“I wasn’t the tempter, however,” thought Eric, still silent.
“Well, you seem hardened, and give no sign. Believe me, Williams, I grieve for you, and that bitterly. My interest in you is no less warm, though my affection for you cannot be the same. You may go.”
“Another friend alienated, and oh, how true a one! He has not asked me to see him once this term,” thought Eric, sadly; but a shout of pleasure greeted him directly he joined the football in the play-ground, and, half consoled, he hoped Mr. Rose had heard it, and understood that was meant for the boy whom he had just been rebuking. “Well, after all,” he thought, “I have some friends still.”
Yes, friends, such as they were! Except Duncan, hardly one boy whom he really respected ever walked with him now. Even little Wright, one of the very few lower boys who had risen superior to Brigson’s temptations, seemed to keep clear of him as much as he could; and, in absolute vacuity, he was obliged to associate with fellows like Attlay, and Graham, and Llewellyn, and Bull.
Even with Bull! All Eric’s repugnance for this boy seemed to have evaporated; they were often together, and, to all appearance, were sworn friends. Eric did not shrink now from such conversation as was pursued unchecked in his presence by nearly every one; nay, worse, it had lost its horror, and he was neither afraid nor ashamed to join in it himself. This plague-spot had fretted more deeply than any other into the heart of the school morality, and the least boys seemed the greatest proficients in unbaring without a blush, its hideous ugliness.
“THE JOLLY HERRING”
“Velut unda supervenit undam.”—VIRGIL.
The Anti-muffs request the honor of Williams’ company to a spread they are going to have to-morrow evening at half-past four, in their smoking-room—
A note to this effect was put into Eric’s hands by Wildney after prayers. He read it when he got into his study, and hardly knew whether to be pleased or disgusted at it.
He tossed it to Duncan, and said, “What shall I do?”
Duncan turned up his nose, and chucked the note into the fire.
“I’d give them that answer, and no other.”
“Because, Eric,” said Duncan, with more seriousness than was usual with him, “I can’t help thinking things have gone too far lately.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, I’m no saint myself, Heaven knows; but I do think that the fellows are worse now than I have ever known them—far worse. Your friend Brigson reigns supreme out of the studies; he has laid down a law that no work is to be done down stairs ever under any pretence, and it’s only by getting into one of the studies that good little chaps like Wright can get on at all. Even in the class-rooms there’s so much row and confusion that the mere thought of work is ridiculous.”