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The Sulky Boy Post by :joannent Category :Short Stories Author :Talbot Baines Reed Date :May 2011 Read :3360

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The Sulky Boy

We all know him. He might be a good-looking fellow, perhaps, if it weren't for the scowl over his eyes and the everlasting pout about his lips. He skulks about with his hands in his pockets, and his head hung down. We all make room for him, and give him a wide berth; no one is anxious to be chosen upon the same side with him at chevy, or to get the desk next his in school. It's a fact we are all afraid of him, though we all despise him. He makes everybody unhappy, by being miserable himself for no reason at all.

Sometimes, indeed, he can be jolly enough--when he chooses. No one could tell at such times that there was anything queer about him; but then all of a sudden he shows in his true colours (and dingy enough colours they are), and then it is all up with enjoyment till he takes himself off, which he generally does before long.

All this is very sad; and if I say a word or two about sulkiness now, it will be in the hope of inducing my readers to give no encouragement to so ugly a vice.

There are two ways of showing anger, when one is unfortunate enough to be under the necessity of being angry. You can't always help it. Some people are never put out. However much you rile them, they are always good-humoured, always cool, always friendly. You might as well try to talk the sun behind a cloud as to get them in a rage. Happy the few who have this art! They always get the best of it, they always win the greatest respect, they always are the least likely people for any one to quarrel with.

I don't count these among the two classes of angry people, because they are not angry. But angry people are generally either in a rage or in the sulks. Neither is pleasant to meet, yet for my own part I would sooner have to do with the fellow in the rage. There's no deception about him; he's angry, and he lets you know it; he's got a grievance, and he blurts out what it is; he hits straight out from the shoulder, and you know what you've to expect. With such a one it is generally soon all over. Just as the April shower, sharp enough while it lasts, gives place in time to the sun, so Will Hothead generally gets all right as soon as he has let the steam off; and when he shakes hands and makes it up, you are pretty sure he thinks none the worse of you, and bears no malice.

Don't imagine I'm trying to justify exhibitions of temper. Far from it. I say every boy who can't control his temper has yet to learn one of the greatest lessons of life. What I want to show is that even passion, bad as it is, is not so bad as sulkiness.

For just consider what a miserable sort of boy this Tom Sulks, that we all of us know, is. Why, almost before he could speak he had learned to pout. If a toy was denied him, he neither bellowed like his little brother nor raved like his little sister, but toddled off and sulked in a corner all day long. When he grew a little older, if he was not allowed to play in the garden because it was damp, he refused to play in the nursery, he refused to come down to the dining-room, he refused to say his prayers at bedtime. When he was old enough to go to school, he would either play marbles the way he was used to (which was the wrong way), or not at all. If found fault with for not knowing his lesson, he pushed his books from him, and endured to be stood in the corner, or punished some other way, rather than learn his task. The vice only became worse and worse as time went on, and to-day Tom is an odious fellow. Look at him playing at cricket. He steps across the wickets to hit at a ball, but, instead, stops it with his foot. "How's that, umpire?" cries the bowler. "Out, leg before," is the answer.

Tom still keeps his place.

"Out, do you hear, leg before?"

"It wasn't!" growls Tom.

"The umpire gives it out," is the unanswerable reply.

Thereupon Tom's face clouds over, his eyebrows gather, and his lips shape themselves into a pout, as he drops his bat and walks from the wicket without a word. No one takes any notice of him, for the event is too common, alas, to occasion surprise. We know what his sulks mean. No one will get a word from him for hours, perhaps a day; no attempts at conciliation will tempt him back to the game, no friendly talk will chase the cloud from his face. There he goes, slouching up the playground into the house, and he will skulk upstairs to his study and slam the door, and that's all we shall see of Tom till suppertime.

Once, I remember, young Jim Friendly, a new boy, tried hard to coax Tom back into good humour. They had been having a match at something, I forget what, and Jim happened to say that something Tom did was against the rules. Tom, as usual, grew sulky and walked off.

"What, you aren't going in?" said Jim, disconcerted. No answer. "I didn't mean to offend you, old fellow; you may be right, after all." No answer. "I beg your pardon, Tom. I wouldn't have said it if I thought you'd have minded." No answer. "Don't be angry with a fellow, I didn't mean--"

No answer. And so Jim went on apologising, as if he had been all in the wrong and the other all in the right, and getting no word in reply, only the same scowl and uncompromising sullenness. "I'll take jolly good care not to stroke that fellow the wrong way again," said Jim, afterwards; "and if I should, I won't waste my time in stroking him the right way."

