Mr. Midshipman Easy

Chapter Five

Jack Easy is sent to a school at which there is no flogging.

Frederick Marryat

MASTER JACK had been plumped down in a chair by the doctor’s servant, who, as he quitted him, first looked at his own hands, from which the blood was drawn in several parts, and then at Master Jack, with his teeth closed and lips compressed, as much as to say, “If I only dared, would not I, that’s all?” and then walked out of the room, repaired to the carriage at the front door, when he showed his hands to the coachman, who looked down from his box in great commiseration, at the same time fully sharing his fellow-servant’s indignation. But we must repair to the parlour. Dr Middleton ran over a newspaper, while Johnny sat on the chair all of a heap, looking like a lump of sulks, with his feet on the upper front bar, and his knees almost up to his nose. He was a promising pupil, Jack.

Mr. Bonnycastle made his appearance—a tall, well-built, handsome, fair man, with a fine powdered head, dressed in solemn black, and knee buckles; his linen beautifully clean, and with a peculiar bland expression of countenance. When he smiled he showed a row of teeth white as ivory, and his mild blue eye was the ne plus ultra of beneficence. He was the beau ideal of a preceptor, and it was impossible to see him and hear his mild pleasing voice, without wishing that all your sons were under his protection. He was a ripe scholar, and a good one, and at the time we speak of had the care of upwards of one hundred boys. He was celebrated for turning them out well, and many of his pupils were rising fast in the senate, as well as distinguishing themselves in the higher professions.

Dr Middleton, who was on intimate terms with Bonnycastle, rose as he entered the room, and they shook hands. Middleton then turned to where Jack sat, and pointing to him, said, “Look there.”

Bonnycastle smiled. “I cannot say that I have had worse, but I have almost as bad. I will apply the Promethean torch, and soon vivify that rude mass. Come, sit down, Middleton.”

“But,” said the doctor, as he resumed his chair, “tell me, Bonnycastle, how you will possibly manage to lick such a cub into shape, when you do not resort to flogging?”

“I have no opinion of flogging, and therefore I do not resort to it. The fact is, I was at Harrow myself, and was rather a pickle. I was called up as often as most boys in the school, and I perfectly recollect that eventually I cared nothing for a flogging. I had become case-hardened. It is the least effective part that you can touch a boy upon. It leaves nothing behind to refresh their memory.”

“I should have thought otherwise.”

“My dear Middleton, I can produce more effect by one caning than twenty floggings. Observe, you flog upon a part for the most part quiescent; but you cane upon all parts, from the head to the heels. Now, when once the first sting of the birch is over, then a dull sensation comes over the part, and the pain after that is nothing; whereas a good sound caning leaves sores and bruises in every part, and on all the parts which are required for muscular action. After a flogging, a boy may run out in the hours of recreation, and join his playmates as well as ever, but a good caning tells a very different tale; he cannot move one part of his body without being reminded for days by the pain of the punishment he has undergone, and he is very careful how he is called up again.”

“My dear sir, I really had an idea that you were excessively lenient,” replied Middleton, laughing; “I am glad that I am under a mistake.”

“Look at that cub, doctor, sitting there more like a brute than a reasonable being; do you imagine that I could ever lick it into shape without strong measures? At the same time, allow me to say, that I consider my system by far the best. At the public schools, punishment is no check; it is so trifling that it is derided: with me punishment is punishment in the true sense of the word, and the consequence is, that it is much more seldom resorted to.”

“You are a terrorist, Bonnycastle.”

“The two strongest impulses in our nature are fear and love. In theory, acting upon the latter is very beautiful; but in practice, I never found it to answer,—and for the best of reasons, our self-love is stronger than our love for others. Now I never yet found fear to fail, for the very same reason that the other does, because with fear we act upon self-love, and nothing else.”

“And yet we have many now who would introduce a system of schooling without correction; and who maintain that the present system is degrading.”

“There are a great many fools in this world, doctor.”

“That reminds me of this boy’s father,” replied Dr Middleton; who then detailed to the pedagogue the idiosyncrasy of Mr. Easy, and all the circumstances attending Jack being sent to his school.

“There is no time to be lost then, doctor. I must conquer this young gentleman before his parents call to see him. Depend upon it, in a week I will have him obedient and well broke in.”

Dr Middleton wished Jack good-bye, and told him to be a good boy. Jack did not vouchsafe to answer. “Never mind, doctor, he will be more polished next time you call here, depend upon it,” and the doctor departed.

Although Mr. Bonnycastle was severe, he was very judicious. Mischief of all kinds was visited but by slender punishment, such as being kept in at play hours, etcetera; and he seldom interfered with the boys for fighting, although he checked decided oppression. The great sine qua non with him was attention to their studies. He soon discovered the capabilities of his pupils, and he forced them accordingly; but the idle boy, the bird who “could sing and wouldn’t sing,” received no mercy. The consequence was, that he turned out the cleverest boys, and his conduct was so uniform and unvarying in its tenor, that if he was feared when they were under his control, he was invariably liked by those whom he had instructed, and they continued his friends in after life.

Mr. Bonnycastle at once perceived that it was no use coaxing our hero, and that fear was the only attribute by which he could be controlled. So, as soon as Dr Middleton had quitted the room, he addressed him in a commanding tone, “Now, boy, what is your name?”

