Growing Up In Newport

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But of course an hour of brrr -ing and arguments over whose turn it was now and whether the present driver hadn’t had a longer turn than anyone else got to be just about sufficient, and we said we could come back any old time, so while Donald Manchester kept on brrr -ing at the wheel, the rest of us pushed our way out to the brighter day where Jeannette had for some time been playing by herself because nobody thought a girl ought to have a turn as driver. There she was standing stock-still on the gravel, and the next instant, stock-still ourselves, we beheld two policemen.

“What you kids think you’re doing here?” We stared in silent terror.

“Well?”

“Just—just playing,” said Brother Barr.

Oh, this wasn’t happening. This was terrible. What had we done? What were they going to do to us? And all the while from the barn came the happy, foolhardy brrr -ing of Donald, now grown to a monstrous, ridiculous betrayal.

“I think there’s more of ‘em in the barn,” said one of the policemen, and he wedged his way inside while the other guarded us suspiciously and while, like the falling of a guillotine, sudden silence came from the barn followed by the emergence of the policeman with Donald in his grip, a stricken Donald whose lips were beginning to quiver.

“You know your way home, little girl? Well, you better get there.” And off went Jeannette on the run, her brown rubbers dancing down the drive, our eyes following her. “As for you kids,” he said, “you’d better come with us.”

How could a day have changed so? Yet there, parked by the curb on Kay Street, was the jing-jing wagon. How could this unbelievable catastrophe have overtaken us? Yet it was ourselves being herded into the wagon, and the doors being closed on us, and one of the men sitting with us while the other drove downstreet to the police station.

Meanwhile, Jeannette had carried the news breathlessly to our house. Mrs. Sharwell, downstairs, had a telephone; my mother was instantly on it, and, in chain reaction, phone bells began ringing for fathers all over town.

We four boys were taken into a room and told to sit down on chairs that lined one wall. It was a smoky room, and it had at one end a little gated fence that enclosed a roll-top desk and a leather swivel chair. Donald was trying to stop sobbing, and the rest of us were trying not to start.

A police captain, a big man, came through a rear door, sat down at the roll-top desk, removed his cap from his bald head, fiddled with some papers on the desk a moment, and then swivelled around and regarded us seriously.

“Well,” he said, “let’s find out who you suspicious fellers are.” He took up a pencil. “Suppose you give me your names—one by one now.”

As one by one we did so, he wrote each name down and he kept talking: “Your grandfather the Manchester who lives on Powel Avenue? Uh-huh … You Commander Barr’s son? Uh-huh … You must be probably Charlie Hall’s boy? Uh-huh … You Will Scott’s grandson? Uh-huh.”

The telephone on his desk rang. After a moment’s listening he said into it: “Sure, sure. They’re all right. Little feeling of being away from home, if you know what I mean. No, I tell you: there’d been a break-in at that Kay Street place and we had a couple of the boys keeping an eye on it. Found these kids fooling around there, so naturally we had to check up on ‘em. I’ve never met this generation before, but you might say I know ‘em all. We’ll have ‘em all home in a jiffy.”

He put down the receiver and swivelled toward us again.

“Well, boys,” he said, “looks like I can’t keep you here after all. But take my advice,” he said. “Be a little more careful where you play. These locked-up summer places don’t do too well for playgrounds. Something goes wrong, then maybe you get the blame for it. You remember that?”

Oh yes yes yes we would yes yes.

That midafternoon Brother Barr and I gathered with Fred on his front steps. Fred and Brother Barr both lived on Griswold Place. So did Donald, but he failed to appear. We went exhaustively back and forth over the whole epic. The more we talked about it the more it began to strike us as one of the biggest things that ever happened to us. It seemed to us, the more we straightened each other out on just what had happened, that we had carried it all off with plenty of courage. Brother, Fred, and I, each of us described how he had looked and felt and acted, and it turned out pretty fine. Then we told each other how, when we were all outside facing the policemen, there was old dumb Donald brrr-ing away in the car not knowing a thing about what was going on till the cop reached in and grabbed him. We laughed so wildly over that that we kept repeating it, finding new shades of comedy in little details that came to us, until finally we just couldn’t talk anymore, we were gasping and laughing so hard, our hands pressed to our aching stomachs. We just sat there exhausted, sort of sobbing with laughter, and even if we couldn’t talk we would just look at each other and go off again laughing like crazy.