“WELL, Guy Harris, I have only one word to say to you. If you think you
can play off on me in this way, you are very much mistaken. I will post
you among the fellows as a boy who is too mean to pay his honest debts.”
“I don’t care if you do, George Wolcom. I’ll tell the fellows in return
that I have no debts hanging over me, and that you are a boy who doesn’t
do as he agrees. I wanted a cross-gun; I tried to make one and failed.
You said you knew how to handle carpenters’ tools and would make me one.
I described to you just what I wanted, and you told me that you could
fill the bill, and that the gun, when completed, would be worth half a
dollar. What sort of a thing have you given me? Look at this,” continued
the speaker, holding out at arm’s length a piece of wood which might
have been taken for a cross-gun, although it looked about as much like a
ball-club; “I can make a better one myself.”
“Then you don’t intend to pay me?”
“Of course I do, when you bring me such a gun as I told you I wanted.”
“But you won’t pay me for the one I have already made for you?”
“No, sir, I won’t.”
“Very well; but bear in mind that I am a boy who never let’s one do him
a mean trick without paying him back in his own coin. I’ll be even with
you for swindling me.”
“Oh, Guy! I say. Guy Harris, hold on a minute.”
The two boys, between whom the conversation above recorded took place,
stopped when they heard these words, and looking across the street saw
Tom Proctor running toward them. One arm was buried to the elbow in his
pocket, and under the other he carried a beautiful snow-white dove,
which was fluttering its wings and trying to escape from his grasp.
“See here, Guy!” exclaimed Tom as he came up, “I have just been over to
your house, where I found my pigeon, which I lost about a week ago. Your
mother said it came to your barn, and that you shut it up to keep it for
me. Now that was a neighborly act, and I want to repay it. Here’s that
box you have so often tried to buy from me.”
As Tom said this he pulled his hand out of his pocket and gave Guy the
article in question, which proved to be a brass match-box. It was not a
very valuable thing, but it had a revolving top secured by a curiously
contrived spring, was stamped all over with figures of wild ducks, deer
and rabbits, and was altogether different from anything of the kind that
Guy had ever seen before.
For some reason or other he had long shown a desire to obtain possession
of this box, but the owner could not be induced to part with it.
Before he could express his thanks for the gift Tom was half-way across
the street on his way home.
“This is just the thing I wanted,” said Guy joyfully, as he and George
Wolcom resumed their walk. “I shall think of Tom every time I look at
this box when I am out on the prairie.”
“When you are out on the prairie?” echoed George. “What do you mean by
“Oh, it is my secret. You may know it some day, but not now. What do you
suppose is the reason why I want a cross-gun?”
“Why, to kill birds with.”
“No, sir; I want to practice shooting at a mark. I shall have use for a
rifle every hour in the day before I am many months older.”
“You will? Where are you going?”
“You needn’t ask questions, for I sha’n’t answer them,” said Guy,
shutting the box with a click, and making a motion to put it into his
“Wait a second,” exclaimed George suddenly. “I know why Tom Proctor was
generous enough to give you that box. It will be of no use to you for
the spring is broken.”
“It isn’t either,” replied Guy.
“Yes it is; I saw it. Hand it out here and I will show you.”
Without hesitation Guy passed the box over to his companion, who, after
opening and shutting it a few times, and making a pretense of examining
the spring, coolly put it into his own pocket. Guy looked at him in
great surprise, but George walked on without noticing him.
“Now that’s the biggest piece of impudence I ever witnessed,” said Guy
at length. “I’d like to know what you mean by it.”
“Didn’t I tell you that I always get even with a fellow who does me a
mean trick?” asked George, in reply. “I’ll keep this box as part payment
for the cross-gun I made you.”
“Do you call this thing a cross-gun?” demanded Guy, once more holding up
the stick he carried in his hand; “I don’t, and I sha’n’t pay you a cent
for it either. Give me that box.”
“Give me that half-dollar you owe me.”
“I don’t owe you any half-dollar. Here, take your old cross-gun and give
me my box.”
“It isn’t my gun—it is yours; and you can’t have your box till I get my
just dues. You may depend upon that.”
A long and spirited debate followed this reply, and would most likely
have ended in blows had the two boys been of equal age and size, for Guy
was a spirited fellow, and always ready to stand up for his rights.
