A couple of weeks passed. Frank never made the slightest allusion to his past life; he seemed to be perfectly happy, and he had become as much at home as if he had always lived with me at Oakhurst, but he was never forward or presuming in any way. During the time that had passed, I had been able to form an estimate as to the boy's character and disposition. He was straightforward, and perfectly truthful; his nature was affectionate, and he appeared to be fond of me, for he always liked to be in my company, either in or out of the house; and he was always very sorrowful when I went out to dinners or to parties at the neighbouring houses. But he never would accompany me out shooting; he said he could not bear seeing the birds killed. I thought that weak and silly on his part, and I frequently chaffed him about his squeamishness. It was strange that a boy who had had pluck enough to run away to sea should have shrunk from seeing a partridge shot. I had been right in thinking that he was quite unfit to be a sailor. He had many winning ways. I got quite attached to him, and never regretted having taken him under my care.
Of course he was not faultless. He was indolent, he had a hasty temper, he liked having his own way, he was sometimes inclined to be disobedient, and he was rather disposed to treat the servants - the female ones especially - in an imperious way. This trait in his character I attributed to his having had to do with native servants in India during the first ten years of his life.
The days slipped away rapidly and uneventfully; I shot, hunted, and occasionally took a run up to town for a night, and so things went on, until the end of October, when I made up my mind to send Frank to school at the beginning of the new year. Not that I wanted to get rid of him, but because I had an old-standing engagement with a couple of friends to go on a yachting trip to the Mediterranean, and we were to start early in January.
I did not tell Frank that I was going to send him to school, as I knew the idea would make him miserable, and I did not want to have him moping about the house. I had lately been thinking a good deal about his future, and it struck me that I was not acting rightly in allowing him to run wild about the place as he had hitherto been doing. I remembered the old saying about "idle hands and mischief", so I determined to set him some lessons, which would keep him employed for part of each day. I at once looked up a number of my old schoolbooks, and when he had had his lunch, I told him that in future I wished him to study every day for a few hours, and I also informed him that I would set him various lessons and exercises, and that I would examine him upon them in the evening when I was at home.
He looked surprised and rather dejected on hearing my announcement, but said he would learn any lessons I chose to set him.
Next morning, before going out hunting, I marked various tasks for him, and sent him into the library to study them, telling him that I expected him to stick to his work, and not to go out until he had learnt all his lessons. I had a capital run with the hounds, and did not get home until seven o'clock; but as soon as dinner was over, and I had lit my cigar, I made Frank bring me his books and papers; then I examined him, and looked over his exercises, finding that he had done all his tasks fairly well. Then we chatted, and played draughts until it was time for him to go to bed.
Everything went on pretty well for some days, and then I began to notice that he was chafing under the regular routine which I had laid down; and he got so careless in writing his exercises, and he learnt his lesson so imperfectly that I had often to scold him. On these occasions he was always penitent, promising to be more diligent, but in a few days he would again grow idle and careless, and at last became positively disobedient. So I came to the conclusion that I should have to adopt severe measures with him; as I did not mean to let him have his own way entirely. I am a bit of a disciplinarian, and I believe in the efficacy of corporal punishment; moreover I think all boys require a flogging occasionally. I was often birched when I was at Eton, and I am sure the punishment was good for me. So one evening, on finding that he had been more than usually idle during the day, I spoke sharply to him, saying: "You have been extremely inattentive to your work of late, and today you do not appear to have made an attempt to learn your lessons. I am very angry with you, and if you do not apply yourself more diligently to your tasks, I shall be obliged to flog you."
He started, turned very red, and gazed at me with a frightened expression on his face, saying: "Oh, I am so sorry to have made you angry! I know I have been very idle lately; but I will work hard in future. I will indeed. Oh, I hope you will never flog me," he added, fervently.
"That depends on how you go on.. If you persist in not learning your lessons, I will certainly give you a flogging with a birch rod," I said.
He gave a little shudder, and clasped his fingers tightly together.
"Have you ever been birched?" I asked.
The colour deepened in his cheeks, he cast down his eyes, and after a moment's hesitation replied in a low voice: "No, I have never been birched, but Mrs..." - he checked himself, and did not pronounce the name which had been on the tip of his tongue - then he went on: "One of the ladies at the house where I lived spanked me three times to try and force me to do a certain thing I had refused to do. I told you that they had mistreated me."
I laughed, and said: "Well, I am very much surprised. I thought you had more spirit than to allow yourself to be spanked by a lady. And you say that you are over fourteen years of age?"
His face grew redder, he moved uneasily in his chair, and stammered out: "Oh-you-don't-understand. I-could-not help-myself. These-were--two-ladies. I-am-not," - he stopped, and wrung his hands, looking utterly miserable and confused.
I laughed again: "Oh, you need not tell me any more about it," I said, taking up a book and beginning to read. He also began turning over the leaves of a book, but I noticed that he appeared very ill at ease, and after a short time he bade me "good night," and went off to bed.
Master Frank was thoroughly frightened by my threatening him with the rod; he had evidently not thought that I would be so determined with him, and for some days afterwards I often noticed him looking at me in a timid sort of way; but in time his fear appeared to wear off, and he began again to give trouble in many ways. He developed a waywardness of conduct, and his temper became very variable; at one time he was lively and talkative, and at another time sulky and depressed; he was often disobedient, and occasionally gave way to fits of passion. I could not make out what had come over him. His behaviour was tiresome, and it annoyed me, and though he was always sorry after he had misbehaved, I saw that he needed a taste of the birch to bring him to his senses; so I determined to flog him the next time he offended in any way.
Before another week had passed, he had received a birching.
