The Dickey Boy by Mary E. Wilkins
"I should think it was about time for him to
be comin'," said Mrs. Rose.
"So should I," assented Miss Elvira Grayson.
She peered around the corner of the front door.
Her face was thin and anxious, and her voice
was so like it that it was unmistakably her own
note. One would as soon expect a crow to chick-a-dee
as Miss Elvira to talk in any other way.
She was tall, and there was a sort of dainty angularity
about her narrow shoulders. She wore
an old black silk, which was a great deal of dress
for afternoon. She had considerable money in
the bank, and could afford to dress well. She
wore also some white lace around her long neck,
and it was fastened with a handsome gold-and-jet
brooch. She was knitting some blue worsted,
and she sat back in the front entry, out of the
draft. She considered herself rather delicate.
Mrs. Rose sat boldly out in the yard in the full
range of the breeze, sewing upon a blue-and-white
gingham waist for her son Willy. She
was a large, pretty-faced woman in a stiffly
starched purple muslin, which spread widely
"He's been gone 'most an hour," she went on;
"I hope there's nothin' happened."
"I wonder if there's snakes in that meadow?"
ruminated Miss Elvira.
"I don't know; I'm gettin' ruther uneasy."
"I know one thing—I shouldn't let him go
off so, without somebody older with him, if he
was my boy."
"Well, I don't know what I can do," returned
Mrs. Rose, uneasily. "There ain't anybody to
go with him. I can't go diggin' sassafras-root,
and you can't, and his uncle Hiram's too busy,
and grandfather is too stiff. And he is so crazy
to go after sassafras-root, it does seem a pity to
tell him he sha'n't. I never saw a child so possessed
after the root and sassafras-tea, as he is,
in my life. I s'pose it's good for him. I hate
to deny him when he takes so much comfort
goin'. There he is now!"
Little Willy Rose crossed the road, and toiled
up the stone steps. The front yard was terraced,
and two flights of stone steps led up to the front
door. He was quite breathless when he stood
on the top step; his round, sweet face was pink,
his fair hair plastered in flat locks to his wet
forehead. His little trousers and his shoes were
muddy, and he carried a great scraggy mass of
sassafras-roots. "I see you a-settin' out here,"
he panted, softly.
"You ought not to have stayed so long. We
began to be worried about you," said his mother,
in a fond voice. "Now go and take your muddy
shoes right off, and put on your slippers; then
you can sit down at the back door and clean
your sassafras, if you want to."
"I got lots," said Willy, smiling sweetly, and
wiping his forehead. "Look-a-there, Miss Elviry."
"So you did," returned Miss Elvira. "I suppose,
now, you think you'll have some sassafras-tea."
"I guess I'll steep him a little for supper, he's
so crazy for it," said Mrs. Rose, when Willy had
disappeared smilingly around the corner.
"Yes, I would. It's real wholesome for him.
Who's that comin'?"
Mrs. Rose stared down at the road. A white
horse with an open buggy was just turning into
the drive-way, around the south side of the terraces.
"Why, it's brother Hiram," said she,
"and he's got a boy with him. I wonder who
The buggy drew up with a grating noise in
the drive-way. Presently a man appeared around
the corner. After him tagged a small white-headed
boy, and after the boy, Willy Rose, with
a sassafras-root and an old shoe-knife in his
The man, who was Mr. Hiram Fairbanks, Mrs.
Rose's brother, had a somewhat doubtful expression.
When he stopped, the white-headed
boy stopped, keeping a little behind him in his
"What boy is that, Hiram?" asked Mrs. Rose.
Miss Elvira peered around the door. Mr. Fairbanks
was tall and stiff-looking. He had a sunburned,
sober face. "His name is Dickey," he
"One of those Dickeys?" Mrs. Rose said
"Dickeys," as if it were a synonym for "outcasts"
Mr. Fairbanks nodded. He glanced at the
boy in his wake, then at Willy. "Willy, s'pose
you take this little boy 'round and show him
your rabbits," he said, in an embarrassed voice.
"Willy Rose!" cried his mother, "you haven't
changed those muddy shoes! Go right in this
minute, 'round by the kitchen door, and take this
boy 'round with you; he can sit down on the
door-step and help you clean your sassafras-root."
Willy disappeared lingeringly around the
house, and the other boy, on being further bidden
by Mr. Fairbanks, followed him. "Willy,"
his mother cried after him, "mind you sit down
on the door-step and tie your shoes! I ain't
goin' to have that Dickey boy left alone; his
folks are nothin' but a pack of thieves," she remarked
in a lower tone. "What are you doing
with him, Hiram?"
