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´╗┐Title: Red Head and Whistle Breeches
Author: Butler, Ellis Parker, 1869-1937
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Red Head and Whistle Breeches" ***

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RED HEAD AND WHISTLE BREECHES

By Ellis Parker Butler

It is believed that this little story by a master story teller, may,
through its human interest and homely suggestion, exert a wholesome
influence and warrant its publication in permanent form.

The Publishers.

With Illustrations By Arthur D. Puller

The Bancroft Company Publishers New York

1915

[Illustration: Frontispiece]



RED HEAD AND WHISTLE BREECHES



I.

When Tim Murphy let his enthusiasm get the better of his judgment and,
in the excitement of that disastrous night, joined the front rank of the
strikers in a general mix-up and cracked the head of a deputy
sheriff, the result was what he might have expected--two years in the
penitentiary. That was all right. The peace of the commonwealth must
be preserved, and that is why laws and penitentiaries exist, but it
sometimes goes hard with the mothers and wives. That is also to be
expected, and the boy should have thought of it before he crowded to the
front of the angry mob or struck the deputy.

It went very hard with the boy's mother and wife. It went hard with
his old man, too. It is a cruel thing to have one's only boy in the
penitentiary, even if one is only a village hod carrier.

Maggie Murphy, the boy's wife, did not suffer for food or shelter after
the boy went to wear stripes, for old Mike had a handy little roll in
the bank and a shanty of his own, and he took Maggie into his home and
made a daughter of her; but the girl grew thin and had no spirits. She
cried a good part of the time, quite as if Tim had been a law abiding
citizen, instead of a law breaking rowdy. Then the baby came, and after
that she cried more than ever.

As for the boy's mother, it was to be expected that she would weep also.
Mothers have a way of weeping over the son they love, even if he has
gone wrong. It is not logical, but it is a fact. It is one of the grand
facts of human life.

When Maggie's baby came the boy's mother could stand it no longer. It
had been urged--and there was some evidence to support it--that the boy
had acted in self-defense. He said so himself, but he admitted he had
been in the front rank. The strikers had carried things with a high hand
all along, and the jury had decided against him.

Night and day the boy's mother begged the old man to try for a pardon,
but Mike knew it was not worth a trial. The Governor was an old man and
a strong man, and not one to forgive an injury done to the State or to
himself. He had never been known to forget a wrong, or to leave a debt
unpaid.

He was a just man, as the ancient Jews were just. It was this that had
made him Governor; his righteousness and fearlessness were greater than
cliques and bosses.

Old Mrs. Murphy, however, was only a woman, and the boy was her boy,
and she pardoned him. She knew he was innocent, for he was her boy. Mike
refused a thousand times to ask the Governor for a pardon, but as
Mrs. Murphy was the boy's mother and had a valiant tongue, the old man
changed his mind. One day he put on his old silk hat, and with Father
Maurice, the good gray priest, went up to the capital.

A strange pair they were to sit in the Governor's richly furnished
reception room--Mike with his smoothly shaven face, red as the sunset,
his snowy eye brows, his white flecked red hair, and the shiny black of
his baggy Sunday suit; Father Maurice with his long gray beard that
had been his before the days of the smoothly shaven priests, his kindly
eyes, and the jolly rotundity of his well fed stomach. The father's
gentle heart was hopeful, but Mike sat sadly with his eyes on the toe
of his boot, for he knew the errand was folly; not alone because the
Governor had never pardoned a condemned man, but because it was he, Mike
Murphy, who came.

He remembered an incident of his boyhood, and he frowned as he recalled
it. Think of it! He, Mike Murphy, had bullied the Governor--had drubbed
him and chased him and worried the life out of him. That was why he had
told the old woman it was no use to try it.

Who was he to come asking pardons when, years ago, he had done his best
to make life miserable for the quaking schoolboy who was now the stern
faced Governor--the Governor who never forgot or forgave, or left a debt
unpaid?



II.

When the Governor entered the reception room he came in unexpectedly, as
Father Maurice was leaning forward with one of Mike's red hands clasped
in his two white ones. Mike was wiping his eyes with his coat sleeve.

The Governor paused in the doorway and coughed. His visitors started in
surprise, and then arose.

It was Father Maurice who stated their errand, his seamed face turned
upward to the serious eyes of the Governor; and as he proceeded,
choosing his quaint Frenchified English carefully, the Governor's face
became grave. He motioned them to their chairs.

He was a gray haired man, and his face was the face of a nobleman.
Clear, gray eyes were set deep under his brows, and his mouth was a
straight line of uncompromising honesty. He sat with one knee thrown
over the other. With one hand he fingered a pen on the desk at his side;
the other he ran again and again through the hair that stood in masses
on his head. His face was long, and the cheekbones protruded. His nose
was power, and his chin was resistance.

