Pop's Idea of
Fun by Mrs.
Only this morning Pop punched me in the ribs, and winked, and whispered
behind his hand, "Any more sprees on hand, Bob?" I was disgusted, and
didn't say anything. If he'd been a boy of my size just then, things
would have been different; but Pop is a kind of man it isn't pleasant to
offend. I smiled in a sickly way, but I was never more disgusted in my
life. Any more sprees! I should think not. I'll leave it to any one if
his kind of sprees pay. "Count me in for the next racket, Bob," he said
at the breakfast table, and then he winked again. I declare I was that
sick I let my buckwheat cake get cold.
Here's the way it was. We live in a nobby kind of place, you see. Almost
everybody owns his own house and grounds, and spends all his spare time
in fixing up. Most of the gentlemen go over to New York to business
every day, but before they go, and after they come back, they're always
fussing around, making little alterations, and what they call
improvements. It makes 'em awful mad if the place is out of order the
seventieth part of an inch. The ladies raise flowers, fix baskets and
roses, and all that kind of gimcracks, and the men go pottering about,
making more fuss over their plots of ground than a big farmer out West
does over his thousands of acres. Well, we boys get together sometimes
and arrange everything to suit ourselves. In a single night it'll be
like a transformation scene at a pantomime—maybe not so pretty, but
every bit as funny. Fun! We've laughed ready to split our sides to see
the poor old barber come limping up for his pole in front of the
doctor's, and the doctor go blustering down there for his hitching post;
a lot of paving-stones against the door of the real-estate office, and
the cows and chickens running loose about town.
But this particular lark was what we called a specialty. Only gates were
to be touched, and these were to undergo a regular tribulation. The
weather was about right—muggy—and the mud in some places knee-deep. We
arranged all the preliminaries at recess, and Tom Jones was to go around
about nine o'clock and let us know if the coast was clear; but he wasn't
to give our regular call—all the place knows that. It goes something in
this way, "Ki-yuah-yuah, yoo-o," with a prolonged howl at the end. We
always drop it when anything secret's on hand. It was agreed upon that
Tom Jones should go to each house, if all was right, and have a coughing
and sneezing spell that wouldn't arouse suspicion; then we were to creep
out, when the folks were gone to bed, and go to work. And it happened to
be work that time, you'd better believe!
We were all sitting around the table when the clock struck nine. Pop had
his spectacles on, and was reading an editorial to ma, the girls were
busy with their lessons, and I had finished my last example, when all at
once we heard a terrible coughing and sneezing out in the street. That
was the worst of Tom Jones—he always overdid his part. If he'd had
pneumonia, whooping-cough, asthma, and bronchitis, and been hired to go
round with a cough medicine to cure 'em, he couldn't have turned himself
further inside out. Of course Pop began to notice it, and ma looked up
in alarm. "Why," said ma, "that boy's got a terrible cold!"
"Fearful!" said Pop, with a queer twist of his under lip; and when Tom
Jones, like a big donkey, went across the street to Jim Clancy's house,
and began the whole thing over again, Pop wanted to know why that boy's
cold was like the paper he held in his hand. We all gave it up, and Pop
said because it was periodical. Ma and the girls looked mystified, but
I was afraid then he'd tumbled to something, and couldn't help getting
red, to save my life. That's the worst of my plagued skin—it's so thin
the blood shows right through it.
There were no more of the boys' houses in our avenue, and pretty soon we
all went to bed. I slept in the little room on the second floor off the
hall; it was an easy thing to climb out the window, and down by the
Virginia creeper to the front garden. I went around to our place of
meeting, and there they all were. The wind had sprung up pretty brisk,
and there was a thin coating of ice over the mud; but that was all the
better for the gates we wanted to bury. We owed a grudge to old Jake Van
Couter, and we made up our minds he'd have a nice time getting his gate
back. The miserable old caboodle was rusty, and nearly tore our nails
off, but we got it loose at last, and hauled it off to a marshy lot,
where we sunk it in the mud. Then we changed the doctor's gate to the
judge's, and to avert suspicion we took our own gates off with the rest.
