Mr. Midshipman Easy

Chapter Four

In which the Doctor prescribes going to school as a
remedy for a cut finger.

Frederick Marryat

HAVE you no idea of putting the boy to school, Mr. Easy?” said Dr Middleton, who had been summoned by a groom with his horse in a foam to attend immediately at Forest Hill, the name of Mr. Easy’s mansion, and who, upon his arrival, had found that Master Easy had cut his thumb. One would have thought that he had cut his head off by the agitation pervading the whole household—Mr. Easy walking up and down very uneasy, Mrs. Easy with great difficulty prevented from syncope, and all the maids bustling and passing round Mrs. Easy’s chair. Everybody appeared excited except Master Jack Easy himself, who, with a rag round his finger, and his pinafore spotted with blood, was playing at bob-cherry, and cared nothing about the matter.

“Well, what’s the matter, my little man?” said Dr Middleton, on entering, addressing himself to Jack, as the most sensible of the whole party.

“Oh, Dr Middleton,” interrupted Mrs. Easy, “he has cut his hand; I am sure that a nerve is divided, and then the lockjaw—”

The doctor made no reply, but examined the finger: Jack Easy continued to play bob-cherry with his right hand.

“Have you such a thing as a piece of sticking-plaster in the house, madam?” observed the doctor, after examination.

“Oh, yes—run, Mary—run, Sarah!” In a few seconds the maids appeared, Sarah bringing the sticking-plaster, and Mary following with the scissors.

“Make yourself quite easy, madam,” said Dr Middleton, after he put on the plaster, “I will answer for no evil consequences.”

“Had I not better take him upstairs, and let him lie down a little?” replied Mrs. Easy, slipping a guinea into the doctor’s hand.

“It is not absolutely requisite, madam,” said the doctor; “but at all events he will be kept out of more mischief.”

“Come, my dear, you hear what Dr Middleton says.”

“Yes, I heard,” replied Jack; “but I shan’t go.”

“My dear Johnny—come, love—now do, my dear Johnny.”

Johnny played bob-cherry, and made no answer.

“Come, Master Johnny,” said Sarah.

“Go away, Sarah,” said Johnny, with a back-hander.

“Oh, fie, Master Johnny!” said Mary.

“Johnny, my love,” said Mrs. Easy, in a coaxing tone, “come now—will you go?”

“I’ll go in the garden and get some more cherries,” replied Master Johnny.

“Come, then, love, we will go into the garden.” Master Johnny jumped off his chair, and took his mamma by the hand.

“What a dear, good, obedient child it is!” exclaimed Mrs. Easy: “you may lead him with a thread.”

“Yes, to pick cherries,” thought Dr Middleton. Mrs. Easy, and Johnny, and Sarah, and Mary went into the garden, leaving Dr Middleton alone with Mr. Easy, who had been silent during this scene. Now Dr Middleton was a clever, sensible man, who had no wish to impose upon any one. As for his taking a guinea for putting on a piece of sticking-plaster, his conscience was very easy on that score. His time was equally valuable, whether he were employed for something or nothing; and, moreover, he attended the poor gratis. Constantly in the house, he had seen much of Mr. John Easy, and perceived that he was a courageous, decided boy, of a naturally good disposition; but from the idiosyncrasy of the father and the doting folly of the mother, in a sure way of being spoiled. As soon, therefore, as the lady was out of hearing, he took a chair, and made the query at the commencement of the chapter, which we shall now repeat.

“Have you no idea of putting the boy to school, Mr. Easy?”

Mr. Easy crossed his legs, and clasped his hands together over his knees, as he always did when he was about to commence an argument.

“The great objection that I have to sending a boy to school, Dr Middleton, is, that I conceive that the discipline enforced is, not only contrary to the rights of man, but also in opposition to all sound sense and common judgment. Not content with punishment, which is in itself erroneous and an infringement of social justice, they even degrade the minds of the boys still more by applying punishment to the most degraded part, adding contumely to tyranny. Of course it is intended that a boy who is sent to school should gain by precept and example but is he to learn benevolence by the angry look and the flourish of the vindictive birch—or forbearance by the cruelty of the ushers—or patience, when the masters over him are out of all patience—or modesty, when his nether parts are exposed to general examination? Is he not daily reading a lesson at variance with that equality which we all possess, but of which we are unjustly deprived? Why should there be a distinction between the flogger and the flogged? Are they not both fashioned alike after God’s image, endowed with the same reason, having an equal right to what the world offers, and which was intended by Providence to be equally distributed? Is it not that the sacred inheritance of all, which has tyrannously and impiously been ravished from the many for the benefit of the few, and which ravishment, from long custom of iniquity and inculcation of false precepts, has too long been basely submitted to? Is it not the duty of a father to preserve his only son from imbibing these dangerous and debasing errors, which will render him only one of a vile herd who are content to suffer, provided that they live? And yet are not these very errors inculcated at school, and impressed upon their mind inversely by the birch? Do not they there receive their first lesson in slavery with the first lesson in A B C; and are not their minds thereby prostrated, so as never to rise again, but ever to bow to despotism, to cringe to rank, to think and act by the precepts of others, and to tacitly disavow that sacred equality which is our birthright? No, sir, without they can teach without resorting to such a fundamental error as flogging, my boy shall never go to school.”

