Thoughtful Boys Make Thoughtful Men by James Matthew Barrie

From A Holiday in Bed and Other Sketches by J. M. Barrie

Sir James Barrie

Thoughtful Boys Make Thoughtful Men

Urquhart is a boy who lives in fear that his friends and relations will send him the wrong birthday presents. Before his birthday came round this year, he dropped them pretty broad hints as to the kind of gift he would prefer, supposing they meant to remember the occasion. He worked his people differently, according to the relationship that existed between him and them. Thus to his mother he simply wrote, “A fishing-rod is what I want;” but to an uncle, from whom there was only the possibility of the present, he said, “By the way, next Monday week is my birthday, and my mother is going to send me a fishing-rod. Wouldn’t it be jolly rot if any other body sent me a fishing-rod?—Your affectionate and studious nephew, Thomas Urquhart.” To an elderly lady, with whom he had once spent part of his summer holiday, he wrote, “By-the-bye” (he always came to the point with by-the-bye), “next Monday week is my birthday. I am wondering if anybody will send me a cake like the ones you bake so beautifully.”

That lady should, of course, figuratively have punched Urquhart’s head, but his communication charmed her. She did not, however, send him a cake. He had a letter from her in a few days, in which, without referring to his insinuating remarks about his birthday and her cakes, she expressed a hope that he was working hard. Urquhart thought this very promising, and sent a reply that undid him. “I am sweating,” he said, “no end; and I think there is no pleasure like perusing books. When the other chaps go away to play, I stay at the school and peruse books.” After that Urquhart counted the old lady among his certainties, and so she was, after a manner. On his birthday he received a gift from her, and also a letter, in which she said that her original intention had been to send him a cake. “But your nice letter,” she went on, “in which you say you are fond of reading, reminds me that you are getting to be a big boy, so I send you a book instead,” Urquhart anxiously undid the brown paper in which the book was wrapped. It was a volume of mild biographies, entitled, “Thoughtful Boys Make Thoughtful Men.”

From its first appearance among us, this book caused a certain amount of ill-feeling. I learned by accident that Urquhart, on the strength of the lady’s letter, had stated for a fact to his comrades that she was going to send him a cake. He had also taken Fleming Secundus to a pastry-cook’s in the vicinity of the school, and asked him to turn his eyes upon a cake which had the place of honor in the centre of the window. Secundus admitted with a sigh that it was a beauty. Without comment Urquhart led him to our local confectioner’s, and pointed out another cake. Secundus again passed favorable criticism, the words he used, I have reason to believe, being “Oh, Crikey!” By this time Urquhart had exhausted the shops of an interesting kind in our neighborhood, and he and his companion returned to the school. For a time Urquhart said nothing, but at last he broke the silence. “You saw yon two cakes?” he asked Secundus, who replied, with a smack of the lips, in the affirmative. “Then let me tell you,” said Urquhart, solemnly, “that the two of them rolled together don’t come within five miles of the cake I’m to get on my birthday.” Tremendous news like this spreads through a school like smoke, and Urquhart was courted as he had never been before. One of the most pitiful cases of toadyism known to me was witnessed that very day in the foot-ball field. I was playing in a school match on the same side as Urquhart and a boy called Cocky Jones by his associates because of his sublime impertinence to his master. While Urquhart was playing his shoelace became loosened, and he stooped to tie it. “I say, Urquhart,” cried Cocky, “let me do that for you!” It will thus be seen, taking one thing with another, that Urquhart’s confidence in the old lady had raised high hopes. “Is this the day Urquhart gets his cake?” the “fellows” asked each other. Consider their indignation when he got, instead, “Thoughtful Boys Make Thoughtful Men.” Secundus refused to speak to him; Williamson, Green, Robbins, Tosh and others scowled as if he had stolen their cake; Cocky Jones kicked him and bolted.

The boy who felt the disappointment most was, however, Urquhart himself. He has never been a shining light in his classes, but that day he stumbled over the Latin grammar at every step. From nine to ten he was quiet and sullen, like one felled by the blow. It is, I believe, notorious that in a fair fight Cocky Jones could not stand up before Urquhart for a moment; yet, when Cocky kicked, Urquhart did not pursue him. Between ten and eleven, Urquhart had a cynical countenance, which implied that his faith in humanity was gone. By twelve he looked fierce, as if he meant to write his benefactress, and give her a piece of his mind. I saw him during the dinner-hour in hot controversy with Green and Tosh, who were evidently saying that he had deceived them. From this time he was pugnacious, like one determined to have it out with somebody, and as he can use his fists, this mood made his companions more respectful. Fleming Secundus is his particular chum, and after the first bitterness of disappointment, Secundus returned to his allegiance. He offered to mark Cocky Jones’ face, I fancy, for I saw him in full pursuit of Cocky in the playground. Having made it up, he and Urquhart then discussed the matter calmly in a corner. They had several schemes before them. One was to send the book back, saying that Urquhart had already a copy of it.

“But, I haven’t,” said Urquhart.

“Williamson has read it, though,” said Secundus, as if that was much the same thing.

“But though we did send it back,” Urquhart remonstrated, “the chances are that she would send me another book in its place.”

His faith, you see, had quite gone.

“You could tell her you had got such a lot of books that you would prefer a cake for a change?”

