Uncollected Pieces for Young Readers
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     He did not always have but one shoe. He was not a boy with one foot. And I am glad of it; because some person who reads this story might be sorry and cross about something, and wish to be made happy. And if I began at the beginning, as I always like to do, I might make my first column very sad by telling about a boy who was chased several miles by a bear, and when he was jumping over the last fence he was obliged to leave his foot in the bear's mouth, if he wished to keep the rest of himself. And I know of another who was a poor, hungry, ragged little fellow, who worked all the long summer days in a factory, until once the machinery, which had always frightened him, reached out its strong fingers and caught him up, and whirled him round and round, and crushed his foot, so the doctors cut it off. I know a great deal more about this boy than the first one I mentioned, and I should really like to tell you how patiently he laid on a hard bed, in a dismal room; and how his wistful little face used to smile when one did anything for him. He had a homely, awkward little black dog, who used to be the comfort of his life, and who sat on the bed, and was as glad to see you as Mike was, when you went in, and who followed his master when he came over to see me, with his little crutches, the first time he was out, and was presented with so large a bone that he has since called frequently.

     But the right boy's name was Tommy; and he did not like to go to school. He was not uncommon in that respect; but, if he had been a good boy on this particular day, I never should have had anything to tell about him. His father was dead, and he lived with his mother and his Aunt Susan and his grandmother out in the country. They were all very good women; and, though the children who knew him said Tommy told fibs, his grandmother thought him one of the best boys in the world. And I know one day, when she had taken her knitting and gone to sit with the Crampton's grandmother awhile, Billy Crampton was howling out in the barn to such an extent that the old lady asked what the matter was. "Oh!" said his mother, "he told me a lie about the turkeys, and I made his father whip him." Mrs. Benner said, proudly: "Well, our Tommy's wild; but we never had to punish him for lying." And at this the two Cramptons who sat behind the stove eating apples were taken choking, and were forced to go out; and in a few minutes the sorrowing Billy's tears were turned to laughter, and the three scurried off down the lane, probably to tell Tommy his compliment. I do not see how he deceived the poor old lady so; but he always managed to make excuses, and say that he truly thought he was right.

     I do wish I could make you believe how wise it is to be careful about doing right. Because you are a child, you think it is no matter if you tell lies, and are lazy, and say things at school you would not dare or wish to at home. It is the greatest harm to you, if it never troubles anyone else in the least. The world is crowded with people this very day who will sadly tell you that they had this or that habit when they were children; and, though they have tried and tried, they cannot break away from it, and it makes them ashamed of themselves every day. These things grow in you just as a tree does in the ground. There is only a little twig with its leaf or two at first; but, if nobody treads on it, it grows stronger continually, and pushes its roots deeper and deeper into the ground, just as your naughty ways take more and more hold in you, and the branches spread wider and wider out into the world. When you are young, all your manners and ways are young too, and you can do very nearly what you like with them; but by and by it will be very hard. Why not give the good things a better chance? Don't let the dear little flowers which are trying to bloom be spoiled by the horrid weeds, which neither you nor your friends will be anything but worse for. You know that whenever you do anything wrong at school it is making it easier for some boy or girl to do it the same way; and they, of course, will influence somebody else. And it makes it harder, every time you tell a lie, for you to tell the truth next time. This is the end of the sermon; and I hope you have read it, every bit.

     Tommy waked up one morning, raised himself on his elbow, and looked out of the window; and laid down again, feeling very perverse and unsteady. It was pleasanter than it had been any day that spring; and he remembered the long sums at school, and thought how much he should like to wander about and do nothing. When his mother called him, he did not get up; and after a while dressed himself lazily, and was very late to breakfast. The man had gone away to mill, and Tom had promised the night before to drive the cows for him early. He made believe he had forgotten them, and said he was sleepy; and his mother, who looked tired and hot, only said she was sorry, and he must ask the doctor for something for his memory. Aunt Susan gave him some nice cake for luncheon, because his breakfast had been spoiled; and his grandmother called him, from her room, where she was folding up some winter clothes, and said: "Here are four cents, dear, that I found in one of my pockets." They were all so good to him! Just as he took his books and went out of the door, his mother said: "Tommy, did you tell Mary Benson yesterday that I wanted her to come down this morning? I shall have my work all ready." "Yes," said Tom, thinking that he would tell her as he went along this morning, and it would do as well. "Tom," says Aunt Susan, whom he met in the yard, "aren't those your best shoes? Did your mother say you might wear them?" But the boy ran off after the cows, and that was all the answer. "It's too bad for Sophy to indulge that boy so! His old boots are good enough, and I'm sure we have no money to waste."