He listened silently until Father

Maurice had ended. Then he laid the pen carefully by the inkstand,
unfolded his gaunt limbs, and arose.

"No," he said slowly. "I cannot interfere."

"But his wife? His mother?" asked the priest.

"He should have considered them before," said the Governor sadly. "If
you prepare a petition, I will consider it, but I cannot offer you
any hope. They all come to me with the same plea--the wife and the
mother--but they do not take the wife and the mother into account when
the blow is struck. It is late to think of them when the prison door is
closed. You will pardon me, father, but I am very tired to-night."

He extended his hand, in token that the interview was at an end, and
Mike arose from his chair in the shadow. He stood awkwardly turning
his hat while the Governor shook the priest's hand, and then shuffled
forward to be dismissed.

"Good night, sir," said the Governor. "I did not hear your name--"

"Murphy," said the priest quickly--"Michael Murphy. He is the father of
the boy."

The Governor looked the old man over carefully, and the old man's eyes
fell under his keen glances.

"Mike Murphy?" asked the Governor slowly. "Are you the Mike Murphy
who used to go to old No. 3 school in Harmontown, forty--no, nearly
fifty--years ago? There was a Mike Murphy sat on my bench. Are you the
boy they called Red Head?"

The old man tried to answer. His lips formed the words, but his voice
did not come. He nodded his head.

"Be seated, gentlemen," said the Governor, and Father Maurice sat down
hopefully. Mike Murphy dropped into a chair with deeper dejection.

[Illustration: 23]

"Well, well!" The Governor nodded his head slowly, his gray eyes
searching the ruddy face before him. "So you are the Mike Murphy who
used to drub me?"

He smiled grimly. His eyes strayed from the old man's face, and their
glance was lost in the air above his head. He smiled again, as he sat
with the fingers of his left hand pressing the thin skin into a roll
above his cheek bone, for he recalled an incident of his boyhood.

The Governor had once been an arrant little coward. His mother lived in
the big white house two blocks above the schoolhouse, on the opposite
side of the street. Red Head Mike lived across the alley in a shanty.
The Governor's mother bought milk of Mrs. Murphy, and Red Head brought
it every evening.

Red Head was a wonderful boy. He was the first to go barefoot in the
spring, picking his way with painful carefulness over the clods in
the street. He was the only boy who chewed tobacco. The others chewed
licorice or purple thistle tops, but Red Head had the real thing. He
even smoked a real pipe without dire consequences, and laughed at the
other boys' mild substitutes of corn silk and "lady cigars"; and the
way he swore was a liberal education. All the boys swore more or less,
especially when they were behind the barn smoking com silk, but they
knew it was not natural It was a puny imitation, but the Red Head
article sounded right.

But it was when it came to fighting that Red Head had proved his right
to the worship of the world. He could lick any two boys in the school.
The Governor, who was plain Willie Gary then, could not fight at all.
His early youth was one great fear of being whipped. The smallest boys
in the school were accustomed to practice on him until they gained
sufficient dexterity or courage to attack one another. He had a hundred
opprobrious nicknames, which he accepted meekly. "Cry-baby" was the
favorite. When he was attacked he hid his face in his arm and bawled,
leaning his arm against any convenient fence or tree, while his
tormentor drubbed his back at pleasure. He was happy when he could sneak
home unmolested. The chiefest of his tormentors was Red Head, but there
was no partiality. All the boys drubbed him.

One day Mrs. Gary made him a pair of breeches. They were good, stout
breeches of dove colored corduroy, and his mother was proud of them.
So was Willie. As he walked to school he felt that every one saw and
admired them He felt as conspicuous as when, in a dream, he went to
school in his night dress, but he felt more comfortable.

[Illustration: 26]

He took his seat in the school room proudly, and when he was called to
the blackboard to do a sum he walked with a strut. He felt that even
the big boys--the wonderful youths who had money to jingle in their
pockets--observed him, and he blushed as he imagined the eyes of the
little women on the girls' side of the room following him.

As he crossed the floor, the legs of his breeches rubbed against each
other, giving forth the crisp corduroy sound of "Whist--whist--whist."
It could be heard in the farthest corner. All the scholars looked up from
their slates or books. He caught Bessie Clayton's eye upon him, and his
cheek flamed. She had blue eyes and yellow curls, and snubbed him daily.

Even the teacher glanced at his new breeches. Willie paused in his sum
and looked at them with satisfaction himself. Then he walked back to his
bench, and the corduroy spoke again--"Whist--whist--whist." It was as
musical as the clumping of a new pair of red topped boots.

As he slid into his place on his bench, Red Head turned his face and
made a mouth.

"Don't you think you're smart, Whistle Breeches?" he whispered.

"Whist--whist," said the breeches in reply, as Willie moved, and every
eye in the school seemed to gaze on him, not enviously as before, but
sneeringly. Who'd want whistle breeches?

