Mittens by Ralph Henry Barbour
There was a loud and imperative knock
at the study door. Stowell growled to himself
at the interruption, took a deep breath
and bellowed, “Come in!”
Then his eyes went back to the book on
his knees. The knock was unmistakably that
of “Chick” Reeves, and with “Chick”
Stowell never stood on ceremony. But when
a full minute had passed after the door had
closed, without any of “Chick’s” customary
demonstrations, such as the overturning of
chairs, the wafting of pillows across the room,
or the emitting of blood-curdling whoops,
Stowell became alarmed for his fellow freshman’s
health, and so, after many groans and
much exertion, he sat up and put his head
around the corner of the big armchair. What
he saw surprised him.
The visitor was a stranger; a tall, raw-boned
youth of about seventeen, with a homely,
freckled face surmounted by a good deal of
tousled, hemp-colored hair. His eyes were
ridiculously blue and his cheeks held the remains
of what had apparently been a generous
tan. Altogether the face was attractive, if
not handsome; the blue eyes looked candid
and honest; the nose was straight and well-made;
the mouth suggested good nature and
strength of purpose. But it is not to be supposed
that Jimmie Stowell reached these
numerous conclusions on this occasion. On
the contrary, the impression he received was
of an awkward, illy-clothed boy holding a
small paper parcel.
“Hello!” said Stowell.
The visitor had evidently been at a loss,
for the back of the armchair had hidden his
host from sight, and he had turned irresolutely
toward the door again. Now he faced
Stowell, observing him calmly.
“Hello!” he answered. He crossed the
study deliberately, unwrapping his parcel as
“Er—want to see me?” asked Stowell,
“If you please.” There was no evidence
of diffidence in the caller’s manner, and yet
Stowell found it hard to reconcile his appearance
with that commanding knock at the
portal. The blue-eyed youth threw back the
wrapping from his bundle and held it forth.
Stowell took it wonderingly. Five pairs of
coarse blue woolen mittens met his gaze.
He frowned and viewed the caller suspiciously.
“What is it,” he growled, “a joke?”
“Mittens,” answered the other imperturbably.
“I’m selling them.”
“Oh, I see.” He handed them back.
“Well, I never wear them.” He turned
toward his chair. “Hang these peddlers!”
he said to himself.
“They’re very warm,” suggested the
“They look it,” answered Stowell, grimly.
“But I wear gloves.”
“Oh, excuse me.” The visitor began to
wrap them carefully up again. “That’s
what everybody says. I wish I’d known it
“But, Great Scott!” exclaimed Stowell,
“you didn’t really think that any one wore
that sort of thing nowadays? Why they look
“Yes, I suppose they do. But up our way
we generally wear them. You see, they’re
warmer than gloves.”
“Where do you come from?”
“Michigan! Well, what are you doing
“Studying.” He looked surprised at the
“Do you mean that you’re in college?”
asked Stowell, in amazement. The other nodded.
“I’m a freshman.” Stowell’s perplexity
increased. “I thought,” the other went on,
“that I could sell some of these around college.
I didn’t know about you all wearing
gloves. I—I guess I’ll have to give
it up.” There was disappointment in his
“Are you doing this to make money?”
“Yes, I’m only asking sixty cents. Does
that seem too much?”
Stowell thought it was a good deal too
much, but he didn’t say so, and the other
“They’re regular lumberman’s mittens,
you know, made of best woolen yarn and
mighty warm. Of course, they don’t cost me
that much, but I have to make something on
“Oh, that’s reasonable enough,” said
Stowell, hurriedly, “and, I tell you what you
do. I’m dead broke this morning, but you
come in later in the week and bring me a
couple of pairs and I’ll have the money for
But to his surprise the other shook his
“You just want to help me,” he said.
“You wouldn’t wear them, I guess. But
I’m thankful to you.” He placed his parcel
under his arm and moved toward the
“Well, but hold on,” cried Stowell.
“Don’t be an ass! Look here— By the
way, what’s your name?”
“Well, now you bring those along and
I’ll wear them. You say they’re warm;
that’s what I want, something warm. And—look
here, have you got them in any other
“No, they’re always blue, you know.”
“Oh!” Stowell felt that he had displayed
unpardonable ignorance. “Yes, of course.
Well, you bring a couple of pairs, say,
Wednesday, will you?”
“All right,” answered Shult. “Good
“Good morning,” murmured Stowell.