     The schoolhouse was about a mile from home, and the pasture half-way there. Tommy had always thought it the pleasantest pasture that he knew of; and to-day it looked pleasanter than ever. As he was fastening up the gate, he saw a great checkerberry plum; and in a minute was on the other side of the fence, eating it. Then he remembered that the year before there were quantities not a great way off, behind the big oak; and away he went, and crawled about over the spicy leaves until he had enough. Then he thought it couldn't be school-time yet, and laid there in the sunshine, planning some trick to play at school; and after a long while started up, and, running up a little hill, looked toward the schoolhouse. He was late, of course; and for a minute he felt sorry, and then something made him remember that down in the Davis pasture, beyond his own, he had vainly tried to catch some trout, which only Billy Crampton had seen. How big they must be by this time, thought our friend, joyfully; and, putting his hand in his pocket, he found his fishing-line, and that decided him. So off the naughty boy went, running over rocks and through the sweet-fern patches, straight to the brook.

     He fished and fished; and put on one angle-worm which a small trout would as soon think of swallowing whole as you would a boa-constrictor. There were no fish to be seen, which would have made it more exciting sport; it was not very good fun. He at last saw some comfortable looking pollywogs, and amused himself for some time by surprising quiet assemblies of them, by dropping a stone in their midst; and then he threw sticks and stones at the birds who came near. Somehow he did not enjoy himself as much as usual. It was by no means the first time he had run away from school; but he had always had something better to do than this, and he even took up his arithmetic and looked at the sums which he had been sure he could not do. They were easy enough, after all; and he began to wish he had gone to school. "It is mean in that old teacher to say she would whip me if I were late again without an excuse." And then he happened to think that there was not the least need of his being late at all.

     The useless four cents jingled in his pocket, and he thought that at recess he always had plenty of time to run to the store at the corners. And then came a sad vision of two cents' worth of peanuts and two corn-balls, that he might have had. He even remembered how kindly the people at home had treated him; and he had hardly told them a word of truth, and had been lazy and troublesome. And there was poor Mary Benson, who needed so much the little money she was able to earn; and his mother was waiting and wondering why she did not come. Could not he tell her that he couldn't make any one hear? No, that wouldn't do; for he had said that he spoke to her the day before.

     Such an everlasting morning! The sun was rather too hot, and the cake eaten long ago. What should he do with himself? Just now he caught sight of his friends, the pollywogs, going across a shallow place in the brook, and he remembered the teacher's telling him the week before how curious it was to watch them turning into frogs; and, though Tommy had not been greatly interested then, he jumped up eagerly now, and off came one of the new shoes, and he dipped up three or four. But they were just like all other pollywogs, and showed no signs of any sprouting feet. It was a severe disappointment; but Tommy was delighted to see how well his shoe held water, and poked the occupants of it with his finger, and they all went down in the toe, out of sight. So he turned out the water, and shook them back, gasping. Then he stooped down to fill the shoe again, when it slipped out of his hand, and sailed off, with its crew of pollywogs, down stream, just out of his reach. He could not jump to the other side, and he could see no long stick to stop it with. Neither could he run very fast with one stocking-foot, and the brook was more and more rapid. The unhappy ship's company inside had not half enough water to cover them; and Tommy caught glimpses of them wriggling about, while the little shoe bobbed up and down, and went sideways and heel foremost, with the tags of the new shoe-strings glistening in the sun. And finally it lodged for a moment near the shore, on the remains of a dam which some boys had made for a little water-wheel, the year before; and, just before distracted Tommy could reach it, it lifted its heel and went over with a splash into the deep place beyond, where it went under water. Ah! how Tommy poked about with a stick; and how he pulled up his trowsers, and waded in as deep as he could; and how he waited again till the brook was clear, and could not see it then; and how he laid down on the grass and cried!

     It was growing late; but it was no use to go to the afternoon school, and tell his mother he had stayed at noon, for some of the other boys were going to, and gave him some dinner. If he could only go home barefooted, and say that he had left his shoes at school, and then next morning discover they were stolen. But his mother had forbidden that until hot weather, for he was so apt to take cold; and he had been promised a new knife by his grandmother if he kept his promise. In his despair, he began to cry again, his head began to ache; and he took up his books, and put on his one shoe, and went sadly toward home. The cows looked up at him as if they meant to say: "You silly boy! Why didn't you go to school?" And just before he came to the gate he stumbled and fell, and that gave him an idea. He had hurt his foot really, and why not make it out worse than it was, and say he couldn't walk home?

     He limped shockingly up the yard; which was all lost, as no one happened to be looking out. He went in at the kitchen door, and into his grandmother's bedroom, where he sat down on the bed and began his third season of crying. He was a very ready crier, and it was not hard work at all that day. His grandmother, who had been in the garden, came into the kitchen soon, and Tommy called: "Oh! grandma, I've got such an awful pain in my foot. It took me in the pasture this morning when I drove the cows, and stopped to get some checkerberry leaves; and I tumbled down, and couldn't walk, and have just come home. I'm dreadful lame. Oh! do put something on it!" He really looked ill; and the good old lady was frightened, for Tommy was her darling, and the tears were sufficient for her. In a minute his mother and Aunt Susan were beside him.

     "Does it feel as if it were broken?" said one.

     Aunt Susan felt it. "No," said she; "and it isn't swollen much, but there is a little bruise. How in the world did you get all the mud on it?"

     "I thought water would make it feel better," sobbed Tommy.

