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The Sneak Post by :pehjr99 Category :Short Stories Author :Talbot Baines Reed Date :May 2011 Read :2571

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The Sneak

Sneak! It's an ugly name, but not ugly enough, believe me, for the animal it describes.

Like his namesake, the snake, he may be a showy enough looking fellow at first sight, he may have the knack of wriggling himself into your acquaintance, and his rattle may amuse you for a time, but wait till he turns and stings you!

I am at a loss how to describe in a few words what I--and, I expect, most of us--mean when we talk of a sneak. He is a mixture of so many detestable qualities. There is a large amount of cowardice in his constitution, and a similar quantity of jealousy; and then there are certain proportions of falsehood, ingratitude, malice, and officiousness to complete his ugly anatomy, to say nothing of hypocrisy and self- conceit. When all these amiable ingredients are compounded together, we have our model sneak.

How we detest the fellow! how our toes tingle when he comes our way! how readily we go a mile round to avoid him! how we hope we may never be like _him_!

Let me tell you of one we had at our school. Any one who did not know Jerry would have said to himself, "That's a pleasant enough sort of fellow." For so he seemed. With a knack of turning up everywhere, and at all times, he would at first strike the stranger as only an extremely sociable fellow, who occasionally failed to see he wasn't as welcome as one would think he deserved to be. But wait a little. Presently he'd make up to you, and become very friendly. In your pleasure at finding some one to talk to after coming away from home to a new and lonely place, you will, in the innocence of your heart, grow confidential, and tell him all your secrets. You will perhaps tell him to whom your sister is engaged; how much pocket-money your father allows you. You'll show him a likeness of the little cousin you are over head and ears in love with, and tell him about the cake your old nurse has packed up among the schoolbooks in your trunk. He takes the greatest interest in the narration; you feel quite happy to have had a good talk about the dear home, and you go to bed to dream of your little sweetheart and your new friend.

In the morning, when you wake, there is laughter going on in the beds round you. As you sit up and rub your eyes, and wonder where you are-- it's all so different from home--you hear one boy call out to another--

"I say, Tom, don't you wish you had a nurse to make you cakes?"

That somehow seems pointed at you, though addressed to another, for all the other boys look round at you and grin.

"Wouldn't I?" replies the Tom appealed to. "Only when a chap's in love, you know, he's no good at cakes."

"Cakes!" "in love!" They must be making fun of you; but however do they know so much about you? Listen! "If _I_ had a sister, I'd take care _she_ didn't go and marry a butter-man, Jack, wouldn't you?"

It must be meant for you; for you had told Jerry the evening before that your sister was going to marry a provision merchant! Then all of a sudden it flashes upon you. You have been betrayed! The secrets you have whispered in private have become the property of the entire school; and the friend you fancied so genial and sympathising has made your open-hearted frankness the subject of a blackguard jest, and exposed you to all the agony of schoolboy ridicule!

With quivering lips and flushed face, half shame, half anger, you dash beneath the clothes, and wish the floor would open beneath you. When the getting-up bell sounds, you slink into your clothes amid the titters of your companions. It is weeks before you hear the end of your nurse, your pocket money, your sister, and your sweetheart; and for you all the little pleasure of your first term at school has gone.

But what of Jerry? He comes to you in the morning as if nothing had happened, with a "How are you, old fellow?"

You are so indignant you can't speak; all you are able to do is to glare in scorn and anger.

"Afraid you're not well," remarks the sneak; "change of scene, you know. I hope you'll soon be better."

Just as he is going you manage, though almost bursting with the effort, to stammer out--"What do you mean by telling tales of me to all the fellows?" He looks perplexed, as if at a loss for your meaning. "Tell tales of you?" says he. "I don't know what you mean, old chap."

"Yes, you do. How did they all know all about me this morning, if you hadn't told them?"

