into trouble with the elder boys, who would stand no shirking on the part of the younger ones.

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