WHEN the angel child returned with her parents to New York, the fond
heart of Jimmie Trescott felt its bruise greatly. For two days he simply
moped, becoming a stranger to all former joys. When his old comrades yelled
invitation, as they swept off on some interesting quest, he replied with
mournful gestures of disillusion.
He thought often of writing to her, but of course the shame of it made
him pause. Write a letter to a girl? The mere enormity of the idea caused
him shudders. Persons of his quality never wrote letters to girls. Such was
the occupation of mollycoddles and snivellers. He knew that if his
acquaintances and friends found in him evidences of such weakness and
general milkiness, they would fling themselves upon him like so many wolves,
and bait him beyond the borders of sanity.
However, one day at school, in that time of the morning session when
children of his age were allowed fifteen minutes of play in the
school-grounds, he did not as usual rush forth ferociously to his games.
Commonly he was of the worst hoodlums, preying upon his weaker brethren with
all the cruel disregard of a grown man. On this particular morning he staid
in the school-room, and with his tongue stuck from the corner of his mouth,
and his head twisting in a painful way, he wrote to little Cora, pouring out
to her all the poetry of his hungry soul, as follows: "My dear Cora I love
thee with all my hart oh come bac again, bac, bac gain for I love thee best
of all oh come bac again When the spring come again we'l fly and we'l fly
like a brid."
As for the last word, he knew under normal circumstances perfectly well
how to spell "bird," but in this case he had transposed two of the letters
through excitement, supreme agitation.
Nor had this letter been composed without fear and furtive glancing.
There was always a number of children who, for the time, cared more for the
quiet of the school-room than for the tempest of the play-ground, and there
was always that dismal company who were being forcibly deprived of their
recess -- who were being "kept in." More than one curious eye was turned
upon the desperate and lawless Jimmie Trescott suddenly taken to ways of
peace, and as he felt these eyes he flushed guiltily, with felonious glances
from side to side.
It happened that a certain vigilant little girl had a seat directly
across the aisle from Jimmie's seat, and she had remained in the room during
the intermission, because of her interest in some absurd domestic details
concerning her desk. Parenthetically it might be stated that she was in the
habit of imagining this desk to be a house, and at this time, with an
important little frown, indicative of a proper matron, she was engaged in
dramatizing her ideas of a household.
But this small Rose Goldege happened to be of a family which numbered few
males. It was, in fact, one of those curious middle-class families that hold
much of their ground, retain most of their position, after all their visible
means of support have been dropped in the grave. It contained now only a
collection of women who existed submissively, defiantly, securely,
mysteriously, in a pretentious and often exasperating virtue. It was often
too triumphantly clear that they were free of bad habits. However, bad
habits is a term here used in a commoner meaning, because it is certainly
true that the principal and indeed solitary joy which entered their lonely
lives was the joy of talking wickedly and busily about their neighbors. It
was all done without dream of its being of the vulgarity of the alleys.
Indeed it was simply a constitutional but not incredible chastity and
honesty expressing itself in its ordinary superior way of the whirling
circles of life, and the vehemence of the criticism was not lessened by a
further infusion of an acid of worldly defeat, worldly suffering, and
Out of this family circle had sprung the typical little girl who
discovered Jimmie Trescott agonizingly writing a letter to his sweetheart.
Of course all the children were the most abandoned gossips, but she was
peculiarly adapted to the purpose of making Jimmie miserable over this
particular point. It was her life to sit of evenings about the stove and
hearken to her mother and a lot of spinsters talk of many things. During
these evenings she was never licensed to utter an opinion either one way or
the other way. She was then simply a very little girl sitting open-eyed in
the gloom, and listening to many things which she often interpreted wrongly.
They on their part kept up a kind of a smug-faced pretence of concealing
from her information in detail of the widespread crime, which pretence may
have been more elaborately dangerous than no pretence at all. Thus all her
home-teaching fitted her to recognize at once in Jimmie Trescott's manner
that he was concealing something that would properly interest the world. She
set up a scream. "Oh! Oh! Oh! Jimmie Trescott's writing to his girl! Oh!
Jimmie cast a miserable glance upon her -- a glance in which hatred
mingled with despair. Through the open window he could hear the boisterous
cries of his friends -- his hoodlum friends -- who would no more understand
the utter poetry of his position than they would understand an ancient
tribal sign-language. His face was set in a truer expression of horror than
any of the romances describe upon the features of a
man flung into a moat, a man shot in the breast with an arrow, a man cleft
in the neck with a battle-axe. He was suppedaneous of the fullest power of
childish pain. His one course was to rush upon her and attempt, by an
impossible means of strangulation, to keep her important news from the
The teacher, a thoughtful young woman at her desk upon the platform, saw
a little scuffle which informed her that two of her scholars were larking.
