Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh

31. CHAPTER XXXI (continued)

How shocked Ernest would have been if he could have heard the advice he was receiving; what consternation too there would have been at Battersby; but the matter did not end here, for this same wicked inner self gave him bad advice about his pocket money, the choice of his companions and on the whole Ernest was attentive and obedient to its behests, more so than Theobald had been. The consequence was that he learned little, his mind growing more slowly and his body rather faster than heretofore: and when by and by his inner self urged him in directions where he met obstacles beyond his strength to combat, he took--though with passionate compunctions of conscience--the nearest course to the one from which he was debarred which circumstances would allow.

It may be guessed that Ernest was not the chosen friend of the more sedate and well-conducted youths then studying at Roughborough. Some of the less desirable boys used to go to public-houses and drink more beer than was good for them; Ernest's inner self can hardly have told him to ally himself to these young gentlemen, but he did so at an early age, and was sometimes made pitiably sick by an amount of beer which would have produced no effect upon a stronger boy. Ernest's inner self must have interposed at this point and told him that there was not much fun in this, for he dropped the habit ere it had taken firm hold of him, and never resumed it; but he contracted another at the disgracefully early age of between thirteen and fourteen which he did not relinquish, though to the present day his conscious self keeps dinging it into him that the less he smokes the better.

And so matters went on till my hero was nearly fourteen years old. If by that time he was not actually a young blackguard, he belonged to a debateable class between the sub-reputable and the upper disreputable, with perhaps rather more leaning to the latter except so far as vices of meanness were concerned, from which he was fairly free. I gather this partly from what Ernest has told me, and partly from his school bills which I remember Theobald showed me with much complaining. There was an institution at Roughborough called the monthly merit money; the maximum sum which a boy of Ernest's age could get was four shillings and sixpence; several boys got four shillings and few less than sixpence, but Ernest never got more than half-a-crown and seldom more than eighteen pence; his average would, I should think, be about one and nine pence, which was just too much for him to rank among the downright bad boys, but too little to put him among the good ones.

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