Hiram hesitated. "Well, 'Mandy, you was
sayin' the other day that you wished you had a
boy to run errands, and split up kindlin's, and be
kind of company for Willy."
"You ain't brought that Dickey boy?"
"Now, look here, 'Mandy—"
"I ain't going to have him in the house."
"Jest look here a minute, 'Mandy, till I tell
you how it happened, and then you can do jest
as you're a mind to about it. I was up by the
Ruggles's this afternoon, and Mis' Ruggles, she
come out to the gate, and hailed me. She wanted
to know if I didn't want a boy. Seems the
Dickey woman died last week; you know the
father died two year ago. Well, there was six
children, and the oldest boy's skipped, nobody
knows where, and the oldest girl has just got
married, and this boy is the oldest of the four
that's left. They took the three little ones to
the poorhouse, and Mis' Ruggles she took this
boy in, and she wanted to keep him, but her own
boy is big enough to do all the chores, and she
didn't feel as if she could afford to. She says
he's a real nice little fellow, and his mother
wa'n't a bad woman; she was jest kind of sickly
and shiftless. I guess old Dickey wa'n't much,
but he's dead. Mis' Ruggles says this little chap
hates awful to go to the poorhouse, and it ain't
no kind of risk to take him, and she'd ought to
know. She's lived right there next door to the
Dickeys ever since she was married. I knew
you wanted a boy to do chores 'round, long as
Willy wasn't strong enough, so I thought I'd fetch
him along. But you can do jest as you're a mind
"Now, Hiram Fairbanks, you know the name
those Dickeys have always had. S'pose I took
that boy, and he stole?"
"Mis' Ruggles says she'd trust him with anything."
"She ain't got so much as I have to lose.
There I've got two dozen solid silver teaspoons,
and four table-spoons, and my mother's silver
creamer, and Willy's silver napkin-ring. Elviry's
got her gold watch, too."
"I've got other things I wouldn't lose for anything,"
chimed in Miss Elvira.
"Well, of course, I don't want you to lose anything,"
said Mr. Fairbanks, helplessly, "but Mis'
Ruggles, she said he was perfectly safe."
"I s'pose I could lock up the silver spoons and
use the old pewter ones, and Elviry could keep
her watch out of sight for a while," ruminated
"Yes, I could," assented Miss Elvira, "and my
"I s'pose he could draw the water, and split
up the kindlin'-wood, and weed the flower-garden,"
said Mrs. Rose. "I set Willy to weedin'
this morning, and it gave him the headache. I
tell you one thing, Hiram Fairbanks, if I do take
this boy, you've got to stand ready to take him
back again the first minute I see anything out of
the way with him."
"Yes, I will, 'Mandy; I promise you I will,"
said Mr. Fairbanks, eagerly. He hurried out to
the buggy, and fumbled under the seat; then he
returned with a bundle and a small wooden box.
"Here's his clothes. I guess he ain't got
much," said he.
Mrs. Rose took the newspaper bundle; then
she eyed the box suspiciously. It was a wooden
salt-box, and the sliding cover was nailed on.
"What's in this?" said she.
"Oh, I don't know," replied Mr. Fairbanks;
"some truck or other—I guess it ain't worth
He put the box down on the bank, and trudged
heavily and quickly out to the buggy. He was
anxious to be off; he shook the reins, shouted
"ge lang" to the white horse, and wheeled
swiftly around the corner.
"I'd like to know what's in that box," said
Mrs. Rose to Miss Elvira.
"I hope he ain't got an old pistol or anything
of that kind in it," returned Miss Elvira. "Oh,
'Mandy, I wouldn't shake it, if I were you!"
For Mrs. Rose was shaking the wooden box, and
listening with her ear at it.
"Something rattles in it," said she, desisting;
"I hope it ain't a pistol." Then she entered
with the newspaper bundle and the box, and
went through the house, with Miss Elvira following.
She set the bundle and box on the kitchen
table, and looked out of the door. There on the
top step sat the Dickey boy cleaning the sassafras-roots
with great industry, while Willy Rose
sat on the lower one chewing some.
"I do believe he's goin' to take right hold,
Elviry," whispered Mrs. Rose.
"Well, maybe he is," returned Miss Elvira.
Mrs. Rose stowed away the boy's belongings
in the little bedroom off the kitchen where she
meant him to sleep; then she kindled the fire
and got supper. She made sassafras-tea, and the
new boy, sitting beside Willy, had a cup poured
for him. But he did not drink much nor eat
much, although there were hot biscuits and berries
and custards. He hung his forlorn head
with its shock of white hair, and only gave fleeting
glances at anything with his wild, blue eyes.
