The April Fool by T. S. Arthur
NOTHING is so much enjoyed, by some men, as a practical joke; and the greater the annoyance they can occasion, the greater their delight. Of this class was Mr. Thomas Bunting, who resided in a village a few miles out of New York. Bunting kept a store for the sale of almost every article known in domestic and agricultural life, from a number ten needle up to a hoe-handle; and from a mintstick up to a bag of coffee. Consequently, he was pretty well acquainted with all the town'speople, who were, likewise, pretty well acquainted with him.
As Bunting was constantly playing off his pranks upon one and another, he only kept himself free from enemies by his good temper and ability to soothe the parties he sometimes irritated beyond the point of endurance.
The First of April was never permitted to come and go without being well improved by the joke-loving Thomas. If a customer sent for a pint of brandy on that day, he would be very apt to get four gills of vinegar; or, if for a pound of sugar, half a pound of New Orleans mixed with an equal weight of silver sand. That was a smart child who could come into his store on the occasion, and leave it without being the victim of some trick. So, from morning till night of the First day of April, the face of Mr. Thomas Bunting was one broad grin. Full of invention as to the ways and means of playing off tricks upon others, our merry friend was wide awake to any attempt at retaliation; and it generally happened that most of those who sought to catch him, got the laugh turned upon themselves.
Two years ago, as the First of April approached, Bunting began to think of the sport awaiting him, and to cast his eyes over the town to see who was the most fitting subject for a good jest.
"I must make a fool of somebody," said he to himself; "a first-rate fool. I am tired of mere child's play in this business. Who shall it be? There's Doctor Grimes. Suppose I send him to see the young widow Gray? He'd like to make her a visit exceedingly, I know. But the widow knows me of old, and will be sure to suspect my agency. I guess that won't do. Grimes is a good subject; and I've got a sort of spite against him. I must use him, somehow. The widow Gray would be first-rate; but I'm a little afraid to bring her in. The doctor's as poor as Job's turkey, and would be off to visit her on the run. Let me see? What shall I do? I've got it! I'll send him to York on a fool's errand!"
And Bunting snapped his finger and thumb in childish delight.
Doctor Grimes, to whom our joker referred, had been in the village only about a year, and, in that time, had succeeded in making but a small practice. Not that he was wanting in ability; but he lacked address. In person, he was rather awkward; and, in manners, far from prepossessing. Moreover, he was poor, and not able, in consequence, to make a very good appearance.
We would not like to say that, in selecting Doctor Grimes as the subject of his best joke for the First of April, Bunting acted on the principle of a certain worthy, who said of another—
"Kick him; he has no friends!"
But we rather incline to the opinion that some such feeling was in the heart of the joker.
The First of April came. Doctor Grimes, after eating his breakfast, sat down in his office to await expected morning calls for consultation, or to request his attendance on some suffering invalid. But no such calls were made. The doctor sighed, under the pressure of disappointment, as he glanced at the timepiece on the mantel, the hands of which pointed to the figure ten.
"A poor prospect here," he murmured despondingly. "Ah, if there were none in the world to care for but myself, I would be content on bread and water while making my way into the confidence of the people. But others are suffering while I wait for practice. What hinders my progress? I understand my profession. In not a single instance yet have I failed to give relief, when called to the bed of sickness. Ah me! I feel wretched."
Just then, the letter-carrier of the village came in and handed him two letters. The first one he opened was from a dearly loved, widowed sister, who wrote to know if he could possibly help her in her poverty and distress.
"I would not trouble you, my dear, kind brother," she wrote, "knowing as I do how poor your own prospects are, and how patiently you are trying to wait for practice, did not want press on me and my babes so closely. If you can spare me a little—ever so little—brother, it will come as a blessing; for my extremity is great. Forgive me for thus troubling you. Necessity often prompts to acts, from the thought of which, in brighter moments, we turn with a feeling of pain."
For many minutes after reading this letter, Doctor Grimes sat with his eyes upon the floor.
"My poor Mary!" he said at length, "how much you have suffered; and yet more drops of bitterness are given to your cup! Oh that it was in my power to relieve you! But my hands are stricken down with paralysis. What can I do? Thus far, I have gone in debt instead of clearing my expenses."
He took out his pocket-book and searched it over.
"Nothing—nothing," he murmured as he refolded it. "Ah, what curse is there like the curse of poverty?"
He then referred to the other letter, the receipt of which he had almost forgotten. Breaking the seal, he read, with surprise, its contents, which were as follows:—
Doctor Grimes.—Dear Sir: Please call, as early as possible, at Messrs. L—— & P——'s, No. — Wall Street, New York; where you will hear of something to your advantage."
"What can this mean?" exclaimed the doctor, as he hurriedly perused the letter again. "Can it be possible that a relative of my father, in England, has died, and left us property? Yes; it must be so. Several members of his family there are in good circumstances. Oh, if it should be thus, how timely has relief come! For your sake, my dear sister, more than for my own, will I be thankful! But how am I to go to New York? I have not a dollar in my pocket, and will receive nothing for a week or two."
