Bert's Monitors by Unknown

Bert was determined to go. He wouldn't ask his father, for he was very sure his father would say, No. He didn't quite like to disobey a positive command, so he would say nothing at all about the matter.

Bert was thirteen years old, and it was high time that he began to exercise his own judgment, at least when his own affairs were concerned,—so Bert thought.

He would like to know what harm his going down to the river for a quiet moonlight swim could possibly do to anybody. He would try it, at all events. Ned Sellars would be there, and Frank Peters. They didn't seem to care whether their parents liked it or not. Bert couldn't feel so, exactly; but, still, where was the sense in a boy's going to his father every time he turned round?

He was going. He had fully made up his mind to that. He went up to bed at the usual time, however, but his mother coming into his little bedroom about half an hour afterward, was surprised to find him almost hidden by blanket and quilt, though it was a warm night in August.

"Why, Bert, you'll smother. Do let me pull off some of these clothes."

But Bert held them tightly down. "I ain't cold, mother. I mean I ain't warm."

"Are you sick?"

"No'm."

"Two blankets and a quilt," laughed his mother, as she turned away. "I don't know what you're made of, Bert."

"And jacket and pants and stockings and shoes," thought Bert, as he snapped his fingers very softly under the weight of bedclothes.

The beautiful moon looked in at the little window. There had been times when Bert, gazing at her pure, pale face, had marveled that any boy could have the heart to do wrong when her soft light was shining on him; but to-night she seemed to say, "Come on, come on. I tell no tales. The night indoors is warm and stifling. The river is cool and clear. My beams are there before you. Come on, come on!"

It seemed as if the hours had never lagged so heavily. Eleven o'clock was the time agreed upon.

Twice Bert found himself napping. Suppose he should go to sleep. The idea was not to be entertained for a moment. He sat up in the bed and listened, listened, listened, until at length the welcome strokes greeted his ear. He was tired and sleepy and stupid and very warm. He opened his door softly, and went down stairs. He did not dare unlock the front door, for grandpa's room was just across the hall, and grandpa always slept with one eye open. He crept through the kitchen, and found himself in the shed. Was ever anything more fortunate? The outer door was open.

[Illustration: "<i>He opened the door softly, and went down stairs</i>."]

He took his hat from the nail, and just then a plaintive "mew" greeted his ear.

"Hush! Be still, Cuff," said he, in a whisper.

But Cuff wouldn't be still. She was very glad to see him, and was determined to tell him so.

"Mew, me-aw," called Billy, the mocking-bird, from his cage above.

"Dear me," thought Bert, "they'll wake father up as sure as the world."

[Illustration: <i>The Cat</i>]

But it was not unusual for Billy to sing in the night. Indeed, his midnight music was sometimes overpowering. Bert stood very still for a moment, but could hear no one stirring. He walked on a few steps, Cuff purring loudly, and rubbing her soft gray sides against him.

"Bow, wow, wow, wow," barked the faithful watch-dog.

"Be quiet, Prince. Stop your noise!"

Prince knew his young master's voice, and, like Cuff, was delighted to be near him, and so gave expression to his feelings in a succession of loud quick barks.

[Illustration: <i>"Me-aw," called Billy</i>.]

"Hadn't you better go down, John?" asked Bert's mother, anxiously. "I'm afraid some one is trying to get in."

"They can't get farther than the shed," was the careless reply. "I left that open."

In a few moments all was quiet again. Prince lay down at Bert's feet, and Cuff stretched herself out beside him. Time was passing. The boys would surely be there before him. Very carefully he crept toward the door, hardly daring to breathe, in his anxiety.

[Illustration: "<i>Bow, wow, wow</i>."]

But Prince had not been asleep. No, indeed! Restarted up at the first sound of his master's footsteps. It was very evident that something unusual was going on, and he was determined to be "in it."

"I must run as fast as I can," said Bert to himself. "Hit or miss, there's nothing else for me to do."

He was preparing to suit the action to the word, when Snow, the old family horse, who for a few days past had been allowed to wander about among the clover fields, put her white nose just inside the door and gave a loud and fiercely prolonged neigh.

[Illustration: "<i>The old family horse</i>."]

"What next!" muttered Bert, between his teeth. "I shall expect to see some of the cows soon. I don't care if all the animals on the place come,—I'm going."

He was walking defiantly from the door, when he heard his mother's voice at her window. "I never can sleep, John, with a horse crying around. I wish you'd go down to see what the trouble is. And do lock the shed door. I haven't slept five minutes to-night."

What was Bert to do now? To go forward in the moonlight, with his mother watching from above, would be foolish, indeed. To remain in the shed, to be discovered by his father, seemed equally unwise.