He was a thin boy, smaller than Willy, but he
looked wiry and full of motion, like a wild rabbit.
After supper Mrs. Rose sent him for a pail of
water; then he split up a little pile of kindling-wood.
After that he sat down on the kitchen
door-step in the soft twilight, and was silent.
Willy went into the sitting-room, where his
mother and Miss Elvira were. "He's settin' out
there on the door-step, not speakin' a word," said
he, in a confidential whisper.
"Well, you had better sit down here with us
and read your Sunday-school book," said his
mother. She and Miss Elvira had agreed that
it was wiser that Willy should not be too much
with the Dickey boy until they knew him better.
When it was nine o'clock Mrs. Rose showed
the Dickey boy his bedroom. She looked at him
sharply; his small pale face showed red stains
in the lamplight. She thought to herself that
he had been crying, and she spoke to him as
kindly as she could—she had not a caressing
manner with anybody but Willy. "I guess
there's clothes enough on the bed," said she. She
looked curiously at the bundle and the wooden
box. Then she unfastened the bundle. "I guess
I'll see what you've got for clothes," said she,
and her tone was as motherly as she could make
it towards this outcast Dickey boy. She laid out
his pitiful little wardrobe, and examined the
small ragged shirt or two and the fragmentary
stockings. "I guess I shall have to buy you
some things if you are a good boy," said she.
"What have you got in that box?"—the boy
hung his head—"I hope you ain't got a pistol?"
"You ain't got any powder, nor anything of
"No, marm." The boy was blushing confusedly.
"I hope you're tellin' me the truth," Mrs.
Rose said, and her tone was full of severe admonition.
"Yes, marm." The tears rolled down the
boy's cheeks, and Mrs. Rose said no more. She
told him she would call him in the morning, and
to be careful about his lamp. Then she left him.
The Dickey boy lay awake, and cried an hour;
then he went to sleep, and slept as soundly as
Willy Rose in his snug little bedroom leading
out of his mother's room. Miss Elvira and Mrs.
Rose locked their doors that night, through distrust
of that little boy down-stairs who came
of a thieving family. Miss Elvira put her gold
watch and her breastpin and her pocket-book,
with seventeen dollars in it, under the feather-bed;
and Mrs. Rose carried the silver teaspoons
up-stairs, and hid them under hers. The Dickey
boy was not supposed to know they were in the
house—the pewter ones had been used for supper—but
that did not signify; she thought it
best to be on the safe side. She kept the silver
spoons under the feather-bed for many a day,
and they all ate with the pewter ones; but
finally suspicion was allayed if not destroyed.
The Dickey boy had shown himself trustworthy
in several instances. Once he was sent on a test
errand to the store, and came home promptly
with the right change. The silver spoons glittered
in the spoon-holder on the table, and Miss
Elvira wore her gold watch and her gold breastpin.
"I begin to take a good deal more stock in
that boy," Mrs. Rose told her brother Hiram.
"He ain't very lively, but he works real smart;
he ain't saucy, and I ain't known of his layin'
hands on a thing."
But the Dickey boy, although he had won
some confidence and good opinions, was, as Mrs.
Rose said, not very lively. His face, as he did
his little tasks, was as sober and serious as an
old man's. Everybody was kind to him, but this
poor little alien felt like a chimney-sweep in a
queen's palace. Mrs. Rose, to a Dickey boy, was
almost as impressive as a queen. He watched
with admiration and awe this handsome, energetic
woman moving about the house in her wide
skirts. He was overcome with the magnificence
of Miss Elvira's afternoon silk, and gold watch;
and dainty little Willy Rose seemed to him like
a small prince. Either the Dickey boy, born in
a republican country, had the original instincts
of the peasantry in him, and himself defined his
place so clearly that it made him unhappy, or
his patrons did it for him. Mrs. Rose and Miss
Elvira tried to treat him as well as they treated
Willy. They dressed him in Willy's old clothes;
they gave him just as much to eat; when autumn
came he was sent to school as warmly clad and
as well provided with luncheon; but they could
never forget that he was a Dickey boy. He
seemed, in truth, to them like an animal of another
species, in spite of all they could do, and they
regarded his virtues in the light of uncertain
tricks. Mrs. Rose never thought at any time of
leaving him in the house alone without hiding
the spoons, and Miss Elvira never left her gold
Nobody knew whether the Dickey boy was
aware of these lurking suspicions or not; he was
so subdued that it was impossible to tell how
much he observed. Nobody knew how homesick
he was, but he went about every day full of
fierce hunger for his miserable old home. Miserable
as it had been, there had been in it a certain
element of shiftless ease and happiness. The
Dickey boy's sickly mother had never chided
him; she had not cared if he tracked mud into
the house. How anxiously he scraped his feet
before entering the Rose kitchen. The Dickey
boy's dissipated father had been gentle and
maudlin, but never violent. All the Dickey
children had done as they chose, and they had
agreed well. They were not a quarrelsome family.
