Timothy Shay Arthur, 1859
"The next time you go out, you'll buy me a wagon, won't you, mother?" said my little boy to me, one day.
I didn't want to say "no," and destroy his happy feelings; and I was not prepared to say "yes;" and so I gave the evasive reply so often used under such circumstances, "Maybe so," and which was meant rather as a negative than an affirmative. The child was satisfied; for he gave my words the meaning he wished them to have. In a little while after, I had forgotten all about it. Not so my boy. To him the "Maybe so" was "yes," and he set his heart, confidently, on receiving the wagon the next time I should go out. This happened on the afternoon of that very day. It was towards evening when I returned. The moment I rang the bell at my own door, I heard his pattering feet and gleeful voice in the entry.
"Where's my wagon?" said he, as I entered, a shade of disappointment falling suddenly upon his excited, happy face.
"What wagon, dear?" I asked.
"My wagon. The wagon you promised to buy me."
"I didn't promise to buy a wagon, my son."
"Oh, yes you did, mother! You promised me this morning."
Tears were already in his eye, and his face wore a look of distressing disappointment.
"I promised to buy you a wagon? I am sure I remember nothing about it," I replied confidently. "What in the world put that into your head?"
"Didn't I ask you?" said the child, the tears now overflowing his cheeks.
"Yes, I believe you did ask me something about a wagon; but I didn't promise to buy you one."
"Oh, yes you did, mother. You said maybe so."
"But 'maybe so' doesn't mean yes."
At this the little fellow uttered a distressing cry. His heart was almost broken by disappointment. He had interpreted my words according to his own wishes, and not according to their real meaning.
Unprepared for an occurrence of this kind, I was not in the mood to sympathize with my child fully. To be met thus, at the moment of my return home, disturbed me.
"I didn't promise to buy you a wagon; and you must stop crying about it," said I, seeing that he had given way to his feelings, and was crying in a loud voice.
But he cried on. I went upstairs to take off my things, and he followed, still crying.
"You must hush, now," said I, more positively. "I cannot permit this. I never promised to buy you a wagon."
"You said maybe so," sobbed the child.
"Maybe so, and yes — are two different things. If I had said that I would buy you a wagon, then there would have been some reason in your disappointment; but I said no such thing."
He had paused to listen; but, as I ceased speaking, his crying was renewed.
"You must stop this now. There is no use in it, and I will not have it!" said I, resolutely.
My boy choked down for a few moments at this, and half stifled his grief; but overmastering him, it flowed on again as wildly as ever. I felt impatient.
"Stop this moment, I say!" And I took hold of his arm firmly. My will is strong, and when a little excited, it often leads me beyond where I would go in moments of reflection. My boy knew this by experience. By my manner of speaking, he saw that I was in earnest, and that, if he did not obey me, punishment would follow. So, with what must have been a powerful effort for one so young, he stifled the utterance of his grief. But, the storm within raged none the less violently, and I could see his little frame quiver as he strove to repress the rising sobs.
Turning away from me, he went and sat down on a little seat in a corner of the room. I saw his form in the looking-glass as I stood before it to arrange my hair, after laying aside my bonnet; and for the first time my feelings were touched. There was an abandonment in his whole attitude; an air of grief about him that affected me with pity and tenderness.
"Poor child!" I sighed. "His heart is almost broken. I ought to have said yes or no; and then all would have been settled."
"Come," said I, after a few moments, reaching my hand towards the child — "let us go down and look out for father. He will be home soon."
I spoke kindly and cheerfully. But he neither moved, looked up, nor gave the smallest sign that he heard me.
"Oh, well," said I, with some impatience in my voice — "it doesn't matter at all. If you'd rather sit there than come down into the parlor and look out for dear father, you can please yourself."
And turning away as I spoke, I left the chamber, and went downstairs. Seating myself at the window, I looked forth and endeavored to feel unconcerned and cheerful. But, this was beyond my power. I saw nothing but the form of my grieving child, and could think of nothing but his sorrow and disappointment.
"Nancy," said I to one of my servants, who happened to come into the parlor to ask me some question, "I wish you would run down to the toy store in the next block, and buy Neddy a wagon. His heart is almost broken about one."
The girl, always willing, when kindly spoke to, ran off to obey my wishes, and in a little while came back with the article wanted.
"Now," said I, "go up into my room and tell Neddy that I've got something for him. Don't mention the wagon; I want to take him by surprise."
Nancy went bounding up the stairs, and I placed the wagon in the center of the room where it would meet the child's eyes on the moment of his entrance, and then sat down to await his coming, and enjoy his surprise and delight.
After the lapse of about a minute, I heard Nancy coming down slowly.
"Neddy's asleep," said she, looking in at the door.
"Asleep!" I felt greatly disappointed.
"Yes, ma'am. He was on the floor asleep. I took him up, and laid him in your bed."
"Then he's over his troubles," said I, attempting to find a relief for my feelings in this utterance. But no such relief came.
Taking the wagon in my hand, I went up to the chamber where he lay, and bent over him. The signs of grief were still upon his innocent face, and every now and then a faint sigh or sob gave evidence that even sleep had not yet hushed entirely, the storm which had swept over him.
"Neddy!" I spoke to him in a voice of tenderness, hoping that my words might reach his ear, "Neddy, dear, I've bought you a wagon."
But his senses were locked. Taking him up, I undressed him, and then, after kissing his lips, brow, and cheeks, laid him in his little bed, and placed the wagon on the pillow beside him.
Even until the late hour at which I retired on that evening, were my feelings oppressed by the incident I have described. My "maybe so," uttered in order to avoid giving the direct answer my child wanted, had occasioned him far more pain than a positive refusal of his request could have done.
"I will be more careful in future," said I, as I lay thinking about the occurrence, "how I create false hopes. My yes shall be yes, and my nay, nay. Then I will not be misunderstood."
In the morning when I awoke, I found Neddy in possession of his wagon. He was running with it around the room, as happy as if a tear had never been upon his cheek. I looked at him for many minutes without speaking. At last, seeing that I was awake, he bounded up to the bedside, and, kissing me, said:
"Thank you, dear mother, for buying me this wagon! You are a good mother!"
I must own to having felt some doubts on the subject of Neddy's compliment at the time. Since this little experience, I have been more careful how I answer the petitions of my children; and avoid the "maybe so," "I'll see about it," and other such evasive answers that come so readily to the lips. The good result I have experienced in many instances.