GRAN’MA and Mr. Fred Green were in lively discussion. The popular village shoe-merchant was describing his wares from a squatting position before the fitting-bench; the effort made him look pop-eyed and red around the gills, but his tongue was hung in the middle. Gran’ma was asking questions about prices and durability, especially durability. When she was a girl, she said, she wore copper-toed shoes, and she wished to goodness they had n’t gone out of fashion; she never knew such a young-un for stubbing. The young-un sat beside gran’ma, with stockinged foot stiffly extended. He was saying nothing, because nothing was expected of him; although his feet were the subject of the discussion, his shoes would be chosen by gran’ma, under the expert supervision of Mr. Fred Green.
The latter was now talking earnestly about a new style known as spring heels. He had begun by showing some splendid brogans, veritable gunboats of leather. Among them a small boy had seen a pair that suited him perfectly. They had bright brass hooks, leather laces, broad, prominent heels, and a toe big enough to kick a hole in a barn door. They were shoes for a strong man, and his heart yearned toward them. Then Mr. Green had gone to the shelves and produced these insipid, flat-bottomed things. He called them a boon to growing feel. A small boy called them by another name, and listened to their eulogy with a premonition of evil.
‘You take a growing boy, and what he wants is a shoe that ‘ll give his feet a chance to grow right,’ Mr. Green was explaining. ‘I ‘m not saying these other styles I just been showing you ain’t good shoes. They ‘re A number one in every respect. But you take such shoes and they ‘re kind of liable to throw the weight of the body forrads on the toes and the ball of the foot. You can see for yourself what that means —’
‘We — ll — ‘ Gran’ma hesitated, as one who did n ‘t feel quite worthy of Mr. Green’s estimate of her perceptions.
‘Why, the weight of the body is thrown forrads on the toes and the ball of the foot,’ the shoe-man said triumphantly. ‘I ‘m not saying that ain’t all right for you and me, but I am saying that for a growing boy — ‘
‘Yes, I see,’ said gran’ma at last.
‘But you take this spring-heel shoe,’ Mr. Green resumed, ‘and you get the ideal shoe for a growing boy. Just look at that heel, though it ‘s so low you can hardly call it a heel, and you can see for yourself how that is n’t going to throw the weight of the body all on the toes and the ball of the foot. It ‘s going to let some of it come on the heel, and give the growing fool a chance to grow right, like nature intended.'
‘Um — ‘said gran’ma. ‘How much are they?’
‘Three eighty-five the pair.’
‘Mercy!’ Gran’ma raised her bigveined hands in a gesture of protest, and a small boy took heart for a moment. ‘I never saw anything like the way prices for young-uns’ things are. Why that ‘s about as much as I pay for my own shoes.’
‘You can’t duplicate the value anywheres,’ Mr. Green declared. ‘I really ought to get four dollars the pair, but they ‘re a brand-new idea and I want to introduce them to my trade, and so I ‘m marking them at three eightyfive.'
‘It ‘s a lot of money,’ gran’ma objected.
‘Not when you consider what, you ‘re gel ting.’ The shoe-man, still squatting, puffed a little and resumed his skillful discourse. ‘There’s some of my trade I would n’t bother to show this shoe to at all. There ‘s some people in town that don’t care whether their children walk on their heels or on their heads, and it ‘d be a waste of time to show ‘em a shoe like this one. But I don’t have to tell you that when you start a boy off in life with feet that are right it ‘s just like putting money in the bank for him. Take care of his feet now, and he ‘ll be all the more able to pay you back later, is the way I look at it.'
Gran’ma — bless her intentions, anyway — seemed to look at it that way, too. Memories of her own neglected childhood inclined her toward the best, regardless of price, for her grandson. ‘Fit a pair to him,’ she directed.
Mr. Green fitted a pair, and then sat back on his heels to regard his work. ‘There!’ he cried. ‘There’s a shoe that is a shoe. Nobby, made scientific, and I ‘m not saying it won’t give just as much wear as any of them other shoes I showed you, either. What I ‘m saying is that, there ‘s a shoe that combines style and wear and gives the growing foot a chance to grow right, at the same time. . . . Yes, ma ‘am, there’s a boy that ain’t going to suffer from corns and bun ons like some of us do.’