George was an overgrown lout of a boy, and plumed himself on being the
bully of his school. Guy knew better than to attempt to take the box
from him by force, so he followed along after him, talking all the
while, and trying to convince him that he was in the wrong, and that he
showed anything but a manly spirit in taking so unfair an advantage of a
boy so much smaller than himself.
But George, being pig-headed and vindictive, could not be made to look
at the matter in that light. He kept tantalizing his companion by
turning the box in his hand, praising the beauty of the figures stamped
upon it, and asking Guy now and then if he had anything else he could
keep his matches in when he reached the prairie.
Presently the two boys arrived in front of the house in which Guy
lived—a neat little edifice, with a graveled carriage-way leading upon
one side, and trees and shrubbery growing all around it. Guy halted at
the gate, and George, believing that if his companion would not pay him
for his cross-gun he might be willing to give half a dollar to get
possession of the match-box again, stopped also to argue the matter.
While the discussion of the points Guy had raised was going on, the gate
leading into the next yard was opened, and a bright, lively-looking
fellow, Henry Stewart by name, and one of Guy’s particular friends, came
out. He greeted Guy pleasantly, and was about to pass on, when he
noticed the look of trouble on his face, and stopped to inquire the
reason for it. The matter was explained in few words, and Henry turned
and gave the bully a good looking over. Being a great lover of justice,
he was indignant at the treatment his crony had received.
“Well,” said George, returning Henry’s gaze with interest; “you have
nothing to do with this business, and if you are wise you will keep out
“I want that box!” said Henry firmly.
“If you get it before I am ready to give it to you,” returned George,
“just send me word, will you?”
Before this defiance had fairly left his lips the bully was rolling over
and over in the gutter, which was in a very moist condition, owing to
the heavy rain that had fallen during the previous night, while his
antagonist stood erect on the sidewalk, flushed and excited, but without
even a wrinkle in his clean, white wristbands, or a spot of mud on his
well-blacked boots. In falling, George dropped the match-box, which
Henry caught up and put into his pocket.
This proceeding was witnessed by two women—Henry’s mother and Guy’s
step-mother. The latter made no move, but treasured up the scene in her
memory to be repeated in a greatly exaggerated form to Mr. Harris when
he came home to dinner, while Henry’s mother hurried down the stairs and
out to the gate. She called to her son, who promptly answered the
summons, and in reply to her anxious inquiries repeated the story of
I do not know what his mother said to him, but I am sure it could not
have been anything very harsh, for a moment afterward Henry came gayly
down the walk, winked at Guy as he passed, and looked pleasantly toward
the discomfited bully, who, having picked himself up from the gutter,
was making the best of his way to the other side of the street, holding
one hand to his head and the other to his back, both of which had been
pretty badly bruised by the hard fall he had received.
“Now, that Hank Stewart is the right sort!” thought Guy, gazing
admiringly after the erect, slender figure of his friend as it moved
rapidly down the street. “If it hadn’t been for him I should never have
seen this box again. I shouldn’t like to lose it, for I shall have use
for matches after I become a hunter and trapper, and I shall need
something to carry them in. This box is just the thing. If I wasn’t
afraid Hank would refuse, I would ask him to go with me, I must have a
companion, for of course I don’t want to go riding about over those
prairies on my wild mustang all by myself while there are so many
hostile Indians about, and Hank is the fellow I’d like to have with me.
He knows everything about animals and the woods; he’s the best fisherman
in Norwall; he never misses a double shot at ducks or quails; and I
never saw a boy that could row or sail a boat with him. Why, it wouldn’t
be long before he would be the best hunter and trapper that ever tracked
the prairie. I’ll think about it, and perhaps I shall make up my mind to
ask him to go with me instead of Bob Walker.”
Thus soliloquizing Guy made his way through the yard to the
carriage-house and mounted the stairs leading to the rooms above. There
were three of them. The first and largest served in summer as a place of
storage for Mr. Harris’ sleighs and buffalo-robes, and in winter for his
buggy and family carriage. The second was the room in which the coachman
slept, and the third Guy had appropriated to his own use.
Here he had collected a lot of trumpery of all sorts, which he called
his “curiosities,” and of which he took the greatest possible care. The
members of the family, and those of his young friends who had seen the
inside of this room, thought that Guy had shown strange taste in making
his selections, for there was not an article in it that was worth saving
as a curiosity, and but few that could under any circumstances be of the
least use to him.
