THE LAST OF THE PETERKINS,
With Others of their kin.
BY LUCRETIA P. HALE.
* * * * *
BOSTON: LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY. 1906.
Copyright, 1886, BY ROBERTS BROTHERS. Printers S.J. PARKHILL & CO., BOSTON, U.S.A.
THE LADY FROM PHILADELPHIA,
BELOVED BY THE PETERKIN FAMILY,
This Book is Dedicated.
* * * * *
The following Papers contain the last records of the Peterkin Family, who unhappily ventured to leave their native land and have never returned. Elizabeth Eliza's Commonplace Book has been found among the family papers, and will be published here for the first time. It is evident that she foresaw that the family were ill able to contend with the commonplace struggle of life; and we may not wonder that they could not survive the unprecedented, far away from the genial advice of friends, especially that of the Lady from Philadelphia.
It is feared that Mr. and Mrs. Peterkin lost their lives after leaving Tobolsk, perhaps in some vast conflagration.
Agamemnon and Solomon John were probably sacrificed in some effort to join in or control the disturbances which arose in the distant places where they had established themselves,—Agamemnon in Madagascar, Solomon John in Rustchuk.
The little boys have merged into men in some German university, while Elizabeth Eliza must have been lost in the mazes of the Russian language.
* * * * *
The Last of the Peterkins.
I. ELIZABETH ELIZA WRITES A PAPER
II. ELIZABETH ELIZA'S COMMONPLACE-BOOK
III. THE PETERKINS PRACTISE TRAVELLING
IV. THE PETERKINS' EXCURSION FOR MAPLE SUGAR
V. THE PETERKINS "AT HOME"
VI. MRS. PETERKIN IN EGYPT
VII. MRS. PETERKIN FAINTS ON THE GREAT PYRAMID
VIII. THE LAST OF THE PETERKINS
Others of their Kin.
IX. LUCILLA'S DIARY
X. JEDIDIAH'S NOAH'S ARK
XI. CARRIE'S THREE WISHES
XII. "WHERE CAN THOSE BOYS BE?"
XIII. A PLACE FOR OSCAR
XIV. THE FIRST NEEDLE
* * * * *
THE LAST OF THE PETERKINS.
ELIZABETH ELIZA WRITES A PAPER.
Elizabeth Eliza joined the Circumambient Club with the idea that it would be a long time before she, a new member, would have to read a paper. She would have time to hear the other papers read, and to see how it was done; and she would find it easy when her turn came. By that time she would have some ideas; and long before she would be called upon, she would have leisure to sit down and write out something. But a year passed away, and the time was drawing near. She had, meanwhile, devoted herself to her studies, and had tried to inform herself on all subjects by way of preparation. She had consulted one of the old members of the Club as to the choice of a subject.
"Oh, write about anything," was the answer,—"anything you have been thinking of."
Elizabeth Eliza was forced to say she had not been thinking lately. She had not had time. The family had moved, and there was always an excitement about something, that prevented her sitting down to think.
"Why not write out your family adventures?" asked the old member.
Elizabeth Eliza was sure her mother would think it made them too public; and most of the Club papers, she observed, had some thought in them. She preferred to find an idea.
So she set herself to the occupation of thinking. She went out on the piazza to think; she stayed in the house to think. She tried a corner of the china-closet. She tried thinking in the cars, and lost her pocket-book; she tried it in the garden, and walked into the strawberry bed. In the house and out of the house, it seemed to be the same,—she could not think of anything to think of. For many weeks she was seen sitting on the sofa or in the window, and nobody disturbed her. "She is thinking about her paper," the family would say, but she only knew that she could not think of anything.
Agamemnon told her that many writers waited till the last moment, when inspiration came which was much finer than anything studied. Elizabeth Eliza thought it would be terrible to wait till the last moment, if the inspiration should not come! She might combine the two ways,—wait till a few days before the last, and then sit down and write anyhow. This would give a chance for inspiration, while she would not run the risk of writing nothing.
She was much discouraged. Perhaps she had better give it up? But, no; everybody wrote a paper: if not now, she would have to do it sometime!
And at last the idea of a subject came to her! But it was as hard to find a moment to write as to think. The morning was noisy, till the little boys had gone to school; for they had begun again upon their regular course, with the plan of taking up the study of cider in October. And after the little boys had gone to school, now it was one thing, now it was another,—the china-closet to be cleaned, or one of the neighbors in to look at the sewing-machine. She tried after dinner, but would fall asleep. She felt that evening would be the true time, after the cares of day were over.
The Peterkins had wire mosquito-nets all over the house,—at every door and every window. They were as eager to keep out the flies as the mosquitoes. The doors were all furnished with strong springs, that pulled the doors to as soon as they were opened. The little boys had practised running in and out of each door, and slamming it after them. This made a good deal of noise, for they had gained great success in making one door slam directly after another, and at times would keep up a running volley of artillery, as they called it, with the slamming of the doors. Mr. Peterkin, however, preferred it to flies.
So Elizabeth Eliza felt she would venture to write of a summer evening with all the windows open.
She seated herself one evening in the library, between two large kerosene lamps, with paper, pen, and ink before her. It was a beautiful night, with the smell of the roses coming in through the mosquito-nets, and just the faintest odor of kerosene by her side. She began upon her work. But what was her dismay! She found herself immediately surrounded with mosquitoes. They attacked her at every point. They fell upon her hand as she moved it to the inkstand; they hovered, buzzing, over her head; they planted themselves under the lace of her sleeve. If she moved her left hand to frighten them off from one point, another band fixed themselves upon her right hand. Not only did they flutter and sting, but they sang in a heathenish manner, distracting her attention as she tried to write, as she tried to waft them off. Nor was this all. Myriads of June-bugs and millers hovered round, flung themselves into the lamps, and made disagreeable funeral-pyres of themselves, tumbling noisily on her paper in their last unpleasant agonies. Occasionally one darted with a rush toward Elizabeth Eliza's head.
If there was anything Elizabeth Eliza had a terror of, it was a June-bug. She had heard that they had a tendency to get into the hair. One had been caught in the hair of a friend of hers, who had long luxuriant hair. But the legs of the June-bug were caught in it like fish-hooks, and it had to be cut out, and the June-bug was only extricated by sacrificing large masses of the flowing locks.
Elizabeth Eliza flung her handkerchief over her head. Could she sacrifice what hair she had to the claims of literature? She gave a cry of dismay.
The little boys rushed in a moment to the rescue. They flapped newspapers, flung sofa-cushions; they offered to stand by her side with fly-whisks, that she might be free to write. But the struggle was too exciting for her, and the flying insects seemed to increase. Moths of every description—large brown moths, small, delicate white millers—whirled about her, while the irritating hum of the mosquito kept on more than ever. Mr. Peterkin and the rest of the family came in to inquire about the trouble. It was discovered that each of the little boys had been standing in the opening of a wire door for some time, watching to see when Elizabeth Eliza would have made her preparations and would begin to write. Countless numbers of dorbugs and winged creatures of every description had taken occasion to come in. It was found that they were in every part of the house.
"We might open all the blinds and screens," suggested Agamemnon, "and make a vigorous onslaught and drive them all out at once."
"I do believe there are more inside than out now," said Solomon John.
"The wire nets, of course," said Agamemnon, "keep them in now."
"We might go outside," proposed Solomon John, "and drive in all that are left. Then to-morrow morning, when they are all torpid, kill them and make collections of them."
Agamemnon had a tent which he had provided in case he should ever go to the Adirondacks, and he proposed using it for the night. The little boys were wild for this.
Mrs. Peterkin thought she and Elizabeth Eliza would prefer trying to sleep in the house. But perhaps Elizabeth Eliza would go on with her paper with more comfort out of doors.
A student's lamp was carried out, and she was established on the steps of the back piazza, while screens were all carefully closed to prevent the mosquitoes and insects from flying out. But it was of no use. There were outside still swarms of winged creatures that plunged themselves about her, and she had not been there long before a huge miller flung himself into the lamp and put it out. She gave up for the evening.
Still the paper went on. "How fortunate," exclaimed Elizabeth Eliza, "that I did not put it off till the last evening!" Having once begun, she persevered in it at every odd moment of the day. Agamemnon presented her with a volume of "Synonymes," which was of great service to her. She read her paper, in its various stages, to Agamemnon first, for his criticism, then to her father in the library, then to Mr. and Mrs. Peterkin together, next to Solomon John, and afterward to the whole family assembled. She was almost glad that the lady from Philadelphia was not in town, as she wished it to be her own unaided production. She declined all invitations for the week before the night of the club, and on the very day she kept her room with eau sucree, that she might save her voice. Solomon John provided her with Brown's Bronchial Troches when the evening came, and Mrs. Peterkin advised a handkerchief over her head, in case of June-bugs. It was, however, a cool night. Agamemnon escorted her to the house.
