"Come on! look alive!" is the cry that is for ever being hurled at him, "All serene, old fellow; what's the hurry?" is his invariable reply.
I well remember the first time I made Ned's acquaintance, and I will recall the incident, as giving a fair specimen of the fellow and his peculiarity.
It was a big cricket match, the afternoon was far advanced, the light was getting uncertain, and time was almost up. Our school's ninth wicket had fallen, and yet there were five runs to get to win, which we could just do, if our last man in was quick.
"Now, Ned!" calls out our captain, coming up to the tent; "look sharp in."
Ned coolly sat down on the bench in our tent and proceeded to put on a pad.
"Never mind about that! there's no time," said our captain impatiently, "and they are bowling slow."
"Oh, it won't take a minute," says Ned, discovering he had been putting the pad on upside down, and proceeding to undo it. We stood round in feverish impatience, and the minute consumed in putting on those miserable leg-fenders seemed like a year.
Ned himself, however, did not seem in the least flurried by our excitement.
"Pity they don't make these things fasten with springs instead of straps," he observed, by way of genial conversation.
Oh, how we chafed and fumed!
"Will you look sharp, if you're going to play at all?" howls our captain.
"All right, old chap; I can't be quicker than I am; where are the gloves?"
The gloves are brought like lightning, but not like lightning put on. No, the india-rubber gauntlets must needs be drawn with the greatest care and deliberation over his fingers, and even then require a good deal of shifting to render them comfortable. Then he was actually (I believe) going to take them off in order to roll up his shirt sleeves, had not two of us performed that office for him with a rapidity which astonished him.
"Upon my word, this is too bad," says our captain, flinging down the bat he was holding, and stamping with vexation. "We might as well give the whole thing up!"
"I'm awfully sorry," drawled Ned, in an injured tone; "but how could I help it? I'm ready now."
"Ready! I should hope you were. Off you cut now; it only wants five minutes to the time."
He starts to go, but turns before he has well left us, and says—
"Oh, I say, Jim, lend us your bat, will you? This one is sprung, and one of the—"
"Here you are," we shout, running to him with a dozen bats at once—"only look sharp."
"I only want one," he says. "Let me see this; no, this will do. Thanks, old man," and off he saunters again.
The other side is lying comfortably on the grass, very well satisfied at the delay which every moment adds to their chance of victory. What centuries Ned appears to be taking in strolling up to the wickets!
"I wish I was behind him with a red-hot poker," says one; "I'd make him trot!"
"Not a bit of it," growls our captain; "Ned would want more than that to start him."
Look at him now, getting "middle" as if he'd the whole afternoon before him! And that done, he slowly and deliberately taps the end of his bat on the place till we almost yell with rage.
"It's no use now!" groans our captain in absolute despair; and so, indeed, we and our smiling adversaries all thought.
"Play!" cries the bowler.
"Wait a bit," says the aggravating Ned, dipping his hands in the sawdust! "now!"
The ball comes at last, and Ned lets fly. It is a grand hit; the ball comes whizzing right past where we stand, and with delight as great as our previous agony we cheer till we are hoarse.
Three runs are added to our score, and now we only want one more to equal our opponents, and two to win; but we shall never do it in the time, unless fortune favours us strangely. For see, it is "over," and the fielders will consume half of the remaining two minutes in changing their position.
Then again "play" is called.
Would you believe it? Ned calls out for "middle" again at the new wicket, and repeats the same pottering operation when he has got it. "Well, if ever I saw—"
What our captain is about to say no one ever hears, for at that moment the ball is delivered, and Ned blocks it dead.
There is just time for one ball more, and on that all our hopes depend.
It comes, and Ned bangs at it! It's a run! No, it isn't! yes it is! The fielder has missed it. Hurrah! we are equal!
Actually they are running another! They won't do it. Up comes the ball to the wicket-keeper, and forward darts Ned's bat over the crease.
"How's that, umpire?" cries the wicket-keeper.
Oh, how we cheer! How we rush forward and shoulder Ned home to the tent. Never was such a close shave of a match!
Ned himself by no means shares in the general excitement.
"Why, what a hurry you fellows were in!" he says. "Look here, George, I'll show you now what I meant about the springs on the pads."
Now you will understand what a very aggravating fellow this Ned Easy was; and yet he generally managed to come off best in the end. He generally managed to scrape in at the finish of whatever he undertook.
I am certain that if he were a prisoner of war let out on parole, with a pledge to return in one hour or suffer death, he would turn up cool and comfortable on the sixtieth tick of the sixtieth minute of that hour, and look quite surprised at the men who were loading their muskets for his execution.
But some day the chances are he will be late in earnest, and then he will have to repent in a hurry of his bad speed.
A fellow who is easy-going about his time is generally easy-going about his friends, his money, and his morals.
Not that Ned is the sort of fellow to turn out a rascal exactly. He has not the energy, even if he had the inclination. A rascal, to be at all successful, must be brisk, and an observer of times and seasons, and that is altogether out of Ned's line. No; he'll be careless about what he does, and about what people think of him; he will lend a sovereign with as little idea of getting it back as he has of returning the pound he himself had borrowed; he will think nothing of keeping a friend waiting half a day; neither will he take offence if his own good nature is drawn on to an unlimited extent.
He is, after his fashion, an observer of the golden rule, for although he is constantly annoying and exasperating people by his easy-going ways, he is never afflicted if others do to him as he does to them. He goes through life with the notion that every one is as complaisant and comfortable as himself. "Easy-going-ness" (if one may coin a word for the occasion) is, many people would say, a combination of selfishness and stupidity, but I think such people judge rather too hardly of Ned and his compeers. It's all very well for some of us, who perhaps are of an active turn of mind, to talk about curing oneself of this fault; but perhaps, if we knew all, we should find that it would be about as easy as for a fair-complexioned person to make himself dark. Ned's disposition is due more to his constitution than his upbringing, and those who are blindly intolerant of his ways do him a wrong. I'm sure he himself wishes he were as smart as some boys he sees, but he can't be, and you might just as well try to lash an elephant into a gallop as Ned into a flurry.
It is generally found that what he does he does well, which in a measure makes up for the length of time he takes in doing it; he is good- natured, brave, harmless, and cheery, and has lots of friends, whom he allows full liberty both to abuse and laugh at him (and what can friends want more?) and for the rest, he's neither vicious nor an idiot; and if nobody were worse than he is, the world would perhaps be rather better than it is.
An artificial "easy-going-ness" is undoubtedly a vice. It's a forgery, however, easily detected, and generally brings its own punishment. I advise none of my readers to try it on. If they are naturally energetic and smart, they have a much better chance of rising in the world than Ned has; but let them, when they laugh at Ned and abuse him, remember the fable of the hare and the tortoise.
I must just tell one more story of Ned in conclusion.
One night our whole school was startled by an alarm of "Fire!" We sprang from our beds, and, without waiting to dress, rushed to the quarter from which the cry had proceeded. It was only too true; a barn at one end of the buildings was in flames, and there seemed every prospect of the school itself catching fire.
We hurried back in a panic towards the staircase leading to the front door, and in doing so discovered Ned was not with us.
One of us darted off to the dormitory, where he lay in bed sound asleep.
A rough shake roused him.
"What's the row?" he drawled, stretching himself.
"Get up quick, Ned; there's a fire!"
"Where?" asked Ned, without stirring.
"In the doctor's wing."
The doctor's wing was that farthest removed from our dormitories.
"Then it couldn't possibly reach here for half an hour. Call us again in twenty minutes, Ben, there's a good fellow!"
THE BOY WHO IS "NEVER WRONG."
One might fancy at the first blush, that such a boy is one to be envied, admired, and caressed above all others. Never wrong! What would not some of us give to have the same said of us? Aren't we always blundering and losing our way and making asses of ourselves every day of our lives? What wonder then if to us a being who is "never wrong" should appear almost superhuman in his glory?
But, so far from being the noble, delightful creature one would expect, the boy I am speaking of is an odious fellow, and as ridiculous as he is odious, and I will tell you why.
The principal reason is, because he requires us to believe, on his own unaided testimony, that he is the infallible being he professes to be; and the second and hardly less important reason is, that, so far from being always right, he is as often, if not oftener, wrong than other people; in short, he's a hum!
