A Youthful Actor, by Thomas Bailey Aldrich
My dramatic career was brought to a close by an unfortunate
circumstance. We were playing the drama of "William Tell, the Hero of
Switzerland." Of course I was William Tell, in spite of Fred Langdon,
who wanted to act that character himself. I wouldn't let him, so he
withdrew from the company, taking the only bow and arrow we had. I made
a cross-bow out of a piece of whalebone, and did very well without him.
We had reached that exciting scene where Gessler, the Austrian tyrant,
commands Tell to shoot the apple from his son's head. Pepper Whitcomb,
who played all the juvenile and women parts, was my son. To guard
against mischance, a piece of pasteboard was fastened by a handkerchief
over the upper portion of Whitcomb's face, while the arrow to be used
was sewed up in a strip of flannel. I was a capital marksman, and the
big apple, only two yards distant, turned its russet cheek fairly
I can see poor little Pepper now, as he stood without flinching, waiting
for me to perform my great feat. I raised the cross-bow amid the
breathless silence of the crowded audience,—consisting of seven boys
and three girls, exclusive of Kitty Collins, who insisted on paying her
way in with a clothes-pin. I raised the cross-bow, I repeat. Twang! went
the whipcord; but, alas! instead of hitting the apple, the arrow flew
right into Pepper Whitcomb's mouth, which happened to be open at the
time, and destroyed my aim.
I shall never be able to banish that awful moment from my memory.
Pepper's roar, expressive of astonishment, indignation, and pain, is
still ringing in my ears. I looked upon him as a corpse, and, glancing
not far into the dreary future, pictured myself led forth to execution
in the presence of the very same spectators then assembled.
Luckily poor Pepper was not seriously hurt.
—T. B. ALDRICH.
[Footnote: Would you imagine, from this extract, that the book from
which it was taken would be interesting? Why? Notice the easy
conversational way of telling the incident. What is gained by this? Do
you sympathize with Pepper or the author? Why?]
Louise de la Ramee