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Smart Little Paul

From Ailenroc’s Book, by Cornelia Alexander

Note: This story puzzles me somewhat, so I am going to make another post in a day or two to discuss it and ask for other readers’ comments.

It was evening of the Lord’s day.  We were sitting—my mother’s old friend and I—before the glowing grate in her quiet room, when visitors were announced, and Dr. F——, his wife, and two children, came in.

The Doctor was a very talkative little man; and to make up, I suppose, for his short stature, he wore a very tall hat.  The lady was very talkative, also, and the children seemed to take after both.

As soon as the little confusion attendant on their entrance had subsided and they were seated, the gentleman drew the smaller child toward him, and said: “Now, dear, you must say your little speech for Aunt Mary.”

Thereupon the small man lifted up a weak voice and recited a verse which ran thus:

“He I tan au wag an dew ee,
Don tum tiss wun I tue ee.”

“That’s a man,” said the proud mother, snatching him to her breast in a rapturous embrace.  “Now run and kiss Aunt Mary; but maybe Aunt Mary does not want you to kiss her, your face is too dirty.”

“O, never mind!” said Aunt Mary, good-naturedly.  “Children will get dirty.”

So the little one came over and gave the kiss, while his mother explained that some one had given him a stick of licorice and he had smeared his face with it.

“I don’t expect Aunt Mary understood your little speech, son,” said the Doctor, when his wife paused for want of breath.  “It is this:

“Here I stand, all ragged and dirty;
If you don’t come and kiss me, I’ll run like a turkey.”

“Well, I’m sure,” said Aunt Mary, “he did very well.”

“O, he can speak it much plainer at times!” said the mother.  “He is bashful before strangers.”

Just then the elder boy, a bright-looking lad of nine or ten years, spoke up: “Aunt Mary, let me tell you about my bank.”

“Yes, do,” said his mother, giving him a push.  “Go over and tell her about your bank.”

He came over, smiling and showing a handful of nickels, and stood by my friend’s side.

“It’s a nigger, Aunt Mary, riding a mule; and when you put a nickel in the nigger’s mouth, the mule kicks up and throws the nigger, and the nickel falls into my bank.  I’ve made forty cents to-day,” he added, showing the money.

I looked at the parents; they seemed pleased, as though it was all right.  I looked at my friend; her sweet old face had grown grave.  I felt like saying, “This is the Lord’s day;” but the people were strangers to me, and I did not interfere.

“It is the cutest trick you ever saw,” said the Doctor.  “Paul saw it in a store, and he just worried me until I was compelled to buy it.  It cost one dollar and a half, and he has already made his money back, though he has only had it two days.  Yesterday he made a dollar and fifteen cents; this evening he has made forty cents.”

“It works by a spring, Aunt Mary,” the lady explained.  “You put a nickel in the negro’s mouth, and the mule kicks up and throws his clear over his head.  When the negro’s head strikes, it loosens the spring in his mouth that holds the nickel, and the money falls into a slit and goes into a box that he calls his bank.  It is real funny.  A great many people will give a nickel, you know, just to see the mule throw the negro.”

My friend remarked that she supposed it was right funny.

The lady rattled on: “His pa told him he must pay back the dollar and a half, and then he might have all he made.  He made forty cents in a little time this evening.  That was eight throws at a nickel apiece.”

That was the third time I had heard the forty cents mentioned, and I set to cudgeling my brains to see if I had lost my reckoning and it was Monday instead of Sunday; but no, Sunday it was.

“Paul would not have made so much this evening,” said the smiling mother, “if it had not been for Mr. Tyler.  Mr. Tyler is very fond of Paul, and he helped him.”

My friend said mildly that Paul seemed to have a talent for money-making.

“O, he loves money!” said the proud father.  “He will do anything for money.  I’ll tell you how he does me, Aunt Mary.  I always buy my pine in the summer, when it is not so high, and Paul will pick out the rich pieces and split them up into kindlings.  He sells them to the neighbors by the bunch and keeps himself in pocket money—don’t you see?—but he never thinks to pay me for my pine.”

Of course this smart little boy—this money-making little Paul—was the “observed of all observers,” and truth compels me to state that he bore his honors well.  He stood balancing himself, first on one foot, then on the other, while a simpering, conceited smile overspread his childish features, and with one hand he rattled the loose change in his pocket.

His parents watched him with admiring eyes, and directly his mother began again: “Paul has to have pay for all he does.  He washes my dishes for me—and don’t you think, Aunt Mary, I have to pay him a nickel a week for it?  He says he knows it is worth that much, and indeed it is.  Paul is a very smart child, but I can tell you he knows the value of money.”

“No wonder he does,” I said to myself.

“I like to see children have a turn for money-making,” said Dr. F——.  “They are nearly sure to get on in the world.”

To my great relief, and that of my friend also, they all took their leave, and my friend remarked as the door closed behind them: “Now you see what makes bad children; and that is just the reason there are so many bad men in the world.  Children are brought up with no regard for the Lord’s day, and parents are to blame for it.”

“I don’t think that boy will make a good man,” I answered.  “His parents brag on him so much, he will be all conceit by the time he is grown, and a swindler and gambler, most likely, as his father says ‘he will do anything for money.’”

If he does, who will be to blame for it?  This is no fancy sketch; it is the truth.  I hope there are no more such parents.

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