The Mother and Boy
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1854
"Tom, let that alone!" exclaimed a mother, petulantly, to a boy seven years old, who was playing with a tassel that hung from one of the window-blinds, to the imminent danger of its destruction.
The boy did not seem to hear, but kept on fingering the tassel.
"Let that be, I tell you! Must I speak a hundred times? Why don't you mind at once?"
The child slowly relinquished his hold of the tassel, and commenced running his hand up and down the venitian blind.
"There! there! Do for gracious sake, let those blinds alone. Go away from the window this moment, and try and keep your hands off of things. I declare! you are the most trying child I ever saw!"
Tom left the window and threw himself at full length into the cradle, where he commenced rocking himself with a force and rapidity that made everything crack.
"Get out of that cradle! What do you mean? The child really seems possessed!" And the mother caught him by the arm and jerked him from the cradle.
Tom said nothing, but, with the most imperturbable air in the world, walked twice around the room, and then pushing a chair up before the dressing-bureau, took therefrom a bottle of hair lustral, and, pouring the palm of his little hand full of the liquid, commenced rubbing it upon his head. Twice had this operation been performed, and Tom was pulling open a drawer to get the hair-brush, when the odor of the oily compound reached the nostrils of the lad's mother, who was sitting with her back toward him. Turning quickly, she saw what was going on.
"You!" fell angrily from her lips, as she dropped the baby in the cradle. "Isn't it too much!" she continued, as she swept across the room to where Tom was standing before the mirror.
"There, sir!" and the child's ear rang with the slap he received. "There, sir!" and the slap was repeated. "Haven't I told you a hundred times not to touch that hair-oil? Just see what a spot of grease you've made on the carpet! Look at your hands!"
Tom looked at his hands, and, seeing them full of oil, clapped them quickly down upon his jacket, and tried to rub them clean.
"Stop! mercy! Now see your new jacket that you put on this morning. Grease from top to bottom! Isn't it too bad! I am in despair!" And the mother let her hands fall by her side, and her body drop into a chair.
"It's no use to try," she continued; "I'll give up. Just see that jacket! it's totally ruined; and that carpet, too. Was there ever such a trying boy! Go downstairs this instant, and tell Jane to come up here."
Tom had reason to know that his mother was not in a mood to be trifled with, so he went off briskly and called Jane, who was directed to get some fuller's soap and put upon the carpet where oil had been spilled.
Not at all liking the atmosphere of his mother's room, Tom, being once in the kitchen, felt no inclination to return. His first work there, after delivering his message to Jane, was to commence turning the coffee-mill.
"Tommy," said the cook, mildly, yet firmly, "you know I've told you that it was wrong to touch the coffee-mill. See here, on the floor, where you have scattered the coffee about, and now I must get a broom and sweep it up. If you do so, I can't let you come down here!"
The boy stood and looked at the cook seriously, while she got the broom and swept up the mess he had made.
"It's all clean again now," said the cook, pleasantly. "And you won't do so any more, will you?"
"No, I won't touch the coffee-mill." And, as Tom said this, he sidled up to the knife-box that stood upon the dresser, and made a dive into it with his hand.
"Oh, no, no, no, Tommy! that won't do, either," said the cook. "The knives have all been cleaned, and they are to go on the table to eat with."
"Then what can I play with, Margaret?" asked the child, as he left the dresser. "I want something to play with."
The cook thought a moment, and then went to a closet and brought out a little basket filled with clothes-pins. As she held them in her hand, she said — "Tommy, if you will be careful not to break any of these, nor scatter them about, you may have them to play with. But remember, now, that as soon as you begin to throw them around the room, I will put them up again."
"Oh, no, I won't throw them about," said the little fellow, with brightening eyes, as he reached out for the basket of pins.
In a little while he had a circle formed on the table, which he called his fort; and inside of this he had men, cannon, sentry-boxes, and other things that were suggested to his imagination.
"Where's Thomas?" asked his mother, about the time he had become fairly interested in his fort.
"I left him down in the kitchen," replied Jane.
"Go down and tell him to come up here instantly."
Down went Jane.
"Come along upstairs to your mother," said she.
"No, I won't," replied the boy.
"Very well, mister! You can do as you like; but your mother sent for you."
"Tell mother I am playing here so good. I'm not in any mischief. Am I, Margaret?"
"No, Tommy; but your mother has sent for you, and you had better go."
"I don't want to."
"Just as you like," said Jane, indifferently, as she left the kitchen and went upstairs.
"Where's Thomas?" was the question with which she was met on returning to the chamber.
"He won't come, ma'am."
"Go and tell him that if he doesn't come up to me instantly, I will put on his night-clothes and shut him up in the closet!"
The threat of the closet was generally uttered ten times where it was executed once; it made but little impression upon the child, who was all absorbed in his fort.
Jane returned. In a few moments afterward, the quick, angry voice of the mother was heard ringing down the stairway.
"You, Tom! come up here this instant."
"I'm not troubling anything, mother."
"Come up, I say!"
"Margaret says I may play with the clothes-pins. I'm only building a fort with them."
"Do you hear me?"
"Tom! if you don't come to me this instant, I'll almost skin you. Margaret! take them clothes-pins away. Pretty playthings, indeed, for you to give a boy like him! No wonder I have to get a dozen new ones every two or three months."
Margaret now spoke.
"Tommy, you must go up to your mother."
She now took the clothes-pins and commenced putting them into the basket where they belonged. Her words and action had a more instant effect than all the mother's storm of passion. The boy left the kitchen in tears, and went slowly upstairs.
