The Easy-Going Boy by Talbot Baines Reed

Story type: Literature

It is a common complaint in these degenerate days that we live harder than our fathers did. Whatever we do we rush at. We bolt our food, and run for the train; we jump out of it before it has stopped, and reach the school door just as the bell rings; we “cram” for our examinations, and “spurt” for our prizes. We have no time to read books, so we scuttle through the reviews, and consider ourselves up in the subject; we cut short our letters home, and have no patience to sit and hear a long story out. We race off with a chum for a week’s holiday, and consider we have dawdled unless we have covered our thirty miles a day, and can name as visited a string of sights, mountains, lakes, and valleys a full yard long.

If such charges are just (and they are, we fear, not wholly unfounded), it is at least a satisfaction to know that there is one brilliant exception to the rule, and that is in the person of Master Ned Easy.

Whatever other folk do, he has no notion of hurrying himself. Some one once said of him that he was a fellow who looked as if he’d been born with his hands in his pockets. He takes his time about everything he does. If the breakfast bell rings before he is dressed, then–well, breakfast must wait. If breakfast is over before he has well begun, then everybody else must wait while he, in a leisurely way, polishes off his viands. In the classes, his is sure to be the last paper to be handed up; and when the boys are dismissed, he saunters forth to the playground in the rear of all the others. When he is one of a fishing- party, and everybody but he is ready, he keeps them all waiting till their patience is completely exhausted, while he gets together his tackle, laces his boots, and selects his flies.

“Come on! look alive!” is the cry that is for ever being hurled at him, “All serene, old fellow; what’s the hurry?” is his invariable reply.

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I well remember the first time I made Ned’s acquaintance, and I will recall the incident, as giving a fair specimen of the fellow and his peculiarity.

It was a big cricket match, the afternoon was far advanced, the light was getting uncertain, and time was almost up. Our school’s ninth wicket had fallen, and yet there were five runs to get to win, which we could just do, if our last man in was quick.

“Now, Ned!” calls out our captain, coming up to the tent; “look sharp in.”

Ned coolly sat down on the bench in our tent and proceeded to put on a pad.

“Never mind about that! there’s no time,” said our captain impatiently, “and they are bowling slow.”

“Oh, it won’t take a minute,” says Ned, discovering he had been putting the pad on upside down, and proceeding to undo it. We stood round in feverish impatience, and the minute consumed in putting on those miserable leg-fenders seemed like a year.

Ned himself, however, did not seem in the least flurried by our excitement.

“Pity they don’t make these things fasten with springs instead of straps,” he observed, by way of genial conversation.

Oh, how we chafed and fumed!

Will you look sharp, if you’re going to play at all?” howls our captain.

“All right, old chap; I can’t be quicker than I am; where are the gloves?”

The gloves are brought like lightning, but not like lightning put on. No, the india-rubber gauntlets must needs be drawn with the greatest care and deliberation over his fingers, and even then require a good deal of shifting to render them comfortable. Then he was actually (I believe) going to take them off in order to roll up his shirt sleeves, had not two of us performed that office for him with a rapidity which astonished him.

“Upon my word, this is too bad,” says our captain, flinging down the bat he was holding, and stamping with vexation. “We might as well give the whole thing up!”

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“I’m awfully sorry,” drawled Ned, in an injured tone; “but how could I help it? I’m ready now.”

“Ready! I should hope you were. Off you cut now; it only wants five minutes to the time.”

He starts to go, but turns before he has well left us, and says–

“Oh, I say, Jim, lend us your bat, will you? This one is sprung, and one of the–“

“Here you are,” we shout, running to him with a dozen bats at once–“only look sharp.”

“I only want one,” he says. “Let me see this; no, this will do. Thanks, old man,” and off he saunters again.

The other side is lying comfortably on the grass, very well satisfied at the delay which every moment adds to their chance of victory. What centuries Ned appears to be taking in strolling up to the wickets!

“I wish I was behind him with a red-hot poker,” says one; “I’d make him trot!”

“Not a bit of it,” growls our captain; “Ned would want more than that to start him.”

Look at him now, getting “middle” as if he’d the whole afternoon before him! And that done, he slowly and deliberately taps the end of his bat on the place till we almost yell with rage.

“It’s no use now!” groans our captain in absolute despair; and so, indeed, we and our smiling adversaries all thought.

“Play!” cries the bowler.

“Wait a bit,” says the aggravating Ned, dipping his hands in the sawdust! “now!”

The ball comes at last, and Ned lets fly. It is a grand hit; the ball comes whizzing right past where we stand, and with delight as great as our previous agony we cheer till we are hoarse.