The Club met at Ann Maria Bromwick's. No gentlemen were admitted to the regular meetings. There were what Solomon John called "occasional annual meetings," to which they were invited, when all the choicest papers of the year were re-read.
Elizabeth Eliza was placed at the head of the room, at a small table, with a brilliant gas-jet on one side. It was so cool the windows could be closed. Mrs. Peterkin, as a guest, sat in the front row.
This was her paper, as Elizabeth Eliza read it, for she frequently inserted fresh expressions:—
It is impossible that much can be known about it. This is why we have taken it up as a subject. We mean the sun that lights us by day and leaves us by night. In the first place, it is so far off. No measuring-tapes could reach it; and both the earth and the sun are moving about so, that it would be difficult to adjust ladders to reach it, if we could. Of course, people have written about it, and there are those who have told us how many miles off it is. But it is a very large number, with a great many figures in it; and though it is taught in most if not all of our public schools, it is a chance if any one of the scholars remembers exactly how much it is.
It is the same with its size. We cannot, as we have said, reach it by ladders to measure it; and if we did reach it, we should have no measuring-tapes large enough, and those that shut up with springs are difficult to use in a high place. We are told, it is true, in a great many of the school-books, the size of the sun; but, again, very few of those who have learned the number have been able to remember it after they have recited it, even if they remembered it then. And almost all of the scholars have lost their school-books, or have neglected to carry them home, and so they are not able to refer to them,—I mean, after leaving school. I must say that is the case with me, I should say with us, though it was different. The older ones gave their school-books to the younger ones, who took them back to school to lose them, or who have destroyed them when there were no younger ones to go to school. I should say there are such families. What I mean is, the fact that in some families there are no younger children to take off the school-books. But even then they are put away on upper shelves, in closets or in attics, and seldom found if wanted,—if then, dusty.
Of course, we all know of a class of persons called astronomers, who might be able to give us information on the subject in hand, and who probably do furnish what information is found in school-books. It should be observed, however, that these astronomers carry on their observations always in the night. Now, it is well known that the sun does not shine in the night. Indeed, that is one of the peculiarities of the night, that there is no sun to light us, so we have to go to bed as long as there is nothing else we can do without its light, unless we use lamps, gas, or kerosene, which is very well for the evening, but would be expensive all night long; the same with candles. How, then, can we depend upon their statements, if not made from their own observation?—I mean, if they never saw the sun?
We cannot expect that astronomers should give us any valuable information with regard to the sun, which they never see, their occupation compelling them to be up at night. It is quite likely that they never see it; for we should not expect them to sit up all day as well as all night, as, under such circumstances, their lives would not last long.
Indeed, we are told that their name is taken from the word aster, which means "star;" the word is "aster—know—more." This, doubtless, means that they know more about the stars than other things. We see, therefore, that their knowledge is confined to the stars, and we cannot trust what they have to tell us of the sun.
There are other asters which should not be mixed up with these,—we mean those growing by the wayside in the fall of the year. The astronomers, from their nocturnal habits, can scarcely be acquainted with them; but as it does not come within our province, we will not inquire.
We are left, then, to seek our own information about the sun. But we are met with a difficulty. To know a thing, we must look at it. How can we look at the sun? It is so very bright that our eyes are dazzled in gazing upon it. We have to turn away, or they would be put out,—the sight, I mean. It is true, we might use smoked glass, but that is apt to come off on the nose. How, then, if we cannot look at it, can we find out about it? The noonday would seem to be the better hour, when it is the sunniest; but, besides injuring the eyes, it is painful to the neck to look up for a long time. It is easy to say that our examination of this heavenly body should take place at sunrise, when we could look at it more on a level, without having to endanger the spine. But how many people are up at sunrise? Those who get up early do it because they are compelled to, and have something else to do than look at the sun.
The milkman goes forth to carry the daily milk, the ice-man to leave the daily ice. But either of these would be afraid of exposing their vehicles to the heating orb of day,—the milkman afraid of turning the milk, the ice-man timorous of melting his ice,—and they probably avoid those directions where they shall meet the sun's rays. The student, who might inform us, has been burning the midnight oil. The student is not in the mood to consider the early sun.
There remains to us the evening, also,—the leisure hour of the day. But, alas! our houses are not built with an adaptation to this subject. They are seldom made to look toward the sunset. A careful inquiry and close observation, such as have been called for in preparation of this paper, have developed the fact that not a single house in this town faces the sunset! There may be windows looking that way, but in such a case there is always a barn between. I can testify to this from personal observations, because, with my brothers, we have walked through the several streets of this town with notebooks, carefully noting every house looking upon the sunset, and have found none from which the sunset could be studied. Sometimes it was the next house, sometimes a row of houses, or its own wood-house, that stood in the way.
Of course, a study of the sun might be pursued out of doors. But in summer, sunstroke would be likely to follow; in winter, neuralgia and cold. And how could you consult your books, your dictionaries, your encyclopaedias? There seems to be no hour of the day for studying the sun. You might go to the East to see it at its rising, or to the West to gaze upon its setting, but—you don't.
* * * * *
Here Elizabeth Eliza came to a pause. She had written five different endings, and had brought them all, thinking, when the moment came, she would choose one of them. She was pausing to select one, and inadvertently said, to close the phrase, "you don't." She had not meant to use the expression, which she would not have thought sufficiently imposing,—it dropped out unconsciously,—but it was received as a close with rapturous applause.
She had read slowly, and now that the audience applauded at such a length, she had time to feel she was much exhausted and glad of an end. Why not stop there, though there were some pages more? Applause, too, was heard from the outside. Some of the gentlemen had come,—Mr. Peterkin, Agamemnon, and Solomon John, with others,—and demanded admission.
"Since it is all over, let them in," said Ann Maria Bromwick.
Elizabeth Eliza assented, and rose to shake hands with her applauding friends.
ELIZABETH ELIZA'S COMMONPLACE-BOOK.
I am going to jot down, from time to time, any suggestions that occur to me that will be of use in writing another paper, in case I am called upon. I might be asked unexpectedly for certain occasions, if anybody happened to be prevented from coming to a meeting.
I have not yet thought of a subject, but I think that is not of as much consequence as to gather the ideas. It seems as if the ideas might suggest the subject, even if the subject does not suggest the ideas.
Now, often a thought occurs to me in the midst, perhaps, of conversation with others; but I forget it afterwards, and spend a great deal of time in trying to think what it was I was thinking of, which might have been very valuable.
I have indeed, of late, been in the habit of writing such thoughts on scraps of paper, and have often left the table to record some idea that occurred to me; but, looking up the paper and getting ready to write it, the thought has escaped me.
Then again, when I have written it, it has been on the backs of envelopes or the off sheet of a note, and it has been lost, perhaps thrown into the scrap-basket. Amanda is a little careless about such things; and, indeed, I have before encouraged her in throwing away old envelopes, which do not seem of much use otherwise, so perhaps she is not to blame.
* * * * *
The more I think of it, the more does it seem to me there would be an advantage if everybody should have the same number to their houses,—of course not everybody, but everybody acquainted. It is so hard to remember all the numbers; the streets you are not so likely to forget. Friends might combine to have the same number. What made me think of it was that we do have the same number as the Easterlys. To be sure, we are out of town, and they are in Boston; but it makes it so convenient, when I go into town to see the Easterlys, to remember that their number is the same as ours.
* * * * *
Agamemnon has lost his new silk umbrella. Yet the case was marked with his name in full, and the street address and the town. Of course he left the case at home, going out in the rain. He might have carried it with the address in his pocket, yet this would not have helped after losing the umbrella. Why not have a pocket for the case in the umbrella?
* * * * *
In shaking the dust from a dress, walk slowly backwards. This prevents the dust from falling directly on the dress again.
* * * * *
On Carving Duck.—It is singular that I can never get so much off the breast as other people do.
Perhaps I have it set on wrong side up.
* * * * *
I wonder why they never have catalogues for libraries arranged from the last letter of the name instead of the first.
There is our Italian teacher whose name ends with a "j," which I should remember much easier than the first letter, being so odd.
* * * * *
I cannot understand why a man should want to marry his wife's deceased sister. If she is dead, indeed, how can he? And if he has a wife, how wrong! I am very glad there is a law against it.
