John Habberton.

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inextricably mixed about the legs of a light _jardiniere_, and it came
down with a crash, and then the two were sent into disgrace, which
suited them exactly; although there was a difference between them as to
whether the dog Jerry should seek and enjoy the seclusion upon which his
heart was evidently intent.

Then Budge retired with a face full of fatherly solicitude, and Mrs.
Burton was enabled to devote herself to the friends to whom she had not
previously been able to address a single consecutive sentence.

Mrs. Burton occasionally suggested to her husband that it might be well
to see where the boys were, and what they were doing; but that gentleman
had seldom before found himself the only man among a dozen comely and
intelligent ladies, and he was too conscious of the variety of such
experiences to trouble himself about a couple of people who had
unlimited ability to keep themselves out of trouble; so the boys were
undisturbed for the space of two hours. A sudden Summer shower came up
in the meantime, and a sentimental young lady requested the song "Rain
upon the Roof," and Mrs. Burton and her husband began to render it as a
duet; but in the middle of the second stanza Mrs. Burton began to
cough, Mr. Burton sniffed the air apprehensively, while several of the
ladies started to their feet while others turned pale. The air of the
room was evidently filled with smoke.

"There can't be any danger, ladies," said Mrs. Burton. "You all know
what the American domestic servant is. I suppose our cook, with her
delicate sense of the appropriate, is relighting her fire, and has the
kitchen doors wide open, so that all the smoke may escape through the
house instead of the chimney. I'll go and stop it."

The mere mention of servants had its usual effect; the ladies began at
once that animated conversation which this subject has always inspired,
and which it will probably continue to inspire until all housekeepers
gather in that happy land, one of whose charms it is that the American
kitchen is undiscernible within its borders, and the purified domestic
may stand before her mistress without needing a scolding. But one
nervous young lady, whose agitation was being manifested by her feet
alone, happened to touch with the toe of her boot the turn-screw of the
hot-air register. Instantly she sprang back and uttered a piercing
scream, while from the register there arose a thick column of smoke.

"Fire!" screamed one lady.

"Water!" shrieked another.

"Oh!" shouted several in chorus.

Some ran up-stairs, others into the rainy street, the nervous young lady
fainted, a business-like young matron, who had for years been maturing
plans of operation in case of fire, hastily swept into a table-cover a
dozen books in special morocco bindings, and hurried through the rain
with them to a house several hundred feet away, while the faithful dog
Jerry, scenting the trouble afar off, hurried home and did his duty to
the best of his ability by barking and snapping furiously at every one,
and galloping frantically through the house, leaving his mark upon
almost every square yard of the carpet. Meanwhile Mr. Burton hurried
up-stairs coatless, with disarranged hair, dirty hands, smirched face,
and assured the ladies that there was no danger, while Budge and Toddie,
the former deadly pale, and the latter almost apoplectic in color,
sneaked up to their own chamber.

The company dispersed: ladies who had expected carriages did not wait
for them, but struggled to the extreme verge of politeness for the use
of such umbrellas and waterproof-cloaks as Mrs. Burton could supply.
Fifteen minutes later the only occupant of the parlor was the dog Jerry,
who lay, with alert head, in the centre of a large "Turkish chair. Mrs.
Burton, tenderly supported by her husband, descended the stair, and
contemplated with tightly compressed lips and blazing eyes the disorder
of her desolated parlor. When, however, she reached the dining-room and
beheld the exquisitely-set lunch-table, to the arrangement of which she
had devoted hours of thought in preceding days and weeks, she burst into
a flood of tears.

"I'll tell you how it was," remarked Budge, who appeared suddenly and
without invitation, and whose consciousness of good intention made him
as adamant before the indignant frowns of his uncle and aunt, "_I_
always think bonfires is the nicest things about celebrations, an' Tod
an' me have been carryin' sticks for two days to make a big bonfire in
the back yard to-day. But then it rained, an' rainy sticks won't burn - I
_guess_ we found that out last Thanksgivin' Day. So we thought we'd make
one in the cellar, 'cause the top is all tin, an' the bottom's all dirt,
an' it can't rain in there at all. An' we got lots of newspapers and
kindlin'-wood, an' put some kerosene on it, an' it blazed up beautiful,
an' we was just comin' up to ask you all down to look at it, when in
came Uncle Harry, an' banged me against the wall an' Tod into the
coal-heap, an' threw a mean old dirty carpet on top of it, an' wet'ed it
all over."

