You can't be too careful, by H. G. Wells

Chapter 3

Mr Myame Deplores Sin

MRS TEWLER brooded profoundly on these conventions. Enough came across to convince her of the diabolical wickedness that would presently be weaving its snares about the unsuspecting feet of the Most Precious Child in the world. She tried Mr Burlap, the pastor of the little chape). He received her in his Sanctum. “It’s a very difficult thing,” she said, “for a mother to know what to do about the — I hardly know how to put it — well, the sexual education of a solitary fatherless child.”

“H’rump,” said Mr Burlap. He leant back in his chair and looked as thoughtful as he could, but his ears and nostrils had suddenly gone very red, and his eyes, magnified by his spectacles, were uncomfortable and defensive.

“Yee-es,” he said. “It is a difficult problem.”

“It is a difficult problem.”

“It is certainly, a very difficult problem.”

“That’s what I feel.”

So far they were in perfect agreement.

“Whether he ought to be told” she resumed after a pause.

“Whether he ought to be warned. Books perhaps. A talk to a doctor.”

“Oom,” said Mr Burlap, filling the Sanctum with his reverberation.

“Exactly,” she said, and waited.

“You see, my dear Mrs Tewler, that this problem so to speak varies with the circumstances of the case. We are not all made alike. What may be wise in one case may be quite unsuitable for another case.”

“Yes? “she said.

“And of course, Vice Versa.”

“I see that,” she said.

“Rereads?”

“Quite often.”

“There is a little book called, I believe, The Loves of the Flowers. Mr Burlap’s face was suffused with an honourable blush. “He could have no more helpful introduction to the — to the great mystery.”

“I will give it to him.”

“And then perhaps a little judicious talk.”

“Judicious talk.”

“When the opportunity arises,”

“I must pray for that.”

All that was very clear and helpful. But it seemed to leave something still to be said. There was something even a little superficial about it all. “Nowadays,” she said, “there is so much evil about.”

“These are evil times, Mrs Tewler. ‘The world is very evil; the times are growing late.’ This has never been so true as it is today. Guard him. Evil communications corrupt good manners. Keep him close to you. Yes.”

He seemed to be wanting to convey that the matter was practically settled.

“I have taught him his letters and so on, but presently he will have to go to school. There he may learn — all sorts of things.”

“Oom,” said Mr Burlap again, and then seemed to be struck by an idea.

“I hear such dreadful things of schools,” she said. Mr Burlap roused himself from his idea. “Boarding schools?”

“Yes, boarding Schools.”

“Boarding schools,” said Mr Burlap, “are, without exception, Sinks of Iniquity. Especially the Preparatory Schools and the so-called Public Schools. I know. I know. There are things — I cannot speak of them,”

“That is exactly what I came to talk to you about,” said Mrs Tewler.

“Well,” said the worthy pastor, “H’rump. Here we have in our own little congregation just the one man. . . . You have never noted? Mr Myame. That slender, reserved man with a big head, large black side-whiskers and a bass voice. You must at least have noticed his voice. You could hardly fail to do that. He is a man of great spiritual power, a Boanerges, a son of Thunder. He has a small, a very select, private day school. He is most particular whom he takes. His wife is, I fear, consumptive; a very sweet and tender woman. They have no children of their own; it is a great sorrow to them; but their school is in the best sense of the word their family. They study the characters of their little charges. They are never weary of discussing them. There and with your home influence, I cannot imagine any harm coming near to your little fellow. . . . ”

So Mrs Tewler went to Mr Myame.

There was something very reassuring in the grave earnestness of Mr Myame’s large grey eyes and of the black hair that streamed sporadically from every part of his visage. And instead of sitting far off and defensive at a desk, he came and stood right over her and studied her very earnestly as he talked down to her. After a little preliminary skirmishing she came to the point, “To be frank,” said she, with eyes downcast, “I am troubled by problems — My poor little Hopeful. . . . Without a father. . . . The onset of sex. One cannot be too careful.”

“No,” said Mr Myame, in a voice that enveloped her. “That is the greatest scandal of my profession. Eager only for examinational results and what are called games. Cram and cricket. The carelessless, the indifference, to purity, to true manliness. . . . ”

“I hear,” said she, and paused. “I know so little about these things. But I have been told,. . . . Things have come to my knowledge. Very dreadful things. . . . ”

“Such as —?” he helped her.

Bit by bit they led each other into the thickets of this absorbing subject.

“No one warns them.” said Mr Myame. “No one tells them of the dangers. . . . Their own little school-fellows make themselves the very agents of the devil.”

“Yes,” she said, and looked up, stirred by the vibrant passion in his voice.

A gleam of fanaticism shone in Mr Myame’s eye.

“We must speak plainly,” he said. “We must avoid all self-deception.”

He shirked no particulars. It was a most edifying conversation. His discreet undertones were like the rumble of a train in a distant tunnel. Under any other circumstances it would, she felt, have been painful and very indelicate of her to pursue this knowledge, but for her Sweet Boy she felt no sacrifice was too great. So she did not merely pursue it. She hunted it into its most recondite corners, Mr Myame, who had never been honoured by the confidences of Mrs Humbelay, was astonished by the range of Mrs Tewler’s knowledge. She must surely know it by inspiration. . . .

“Another Parent?” asked his wife after he had let Mrs Tewler out.

“At the full rates,” he said, with a certain gladness.

“You look — excited,” she remarked.

“Fanny, I have been talking to the purest and holiest Mother I have ever known. Who could touch pitch and not be defiled. I have learnt much. It has been a great spiritual experience and I hope I may do my duty by her Little One,”

He paused.

“I have asked her to come to our inner circle meeting next Friday. She breaks bread with us but she has not yet undergone Baptism. She has hesitated but she is very desirous; Like you she has very delicate health. She does not want to risk an illness that might separate her from her son. Later perhaps. . . . ”

A phase of great spiritual contentment opened in Mrs Tewler’s life. Impelled only by love and her sense of duty, she found she had come into a circle of intense and sustained mutual appreciation, a sort of inner chapel into which she was extremely careful not to introduce Mrs Humbelay. Mrs Humbelay could be very helpful and generous on the social side, but she was, one had to admit, lacking in real spirituality, suited to be at most a sort of lay sister to the chapel. And also subconsciously Mrs Tewler did not want to spoil Mrs Humbelay for herself. . . . It was a case of oil and water. . . .

Everyone in that inner group was a Beloved Spirit, a Saintly Figure, a Noble and Outstanding Soul with an Inner Light shining through. Her Baptism continued to be deferred, but she seemed to anticipate its beneficent influence. She broke bread. She invented and exchanged experiences. Wrapped in that confident anticipation of an eternity of Glory which the Strict and Particular Baptists entertained, her face almost luminous with that happy inner light, she would thread her way through the countless multitudes of the damned who thronged the streets of Camden Town. And she led her One Darling by the hand.

And safe in her keeping Edward Albert would extend his tongue or snoot at the Children of Perdition passing him on their way to Judgment, or tug back to look at things in the shop windows. Sometimes there would be a bit of a struggle when the bill boards outside the newly opened cinema caught his eye. Moreover at that tender age he felt a curious desire to pull little girls by the hair, that twice became irresistible. . . .

But when he was taxed with that he denied it stoutly. There were scenes in the street. Fierce accusations and disgraceful retorts. He said the little girls were Wicked Little Fibs. His mother would not believe it of him, and he could scarcely believe it of himself.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30