On a nail opposite the door hung a rubber blanket with a hole in the
center, so that it could be worn over one’s shoulders like a cloak; from
another was suspended a huge powder-horn; and on a third hung a rusty
carving-knife, which one of Guy’s companions had sold to him with the
assurance that it was a hunting-knife. Then there was a portion of an
old harpoon which Guy said was a spear-head, a pair of well-worn
top-boots, an old horse-blanket and a clothes-line with an iron ring
fastened to one end of it. This last Guy called a lasso. He spent many
an hour in practicing with it, whirling it around his head and trying to
throw the running noose over a stake he had planted in the yard.
One corner of the room was occupied by a pile of old iron, to which
horseshoes, broken frying-pans and articles of like description were
added from time to time. Whenever this pile attained a certain size it
would always disappear, no one seemed to know how or when, and Guy would
go about for a day or two jingling some coppers in his pocket. When he
had handled them and feasted his eyes on them to his satisfaction, he
would stow them in an old buckskin purse which he kept in his trunk.
In another corner of the room was a large bag, into which Guy put
everything in the shape of rags that he could pick up about the house.
When filled it was emptied somehow, and Guy had a few more coppers to be
put away in his purse. It was well for our hero that his father and
mother did not know what he intended to do with the money he earned in
“Nobody except me sees any sense in all this,” said Guy, as he closed
the door behind him, and gazed about the room with a smile of
satisfaction. “There isn’t a thing here that will not be of use to me by
and by. That rubber blanket will keep me dry when it rains. That
powder-horn I shall have filled at St. Joseph or Independence, and, as a
rifle requires but little ammunition, it will hold enough to last me
during a year’s hunting. That knife will answer my purpose as well as
one worth two dollars and a half, for I can sharpen it, and make a
sheath for it out of the skin of the first buffalo or antelope I kill. I
must sell my iron again before long. How the fellows laugh at me because
I am all the while looking out for old horseshoes and such things! But I
don’t care. I’ve made many a dime by it, and dimes make dollars. I never
neglect a chance to turn a penny, but I haven’t yet saved a quarter of
what I need. I found half a dollar the other day by keeping my eyes
turned down as I walked along the street, and that was a big lift, I
As Guy said this he opened a small tool-chest that stood beside the pile
of old iron. In this were stowed away a variety of articles he had
picked up at odd times and in different places, and which he thought he
might find useful when he reached the prairie.
There was a small bundle of wax-ends, such as shoemakers use. These
would come handy when he needed a pair of good leggings, or when his
moccasins, saddle, or bridle, got out of repair. There were several iron
and bone rings he could use in making lassos or martingales for his
horse; three or four pounds of lead for his bullets, and a ladle to melt
it in; half a dozen jackknives, some whole and sound, others broken
beyond all hope of repair; a multitude of lines, fish-hooks, sinkers and
bobbers, which he intended to use on the mountain streams and lakes of
which he had read so much; a few steel-traps, all bent and worthless,
and also several “figure fours” which he had made so as to have them
ready for use when he reached his hunting-grounds. In this receptacle
Guy placed his match-box, congratulating himself on having secured
another valuable addition to his outfit. This done, he bent his steps
toward his house.
When he entered the dining-room he found his father and mother seated at
the table, and he knew by the expression on their faces, as well as by
the words that fell upon his ear, that there was a storm brewing. His
mother had been relating the particulars of the encounter between Henry
Stewart and George Wolcom, and repeating the discussion between Guy and
the bully that led to it, all of which she had seen and overheard from
her chamber window, and our hero came in just in time to hear her
“I never in my life saw boys behave so disgracefully. Mrs. Stewart ran
out of the house and tried to put a stop to the disturbance, but they
paid not the least attention to her.”
“Guy,” said Mrs. Harris, “where is that article, whatever it is, that
has been the cause of all this trouble?”
“I have put it away,” was the reply.
“Go and get it immediately.”
Guy retraced his steps to the carriage-house, and taking out the
match-box, carried it to his father, who looked at it contemptuously.
“This is a pretty thing to raise a fight about, isn’t it?” he exclaimed.
“Take it and throw it away.”
“But, father,” began Guy.
“Do you hear me?” demanded Mr. Harris fiercely. “Throw it away.”
Guy knew better than to hesitate longer. Mr. Harris was a stern man, and
in his efforts to “bring his boy up properly,” sometimes acted more like
a tyrant than a father.