Urquhart said that would be putting it too plain.

“Well, then,” said Secundus, “even though she did send you another book, it would perhaps be a better one than that. Tell her to send ‘The Boy Crusoes.’ I haven’t read it.”

“I have, though,” said Urquhart.

“Well, she could send ‘The Prairie Hunters.'”

“She’s not the kind,” said Urquhart. “It’s always these improving books she buys.”

Ultimately the two boys agreed upon a line of action which was hardly what the reader might expect. Urquhart wrote letters of thanks to all those who had remembered his birthday, and to the old lady the letter which passed through my hands read as follows:

“Dear Miss ——:

I sit down to thank you very faithfully for your favor, namely, the book entitled ‘Thoughtful Boys Make Thoughtful Men.’ It is a jolly book, and I like it no end better than a cake, which would soon be ate up, and then nothing to show for it. I am reading your beautiful present regular, and hoping it will make me a thoughtful boy so as I may be a thoughtful man, no more at present,

I am, Dear Miss ——, 
Your very sincere friend, 
Thomas Urquhart.”

Our boys generally end up their letters in some such way as that, it being a method of making their epistles cover a little more paper. As I feared, Urquhart’s letter was merely diplomatic. He had not come round to the opinion that after all a book was better than the cake, but he had seen the point of Fleming’s sudden suggestion, that the best plan would be to “keep in” with his benefactress. Secundus had shown that if Miss M—— was bothered about this year’s present, she would be less likely to send anything next year, and this sank into Urquhart’s mind. Hence the tone of his letter of thanks.

It remains to follow the inglorious career of this copy of “Thoughtful Boys make Thoughtful Men.” First, Urquhart was openly contemptuous of it, and there seemed a probability of its only being used as a missile. Soon, however, he dropped hints that it was a deeply interesting story, following these hints up with the remark that he was open to offers. He and Fleming Secundus had quite a tiff about it, though they are again good friends. Secundus, it appears, had gone the length of saying that it was worth a shilling, and had taken it to his bed to make sure of this. Urquhart considered it as good as bought, but Secundus returned it to him next day. Examination of the book roused the suspicions of Urquhart, who charged Secundus with having read it by peeping between the pages, which, to enhance its commercial value, had remained uncut. This Secundus denied, but he had left the mark of his thumb on it. Eventually the book was purchased by Cocky Jones, but not without a row. Cocky went up to Urquhart one day and held out a shilling, saying that he would give it for “Thoughtful Boys Make Thoughtful Men.” The owner wanted to take the shilling at once, and give up the book later in the day, but Cocky insisted on its being put into his hands immediately. That Jones should be anxious to become the possessor of an improving book surprised Urquhart, but in his haste to make sure of the shilling, he handed over “Thoughtful Boys Make Thoughtful Men.” Within an hour of the striking of this bargain a rumor reached Urquhart’s ears that Cocky had resold the work for one and sixpence. Inquiries were instituted, which led to a discovery. At our school there is a youth called Dicky Jenkinson, who, though not exactly a thoughtful boy, has occasional aspirations in that direction. Being for the moment wealthy, Jenkinson had remarked, in the presence of Cocky, that one and sixpence would not be too much to give for Urquhart’s copy of “Thoughtful Boys Make Thoughtful Men.” Feeling his way cautiously, Cocky asked whether he meant that the book would be cheap at one and sixpence to anybody who wanted it, or whether he (Dicky) was willing and able to expend that sum on it. Thus brought to bay, Jenkinson solemnly declared that he meant to make Urquhart an offer that very day. Cocky made off to think this matter over, for he was aware that the book had been already offered to Fleming Secundus for a shilling. He saw that by taking prompt action he might clear sixpence before bedtime. Unfortunately, he was not able to buy the book from Urquhart, for he was destitute of means, and he knew it would be mere folly to ask Urquhart for credit. In these painful circumstances he took Robbins into his confidence. At first he merely asked Robbins to lend him a shilling, and Robbins merely replied that he would do no such thing. To show that the money would be returned promptly, Cocky then made a clean breast of it, after which Robbins was ready to lend him an ear. Robbins, however, stipulated that he should get half of the spoils.

Cocky, as has been seen, got the book from Urquhart, but when it came to the point, Jenkinson was reluctant to part with the one and sixpence. In this extremity Cocky appealed to Robbins, who at once got hold of Dicky and threatened to slaughter him if he did not keep to his bargain. Thus frightened, Jenkinson bought the book.

On hearing of this, Urquhart considered that he had been swindled, and set off in quest of Cocky. That boy was not to be found, however, until his threepence had disappeared in tarts. I got to know of this affair through Robbins’ backing up of Cocky, and telling Urquhart that nobody was afraid of him. A ring was immediately formed round Urquhart and Robbins, which I had the pleasure of breaking up.

Since I sat down to write the adventures of “Thoughtful Boys Make Thoughtful Men,” I have looked through the book. Jenkinson read several chapters of it, and then offered it for next to nothing to anybody who had a fancy for being thoughtful. As no bidder was forthcoming, he in the end lost heart and presented it to the school library. A gentleman who visited us lately, and looked through the library, picked it up, and said that he was delighted to observe that the boys kept their books so clean. Yet not so long ago he was a boy at our school himself.

A Holiday in Bed and Other Sketches