The Story of a Bad Boy by Thomas Bailey Aldrich
Chapter Two. 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 hereafter.
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 at Boston.
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 lady pony-Gypsy.
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 again!