"Never wrong," indeed! If all the British Association were to declare as much of any one man, we should hardly be inclined to swallow it; but when our sole authority in the matter is Master Timothy Told-you-so himself, it becomes a joke, and a very poor joke too.
Let us just take stock of Timothy for a minute or two, to explain what we mean.
He's in class, and the lesson is history. He does not look happy, but of course that can't be because he doesn't know the lesson. Timothy not know a lesson indeed!
"Timothy," says the master, "tell me in whose reign the Reformation was introduced into England, will you?"
"James the First," replies Timothy.
"Henry the Eighth."
"Right; go up."
"Oh, sir," says Timothy, "that's what I meant; I mistook the name for a moment!" And he goes down with the air of an injured and resigned boy.
In the geography class which follows Tim has another opportunity of displaying his learning.
"On what river does Berlin stand?" is the question.
Tim hums and haws. "On the—oh—the—the, on the—er—the—"
"Berlin is on the Spree, sir."
"Ah, of course! It slipped me," mutters Tim with a thoughtful frown. "Any one knows Berlin is on the Spree!" And down he goes again, as if it were the common lot of all clever boys.
Arithmetic ensues. "Tell me, Timothy, if a man earns four shillings and sixpence halfpenny a day, how much does he make in a week of six days?"
This enormous problem Tim takes due time to cogitate. Of course he could tell you straight off if he chose; but as it is the practice to work out sums in the head, he condescends to the common prejudice. At length the oracle speaks.
"One pound three and two pence halfpenny."
"Quite wrong; what do you make it, Edward?"
"One pound four."
"One pound seven and threepence."
"Oh yes, to be sure!" exclaims Tim, with the gesture of one who clutches at the very words of his own lips uttered by another; "of course, that's what I meant!"
"Timothy," says the master, gravely, "if you meant it, why did you not say it?"
Why not, indeed? That is one of the very few questions, reader, in all this world's philosophy which Timothy is unable to answer.
Of course every one laughs at Timothy, but that does not afflict him. So fortified is he in the assurance of his own infallibility, that the scorn of the ignorant is to him but as the rippling of water at the base of a lighthouse.
Do not mistake me, Tim is not a dunce. For every question he answers wrongly, perhaps he answers half a dozen correctly. If he chose to take his stand on his general proficiency, he would pass for a fairly clever fellow. But that will by no means satisfy him. He will never admit himself beaten. There is always some trivial accident, some unforeseen coincidence, without which his success would have been certain and recognised; but which, as it happens, slightly interfere with his triumph.
It is the same in games as in the class-room. If he is beaten in a race, it is because he has slipped in starting; if he is clean bowled first ball at cricket, it is because there was a lump in the grass just where the ball pitched; if he lets the enemy's halfback pass him at football, it is because he made sure Perkins had collared him— otherwise, of course, he would have won the race, made top score at the wickets, and saved his goal. As it happens, he does neither.
There is a touch of dishonesty in this, though perhaps Tim does not intend it. Why cannot he own he is "out of it" now and then? His fellows would respect him far more and laugh at him far less; he would gain far more than he lost, besides having the satisfaction of knowing he had not tried to deceive anybody. But I sometimes think, when Tim makes his absurd excuses, he really believes what he says; just as the ostrich, when he buries his head in the sand, really believes he is hidden from the sight of his pursuers.
It is natural in human nature not to relish the constant admission of error or failure. Who of us is not glad to feel at times (even if we do not say it) that "it's not our fault"? The person who is always making little of himself, and never admitting what small merit he might fairly claim, is pretty much the same sort of deception as Tim, and we despise him almost as much. We would all of us, in fact (and what wonder?) like to be "always right," and perhaps our tendency is to let the wish become father to the thought rather too often.
But to return to Timothy. Nothing, of course, could astonish him; nothing was ever news to him; nothing could evoke his applause. "Tim," perhaps some one would say, "do you know old Grinder (the head master) is going to be married, and we are to get a week extra holiday?"
"Ah," says Tim, to whom this is all news, "I always thought there was something of the kind up. For my own part, I thought we should get a fortnight extra."
"Buck made a good jump yesterday, Tim," says another. "Five feet and half an inch."
"Sure it wasn't three-quarters of an inch?" is Tim's provoking answer.
Of all irritating things, perhaps the most irritating is to have your big bundle of news calmly opened and emptied, and its contents appropriated without scruple or acknowledgment.
Tim this very day has the gratification of amazing half the school with the news of Dr Grinder's approaching marriage and the consequent extra holidays, and of seeing the enthusiastic astonishment of others to whom he retails the latest achievement of the athletic Buck.
But he did not always come off so easily. Once he was made the victim of a joke which, in any one less self-satisfied, might have effectually checked his foolish propensity. It was a wet day, and the boys were all assembled in the big play-room, not knowing exactly what to do, and ready for the first bit of fun which might turn up.
"Couldn't somebody draw Tim out?" one of us whispered.
The idea caught like wildfire, and after a brief pause Tidswell, the monitor, said, amid the hushed attention of the company—
"By the way, Tim, wasn't that a queer account of the sea-serpent in the paper the other day?"
"Awfully queer," replied the unsuspecting Tim; "I didn't know you had seen it."
"Fancy a beast a mile and a half long from head to tail!"
"It's a good size," said Tim, "but nothing out of the common for a sea- serpent, you know."
"Now I come to think of it, though," said Tidswell, "it didn't say that the serpent was a mile and a half long; it was a mile and a half from the ship when it was seen, wasn't that it?"
"Yes, a mile and a half from the ship. I thought you were drawing the long bow in saying it was so big as all that."
"They saw it a mile and a half off, and just fancy feeling its breath at that distance?"
"I'm not astonished at that," said Tim, "for all those beasts have enormous lungs."
"How absurd of me! I should have said it seemed to all appearances lifeless when they saw it," said Tidswell.
"Yes; dead, in fact," put in Tim, getting into difficulties.
"And then suddenly it stood erect on its tail, and shot forward towards the vessel."
"Shows the strength of their backs. I couldn't help thinking that when I saw the account."
"What am I talking about?" exclaimed Tidswell, hastily correcting himself; "it was the ship stood in towards the monster and shot at him."
"Ah, yes; so it was. I made the same mistake myself, see. Yes, they fired a broadside at him."
"No; only one shot at his head."
"That was all. Isn't that what you said?"
"And then he turned over in the water—"
"Dead as a leg of mutton!" put in Tim.
"No; the shot missed him, and he wasn't touched."
"No. I meant they all thought he was as dead as a leg of mutton; but he was not so much as grazed."
All this while the amusement of the listeners had been growing gradually beyond control, and at this point smothered explosions of laughter from one and another fell on Tim's ears, like the dropping of musketry fire. But he did not guess its meaning, and continued turning towards Tidswell, and waiting for the conclusion of the story.
"And the last they saw of him," resumed that worthy, his voice quailing with the exertion to keep it grave and composed—"the last they saw of him was, he was spinning away at the rate of twenty knots an hour, with his tail in his mouth, in the direction of the North Pole."
"I fancied it was only eighteen knots an hour," put in Tim seriously.
Another moment, and the laughter would assuredly burst upon him.
"Not in the account I saw. What paper did you see it in, Tim?"
"Eh? Why, the same as you," replied Tim hurriedly, beginning to suspect the crimson faces of his comrades meant something more than admiration of his wisdom. "Where did you get the tale from? I forget."
"I got the tale out of my head—like the serpent, you humbug!" roared Tidswell; and for the next five minutes Tim sat on his stool of repentance, amid the yells of laughter with which his companions hailed his discomfiture.
When silence was restored, of course he tried to explain that "he knew all along it was a joke, and only wanted to see how far he could gammon the fellows, and fancied he succeeded," and presently quitted the room, an injured but by no means humiliated boy.
One last word. Timothy and his friends are amusing up to one point, and detestable up to another point; but when they come to you in the hour of your deepest sorrow and distress, and, with bland smile, say to you, "I told you so!" they are beyond all endurance, and you hope for nothing more devoutly than that you may never see their odious faces again.
The best cure possible for Tim is a homoeopathic one. Find some other boy equally conceited, equally foolish, equally unscrupulous, and set him at Tim. I will undertake to say that—unless the two devour one another down to the very tips of their tails, like the famous Kilkenny cats—they will bring one another to reason, and perhaps modesty, in double-quick time.
