Byron’s Profession, by George Bernard Shaw
Moncrief House, Panley Common. Scholastic establishment for the sons of gentlemen, etc.
Panley Common, viewed from the back windows of Moncrief House, is a tract of grass, furze and rushes, stretching away to the western horizon.
One wet spring afternoon the sky was full of broken clouds, and the common was swept by their shadows, between which patches of green and yellow gorse were bright in the broken sunlight. The hills to the northward were obscured by a heavy shower, traces of which were drying off the slates of the school, a square white building, formerly a gentleman’s country-house. In front of it was a well-kept lawn with a few clipped holly-trees. At the rear, a quarter of an acre of land was enclosed for the use of the boys. Strollers on the common could hear, at certain hours, a hubbub of voices and racing footsteps from within the boundary wall. Sometimes, when the strollers were boys themselves, they climbed to the coping, and saw on the other side a piece of common trampled bare and brown, with a few square yards of concrete, so worn into hollows as to be unfit for its original use as a ball-alley. Also a long shed, a pump, a door defaced by innumerable incised inscriptions, the back of the house in much worse repair than the front, and about fifty boys in tailless jackets and broad, turned-down collars. When the fifty boys perceived a stranger on the wall they rushed to the spot with a wild halloo, overwhelmed him with insult and defiance, and dislodged him by a volley of clods, stones, lumps of bread, and such other projectiles as were at hand.
On this rainy spring afternoon a brougham stood at the door of Moncrief House. The coachman, enveloped in a white india-rubber coat, was bestirring himself a little after the recent shower. Within-doors, in the drawing-room, Dr. Moncrief was conversing with a stately lady aged about thirty-five, elegantly dressed, of attractive manner, and only falling short of absolute beauty in her complexion, which was deficient in freshness.
“No progress whatever, I am sorry to say,” the doctor was remarking.
“That is very disappointing,” said the lady, contracting her brows.
“It is natural that you should feel disappointed,” replied the doctor. “I would myself earnestly advise you to try the effect of placing him at some other–” The doctor stopped. The lady’s face had lit up with a wonderful smile, and she had raised her hand with a bewitching gesture of protest.
“Oh, no, Dr. Moncrief,” she said. “I am not disappointed with YOU; but I am all the more angry with Cashel, because I know that if he makes no progress with you it must be his own fault. As to taking him away, that is out of the question. I should not have a moment’s peace if he were out of your care. I will speak to him very seriously about his conduct before I leave to-day. You will give him another trial, will you not?”
“Certainly. With the greatest pleasure,” exclaimed the doctor, confusing himself by an inept attempt at gallantry. “He shall stay as long as you please. But”–here the doctor became grave again–“you cannot too strongly urge upon him the importance of hard work at the present time, which may be said to be the turning-point of his career as a student. He is now nearly seventeen; and he has so little inclination for study that I doubt whether he could pass the examination necessary to entering one of the universities. You probably wish him to take a degree before he chooses a profession.”