The Real Issue  by William Allen White.


boysOYS who are born in a small town are born free and equal. In the big city it may be different; there are doubtless good little boys who disdain bad little boys, and poor little boys who are never to be noticed under any circumstances. But in a small town, every boy, good or bad, rich or poor, stands among boys on his own merits. The son of the banker who owns a turning-pole in the back yard, does homage to the baker's boy who can sit on the bar and drop and catch by his legs; while the good little boy who is kept in wide collars and cuffs by a mistaken mother, gazes through the white paling of his father's fence at the troop headed for the swimming hole, and pays all the reverence which his dwarfed nature can muster to the sign of the two fingers. In the social order of boys who live in country towns, a boy is measured by what he can do, and not by what his father is. And so, Winfield Hancock Pennington, whose boy name was Piggy Pennington, was the King of Boyville. For Piggy could walk on his hands, curling one foot gracefully over his back, and pointing the other straight in the air; he could hang by his heels on a flying trapeze; he could chin a pole so many times that no one could count the number; he could turn a somersault in the air from the level ground, both backwards and forwards, he could "tread" water and "lay" his hair; he could hit any marble in any ring from ''taws'' and ''knucks down,'' -- and better than all, he could cut his initials in the ice on skates, and whirl around and around so many times that he looked like an animated shadow, when he would dart away up the stream, his red "comfort" flapping behind him like a laugh of defiance. In the story books such a boy would be the son of a widowed mother, and turn out very good or very bad, but Piggy was not a story book boy, and his father kept a grocery store, from which Piggy used to steal so many dates that the boys said his father must have cut up the almanac to supply him. As he never gave the goodies to the other boys, but kept them for his own use, his name of "Piggy" was his by all the rights of Boyville.

     There was one thing Piggy Pennington could not do, and it was the one of all things which he most wished he could do; he could not under any circumstances say three consecutive and coherent words to any girl under fifteen and over nine. He was invited with nearly all of the boys of his age in town, to children's parties. And while any other boy, whose only accomplishment was turning a cart wheel, or skinning the cat backwards, or, at most, hanging by one leg and turning a handspring, could boldly ask a girl if he could see her home, Piggy had to get his hat and sneak out of the house when the company broke up. He would comfort himself by walking along on the opposite side of the street from some couple, while he talked in monosyllables about a joke which he and the boy knew, but which was always a secret to the girl. Even after school Piggy could not join the select coterie of boys who followed the girls down through town to the postoffice. He could not tease the girls about absent boys at such times and make up rhymes like "First the cat and then her tail; Jimmy Sears and Maggie Hale," and shout them out for the crowd to hear. Instead of joining this courtly troupe Piggy Pennington went off with the boys who really didn't care for such things, and fought, or played "tracks up," or wrestled his way leisurely home in time to get in his "night wood." But his heart was not in these pastimes; it was with a red shawl of a peculiar shade, that was wending its way to the postoffice and back to a home in one of the few two-story houses in the little town. Time and again had Piggy tried to make some sign to let his feelings be known, but every time he had failed. Lying in wait for her at corners, and suddenly breaking upon her with a glory of backward and forward somersaults did not convey the state of his heart. Hanging by his heels from an apple tree limb over the sidewalk in front of her, unexpectedly, did not tell the tender tale for which his lips could find no words. And the nearest he could come to an expression of the longing in his breast, was to cut her initials in the ice beside his own when she came weaving and wobbling past on some other boy's arm. But she would not look at the initials, and the chirography of his skates was so indistinct that it required a key; and everything put together, poor Piggy was no nearer a declaration at the end of the winter than he had been at the beginning of autumn. So only one heart beat with but a single thought, and the other took motto candy and valentines and red apples and picture cards and other tokens of esteem from other boys, and beat on with any number of thoughts, entirely immaterial to the uses of this narrative. But Piggy Pennington did not take to the enchantment of corn silk cigarettes and rattan and grape vine cigars; he tried to sing, and wailed dismal ballads about the ''Gypsy's Warning,'' and "The Child in the Grave With Its Mother, and "She's a Daisy, She's a Darling, She's a Dumpling, She's a Lamb,'' whenever he was in hearing distance of his Heart's Desire, in the hope of conveying to her some hint of the state of his affections; but it was useless. Even when he tried to whistle plaintively as he passed her house in the gleaming, his notes brought forth no responsive echo.