Taking the box, Guy walked out of the door and disappeared behind the
“I will throw it away,” said he to himself, “but I’ll be careful to
throw it where I can find it again. I never heard of such injustice. I
wasn’t in any way to blame for the trouble, for I didn’t ask Hank to
pitch into George Wolcom and get my box for me; and neither did Mrs.
Stewart run out and try to put a stop to the fight. It was all over
before she showed herself. But that’s just the way with all
step-mothers, I have heard, and I know it is so with mine. She runs to
father with every little thing I do, and seems to delight in having me
hauled over the coals. It isn’t so with Ned. He can do as he pleases,
but I must walk straight, or suffer for it. I sha’n’t stand it much
longer, and that’s all about it. Stay there till I want you again.”
Guy threw the box into a cluster of currant bushes at the back of the
garden, and after noting the spot where it fell, went slowly back to the
dining-room and sat down to his dinner.
I MUST say before I go further, that Guy Harris is not an imaginary
character. He has an existence as surely as you have, boy reader. He is
to-day an active professional man, and he has consented to have the
story of his boyhood written in the hope that it may serve as a warning,
should it chance to fall into the hands of any discontented young fellow
who is tempted to do as he did.
Guy lived in the city of Norwall—that name will do as well as any
other—on the shore of one of the great lakes. When he was a few months
old his mother died, and a year afterward his father married again. Of
course Guy was too young to remember his lost parent, and until he was
fourteen years old he knew nothing of this little episode in the family
history. Mr. and Mrs. Harris never enlightened him, because they feared
that something unpleasant might result from it. Having often heard the
boy express his opinion of step-mothers in the most emphatic language,
and declare that he would not live a day under his father’s roof with a
stranger to rule over him, they thought it best to allow him to remain
in ignorance of the real facts of the case. And Guy never suspected
anything. It is true that he was sometimes sadly puzzled to know how it
happened that he had three grandfathers, while all the boys of his
acquaintance had only two; but when he spoke of it to his mother, she
always had the headache too badly to talk about that or anything else.
Guy often told himself that his mother was not like other boys’ mothers.
He cherished an unbounded affection for her, and stood ready to show it
by every means in his power; but there was something about her that kept
him at a distance. There was not that familiarity between him and his
mother that he saw between other boys and their mothers. There was a
coolness in her demeanor toward him that she did not even exhibit toward
strangers. There was a wonderful difference, too, in her treatment of
him and his half-brother, Ned, who was at this time about nine years of
age. Ned came and went as he pleased. The front gate was no barrier to
him, and he always had a dime or two in his pocket to spend for peanuts
and chocolate creams. If he wanted to go over to a neighbor’s for an
hour’s visit, or wished to spend an afternoon skating on the pond, he
applied to his mother, who seldom refused him permission. If Guy desired
the same privilege, he was told to consult with his father, who
generally said: “No, sir; you’ll meet with bad company there;” or,
“You’ll break through and be drowned;” or, if he granted the request, he
would do it after so much hesitation, and with so great reluctance that
it made an unpleasant impression on Guy’s mind, and marred his day’s
At last a few scraps of the family history, which his parents had been
so careful to keep from him, came to Guy’s knowledge. Through one of the
neighborhood gossips he learned, to his intense amazement, that Mr.
Harris had been twice married; that his first wife had lain for almost
fourteen years in her grave in a distant State; and that the woman who
sat at the head of the table, who so closely watched all his movements
during his father’s absence, and whom he called mother, was not his
mother after all. Then a good many things which hitherto he had not been
able to understand became perfectly clear to him. He knew now where his
three grandfathers came from, and could easily account for the
partiality shown his half-brother, Ned. But he wanted proof, and to
obtain it laid the matter before his Aunt Lucy, who, after telling him
how sorry she was that he had found it out, reluctantly confirmed the
Guy felt as if he were utterly alone in the world after this; but when
he had thought about it a while, he took a sensible view of the case. He
loved his father’s wife, and he did not allow the facts with which he
had just been made acquainted to make any change in his feelings or
demeanor toward her. Indeed, he was more attentive to her than before;
he tried to anticipate and gratify her desires as far as lay in his
power, and in every way did his best to please her; but the result was
most discouraging. With all his efforts he could not win one approving
word or smile. His mother was colder and more distant than ever, and
from that time Guy’s home was somehow made very uncomfortable for him.
Mr. and Mrs. Harris were good people, as the world goes. They were
prominent members of the church, and held high positions in society.
Abroad they were as agreeable and pleasant as people could be, but the
atmosphere of home grew dark the moment they crossed the threshold. Mr.
