Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh


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 again.

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.

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