"And I've got one that my boy says is in Dick Fulton's writin'!" declared another angry citizen.
"Here comes Dick's father now," said Mr. Maynard, as he advanced a step to meet Mr. Fulton. "They tell me our sons have been writing miscellaneous letters," he said to Mr. Fulton, and, though there was a twinkle in his eye, Mr. Fulton saw at once that there was some serious matter in hand.
"Not only your sons, but your girls, too," growled another man. "My kid says this is your Marjorie's fist."
"Well, well, what are the letters all about?" asked Mr. Fulton, who did not like the attitude of the complainants.
"Read 'em, and see!" was the quick response, and half a dozen letters were thrust toward the two gentlemen.
Mr. Fulton adjusted his glasses, and both he and Mr. Maynard quickly scanned the notes that were only too surely the work of their own children.
"The signature is misleading," said Mr. Fulton, who was inwardly shaking with laughter at the absurd epistles, but who preserved a serious countenance; "but I feel sure it means 'The Village Improvement Society.' I have often thought such a society would be a good thing for our town, but I didn't know one had been started."
"But who is the society? A lot of youngsters?" demanded John Kellogg.
"Ahem! These documents would lead one to think so, wouldn't they?" said Mr. Fulton, suavely.
But the offended men were not to be so easily placated.
"See here," said one of them, assuming a threatening tone, "these 'ere letters is insults; that's what I call 'em!"
"And I!" "Me, too!" said several others.
"And as they is insults," went on the first speaker, "we wants satisfaction; that's what we wants!"
"Yes, yes!" "We do!" chorused the crowd.
Mr. Fulton and Mr. Maynard were decidedly nonplussed. It was difficult to take the matter seriously, and yet, as these men were so incensed, it might make an unpleasant publicity for the two families, unless they placated the angry recipients of those foolish letters.
Mr. Maynard was a quick thinker, and a man of more even disposition and affable demeanor than Mr. Fulton. So Mr. Maynard, with a nod at his friend, jumped up on a chair and began to address the crowd, as if he were on a public platform.
"My friends and fellow-townsmen," he said: "in the first place, Mr. Fulton and I want to admit that these letters which you have received are without doubt the work of our own children. They were written entirely without our knowledge or consent, and they represent a childish endeavor to do well, but they do not show experience, or familiarity with grown people's ways of dealing with these matters. We, therefore, apologize to you for the offence our children have caused you, and trust that, as most of you have children of your own, you will appreciate the facts of the case, and forgive the well-meaning, but ill-doing, little scamps."
Mr. Maynard's pleasant voice and genial smile went far to establish good-feeling, and many voices murmured, "Aw, that's all right," or, "Little scalawags, ain't they?"
"And now," Mr. Maynard went on, "since we are gathered here, I would like to make a suggestion that may lead to a good work. Several of our prominent business men have thought that a Village Improvement Society could do a great and good work in our town. I, myself, have not sufficient leisure to take this matter in charge, but I wish that a committee of our citizens might be appointed to consider ways and means, with a view to organizing a society in the near future. Should this be done, I stand ready to contribute one thousand dollars to the general fund of the society, and I've no doubt more will be subscribed by willing hearts."
Mr. Maynard stepped down from the chair, and Mr. Fulton immediately mounted it.
"I, too, will gladly subscribe the same amount as Mr. Maynard," he said; "this project has for some time been in my mind, and I am pretty sure that it was because of overhearing some of my conversations on the subject that my young people took it up, and earnestly, if in a mistaken manner, endeavored to start such a society."
The sentiment of the meeting had entirely changed. The men who had been most angry at their letters were now enthusiastic in their desire for the immediate formation of the society.
"Land sakes!" said old Mr. Bolton, "them children didn't mean nothin' wrong. They jest didn't know no better."
"That's so," said John Kellogg. "Like's not, some of our kids might 'a' done a heap worse."
After the election of a chairman for the provisional committee, and a few more preliminary moves in the matter, Mr. Maynard and Mr. Fulton went away, leaving it all in the hands of their fellow-townsmen.
"You did good work," said Mr. Fulton, appreciatively. "I confess I was afraid of an unpleasant turn of affairs. But you won their hearts by your tact and genial manner."