And Mr. Easy threw himself back in his chair, imagining, like all philosophers, that he had said something very clever.

Dr Middleton knew his man, and therefore patiently waited until he had exhausted his oratory.

“I will grant,” said the doctor at last, “that all you say may have great truth in it; but, Mr. Easy, do you not think that by not permitting a boy to be educated, you allow him to remain more open to that very error of which you speak? It is only education which will conquer prejudice, and enable a man to break through the trammels of custom. Now, allowing that the birch is used, yet it is at a period when the young mind is so elastic as to soon become indifferent; and after he has attained the usual rudiments of education, you will then find him prepared to receive those lessons which you can yourself instil.”

“I will teach him everything myself,” replied Mr. Easy, folding his arms consequentially and determinedly.

“I do not doubt your capability, Mr. Easy; but unfortunately you will always have a difficulty which you never can get over. Excuse me, I know what you are capable of, and the boy would indeed be happy with such a preceptor, but—if I must speak plain—you must be aware as well as I am, that the maternal fondness of Mrs. Easy will always be a bar to your intention. He is already so spoiled by her, that he will not obey; and without obedience you cannot inculcate.”

“I grant, my dear sir, that there is a difficulty on that point; but maternal weakness must then be overcome by paternal severity.”

“May I ask how, Mr. Easy, for it appears to be impossible?”

“Impossible! By heavens, I’ll make him obey, or I’ll—” Here Mr. Easy stopped before the word “flog” was fairly out of his mouth—“I’ll know the reason why, Dr Middleton.”

Dr Middleton checked his inclination to laugh, and replied, “That you would hit upon some scheme, by which you would obtain the necessary power over him, I have no doubt; but what will be the consequence? The boy will consider his mother as a protector, and you as a tyrant. He will have an aversion to you, and with that aversion he will never pay respect and attention to your valuable precepts when he arrives at an age to understand them. Now it appears to me that this difficulty which you have raised may be got over. I know a very worthy clergyman who does not use the birch; but I will write, and put the direct question to him; and then if your boy is removed from the danger arising from Mrs. Easy’s over-indulgence, in a short time he will be ready for your more important tuition.”

“I think,” replied Mr. Easy, after a pause, “that what you say merits consideration. I acknowledge that in consequence of Mrs. Easy’s nonsensical indulgence, the boy is unruly, and will not obey me at present; and if your friend does not apply the rod, I will think seriously of sending my son John to him to learn the elements.”

The doctor had gained his point by flattering the philosopher.

In a day he returned with a letter from the pedagogue in answer to one supposed to be sent to him, in which the use of the birch was indignantly disclaimed, and Mr. Easy announced to his wife, when they met that day at tea-time, his intentions with regard to his son John.

“To school, Mr. Easy? what, send Johnny to school! a mere infant to school!”

“Surely, my dear, you must be aware that at nine years it is high time that he learned to read.”

“Why he almost reads already, Mr. Easy; surely I can teach him that. Does he not, Sarah?”

“Lord bless him, yes, ma’am, he was saying his letters yesterday.”

“Oh, Mr. Easy, what can have put this in your head? Johnny dear, come here—tell me now what’s the letter A. You were singing it in the garden this morning.”

“I want some sugar,” replied Johnny, stretching his arm over the table to the sugar-basin, which was out of his reach.

“Well, my love, you shall have a great lump if you will tell me what’s the letter A.”

“A was an archer, and shot at a frog,” replied Johnny, in a surly tone.

“There now, Mr. Easy; and he can go through the whole alphabet—can’t he, Sarah?”

“That he can, the dear—can’t you, Johnny dear?”

“No,” replied Johnny.

“Yes, you can, my love; you know what’s the letter B. Now don’t you?”

“Yes,” replied Johnny.

“There, Mr. Easy, you see what the boy knows, and how obedient he is too. Come, Johnny dear, tell us what was B.”

“No, I won’t,” replied Johnny, “I want some more sugar;” and Johnny, who had climbed on a chair, spread himself over the table to reach it.

