The Vagabond; A New Story for Children (Hartford: S. G. Goodrich, 1819)
[Because the covers have been detached, it’s impossible to tell which was the front cover and which the back]
A new Story for Children
Published by S. G. Goodrich.
Roberts & Burr, Pr’s.
OF all the misconduct which children are guilty of, there is none perhaps, more certainly fatal to their happiness in life than disobedience to parents. I beg my little readers to remember this observation, and see how true it proved in the history of James Lattimer.
Little James’ parents lived in New England, and were very pious good folks. They had a little farm, a neat and pleasant house, and as their wishes were few, they were contented and happy. They had indeed one cause of uneasiness. James, their only son, a boy of twelve years, was undutiful and often unkind to his parents. They endeavoured by every gentle way to persuade him to obedience, but in vain. They had so long indulged him
that his disposition had become proud, and unyielding, he almost forgot the love, and quite disregarded the duty he owed to his kind father and mother.
At length his conduct became so bad that they resolved to use more severe measures. Accordingly when he had one day broken the windows of neighbour, [sic] by throwing stones against it, his father told him that he found himself compelled to chastise him with severity. He therefore whipped him severely, and shut him up a whole day in a dark room. At evening James promised to fairly to do better, that his father released him. But so firmly had James’ habits of disobedience become fixed upon him, that in his heart he resolved to act as he pleased,—“all I have
to do, said he to himself, is to conceal my mischief from my parents, and I may do as I like.”
With this wicked resolution he began, and by frequent lying to his kind parents, who were so anxious for his welfare, he continued to conceal his bad actions. He united himself with some vicious fellows in the village, and often went with them to commit low acts of mischief such as stealing hen’s eggs, plucking quills from geese, &c. &c. He at length became so attached to the company and pursuits of these boys that his mind turned with disgust from every thing else.
He did not love to read nor work, it gave him no pleasure to oblige his mother by going kindly of her errands; indeed his heart had become so vicious that every
thing which was good and friendly and virtuous, he hated because says he, “it puts me in mind of the long dull catechism.”
Now all this happened because little James was undutiful to his parents. He felt in his heart that he had injured them, and he therefore hated every good thing which put him in mind of the way which his parents wished him to pursue, and which he bitterly felt that he was constantly spurning.
“But so it is, says he, I cannot go back, I have lost the confidence of my parents, and what can I do? Even if I would be good, it would be very hard to effect it: the truth is, I love the spirit and life which mischief affords—and I hate the dull paths of honesty and truth.”
These reflections had scarcely
passed through his mind, b[e]fore his evil companions came along, and with their mirth and vivacity confirmed him in his determination to be a villain. From this time he placed no bounds to his misconduct: drinking, horse racing, petty thefts, and the whole circle of mean, and umnanly vices were his highest delight. His character abroad very soon became bad, and at the age of sixteen he was considered a lost and desperate young man.
About this period he formed the plan in company with his companions of extorting money from a poor widow, who lived in a small hut separated from any other dwelling by a considerable forest. They did not expect to obtain much, but it was reported that by her frugality and severe
industry she had laid up 30 dollars. This sum they determined to get from her, regardless of the hard hearted iniquity of such an act. Accordingly in a dark and stormy night James with his three companions muffled themselves up, blacked their faces and repaired to the house of the poor widow. It was agreed that James should enter the house with a club and demand the money. If refused, he was to declare himself a robber, and in evidence of his assertion was to whistle, when his associates were to enter, and address him as the prince of robbers. This, it was not doubted, would at once force the widow to produce her hard earned treasure.
After having fully made his arrangements, James stepped to
the door, and put his thumb upon the latch. What a horrid sensation crept through his frame as the creaking door faintly disturbed the dead silence of the hour! His hardihood almost shrunk back, as he slowly approached the person who sat at the farther end of the room. It was quite dark, the candle being small and almost burnt out. At length he came close up to the person whom he supposed the weak and defenceless widow. “Madam! said he, I come to demand money. A trifle will not answer my purpose. I want all you have.”
“All?” asked a deep and solemn voice.
“Yes all,” said James, in a tone which shewed that terror shook him to the heart.
No answer was given; and the
person rose from the seat: it was not the poor widow, but a man, whose tall form James discovered to be that of his father.—What horror, what confusion seized him. He fled like a guilty spirit. His companions laughed at what they considered the dream of a fancy distempered by remorse. But James was certain that he had seen his father, whom he truly conjectured had accidentally overheard their plan for the night and had thus placed himself at the widow’s house to cover him with shame and confusion. He was indeed overwhelmed with shame, but instead of resolving to ask the forgiveness of his father and the widow—instead of leaving his vices he determined forever to quit his father and mother and seek his fortune in wandering around
the world. Accordingly he set out, and taking the main road travelled all night. In the morning he hid himself in a barn for fear of being pursued. Here he lay the whole day almost choked with thirst, and very hungry. At night he began his journey, and travelled till the morning. He then ventured into a tavern and with the four cents in his pocket, purchased some cakes and beer. He pursued his journey and slept the greater part of the day by the side of a fallen tree in a forest. He did not wake up till it was late in the night, and being very dark he could not find the road. He was therefore obliged to spend the night in the forest. Cold, hungry, and alone, he felt very wretched, and bitterly regretted having left his parents and his home. But,
it was already done, and he could not recall the misconduct which had cast him a vagabond upon the world. He might indeed, if he had been disposed, have repented of all his wickedness, and by pursuing the path of virtue he would have been forgiven. But, as he was now left to the guidance of his own vicious heart, he resolved to live by his villanies.
In the morning he pursued his journey and in a few days he arrived at New-York. Here he hired himself out as a gentleman’s servant, but after a few days he stole his watch and absconded. He passed through Philadelphia, and constantly harassed with the fear of being pursued and overtaken, he rapidly travelled to the southern states. Here he associated himself with a gang of counter-
feiters and for a time seemed to prosper in his vices. He took a large house and furnished it elegantly. He had fine horses, and several servants, and appeared to overflow with wealth and happiness. But, withal he was to be pitied: he was constantly alarmed with the fear of detection, and forever harrassed, with the uneasiness of a guilty conscience. He lay in his bed one night thinking over his various acts of wickedness,—when he thought he heard some persons at his door. There were several voices and they seemed to be deliberating by what means they should enter the house. James sprang from his bed, seized his pistols, threw on his clothes hastily, and was going through the hall to escape by a back door, when he was met by
an officer and several assistants. James saw at once that if he was taken he was lost, and cocking his pistols he presented them at the sheriff, and exclaimed in a determined manner, “Sir, I will not be taken.” But the sheriff, disregarding his threats, sprang suddenly upon him. James fired his pistols—the officer fell, and in the confusion James escaped. Taking one of the fleetest horses which was always kept saddled, he fled with the utmost precipitation to the distant forest. Here he secreted himself for several days, and while alone and at a distance form all assistance, he was seized with a burning fever. This was increased by the fear of death, and the remembrance of his crimes. He thought he had killed the sheriff, and the
idea of murder constantly haunted his distracted fancy. In this situation he lay several days on the bank of a river near a road rarely travelled. What must have been his horror one day, when he saw a large crocodile with dreadful jaws come towards him ready to devour him. He had scarce strength to rise up and run for a small distance when he fell down with faintness. At this moment a gentleman with his servants passing on horseback, saw him and came to his relief. They drove the crocodile away and carried James to a house where after a long sickness he recovered from the fever, but was a cripple forever.
James now retired to a deep and solitary forest, where he lives in the rocks as a hermit, bitterly repenting his crimes.