Then, as if your meaning suddenly dawned upon him, he breaks into a forced laugh, and exclaims--

"Oh, the chaff between Tom and Jack! I was awfully angry with Jack for beginning it--awfully angry. We happened to be talking last night, you know, about home, and I just mentioned what you had told me, never thinking the fellow would be such a cad as to let it out."

You are so much taken aback at the impudence of the fellow, that you let him walk away without another word. If you have derived no other advantage from your first day at school, you have at least learned to know the character of Jerry. And you find it out better as you go on.

If you quarrel with him, and threaten him with condign punishment, he will report you to the doctor, and you'll get an imposition. If you sit up beyond hours reading, he'll contrive to let the monitors know, and your book will be confiscated; if you happen to be "spinning a yarn" with a chum in your study, you will generally find, if you open the door suddenly, that he is not very far from the keyhole; if you get up a party to partake of a smuggled supper in the dormitory, he will conduct a master to the scene, and get you into a row. There's no secret so deadly he won't get hold of; nothing you want kept quiet that he won't spread all round the school. In fact, there's scarcely anything he does not put his finger into, and everything he puts his finger into he spoils.

If, in a weak moment of benevolence, you take him back into your confidence and friendship, no one will be more humble and forgiving and affable; but he will just use your new favour as a weapon for paying back old grudges, and sorely will you repent your folly.

In fact, there is only one place for Jerry--that place is Coventry. That city is famous for one sneak already. Let Jerry keep him company. There he can tell tales, and peep and listen and wriggle to his heart's content. He'll please himself, and do no one any harm.

A sneak has not always the plea of self-interest for his meanness. Often enough his tale-bearing or his mischief-making can not only do his victims incalculable harm, but cannot do him any possible good.

What good did the snake in the fable expect who, having been rescued, and warmed and restored to life by the merciful woodcutter, turned on his deliverer and stung him? No wonder the good fellow knocked him on the head! I knew another sneak once who seemed to make a regular profession of this amiable propensity. He seemed to consider his path in life was to detect and inform on whatever, to his small mind, seemed a culpable offence. In the middle of school, all of a sudden his raspy voice would lift itself up in ejaculations like these, addressed to the master,--

"Please, sir," (he always prefaced his remarks with "Please, sir"), "Please, sir, Tom Cobb's eating an apple!"

"Please, sir, Jenkins has made a blot!"

"Please, sir, Allen junior is cutting his name on the desk!"

Perhaps the indignant Allen junior would here take occasion to acknowledge his sense of this attention by a private kick under the desk. Then it would be--

"All right, Joe Allen; _I'll sneak of you_, you see if I don't!"

No one could do it better.

Amiable little pet, how we all loved him!

Sneaking seems to be a sort of disease with some people. There's no other way of accounting for it. It sometimes seems as if the mere sight of happiness or success in others is the signal for its breaking out. As we have said, its two leading motives are cowardice and jealousy. Just as the cur will wait till the big dog has passed by, and then, slinking up behind, give a surreptitious snap at his heels, so the sneak, instead of standing face to face with his rival, and instead of entering into fair competition with him, creeps up unobserved and inflicts his wound on the sly.

Thus it has been with all traitors and spies and deserters and mischief- makers since the world began. What a list one could give of the sneaks of history, beginning at that arch-serpent who marred the happiness of Eden, down to some of the informers and renegades of the present day!

Boys cannot be too early on their guard against sneaking habits. No truly English boy, we are glad to think, is likely to fall into them; still, even among our own acquaintance, it is sad to think how many there are who are not wholly free from the reproach.

The child in the nursery who begins to tell tales to his mother of his little brothers and sisters will, if not corrected, grow up to be just such another sneak as Jerry; and Jerry, unless he cures himself of his vice, will become a mere odious meddler and scandalmonger in society, and may arrive at the unenviable distinction of being the most detested man of his generation.

Every disease has its cure. Be honest, be brave, be kind, and have always a good conscience, and you _cannot_ be a sneak.

(The end)
Talbot Baines Reed's short story: The Sneak

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