PART IV. ROMANCE FROM THE PEN OF MISS NETTIE ASHFORD
There is a country, which I will show you when I get into maps, where the children have everything their own way. It is a most delightful country to live in. The grown-up people are obliged to obey the children, and are never allowed to sit up to supper, except on their birthdays. The children order them to make jam and jelly and marmalade, and tarts and pies and puddings, and all manner of pastry. If they say they won’t, they are put in the corner till they do. They are sometimes allowed to have some; but when they have some, they generally have powders given them afterwards.
One of the inhabitants of this country, a truly sweet young creature of the name of Mrs. Orange, had the misfortune to be sadly plagued by her numerous family. Her parents required a great deal of looking after, and they had connections and companions who were scarcely ever out of mischief. So Mrs. Orange said to herself, ‘I really cannot be troubled with these torments any longer: I must put them all to school.’
Mrs. Orange took off her pinafore, and dressed herself very nicely, and took up her baby, and went out to call upon another lady of the name of Mrs. Lemon, who kept a preparatory establishment. Mrs. Orange stood upon the scraper to pull at the bell, and give a ring-ting-ting.
Mrs. Lemon’s neat little housemaid, pulling up her socks as she came along the passage, answered the ring-ting-ting.
‘Good-morning,’ said Mrs. Orange. ‘Fine day. How do you do? Mrs. Lemon at home!’
‘Will you say Mrs. Orange and baby?’
‘Yes, ma’am. Walk in.’
Mrs. Orange’s baby was a very fine one, and real wax all over. Mrs. Lemon’s baby was leather and bran. However, when Mrs. Lemon came into the drawing-room with her baby in her arms, Mrs. Orange said politely, ‘Good-morning. Fine day. How do you do? And how is little Tootleumboots?’
‘Well, she is but poorly. Cutting her teeth, ma’am,’ said Mrs. Lemon.
‘O, indeed, ma’am!’ said Mrs. Orange. ‘No fits, I hope?’
‘How many teeth has she, ma’am?’
‘My Emilia, ma’am, has eight,’ said Mrs. Orange. ‘Shall we lay them on the mantelpiece side by side, while we converse?’
‘By all means, ma’am,’ said Mrs. Lemon. ‘Hem!’
‘The first question is, ma’am,’ said Mrs. Orange, ‘I don’t bore you?’
‘Not in the least, ma’am,’ said Mrs. Lemon. ‘Far from it, I assure you.’
‘Then pray have you,’ said Mrs. Orange,—‘have you any vacancies?’
‘Yes, ma’am. How many might you require?’
‘Why, the truth is, ma’am,’ said Mrs. Orange, ‘I have come to the conclusion that my children,’—O, I forgot to say that they call the grown-up people children in that country!—‘that my children are getting positively too much for me. Let me see. Two parents, two intimate friends of theirs, one godfather, two godmothers, and an aunt. Have you as many as eight vacancies?’
‘I have just eight, ma’am,’ said Mrs. Lemon.
‘Most fortunate! Terms moderate, I think?’
‘Very moderate, ma’am.’
‘Diet good, I believe?’
‘Most satisfactory! Corporal punishment dispensed with?’
‘Why, we do occasionally shake,’ said Mrs. Lemon, ‘and we have slapped. But only in extreme cases.’
‘Could I, ma’am,’ said Mrs. Orange,—‘could I see the establishment?’
‘With the greatest of pleasure, ma’am,’ said Mrs. Lemon.
Mrs. Lemon took Mrs. Orange into the schoolroom, where there were a number of pupils. ‘Stand up, children,’ said Mrs. Lemon; and they all stood up.
Mrs. Orange whispered to Mrs. Lemon, ‘There is a pale, bald child, with red whiskers, in disgrace. Might I ask what he has done?’
‘Come here, White,’ said Mrs. Lemon, ‘and tell this lady what you have been doing.’
‘Betting on horses,’ said White sulkily.
‘Are you sorry for it, you naughty child?’ said Mrs. Lemon.
‘No,’ said White. ‘Sorry to lose, but shouldn’t be sorry to win.’