Harris, especially, was a perfect thunder-cloud; his very presence had a
depressing effect upon the family circle. When he came home from his
place of business at night, he generally had something to say in the way
of greeting to his wife and Ned, but Guy was seldom noticed, unless he
had been doing something wrong, and then more words were devoted to him
than he cared to listen to.
When supper was over, Mr. Harris sat down to his paper, and until ten
o’clock never looked up or spoke. His wife sewed, read novels, or played
backgammon with Ned, and Guy was left to himself. His father never
talked to him about his sports and pastimes, his boyish trials,
disappointments, hopes and aspirations, as other fathers talk to their
sons. He never allowed him to go outside the gate—except upon very rare
occasions—unless he was going to school or was sent on an errand. He
never gave him a cent to spend for himself, except on Christmas, when,
in addition to making him numerous presents (which Guy was so repeatedly
and emphatically enjoined to take care of that he almost hated them as
well as the giver), he opened his heart and presented him with a quarter
of a dollar. He wasn’t going to ruin his boy by giving him money, he
Up to the time that he was fourteen years old Guy had the making of a
man in him. He was smart, honest, truthful, generous to a fault, and
attentive to his books, it being his father’s desire, as well as his
own, that he should enter college. I wish I could take him through my
story with all these good traits about him; but candor compels me to say
that at the time he was presented to the reader he was a different sort
of boy altogether. In the neighborhood in which he lived he bore an
excellent reputation. People called him a good boy, referred to the fact
that he was never seen prowling about the streets after dark, and spoke
of the promptness with which he obeyed the commands of his parents. But
the truth was that at heart Guy was no better than any other boy. He
stayed at home of evenings, not because it was a pleasant place and he
loved to be there, but for the reason that he was not allowed to go out;
and he obeyed his parents’ orders the moment they were issued, because
he knew that he would be whipped if he did not. All his generous
impulses had been crushed out of him by the stern policy pursued by his
father, who believed in ruling by the rod, instead of by love. From
being a frank, honorable boy, above doing a mean action and abhorring a
lie, Guy became sneaking and sly—so sly that it was almost an
impossibility to fasten the guilt of any wrong-doing upon him. He
learned to despise his home, with its thunder-clouds and incessant
reprimands and fault-findings, and longed to get off by himself
somewhere—anywhere, so that he could enjoy a few minutes’ peace. He had
hit upon a plan to rid himself of his troubles, and now we will tell
what it was, and how it resulted.
AS CAN well be imagined, Guy felt very sore after the affair of the
match-box. His whole soul rebelled against the petty tyranny and
injustice of his father, and while he was at school that afternoon his
mind dwelt so much upon it that he stood “zero” in every one of his
lessons, and failed so miserably in his philosophy that he narrowly
escaped the disgrace—and it was considered a lasting disgrace by the
boys belonging to the Brown Grammar School—of being kept after hours to
commit his task.
When four o’clock came Guy drew a long breath of relief, and chucked his
books under his desk so spitefully that he made a great deal of racket,
which caused the teacher to look sharply in his direction. Guy, knowing
that he was suspected, turned and stared at Tom Proctor, who sat next
behind him, as if to say, “_There_ is the guilty one,” and Tom gave the
accusation a flat denial by turning about and looking at the youth who
sat next behind _him_. This is a way that some school-boys have of doing
business, as you know. In a case like this a scholar can “carry tales”
and accuse a school-mate of breaking the rules without saying a word.
When school was dismissed Guy was the first one out of the gate. Some of
the Delta Club were going over to their grounds to engage in a practice
game of ball, and as Guy belonged to the first nine, of course he was
expected to accompany them; but he, knowing that he must first go home
and ask permission of his mother, which would most likely be refused,
replied that he had something else to do, and hurried off as fast as his
legs could carry him. Arriving at his father’s gate, he slackened his
pace and walked leisurely through the yard into the garden. He went
straight to the currant bush, behind which he had thrown his match-box,
and finding his treasure safe, put it into his pocket and returned to
the carriage-house. When he thought he could do so without being seen by
any one, he bounded up the stairs, entered his curiosity shop, and
noiselessly closing the door, locked himself in.
“Now then,” he exclaimed with a triumphant air, “if mother and Ned will
only let me alone for about an hour, I can enjoy myself. I haven’t seen
a minute’s peace since twelve o’clock. Father thought he was very sharp
when he ordered me to throw this box away,” he added, as he opened the
small tool-chest and deposited his recovered property therein, “but I am
a little sharper than he is. Whew! wouldn’t I get my jacket dusted
though, if he knew what I have done?”
