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The Iron Rule; Or, Tyranny in the Household By T. S. Arthur Characters: 11383

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


THE thought that came instantly to the mind of Andrew, when his father's resolution to send him to sea was mentioned, was the thought of Emily Winters. For the sake of spending daily a few quickly passing minutes with her, he had subjected himself to reprimand, punishment and disgrace. And his mind instantly reacted against the idea of a separation such as was now threatened. Still he was too proud and stubborn to think for a moment of retracing any of the wrong steps he had made. Nothing but the tender appeal of his mother, whom he did indeed love, amid all his perverseness, could have subdued him. But for the strong attachment felt for Emily, he would have received the intelligence that he was about to be sent to sea, with, pleasure.

For some time after this, Andrew's external conduct was more orderly. But there was so much about him to offend his easily offended father, that he did not escape for even a single day without a frown or harsh word, which soon had the effect to extinguish the few good impulses which the recent subjugation of his will had awakened. He continued to meet Emily on his way to school, but was careful not to linger in her company go long as before. But this pleasure was at length denied him. A person who frequently saw them together, mentioned the fact to Mr. Winters, who immediately reproved his daughter for the association, and positively forbade its continuance. Emily had ever been obedient to her parents in all things, and this command, grievous as it was, she felt bound to obey. On the day after it was given, Andrew lingered for her in vain at the place where they had met daily, until after his school hour. On the next morning he was there earlier than usual, and waited until past his school hour again. But she did not come. Strictly obedient to her parents, she had gone another way so as to avoid the meeting.

During that day, Andrew was absent from school. Having twice missed his gentle friend, he had no heart to enter upon his studies, and so went listlessly wandering about the streets until nearly twelve o'clock. Then he repaired to the neighborhood of her school, and waited to see if she was among the scholars at the time of their dismissal. In a little while the children came pouring forth, and among them his eager eyes soon caught the form of Emily. He was by her side in a moment, saying, as he took her hand-

"Where have you been? I've looked for you these two days."

A crimson flush overspread the face of Emily in an instant, and she gently disengaged the hand he had taken.

Andrew, who, with all his faults, was proud and sensitive, seemed startled by this unexpected reception. For a moment or two he stood gazing upon her downcast face, and then turned from her and walked rapidly away. As he did so, the little girl lifted toward him her gentle eyes, that were now full of tears, and stood gazing after him with a sad expression of countenance until he was out of sight.

"I don't care for anything now!" Such was the ejaculation of Andrew, pausing, and throwing himself, with a reckless air, upon a door-step, so soon as he had passed beyond the view of the friend he had so loved for years, but who now, from some cause unknown to him, had become suddenly estranged. "I don't care for anything now," he repeated. "Let them send me to sea, or anywhere else, if they will! I don't care! I'm not going to school any more! What do I care for school? I do nothing right, any how! It's scold, scold, or flog, flog, all the time! Father says he'll beat goodness into me; but I guess he's beaten it 'amost all out."

With such thoughts passing through his mind, the unhappy boy sat, with his face down, and his head supported on his hands, for some two or three minutes, when he was startled by a well-known voice, whose tones were ever like music to his ears, pronouncing his name.

In an instant he was on his feet. Emily was before him, and her eyes were now fixed upon his face with a sad expression.

"Andrew," said she, "don't be angry. It isn't my fault."

"What isn't your fault?" eagerly inquired the boy, as he grasped her hand.

"Father said I mustn't-"

The little girl hesitated. It seemed as if she couldn't utter the words.

"Said what?"

There was ill-repressed indignation in Andrew's voice.

"Don't be angry! It frightens me when you are angry!" said Emily, looking distressed.

"What did your father say?" asked the boy, in milder tones.

"He said that I mustn't meet you as I went to school any more," replied Emily.

The face of the boy grew crimson, while his lips arched with the angry indignation that swelled in his bosom. He was about giving a passionate vent to his feelings, when he was restrained by the look of distress that overspread the face of his gentle friend, and by the tears that came slowly stealing from her eyes.

"Ain't I as good?"

Thus far Andrew gave utterance to what was in his thoughts, and then, seeing the tears of Emily, checked himself and became silent.

"You ain't angry with me, are you?" asked the little girl, laying her hand upon his, and looking earnestly in his face.

"No; I'm not angry with you, Emily. I'm never angry with you. But it's hard. I'd rather see you than anybody. I don't care what becomes of me now! Let them send me to sea if they will!"

At the word "sea" Emily's face grew pale, and she said in a choking voice,

"O! they won't send you to sea, Andrew?"

"Father threatened to send me to sea if I didn't attend school better."

"But you will attend better, Andrew. I know you will. Oh, it would be dreadful to be sent to sea!"