"That's the best way to manage that sort of an uprising," returned Mr. Maynard. "Of course we are, in a way, responsible for our children's deeds, and there's a possibility that some of those letters could make trouble for us. But I think it's all right now. The next thing is to choke off the children before they go any further. What do you suppose possessed them to cut up such a trick?"
"What possesses them to get into one sort of mischief after another, as fast as they can go?"
"Well, this isn't really mischief, is it? They meant well, you know. But I'll reserve judgment until after I talk with my young hopefuls."
The two men separated at the corner, and Mr. Maynard went directly to his own home.
He found Mrs. Maynard and the three older children in the living-room, variously engaged with books or games.
"Well," he said, as he entered the room. "I'd like an immediate interview with The Village Imps."
Each of the three gave a start of surprise.
"What do you mean, Father?" cried Marjorie.
"Why, if you belong to an Imp Society you must be Imps; aren't you?"
"Who told you about it?" asked Kitty, disappointedly. "It was to be a secret, until all the town was stirred up."
"The town is pretty well stirred up now, my girl. But I don't want reports of my children's doings from other people. Tell me all about it, yourselves."
"We will, Father," said Marjorie, evidently glad of the chance. "You tell, King; you're president."
Nothing loath, King began the tale. He gave a full account of their desire to do something that would be a public benefit of some sort. He told of Dick's suggestion, founded upon Mr. Fulton's remarks about a Village Improvement Society. He explained that they wrote letters because they hadn't money enough for any more expensive proceeding, and he wound up by proudly stating that they had mailed sixteen letters already, and hoped to send more the following week.
So earnest was the boy in his description of the work, and so honest his pride in their efforts so far, that Mr. Maynard deeply regretted the necessity of changing his view of the matter.
"Kingdon," he said, "you're fourteen years old, and I think you're old enough to know that you ought not to engage in such important affairs without getting the advice of older people."
"Oh, Father!" cried Marjorie. "Was this wrong, too? Is everything mischief? Can't we do anything at all without we have to be punished for it? We thought this was truly a good work, and we thought we were doing our duty!"
Like a little whirlwind, Marjorie flew across the room, and threw herself, sobbing, into her father's arms.
"My dear child," he said, kissing her hot little brow, "wait a moment till I explain. We want to talk over this matter, and get each other's ideas about it."
"But you're going to say it was wrong,—I know you are! And I was trying so hard not to do naughty things. Oh, Father, how can I tell what I can do, and what I can't?"
"There, there, Midget, now stop crying. You're not going to be punished; you don't deserve to be. What you did was not wrong in itself,—at least it would not have been for older people. But you children are ignorant of the ways of the grown-up world, and so you ought not to have taken the responsibility of dictating to or advising grown people. That was the wrong part."
"But we meant it for their good, sir, more than for our own," said King, by way of justification.
"That's just it, Kingdon, my boy. You're too young yet to know what is for the good of grown men and women who are old enough to be your parents and grandparents. You wouldn't think of dictating to your mother or myself 'for our good,' would you? And all grown people ought to be equally free from your unasked advice."
"But, Father," insisted King, "if you kept this place looking like a rubbish-heap, wouldn't I have a right to ask you not to?"
"You'd have only the right of our relationship. A child has many privileges with his parents that he hasn't with anyone else in the world. But to come right down to the facts: the letters that you wrote were ill-advised, arrogant, and impertinent."
Kitty looked frankly bewildered at these big Words, Marjorie buried her face on her father's shoulder in a renewed burst of tears, while Kingdon flushed a deep red all over his honest, boyish face.
"I'm sorry, Father," he said; "we didn't mean them to be, and we didn't think they were. We thought they were straightforward and business-like."
"That shows your ignorance, my son. Until you have been in business, you cannot really know what grown men and women consider business-like. I can tell you John Kellogg and Tom Bolton didn't consider them masterpieces of business-like literature."
"How do you know?" said Marjorie, lifting her wet face from its hiding-place.
"I saw them, dearie; both the men and the letters, at the post-office tonight. There were many others,—a dozen or more,—and they were, one and all, extremely angry at the letters they had received. Mr. Fulton and I were both there, and, when we were told that the letters were the work of our children, we could scarcely believe it."
