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"The Day of the Spank" from American Magazine

by Ellis Parker Butler
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  • American Magazine (April, 1906)   "The Day of the Spank"   A story. Later appears in The Confessions of a Daddy. Two illustrations by Mary Sigsbee Ker. p 665-670. Reprinted in Dallas Morning News, June 2, 1907, titled "Deedee's Spanking".  [RGTPL]

from American Magazine
The Day of the Spank
by Ellis Parker Butler

It was twilight, and the shades were drawn in the room where Deedee's cot stood like a white, iron-barred cage. Every sign told that Deedee was going to sleep. The most pronounced indication was Deedee herself, who stood in her crib, rampant, regardant, and wide-awake. She clung to the side of the crib, and trod the sheets into a tangled mass of white. Like the death of an alligator, the going to sleep of Deedee was a long and strenuous affair.


Mrs. Rawson stood looking at her daughter with reproachful eyes. It was a family tradition that Deedee must go to sleep quietly, quickly, and without any nonsense. Every evening, when Mrs. Rawson put the little white figure in the crib, she had renewed hopes that the tradition would prove a verity; every evening Deedee shattered that tradition to little bits. The go-to-sleep hour was her glorious hour of rebellion. For weeks she had trampled under her pink feet the bed-going rules, triumphantly regardless of law and order. She did not see, looming larger and larger, and approaching nearer and nearer each day, the stern and horrid form of the Spank!

It had been decided, in family conclave, that Deedee was old enough to be punished by the laying on of hands. It was decided at a time when Deedee was not in the room, and everyone had been very stern about it. People could be stern about Deedee when she was not there. When she appeared, they had to stop being stern, and kiss her.

Deedee was twenty-two months old, and ninety-eight per cent pure sweetness. Envious neighbor mothers said her short, curly hair, was tow-colored, which was not true. Everyone admitted that her eyes were like round bits of blue sky. It was clear that she had inherited the sweetness from her mother; equally clear that the two per cent of unadulterated stubbornness came from her father. He said so himself. But he did not believe it.

Deedee was beginning to be a person. She could say what she wanted, and sometimes people could understand her. It was quite time, everyone agreed, that her education should begin. If she was to grow up into a noble, sincere womanhood, she must be properly started. Only the night before the day of the spank Mrs. Rawson had begun her religious education.

Standing at her mother's knee, -- for Deedee would not kneel to God or man, -- she had repeated: --

"Nowee-laim-downee-seep, Padee-o-so-tee."

Which the most dense person would recognize as: --

"Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep."

As a first attempt, it was a grand success, except that she did not, as she had stated, "lay me down to sleep." On the contrary, she stood upright in her crib for an hour, calling for "Mamie," the meaning of which was, that she wished to be rocked, and to have "Mary Had a Little Lamb" sung to her.

The day of the spank had opened inauspiciously. When Deedee awoke, at five o'clock in the morning, the rain was falling in torrents, which presaged a day indoors, and to begin with, she stood in her crib and called for "laim."

Mrs. Rawson awakened slowly to a consciousness that Deedee was slowly but regularly repeating the word, and she sat up in bed and thought. "Laim" was a new word, of unknown meaning, but, whatever it was, Deedee wanted it. She insisted on having it. It was evident that nothing but "laim" would satisfy her.

Mrs. Rawson studied the word deeply. It did not suggest anything to eat or drink. It had no apparent relation to any toy, game, song, person or thing. She awakened Mr. Rawson, who sat up in bed with a sigh. Deedee watched him expectantly.

"Laim, Deedee?" he asked, and she smiled brilliantly.

"Papa, laim!" she repeated.

"Laim!" she said, thoughtfully, "Laim!"

He looked about the room and at the ceiling; he wrinkled his brow, and craned his neck to look into the next room.

"I give it up," he said. "Perhaps her grandfather would know. Maybe it is something he taught her."

They lifted Deedee from her crib, and set her on the floor, and she pattered out of the room and down the hall. They could hear her demanding "laim" of her grandfather, and his puzzled replies.

"Laim, birdy? What is it? Say it again, Deedee. Laim? Daddy doesn't know what you want, Deedee."

Neither did Uncle Ed. Nobody knew but Deedee, and she wanted it so very badly. She came back and stood by her mother's bed and pleaded for it.

It was a hard day for Mrs. Rawson, Monday and wash day, so Deedee could not bother Katie in the kitchen, and raining. Deedee wandered through the rooms disconsolately only to return to her mother's knee and ask for "laim." She refused her toys, she would not sew with a pin, she would not sit at the desk and write, she would not look at the photograph book. Worse than all she would not keep still a minute. By noon Mrs. Rawson had a headache. By twilight she had "Nerves," and now she stood looking at her daughter with reproachful eyes. Deedee had repeated the unknown word ten thousand times, and stood in her crib clamoring for "laim" as insistently as ever.

