How the Trouble Began
On Decoration Day, while everyone else in town was at the cemetery decorating the graves of our Glorious War Dead, Willie Beaner and me, Robert Burns Hewitt, took Mabel Cramm's bloomers and run them up the flagpole in front of the town hall. That was the beginning of all my troubles.
It wasn't that we got caught. In fact, I've often thought since that would have been the best thing in the world. If we'd been caught, Pa, who is a preacher and therefore has to be in favor of repentance, would have made us both apologize to Mabel, brought me home, and given me a good hiding--or as good a hiding as Pa can manage. He never can put his heart into corporal punishment--a weakness often lamented by Deacon Slaughter. In the rest of the town there would have been a few days' worth of people cutting their eyes sidewise at us, but in a couple of weeks--say, by the middle of June--the whole affair would've been forgotten.
As it was, by the middle of June the boys--well, they act like boys even if they are the size of men--the boys that hang around the livery stable were still speculating as to who had had the nerve to do it “in broad daylight, mind you!” and then slapping their knees and snorting like horses.
I still think Mabel herself is due part of the blame. Everyone returned from the cemetery that morning to discover a foreign object streaming just below Old Glory. It was quickly evident that the object fluttering in the spring breeze was a pair of female unmentionables, so Deacon Slaughter and Mr. Weston (being the leading citizens) conferred and decided the said unmentionables should be loweredand handed over to the sheriff for decent disposal. But when those bloomers got to eye level, Mabel Cramm had no more sense than to shriek out like a banshee, “They're mine!” Whereupon she fainted dead away. From that moment, Chaos took charge and Rumor reigned.
And it wasn't just those loafers at the stable; the whole goldurn town was aflutter. Mothers were keeping their daughters indoors, except for Mabel's mother, who had bundled her off on the afternoon train that very day to visit her grandmother in Waterbury until she recovered her equilibrium or the culprit was found and punished, whichever came first.
With all the fuss, there was no way Willie and me could confess. If we'd been caught, which by all rights we should have been, we'd've been tanned and sent to bed without our supper, and the whole thing dismissed as a schoolboy prank.
Which it was. I swear. We were just trying to keep up with Tom and Ned Weston.Two weeks before, the Weston boys had put a green snake into Teacher's lunch pail. It made a lovely to-do. All those girls screaming and putting their hands over their eyes and jumping up on their desks. Miss Bigelow didn't scream, but you could tell she wanted to and was barely keeping herself in line. You could see in her eyes the war between screaming and staying calm so she could quiet those hysterical girls.
Funny thing about that. It was only the older town girls. The farm girls and the little girls didn't scream at all. To tell the truth, they were just as interested in studying the varmint as the boys. It was only the girls practicing to be young ladies who went berserk and threatened to expire. I'll never understand women. No, it's not the whole kit 'n' kaboodle of the ladylike female race. Nobody beats my ma in the ladylike department, and she never once in my lifetime went silly over a snake or a mouse either. We have plenty of mice running through that rattletrap manse where we live. Ma just gets a broom and chases them back to their holes.
But I'm getting off the subject. Tom and Ned never got caught. Only Willie and me saw the whole thing, and we aren't squealers. Tom and Ned were well aware of this. It made them act even more superior to us than usual, which me and Willie could not tolerate. So we figured that the only thing we could do is think up something even more outrageous and get away with it. Only we'd be smarter than them. We'd not even let Tom and Ned see us. Then they wouldn't know for sure we'd done it. They'd just go crazy wondering over it.
See, if they knew for sure, then they'd have to think up something even worse and not let anybody but us know. And then Willie and me would be obliged to think up something still worse, and so on and so on until we were all four dead or too old to care, one or the other.
“Now, the hardest part,” I explained to Willie, “is that we can't brag. Not by the flicker of the eyebrow, you understand?”
“No,” he said. “How do you flicker an eyebrow?”
“It's a manner of speaking,” I said, prim as a schoolmarm.
“Wal, why would I want to brag anyway?”
“You wouldn't, normally. But the thing is--human nature being what it is--we're going to be fair busting with the desire to hint to the Weston boys that we were the ones who pulled this off.”
The actual crime was easy to commit. On Monday, the twenty-ninth of May, which was the day before Decoration Day, we watched...