* * * * *
It is well, in prosperity, to be brought up as though you were living in adversity; then, if you have to go back to adversity, it is all the same.
On the other hand, it might be as well, in adversity, to act as though you were living in prosperity; otherwise, you would seem to lose the prosperity either way.
* * * * *
Solomon John has invented a new extinguisher. It is to represent a Turk smoking a pipe, which is to be hollow, and lets the smoke out. A very pretty idea!
* * * * *
A bee came stumbling into my room this morning, as it has done every spring since we moved here,—perhaps not the same bee. I think there must have been a family bee-line across this place before ever a house was built here, and the bees are trying for it every year.
Perhaps we ought to cut a window opposite.
There's room enough in the world for me and thee; go thou and trouble some one else,—as the man said when he put the fly out of the window.
* * * * *
Ann Maria thinks it would be better to fix upon a subject first; but then she has never yet written a paper herself, so she does not realize that you have to have some thoughts before you can write them. She should think, she says, that I would write about something that I see. But of what use is it for me to write about what everybody is seeing, as long as they can see it as well as I do?
* * * * *
The paper about emergencies read last week was one of the best I ever heard; but, of course, it would not be worth while for me to write the same, even if I knew enough.
* * * * *
My commonplace-book ought to show me what to do for common things; and then I can go to lectures, or read the "Rules of Emergencies" for the uncommon ones.
Because, as a family, I think we are more troubled about what to do on the common occasions than on the unusual ones. Perhaps because the unusual things don't happen to us, or very seldom; and for the uncommon things, there is generally some one you can ask.
I suppose there really is not as much danger about these uncommon things as there is in the small things, because they don't happen so often, and because you are more afraid of them.
I never saw it counted up, but I conclude that more children tumble into mud-puddles than into the ocean or Niagara Falls, for instance. It was so, at least, with our little boys; but that may have been partly because they never saw the ocean till last summer, and have never been to Niagara. To be sure, they had seen the harbor from the top of Bunker Hill Monument, but there they could not fall in. They might have fallen off from the top of the monument, but did not. I am sure, for our little boys, they have never had the remarkable things happen to them. I suppose because they were so dangerous that they did not try them, like firing at marks and rowing boats. If they had used guns, they might have shot themselves or others; but guns have never been allowed in the house. My father thinks it is dangerous to have them. They might go off unexpected. They would require us to have gunpowder and shot in the house, which would be dangerous. Amanda, too, is a little careless. And we never shall forget the terrible time when the "fulminating paste" went off one Fourth of July. It showed what might happen even if you did not keep gunpowder in the house.
To be sure, Agamemnon and Solomon John are older now, and might learn the use of fire-arms; but even then they might shoot the wrong person—the policeman or some friends coming into the house—instead of the burglar.
And I have read of safe burglars going about. I don't know whether it means that it is safe for them or for us; I hope it is the latter. Perhaps it means that they go without fire-arms, making it safer for them.
* * * * *
I have the "Printed Rules for Emergencies," which will be of great use, as I should be apt to forget which to do for which. I mean I should be quite likely to do for burns and scalds what I ought to do for cramp. And when a person is choking, I might sponge from head to foot, which is what I ought to do to prevent a cold.
But I hope I shall not have a chance to practise. We have never had the case of a broken leg, and it would hardly be worth while to break one on purpose.
Then we have had no cases of taking poison, or bites from mad dogs, perhaps partly because we don't keep either poison or dogs; but then our neighbors might, and we ought to be prepared. We do keep cats, so that we do not need to have poison for the rats; and in this way we avoid both dangers,—from the dogs going mad, and from eating the poison by mistake instead of the rats.
To be sure, we don't quite get rid of the rats, and need a trap for the mice; but if you have a good family cat it is safer.
* * * * *
About window-curtains—I mean the drapery ones—we have the same trouble in deciding every year. We did not put any in the parlor windows when we moved, only window-shades, because there were so many things to be done, and we wanted time to make up our minds as to what we would have.
But that was years ago, and we have not decided yet, though we consider the subject every spring and fall.
The trouble is, if we should have heavy damask ones like the Bromwicks', it would be very dark in the winter, on account of the new, high building opposite.
Now, we like as much light as we can get in the winter, so we have always waited till summer, thinking we would have some light muslin ones, or else of the new laces. But in summer we like to have the room dark, and the sun does get round in the morning quite dazzling on the white shades. (We might have dark-colored shades, but there would be the same trouble of its being too dark in the winter.)
We seem to need the heavy curtains in summer and the light curtains in winter, which would look odd. Besides, in winter we do need the heavy curtains to shut out the draughts, while in summer we like all the air we can get.
I have been looking for a material that shall shut out the air and yet let in the light, or else shut out the light and let in the air; or else let in the light when you want it, and not when you don't. I have not found it yet; but there are so many new inventions that I dare say I shall come across it in time. They seem to have invented everything except a steamer that won't go up and down as well as across.
* * * * *
I never could understand about averages. I can't think why people are so fond of taking them,—men generally. It seems to me they tell anything but the truth. They try to tell what happens every evening, and they don't tell one evening right.
There was our Free Evening Cooking-school. We had a class of fourteen girls; and they admired it, and liked nothing better, and attended regularly. But Ann Maria made out the report according to the average of attendance on the whole number of nights in the ten weeks of the school, one evening a week; so she gave the numbers 12-3/5 each night.
Now the fact was, they all came every night except one, when there was such a storm, nobody went,—not even the teacher, nor Ann Maria, nor any of us. It snowed and it hailed and the wind blew, and our steps were so slippery Amanda could not go out to put on ashes; ice even on the upper steps. The janitor, who makes the fire, set out to go; but she was blown across the street, into the gutter. She did succeed in getting in to Ann Maria's, who said it was foolish to attempt it, and that nobody would go; and I am not sure but she spent the night there,—at Ann Maria's, I mean. Still, Ann Maria had to make up the account of the number of evenings of the whole course.
But it looks, in the report, as though there were never the whole fourteen there, and as though 1-2/5 of a girl stayed away every night, when the facts are we did not have a single absence, and the whole fourteen were there every night, except the night there was no school; and I have been told they all had on their things to come that night, but their mothers would not let them,—those that had mothers,—and they would have been blown away if they had come.
It seems to me the report does not present the case right, on account of the averages.
I think it is indeed the common things that trouble one to decide about, as I have said, since for the remarkable ones one can have advice. The way we do on such occasions is to ask our friends, especially the lady from Philadelphia.
Whatever we should have done without her, I am sure I cannot tell, for her advice is always inestimable. To be sure, she is not always here; but there is the daily mail (twice from here to Boston), and the telegraph, and to some places the telephone.
But for some common things there is not time for even the telephone.
* * * * *
Yesterday morning, for instance, going into Boston in the early train, I took the right side for a seat, as is natural, though I noticed that most of the passengers were crowding into the seats on the other side. I found, as we left the station, that I was on the sunny side, which was very uncomfortable. So I made up my mind to change sides, coming out. But, unexpectedly, I stayed in till afternoon at Mrs. Easterly's. It seems she had sent a note to ask me (which I found at night all right, when I got home), as Mr. Easterly was away. So I did not go out till afternoon. I did remember my determination to change sides in going out, and as I took the right going in, not to take the right going out. But then I remembered, as it was afternoon, the sun would have changed; so if the right side was wrong in the morning, it would be right in the afternoon. At any rate, it would be safe to take the other side. I did observe that most of the people took the opposite side, the left side; but I supposed they had not stopped to calculate.
When we came out of the station and from under the bridges, I found I was sitting in the sun again, the same way as in the morning, in spite of all my reasoning. Ann Maria, who had come late and taken the last seat on the other side, turned round and called across to me, "Why do you always take the sunny side? Do you prefer it?" I was sorry not to explain it to her, but she was too far off.
It might be safe to do what most of the other people do, when you cannot stop to inquire; but you cannot always tell, since very likely they may be mistaken. And then if they have taken all the seats, there is not room left for you. Still, this time, in coming out, I had reached the train in plenty of season, and might have picked out my seat, but then there was nobody there to show where most of the people would go. I might have changed when I saw where most would go; but I hate changing, and the best seats were all taken.
* * * * *
My father thinks it would be a good plan for Amanda to go to the Lectures on Physics. She has lived with us a great many years, and she still breaks as many things as she did at the beginning.
