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

[+] | [-] | reset

Then there was Theobald.  If a boy or college friend had been invited to Battersby, Theobald would lay himself out at first to be agreeable.  He could do this well enough when he liked, and as regards the outside world he generally did like.  His clerical neighbours, and indeed all his neighbours, respected him yearly more and more, and would have given Ernest sufficient cause to regret his imprudence if he had dared to hint that he had anything, however little, to complain of.  Theobald’s mind worked in this way: “Now, I know Ernest has told this boy what a disagreeable person I am, and I will just show him that I am not disagreeable at all, but a good old fellow, a jolly old boy, in fact a regular old brick, and that it is Ernest who is in fault all through.”

So he would behave very nicely to the boy at first, and the boy would be delighted with him, and side with him against Ernest.  Of course if Ernest had got the boy to come to Battersby he wanted him to enjoy his visit, and was therefore pleased that Theobald should behave so well, but at the same time he stood so much in need of moral support that it was painful to him to see one of his own familiar friends go over to the enemy’s camp.  For no matter how well we may know a thing—how clearly we may see a certain patch of colour, for example, as red, it shakes us and knocks us about to find another see it, or be more than half inclined to see it, as green.

Theobald had generally begun to get a little impatient before the end of the visit, but the impression formed during the earlier part was the one which the visitor had carried away with him.  Theobald never discussed any of the boys with Ernest.  It was Christina who did this.  Theobald let them come, because Christina in a quiet, persistent way insisted on it; when they did come he behaved, as I have said, civilly, but he did not like it, whereas Christina did like it very much; she would have had half Roughborough and half Cambridge to come and stay at Battersby if she could have managed it, and if it would not have cost so much money: she liked their coming, so that she might make a new acquaintance, and she liked tearing them to pieces and flinging the bits over Ernest as soon as she had had enough of them.

The worst of it was that she had so often proved to be right.  Boys and young men are violent in their affections, but they are seldom very constant; it is not till they get older that they really know the kind of friend they want; in their earlier essays young men are simply learning to judge character.  Ernest had been no exception to the general rule.  His swans had one after the other proved to be more or less geese even in his own estimation, and he was beginning almost to think that his mother was a better judge of character than he was; but I think it may be assumed with some certainty that if Ernest had brought her a real young swan she would have declared it to be the ugliest and worst goose of all that she had yet seen.

At first he had not suspected that his friends were wanted with a view to Charlotte; it was understood that Charlotte and they might perhaps take a fancy for one another; and that would be so very nice, would it not?  But he did not see that there was any deliberate malice in the arrangement.  Now, however, that he had awoke to what it all meant, he was less inclined to bring any friend of his to Battersby.  It seemed to his silly young mind almost dishonest to ask your friend to come and see you when all you really meant was “Please, marry my sister.”  It was like trying to obtain money under false pretences.  If he had been fond of Charlotte it might have been another matter, but he thought her one of the most disagreeable young women in the whole circle of his acquaintance.