As Guy said this, he unlocked a small compartment in the tool-chest and
took out a book bound in brown and gold, and bearing the title, “The Boy
Trappers of the Platte.” Closing the chest, and seating himself upon it,
he opened the book, and for two hours reveled in bear fights, adventures
with the Indians, and hunting and trapping scenes without number. For
once that day he was supremely happy. He forgot all his troubles, and
lived only among the imaginary characters and amid the imaginary scenes
presented to him on the printed page. Two or three times while he was
thus engaged, Ned came up, tried the door, and called to him; but Guy
only stopped long enough to flourish his fist in the air with a
significant gesture, as if he would have been glad of a chance to use it
on Ned’s head, and then went on with his reading, until the creaking of
the gate, and the sound of wheels on the carriage-way, told him that his
father had arrived.
“Dear me, how provoking!” exclaimed Guy, jumping quickly to his feet and
putting the book away in the tool-chest, “Just as I get to the most
interesting part of a chapter, I must be interrupted. I wish father had
stayed away ten minutes longer; or, better than that, I wish he was like
other fathers, and would let me take this book into the house and read
it openly and aboveboard, as I should like to do. He is so opposed to
works of fiction that I wonder he lets Ned read Robinson Crusoe. He
talks of going to the White Mountains this summer, and taking mother and
Ned with him, and leaving me at home to punish me for going in swimming
the other day. Don’t I hope he will do it, though? It wouldn’t be
punishment at all, if he only knew it. I’d have more fun than I have
seen for ten years. I’d read every book in Henry Stewart’s library.”
Having closed and locked the tool-chest, Guy went cautiously to the
window, and when he saw his father get out of his buggy and enter the
house, he slipped quietly out of the room and down the stairs. He passed
an uncomfortable quarter of an hour before the supper-bell rang,
strolling about the yard with his hands in his pockets, and scarcely
knowing what to do with himself. It seemed so hard to come back to earth
again after living for two hours among the exciting scenes which his
favorite author had created for his amusement.
Supper over, there was another hour to be passed in some way before the
gas was lighted. His father talked politics with the next-door neighbor;
Ned played graces with his mother; and wide-awake, restless Guy was as
usual left to himself. No one took the least notice of him. He must have
something to do—it wasn’t in him to remain long inactive—and as there
was a strong breeze blowing, he thought he would raise his kite. He
could not go into the street for that purpose, so he climbed to the top
of the barn; but his father quickly discovered him, and ordered him
Then he tried it in the garden, but the trees were thick, and the kite’s
tail was always in the way. It caught in a cherry tree, and as Guy was
about to mount among the branches to disengage it, his father again
interfered. He wasn’t going to have his fine ox-hearts broken down for
the sake of all the kites in the world.
[Illustration: “For once that day, Guy was supremely happy.”]
By the aid of the step-ladder Guy finally released the kite, and made
one more attempt to raise it, this time by running along the
carriage-way; but by an unlucky step he left the point of his boot on
one of the flower-beds, and that set his mother’s tongue in motion. His
father heard it, and turned sharply upon him.
“Guy,” said he, “what in the world is the matter with you to-night? Put
that kite away, and go into the house.”
Guy’s under lip dropped down, and with mutterings not loud, but deep, he
prepared to obey.
His father’s quick eye noticed the drooping lip, and his quick ear
caught the muttering.
“Come here, sir,” said he angrily.
Guy approached, and his father, seizing his arm with a grip that brought
tears to his eyes, shook him until every tooth in his head rattled.
“What do you mean by going into the sulks when I tell you to do
anything?” he demanded. “Straighten out that face! Now, then,” he added
after a moment’s pause, during which Guy choked back his tears and
assumed as pleasant an expression as could be expected of a boy whose
arm was being squeezed by a strong man until it was black and blue, “go
into the house and stay there.”
The father could compel obedience, but his son was too much like himself
to be easily conquered. He could control his actions as long as he was
in sight, but he could not control his thoughts. Guy’s heart was filled
“This is a fair sample of the manner in which I am treated every day of
my life,” he muttered under his breath as he stowed his kite away in its
accustomed place. “They’ll think of it and be sorry some day, for if I
once get away from here I’ll never come back. I never want to see any of
them again. I can’t please them, and there is no use trying. Nobody
cares for me, and the sooner I am out of the way the better.”
