Summary and Analysis
Book 2: School-Time: Chapter 4
Despite his admiration for Philip's stories and drawing ability, Tom never quite overcomes the feeling that Philip is his enemy. Tom's schoolwork does not improve very much. Mr. Stelling is convinced that "a boy so stupid at signs and abstractions must be stupid at everything else," but Tom is not so very unlucky in his education; he is well fed, and gets "some fragments of more or less relevant knowledge." His bearing improves greatly through the instruction of his drillmaster, Mr. Poulter. Poulter is the village schoolmaster and a retired soldier, and his stories of combat under the Duke of Wellington are one of Tom's chief interests.
For a long time Tom has badgered Mr. Poulter to bring his sword to their drill. One day the old man gives in, and Tom runs in to bring Philip to see the exhibition of swordsmanship. Philip is singing at the piano and is annoyed by the interruption. He flares up at Tom, and in return Tom calls Philip's father a rogue. After Tom leaves, Philip cries bitterly. Mrs. Stelling tries half-heartedly to comfort him, but he tells her it is only a headache.
Tom is enthralled by the sword, and he bribes old Poulter to let him keep it under his bed. Tom smuggles it to his room and plans a surprise for Maggie when she comes to see him.
Tom's lack of artistic ability is contrasted with Philip's skill. Partly this is the result of "a narrow tendency in [Tom's] mind to details," a characteristic we have already noted. This distinction between Tom on one hand and Philip and Maggie on the other, this tendency to details, is one factor in Tom's later success in business.
Much of the chapter is concerned, like the last, with the system of education under which Tom suffers. It is treated with typical irony. Stelling is compared to "an animal endowed with the power of boring a hole through a rock." He is "not quite competent," but "incompetent gentlemen must live." It is pointed out that "a method of education sanctioned by the long practice of our venerable ancestors was not to give way before the exceptional dullness of a boy who was merely living at the time then present."
But the author has more than comedy in mind here. These passages widen the social context of the story. They help to form a background against which the characters should be seen.
Mrs. Stelling is not a figure of any importance; she is a personification of a type, against whom other characters may be played. What is seen of her is not very attractive. She is a woman "who adjusted her waist and patted her curls with a preoccupied air when she inquired after your welfare." She is most important for what she lacks — "the power of love."