The Button Boy by A. M. Griffin

The wind blew as it never had blown before.

I think it blew that boy straight through the gate, up the path, through the door, and into the back parlor where the family sat. He stopped there, gave a little puff of spent breath and sat down. He had a box under his arm. It was flat and wide, a pasteboard box, and when he put it down all the family dropped their books and looked at it attentively. They were a very literary family and read so much that it was a great compliment to any box to have them put down their books when they had once taken them up.

"You haven't opened it yet?" asked the Mother.

"No," said the Boy scornfully; all the family had long ago agreed he had a high caste of countenance which this manner suited remarkably well—but he was not in the least conscious of it himself. "No, what's the hurry? plenty of time to look in it when I get home."

"It's a suit, a suit of clothes," calmly said the Sister, picking up her book again. Every one stared at the Sister who could see through a pasteboard box. "Somebody has made a hole in the bottom of the box and I see a button, a brass button," she explained.

True; there was a hole in the bottom of the box.

"He said, if I put the contents of this box to their proper use," said the Boy, "every day as long as they would bear it, I would not only learn something, but I should be his heir; so I might as well open the lid and see what is inside. I thought books, for Uncle knows I always put books to their proper use."

"Of course," said the Father; "it is books, no doubt."

"But," said the Sister, turning a page and reading all the time, "nobody puts brass buttons on books."

"I think you might as well open the box," said the Mother, "I think we are all curious"—

"Curious!" exclaimed the family indignantly.

"Curious-ly affected by your Uncle's making such a strange and trifling condition after our Boy's visit to him," went on the Mother. "But he is certainly very odd—I should really like to know why?"

"Don't take time to untie the knot," said the Father.

"Here's my knife," said the Elder Brother.

The Boy cut the string, the Sharp-eyed Sister looked over the top of her book, the Father put on his glasses, and the lid was lifted. Yes, it was a suit. A blue cloth suit, quite bright in color but of very fine material and good make. It consisted of a pair of knickerbockers and a tight jacket, and it was most extraordinary how the tailor had ever been able to put on so many buttons. The jacket was double-breasted and there were three rows down the front, a dozen in each, the size of a copper penny. There were some fancy slits in the back; buttons to the number of nine ornamented these. There were four on each sleeve; there were three on each pocket of the breeches, and four again appeared on the outside above the knee on each leg.

For a moment the family was silent.

"The buttons must have cost a great deal," said the Mother, finally, "I should really like to know the price a dozen."

"You couldn't have made a hole anywhere in that box without striking a button," said the Sharp-eyed Sister. She gave one a little knock, adding, "Perhaps they are gold."

"I think," said the Father, taking off his glasses and wiping them, "I think I would have a few removed."

"I have never observed anything like this in my Uncle's own dress," remarked the Elder Brother, "he certainly has peculiar taste in boy's clothing. I think I'll drop in on him and ask him a few leading questions as to his object."

"You will have 'to drop' after a special journey of twenty-five miles by rail," said the Sharp-eyed Sister, "and he won't appreciate your thirst for knowledge."

During this time the Boy had said nothing, but the scornful caste had entirely vanished from his countenance, for he had discovered a note in one of the pockets and had been reading it. The family now saw this, and, although they were not in the least hurry to hear its contents, they ceased their remarks at once to kindly give him a chance to tell them what he read. It was this: The suit was to be worn upon all occasions until it should be outgrown or worn out, no risk of damage was ever to be run with it, no allusion of any sort was ever to be made to it by the Boy or the family, and no alterations of any description to be made in it, unless to sew on a button when it should happen to come off.

"Wear that!" burst out the Boy scornfully, "does he think me an idiot? Why, I'd be the laughing-stock of the town. I should think he saw enough of me to know I have at least as much intelligence as most boys of my age."

"Very much more," said the Mother.

"I never saw such cloth," said the Sharp-eyed Sister, "it will never wear out, and you are not growing very fast either."

"I would not like to wear it myself; I don't even know as I would like to be in its society," observed the Elder Brother; "but neither would I like to lose fifty thousand dollars."

"Well now," said the Mother with her mild smile, "there aren't so very many; there aren't seven dozen, quite. They must be hollow for the suit isn't so heavy."

"They are," said the Sister. "I've been sounding them. Put on the thing and wear it. Don't be so silly as to throw away all that money. You can't wear it more than two years."

"Two years!" said the Boy, turning red.

"People will get accustomed to you by that time," urged the Father.

