THE BAD BOY.
“Well, you don’t look very kitteny this morning,” said the grocery man to the bad boy, as he stood up behind the stove to get warm, and looked as though life was not one continued picnic, as heretofore. “What’s the matter with you? Your father has not been tampering with you with his boot, has he?”
“No, sir,” said the boy, as he brightened up. “Pa and me are good friends now. He has discovered that my heart is in the right place, and that I am going to amount to something, and he has forgiven every foolish thing I ever did to him. and says for me to come to him any time when I want advice or money to do good with. Why, when pa found I had pawned my watch to get money to buy medicine for the old woman, he went and redeemed it, and offered to whip the pawnbroker for charging me too much for the money. Oh, pa is a darling now. He went to the funeral with us.”
“What funeral?” said the groceryman, with a look of surprise. “You crazy? I haven’t heard of any funeral at your house. Don’t come no joke on me.”
“O, there is no joke about it,” said the boy. “You see, the little apple-girl’s grandmother lost her grip on this earth, soon after she got the medicine and the doctor, and died. I was down there, and it was the solemnist scene I ever witnessed. I looked around, and seen that somebody had got to act, and I braced up and told the girl that I was all wool, a yard wide, and for her to just let me run things. She was going to the poormaster, and have the city bury the old lady, but I couldn’t bear to see that little girl play solitaire as mourner, and ride in an express wagon with the remains and not have any minister, and go to the pauper burying ground where they don’t say grace over the coffin, but two shovelers smoke black pipes and shovel the earth in too quick and talk Bohemian all the time. It did not seem right for a poor little girl that never committed a crime except to be poor and sell wormy apples, to have no style about her grandma’s funeral, so I told her to brace up and wipe her eyes on one of my handkerchiefs and wait for Hennery. Well, sir, I didn’t know as I had so much gall. You have got to be put in a tight place before you know the kind of baled hay there is in you. I rushed out and found a motherly old lady that used to do our washing, and give me bread and butter with brown sugar on it, when I went after the clothes. I knew a woman that would give a bad boy bread and butter with brown sugar on it, and cut the slices thick, had a warm heart, and I got her to go down the alley and stay with the little girl, and be a sort of mother to her for a couple of days. Then I got my bicycle and took it down to the pawnshop and got twenty dollars on it, and with that money in my pocket I felt as though I owned a brewery, and I went to a feller that runs an excursion hearse and told him I wanted a hearse and one good carriage, at two o’clock, and the mourners would be ready. He thought I was fooling, but I showed my roll of bills and that settled him. He would have turned out six horses for me, when he see I had the wealth to put up. I went down and told the little girl how I had arranged things, and she said she wasn’t fixed for no such turnout as that. She hadn’t any clothes, and the toes of one foot were all out of the shoe, and the heel was off the other one, so she walked sort of italic like. I told her not to borrow any trouble, and I would rig her out so she would do credit to a regular avenue funeral, with plumes on the hearse, and I went home and hunted through the closets and got a lot of clothes ma wore years ago, when my little brother died, and a pair of shoes, and a long veil, and everything complete. I was going to jump over the back fence with the bundle when pa got sight of me and called me back. I felt guilty, and didn’t want to explain, and pa opened the bundle, and when he saw the mourning clothes that he had not seen since we buried our little baby, great tears came into pa’s eyes, and he broke down and wept like a child, and it made me weaken some, too. Then pa wanted to know what it all meant, why I was stealing them clothes out the back way, and I told him all, how I had pawned my things to see that little girl through her trouble, and had taken the black clothes, ’cause I thought pa would go back on it, and tell me to let people run their own funerals. I expected pa would thump me, but he said he would go his bottom dollar on me, and, do you know the old daisy went with me to the house, and patted the little girl on the head, and said for her to keep a stiff upper lip, and when the funeral came off, pa and three other old duffers that are pa’s chums, they acted as pall-bearers. I had tried a couple of ministers to get them to go along to say grace, but guess they couldn’t see any money or glory in it, for they turned me away with a soft answer, and I had about closed a contract with a sort of amateur preacher that goes around to country school houses preaching for his board, but pa he kicked on that, and said we should have the best there was, and he sent word to our minister that he had got use for him, and he was on deck, and did his duty just as well as though a millionaire was dead. Well, I rode with the little girl as assistant mourner, and tried to keep her from crying, but when we passed the house of correction, where her father working out a sentence for being drunk and disorderly, she broke down, and I told her I would be her father and mother and grandmother, and the whole family, and she put her hand on mine and said how good l was, and that broke me up and I had to beller. I don’t want to be called good. If people will keep on considering me bad, and let me do what good I want to on the sly, it is all right. But when she put that little hand on mine, and it was so clean and plump, something went all over me, like when you step on a carpet tack, or hit your funny bone against a gas bracket, and I felt as though I would stay by that girl till she got big enough to wear long dresses. Everything passed off splendid, and as a pauper funeral passed us on the road, the driver smoking a clay pipe, and the coffin jumping around, I couldn’t help noticing the difference, and I was proud that I pawned my bicycle and got up a funeral that nobody need be ashamed of, and when I arranged with the wash woman to take the girl home with her and be her mother till I could make different arrangements, I felt what a great responsibility rested on a family boy, and when I dismissed the hearse and carriage and went home, and pa took me in his arms and said he wouldn’t take a million dollars for me, and that this day’s experience had shown him that I was worth my weight in solid gold, and that he had stopped at the pawn shop and got my watch and bicycle, I never felt so happy in my life. Say, don’t you think there is a heap of solid comfort in doing something kind of unexpected, to make other people happy, or didn’t you ever try it?”
“Of course there is,” said the grocery man, as he passed the boy a glass of cider. “I remember once I gave a poor woman a mackerel, and the look of gratitude she gave me, as she asked me to trust her to a peck of potatoes, kept me awake two nights just thinking how much happiness a man can cause through one rusty mackerel. But she never came back to pay for the potatoes. I suppose you will be marrying that apple-peddler, won’t you?”
“Well, I hadn’t thought of that,’ said the boy, as he looked red in the face, “but if it would make her feel half as contented as it did for me to fix her up for the funeral, and go along with her, I would marry her quicker than scat, when we get big. But I must go and pay the undertaker. He stuck me for two dollars extra on the driver’s wearing a black suit, but I guess I can stand it,”‘ and the boy went out whistling. As he passed out the door without taking any fruit, the grocery man said to a man who was shaving off some plug tobacco to smoke, ‘That boy is going to turn out all right, if he doesn’t have any pull back.”
The Burlington [KS] Patriot 26 October 1883: p. 1
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead and on Twitter @hauntedohiobook. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead.