The Little Barefoot Boy by Edgar Wilson Nye

Story type: Essay

With the moist and misty spring, with the pink and white columbine of the wildwood and the breath of the cellar and the incense of burning overshoes in the back yard, comes the little barefoot boy with fawn colored hair and a droop in his pantaloons. Poverty is not the grand difficulty with the little barefoot boy of spring. It is the wild, ungovernable desire to wiggle his toes in the ambient air, and to soothe his parboiled heels in the yielding mud.

I see him now in my mind’s eye, making his annual appearance like a rheumatic housefly, stepping high like a blind horse. He has just left his shoes in the woodshed and stepped out on the piazza to proclaim that violet-eyed spring is here. All over the land the gladiolus bulb and the ice man begin to swell. The south wind and the new-born calf at the barn begin to sigh. The oak tree and the dude begin to put on their spring apparel. All nature is gay. The thrush is warbling in the asparagus orchard, and the prima donna does her throat up in a red flannel rag to wait for another season.

All these things indicate spring, but they are not so certain and unfailing as the little barefoot boy whose white feet are thrust into the face of the approaching season. Five months from now those little dimpled feet, now so bleached and tender, will look like a mudturtle’s back and the superior and leading toe will have a bandage around it, tied with a piece of thread.

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Who would believe that the budding hoodlum before us, with the yellow chilblain on his heel and the early spring toad in his pocket, which he will present to the timid teacher as a testimonial of his regard this afternoon, may be the Moses who will lead the American people forty years hence into the glorious sunlight of a promised land.

He may possibly do it, but he doesn’t look like it now.

Yet John A. Logan and Samuel J. Tilden were once barefooted boys, with a suspender apiece. It doesn’t seem possible, does it?

How can we imagine at this time Julius Caesar and Hannibal Hamlin and Lucretia Borgia at some time or other stubbed their bare toes against a root and filled the horizon with pianissimo wails. The barefoot boy of spring will also proceed to bathe in the river as soon as the ice and the policeman are out. He will choose a point on the boulevard, where he can get a good view of those who pass, and in company with eleven other little barefoot boys, he will clothe himself in an Adam vest, a pair of bare-skin pantaloons, a Greek slave overcoat and a yard of sunlight, and gaze earnestly at those who go by on the other side. Up and down the bank, pasting each other with mud, the little barefoot boys of spring chase each other, with their vertebrae sticking into the warm and sleepy air, while down in the marsh, where the cat-tails and the broad flags and the peach can and the deceased horse grow, the bull-frog is twittering to his mate.

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Later on, the hoarse voice of a rude parental snorter is heard approaching, and twelve slim Cupids with sunburned backs are inserted into twelve little cotton shirts and twelve despondent pairs of pantaloons hang at half-mast to twelve home-made suspenders, and as the gloaming gathers about the old home, twelve boys back up against the ice-house to cool off, while the enraged parent hangs up the buggy whip in the old place.

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