The door closed behind his visitor and he went
grinning back to his chair.
Half an hour later when “Chick” Reeves
did come in, playfully tipping Stowell and the
armchair on to the hearth-rug by way of
greeting, Stowell told him about the Michigan
freshie who was peddling blue woolen mitts,
and told it so well that “Chick” sat on the
floor and howled with delight.
“And you are going to wear them?” he
“Why, I’ll have to,” answered Stowell,
ruefully. “I wanted to help the beggar, and
he wouldn’t sell them to me unless I wore
“Then I’ll have to have a pair, too.”
“Oh, you’ll need a couple of pairs,”
laughed Stowell, “one for week-days and one
“Of course I will. A chap needs something
nice for the theater. Where does ‘Mittens’
“Don’t know, I’m sure. His name’s
Shoot or Shult; you can find him in the catalogue.”
“I will. And, say, maybe he sells blue
socks, too, eh? If the cooperative hears of
it they’ll have the law on him. Did you ask
him if he had a license?”
“No.” Stowell looked down at Reeves
Then he said slowly, “Now, look here,
‘Mittens,’ as you call him, is all right. So
don’t go to having fun with him, hear?”
“Not me,” grinned “Chick.”
“Oh, no, you naturally wouldn’t,” growled
Stowell. “But if you do I’ll break your
head for you.”
Stowell had quite forgotten his strange
visitor of the day before when, on Tuesday
morning, he met him on the steps of University.
Shult’s clothes looked more ill fitting
than before, and it cost Stowell, who was
accompanied by two extremely select members
of his class, somewhat of an effort to stop
and speak to him.
“Hello, Shult,” he said, “how are you
The dealer in blue mittens flushed, whether
with embarrassment or pleasure Stowell
couldn’t tell, and paused on his way down the
“Not very well,” he answered. “I—I’ve
sold three pairs so far.”
“Hard luck,” answered Stowell. “Don’t
forget mine, will you?”
“Oh, no; I’m—I’ll bring them to-morrow.
Do you want them long or short?”
“Er—well, what would you suggest?”
asked Stowell gravely.
“The long ones keep your wrists warmer,
of course,” said Shult.
“Of course, I’ll take that kind,” Stowell
decided. “I’ve a friend, by the way, fellow
named Reeves, who said he’d take a couple of
pairs. He was going to look you up. Seen
“No, I haven’t. I could—I could call on
him if you think he’d like me to?”
“No, it wouldn’t pay; you’d never find
him in. I’ll tell him to look you up. Where’s
“Yes, your room, you know.”
“Oh,” said Shult. He gave an address
that Stowell had never heard of. “I’m
usually in at night,” he added.
They parted, and Stowell joined the two
grinning freshmen inside. Their names were
Clinton and Hazlett.
“Who’s your handsome friend?” asked
“Looks like a genius,” laughed the other.
“What’s his line?”
“Mittens,” answered Stowell, gravely.
Then the green door swung behind
At four o’clock the next afternoon Clinton,
Hazlett and Stowell were sitting in the
latter’s study. The fire roared in the grate
and a northwest wind roared outside the curtained
windows. There came a resounding
thump on the door, and, without waiting a response,
“Chick” Reeves bounded in. Standing
just inside, he closed the portal, shook
imaginary snowflakes from his cap, shivered
and blew on his hands.
“Br-r-r,” he muttered, “’tis bitter cold!
The river is caked with chokes of ice! I can
not cross the river to-night! Hark, how the
wind howls round the turret!”
Then, with sudden abandonment of melodrama,
he made his way to the grate, spread
his legs apart, and, with his back to the flames,
grinned broadly upon Stowell. Gradually his
grin grew into a laugh.
“You’re an awful idiot,” said Stowell.
“I know, I know,” chuckled Reeves.
“But I’ve got the biggest joke you ever
heard! It’s—it’s like a story. Listen, my
children.” He turned to Stowell. “You remember
‘Mittens’?” Stowell nodded.
“I’ve been to see him, and——”
“Did you buy some mittens?” asked Hazlett,
who, with Clinton, had at last heard of
“Yes, but listen. He lives in the queerest
place you ever heard tell of; it’s down on one
of those side streets toward the bridge; a regular
tenement-house with brats all over the
front steps and an eloquent, appealing odor
of boiled cabbage and onions in the air. Well,
I asked a woman in a calico wrapper where
Mr. Shult lived and she directed me up two
flights of stairs; told me to knock on the ‘sicond
door to me roight.’ I knocked, a voice
called, ‘Come in, Mrs. Brannigan,’ and I
went in, politely explaining that, despite certain
similarities of appearance, I was not Mrs.
