Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh

42. CHAPTER XLII (continued)

No genuine hero of romance should have hesitated for a moment. Nothing should have cajoled or frightened him into telling tales out of school. Ernest thought of his ideal boys: they, he well knew, would have let their tongues be cut out of them before information could have been wrung from any word of theirs. But Ernest was not an ideal boy, and he was not strong enough for his surroundings; I doubt how far any boy could withstand the moral pressure which was brought to bear upon him; at any rate he could not do so, and after a little more writhing he yielded himself a passive prey to the enemy. He consoled himself with the reflection that his papa had not played the confidence trick on him quite as often as his mamma had, and that probably it was better he should tell his father, than that his father should insist on Dr Skinner's making an inquiry. His papa's conscience "jabbered" a good deal, but not as much as his mamma's. The little fool forgot that he had not given his father as many chances of betraying him as he had given to Christina.

Then it all came out. He owed this at Mrs Cross's, and this to Mrs Jones, and this at the "Swan and Bottle" public house, to say nothing of another shilling or sixpence or two in other quarters. Nevertheless, Theobald and Christina were not satiated, but rather the more they discovered the greater grew their appetite for discovery; it was their obvious duty to find out everything, for though they might rescue their own darling from this hotbed of iniquity without getting to know more than they knew at present, were there not other papas and mammas with darlings whom also they were bound to rescue if it were yet possible? What boys, then, owed money to these harpies as well as Ernest?

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