"Little boysh never _can_ do anyfing nysh wivout bein' made to don't,"
said Toddie. "Dzust see what an awful big splinter I got in my hand when
I was froin' wood on the fire! I didn't cry a _bit_ about it then,
'cause I fought I was makin' uvver folks happy, like the Lord wants
little boysh to. But they didn't _get_ happy, so now I _am_ goin' to cry
'bout the splinter!"

And Toddie raised a howl which was as much superior to his usual cry as
things made to order generally are over the ordinary supply.

"We had a torchlight procession, too," said Budge. "We had to have it in
the attic, but it wasn't very nice. There wasn't any trees up there for
the light to dance around on, like it does on 'lection-day nights. So we
just stopped, an' would have felt real doleful if we hadn't thought of
the bonfire."

"Where did you leave the torches?" asked Mr. Burton, springing from his
chair, and lifting his wife to her feet at the same time.

"I - I dunno," said Budge, after a moment of thought.

"Froed 'em in a closet where the rags is, so's not to dyty the nice
floor wif 'em," said Toddie.

Mr. Burton hurried up-stairs and extinguished a smoldering heap of rags,
while his wife, truer to herself than she imagined she was, drew Budge
to her, and said, kindly:

"_Wanting_ to make people happy, and _doing_ it are two very different
things, Budge."

"Yes, I should think they was," said Budge, with an emphasis which
explained much that was left unsaid.

"Little boysh is goosies for tryin' to make big folksh happy at all,"
said Toddie, beginning again to cry.

"Oh, no, they're not, dear," said Mrs. Burton, taking the sorrowful
child into her lap. "But they don't always understand how best to do it,
so they ought to ask big folks before they begin."

"Then there wouldn't be no s'prises," complained Toddie. "Say; izh we
goin' to eat all this supper?"

"I suppose so, if we can," sighed Mrs. Burton.

"I _guesh_ we can - Budgie an' me," said Toddie. "An' _won't_ we be glad
all them wimmens wented away!"

That evening, after the boys had retired, Mrs. Burton seemed a little
uneasy of mind, and at length she said to her husband:

"I feel guilty at never having directed the boys' devotions since they
have been here, and I know no better time than the present in which to
begin."

Mr. Burton's eyes followed his wife reverently as she left the room. The
service she proposed to render the children she had sometimes performed
for himself, with results for which he could not be grateful enough, and
yet it was not with unalloyed anticipation that he softly followed her
up the stair. Mrs. Burton went into the chamber and found the boys
playing battering-ram, each with a pillow in front of him.

"Children," said she, "have you said your prayers?"

"No," said Budge; "somebody's got to be knocked down first. _Then_ we
will."

A sudden tumble by Toddie was the signal for devotional exercises, and
both boys knelt beside the bed.

"Now, darlings," said Mrs. Burton, "you have made some sad mistakes
to-day, and they should teach you that, even when you want most to do
right, you need to be helped by somebody better. Don't you think so?"

"_I_ do," said Budge. "Lots."

"_I_ don't," said Toddie. "More help I getsh, the worse fings is. Guesh
I'll do fings all alone affer thish."

"I know what to say to the Lord to-night, Aunt Alice," said Budge.

"_Dear_ little boy," said Mrs. Burton, "go on."

"Dear Lord," said Budge, "we _do_ have the _awfullest_ times when we try
to make other folks happy. _Do_, please, Lord - please teach big folks
how hard little folks have to think before they do things for 'em. An'
make 'em understand little folks _every_ way better than they do, so
that they don't make little folks unhappy when they try to make big
folks feel jolly. Make big folks have to think as hard as little folks
do, for Christ's sake - Amen! Oh, yes, an' bless dear mamma an' the
sweet little sister baby. How's that, Aunt Alice?"

Mrs. Burton did not reply, and Budge, on turning, saw only her departing
figure, while Toddie remarked:

"Now, it's _my_ tyne (turn.) Dear Lord, when I getsh to be a little boy
anzel up in hebben, don't let growed-up anzels come along whenever I'm
doin' anyfing nice for 'em, an' say '_don't_,' or tumble me down in
heaps of nashty old black coal. _There_! Amen!"