The great and wise Newton once said of himself that, so far from knowing all things, he seemed to himself to be but as a boy gathering pebbles on the seashore, while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before him.
Newton was, in his way, almost as fine a fellow as Timothy Told-you-so, and if Timothy would but stoop to have more of Newton's spirit, he might in time come to possess an atom or two of Newton's sense.
THE UNTIDY BOY.
Look at him! You could tell he was an untidy fellow at a single glance. One of his bootlaces is hanging loose, and the band of his scarf has slipped up above his collar. Though it is a fine day, his trouser legs are splashed up to the knee; and as for a parting to his hair, you might as well expect an Indian jungle to be combed. His hands are all over ink, and the sticky marks about his mouth tell their own tale. In short, Jack Sloven is a dirty boy, and is anything but a credit to the school he belongs to.
I wish you could see his school books. The pages look like well-used drum parchments, and I am certain Jack must often find it hard to decipher the words upon them. His exercises look as if they had been left out in an ink shower, and the very pen he uses is generally wet with ink up to the very tip of the handle, which, by the way, he usually nibbles when he's nothing better to do. Who shall describe his desk? It is generally understood that a schoolboy's desk is the receptacle for a moderately miscellaneous assortment of articles, but Jack's seemed like a great pie, into which everything under the sun was crammed and stored up. The lid never shut; but if you were to open it, its contents would astonish you as much as the contents of that wonderful pie in the nursery rhyme astonished the king when he lifted the crust.
There were books, papers, hooks, balls, worms, stale sandwiches, photographs, toffee, birds' eggs, keys, money, knives, cherry stones, silkworms, marbles, pencils, handkerchiefs, tarts, gum, sleeve links, and walnut shells. Any one venturesome enough to take a header through these might succeed in reaching the layer of last year's apple peel below, or in penetrating to the crumb heaps in the bottom corners; but few there were who possessed that amount of boldness. Of course, Jack had no notion of what his worldly goods consisted. He had a way of shying things into his desk and forgetting them; and only when it became so full that the lid stood nearly wide open did he apprehend the necessity of a "clear-out."
But if there was ever anything more awful to behold than Jack's desk, it was one of these "clear-outs." The event generally got wind when it was about to happen, and never failed to create a sensation in the school. All who had a right took care to be present at the ceremony, and I do believe if Jack had had the sense to issue reserved seat tickets, he might have made a nice thing out of it. At any rate, he made a nice thing out of that desk.
Quite indifferent to our presence and laughter, he began leisurely to take out its contents and spread them in glorious array upon the floor, with a view (as he was kind enough to explain to some one who asked him) "to sort them up." The books and papers went in a pile by themselves; all loose papers were thrust inside the covers of the books; and all books without covers were jammed into all the covers without books that seemed likely to fit. Then all the pens and pencils were put into a pencil case, and if any happened to be too long, they were broken to the required shortness. This being satisfactorily done, Jack used next to turn his attention to the miscellaneous articles of food of which he found himself possessed. The sandwiches, if not more than a week old, he either ate or generously offered to some of us; the toffee he put into his pocket, and the tarts (if the jam were not already dried up) he put aside for private consumption hereafter. The shells, stones, peel, etcetera, he heaped up in one place on the floor, and trusted to Providence to dispose of them. The fish-hooks and baits, the birds' eggs that were not broken, the silkworms, the photographs, pencils, knives, and other articles of use or ornament, he sorted carefully, and then put back into the desk. By this time it would occur to him he had been long enough over this business, so he shovelled the books and papers in anyhow, and anything else which happened still to be left out, and then finding that the lid would shut within an inch, he sighed with the relief of a man who has well discharged a painful duty.
How was it to be expected Jack could ever find anything he wanted? Sometimes he would sit grubbing in his desk, or among his books, to find a certain exercise or paper for half an hour, and finally, when everything was upside down, he would remember he had it in his waistcoat pocket, from the recesses of which he produced it crumpled, greasy, and almost illegible. On Sundays he always had a hunt for his gloves; and at the end of the term, when he undertook his own packing, he generally first of all contrived to pack up his keys in the very bottom of the trunk, and so had to take everything out before he could get them, and then when (with the aid of some dozen of us sitting on the top of the unfortunate receptacle, to cram down the jumble of things inside to a shutting point) he had succeeded in triumphantly turning the lock, it was a wonder if he had not to open and unpack it all again to find his straps.
As to his dress, I can safely say that, though Jack always had good clothes, he always looked much less respectable than other boys whose parents could not afford them anything but common material. Not only did he lose buttons, and drop grease over his coat and trousers, but he never folded or brushed them, or had them mended in time, as a tidy boy would have done. We were quite ashamed to be seen walking with him sometimes, he looked so disreputable, but no reproofs or persuasions could induce him to take more pains about his appearance.
"A place for everything, and everything in its place," was a lesson Jack could not learn; the result was constant and incalculable trouble. If people could only realise the amount of time lost by untidiness, I think they would regard the fault with positive horror. Why, Jack Sloven, at the very mildest computation, must have lost half an hour a day. Half an hour a day, at the end of the year, makes a clear working fortnight to the bad, so that in twenty-five years, if he goes on as he has begun, he will have one year of which it will take him all his time to give an account.
But not only does untidiness waste time, and render the person who falls into it a disreputable member of society, but it seriously endangers his success in life. Jack Sloven was naturally a clever fellow. When he could find his books, he made good use of them; none of us could come up to him in translations, and he had the knack of always understanding what he read. If it had not been for this wretched habit, he might have got prizes at school, and still higher honours in after life; but as it was, he always came to grief. The notes he had made on his work were never to be found; he spent more time in collecting his materials than he had to spare for using them; most of his work had to be scrambled through at the last moment, and was accordingly imperfect. If Jack goes to business, he has a very poor chance of getting on, for untidiness and business will no more go together than oil and water. Few things are more against a man in business than untidiness; people fight shy of him. If his dress is untidy, his letters slovenly, his habits unpunctual, and his accounts confused, he will be regarded as a man not reliable, and not to be trusted, and people will refuse to transact with him. If he has a house of his own, he will never succeed in keeping his servants long, for they—so they say—have quite enough to do without unnecessary work. In fact, I don't see how Jack is to get on at all unless he mends his ways.
Is it possible for an untidy boy to become tidy? Try. And if at first you don't succeed—try again. You are sure to succeed if you stick to it. Don't aim at apple-pie order—everything in lavender—never to be touched, and all that sort of thing. That's as bad as the boy who once possessed a desk, which he would never use, for fear of marking the blotting-paper, and breaking the paper bands round the envelopes.
No; if you can get into the way of always putting the book you read back into its place on the shelf, and the paper you want where you will be certain to find it again—if you encourage a jealousy of rubbish, and a horror of dirt—if you take to heart the proverb I quoted just now, "A place for everything, and everything in its place"—you will be as tidy as you ever need be; and Jack Sloven's troubles and misfortunes will never be yours.
The fellow's always in a row! No matter what it's about; no matter whose fault it is; no matter how he tried to keep out of it; it's always the same—he's in a row.
To fancy him not in a row would involve a flight of imagination of which we, at any rate, are utterly incapable. He has lived in an atmosphere of rows—rows in the nursery, rows at the dinner table, rows in the schoolroom, rows in the playground. His hands are like leather, so often have they been caned; his ears are past all feeling, so often have they been boxed; and solitary confinement, impositions, the corner, and the head master's study, have all lost their horrors for him, so often has he had to endure them.
Sam Scamp of our school was, without exception, the unluckiest fellow I ever came across. It was the practice in the case of all ordinary offences for the masters of the lower forms to deal out their own retribution, but special cases were always reserved for a higher court— the head master's study. Hither the culprits were conducted in awful state and impeached; here they heard judgment pronounced, and felt sentence executed. It was an awful tribunal, that head master's study! "All hope abandon, ye who enter here," was the motto—if not written, at least clearly implied—over the door. The mere mention of the place was enough to make one's flesh creep. Yet, somehow or other, Sam Scamp, was always finding himself there. He must have abandoned hope once a week at least during his school life, and before he left school I am certain he must have worn that awful carpet threadbare, for all his offences were special offences. When half a dozen boys had spent one afternoon in throwing stones over a certain wall, the stone which broke the doctor's conservatory window was, as might be expected, Sam's. On the occasion of the memorable battle of the dormitories—that famous fight in which fifteen boys of Ward's dormitory, arrayed in their nightgowns and armed with bolsters, engaged at dead of night in mortal combat with twenty boys of Johnson's dormitory for the possession of a certain new boy who had arrived that day with a trunk full of cakes—when the monitors appeared on the scene, one boy, and one only, was captured, and that was Sam. When a dozen fellows had been copying off one another, the exercise book from which the discovery was made would be sure to be Sam's; and when, in the temporary absence of the master, the schoolroom became transformed into a bear-garden—as it sometimes will—if suddenly the door were to open the figure which would inevitably fall on the master's eye would be that of Sam, dancing a hornpipe in the middle of the floor, shouting at the top of his voice, and covered from head to foot with the dust he had himself kicked up.