Three runs are added to our score, and now we only want one more to equal our opponents, and two to win; but we shall never do it in the time, unless fortune favours us strangely. For see, it is “over,” and the fielders will consume half of the remaining two minutes in changing their position.

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Then again “play” is called.

Would you believe it? Ned calls out for “middle” again at the new wicket, and repeats the same pottering operation when he has got it. “Well, if ever I saw–“

What our captain is about to say no one ever hears, for at that moment the ball is delivered, and Ned blocks it dead.

There is just time for one ball more, and on that all our hopes depend.

It comes, and Ned bangs at it! It’s a run! No, it isn’t! yes it is! The fielder has missed it. Hurrah! we are equal!

Actually they are running another! They won’t do it. Up comes the ball to the wicket-keeper, and forward darts Ned’s bat over the crease.

“How’s that, umpire?” cries the wicket-keeper.

“Not out!”

“Time’s up!”

Oh, how we cheer! How we rush forward and shoulder Ned home to the tent. Never was such a close shave of a match!

Ned himself by no means shares in the general excitement.

“Why, what a hurry you fellows were in!” he says. “Look here, George, I’ll show you now what I meant about the springs on the pads.”

Now you will understand what a very aggravating fellow this Ned Easy was; and yet he generally managed to come off best in the end. He generally managed to scrape in at the finish of whatever he undertook.

I am certain that if he were a prisoner of war let out on parole, with a pledge to return in one hour or suffer death, he would turn up cool and comfortable on the sixtieth tick of the sixtieth minute of that hour, and look quite surprised at the men who were loading their muskets for his execution.

But some day the chances are he will be late in earnest, and then he will have to repent in a hurry of his bad speed.

A fellow who is easy-going about his time is generally easy-going about his friends, his money, and his morals.

Not that Ned is the sort of fellow to turn out a rascal exactly. He has not the energy, even if he had the inclination. A rascal, to be at all successful, must be brisk, and an observer of times and seasons, and that is altogether out of Ned’s line. No; he’ll be careless about what he does, and about what people think of him; he will lend a sovereign with as little idea of getting it back as he has of returning the pound he himself had borrowed; he will think nothing of keeping a friend waiting half a day; neither will he take offence if his own good nature is drawn on to an unlimited extent.

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He is, after his fashion, an observer of the golden rule, for although he is constantly annoying and exasperating people by his easy-going ways, he is never afflicted if others do to him as he does to them. He goes through life with the notion that every one is as complaisant and comfortable as himself. “Easy-going-ness” (if one may coin a word for the occasion) is, many people would say, a combination of selfishness and stupidity, but I think such people judge rather too hardly of Ned and his compeers. It’s all very well for some of us, who perhaps are of an active turn of mind, to talk about curing oneself of this fault; but perhaps, if we knew all, we should find that it would be about as easy as for a fair-complexioned person to make himself dark. Ned’s disposition is due more to his constitution than his upbringing, and those who are blindly intolerant of his ways do him a wrong. I’m sure he himself wishes he were as smart as some boys he sees, but he can’t be, and you might just as well try to lash an elephant into a gallop as Ned into a flurry.

It is generally found that what he does he does well, which in a measure makes up for the length of time he takes in doing it; he is good- natured, brave, harmless, and cheery, and has lots of friends, whom he allows full liberty both to abuse and laugh at him (and what can friends want more?) and for the rest, he’s neither vicious nor an idiot; and if nobody were worse than he is, the world would perhaps be rather better than it is.

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An artificial “easy-going-ness” is undoubtedly a vice. It’s a forgery, however, easily detected, and generally brings its own punishment. I advise none of my readers to try it on. If they are naturally energetic and smart, they have a much better chance of rising in the world than Ned has; but let them, when they laugh at Ned and abuse him, remember the fable of the hare and the tortoise.

I must just tell one more story of Ned in conclusion.

One night our whole school was startled by an alarm of “Fire!” We sprang from our beds, and, without waiting to dress, rushed to the quarter from which the cry had proceeded. It was only too true; a barn at one end of the buildings was in flames, and there seemed every prospect of the school itself catching fire.

We hurried back in a panic towards the staircase leading to the front door, and in doing so discovered Ned was not with us.

One of us darted off to the dormitory, where he lay in bed sound asleep.

A rough shake roused him.

“What’s the row?” he drawled, stretching himself.

“Get up quick, Ned; there’s a fire!”

“Where?” asked Ned, without stirring.

“In the doctor’s wing.”

The doctor’s wing was that farthest removed from our dormitories.

Ned yawned.

“Then it couldn’t possibly reach here for half an hour. Call us again in twenty minutes, Ben, there’s a good fellow!”

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