The only resource was in borrowing; and to this the doctor resorted with considerable reluctance. From a gentleman who had always shown an interest in him, he obtained five dollars. Within an hour after the receipt of the letter, he was on his way to the city. The more he pondered the matter, the more likely did it seem to him that his first conclusion was the true one. There was an uncle of his father's, a miser, reputed to be very rich, from whom, some years before, the family had received letters; and it seemed not at all improbable that his death had occurred, and that he and his sister had been remembered in the will. This idea so fully possessed his mind by the time he arrived in the city, that he was already beginning to make, in imagination, sundry dispositions of the property soon to come into his hands.
"Can I see one of the gentlemen belonging to the firm?" asked the doctor, on entering the store of Messrs. L—— & P——.
"Here is Mr. L——," said the individual he had addressed, referring him to a middle-aged, thoughtful-looking man, with something prepossessing in his face.
The doctor bowed to Mr. L——, and then said—
"My name is Dr. Grimes."
Mr. L—— bowed in return, remarking, as he did so—
"Will you walk in?"
The doctor was rather disappointed at the manner of his reception, and experienced a slight depression of spirits as he followed the merchant back into one of the counting-rooms attached to the store.
"Will you take a chair, sir?" said the merchant.
Both the gentlemen sat down. About L—— there was an air of expectancy, which the doctor did not fail to remark.
"My name is Doctor Grimes," said he, repeating his first introduction.
"I am happy to see you, doctor," returned L——, bowing again.
"I received a letter from your house, this morning," said the victim, for such he really was, "desiring me to call, as you had some communication to make that would be to my advantage."
"There's some mistake," replied the merchant. "No letter of the kind has emanated from us."
"Are you certain?" asked the disappointed man, in a voice greatly changed; and he drew forth the letter he had received.
L—— looked at the communication, and shook his head.
"There is no truth in this, sir. I regret to say that you have, most probably, been made the victim of an idle and reprehensible jest. To-day, you are aware, is the First of April."
"Can it be possible!" exclaimed the doctor, clasping his hands together, while his face became pale and overcast with disappointment. "Who could have been so unkind, so cruel!"
"And is the disappointment very great?" said the merchant, touched with the manner of his visitor, which showed more pain than mortification at the cheat practised upon him.
With an effort at self-command, Doctor Grimes regained, to some extent, his lost composure, and rising, remarked, as he partly turned himself away—
"Forgive this intrusion, sir. I ought to have been more on my guard."
But an interest having been awakened in the mind of Mr. L——, he would not suffer his visitor to retire until he held some conversation with him. In this conversation he learned, through delicately asked questions, even more of his real condition in life than the latter meant to communicate; and he still further learned that the mother of Doctor Grimes had been one of his early friends.
"Will you be willing to take the place of Resident Physician at the —— Hospital?" finally asked Mr. L.
"To one like me," replied Dr. Grimes, "that place would be exceedingly desirable. But I do not suppose I could get it."
"I am a stranger here."
"Can you bring testimonials as to professional ability?" asked Mr. L——.
"I can. Testimonials of the very highest character."
"Bring them to me, doctor, at the earliest possible moment. I do not, in the least, doubt that my influence will secure you the place. I believe you have no family?"
"That may be an objection. A furnished dwelling is provided for the physician; and, I believe, one with a family is preferred."
"I have a widowed sister, who would be glad to join me; and whom I would be glad to place in so comfortable a position."
"That will do just as well, doctor. Bring over your testimonials as soon as possible. Not so much of an April fool, after all, I begin to think. Unless I am very greatly mistaken, you
heard something to your advantage."
All came out to the satisfaction of both Doctor Grimes and the kind-hearted Mr. L——. In less than a month, the former was in comfortable quarters at —— Hospital, and in the receipt of twelve hundred dollars per annum. This was exclusive of rent for his sister's family—now his own—and table expenses. Moreover, for certain duties required of her in the hospital, his sister received three hundred dollars additional.
So it turned out that Dr. Grimes, so far from being made an April fool, was benefited by the wonderfully "smart" trick of Mr. Bunting. But of the particular result of his extra work, the village-jester remained ignorant. Being on the lookout, he was "tickled to death" when he saw the doctor start off post haste for New York; and he looked out for his return, anticipating rare pleasure at seeing his "face as long as his arm." But this particular pleasure was not obtained, for he didn't see the doctor afterward.
"What's become of Dr. Grimes?" he asked of one and another, after a few days had passed, and he did not see that individual on the street as before.
But none of whom he made inquiry happened to know any thing of the doctor's movements. It was plain to Bunting that, he had driven the said doctor out of the village; and this circumstance quite flattered his vanity, and made him feel of more consequence than before. In a little while, he told his secret to one and another, and it was pretty generally believed that Doctor Grimes had gone away under a sense of mortification at the storekeeper's practical joke.
"Look out for next year," said one and another. "If Doctor Grimes isn't even with you then, it'll be a wonder."
"It will take a brighter genius than he is to fool me," Bunting would usually reply to these words of caution.
The First of April came round again. Thomas Bunting was wide awake. He expected to hear from the doctor, who, he was certain, would never forgive him. Sure enough, with the day, came a letter from New York.
