Old Hundred and I were taking our Saturday afternoon walk in the country–that is, in such suburbanized country as we could achieve in the neighborhood of New York. We had passed innumerable small boys and not a few small girls, but save for an occasional noisy group on a base-ball diamond none of them seemed to be playing any definite games.
“Did we use to wander aimlessly round that way?” asked Old Hundred.
“We did not,” said I. “If it wasn’t marbles in spring or tops in autumn it was duck-on-the-rock or stick-knife or—-“
“Only we didn’t call it stick-knife,” said Old Hundred, “we called it mumblety-peg.”
“We called it stick-knife,” said I.
“Your memory is curiously bad,” said Old Hundred. “You are always forgetting about these important matters. It was mumblety-peg.”
“My memory bad!” I sniffed. “I suppose you think I’ve forgotten how I always licked you at stick-knife?”
Old Hundred grinned. Old Hundred’s grin, to-day as much as thirty years ago, is a mask for some coming trouble. He always grinned before he sailed into the other fellow, which was an effective way to catch the other fellow off his guard. I presume he grins now before he cross-questions a witness. “I’ll play you a game right now,” he said softly.
“You’re on,” said I.
We selected a spot of clean, thin turf behind a roadside fence. It was in reality a part of somebody’s yard, but it was the best we could do. I still carry a pocket-knife of generous proportions, to whittle with when we go for a walk, and this I produced and opened, handing it to Old Hundred. “Now begin,” said I, as we squatted down.
He held the knife somewhat gingerly, first by the blade, then by the handle. “Wha–what do you do first?” he finally asked.
“Do?” said I. “Don’t you remember?”
“No,” he replied, “and neither do you.”
“Give me the knife,” I cried. I relied on the feel of it in my hand to awaken a dormant muscular memory to help me out. But no muscular memory was stirred. Old Hundred watched me with a smile. “Begin, begin!” he urged.
“Let’s see,” said I, “I think you took it first by the tip of the blade, this way, and made it stick up.” I threw the knife. It stuck, but almost lay upon the ground.
“You’ve got to get two fingers under it,” said Old Hundred. He tried, but there wasn’t room. “You fail,” he cried. “There’s a point for me.”
“Not till you’ve made it stick,” said I.
We grew interested in our game. We threw the knife from our nose and chin, we dropped it from our forehead, we jumped it over our hand, we half-closed the blade and tossed it that way, and finally, when the talley was reckoned up in my favor, I began to look about for a stick to whittle into the peg.
Old Hundred rose and dusted his clothes. “Here,” I cried. “You’re not done yet!”
“Oh, yes I am!” he answered.
“Quitter, quitter, quitter!” I taunted.
“That may be,” said he, “but a learned lawyer of forty-five with a dirty mug is rather more self-conscious than a boy of ten. I’ll buy you a dinner when we get to town.”
“Oh, very well,” said I, peevishly, “but I didn’t think you’d so degenerated. I’ll let you off if you’ll admit it was stick-knife.”
“I’ll admit it,” said Old Hundred. “I suppose in a minute you’ll ask me to admit that prisoners’-base was relievo.”
“What was relievo, by the way?” I asked.
“Relievo–relievo?” said Old Hundred. “Why that was a game we played mostly on the ice, up on Birch Meadow, don’t you remember? When we got tired of hockey, we all put our coats and hockey sticks in a pile, one man was It, and the rest tried to skate from a distant line around the pile and back. It the chap who was It tagged anybody before he got around, that chap had to be It with him, and so on till everybody was caught. Then the first one tagged had to be It for a new start.”