Webster's defines our manners as our "morals shown in conduct." Good people stick to good manners, as this story from a turn-of-the-century reader reminds us.
There was once a little word named "Please," that lived in a small boy's mouth. Pleases live in everybody's mouth, though people often forget they are there.
Now, all Pleases, to be kept strong and happy, should be taken out of the mouth very often, so they can get air. They are like little fish in a bowl, you know, that come popping up to the top of the water to breathe.
The Please I am going to tell you about lived in the mouth of a boy named Dick; but only once in a long while did it have a chance to get out. For Dick, I am sorry to say, was a rude little boy; he hardly ever remembered to say "Please."
"Give me some bread! I want some water! Give me that book!" — that is the way he would ask for things.
His father and mother felt very bad about this. And, as for the poor Please itself, it would sit up on the roof of the boy's mouth day after day, hoping for a chance to get out. It was growing weaker and weaker every day.
This boy Dick had a brother, John. Now, John was older than Dick — he was almost ten; and he was just as polite as Dick was rude. So his Please had plenty of fresh air, and was strong and happy.
One day at breakfast, Dick's Please felt that he must have some fresh air, even if he had to run away. So out he ran — out of Dick's mouth — and took a long breath. Then he crept across the table and jumped into John's mouth!
The Please-who-lived-there was very angry.
"Get out!" he cried. "You don't belong here! This is my mouth!"
"I know it," replied Dick's Please. "I live over there in that brother mouth. But alas! I am not happy there. I am never used. I never get a breath of fresh air! I thought you might be willing to let me stay here for a day or so — until I felt stronger."
"Why, certainly," said the other Please, kindly. "I understand. Stay, of course; and when my master uses me, we will both go out together. He is kind, and I am sure he would not mind saying 'Please' twice. Stay, as long as you like."
That noon, at dinner, John wanted some butter; and this is what he said:
"Father, will you pass me the butter, please — please?"
"Certainly," said the father. "But why be so very polite?"
John did not answer. He was turning to his mother, and said,
"Mother, will you give me a muffin, please — please?"
His mother laughed.
"You shall have the muffin, dear; but why do you say 'please' twice?"
"I don't know," answered John. "The words seem just to jump out, somehow. Katie, please — please, some water!
"This time, John was almost frightened.
"Well, well," said his father, "there is no harm done. One can't be too 'pleasing' in this world."
All this time little Dick had been calling, "Give me an egg! I want some milk. Give me a spoon!" in the rude way he had. But now he stopped and listened to his brother. He thought it would be fun to try to talk like John; so he began,
"Mother, will you give me a muffin, m-m-m-?"
He was trying to say "please"; but how could he? He never guessed that his own little Please was sitting in John's mouth. So he tried again, and asked for the butter.
"Mother, will you pass me the butter, m-m-m-?"
That was all he could say.
So it went on all day, and everyone wondered what was the matter with those two boys. When night came, they were both so tired, and Dick was so cross, that their mother sent them to bed very early.
But the next morning, no sooner had they sat down to breakfast than Dick's Please ran home again. He had had so much fresh air the day before that now he was feeling quite strong and happy. And the very next moment, he had another airing; for Dick said,
"Father, will you cut my orange, please?" Why! the word slipped out as easily as could be! It sounded just as well as when John said it — John was saying only one "please" this morning. And from that time on, little Dick was just as polite as his brother.