On such occasions he was led off to the doctor's study. I happened to be there once when he was brought up, and so had an opportunity of witnessing a scene which, if new to me, must have been very familiar to my unfortunate schoolfellow. (By the way, the reason I was in the doctor's study was merely to return a book he had lent me, mind that, reader!)
"What, here again, Samuel?" said the doctor, recognising his too-well- known visitor.
"I'm very sorry, sir," says Sam, humbly. "I can't make out how it is. I try all I know—I do indeed—but somehow I'm always in trouble."
"You are," replies the doctor. "What is it about this time, Mr Wardlaw?"
"I can tell you, sir—" begins Sam eagerly.
"Be silent, sir! Well, Mr Wardlaw?"
"The boy has been very disrespectful, sir. When I came into the class- room this morning and opened my desk, I found it contained a guinea-pig and two white mice, who had—"
Here the unlucky Sam, after a desperate effort, in the course of which he has almost choked himself with a handkerchief, bursts into a laugh.
"What do you mean, sir?" thunders the doctor.
"Oh, sir, I couldn't help it—really I couldn't; I would rather have choked than do it—it's just like me!"
And he looks so distressed and humble that the doctor turns from him, and invites Mr Wardlaw to resume his impeachment.
"I have only to say that this boy, on being charged with the deed, confessed to having done it."
"Oh yes, sir, that's all right—I did it; I'm very sorry; somehow I can't make out how it is I'm so bad," says Sam, with the air of one suffering from the strain of a constant anxiety.
"Don't talk nonsense, sir!" says the doctor, sternly; "you can make it out as well as I can."
"Shall I hold out my hand, sir?" says Sam, who by this time has a good idea of the routine of practice pursued in such interviews.
"No," says the doctor. "Leave him here, Mr Wardlaw; and you," adds he, for the first time remembering that I was present—"you can go."
So we departed, leaving Sam shivering and shaking in the middle of the carpet. It was half an hour before he rejoined his schoolfellows, and this time his hands were not sore. But somehow he managed to avoid getting into scrapes for a good deal longer than usual. But there is no resisting the inevitable. He did in due time find himself in another row; and then he suddenly vanished from our midst, for he had been expelled.
Now, with regard to Sam and boys like him, it is of course only natural to hold them up as examples to others. No boy can be a scamp and not suffer for it some way or other; and as to saying it's one's misfortune rather than one's fault that it is so, that is as ridiculous as to say, when you choose to walk north, that it is your misfortune you are not walking south.
But, in excuse for Sam, we must say that he was by no means the worst boy in our school, though he did get into the most rows, and was finally expelled in disgrace. If he had been deceitful or selfish, he would probably have escaped oftener than he did; but he never denied his faults or told tales of others. We who knew him generally found him good-natured and jovial; he looked upon himself as a far more desperate character than we ourselves did, and once I remember he solemnly charged me to take warning by his evil fate.
Still, you see, Sam sinned once too often. Even though his crimes were never more serious than putting guinea-pigs into the master's desk, yet that sort of conduct time after time is not to be tolerated in any school. The example set by a mischievous boy to his fellows is not good; and if his scrapes are winked at always, the time will come when others will be encouraged to follow in his steps, and behave badly too. Sam, no doubt, deserved the punishment he got; and because one bad boy who is punished is no worse than a dozen bad boys who get off, that does not make him out a good boy, or a boy more hardly treated than he merited.
Scapegraces are boys who, being mischievously inclined, are constantly transgressing the line between right and wrong. Up to a certain point, a boy of good spirits and fond of his joke, is as jolly a boy as one could desire; but when his good spirits break the bounds of order, and his jokes interfere with necessary authority, then it is time for him to be reminded nothing ought to be carried too far in this world.
One last word about scapegraces. Don't, like Sam, get it into your heads that you are destined to get into scrapes, and that therefore it is no use trying to keep out of them. That would be a proof of nothing but your silliness. I can't tell you how it was Sam's stone always broke the window, or why the master's eye always fell on him when there was a row going on; but I can tell you this, that if Sam hadn't thrown the stone, the window would not have been broken; and that if he had behaved well when the master's eye was turned away, he would not have cut a poor figure when the door was opened. Some boys make a boast of the number of scrapes they have been in, and fondly imagine themselves heroes in proportion to the number of times they have been flogged. Well, if it pleases them to think so, by all means let them indulge the fancy; but we can at least promise them this—nobody else thinks so!
THE UNORIGINAL BOY.
It takes one a long time to discover that there is something wanting in the character of Ebenezer Ditto; and it takes a longer time still to make out exactly what that something is. He's an ordinary-looking and ordinarily-behaved boy. There's nothing amiss with the cut of his coat—it's neither extra grand nor extra shabby; there's nothing queer about his voice—he doesn't stammer and he doesn't squeak; there's nothing remarkable about his conversation or his actions—he's not a dunce, though he's not clever; he's not a scamp, though he's not goody; he never offends any one, though he never becomes great friends with any one. What is it makes us not take to Ebenezer? Why is it, on the whole, we rather despise him, and feel annoyed when in his society? For, it is the truth, we don't much care about him.
Well, the answer to this question may be, as I have said, not very readily discovered; but if you watch Master Ditto carefully, and make up your mind, you will get at the bottom of the mystery, you will find that it is this very "ordinary" manner about him to which you object. The fellow is dull—he is unoriginal.
You feel sometimes as if you would give a sovereign to see Ebenezer stand on his head, by way of variety. It annoys you when he sits there with his eyes on you, smiling when you smile, frowning when you frown, talking about the weather when you talk about the weather, and when you whistle "Nancy Lee" whistling his everlasting "Grandfather's Clock." It is a relief, by the way, even to hear him whistle a different tune, for it is about the only thing in which he does take an independent course. But, if truth were known, it would come out he only knows this one tune, and that is the reason. He has not originality enough in him to learn a second.
It is an annoying thing to be copied and imitated by any one, most of all by a fellow one's own age. We can understand the little child imitating its father, and we enjoy seeing what capers it sometimes cuts in the attempt, but there's nothing either interesting or amusing in the way Ebenezer goes on. When, for instance, by a sudden inspiration of genius, you take it into your head to shy a slice of apple across the room at Jack Sleepy just while he is in the act of yawning, with his mouth open wide enough to let a wheelbarrow down, it is not pleasant that immediately afterwards some one at your side should hurl a walnut at the same person and wound him seriously in the eye. Besides making a row, it takes away from the fun of your achievement, and makes the whole affair more than a joke. Or, being asked, let us suppose, to name your favourite hero in fiction, you are careful to select a somewhat out-of- the-way name, and reply, "Sidney Carton." You are rather pleased to think you have thereby not only named some one whom no one else is likely to hit upon, but also you have delicately let your master see you have lately read a very good book. It is rather vexing when Ebenezer replies to the same question, "Sidney Carton," in a knowing sort of manner, although you are positive he has never read the Tale of Two Cities, and doesn't even know that Dickens was its author. Of course, your distinction in the matter has gone, and if your answer is judged the best, you only get half the credit you deserve. Or, to take one more example, supposing one day, being utterly sick of Ebenezer's society, and longing to get a little time by yourself, you decline the tempting offer of a cricket match in which you know he also is likely to play. You mean to read this afternoon, you say. Well, isn't it too bad when next moment you hear that wretched Ebenezer saying, in answer to the same invitation, "Very sorry, but I mean to read this afternoon," and then have him come and sit down on a bench beside you with his book? And the worst of it is, you know if you now change your mind and go in for the match after all, he will change his mind and do the same.
