Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh

33. CHAPTER XXXIII (continued)

Miss Pontifex, as I have said, got hold of some of these youngsters through Ernest, and fed them well. No boy can resist being fed well by a good-natured and still handsome woman. Boys are very like nice dogs in this respect--give them a bone and they will like you at once. Alethea employed every other little artifice which she thought likely to win their allegiance to herself, and through this their countenance for her nephew. She found the football club in a slight money difficulty and at once gave half a sovereign towards its removal. The boys had no chance against her, she shot them down one after another as easily as though they had been roosting pheasants. Nor did she escape scathless herself, for, as she wrote to me, she quite lost her heart to half a dozen of them. "How much nicer they are," she said, "and how much more they know than those who profess to teach them!"

I believe it has been lately maintained that it is the young and fair who are the truly old and truly experienced, inasmuch as it is they who alone have a living memory to guide them; "the whole charm," it has been said, "of youth lies in its advantage over age in respect of experience, and when this has for some reason failed or been misapplied, the charm is broken. When we say that we are getting old, we should say rather that we are getting new or young, and are suffering from inexperience; trying to do things which we have never done before, and failing worse and worse, till in the end we are landed in the utter impotence of death."

Miss Pontifex died many a long year before the above passage was written, but she had arrived independently at much the same conclusion.

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.

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