Hildegarde's Neighbors by Laura E. Richards
Chapter IX. Merry Weather Indoors.
It rained that evening, so the plans for tennis were brought to naught; but the evening was cheerful enough, in spite of the pouring rain outside. The wide, book-strewn parlour of Pumpkin House was bright with many lamps, and twinkling with laughing faces of boys and girls. Mr. Merryweather, cheerfully resigned to "company," possessed his soul and his pipe (being duly assured that Mrs. Grahame liked the smell of tobacco), and the Colonel puffed his cigar beside him. A little fire crackled on the hearth, "just for society," Mrs. Merryweather said, and most of the windows were wide open, making the air fresh and sweet with the fragrance of wet vines and flowers. The two ladies were deep in household matters, each finding it very pleasant to have a companion of her own age, though each reflecting that the children were much better company in the long run. The children themselves were playing games, with gusts of laughter and little shrieks and shouts of glee. They had had "Horned Lady," and Willy's head was a forest of paper horns, skilfully twisted. Hugh had just gone triumphantly through the whole list, "a sneezing elephant, a punch in the head, a rag, a tatter, a good report, a bad report, a cracked saucepan, a fuzzy tree-toad, a rat-catcher, a well-greaved Greek, etc., etc., etc.
"There are no thoughts in this game, beloved," said the child when he had finished, turning to Hildegarde. "My head turns round, but it is empty inside."
"Good for Hugh!" cried Phil. "Just the same with me, Hugh. It makes me feel all fuzzy inside my head, like the tree-toad."
"You are like a tree-toad!" said Gerald. "That is the resemblance that has haunted me, and I could not make it out, because as a rule tree-toads are not fuzzy. I thank thee, Jew--I mean Hugh--for teaching me that word. My brother, the tree-toad! Every one will know whom I mean."
"Just as they know you as the 'one as is a little wantin'," retorted Phil. "Just think, Miss Hilda, Jerry and I spent a week together at a house at Pemaquid, and Jerry left his sponge behind him when he came away. Well, and when the captain of the tug brought it over to the island where the rest of us were, he said one of the boys had left it, the one as was a little wantin'. And he said it was a pity about him, and asked if there warn't nothin' they could do for his wits."
"That was because he heard me reciting my Greek cram to the cow," said Gerald. "Most responsive animal I ever saw, that cow, and mooed in purest Attic every time I twisted her tail. And how about the pitch-kettle, my gentle shepherd? Was I ever seen, I ask the assembled family,--was I ever seen with a pitch-kettle on my head instead of a hat?"
"Oh, Hilda!" exclaimed Bell; "you ought to have seen Phil. He had been pitching the canoe,--this was ever so long ago, of course,-- and he thought it would be great fun to put the pitch-kettle on his head. He thought it was quite dry, you see. So he did, and went round with it for a little, so pleased and amused; and then he saw some ladies coming, and tried to take it off, and it wouldn't come. Oh dear! how we did laugh!"
"Yes, Miss Hilda, I should think they did!" cried Phil, indignantly. "Sat there and chuckled like great apes, instead of helping a fellow. And I had to crawl under barrels for about half a mile, so that those people wouldn't see me."
"Poor Phil!" cried compassionate Hildegarde. "And did you get it off at last?"
"First we tried butter," he said, "but that wouldn't stir it. Then they gave me a bath of sweet oil, and put flour in my hair, and hot water, and turtle soup, and I don't know what not; and the more things they did, the faster the old thing stuck. So at last we had to call the Mater, and she took the scissors and cut it off."
"Oh, meus oculus!" cried Gerald. "Do you remember how that kettle looked, with a fringe of hair all around it? Half his hyacinth bed on one fell kettle! He ought to have sung a 'Lock-aber no more!'"
"And we ought to have sung 'Philly, put the kettle on!'" cried Gertrude.
"Toots, don't exhaust your brain!" said Gerald, gravely. "You may need it some time; there is no knowing. No knowing, but much nosing!" he added. "Could you move the principal part of your person, my child? It casts such a deep shadow that I cannot see myself think."
"Will some one please tell me what is the matter with Gertrude's nose?" asked Hildegarde, innocently. "You are always talking about it; it seems to me a very good nose indeed."
"Dear Hilda!" exclaimed Gertrude; "what a nice girl you are!"
"That is just the point, Miss Hilda," said Gerald. "It is an excellent nose. Take it as a nose, it has no equal in the country, we have been assured. If there is one thing this family is proud of, it is Gertrude's nose. We may not be clever, or rich, or beautiful, but we can always fall back on the nose; there's plenty of room on it for the whole family."
"Why," put in Phil, "the Pater has been offered a dollar a pound for that nose, and he wouldn't look at it."
"He couldn't see it," said Bell; "the nose was in the way."
"Why, one day we had been in bathing," said Phil, "and when we came back, Toots hung her nose out of the window to dry, and went to sleep and forgot it; and will you believe it? a fellow came along and climbed right up it, just like 'Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair,' you know. Ah! Oh, I say!"
At this outrage, Gertrude rose, and fell upon her brother tooth and nail. She was a powerful child, and at the shock of her onset, the seat of Phil's chair gave way, and he "sat through" like little Silver-hair, and came suddenly to the floor, his head and legs sticking up helplessly through the empty frame. The young people were so overcome with laughter that no one could help him; but Roger, who had been hidden in a convenient corner with an absorbing monograph on trilobites that had just arrived by mail, came forward and pulled his brother out.
"Dear me!" exclaimed Mrs. Merryweather, looking up. "Philip, my dear, it is strange that none of you can remember not to sit in that chair."