‘There’s a vicious boy for you, ma’am,’ said Mrs. Lemon. ‘Go along with you, sir. This is Brown, Mrs. Orange. O, a sad case, Brown’s! Never knows when he has had enough. Greedy. How is your gout, sir?’
‘Bad,’ said Brown.
‘What else can you expect?’ said Mrs. Lemon. ‘Your stomach is the size of two. Go and take exercise directly. Mrs. Black, come here to me. Now, here is a child, Mrs. Orange, ma’am, who is always at play. She can’t be kept at home a single day together; always gadding about and spoiling her clothes. Play, play, play, play, from morning to night, and to morning again. How can she expect to improve?’
‘Don’t expect to improve,’ sulked Mrs. Black. ‘Don’t want to.’
‘There is a specimen of her temper, ma’am,’ said Mrs. Lemon. ‘To see her when she is tearing about, neglecting everything else, you would suppose her to be at least good-humoured. But bless you! ma’am, she is as pert and flouncing a minx as ever you met with in all your days!’
‘You must have a great deal of trouble with them, ma’am,’ said Mrs. Orange.
‘Ah, I have, indeed, ma’am!’ said Mrs. Lemon. ‘What with their tempers, what with their quarrels, what with their never knowing what’s good for them, and what with their always wanting to domineer, deliver me from these unreasonable children!’
‘Well, I wish you good-morning, ma’am,’ said Mrs. Orange.
‘Well, I wish you good-morning, ma’am,’ said Mrs. Lemon.
So Mrs. Orange took up her baby and went home, and told the family that plagued her so that they were all going to be sent to school. They said they didn’t want to go to school; but she packed up their boxes, and packed them off.
‘O dear me, dear me! Rest and be thankful!’ said Mrs. Orange, throwing herself back in her little arm-chair. ‘Those troublesome troubles are got rid of, please the pigs!’
Just then another lady, named Mrs. Alicumpaine, came calling at the street-door with a ring-ting-ting.
‘My dear Mrs. Alicumpaine,’ said Mrs. Orange, ‘how do you do? Pray stay to dinner. We have but a simple joint of sweet-stuff, followed by a plain dish of bread and treacle; but, if you will take us as you find us, it will be so kind!’
‘Don’t mention it,’ said Mrs. Alicumpaine. ‘I shall be too glad. But what do you think I have come for, ma’am? Guess, ma’am.’
‘I really cannot guess, ma’am,’ said Mrs. Orange.
‘Why, I am going to have a small juvenile party to-night,’ said Mrs. Alicumpaine; ‘and if you and Mr. Orange and baby would but join us, we should be complete.’
‘More than charmed, I am sure!’ said Mrs. Orange.
‘So kind of you!’ said Mrs. Alicumpaine. ‘But I hope the children won’t bore you?’
‘Dear things! Not at all,’ said Mrs. Orange. ‘I dote upon them.’
Mr. Orange here came home from the city; and he came, too, with a ring-ting-ting.
‘James love,’ said Mrs. Orange, ‘you look tired. What has been doing in the city to-day?’
‘Trap, bat, and ball, my dear,’ said Mr. Orange, ‘and it knocks a man up.’
‘That dreadfully anxious city, ma’am,’ said Mrs. Orange to Mrs. Alicumpaine; ‘so wearing, is it not?’
‘O, so trying!’ said Mrs. Alicumpaine. ‘John has lately been speculating in the peg-top ring; and I often say to him at night, “John, is the result worth the wear and tear?”’
Dinner was ready by this time: so they sat down to dinner; and while Mr. Orange carved the joint of sweet-stuff, he said, ‘It’s a poor heart that never rejoices. Jane, go down to the cellar, and fetch a bottle of the Upest ginger-beer.’
At tea-time, Mr. and Mrs. Orange, and baby, and Mrs. Alicumpaine went off to Mrs. Alicumpaine’s house. The children had not come yet; but the ball-room was ready for them, decorated with paper flowers.
‘How very sweet!’ said Mrs. Orange. ‘The dear things! How pleased they will be!’
