THE STORY OF A BAD BOY
THE STORY OF A BAD BOY
THOMAS BAILEY ALDRICH
Whenever a new scholar came to our school I used to confront him at recess
with the following words: "My name's Tom Bailey; what's your name?" If the
name struck me favorably I shook hands with the new pupil cordially; but
if it didn't I would turn on my heel for I was particular on this point.
Such names as Higgins Wiggins and Spriggins were deadly affronts to my
ear; while Langdon Wallace Blake and the like were passwords to my
confidence and esteem.
Ah me! some of those dear fellows are rather elderly boys by this
time-lawyers merchants sea-captains soldiers authors what not? Phil
Adams (a special good name that Adams) is consul at Shanghai where I
picture him to myself with his head closely shaved-he never had too much
hair-and a long pigtail banging down behind. He is married I hear; and I
hope he and she that was Miss Wang Wang are very happy together sitting
cross-legged over their diminutive cups of tea in a skyblue tower hung with
bells. It is so I think of him; to me he is henceforth a jewelled mandarin
talking nothing but broken China. Whitcomb is a judge sedate and wise
with spectacles balanced on the bridge of that remarkable nose which in
former days was so plentifully sprinkled with freckles that the boys
christened him Pepper Whitcomb. just to think of little Pepper Whitcomb
being a judge! What would be do to me now I wonder if I were to sing out
"Pepper!" some day in court? Fred Langdon is in California in the
native-wine business-he used to make the best licorice-water I ever tasted!
Binny Wallace sleeps in the Old South Burying-Ground; and Jack Harris too
is dead-Harris who commanded us boys of old in the famous snow-ball
battles of Slatter's Hill. Was it yesterday I saw him at the head of his
regiment on its way to join the shattered Army of the Potomac? Not
yesterday but six years ago. It was at the battle of the Seven Pines.
Gallant Jack Harris that never drew rein until he had dashed into the
Rebel battery! So they found him-lying across the enemy's guns.
How we have parted and wandered and married and died! I wonder what has
become of all the boys who went to the Temple Grammar School at Rivermouth
when I was a youngster? "All all are gone the old familiar faces!"
It is with no ungentle hand I summon them back for a moment from that Past
which has closed upon them and upon me. How pleasantly they live again in
my memory! Happy magical Past in whose fairy atmosphere even Conway mine
ancient foe stands forth transfigured with a sort of dreamy glory
encircling his bright red hair!
With the old school formula I commence these sketches of my boyhood. My name
is Tom Bailey; what is yours gentle reader? I take for granted it is
neither Wiggins nor Spriggins and that we shall get on famously together
and be capital friends forever.
In Which I Entertain Peculiar Views
I was born at Rivermouth but before I had a chance to become very well
acquainted with that pretty New England town my parents removed to New
Orleans where my father invested his money so securely in the banking
business that be was never able to get any of it out again. But of this
I was only eighteen months old at the time of the removal and it didn't
make much difference to me where I was because I was so small; but several
years later when my father proposed to take me North to be educated I had
my own peculiar views on the subject. I instantly kicked over the little
Negro boy who happened to be standing by me at the moment and stamping my
foot violently on the floor of the piazza declared that I would not be
taken away to live among a lot of Yankees!
You see I was what is called "a Northern man with Southern principles." I
had no recollection of New England: my earliest memories were connected
with the South with Aunt Chloe my old Negro nurse and with the great
ill-kept garden in the centre of which stood our house-a whitewashed stone
house it was with wide verandas-shut out from the street by lines of
orange fig and magnolia trees. I knew I was born at the North but hoped
nobody would find it out. I looked upon the misfortune as something so
shrouded by time and distance that maybe nobody remembered it. I never told
my schoolmates I was a Yankee because they talked about the Yankees in
such a scornful way it made me feel that it was quite a disgrace not to be
born in Louisiana or at least in one of the Border States. And this
impression was strengthened by Aunt Chloe who said "dar wasn't no
gentl'men in the Norf no way" and on one occasion terrified me beyond
measure by declaring that "if any of dem mean whites tried to git her away
from marster she was jes'gwine to knock 'em on de head wid a gourd!"