"It is very extraordinary," said all the family with a wondering air, and then they all fell to reading for a half-hour with their books upside down.

The Boy decided to wear the suit, and follow the conditions and wrote so to his Uncle.

His first appearance in the street in his new attire was greeted by a lady who stopped short and exclaimed, "Good gracious! what singular parents that child must have, and he actually looks proud of his dress too!"

"It's my caste of countenance," thought the Boy; but as he was quite unaccustomed to have it connected with his dress, and disgusted, beside, that he should be thought vulgar, he tried to alter the caste, though he turned very red when people looked at him. For some time it went on this same way; he caught glances and overheard remarks such as he had once applied to other people but which he never dreamed could enter people's minds in regard to him. Even his own family did not spare him. A dozen times he was on the point of casting off the glittering suit and renouncing the money it represented, but just as many times he thought he would try it yet another day. But to do this he learned he must be quiet and prefer the background and silence to the attention he was once so eager to receive.

One day he sat in the sunlight with a book trying to read and wishing very much to run outdoors and play with the rest of the boys, but kept back by an uncomfortable recollection of a great deal of badgering. The Sharp-eyed Sister was reading in the same room too, and every once in a while she would blink, and wink, and frown, and look about; finally she looked straight at him.

"You tiresome object," she cried, "do get out of the sun. I wondered what it was dazzling my eyes like the reflection of seven dozen looking glasses, and there it is your odious buttons."

The Boy got out of the sun without a reply; feeling a little restless he moved now and then.

"Dear me," said the Mother starting from her nap with a jerk, "you do jingle so."

After this the Boy concluded to go out. When his playfellows saw him they all set up a shout but he said to himself, "If I don't think about myself perhaps they won't think of me either," and he met them running with an answering shout. He had never worked so hard at forgetting himself before, and it answered so well that in the ardor of play, by and by, he forgot the buttons too. They began a game of leap-frog, and whether the fault of the back given him or whether his own fault, the Boy missed twice jumping and hurt his temper. He began to dispute about it with the Back, and presently they grew personal.

"Look here," cried the Boy angrily, "it was your fault, I say. If I were in fault don't you suppose I'd own it?"

"No," said the Back, shortly.

The Boy smiled scornfully. "'Cause you don't understand such a thing as owning up when you're in the wrong, eh? You act so. But all fellows aren't made on your pattern, I'd have you know!"

"Nor all clothes on yours, Buttons, I'd have you know," said the Back coolly.

The Boy glared at him and began to stutter, "You let my clothes alone, d'ye hear?"

"Well," said the Back, "you say I don't know how to give a back; I say, if I was buttoned up like you are, I wouldn't know how to take one. I put it to vote—all in favor please say, aye, contrary, no."

"Aye!" shouted the boys.

"Ayes have it," said the Back. "Now, you know, everybody knows you within ten miles by the name of the Button Boy, and I wouldn't seek any more notoriety if I was you—I'd be content to come in second best on leap-frog and say no more about it."

THE BOY GLARED AT HIM.

THE BOY GLARED AT HIM. "YOU LET MY CLOTHES ALONE!" SAID HE.

All the boys began to hoot and laugh—none of them sympathized with him in his moments of superiority, and his scornful air failed to impress them as of old.

The Button Boy choked by anger and mortification could not reply. But after a moment, "All right for you; I'll be even with you," he said, with a nod to the chief laugher, and went away.

It was some time before he had his chance, and during that time things went from bad to worse with his conspicuous dress, forcing him to be unostentatious, exact—for his goings and comings could be seen for a mile—even retiring. He found now that he began to think of some acts and some speeches of his, in the time when he was not a Button Boy, with as much mortification as the buttons often gave him; and he often checked himself when half-way into some piece of conceited folly. Yet he never forgot that he owed the Back "one," nor that it was he who had given him the worst smart of this miserable period.

At last an event occurred in the family; the Uncle arrived unexpectedly and stated his intention of spending the night. "That is," he said, "if you will give me something better for my supper than a lot of quotations and rules of grammar. I can't eat them, you know."

The family thought this a very odd speech and a very grumpy old gentleman—but they didn't tell him so. He put on his spectacles and looked at the Button Boy very attentively, but the Boy didn't mind; he was too conscious of fulfilling faithfully for six months his part of the contract, and, beside, he stood before the designer of the Buttons.