Dr. Murtrie, who was here the other night, said he learned when quite a boy, from some book on Physics, that if he placed some cold water in the bottom of a pitcher, before pouring in boiling-hot water, it would not break. Also, that in washing a glass or china pitcher in very hot water, the outside and inside should be in the hot water, or, as he said, should feel the hot water at the same time. I don't quite understand exactly how, unless the pitcher has a large mouth, when it might be put in sideways.
He told the reasons, which, being scientific, I cannot remember or understand.
If Amanda had known about this, she might have saved a great deal of valuable glass and china. Though it has not always been from hot water, the breaking, for I often think she has not the water hot enough; but often from a whole tray-full sliding out of her hand, as she was coming up-stairs, and everything on it broke.
But Dr. Murtrie said if she had learned more of the Laws of Physics she would not probably so often tip over the waiter.
The trouble is, however, remembering at the right time. She might have known the law perfectly well, and forgotten it just on the moment, or her dress coming in the way may have prevented.
Still, I should like very well myself to go to the Lectures on Physics. Perhaps I could find out something about scissors,—why it is they do always tumble down, and usually, though so heavy, without any noise, so that you do not know that they have fallen. I should say they had no law, because sometimes they are far under the sofa in one direction, or hidden behind the leg of the table in another, or perhaps not even on the floor, but buried in the groove at the back of the easy-chair, and you never find them till you have the chair covered again. I do feel always in the back of the chair now; but Amanda found mine, yesterday, in the groove of the sofa.
* * * * *
It is possible Elizabeth Eliza may have taken the remaining sheets of her commonplace-book abroad with her. We have not been able to recover them.
THE PETERKINS PRACTISE TRAVELLING.
Long ago Mrs. Peterkin had been afraid of the Mohammedans, and would have dreaded to travel among them; but since the little boys had taken lessons of the Turk, and she had become familiar with his costume and method of sitting, she had felt less fear of them as a nation.
To be sure, the Turk had given but few lessons, as, soon after making his engagement, he had been obliged to go to New York to join a tobacconist's firm. Mr. Peterkin had not regretted his payment for instruction in advance; for the Turk had been very urbane in his manners, and had always assented to whatever the little boys or any of the family had said to him.
Mrs. Peterkin had expressed a desire to see the famous Cleopatra's Needle which had been brought from Egypt. She had heard it was something gigantic for a needle, and it would be worth a journey to New York. She wondered at their bringing it such a distance, and would have supposed that some of Cleopatra's family would have objected to it if they were living now.
Agamemnon said that was the truth; there was no one left to object; they were all mummies under ground, with such heavy pyramids over them that they would not easily rise to object.
Mr. Peterkin feared that all the pyramids would be brought away in time. Agamemnon said there were a great many remaining in Egypt. Still, he thought it would be well to visit Egypt soon, before they were all brought away, and nothing but the sand left. Mrs. Peterkin said she would be almost as willing to travel to Egypt as to New York, and it would seem more worth while to go so far to see a great many than to go to New York only for one needle.
"That would certainly be a needless expense," suggested Solomon John.
Elizabeth Eliza was anxious to see the Sphinx. Perhaps it would answer some of the family questions that troubled them day after day.
Agamemnon felt it would be a great thing for the education of the little boys. If they could have begun with the Egyptian hieroglyphics before they had learned their alphabet, they would have begun at the right end. Perhaps it was not too late now to take them to Egypt, and let them begin upon its old learning. The little boys declared it was none too late. They could not say the alphabet backward now, and could never remember whether u came before v; and the voyage would be a long one, and before they reached Egypt, very likely they would have forgotten all.
It was about this voyage that Mrs. Peterkin had much doubt. What she was afraid of was getting in and out of the ships and boats. She was afraid of tumbling into the water between, when she left the wharf. Elizabeth Eliza agreed with her mother in this, and began to calculate how many times they would have to change between Boston and Egypt.
There was the ferry-boat across to East Boston would make two changes; one more to get on board the steamer; then Liverpool—no, to land at Queenstown would make two more,—four, five changes; Liverpool, six. Solomon John brought the map, and they counted up. Dover, seven; Calais, eight; Marseilles, nine; Malta, if they landed, ten, eleven; and Alexandria, twelve changes.
Mrs. Peterkin shuddered at the possibilities, not merely for herself, but for the family. She could fall in but once, but by the time they should reach Egypt, how many would be left out of a family of eight? Agamemnon began to count up the contingencies. Eight times twelve would make ninety-six chances (8 x 12 = 96). Mrs. Peterkin felt as if all might be swept off before the end could be reached.
Solomon John said it was not usual to allow more than one chance in a hundred. People always said "one in a hundred," as though that were the usual thing expected. It was not at all likely that the whole family would be swept off.
Mrs. Peterkin was sure they would not want to lose one; they could hardly pick out which they could spare, she felt certain. Agamemnon declared there was no necessity for such risks. They might go directly by some vessel from Boston to Egypt.
Solomon John thought they might give up Egypt, and content themselves with Rome. "All roads lead to Rome;" so it would not be difficult to find their way.
But Mrs. Peterkin was afraid to go. She had heard you must do as the Romans did if you went to Rome; and there were some things she certainly should not like to do that they did. There was that brute who killed Caesar! And she should not object to the long voyage. It would give them time to think it all over.
Mr. Peterkin thought they ought to have more practice in travelling, to accustom themselves to emergencies. It would be fatal to start on so long a voyage and to find they were not prepared. Why not make their proposed excursion to the cousins at Gooseberry Beach, which they had been planning all summer? There they could practise getting in and out of a boat, and accustom themselves to the air of the sea. To be sure, the cousins were just moving up from the seashore, but they could take down a basket of luncheon, in order to give no trouble, and they need not go into the house.
Elizabeth Eliza had learned by heart, early in the summer, the list of trains, as she was sure they would lose the slip their cousins had sent them; and you never could find the paper that had the trains in when you wanted it. They must take the 7 A.M. train into Boston in time to go across to the station for the Gooseberry train at 7.45, and they would have to return from Gooseberry Beach by a 3.30 train. The cousins would order the "barge" to meet them on their arrival, and to come for them at 3 P.M., in time for the return train, if they were informed the day before. Elizabeth Eliza wrote them a postal card, giving them the information that they would take the early train. The "barge" was the name of the omnibus that took passengers to and from the Gooseberry station. Mrs. Peterkin felt that its very name was propitious to this Egyptian undertaking.
The day proved a fine one. On reaching Boston, Mrs. Peterkin and Elizabeth Eliza were put into a carriage with the luncheon-basket to drive directly to the station. Elizabeth Eliza was able to check the basket at the baggage-station, and to buy their "go-and-return" tickets before the arrival of the rest of the party, which appeared, however, some minutes before a quarter of eight. Mrs. Peterkin counted the little boys. All were there. This promised well for Egypt. But their joy was of short duration. On presenting their tickets at the gate of entrance, they were stopped. The Gooseberry train had gone at 7.35! The Mattapan train was now awaiting its passengers. Impossible! Elizabeth Eliza had repeated 7.45 every morning through the summer. It must be the Gooseberry train. But the conductor would not yield. If they wished to go to Mattapan they could go; if to Gooseberry, they must wait till the 5 P.M. train.
Mrs. Peterkin was in despair. Their return train was 3.30; how could 5 P.M. help them?
Mr. Peterkin, with instant decision, proposed they should try something else. Why should not they take their luncheon-basket across some ferry? This would give them practice. The family hastily agreed to this. What could be better? They went to the baggage-office, but found their basket had gone in the 7.35 train! They had arrived in time, and could have gone too. "If we had only been checked!" exclaimed Mrs. Peterkin. The baggage-master, showing a tender interest, suggested that there was a train for Plymouth at eight, which would take them within twelve miles of Gooseberry Beach, and they might find "a team" there to take them across. Solomon John and the little boys were delighted with the suggestion.
"We could see Plymouth Rock," said Agamemnon.
But hasty action would be necessary. Mr. Peterkin quickly procured tickets for Plymouth, and no official objected to their taking the 8 A.M. train. They were all safely in the train. This had been a test expedition; and each of the party had taken something, to see what would be the proportion of things lost to those remembered. Mr. Peterkin had two umbrellas, Agamemnon an atlas and spyglass, and the little boys were taking down two cats in a basket. All were safe.
"I am glad we have decided upon Plymouth," said Mr. Peterkin. "Before seeing the pyramids of Egypt we certainly ought to know something of Plymouth Rock. I should certainly be quite ashamed, when looking at their great obelisks, to confess that I had never seen our own Rock."
