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It was early in the autumn. Mr. and Mrs. Perkins, with their two hopefuls, had returned from a month of rest at the mountains, and the question of school for Thaddeus junior came up.
"He is nearly six years old," said Bessie, "and I think he is quite intelligent enough to go to school, don't you?"
"Well, if you want my honest opinion," Thaddeus answered, "I think he's intelligent enough to go without school for another year at least. I don't want a hot-house boy, and I have always been opposed to forcing these little minds that we are called upon by circumstances to direct. It seems to me that the thing for us to do is to hold them back, if anything. If Teddy goes to school now, he'll be ready for college when he is twelve. He'll be graduated at sixteen, and at twenty he'll be practising law. At twenty-five he'll be leader of the bar; and then--what will there be left for him to achieve at fifty? Absolutely nothing."
Mrs. Perkins laughed. "You have great hopes for Teddy, haven't you?"
"Certainly I have," Thaddeus replied; "and why shouldn't I? Doesn't he combine all my good qualities plus yours? How can he be anything else than great?"
"I am afraid there's a touch of vanity in you," said Mrs. Perkins, with a smile. "That remark certainly indicates it."
"No--it's not vanity in me," said Thaddeus. "It's confidence in you. You've assured me so often of my perfection that I am beginning to believe in it; and as for your perfection, I've always believed in it. Hence, when I see Teddy combining your perfect qualities with my own, I regard him as a supernaturally promising person--that is, I do until he begins to show the influence of contact with the hired man, and uses language which he never got from you or from me."
"Granting that he is great at twenty-five," said Mrs. Perkins, after a few moments' reflection, "is that such a horrible thing?"
"It isn't for the parents of the successful youth, but for the successful youth himself it's something awful," returned Thaddeus, with a convincing shake of the head. "If no one ever lived beyond the age of thirty-five it wouldn't be so bad, but think of living to be even so young as sixty, with a big reputation to sustain through more than half of that period! I wouldn't want to have to sustain a big name for twenty-five years. Success entails conspicuousness, and conspicuousness makes error almost a crime. Put your mind on it for a moment. Think of Teddy here. How nervous it would make him in everything he undertook to feel that the eyes of the world were upon him. And take into consideration that other peculiarity of human nature which leads us all, you and me as well as every one else, to believe that the man who does not progress is going backward, that there is no such thing as standing still; then think of a man illustrious enough for seventy at twenty-five--at the limit of success, with all those years before him, and no progress possible! No, my dear. Don't let's talk of school for Teddy yet."
"I am sure I don't want to force him," said Mrs. Perkins, "but it sometimes seems to me that he needs lessons in discipline. I can't be following around after him all the time, and it seems to me some days that I do nothing but find fault with him. I don't want him to think I'm a stern mother; and when he tells me, as he did yesterday, that he wishes I'd take a vacation for a month, I can't blame him."
"Did he tell you that?" asked Thaddeus, with a chuckle.
"Yes, he did," replied Mrs. Perkins. "I'd kept him in a chair for an hour because he would tease Tommy, and when finally I let him go I told him that he was wearing me out with his naughtiness. About an hour later he came back and said, 'You have an awful hard time bringin' me up, don't you?' I said yes, and added that he might spare me the necessity of scolding him so often, to which he replied that he'd try, but thought it would be better if I'd take a vacation for a month. He hadn't much hope for his own improvement."
Thaddeus shook internally.
"He's perfectly wild, too, at times," Mrs. Perkins continued. "He wants to do such fearful things. I caught him sliding down the banisters yesterday head-foremost, and you know how he was at the Mountain House all summer long. Perfectly irrepressible."
"That's very true," said Thaddeus. "I was speaking of it to the doctor up there, and asked him what he thought I'd better do."
"And what did he say?" asked Mrs. Perkins.
"He stated his firm belief that there was nothing you or I could do to get him down to a basis, but thought Hagenbeck might accomplish something."
"No doubt he thought that," cried Bessie. "No doubt everybody thought that, but it wasn't entirely Teddy's fault. If there is anything in the world that is well calculated to demoralize an active-minded, able-bodied child, it is hotel life. Teddy was egged on to all sorts of indiscretions by everybody in the hotel, from the bell-boys up. If he'd stand on his head on the cashier's desk, the cashier would laugh first, and then, to get rid of him, would suggest that he go into the dining-room and play with the headwaiter; and when he upset the contents of his bait-box in Mrs. Harkaway's lap, she interfered when I scolded him, and said she liked it. What can you do when people talk that way?"
"Get him to upset his bait-box in her lap again," said Thaddeus. "I think if he had been encouraged to do that as a regular thing, every morning for a week, she'd have changed her tune."
"Well, it all goes to prove one thing," said Mrs. Perkins, "and that is, Teddy needs more care than we can give him personally. We are too lenient. Whenever you start in to punish him it ends up with a game; when I do it, and he says something funny, as he always does, I have to laugh."
