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Thu May 20, 2010 7:37 pm

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The Children's Joke is Cool English Story



'"You can't do this" and "you mustn't do that," from morning to night. Try it yourself and see how you'd like it,' muttered Harry, as he flung down his hat in sulky obedience to his father's command to give up a swim in the river and keep himself cool with a book that warm summer evening.

'Of course I should like to mind my parents. Good children always do,' began Mr. Fairbairn, entirely forgetting the pranks of his boyhood, as people are apt to.

'Glad I didn't know you then. Must have been a regular prig,' growled Harry under his breath.

'Silence, sir! go to your room, and don't let me see you till tea-time. You must be taught respect as well as obedience,' and Mr. Fairbairn gave the table a rap that caused his son to retire precipitately.

On the stairs he met his sister Kitty looking as cross as himself.

'What's the matter with you?' he asked, pausing a minute, for misery loves company.

'Mamma will make me dress up in a stiff clean frock, and have my hair curled over again just because some one _may_ come. I want to play in the garden, and I can't all fussed up this way. I do hate company and clothes and manners, don't you?' answered Kitty, with a spiteful pull at her sash.

'I hate being ordered round everlastingly, and badgered from morning till night. I'd just like to be let alone,' and Harry went on his way to captivity with a grim shake of the head and a very strong desire to run away from home altogether.

'So would I, mamma is so fussy. I never have any peace of my life,' sighed Kitty, feeling that her lot was a hard one.

The martyr in brown linen went up, and the other martyr in white cambric went down, both looking as they felt, rebellious and unhappy. Yet a stranger seeing them and their home would have thought they had everything heart could desire. All the comforts that money could buy, and all the beauty that taste could give seemed gathered round them. Papa and mamma loved the two little people dearly, and no real care or sorrow came to trouble the lives that would have been all sunshine but for one thing. With the best intentions in the world, Mr. and Mrs. Fairbairn were spoiling their children by constant fault-finding, too many rules and too little sympathy with the active young souls and bodies under their care. As Harry said, they were ordered about, corrected and fussed over from morning till night, and were getting so tired of it that the most desperate ideas began to enter their heads.

Now, in the house was a quiet old maiden aunt, who saw the mischief brewing, and tried to cure it by suggesting more liberty and less 'nagging,' as the boys call it. But Mr. and Mrs. F. always silenced her by saying,--

'My dear Betsey, you never had a family, so how _can_ you know anything about the proper management of children?'

They quite forgot that sister Betsey had brought up a flock of motherless brothers and sisters, and done it wisely and well, though she never got any thanks or praise for it, and never expected any for doing her duty faithfully. If it had not been for aunty, Harry and Kitty would have long ago carried out their favorite plan, and have run away together, like Roland and Maybird. She kept them from this foolish prank by all sorts of unsuspected means, and was their refuge in troublous times. For all her quiet ways, aunty was full of fun as well as sympathy and patience, and she smoothed the thorny road to virtue with the innocent and kindly little arts that make some people as useful and beloved as good fairy godmothers were once upon a time.

As they sat at tea that evening papa and mamma were most affable and lively; but the children's spirits were depressed by a long day of restraint, and they sat like well-bred mutes, languidly eating their supper.

'It's the warm weather. They need something bracing. I'll give them a dose of iron mixture to-morrow,' said mamma.

'I've taken enough now to make a cooking-stove,' groaned Kitty, who hated being dosed.

'If you'd let me go swimming every night I'd be all right,' added Harry.

'Not another word on that point. I will _not_ let you do it, for you will get drowned as sure as you try,' said mamma, who was so timid she had panics the minute her boy was out of sight.

'Aunt Betsey let her boys go, and they never came to grief,' began Harry.

'Aunt Betsey's ideas and mine differ. Children are not brought up now as they were in her day,' answered mamma with a superior air.

'I just wish they were. Jolly good times _her_ boys had.'

'Yes, and girls too, playing anything they liked, and not rigged up and plagued with company,' cried Kitty, with sudden interest.