It was with a sneaking sense of relief that Mrs. Burton awoke on the
following morning, and realized that the day was Sunday. Even
schoolteachers have two days of rest in every seven, thought Mrs. Burton
to herself, and no one doubts that they deserve them. How much more
deserving of rest and relief, then, must be the volunteer teacher who,
not for a few hours only, but from dawn to twilight, has charge of two
children whose capacity for both learning and mischief, surely equals
any school-full of boys? The realization that she was attempting, for a
few days only, that which mothers everywhere were doing without hope of
rest excepting in heaven, made Mrs. Burton feel more humble and
worthless than she had ever done in her life before, but it did not
banish her wish to turn the children over to the care of their uncle for
the day. If Mrs. Burton had been honest with herself she would have
admitted that the principal cause of her anxiety for relief was her
unwillingness to have her husband witness the failures which she had
come to believe were to be her daily lot while trying to train her
nephews. Thoughts of a Sunday excursion, from participation in which she
should in some way excuse herself; of volunteering to relieve her
sister-in-law's nurse during the day, and thus leaving her husband in
charge of the house and the children; of making that visit to her mother
which is always in order with the newly-made wife - all these, and other
devices not so practicable, came before Mrs. Burton's mind's eye for
comparison, but they all and together took sudden wing when Mr. Burton
awoke and complained of a raging toothache. Truly pitiful and
sympathetic as Mrs. Burton was, she exhibited remarkable resignation in
the face of the thought that her husband would probably need to remain
in his room all day, and that it would be absolutely necessary to keep
the children out of his sight and hearing. Then he could find nothing to
criticise; she might fail as frequently as she probably would, but he
would know only of her successes.

A light knock was heard at Mrs. Burton's door, and then, without waiting
for invitation, there came in two fresh, rosy faces, two heads of
disarranged hair, and two long white nightgowns, and the occupant of the
longer gown exclaimed:

"Say, Uncle Harry, do you know it's Sunday? What are you going to do
about it? We always have lots done for us Sundays, 'cause it's the only
day papa's home."

"Yes, I - think I've heard - something of the kind - before," mumbled Mr.
Burton, with difficulty, between the fingers which covered his aching
incisor.

"Oh - h," exclaimed Toddie, "I b'lieve he' goin' to play bear! Come on,
Budge, we's got to be dogs." And Toddie buried his face in the
bed-covering and succeeded in fastening his teeth in his uncle's calf. A
howl from the sufferer did not frighten off the amateur dog, and he was
finally dislodged only by being clutched by the throat by his victim.

"_That_ izhn't the way to play bear," complained Toddie; "you ought to
keep on a-howlin' an' let me keep on a-bitin', an' then you give me
pennies to stop - that's the way papa does."

"_Can_ you see how Tom Lawrence can be so idiotic?" asked Mrs. Burton.

"I suppose I could," replied the gentleman, "if I hadn't such a
toothache."

"You poor old fellow!" said Mrs. Burton, tenderly. Then she turned to
her nephews, and exclaimed: "Now, boys, listen to me! Uncle Harry is
very sick to-day - he has a dreadful toothache, and every particle of
bother and noise will make it worse. You must both keep away from his
room, and be as quiet as possible wherever you may be in the house. Even
the sound of people talking is very annoying to a person with the
toothache."

"Then you's a baddy woman to stay in here an' keep a-talkin' all the
whole time," said Toddie, "when it makes poor old Uncle Harry supper so.
G'way."

Mrs. Burton's lord and master was not in too much pain to shake
considerably with silent laughter over this unexpected rebuke, and the
lady herself was too thoroughly startled to devise an appropriate
retort; so the boys amused themselves by a general exploration of the
chamber, not omitting even the pockets of their uncle's clothing. This
work completed, to the full extent of their ability, the boys demanded
breakfast.

"Breakfast won't be ready until eight o'clock," said Mrs. Burton, "and
it is now only six. If you little boys don't want to feel dreadfully
hungry, you had better go back to bed, and lie as quiet as possible."

"Is that the way not to be hungry?" asked Toddie, with wide-open eyes,
which always accompany the receptive mind.

"Certainly," said Mrs. Burton. "If you run about, you agitate your
stomachs, and that makes them restless, and so you feel hungry."

"Gwacious!" said Toddie. "What lots of fings little boys has got to lyne
(learn), hazn't they? Come on, Budgie - let's go put our tummuks to bed,
an' keep 'em from gettin' ajjerytated."

"All right," said Budge. "But say, Aunt Alice, don't you s'pose our
stomachs would be sleepier an' not so restless if there was some
crackers or bread an' butter in 'em?"

"There's no one down-stairs to get you any," said Mrs. Burton.

"Oh," said Budge, "_we_ can find them. We know where everything is in
the pantries and store-room."

"_I_ wish _I_ were so smart," sighed Mrs Burton. "Go along - get what you
want - but don't come back to this room again. And don't let me find
anything in disorder down-stairs, or I shall never trust you in my
kitchen again."

