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Pop's Idea of Fun by Mrs. Frank McCarthy

 

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 said:

"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.