‘They do look kind of nice,’ said gran’ma, glowing with the thought that she had safeguarded the future of her grandson’s feet. She turned to him, perhaps expecting some slight appreciation of her good deed. ‘How do you like ‘em?'
How did he like ‘em? Ah, the eternal ineptness of elders in their dealings with small boys. He did n’t like ‘em at all; he hated ‘em. It seemed to him that if gran’ma and Mr. Fred Green had deliberately set out to make trouble, they could have done nothing more devilish than to put spring heels on him.
‘They ‘re — they ‘re girl’s shoes,’ he mumbled.
A small boy had to put down the race of elders, not only as inept, but as incapable of profiting by experience. This affair of the spring heels was not the first offense of gran’ma and the merchants. Why, only a short year before, they had blundered so badly that he would never cease to shudder at the recollection.
The incident began pleasantly enough as one of his periodic visits to The City. A few days before, some malevolent person had put a nail in the roof of gran’ma’s barn in such a fashion that his everyday pants were ripped beyond repair. This meant that his Sunday suit had to step down, and thus there was created a vacancy in his wardrobe which had to be filled. The matter of buying a suit for the Sabbath, so painfully associated with hell-fire sermons, did n’t greatly interest him; but he regarded other aspects of the trip with keen anticipation. Certainly with no sense of impending tragedy. There was the ride on the 9.38, known all along the line as Ed Dodd’s train, in honor of its fat and affable conductor. There was the news-butcher with his funny papers; gran’ma, though she would protest a little, could always be persuaded to give up ten cents for a copy of Life. There was the sooty carwindow, out of which one could watch the world swing by in great circles. Then, at last, The City itself—the clamorous, smoky train-shed; the great rushing-about in the streets, which was so infectious; and vivifying the scene forever in a small boy’s memory, the pungent smells that floated up to his country nose from the wholesale district along the river front. Noon was only an hour away, but those exotic odors so worked upon his appetite that the prospect of lunch at the Melrose Bakery and Restaurant became tantalizingly remote. After lunch, with all the bearings of his being lubricated by an enormous bowl of bone-soup, a glorious afternoon at the Wonderland Musée. Hi! what a splendid place for a small boy was that popular institution of primitive America! Lifelike figures of murderers, generals, queens, and poisoners. A cage of monkeys. A Punch and Judy show. Wonders and wonders, and all for ten cents! It was there, one later day, that he first saw stereopticon views that were not stereopticon views. They moved, they moved! A street car came rushing up through a white sheet, so menacingly real that a small boy squirmed in his seat, expecting to see it come crashing down on to the heads of the orchestra. Gran’ma said it was a newfangled notion called the Vitagraph, but she guessed there was some trick about it.
Before such delights could be tasted, however, they had to do their trading; They had to go to B. Roseblatt and Sons, Gents’ and Boys’ Up-to-date Clothiers and Outfitters, and get that Sunday suit. Mr. B. Roseblatt himself materialized out of the murky depths of a long aisle the moment that gran’ma crossed the threshhold — so gracious a gentleman that a small boy always thought of him first as a friend of the family. His round, dark face was bisected by the friendliest of smiles; on his full lips were words that seemed to have nothing to do with trade. It was gran’ma’s health and the health of a young feller that seemed to concern him most; not until gran’ma had assured him that each was doing as well as could be expected did Mr. Roseblatt permit himself a reference to trade.
‘Somethink for the young feller?’
‘Yes,’ said gran’ma, ‘he’s got to have a new suit.'
‘This way, plees,’said Mr. Roseblatt. He led the way down a crossaisle to a table stacked with readymade garments. He placed a chair for gran’ma, and appraised a small boy swiftly. ‘For size, he iss about twelf years, yess?’
‘Only ten,’ said gran’ma, with quiet pride, ‘but he takes twelve-year sizes.'