Away flew the children, but their disappearance only made room for a new
torment, for Mr. Burton stopped in the middle of the operation of
shaving himself, and remarked:

"I've been longing for Sunday to come, for your sake, my dear. The boys,
as you have frequently observed, have very strange notions about holy
things; but they are also, by nature, quite religious and spiritually
minded. _You_ are not only this latter, but you are free from strange
doctrines and the traditions of men. The mystical influences of the day
will make themselves felt upon those innocent little hearts, and you
will have the opportunity to correct wrong teachings and instil new
sentiments and truths."

Mr. Burton's voice had grown a little shaky as he reached the close of
this neat and reverential speech, so that his wife scrutinized his face
closely to see if there might not be a laugh somewhere about it. A
friendly coating of lather protected one cheek, however, and the
troublesome tooth had distorted the shape of the other, so Mrs. Burton
was compelled to accept the mingled ascription of praise and
responsibility, which she did with a sinking heart.

"I'll take care of them while you're at church, my dear," said Mr.
Burton; "they're always saintly with sick people."

Mrs. Burton breathed a sigh of relief. She determined that she would
extemporize a special "Children's service" immediately after breakfast,
and impress her nephews as fully as possible with the spirit of the day;
then if her husband would but continue the good work thus begun, it
would be impossible for the boys to fall from grace in the few hours
which remained between dinner-time and darkness. Full of her project,
and forgetting that she had allowed her chambermaid to go to early Mass
and promised herself to see that the children were dressed for
breakfast, Mrs. Burton, at the breakfast-table, noticed that her nephews
did not respond with their usual alacrity to the call of the bell.
Recalling her forgotten duty, she hurried to the boys' chamber, and
found them already enjoying a repast which was remarkable at least for
variety. On a small table, drawn to the side of the bed, was a pie, a
bowl of pickles, a dish of honey in the comb, and a small paper package
of cinnamon bark, and, with spoons, knives and forks and fingers, the
boys were helping themselves alternately to these delicacies. Seeing his
aunt, Toddie looked rather guilty, but Budge displayed the smile of the
fully justified, and remarked:

"Now, you know what kind of meals little boys like, Aunt Alice. I hope
you won't forget it while we're here."

"What do you mean!" exclaimed Mrs. Burton, sternly, "by bringing such
things up-stairs?"

"Why," said Budge, "you told us to get what we wanted, an' we supposed
you told the troof."

"An' I ain't azh hungry azh I wazh," remarked Toddie, "but my tummuk
feels as if it growed big and got little again, every minute or two, an'
it hurts. I wishes we could put tummuks away when we get done usin' 'em,
like we do hats an' overshoes."

To sweep the remains of the unique morning lunch into a heap and away
from her nephews, was a work which occupied but a second or two of Mrs.
Burton's time; this done, two little boys found themselves robed more
rapidly than they had ever before been. Arrived at the breakfast-table,
they eyed with withering contempt an irreproachable cutlet, some
crisp-brown potatoes of wafer-like thinness, and a heap of rolls almost
as light as snowflakes.

"_We_ don't want done of _this_ kind of breakfast," said Budge.

"Of course we don't," said Toddie, "when we's so awful full of uvver
fings. I don't know where I'zhe goin' to put my _dinner_ when it comes
time to eat it."

"Don't fret about _that_, Tod," said Budge. "Don't you know papa says
that the Bible says something that means 'don't worry till you have
to.'"

Mrs. Burton raised her eyebrows with horror not unmixed with inquiry,
and her husband hastened to give Budge's sentiment its proper Biblical
wording. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." Mrs. Burton's
wonder was allayed by the explanation, although her horror was not, and
she made haste to say:

"Boys, we will have a little Sunday-school, all by ourselves, in the
parlor, immediately after breakfast."

"Hooray!" shouted Budge. "An' will you give us a ticket an' pass around
a box for pennies, just like they do in _big_ Sunday-schools?"

"I - suppose so," said Mrs. Burton, who had not previously thought of
these special attractions of the successful Sunday-school.

"Let's go right in, Tod," said Budge,"'cause the dog's in there. I saw
him as I came down, and I shut all the doors, so he couldn't get out. We
can have some fun with him 'fore Sunday-school begins."

Both boys started for the parlor-door, and, guided by that marvelous
instinct with which Providence arms the few against the many, and the
weak against the strong, the dog Jerry also approached the door from the
inside. As the door opened, there was heard a convulsive howl, and a
general tumbling of small boys, while at almost the same instant the dog
Jerry flew into the dining-room and hid himself in the folds of his
mistress's morning-robe. Two or three minutes later Budge entered the
dining-room with a very rueful countenance, and remarked:

"I guess we need that Sunday-school pretty quick, Aunt Alice. The dog
don't want to play with us, and we ought to be comforted some way."