“Mercy! Sarah, pull him off—he’ll upset the urn,” screamed Mrs. Easy. Sarah caught hold of Johnny by the loins to pull him back, but Johnny, resisting the interference, turned round on his back as he lay on the table, and kicked Sarah in the face, just as she made another desperate grasp at him. The rebound from the kick, given as he lay on a smooth mahogany table, brought Johnny’s head in contact with the urn, which was upset in the opposite direction, and, notwithstanding a rapid movement on the part of Mr. Easy, he received a sufficient portion of boiling liquid on his legs to scald him severely, and induce him to stamp and swear in a very unphilosophical way. In the meantime Sarah and Mrs. Easy had caught up Johnny, and were both holding him at the same time, exclaiming and lamenting. The pain of the scald and the indifference shown towards him were too much for Mr. Easy’s temper to put up with. He snatched Johnny out of their arms, and, quite forgetting his equality and rights of man, belaboured him without mercy. Sarah flew in to interfere, and received a blow which not only made her see a thousand stars, but sent her reeling on the floor. Mrs. Easy went off into hysterics, and Johnny howled so as to be heard at a quarter of a mile.

How long Mr. Easy would have continued it is impossible to say; but the door opened, and Mr. Easy looked up while still administering the punishment, and perceived Dr Middleton in mute astonishment. He had promised to come in to tea, and enforce Mr. Easy’s arguments, if it were necessary; but it certainly appeared to him that in the argument which Mr. Easy was then enforcing, he required no assistance. However, at the entrance of Dr Middleton, Johnny was dropped, and lay roaring on the floor; Sarah, too, remained where she had been floored, Mrs. Easy had rolled on the floor, the urn was also on the floor, and Mr. Easy, although not floored, had not a leg to stand upon.

Never did a medical man look in more opportunely. Mr. Easy at first was not certainly of that opinion, but his legs became so painful that he soon became a convert.

Dr Middleton, as in duty bound, first picked up Mrs. Easy, and laid her on the sofa. Sarah rose, picked up Johnny, and carried him kicking and roaring out of the room; in return for which attention she received sundry bites. The footman, who had announced the doctor, picked up the urn, that being all that was in his department. Mr. Easy threw himself panting and in agony on the other sofa, and Dr Middleton was excessively embarrassed how to act: he perceived that Mr. Easy required his assistance, and that Mrs. Easy could do without it; but how to leave a lady who was half really and half pretendedly in hysterics, was difficult; for if he attempted to leave her, she kicked and flounced, and burst out the more. At last Dr Middleton rang the bell, which brought the footman, who summoned all the maids, who carried Mrs. Easy upstairs, and then the doctor was able to attend to the only patient who really required his assistance. Mr. Easy explained the affair in a few words broken into ejaculations from pain, as the doctor removed his stockings. From the applications of Dr Middleton, Mr. Easy soon obtained bodily relief; but what annoyed him still more than his scalded legs, was the doctor having been a witness to his infringement of the equality and rights of man. Dr Middleton perceived this, and he knew also how to pour balm into that wound.

“My dear Mr. Easy, I am very sorry that you have had this accident, for which you are indebted to Mrs. Easy’s foolish indulgence of the boy; but I am glad to perceive that you have taken up those parental duties which are inculcated by the Scriptures. Solomon says, ‘that he who spares the rod, spoils the child,’ thereby implying that it is the duty of a father to correct his children, and in a father, the so doing does not interfere with the rights of man, or any natural equality, for the son being a part or portion of the father, he is correcting his own self only; and the proof of it is, that a father, in punishing his own son, feels as much pain in so doing as if he were himself punished. It is, therefore, nothing but self-discipline, which is strictly enjoined us by the Scriptures.”

“That is exactly my opinion,” replied Mr. Easy, comforted at the doctor having so logically got him out of the scrape. “But—he shall go to school tomorrow, that I’m determined on.”

“He will have to thank Mrs. Easy for that,” replied the doctor.

“Exactly,” replied Mr. Easy. “Doctor, my legs are getting very hot again.”

“Continue to bathe them with the vinegar and water, Mr. Easy, until I send you an embrocation, which will give you immediate relief. I will call tomorrow. By-the-bye, I am to see a little patient at Mr. Bonnycastle’s: if it is any accommodation, I will take your son with me.”

“It will be a great accommodation, doctor,” replied Mr. Easy.

“Then, my dear sir, I will just go up and see how Mrs. Easy is, and to-morrow I will call at ten. I can wait an hour. Good-night.”

“Good-night, doctor.”

The doctor had his game to play with Mrs. Easy. He magnified her husband’s accident—he magnified his wrath, and advised her by no means to say one word, until he was well, and more pacified. The next day he repeated this dose, and, in spite of the ejaculations of Sarah, and the tears of Mrs. Easy, who dared not venture to plead her cause, and the violent resistance of Master Johnny, who appeared to have a presentiment of what was to come, our hero was put into Dr Middleton’s chariot, and with the exception of one plate of glass, which he kicked out of the window with his feet, and for which feat, the doctor, now that he had him all to himself, boxed his ears till he was nearly blind, he was, without any further eventful occurrence, carried by the doctor’s footman into the parlour of Mr. Bonnycastle.

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