The most aggravating thing about unoriginal fellows is that you cannot well get in a rage with them, for if you find fault with them, you find fault with yourselves.
"What a young ass you are not to play in the match!" you say to Ebenezer, hardly able to contain yourself.
"Why aren't you playing in it?" he replies.
"Oh! I've some particular reading I want to do," you say.
"So have I," replies he.
You cannot say, "You have no business to read when cricket is going on," nor can you say, "What do you mean by it?"
Clearly, if you do it, you are not the person to say he shall not.
I doubt if Ebenezer knows to what an extent he carries this trick of his. It is so natural for him to do as he sees others do that he fails to see how his actions appear in the same light as that in which others see them. Sometimes, indeed, he appears to be conscious of following his copy pretty closely, for we catch him trying to make some slight variation which will prevent it being said he does exactly the same. For instance, if you give a little select supper party in your study to two friends off roast potatoes and sardines, he will probably have three friends to breakfast off eggs and bread and jam; or if you hang up the portraits of your father and sister over your mantelpiece, he will suspend the likenesses of his mother and brother on his wall. He generally, you will find, tries to improve on you—which, of course, is not always hard to do. But sometimes he comes to grief in the attempt, as happened in the case of his wonderful "hanging shelves." Ted Hammer, quite a mechanical genius, had made to himself a set of these shelves, which for neatness, simplicity, and usefulness were the marvel of the school. Of course Ebby got to know of it, and was unhappy till he could cap it with something finer still. So he made all sorts of excuses for coming constantly into Ted's room and inspecting his work of art, till at last he felt quite sure he could make a set for himself. So he started to manufacture a set, twice the size, and with double the number of shelves. In due time he had it done and suspended on his wall, and it seemed as if Ted's nose was completely out of joint, for Ebby's shelves held not only his books, but his jam-pots and tumblers, and all sorts of odds and ends besides. But that very night there was a crash in his room, the like of which had never been heard before. We all rushed to the place. There were books, jam pots, ink pots, tumblers, in one glorious state of smash on the floor, and the unlucky shelves on the top of them; for Ebenezer had driven the small nail that supported the structure into nothing better than ordinary loose plaster. The only wonder was how the thing stayed up two minutes. So Ted Hammer's nose was not out of joint after all.
This reminds us of the story of the two rival shoemakers, who lived opposite one another, and always strove each to outdo the other in every branch of their trade. One day, one of the two painted over his door the highly appropriate Latin motto, "Mens conscia recti." His neighbour gnashed his teeth, of course, and vowed to improve on the inscription. And next day, when cobbler Number 1 and the world awoke, they beheld painted in huge characters over the fellow's shop-front the startling announcement, "Men's and Women's conscia recti."
It is the easiest thing possible (where the operator is not quite such a fool as this shoemaker) to improve on another's production. When some genius brings out a machine over the plans of which he has spent half an anxious lifetime, a dozen copyists will in a year have out a dozen "improved machines," each of them better than the first one, and therefore each helping to ruin the inventor. He had all the labour and all the knowledge. All the others did was to add a few slight improvements, for which they get all the credit due to the man without whom they would not have had an idea. This is, alas! very common, and cannot be avoided.
You can't make a law against one boy imitating another, or even against his stepping into the credit due to you.
It is as easy to be unoriginal as it is hard at times to be original. Everybody falls into the fault more or less. Why is it we can never find anything to begin a conversation with except the weather? Somebody, I suppose, began on that topic once. Why is it we always wear the shaped coats that everybody else does? Somebody must have astonished the world by setting the fashion in the first instance.
There is a touch of envy in Ebenezer, I'm afraid; but the kindest way of accounting for his annoying ways is to believe he is not clever. No more he is. If he were, he would at least see how ridiculous he sometimes makes himself. The original boys, on the other hand, are clever, and they are quick in their ideas, which Ebenezer is not. The great thing in originality is to have your idea out before any one else. As long as it's in your head and no one knows of it, you are no better off than the unoriginal many; but give your idea a shape and a name, and you are one of the original few. And the glory of being one of them is that you are sure to have one or two of Ebenezer's sort at your tail!
Unoriginality is more a failing than a crime. Sometimes it may lead to actions which do real injury to another, but injury is rarely intended. It is stupidity more than anything else. But there is a point at which unoriginality may become a sin. Every boy has in him the power to say "Yes" or "No," and he has also the conscience in him which tells him when he ought to say the one or the other. Now, when every one is saying "Yes" to a thing about which your conscience demands that you shall say "No," it becomes your positive duty for once in your life to be original, and say it.
After all, most of us are medium sort of fellows. We are not geniuses, and we trust we are not dolts. The best thing we can do is to look out that we don't lose all our originality while knocking through this world. The more we can keep of it, the more good we shall do; and if we find we have enough of it to entitle us to some "followers," let us see to it we turn them out, if anything, better fellows than they were when first they "jumped up behind."
What school is without its duffer, I wonder? Of course, none of us answer to the name, but we all know somebody who does, and it's a curious thing nobody ever thoroughly dislikes a duffer. Why? Well, one reason may be that there's nothing as a rule objectionable about such fellows, and another is that we are always ready enough to forgive one who makes us laugh; but I have an idea that the best reason why we are all so tolerant of duffers is that we are able to remind ourselves, when laughing at them, how very much the reverse of duffers we are ourselves.
However that may be, we had a glorious duffer at our school, who got himself and us into all sorts of scrapes, and yet was quite a favourite among his schoolfellows.
Billy Bungle (that was his name) was not by any means an idiot. He knew perfectly well that two and two made four, and yet, such a queer chap as he was, he would take any amount of pains to make five of it.
If there were two ways of doing anything, a right way and a wrong way, he invariably selected the latter; and if there seemed only one way, and that the right way, then he invented a wrong one for the occasion.
One day, one of the little boys in the school had a letter telling him to come home at once. He was not long in packing up his carpet bag, and getting the doctor's leave to depart. But the doctor was unwilling for such a little helpless fellow as he to undertake the long journey all alone. He came down to the playground where we were, and beckoning to Billy, who happened to be the nearest at hand, said, "Bungle, will you go with this boy to the station, and see him off by the twelve train to X—? Here is the money to get his ticket; and carry his bag for him, there's a man."
Billy readily accepted the commission, and we watched him proudly marching from the playground with his small charge on one side and the carpet bag on the other. The station was a mile off, and it was nearly one o'clock when he returned home. We were in class at the time.
"Well, did you see him off?" asked the doctor.
"Yes, sir, all right; we caught an earlier train than the one you said— at a quarter to," replied Billy, with the tone of a clever man.
"But the quarter to doesn't go to X—. Didn't I tell you to see him off by the twelve train?"
"I thought it would be all the better to catch the early one."
"Stupid boy, don't you know that train doesn't go to X—?"
"No one said it didn't, sir," put in Billy, with an injured face.
"Did any one say it did?"
"I didn't hear," said Billy; "shall I go back and ask?"
"That would not be the least use," said the master, too vexed almost to speak.
Billy stood before him, staring at him, and looking anything but cheerful.
"I shall have to go down to the station myself," said the doctor. "You are the stupidest boy I ever had to do with."
Billy looked resigned; then fumbling in his waistcoat pocket, he pulled out a bit of blue cardboard. "Oh, here's the ticket, sir."
"What! Wasn't it enough to send the poor boy off by a wrong train, without keeping his ticket? Go away, sir, this instant, to your room, and stay there till I give you leave to quit it!"
Billy obeyed, evidently unable to make the affair out.
By dint of telegrams and messengers, the missing boy turned up again; but it was a long time before Billy was allowed to forget the way he had "seen him off."
This is just one specimen of our unlucky schoolfellow's blunders. He was always in some trouble of the kind. He had to cease taking lessons in chemistry, because one time he nearly succeeded in blowing himself and three or four of us up by mixing certain combustibles together by mistake; and another time he upset a bottle of sulphuric acid over his clothes.
He was always very near the bottom of his class, because he would prepare the wrong lessons, or misunderstand the questions asked him. And yet he was always anxious to get on. Once, I remember, he confidentially asked me, if he were to learn Liddell and Scott's Lexicon by heart, whether I thought he would be able to get the Greek prize? But he bungled more in the playground than anywhere. Perhaps it was because we laughed at him and made him nervous.
