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Little Red Tom
by [?]

My Uncle Peter was much interested in the war which broke out, not long ago, among the professional nature-writers. He said that it was a civil war, and therefore a philosopher was bound to be regardful of it, because a civil war always involved subtle problems of psychology. He also said that it was a most uncivil war, and that the picturesque violence of the language employed on both sides was intrinsically noteworthy to a philologist, and therefore he felt obliged to follow it with care. When the Chief Magistrate of his native country took a hand in it, my Uncle Peter claimed that it had become a subject of national importance and that no true patriot could be indifferent to it. Finally he admitted, in a moment of confidence, that the real reason for his interest was the fact that so many of his friends were engaged in the strife, on both sides, and were being badly pummeled; and that he would like to take some part in it himself. I asked him what part. He answered that he proposed to himself the part of peace-maker. I pointed out that this part is usually the most perilous and painful. He said that this should not deter him from doing his duty, and he added that he thought he could do it in such a way that no one could tell that he was doing it. A week later he brought me the following paper, which he called

THE TRAGEDY OF LITTLE RED TOM:

A Contribution to the Fight About Nature-Books.

He was the youngest of the family, a late-comer at the feast of life. Yet the rose-garlands on the table were not faded when he arrived, and the welcome that he received was not colder, indeed it was probably several degrees warmer, because he was so tardy, so young, so tiny.

There was room for him in the household circle; joyous affection and merry murmurs of contentment greeted his coming. His older brothers never breathed a word of jealousy or unkindness toward him. He grew peacefully under the shelter of mother-love; and it would have been difficult to foresee, in the rosy promise of his youth, the crimson tragedy in which his life ended.

How dull, how insensible to such things, most men and women are! They go on their way, busily and happily, doing their work, seeking their daily food, enjoying their human pleasures, and never troubling themselves about the hidden and inarticulate sorrows of the universe. The hunter hunts, and the fisher fishes, with inconsiderate glee. A man kills a troublesome insect, he eats a juicy berry or a succulent oyster, without thinking of what his victims must feel.

But there are some tender and sensitive souls who are too fine for these callous joys. They no longer imagine that human emotions are confined to man. They reflect that every plant and every animal is doomed to die in some way which the average man would regard as distinctly unpleasant. To them the sight of a chicken-house is full of sorrowful suggestion, and a walk through a vegetable garden is like a funeral procession. They meditate upon the tragic side of all existence; and to them there will be nothing strange in this story of the tragedy of Little Red Tom.

You have guessed that he was called “red” on account of his colour. It was a family trait. All his brothers had it; and strange to say they were proud of it.

Most people are so foolish that they speak with ridicule, or even with contempt of this colour, when it is personally evolved. Have you ever asked yourself why it is that the cold world alludes derisively to a “red-headed boy,” or a “red-headed girl”? The language is different when the locks are of another hue. Then it is a “black-haired boy,” or a “golden-haired girl.” Is not the very word “red-headed,” with its implied slur upon an innocent and gorgeous colour, an unconscious evidence of the unreasonable prejudice and hard insensibility of the human race?