She first, therefore, squared the boys. Dr Skinner was even more easily dealt with. He and Mrs Skinner called, as a matter of course, as soon as Miss Pontifex was settled. She fooled him to the top of his bent, and obtained the promise of a MS. copy of one of his minor poems (for Dr Skinner had the reputation of being quite one of our most facile and elegant minor poets) on the occasion of his first visit. The other masters and masters’ wives were not forgotten. Alethea laid herself out to please, as indeed she did wherever she went, and if any woman lays herself out to do this, she generally succeeds.
Miss Pontifex soon found out that Ernest did not like games, but she saw also that he could hardly be expected to like them. He was perfectly well shaped but unusually devoid of physical strength. He got a fair share of this in after life, but it came much later with him than with other boys, and at the time of which I am writing he was a mere little skeleton. He wanted something to develop his arms and chest without knocking him about as much as the school games did. To supply this want by some means which should add also to his pleasure was Alethea’s first anxiety. Rowing would have answered every purpose, but unfortunately there was no river at Roughborough.
Whatever it was to be, it must be something which he should like as much as other boys liked cricket or football, and he must think the wish for it to have come originally from himself; it was not very easy to find anything that would do, but ere long it occurred to her that she might enlist his love of music on her side, and asked him one day when he was spending a half-holiday at her house whether he would like her to buy an organ for him to play on. Of course, the boy said yes; then she told him about her grandfather and the organs he had built. It had never entered into his head that he could make one, but when he gathered from what his aunt had said that this was not out of the question, he rose as eagerly to the bait as she could have desired, and wanted to begin learning to saw and plane so that he might make the wooden pipes at once.
Miss Pontifex did not see how she could have hit upon anything more suitable, and she liked the idea that he would incidentally get a knowledge of carpentering, for she was impressed, perhaps foolishly, with the wisdom of the German custom which gives every boy a handicraft of some sort.
Writing to me on this matter, she said “Professions are all very well for those who have connection and interest as well as capital, but otherwise they are white elephants. How many men do not you and I know who have talent, assiduity, excellent good sense, straightforwardness, every quality in fact which should command success, and who yet go on from year to year waiting and hoping against hope for the work which never comes? How, indeed, is it likely