She called out sharply. The command penetrated to the middle of an early
world struggle. In Jimmie's age there was no particular scruple in the minds
of the male sex against laying warrior hands upon their weaker sisters. But,
of course, this voice from the throne hindered Jimmie in what might have
been a berserk attack.
Even the little girl was retarded by the voice, but, without being
unlawful, she managed soon to shy through the door and out upon the
play-ground, yelling, "Oh, Jimmie Trescott's
been writing to his girl!"
The unhappy Jimmie was following as closely as he was allowed by his
knowledge of the decencies to be preserved
under the eye of the teacher.
Jimmie himself was mainly responsible for the scene which ensued on the
play-ground. It is possible that the little girl might have run, shrieking
his infamy, without exciting more than a general but unmilitant interest.
These barbarians were excited only by the actual appearance of human woe; in
that event they cheered and danced. Jimmie made the strategic mistake of
pursuing little Rose, and thus exposed his thin skin to the whole school. He
had in his cowering mind a vision of a hundred children turning from their
play under the maple-trees and speeding toward him over the gravel with
sudden wild taunts. Upon him drove a yelping demoniac mob, to which his
words were futile. He saw in this mob boys that he dimly knew, and his
deadly enemies, and his retainers, and his most intimate friends. The
virulence of his deadly enemy was no greater than the virulence of his
intimate friend. From the outskirts the little informer could be heard still
screaming the news, like a toy parrot with clock work inside of it. It broke
up all sorts of games, not so much because of the mere fact of the
letter-writing, as because the children knew that some sufferer was at the
last point, and, like little blood-fanged wolves, they thronged to the scene
of his destruction. They galloped about him shrilly chanting insults. He
turned from one to another, only to meet
with howls. He was baited.
Then, in one instant, he changed all this with a blow. Bang! The most
pitiless of the boys near him received a punch, fairly and skilfully, which
made him bellow out like a walrus, and then Jimmie laid desperately into the
whole world, striking out frenziedly in all directions. Boys who could
handily whip him, and knew it, backed away from this onslaught. Here was
intention -- serious intention. They themselves were not in frenzy, and
their cooler judgment respected Jimmie's efforts when he ran amuck. They saw
that it really was none of their affair. In the mean time the wretched
little girl who had caused the bloody riot was away, by the fence, weeping
because boys were fighting.
Jimmie several times hit the wrong boy -- that is to say, he several
times hit a wrong boy hard enough to arouse also in him a spirit of strife.
Jimmie wore a little shirt-waist. It was passing now rapidly into oblivion.
He was sobbing, and there was one blood-stain upon his cheek. The
school-ground sounded like a pine-tree when a hundred crows roost in it at
Then upon the situation there pealed a brazen bell. It was a bell that
these children obeyed, even as older nations obey the formal law which is
printed in calf-skin. It smote them into some sort of inaction; even Jimmie
was influenced by its potency, although, as a finale, he kicked out lustily
into the legs of an intimate friend who had been one of the foremost in the
When they came to form into line for the march into the school-room it
was curious that Jimmie had many admirers. It was not his prowess; it was
the soul he had infused into his gymnastics; and he, still panting, looked
about him with a stern and challenging glare.
And yet when the long tramping line had entered the school-room his
status had again changed. The other children then began to regard him as a
boy in disrepair, and boys in disrepair were always accosted ominously from
the throne. Jimmie's march toward his seat was a feat. It was composed partly of a most
slinking attempt to dodge the perception of the teacher and partly of pure
braggadocio erected for the benefit of his
The teacher looked carefully
down at him. "Jimmie Trescott," she said.
"Yes'm," he answered, with business-like briskness, which really spelled
out falsity in all its letters.
"Come up to the desk."
He rose amid the awe of
the entire school-room. When he arrived she said,
"Jimmie, you've been
"Yes'm," he answered. This was not so much an admission of the fact as it
was a concessional answer to anything she
"Who have you been
fighting?" she asked.
"I dunno, 'm."
Whereupon the empress blazed out in wrath. "You don't know who you've
Jimmie looked at her gloomily.
She seemed about to disintegrate to mere flaming fagots of anger. "You
don't know who you've been fighting?" she demanded, blazing. "Well, you stay
in after school until you find out."
As he returned to his place all the children knew by his vanquished air
that sorrow had fallen upon the house of Trescott. When he took his seat he
saw gloating upon him the satanic black eyes of the little Goldege girl.