Mr. Roseblatt’s brown eyes widened, and he stared at a small boy as though he were looking upon a prodigy, a veritable Pantagruel. ‘Is it possible? My, my, vat a big feller for his age! I should haf said twelf years for sure.’ Ah, Mr. Roseblatt, your words were milk and honey; though you caused a small boy to suffer frightfully, he can never forget the unction with which you applied them. It seemed to him then that the visit of gran’ma and himself was your day of days; years passed before doubt crept in, before he wondered if you ever looked upon other ten-year-old boys as prodigies of limb and muscle.
Mr. Roseblatt ran his hands rapidly down a pile of jackets, and with a smart pull extracted one of plain blue. ‘Here iss somethink nice,’he said. ‘Solit colors are always elegunt — anyvays, we shall dry it on for size.’
A small boy backed into the jacket, which was held open for him. Mr. Roseblatt ran around in front, buttoned it, looked at the sleeve length, patted the lapels, and stepped back to study the whole effect. Then he darted to the rear, stroked the shoulders, tugged at the tail, and again stepped back for a view in perspective. Finally he turned to gran’ma and bowed. ‘Veil,’ he said, ‘you are right. I haf to admit it. There is a twelf size — but see how it fits. I haf neffer seen anythink petter. Neffer. If I should see dot young feller wearing such a jacket, und I did not know petter, I should say, “Dere iss a young feller which has his clothes made to order.” That iss vat I should say if I did not know petter.’
‘It does fit good,’ gran’ma agreed, ‘ but that suit he’s wearing now is kind of a blue. Mebbe a change —’
‘A change is goot und a change you shall haf,’said Mr. Roseblatt. ‘Such a fit I haf neffer seen, but we shall se vat else iss there.’ He burrowed among the piles, and presently several twelveyear sizes for a husky of ten had been tried, patted, surveyed, and rejected. Gran’ma, Mr. Roseblatt, and a small boy himself agreed that the blue jacket was superior to them all.
‘If it was n’t blue I would n’t hesitate a second,’ gran’ma explained. ‘But there ‘s that suit he ‘s got on that’s kind of a blue, and then those dark colors are so hard to keep tidy. They show every speck und spot —
‘Thiss here gray,’ suggested Mr. Roseblatt; ‘it iss an elegunt piece of goots.'
‘Don’t care much for it,’said gran’ma. She made motions that looked suspiciously like preparations for departure. A small boy brightened, thinking of the Melrose Bakery A Restaurant. Mr. Roseblatt’s smiling, round face became grave. Suddenly his arms flew up in a convulsive gesture.
‘Vait!’ he cried. ‘I haf thought of somethink.’ He rushed upon gran’ma and patted her gently but firmly back into her chair. ‘Vait, vait! ‘ he repeated. He bustled out into the main aisle, turned the corner, and was lost to sight behind the great tables of clothing. In another moment he was back in the cross-aisle, beaming in the direction of gran’ma and a small boy. ‘Vait!’ he shouted. ‘Don’t moof!’ He disappeared once more and was gone for several minutes.
When he returned he carried something in his arms, in the attitude of one who brings an unusually choice offering to the gods. It was wrapped in tissue paper, and Mr. Roseblatt laid it reverently in gran’ma’s lap. ‘Open,’ he said. ‘Open und see.'
A small boy, his curiosity piqued, drew near, while gran’ma tore away the flimsy tissue. Material of a rich, dark, lustrous texture was disclosed. Gran’ma stroked it with her worn fingers. ‘Why, it ‘s black velvet!' she exclaimed.
‘Black felfet it iss, and such a piece of goots as I haf neffer seen before,’ said Mr. Roseblatt. ‘Just now it has come, und just now I haf taken it from der packing-box.’
Gran’ma lifted the jacket. Mr. Roseblatt took it gently from her hands and held it aloft. A small boy looked for the first time upon that fateful garment. He said nothing, but gran’ma loosed an exclamation of pleasure. ‘Well, now, that is kind of pretty.’
Mr. Roseblatt beamed. ‘I knew,’ he cried. ‘I knew you should like it. Iss it not elegunt?'
‘Expensive, too, I expect,’ gran’ma interjected.
‘You should only admire it,’ protested Mr. Roseblatt. ‘I do not say “buy”; I say iss it not elegunt?’