He had very little time to think about the matter, for at that moment he heard the well-known footsteps on the stairs. He darted over to the shed closet, shut the door, and tremblingly awaited the result.

And the result was that, after standing painfully still for about ten minutes, during which Prince's significant sniffs and growls had thrice driven him to the very verge of disclosure, he was left unmolested in the dark old closet. He opened the door; but the shed seemed darker yet. No loving cat or friendly dog was there to cheer or to betray. Nothing but thick, black darkness. Was it possible that the moon was still shining outside?

[Illustration: "<i>Bert came into the shed, and watched his father as he mended an old harness</i>."]

He wondered if the boys were having a good time. He would open the door and go to them as soon as he dared. But while he was thinking and wondering, waiting until he was sure his father and mother were asleep again, the old clock rang out the hour of twelve. Midnight! It was of no use to go then; the boys would be gone.

And so Bert crept up stairs to his room, cross and dissatisfied, feeling that the fates were against him.

He was late to breakfast the next morning. His mother laughingly inquired if the weight of his bedclothes had affected his hearing.

"Yes'm—no'm. I mean—I guess not," he replied absently.

It was a rainy morning, and the weather was disagreeably warm. After breakfast Bert came into the shed, and watched his father as he mended an old harness.

"What sort of boy is that Ned Sellars?" inquired his father at length.

Bert started.

"I don't know. I think he's a pretty good boy. Why?"

"I passed the house this morning. Some one was getting a terrible flogging, and I think it must have been Ned."

"What for? Do you know?"

"Yes. They spoke very loud, and I couldn't help hearing. It was for running off last night. Going swimming, I believe."

[Illustration: "<i>Some one was getting a terrible fogging</i>."]

Bert's eyes flashed.

"That's just like his father," said he, indignantly. "He never wants Ned to have any fun."

There was no reply. Some hidden feeling, he could hardly tell what, prompted Bert's next question.

"Would you flog me, father, if I went swimming without leave?"

"That depends upon circumstances," replied his father, looking searchingly into his face. "If my boy was mean enough to skulk out of the house at night, when I supposed him to be abed and asleep, it is just possible that I might not consider him worth flogging."

How Bert's cheeks burned. He had never looked at the matter in just that light before. "Never be a sneak, my son. It is cowardly and disgraceful."

Bert made no answer, but his thoughts were busy. Was he not every whit as mean and cowardly as if he had really gone with his unfortunate friend? Yes, verily.

And then he thought of his father. How good he was—never denying him any reasonable pleasure; nay, often denying himself for his sake. Bert seemed to realize his father's goodness now as never before.

As he thought of this two large tears rolled down his sunburnt cheeks.

"What is it, my boy?"

He brushed them away hastily.

"Father," said he, "I've been a sneak; but I won't be a coward. I was going with the boys last night."

"Ah!"

"Yes. I should have gone if it hadn't been for the dog, and the cat, and—all the rest of them. 'Twasn't any goodness of mine that kept me at home."

His father was silent.

"I wish you'd say something, father," cried poor Bert, impatiently. "I s'pose you don't think I'm worth flogging; but"—

"My dear boy," said his father, "I knew your footsteps in the shed last night. I knew perfectly well who was hidden in the old closet."

"Why didn't you say so?" inquired astonished Bert, tremblingly.

"Because I preferred to let you go. I thought, if my boy wanted to deceive me, he should, at least, imagine that he had that pleasure."

"O father!"

"Yes, you should have gone, Bert. Very likely I might have gone with you; but you would not have known it."

Bert hadn't a word to say.

"I pitied you, too. I knew that, after the fun was over, there must come the settling with your conscience. I was sure you had a conscience, Bert."

The boy tried to speak, but no words came.

"I was disappointed in you, Bert. I was very much disappointed in you."

Down went Bert's head into his hands.

"But now," continued his father, placing one hand upon his shoulder, "now I have my honest boy again, and I am proud of him. I do consider you worth a dozen floggings, Bert; but I have no disposition to give them to you."

Bert wrung his father's hand and rushed out into the rain. Cuff came running to meet him, and Prince barked with pleasure at his approach. Billy whistled and sung in his cage above, and old Snow's voice was heard in the field close by.

Bert loved them and they knew it. It was some minutes, however, before he noticed them now; and when he did, it was not in his accustomed merry way.

"Just like the monitors at school," said he, seriously. "Making such a fuss that a fellow can't go wrong, if he wants to." And he took Cuff up in his lap, and patted Prince's shaggy coat.

Bert's monitors still watch him with affectionate interest; but never again, I am happy to say, has he felt the least inclination to disturb their midnight slumbers.