Brannigan. Well”—“Chick’s” risibilities
threatened to master him again; he choked
and went on. “Well, there was ‘Mittens.’
He was sitting in a sort of kitchen rocker with
a Latin book on his knee and—and— Say,
what do you think he was doing?”
“Grinding,” said Clinton.
“Sawing wood,” said Hazlett.
Stowell shook his head.
“You’d never guess,” howled Reeves,
“never in a thousand years! He was—was—oh,
golly!—he was knitting!”
“Knitting!” It was a chorus of three
“Yes, knitting! Knitting blue-woolen
“By Jove!” muttered Stowell.
Clinton and Hazlett burst into peals of
“You—you ought to have seen his expression
when he saw that I wasn’t Mrs. Brannigan,”
went on “Chick,” wiping the tears
from his eyes. “He stared and got as red
as a beet; then he tried to get the thing out of
sight. Of course, I apologized for intruding
when he was busy, and he said it didn’t matter.
And after a while he told me all about
it. Seems he lives up in the backwoods—or
whatever you call ’em—in Michigan; up
among the lumber-camps, you know. His
father’s dead, he told me, and his mother
keeps a sort of hotel or boarding-house or
something. Of course,” added “Chick,”
with a note of apology in his voice, “that isn’t
funny. But it seems that when he was a kid
they taught him to knit, and made him do
socks and mittens and things. I’ve forgotten
a lot of it, but he wanted to go to college and
hadn’t any money to speak of, and so they
borrowed a little somewhere—enough for tuition—and
now he’s trying to make enough on
mittens to pay his board. He gets his room
free for teaching some of the little Brannigans,
I believe. He’s spunky, isn’t he? But
I thought I’d keel over on the floor when I
saw him sitting there for all the world like an
old granny in the Christmas pictures, just
making those needles fly. Maybe he can’t
“And then what?” asked Stowell,
“Chick’s” grin faded out a little.
“Why—er—that’s all, I guess. I ordered
two pairs of the funny things and came
Clinton and Hazlett were still chuckling.
“Chick” looked from them to Stowell doubtfully
and began to wonder what ailed the latter’s
sense of humor.
“Knitting!” murmured Clinton, “think
“Yes,” said Stowell, suddenly, “that’s
awfully funny, ‘Chick.’ Funniest thing I’ve
heard for a long while. Do you know—”
the tone made his friend stare in surprise—“I
think you’ve got one of the most delicate
humorous perceptions I’ve ever met up with.
You have, indeed. Only you, ‘Chick,’ could
have seen all the exquisite humor in the situation
you’ve described. You ought to be proud
Clinton and Hazlett had ceased their
chuckles and were looking over at their host,
their faces reflecting the surprise and uneasiness
“Here’s a poor duffer,” went on Stowell,
“without money; father dead; mother takes
boarders to make a living; wants to go to college
and learn to be something a little better
than a backwoods lumberman. He gets
enough money together somehow—I think
you said they borrowed it, ‘Chick’?”
That youth nodded silently.
“Yes, borrowed enough to pay the tuition
fee. And then he’s thrown on his own resources
to make enough to buy himself things
to eat. I suppose even these backwoods beggars
have to eat once in a while, Clint? And
having learned how to knit blue-woolen mittens—awfully
funny looking things, they are—he
just goes ahead and knits them, rather
than starve to death, and tries to sell them to
a lot of superior beings like you and me here,
not knowing in his backwoods ignorance that
we only wear Fownes’s or Dent’s, and that we
naturally look down on fellows who——”
“Oh, dry up, old man,” growled “Chick.”
“I haven’t been saying anything against the
duffer. Of course he’s plucky and all that.
You needn’t jump on a fellow so.”
“Yes, he has got grit, and that’s a fact,”
Clinton allowed. “Only, of course, knitting—well,
it’s a bit out of the ordinary, eh?”
“I suppose it is,” answered Stowell.
“In fact ‘Mittens’ is a bit out of the ordinary
There was a knock at the door, and, in response
to Stowell’s invitation, Shult, tall, ungainly,
tow-haired, freckle-faced, entered and
paused in momentary embarrassment as his
blue eyes lighted on Reeves.