It was rarely any one cared to have him on their side at cricket. He missed the easiest catches, he got leg before wicket, he stopped still in the middle of a run to see if he would have time to finish it, and whenever he did manage to score one he was sure, in his excitement, to knock down his own wicket with a flourish of his bat.
In football it's no exaggeration to say he was more often on the ground than the ball itself, and was invariably of more service to the other side than to his own. In fact, the possession of him got to be quite a joke.
"Who's going to win?" asks some one, before a match begins.
"Which side is Billy Bungle on?" is the counter question.
"Oh, he's on our side."
"Then of course the other fellows will win," is the uncomplimentary conclusion; and Billy, poor boy, who overhears it, half chokes with wounded feelings, and tucks up his sleeves and goes into the game, determined for once he will disappoint those who mock at him. Alas I scarcely has the ball been kicked off than he gets in the way of everybody he ought not to get in the way of, and lets the others pass him; he collars his own men, and kicks the ball towards his own goal, and falls down just in time to cause half a dozen of his side to tumble over him, and just as the ball rises, straight as an arrow, to fly over the enemy's goal, his unlucky head gets in the way and spoils everything. No wonder he is in very poor demand as an ally.
Now, the question is, is it altogether Billy's fault he is such a duffer? Of course it is, say nineteen out of every twenty of my readers. Any one with an ounce of brains and common sense could avoid such stupid blunders. But the twentieth is not quite so positive. "Perhaps it's not altogether Billy's fault," he says. And I must confess I am inclined to agree with this. Of course, a great deal of his "duffingness" (I believe that's the proper word) is due to his carelessness. If he took the trouble to think about what he was doing, he would never translate a French exercise into Latin, or learn his arithmetic by heart instead of his history; he would never mix together (under his nose) two chemicals that would assuredly explode and nearly blow his head off. For he has a few brains in that head, which makes such blunders all the less excusable. But I am not sure if a good deal of his bad luck is not due to the merciless way in which he was laughed at, and called "duffer," and taught to believe that he could no more do a thing right than a bull could walk through a china-shop without making a smash. He got it into his head he was a duffer, and therefore did not take the pains he might have done.
"What's the use of my bothering? I'm sure to make a mess of it!"
Fancy a boy saying this to himself at cricket, while a ball is flying beautifully towards him, an easy catch, even for a duffer. Do you suppose he will catch it? Not he. He will stand where he is, and put up his hands, and look another way. In fact, he won't do his best. And why? Because all of us never expect him to catch it; and if he did, we should probably call it a "fluke," and laugh at him all the more. Yes, it's our fault in a certain measure that Billy is the awful "duffer" he is.
Sometimes, as in the game of football we have referred to, he does make up his mind to do his best; but even then the idea that "destiny" is against him, and that everybody is expecting him to make a fool of himself, as usual, is enough to make any fellow nervous and a duffer.
However, whatever excuses we may make for Billy, he was undoubtedly a duffer. I have named one reason of his bad luck—want of thought—and another was hurry. In fact, the two reasons become one, for it was chiefly because Billy would never give himself time to think that he made so many mistakes. All his thinking came after the thing was done. As soon as the chemicals had blown up, for instance, it entered his head he had mixed the wrong ingredients, and as soon as the ball was flying to the wrong goal it occurred to him he had kicked it in a wrong direction.
And this really brings me to the moral of my discourse. Don't despair, if you are a duffer, for you may cure yourself of it, if you will only think and take your time. If we are not quick-witted, it does not follow we have no wits, and if we only use them carefully, we shall be no greater duffers than some of our sharp fellows.
The great philosopher Newton once appeared in the light of a great duffer. He had a cat, and that cat had a kitten, and these two creatures were continually worrying him by scratching at his study door to be let either in or out. A brilliant idea occurred to the philosopher—he would make holes in the bottom of his door through which they might pass in or out at pleasure without troubling him to get up and open the door every time. And thereupon he made a big hole for the cat and a little hole for the kitten, as if both could not have used the big hole!
Well, you say, one could fancy Billy Bungle doing a thing like that, but what an extraordinary error for a philosopher to fall into! It was, but the reason in both cases is alike. Neither thought sufficiently about what he was doing. Newton was absorbed with other things, and Billy was thinking of nothing, and yet both he and Newton were duffers, which goes to prove that without care any one may belong to that class.
How many men who have begun life as reputed "duffers" have turned out great men! but you will find that none of them ever did themselves any good till they had cured themselves of that fault. That's what you, and I, and Billy Bungle must all do, boys.
Just two words more about Billy. We all liked him, as I have said, for he was imperturbably good-tempered. He bore no malice for all our laughing, and now and then, when he was able to see the joke, would assist in laughing at himself.
And then he never tried to make himself out anything but what he was. Of all detestable puppies, the duffer who tries to pass himself off for a clever man is the most intolerable; for nothing will convince him of his error, and nothing will keep him in his place. He's about the one sort of character nobody knows how to deal with, for he sets everybody else but himself down as duffers. What can anybody do to such a one?
But there is another extreme. Billy's great fault was that he was too ready to believe others who called him a duffer. Don't take it for granted you are a duffer because any one tells you so. Find it out for yourself, and when you've found it out—"don't be a duffer!"
Fine feathers make fine birds. This is a proverb which a great many people in our country—especially young people—most devoutly believe in, and they show their belief in a very emphatic way. They rig themselves out in the height of the fashion, no matter how ridiculous it is, or how uncomfortable; they take airs upon themselves which do not properly belong to them; they try to pass for something finer than they are, and if they do not end by being laughed at it is no fault of theirs.
You never saw such a dandy as we had at our school. He rejoiced in the name of Frederick Fop, and seemed possessed of the notion that his dainty person was worthy of the utmost amount of decoration that any one person could bestow upon it. No one objects to a fellow having a good coat and trousers, and a respectable hat; but when it comes to canary- coloured pantaloons, and cuffs up to the finger ends, and collars as high as the ears, and a hat as shiny as a looking-glass, the fellow gets to be rather a nuisance. Indeed, we had just as much objection to walking out with Fred Fop as we had with Jack Sloven; one was quite as unpleasantly conspicuous as the other.
It was often a marvel to some of us how it came to be allowed for a boy to dress as Fred did. You should have seen him coming down the stairs on Sunday, as we were about to start for church, putting on a lavender glove, and taking a couple of minutes to adjust his hat to the proper angle on his head.
How he minced along the pavement, dreading to speck his exquisite boots, and how artlessly he would carry one glove in his hand, in order to show oil his elegant ring. His umbrella was the size of an ordinary young lady's parasol, and as for his collars—of course it was impossible to turn his head one way or the other with those things sticking up on either side. He always insisted on having the inside of the pavement, in order to avoid the splashing of the cabs; and invariably entered church last, having occupied a certain time in the porch (so it was said) to make sure his necktie was properly tied, and that the corner of his handkerchief was hanging sufficiently far out of his breast-pocket, and that the expression of his countenance was sufficiently interesting. Having satisfied himself on these points, he advanced up the aisle in procession with himself, and scented the whole building in his triumphal progress.
It is hardly to be wondered at that Master Fop became the victim of all sorts of practical jokes. If by any chance one of the fellows should happen to be pitching water out of the window, it was an extraordinary coincidence that Fred in his grand hat was nearly always walking underneath. Another time, when some of the elder boys were allowed to attend a grand concert in the village, Fred of course was in his glory, and took every means to create a sensation by his elaborate toilet. And so he did! For as he sauntered beautifully up the hall to his seat in front, he was wholly unconscious that a startling label was hanging gracefully on the back buttons of his coat with this legend inscribed thereon—
"Look here! Our noted 50 shilling suit! A bargain!"
It was not till he went to sit down that he discovered the heartless joke, and then—but we may as well draw a veil over his confusion. Suffice it to say he did not enjoy the concert a bit.
But he was by no means cured of his vanity. No, not even by a subsequent and still more embarrassing adventure.
Several of the boys, among whom were Fred and Jack Sloven, were one day down at the river bathing, when a sudden thought seized certain of Fred's tormentors to play him a very unkind trick. So while he was swimming by himself some distance off, they scuttled ashore and made off, taking with them Jack Sloven dressed up in Fred's clothes, and, of course, leaving that disreputable young gentleman's garments behind for the dandy. They made home as fast as they could, and Jack, as quickly as possible, divested himself of his unwonted finery, and put on another of his own suits. Then the conspirators assembled in the playground with as many of us as had heard what was going on, and awaited the return of poor Fred. He was a long time coming, and before he arrived the head master and two ladies had appeared on the scene.
