Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh

40. CHAPTER XL (continued)

"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?

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