     One morning in the late spring, he spent half an hour before breakfast among his mother's roses, which were just in first bloom. He had taken out there all the wire from an old broom, and all his kite string. His mother had to call three times before he would leave his work. The youngster was the first to leave the table, and by eight o'clock he was at his task again. Before the first school bell had rung, Piggy Pennington was bound for the school house with a strange looking parcel under his arm. He tried to put his coat over it, but it stuck out and the newspaper that was wrapped around it, bulged into so many corners, that it looked like a home-tied bundle of laundry.

     "What you got?" asked the freckle-faced boy, who was learning at Piggy's feet how to do the "muscle grind" on the turning-pole. But Piggy Pennington was the King of Boyville, and he had a right to look straight ahead of him, as if he did not hear the question, and say: "Lookie here, Mealy, I wish you would go and tell Abe I want him to hurry up, for I want to see him."

     "Abe" was Piggy's nearest friend. His other name was Carpenter. Piggy only wished to be rid of the freckle-faced boy. But the freckle-faced boy was not used to royalty and its ways, so he pushed his inquiry.

     "Say, Piggy, have you got your red ballpants in that bundle!"

     There was no reply. The freckle-faced boy grew tired of tatooing with a stick, as they walked beside a paling fence, so he began touching every tree on the other side of the path with his fingers. They had gone a block when the freckle-faced boy could stand it no longer and said: "Say Piggy, you needn't be so smart about your old bundle; now honest, Piggy, what have you got in that bundle!"

     "Aw -- soft soap, take a bite -- good fer yer appetite," said the King, as he faced about and drew up his left cheek and lower eyelid pugnaciously. The freckle-faced boy saw he would have to fight if he stayed, so he turned to go, and said, as though nothing had happened, "Where do you suppose old Abe is, anyhow!"

     Just before school was called Piggy Pennington was playing "scrub" with all his might, and a little girl -- his Heart's Desire -- was taking out of her desk a wreath of roses, tied to a shaky wire frame. There was a crowd of girls around her admiring it, and speculating about the possible author of the gift; but to these she did not show the patent medicine card, on which was scrawled, over the druggist's advertisement: "Yours truly, W. H. P."

     When the last bell rang, Piggy Pennington was the last boy in, and he did not look toward the desk, where he had put the flowers, until after the singing. Then he stole a sidewise glance that way, and his Heart's Desire was deep in her geography. It was an age before she filed past him with the "B" class in geography, and took a seat directly in front of him where he could look at her all the time, unobserved by her. Once she squirmed in her place and looked toward him, but Piggy Pennington was head over heels in the "Iser rolling rapidly." When their eyes did at last meet, just as Piggy, leading the marching around the room, was at the door to go out for recess, the thrill amounted to a shock that sent him whirling in a pin wheel of handsprings toward the ball ground, shouting "scrub -- first bat, first bat, first bat" from sheer, bubbling joy. Piggy made four tallies that recess, and the other boys couldn't have put him out, if they had a hand-grenade or a Babcock fire extinguisher.

     He received four distinct shots that day from the eyes of his Heart's Desire, and the last one sent him home on the run, tripping up every primary urchin, whom he found tagging along by the way, and whooping at the top of his voice. When his friends met in his barn, some fifteen minutes later, Piggy tried to turn a double somersault from his spring board, to the admiration of the crowd, and was only calmed by falling with his full weight on his head and shoulders at the edge of the hay, with the life nearly jolted out of his little body.

     The next morning, Piggy Pennington astonished his friends by bringing a big armful of red and yellow and pink and white roses to school. He had never done this before, and when he had run the gauntlet of the big boys, who were not afraid to steal them from him, he made straight for his schoolroom, and stood holding them in his hands while the girls gathered about him teasing for the beauties. It was nearly time for the last bell to ring, and Piggy knew that his Heart's Desire would be in the room by the time he got there. He was not mistaken. But Heart's Desire did not clamor with the other girls for one of the roses. Piggy stood off their pleadings as long as he could with "Naw," "Why naw, of course I won't," "Naw, what I want to give you one for," and "Go way from here I tell you," and still Heart's Desire did not ask for her flowers. There were but a few moments left before school would be called to order, and in desperation Piggy gave one rose away. It was not a very pretty rose, but he hoped she would see that the others were to be given away, and ask for one. But she -- his Heart's Desire -- stood near a window, talking to the freckle-faced boy. Then Piggy gave away one rose after another. As the last bell began to ring he gave them to the boys, as the girls were all supplied. And still she came not. There was one rose left, the most beautiful of all. She went to her desk, and as the teacher came in, bell in hand, Piggy surprised himself, the teacher, and the school by laying the beautiful flower, without a word on the teacher's desk. That day was a dark day. When a new boy, who didn't belong to the school, came up at recess to play, Piggy shuffled over to him and asked gruffly: "What's your name!"