But the end came to our suspense at last, and we saw our hero march home in state. Such a spectacle you never saw! being rather tall, Sam's greasy and ink-stained breeches came down only half-way below his knees, and fitted as tight as gloves. The elegant wrists, usually shrouded beneath their snowy cuffs, now stuck out like skewers from two very short, very tight, and very shabby sleeves. Fred had not attempted to don the shirt and collar which had been left for him, and it was pretty evident by the way he shivered that if any one had unbuttoned the coat and grimy waistcoat he would not have discovered much more in the shape of vestments. But he had Jack's great muddy boots on, and his disgracefully caved-in hat. In this guise he had to perambulate the village, and now, worst of all, he found himself face to face not only with a whole body of his schoolfellows, but with the doctor and two ladies!
If the whole scene had not been so ludicrous, one would have felt sympathy for the poor fellow; as it was, every one burst out laughing the moment he appeared. Even the doctor had to turn suddenly and walk towards the house.
But we heard of the affair again presently; for the doctor always visited severely any act of unkindness done even in joke, and the offenders in this case were duly punished. To his credit be it said, Fred did not exult over his vindication; the only revenge he took was when he had arrayed himself once more in his usual faultless get-up. He came down to the schoolroom where we were all assembled, and walking up to Jack Sloven, drawled out in a voice which everybody could hear, "Oh, you'll find your things in the bath-room—all but your shirt. I really couldn't touch that, so it's lying on the river bank still, where you left it!"
There is one peculiarity about dandies. They are hardly ever persons of great minds. When the exquisite, on being asked how on earth he came by the wonderful necktie he had got on, replied, "Well, you see, I gave my whole mind to it!" he probably spoke the truth. But then you know a mind that exhausts all its energy in the production of a "choker," however remarkable, cannot be a great one.
I should be sorry to hurt any one's feelings, but it is nevertheless a fact that an unhealthy craving after finery is very often a symptom of something not very far short of idiocy. I do not mean to say Fred Fop was an idiot. He had a certain amount of sense; but he would have had a vast deal more if he had not given so much of his mind to the decoration of his person. And with it all he never succeeded, at school at any rate, in passing himself off for any one more important than he was. It is as much a sign of being no gentleman to over-dress as to dress like a sloven, but, as in every other case, the secret is to find the golden mean. I have often seen working-men dressed in a more gentlemanly way than certain gorgeous snobs of my acquaintance; not that their clothes were grander or cost more, but because they were neat. That really is the secret. It always seems to me a sign of a man being well dressed when one never notices how he is dressed at all. If he were badly dressed, or if he were over-dressed, one would notice it; and it is a sure sign of his having hit the happy mean when his dress leaves no impression on your mind at all.
But I am not going to set up as a tailor, and so I will bring this paper to a close with this one piece of advice; when there is nothing else left to think about, then by all means let us give our whole mind to the cut of our coats.
Who doesn't know Growler, of our school? He was a sort of fellow nothing and nobody could satisfy. If Growler were a week in an African desert without a drop of water to drink, and some one were then to come and offer him a draught, you may depend upon it the fellow would have something to find fault with. The rim of the bowl would be too thick, or there would be a flavour of sand in the water, or the Good Samaritan who held it to his parched lips wouldn't tilt it up exactly when he ought to do so. If his rich uncle were to give him a splendid gold hunter watch and chain, he would growl because there wasn't a seal hanging on the latter. If he were to succeed in getting a third prize, he'd growl because he had not got the second. If he got the second, he'd growl because he had not got the first. And if he should win the first prize of all, then he would growl because there was not a higher one possible. Was ever such a hopeless fellow to have to deal with!
I dare say you have heard the story of the Scotch elder who, on the question being raised what service he could render at the church meetings, replied briskly, "I can always object." Well, Growler's one strong point was his talent for objecting, and gallantly he used it.
He was one of those fellows who think a great deal more about the thorn of the rose than the flower, and who, feeing quite sure that nothing under the sun is perfect, set themselves to discover the imperfections in all things.
I remember once a lot of us had planned a most delightful picnic for a certain holiday. We were to take two boats some miles up the river to a certain little island, where we proposed to land and erect a tent. Each fellow was to bring some contribution to the picnic, which we were to partake of with grand ceremony under the willows. Then we were to have some music, and generally take it easy. Afterwards we were to bathe, and then row some mile or two farther up to the woods, and have a squirrel hunt; and towards evening, after a picnic tea, drift down with the stream in time for the nine o'clock bell. It seemed a perfect plan, and as we sat and discussed it our spirits rose, and we found ourselves already enjoying our picnic in prospect. But presently Growler came into the room, and as he was to be one of the party, we had to go over all the plans again to him. Well, it was too bad! Not a single detail in our programme pleased him.
"Row?" he said; "don't we get enough rowing, without having to give up holidays to it? besides, what's the fun of sitting in a tent, or eating your food among all the wasps and gnats up in that place? You surely aren't going to take that wretched concertina; that'll be enough to give us the blues, even if it doesn't rain, which it's pretty sure to do. I suppose you know the island's about the worst place for bathing—"
"Come, now, old man, it's a first-rate place."
"Well, you may think so; I don't. In fact, I don't see the fun of bathing after dinner at all. You don't expect me to make a fool of myself hunting squirrels, do you, in those horrid woods? And you'll have to have tea, as you call it (though you might as well make one meal do for both), jolly early if you expect to drift down here by nine. Why, you won't do it in anything like the time, and fine fun it will be, sitting like dummies in a boat going at a mile an hour."
This was cheerful, and no amount of argument would do away with our desirable friend's objections. The result was, we went, but tried to alter our programme in some points to please him: But he growled all the more, and would not enjoy the day himself, nor let us do so; and our grand picnic, thanks to him, was quite a failure.
It wouldn't have been so bad if the result of Growler's grumblings had been to give us something better in place of what he wanted us to give up. But that is a thing he never did. He could pick holes to any extent, but he couldn't fill them up. There was no scheme or project he couldn't pull to pieces with the utmost industry, but I never remember his originating any scheme of his own to take its place. This was hardly fair. If you take something away from a person, and give him nothing in exchange, it is robbery, and in this respect Growler was an awful thief.
Isn't it true that if you set yourself to it, you could find fault with nearly everything? But in order to do it, you would have to be very selfish in the first place, and very hard-hearted in the next. The dog in the manger is a good type of this happy combination. He trampled on the hay that the cows thought so sweet, and wouldn't touch it himself, and he wouldn't let them touch it either; and that is precisely the charge to which Growler lays himself open. Let us hope he is not quite such a bad sort as this dog. He had got into a regular habit of growling, and it would be against his nature altogether to praise anything cordially.
Supposing Growler to be grown to a man, now; what a desirable creature he must be! What a fine man to get on to a committee, or into parliament! What a delightful partner to have in business! Why, he'd wear out an ordinary man in a month. What complainings, and questionings, and disapprovals, and censures would he ever be loading on the head of his colleagues!—how ready people would be to avoid him and give him a wide berth! For, assuredly, if in anything there was to be found a fault, Growler was the boy to find it. I remember a fairy tale about some folk who wanted to find out if a certain lady were a fairy princess or not; and the way they did it was to lay a pea on the floor of her room, and cover it with twenty feather beds one on the top of the other. Next morning they asked how she slept.
"Not at all," said she, "for there was a dreadful lump in the bed."
Then they knew she must be a fairy! Perhaps it would be a little too much to compare Growler with a fairy; but he certainly had a wonderful knack of discovering peas under the bed; and where there were none to discover, he found out something else. Now, you and I, I expect, in talking of the sun, would speak of it as a glorious light and heat- giving orb, without which we could none of us get on for a moment. But Growler's version of the thing would be quite different.
"A thing full of great ugly spots, that goes scorching up one part of the earth and leaving another in the cold, and is generally hidden by clouds from all the rest."
Such is the genial, bright view of things taken by our old schoolmate.
