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BOY AND MASTER
I HOPE it will not be supposed by anybody reading these chapters of a lad's life that Fernando at school thought of nothing but religion; his mind was occupied by many other things. Games he disliked, but he enjoyed at St. Wolstan's a very pleasant time without them. He had many friends, and he was for ever making new friends among books. And he was already writing himself before he was twenty he had finished his first novel, which was published early in 1879. The second did not follow till 1903, and it made as little mark as the first. It was not until 1907 that his third book appeared and drew attention to his work.
The first bit of writing for which Fernando ever received payment was a small essay written, and published in Chambers' Journal, in 1876. I think the price paid for it was
thirty-five shillings. An article in the Globe, a year or so later, brought about the same
But he was always writing, and undoubtedly he should only have been reading and learning. Among other work of this sort he edited, as its first editor, the school magazine, called the Wolstonian: but he did not write much in it, and what he did write was of no consequence or value whatever.
In 1876, and again in 1877, he took the Senior Divinity Prize. At the Speech Day of 1876 he acted M. le Philosophe in Molière's Gnatho Bourgeois Gentilhomme, and Old Gobbo in ascene from the Merchant of Venice. In the Annual Shakespearean Play of the same year he acted Egeon in the Comedy of Errors. In the following one, the Merchant of Venice, he represented the merchant; and at the 1877 Speech Day he was Gnatho in the Eunuchus of Terence, and Hotspur in Henry IV.
He never acted at all well, being wooden and monotonous; and, never having seen any play acted upon the stage of a regular theatre, he had no model on which to form his own acting. Some of the boys acted splendidly, and the Annual Shakespearean
Play was, and still is, a notable feature of the school year. Except for Fernando's own part in it, it was always in his time thoroughly well done.
The rehearsing of the play took a good deal of time, as did that of the parts in the scenes from Latin, English, or French plays given on Speech Days: Fernando was a very slow "study" and singularly awkward and stupid in his efforts to profit by the instruction of the masters who coached the actors.
In 1877 he became president of the school debating society, in which he had been a speaker from the time of his arrival. All these things, and his long walks and excursions, filled up the time out of school very agreeably. Only one of the many debates lingers at all in his memory, and that for no important reason. The subject of the debate somehow brought in the Stuarts and the Hanoverians, and Fernando made a longand probably dull-speech, throughout which he consistently alluded to James III," "Charles III," and "Henry IX," as the Kings of England, and to the de facto monarchs of the House of Brunswick merely as the Electors of Hanover. Such blatant
Jacobitism was considered portentously aggressive.
On half-holidays Fernando never played either cricket or football, and for Prefects there were no bounds; they might walk whither they chose, so long as they were back in time for six o'clock Roll Call, and did not go anywhere by train.
As the other Prefects were almost always playing either cricket or football, Fernando's walks were mostly solitary, and he liked them none the worse. In college he was not at all unsociable, but he specially enjoyed these hours entirely to himself. It is much easier to build castles in the air alone than with a talking companion, and Fernando built thousands of castles. And he was still devoted to poetry, and repeated huge quantities of it aloud to himself during those long, long rambles.
Many of the walks were pilgrimages to places which he peopled with the men and women out of George Eliot's books-as has been told already. He fixed on an Adam Bede, but never tried to get in talk with him, lest he should disprove himself. Seth and their mother he also picked out; and at different times he saw Mr. Tulliver riding
through the deep rich lanes, and Aunt Pullet and her husband, and Aunt Gleg and hers, in their respective gigs-the former much the neater turn-out.
Getting leave to go by train, he made other pilgrimages of this sort. To Uttoxeter on a rainy market-day to see Dr. Johnson, his old and much-loved schoolfellow, doing penance in the market place. To Ashbourne to pick out (quite arbitrarily) the house where the great lexicographer used to stay with Dr. Taylor.
The old church at Ashbourne was quite delightful and packed with beautiful and interesting monuments; and there, too, Fernando spent happy, dreamy hours, always bewailing the Reformation that had brought the Catholic Middle Ages to an end.
Fernando, I say, was not always thinking of religion, but much of amusement, if his amusements were not quite the same as those of his friends; much of books, secular books, and the people in them, whom he liked better to be with than most people in "real" life; of his castles in the air, of which he himself was master and castellan;