Jack started; he looked up at his master, perceived his eye fixed upon him, and a countenance not to be played with. Jack was no fool, and somehow or another, the discipline he had received from his father had given him some intimation of what was to come. All this put together induced Jack to condescend to answer, with his forefinger between his teeth, “Johnny.”

“And what is your other name, sir?”

Jack, who appeared to repent his condescension, did not at first answer, but he looked again in Mr. Bonnycastle’s face, and then round the room: there was no one to help him, and he could not help himself, so he replied “Easy.”

“Do you know why you are sent to school?”

“Scalding father.”

“No; you are sent to learn to read and write.”

“But I won’t read and write,” replied Jack sulkily.

“Yes, you will and you are going to read your letters now directly.”

Jack made no answer. Mr. Bonnycastle opened a sort of book-case, and displayed to John’s astonished view a series of canes, ranged up and down like billiard cues, and continued, “Do you know what those are for?”

Jack eyed them wistfully; he had some faint idea that he was sure to be better acquainted with them but he made no answer.

“They are to teach little boys to read and write, and now I am going to teach you. You’ll soon learn. Look now here,” continued Mr. Bonnycastle, opening a book with large type, and taking a capital at the head of a chapter, about half an inch long. “Do you see that letter?”

“Yes,” replied Johnny, turning his eyes away, and picking his fingers.

“Well, that is the letter B. Do you see it? Look at it, so that you may know it again. That’s the letter B. Now tell me what that letter is.”

Jack now determined to resist, so he made no answer.

“So you cannot tell; well, then, we will try what one of these little fellows will do,” said Mr. Bonnycastle, taking down a cane. “Observe, Johnny, that’s the letter B. Now, what letter is that? Answer me directly.”

“I won’t learn to read and write.”

Whack came the cane on Johnny’s shoulders, who burst out into a roar as he writhed with pain.

Mr. Bonnycastle waited a few seconds. “That’s the letter B. Now tell me, sir, directly, what that letter is.”

“I’ll tell my mar.” Whack! “O law! O law!”

“What letter is that?”

Johnny, with his mouth open, panting, and the tears on his cheeks, answered indignantly, “Stop till I tell Sarah.”

Whack came the cane again, and a fresh burst from Johnny.

“What letter’s that?”

“I won’t tell,” roared Johnny; “I won’t tell—that I won’t.”

Whack—whack—whack, and a pause. “I told you before, that’s the letter B. What letter is that? Tell me directly.”

Johnny, by way of reply, made a snatch at the cane. Whack—he caught it, certainly, but not exactly as he would have wished. Johnny then snatched up the book, and dashed it to the corner of the room. Whack, whack. Johnny attempted to seize Mr. Bonnycastle with his teeth. Whack, whack, whack, whack; and Johnny fell on the carpet, and roared with pain. Mr. Bonnycastle then left him for a little while, to recover himself, and sat down.

At last Johnny’s exclamations settled down in deep sobs, and then Mr. Bonnycastle said to him, “Now, Johnny, you perceive that you must do as you are bid, or else you will have more beating. Get up immediately. Do you hear, sir?”

Somehow or another, Johnny, without intending it, stood upon his feet.

“That’s a good boy; now you see, by getting up as you were bid, you have not been beaten. Now, Johnny, you must go and bring the book from where you threw it down. Do you hear, sir? bring it directly!”

Johnny looked at Mr. Bonnycastle and the cane. With every intention to refuse, Johnny picked up the book and laid it on the table.

“That’s a good boy; now we will find the letter B. Here it is: now, Johnny, tell me what that letter is.”

Johnny made no answer.

“Tell me directly, sir,” said Mr. Bonnycastle, raising his cane up in the air. The appeal was too powerful. Johnny eyed the cane; it moved, it was coming. Breathlessly he shrieked out, “B!”

“Very well indeed, Johnny—very well. Now your first lesson is over, and you shall go to bed. You have learned more than you think for. To-morrow we will begin again. Now we’ll put the cane by.”

Mr. Bonnycastle rang the bell, and desired Master Johnny to be put to bed, in a room by himself, and not to give him any supper, as hunger would, the next morning, much facilitate his studies. Pain and hunger alone will tame brutes, and the same remedy must be applied to conquer those passions in man which assimilate him with brutes. Johnny was conducted to bed, although it was but six o’clock. He was not only in pain, but his ideas were confused; and no wonder, after all his life having been humoured and indulged—never punished until the day before. After all the caresses of his mother and Sarah, which he never knew the value of—after stuffing himself all day long, and being tempted to eat till he turned away in satiety, to find himself without his mother, without Sarah, without supper—covered with weals, and, what was worse than all, without his own way. No wonder Johnny was confused; at the same time that he was subdued; and, as Mr. Bonnycastle had truly told him, he had learned more than he had any idea of. And what would Mrs. Easy have said, had she known all this—and Sarah too? And Mr. Easy, with his rights of man? At the very time that Johnny was having the devil driven out of him, they were consoling themselves with the idea, that, at all events, there was no birch used at Mr. Bonnycastle’s, quite losing sight of the fact, that as there are more ways of killing a dog besides hanging him, so are there more ways of teaching than a posteriori. Happy in their ignorance, they all went fast asleep, little dreaming that Johnny was already so far advanced in knowledge as to have a tolerable comprehension of the mystery of cane. As for Johnny, he had cried himself to sleep at least six hours before them.

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