Today’s Bad Child of History, Alfred Hardon, hails from a 19th-century story collection called Uncle Paul’s Stories for Boys and Girls, published by the American Tract Society.
Unlike some cautionary tales, which regale us with exciting accounts of juvenile mischief before culminating in the sad results of said mischief, Alfred’s story is pretty tragic from the get-go.
Initially, we learn that Alfred is suffering deep emotional distress due to the fact that William Brown had gone above him in school at spelling that afternoon. (Did you take a look at Alfred’s eyebrows in the illustration above? SO distressed!) And we all know the obvious response to wounded pride, yes?
We’re not told what Alfred has in mind, although the narrator tells us that:
Alfred Hardon was a passionate, self-willed boy, and the well-deserved success of his classmate had awakened evil feelings in his heart, and the bitter seed that had already been sown there immediately sprung up into hatred, and a resolution to be revenged.
Oof, bitter seed! That sounds pretty bad. We find out exactly how bad in the next paragraph, when Alfred’s teacher arrives at school with a “grave countenance” and explains his current condition to his classmates.
As soon as the opening exercises were over, the teacher said: ‘Most of you have, no doubt, heard of the sad accident which has befallen Alfred Hardon. He was found late last night on the floor of Mr. Brown’s barn, just beneath the beam to which William’s swing is fastened, insensible, his right arm broken, and with other injuries, some of which are so serious that, till this morning, his life was despaired of.
‘You have probably heard that it was thought he fell while swinging; but his father called me in as I was passing the house this morning, and, with great sorrow, told me Alfred had confessed that he went to the barn yesterday afternoon, secretly, and for the wicked purpose of cutting one of the ropes of the swing in such a way that when William next used it he would be sure to fall.’
Alfred’s classmates utter “a suppressed murmur of astonishment and indignation” as the teacher explains that Alfred, bedridden with his numerous injuries, is now “very humble and penitent,” and hopes to speak to Willie to ask his forgiveness.
The remainder of the tale consists of paraphrased Bible lessons, which I shall not recount here. Just remember, readers: don’t let bitter seeds take root in your heart, or divine intervention may push you off of a roof beam.