The Story of a Bad Boy by Thomas Bailey Aldrich
Chapter Eleven. All About Gypsy
This record of my life at Rivermouth would be strangely incomplete did I not devote an entire chapter to Gypsy. I had other pets, of course; for what healthy boy could long exist without numerous friends in the animal kingdom? I had two white mice that were forever gnawing their way out of a pasteboard chateau, and crawling over my face when I lay asleep. I used to keep the pink-eyed little beggars in my bedroom, greatly to the annoyance of Miss Abigail, who was constantly fancying that one of the mice had secreted itself somewhere about her person.
I also owned a dog, a terrier, who managed in some inscrutable way to pick a quarrel with the moon, and on bright nights kept up such a ki-yi-ing in our back garden, that we were finally forced to dispose of him at private sale. He was purchased by Mr. Oxford, the butcher. I protested against the arrangement and ever afterwards, when we had sausages from Mr. Oxford-s shop, I made believe I detected in them certain evidences that Cato had been foully dealt with.
Of birds I had no end-robins, purple-martins, wrens, bulfinches, bobolinks, ringdoves, and pigeons. At one time I took solid comfort in the iniquitous society of a dissipated old parrot, who talked so terribly, that the Rev. Wibird Hawkins, happening to get a sample of Poll's vituperative powers, pronounced him "a benighted heathen," and advised the Captain to get rid of him. A brace of turtles supplanted the parrot in my affections; the turtles gave way to rabbits; and the rabbits in turn yielded to the superior charms of a small monkey, which the Captain bought of a sailor lately from the coast of Africa.
But Gypsy was the prime favorite, in spite of many rivals. I never grew weary of her. She was the most knowing little thing in the world. Her proper sphere in life-and the one to which she ultimately attained-was the saw-dust arena of a travelling circus. There was nothing short of the three R's, reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic, that Gypsy couldn't be taught. The gift of speech was not hers, but the faculty of thought was.
My little friend, to be sure, was not exempt from certain graceful weaknesses, inseparable, perhaps, from the female character. She was very pretty, and she knew it. She was also passionately fond of dress-by which I mean her best harness. When she had this on, her curvetings and prancings were laughable, though in ordinary tackle she went along demurely enough. There was something in the enamelled leather and the silver-washed mountings that chimed with her artistic sense. To have her mane braided, and a rose or a pansy stuck into her forelock, was to make her too conceited for anything.
She had another trait not rare among her sex. She liked the attentions of young gentlemen, while the society of girls bored her. She would drag them, sulkily, in the cart; but as for permitting one of them in the saddle, the idea was preposterous. Once when Pepper Whitcomb's sister, in spite of our remonstrances, ventured to mount her, Gypsy gave a little indignant neigh, and tossed the gentle Emma heels over head in no time. But with any of the boys the mare was as docile as a lamb.
Her treatment of the several members of the family was comical. For the Captain she entertained a wholesome respect, and was always on her good behavior when he was around. As to Miss Abigail, Gypsy simply laughed at her-literally laughed, contracting her upper lip and displaying all her snow-white teeth, as if something about Miss Abigail struck her, Gypsy, as being extremely ridiculous.
Kitty Collins, for some reason or another, was afraid of the pony, or pretended to be. The sagacious little animal knew it, of course, and frequently, when Kitty was banging out clothes near the stable, the mare being loose in the yard, would make short plunges at her. Once Gypsy seized the basket of clothespins with her teeth, and rising on her hind legs, pawing the air with her fore feet followed Kitty clear up to the scullery steps.
That part of the yard was shut off from the rest by a gate; but no gate was proof against Gypsy's ingenuity. She could let down bars, lift up latches, draw bolts, and turn all sorts of buttons. This accomplishment rendered it hazardous for Miss Abigail or Kitty to leave any eatables on the kitchen table near the window. On one occasion Gypsy put in her head and lapped up six custard pies that had been placed by the casement to cool.