Their principal faults were idleness and a
general laxity of morals which was quite removed
from active wickedness. "All the Dickeys
needed was to be bolstered up," one woman in
the village said; and the Dickey boy was being
bolstered up in the Rose family.
They called him Dickey, using his last name
for his first, which was Willy. Mrs. Rose straightened
herself unconsciously when she found that
out. "We can't have two Willies in the family,
anyhow," said she; "we'll have to call you
Once the Dickey boy's married sister came to
see him, and Mrs. Rose treated her with such stiff
politeness that the girl, who was fair and pretty
and gaudily dressed, told her husband when she
got home that she would never go into that
woman's house again. Occasionally Mrs. Rose,
who felt a duty in the matter, took Dickey to
visit his little brothers and sisters at the almshouse.
She even bought some peppermint-candy
for him to take them. He really had many a
little extra kindness shown him; sometimes Miss
Elvira gave him a penny, and once Mr. Hiram
Fairbanks gave him a sweet-apple tree—that was
really quite a magnificent gift. Mrs. Rose could
hardly believe it when Willy told her. "Well,
I must say I never thought Hiram would do
such a thing as that, close as he is," said she. "I
was terribly taken aback when he gave that tree
to Willy, but this beats all. Why, odd years it
might bring in twenty dollars!"
"Uncle Hiram gave it to him," Willy repeated.
"I was a-showin' Dickey my apple-tree, and
Uncle Hiram he picked out another one, and he
give it to him."
"Well, I wouldn't have believed it," said Mrs.
Nobody else would have believed that Hiram
Fairbanks, careful old bachelor that he was,
would have been so touched by the Dickey
boy's innocent, wistful face staring up at the
boughs of Willy's apple-tree. It was fall, and
the apples had all been harvested. Dickey
would get no practical benefit from his tree
until next season, but there was no calculating
the comfort he took with it from the minute it
came into his possession. Every minute he
could get, at first, he hurried off to the orchard
and sat down under its boughs. He felt as if
he were literally under his own roof-tree. In
the winter, when it was heavy with snow, he
did not forsake it. There would be a circle of
little tracks around the trunk.
Mrs. Rose told her brother that the boy was
perfectly crazy about that apple-tree, and Hiram
All winter Dickey went with Willy to the district
school, and split wood and brought water
between times. Sometimes of an evening he
sat soberly down with Willy and played checkers,
but Willy always won. "He don't try to
beat," Willy said. Sometimes they had pop-corn,
and Dickey always shook the popper.
Dickey said he wasn't tired, if they asked him.
All winter the silver spoons appeared on the
table, and Dickey was treated with a fair show
of confidence. It was not until spring that the
sleeping suspicion of him awoke. Then one day
Mrs. Rose counted her silver spoons, and found
only twenty-three teaspoons. She stood at her
kitchen table, and counted them over and over.
Then she opened the kitchen door. "Elviry!"
she called out, "Elviry, come here a minute!
Look here," she said, in a hushed voice, when
Miss Elvira's inquiring face had appeared at the
door. Miss Elvira approached the table tremblingly.
"Count those spoons," said Mrs. Rose.
Miss Elvira's long slim fingers handled the
jingling spoons. "There ain't but twenty-three,"
she said finally, in a scared voice.
"I expected it," said Mrs. Rose. "Do you
s'pose he took it?"
"Who else took it, I'd like to know?"
It was a beautiful May morning; the apple-trees
were all in blossom. The Dickey boy had
stolen over to look at his. It was a round hill
of pink-and-white bloom. It was the apple year.
Willy came to the stone wall and called him.
"Dickey," he cried, "Mother wants you;" and
Dickey obeyed. Willy had run on ahead. He
found Mrs. Rose, Miss Elvira, Willy, and the
twenty-three teaspoons awaiting him in the
kitchen. He shook his head to every question
they asked him about the missing spoon. He
turned quite pale; once in a while he whimpered;
the tears streamed down his cheeks, but he
only shook his head in that mute denial.
"It won't make it any easier for you, holding
out this way," said Mrs. Rose, harshly. "Stop
cryin' and go out and split up some kindlin'-wood."