     "Susan," said grandma, "you step over and leave word for the doctor to call here when he comes this afternoon to see Mrs. Perkins's baby."

     Tommy announced his headache, which was genuine, and was suitably condoled with, and given a bowl of gruel for his dinner, because he seemed hot and might be going to have a fever; and then they put him to bed, and took his clothes away, and darkened the room and waited for the doctor.

     He was a pleasant old man, and came in with a good-natured word to Tommy, who felt that his last hour of peace and respectability had come, for now he would be surely found out. But the doctor examined his foot and his tongue and his pulse, and looked worried.

     "I cannot find that his foot is injured," said he; "but I have seen by the papers that a bad fever had appeared in New York State lately, where the patients are taken with sharp pain in some part of the body, and headache, just as he is. It doesn't seem like fever exactly now; but I think you had better keep him very quiet, and give him his gruel and those medicines that I am going to leave, and I will look in to-morrow again."

     This was cheerful; but there was nothing to be done, and our friend swallowed his horrid medicines like a martyr. But every time they tasted worse and worse, and his head still ached a little, and he thought over and over again, if he had only gone straight to school. Every time anybody spoke to him, it seemed as if their question was chosen particularly to make him tell another lie; and so it went on until evening. Then two old women came, whom he did not like; and by and by came also Mrs. Perkins, to inquire for him, and she had a sharp voice, which went through and through Tommy's head. She talked a great while about her baby, which was a horrid baby anyhow. Miss Prudence Smith listened to what the doctor had said about Tom; and then began a doleful story about a second cousin of hers, who died of spotted fever, and was taken with a pain in his left foot (it was Tommy's left foot) and died, after great agony, in three hours and sixteen minutes from the time he was taken. Mrs. Perkins had heard her mother say that nineteen people had died in one week of this fever when she was girl and lived in Sanford; and her own uncle was taken just the way Miss Prudence's second cousin was, and everybody said it was a miracle that he lived.

     And the end of it was that after hearing these pleasant stories, and Mrs. Perkins's voice for an hour or two, Tommy was seized with an idea that he must be going to have this awful fever too; and he began to think how wicked he had been, and was nearly scared to death. It is a wonder that he went to sleep at all; but he did, and oh! such dreams. Next morning his foot was a little stiff, but there was no fear of fever; and when the doctor came he said he was out of all danger, but had better be quiet in bed a day or two, and not eat much, and take only one new medicine, which proved to be worse than the old. Tommy insisted frequently that he was well; but nobody minded him, and he nearly starved to death. He tried once or twice to get up in the night and visit the store-room; but the bedstead or floor would creak, and some one would say, kindly: "Do you want anything, Tommy?"

     The third day of his illness there was a menagerie in the next town, to which he had looked forward all the spring; and his heart was nearly broken. He had been waiting impatiently, and counting the days; and now to think of his cheating himself out of it.

     "Where's your other best shoe, Tommy? I've hunted everywhere," said his mother, Sunday morning, the first day he was allowed to have his clothes on and go into the sitting-room. "How happened you to have them on the day you were taken sick? I hope it isn't lost, for I don't see how I can afford to buy you another new pair. I have the medicine to pay for and the doctor's bill, and money's very scarce this spring. I wonder if you could have laid it down in the shed. James was getting in wood that day, and it may have been covered up. Do you remember?"

     Tommy burst into tears. He had been longing more and more to own up. "Oh! Mother, I've been just as wicked!" And then, with his head in her lap, he told the whole story; and it was the hardest thing he ever had done in his life. His mother was kinder to him than, I am afraid, she ought to have been. But nobody knows how very sorry to find out that her one boy, whom she had thought so good and true to her, was so different; and they had a long talk before Aunt Susan and grandmother came home from church. It was the best of lessons to him, and I hope you will never need one; but you must remember what happened to him, if you ever do feel like running away from school! And if, when you have run away, nobody has found it out, and you have had a better time than he had, believe me that it will be in the end a great deal worse for you.

     One day the next summer Tom and his friends were wading in the brook, which was low, and one fished up a boy's shoe. "Why," said he, "it was almost new. I should like to know how it came here." He threw it out on the bank; and, as the rest of the boys walked off in procession down the brook, Tommy stayed behind, and dug a little hole with a stick, and solemnly buried it.


"The Boy With One Shoe" appeared in The Independent (23:3) on 14 December, 1871.
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checkerberry plum: probably the spicy, berry-like fruit of a wintergreen bush.
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corn-balls: a ball of popcorn and molasses.
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but it was no use to go to the afternoon school, and tell his mother he had stayed at noon, for some of the other boys were going to, and gave him some dinner: The sense of this seems to be that if Tommy went to school after lunch, he would have to tell his mother that he remained there over the lunch period with other boys who had planned to eat their lunches there and who shared with him.
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checkerberry leaves: checkerberry or wintergreen leaves could be used for flavoring items such as medicines and tea. They also have been chewed for their flavor.
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Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College.

Uncollected Pieces for Young Readers
Main Contents &Search