'What do you mean by that?' asked papa good-naturedly; for somehow his youth returned to him for a minute, and seemed very pleasant.

The children could not explain very well, but Harry said slowly,--

'If you were to be in our places for a day you'd see what we mean.'

'Wouldn't it be worth your while to try the experiment?' said Aunt Betsey, with a smile.

Papa and mamma laughed at the idea, but looked sober when aunty added,--

'Why not put yourselves in their places for a day and see how you like it? I think you would understand the case better than any one could describe it, and perhaps do both yourselves and the children a lasting service.'

'Upon my word, that's a droll idea! What do you say to it, mamma?' and papa looked much amused.

'I am willing to try it if you are, just for the fun of the thing, but I don't think it will do any good;' and mamma shook her head as if Aunt Betsey's plan was a wild one.

The children sat quiet, speechless with surprise at this singular proposal, but as its full richness dawned upon them, they skipped in their chairs and clapped their hands delightedly.

'How do you propose to carry out this new educational frolic?' asked papa, beginning to feel some curiosity as to the part he was to play.

'Merely let the children do as they like for one day and have full power over you. Let them plan your duties and pleasures, order your food, fix your hours, and punish or reward you as they think proper. You must promise entire obedience, and keep the agreement till night.'

'Good! good! Oh, won't it be fun!' cried Harry and Kitty, applauding enthusiastically; while papa and mamma looked rather sober as the plan was developed before them.

'To-morrow is a holiday for us all, and we might celebrate it by this funny experiment. It will amuse us and do no harm, at any rate,' added aunty, quite in love with her new scheme.

'Very well, we will. Come, mamma, let us promise, and see what these rogues will do for us. Playing father and mother is no joke, mind you; but you will have an easier time of it than we do, for _we_ shall behave ourselves,' said papa, with a virtuous expression.

Mamma agreed, and the supper ended merrily, for every one was full of curiosity as to the success of the new play. Harry and Kitty went to bed early, that they might be ready for the exciting labors of the next day. Aunt Betsey paid each a short visit before they slept, and it is supposed that she laid out the order of performances, and told each what to do; for the little people would never have thought of so many sly things if left to themselves.

At seven the next morning, as mamma was in her dressing-room, just putting on her cool, easy wrapper, in came Kitty with a solemn face, though her eyes danced with fun, as she said,--

'Careless, untidy girl! Put on a clean dress, do up your hair properly, and go and practise half an hour before breakfast.'

At first mamma looked as if inclined to refuse, but Kitty was firm; and, with a sigh, mamma rustled into a stiff, scratchy, French print, took her hair out of the comfortable net, and braided it carefully up; then, instead of reading in her arm-chair, she was led to the parlor and set to learning a hard piece of music.

'Can't I have my early cup of tea and my roll?' she asked.

'Eating between meals is a very bad habit, and I can't allow it,' said Kitty, in the tone her mother often used to her. 'I shall have a mug of new milk and a roll, because grown people need more nourishment than children;' and sitting down, she ate her early lunch with a relish, while poor mamma played away, feeling quite out of tune herself.

Harry found papa enjoying the last delightful doze that makes bed so fascinating of a morning. As if half afraid to try the experiment, the boy slowly approached and gave the sleeper a sudden, hard shake, saying briskly,--

'Come, come, come, lazy-bones! Get up, get up!'

Papa started as if an earthquake had roused him, and stared at Harry, astonished for a minute, then he remembered, and upset Harry's gravity by whining out,--

'Come, you let me alone. It isn't time yet, and I am _so_ tired.'

Harry took the joke, and assuming the stern air of his father on such occasions, said impressively,--

'You have been called, and now if you are not down in fifteen minutes you won't have any breakfast. Not a morsel, sir, not a morsel;' and, coolly pocketing his father's watch, he retired, to giggle all the way downstairs.

When the breakfast bell rang, mamma hurried into the dining-room, longing for her tea. But Kitty sat behind the urn, and said gravely,--

'Go back, and enter the room properly. Will you never learn to behave like a lady?'