As Wellington, at Waterloo, prayed for night or Blucher, Mrs. Rawson longed for the angel of sleep or Mr. Rawson. It was Mr. Rawson that came. He entered the house, wet and disgusted, with his trousers clinging to his legs in mud bedraggled disrepute, and dropped his soaking hat and umbrella into a corner with the recklessness of a tired man and fell into a chair in an abandonment of weariness. He breathed a long breath of thankfulness that a hard day was ended.

"John!" came the voice of his wife, "come in here and see if you can do anything with Edith. I have worked with her all day and I am utterly worn out. "

"Oh, plague!" he muttered. He sat a moment fingering the arm of his chair, and then drew himself to his feet and walked into the bedroom.

"What is it?" he asked, almost harshly, and Mrs. Rawson's eyes filled with tears.

"I can't do anything with her," she exclaimed. "She won't go to sleep. She has been dreadful all day. I can't stand it another minute."

She threw herself on the bed and covered her face with her hands. She was weeping.

Mr. Rawson frowned.

Deedee looked up at him sweetly.

"Papa, laim," she said.

"No!" he replied, "No laim, Deedee. Lie down and go to sleep like a good girl. Papa'll fix your pillow nice."

He beat up her pillow and turned it over, and drew the sheets straight. Then he took the baby and laid her gently down. She smiled and cuddled into the pillow.

"Oh, what a nice bed!" he exclaimed. "Isn't it a nice bed, Deedee?"

"Nice bed," she repeated.

"Shall I cover your feet?" he asked.

"Feet cov," she said, eagerly.

He spread the sheet over her feet.

"Shut your eyes," he said in gentle warning, and her eyes closed so tightly that the lids wrinkled.

"Now, good night, Deedee," he called.

"Night, pa -- pa!" she cooed.

Mr. Rawson stole quietly from the room, and dropped cautiously but gratefully into his easy chair again, He leaned back and smiled grimly. Women, he thought lacked the necessary tact to handle children, or had contagious nerves. How easily a man could --

"Papa, laim!"

The clear voice of Deedee cut his reflections into two pieces. In two strides he was in the bedroom. Deedee was standing in the crib.

"Papa, laim!" she inquired anxiously.

"No!" he said, sternly, "No laim!"

"Papa, laim!" she demanded.

"No!" he said in a tone that froze her smile into soberness. She looked at him doubtfully. Her pink and white chin puckered ready for a cry.

"Papa, laim, laim!" she pleaded.

He bent over her and forcibly laid her head upon her pillow.

"Deedee!" he said in a voice that was new and unknown to her, "Go to sleep! Be quiet! Stop this instant, or I -- will Spank you!"

'Papa, kiss,' she cooed.

In heaven, I suppose, the angels continued to sing joyfully. Somewhere in the West, no doubt, the sun shone gaily down upon nodding, carefree blossoms. Even in the next block, it is possible some good baby was being snuggled in a smiling mother's arms. But, to Deedee, lying in a corner of her crib, the world had grown a million years older in a single instant. Her sweetly pleasant world had become a world of harsh words and cruel faces. Her mamma dear wore a mask of unfeeling coldness. Her papa dear stood towering above her, a giant of wrath, brandishing a terrible mysterious weapon, the verb "to spank."

Her friends, her playmates, her lovers, the providers of her joy, had hardened into avengers. She was alone in the world of bludgeons.

She lay a minute palpitating, while her chin trembled piteously. What was to be done when her parents vanished and these strange, harsh people stood in their places?

She crept to the foot of the crib, where her father still stood, and standing upright, clasped his arm in her embrace.

"Pa-pah!" she said, longingly.

Gently but very firmly he laid her once more on her pillow.

"Edith," he said, in the hard voice that she did not know, "Lie still and go to sleep. Let us have no more of this. Go to sleep!"

From the dining room came the tinkle of the dinner bell. He helped Mrs. Rawson to arise, and they went away and left Deedee alone in the dark.

Mr. Rawson ate his soup in silence. It was impossible to be lively under the circumstances. Even Uncle Ed said nothing, and Grandpa did not feel called upon to begin the conversation. With the meat the silence became intolerable. Uncle Ed ventured to speak.

"When I was a kid," he said, lightly, "I used to be spanked with a six inch plank."

"Edward!" exclaimed Mrs. Rawson. "How can you say such a thing!"

"It did me good," he averred. "You can't begin too young. We all have some of the devil in us, and the only way to get it out is to pound it out."

Mrs. Rawson laid down her fork, and her eyelids trembled.

"Cut that out, Ed," suggested Mr. Rawson, "Kitty has the nerves, tonight; the subject is unpopular."

"I think she is going to be good, now," said Grandpa, "she seems quiet enough. She must have gone to sleep."

"I certainly do hope so," Mrs. Rawson said, "I never had such a day with her."

"Mamma, laim!" came the little voice from the bedroom.