The conductor was attracted by this interesting party. When Mr. Peterkin told him of their mistake of the morning, and that they were bound for Gooseberry Beach, he advised them to stop at Kingston, a station nearer the beach. They would have but four miles to drive, and a reduction could be effected on their tickets. The family demurred. Were they ready now to give up Plymouth? They would lose time in going there. Solomon John, too, suggested it would be better, chronologically, to visit Plymouth on their return from Egypt, after they had seen the earliest things.
This decided them to stop at Kingston.
But they found here no omnibus nor carriage to take them to Gooseberry. The station-master was eager to assist them, and went far and near in search of some sort of wagon. Hour after hour passed away, the little boys had shared their last peanut, and gloom was gathering over the family, when Solomon John came into the station to say there was a photographer's cart on the other side of the road. Would not this be a good chance to have their photographs taken for their friends before leaving for Egypt? The idea reanimated the whole party, and they made their way to the cart, and into it, as the door was open. There was, however, no photographer there.
Agamemnon tried to remember what he had read of photography. As all the materials were there, he might take the family's picture. There would indeed be a difficulty in introducing his own. Solomon John suggested they might arrange the family group, leaving a place for him. Then, when all was ready, he could put the curtain over the box, take his place hastily, then pull away the curtain by means of a string. And Solomon John began to look around for a string while the little boys felt in their pockets.
Agamemnon did not exactly see how they could get the curtain back. Mr. Peterkin thought this of little importance. They would all be glad to sit some time after travelling so long. And the longer they sat the better for the picture, and perhaps somebody would come along in time to put back the curtain. They began to arrange the group. Mr. and Mrs. Peterkin were placed in the middle, sitting down. Elizabeth Eliza stood behind them, and the little boys knelt in front with the basket of cats. Solomon John and Agamemnon were also to stand behind, Agamemnon leaning over his father's shoulder. Solomon John was still looking around for a string when the photographer himself appeared. He was much surprised to find a group all ready for him. He had gone off that morning for a short holiday, but was not unwilling to take the family, especially when he heard they were soon going to Egypt. He approved of the grouping made by the family, but suggested that their eyes should not all be fixed upon the same spot. Before the pictures were finished, the station-master came to announce that two carriages were found to take the party to Gooseberry Beach.
"There is no hurry," said Mr. Peterkin, "Let the pictures be finished; they have made us wait, we can keep them waiting as long as we please."
The result, indeed, was very satisfactory. The photographer pronounced it a remarkably fine group. Elizabeth Eliza's eyes were lifted to the heavens perhaps a little too high. It gave her a rapt expression not customary with her; but Mr. Peterkin thought she might look in that way in the presence of the Sphinx. It was necessary to have a number of copies, to satisfy all the friends left behind when they should go to Egypt; and it certainly would not be worth while to come again so great a distance for more.
It was therefore a late hour when they left Kingston. It took some time to arrange the party in two carriages. Mr. Peterkin ought to be in one, Mrs. Peterkin in the other; but it was difficult to divide the little boys, as all wished to take charge of the cats. The drive, too, proved longer than was expected,—six miles instead of four.
When they reached their cousin's door, the "barge" was already standing there.
"It has brought our luncheon-basket!" exclaimed Solomon John.
"I am glad of it," said Agamemnon, "for I feel hungry enough for it."
He pulled out his watch. It was three o'clock!
This was indeed the "barge," but it had come for their return. The Gooseberry cousins, much bewildered that the family did not arrive at the time expected, had forgotten to send to countermand it. And the "barge" driver, supposing the family had arrived by the other station, had taken occasion to bring up the lunch-basket, as it was addressed to the Gooseberry cousins. The cousins flocked out to meet them. "What had happened? What had delayed them? They were glad to see them at last."
Mrs. Peterkin, when she understood the state of the case, insisted upon getting directly into the "barge" to return, although the driver said there would be a few moments to spare. Some of the cousins busied themselves in opening the luncheon-basket, and a part led the little boys and Agamemnon and Solomon John down upon the beach in front of the house; there would be a few moments for a glance at the sea. Indeed, the little boys ventured in their India-rubber boots to wade in a little way, as the tide was low. And Agamemnon and Solomon John walked to look at a boat that was drawn up on the beach, and got into it and out of it for practice, till they were all summoned back to the house.
It was indeed time to go. The Gooseberry cousins had got out the luncheon, and had tried to persuade the family to spend the night. Mrs. Peterkin declared this would be impossible. They never had done such a thing. So they went off, eating their luncheon as they went, the little boys each with a sandwich in one hand and a piece of cake in the other.
Mrs. Peterkin was sure they should miss the train or lose some of the party. No, it was a great success; for all, and more than all, were found in the train: slung over the arm of one of the little boys was found the basket containing the cats. They were to have left the cats, but in their haste had brought them away again.
This discovery was made in a search for the tickets which Elizabeth Eliza had bought, early in the morning, to go and return; they were needed now for return. She was sure she had given them to her father. Mrs. Peterkin supposed that Mr. Peterkin must have changed them for the Kingston tickets. The little boys felt in their pockets, Agamemnon and Solomon John in theirs. In the excitement, Mrs. Peterkin insisted upon giving up her copy of their new photograph, and could not be satisfied till the conductor had punched it. At last the tickets were found in the outer lappet of Elizabeth Eliza's hand-bag. She had looked for them in the inner part.
It was after this that Mr. Peterkin ventured to pronounce the whole expedition a success. To be sure, they had not passed the day at the beach, and had scarcely seen their cousins; but their object had been to practise travelling, and surely they had been travelling all day. Elizabeth Eliza had seen the sea, or thought she had. She was not sure—she had been so busy explaining to the cousins and showing the photographs. Agamemnon was sorry she had not walked with them to the beach, and tried getting in and out of the boat. Elizabeth Eliza regretted this. Of course it was not the same as getting into a boat on the sea, where it would be wobbling more, but the step must have been higher from the sand. Solomon John said there was some difficulty. He had jumped in, but was obliged to take hold of the side in getting out.
The little boys were much encouraged by their wade into the tide. They had been a little frightened at first when the splash came, but the tide had been low. On the whole, Mr. Peterkin continued, things had gone well. Even the bringing back of the cats might be considered a good omen. Cats were worshipped in Egypt, and they ought not to have tried to part with them. He was glad they had brought the cats. They gave the little boys an interest in feeding them while they were waiting at the Kingston station.
Their adventures were not quite over, as the station was crowded when they reached Boston. A military company had arrived from the South and was received by a procession. A number of distinguished guests also were expected, and the Peterkins found it difficult to procure a carriage. They had determined to take a carriage, so that they might be sure to reach their own evening train in season.
At last Mr. Peterkin discovered one that was empty, standing at the end of a long line. There would be room for Mrs. Peterkin, Elizabeth Eliza, himself, and the little boys, and Agamemnon and Solomon John agreed to walk behind in order to keep the carriage in sight. But they were much disturbed when they found they were going at so slow a pace. Mr. Peterkin called to the coachman in vain. He soon found that they had fallen into the line of the procession, and the coachman was driving slowly on behind the other carriages. In vain Mr. Peterkin tried to attract the driver's attention. He put his head out of one window after another, but only to receive the cheers of the populace ranged along the sidewalk. He opened the window behind the coachman and pulled his coat. But the cheering was so loud that he could not make himself heard. He tried to motion to the coachman to turn down one of the side streets, but in answer the driver pointed out with his whip the crowds of people. Mr. Peterkin, indeed, saw it would be impossible to make their way through the throng that filled every side street which they crossed. Mrs. Peterkin looked out of the back window for Agamemnon and Solomon John. They were walking side by side, behind the carriage, taking off their hats, and bowing to the people cheering on either side.
"They are at the head of a long row of men, walking two by two," said Mrs. Peterkin.
"They are part of the procession," said Elizabeth Eliza.
"We are part of the procession," Mr. Peterkin answered.
"I rather like it," said Mrs. Peterkin, with a calm smile, as she looked out of the window and bowed in answer to a cheer.
"Where do you suppose we shall go?" asked Elizabeth Eliza.
"I have often wondered what became of a procession," said Mr. Peterkin. "They are always going somewhere, but I never could tell where they went to."
"We shall find out!" exclaimed the little boys, who were filled with delight, looking now out of one window, now out of the other.
"Perhaps we shall go to the armory," said one.
This alarmed Mrs. Peterkin. Sounds of martial music were now heard, and the noise of the crowd grew louder. "I think you ought to ask where we are going," she said to Mr. Peterkin.
"It is not for us to decide," he answered calmly. "They have taken us into the procession. I suppose they will show us the principal streets, and will then leave us at our station."