The way this poor creature's eyes flashed and the tragic air with which she
struck at an imaginary "mean white" are among the most vivid things in my
memory of those days.
To be frank my idea of the North was about as accurate as that entertained
by the well-educated Englishmen of the present day concerning America. I
supposed the inhabitants were divided into two classes-Indians and white
people; that the Indians occasionally dashed down on New York and scalped
any woman or child (giving the preference to children) whom they caught
lingering in the outskirts after nightfall; that the white men were either
hunters or schoolmasters and that it was winter pretty much all the year
round. The prevailing style of architecture I took to be log-cabins.
With this delightful picture of Northern civilization in my eye the reader
will easily understand my terror at the bare thought of being transported
to Rivermouth to school and possibly will forgive me for kicking over
little black Sam and otherwise misconducting myself when my father
announced his determination to me. As for kicking little Sam-I always did
that more or less gently when anything went wrong with me.
My father was greatly perplexed and troubled by this unusually violent
outbreak and especially by the real consternation which be saw written in
every line of my countenance. As little black Sam picked himself up my
father took my hand in his and led me thoughtfully to the library.
I can see him now as he leaned back in the bamboo chair and questioned me.
He appeared strangely agitated on learning the nature of my objections to
going North and proceeded at once to knock down all my pine log houses
and scatter all the Indian tribes with which I had populated the greater
portion of the Eastern and Middle States.
"Who on earth Tom has filled your brain with such silly stories?" asked my
father wiping the tears from his eyes.
"Aunt Chloe sir; she told me."
"And you really thought your grandfather wore a blanket embroidered with
beads and ornamented his leggins with the scalps of his enemies?"
"Well sir I didn't think that exactly."
"Didn't think that exactly? Tom you will be the death of me."
He hid his face in his handkerchief and when he looked up he seemed to
have been suffering acutely. I was deeply moved myself though I did not
clearly understand what I had said or done to cause him to feel so badly.
Perhaps I had hurt his feelings by thinking it even possible that
Grandfather Nutter was an Indian warrior.
My father devoted that evening and several subsequent evenings to giving me
a clear and succinct account of New England; its early struggles its
progress and its present condition-faint and confused glimmerings of all
which I had obtained at school where history had never been a favorite
pursuit of mine.
I was no longer unwilling to go North; on the contrary the proposed journey
to a new world full of wonders kept me awake nights. I promised myself all
sorts of fun and adventures though I was not entirely at rest in my mind
touching the savages and secretly resolved to go on board the ship-the
journey was to be made by sea-with a certain little brass pistol in my
trousers-pocket in case of any difficulty with the tribes when we landed
I couldn't get the Indian out of my head. Only a short time previously the
Cherokees-or was it the Camanches?-had been removed from their
hunting-grounds in Arkansas; and in the wilds of the Southwest the red men
were still a source of terror to the border settlers. "Trouble with the
Indians" was the staple news from Florida published in the New Orleans
papers. We were constantly hearing of travellers being attacked and
murdered in the interior of that State. If these things were done in
Florida why not in Massachusetts?
Yet long before the sailing day arrived I was eager to be off. My impatience
was increased by the fact that my father had purchased for me a fine little
Mustang pony 20and shipped it to Rivermouth a fortnight previous to the
date set for our own departure-for both my parents were to accompany me.
The pony (which nearly kicked me out of bed one night in a dream) and my
father's promise that he and my mother would come to Rivermouth every other
summer completely resigned me to the situation. The pony's name was
Gitana which is the Spanish for gypsy; so I always called her-she was a
At length the time came to leave the vine-covered mansion among the
orange-trees to say goodby to little black Sam (I am convinced he was
heartily glad to get rid of me) and to part with simple Aunt Chloe who
in the confusion of her grief kissed an eyelash into my eye and then
buried her face in the bright bandana turban which she had mounted that
morning in honor of our departure.
I fancy them standing by the open garden gate; the tears are rolling down
Aunt Chloe's cheeks; Sam's six front teeth are glistening like pearls; I
wave my hand to him manfully. then I call out "goodby" in a muffled voice
to Aunt Chloe; they and the old home fade away. I am never to see them