The Cruise of the Dazzler

Chapter VII

Father and Son

Jack London

ON the following morning, after breakfast, Joe was summoned to the library by his father, and he went in almost with a feeling of gladness that the suspense of waiting was over. Mr. Bronson was standing by the window. A great chattering of sparrows outside seemed to have attracted his attention. Joe joined him in looking out, and saw a fledgeling sparrow on the grass, tumbling ridiculously about in its efforts to stand on its feeble baby legs. It had fallen from the nest in the rose-bush that climbed over the window, and the two parent sparrows were wild with anxiety over its plight.

“It ’s a way young birds have,” Mr. Bronson remarked, turning to Joe with a serious smile; “and I dare say you are on the verge of a somewhat similar predicament, my boy,” he went on. “I am afraid things have reached a crisis, Joe. I have watched it coming on for a year now—your poor scholarship, your carelessness and inattention, your constant desire to be out of the house and away in search of adventures of one sort or another.”

He paused, as though expecting a reply; but Joe remained silent.

“I have given you plenty of liberty. I believe in liberty. The finest souls grow in such soil. So I have not hedged you in with endless rules and irksome restrictions. I have asked little of you, and you have come and gone pretty much as you pleased. In a way, I have put you on your honor, made you largely your own master, trusting to your sense of right to restrain you from going wrong and at least to keep you up in your studies. And you have failed me. What do you want me to do? Set you certain bounds and time-limits? Keep a watch over you? Compel you by main strength to go through your books?

“I have here a note,” Mr. Bronson said after another pause, in which he picked up an envelop from the table and drew forth a written sheet.

Joe recognized the stiff and uncompromising scrawl of Miss Wilson, and his heart sank.

His father began to read:

“Listlessness and carelessness have characterized his term’s work, so that when the examinations came he was wholly unprepared. In neither history nor arithmetic did he attempt to answer a question, passing in his papers perfectly blank. These examinations took place in the morning. In the afternoon he did not take the trouble even to appear for the remainder.”

Mr. Bronson ceased reading and looked up.

“Where were you in the afternoon?” he asked.

“I went across on the ferry to Oakland,” Joe answered, not caring to offer his aching head and body in extenuation.

“That is what is called ‘playing hooky,’ is it not?”

“Yes, sir,” Joe answered.

“The night before the examinations, instead of studying, you saw fit to wander away and involve yourself in a disgraceful fight with hoodlums. I did not say anything at the time. In my heart I think I might almost have forgiven you that, if you had done well in your schoolwork.”

Joe had nothing to say. He knew that there was his side to the story, but he felt that his father did not understand, and that there was little use of telling him.

“The trouble with you, Joe, is carelessness and lack of concentration. What you need is what I have not given you, and that is rigid discipline. I have been debating for some time upon the advisability of sending you to some military school, where your tasks will be set for you, and what you do every moment in the twenty-four hours will be determined for you—”

“Oh, father, you don’t understand, you can’t understand!” Joe broke forth at last. “I try to study—I honestly try to study; but somehow—I don’t know how—I can’t study. Perhaps I am a failure. Perhaps I am not made for study. I want to go out into the world. I want to see life—to live. I don’t want any military academy; I ’d sooner go to sea—anywhere where I can do something and be something.”

Mr. Bronson looked at him kindly. “It is only through study that you can hope to do something and be something in the world,” he said.

Joe threw up his hand with a gesture of despair.

“I know how you feel about it,” Mr. Bronson went on; “but you are only a boy, very much like that young sparrow we were watching. If at home you have not sufficient control over yourself to study, then away from home, out in the world which you think is calling to you, you will likewise not have sufficient control over yourself to do the work of that world.

“But I am willing, Joe, I am willing, after you have finished high school and before you go into the university, to let you out into the world for a time.”

“Let me go now?” Joe asked impulsively.

“No; it is too early. You have n’t your wings yet. You are too unformed, and your ideals and standards are not yet thoroughly fixed.”

“But I shall not be able to study,” Joe threatened. “I know I shall not be able to study.”

Mr. Bronson consulted his watch and arose to go. “I have not made up my mind yet,” he said. “I do not know what I shall do—whether I shall give you another trial at the public school or send you to a military academy.”

He stopped a moment at the door and looked back. “But remember this, Joe,” he said. “I am not angry with you; I am more grieved and hurt. Think it over, and tell me this evening what you intend to do.”

His father passed out, and Joe heard the front door close after him. He leaned back in the big easy-chair and closed his eyes. A military school! He feared such an institution as the animal fears a trap. No, he would certainly never go to such a place. And as for public school—He sighed deeply at the thought of it. He was given till evening to make up his mind as to what he intended to do. Well, he knew what he would do, and he did not have to wait till evening to find it out.

He got up with a determined look on his face, put on his hat, and went out the front door. He would show his father that he could do his share of the world’s work, he thought as he walked along—he would show him.

By the time he reached the school he had his whole plan worked out definitely. Nothing remained but to put it through. It was the noon hour, and he passed in to his room and packed up his books unnoticed. Coming out through the yard, he encountered Fred and Charley.

“What ’s up?” Charley asked.

“Nothing,” Joe grunted.

“What are you doing there?”

“Taking my books home, of course. What did you suppose I was doing?”

“Come, come,” Fred interposed. “Don’t be so mysterious. I don’t see why you can’t tell us what has happened.”

“You ’ll find out soon enough,” Joe said significantly—more significantly than he had intended.

And, for fear that he might say more, he turned his back on his astonished chums and hurried away. He went straight home and to his room, where he busied himself at once with putting everything in order. His clothes he hung carefully away, changing the suit he had on for an older one. From his bureau he selected a couple of changes of underclothing, a couple of cotton shirts, and half a dozen pairs of socks. To these he added as many handkerchiefs, a comb, and a tooth-brush.

When he had bound the bundle in stout wrapping-paper he contemplated it with satisfaction. Then he went over to his desk and took from a small inner compartment his savings for some months, which amounted to several dollars. This sum he had been keeping for the Fourth of July, but he thrust it into his pocket with hardly a regret. Then he pulled a writing-pad over to him, sat down and wrote:

Don’t look for me. I am a failure and I am going away to sea. Don’t worry about me. I am all right and able to take care of myself. I shall come back some day, and then you will all be proud of me. Good-by, papa, and mama, and Bessie.JOE.        

This he left lying on his desk where it could easily be seen. He tucked the bundle under his arm, and, with a last farewell look at the room, stole out.

The Cruise of the Dazzler - Contents    |     Chapter VIII - ’Frisco Kid and the New Boy

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