Excerpt: A Mischief of Monumental Proportions

     For the next hour, he waved off advancing citizens with untold issues and requests, and Tillman found his patience receding with each encounter, so he decided to cut short his afternoon at the festival, and return to the sanity of his library.
     He finished his tea, and he was about to rise from the chair, when he saw a boy approaching, from the other side of the lawn.
     Tillman could see the boy’s suit had been altered from someone just a bit taller than he, and it was not a new suit, by any means, which was in stark contrast to the crisp new suits worn by many of the other boys. But, it was neatly pressed, and the boy wore it with a sense of bearing he had not seen in many boys of his age, which Tillman assumed to be about nine or ten years. It was his curiosity about the boy’s determined advance, which rooted Tillman in his seat, and he waited for the boy to draw nearer, before he frowned.
     "And what is it you have come for, lad?" he asked, employing his deepest tone of voice, to unsettle the boy before he could begin his appeal.
     Without faltering, the boy came to a stop just a few feet away, and with a voice high but firm, he replied:
     "We are gathering donations for the orphans, sir, and it would be ever so nice if you could help them."
     Tillman had to give the boy credit for bravery under fire, and he decided to see if the boy had the mettle to press on. Softening his tone, while maintaining his furrowed brow, he asked:
     "And why should I help them?"
     "Well, sir, you have been sitting alone for an hour and orphans are all alone in the world, and can you imagine what it must feel like to be all alone for all of your hours?" the boy asked.
     Tillman was silent for a few seconds, and then nodded his head, slowly.
     "Yes, boy, I can, and it would be a very painful thing to know," he agreed, solemnly.
     He then tapped the chair opposite him, with his cane.
     "Sit, and tell me lad, how are the orphans faring from your efforts, thus far?" he asked, as the boy obeyed him, and sat on the chair, and resting his collection plate on his lap.
     "Mrs. Hooley, and Mrs. Donovan gave nicely, sir, though it wouldn’t be proper to say how much and all, and Mrs. Carmichael always gives what she can, for things such as this," the boy replied. "And, old Mr. Bartholomew is always willing to help anyone, and Mrs. Honeybottom gave, as well. She’s very nice."
     Tillman grunted, and then asked:
     "I see. And, how are the civic-minded men of Bradbury demonstrating their charitable side, with you?"
     The boy tilted his head to the side, and replied:
     "Well, some of them give their envelopes to their boys for Reverend Picklenose, sir, and there was an especially nice man who walked up to me and straight away handed me an envelope. He was very nice."
     "Yes, there are those," Tillman said, pleased to hear evidence that Braxton was doing as he had instructed.
     The boy continued with his answer, by adding:
     "The others turn their backs to me and pretend to be talking to someone important, so they don’t have to see me."
     In spite of himself, Tillman smiled at the boy’s candor.
     "So, how did you come to choose me?" he asked.
     "Well, sir, I thought since you were sitting down, and you seemed kind of alone, I thought maybe you might like to have someone to talk to, and maybe you would be nice and donate something, too," the boy replied.
     Tillman tilted his head a little to the left and frowned just enough for effect, as he asked:
     "But, what if I had a black heart, or I was a total blackguard? What then?"
     "Well sir, I would say you couldn’t have a black heart, for it would not work and you would be dead, and I couldn’t talk to you," he replied, and then added, "Well, at least I don’t think so. My Auntie Agatha says that we can talk to the dead, but I don’t think I would want to talk to a dead person."
     "No," Tillman agreed, shaking his head. "I shouldn’t think there would be much pleasure to be had in such a pursuit."
     "And, I don’t rightly know what a blackguard is, sir," the boy said, continuing with his answer to Tillman’s question. "So I can’t say for sure if you are or you aren’t. If it’s a good thing, then maybe I should say you are, but if it’s a bad thing, then I shouldn’t say anything at all, I think."