"Why didn't you come when I called you? Say!"
The mother seized her little boy by the arm the moment he came in reach of her, and dragged rather than led him upstairs, uttering such exclamations as these by the way:
"I never saw such a child! You might as well talk to the wind! I'm in despair! I'll give up! Humph! clothes-pins, indeed! Pretty playthings to give a child! Everything goes to rack and ruin! There!"
And, as the last word was uttered, Tommy was thrust into his mother's room with a force that nearly threw him prostrate.
"Now take off them clothes, sir."
"What for, mother? I haven't done anything! I didn't hurt the clothes-pins; Margaret said I might play with them."
"D'ye hear? take off them clothes, I say!"
"I didn't do anything, mother."
"A word more, and I'll slap your ears until they ring for a month. Take off them clothes, I say! I'll teach you to come when I send for you! I'll let you know whether I am to be minded or not!"
Tommy slowly disrobed himself, while his mother, fretted to the point of resolution, eyed him with unrelenting aspect. The jacket and trousers were removed, and his night-clothes put on in their stead, Tommy all the while protesting tearfully that he had done nothing.
"Will you hush!" was all the satisfaction he received for his protestations.
"Now, Jane, take him upstairs to bed; he's got to lie there all the afternoon."
It was then four, and the sun did not set until near eight o'clock. Upstairs the poor child had to go, and then his mother found some quiet. Her babe slept soundly in the cradle, undisturbed by Tommy's racket, and she enjoyed a new novel to the extent of almost entirely forgetting her lonely boy shut up in the chamber above.
"Where's Tommy?" asked a friend, who dropped in about six o'clock.
"In bed," said the mother, with a sigh.
"What's the matter? Is he sick?"
"Oh, no. I almost wish he were."
"What a strange wish! Why do you wish so?"
"Oh, because he is like a little angel when he is sick — as good as he can be. I had to send him to bed as a punishment for disobedience. He is a hard child to manage; I think I never saw one just like him; but, you know, obedience is everything. It is our duty to require a strict regard to this in our children."
"Certainly. If they do not obey their parents as children, they will not obey the laws as men."
"That is precisely the view I take; and I make it a point to require implicit obedience in my boy. This is my duty as a parent; but I find it hard work."
"It is hard, doubtless. Still we must persevere, and, in patience, possessing our souls."
"To be patient with a boy like mine, is a hard task. Sometimes I feel as if I would go crazy." said the mother.
"But, under the influence of such a feeling," remarked the friend, "what we say makes little or no impression. A calmly uttered word, in which there is an expression of interest in and sympathy for the child, does more than the sternest commands. This I have long since discovered. I never scold my children; scolding does no good, but harm. My oldest boy is restless, excitable, and impulsive. If I were not to provide him with the means of employing himself, or in other ways divert him — his hands would be on everything in the house, and both he and I made unhappy."
"But how can you interest him?"
"In various ways. Sometimes I read to him; sometimes I set him to doing things by way of assisting me. I take him out when I can, and let him go with the girls when I send them on errands. I provide him with playthings that are suited to his age. In a word, I try to keep him in my mind; and, therefore, find it not very difficult to meet his varying states. I never thrust him aside, and say I am too busy to attend to him, when he comes with a request. If I cannot grant it, I try not to say 'no,' for that word comes too coldly upon the eager desire of an ardent-minded boy."
"But how can you help saying 'no,' if the request is one you cannot grant?"
"Sometimes I ask if something else will not do as well; and sometimes I endeavor to create a new interest in his mind. There are various ways in which it may be done, that readily suggest themselves to those desirous for the good of their children. It is affection which inspires thought. The love of children always brings a quick intelligence concerning their good."
Much more was said, not needful here to repeat. When the friend went away, Tommy's mother, whose heart convicted her of wrong to her little boy, went up to the room where she had sent him to spend four or five lonely hours as a punishment for what was, in reality, her own fault, and not his. Three hours of the weary time had already passed. She did not remember to have heard a sound from him, since she drove him away with angry words. In fact, she had been too deeply interested in the new book she was reading, to have heard any noise that was not of an extraordinary character.
At the door of the chamber she stood and listened for a moment. All was silent within. The mother's heart beat with a heavy motion. On entering, she found the order of the room undisturbed; not even a chair was out of place. Tommy was asleep on the bed. As his mother bent over him, she saw that tears were upon his cheeks and eyelids, and that the pillow was wet. A choking sigh struggled up from her bosom; she felt a rebuking consciousness of having wronged her child. She laid her hand upon his red cheek, but drew it back instantly; it was hot with fever. She caught up his hand; it was also in a burning glow. Alarm took the place of grief for having wronged her boy. She tried to awaken him, but he only moaned and muttered. The excitement had brought on a fever.
When the father came home and laid his hand upon the hot cheek of his sleeping boy, he uttered an exclamation of alarm, and started off instantly for a physician. All night the wretched mother watched by her sick child, unable, from fear and self-reproaches, to sleep. When the morning broke, and Thomas looked up into her face with a gleam of trusting affection, his fever was gone and his pulse was calm. The mother laid her cheek thankfully against that of her boy, and prayed to Heaven for strength to bear with him, and wisdom to guide her feet aright; and as she did so, in the silence of her overflowing heart, the lad drew his arms around her neck, and, kissing her, said — "Mother, I do love you!"
That tears came gushing over the mother's face is no cause of wonder, nor that she returned, half wildly, the embrace and kiss of her child.
Let us hope that, in her future conduct towards her ardent, restless boy, she may be able to control herself; for then she will not find it hard to bring him under subjection to what is right.