‘I don’t care for children myself,’ said Mr. Orange, gaping.
‘Not for girls?’ said Mrs. Alicumpaine. ‘Come! you care for girls?’
Mr. Orange shook his head, and gaped again. ‘Frivolous and vain, ma’am.’
‘My dear James,’ cried Mrs. Orange, who had been peeping about, ‘do look here. Here’s the supper for the darlings, ready laid in the room behind the folding-doors. Here’s their little pickled salmon, I do declare! And here’s their little salad, and their little roast beef and fowls, and their little pastry, and their wee, wee, wee champagne!’
‘Yes, I thought it best, ma’am,’ said Mrs. Alicumpaine, ‘that they should have their supper by themselves. Our table is in the corner here, where the gentlemen can have their wineglass of negus, and their egg-sandwich, and their quiet game at beggar-my-neighbour, and look on. As for us, ma’am, we shall have quite enough to do to manage the company.’
‘O, indeed, you may say so! Quite enough, ma’am,’ said Mrs. Orange.
The company began to come. The first of them was a stout boy, with a white top-knot and spectacles. The housemaid brought him in and said, ‘Compliments, and at what time was he to be fetched!’ Mrs. Alicumpaine said, ‘Not a moment later than ten. How do you do, sir? Go and sit down.’ Then a number of other children came; boys by themselves, and girls by themselves, and boys and girls together. They didn’t behave at all well. Some of them looked through quizzing-glasses at others, and said, ‘Who are those? Don’t know them.’ Some of them looked through quizzing-glasses at others, and said, ‘How do?’ Some of them had cups of tea or coffee handed to them by others, and said, ‘Thanks; much!’ A good many boys stood about, and felt their shirt-collars. Four tiresome fat boys would stand in the doorway, and talk about the newspapers, till Mrs. Alicumpaine went to them and said, ‘My dears, I really cannot allow you to prevent people from coming in. I shall be truly sorry to do it; but, if you put yourself in everybody’s way, I must positively send you home.’ One boy, with a beard and a large white waistcoat, who stood straddling on the hearth-rug warming his coat-tails, was sent home. ‘Highly incorrect, my dear,’ said Mrs. Alicumpaine, handing him out of the room, ‘and I cannot permit it.’
There was a children’s band,—harp, cornet, and piano,—and Mrs. Alicumpaine and Mrs. Orange bustled among the children to persuade them to take partners and dance. But they were so obstinate! For quite a long time they would not be persuaded to take partners and dance. Most of the boys said, ‘Thanks; much! But not at present.’ And most of the rest of the boys said, ‘Thanks; much! But never do.’
‘O, these children are very wearing!’ said Mrs. Alicumpaine to Mrs. Orange.
‘Dear things! I dote upon them; but they ARE wearing,’ said Mrs. Orange to Mrs. Alicumpaine.
At last they did begin in a slow and melancholy way to slide about to the music; though even then they wouldn’t mind what they were told, but would have this partner, and wouldn’t have that partner, and showed temper about it. And they wouldn’t smile,—no, not on any account they wouldn’t; but, when the music stopped, went round and round the room in dismal twos, as if everybody else was dead.
‘O, it’s very hard indeed to get these vexing children to be entertained!’ said Mrs. Alicumpaine to Mrs. Orange.
‘I dote upon the darlings; but it is hard,’ said Mrs. Orange to Mrs. Alicumpaine.
They were trying children, that’s the truth. First, they wouldn’t sing when they were asked; and then, when everybody fully believed they wouldn’t, they would. ‘If you serve us so any more, my love,’ said Mrs. Alicumpaine to a tall child, with a good deal of white back, in mauve silk trimmed with lace, ‘it will be my painful privilege to offer you a bed, and to send you to it immediately.’
The girls were so ridiculously dressed, too, that they were in rags before supper. How could the boys help treading on their trains? And yet when their trains were trodden on, they often showed temper again, and looked as black, they did! However, they all seemed to be pleased when Mrs. Alicumpaine said, ‘Supper is ready, children!’ And they went crowding and pushing in, as if they had had dry bread for dinner.
