Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh: Ch. 48

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Ernest said he had already at different times asked several of his friends.

“Yes, my dear, but you must admit that they were none of them exactly the kind of young man whom Charlotte could be expected to take a fancy to.  Indeed, I must own to having been a little disappointed that you should have yourself chosen any of these as your intimate friends.”

Ernest winced again.

“You never brought down Figgins when you were at Roughborough; now I should have thought Figgins would have been just the kind of boy whom you might have asked to come and see us.”

Figgins had been gone through times out of number already.  Ernest had hardly known him, and Figgins, being nearly three years older than Ernest, had left long before he did.  Besides he had not been a nice boy, and had made himself unpleasant to Ernest in many ways.

“Now,” continued his mother, “there’s Towneley.  I have heard you speak of Towneley as having rowed with you in a boat at Cambridge.  I wish, my dear, you would cultivate your acquaintance with Towneley, and ask him to pay us a visit.  The name has an aristocratic sound, and I think I have heard you say he is an eldest son.”

Ernest flushed at the sound of Towneley’s name.

What had really happened in respect of Ernest’s friends was briefly this.  His mother liked to get hold of the names of the boys and especially of any who were at all intimate with her son; the more she heard, the more she wanted to know; there was no gorging her to satiety; she was like a ravenous young cuckoo being fed upon a grass plot by a water wag-tail, she would swallow all that Ernest could bring her, and yet be as hungry as before.  And she always went to Ernest for her meals rather than to Joey, for Joey was either more stupid or more impenetrable—at any rate she could pump Ernest much the better of the two.

From time to time an actual live boy had been thrown to her, either by being caught and brought to Battersby, or by being asked to meet her if at any time she came to Roughborough.  She had generally made herself agreeable, or fairly agreeable, as long as the boy was present, but as soon as she got Ernest to herself again she changed her note.  Into whatever form she might throw her criticisms it came always in the end to this, that his friend was no good, that Ernest was not much better, and that he should have brought her someone else, for this one would not do at all.

The more intimate the boy had been or was supposed to be with Ernest the more he was declared to be naught, till in the end he had hit upon the plan of saying, concerning any boy whom he particularly liked, that he was not one of his especial chums, and that indeed he hardly knew why he had asked him; but he found he only fell on Scylla in trying to avoid Charybdis, for though the boy was declared to be more successful it was Ernest who was naught for not thinking more highly of him.

When she had once got hold of a name she never forgot it.  “And how is So-and-so?” she would exclaim, mentioning some former friend of Ernest’s with whom he had either now quarrelled, or who had long since proved to be a mere comet and no fixed star at all.  How Ernest wished he had never mentioned So-and-so’s name, and vowed to himself that he would never talk about his friends in future, but in a few hours he would forget and would prattle away as imprudently as ever; then his mother would pounce noiselessly on his remarks as a barn-owl pounces upon a mouse, and would bring them up in a pellet six months afterwards when they were no longer in harmony with their surroundings.