April Fool by
There was one boy in the Merrit Academy who never joined in any of the
games; never went skating; never went swimming; never made a snow man or
threw snow-balls; never came to the meetings of the debating society,
where such questions as, "If a fellow ask a fellow for a bite of a
fellow's apple, which is the politer way to give it to a fellow—to bite
off a piece yourself, or let a fellow bite for himself?" were debated
with much mock gravity and real fun.
He looked with horror on all kinds of fighting; had no admiration for
great generals; thought war should be abolished; shuddered at tales of
cruelty and suffering; was constitutionally timid and extremely
credulous; hated thunder and lightning; liked birds, flowers, pretty
verses, and fairy tales; believed in ghosts and supernatural beings; was
very fair haired, very blue eyed, tall, slender, and named Harold Lord.
But after the first week or two of his attendance at school—he was a
day scholar—his real name was never heard, for his school-mates,
quickly finding out his peculiar characteristics, skillfully turned it
into "Lady Harriet," and Lady Harriet he remained for for many a long
year. Of course, being so girlish in his appearance, ways, and tastes,
and of so reserved and gentle a disposition, the other boys rather
looked down upon him, and, after the manner of boys, made him the
subject of much chaff and many practical jokes; and so it came about
when Charley Bennet and Ned Morningstar and Hen Rowe began on the
afternoon of the 31st of March to talk about the 1st of April, they hit
upon Lady Harriet as a boy who would make a capital "April-fool."
"We can have no end of fun with him," said Charley. "You know he lives
all alone with his grandmother—"
"A Little Red Riding-hood," interrupted Hen Rowe.
"—down by the cedar woods," continued Bennet. "But the question now in
order is, what kind of fun shall it be?"
"Dress up like Indians, and pretend you're goin' to scalp him," proposed
little Al Smith, who had joined the party—a thing no other small boy in
that establishment would have dared to do; but then Alfred, as his aunt
called him—and a very cross old aunt she was, too—had no father nor
mother, and was such a good-natured, willing, reliable young chap that
his older school-mates made quite a pet of him, and allowed him many
liberties they would have allowed to no one else in his class.
"Nonsense, Smithey," said Hen Rowe. "Ghosts is the thing;" and striking
an attitude, he quoted:
"'I am thy father's spirit;
Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night;
And, for the day, confined to fast in fires....
I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul; fre-e-e-eze thy young blood;
"That's quite enough of that, Rowe," said Bennet. "A band of young
desperadoes is my idea. The papers are full of 'em just now—fellows
living in caves and other queer places, and robbing right and left
(result of reading too many dime novels; heard the Professor say so this
morning). Been 'round here too; stole Uncle Jeff's calf day before
yesterday; and his grandmother goes to sewing society to-morrow night."
"The calf's grandmother?" asked Hen Rowe.
"Didn't know you had any grandmother," said Bennet.
"Charley's hit on the very thing," declared Ned Morningstar. "We'll let
three or four other fellows into the joke, and I'll be captain, and
we'll wear masks, and all the old clothes we can beg, borrow, or take,
and get ourselves up prime as a No. 1 band of reg'lar young villains.
Aha! your money or your life!" making a lunge at small Al.
"But you won't really hurt Lady Harriet?" said the little fellow, an
anxious look coming into his soft brown eyes. "He's good to me, and
gives me candy, and took me fishin' once."
"Took you fishin'!" repeated Charley Bennet, counterfeiting the greatest
astonishment. "If he did, I'll bet he never let you catch a fish. He'd
'a fainted when he saw it a-wriggling on the hook."
"He did too," answered Al, stoutly. "I caught four, and six crabs, and
he got eight," adding, frankly, "but he said he didn't like to catch
them, only his grandmother said he must."
"Very reprehensible old lady," said Hen Rowe, gravely, "to allow her
greediness for fish to trample on the softest feelings of her grandson's
head—I mean heart. But don't be afraid, Smallbones"—stroking Al's dark
curls—"we won't hurt him, not a bit; make your mind easy about that. He
shall live to take you a-fishin' again.
"It does him good to wake him up once in a while," added Ned
Morningstar, "he's such a turtle. I think I see his face when we all
At dusk the next evening, after Grandmother Lord had gone to the sewing
society, six or seven dreadful-looking objects came splashing through
the mud up the road which led to her cottage. They were dressed in
uncouth garments of all sizes and colors. Hats, brimless, or with brims
very much turned up or very much turned down, two flaming red turbans,
and a round handleless basket, through the open wicker-work of which the
hair of the wearer straggled in the most outlandish and porcupinish
manner, constituted their head-gear. The leader carried a gun. The
others were armed with hatchets, knives, and clubs. All their faces were
hidden by paper masks painted in various colors. "This is the house,"
said one of them, in a voice that seemed to come out of the ground
beneath his feet, as they ranged themselves on the front porch, and he
rapped sharply on the door with the stick he carried. It opened, and
there stood Lady Harriet, gazing out with horror-stricken eyes upon the
motley gang. "Your money or your life!" demanded he of the gun, at the
same time pointing the weapon at the trembling boy.
Lady Harriet turned pale, and shrank back. "I have no money," he said,
in a faltering voice.
"Then we must have your life," was the gruff reply, "unless you consent
to become one of us. Seize him and search him!"
"Do go away, and leave me alone," implored the boy, falling upon his
knees and clasping his hands. "There is no use—making me—join your
gang," he continued, with chattering teeth. "I—couldn't be a—a—what
you are—to save—my life."
But the young desperadoes paid no attention to his entreaties, and while
two of their number rifled his pockets, the others, lighting a couple of
lanterns they had brought with them, followed their leader on a tramp
through the house, with much noise and deep growling. On the return of
the latter, the pocket-searchers presented the captain with half a stick
of peppermint candy, a penknife, a dime, a small book (The Language of
Flowers), and some violets wrapped in a handkerchief.
"Prisoner," said the captain, sternly—that is, as sternly as the pebble
he had under his tongue would allow—"if you make an attempt to escape,
the consequences be on your own head. Right about face! March!"
And away they went, dragging poor Lady Harriet, begging and imploring to
be set free, with them.
"Did you ever see any fellow so scared in all your life?" whispered
Charley Bennet to Hen Rowe, as their victim began to cry and scream.
"Never," said Rowe. "I begin to feel sorry for him. But what a baby he
is! Why don't he break and run? He can make good time with those long
legs when he's a mind to."
"Halt!" cried the captain, when they reached the cedar woods. "This has
gone quite far enough. We want no cowards among us. Boy, you are—" And
the mouths of his followers simultaneously opened for a tremendous
"I perfectly agree with you," interrupted the prisoner, quickly,
wresting himself at the same time with a dexterous movement from the
grasp of the two boys who had held him; and then he went on in his usual
soft voice and slow way: "I mean this joke's gone quite far enough. You
came half an hour or so before I expected you, but I think we've all
acted our parts first-rate. Good-evening, Captain Morningstar.
Good-evening, desperadoes. Farewell, April-fools." And he turned and
walked leisurely toward his home again.
"Jiminy!" exclaimed Ned Morningstar, snatching off his mask and pulling
a long face. "Somebody has—"
"Blundered," said Hen Rowe.
"Fools to the right of me,
Fools to the left of me,
Fools ev'ry side of me—
Oh, how they wondered!
"what's the use of being glum about it. I've an idea it serves us right.
Three cheers for Lady Harriet. He's not such a fool as he looks."
"As we look, I think," said Roy Wheeler.
And then, like the jolly boys they really were, they gave the cheers
with a will, and followed them up with a roar of laughter that wakened
all the echoes for miles around.