"I met Cranforth today, Kitty," said Mr. Rawson.

"Mamma, laim! Mamma, laim!" called Deedee.

"He asked to be remembered to you," continued Mr. Rawson. "He was with May Wilson, --"

From the bedroom came a low, nerve-racking wail: --

"Mamma, laim! Papa, laim!"

It grew in volume. It became a genuine cry, punctuated by the call for "laim."

Mrs. Rawson glanced at her husband despairingly. He caught the glance and dropped his eyes to his plate.

"I shall spank her when I am through with my dinner," he said. "There is no other way."

There was little said during the balance of the meal. It was a very solemn occasion. They were thinking of Deedee. There was no doubt that the psychological moment had come. The crime and the punishment were properly balanced.

Now, or never, was the time to spank, but the Rawsons were a ridiculously tenderhearted family, and, as the dinner wore away, the spanking of Deedee became a monstrous event in their minds. It loomed huge and epoch-making above teapots and puddings, taking an importance equal to the destruction of the world or the change of a dynasty.

When they arose, it was with a solemnity befitting the occasion, and they marched to the front room as a jury bringing in a death sentence files into the courtroom.

Deedee still cried for "laim."

The four seated themselves, and looked gloomily at the carpet. Mr. Rawson opened his mouth, gulped twice, and closed it again. Uncle Edward tapped the carpet with his toe. Grandpa looked somber.

"Well?" said Mrs. Rawson, at length. Mr. Rawson avoided her eye. He looked out of the window. He arose and stood by the window, putting his hands deep in his trousers pockets.

"If you are going to --" said Mrs. Rawson. "If not --"

Deedee was becoming quite unbearable. Presently the neighbors might come to complain.

Mr. Rawson turned and walked slowly toward the bedroom. The three other adults sat grimly. As he parted the curtains, Mrs. Rawson sprang across the room and caught his arm.

"Frank!" she cried, eagerly, "You won't be too severe? You won't get angry, and hurt her?"

"If you want to spank her, do so. If you want me to spank her, do not interfere." He shook off her arm, and she went back to her chair, weeping.

Mr. Rawson entered the bedroom. Deedee paused in her crying. In the half-light, he could see her standing in the crib. He put out his hand to take her, and she clung to it.

"Papa, laim!" she pleaded.

"Edith," he said, hoarsely, "you have been naughty. Papa told you to go to sleep, and mamma told you to go sleep. When we tell you to go to sleep, you must go to sleep. Now, this is the last time I'll tell you. Will you lie down and go to sleep?"

"Papa, laim!" she said, impatiently.

He compressed his lips, and, lifting her, laid her in the bed, face downward, and held her there. She struggled and yelled.

"Be quiet!" he said, "be quiet, or papa will spank you!"

She uttered one long drawn wail of "Laim!"

He sighed deeply, and raised his right hand. Let us please go back to the other room.

Three Rawsons sat there with drawn faces, their hands pressed over their ears. There came, even through those coverings, the sound of a dozen short, sharp claps and a series of quick cries, and then silence, broken only by the great sobs of the little girl in the next room, -- sobs that rent their way out, shaking the little body until the crib rattled. They grew weaker and weaker, and farther apart, and Mr. Rawson stole quietly out of the bedroom, wiping his face with his handkerchief.

"I think she will be good now," said Grandpa gently.

The baby, shocked and surprised, lay on the pillow thinking, as much as a baby could think. Something cruel and unlooked for had happened to her. Her parents had turned cruel. She had no one to love-up to in the nursery. She had been hurt. Papa, dear, had hurt her, because she cried for "laim."

"I hope she will," said Mrs. Rawson in reply to Grandpa, and at that moment, from the bedroom, came Deedee's voice.

"Papa!" it pleaded.

Mr. Rawson jumped from his chair. Evidently that child needed --

"Papa, kiss!" pleaded Deedee softly.

They all kissed her. They hugged her until she gasped for breath, and she smiled at them all and forgave them all, even while the sobs came occasionally to shatter her smile.

"Isn't she a dear, dear baby?" cried Mrs. Rawson. "Poor little thing!"

When they had loved her enough to counteract all the salutary effects of the spank, Mrs. Rawson drove them out.

"Come, dear," she said to Deedee, "say your prayers. Mamma forgot."

Deedee joyously pressed against her mother's knee.

"Now I," prompted Mrs. Rawson.

"Now-er," repeated Deedee.

"Lay me," said Mrs. Rawson.

"Laim," echoed Deedee with satisfaction, and wondered why all her family suddenly shouted, "Laim," and laughed and crowded around her again, and kissed and kissed her.

"Poor baby!" said Mrs. Rawson. "To be spanked for wanting to say her prayers!"

"By George!" said Uncle Edward. "Talk about your martyrs! She beats the whole bunch."



Saturday, October 07 at 1:18:31am USA Central
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