Just fancy what sort of man such a fellow as Tom is likely to turn out. Is he likely to have many friends? Unless he can get a few of his own sort, I'm afraid he'll be rather badly off in that respect. And then, oh, horrors! fancy half a dozen Tom Sulks together! What a happy family they would be! When Tom goes to business, he had better make up his mind to start a concern of his own, for I'm afraid he would have some difficulty in getting a partner, or, at any rate, keeping one. I could quite fancy some important question arising where Tom and his partner might hold different views. Tom insists he's right, the partner insists he's right. Tom consequently stays away for a week from the office, during which the poor partner has to manage as best he can.

Whatever Tom will do about marrying I don't know; and when he is married, what his wife will do, I know still less--it's no use speculating on such a matter. But now, letting Tom be, let us inquire whether the sulky boy is more to be blamed than pitied. That he is an odious, disagreeable fellow, there is no doubt. But perhaps it's not _all_ his own fault. Some boys are of duller natures than others. The high-spirited, healthy, sanguine fellow will flare up at a moment's notice, and let fly without stopping to think twice of the injury done him, while the dull boy is altogether slower in his movements: words don't come to his lips so quickly, or thoughts don't rush into his mind as promptly as in others; he is like the snail who, when offended, shrinks back into its shell, leaving nothing but a hard, unyielding exterior to mark his displeasure. A great many boys are sulky because they have not the boldness to be anything else; and a great many others are so because to their small minds it is the grandest way of displaying their wrath. If only they could see how ridiculous they are!

I once knew two boys who for some time had been firm friends at school. By some unlucky chance a misunderstanding occurred which interrupted this friendship, and the grievance was, or appeared to be, so sore, that neither boy would speak to the other. Well, this went on for no less than six months, and became the talk of the whole school. These silly boys, however, were so convinced of the sublimity of their respective conducts that they never observed that every one was laughing at them. Daily they passed one another, with eyes averted and noses high in the air; daily they fed their memories with the recollection of their smart. For six months never a word passed between them. Then came the summer holidays, in the course of which it suddenly occurred to both these boys, being not altogether senseless boys, that after all they were making themselves rather ridiculous. And the more they thought of it, the more ashamed of themselves they grew, till at last one sat down and wrote,--

"Dear Dick, I'm sorry I offended you; make it up," to which epistle came, by return post, a reply,--

"Dear Bob, _I'm_ sorry _I_ offended you; let's be friends."

And the first day of next term these two met and shook hands, and laughed, and owned what fools they had both been.

A great many of the faults of this life come from the lack of a sense of humour. Certainly, if sulky boys had more of it, they would be inclined to follow the example of these two.

But, although there is a great deal about the sulky boy that merits pity rather than blame, there is much that deserves merciless censure. Why should one boy, by a whim of selfish resentment, mar the pleasure, not only of those with whom he has his quarrel, but with every one else he comes in contact with? "One dead fly," the proverb says, "makes the apothecary's ointment unsavoury"; and one sulky boy, in like manner, may destroy the harmony of a whole school. Isn't it enough, if you must be disagreeable, to confine your disagreeableness to those for whom it is meant, without lugging a dozen other harmless fellows into the shadow of it? Do you really think so much of your own importance as to imagine all the world will be interested in your quarrel with Smith, because he insisted a thing was tweedledum and you insisted it was tweedledee? Or, if you have the grace to confine your sulkiness to Smith alone, for his private benefit, do you imagine you will convince him of the error of his ways by shutting yourself up and never looking or speaking to him?

It used to be a matter of frequent debate at school what ought to be done to Tom Sulks.

"Kick him," said some. "Laugh at him," said others. "Send him to Coventry," put in a third. "Lecture him," advised others. "Let him alone," said the rest.

And this, after all, is the best advice. If a sulky fellow won't come round of his own accord, no kicks, or laughs, or snubs, or lectures will bring him.

Surely none of the readers of this chapter are sulky boys! It is not to be expected you will get through life without being put out--that is sure to happen; and then you've three courses open to you: either to take it like a man and a Christian, not rendering evil for evil, not carried away by revengeful impulse, but bearing what can honourably be borne with a good grace; and for the rest, if action is necessary, righting yourself without malice or vindictiveness; or else you can fly into a rage, and slog out blindly in wild passion; or you can sulk like a cur in a corner, heeded by no one, yet disliked by all, and without a friend--not even yourself.

You will know which of the three best becomes a British boy. Be assured, that which worst becomes him is _sulking_.

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

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