“Well? Have you nothing to say? Can’t you tell me what is wrong with you?” “There is nothing wrong with me, sir” replied the boy at last. It seemed to have been a great effort on his part to utter even these few words.
“Yes. You said the same thing before, not an hour ago, the same thing yesterday. I think you had better remain behind at dinner time and I will take you to Mr Sweeney’s office. Perhaps he will get out of you what I can’t. Go back to your seat. I won’t punish you again. You are beyond me.”
The boy with bent head returned to his seat. He was on the verge of tears. He blushed, the blood mounted to his head. He could not sit still, he continually fidgeted his fingers, drumming them upon the desk. He dared not look either way. He was filled with a sense of shame. He dared not look up.
“Fearon! Did you hear what I said? Open your book please and get on with your work.”
With trembling hands the boy opened his Oxford and Cambridge history book and endeavoured in spite of increasing agitation to study Wat Tyler and his short-lived insurrection. But his thoughts were chaotic. He could not settle down to the work. He made a pretence at it and some twenty minutes later essayed to look around him in a furtive manner. Everybody seemed occupied. The heads were bent to the books, the teacher was busy making corrections in the exercise books on his desk. A strange silence filled the room, periodically punctuated by the scratch of the teacher’s pen as he initialled each book. Once he did cast a glance at the bench where the boy sat, saw that he was not occupying himself with the lesson, but this time decided to save his breath and his energy. The boy was beyond him and that was the end of it. When dinner time came the boys filed out of the benches. Only Fearon and the teacher remained in the room. And now that the others had departed, the room took on a desolate air, it seemed to have grown bigger, whilst to the boy staring before him the walls seemed further off and the teacher himself had become reduced in size. But when his name was called the illusion vanished and Mr Jackson appeared to tower above him more than ever. He called the boy to come right up to his desk. Fearon approached with his head down.
“I said I would take you to the headmaster, but on reflection I have decided not to bother. It appears to me that you are not worth bothering about. When you first came here you were a good boy, attentive to your lessons, and even showed an intelligence superior to the others in the class. But whatever has come over you in the last weeks I do not know, and have gone beyond wondering about it; I have finished with you. You may do as you like. If you cut a bad figure at the examinations you have yourself and nobody else to blame. You may go home now.”
Apparently Fearon had not heard this order, for he still remained standing there, and had even raised his head to look into the teacher’s face.
[Boy, Hanley, J.]