Childhood Thievery, Difference Between White & Negro Thievery- Bill Arp, 6/7/1888
I visited a lady in my travels who was not calm and serene, for some boys had slipped up and stolen the young mocking
birds from the nest she bad been watching so long. “And only to think;” she said. “two of the boys were preachers sons,
and told them one day not to take the birds, and the next day they came while I was gone and took them.” Well, a bird’s
nest is a very trying thing to a boy, whether he is a preacher’s son or not.-It strains him. He is almost obliged to have it. It
is as bad as a watermelon to a darky.-There has been many a chapter written about the sin of robbing bird nests but the robber goes on about the same.–The nest is so cunningly made and the eggs are so pretty. It is a prize for a boy, and then there
is a feeling of triumph in having what was hidden. The same feeling inclines a man to go a fishing-not for the love of the fish
but the love of the sport. He loves to beat the fish at their own game. He loves to catch them because they don’t want to be
caught. Somebody sent Mr. Cleveland a fine salmon the other day, and he said he envied the man who caught it. It looks
like a very small business for a large man to take pleasure in, but it is nature, and we can’t help it..-Daniel Webster said that
nobody liked to fish except gentleman and vagabonds. He was mistaken. All classes like to fish, but nobody but gentlemen and vagabonds have time. The good book says: “I will give thee dominion over the beast of the field and the fish of the sea and
the fowls of the air.” And so we want it, and the more they resist us the more we want it. Nobody wants to shoot a chicken
or to catch one in a trap, but we will hunt all day for quails or squirrels or hawks, just because they are wild and won’t submit
to us. I saw hundreds of squirrels in a park at Metnphis, but nobody wanted them, for they were tame, and would eat nuts
from your hand. We prefer a wild rat to tame squirrel. Now, I am not excusing a boy for robbing a bird’s nest, for it is cruel-
more cruel than to catch a fish, for fish is a lower order of living creatures, and floes not enjoy life like a bird. A fish has got
much more sense nor feeling than a monkey wrench, but it does distress the old birds very much to take their young away
or to break .up their nests. Then again, the boys don’t understand the nice distinctions between “meum and tuum,” mine and
thine. They don’t know where the line is between wild things that belong to everybody and those that are near the house
and belong to somebody.
Why, one day the impudent, ill-mannered rascals came in my meadow and killed the squirrels we had been raising for years.
I complained to some boys once because they robbed my mocking bird’s nest and they said, why, that nest was on the other
side of the road. Some folks have to post their lands to keep intruders off, but that didn’t keep them off very much, and the
hunter set him down as a stingy, selfish, old cuss. They tramp down my corn every year to catch a few fish in the creek, and as for watermelons, we have quit planting them far away from the house. A white boy about sixteen years old will steal a melon as quick
as a negro, and he will be meaner about it, for he will plug a dozen to find a ripe one. A white man who will steal at all will steal anything, and he always carries some envy or malice along with him, but a negro just takes little things that he thinks you don’t need and won’t miss, and he is really much obliged to you tor having a surplus. He has no malice and no envy. He is glad you
are rich. I had an old ax, and one day when I wanted it I couldn’t find it. I made such a fuss about it that one of the darkies brought
it home and said he was jes keepin it for me till I wanted it. But a white man came along and one day and stole the new one,
and when my nabor who who made the handle saw it at his wood pile and asked him where he got it, he said he found it in
the big road. He has got it yet, I reckon, for I never troubled him about it. I had rather a negro steal from me than a white man
-he does it so tenderly and so innocently. “Uncle Jack, they say that you darkies are stealing from the cars every Saturday
night when they stop over for Sunday?” “Now, boss, you know dat isn’t no such a thing. I neber has tech a bit of dat coal.
Maybe de chillun take a little now and den, but de railroad neber miss what dey take. Dem big long kyars jes so full dey
runned over,” and he laughed a right honest good-natured laugh. Ralph lost his knife and Ned found it and swapped it off
quick, and when it was found out he took high ground and said he “foun dat knife a way down yonder by de big gate.”
There are lots of folks who think that finding a thing gives them a right to it. Some boys find marbles and balls and
pencils, and keep them-all boys do some little mean thing on the sly, things they are ashamed of afterwards.
