William Dean Howells.

Between the Dark and the Daylight online

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took possession of the victorious egg, and said she would keep it till
we got back to Cambridge herself, and not let one of them touch it. I
can tell you it was a tragical time. I wanted to go out and buy them
another set of eggs, and spring them for a surprise on them in the
morning, after they had suffered enough that night. But she said that if
I dared to dream of such a thing - which would be the ruin of the
children's character, by taking away the consequences of their
folly - she should do, she did not know what, to me. Of course she was
right, and I gave in, and helped the children forget all about it, so
that by the time we got back to Cambridge I had forgotten about it

"I don't know what it was reminded the boy of that remaining Easter egg
unless it was the sight of the unemployed pullet in her coop, which he
visited the first thing; and I don't know how he managed to wheedle his
mother out of it; but the first night after I came home from
business - it was rather late and the children had gone to bed - she told
me that ridiculous boy, as she called him in self-exculpation, had
actually put the egg under his pullet, and all the children were wild to
see what it would hatch. 'And now,' she said, severely, 'what are you
going to do? You have filled their heads with those ideas, and I suppose
you will have to invent some nonsense or other to fool them, and make
them believe that it has hatched a giraffe, or an elephant, or
something; they won't be satisfied with anything less.' I said we should
have to try something smaller, for I didn't think we could manage a
chick of that size on our lot; and that I should trust in Providence.
Then she said it was all very well to laugh; and that I couldn't get out
of it that way, and I needn't think it.

"I didn't, much. But the children understood that it took three weeks
for an egg to hatch, and anyway the pullet was so intermittent in her
attentions to the Easter egg, only sitting on it at night, or when held
down by hand in the day, that there was plenty of time. One evening when
I came out from Boston, I was met by a doleful deputation at the front
gate, with the news that when the coop was visited that morning after
breakfast - they visited the coop every morning before they went to
school - the pullet was found perched on a cross-bar in a high state of
nerves, and the shell of the Easter egg broken and entirely eaten out.
Probably a rat had got in and done it, or, more hopefully, a mink, such
as used to attack eggs in the town where I was a boy. We went out and
viewed the wreck, as a first step towards a better situation; and
suddenly a thought struck me. 'Children,' I said, 'what did you really
expect that egg to hatch, anyway?' They looked askance at one another,
and at last the boy said: 'Well, you know, papa, an egg that's been
cooked - ' And then we all laughed together, and I knew they had been
making believe as much as I had, and no more expected the impossible of
a boiled egg than I did."

"That was charming!" Wanhope broke out. "There is nothing more
interesting than the way children join in hypnotizing themselves with
the illusions which their parents think _they_ have created without
their help. In fact, it is very doubtful whether at any age we have any
illusions except those of our own creation; we - "

"Let him go on, Wanhope," Minver dictated; and Newton continued.

"It was rather nice. I asked them if their mother knew about the egg;
and they said that of course they couldn't help telling her; and I said:
'Well, then, I'll tell you what: we must make her believe that the chick
hatched out and got away - ' The boy stopped me: 'Do you think that would
be exactly true, papa?' 'Well, not _exactly_ true; but it's only for the
time being. We can tell her the exact truth afterwards,' and then I laid
my plan before them. They said it was perfectly splendid, and would be
the greatest kind of joke on mamma, and one that she would like as much
as anybody. The thing was to keep it from her till it was done, and they
all promised that they wouldn't tell; but I could see that they were
bursting with the secret the whole evening.

"The next day was Saturday, when I always went home early, and I had the
two oldest children come in with the second-girl, who left them to take
lunch with me. They had chocolate and ice-cream, and after lunch we
went around to a milliner's shop in West Street, where my wife and I had
stopped a long five minutes the week before we went to Bethlehem,
adoring an Easter bonnet that we saw in the window. I wanted her to buy
it; but she said, No, if we were going that expensive journey, we
couldn't afford it, and she must do without, that spring. I showed it to
them, and 'Now, children,' I said, 'what do you think of that for the
chick that your Easter egg hatched?' And they said it was the most
beautiful bonnet they had ever seen, and it would just exactly suit
mamma. But I saw they were holding something back, and I said, sharply,
'Well?' and they both guiltily faltered out: 'The _bird_, you know,
papa,' and I remembered that they belonged to the society of Bird
Defenders, who in that day were pledged against the decorative use of
dead birds or killing them for anything but food. 'Why, confound it,' I
said, 'the bird is the very thing that makes it an Easter-egg chick!'
but I saw that their honest little hearts were troubled, and I said
again: 'Confound it! Let's go in and hear what the milliner has to say.'
Well, the long and short of it was that the milliner tried a bunch of
forget-me-nots over the bluebird that we all agreed was a thousand times
better, and that if it were substituted would only cost three dollars
more, and we took our Easter-egg chick home in a blaze of glory, the
children carrying the bandbox by the string between them.

"Of course we had a great time opening it, and their mother acted her
part so well that I knew she was acting, and after the little ones were
in bed I taxed her with it. 'Know? Of course I knew!' she said. 'Did you
think they would let you _deceive_ me? They're true New-Englanders, and
they told me all about it last night, when I was saying their prayers
with them.' 'Well,' I said, 'they let you deceive _me_; they must be
true Westerners, too, for they didn't tell me a word of your knowing.' I
rather had her there, but she said: 'Oh, you goose - ' We were young
people in those days, and goose meant everything. But, really, I'm
ashamed of getting off all this to you hardened bachelors, as I said
before - "

"If you tell many more such stories in this club," Minver said,
severely, "you won't leave a bachelor in it. And Rulledge will be the
first to get married."


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Online LibraryWilliam Dean HowellsBetween the Dark and the Daylight → online text (page 12 of 12)