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I AM sorry to observe,” said the Idiot, as he sat down at the breakfast-table yesterday morning, “that the good old customs of my youthful days are dying out by slow degrees, and the celebrations that once filled my childish soul with glee are no longer a part of the pleasures of the young. Actually, Mr. Whitechoker, I got through the whole day yesterday without sitting on a single pin or smashing my toes against a brickbat hid beneath a hat. What on earth can be coming over the boys of the land that they no longer avail themselves of the privileges of the fool-tide?”
“Fool-tide’s good,” said Mr. Brief. “Where did you get that?”
“Oh, I pried it out of my gray-matter ’way back in the last century,” said the Idiot. “It grew out of a simple little prank I played one April 1st upon an uncle of mine. I bored a hole in the middle of a pine log and filled it with powder. We had it that night on the hearth, and a moment later there wasn’t any hearth. In talking the matter over later with my father and mother and the old gentleman, in order to turn the discussion into more genial channels, I asked why, if the Yule-log was appropriate for the Yule-tide, the Fool-log wasn’t appropriate for the Fool-tide.”
“I hope you got the answer you deserved,” said the Bibliomaniac.
“I did,” sighed the Idiot. “I got all there was coming to me—slippers, trunk-strap, hair-brush, and plain hand; but it was worth it. All the glories of Vesuvius, Etna, Popocatepetl, and Pelée rolled into one could never thereafter induce in me anything approaching that joyous sensation that I derived from the spectacle of that fool-log and that happy hearth soaring up through the chimney together, hand in hand, and taking with them such portions of the flues, andirons, and other articles of fireplace vertu as cared to join them in their upward flight.”
“You must have been a holy terror as a boy,” said the Doctor. “I should not have cared to live on your block.”
“Oh, I wasn’t so bad,” observed the Idiot. “I never was vicious or malicious in what I did. If I poured vitriol into the coffee-pot at breakfast my father and mother knew that I didn’t do it to give pain to anybody. If I hid under my maiden aunt’s bed and barked like a bull-dog after she had retired, dear old Tabitha knew that it was all done in a spirit of pleasantry. When I glued my grandfather’s new teeth together with stratina, that splendid old man was perfectly aware that I had no grudge I was trying thus to repay; and certainly the French teacher at school, when he sat down on an iron bear-trap I had set for him in his chair, never entertained the notion that there was the slightest animosity in my act.”
“By jingo!” cried the Bibliomaniac. “I’d have spanked you good and hard if I’d been your mother.”
“Don’t you fret—she did it; that is, she did up to the time I was ten years old, and then she had such a shock she gave up corporeal punishment altogether,” said the Idiot.
“Had a shock, eh?” smiled the Lawyer. “Nearly killed you, I suppose, giving you what you deserved?”
“No,” said the Idiot. “Spanked me with a hair-brush without having removed a couple of Excelsior torpedoes from my pistol-pocket. On the second whack I appeared to explode. Poor woman! She didn’t know I was loaded, and from that time on she was as afraid of me as most other women are of a gun.”
“I’d have turned you over to your father,” said the Bibliomaniac, indignantly.
“She did,” said the Idiot, sadly. “I never used explosives again. In later years I took up the milder April-fool diversions, such as filling the mucilage-pot with ink and the ink-pot with mucilage; mixing the granulated sugar with white sand; putting powdered brick into the red-pepper pot; inserting kerosene-oil into the sweet-oil bottle, and little things like that. I squandered a whole dollar one April-fool’s-day sending telegrams to my uncles and aunts, telling them to come and dine with us that night; and they all came, too, although my father and mother were dining out that evening, and—oh dear, April-fool’s-day is not what it used to be. The boys and girls of the present generation are little old men and women with no pranks left in them. Why, I don’t believe that nine out of ten boys, who are about to enter college this spring, could rig up a successful tick-tack on a window to save their lives; and the joy of carrying a piece of twine across the sidewalk from a front-door knob to a lamp-post, hat-high, and then sitting back in the seclusion of a convenient area and watching the plug-hats of the people go down before it—that is a joy that seems to be wholly untasted of the present generation of infantile dignitaries that we call the youth of the land. What is the matter with ’em, do you suppose?”