Mamma looked impatient at the delay, and having re-entered in her most elegant manner, sat down, and passed her plate for fresh trout and muffins.

'No fish or hot bread for you, my dear. Eat your good oatmeal porridge and milk; that is the proper food for children.'

'Can't I have some tea?' cried mamma, in despair, for without it she felt quite lost.

'Certainly not. _I_ never was allowed tea when a little girl, and couldn't think of giving it to you,' said Kitty, filling a large cup for herself, and sipping the forbidden draught with a relish.

Poor mamma quite groaned at this hard fate, but meekly obeyed, and ate the detested porridge, understanding Kitty's dislike to it at last.

Harry, sitting in his father's chair, read the paper, and ate everything he could lay his hands on, with a funny assumption of his father's morning manner. Aunt Betsey looked on much amused, and now and then nodded to the children as if she thought things were going nicely.

Breakfast was half over when papa came in, and was about to take Harry's place when his son said, trying vainly to look grave as he showed the watch,--

'What did I tell you, sir? You are late again, sir. No breakfast, sir. I'm sorry, but this habit _must_ be broken up. Not a word; it's your own fault, and you must bear the penalty.'

'Come, now, that's hard on a fellow! I'm awful hungry. Can't I have just a bite of something?' asked papa, quite taken aback at this stern decree.

'I said not a morsel, and I shall keep my word. Go to your morning duties and let this be a lesson to you.'

Papa cast a look at Aunt Betsey, that was both comic and pathetic, and departed without a word; but he felt a sudden sympathy with his son, who had often been sent fasting from the table for some small offence.

Now it was that he appreciated aunty's kind heart, and felt quite fond of her, for in a few minutes she came to him, as he raked the gravel walk (Harry's duty every day), and slipping a nice, warm, well-buttered muffin into his hand, said, in her motherly way,--

'My dear, do try and please your father. He is right about late rising, but I can't bear to see you starve.'

'Betsey, you are an angel!' and turning his back to the house, papa bolted the muffin with grateful rapidity, inquiring with a laugh, 'Do you think those rogues will keep it up in this vigorous style all day?'

'I trust so; it isn't a bit overdone. Hope you like it!' and Aunt Betsey walked away, looking as if _she_ enjoyed it extremely.

'Now put on your hat and draw baby up and down the avenue for half an hour. Don't go on the grass, or you will wet your feet; and don't play with baby, I want her to go to sleep; and don't talk to papa, or he will neglect his work,' said Kitty, as they rose from table.

Now, it was a warm morning and baby was heavy and the avenue was dull, and mamma much preferred to stay in the house and sew the trimming on to a new and pretty dress.

'Must I really? Kitty you are a hard-hearted mamma to make me do it,' and Mrs. Fairbairn hoped her play-parent would relent.

But she did not, and only answered with a meaning look.

'_I_ have to do it every day, and _you_ don't let me off.'

Mamma said no more, but put on her hat and trundled away with fretful baby, thinking to find her fellow-sufferer and have a laugh over the joke. She was disappointed, however, for Harry called papa away to weed the lettuce-bed, and then shut him up in the study to get his lessons, while he mounted the pony and trotted away to town to buy a new fishing-rod and otherwise enjoy himself.

When mamma came in, hot and tired, she was met by Kitty with a bottle in one hand and a spoon in the other.

'Here is your iron mixture, dear. Now take it like a good girl.'

'I won't!' and mamma looked quite stubborn.

'Then aunty will hold your hands and I shall make you.'

'But I don't like it; I don't need it,' cried mamma.

'Neither do I, but you give it to me all the same. I'm sure you need strengthening more than I do, you have so many "trials,"' and Kitty looked very sly as she quoted one of the words often on her mother's lips.

'You'd better mind, Carrie; it can't hurt you, and you know you promised entire obedience. Set a good example,' said aunty.

'But I never thought these little chits would do so well. Ugh, how disagreeable it is!' And mamma took her dose with a wry face, feeling that Aunt Betsey was siding with the wrong party.

