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Title: Our Practical Joke

Date of first publication: 1896

Author: L. M. (Lucy Maud) Montgomery (1874-1942)

Date first posted: May 7, 2017

Date last updated: May 7, 2017

Faded Page eBook #20170510

This ebook was produced by: Alex White & the online Distributed Proofreaders Canada team at http://www.pgdpcanada.net

Our Practical Joke

L. M. Montgomery

First published Golden Days for Boys and Girls, August 8, 1896.

Ever since we could remember anything, Win Halstead and I had spent our vacations at Grandpa Richardson’s farm. We were cousins, but as he lived in Maine and I lived in New Brunswick, we were together only when we went to the old farm in summer. We looked forward to it all winter.

Just as soon as school closed and we had stacked our dog-eared text-books in the darkest corner of the attic we went to grandpa’s. It was a jolly place for boys—big woods quite handy and a capital trout-pond, and a shore where they fished for mackerel. Win and I used to put in two months of solid fun before we went back to foot-ball and Latin verbs.

There was nobody at the farm but grandpa and grandma and the hired man, but it wasn’t the sort of place you’d get lonesome in. There was always something to do. If there wasn’t, we did it anyway.

Grandpa kept us straight in essentials, and was pretty indulgent, though he detested my slang and what he called Win’s “Yankee twang.”

Grandpa was a rabid old Scotchman, one of the regular “Scots wha ha,” and he hated anything that didn’t smack of the heather.

We went down this summer expecting to find things as usual, and they were at first. Win and I were both fifteen and no smarter than we fancied ourselves. We had a fairly good opinion of our own acquirements—I don’t know that other people shared it—and above all, we didn’t want to have any one else bothering around.

So that, when grandpa told us that another cousin of ours was coming to spend his vacation at the farm, Win and I kicked each other under the table; and when grandma said he was sickly and was coming down to see if the sea air would do him any good, we nudged with our elbows. His name was Reggie Talbot, and he was only twelve.

After dinner Win and I went out to a bench under the apple trees and talked it over. We were pretty mad. Here we’d planned so much fun for the summer and now this child was coming to spoil everything, for, of course, he’d want to be at our heels all the time and tagging around wherever we went. And, most likely, he’d be one of the whining, petted kind, and want as much looking after and humoring as a baby.

The more we talked it over, the worse we made him out, and at last we got worked up into a white indignation and felt as if we were very much-abused boys, who ought to have lived when martyrs were appreciated.

We grumbled about it all the afternoon, but by bedtime we had reached the stage of resignation. We said if our vacation was spoiled, it was spoiled, and the statement was wonderfully consoling.

After we went to bed we compared our mental photographs of Reggie. Win thought he had red hair, eyes between gray and fishy-blue, and a squint. I leaned to the opinion that he was dark, and that he stuttered. After much discussion we decided we would see him when he came.

By next day Win got so far as to say that, since Reggie was coming, he wished he was there and had it over. When grandpa went to the station for him after dinner, we put off our fishing excursion on the carefully-explained grounds that it looked like a thunder shower, and stayed around home.

We were at the door when grandpa and Reggie drove up. Win said he looked exactly as he expected him to. I couldn’t understand that, since Reggie was pale and freckled, with mouse-gray hair and shy, brown eyes.

He was the thinnest boy I ever saw, and his legs were no bigger than broom-sticks. His appearance wasn’t exactly taking, but you never can judge of a person by their looks.

Before a week was out, Win and I began to think we had been rather previous in counting our vacation spoiled. In fact, after we got used to Reggie we admitted he was a valuable addition.

He wasn’t a bit troublesome or in the way, and such an obliging little chap—really quite useful. Win and I found it very convenient to have some one to run our errands and do lots of things we used to have to do ourselves.

He was the most innocent youngster! Everything Win or I said he believed as gospel, and when we discovered this we got some fun out of it. We would spin the most amazing yarns about our school and home life, piling up statements regardless—positively awful stretchers—and Reggie would stand before us, looking gravely up, and taking it all in, unsuspectingly and admiringly. I suppose it was dreadful. Neither Win nor I would have told a lie in earnest for the world, but we never thought how really wrong it was to impose so on Reggie’s innocence.

We thought we saved our consciences when we winked at each other over his head. Not that we were bad to Reggie, you know. We were real kind to him, but we did tease him a good deal.

There was another thing for which we poked fun at him. He was dreadfully afraid of the dark, and he believed in ghosts, pure and simple. You couldn’t coax Reggie to go anywhere alone after dark—no, not for anything—and grandma always had to leave a lamp burning in his room till he went to sleep. And, mind you, he was no coward, either. By daylight he was the spunkiest boy I ever saw.

There was as much spirit in his thin little body as Win and I had put together, and he would go right through with things that even we would stop to think over. Win and I said it was a pity such a spunky boy should be spoiled by one fault, and we fixed up a plan to cure him, as we thought.

It was agreed that I should decoy Reggie to the shore after tea and keep him there till dark. Then, coming home, we were to pass the sheep-house—it was in a dismal spruce grove back of the barn—and Win was to appear in the door dressed as a ghost. Then I was to yell and run, as if I were frightened to death. We expected Reggie would beat his record for speed, and then we’d have a laugh at him and shame him out of his nonsense about ghosts.