[Illustration: 31]

When the recess bell rang, Willie walked to the playground with short
steps, but still the corduroy whistled. Two boys behind him laughed,
and Willie burned with shame. They must be laughing at his new breeches.
Bessie Clayton passed him, and he stood motionless, crowded against the
wall, until she was out of hearing.

He paused in the doorway timidly. Red Head was standing just outside,
one shoulder turned toward Freckles Redmond. It was the signal for a
fight, and the small boys were crowded about them.

"Aw, you're one yourself," Red Head was saying, "an' you dassan't say
it agin. I dare you to say it," he cried, but he caught sight of Willie.
"Huh!" he shouted. "Look here, fellers! Here's Whistle Breeches. Let's
spit on 'em!"

The boys crowded into the entry and spat on them. Red Head pulled
Willie's hair twice, drawing his head forward as he would pull a bell
rope.

"Don't he think he's smart?" "Wouldn't have 'em!" "Whistle Breeches!
Whistle Breeches!" they shouted in derision, and Willie whimpered and
edged into a corner.

"Don't you do that," he said in a choking voice. "I'll tell teacher, I
will!"

Red Head stuck his freckled face close and shoved him with a warlike
shoulder. His fists were doubled, and he jabbed Willie with his elbow.

"Aw, you tell him, then, why don't you, Whistle Breeches?" he inquired.
"Jist you tell him, an' I'll punch your face off."

He drew his arm back and feinted, Willie crooked his elbow to hide his
face.

"Aw, come on, fellers," said Red Head with deep disgust. "What's the
use of foolin' with him? He ain't nothin' but a cry-baby in whistle
breeches. He ain't no fun."



III.

That noon Willie remained in the schoolroom until the boys had gone.
Some went home for dinner, and the rest ate their lunches under the oak
tree at the side of the school. When the room was clear, Willie stole
out by the back way and ran rapidly up the alley. He knew he was branded
for life; The shame of the name of Whistle Breeches bore him down. He
meditated wild plans for getting rid of the offending garment. He would
burn it, lose it in the river.

He even considered running away from home.

[Illustration: 35]

After dinner he slipped quietly away from the table, crept up to his
room under the slanting roof, and put on his old, patched breeches. He
came down quietly, but his mother caught him tiptoeing through the hall.

"Why, Willie," she said, "where are your new trousers, dear?"

"Up-stairs," he said simply. "I don't want to wear them They--they're
too tight."

His mother saw the prevarication in the droop of his head.

"Nonsense!" she answered lightly. "They fit you perfectly, dear. If they
are a little stiff now, they will soon wear soft. Go up and put them
on."

"I don't want to," he replied stubbornly. He meant, "I will not," but he
had learned the disadvantage of contradicting his mother flatly.

"William," said his mother sternly, "go up-stairs and put on those
trousers this instant."

He climbed the stairs slowly. He hoped he would be late to school. He
would be so leisurely in donning them that his mother would make him
stay at home to avoid the greater disgrace of being tardy. He thought of
playing sick, but decided such an illness would be too sudden to excite
his mother's sympathy. If only the schoolhouse would burn down, or
word come that the teacher was dead! But neither came to pass, and his
mother's voice sounded from the hall, bidding him hurry.

With his load of shame, he slunk out of the gate and crept to school,
hugging the fences and making himself as insignificant and small as
possible, walking with short steps to avoid the endless "whist--whist"
of the corduroy. He sniffled as he thought of the wo the day still held
for him. Some men, going back to business, glanced at him to see the
cause of his whimpering. He imagined they were thinking cruel things of
his breeches.

He heard the tardy bell ring, and then he ran in and hurried to his
seat. As he hastened down the aisle the corduroy spoke louder than
before, but if Red Head heard, he made no sign, and as Willie sidled on
to the bench beside him he kept his nose buried in his book.

Willie did not go to the playground at the afternoon recess. He would
have died rather, and for once he saw the advantage of the rule that the
tardy scholar must lose that half hour of play.

When school ended for the day, Willie hoped the teacher would keep him
in. He was willing to be whipped rather than meet Red Head again, but
he was dismissed with the rest. He paused in the doorway, gathering
his breath to make a run for liberty, as he had often run to escape
his persecutors. As he waited, he saw Red Head approaching, and he drew
back; but Red Head stepped up to him and took him by the arm.

"You let me alone now!" whimpered Willie.

"Aw, shut up," said Red Head roughly. "I ain't goin' to hurt you. You
shut up an' don't be a cry-baby. Come along an' I won't let 'em hurt
you."

Fighting and scuffling were not allowed in the entry. Willie put his
thumb in his mouth and gazed at Red Head doubtfully. Such friendliness
was unnatural. It savored of a plot to entice him forth to be
slaughtered. It was not easy to believe that the Red Head who had
drubbed him a hundred times, and who scorned him as a cry-baby, should
seek to defend him.

