For Parents Only
FOR PARENTS ONLY.
I have just returned home from an evening at the play, or rather from visiting my friends the Robinsons, which is much the same thing. If you don't mind my pipe, I will picture you the drama.
Robinson, an amiable man save when his shoe-lace breaks, sat alone and glum in the study. His teeth were clinched, his face was pale, and he stared hard at the fire. He welcomed me with an effort, and then forgot me. He is a business man, and I am not; so I concluded that stocks or debentures had fallen or risen (or whatever it is these things do to plunge those who know what they are in despair). I tried the drawing-room, and there found the two little girls crying, and Mrs. Robinson on the couch with her face to the wall. This was serious, and seemed to me to mean, at the least, a "corner" in stocks.
It was not stocks, however, my hostess told me from behind a handkerchief, it was Bobby. Had not her husband shown me "the letter"?
Bobby is the heir, aged seven, and I concluded from his mother's tragic tones that he had run off to be a pirate or an engine-driver, leaving a written statement to that effect on his dressing-table. I softly withdrew from the drawing-room, and returned to Robinson, who, with trembling arm, handed me "the letter." It was from the master of a school to which Bobby goes by train daily, except during the birdnesting season, when other matters claim his attention. The letter read thus:
"Dear Sir,—I regret to have to apprise you of the fact that I had to-day to cane your son severely. He is the youngest boy I have ever caned, but his delinquencies have of late been so frequent that no other course was open to me. This communication will doubtless cause you pain, but the punishment will have a beneficial effect not only on him, but on the other boys of his age whose leader in mischief he has been. They will no longer make a hero of one whom they have seen publicly chastised. The disgrace of the punishment, indeed, is greater than the punishment itself. That Robert may feel his shame more keenly I have read this letter to him, and he shall be the bearer of it to you."
"And where is Bobby at present?" I asked, when I had read this terrible letter.
"Crying his eyes out in the nursery, no doubt," answered Robinson. "Of course I should have him here, but I can't face him—I can't face him. I don't blame his master, but— My dear friend, think of it! The youngest boy ever caned in the school! The marks won't wear off his hands for a week, and think of his agony of mind every time he looks at them! Bobby is a sensitive boy, otherwise I should not take it so much to heart."
"Why not bring him here," I said, "and tell him that if he turns over a new leaf all will be forgotten?"
"Forgotten! How can I expect him to believe that? I know that if I had ever been caned in my school-days I could not have got over the shame for years. Besides—"
"I must not seem to take his part against his master, who is, I know, a most conscientious man. No, Bobby must bear the disgrace. But that does not make me feel less keenly for him. My hands, I assure you, are tingling as if I had been caned myself."
I found the two little girls still moaning at the drawing-room window—the younger lest Bobby should die, and the other because his friends would tell their sisters, who could never again be expected to esteem the name of Robinson.
Mrs. Robinson was for the moment not on speaking terms with Robinson, because he seemed to think that Bobby should continue to go to "such a school." If Bobby had misconducted himself, surely the blame lay with a master who did not understand that he was a boy who could best be ruled by kindness. She had never had the least trouble with Bobby. No, he was not in the house, he had run out immediately after delivering the letter, and she had searched for him everywhere in vain. His pride had been broken. He would never be the same boy again. He was afraid to be looked at. He was no doubt hiding somewhere in the cold night; and he had not even on his great-coat, and he would catch his death of cold.
"If he does, mamma," asked the older girl, brightening, "will the master be hanged? And, oh, do you think we could get tickets?"
The night was dark, so we lit a lantern, and set off to look for the unhappy Bobby. At last we found him—in Mr. Mackinnon's stable. We looked through crevices in the wood-work, and this is what we saw:
Bobby, in tremendous spirits, was the centre of a group of envious and admiring youths, some of them school-fellows, others ragged lads of the village. If they began to brag, Bobby stopped them short with, "That isn't nothing; you didn't never get caned."
"Yes, I did, though," insisted one.
"Let me see your hand," retorted Bobby. "Oh ho! he won't; and 'cause there's not no marks on it."
"Let us see your hands again, Bobby."
Bobby held out his hands as proudly as if they contained a diamond.
"By gum! I say, Bobby, come and play with me to-morrow."
"Let me walk beside you, Bobby, and I'll give you my crossbow. It's broke, but—"
"Bobby, I'm the one you like best, ain't I?"
"I'm the youngest he ever licked!" cried Bobby, in a transport of delight. He began to strut up and down the stable.
"Well, then, you needn't bounce about it like that."
"So would you bounce if it had been you."
"I'll be caned to-morrow."
"So will I, and then I'll be as good as Bobby."
"No, you won't," thundered Bobby. "Though you was all caned twelve times twelve is a hundred and forty-four, I would always be the first, I would. I'm the youngest he ever caned! So would you bounce if you was the youngest he ever caned."
"Look here, you chaps," broke in the hero of the day, "I amn't not to be called Bobby any more. You'll have to call me Robinson now. He called me Robinson when he caned me."
"And, what's more, I'm the youngest he ever—"
The other Robinson here retired with a hopeless look on his face. Mrs. Robinson seemed less humbled. I came home reflecting.
J. M. Barrie.