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A Boy's Town by William Dean Howells

Most of the April foolings were harmless enough


I

do not think they distinguished between it and All-Fool's Day in character or dignity. About the best thing you could do then was to write April Fool on a piece of paper and pin it to a fellow's back, or maybe a girl's, if she was a big girl, and stuck-up, or anything. I do not suppose there is a boy now living who is silly enough to play this trick on anybody, or mean enough to fill an old hat with rocks and brickbats, and dare a fellow to kick it; but in the Boy's Town there were some boys who did this; and then the fellow had to kick the hat, or else come under the shame of having taken a dare. Most of the April-foolings were harmless enough, like saying, "Oh, see that flock of wild-geese flying over!" and "What have you got on the back of your coat!" and holloing "April Fool!" as soon as the person did it. Sometimes a crowd of boys got a bit with a hole in it, and tied a string in it, and laid it on the sidewalk, and then hid in a cellar, and when anybody stooped to pick it up, they pulled it in. That was the greatest fun, especially if the person was stingy; but the difficulty was to get the bit, whether it had a hole in it or not.

From the first of April till the first of May was a long stretch of days, and you never heard any one talk about a May Party till April Fool was over. Then there always began to be talk of a May Party, and who was going to be invited. It was the big girls that always intended to have it, and it was understood

at once who was going to be the Queen. At least the boys had no question, for there was one girl in every school whom all the boys felt to be the most beautiful; but probably there was a good deal of rivalry and heart-burning among the girls themselves. Very likely it was this that kept a May Party from hardly ever coming to anything but the talk. Besides the Queen, there were certain little girls who were to be Lambs; I think there were Maids of Honor, too; but I am not sure. The Lambs had to keep very close to the Queen's person, and to wait upon her; and there were boys who had to hold the tassels of the banners which the big boys carried. These boys had to wear white pantaloons, and shoes and stockings, and very likely gloves, and to suffer the jeers of the other fellows who were not in the procession. The May Party was a girl's affair altogether, though the boys were expected to help; and so there were distinctions made that the boys never dreamed of in their rude republic, where one fellow was as good as another, and the lowest-down boy in town could make himself master if he was bold and strong enough. The boys did not understand those distinctions, and nothing of them remained in their minds after the moment; but the girls understood them, and probably they were taught at home to feel the difference between themselves and other girls, and to believe themselves of finer clay. At any rate, the May Party was apt to be poisoned at its source by questions of class; and I think it might have been in the talk about precedence, and who should be what, that my boy first heard that such and such a girl's father was a mechanic, and that it was somehow dishonorable to be a mechanic. He did not know why, and he has never since known why, but the girls then knew why, and the women seem to know now. He was asked to be one of the boys who held the banner-tassels, and he felt this a great compliment somehow, though he was so young that he had afterwards only the vaguest remembrance of marching in the procession, and going to a raw and chilly grove somewhere, and having untimely lemonade and cake. Yet these might have been the associations of some wholly different occasion.


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