Capital Punishments

ARCHIBALD DERRY stood on a garden bench and peeped over the wall at Agatha Blake. Archibald had, only twenty minutes before, been strictly forbidden to play with Agatha, and that was in itself a reason why it was important that he should see what she was doing. Agatha never did anything that was not interesting. Archibald saw that she was at present hopping up and down on the sundial at the edge of the rectory garden. With arms extended and scarlet bows erect as two pert, wings behind her cars, she looked for all the world like an animated little Mercury in a short tan frock.

‘What you doin’?' called Archibald.

Agatha paid no attention whatever to him. She did not even glance in the direction of the wall; she simply went on hopping as if there were no Archibald in existence. It was one of the most fascinating things about Agatha, this complete indifference as to whether you went over to play with her or not. She always seemed to have on hand a dozen charming things which she could play by herself. Archibald could not understand this in the least. For him life was an utter bore on the afternoons when he was cut off from Agatha and thrown back upon the society of the twins on his own side of the wall.

‘What you doin’?' he repeated.

This time Agatha stopped long enough to nod and smile at the wall.

‘I’m being punished,’ she said, and then appeared to forget him again immediately.

Archibald clambered up on top of the wall. This was more and more interesting. When Agatha was being punished she was always in her most original and delightful frame of mind.

‘What for?’ said Archibald; ‘saucy again?’

Agatha nodded and revolved gingerly on the sundial. Then there came into view a large cardboard, pinned across the shoulders of the tan frock. It read —

I’M THE LITTLE GIRL WHO SAYS

AUNT EUNICE I WON’T

‘Did your mamma put it on?’ asked Archibald.

Agatha nodded again.

‘And I have to stand up here for half an hour,’ she said with a cheerful smile; ‘it’s a new punishment.’

' Did your mamma think it up? ’ pursued Archibald, ‘or you?’ It was just the sort of thing that would naturally suggest itself to the fertile mind of Agatha herself.

‘Mamma did,’ replied Agatha, not without a touch of pride; ‘she thinks up new ones all the time.’

Poor Mrs. Blake was, in truth, at the end of her resources. All varieties of punishment had in turn been tried upon Agatha, but never once as yet had Agatha been punished. She simply turned every new penalty into a delightful new game. Not that Agatha was not sorry for her misdeeds; she always was. Nothing, indeed, could have been more disarming than the cheerful promptness with which she acknowledged her sins. But having once acknowledged them, she declined to dwell upon them further. A sin committed was, for Agatha, a sin forgotten; and then there was always a possible new punishment to be anticipated.

Agatha, moreover, had a gift for inventing new forms of sin, and she was never in any way to be guarded against. For the things which Agatha thought of doing were things that had never even entered into the heart of her family to conceive. How, for instance, was Aunt Eunice to foresee that her niece would interest herself in the cause of votes for women to the extent of taking her (Aunt Eunice’s) brocaded yellow petticoat for the banner in a suffrage parade, which Agatha organized and led about the neighborhood one Saturday? Or why should her father, who finished his sermons every Friday behind the closed doors of the study, have guessed that Agatha would spend this hour, arrayed in his clean surplice and armed with his Book of Common Prayer, reading the burial service over the chickens that were already stuffed for the Blake Sunday dinner? In the course of time their plump shapes, laid out in shoe-boxes, had been rescued from beneath the floral offerings sent by Archibald Derry and other mourning friends, and Agatha had graciously explained that she intended of course to bring them back in time for dinner.

For this particular escapade she had been locked up in her mother’s closet for an hour. She had spent the time in the experiment of putting on all her mother’s clothes at once, in layers; and when she had succeeded, she played that she was an enormously fat princess under a spell, whose weight could be reduced only by the ringing of a magic gong outside her castle walls. Whenever the telephone on her mother’s desk rang once she could take off one garment; when it rang twice she could take off two. And so she had played breathlessly against time, to see if haply she might get them all off before her mother came to release her. Never in all Agatha’s experience had an hour so flown on the wings of the wind.

The next time that she found herself shut up in that particular closet, every article of clothing had, needless to say, been removed from the hooks. So she had played that she was an Early Christian in the Roman Catacombs, and had wandered up and down its dark and empty length, writing pious inscriptions on the plastered walls with an indelible pencil. And when she had presently heard her mother coming to open the door, she had begged to be allowed to stay just a minute more, till she could see how nice a Holy Family she could finish drawing in the dark.

‘She’s so shockingly well read,’ said the despairing mother that evening to her husband, ‘we simply must school ourselves not to give her another scrap of historical information.’

‘My dear, calm yourself,’ replied the rector, who had unbounded faith in his daughter’s genius. ‘If she had n’t heard about the Roman Catacombs you may be sure that she would invent them.’