We devised a costume for Win, and everything worked beautifully. After tea, I proposed to Reggie that we go to the shore for a swim, and he agreed, as unsuspicious as a lamb.

We had a pretty good time at the shore, watching the fishing boats through a spyglass and diving off the rocks. Reggie did some perfectly reckless things in this line. I just have to own up I wouldn’t dare attempt them.

He was all right till sunset, and then he got anxious to go home. I put him off by saying I wanted to wait till the mackerel boats came in, and kept him there, on one pretext or another, till I thought it was dark enough. Then we started.

When we got up on the capes, Reggie was terrified to find how dark it really was—there was always a sort of lemon after-light reflected from the water that kept the shore quite light long after it was dark above.

He clung tight to my hand, shrinking closer and closer; and I knew that every tree and fence-corner we passed was just bristling with ghosts for him, and once, when a harmless old white cow got up suddenly from where she had been lying by the fence, I felt him trembling like a leaf. I began to feel real guilty and uncomfortable, with Reggie’s cold, clammy little fingers clinging to mine, and I would really have backed out, only for the thought of Win.

Win said afterwards that, while he was waiting, he felt real remorseful, too, but stuck to it on my account; so there it was. But I hardened my heart, and when we reached the barn-gate, I whistled to warn Win, and, sure enough, as we came around the shed-corner, there he stood, in all his ghostly glory! And you never in your life imagined a more unearthly sight than he presented!

If I hadn’t known what it was, I believe I should have taken a fit. As it was, I was actually creepish. He had a long white sheet pinned around him, and a pillow-slip, stuffed stiff with shavings, on his head. This brought his face about in the middle of his body, seemingly, and he had rubbed matches over it till it shone and flared fearfully.

Win made a noise to attract Reggie’s attention—a dreadful hollow sort of groan and howl combined—he’d been practicing it all the afternoon out behind the barn, where nobody could hear him—and I shouted and ran. I went so fast, that I couldn’t stop till I got nearly down to the house. I pulled up, puffing, and had just time to wonder why Reggie wasn’t at my heels, when I heard Win calling, “Guy! Guy!” from the barn.

Something in his voice made me go back quicker than I had come, if that was possible. I never want to feel again as I felt when I got up there. I’ve heard people wondering how a murderer must feel; I know as near as I want to!

There lay Reggie, just where he had dropped, in a limp little heap, with Win on his knees, in that ridiculous rig, begging him to speak.

“He isn’t—dead!” I gasped.

I just went cold all over. It seemed to me whole years and centuries before Win got up, shakily, and said:

“No, no! His heart’s beating. Oh, Guy, here! Let’s carry him in, quick!”

Win took his feet and I took his shoulders and we marched down to the house and into the kitchen, with Reggie’s white face hanging over my arm.

Grandma was setting bread and grandpa was reading an amusing Scotch story out aloud to her. He sprang up as we stumbled in, breathless and trembling. Grandma screamed and said she’d always expected it.

“Boys, what is this?” asked grandpa, in the tone he reserved for state occasions.

We never heard it more than two or three times in our lives, but those two or three times were sufficient. We stammered a few words. Grandpa waved his hand to the door.

“Go out,” he said.

We went, dumb and repentant, and sat on the door-step till they brought Reggie to. We gripped each other in joy and shame, when we heard the poor child give a gasp and say, in a shuddering wild voice:

“Oh, don’t let it catch me—don’t!”

“You poor dear!” grandma sobbed. “No, no! Those miserable boys!” and carried him up stairs.

Win and I were still skulking around when grandpa came out; and such a solemn talking-to as he gave us! He didn’t say anything more than our own consciences had said, but it sounded worse, put into words in cold blood. He pointed out what a mean, cowardly thing it was to scare a little fellow like Reggie, who was delicate and timid, instead of protecting him all we could, and showing forbearance to his little weaknesses.

He said Reggie’s mother was a widow, and Reggie was all she had to love; and now, perhaps, we’d made him sicker than ever, and given him a fright he’d never get over.

Grandpa said he noticed before several times that our behavior to Reggie wasn’t all he could wish, but he hoped it was more thoughtlessness than any real meanness, and that this would be a lesson to us. I tell you, when he went in we were pretty sober. Win said he felt like a downright sneak. I said I guessed there was a pair of us.

It seemed to us we could never wait till morning. As soon as we knew Reggie was awake, we slipped in. The poor little chap was lying in bed, as white as the pillow, but he sat up when he saw us. Win and I just dropped on the edge of the bed and each of us took one of his thin little hands.

“Oh, Reggie,” stammered Win—my face was just as hot as fire. I couldn’t have spoken to save my life. “We were regular sneaks! Can you ever forgive us?”

“Of course,” said Reggie. “Why, I know you didn’t mean it to be so bad, you fellows. Honest, I don’t mind. I know I’m a goose.”

And he smiled up at us. We just sat there in silence for awhile till grandma came in and sent us out, saying Reggie was to stay in bed all day, and she hoped we were ashamed of ourselves.

Win and I went out to the apple tree bench and made a solemn vow that our first practical joke should also be our last. We had had enough of ghosts in all conscience! and we both said Reggie was a brick.


Mis-spelled words and printer errors have been fixed.

[The end of Our Practical Joke by L. M. (Lucy Maud) Montgomery]