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Wilson's Border Tales
Mark Forster


OR, THE SPIRIT OF CONTRADICTION

"I say, Tom, my lad," said Mark Forster, Esq.—a stout, short, choleric West India planter, lately returned to his native country, Scotland, from the quarter of the world just named—"I say, Tom, my lad," he said, addressing his son, "it is about time now, I conceive, that you were beginning to think of some profession or other. I wish you would take the matter into your serious consideration immediately. I leave the choice entirely to yourself, and will be glad to forward your views as far as I can, in whatever line of life you may choose to adopt."

Tom thanked his father for this unwonted instance, not of simple compliance only, but of compliance by anticipation, with what wishes he might yet form, and promised to take the subject proposed to him into that serious consideration which his father had recommended.

It is true that Tom had been frequently bitten before by similar exhibitions of a compliant spirit on the part of his worthy parent; but, frequently as he had been deceived by it, he could not help believing his father in earnest on the present occasion. He was soon, however, set to rights on this matter.

"Ay, ay, very good, Tom," said Mr Forster, when his son had expressed the gratitude he felt. "Well, now, but have you never yet thought of any profession? Is there none that you have thought of with any degree of preference?"

"Why, to tell you a truth then, father, since you are so good," replied Tom, "I have a great fancy for the army. I should like it above all other professions."

"Hem—the army," muttered Mr Forster. "By jingo there it is now as usual: you have stumbled on, or rather, I believe, purposely chosen the profession I abhor of all others. The army! By jingo, sir, I would as soon see you a negro-driver—a chimney-sweep—a—anything!"

"Well, father," replied Tom, mildly, "there’s no occasion for your getting into a passion on the subject. Since my choice does not meet with your approbation, I abandon it at once."

"Oh, you do—do you? What a cursed want of firmness. You give way at once; you turn like a weathercock with every puff of wind; you have no mind of your own—no determination. Pho; but I do despise the man who can’t or won’t stick to his point. If you prefer the army, why the devil do you not insist upon it. Why don’t you say—‘Into the army I shall go, by jingo.’"

"Then I do say so, father," replied Tom, smiling.

"Do you, sirrah!" exclaimed the former, looking fiercely at his son. "Then I say, by jingo, you shan’t. Would you resist my authority, sir—eh? Would you rebel? Would you do what I expressly forbid?"

"By no means, sir," said Tom. "I trust I know my duty towards you better than to be guilty of any such disobedience."

"Well, well, Tom, take another glass of wine, and no more about it," said Mr Forster, a little mollified, and shoving the wine decanter towards his son. "Take this matter into your consideration, and propose me something more rational as a profession in the course of a day or two, and we will see what can be done."

Tom promised compliance, and shortly after withdrew from the table, quitted the room, and left his father to finish his bottle of Madeira alone.

On leaving the apartment, young Forster hastened to seek his mother and sister, to communicate to them the disappointment of his hopes regarding the army; for, be it known to the reader, that, although Tom’s predilection for that particular line of life has been made to appear but in a sort of incidental way, it was yet a deep-seated one, and of long standing. It had, moreover, the approbation of both his mother and sister, at least in so far as they desired to see his wish in this respect gratified.

"It ‘s all up then, mother!" exclaimed Tom, as he entered the apartment in which his mother and sister sat. "All up."

"What’s up, Tom?" said his mother, in some surprise at the excitation in her son’s manner.

"The army," replied the latter. "He won’t allow me on any account to enter it."

"You must have been proposing it to him then," rejoined Mrs Forster; "and you know that was a very absurd way of proceeding with your father."

"I certainly did," replied Tom; "but not before he had invited me to name any profession I chose."

And he went on to detail the particulars of the conversation.he had just had with his father.

"And you bit, Tom?" said his mother, laughing.

"I certainly did."

"Then, you should nave known your father better, Tom; you should have known that to propose a thing to him was a certain way to have him set his face against it. But I don’t know but I could manage the matter for you yet. Leave the affair in my hands, Tom; and I am much mistaken if, within a week, I do not obtain, not only your father’s consent to your entering the army, but his most positive injunctions for you to do so."

Two days after this, Mrs Forster, availing herself of what she conceived to be a favourable opportunity for accomplishing the apparently hopeless task of getting her worthy husband to do what she wished, thus addressed him--

"So Tom and you, my dear, have had some conversation, he tells me, about a profession for him."