‘It ‘s elegant enough,’ gran’ma admitted, ‘but what are you asking for it? ‘
For an instant Mr. Roseblatt showed signs of impatience. More gutturals crept into his speech as he tried to make gran’ma understand that one did not talk of prices in the presence of beauty. ‘See, you are der first gustomer to which I have showed it this piece of goots. It iss not efery gustomer I would show it. Ach! vat do some beeble know of peautiful thinks! But you — you should puy oder you should not puy. It iss for me a bleasure to show peautiful thinks to a lady which gan abbreciate dem.'
Gran’ma was rebuked and silent. Mr. Roseblatt explained further, for it appeared that he had suddenly been inspired in the presence of beauty. ‘You know vat I should like to do, ma’am? I should like to dry dot suit on dis young feller. I should like to see it for myselluf how it looks. Such a suit on such a young feller — ach!’ Mr. Roseblatt raised his eyes, as though the sight of so much elegance would be almost too much to bear.
‘So long’s you understand —’ gran’ma began.
‘Berfectly, berfectly.’ Mr. Roseblatt turned to a small boy. ‘Now young feller, you und I shall go into the dressink room, und ven ve gome out I pet you ve shall surprise your gran’ma —
The young feller went into the dressing-room and Mr. Roseblatt hovered on the other side of the drab curtain, frequently peering in to watch progress. ‘Chently, chently!’ he cried in some alarm, as a small boy thrust his feet into the velvet breeches. Mr. Roseblatt came in and assisted with the buttoning. He adjusted the jacket with many fond caresses, and studied the effect. ‘No!’ he cried. ‘Do not go out until I gome back. Vait!’
He came back quickly with another piece of goods. ‘Now ve shall pegin ofer again,’ he explained. He removed the jacket, removed a small boy’s pinkand-white striped blouse, and produced a soft, white blouse with an Eton collar. ‘Ai! dot iss it!’ he said, when the change had been effected. ‘My, vot a fine-lookink young feller!’
His appraising glances traveled downward, and his pleased expression faded. ‘Nein, dot von’t do,’ he muttered. ‘Sit down, young feller,’ he directed. He knelt before a small boy, blew noisily, removed a shoe, looked into its interior and rose again. ‘Now vait vunce more,’ he said. ‘Just a minute — vait.’
This time he returned with new shoes and stockings: fine-ribbed stockings and shoes with patent-leather tips. ‘Now ve haf it,’ he said finally. He led a small boy forth to gran’ma, and presented him with a bow.
‘Land sakes,’ gran’ma sputtered. ‘You ‘ve dressed him all over!'
‘It iss no trouble, I assure you,’ said Mr. Roseblatt. ‘I am glad to do it, ven I haf a fine young feller to show fine goots on.’ He pointed dramatically at the long mirror against the wall. ‘ Look at yourself, young feller,’ he cried.
The young feller looked, and could hardly believe that the elegant reflection was himself. Gone was the simply dressed country-boy, metamorphosed into a young fashionable in black and white. Black velvet pants, braided along the seams. Black bows and glittering buckles at the knees. A short-waisted jacket, also resplendent with braid and big buttons, and cut to display a broad expanse of immaculate shirt-front. His awed eyes traveled down to the patent-leather tips and back to the Eton collar that covered his shoulders like a cape. Jiminy! he certainly was rigged out for once!
Gran’ma and Mr. Roseblatt came toward him. ‘Look vunce more, ma’am,’Mr. Roseblatt was saying, ‘und den I shall take it off. Unless, of gourse, you should like —’
‘H ‘m.’ Gran’ma coughed slightly and seemed to deliberate. ‘How much did you say you were asking for it?’
‘Sakes alive!’ exclaimed gran’ma.
‘But iss it not elegunt ?’ cried Mr. Roseblatt.
‘But it ‘s a mint of money,’ cried gran’ma.
‘Dot blue suit iss a very nice suit,’ suggested Mr. Roseblatt, declining to discuss mints of money.
Gran’ma, fond soul, regarded her grandson in his elegance. Perhaps she was making financial calculations at the same time, for she toyed with the silk bag in which she carried her worn leather pocketbook, as though she would weigh its hard-won contents. ‘Well,’ she said finally, ‘I guess I must be crazy, but I ‘ll take it.'
