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Mumblety-Peg And Middle Age
by [?]

“As I went up to Salt Lake
I met a little rattlesnake,
He’d e’t so much of jelly cake,
It made his little belly ache.”

When It was thus selected, automatically and poetically, Old Hundred drew a line in the road, parallel to the curb, It put his duck on the rock, and the rest started to pitch. Suddenly one demon spotted me, a smiling by-stander. “Hi,” he called, “Old Coattails ain’t playin’.”

“Quitter, quitter, quitter!” taunted Old Hundred.

I started to make some remark about the self-consciousness of a learned litterateur of forty-five, but my speech was drowned in a derisive howl from the buzz-saws. I meekly accepted the inevitable, and hunted myself out a duck.

After ten minutes of madly dashing back to the line pursued by those supernaturally active young cubs, after stooping again and again to pick up my duck, after dodging flying stones and sometimes not succeeding, I was quite ready to quit. Old Hundred, flushed and perspiring, was playing as if his life depended on it. When he was tagged, he took his turn as It without a murmur. He was one of the kids, and they knew it. But finally he, too, felt the pace in his bones. We left the boys still playing, quite careless of whether we went or stayed. We were dusty and hot; our hands were scratched and grimed. “Ah!” said Old Hundred, looking back, “I’ve accomplished something to-day and had a good time doing it! The ungrateful little savages; they might have said good-bye.”

“Yet you wouldn’t pull up the mumblety-peg for me,” I said.

“My dear fellow,” he replied, “that is quite different. To take a dare from a man is childish. Not to take a dare from a child is unmanly.”

“You talk like G. K. Chesterton,” said I.

“Which shows that occasionally Chesterton is right,” said he. “Speaking of dares, I’d like to see a gang of kids playing dares or follow-your-leader right now. Remember how we used to play follow-your-leader by the hour? You had to do just what he did, like a row of sheep. When there were girls in the game, you always ended up by turning a somersault, which was a subtle jest never to be too much enjoyed.”

“And Alice Perkins used to take that dare, too, I remember,” said I.

“Alice never could bear to be stumped,” he mused. “She’s either become a mighty fine woman or a bad one. She was the only girl we ever allowed to perform in the circuses up in your backyard. Often we wouldn’t even admit girls as spectators. Remember the sign you painted to that effect? She was the lady trapeze artist and bareback rider. You were the bareback, as I recall it–or was it Fatty Newell? Anyhow, one of her stunts was to hang by her legs and drink a tumbler of water.”

I felt my muscles. “I wonder,” said I, “if I could still skin the cat?”

“I’ll bet I can chin myself ten times,” said Old Hundred.

We cast about for a convenient limb. There was an apple-tree beside the road, with a horizontal limb some eight feet above the ground. I tried first. I got myself over all right, till I hung inverted, my fountain-pen, pencil, and eyeglass case falling out of my pocket. But there I stuck. There was no strength in my arms to pull me up. So I curled clean over and dropped to the ground, very red in the face, my clothes covered with the powdered apple-tree bark. Old Hundred grasped the limb to chin himself. He got up once easily, he got up a second time with difficulty, he got up a third time by an heroic effort, the veins standing out on his forehead. The fourth time he stuck two inches off the ground.

“‘You are old, Father William,'” I quoted.

He rubbed his biceps sadly. “I’m out of practice!” he said with some asperity. But we tried no more stunts on the apple-tree.