"We have, ma’am; but not a very satisfactory one—at least not to him, I should suppose, the puppy!" replied Mr Forster.

"He proposed the army, I understand," said Mrs Forster. "I am delighted, my dear, to find that you refused your consent to so absurd a proposal."

"I did, ma’am, certainly," replied Mr Forster; "but I don’t exactly see the absurdity of it. It was on wholly different grounds that I objected to Tom’s adopting the profession of arms."

"Well, my dear, it doesn’t matter on what grounds you objected to it: it is enough for me that you have objected to it; for I abhor and destest the army, and wouldn’t see my son in it for the world."

"And pray, why not, ma’am?" rejoined Mr Forster. "It appears to me to be a very honourable profession—that’s the light I view it in. A very honourable and noble profession, ma’am."

"Well, well, my dear, take what view of it you please, so long as you do not allow Tom to enter it," replied Mrs Forster, "that is quite enough for me; it ‘s all I want."

"Indeed, ma’am! Then, I suppose, I am to understand that you would not have Tom be a soldier because I said the profession was an honourable and a noble one," replied Mr Forster. "Is it not so, ma’am? I rather think it is. The pleasure of thwarting me—eh? The old story."

Mrs Forster assured her choleric husband that she had no such purpose in view. To this assurance her amiable husband made no reply, but smoked his cigar with increased energy; when his wife, thinking that she had now said enough to secure her point, left her worthy spouse to finish his bottle of Madeira, and to strengthen himself in that spirit of opposition which she saw she had already excited.

"Well, Tom," said Mr Forster to his son, whom he accidentally met in the garden before breakfast on the following morning, "have you been thinking over what we were talking of the other day? Dropt all idea of the army, eh?"

"Entirely, father. I have thought better of it, and wouldn’t take a commission now if it were offered me."

"Oh, you wouldn’t—wouldn’t you? Many a prettier fellow than you would be deuced glad to have a commission offered to him though—I can tell you that."

"No doubt of it, father," said Tom; "I only speak for myself."

"Ay, and a pretty speech you have made of it," replied old crusty. "I tell you what it is, Tom: this here is another proof of the truth of what I have always said, that your mother and you—for I find she is of the same mind with you about the sodgering—take a delight in contradicting my wishes. Nay, both you and she seem to have some infernal knack of discovering these wishes before they are expressed, and employ this gift of prescience in preparing to oppose them. It is so in this very instance. I have been thinking more of your proposition of going into the army; and, after taking everything into consideration, have come to the conclusion, that it is, after all, the best thing you can do. Well, mark me, no sooner have I come to this way of thinking, than, behold, you come to a directly opposite one. Now, isn’t this deuced annoying? However, I won’t be thwarted, sir, by either you or your mother. So I shall directly purchase a commission for you in the army; and, if you don’t accept it, I shall cut you off with a shilling—that’s all. Now, go and tell your mother what I have determined on, and hold yourself in readiness, sir, to troop off with the first order from the Horse Guards. These are my orders to you, and I expect them to be obeyed."

Tom durst make no reply; for the desired point being gained, it was unnecessary to urge him further by pretended opposition; and to have expressed acquiescence, would have undone all that had been accomplished, as the worthy gentleman would, in such a case, to a certainty, have gone off on an opposite tack. Neither durst he exhibit any sign of satisfaction, as this would have had precisely the same effect. To escape from this dilemma, then, Tom, without replying a word, hastened out of the room and sought his mother, on whom he burst with a face radiant with joy.

"Lord love you, mother!" he exclaimed, in an ecstasy of delight; "you have done it—you have done it. I have this moment received my father’s most positive orders to hold myself in readiness to join, the moment he obtains my commission; and he has desired me to tell you this, because you didn’t wish it."

"Much obliged to him, I am sure," replied Mrs Forster, smiling.

"But how on earth did you manage it, mother?"

"The easiest thing on earth, my dear," replied the latter. "I had only to say that I was against it, and the thing was done. Contradictory people, my dear, like your father, are the most accommodating and easiest managed of any. You have only to work them by contraries, and you may get them to do whatever you please. You have only to say that you dislike a thing, or, if you are very anxious to have it, to say you abhor it, and it is done."


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