‘The blue?' Mr. Roseblatt inquired.
‘The black velvet,’ said gran’ma.
Mr. Roseblatt bowed low. ‘Ma’am. I congradulate you. I take pride to myself dot I regonized you as vun who abbreciated elegunce. Of gourse, you vill vant the shirt und shoes und extras —’
‘Yes,’ said gran’ma weakly.
‘Goot.’ Mr. Roseblatt produced his sales-pad and was, at last, full of business. ‘It iss not so much, ma’am,’ he said, after some exercises with his pencil, ‘not ven you gonsider vat it iss you are gettink. Dere vill be no young feller anyveres so elegunt as dis young feller.’
It was not quite true, that last remark. There was a young feller who was quite as elegant, and a small boy was soon reminded of him. The black velvet suit made its first appearance the following Sunday morning. Gran’ma inspected a small boy’s efforts, and her fond eyes sparkled across the tops of her spectacles, as she put the touch of perfection into the drooping folds of his black tie.
He, himself, to tell the truth, was rather pleased with his appearance. Oh, he had forebodings—but he was hoping for the best. He was such an elegant young feller; perhaps less elegant young fellers would be stricken dumb with admiration.
‘Little Lord Fauntleroy! Oh, Oh! Little Lord Fauntleroy! Oh, Oh!'
It was the erudite but unæsthetic Joe Rivers who first sounded the slogan that the pack began to chant in chorus. The way home from Sunday School became a Via Dolorosa stretching into infinity. Even that supposedly loyal friend, Beany Chappell, tittered with the mob; indeed, it was that viper who singled out, for special comment, the black bows and silver buckles that bloomed on the gorgeous breeches.
A small boy ate his fricasseed chicken that day with a heart as heavy as the dumplings that accompanied gran’ma’s favorite Sunday dish. There were fiftytwo Sundays in a year, and certainly he could n’t hope for a new suit in less time; gran’ma had made very clear to him that his wardrobe had cost a mint of money, much more money than a poor woman could afford. Only death, then, could help him — or the end of the world.
For the first and last time in his youth he could regard the frequent millennial calculations of his parson without horror. Life in a black velvet suit was an even more dreadful prospect than the crack of doom.
After dinner he asked gran’ma if he could remove his black velvet suit. Gran’ma said, now that was real thoughtful of him, and she was glad to see he was beginning to take care of his things. Yes, he could take the suit off, and be sure to hang it in the closet where the moths could n’t get at it.
So he started for his bedroom, but on the way he passed gran’ma’s sweetgrass work basket, which was lying on the centre table in the sitting-room. A glittering something in the basket beckoned to the tail of his eye, and he halted to investigate. . . . When he went on he had gran’ma’s steel scissors in his hand, and sudden determination in his heart. Before he laid away that darn’ black velvet suit, he had with firm strokes slashed off the black bows and silver buckles.
It was a little thing, but it would help.
The real tragedy of childhood is that its tragedies usually have their beginnings in the world of elders. It is there the fuse is laid that sets off the blast that strips a small boy of his skin and leaves the quivering nerves exposed. Worse, only faint echoes of the blast reach the guilty persons, so that they never suffer for their enormities — and never can understand. Loud had been gran’ma’s cries when she discovered the mutilation of the velvet breeches, but it was apparent that the sounds had n’t echoed in her ears for long. How, otherwise, could she have approved of spring heels?
Behold a small boy setting out for school, the day after gran’ma and Mr. Fred Green, the popular village shoemerchant, had worked their will upon him.
It is twenty minutes of nine, and the schoolhouse is a good fifteen-minute walk from where he lives. Nevertheless, he is loitering in his front yard, fretfully dangling the books that hang at the end of a long strap.
Joe Rivers, that white-headed scoffer at elegance, came galloping up the street. ‘Who ‘s goin’ my way, join my class — ‘ he shouted.
A small boy paid no attention to the invitation, and the white-head addressed a specific question to him. ‘Aintcha goin’ to school?’
‘Dunno,’ said a small boy shortly.
