Read THE BOY of The Children , free online book, by Alice Meynell, on

After an infancy of more than common docility and a young childhood of few explicit revolts, the boy of twelve years old enters upon a phase which the bystander may not well understand but may make shift to note as an impression.

Like other subtle things, his position is hardly to be described but by negatives.  Above all, he is not demonstrative.  The days are long gone by when he said he wanted a bicycle, a top hat, and a pipe.  One or two of these things he has, and he takes them without the least swagger.  He avoids expression of any kind.  Any satisfaction he may feel with things as they are is rather to be surprised in his manner than perceived in his action.  Mr. Jaggers, when it befell him to be astonished, showed it by a stop of manner, for an indivisible moment — not by a pause in the thing he chanced to be about.  In like manner the boy cannot prevent his most innocent pleasures from arresting him.

He will not endure (albeit he does not confess so much) to be told to do anything, at least in that citadel of his freedom, his home.  His elders probably give him as few orders as possible.  He will almost ingeniously evade any that are inevitably or thoughtlessly inflicted upon him, but if he does but succeed in only postponing his obedience, he has, visibly, done something for his own relief.  It is less convenient that he should hold mere questions, addressed to him in all good faith, as in some sort an attempt upon his liberty.

Questions about himself one might understand to be an outrage.  But it is against impersonal and indifferent questions also that the boy sets his face like a rock.  He has no ambition to give information on any point.  Older people may not dislike the opportunity, and there are even those who bring to pass questions of a trivial kind for the pleasure of answering them with animation.  This, the boy perhaps thinks, is “fuss,” and, if he has any passions, he has a passionate dislike of fuss.

When a younger child tears the boy’s scrapbook (which is conjectured, though not known, to be the dearest thing he has) he betrays no emotion; that was to be expected.  But when the stolen pages are rescued and put by for him, he abstains from taking an interest in the retrieval; he will do nothing to restore them.  To do so would mar the integrity of his reserve.  If he would do much rather than answer questions, he would suffer something rather than ask them.

He loves his father and a friend of his father’s, and he pushes them, in order to show it without compromising his temperament.

He is a partisan in silence.  It may be guessed that he is often occupied in comparing other people with his admired men.  Of this too he says little, except some brief word of allusion to what other men do not do.

When he speaks it is with a carefully shortened vocabulary.  As an author shuns monotony, so does the boy shun change.  He does not generally talk slang; his habitual words are the most usual of daily words made useful and appropriate by certain varieties of voice.  These express for him all that he will consent to communicate.  He reserves more by speaking dull words with zeal than by using zealous words that might betray him.  But his brevity is the chief thing; he has almost made an art of it.

He is not “merry.”  Merry boys have pretty manners, and it must be owned that this boy’s manners are not pretty.  But if not merry, he is happy; there never was a more untroubled soul.  If he has an almost grotesque reticence, he has no secrets.  Nothing that he thinks is very much hidden.  Even if he did not push his father, it would be evident that the boy loves him; even if he never laid his hand (and this little thing he does rarely) on his friend’s shoulder, it would be plain that he loves his friend.  His happiness appears in his moody and charming face, his ambition in his dumbness, and the hopes of his life to come in ungainly bearing.  How does so much heart, how does so much sweetness, all unexpressed, appear?  For it is not only those who know him well that know the child’s heart; strangers are aware of it.  This, which he would not reveal, is the only thing that is quite unmistakable and quite conspicuous.

What he thinks that he turns visibly to the world is a sense of humour, with a measure of criticism and of indifference.  What he thinks the world may divine in him is courage and an intelligence.  But carry himself how he will, he is manifestly a tender, gentle, and even spiritual creature, masculine and innocent — “a nice boy.”  There is no other way of describing him than that of his own brief language.