Dr Martin was sent for and pronounced the boy to be seriously unwell; at the same time he prescribed absolute rest and absence from nervous excitement. So the anxious parents were unwillingly compelled to be content with what they had got already—being frightened into leading him a quiet life for the short remainder of the holidays. They were not idle, but Satan can find as much mischief for busy hands as for idle ones, so he sent a little job in the direction of Battersby which Theobald and Christina undertook immediately. It would be a pity, they reasoned, that Ernest should leave Roughborough, now that he had been there three years; it would be difficult to find another school for him, and to explain why he had left Roughborough. Besides, Dr Skinner and Theobald were supposed to be old friends, and it would be unpleasant to offend him; these were all valid reasons for not removing the boy. The proper thing to do, then, would be to warn Dr Skinner confidentially of the state of his school, and to furnish him with a school list annotated with the remarks extracted from Ernest, which should be appended to the name of each boy.
Theobald was the perfection of neatness; while his son was ill upstairs, he copied out the school list so that he could throw his comments into a tabular form, which assumed the following shape—only that of course I have changed the names. One cross in each square was to indicate occasional offence; two stood for frequent, and three for habitual delinquency.
Smoking Drinking beer
at the “Swan and Obscene
and Bottle.” Language.
Smith O O XX Will smoke
Brown XXX O X
Jones X XX XXX
Robinson XX XX X
And thus through the whole school.
Of course, in justice to Ernest, Dr Skinner would be bound over to secrecy before a word was said to him, but, Ernest being thus protected, he could not be furnished with the facts too completely.
So important did Theobald consider this matter that he made a special journey to Roughborough before the half year began. It was a relief to have him out of the house, but though his destination was not mentioned, Ernest guessed where he had gone.
To this day he considers his conduct at this crisis to have been one of the most serious laches of his life—one which he can never think of without shame and indignation. He says he ought to have run away from home. But what good could he have done if he had? He would have been caught, brought back and examined two days later instead of two days earlier. A boy of barely sixteen cannot stand against the moral pressure of a father and mother who have always oppressed him any more than he can cope physically with a powerful full-grown man. True, he may allow himself to be killed rather than yield, but this is being so morbidly heroic as to come close round again to cowardice; for it is little else than suicide, which is universally condemned as cowardly.