An account of my young lady's various pranks would fill a thick volume. A favorite trick of hers, on being requested to "walk like Miss Abigail," was to assume a little skittish gait so true to nature that Miss Abigail herself was obliged to admit the cleverness of the imitation.
The idea of putting Gypsy through a systematic course of instruction was suggested to me by a visit to the circus which gave an annual performance in Rivermouth. This show embraced among its attractions a number of trained Shetland ponies, and I determined that Gypsy should likewise have the benefit of a liberal education. I succeeded in teaching her to waltz, to fire a pistol by tugging at a string tied to the trigger, to lie down dead, to wink one eye, and to execute many other feats of a difficult nature. She took to her studies admirably, and enjoyed the whole thing as much as anyone.
The monkey was a perpetual marvel to Gypsy. They became bosom-friends in an incredibly brief period, and were never easy out of each other's sight. Prince Zany-that's what Pepper Whitcomb and I christened him one day, much to the disgust of the monkey, who bit a piece out of Pepper's nose-resided in the stable, and went to roost every night on the pony's back, where I usually found him in the morning. Whenever I rode out, I was obliged to secure his Highness the Prince with a stout cord to the fence, he chattering all the time like a madman.
One afternoon as I was cantering through the crowded part of the town, I noticed that the people in the street stopped, stared at me, and fell to laughing. I turned round in the saddle, and there was Zany, with a great burdock leaf in his paw, perched up behind me on the crupper, as solemn as a judge.
After a few months, poor Zany sickened mysteriously, and died. The dark thought occurred to me then, and comes back to me now with redoubled force, that Miss Abigail must have given him some hot-drops. Zany left a large circle of sorrowing friends, if not relatives. Gypsy, I think, never entirely recovered from the shock occasioned by his early demise. She became fonder of me, though; and one of her cunningest demonstrations was to escape from the stable-yard, and trot up to the door of the Temple Grammar School, where I would discover her at recess patiently waiting for me, with her fore feet on the second step, and wisps of straw standing out all over her, like quills upon the fretful porcupine.
I should fail if I tried to tell you how dear the pony was to me. Even hard, unloving men become attached to the horses they take care of; so I, who was neither unloving nor hard, grew to love every glossy hair of the pretty little creature that depended on me for her soft straw bed and her daily modicum of oats. In my prayer at night I never forgot to mention Gypsy with the rest of the family-generally setting forth her claims first.
Whatever relates to Gypsy belongs properly to this narrative; therefore I offer no apology for rescuing from oblivion, and boldly printing here a short composition which I wrote in the early part of my first quarter at the Temple Grammar School. It is my maiden effort in a difficult art, and is, perhaps, lacking in those graces of thought and style which are reached only after the severest practice.
Every Wednesday morning, on entering school, each pupil was expected to lay his exercise on Mr. Grimshaw's desk; the subject was usually selected by Mr. Grimshaw himself, the Monday previous. With a humor characteristic of him, our teacher had instituted two prizes, one for the best and the other for the worst composition of the month. The first prize consisted of a penknife, or a pencil-case, or some such article dear to the heart of youth; the second prize entitled the winner to wear for an hour or two a sort of conical paper cap, on the front of which was written, in tall letters, this modest admission: I AM A DUNCE! The competitor who took prize No. 2. wasn't generally an object of envy.
My pulse beat high with pride and expectation that Wednesday morning, as I laid my essay, neatly folded, on the master's table. I firmly decline to say which prize I won; but here's the composition to speak for itself.
It is no small-author vanity that induces me to publish this stray leaf of natural history. I lay it before our young folks, not for their admiration, but for their criticism. Let each reader take his lead-pencil and remorselessly correct the orthography, the capitalization, and the punctuation of the essay. I shall not feel hurt at seeing my treatise cut all to pieces; though I think highly of the production, not on account of its literary excellence, which I candidly admit is not overpowering, but because it was written years and years ago about Gypsy, by a little fellow who, when I strive to recall him, appears to me like a reduced ghost of my present self.
I am confident that any reader who has ever had pets, birds or animals, will forgive me for this brief digression.