One day , the children had wanted to get up onto General Burnside's horse .
They wanted to see what his back felt like -- the General's .
He looked so comfortable being straight .
They wanted to touch the mystery .
Arlene was boosting them up when the policeman came by .
He was very rude .
Arlene had a hard voice , too , this time .
The policeman's eyes rather popped for a second ; ;
but then Arlene got another tone in a hurry , and she said , `` If it wasn't for these dear children '' -- .
The policeman got a confused , funny look on his face , and he had answered kind of politely , `` Now , look here , lady : I know you got to entertain these kids and all .
But this is a public park and it's a city ordinance that the statues cannot be crawled on '' .
Arlene was so ashamed that she hung her head when she said , `` Yes , sir '' .
The policeman walked on , but he looked back once .
That had happened on the day when two other unusual things had occurred .
Arlene had taught them a new way to have fun in their little private area ; ;
and they had told their mother about the tumbles .
In matters of exact information , that kept her one step behind developments ; ;
and so they were consistently true to their principles .
`` Never mind '' , Arlene had said , after the policeman had left , having pursued the usual unco-operative course of grownups .
`` Never mind .
I know something that is much more fun that we can do on our little lawn '' .
`` What is it '' ? ?
Asked the children , whose reflexes and replies were invariably so admirably normal and predictable .
Maybe that was why they were cordial and loyal towards the unpredictability of Arlene .
`` Just you wait '' , advised Arlene , echoing the dialogue in a recent British movie .
And when they had got to their little lawn , they had had a most twirlingly magnificent time .
First , Arlene had put them through some rapid somersaults .
They had protested that that wasn't any surprise .
`` Just you wait '' , said Arlene again , as though she were discovering the pleasantly tingling insinuations of that handy little sturdy statement .
`` This is a warm-up '' .
`` Is it anything like cooked-over oatmeal '' ? ?
Asked one of the children .
`` Not the least bit '' , Arlene snapped .
One of the many things that was so nice about her was that she always took your questions seriously , particularly your very , very serious questions .
Those were especially the ones that all other grownups laughed at loudest .
She would sometimes even get a little hard on you , she took you so seriously .
But not hard for very long .
Just long enough to make you feel important .
`` Now '' , said Arlene , eventually , making them both sit in formation on a big root of a live oak , the sort of root that divided itself and made their bottoms sag down and feel comfortable .
`` Now , we're going to be like what General Burnside and his horse make us think of '' .
The children looked at each other and sagged their bottoms down even more comfortably than ever .
Their curiosity went happily out of bounds .
Then , Arlene threw herself backwards and wiggled in a way that was just wonderful .
She held herself that way and turned her head towards them and laughed and winked .
`` Imagine being able to laugh and wink when you're like the top part of that picture frame at home '' , one of them said .
They both laughed and winked back .
`` I'm General Burnside's horse , upside down '' , Arlene said , sort of gaspingly , for her : even she had to breathe kind of funny when she was in that position .
She made General Burnside's horse's belly do so funny when it was upside down .
Then , she was back on her feet , winking and smiling that enormous smile ( she had lots of wonderful big teeth that you never would have suspected she had when she was not smiling ) .
And she would wink and throw kisses .
They both tried to keep smiling and winking for a long time , but it made their lips and eyelids tremble .
But they kept on clapping for a long , long time .
`` This time '' , Arlene said , and she even kept on wiggling a little bit while she was just talking , `` you're going to tell me what I am and what I'm doing .
It all has something to do with General Burnside and his horse '' .
This time , it was so grand ; ;
they could tell exactly what it was .
It was General Burnside's horse running in a circle .
His legs shook , and the shaking went right on up his body through his hips to his shoulders .
`` That's the General's horse '' , one of them cried out .
The other remarked , in a happy laughter , `` That's a funny old horse '' .
The first one said , `` He sure does shake .
He's old '' .
Then there was the General kissing his wife .
They had to be told that one .
But it was even funnier after they had been told .
Their father , when he came back from those many business trips , just bumped their mother on the forehead with his lips and asked if anybody had thought to mix the martinis and put them in the electric icebox .
But not General Burnside .
He was the funniest man .
He never could keep still , even when he didn't move his feet .
Then , they had to get up and be General Burnside .
Or his horse .
All they could think of was to run around in circles , kicking their legs out .
It wasn't very funny .
Then , they said General Burnside was going to jump over his horse's head ; ;
and they did some somersaults .
But that wasn't very funny , either .
`` You ought to shake '' , Arlene advised them .
And Arlene showed them how to begin .
She also taught them to sing `` I wish I could shimmy like my sister Kate '' .
That helped a lot .
They were clumsy , but they were beginning to catch on .
They also caught on a little bit on how to smile a lot without your lips trembling .
`` Imagine you won't get your allowance if you're caught not smiling -- or smiling with your lips trembling too much '' , Arlene suggested .
That helped a great deal .
They were a little late in getting home .
`` I'm sorry , Mrs. Minks '' , Arlene said in a tone so low you could hardly hear it .