He wrote a very good hand - which I do not - and one morning I wanted a manuscript copied; so I gave it to him, telling him to make a fair copy of it as soon as possible, as I wished to post it in the afternoon. It was not a long job, so I told him to have it done in an hour.
At the end of that time I went to the library expecting to find him there with the copy ready for me, but he was not in the room, nor had he even begun the work, for I saw the manuscript lying on the table beside a blank sheet of foolscap paper. I felt very angry, and resolved to birch him as soon as he made his appearance. I had not got a rod, but there were several birch trees growing in the grounds, so I went out and cut a few long, slender, sappy, green twigs, and soon made a first-rate rod; and, as I swished it in the air to test its flexibility, I said to myself: "Ah! master Francis, this will make your bottom smart." I went back to the library, put the rod in a drawer, and taking up a novel in which I was interested, I settled myself comfortably in an easy chair beside the fire, and began to read.
In about an hour's time Frank came into the room. I put down the book and rose from my seat. "Why have you not copied the manuscript?" I said sternly, looking him full in the face, as he stood before me.
"Oh, I couldn't be bothered," he replied flippantly. I was very much astonished, as he had never answered me in such a saucy way before.
"You have deliberately disobeyed me, and you have answered me improperly. I am going to birch you," I said.
Angrily taking the rod out of the drawer, and holding it up for him to see. He was quite taken aback at the sight of it, and very much frightened; his face became scarlet, and he began to tremble.
"Oh! don't birch me! Please don't birch me!" he exclaimed, bursting into tears, and stretching out his hands towards me, with an imploring gesture.
"Let down your trousers, and lie across the end of the sofa," said I, sharply.
"Oh! Oh! Oh!" he cried. "I know I deserve to be punished, but please don't birch me. Punish me in any other way but that."
"I will not punish you in any other way. Let down your trousers at once. I did not think you were a coward."
"I am not a coward. I am not afraid of the pain. I can bear it. But I am ashamed to let down my trousers before you," he sobbed out.
"Don't be silly! When the lady spanked you, you had to let down your trousers; and it is more shameful for a boy to let down his trousers before a woman, than to let them down before a man. Now unbutton! Look sharp!"
"Oh! don't make me let down my trousers," he again said, beseechingly. I lost patience. "If you don't at once obey me, I will send for Wilson and get him to take down your trousers, and then hold you on his back while I flog you," I said, in a loud voice.
"Oh! don't do that. Don't do that!" he cried out, in terrified accents, with a look of horror on his face. "I will let down my trousers."
He turned half aside, and with trembling fingers, unfastened his braces, and unbuttoned his trousers, letting them slip down to his knees; and then he laid himself across the end of the sofa, with his hands resting on the floor at one side, and the tips of his toes on the other side, thus bringing his body into a curve with his bottom well raised up in a splendid position for receiving the rod. I could not understand why he had made so much fuss about letting down his trousers. It seemed very absurd.
Standing at the end of the sofa, I rolled up the tail of his shirt, then tucking up his undershirt, I bared his bottom, and as I did so, he uttered a choking sob, covered his red face with both his hands, and a shudder passed over his whole body.
"Now let me see how bravely you can take a birching. Don't attempt to rise from the sofa, or to put your hands behind you," said I, raising the rod and making it hiss in the air over the doomed bottom, the flesh of which was instantly contracted in dread of the coming stroke.
I gave him eight strokes; not very severe ones, but they marked his bottom a great deal and turned it a deep red colour all over; for his skin appeared to be of delicate texture. He winced at each cut, twisted his hips from side to side, and cried with pain, the tears rolling down his cheeks; but he clenched his teeth, and never once bawled out; nor did he attempt to shield his bottom with his hands. In fact he took his punishment in a plucky manner, considering it was the first time he had felt the sharp sting of a birch.
He was not a coward after all. I told him to rise, adjust his dress, and go to his room; and he got up, standing with his face averted, holding his trousers up with one hand, and brushing the tears from his eyes with the other; then after a moment or two, he buttoned up, and walked out of the room sobbing, with his handkerchief to his face.
I put away the rod, and then went out to make some calls in the neighbourhood. I did not see Frank again until we met at dinner, and as he took his seat opposite to me at the table, he glanced at me shyly, and a deep blush spread over his whole face. As the butler was not in the room at that moment, I said laughingly: "Well, Frank, I suppose you feel a little tender behind. But what are you sad for, you young donkey? You are not the first who has had a birching. Most boys get a birching occasionally. They require it. I was often birched when I was a boy. It is nothing when you are used to it."
He gave a little shiver. "Oh, isn't it," he said, in a very doubtful sort of way; then went on with his dinner.
I could not help laughing at the way he spoke, but as he appeared to be low and wretched, I gave him a glass of wine. When the meal was over, and I had drawn an easy chair up to the fire, and lighted my cigar, he came and sat near me in his usual manner, but did not speak; so I chatted to him and rallied him until he brightened up and began to talk. He had not a sulky temper, and he did not appear to bear me any malice.
After being silent a short time, he suddenly asked me, again blushing very red as he spoke: "Do you think that girls are often birched?"
"Not as often as they should be," I answered, laughing, "but many a girl does get birched by her mother, or governess."
"Did you ever know of a girl being birched by a man?" was his next question.
"Well, I can't say I actually know of a girl being birched by a man; but I have often heard that such a thing is by no means uncommon. And I have no doubt that some fathers birch their daughters."
My answer appeared to have given him a certain amount of satisfaction; and he asked no more questions, but sat staring at the fire, in deep thought. He did not seem inclined to talk much, and he went early to bed.
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