When Guy entered the sitting-room he found his mother there reading a
highly-seasoned novel by a popular sensational writer, and Ned deeply
interested in “Robinson Crusoe.” The piano was open and Guy walked to it
and sat down. There was a piece of music upon it, entitled “’Tis Home
Where’er the Heart Is.” As Guy ran his fingers over the keys he thought
of all that had happened that day, and told himself that if those words
were true his home was a long way from Norwall.
“That will do, Guy,” said his mother suddenly. “My head aches, and it is
not necessary that you should practice now.”
Guy began to get desperate. He couldn’t sit around all the evening and
do nothing—no healthy boy could. He went to the library, and knowing
that he was doing something that would certainly prove the occasion of
more fault-finding, took a book from some snug corner in which he had
hidden it, and sat down to read.
In a few minutes his father came in. He picked up his paper and was
about to seat himself in his easy chair when he caught sight of Guy and
stopped. The latter did not look up, but watched his father out of the
corner of his eye.
“Guy,” said Mr. Harris sharply.
“Sir!” said the boy.
“What have you there?”
“‘Cecil,’” was the reply.
“Cecil who? Cecil what?”
“That’s the name of the book.”
“Let me see it.”
Mr. Harris took the volume and ran his eye over the pages, while a look
of contempt settled on his face. Had he taken the trouble to read the
book he would have found that it was the history of a youth who was
turned out into the world at an early age by the death of his parents;
that it described the trials and temptations that fell to his lot, and
told how he made a man of himself at last. But Mr. Harris, like many
others, condemned without knowing what he was condemning.
Three words on the title-page told him all he cared to know about the
work. It was a “Book for Boys.” All books for boys were works of
fiction, and he never intended that Guy should read a work of fiction if
he could prevent it.
“Where did you get this?” demanded Mr. Harris.
“I borrowed it of Henry Stewart. His father bought it for him last week,
and he is a member of your church, too,” answered Guy, seizing the
opportunity to put in a home-thrust.
“I don’t care if he is. I have no objection to your associating with
Henry, for he is a good boy in some respects, although it is the
greatest wonder in the world to me that he hasn’t been ruined by his
father’s ignorance beyond all hope of redemption. I am surprised at
Brother Stewart—I am really. What’s that sticking out of your pocket?”
“It is a copy of the New York _Magazine_.”
“Let me see it.”
Guy handed out the paper, and as Mr. Harris slowly unfolded it the sneer
once more settled on his face. He handled the sheet with the tips of his
fingers, as if he feared that the touch might contaminate him.
“‘Nick Whiffles!’” said he, reading the title of one of the stories.
“Who is he? Who owns him?”
“I borrowed the paper of Henry Stewart. His father has taken it for
years, and says he couldn’t do without it.”
“I don’t care what his father says. His opinions have no weight with me.
Who’s Nick Whiffles?”
“He was a famous Indian-fighter and guide.”
“Oh, he was, was he? Well, you just guide him out of this house, and
never bring him or anybody like him here again. I won’t have such trash
under my roof. Guy, it does seem as if you were determined to ruin
yourself. Don’t you know that the reading of such tales as this unfits
you for anything like work? Don’t you know that after a while nothing
but this light reading will satisfy you?”
“No, sir, I don’t,” replied Guy boldly. “Henry Stewart told me that he
didn’t care a snap for history until he had read the ‘Black Knight.’
Through that story he became interested in the manners and customs of
the people who lived during the Middle Ages, and he wanted to know more
about them. He read everything on the subject that he could get his
hands on, and Professor Johnson says he is better posted in history than
half the teachers in the public schools.”
“And all through the reading of a novel?” exclaimed Mr. Harris. “I know
better. There’s not a word of truth in it. This bosh has a very
different effect upon you at any rate. You waste all your spare time
upon it, and the consequence is, you are getting to be a worthless,
“But, father, I must have something to read.”
“Don’t I know that; and don’t I get you a new book every Christmas?
Where’s that volume entitled ‘Thoughts on Death; or, Lectures for Young
Men,’ that I bought for you three weeks ago? You haven’t looked into it,
Mr. Harris was wrong there. Guy _had_ looked into it, and he had tried
to read it, but it was written in such language that he could not
understand it. At the time his father gave him this book he had
presented Ned with a box of fine water-colors—the very thing Guy had
long wished for. Why had not Mr. Harris consulted the tastes and wishes
of the elder, as well as those of the younger son?