"How about the ounce-of-prevention idea?" suggested Thaddeus. "We've let him go without a nurse for a year now--why can't we employ a maid to look after him--not to boss him, but to keep an eye on him--to advise him, and, in case he declines to accept the advice, to communicate with us at once? All he needs is directed occupation. As he is at present, he directs his own occupation, with the result that the things he does are of an impossible sort."
"That means another servant for me to manage," sighed Mrs. Perkins.
"True; but a servant is easier to manage than Teddy. You can discharge a servant if she becomes impossible. We've got Teddy for keeps," said Thaddeus.
"Very well--so be it," said Mrs. Perkins. "You are right, I guess, about school. He ought not to be forced, and I'd be worried about him all the time he was away, anyhow."
So it was decided that Teddy should have a nurse, and for a day or two the subject was dropped. Later on Mrs. Perkins reopened it.
"I've been thinking all day about Teddy's nurse, Thaddeus," she said, one evening after dinner. "I think it would be nice if we got him a French nurse. Then he could learn French without any forcing."
"Good scheme," said Thaddeus. "I approve of that. We might learn a little French from her ourselves, too."
"That's what I thought," said Bessie and that point was decided. The new nurse was to be French, and the happy parents drew beatific visions of the ease with which they should some day cope with Parisian hotel-keepers and others in that longed-for period when they should find themselves able, financially, to visit the French capital.
Ah! Those buts that come into our lives! Conjunctions they are called! Are they not rather terminals? Are they not the forerunners of chaos in the best-laid plans of mankind? If for every "but" that destroys our plan of action there were ready always some better-succeeding plan, then might their conjunctive force seem more potent; as life goes, however, unhappily, they are not always so provided, and the English "but" takes on its Gallic significance, which leads the Frenchman to define it as meaning "the end."
There was an object-lesson in store for the Perkinses.
On the Sunday following the discussion with which this story opens, the Perkinses, always hospitable, though distinctly unsociable so far as the returning of visits went, received a visit from their friends the Bradleys. Ordinarily a visit from one's town friends is no very great undertaking for a suburban host or hostess, but when the town friends have children from whom they are inseparable, and those children have nurses who, whithersoever the children go, go there also, such a visit takes on proportions the stupendousness of which I, being myself a suburban entertainer, would prefer not to discuss, fearing lest some of my friends with families, recalling these words, might consider my remarks of a personal nature. Let me be content with saying, therefore, that when the Bradleys, Mr. and Mrs., plus Master and Miss, plus Harriet, the English nurse, came to visit the Perkins homestead that Sunday, it was a momentous occasion for the host and hostess, and, furthermore, like many another momentous occasion, was far-reaching in its results.
In short, it provided the Perkins family with that object-lesson to which I have already alluded.
The Bradleys arrived on Sunday night, and as they came late little Harry Bradley and the still smaller Jennie Bradley were tired, and hence not at all responsive to the welcomes of the Perkinses, large or small. They were excessively reticent. When Mrs. Perkins, kneeling before Master Harry, asked him the wholly unnecessary question, "Why, is this Harry?" he refused wholly to reply; nor could the diminutive Jennie be induced to say anything but "Yumps" in response to a similar question put to her, "Yumps" being, it is to be presumed, a juvenilism for "Yes, ma'am." Hence it was that the object-lesson did not begin to develop until breakfast on Sunday morning. The first step in the lesson was taken at that important meal, when Master Harry observed, in stentorian yet sweetly soprano tones:
"Hi wants a glarse o' milk."
To which his nurse, standing behind his chair to relieve the Perkinses' maid of the necessity of looking after the Bradley hopefuls, replied:
"'Ush, 'Arry, 'ush! Wite till yer arsked."
Mrs. Bradley nodded approval to Harriet, and observed quietly to Mrs. Perkins that Harriet was such a treasure; she kept the children so well in subjection.
The incident passed without making any impression upon the minds of any but Thaddeus junior, who, taking his cue from Harry, vociferously asserted that he, too, wished a glass of milk, and in such terms as made the assertion tantamount to an ultimatum.
Then Miss Jennie seemed to think it was her turn.
"Hi doan't care fer stike. Hi wants chickin," said she. "I'n't there goin' ter be no kikes?"
Mrs. Perkins laughed, though I strongly suspect that Thaddeus junior would have been sent from the table had he ventured to express a similar sentiment. Mrs. Bradley blushed; Bradley looked severe; Perkins had that expression which all parents have when other people's children are involved, and which implies the thought, "If you were mine there'd be trouble; but since you are not mine, how cunning you are!" But Harriet, the nurse, met the problem. She said:
"Popper's goin' ter have stike, Jinnie; m'yby Mr. Perkins'll give yer lots o' gryvy. Hit i'n't time fer the kikes."
Perhaps I ought to say to those who have not studied dialect as "she is spoke" that the word m'yby is the Seven Dials idiom for maybe, itself more or less an Americanism, signifying "perhaps," while "kikes" is a controvertible term for cakes.
After breakfast, as a matter of course, the senior members of both families attended divine service, then came dinner, and after dinner the usual matching of the children began. The hopefuls of Perkins were matched against the scions of Bradley. All four were brought downstairs and into the parental presence in the library.
"Your Harry is a fine fellow, Mrs. Bradley," said Thaddeus.
