—Byron, of course, answered Stephen.
Heron gave the lead and all three joined in a scornful laugh.
—What are you laughing at? asked Stephen.
—You, said Heron. Byron the greatest poet! He’s only a poet for uneducated people.
—He must be a fine poet! said Boland.
—You may keep your mouth shut, said Stephen, turning on him boldly. All you know about poetry is what you wrote up on the slates in the yard and were going to be sent to the loft for.
Boland, in fact, was said to have written on the slates in the yard a couplet about a classmate of his who often rode home from the college on a pony:
As Tyson was riding into Jerusalem He fell and hurt his Alec Kafoozelum.
This thrust put the two lieutenants to silence but Heron went on:
—In any case Byron was a heretic and immoral too.
—I don’t care what he was, cried Stephen hotly.
—You don’t care whether he was a heretic or not? said Nash.
—What do you know about it? shouted Stephen. You never read a line of anything in your life except a trans, or Boland either.
—I know that Byron was a bad man, said Boland.
—Here, catch hold of this heretic, Heron called out. In a moment Stephen was a prisoner.
—Tate made you buck up the other day, Heron went on, about the heresy in your essay.
—I’ll tell him tomorrow, said Boland.
—Will you? said Stephen. You’d be afraid to open your lips.
—Ay. Afraid of your life.
—Behave yourself! cried Heron, cutting at Stephen’s legs with his cane.
It was the signal for their onset. Nash pinioned his arms behind while Boland seized a long cabbage stump which was lying in the gutter. Struggling and kicking under the cuts of the cane and the blows of the knotty stump Stephen was borne back against a barbed wire fence.
—Admit that Byron was no good.