The white-head was curious, and he came into the yard. ‘Why aintcha go in’? Sick ? Whatcha got ?'
‘Naw, I ain’t sick.’
‘Then why aintcha goin’ to school?’ The white-head was plainly puzzled, and a small boy got what satisfaction he could, under the circumstances, from that fact.
‘Mebbe I am goin’,’ he said, ‘and mebbe I ain’t.’
The white-head seemed to realize that he had been led into a ridiculous situation, and he retreated, affecting complete indifference. ‘Who’s goin’ my way — ' he began.
Then his roving eyes fixed themselves upon a small boy’s extremities. ‘Hi!’ he shouted. ‘New shoes! Gotta christen ‘em!’ He bent down, moistened his lips, aimed accurately, and continued to stare. ' Girl’s shoes!' he cried finally. ‘Whatcha wearin’ girl’s shoes for? ‘
‘They ain’t either girl’s shoes.’ A lie, of course: a most detestable lie.
‘They are too,’ gibed the white-head. ‘They ain’t got any heels.'
‘What if they ain’t?’ A small boy tried to achieve an air of unconcern, even of superiority. Suppose he could talk to Joe Rivers the way Mr. Fred Green had talked to gran’ma, and convince the fellow that spring heels were the perfection of style, comfort, and wear? ‘They ‘re the best shoes they are.’
‘Huh! ‘ The white-head was derisive. ‘ I guess if they ‘re the best shoes they are my father ‘d get me some.'
‘Betcha your father could n’ buy ‘em.'
‘ Betcha he could.'
‘ Betcha he could n’.’
‘ Why could n’t he?
‘Cause they cost too much, that ‘s why he could n’.’ A small boy was well pleased with the effect of that insult. In a twinkling the tormentor had become the tormented; it would be necessary for the white-head to redeem the honor of his family before he could return to the attack upon a small boy’s shoes.
This was clearly understood by Joe Rivers.
‘Huh!' He grunted disdainfully. ‘I guess my father could buy a hunderd thousan’ pairs if he wanted to, on’y he would n’ want to. My father would n’ make me wear girl’s shoes.'
Ah, a deadly retort, Joe Rivers! A small boy winced and knew that once more he was on the defensive. ‘They ain’t girl’s shoes,’ he protested, but in his heart he knew—he knew that he lied.
‘They are too girl’s shoes.’
‘They ain’t either girl’s shoes.’
‘Girl’s shoes, girl’s shoes, he ‘s wearin’ girl’s shoes,’ chanted the whitehead.
There comes a time when words, even the most insulting words, will no longer serve. One must go to war for his cause, though it be an inglorious cause — and what could be less glorious than a war in behalf of girl’s shoes? Still, there is always honor —
Such a time had come for a small boy. There was a lump in his throat that made further argument impossible. There were tears in his eyes — not tears of fear, but poison drops of rage.
With legs and arms flailing he rushed upon that evil genius of his childhood. ‘Girl’s shoes!’ He ‘d give that fellow ‘girl’s shoes!'
’Ow!’ The white-head bellowed with pain and backed away. ‘You kicked me in the shin, you —’ The exact epithet eluded him, and he bent down to rub the afflicted spot. ‘No fair kickin’,’ he complained. Fair! A small boy did n’t want to be fair; he wanted to mutilate, in the quickest and most horrible manner.
He who tells of small boys fighting with some regard for the rules of fair play and no hitting below the belt lays himself open to the charge of romancing. Small boys have no code, no nice rules of personal combat. They engage with feet, teeth, talons, and fists, and let the blows fall where they will. They butt, they wrestle. They swing many murderous blows that only cleave the air. They separate to breathe noisily, glare ferociously, and taunt each other into a renewal of the struggle. They begin with explosive suddenness, and end generally without decision and without damage; indeed, considering the vicious air which surrounds these encounters, it is strange that there have been so few fatalities in the millions of fights that have taken place since small boys first came upon this troubled world.
So a small boy opened his war upon Joe Rivers.