“I guess we’re getting civilized,” said Mr. Brief. “That seems to me to be the most likely explanation of this deplorable situation, as you appear to think it. For my part, I’m glad if what you say is true. Of all rotten things in the world the practical jokes of April-fool’s-day bear away the palm. There was a time, ten years ago, when I hardly dared eat anything on the first of April. I was afraid to find my coffee made of ink, my muffin stuffed with cotton, cod-liver oil in my salad-dressing, and mayonnaise in my cream-puffs. Such tricks are the tricks of barbarians, and I shall rejoice when April 1st as a day of special privilege for idiots and savages has been removed from the calendar.”
“I am afraid,” said Mr. Whitechoker, “that I, too, must join the ranks of those who rejoice if the old-time customs of the day are now honored more in the breach than in the observance. Ever since that unhappy Sunday morning some years ago when somebody substituted a breakfast bill-of-fare for the card containing the notes for my sermon, I have mistrusted the humor of the April-fool joke. Instead of my text, as I glanced at what I supposed was my note-card, my eyes fell upon the statement that fruit taken from the table would be charged for; instead of my firstly, secondly, thirdly, and fourthly, my eyes were confronted by Fish, Eggs, Hot Bread, and To Order. And, finally, in place of the key-line of my peroration, what should obtrude itself upon my vision but that coarse and vulgar legend: Corkage, one dollar. I never found out who did it, and, as a Christian man, I hope I never shall, for I should much deprecate the spirit of animosity with which I should inevitably regard the person who had so offended.”
“I’ll bet you preached a bully good sermon, allee samee,” said the Idiot.
“Well,” smiled Mr. Whitechoker, “the congregation did seem to think that it held more fire than usual; but I can assure you, my young friend, it was more the fire of external wrath than of an inward spiritual grace.”
“Well,” said the Bibliomaniac, “we ought to be thankful the old tricks are going out. As Mr. Brief suggests, we are beginning to be civilized—”
“I don’t think it’s civilization,” said the Idiot. “I think the kids are just discouraged, that’s all. They’re clever, these youngsters, but when it comes to putting up games, they’re not in it with their far more foxy fathers. What’s the use of playing April-fool jokes on your daddy, when your daddy is playing April-fool jokes on the public all the year round? That’s the way they reason. No son of George W. Midas, the financier, is going to get any satisfaction out of handing his father a loaded cigar, when he knows that the old man is handling that sort of thing every day in his business as a promoter of the United States Hot Air Company. What fun is there in giving your sister a caramel filled with tabasco-sauce when you can watch your father selling eleven dollars’ worth of Amalgamated Licorice stock to the dear public for forty-seven fifty? The gum-drop filled with cotton loses its charm when you contrast it with Consolidated Radium containing one part of radium and ninety-nine parts of water. Who cares to hide a clay brick under a hat for somebody to kick, when there are concerns in palatial offices all over town selling gold bricks to a public that doesn’t seem to have any kick left in it? I tell you it has discouraged the kid to see to what scientific heights the April-fool industry has been developed, and as a result he has abandoned the field. He knows he can’t compete.”
“That’s all right as an explanation of the youngster whose parent is engaged in that sort of business,” said the Doctor. “But there are others.”
“True,” said the Idiot. “The others stay out of it out of sheer pity. When they are tempted to sew up the legs of their daddy’s trousers in order to fitly celebrate the day, or to fill his collar-box with collars five sizes too small for him, they say, ‘No. Let us refrain. The governor has had trouble enough with his International Yukon Anticipated Brass shares this year. He’s had all the fooling he can stand. We will give the old gentleman a rest!’ Fact is, come to look at it, the decadence of April 1st as a day of foolery for the young is no mystery, after all. The youngsters are not more civilized than we used to be, but they have had the intelligence to perceive the exact truth of the situation.”
“Which is?” asked Mr. Brief.
“That the ancient art of practical joking has become a business. April-fool’s-day has been incorporated by the leading financiers of the age, and is doing a profitable trade all over the world all the year round. Private enterprise is simply unable to compete.”
“I am rather surprised, nevertheless,” said Mr. Brief, “that you yourself have abandoned the field. You are just the sort of person who would keep on in that kind of thing, despite the discouragements.”
“Oh, I haven’t abandoned the field,” said the Idiot. “I did play an April-fool joke last Friday.”
“What was that?” asked Mr. Whitechoker, interested.
“I told Mrs. Pedagog that I would pay my bill to-morrow,” replied the Idiot, as he rose from the table and left the room.
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