‘How are the children getting on?’ said Mr. Orange to Mrs. Orange, when Mrs. Orange came to look after baby. Mrs. Orange had left baby on a shelf near Mr. Orange while he played at beggar-my-neighbour, and had asked him to keep his eye upon her now and then.
‘Most charmingly, my dear!’ said Mrs. Orange. ‘So droll to see their little flirtations and jealousies! Do come and look!’
‘Much obliged to you, my dear,’ said Mr. Orange; ‘but I don’t care about children myself.’
So Mrs. Orange, having seen that baby was safe, went back without Mr. Orange to the room where the children were having supper.
‘What are they doing now?’ said Mrs. Orange to Mrs. Alicumpaine.
‘They are making speeches, and playing at parliament,’ said Mrs. Alicumpaine to Mrs. Orange.
On hearing this, Mrs. Orange set off once more back again to Mr. Orange, and said, ‘James dear, do come. The children are playing at parliament.’
‘Thank you, my dear,’ said Mr. Orange, ‘but I don’t care about parliament myself.’
So Mrs. Orange went once again without Mr. Orange to the room where the children were having supper, to see them playing at parliament. And she found some of the boys crying, ‘Hear, hear, hear!’ while other boys cried ‘No, no!’ and others, ‘Question!’ ‘Spoke!’ and all sorts of nonsense that ever you heard. Then one of those tiresome fat boys who had stopped the doorway told them he was on his legs (as if they couldn’t see that he wasn’t on his head, or on his anything else) to explain, and that, with the permission of his honourable friend, if he would allow him to call him so (another tiresome boy bowed), he would proceed to explain. Then he went on for a long time in a sing-song (whatever he meant), did this troublesome fat boy, about that he held in his hand a glass; and about that he had come down to that house that night to discharge what he would call a public duty; and about that, on the present occasion, he would lay his hand (his other hand) upon his heart, and would tell honourable gentlemen that he was about to open the door to general approval. Then he opened the door by saying, ‘To our hostess!’ and everybody else said ‘To our hostess!’ and then there were cheers. Then another tiresome boy started up in sing-song, and then half a dozen noisy and nonsensical boys at once. But at last Mrs. Alicumpaine said, ‘I cannot have this din. Now, children, you have played at parliament very nicely; but parliament gets tiresome after a little while, and it’s time you left off, for you will soon be fetched.’
After another dance (with more tearing to rags than before supper), they began to be fetched; and you will be very glad to be told that the tiresome fat boy who had been on his legs was walked off first without any ceremony. When they were all gone, poor Mrs. Alicumpaine dropped upon a sofa, and said to Mrs. Orange, ‘These children will be the death of me at last, ma’am,—they will indeed!’
‘I quite adore them, ma’am,’ said Mrs. Orange; ‘but they DO want variety.’
Mr. Orange got his hat, and Mrs. Orange got her bonnet and her baby, and they set out to walk home. They had to pass Mrs. Lemon’s preparatory establishment on their way.
‘I wonder, James dear,’ said Mrs. Orange, looking up at the window, ‘whether the precious children are asleep!’
‘I don’t care much whether they are or not, myself,’ said Mr. Orange.
‘You dote upon them, you know,’ said Mr. Orange. ‘That’s another thing.’
‘I do,’ said Mrs. Orange rapturously. ‘O, I DO!’
‘I don’t,’ said Mr. Orange.
‘But I was thinking, James love,’ said Mrs. Orange, pressing his arm, ‘whether our dear, good, kind Mrs. Lemon would like them to stay the holidays with her.’
‘If she was paid for it, I daresay she would,’ said Mr. Orange.
‘I adore them, James,’ said Mrs. Orange, ‘but SUPPOSE we pay her, then!’
This was what brought that country to such perfection, and made it such a delightful place to live in. The grown-up people (that would be in other countries) soon left off being allowed any holidays after Mr. and Mrs. Orange tried the experiment; and the children (that would be in other countries) kept them at school as long as ever they lived, and made them do whatever they were told.