This, indeed, seemed to be the plan. For two hours more the Peterkins, in their carriage, and Agamemnon and Solomon John, afoot, followed on. Mrs. Peterkin looked out upon rows and rows of cheering people. The little boys waved their caps.
"It begins to be a little monotonous," said Mrs. Peterkin, at last.
"I am afraid we have missed all the trains," said Elizabeth Eliza, gloomily. But Mr. Peterkin's faith held to the last, and was rewarded. The carriage reached the square in which stood the railroad station. Mr. Peterkin again seized the lapels of the coachman's coat and pointed to the station, and he was able to turn his horses in that direction. As they left the crowd, they received a parting cheer. It was with difficulty that Agamemnon and Solomon John broke from the ranks.
"That was a magnificent reception!" exclaimed Mr. Peterkin, wiping his brow, after paying the coachman twice his fee. But Elizabeth Eliza said,—
"But we have lost all the trains, I am sure."
They had lost all but one. It was the last.
"And we have lost the cats!" the little boys suddenly exclaimed. But Mrs. Peterkin would not allow them to turn back in search of them.
THE PETERKINS' EXCURSION FOR MAPLE SUGAR.
It was, to be sure, a change of plan to determine to go to Grandfather's for a maple-sugaring instead of going to Egypt! But it seemed best. Egypt was not given up,—only postponed. "It has lasted so many centuries," sighed Mr. Peterkin, "that I suppose it will not crumble much in one summer more."
The Peterkins had determined to start for Egypt in June, and Elizabeth Eliza had engaged her dressmaker for January; but after all their plans were made, they were told that June was the worst month of all to go to Egypt in,—that they would arrive in midsummer, and find the climate altogether too hot,—that people who were not used to it died of it. Nobody thought of going to Egypt in summer; on the contrary, everybody came away. And what was worse, Agamemnon learned that not only the summers were unbearably hot, but there really was no Egypt in summer,—nothing to speak of,—nothing but water; for there was a great inundation of the river Nile every summer, which completely covered the country, and it would be difficult to get about except in boats.
Mr. Peterkin remembered he had heard something of the sort, but he did not suppose it had been kept up with the modern improvements.
Mrs. Peterkin felt that the thing must be very much exaggerated. She could not believe the whole country would be covered, or that everybody would leave; as summer was surely the usual time for travel, there must be strangers there, even if the natives left. She would not be sorry if there were fewer of the savages. As for the boats, she supposed after their long voyage they would all be used to going about in boats; and she had thought seriously of practising, by getting in and out of the rocking-chair from the sofa.
The family, however, wrote to the lady from Philadelphia, who had travelled in Egypt, and whose husband knew everything about Egypt that could be known,—that is, everything that had already been dug up, though he could only guess at what might be brought to light next.
The result was a very earnest recommendation not to leave for Egypt till the autumn. Travellers did not usually reach there before December, though October might be pleasant on account of the fresh dates.
So the Egypt plan was reluctantly postponed; and, to make amends for the disappointment to the little boys, an excursion for maple syrup was proposed instead.
Mr. Peterkin considered it almost a necessity. They ought to acquaint themselves with the manufactures of their own new country before studying those of the oldest in the world. He had been inquiring into the products of Egypt at the present time, and had found sugar to be one of their staples. They ought, then, to understand the American methods and compare them with those of Egypt. It would be a pretty attention, indeed, to carry some of the maple sugar to the principal dignitaries of Egypt.
But the difficulties in arranging an excursion proved almost as great as for going to Egypt. Sugar-making could not come off until it was warm enough for the sun to set the sap stirring. On the other hand, it must be cold enough for snow, as you could only reach the woods on snow-sleds. Now, if there were sun enough for the sap to rise, it would melt the snow; and if it were cold enough for sledding, it must be too cold for the syrup. There seemed an impossibility about the whole thing. The little boys, however, said there always had been maple sugar every spring,—they had eaten it; why shouldn't there be this spring?
Elizabeth Eliza insisted gloomily that this was probably old sugar they had eaten,—you never could tell in the shops.
Mrs. Peterkin thought there must be fresh sugar occasionally, as the old would have been eaten up. She felt the same about chickens. She never could understand why there were only the old, tough ones in the market, when there were certainly fresh young broods to be seen around the farm-houses every year. She supposed the market-men had begun with the old, tough fowls, and so they had to go on so. She wished they had begun the other way; and she had done her best to have the family eat up the old fowls, hoping they might, some day, get down to the young ones.
As to the uncertainty about the weather, she suggested they should go to Grandfather's the day before. But how can you go the day before, when you don't yet know the day?
All were much delighted, therefore, when Hiram appeared with the wood-sled, one evening, to take them, as early as possible the next day, to their grandfather's. He reported that the sap had started, the kettles had been on some time, there had been a light snow for sleighing, and to-morrow promised to be a fine day. It was decided that he should take the little boys and Elizabeth Eliza early, in the wood-sled; the others would follow later, in the carry-all.
Mrs. Peterkin thought it would be safer to have some of the party go on wheels, in case of a general thaw the next day.
A brilliant sun awoke them in the morning. The wood-sled was filled with hay, to make it warm and comfortable, and an arm-chair was tied in for Elizabeth Eliza. But she was obliged to go first to visit the secretary of the Circumambient Society, to explain that she should not be present at their evening meeting. One of the rules of this society was to take always a winding road when going upon society business, as the word "circumambient" means "compassing about." It was one of its laws to copy Nature as far as possible, and a straight line is never seen in Nature. Therefore she could not send a direct note to say she should not be present; she could only hint it in general conversation with the secretary; and she was obliged to take a roundabout way to reach the secretary's house, where the little boys called for her in her wood-sled.
What was her surprise to find eight little boys instead of three! In passing the school-house they had picked up five of their friends, who had reached the school door a full hour before the time. Elizabeth Eliza thought they ought to inquire if their parents would be willing they should go, as they all expected to spend the night at Grandfather's. Hiram thought it would require too much time to stop for the consent of ten parents; if the sun kept on at this rate, the snow would be gone before they should reach the woods. But the little boys said most of the little boys lived in a row, and Elizabeth Eliza felt she ought not to take the boys away for all night without their parents' knowledge. The consent of two mothers and two fathers was gained, and Mr. Dobson was met in the street, who said he would tell the other mother. But at each place they were obliged to stop for additional tippets and great-coats and India-rubber boots for the little boys. At the Harrimans', too, the Harriman girls insisted on dressing up the wood-sled with evergreens, and made one of the boys bring their last Christmas-tree, that was leaning up against the barn, to set it up in the back of the sled, over Elizabeth Eliza. All this made considerable delay; and when they reached the high-road again, the snow was indeed fast melting. Elizabeth Eliza was inclined to turn back, but Hiram said they would find the sleighing better farther up among the hills. The armchair joggled about a good deal, and the Christmas-tree creaked behind her; and Hiram was obliged to stop occasionally and tie in the chair and the tree more firmly.
But the warm sun was very pleasant, the eight little boys were very lively, and the sleigh-bells jingled gayly as they went on.
It was so late when they reached the wood-road that Hiram decided they had better not go up the hill to their grandfather's, but turn off into the woods.
"Your grandfather will be there by this time," he declared.
Elizabeth Eliza was afraid the carry-all would miss them, and thought they had better wait. Hiram did not like to wait longer, and proposed that one or two of the little boys should stop to show the way. But it was so difficult to decide which little boys should stay that he gave it up. Even to draw lots would take time. So he explained that there was a lunch hidden somewhere in the straw; and the little boys thought it an admirable time to look it up, and it was decided to stop in the sun at the corner of the road. Elizabeth Eliza felt a little jounced in the armchair, and was glad of a rest; and the little boys soon discovered an ample lunch,—just what might have been expected from Grandfather's,—apple-pie and doughnuts, and plenty of them! "Lucky we brought so many little boys!" they exclaimed.
Hiram, however, began to grow impatient. "There 'll be no snow left," he exclaimed, "and no afternoon for the syrup!"
But far in the distance the Peterkin carry-all was seen slowly approaching through the snow, Solomon John waving a red handkerchief. The little boys waved back, and Hiram ventured to enter upon the wood-road, but at a slow pace, as Elizabeth Eliza still feared that by some accident the family might miss them.
It was with difficulty that the carry-all followed in the deep but soft snow, in among the trunks of the trees and over piles of leaves hidden in the snow. They reached at last the edge of a meadow; and on the high bank above it stood a row of maples, a little shanty by the side, a slow smoke proceeding from its chimney. The little boys screamed with delight, but there was no reply. Nobody there!