"You don't fool me!" said Bunting, as he glanced at the postmark. He had heard that the doctor was in, or somewhere near, the city.
"Ha! ha!" he laughed, as he read—
"If Mr. Thomas Bunting will call on Messrs. Wilde & Lyon, Pearl Street, New York, he may hear of something to his advantage."
"Ha! ha! That's capital! The doctor is a wag. Ha! ha!"
Of course, Bunting was too wide awake for this trap. Catch him trudging to New York on a fool's errand!
"Does he think I haven't cut my eye-teeth?" he said to himself exultingly, as he read over the letter. "Doctor Grimes don't know this child—he don't."
And yet, the idea that something might be lost by not heeding the letter, came stealing in upon him, and checking in a small degree the delight he felt at being too smart for the doctor. But this thought was instantly pushed aside. Of course, Bunting was not so "green," to use one of his favourite words, as to go on a fool's errand to New York.
Five or six months afterward, Bunting, while in the city on business, happened to meet Doctor Grimes.
"How are you, doctor?" said he, grasping the hand of the physician, and smiling with one of the smiles peculiar to his face when he felt that he had played off a capital joke on somebody.
"I'm well, Mr. Bunting. And how are you?" replied the doctor.
"First-rate—first-rate!" and Bunting rubbed his hands. Then he added, with almost irrepressible glee—
"You wasn't sharp enough, last April, doctor."
"Why so?" inquired Doctor Grimes.
"You didn't succeed in getting me to the city on a fool's errand."
"I don't understand you, Mr. Bunting," said the doctor seriously.
"Wilde & Lyon, Pearl Street—something to my advantage. Ha?"
The doctor looked puzzled.
"You needn't play the innocent, doctor. Its no use. I sent you on a fool's errand to New York; and it was but natural that you should seek to pay me back in my own coin. But I was too wide awake for you entirely. It takes a sharp man to catch me."
"You're certainly too wide awake for me now," said Doctor Grimes. "Will you please be serious and explain yourself."
"Last April a year, you received a letter from New York, to the effect that if you would call at a certain place in Wall Street, you would hear something to your advantage?"
"I did," replied the doctor.
"I called, accordingly, and received information which has proved greatly to my advantage."
"What?" Bunting looked surprised.
"The gentleman upon whom I called was a leading director in —— Hospital, and in search of a Resident Physician for that establishment. I now fill that post."
"Is it possible?" Bunting could not conceal his surprise, in which something like disappointment was blended. "And you did not write a similar letter to me last April?" he added.
"I am above such trifling," replied the doctor, in a tone that marked his real feelings on that subject. "A man who could thus wantonly injure and insult another for mere sport, must have something bad about him. I should not like to trust such a one."
"Good morning, doctor," said Bunting. The two gentlemen bowed formally and parted.
If the doctor did not send the letter, from whom could it have come? This was the question that Bunting asked himself immediately. But no satisfactory answer came. He was puzzled and uncomfortable. Moreover, the result of the doctor's errand to New York—which had proved any thing but a fool's errand—was something that he could not understand.
"I wonder if I hadn't better call on Wilde & Lyon?" said he to himself, at length. "Perhaps the letter was no trick, after all."
Bunting held a long argument, mentally, on the subject, in which all the pros and cons were fully discussed. Finally, he decided to call at the place referred to in his letter, and did so immediately on reaching this decision. Still, fearing that the letter might have been a hoax, he made some few purchases of articles for his store, and then gave his name.
"Thomas Bunting!" said the person with whom he was dealing. "Do you reside in the city?"
Bunting mentioned his place of residence.
"Did you never receive a letter from this house, desiring to see you?"
"I did," replied Bunting; "but as it was dated on the first of April, I took it for the jest of some merry friend."
"Very far from it, I can assure you," answered the man. "An old gentleman arrived here from England about that time, who said that a brother and sister had come to this country many years ago, and that he was in search of them or their children. His name was Bunting. At his request, we made several advertisements for his relatives. Some one mentioned that a gentleman named Thomas Bunting resided in the town where you live; and we immediately dropped him a note. But, as no answer came, it was presumed the information was incorrect."
"Where is he now?" asked Bunting.
"He is dead."
"Yes. A letter came, some weeks after we wrote to you, from St. Louis, which proved to be from his sister, and to that place he immediately proceeded. Soon after arriving there, he died. He left, in money, about ten thousand dollars, all of which passed, by a will executed before he left this city—for in his mind there was a presentiment of death—to his new-found relative."
"He was my uncle!" said Bunting.
"Then, by not attending to our letter, you are the loser of at least one-half of the property he left."
Bunting went home in a very sober mood of mind. His aunt and himself were not on good terms. In fact, she was a widow and poor, and he had not treated her with the kindness she had a right to expect. There was no likelihood, therefore, of her making him a partner in her good fortune.
Bunting was the real April Fool, after all, sharp-witted and wide awake as he had thought himself. His chagrin and disappointment were great; so great, that it took all the spirit out of him for a long time; and it is not presumed that he will attempt an "April Fool" trick in the present year, of even the smallest pretensions.