He was familiar with the details of that classic battle between Tom Brown and Slogger Williams at Rugby. He admired the professional and gentlemanly manner in which it had been conducted. He even dreamed of patterning his own affairs of honor upon that splendid model of fair play. But when it came to slaughter, he fought as small boys always do fight - outside of the pages of books. Even as Joe Rivers nursed his bruised shin, a small boy leaped upon his back and bore him to the ground — The rest has just been described.
Eventually they unwound their arms and legs and got to their feet to observe the ceremony of puffing, glaring, and taunting.
They were too badly blown for words, but looks will do. They began warily to circle each other.
‘Boys!’ It was gran’ma’s voice, and a small boy shuddered involuntarily. He looked away from his enemy to see her standing on the porch, wiping her hands characteristically on her gingham apron. ‘I hope you boys are n’t quarreling.’
Joe Rivers, sensing the approach of another potential opponent, backed across the sidewalk into the neutral territory of the road.
A small boy clenched his hands and held his ground.
‘Have you boys been fighting ?’ gran’ma repeated.
‘Uh — no,’ a small boy mumbled at last.
‘Oh what a whopper!’ This blast from Joe Rivers, safe across the frontier. ‘He gimme an awful kick in the shin.'
‘I declare!’ gran’ma exclaimed. ‘I declare!’
’He — he — ‘ stuttered a small boy, glaring at that white-headed blabber.
‘I ‘ve nothing to do with him,’ said gran’ma sharply. ‘It ‘s you I ‘m talking to. I ‘ve spoke to you time and again about fighting, and I don’t know why you don’t mind what I say. You know it ain’t nice to fight, and you know I don’t want you to fight. If Joseph Rivers or any other boys want to fight, you can just tell them what I ‘ve allus told you to say. You can just tell ‘em, “My gran’ma don’t want me to fight.”’
A small boy listened to those awful words with eyes downcast. Now, if Joe Rivers had repeated his earlier question, ‘Sick?’ he could have answered truthfully, ‘Yes, unto death.’ But Joe Rivers sidled away schoolwards, broke into a gallop, halted again before turning the corner.
‘“My gran’ma don’t want me to fight,” ‘ he shrieked joyfully. Then he resumed his gallop, proclaiming the tidings along the way.
Mrs. Joseph Rivers, senior, visited gran’ma in the early evening of that calamitous day. When she had gone, gran’ma visited a small boy in retirement in his bedroom. He had seen the coming and going of Mrs. Rivers, and so he knew what was on gran’ma’s mind, though he wore an expression of innocence. Gran’ma unburdened herself with an unhappy air, as of one who had been brought to shame before the whole village.
‘I declare, I don’t know what ‘s come over you, she exclaimed. ‘ I don’t know what to do about you. Mrs. Rivers has been here and says you’ve pitched into her boy three times to-day, and the last time you tore his blouse right off his back.’
These were facts which could not be disputed, and a small boy did n’t attempt it.
‘Have n’t you anything to say for yourself?’ gran’ma continued. ‘I declare, I never was so ashamed, and I ‘d think you ‘d be, too. Fighting — ‘ Her voice trailed off into silence pregnant with horror.
‘Well, I did n’t begin it,’ said a small boy finally.
‘There ‘s no excuse for you fighting,’ gran’ ma interrupted. ‘I ‘ve told you — ‘
‘Well, he began it just the samey,’ a small boy insisted. ‘If he had n’t of called me names — ‘
‘Uh — well, it—was n’t ‘zackly names,’ a small boy corrected himself.
‘If it wasn’t names what was it?’ gran’ma asked acidly.
‘He kept savin’, uh — ‘
‘Uh — he kept hollerin’ “Gran’ma don’t want me to fight — gran’ma don’t want me to fight.” ‘
‘So I don’t,’ snapped gran’ma. ‘I think it was real good of him to remind you — ‘
Then, suddenly, she seemed to come upon the full significance of a small boy’s explanation, and she was perplexed, dumfounded. ‘Do you mean to tell me you pitched into him just because he told you what I ‘ve allus tried to drum into you; I do declare, you ‘re the queerest boy I ever did see. I don’t know what to think about you —’
A small boy knew what she should think about him — about all small boys.
But what use trying to tell her? She was only a grown-up and grown-ups never could understand.