'Now sit down and hem these towels till dinner-time. I have so much to do I don't know which way to turn,' continued Kitty, much elated with her success.

Rest of any sort was welcome, so mamma sewed busily till callers came. They happened to be some little friends of Kitty's, and she went to them in the parlor, telling mamma to go up to nurse and have her hair brushed and her dress changed, and then come and see the guests. While she was away Kitty told the girls the joke they were having, and begged them to help her carry it out. They agreed, being ready for fun and not at all afraid of Mrs. Fairbairn. So when she came in they all began to kiss and cuddle and praise and pass her round as if she was a doll, to her great discomfort and the great amusement of the little girls.

While this was going on in the drawing-room, Harry was tutoring his father in the study, and putting that poor gentleman through a course of questions that nearly drove him distracted; for Harry got out the hardest books he could find, and selected the most puzzling subjects. A dusty old history was rummaged out also, and classical researches followed, in which papa's memory played him false more than once, calling forth rebukes from his severe young tutor. But he came to open disgrace over his mathematics, for he had no head for figures, and, not being a business man, had not troubled himself about the matter; so Harry, who was in fine practice, utterly routed him in mental arithmetic by giving him regular puzzlers, and when he got stuck offered no help, but shook his head and called him a stupid fellow.

The dinner-bell released the exhausted student, and he gladly took his son's place, looking as if he had been hard at work. He was faint with hunger, but was helped last, being 'only a boy,' and then checked every five minutes for eating too fast. Mamma was very meek, and only looked wistfully at the pie when told in her own words that pastry was bad for children.

Any attempts at conversation were promptly quenched by the worn-out old saying, 'Children should be seen, not heard,' while Harry and Kitty chattered all dinner-time, and enjoyed it to their hearts' content, especially the frequent pecks at their great children, who, to be even with them, imitated all their tricks as well as they could.

'Don't whistle at table, papa;' 'keep your hands still mamma;' 'wait till you are helped, sir;' 'tuck your napkin well in, and don't spill your soup, Caroline.'

Aunt Betsey laughed till her eyes were full, and they had a jolly time, though the little people had the best of it, for the others obeyed them in spite of their dislike to the new rules.

'Now you may play for two hours,' was the gracious order issued as they rose from table.

Mamma fell upon a sofa exhausted, and papa hurried to read his paper in the shady garden.

Usually these hours of apparent freedom were spoilt by constant calls,--not to run, not to play this or that, or frequent calls to do errands. The children had mercy, however, and left them in peace; which was a wise move on the whole, for the poor souls found rest so agreeable they privately resolved to let the children alone in their play-hours.

'Can I go over and see Mr. Hammond?' asked papa, wishing to use up the last half-hour of his time by a neighbourly call.

'No; I don't like Tommy Hammond, so I don't wish you to play with his father,' said Harry, with a sly twinkle of the eye, as he turned the tables on his papa.

Mr. Fairbairn gave a low whistle and retired to the barn, where Harry followed him, and ordered the man to harness up old Bill.

'Going to drive, sir?' asked papa, respectfully.

'Don't ask questions,' was all the answer he got.

Old Bill was put into the best buggy and driven to the hall door. Papa followed, and mamma sprang up from her nap, ready for her afternoon drive.

'Can't I go?' she asked, as Kitty came down in her new hat and gloves.

'No; there isn't room.'

'Why not have the carryall, and let us go, too, we like it so much,' said papa, in the pleading tone Harry often used.

Kitty was about to consent, for she loved mamma, and found it hard to cross her so. But Harry was made of sterner stuff; his wrongs still burned within him, and he said impatiently--

'We can't be troubled with you. The buggy is nicest and lightest, and we want to talk over our affairs. You, my son, can help John turn the hay on the lawn, and Caroline can amuse baby, or help Jane with the preserves. Little girls should be domestic.'

'Oh, thunder!' growled papa.

'Aunt Betsey taught you that speech, you saucy boy,' cried mamma, as the children drove off in high glee, leaving their parents to the distasteful tasks set them.

