A Ticklish Surprise


All morning Mrs. Stark’s third grade class had talked about the “Favorite Things Fair” that would be held on Friday. Almost everyone in the room had picked out his very favorite thing to bring to school on Friday.

“Hey, Sterling!” Jay called at lunchtime. “What are you going to bring?”

“It’s a secret,” he said.

“Won’t you even tell me?” Jay asked.

“Nope. I want it to be a surprise.” Sterling’s brown eyes twinkled as he thought about his big surprise.

“Please?” Jay pleaded. “I’m bringing my puppets. Now you know my surprise, won’t you tell me yours? I won’t tell anyone!”

“Nope,” Sterling said. “I’ve made up my mind that it’s going to be a real secret. If I told you, it wouldn’t be a secret anymore.”

Just then the bell rang. Jay and Sterling gathered up the balls and bats and ran back to their classroom. “Hey!” Jay shouted to a group of boys just coming through the door. “Sterling won’t tell anyone what he’s bringing to the fair.”

That started the teasing. From then until Friday, Sterling did not have a moment of peace. Everyone kept trying to get him to tell what he was going to bring for the fair. Before school, at lunch, at recess, after school, all the time they kept after him. But Sterling was determined. Every time they asked, he would answer, “A secret is no secret if everyone knows!”

Finally Friday came. It had been hard, but Sterling had not told a single soul that he was taking his pet hamster, Harvey, to the fair. Harvey was Sterling’s very most favorite thing, so it was only right that he should.

But there was one problem. The fair would not be until the afternoon, and if he wanted to keep Harvey a secret, Sterling would have to find a way to hide his pet during the morning.

He thought about putting Harvey in a shoe box. But once Harvey had chewed a hole in a shoe box and had gotten out. Sterling couldn’t take Harvey in his cage, because that would give away the surprise.

Friday morning Sterling sat up in bed thinking very hard. He had kept the secret all week; he didn’t want to spoil it now. Then suddenly he had an idea. He would carry Harvey in his shirt. He had done it many times when he was just playing around, and if he wore a sweater over his shirt, no one would know!

Hurriedly Sterling put on his clothes. He slipped sleepy Harvey in between the buttons on his shirt, put a carrot in for the hamster to snack on, and then he slipped on his brown sweater. It worked! Even Sterling could not see the bump where Harvey was.

He grabbed his books and ran to school. Harvey had cuddled up just over Sterling’s belt and gone back to sleep. This is great! Sterling thought. No one will ever guess until it’s time for the fair.

“Hey, Sterling,” Jay called, “where’s that great big secret? Don’t tell me you forgot it!”

“No, I didn’t forget,” Sterling laughed. “But it isn’t time for the fair yet.”

“I don’t think you really have anything!” Jay said, as he kicked a rock along the sidewalk.

“You’ll see.” Sterling smiled with delight and his brown eyes twinkled. “Everyone will see.”

“Where’s the big surprise?” Lois asked, as Sterling came into the schoolroom.

“It’s not time for the fair yet,” Sterling said. “You’ll have to wait.”

“I’ll bet he doesn’t have anything,” Lois answered.

“You’ll see!” Sterling said.

Just then Mrs. Stark came into the room. “Good morning, boys and girls. It’s time to begin our day,” she said, and e]e stopped talking.

“We will start with our spelling,” Mrs. Stark began.

Sterling was so excited over his surprise that he could hardly sit still, but he knew he must. He patted Harvey under his sweater. Harvey was still asleep.

Spelling time was over, recess had ended, and the only thing left to do before lunch was math. Sterling pulled his book out of his desk. As he did so, it hit Harvey and woke him up. Sterling could feel the hamster nibbling on the carrot. His whiskers brushed Sterling’s stomach. It tickled! Sterling tried not to laugh, but Harvey kept nibbling and tickling his stomach. Finally he couldn’t hold a laugh back any longer. Mrs. Stark looked at him out of the corner of her eye. Sterling covered his mouth and pretended to cough. Mrs. Stark went back to writing on the blackboard.

Sterling started to write the day’s assignment, but Harvey had decided to do a little exercising. He began to run around Sterling’s waist. Harvey’s tiny feet tickled even more than his whiskers.

Sterling bit his lip and held his breath, but Harvey kept running. The more he ran the more it tickled; the more it tickled the more Sterling wanted to laugh.

“Be still, Harvey!” Sterling whispered. But no matter how hard he tried, he could not keep from laughing.

“Sterling Connell!” Mrs. Stark said in a disapproving voice. “What is so funny?”

Sterling grabbed his mouth and tried very hard to stop laughing, but now Harvey was crawling straight up his chest. It tickled even more!

Mrs. Stark walked back to Sterling’s desk. Now she was really cross. “What is the matter with you?” she asked.

Sterling opened his mouth to answer, but all that came out was another laugh. Mrs. Stark was bewildered.

Everyone was looking at Sterling. Again he covered his mouth and tried to stop laughing, but it was no use. Harvey was climbing over his ribs! Now Harvey’s feet and whiskers were tickling Sterling.

“What is the matter?” Mrs. Stark repeated impatiently. Then Jay, who sat behind Sterling, began to laugh too. Harvey was on Sterling’s shoulder and his little head was peeking out of Sterling’s collar. Soon almost everyone except Mrs. Stark had seen Harvey. They all laughed. Then finally Mrs. Stark saw Harvey too. Her eyebrows raised in surprise. “Oh, my!” she gasped.

Everyone laughed even harder. Mrs. Stark looked around the room and then she laughed too.

Sterling pulled Harvey out of his shirt. “Harvey is my favorite thing for the fair,” he said.

“Did you have him in your shirt all morning?” Mrs. Stark asked.

“Yes, I wanted to surprise everyone.”

“You did!” Jay laughed.

Mrs. Stark nodded her head. “You surely did. I’ve never been so surprised in my life!”

Sterling smiled and his brown eyes twinkled with delight. “I guess I was more surprised than anyone!”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Charles Quilter