THE LOST CAUSE
David had a suspicion. He did not know it was that, but that is what it was. He suspected that Mother thought he was a good little boy, and he suspected that she thought Mitchell Horrigan was a bad little boy. Perhaps Mother had a suspicion, too; she might have suspected that it was Mitch who had put a certain notion into David’s head—a notion which had to do with pants. Only you must not call them pants; they are “trouvers.”
But it doesn’t really matter in the least what they are called. Mitch had them. He also had the measles once. David did not know whether it was the measles part or the pants part that made Mitch a bad little boy. All David knew about it was that if he invited Mitch into the yard to climb trees and give swimming lessons in the high grass, it usually happened that Mother could think of some important business for her little boy to do in the house. It was surprising how many important matters there were for David to do in the house every time Mitch came into the yard to play. She might want to show him something, and perhaps it would be a turn-over that she wanted to show him, a delicious little half-grown pie stuffed with strawberries or with cherries. If Mitch were waiting out under the trees, the toothsome bit of pastry was always a very peculiar kind. Mother believed in generosity, but generosity with limitations. Strawberry turn-over was not good for Mitch. Mother was positive that it was not good for him. That seemed a little singular to David, for he had never noticed anything wrong with Mitch. It does not seem credible that a boy who owns a real Indian bow ‘n’ arrow, which shoots so high he can knock the eye out of an angel with it, should yet be so foolish as to have a bad stomach. David had never seen any of the one-eyed angels that Mitch had knocked down out of heaven with his Indian bow ‘n’ arrow. Mitch was not the kind to show all of his treasures. He didn’t even show his bow ‘n’ arrow. He kept it hid, so that if the police ever found out about it they could not get it away from him. If they wanted to arrest him for having it, that would be all right, but they should not get hold of his Indian bow ‘n’ arrow.
The thing you liked about Mitch was that he was so reasonable. One’s faith in him would never be shaken unless one were to try his recipe for getting trouvers. In theory it was a sound recipe. Mitch, who had reached trouvers and understood the mightiness of the achievement, could vouch for the sure result of his prescription. It was guaranteed to cure the dress-habit in seven days. At first, though, Mitch would not tell how the great honor of pants had been bestowed upon him. He was then too important even to say, “Hello, kid!” For a time he did not deign to notice anybody, and when he did notice anybody it was only to pretend that David was nothing but a little girl.
David filed his protest between the palings of the fence. But it was no use. He might protest, he might cross his heart and hope to die, but still the boy on the other side of the fence would not believe.
“Are, too,” Mitch would say.
Then a startled look, an appealing, hopeless fear suddenly abashed the little boy in the dainty white dress. As he shook the ringlets out of his eyes he asked, earnestly:
“Why, then, am I a girl?”
Here, you see, was another case like the bow ‘n’ arrow. Mitch did not have to tell all he knew. He only got proud and spat through his teeth and said, “Why?” right back at David.
Such a question, you must agree, may be illuminating, but is not satisfying. The meaning of it seems a bit indefinite and lonesome, but if you are a little boy with ringlets it has meaning enough. It hurts mightily. But Mitch was still not satisfied.
“Dear Little Curly Locks,” he said with contemptible sweetness, “oo mustn’t get oo dress dirty.”
Then did David’s fists clench defiantly, and he said an awful swear.
“Dresses!” he exclaimed derisively; “that’s all you know about it. They’re kilts!”
This defense was not convincing, for there is no good way, once you think of it, to prove that a dress is a dress and that a kilt is a kilt. The only way, I fear, to settle such a controversy is to hit the other boy with a brick. Only David did not have a brick. What he did have was a confused feeling that Mitch was right. For might it not be true, this horrible thing about being a girl? What if David was that, and couldn’t ever get over it?
Now, Mitch, since you are at last in trouvers, here is the time to prove to this ignominious comrade of yours that in you are the instincts of a gentleman. Why don’t you show David that there may be a chance for him after all? It would be proper for you to remind him that you yourself used to wear dresses, but of course you will make sure to speak of the disgrace as a thing of many years ago.
But there is no need, Mitch, in counseling David to go to extremes. It is quite unnecessary to inform him that the way to pants is a very simple matter. I dread to think that you are telling him to tear his kilts “all to splinters.” Of course that can be done. You hook the skirt over a paling in the fence; then you jump, and sometimes, David, it hurts when you hit the ground. But what matter? You are fighting in a noble cause. Mother will be so astonished! She will see how desperately you have outgrown your kilts.
Only she did not see it. She picked the splinters out of David’s hands—cruel splinters from the fence—and she was very sorry for her little boy. And as for the dresses, it was no great matter about them. She would make other dresses for her David.
And that is why Mitchell Horrigan’s recipe for pants is not a good recipe. Even at the end of a week David could not report much progress. Finally he had to acknowledge himself defeated. He then bore the dishonor of kilts with what manfulness he could and with a creed which was recited something like this:
“We don’t care to play with Mitch any more, do we, Mother?”
“We don’t care nothing about trouvers, do we, Mother?”
Sometimes David would ask with husky heroism:
“Curls is all right for little boys, is they not?”
David was angry with Mitch; David was never going to speak to Mitchell Horrigan any more. His resolution was so strong that he hurried away to tell Mitch about it, but when the boy actually appeared, it was hard to remember why one should be angry with him. His brown feet came flapping along the stone walk, and in his hand was a freshly whittled stick that made an animated clatter when he drew it along the fence. There was that in the reckless abandonment of Mitch which did not help David to tell him that he was too mean and disgraceful to be spoken to. And besides, his feelings might be hurt if one were to tell him that. So, as Mitch came nearer and nearer, David felt guiltier and guiltier, and presently he was surprised to hear himself asking rather abjectly:
“You isn’t mad at me, is you, Mitch?”
Trouvers ignored the humble salutation. He took out his knife and began to whittle ceremoniously upon the stick.
“What you making?” David asked tentatively.
“Nothin’ much,” said Mitch, with the air of a man who has invented steamships and flying machines. “Only a tiger trap.”
David knew better. David knew that Mitch, in his insufferable conceit, was merely whittling to show off his new knife. So, pressing his red mouth between two white palings of the fence, David declared in a strong voice:
“I have a bigger knife than that.”
The assertion was boldly made, but when Mitch asked to see the knife, David decided not to show it.
“Bigness don’t count,” said Mitch. “It’s the steel.”
He breathed upon the blade to test its quality. Every boy knows that if the film of moisture is quick to vanish, there can be no question about the superlative merit of the knife.
“Where did you get it?”
David was eager to know that, but Mitch decided that he must be going. He hadn’t time to stay here any longer. He intimated that he had important business to look after. He was going to make a kite ten feet tall, and, with the snobbishness of a plutocrat, he went strutting away. He was almost beyond earshot when he volunteered this brief information:
“My father, he guv it to me.”
Had David heard correctly? Did Mitch say “father”? The little boy had never thought of such an article as a father except as something which belongs to a story book. Fathers were common enough in the story books; they were men, but until this moment David had never thought of them as being desirable. It now appeared that they were good for something. Mitch Horrigan had one. He actually kept a father, and the father gave him fine presents.
Reflecting upon all this, David became a very quiet little boy. There seemed to be nothing interesting for him to do. He had no appetite for supper, and in his face was the look of one who dreams of such mighty things as trouvers, and a hair-cut, and a brand-new knife. And when, at last, it came time to kiss Mother good-night, he turned appealing eyes upon her, and asked with trembling lips:
“Why don’t I never have no fav-ver?”
Categories: English Literature