Mrs. Fairbairn wanted to read, but baby was fretful, and there was no Kitty to turn him over to, so she spent her afternoon amusing the small tyrant, while papa made hay in the sun and didn't like it.

Just at tea-time the children came home, full of the charms of their drive, but did not take the trouble to tell much about it to the stay-at-home people. Bread and milk was all they allowed their victims, while they revelled in marmalade and cake, fruit and tea.

'I expect company this evening, but I don't wish you to sit up, Caroline; you are too young, and late hours are bad for your eyes. Go to bed, and don't forget to brush your hair and teeth well, five minutes for each; cold cream your hands, fold your ribbons, hang up your clothes, put out your boots to be cleaned, and put in the mosquito bars; I will come and take away the light when I am dressed.'

Kitty delivered this dread command with effect, for she had heard and cried over it too often not to have it quite by heart.

'But I can't go to bed at half-past seven o'clock of a summer night! I'm not sleepy, and this is just the pleasantest time of the whole day,' said mamma, thinking her bargain a hard one.

'Go up directly, my daughter, and don't discuss the matter; I know what is best for you,' and Kitty sent social, wide-awake mamma to bed, there to lie thinking soberly till Mrs. Kit came for the lamp.

'Have you had a happy day, love?' she asked, bending over the pillow, as her mother used to do.

'No, ma'am.'

'Then it was your own fault, my child. Obey your parents in all things, and you will be both good and happy.'

'That depends'--began mamma, but stopped short, remembering that to-morrow she would be on the other side, and anything she might say now would be quoted against her.

But Kitty understood, and her heart melted as she hugged her mother and said in her own caressing way--

'Poor little mamma! did she have a hard time? and didn't she like being a good girl and minding her parents?'

Mamma laughed also, and held Kitty close, but all she said was--

'Good-night, dear; don't be troubled: it will be all right to-morrow.'

'I hope so,' and with a hearty kiss, Kitty went thoughtfully downstairs to meet several little friends whom she had asked to spend the evening with her.

As the ladies left the room, papa leaned back and prepared to smoke a cigar, feeling that he needed the comfort of it after this trying day. But Harry was down upon him at once.

'A very bad habit--can't allow it. Throw that dirty thing away, and go and get your Latin lesson for to-morrow. The study is quiet, and we want this room.'

'But I am tired. I can't study at night. Let me off till to-morrow, please, sir!' begged papa, who had not looked at Latin since he left school.

'Not a word, sir! I shall listen to no excuses, and shall _not_ let you neglect your education on any account,' and Harry slapped the table _a la_ papa in the most impressive manner.

Mr. Fairbairn went away into the dull study and made believe do his lesson, but he really smoked and meditated.

The young folks had a grand revel, and kept it up till ten o'clock, while mamma lay awake, longing to go down and see what they were about, and papa shortly fell asleep, quite exhausted by the society of a Latin Grammar.

'Idle boy, is this the way you study?' said Harry, audaciously tweaking him by the ear.

'No, it's the way you do;' and feeling that his day of bondage was over, papa cast off his allegiance, tucked a child under each arm, and marched upstairs with them, kicking and screaming. Setting them down at the nursery door, he said, shaking his finger at them in an awful manner,--

'Wait a bit, you rascals, and see what you will get to-morrow.'

With this dark threat he vanished into his own room, and a minute after a great burst of laughter set their fears at rest.

'It was a fair bargain, so I'm not afraid,' said Harry stoutly.

'He kissed us good-night though he did glower at us, so I guess it was only fun,' added Kitty.

'Hasn't it been a funny day?' asked Harry.

'Don't think I quite like it, everything is so turned round,' said Kitty.

'Guess _they_ didn't like it very well. Hear 'em talking in there;' and Harry held up his finger, for a steady murmur of conversation had followed the laughter in papa and mamma's room.

'I wonder if our joke will do any good?' said Kitty thoughtfully.

'Wait and see,' answered Aunt Betsey, popping her night-capped head out of her room with a nod and a smile that sent them to bed full of hope for the future.


[The end]


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hope you like it. please give us your comments about this story !

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