"I don't know. I'd as lief be there as anywhere

else, if I can't see you!"

"But you will see me sometimes. We can't meet any more as we go to school; but we'll see each other often, Andrew."

These words lifted much of the heavy weight that pressed on the feelings of the boy.

"When will we see each other?" he asked.

"I don't know," replied Emily. "Father said we musn't meet going to school; but there will be other chances. Good-by! I wouldn't like father to see me here, for then he would think me a very disobedient girl."

And saying this, Emily turned and ran fleetly away. Andrew's feelings were relieved from the pressure that rested upon them. Still he felt angry and indignant at Mr. Winters, and this state increasing rather than subsiding, tended to encourage other states of mind that were not good. With a feeling of rebellion in his heart he returned home, where he found no difficulty in provoking some reaction, and in falling under the quickly excited displeasure of his father, who was ever more inclined to seek than overlook causes of reproof. The consequence was, that when he left home for school in the afternoon he felt little inclination to attend, and, after a slight debate, yielded to this inclination. A little forbearance and kindness would have softened the child's feelings, and prompted him to enter the right way. But the iron hand was never relaxed, and there was no room beneath it for the crushed heart of the boy to swell with better impulses.

At supper time, on that evening, the boy was absent. He should have been at home nearly two hours before.

"Where is Andrew?" asked Mr. Howland, as they gathered at the table.

"I'm sure I don't know," replied Mrs. Howland, in a voice touched with a deeper concern than usual.

"Has he been home since school was dismissed?"

"No."

"Was there ever such a boy!" exclaimed Mr. Howland.

"Most probably he has been kept in," suggested the mother.

"Edward, go round to the house of his teacher and ask if he was dismissed at five o'clock," said Mr. Howland.

Edward left the table and went on his errand. He soon returned with word that Andrew had not been to school all day.

Knife and fork fell from the hands of Mr. Howland, and the mother's face instantly grew pale.

"I felt troubled about him all day," murmured the latter.

"He was home at dinner time?" said Mr. Howland, as he pushed his chair back from the table.

"Yes."

"Oh dear!-oh dear! What is to become of him? I've tried everything in my power to restrain him from evil, but all is of no avail."

Just at this moment the street-door bell was rung very violently. As each one paused to listen, and the room became perfectly silent, the murmur of many voices could be heard in the street. For a few moments all was breathless expectation. The sound of the servant's feet, as she moved along the passage to the door, throbbed on each heart, and then all sprung from their chairs, as a cry of distress was uttered by the servant, followed by men's voices, and the entrance of a crowd of people.

Poor Mrs. Howland sunk to the floor, nerveless, while Mr. Howland sprung quickly out of the room. The story was soon told. Andrew had been out on the river with some other boys in a boat, from which he had fallen into the water, and was now brought home to his parents, to all appearance, lifeless. It proved in the end that vitality was only suspended; after an hour's unremitted effort, by a skillful physician, the circle of life went on again.

The shock of this event somewhat subdued the mind of Mr. Howland. He felt utterly discouraged about the boy. While in this state of discouragement, he refrained from saying anything to him about his bad conduct. Indeed, in view of this second narrow escape from death, his feelings were a good deal softened toward Andrew, and something like pity took the place of anger. During the two days that the lad was convalescing, his father said little to him; but what little he did say was spoken kindly, and with more of a parental sentiment therein than had been apparent for years. Electrically did this sentiment reach the heart of Andrew. Once when Mr. Howland took his hand, and asked in a kind voice how he felt, tears rushed to his eyes, and his lips quivered so that he could not reply. This was perceived by Mr. Howland, and he felt that his boy was not altogether given over to hardness of heart. In that moment Andrew promised in his own mind, that in future he would be a more obedient boy.

Unhappily, Mr. Howland attributed this subdued and better state of feeling in his son, to the narrow escape from drowning that he had had, and not to the real cause-the change of his own manner toward him. Through the feeble moving of sympathy and kindness in his own heart, there was the beginning of power over the perverse boy, and this power might have been exercised, had the father possessed enough of wisdom and self-denial, until he had gained a complete control over him. But alas! he did not possess this wisdom and self-denial. He was a hard man, and believed in no virtue but that of force. He could drive, but not lead. He could hold with an iron hand, but not restrain by a voice full of the power of kindness. Before the close of the second day he spoke harshly to Andrew, and did, thereby, such violence to the boy's feelings, that he turned his face from him and wept.

On the third day after the accident Andrew went back to school, and continued, for a time, to go punctually and to attend diligently to his studies. But soon the angry reaction of his father, against little acts of thoughtlessness or disobedience, threw him back into his old state, and he was as bad as ever.

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