“Return that book and paper to their owner at once, and don’t bring
anything like them into this house again,” repeated Mr. Harris.
“May I visit with Henry a little while?” asked the boy.
“Well—I—y-es. You may stay there a quarter of an hour.”
“It’s a wonder,” thought Guy, as he picked up his cap and started for
Mr. Stewart’s house. “Why didn’t he tell me that home is the place for
me after dark? That’s the reply he generally makes.”
As Guy climbed over the fence that ran between his father’s yard and Mr.
Stewart’s he heard a great noise and hubbub. He listened and found that
the sounds came from the house he was about to visit.
As he drew nearer he saw that one of the window curtains was raised, and
that he could obtain a view of all that was going on in Mr. Stewart’s
back parlor. The occupants were engaged in a game of blind-man’s buff.
Mr. Stewart, his eyes covered with a handkerchief, and his hands spread
out before him, was advancing cautiously toward one side of the room,
evidently searching for Henry, who had squeezed himself into one corner,
with a chair in front of him. The other children were probably trying to
divert their father’s attention, for two of them were clinging to his
coat-tails, while the eldest daughter would now and then go up and pull
his whiskers or pat him on the back. Mrs. Stewart sat in a remote corner
sewing and smiling pleasantly, seemingly unmindful of the deafening
racket raised by the players.
“Humph!” said Guy, “it will be of no use for me to ask Henry to go with
me. I wouldn’t go myself if I had a home like this. How would my father
look with a handkerchief over his eyes, and Ned and me hanging to his
coat-tails? And wouldn’t mother have an awful headache though, if this
was going on in her house?”
It certainly was a pleasant scene that Guy looked in upon, and he stood
at the window watching the players until he began to be ashamed of
himself. Then he mounted the steps and knocked at the door.
Mrs. Stewart admitted him, and he entered the parlor just in time to see
Henry’s father pounce upon him and hold him fast.
“Aha! I’ve caught you, sir,” said Mr. Stewart, with a laugh that did
one’s heart good, “and now we had better stop, for we are arousing the
neighbors. Here’s Guy come in to see what’s the matter.”
“No, sir,” replied the visitor, “I just came over to return a book and
paper I borrowed of Henry.”
“Why, you haven’t read them, have you?” asked his friend. “I gave them
to you only yesterday.”
“I know it; but father told me to bring them back. He won’t permit me to
read them. He says they are nothing but trash.”
Henry elevated his eyebrows and looked at his father, who in turn looked
inquiringly at Guy.
“Does your father ever read the New York _Magazine_?” asked Mr. Stewart.
“No, _sir_!” replied Guy emphatically.
“Ah! that accounts for it. If he would take the trouble to look at it,
he might change his opinion of it. A paper that numbers ministers among
its contributors, that advocates temperance and reform, and shows up the
follies of the day in its stories, can’t be a very dangerous thing to
put into the hands of the youth of the land. Here is an article by a
minister in the paper we have been reading to-night. Take it over and
show it to your father.”
“I wouldn’t dare do it, sir,” returned Guy blushing. “He told me to
guide Nick Whiffles out of the house, and never guide him in again.”
“Oh, that’s where the shoe pinches, is it? Well, _I_ think Nick very
good in his place. Indeed, I confess to a great liking for the old
“He’s just splendid,” said Henry.
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, you know,” continued Mr.
Stewart. “After you and Henry have sat for six long hours on your hard
desk at school, a game of ball or a sail on the lake does you a world of
good. If you should live a week or two on corn bread and bacon, or pork
and beans, you would be glad to have a piece of pie or cake, wouldn’t
you? The mind requires recreation and change as much as the body, and
where can you find it if it be not in a good story by some sprightly
author? Of course the thing can be carried to excess, and so can eating.
One can read himself into an unhealthy frame of mind as easily as he can
gorge himself into dyspepsia.”
When Mr. Stewart had said this much he stopped and took up his paper. It
wasn’t for him to criticise or find fault with the rules his neighbor
had made regarding his son’s reading.
Guy, having an object to accomplish before he returned home, and knowing
that time was precious, declined the chair offered him, and after taking
leave of the family, intimated to Henry that he had something particular
to say to him. The latter accompanied him to the fence, and Guy leaned
upon it, utterly at a loss how to broach the subject uppermost in his