"The folks all gone!" exclaimed Hiram; "then we must be late." And he proceeded to pull out a large silver watch from a side pocket. It was so large that he seldom was at the pains to pull it out, as it took time; but when he had succeeded at last, and looked at it, he started.
"Late, indeed! It is four o'clock, and we were to have been here by eleven; they have given you up."
The little boys wanted to force in the door; but Hiram said it was no use,—they wouldn't understand what to do, and he should have to see to the horses,—and it was too late, and it was likely they had carried off all the syrup. But he thought a minute, as they all stood in silence and gloom; and then he guessed they might find some sugar at Deacon Spear's, close by, on the back road, and that would be better than nothing. Mrs. Peterkin was pretty cold, and glad not to wait in the darkening wood; so the eight little boys walked through the wood-path, Hiram leading the way; and slowly the carry-all followed.
They reached Deacon Spear's at length; but only Mrs. Spear was at home. She was very deaf, but could explain that the family had taken all their syrup to the annual festival.
"We might go to the festival," exclaimed the little boys.
"It would be very well," said Mrs. Peterkin, "to eat our fresh syrup there."
But Mrs. Spear could not tell where the festival was to be, as she had not heard; perhaps they might know at Squire Ramsay's. Squire Ramsay's was on their way to Grandfather's, so they stopped there; but they learned that the "Squire's folks had all gone with their syrup to the festival," but the man who was chopping wood did not know where the festival was to be.
"They 'll know at your grandfather's," said Mrs. Peterkin, from the carry-all.
"Yes, go on to your grandfather's," advised Mr. Peterkin, "for I think I felt a drop of rain." So they made the best of their way to Grandfather's.
At the moment they reached the door of the house, a party of young people whom Elizabeth Eliza knew came by in sleighs. She had met them all when visiting at her grandfather's.
"Come along with us," they shouted; "we are all going down to the sugar festival."
"That is what we have come for," said Mr. Peterkin.
"Where is it?" asked Solomon John.
"It is down your way," was the reply.
"It is in your own New Hall," said another. "We have sent down all our syrup. The Spears and Ramsays and Doolittles have gone on with theirs. No time to stop; there's good sleighing on the old road."
There was a little consultation with the grandfather. Hiram said that he could take them back with the wood-sled, when he heard there was sleighing on the old road; and it was decided that the whole party should go in the wood-sled, with the exception of Mr. Peterkin, who would follow on with the carry-all. Mrs. Peterkin would take the arm-chair, and cushions were put in for Elizabeth Eliza, and more apple-pie for all. No more drops of rain appeared, though the clouds were thickening over the setting sun.
"All the way back again," sighed Mrs. Peterkin, "when we might have stayed at home all day, and gone quietly out to the New Hall!" But the little boys thought the sledding all day was great fun,—and the apple-pie! "And we did see the kettle through the cracks of the shanty!"
"It is odd the festival should be held at the New Hall," said Elizabeth Eliza; "for the secretary did say something about the society meeting there to-night, being so far from the centre of the town."
This hall was so called because it was once a new hall, built to be used for lectures, assemblies, and entertainments of this sort, for the convenience of the inhabitants who had collected about some flourishing factories.
"You can go to your own Circumambient Society, then!" exclaimed Solomon John.
"And in a truly circumambient manner," said Agamemnon; and he explained to the little boys that they could now understand the full meaning of the word, for surely Elizabeth Eliza had taken the most circumambient way of reaching the place by coming away from it.
"We little thought, when we passed it early this morning," said Elizabeth Eliza, "that we should come back to it for our maple sugar."
"It is odd the secretary did not tell you they were going to join the sugar festival," said Mrs. Peterkin.
"It is one of the rules of the society," said Elizabeth Eliza, "that the secretary never tells anything directly. She only hinted at the plan of the New Hall."
"I don't see how you can find enough to talk about," said Solomon John.
"We can tell of things that never have happened," said Elizabeth Eliza, "or that are not likely to happen, and wonder what would have happened if they had happened."
They arrived at the festival at last, but very late, and glad to find a place that was warm. There was a stove at each end of the hall, and an encouraging sound and smell from the simmering syrup. There were long tables down the hall, on which were placed, in a row, first a bowl of snow, then a pile of saucers and spoons, then a plate of pickles, intended to whet the appetite for more syrup; another of bread, then another bowl of snow, and so on. Hot syrup was to be poured on the snow and eaten as candy.
The Peterkin family were received at this late hour with a wild enthusiasm. Elizabeth Eliza was an especial heroine, and was made directly the president of the evening. Everybody said that she had best earned the distinction; for had she not come to the meeting by the longest way possible, by going away from it? The secretary declared that the principles of the society had been completely carried out. She had always believed that if left to itself, information would spread itself in a natural instead of a forced way.
"Now, in this case, if I had written twenty-nine notifications to this meeting, I should have wasted just so much of my time. But the information has disseminated naturally. Ann Maria said what a good plan it would be to have the Circumambients go to the sugaring at the New Hall. Everybody said it would be a good plan. Elizabeth Eliza came and spoke of the sugaring, and I spoke of the New Hall."
"But if you had told Elizabeth Eliza that all the maple syrup was to be brought here—" began Mrs. Peterkin.
"We should have lost our excursion for maple syrup," said Mr. Peterkin.
Later, as they reached home in the carry-all (Hiram having gone back with the wood-sled), Mr. and Mrs. Peterkin, after leaving little boys at their homes all along the route, found none of their own to get out at their own door. They must have joined Elizabeth Eliza, Agamemnon, and Solomon John in taking a circuitous route home with the rest of the Circumambients.
"The little boys will not be at home till midnight," said Mrs. Peterkin, anxiously. "I do think this is carrying the thing too far, after such a day!"
"Elizabeth Eliza will feel that she has acted up to the principles of the society," said Mr. Peterkin, "and we have done our best; for, as the little boys said, 'we did see the kettle.'"
THE PETERKINS "AT HOME."
Might not something be done by way of farewell before leaving for Egypt? They did not want to give another tea-party, and could not get in all at dinner. They had had charades and a picnic. Elizabeth Eliza wished for something unusual, that should be remembered after they had left for Egypt. Why should it not be a fancy ball? There never had been one in the place.
Mrs. Peterkin hesitated. Perhaps for that reason they ought not to attempt it. She liked to have things that other people had. She however objected most to the "ball" part. She could indeed still dance a minuet, but she was not sure she could get on in the "Boston dip."
The little boys said they would like the "fancy" part and "dressing up." They remembered their delight when they browned their faces for Hindus, at their charades, just for a few minutes; and what fun it would be to wear their costumes through a whole evening! Mrs. Peterkin shook her head; it was days and days before the brown had washed out of their complexions.
Still, she too was interested in the "dressing up." If they should wear costumes, they could make them of things that might be left behind, that they had done wearing, if they could only think of the right kind of things.
Mrs. Peterkin, indeed, had already packed up, although they were not to leave for two months, for she did not want to be hurried at the last. She and Elizabeth Eliza went on different principles in packing.
Elizabeth Eliza had been told that you really needed very little to travel with,—merely your travelling dress and a black silk. Mrs. Peterkin, on the contrary, had heard it was best to take everything you had, and then you need not spend your time shopping in Paris. So they had decided upon adopting both ways. Mrs. Peterkin was to take her "everything," and already had all the shoes and stockings she should need for a year or two. Elizabeth Eliza, on the other hand, prepared a small valise. She consoled herself with the thought that if she should meet anything that would not go into it, she could put it in one of her mother's trunks.
It was resolved to give the fancy ball.
Mr. Peterkin early determined upon a character. He decided to be Julius Caesar. He had a bald place on the top of his head, which he was told resembled that of the great Roman; and he concluded that the dress would be a simple one to get up, requiring only a sheet for a toga.
Agamemnon was inclined to take the part which his own name represented, and he looked up the costume of the Greek king of men. But he was dissatisfied with the representation given of him in Dr. Schliemann's "Mykenae." There was a picture of Agamemnon's mask, but very much battered. He might get a mask made in that pattern, indeed, and the little boys were delighted with the idea of battering it. Agamemnon would like to wear a mask, then he would have no trouble in keeping up his expression. But Elizabeth Eliza objected to the picture in Dr. Schliemann's book; she did not like it for Agamemnon,—it was too slanting in the eyes. So it was decided he should take the part of Nick Bottom, in "Midsummer Night's Dream." He could then wear the ass's head, which would have the same advantage as a mask, and would conceal his own face entirely. Then he could be making up any face he pleased in the ass's head, and would look like an ass without any difficulty, while his feet would show he was not one. Solomon John thought that they might make an ass's head if they could get a pattern, or could see the real animal and form an idea of the shape. Barnum's Circus would be along in a few weeks, and they could go on purpose to study the donkeys, as there usually was more than one donkey in the circus. Agamemnon, however, in going with a friend to a costumer's in Boston, found an ass's head already made.
