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Johnnie’s Boots

From Ailenroc’s Book, by Cornelia Alexander

Johnnie was pouting. Ignore the fact, if you choose; but pouting he was, and in a way that drove all the sunny brightness from his face and the joyous light from his eyes. His rosy lips were thrust out, and he had just as many wrinkles on his forehead as there was room for; and, being a broad forehead, it held a good many.

The little man had met with something that even we grown-up children do not like. He had met with a disappointment, but was not philosopher enough to face it bravely. His heart had been set on a new pair of boots, and his father had seen fit to refuse them to him. Johnnie’s boots were not worn out by any means; they only twisted over the heel a little, after the manner of boys’ boots, and a white spot or two suggested the breaking through of restless toes; but father thought they could be shined up a while yet. Johnnie differed with him, and took it out in pouting. Was ever a young man of nine years so mistreated? He glowered from his corner, after he had pushed little May and her sympathetic chatter away and had made her crack the white arm of Miss Dolly and cry over it till her pretty eyes were red. He watched his mother, and wondered how she could bear to see him in such trouble. Surely no boy in the round world had ever been treated so badly before; surely no boy was ever so miserable. Lizzie, his eldest sister, had really turned her face away as she left the room, lest he should see her laughing; but he did, and gulped it down with the rest.

He wondered what kind old grandfather thought of the way they all acted toward his grandson; but, being buried in his newspaper, possibly he did not think of it at all.

Suddenly grandpa threw down his paper, and said: “Dear, dear dear! Things were not so in my young days.”

Now, grandpa was in the habit of making that remark daily, and Johnnie’s mother was in the habit of saying, “What things, father?” when she was not too busy. As she was not very busily engaged now, darning a place in her little boy’s stocking where the heel had broken through, she said: “What things, father?”

“When I was a boy,” said grandpa, and he paused a moment, for May had risen from the carpet, and, regardless of broken Dolly, made a rush for the old man’s knee; Lizzie had quietly set the door ajar; and even Johnnie lost a few wrinkles and looked up, forgetful of self for a moment. “When I was a boy,” grandpa resumed, “boys had a hard time.” Johnnie stretched his ears. “I was looking over the advertisements in this paper. So many things now to make boys happy where I had none. Would you believe it—I never had a pair of pantaloons till I was as old as Johnnie?”

Little May covered her face, hardly knowing whether to laugh or cry. “O, Dappa,” she said, “what did you wear?”

“I wore,” he answered, tenderly stroking her silky head—“I wore a long cotton shirt.”

“Phew!” in a long whistle from Johnnie’s corner. “Summer and winter? Honor bright, now?”

Grandpa laughed. “You can hardly believe me, I see; but I had no pantaloons, summer or winter, till I was eight or nine years old. Perhaps I should have had them sooner, but I was a delicate child, and it fell to my lot to stay indoors, help mother, etc. In summer I needed nothing else. Bareheaded and barefooted, I spent my days with but one dread hanging over me—the fighting gander.”

“The what?” Johnnie cried. He had left his corner now and was sitting close to his grandpa’s chair.

“The fighting gander, the king of the goose yard—a snow-white patriarch, who pinched with his hard bill and whipped with his tough wings. I was afraid of him, and he knew it. When an errand led me to his vicinity, he would stretch his wings, bow his long neck, and, with fearful hisses, take right after me. O how I would run! ‘Nip’ he would take my feet and legs—nip, nip—and I yelling for dear life. I used to think the others very mean for laughing at me, but I expect I should do the same now. Sometimes he would catch that long shirt in his bill, and swing on as I ran, whipping me with his wings. That scared me worst of all. I could not stop. Round and round the house I would go, till my mother would come out and make him let loose; then he would strut off, bragging of his victory.

Grandpa had to stop a while and wait for the merriment to subside. He was laughing heartily himself at the comic remembrance, and the children had gone nearly into fits at the thought of the grand, staid, solemn-looking grandpa sailing round the house in such a plight. Johnnie rolled on the floor and held his sides, cured sound and well of his melancholy.

“Well,” grandpa said, wiping the tears from his eyes, “that is the way I managed in summer. Our winters were not very cold, and I had a dress of homemade linsey to wear over the shirt, and sometimes slipped on an old coat of father’s. Finally, after much persuasion, my mother agreed to weave me a pair of breeches on a piece she had in for dresses. The old-fashioned homespun dresses were all white in the warp, with stripes here and there, and my pantaloons were filled in of deep blue. I tell you I was a proud boy when the weaving actually began. I waited on the loom well, and in a short time they were woven, my mother soon made them, and I was the happy possessor of my first breeches. No Broadway belle ever took greater delight in her outfit than I did in the precious pair. When night came my mother had hard work to persuade me to pull them off, for I did not know but what they would be spirited away while I slept. Of course in a few days they got dirty, and, as I had no more to change with, I must needs go trouserless while mother washed them; but my proud spirit revolted at that, and for the first time I openly rebelled against her authority. It is useless to attempt a description of her argument; but suffice it to say it was a convincer, and left me a ‘sadder and a wiser boy.’ I shed bitter tears while those breeches were in the suds; I snubbed while they hung on the garden fence to dry; but, as the moisture rapidly evaporated and the bright colors shone again in all their pristine loveliness, my sobs grew less, and finally I drew them on while yet a wet streak marked the pockets and waistband. With a homemade shirt, those wide-striped homespun breeches, and home-knit ‘galluses,’ I imagined I was hard to beat. No store hat adorned my head, no shoes protected my feet, yet I felt comfortable and happy. Dear, dear! How times and customs do change! Here is little Johnnie clad in cassimere, fur cap in winter, straw hat in summer, cloak for cold weather, linen for warm weather, boots on his feet, and gloves on his hands; and yet, I’ll be bound, he thinks sometimes that he is not well fixed up.”

Johnnie coughed and colored, for grandpa talked just like he had known the little boy’s thoughts. “I don’t see how you lived, grandpa,” he said. “I am sure that I could not stand it.”

“You could not stand it very well now, I know; but if you had never known any better, you would have been like I was—proud as a king of a pair of homespun breeches. Some time I will tell you about my first hat and pair of shoes, for boys didn’t get boots in my days.”

Johnnie looked down at his well-shod feet, and registered a mental vow to fret and pout no more, even if a hole should come in the toe of his little boot.

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