"And we thought you'd be so proud of us," said Kitty, in such a dejected voice that Mrs. Maynard caught up the little girl and held her in her arms.
Of course, this was the first Mrs. Maynard had heard of the whole affair, but, as Mr. Maynard was conducting the discussion, she said little.
"What ought we to have done, Father?" said King, who was beginning to see that they had done wrong.
"When you first thought of the plan, my son, you should have realized that it concerned grown people entirely; and that, therefore, before you children undertook its responsibilities you should confer with your mother or me. Surely you see that point?"
"Yes, sir," said the boy.
"When your plans include only children, and are not disobedience to rules either actual and implied, then you are usually free to do pretty much as you like."
"But we thought this would do the town good."
"That was a worthy sentiment, and a true one, too. But the matter of a town improvement is not a matter for children to attend to, unless they are working under the direction of older people. Had I advised you to write these letters, which, of course, I never would have done, for you are not the proper ones to write them, but had I done so, I would have shown you how to word them that they might not offend. Inexperienced letter-writers cannot expect to write a sort of letter which requires special delicacy, tact, and graciousness."
"Father," said Marjorie, solemnly, "I'm never going to do anything again, but go to school and eat my meals and go to bed. Anything else I ever do is wrong."
"Now, Midget, don't talk nonsense. You're twelve years old. You've a lot to learn before you're a grown-up, and most of it must be learned by experience. If you never do anything, you'll never get any experience, and at twenty you'll only know as much as you did at twelve! How would you like that?"
"Not much," said Marjorie, whose spirits rose as her father adopted a lighter tone.
"Then just go on and have your experiences. Cut up jinks and have all the fun you can; but try to learn as you go along to discriminate between the things you ought to do and the things you oughtn't. You won't always guess right, but if you keep on living you can always guess again."
"What did those men say?" asked King, who was brooding over the scene in the post-office.
"Oh! they were pretty mad at first. But Mr. Fulton and I patted them fondly on the shoulder, and told them you were harmless lunatics and they mustn't mind you."
"We're not crazy, Father," said Kitty, who was inclined to be literal.
"No, Kitsie, you're not; and I don't want you to drive me crazy, either. You're three of the most delightful children I ever met, and whenever I can pull you out of your scrapes I'm only too glad to do so. I may as well tell you at once that Mr. Fulton and I fixed up this Imp Society matter very satisfactorily; and if you don't start in to lay a new asphalt road, or build a cathedral, I think I can keep up with you."
"How did you fix it, Father?" asked Marjorie, brightening with renewed interest, as she learned that the trouble was over.
"Oh! I told the gentlemen who were most interested that if they didn't like the way my children improved this village that they'd better do the improving themselves. And they said they would."
"Really, King. So now you're all well out of it, and I want you to stay out. Unless they ask for your assistance, later on; and I doubt if they'll do that, for between you and me they don't seem to approve of your methods."
"I think it was dreadful for the children to write those letters," said Mrs. Maynard. "And I don't think, Ed, that you've quite explained to them how very wrong it was."
"Perhaps not," said Mr. Maynard, "but can't we leave that part of the subject till some other time? For my part, I'm quite exhausted scolding these young reprobates, and I'd like a change to smiles instead of tears. And somehow I have a growing conviction that they'll never do it again. Will you, chickabiddies?"
"No, sir!" came in a hearty chorus.
"Of course they won't," said Mrs. Maynard, laughing. "It will be some other ridiculous trick. But I'll be glad to drop the subject for the present, too, and have a pleasant half-hour before it's bedtime for babes."
"And aren't we to be punished?" asked Marjorie, in surprise.
"Not exactly punished," said her father, smiling at her. "I think I shall give you a severe scolding every night for a week, and then see if you're not little paragons of perfection, every one of you."
"I'm not afraid of your scolding," said Marjorie, contentedly cuddling close to her father; "but I thought maybe—perhaps—you'd want us to apologize to those people who were so angry."
"I did that for you, dearie. What's the use of having a father if he can't get you out of a scrape now and then? And now let's roast some chestnuts, and pop some corn, and have some fun."