But when he took the glasses off and said, "Well, you must be pretty fond of money. I don't think double the sum could hire me to make such a show of myself," the Boy minded it exceedingly. He sat down for half an hour and considered whether he wasn't doing a sort of mean thing after all, and he became exceedingly miserable in the conclusion that he was not at all the noble pattern of a boy he used to think he was.

In the morning the Uncle declared his intention of taking a walk and invited his nephew to go with him. Very sure that the peculiar disposition of the old gentleman was capable of bringing him into plenty of unpleasant situations before they reached home again, the Boy found himself almost indifferent to them. A feeling had been growing on him that anything short of meanness or wrongdoing was not worth being mortified about; he felt calm even at a public exhibition of the buttons, he was so disturbed by the discovery of the unworthy motive which had supported him in making a show of himself.

But the Uncle made himself such delightful company on their walk—they left the town—that at last he forgot himself, forgot himself until they saw before them a boy running. He knew him; it was the Back. He stumbled, pitched, fell, picked himself up slowly, limped painfully to the roadside and sat down there holding on to his ankle. The Boy and the Uncle soon came up.

"Humph; sprained your ankle," said the Uncle.

"I think so," replied the Back, looking very white.

The Uncle took out his handkerchief, tore it in two, and dipping it in the cold waters of the brook, tied it tightly about his limb.

"Thank you, sir," said the Back, almost groaning, "I guess I can't walk just yet, I'll stay here till something comes along to take me in. The trouble is—the trouble is, I ought to be going on, I ought not to lose a moment."

"Humph!" said the Uncle. "You might better have thought of that before you fell."

"What time is it, if you please?" asked the Back anxiously.

"Twenty minutes of eleven," replied the Uncle.

"Oh, dear," sighed the Back, "only hard running would do it now. I left my sketch at home this morning, I took up another by mistake; it is to try for the prize sketch, and the Master said, if I would get it into the studio by eleven he would accept it, but he couldn't later, because the rule is, any coming after that hour can't compete. I've worked so hard at it, and I thought I had a good chance—oh, dear!"

"Let me see," considered the Uncle, turning to the Boy; "you stopped with yours this morning and we saw a number there. Yours was undoubtedly very good. Now open your portfolio and let me see yours," he added to the Back.

The Back hesitated, glanced at the Button Boy, then yielded.

"Humph!" observed the Uncle, and put on his glasses. "Well, I declare, whom have we here? 'The Arrogant Page'; eh? well, I declare; look at this, nephew—here you are with your buttons and your most scornful expression—disdaining to pick up the little Prince's hat! Where did you learn to draw like this, you rascal?"

"I had plenty of chances with the model," said the Back slyly; then he sighed. "If I had got the prize I would have been sent to the Academy; I can't go without. And I'm sure it is very original!"

"Tie up your portfolio, quick!" said the Button Boy. His face was working. His eyes shone! They outshone his buttons seven dozen times.

"What are you going to do, you foolish fellow," cried the Uncle, "run with it? It will take the prize from under your very nose and make a show of you, too."

"Will you trust me?" asked the Button Boy of the Back, not minding his Uncle. "You know I've often said I owed you one, but I don't mean it."

"O Buttons!" cried the Back, "will you? will you really do it?"

"There, Uncle," cried the Button Boy stripping off his jacket, "I can't run in that tight thing. And if you choose to count this, you may. I give up the money, sir."

In vain the Uncle shouted after him, "You young rascal! I'll be done with you; what an exhibition you'll make now;" away he ran, fleet as a deer. Then the Uncle clapped his hands vociferously, burst out with—"I knew there was something in that lad!" chuckled till he was purple in the face, and finally sat down by the Back and blew his nose very hard.

"Look here," said the Uncle to the Button Boy that evening, "I had a purpose in putting you in this livery. You may guess, if you like, what it was and I think it hasn't been a failure. Now, if you will go home with me for the rest of the year we will hold to the contract and suspend the buttons."

"Really," said the Mother, with her mild smile, "already, Brother, I don't recognize my Boy; and I should like to ask you—"

"I am very much afraid," interrupted the Father, busily, "you will let his mind vegetate; he is certainly not as thoroughly intellectual as before he wore those buttons. I should like to ask you—"

"My dear Uncle," broke in the Sharp-eyed Sister, "if you will please invent some kind of head-gear for the brains as good as this for the heart, I—"

"Yes," said the Elder Brother hastily, "I should like to ask you—"

But the Uncle was seized with such a severe sneezing fit that no one could ask him after all.