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
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
"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
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
"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
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
The Boy glared at him and began to stutter, "You let my clothes alone,
"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. "YOU LET MY CLOTHES ALONE!" SAID
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
"Humph!" said the Uncle. "You might better have thought of that before
"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 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
"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.