Agatha, it is true, had first and last examined nearly all the works in her father’s library. The Reverend Mr. Blake had not in the beginning sought to direct or curb his daughter’s reading, holding to the comfortable theory that for true culture the child must dip at will into the treasure-house of the past, and believing fondly that what was not suited to the infant mind would, of itself, escape the average child. But Agatha never thought of being an average child, and nothing ever escaped her that could serve her purpose, as her parents began, too late, to understand. She had therefore dipped and skimmed about the tolerant shelves of the rectory library, reading the lives of the saints — and also, incidentally, of a number of sinners. Before she was nine Percy Bysshe Shelley was already the hero of her dreams. For several weeks, indeed, she had played that she was Mary Godwin, and eloped regularly every morning with Percy through the pantry window, and flitted with him through the currant bushes to Italy. This was a game into which she had never thought it wise to initiate any one else. Archibald Derry, with his little round cropped head, striped blouse, and soul barren of poetry, struck her as an unpromising Percy. So she had fled instead on the arm of an intangible, but quite satisfactory lover, until the day when, making her usual hasty exit, she stepped by accident into some large pans of walnut fudge, which Aunt Eunice was cooling at the pantry window. The jolt with which she came down to earth — and to Aunt Eunice and the scraping of nuts and chocolate from her shoes — had been too much for Mary Godwin. Accordingly the elopement had been superseded the following day by the execution of Anne Boleyn on the carriage block, Archibald this time being permitted to stand by in the unimpassioned rôle of Henry VIII.

‘Do you want me to come over and play?’ said Archibald on the wall to Agatha on the sundial.

Agatha was more indifferent than usual. She was absorbed for the moment in watching something in the pergola beyond the sundial.

‘I don’t care; if you want to you can,’ she replied, ‘only don’t bring the twins.’

‘I’ll have to,’ said Archibald, ‘or else they’ll yell and fetch somebody out here.’

In confirmation of this there arose two shrill demands from two small invisible throats on the other side of the wall.

‘Me go p’ay wiv Aggerter, Artzie.’

‘Me go p’ay wiv Aggerter, too.’

Archibald, therefore, reached wearily back behind the wall and hoisted up over its brim two bunches of pinkchecked rompers and yellow curls. When placed right-side-up on the grass they were seen to be Ulrich and Ursula Derry, in no possible way to be distinguished one from the other, except by a large pink ribbon bow askew over one of the four little ears.

‘ Watzoodoin’, Aggerter?’ they said, cocking up dimpled chins at the sundial.

‘I’m Saint Simeon Stalactite,’ she said.

‘Who’s he?’ said Archibald, who had dipped no further into general culture than the Alger books.

“He was a very, very holy man who lived up on top of a pillar for thirty years,’ replied Agatha.

‘G’wan,’ scoffed Archibald.

‘G’on,’ echoed Ulrich and Ursula.

‘For thirty years,’ repeated Agatha unmoved.

‘Did he have a sign on his back?’ asked Archibald, still skeptical.

‘We none of us know,’ replied Agatha.

This was one of Aunt Eunice’s telling rejoinders, which had always been effective with Archibald. It was now.

‘What did he have to eat up there?’ he inquired, shifting his ground.

‘Oh, everything,’ said Agatha, whose method was to improve upon history.

The menu of Saint Simeon did not, however, interest her, and she began hopping about on the numerals again. Archibald found himself filled with an ardent longing to be mounted on a sundial too. This was the invariable effect of Agatha.

‘How long you been up there?’ he said, yearning for the moment when Saint Simeon should descend and the serious business of the afternoon begin.

‘Twenty-six years,’ replied Agatha. There was the shriek of a motor-horn from over the wall behind the sundial. ‘That makes twenty-seven,’ she cried, jubilantly; ‘every time an automobile goes up the hill it counts another year, and every time one comes back I have to subtract one, and I’m seeing if I can get up to thirty before mamma tells me to get down.’

Archibald, enchanted, clambered up on the wall.

‘Here comes another,’he cried, ‘and another and a trolley-car way down the street.’

‘Trolleys don’t count,’ said Agatha firmly.

Just then a window opened across the croquet ground.

‘Agatha,’ called a voice from behind a curtain, ‘you may get down off the sundial now.’

‘O mamma,’ pleaded the saint,‘can’t I please stay up here just a little while longer? ’

‘No, you can’t,’ was the exasperated rejoinder, ‘you’re to get down at once.’ The window descended with a bang — and who will blame it. It went up again, however, immediately. ‘And you ’re to keep that card on your back,’ the voice continued, ‘until your father comes out from his confirmation class. Do you hear what I say?’

‘Yes, mamma. All right,’ replied Agatha, with unruffled sweetness. And she slipped lightly off the sundial and went curveting across the croquet ground, her two scarlet bows flashing like oriflammes before her retinue.

‘Will your father let you take it off when he comes out?’ inquired Archibald as he puffed along behind, with the twins at his heels.

