The protagonist of today’s featured book was practically made to be a bad child of history. Yes, I’m talking about Troublesome Tom, the resident scamp in The Mischievous Boy; a Tale of Tricks and Troubles (New Haven: S. Babcock, 1844).
The book opens with a fantastic letter to the reader from author Thomas Teller (a pseudonym for George Tuttle), who wrote an entire series of “amusing instructive and entertaining tales” called Teller’s Tales:
My dear little friends: This tale of a “Mischievous Boy” was written to show you the trouble which you may occasion yourselves and friends by indulging in acts of disobedience and mischief. You all know that what is often called FUN, sometimes turns out to be a bad scrape; perhaps some of you have learned this by experience. Now, whenever any of you are tempted to seek amusement in any thing which you are not sure is wholly innocent, turn from it at once, however great the temptation may be, and my word for it, you will enjoy more real pleasure than if you suffer yourselves to be enticed into any wrong doing.
The book then proceeds to relate a very, very extensive series of “bad scrapes” on the part of Troublesome Tom, including but not limited to: busting into a neighbor’s garden and accidentally letting in a sow and piglets who trample the flowers, bringing the genteel Miss Betsy near a beehive and then shaking the hive and running away, giving bad directions to a woman driving a cow, throwing a “large wooden peg” at a barking dog, and fishing in a forbidden location “nearby a resort for a gang of smugglers”.
Below is an engraving showing Tom with the rogue swine, right before he starts hitting them with a stick in an attempt to drive them out of the neighbor’s garden:
Here’s a truly classic bad-kid move (and one that I vividly remember my older neighbors pulling on me many decades ago):
Tom determined to have what he called a little fun, by putting the boy in the saddle, and then rocking the horse furiously, while he laughed at the fears of poor John, and cried out, “whoop! whoop! gallop! gallop! gee! whoa!” The little boy in vain cried, “Oh stop! Oh stop! pray stop!”– but Tom did not choose to hear him, nor to stop his fun; he kept on rocking still more furiously, and the wooden horse was at length thrown forward with such violence, that little John pitched over its head, and striking his face upon the hard ground, was most cruelly bruised.
You may wonder why Tom himself is nowhere to be seen in the above engraving– it’s because he proceeds to pull the most classic bad kid move, by running away from the scene of the crime, only to return at dinner time to report that “he had left the hall just before John had fallen”.
So far these escapades have been highly entertaining, but not entirely instructive. Is Tom going to learn his lesson? (Hint: of course!)
Yes, Tom is, in quick succession, scolded by Short Sam’s father, chased by a pack of boys whose sport he had spoiled, and whisked downstream on a stolen escape boat that quickly approaches the sea. After a daring landing on a far-away river bank, Tom attempts to walk home through the rapidly darkening forest, where he has his bad child moment of reckoning.
“Weeping piteously”, he hears a rumbling and rustling sound that he fears is a bear. He runs about madly, slipping on loose stones, “stumbling over sand-heaps”, and losing the trail entirely. Caught in a terrible storm as midnight approaches,
then came the wish that he was a better boy, that God would give him a new heart, and make him his own child; and the poor boy wept and sobbed bitterly, for he was now fully conscious of what a bad boy he had been… he knelt down on the wet ground and prayed for safety and relief.
His prayers answered in due time, Tom falls asleep on a pile of hay in a tool shed, where he is discovered by his fretful father the next morning. Relieved, Tom’s father carries the reformed scamp home to his family’s loving embrace.