There are two sorts of growlers. There is the man who honestly attacks what is really wrong for the sake of making it right, and there is the man who instinctively grumbles at everything for the mere sake of growling. The former class is as useful as the latter is tiresome, and if we must growl, by all means let us find out some real grievance to attack. Grumbling is a habit that grows quickly and with very little encouragement, and those who go in for it must make up their minds to have to do with very few friends. For who would consent to be the friend of a growler? It would be as bad as becoming the servant of a man who kept an electrical machine—he would always be trying it on you! And he must be content also to find that very few people sympathise with him. For when a man is a confirmed grumbler at everything, no one afflicts himself much about his lamentations, but puts it all down to his infirmity.
"Poor fellow, his digestion isn't good, or his liver's out of order!" they will say, and think no more about it.
Growler of our school was an able fellow in his way; and successful, too, but he wasn't liked. Some were afraid of him, some detested him, and most cared very little about him. I don't suppose he will ever do much good in the world, for this reason—his influence is so small. One would like to know if he is really as unhappy as he would make every one believe. I have a notion he is not, but is the victim of a habit which he has allowed to grow on him till it is past shaking off. Moral, boys: When you catch yourselves grumbling, make sure the grievance is a real one. If it is, don't be content with grumbling, but follow it up till the wrong is put right. But if you find yourself growling merely because it sounds a fine thing to do, then let growl number one be not only the first but the last performance of the kind; and no one then will be able to growl at you.
There are bullies and bullies. There is the big brother, for instance, who considers it as much part of his duty to administer an occasional cuff to his youthful relative, as he does to stroke his own chin for the first sign of a beard, or to wear his tall hat on Sundays. That is not the sort of bullying any one complains of. Pretty sort of fellows some of us would have turned out if we hadn't come in for a little wholesome knocking about in our day! What's the use of big brothers, we should like to know, if it's not to chastise youngsters! and what are younger brothers made for, if they are not to be occasionally "whopped!"
When I first reached a "bullyable" age, I found myself number three of a set of five boys. I had looked on in awe at the discipline inflicted by my eldest brother on number two; I had been a trembling spectator of scuffles and tears, and pulled ears and sore knuckles, and knew my turn for the same hardships was coming. And so it did. Number one went to college, and then number two was cock of the walk, and didn't I catch it then? The ears that had recently smarted between another's finger and thumb were now deaf to my lamentations, and the knuckles that I had seen bruised and sore now played on my poor countenance as if it had been a tambourine. It wasn't pleasant while it lasted, of course; but then it was all in the regular course of things, and had to be grinned at and borne; and besides it was a splendid training for me, when I came to be left ruler of the roost with young number four at my mercy. Poor number four! he had a hard time of it. He was a meek sort of fellow, and took a lot of bullying. I've a broken-backed lexicon to this day which often used to fly across the room at his devoted head, and which he as regularly picked up and handed back to me.
Never was a czar more absolute than I during the brief years of my supremacy.
But it was monotonous work bullying a fellow who never showed fight; and one day, in reply to a touching lamentation on his part, I demanded, "Why don't you say you won't, then, and stick to it?" Would you believe it? the ungrateful fellow took me at my word! Next time I issued a decree, he made my hair stand on end by shouting, "Shan't!" I could not believe my wits; and when he not only refused, but (in accordance with my own unlucky advice) positively defied me, I was fairly nonplussed! In vain the lexicon performed its airy flight; in vain my ruler flourished over his knuckles; in rain I stormed and raged. No martyr at the stake was ever more sublimely firm; and from that day my reign was over.
It was over as far as he was concerned; but as he resolutely declined to do his duty in knocking about number five, I had to sacrifice myself for the family good, and take that young scamp in hand too, and as he was the youngest, he had nothing to do but wait till he grew up, and then— when he suddenly discovered he was six feet high—he took a turn at bullying me, who by that time was a married man with a family.
Now, perhaps, this sort of bullying within ordinary bounds does no great harm. In our case we almost seemed to like one another the better for it, though each in his turn rent the air with his howls and lamentations. Perhaps, however, we were exceptional boys, and I am not going to recommend the system.
The dog mother who routs up her little pup from his comfortable nap, and shakes him with her teeth, and knocks him down and rolls him over and worries him till he yaps and yelps as if his last day had come, is not such a bully as the cat who holds a mouse under his paw, and plays with it and torments it previous to making a meal of it.
In one case the discipline is salutary and serves a good end; in the other it is sheer cruelty.
Just let me introduce you to a bully of the true sort—one whom we might call a professional bully—as contrasted with the amateur big- brother bullies of whom I have been speaking.
Bob Bangs of our school was a big, ill-conditioned, lazy, selfish, cross-grained sort of fellow. He was nearly the tallest fellow in the fifth form, but by no means the strongest. He was narrow across the chest, and shaky about the knees, though we youngsters held him too much in awe to take this into account at the time. To the big boys of the sixth form Bob was cringing and snivelling; nothing was too menial, so only as he could keep in their good graces. If he had known how, I dare say he would have blacked their boots or parted their hair; as it was, he laid himself out to fetch and carry, to go and come just as their lordships should direct; and their lordships, I have a notion, winked at one another and gave him plenty to do.
But to us youngsters Bob was wholly different. For one of us to come so much as across his path was sufficient provocation to his spite. Like a spider in its web, he would waylay and capture the wretched small fry of our school and haul them away to his den. There he would screw their arms and kick them, just for the pleasure of seeing their faces and hearing their howls. Generally, indeed, he managed to invent some pretext for his chastisement. This one had made a grimace at him across the room yesterday; that one had spilt some ink on his desk; poor Jack Flighty had had the cheek to laugh outside his door while he was reading; or Joe Tyler had bagged his straw hat instead of his own.
One day, I remember, I, a little unfortunate of ten summers, fell into his awful clutches.
"Come here, you young beggar!" I heard him call out.
I dared not disobey, and stood before him shaking in my shoes.
"What are you laughing at?" he says.
"I'm not laughing," I said, feeling anything but in the humour for jocularity.
"Yes, you are, I tell you—take that!" and a smart box on the ear followed.
I writhed, but tried hard to suppress my ejaculation of pain.
"What's that you called me?" demanded the bully.
"Nothing," I faltered, rubbing my head.
"Yes, you did," he said; "take that for telling a cram, and that for calling me names!" and suiting the action to the word he bestowed one cuff and one kick on my unoffending person, each of which I acknowledged by a howl.
"Now then," said he, "what did you mean by borrowing Tom Groby's Gulliver's Travels yesterday when you knew I wanted to read it, eh?"
And he caught hold of my hand and gave my arm a suggestive preliminary screw.
"I didn't," I said.
"Yes, you did," said he, tightening the pressure, so as to make me catch my under lip in my teeth. "You knew well enough I was half through it."
"I mean, I didn't borrow it. I never saw the book," I shrieked, truly enough too, for this was clearly a case of mistaken identity.
"Yes, you did, for I was told so."
"I didn't; oh, let me go!" I cried, twisting under the torture; "it wasn't me!"
"I tell you it was;" another screw, and another dance and howl from me; "and what's the use of you saying it wasn't?"
"Indeed it wasn't!" I yelled, for by this time I was on my knees, and half dead with agony. "Oh! You'll break my arm! Oh! Oh!"
"Say you took it, then," replied my tormentor.
"It wasn't me," I shrieked. "Oh! Yes it was! Let go!"
Then he let go, and catching me by the collar of my coat with one hand, pulled my ear with the other, saying—
"What do you mean by telling lies, you young cub?"
"I only said I took it," whimpered I, nursing my sore arm, "because you made me."
"Then you mean to say you didn't, do you?" cried the bully, with another grab at my hand.
What would have become of me I don't know, had not a sixth-form fellow come by at that moment, at the sight of whom Master Bangs let go my arm, smiled benevolently on me and cringingly on him, and then slunk away to his den, never to find me again within reach of his ten fingers if I could help it.
It would be hard to say what object Bob had in this conduct. He certainly had not much to gain. Sometimes, indeed, he succeeded in compelling his victims to empty their pockets to him, and hand over the little treasures in the way of eatables, penknives, or india-rubber to which he might take a fancy, but this was comparatively rare. Nor was his bullying actuated by the lofty motive of administering wholesome discipline on his young schoolfellows. In fact, so far from doing them good, he made sneaks and cowards of a good many of them, and, as happened in my case, led them to tell falsehoods in order to escape his clutches.