"Yes, we think Harry is a very nice boy," returned Mrs. Bradley, with a fond glance at the youth.
"Wot djer si about me, mar?" asked Harry.
"Nothing, dear," replied Mrs. Bradley, raising her eyebrows reprovingly.
"Yes, yer did, too," retorted Harry. "Yer said as 'ow hi were a good boy."
"Well, 'e i'n't, then," interjected Jennie. "'E's a bloomin' mean un. 'E took a knoife an' cut open me doll."
"'Ush, Jinnie, 'ush!" put in the nurse. "Don't yer tell tiles on 'Arry. 'E didn't mean ter 'urt yer doll. 'Twas a haxident."
"No, 'twasn't a haxident," said Jennie. "'E done it a-purpice."
"Well, wot if hi did?" retorted Harry. "Didn't yer pull the tile off me rockin'-'orse?"
"Well, never mind," said Bradley, seeing how strained things were getting. "Don't quarrel about it now. It's all done and gone, and I dare say you were both a little to blame."
"'Hi war'n't!" said Harry, and then the subject was dropped. The children romped in and out through the library and halls for some time, and the Bradleys and Perkinses compared notes on various points of interest to both. After a while they again reverted to the subject of their children.
"Does Harry go to school?" asked Bessie.
"No, we think he's too young yet," returned Mrs. Bradley. "He learns a little of something every day from Harriet, who is really a very superior girl. She is a good servant. She hasn't been in this country very long, and is English to the core, as you've probably noticed, not only in her way of comporting herself, but in her accent."
"Yes, I've observed it," said Bessie. "What does she teach him?"
"Oh, she tells him stories that are more or less instructive, and she reads to him. She's taught him one or two pretty little songs-- ballads, you know--too. Harry has a sweet little voice. Harry, dear, won't you sing that song about Mrs. Henry Hawkins for mamma?"
"Don't warn'ter," said Harry. "Hi'm sick o' that bloomin' old song."
"Seems to me I've heard it," said Thaddeus. "As I remember it, Harry, it was very pretty."
"It is," said Bradley. "It's the one you mean--'Oh, 'Lizer! dear 'Lizer! Mrs. 'Ennery 'Awkins.' Harry sings it well, too; but I say, Thad, you ought to hear the nurse sing it. It's great."
"I should think it might be."
"She has the accent down fine, you know."
"Sort of born to it, eh?"
"Yes; you can't cultivate that accent and get it just right."
"I'll do 'Dear Old Dutch' for yer," suggested Harry. "Hi likes thet better 'n 'Mrs. 'Awkins.'"
So Harry deserted "Mrs. 'Awkins" and sang that other pathetic coster-ballad, "Dear Old Dutch," and, to the credit of Harriet, the nurse, it must be said that he was marvellously well instructed. It could not have been done better had the small vocalist been the own son of a London coster-monger instead of the scion of an American family of refinement.
Thus the day passed. Jennie proved herself quite as proficient in the dialect of Seven Dials as was Harry, or even Harriet, and when she consented to stand on a chair and recite a few nursery rhymes, there was not an unnoticed "h" that she did not, sooner or later, pick up and attach to some other word to which it was not related, as she went along.
In short, as far as their speech was concerned, thanks to association with Harriet, Jennie and Harry were as perfect little cockneys as ever ignored an aspirate.
The visit of the Bradleys, like all other things, came to an end, and Bessie, Thaddeus, and the children were once more left to themselves. Teddy junior, it was observed, after his day with Harry, developed a slight tendency to misplace the letter "h" in his conversation, but it was soon corrected, and things ran smoothly as of yore. Only--the Only being the natural sequence of the But referred to some time since--Mr. and Mrs. Perkins changed their minds about the French nurse, and it came about in this way:
"Thaddeus," said Bessie, after the Bradleys had departed, "what is the tile of a rockin'-'orse?"
"I don't know. Why?" asked Thaddeus.
"Why, don't you remember," she said, "young Harry Bradley accused Jennie of pulling out the tile of his rockin'-'orse?"
"Oh yes! Ha, ha!" laughed Thaddeus. "So she did. I know now. Tile is cockney for tail."
"Did you notice the accent those children had?"
"All got from the nurse, too?"
"Ah, Teddy, what do you think of our getting a French maid, after all? Don't you think that we'd run a great risk?"
"Of having Ted speak--er--cockney French."
"H'm--yes. Very likely," said Thaddeus. "I'd thought of that myself, and, I guess, perhaps we'd better stick to Irish."
"So do I. We can correct any tendency to a brogue, don't you think?"
"Certainly," said Thaddeus. "Or, if we couldn't, it wouldn't be fatal to the boy's prospects. It might even help him if he--"
"Help him? If what?"
"If he ever went into polities," said Perkins.
And that was the object-lesson which a kindly fate gave to the Perkinses in time to prevent their engaging a French maid for the children.
As to its value as a lesson, as to the value of its results, those who are familiar with French as spoken by nurse-instructed youths can best judge.
I am not unduly familiar with that or any other kind of French, but I have ideas in the matter.
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