"What is the matter with the chair?" inquired Mr. Merryweather.
"The seat has been loose for a long time," said his wife. "It always comes down when any one sits in it."
"And could it not be mended?"
"Why, yes," said Mrs. Merryweather, evidently receiving a new idea. "I suppose it might be mended, Miles. Do you know, I never thought of that! Certainly; it shall be mended. Bell, remind me to-morrow to get some glue. That is one of the set of chairs that came from my father's house, you remember, Miles, and the seats were always loose. One night my mother had a party, and your Uncle Frederick went round before the people came, and set the seats forward in the frames, so that whoever sat down would go through at once. The governor of the State was the first to take his seat, and he went directly through to the floor, just as Phil did now. My father was excessively angry, and Frederick and I spent the next day in bed, but we thought it was worth the punishment."
"These are improving reminiscences, my dear Miranda!" said Mr. Merryweather.
"Oh! but what do you think mamma did this morning?" cried Gertrude. "May I tell them, mamma? Do you mind?"
"Tell them, by all means, my dear," said Mrs. Merryweather, cheerfully. "Did I do anything more foolish than usual? Oh, yes, I remember! I was measuring the whale-oil soap. Tell them, Gerty, if you think it would amuse them. I am not very useful," she added, turning to Mrs. Grahame, "but I do seem to give a good deal of amusement, and that is a good thing."
"Well," said Gertrude, "you see, we had to squirt the roses, and mamma said she would make the whale-oil mixture for us, because it is such horrid stuff, and we had some errands to do first. So I came back after the errands, and she was measuring it out. Dear mamma! am I a wretch?"
"Not at all, my child," said her mother. "I richly deserve to be exposed; besides, one can always serve to point a moral. You see, Mrs. Grahame, the receipt said, 'half a pint of soap to a gallon of water! Now I had ten gallons of water, so I--tell what I was doing, cruel child."
"She had the pint measure," said Gerty, "and she was filling it half full and then pouring it into the water. She was going to do that ten times, you see; and I said, 'Why don't you fill it full, five times?' Darling mamma, I am a wretch!"
"Yes, you are," cried Bell. "Poor mamma! dear mamma!"
The children all clustered round their mother, caressing her, and murmuring affectionate words. Mrs. Merryweather smiled in a happy, helpless way.
"I am a sad goose, good neighbours," she said; "but they always bring me out right, somehow. There now, darlings, sit down, and be good. And, by the way, Gertrude, I am minded to heap a coal of fire on your head. Didn't you tell me this morning that Titus Labienus was always on a hill, or something like that?"
"Yes," said Gertrude. "So he is, and ever will remain so. Have you taken him down, dear mamma?"
"Not exactly!" said her mother. "But I have made a ballad about him, and I thought it might possibly amuse you all."
An eager shout arose, and all the young people gathered in a circle round the good lady's chair, while she read:--
"THE BALLAD OF TITUS LABIENUS." Now Titus Labienus Was stationed on a hill; He sacrificed to Janus, Then stood up stark and still' He stood and gazed before him, The best part of a week; Then, as if anguish tore him, Did Labienus speak: "Oh, hearken, mighty Caesar I Oh, Caius Julius C., It really seems to me, sir, Things aren't as they should be. I've looked into the future, I've gazed beyond the years, And as I'm not a butcher, My heart is wrung to tears. "All Gaul it is divided In parts one, two and three, And bravely you and I did, In Britain o'er the sea. In savage wilds the Teuton Has felt your hand of steel, Proud Rome you've set your boot on, And ground it 'neath your heel. "But looking down the ages, There springs into my ken A land not in your pages, A land of coming men. I would that it were handier 'Tis far across the sea: 'Tis Yankeedoodledandia, The land that is to be. "A land of stately cities, A land of peace and truth: But oh! the thousand pities! A land of weeping youth. A land of school and college, Where youths and maidens go A-seeking after knowledge, But seeking it in woe. "I hear the young men groaning! I see the maidens fair, With sighs and bitter moaning, Tearing their long, fair hair. And through the smoke of Janus Their cry comes sad and shrill, "Oh, Titus Labienus, Come down from off that hill "For centuries you've stood there, And gazed upon the Swiss; Yet never have withstood there An enemy like this. The misery of seeking, The agony of doubt Of who on earth is speaking, And what 'tis all about." "Now he had planned an action, And brought his forces round; But--well, there rose a faction, And ran the thing aground. And--their offence was heinous, Yet Caesar had his will; And Titus Labienus Was stationed on a hill. "'Then the Helvetii rallied, To save themselves from wrack, And from the towns they sallied, And drove the Romans back. The land was quite mountainous, Yet they were put to flight; And Titus Labienus Was stationed on a height. "'Then himself advised them Upon the rear to fall; But Dumnorix surprised them, And sounded a recall. Quoth he, "The gods sustain us! These ills we'll still surmount!" And Titus Labienus Was stationed on a mount." "Thus comes the cry to hand here Across the western sea, From Yankeedoodledandia, The land that is to be. My heart is wrung with sorrow; Hot springs the pitying tear. Pray, Julius C., to-morrow Let me get down from here I "Oh, send me to the valley! Oh, send me to the town! Bid me rebuff the sally, Or cut the stragglers down; Send me once more to battle With Vercingetorix; I'll drive his Gallic cattle, And stop his Gallic tricks. "Oh! sooner shall my legion Around my standard fall; In grim Helvetic region, Or in galumphing Gaul; Sooner the foe enchain us, Sooner our life-blood spill, Than Titus Labienus Stand longer on the hill!"