The little boys found in an illustrated paper an accurate description of the Hindu snake-charmer's costume, and were so successful in their practice of shades of brown for the complexion, that Solomon John decided to take the part of Othello, and use some of their staining fluid.
There was some discussion as to consulting the lady from Philadelphia, who was in town.
Solomon John thought they ought to practise getting on by themselves, for soon the Atlantic would lie between her and them. Mrs. Peterkin thought they could telegraph. Elizabeth Eliza wanted to submit to her two or three questions about the supper, and whether, if her mother were Queen Elizabeth, they could have Chinese lanterns. Was China invented at that time? Agamemnon was sure China was one of the oldest countries in the world and did exist, though perhaps Queen Elizabeth did not know it.
Elizabeth Eliza was relieved to find that the lady from Philadelphia thought the question not important. It would be impossible to have everything in the house to correspond with all the different characters, unless they selected some period to represent, such as the age of Queen Elizabeth. Of course, Elizabeth Eliza would not wish to do this when her father was to be Julius Caesar.
The lady from Philadelphia advised Mrs. Peterkin to send for Jones the "caterer" to take charge of the supper. But his first question staggered her. How many did she expect?
They had not the slightest idea. They had sent invitations to everybody. The little boys proposed getting the directory of the place, and marking out the people they didn't know and counting up the rest. But even if this would give the number of invitations, it would not show how many would accept; and then there was no such directory. They could not expect answers, as their invitations were cards with "At Home" on them. One answer had come from a lady, that she too would be "at home" with rheumatism. So they only knew there was one person who would not come. Elizabeth Eliza had sent in Circumambient ways to all the members of that society,—by the little boys, for instance, who were sure to stop at the base-ball grounds, or somewhere, so a note was always delayed by them. One Circumambient note she sent by mail, purposely omitting the "Mass.," so that it went to the Dead-Letter Office, and came back six weeks after the party.
But the Peterkin family were not alone in commotion. The whole town was in excitement, for "everybody" had been invited. Ann Maria Bromwick had a book of costumes that she lent to a few friends, and everybody borrowed dresses or lent them, or went into town to the costumer's. Weeks passed in preparation. "What are you going to wear?" was the only question exchanged; and nobody answered, as nobody would tell.
At length the evening came,—a beautiful night in late summer, warm enough to have had the party out-of-doors; but the whole house was lighted up and thrown open, and Chinese lanterns hung in the portico and on the pillars of the piazzas.
At an early hour the Peterkins were arrayed in their costumes. The little boys had their legs and arms and faces browned early in the day, and wore dazzlingly white full trousers and white turbans.
Elizabeth Eliza had prepared a dress as Queen Elizabeth; but Solomon John was desirous that she should be Desdemona, and she gave up her costume to her mother. Mrs. Peterkin therefore wore a red wig which Ann Maria had found at a costumer's, a high ruff, and an old-fashioned brocade. She was not sure that it was proper for Queen Elizabeth to wear spectacles; but Queen Elizabeth must have been old enough, as she lived to be seventy. As for Elizabeth Eliza, in recalling the fact that Desdemona was smothered by pillows, she was so impressed by it that she decided she could wear the costume of a sheet-and-pillow-case party. So she wore a white figured silk that had been her mother's wedding-dress, and over it draped a sheet as a large mantle, and put a pillow-case upon her head, and could represent Desdemona not quite smothered. But Solomon John wished to carry out the whole scene at the end.
As they stood together, all ready to receive, in the parlor at the appointed hour, Mr. Peterkin suddenly exclaimed,—
"This will never do! We are not the Peterkins,—we are distinguished guests! We cannot receive."
"We shall have to give up the party," said Mrs. Peterkin.
"Or our costumes," groaned Agamemnon from his ass's head.
"We must go out, and come in as guests," said Elizabeth Eliza, leading the way to a back door, for guests were already thronging in, and up the front stairs. They passed out by a piazza, through the hedge of hollyhocks, toward the front of the house. Through the side windows of the library they could see the company pouring in. The black attendant was showing them upstairs; some were coming down, in doubt whether to enter the parlors, as no one was there. The wide middle entrance hall was lighted brilliantly; so were the parlors on one side and the library on the other.
But nobody was there to receive! A flock of guests was assembling,—peasant girls, Italian, German, and Norman; Turks, Greeks, Persians, fish-wives, brigands, chocolate-women, Lady Washington, Penelope, Red Riding-hood, Joan of Arc, nuns, Amy Robsart, Leicester, two or three Mary Stuarts, Neapolitan fisher-boys, pirates of Penzance and elsewhere,—all lingering, some on the stairs, some going up, some coming down.
Charles I. without his head was entering the front door (a short gentleman, with a broad ruff drawn neatly together on top of his own head, which was concealed in his doublet below).
Three Hindu snake-charmers leaped wildly in and out among the throng, flinging about dark, crooked sticks for snakes.
There began to be a strange, deserted air about the house. Nobody knew what to do, where to go!
"Can anything have happened to the family?"
"Have they gone to Egypt?" whispered one.
No ushers came to show them in. A shudder ran through the whole assembly, the house seemed so uninhabited; and some of the guests were inclined to go away. The Peterkins saw it all through the long library-windows.
"What shall we do?" said Mr. Peterkin. "We have said we should be 'At Home.'"
"And here we are, all out-of-doors among the hollyhocks," said Elizabeth Eliza.
"There are no Peterkins to 'receive,'" said Mr. Peterkin, gloomily.
"We might go in and change our costumes," said Mrs. Peterkin, who already found her Elizabethan ruff somewhat stiff; "but, alas! I could not get at my best dress."
"The company is filling all the upper rooms," said Elizabeth Eliza; "we cannot go back."
At this moment the little boys returned from the front door, and in a subdued whisper explained that the lady from Philadelphia was arriving.
"Oh, bring her here!" said Mrs. Peterkin. And Solomon John hastened to meet her.
She came, to find a strange group half lighted by the Chinese lanterns. Mr. Peterkin, in his white toga, with a green wreath upon his head, came forward to address her in a noble manner, while she was terrified by the appearance of Agamemnon's ass's head, half hidden among the leaves.
"What shall we do?" exclaimed Mr. Peterkin. "There are no Peterkins; yet we have sent cards to everybody that they are 'At Home'!"
The lady from Philadelphia, who had been allowed to come without costume, considered for a moment. She looked through the windows to the seething mass now crowding the entrance hall. The Hindu snake-charmers gambolled about her.
"We will receive as the Peterkin family!" she exclaimed. She inquired for a cap of Mrs. Peterkin's, with a purple satin bow, such as she had worn that very morning. Amanda was found by a Hindu, and sent for it and for a purple cross-over shawl that Mrs. Peterkin was wont to wear. The daughters of the lady from Philadelphia put on some hats of the little boys and their India-rubber boots. Hastily they went in through the back door and presented themselves, just as some of the wavering guests had decided to leave the house, it seeming so quiet and sepulchral.
The crowd now flocked into the parlors. The Peterkins themselves left the hollyhocks and joined the company that was entering; Mr. Peterkin, as Julius Caesar, leading in Mrs. Peterkin, as Queen Elizabeth. Mrs. Peterkin hardly knew what to do, as she passed the parlor door; for one of the Osbornes, as Sir Walter Raleigh, flung a velvet cloak before her. She was uncertain whether she ought to step on it, especially as she discovered at that moment that she had forgotten to take off her rubber overshoes, which she had put on to go through the garden. But as she stood hesitating, the lady from Philadelphia, as Mrs. Peterkin, beckoned her forward, and she walked over the ruby velvet as though it were a door-mat.
For another surprise stunned her,—there were three Mrs. Peterkins! Not only Mrs. Bromwick, but their opposite neighbor, had induced Amanda to take dresses of Mrs. Peterkin's from the top of the trunks, and had come in at the same moment with the lady from Philadelphia, ready to receive. She stood in the middle of the bow-window at the back of the room, the two others in the corners. Ann Maria Bromwick had the part of Elizabeth Eliza, and Agamemnon too was represented; and there were many sets of "little boys" in India-rubber boots, going in and out with the Hindu snake-charmers.