We were getting pretty well tired out and ready for home, and had laid
my gate up against a neighboring fence, when who should be standing
right there in the shadow of the wall but Pop! We were all so
thunder-struck that we didn't move, and to my surprise Pop began to
laugh and beckon to the boys to come closer. They were not to be caught
by that bait, and stood off pretty considerably, when Pop whispered over
to us, in quite a jolly tone of voice: "Don't be afraid, boys. I like to
see you enjoy yourselves. I was a boy once myself. Bless your hearts! I
like fun yet as well as anybody."
Then he laughed ready to split, bent himself double, and we all began to
feel easy, and laugh too. Tom Jones said he wished his father was like
mine, and Pop began to encourage us to do more. We were so spurred on by
him that we hardly left a gate in the place where it belonged, Pop going
along with us, acting as a kind of scout, he said, and seeing that
nobody was near to disturb us. Once or twice he gave a signal of alarm,
and we all crouched down as still as mice, Pop stiller than any of us. I
never was so dumfounded in my life, for I'd never seen Pop very jolly
that way before. The boys were delighted with him; they all agreed to
make him president of our club, and Pop said he'd take the position when
he got back from the Legislature.
Well, we'd come to the conclusion the place was completely done, and Jim
Clancy proposed we should go home. Jim had torn his hands rather badly
with Uncle Jake's gate, and didn't feel very good, when suddenly Pop
"Yes, boys, of course we'll go home pretty soon, when we're through, you
know; but we must put all the gates back in their places again first!"
We all looked at each other aghast for a minute. "Back again!" cried the
fellows. "Well, I guess not!" "Not much!" "Hardly!" and all sorts of
derisive refusals went round.
Pop stood among us, whirling his cane, smiling all the time, and said:
"Oh, yes you will, boys, when you think of it a minute. You've had your
fun, you know; but it won't do to go too far. I'm a justice of the
peace, you see, and this innocent little racket comes under the head of
'malicious mischief.' You could all be sent to jail; and no matter how
badly I'd feel, I'd have to act under the law. There's where it is, you
see; people are so hard on boys they won't let them enjoy themselves.
It's too bad; but never mind, we've had our fun anyway. Now let's get to
work in earnest. Here, we'll begin with this gate. Lift it up there,
Jim; hold on the other side, Bobby, my boy. Now we have it—all
together." And as true as you live, we actually found ourselves walking
along with the gate between us. From that gate we went to another, and
another. I don't know how it was, but we just plodded along, and did
what Pop said. He was laughing, and joking, and flourishing his cane;
but, oh, how tired we were! How our hands and our feet and our hearts
ached, and how sickening it all was! The most sickening of anything was
to hear Pop laugh and carry on all the time, as if this was the cream of
the joke. I tell you, we were all mad enough; and when we got to old
Jake Van Couter's, we just rebelled. We all hated Jake, anyhow; and Tom
Jones he stood right out in the road, and said Jake was a mean old
curmudgeon; and then Pop got hold of Tom before we knew it, and down
came his cane with a whack.
"Now, boys," says Pop, "fun's fun, and I'm as fond of it as anybody, but
I don't see any use of spoiling a good time in this kind of way. Jake
couldn't put that gate back, to save his life, and it goes to my heart
to hear hard words against the poor old man. He's bent double with
rheumatism, he's old and he's poor, and he's no subject for your fun.
Take a fellow like me if you want fun. I don't mind it. Do what you like
to me, but spare poor old Jake."
Well, we just looked at one another in mute disgust, but we didn't care
to dispute any further with Pop. We plunked along that nasty old
freezing road, and we yanked Uncle Jake's gate out of the mud, and
carried it half a mile, our nails hanging off, and tears of rage and
mortification rolling down our cheeks, with Pop laughing like a good one
all the while, declaring that he didn't see how anybody could be so
hard on boys; they would have their fun, and for his part he thought
it did them good, and it took him back to his youth again; he hadn't had
such a spree for many a year.
We groaned and looked at each other, and each of us dropped off silently
and gloomily at our separate doors. A whole month has gone by without a
proposition for fun of any kind, and I'll leave it to anybody if it
ain't enough to disgust a fellow to have Pop winking at me behind his
hand, and telling me to count him in for the next racket.