—Tell us, Dedalus, do you kiss your mother before you go to bed?
Wells turned to the other fellows and said:
—O, I say, here's a fellow says he kisses his mother every night before he goes to bed.
The other fellows stopped their game and turned round, laughing. Stephen blushed under their eyes and said:
—I do not.
—O, I say, here's a fellow says he doesn't kiss his mother before he goes to bed.
They all laughed again. Stephen tried to laugh with them. He felt his whole body hot and confused in a moment. What was the right answer to the question? He had given two and still Wells laughed. But Wells must know the right answer for he was in third of grammar. He tried to think of Wells's mother but he did not dare to raise his eyes to Wells's face. He did not like Wells's face. It was Wells who had shouldered him into the square ditch the day before because he would not swop his little snuff box for Wells's seasoned hacking chestnut, the conqueror of forty. It was a mean thing to do; all the fellows said it was. And how cold and slimy the water had been! And a fellow had once seen a big rat jump plop into the scum.
The cold slime of the ditch covered his whole body; and, when the bell rang for study and the lines filed out of the playrooms, he felt the cold air of the corridor and staircase inside his clothes. He still tried to think what was the right answer. Was it right to kiss his mother or wrong to kiss his mother? What did that mean, to kiss?