Uncle Smiley’s Boys

From The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

UNCLE SMILEY’S BOYS.

BY LOUISA M. ALCOTT.

“WHAT’S the matter, Bob?” asked the kind old gentleman, as my brother came in, looking both angry and ashamed.

“Got whipped at school, and I don’t like it,” growled Bob, rubbing his right hand, the palm of which was still red and tingling.

“I’m sorry, but I guess you deserved it,” said uncle, soberly.

“Don’t care if I did; it’s a mean shame; ought not to be allowed;” answered Bob, indignantly.

“I don’t like it, either, and when I was keeping school I never tried but once.”

“Tell about that, uncle; I like to hear your stories,” said Bob, brightening up a little.

“Well, I was a young man, and I took a country school to begin with. It was winter time, and a good many boys came. You know I’m a mild man, naturally. I was very mild, then, and the boys thought they could do as they liked with the new master.

“I bore their tricks and disrespect as long as I could, hoping to conquer by kindness, but they didn’t understand that sort of discipline, and I soon found that the order of the whole school would be destroyed, if I did not assert my authority and subdue these fellows.

“So I made up my mind to punish the worst boy of the set, as an example to the rest. I didn’t like the task, and put it off as long as I could, but this boy soon gave me a chance which I could not pass by, and I whipped him.

“He was almost as large as myself, and resisted stoutly, so we had a regular tussle; for when I once began, I was bent on finishing the job. I did finish it, and the boy went home entirely subdued.

“The others appeared to be deeply impressed, and treated me with more respect after conquering the biggest and worst boy in the school.

“It seemed to have a good effect, but I was not satisfied with myself. I felt ashamed when I recalled that scene, and saw myself fighting with the boy. It wasn’t dignified, and, worse still, it wasn’t kind. Something must be wanting in me if I couldn’t sway the lad by gentler means, but had to set an example of brute force and unlovely anger.

“Well, I turned the matter over in my mind and resolved to try some other way if I was called upon to punish any more of my pupils.

“For some time they behaved very well, and I hoped there never would be any need of another scene. But one day two of the middle-sized boys behaved very badly, so badly that I could not let it pass, and decided to try my new punishment.

“So I bade all the scholars put down their books and listen to me. The two unruly lads were called up. and looking at them as kindly and sorrowfully as I felt, I said:

“Boys, I’ve tried to be patient with you; tried to remind you of the rules and help you to keep them; but you won’t be good, and I can’t let you disturb the whole school, so I must punish you. I can’t bear to whip you; it hurts me more than it does you, and I’ve thought it might help you to remember better if you feruled me, instead of my feruling you.

“There was dead silence as I paused, then a stir of excitement all through the room. The girls looked half-scared, half-indignant, for they all loved me and did their best to be good. Most of the boys looked sober — all much surprised, and a few rather amused.

“Bill, the elder culprit, laughed, as if he thought it would be a good joke to whip the master. Charley, the younger, a boy who was naughty from thoughtlessness more than from the love of evil, looked much distressed, and seemed covered with shame at the idea.

“Handing the ferule to Bill, I said, gravely, as I held out my hand:

“Give me half-a-dozen strokes, and if it pains you to do it to me as it does me to do it to you, I think you will try not to forget the rules again.

“Bill was a poor, neglected lad, who had never had home care and love, and so was bad because he thought no one cared what he did. He took the rule, struck three blows, then paused suddenly and glanced around the room, as a sob was heard. Several girls were crying, and all the boys looked ashamed of him.

“‘Go on,’ I said, and he hurriedly added three much lighter strokes, then dropped the rule as if it burnt him, and thrust both hands in his pockets, trying to look unconcerned.

“‘Now, Charley,’ I said, still kindly and sorrowfully.

“The poor little fellow looked from my reddened palm to my face several times, but couldn’t do it, and throwing the rule away from him, he caught my hand in both his, saying, with the tears running down his cheeks:

“‘Oh! sir, I can’t hit you! Don’t ask me to! I deserve a whipping, and I’d rather have two than strike you once.'”

“Good for Charley, he was a regular trump,” cried Bob, much excited.

Uncle smiled at his forgetfulness of his own tingling palm and went on:

“Well, that touched us all, of course. It was just what I wanted; and it did more good than a dozen whippings.

“I just took both the lads by the hand and said:

“‘My dear boys, I think this is punishment enough, so let us forgive, and try to do better for the future. Only remember one thing — I don’t want to be nothing but a master to you; I want to be a friend; to help you, and make not only good scholars, but good and happy boys. Come, shake hands, and promise me you will try.’

“I got two hearty squeezes, two muttered ‘thanks sirs’ and the boys went back to their seats perfectly subdued and very penitent. Charley never gave me any more trouble, and Bill tried his very best. I knew how much he had to fight against, so I did my best to make things easy for him, and interested the scholars in him by telling how rich they were compared to him, and how much they could do for the poor fellow.”

“They all had kind hearts, and all lent a hand, to Bill’s great surprise and gratitude, and by spring he was a different boy.”

Youths’ Companion.

The Portsmouth Times (Portsmouth, Ohio) Apr 23, 1870

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