Red Head waited.

"Come on," he said at length. "I'll let you help me drive the cow home
tonight."

Still Willie hesitated, although he was almost willing to risk a licking
to be allowed to slap the sleek legs of Mrs. Murphy's cow with a limber
willow switch.

[Illustration: 40]

"Come on," said Red Head. "I'll let you smoke my pipe."

"Won't you lick me?" asked Willie doubtfully.

"Naw, I won't lick you. What would I want to lick you for?" Willie
followed Red Head hesitatingly, with an eye to a safe retreat, if
necessary.

One of the boys came forward from the group by the gate.

"Hi, here comes Whistle Breeches!" he shouted gleefully.

"Whistle--Bree-ches--Whistle--Bree-ches--Whistle--Bree-ches--"

Red Head turned and clenched his fists, his blue eyes blazing; "Shut up,
Bob Palmer!" he cried fiercely. "Don't you call him that. That ain't no
name to call a feller. You jist wisht you had breeches like 'em!"

Bob stopped suddenly. He looked at Red Head in astonishment. Then he
turned and ran to the boys by the gate. They listened to what he
said, and then began a loud singsong chant: "Whistle--Bree-ches
--Whistle--Bree-ches--Whistle--Bree-ches!"

[Illustration: 44]

Red Head bounded forward, his eyes glowing with anger. He toppled two
boys over, and rained his blows right and left.

"Don't youse call him that!" he cried.

It was a surprise. The boys drew back and stood ready to scatter at the
next onslaught. Red Head waited, puffing, With clenched fists.

"The next feller that calls him that, I'll break his face!" he
threatened. "An' I ain't foolin', neither."

They saw that he was not, and they waited respectfully as Red Head and
Willie walked away.

Willie went with Red Head to drive the cow home, and Red Head taught him
how to double up his fist for battle according to the traditions of the
school, with the knuckle of the second finger protruded.

"You jist do that," he explained, "an' you can hurt 'em worse. An' if
they fight back, kick 'em in the legs. That's how I do. Why, you're as
big as I am, an' I bet you're jist as strong. You jist stand up to 'em.
There ain't nothin' in fightin' when you know how. If you jist stand
up to 'em, they 'most always back down. You begin on Tom Ament. He's
a bigger baby'n you are. Anybody kin lick him I kin lick him with my
little finger. An' then you tackle Shorty. He's a baby, too. You're jist
afraid."

It was Red Head who egged Willie on to strike Tom Ament the next day,
and Red Head coached him until Tom took to his heels, defeated. Then
Red Head made him lick Shorty, and with the lust of victory in his veins
Willie worked his way upward, and soon the other mothers began telling
Willie's mother that he was a bad boy, always fighting, and Mrs. Gary
wept over him. But no one called him Whistle Breeches, and he learned
that he was as much of a man as any of them, and more of a man than
most.

Then came a battle royal, when Red Head and Willie stood face to face
and pounded each other for a good half hour for supremacy, and Willie
went down with a bleeding nose and an eye that was dark for days.

But Red Head had taught him self confidence, and self confidence made
him the Governor of a great State.



IV.

When the Governor's eyes came back to Mike Murphy's face, they rested a
moment on the grizzled red hair, and a smile softened the lines of his
mouth.

"Mike," he said, "I believe you used to give me a drubbing about once
every day."

The old Irishman moved uneasily, and his hands played nervously with
the rim of his hat. He drew his feet under his chair, and moved his
lips without speaking. He thought of that last fierce battle, when the
Governor had fallen with a bleeding nose, and he shifted his eyes from
spot to spot on the soft carpet. He felt as does a mouse when the cat
plays with it.

The Governor turned to Father Maurice.

"Father," he said, "I do not often allow myself a personal indulgence,
but I have an unsettled score with Mike. I shall settle it now. I am
going to pardon that young man."

Two tears fell from the priest's eyes and rolled slowly into the white
forest of his beard. Mike Murphy stared straight before him, while his
fingers felt vaguely for the rim of the hat that had fallen from his
hands.

[Illustration: 51]

"Go home, Mike," said the Governor gently. "Go home and tell the wife
and the mother." When his petitioners had departed, the Governor sat
long in the reception room, thinking of the old days. When he opened his
watch it was not to note the hour, but to look on a woman's likeness;
and he crossed his arms on the desk and buried his face in them. The
old days had given him much that the later years had stolen from him. He
sighed and lifted his head.

"Poor old Mike!" he said. "I'm square with him at last. I wonder why he
took my part that day?" And he wearily climbed the stair to his lonely
room.

He did not know that when Red Head went home that noon, nearly fifty
years before, he had found Mrs. Murphy cutting out a pair of corduroy
breeches.

[Illustration: 53]





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