My mother constituted herself the voice of all of us .
`` It's perfectly understandable , Arlene '' , my mother said in a friendly way .
`` I suppose you all were playing and forgot '' ? ?
`` Yes , ma'am '' , the children chorused heartily .
We couldn't help laughing .
The children rushed off to get rid of their sweaters ; ;
and Arlene began tapping the kitchen door open .
`` Arlene's a good girl '' , my uncle remarked to us ; ;
but he said it too soon , for it came out just before the tap to which the door responded .
That tap had a slight bangish quality .
`` She really is a dear little thing '' , my mother agreed .
Her upper lip lifted slightly .
She was biting into a small red radish ; ;
and that action always caused her to lift her lip from the sting of the thing .
Also , she lived in continual fear of finding a white worm curled up in a neat , mean little heap at the white center of the radish .
She would try to see over the bulge of her cheeks and somewhat under her teeth to the place where she was biting .
It never worked , naturally ; ;
but it made her look unusual .
Also , when she had bitten off half of the small radish , she found the suspense unbearable ; ;
and she would snatch the finger-held half of the radish out to where she could inspect it .
One could hear a very faint , ladylike sigh of relief .
Actually , it was inaudible to anyone not expecting it .
But the warm joy of her brown eyes was open to the general public .
Later on , the children told her further about somersaulting .
`` It must be awfully good for them .
And awfully kind of Arlene '' , she told us later .
`` But do you know something curious '' ? ?
She added .
`` I reached into that funny little pocket that is high up on my dress .
I have no notion why I reached .
And I found a radish .
Was it an omen ? ?
I thought for a second .
But I would not pamper myself in that silly way .
I opened the window and threw the radish out '' .
Then , my mother blushed at this small lie ; ;
for she knew and we knew that it was cowardice that had made one more radish that night just too impossible a strain .
Arlene became indispensable ; ;
nobody could have told why .
But she was .
It was in the air .
A friend of my father's came to dinner .
He was passing through town and phoned to say hello .
As a result , he was persuaded out to dinner .
As a matter of fact , this happened every four or five months .
Sometimes , he coincided with my father's being at home .
Sometimes , as at this juncture , he did not .
But he was always persuaded out .
He liked children , in a loathsome kind of way ; ;
the two youngest in our family always had to be brought in and put through tricks for his entertainment .
When he had left , I could never remember whether he had poked them in their middles , laughingly , with a thick index finger or whether he was merely so much the sort of person who did this that one assumed the action , not bothering to look .
The children loathed him , too .
This evening , they were pushed in from the breakfast room , with odds and ends of dessert distributed over them .
There had been some coconut in it , for I remember my mother's taking a quick glance at a stringy bit of this nut on the cheek of one of them and then putting down her radish with a shiver .
They were pushed gently into the room by Arlene -- whose only part appearing were hands that crept quickly back around to the kitchen side of the door .
We had just sat down .
`` Tell Mr. Gorboduc what you're doing these days '' , my mother advised the children , ceremonially .
There was an air of revolt about the children -- even irreverence for their own principles .
This could be told chiefly from a sort of head-tossing and prancing , a horselike balkiness of demeanor .
Possibly , the coconut-containing dessert had brought up bitter problems of administration .
But , at the beginning , this stayed just in the air .
`` We go to the park with this nice lady '' , one of them said .
`` We have good times '' .
This happy bulletin convulsed Mr. Gorboduc .
`` You do '' ? ?
He asked , between wheezes of laughter .
He was forced to wipe his eyes .
`` You don't step on the flowers , do you ? ?
Eh '' ? ?
One of the children maneuvered out of range of the poking index finger .
`` No '' , he said .
`` We don't '' .
Mr. Gorboduc took a swig of his sherry .
He was so long thinking that my mother had time to inspect her sherry for dregs .
Usually , this was done when attention was diverted by someone else's long , boring story .
But this time she was nervous : she was open .
Mr. Gorboduc was finally in command of his mind again .
`` Tell me -- what do you do at the park '' ? ?
He asked .
This was delivered in a forthright way , without coyness and over-pretended interest -- an admirable way with children .
Only , unfortunately , he could not remove from his voice a nagging insinuation of the direct command .
This nettled the children into the revelation of exact truth , a sacrifice of their secret superiority over grown people , but a victory in the wide fields of perpetration and illegitimate accomplishment .
`` We bump '' , one said ; ;
and the other went on to development of the idea .
`` We grind , too '' , he said .
My mother was beside herself with curiosity .
`` Say that again '' , she pleaded .
She laughed a little and tossed the dregs rakishly around in her glass .
`` You what '' ? ?
She could see that Mr. Gorboduc was intrigued ; ;
the hostess in her took over .
She was rollickingly happy .
`` You what '' ? ?
My uncle looked at Mr. Gorboduc .
He read Henry James and used to pretend profundity through eye-beamings at people .
Mr. Gorboduc looked down .
He would not look up .
He was very funny about the whole thing .