     "Puddin' 'n' tame, ast me agin an' I'll tell you the same," said the new boy, and then there was a fight. It didn't sooth Piggy's feelings one bit that he whipped the new boy, for the new boy was smaller than Piggy. And he dared not turn his hushed face towards his Heart's Desire. It was almost four o'clock when Piggy Pennington walked to the master's desk to get him to work out a problem, and as he passed the desk of Heart's Desire he dropped a note in her lap. It read: "Are you mad?"

     But he dared not look for the answer, as they marched out that night so he contented himself with punching the boy ahead of him with a pin, and stepping on his heel, when they were In the back part of the room, where the teacher would not see him. The King of Boyville walked home alone that evening. The courtiers saw plainly that his majesty was troubled.

     So his lonely way was strewn with broken stick-horses, which he took from the little boys, and was marked by trees adorned with the string, which he took from other youngsters, who ran across his pathway playing horse. In his barn he sat listlessly on a nail keg, while Abe and the freckle-faced boy did their deeds of daring, on the rings, and the trapeze. Only when the new boy came in, did Piggy arouse himself to mount the dying bar, and, swinging in it to the very rafters, drop and hang by his knees and again drop from his knees, catching his ankle in the angle of the rope where it meets the swinging bar. That was to awe the new boy. After this feat the King was quiet.

     At dusk, when the evening chores were done, Piggy Pennington walked past the home of his Heart's Desire and howled out a doleful ballad which began:

        "You ask what makes this darkey wee - eep,
        Why he like others am not gay."

     But a man on the sidewalk passing said, "Well son, that 's pretty good, but wouldn't you just as lief sing as to make that noise." So the King went to bed with a heavy heart.

     He took that heart to school with him, the next morning, and dragged it over the school ground, playing crack the whip and "stinkbase." But when he saw Heart's Desire wearing in her hair one of the white roses from his mother's garden -- the Pennington's had the only white roses in the little town -- he knew it was from the wreath which he had given her, and so light was his boyish heart, that it was with an effort that he kept it out of his throat. There were smiles and smiles that day. During the singing they began, and every time she came past him from a class, and every time he could pry his eyes behind her geography, or her grammar, a flood of gladness swept over his soul. That night Piggy Pennington followed the girls from the schoolhouse to the postoffice, and in a burst of enthusiasm, he walked on his hands in front of the crowd, for nearly half a block. When his Heart's Desire said: "O ain't you afraid you'll hurt yourself, doing that?" Piggy pretended not to hear her, and said to the boys: "Aw, that ain't nothin'; come down to my barn, an' I'll do somepin that'll make yer head swim."

     He was too exuberant to contain himself, and when he left the girls he started to run after a stray chicken, that happened along, and ran till he was out of breath. He did not mean to run in the direction his Heart's Desire had taken, but he turned a corner, and came up with her suddenly. Her eyes beamed upon him, and he could not run away, as he wished. She made room for him on the sidewalk, and he could do nothing but walk beside her. For a block they were so embarrassed that neither spoke.

     It was Piggy who broke the silence. His words came from his heart. He had not yet learned to speak otherwise.

     "Where 's your rose?" he asked, not seeing it.

     "What rose?" said the girl, as though she had never in her short life heard of such an absurd thing as a rose.

     "Oh, you know,'' returned the boy, stepping irregularly, to make the tips of his toes come on the cracks in the sidewalk. There was another pause, during which Piggy picked up a pebble, and threw it at a bird in a tree. His heart was sinking rapidly.

     "O, that rose!" said his Heart's Desire, turning full upon him with the enchantment of her childish eyes. "Why, here it is in my grammar. I'm taking it to keep with the others. Why?"

     "O, nuthin' much," replied the boy. "I bet you can't do this," he added, as he glowed up into her eyes from an impulsive handspring.

     And thus the King of Boyville first set his light, little foot upon the soil of an unknown country.

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