“Hello, Shult; come in,” called Stowell.
“Have you brought those mittens?”
Shult had, and he undid them carefully,
and crossing the study, handed them to their
“Ah,” continued Stowell, drawing one of
the heavy blue things on to his hand, “long
wrists, I see. That’s fine. Like to see them,
Bob?” Hazlett said that he would. Every
one was very silent and grave. Reeves, after
nodding to Shult, had busied himself with a
magazine. Now he leaned over Hazlett’s
shoulder and examined the mittens with almost
breathless interest. Clinton craned his
head forward and Stowell handed the other
pair to him for inspection. Shult stood
silently by, his embarrassment gone.
“Look as though they’d be very warm,”
said Hazlett, in the voice of one hazarding an
opinion on a matter of national importance.
He looked inquiringly, deferentially, up at
“Warm as toast,” said the latter.
“Seem well made, too,” said Clinton.
Then he colored and glanced apologetically
at Stowell. Stowell turned his head.
“Do you get these hereabouts, Shult?”
he asked. There was a moment’s hesitation.
“I—I knit them myself,” said the freshman,
“Not really!” exclaimed Stowell, in much
surprise. “Did you hear that, Clint? He
makes them himself. It must be quite a
“I should say so!” Clinton exclaimed,
enthusiastically. “It—it’s an accomplishment!”
“By Jove!” said Hazlett. They all stared
admiringly at Shult.
“But, I say, don’t stand up,” exclaimed
Stowell. “‘Chick,’ push that chair
Shult sat down. He was very grateful to
Reeves for not telling what he had seen during
his call, and grateful to the others for not
laughing at his confession. It had taken
quite a deal of courage to make that confession,
for he had anticipated ridicule. But
instead these immaculately dressed fellows
almost appeared to envy him his knowledge
of the art of knitting woolen mittens. He
was very pleased.
“I wonder—” began Clinton. He glanced
doubtfully at his host. “I think I’d like to
have some of these myself. Have you—er—any
more, Mr. Shult?”
“Oh, yes; I can make a pair an evening,
anyhow. I—I didn’t suppose you fellows
would care for them.”
“Nonsense,” said Stowell. “They’re
just what a chap needs around here. I—I
used to wear them when I was a boy; after all,
there’s nothing like old-fashioned mitts to
keep your hands warm.”
“Nothing!” said Clinton.
“Nothing!” echoed Hazlett.
“Nothing!” murmured Reeves.
“If you could let me have—ah—about two
Clinton’s request was firmly interrupted
by his host.
“Nonsense, Clint, you’ll need at least
four. I’m going to have a couple more myself.”
“I dare say you’re right. If you could
let me have four pairs, Mr. Shult, I—ah—should
be very much obliged.”
“And me the same,” said Hazlett.
“Yes, certainly,” answered Shult, flustered
and vastly pleased. “You shall have
them right off.”
“And let me see, ‘Chick,’” said Stowell,
“didn’t I hear you say you wanted a couple
“Yes, oh, yes,” Reeves replied explosively.
“Er—two pairs, please.”
Shult looked surprised. Fortune was
favoring him beyond his wildest hopes. He
muttered an incoherent answer. Then Stowell
gravely paid him for the two pairs of
intensely blue and shapeless objects in his lap
and Shult made the exact change after repeated
searches in three different pockets.
At the door he turned.
“You are all very kind to me,” he said,
gravely and earnestly. “I’m—I’m thankful
Stowell murmured politely.
After the door had closed there followed
several moments of silence. Then a smile
crept over Stowell’s face and was reflected on
the faces of the others. But nobody laughed.
Possibly the reader recalls the epidemic
of blue-woolen mittens that raged in college
that winter. One saw them everywhere.
The fashion started, they say, among a certain
coterie of correct dressers in the freshman
class and spread until it enveloped the entire
undergraduate body. None could explain it,
and none tried to; blue-woolen mitts were the
proper thing; that was sufficient. At first the
demand could not be supplied, but before
the Midyears were over the Cooperative Society
secured a quantity, and the furnishing
stores followed its example as soon as possible.
But blue-woolen mitts in sufficient quantities
to fill the orders were difficult to find, and long
before the shops had secured the trade in that
commodity, one Shult, out of Michigan, had
reaped a very respectable harvest and found
a nickname which, despite the lapse of years
and the accumulation of honors, still sticks—“Mittens.”