‘I don’t know,’ said Agatha, ‘but I don’t want to take it off anyway. I’m going to put something else on that will make it perfeckly lovely.’

‘What?’ said Archibald.

Agatha, as usual, did not deign to explain. Instead, she skipped over to where Aunt Eunice’s new croquet set still lay amid its loose wrappings, tore off a strip of the stiff manila paper, and sat down with it on the croquet box. Then, with the freckled chin of Archibald upon her shoulder and an eager twin pressed close against each knee, she began to print in vast characters —

TELL PAPA

THAT YOU ARE IN THE PURGLER WITH MR. PERKINS

‘Gee,’ said Archibald, mystified.

‘Zee,’ echoed Ulrich and Ursula.

Agat ha jumped up with business-like decision.

‘Now you pin that on underneath the other,’ she directed, turning a demure little tan back upon Archibald.

Archibald obeyed as usual.

‘Now read it,’ said Agatha.

‘“I,” ’ pronounced Archibald slowly, ‘ “am the — little —girl — who — says — Aunt — Eunice — I — won’t — tell — papa — that — you — are — in — the — purgler — with — Mr. — Perkins.” ’

‘Perky, Perky,’ echoed Ulrich and Ursula, catching at this delightful sound.

Slowly a light dawned upon Archibald’s stodgy little face.

‘Are they?’ he asked, glancing in the direction of the pergola.

Agatha nodded.

‘He’s sweet on Aunt Eunice,’ she said, ‘and papa thinks he’s a silly. Maybe he’ll elope with Aunt Eunice some day.’

‘Perky, Perky, Perky ’lope,’ burbled Ulrich.

‘Perky, Perky, Perky ’lope, too,’ echoed Ursula.

Archibald, who was law-abiding, was a good deal shocked.

‘What you goin’ to do now?’ he inquired doubtfully.

‘ I’m going to play I’m a sandwichman,’announced Agatha promptly, ‘and walk up and down the sidewalk like the corn-and-bunion man down on Main Street.’

Archibald stared at her in admiration .

‘Can I come too?’ he begged.

‘No,’ said Agatha, ‘the sandwichman always walks alone.’

‘I tell you,’ he suggested, ‘I’ll be a sandwich-man too.’

‘You can’t,’ said Agatha, ‘you haven’t got anything on your back.’

‘Then you make me something to put on,’ he entreated, ‘please, Agatha, make me something.’ And he swooped upon another piece of the manila paper that had begun to blow about the croquet ground.

The impish brown eyes of Agatha began to dance.

‘All right,’ she said, ‘let’s put something perfeckly awrful on your back.’

Archibald grinned widely, but with vague misgiving.

‘What’ll you put?’ he said. Agatha sat down on the croquet box again and spread a fresh piece of paper on her knees.

I’M THE LITTLE BOY

WHO SAYS she began, and then she placed her pencil upon her lips and considered.

‘Oh, I know,’ she cried suddenly.

‘What?’ said Archibald.

‘I’ll whisper it,’ she suggested decorously.

‘Wisper me,’ clamored Ulrich.

‘Wisper me too,’ echoed Ursula.

‘No, you’re too little,’ said Agatha firmly, and put her mouth close to the freckled ear of Archibald.

‘Oh-h!’ said Archibald. It was indeed very awful. Spell-bound, he watched it being printed upon the manila paper with Agatha’s indelible pencil. The twins also watched. Ulrich was still in his unlettered innocence, but Ursula was known to be precocious.

‘D — a—m,’ she spelled joyously, and demanded instantly to be told what she had spelled.

‘Sh!’ said Agatha.

Now Ursula had found that, when told to sh, the best thing to do was to open your mouth as far as it would go and yell at the top of your lungs. This she now did, being joined at once by Ulrich. It was a most happy idea. Agatha, a hand clapped hastily upon each of those uproarious mouths, immediately promised the twins that they too should be sandwich-men as soon as ever they were quiet. In ten seconds they were watching in a state of joyous hiccoughs while Agatha printed two more manila posters, one for

THE LITTLE BOY WHO SAYS SHUTTUP and one for the very appalling LITTLE GIRL WHO SAYS GO TO THE DOOCE

The twins could hardly wait to have them pinned to the backs of their rompers. These syllables were not in common use in the home circle of the twins and their infant ears wrere ravished.

‘S’uttup, s’uttup, Perky ’lope, s’uttup,’ sang Ulrich, combining all the pleasant new thought of the afternoon.

‘ Go dooth, go dooth, Perky ’lope, go dooth,’ caroled Ursula, as the sandwich-men set off across the lawn in the direction of the rectory gate.

The grocer’s boy was just removing a ham from the back of his wagon when the procession filed out upon the sidewalk.