I helped some boys steal watermelons once and was caught at it, and felt mean a long time. I am glad I was caught, for it
cured me early. The owner came right upon us in the center of the fence and said: “Why, boys, you don’t know how to tell
a ripe melons from a green one. Let me get you some ripe ones.” And he thumped around and found some and sat down
with us and-helped us eat them but every mouthful choked me and stuck in my throat. He was a good man and never told
on us. The good boys we read about in the Sunday school books are very scarce; the boys who never told a storym or
took a cake or a lump of sugar on the-sly-who never copied a sum from another boy’s slate-who never went in washing,
or kept a secret from their mother, who never had a flght and didn’t tell it, or never said devil and durn and dog on it away
from home. When I was about thirteen I was the mill boy, and I had to go two miles to mill, and I always managed to go
with some other boys, so as to run horse races coming back. Some times I could have got the meal by waiting a little while,
but the.temptation was too great, and so I had to tell a little story so as to get to race coming home and then race again
going after the grist. Boys have their temptations just like men, and the men fall about as often as the boys. The difference
is’the men cover up their tracks better than the boys. The men don’t steal nor tell lies, but they cheat and trick and plot and scheme and conceal the truth. Some of them do. Some very respectable gentlemen. A trading man can hardly be a candid.
Solomon said: “A lie slicketh in the joints between the buyer and seller, and he said “It Is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer;
but after he buyeth he goeth his way and rejoiceth.’ And so, after all, I believe I had rather risk’ the boys, even though they
do rob the birds nests. If a boy will just feel mean after he does a mean thing I have hopes of him. Sometimes boys will do
bad things just for the peril of it, the risk, the hazzard of being caught. There is an adventure about it that they like, just like
there is about smuggling or making mooneshine whiskey. I The more boys, the more they plot mischief. One dog won’t go
off by himself and kill sheep and so one boy won’t rob an apple orchard. He must have company.
I have known school boys to walk two miles to steal apples when they had apples at home. One dark night some of the
boys went to Dr. Alexander’s a mile away, and stole a bee gum and carried it to the institute wrapped up in a quilt and
robbed it and got stung all over, though they had honey every day at the boarding house. You see, the old devil tells them
there is fun in it, but there is not. He is an old liar. Jim Linton and Ned Goulding and Thad Holt went out on a lark one
night and three geese stole a gander from old Isam Williams and they carried him home and shut him up in the closet.
-They had no use for him in the world, and just stole him because there was nothing else handy. “Old Pat, the teacher,
came round the niext night as usual to see if the boys were in their rooms, and sure enough, the old gander squalled
while he was talking to them, and that let the .cat out of the hag and the gander out of the closet. The boys had to carry
him back to Uncle Isam’s and liked to have been expelled besides Ned Goulding was the beet bad boy I ever saw. He
was Iovable and kind and we small boys looked upon him as a friend, for he never would let a big boy impose on us.
He was a brave colonel in the war and his soldier boys loved him. He was a brother to Frank, who wrote the Young
Marooners, a book that every boy and girl in the land ought to have. The last edition is just splendid. Well, it does look like
there is no sure way to raise the boys. Boys will be boys. There is no patent on the business. The preachers’ sons are
no better ihan other people’s and the other people are pretty generally glad of it, for it helps to keep down the equiliprium.
Our preacher is the son of a preacher and the grand-son of a preacher and not long ago he preached about turning the
left cheek if a man smote you on the right, but at the same time he said he didn’t know whether he could do it or not if
it came all of a sudden. My opinion is that he is a good deal like Sam Jones about that and Sam would pop a feller
so quick it would make his head swim.
Human-nature is the same the world over and most of us have got our share. Some of the women may be sanctified but
the men are not. I know some who claim to be but they are not giving away their cloaks to them fellers who want their coats. Women have a fair chance to be sanctified for they never evoltuise. She wasent made out of dirt. She never was a frog, nor
a monkey. Whether man was or not, I don’t know; but, I suppose it will be settled soon at Baltimore; in Dr. Woodrow’s case.
-One thing is certain. Some of those preachers didn’t evolnte from the angels, or they would show more charity. I heard a
preacher say in Arkansas, that they had got Dr. Woodrow out of the seminary, and if he didn’t mind, they would get him
out of the church. Well I hope they won’t try to keep him out of heaven.
Last Updated on March 19, 2021 by Bill Arp
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