Dickey went out, his little convulsed form
bent almost double. Willy, staring at him with
his great, wondering blue eyes, stood aside to
let him pass. Then he also was sent on an
errand, while his mother and Miss Elvira had a
long consultation in the kitchen.
It was a half-hour before Mrs. Rose went out
to the shed where she had sent the Dickey boy
to split kindlings. There lay a nice little pile of
kindlings, but the boy had disappeared.
"Dickey, Dickey!" she called. But he did
"I guess he's gone, spoon and all," she told
Miss Elvira, when she went in; but she did not
really think he had. When one came to think
of it, he was really too small and timid a boy to
run away with one silver spoon. It did not seem
reasonable. What they did think, as time went
on and he did not appear, was that he was hiding
to escape a whipping. They searched everywhere.
Miss Elvira stood in the shed by the
wood-pile, calling in her thin voice, "Come out,
Dickey; we won't whip you if you did take it,"
but there was not a stir.
Towards night they grew uneasy. Mr. Fairbanks
came, and they talked matters over.
"Maybe he didn't take the spoon," said Mr.
Fairbanks, uncomfortably. "Anyhow, he's too
young a chap to be set adrift this way. I wish
you'd let me talk to him, 'Mandy."
"You!" said Mrs. Rose. Then she started up.
"I know one thing," said she; "I'm goin' to see
what's in that wooden box. I don't believe but
what that spoon's in there. There's no knowin'
how long it's been gone."
It was quite a while before Mrs. Rose returned
with the wooden box. She had to search
for it, and found it under the bed. The Dickey
boy also had hidden his treasures. She got the
hammer and Hiram pried off the lid, which was
quite securely nailed. "I'd ought to have had it
opened before," said she. "He hadn't no business
to have a nailed-up box 'round. Don't joggle
it so, Hiram. There's no knowin' what's in
it. There may be a pistol."
"THERE, AMONG THE BLOSSOMING BRANCHES, CLUNG THE DICKEY BOY."
Miss Elvira stood farther off. Mr. Fairbanks
took the lid entirely off. They all peered into
the box. There lay an old clay pipe and a roll
of faded calico. Mr. Fairbanks took up the roll
and shook it out. "It's an apron," said he. "It's
his father's pipe, and his mother's apron—I—swan!"
Miss Elvira began to cry. "I hadn't any idea
of anything of that kind," said Mrs. Rose, huskily.
"Willy Rose, what have you got there?"
For Willy, looking quite pale and guilty, was
coming in, holding a muddy silver teaspoon.
"Where did you get that spoon? Answer me
this minute," cried his mother.
"I—took it out to—dig in my garden with
the—other day. I—forgot—"
"Oh, you naughty boy!" cried his mother.
Then she, too, began to weep. Mr. Fairbanks
started up. "Something's got to be done," said
he. "The wind's changed, and the May storm
is comin' on. That boy has got to be found before
But all Mr. Fairbanks's efforts, and the neighbors'
who came to his assistance, could not find
the Dickey boy before night or before the next
morning. The long, cold May storm began, the
flowering apple-trees bent under it, and the wind
drove the rain against the windows. Mrs. Rose
and Miss Elvira kept the kitchen fire all night,
and hot water and blankets ready. But the day
had fairly dawned before they found the Dickey
boy, and then only by the merest chance. Mr.
Fairbanks, hurrying across his orchard for a
short cut, and passing Dickey's tree, happened
to glance up at it, with a sharp pang of memory.
He stopped short. There, among the blossoming
branches, clung the Dickey boy, like a little
drenched, storm-beaten bird. He had flown to
his one solitary possession for a refuge. He was
almost exhausted; his little hands grasped a
branch like steel claws. Mr. Fairbanks took him
down and carried him home. "He was up in
his tree," he told his sister, brokenly, when he
entered the kitchen. "He's 'most gone."
But the Dickey boy revived after he had lain
a while before a fire and been rolled in hot blankets
and swallowed some hot drink. He looked
with a wondering smile at Mrs. Rose when she
bent over him and kissed him just as she kissed
Willy. Miss Elvira loosened her gold watch,
with its splendid, long gold chain, and put it in
his hand. "There, hold it a while," said she,
"and listen to it tick." Mr. Fairbanks fumbled
in his pocket-book and drew out a great silver
dollar. "There," said he, "you can have that to
spend when you get well."
Willy pulled his mother's skirt. "Mother,"
"Can't I pop some corn for him?"
"By-and-by." Mrs. Rose smoothed the Dickey
boy's hair; then she bent down and kissed him
again. She had fairly made room for him in her
stanch, narrow New England heart.