"They're grown people, all over again," remarked Mr. Burton, with a
laugh.

"What do you mean?" demanded Mrs. Burton.

[Illustration: TODDIE LOOKED RATHER GUILTY, BUT BUDGE DISPLAYED THE
SMILE OF THE FULLY JUSTIFIED, AND REMARKED: "NOW YOU KNOW WHAT KIND OF
MEALS LITTLE BOYS LIKE, AUNT ALICE."]

"Only this - that when their own devices fail, they're in a hurry for
the consolations of religion," said Mr. Burton. "May I visit the
Sunday-school?"

"I suppose I can't keep you away," sighed Mrs. Burton, leading the way
to the parlor. "Boys," said she, greeting her nephews, "first, we'll
sing a little hymn; what shall it be?"

"Ole Uncle Ned," said Toddie, promptly.

"Oh, that's not a Sunday song," said Mrs. Burton.

"_I_ fink tizh," said Toddie, "'cause it sayzh, free or four timezh,
'He's gone where de good niggers go,' an' that's _hebben_, you know; so
it's a Sunday song."

"_I_ think 'Glory, glory, hallelujah!' is nicer," said Budge, "an' I
know _that's_ a Sunday song, 'cause I've heard it in church."

"Aw wight," said Toddie; and he immediately started the old air himself,
with the words, "There liezh the whisky-bottle, empty on the sheff," but
was suddenly brought to order by a shake from his aunt, while his uncle
danced about the front parlor in an ecstasy not directly traceable to
toothache.

"That's not a Sunday song either, Toddie," said Mrs. Burton. "The words
are real rowdyish. Where did you learn them?"

"Round the corner from our housh," said Toddie, "an' you can shing your
ole shongs yourseff, if you don't like mine."

Mrs. Burton went to the piano, rambled among chords for a few seconds,
and finally recalled a Sunday-school air in which Toddie joined as
angelically as if his own musical taste had never been impugned.

"Now I guess we'd better take up the collection before any little boys
lose their pennies," said Budge, hurrying to the dining-room, and
returning with a strawberry-box which seemed to have been specially
provided for the occasion; this he passed gravely before Toddie, and
Toddie held his hand over it as carefully as if he were depositing
hundreds, and then Toddie took the box and passed it before Budge, who
made the same dumb show, after which Budge retook the box, shook it,
listened, and remarked, "It don't rattle - I guess it's all paper-money,
to-day," placed it upon the mantel, reseated himself, and remarked:

"_Now_ bring on your lesson."

Mrs. Burton opened her Bible with a sense of utter helplessness. With
the natural instinct of a person given to thoroughness, she opened at
the beginning of the book, but she speedily closed it again - the first
chapter of Genesis had suggested many a puzzling question even to her
orthodox mind. Turning the leaves rapidly, passing, for conscience sake,
the record of many a battle, the details of which would have delighted
the boys, and hurrying by the prophecies as records not for the minds of
children, she at last reached the New Testament, and the ever-new story
of the only boy who ever was all that his parents and relatives could
wish him to be.

"The lesson will be about Jesus," said Mrs. Burton."

"Little-boy Jesus or big-man Jesus?" asked Toddie.

"A - a - both," replied the teacher, in some confusion.

"Aw wight," said Toddie. "G'won."

"There was once a time when all the world was in trouble, without
knowing exactly why," said Mrs. Burton; "but the Lord understood it, for
He understands everything."

"Does He knows how it feels to be a little boy?" asked Toddie, "an' be
sent to bed when He don't want to go?"

"And He determined to comfort the world, as He always does when the
world finds out it can't comfort itself," continued Mrs. Burton,
entirely ignoring her nephew's questions.

"But wasn't there lotzh of little boyzh then?" asked Toddie, "an' didn't
they used to be comforted as well as big folks?"

"I suppose so," said Mrs. Burton. "But He knew if He comforted grown
people, they would make the children happy."

"I wiss He'd comfort you an' Uncle Harry every mornin', then," said
Toddie. "G'won."

"So He sent His own Son - his only Son - down to the world to be a dear
little baby."

"_I_ should think He'd have made Him a _sister_ baby," said Budge, "if
He'd wanted to make everybody happy."



Online LibraryJohn HabbertonRomance of California Life → online text (page 30 of 33)