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His New Mittens
by [?]


Little Horace was walking home from school, brilliantly decorated by a pair of new red mittens. A number of boys were snowballing gleefully in a field. They hailed him. “Come on, Horace! We’re having a battle.”

Horace was sad. “No,” he said, “I can’t. I’ve got to go home.” At noon his mother had admonished him: “Now, Horace, you come straight home as soon as school is out. Do you hear? And don’t you get them nice new mittens all wet, either. Do you hear?” Also his aunt had said: “I declare, Emily, it’s a shame the way you allow that child to ruin his things.” She had meant mittens. To his mother, Horace had dutifully replied, “Yes’m.” But he now loitered in the vicinity of the group of uproarious boys, who were yelling like hawks as the white balls flew.

Some of them immediately analyzed this extraordinary hesitancy. “Hah!” they paused to scoff, “afraid of your new mittens, ain’t you?” Some smaller boys, who were not yet so wise in discerning motives, applauded this attack with unreasonable vehemence. “A-fray-ed of his mit-tens! A-fray-ed of his mit-tens.” They sang these lines to cruel and monotonous music which is as old perhaps as American childhood, and which it is the privilege of the emancipated adult to completely forget. “Afray-ed of his mit-tens!”

Horace cast a tortured glance towards his playmates, and then dropped his eyes to the snow at his feet. Presently he turned to the trunk of one of the great maple-trees that lined the curb. He made a pretence of closely examining the rough and virile bark. To his mind, this familiar street of Whilomville seemed in grow dark in the thick shadow of shame. The trees and the houses were now palled in purple.

“A-fray-ed of his mit-tens!” The terrible music had in it a meaning from the moonlit war-drums of chanting cannibals.

At last Horace, with supreme effort, raised his head. “‘Tain’t them I care about,” he said, gruffly. “I’ve got to go home. That’s all.”

Whereupon each boy held his left forefinger as if it were a pencil and began to sharpen it derisively with his right forefinger. They came closer, and sang like a trained chorus, “A-fray-ed of his mittens!”

When he raised his voice to deny the charge it was simply lost in the screams of the mob. He was alone, fronting all the traditions of boyhood held before him by inexorable representatives. To such a low state had he fallen that one lad, a mere baby, outflanked him and then struck him in the cheek with a heavy snowball. The act was acclaimed with loud jeers. Horace turned to dart at his assailant, but there was an immediate demonstration on the other flank, and he found himself obliged to keep his face towards the hilarious crew of tormentors. The baby retreated in safety to the rear of the crowd, where he was received with fulsome compliments upon his daring. Horace retreated slowly up the walk. He continually tried to make them heed him, but the only sound was the chant, “A-fray-ed of his mit-tens!” In this desperate withdrawal the beset and haggard boy suffered more than is the common lot of man.

Being a boy himself, he did not understand boys at all. He had, of course, the dismal conviction that they were going to dog him to his grave. But near the corner of the field they suddenly seemed to forget all about it. Indeed, they possessed only the malevolence of so many flitter-headed sparrows. The interest had swung capriciously to some other matter. In a moment they were off in the field again, carousing amid the snow. Some authoritative boy had probably said, “Aw, come on!”

As the pursuit ceased, Horace ceased his retreat. He spent some time in what was evidently an attempt to adjust his self respect, and then began to wander furtively down towards the group. He, too, had undergone an important change. Perhaps his sharp agony was only as durable as the malevolence of the others. In this boyish life obedience to some unformulated creed of manners was enforced with capricious but merciless rigor. However, they were, after all, his comrades, his friends.