‘Holy Moses!’ he said, ‘and the Derry twins, too.’ And he dropped the ham and thrust his hands into his pockets while he studied the receding backs. Then he went and looked over the wall in the direction of the pergola. Then he turned and whistled softly to the fish-boy who was delivering a mackerel across the street. The fish-boy and the mackerel also came and looked over the wall.

Archibald, who was glancing back over his shoulder somewhat nervously, fancied he also saw the boy who delivered the Saturday Evening Post join himself to this group. But Agatha marched straight ahead in the middle of the sidewalk, looking neither to the right nor to the left, her scarlet bows rigid with purpose, the manila paper waving behind her in the breeze. The twins brought up the rear, rolling along hand in hand and singing lustily,—

‘S’uttup, s’uttup, Perky ’lope, s’uttup.’

‘Go dooth, go dooth, Perky ’lope, go dooth.’

‘Where you goin’?’ said Archibald presently, who kept thinking he heard steps behind him.

’I ’m going to Biker’s to get some icecream cones,’ replied Agatha.

‘Ice-tweam tone, s’uttup,’ shouted Ulrich.

‘Totchlit ice-tweam tone, go dooth,’ warbled Ursula.

Mrs. Derry disapproved wholly of ice-cream cones. Archibald therefore stood outside of Riker’s, his back plastered against a tree, while Agatha negotiated over the soda-water fountain within. Then, fortified with cones, the sandwich-men retraced their steps up the street. When they came once more in sight of the rectory wall, at least ten heads were to be seen crowded at the spot which commanded a view of the pergola. From the pantomime among them, it appeared that something of great interest was going on in that structure. Agatha stopped, looked, and listened. As she did so there suddenly arose a feminine scream from the direction of the pergola, and all the heads ducked simultaneously below the wall. She waited to sec no more.

‘Quick,’ she cried, ‘it’s Aunt Eunice!’ And she hurried her followers through the gate and on toward the cellar steps and safety.

And all might yet have been well, but for the Hose and Ladder Company, which at this of all moments chose to come swirling down the street in a gallop of hoofs and a clang of bells. At the sound the sandwich-men wavered in their flight across the lawn. Then back they scampered to peek for just one instant over the top of the gate. In that instant they were lost. For it was precisely then that the door of the rectory opened and the confirmation class streamed forth upon the porch. The distance from the porch to the sidewalk was short, and the entire class, including Bertha the first-born of the Derrys, was thus able to read the legends spread upon their rector’s gate. They read them in silence. The rector also read them. He had just opened his mouth to say something, when his sister Eunice rushed around the corner of the house. She was followed by a small, nervous man, who looked as if he had had a bad fright.

‘There they are, Mr. Perkins,’ she choked, pointing a finger at the gate. ‘I knew it. Look at that!

It was an unnecessary injunction. Every eye in the garden was already glued upon that eloquent spot. The sandwich-men scrambled hurriedly from the gate. The magic word of Perkins also served to start the twins blithely off again upon their cantata.

‘S’uttup, s’uttup, Perky ’lope, s’uttup,’

‘Go dooth, go dooth, Perky ’lope, go dooth,’ they began with fresh zeal.

Then they suddenly saw the cloud of witnesses on the porch and were silent.

But it was enough. Mr. Perkins needed no further hint. He went, went quite hastily and unobtrusively. So did the confirmation class. So, next, did the twins, upon whose faces the ice-cream cone was seen to have done its perfect work. They were guided through the gate by the hand of their sister Bertha, Archibald following reluctantly. Long after they were lost to sight, there could still be heard distantly, —

‘S’uttup, s’uttup, Perky ’lope, s’uttup.’

‘Go dooth, go dooth, Perky ’lope, go dooth.’

It seemed likely that the twins had acquired this for all time.

‘Agatha,’ said the rector, ‘you may go to your room.’

Agatha looked with indulgent sorrow from her square-jawed father to her crimson aunt.

‘All right, papa,’ she said pleasantly, ‘and I’m sorry I made you mad, Aunt Eunice.’ Then, at peace with all the world, she came skipping lightly up the concrete walk, trying to see if she could reach the porch without stepping on a crack.

‘Edward,’ gulped Aunt Eunice, as the tan skirt flipped through the doorway, ‘you —you don’t mean to say you’re going to laugh!’

The rector certainly did look a little apoplectic.

The scarlet bows of Agatha reappeared behind the screen for a moment.

‘May I stay upstairs until after supper, papa?’ she said. ‘You needn’t send me up anything but a Uneeda biscuit. I’m going to play I’m Saint Agatha in the convent, and I shall be under a vow.’

Aunt Eunice stared stonily at her brother, who was getting redder every moment. There was an awful stillness in the garden, which was suddenly broken by a limpid soprano, floating out through the open windows. It was the voice of Saint Agatha going serenely upstairs to her white-washed cell, and she was singing,—

‘ Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom.’