How A Good Dinner was Lost
by Fannie Benedict
TING a ling ling! a ling ling! ling
ling! ling! So went the dinner
bells—first mamma’s, then Mrs. Green’s,
Mrs. Brown’s, Mrs. White’s, and all the
other neighbors’ with colored names. It
was everybody’s dinner hour; and by the
way, is it not funny how everybody gets
Dinner was to be eaten at the healthy,
good old-fashioned hour of noon, between
the two sessions of school. The children
were just fresh from slates, with long,
crooked rows of hard figures, and heavy
atlases, with unpronounceable towns and
rivers that would not be found out. There
were chickens and dough-balls for dinner.
The smell of them made the children ravenous;
and they very nearly tripped up
Maria and her platter in their haste to
reach the table.
Mamma looked around to see if they
were all there, and counted on her fingers,—
“Baby, Jelly, Tiny—Tiny, where’s
“Why, I thought she was in the kitchen,”
said Tiny, looking wistfully at the
tempting drumsticks. “Papa, won’t you
please help us little folks first—just to-day?
’cause we’re so awful hungry.”
“Tiny, I do
Bunch has gone
down to the Midgetts’.
go and find her
before you eat
your dinner; and
“O, dear! can’t she hear the dinner bell
just as well as I can?” and off flew Tiny,
with the streamers of her jockey standing
straight out behind her, and her new buttoned
shoes spattering water from every
mud-puddle in her way.
We were not invited; so we can’t stay
to dinner; but perhaps we will have time
to learn something about the little ones
while Tiny is hunting her tardy sister
Her name was not really Bunch; that
is, she was not christened so. At school
she answered “Present” at roll-call to the
prettier name of Florence; but uncle Tim—he’s
such a jolly fellow!—said, when he
first held her in her delicately-embroidered
blankets, that she was such a bouncer, so
red and so dumpy, that she would never
be anything but a bunch; and so dubbed,
she carries the name to this day. But
did not she disappoint him, though! for,
in some unaccountable way, she daily
stretched long, and flattened out, and became
thin and bony. Her collar-bone
grew to be a perfect shelf, and her stockings
got a very awkward fashion of wrinkling
about her ankles.
Soon after, when Tiny’s
little red face began to
screw and squint at uncle
Tim, she was such a mite
that he was sure to be
right this time if he nicknamed
her Tiny; and she
was so little, that an ordinary pillow made
her a bed of a comfortable size; and all
the old cronies in the village whispered
that the new baby would either die off
pretty quick, or live to be a second Mrs.
Tom Thumb. But Tiny lived, and spited
them, and waxed fat and bunchy, while
Bunch astonished them all by waning lean
Jelly’s name came no one knew how.
Some mischievous sprite probably whispered
it to her; for she persisted that it was
her name; and so she was indulged in it.
Near their home was a vacant lot—vacant,
excepting for a one-story shanty,
with a cellar, piles of broken crockery, old
shoes, dislocated hoop skirts, and bushes
of rank stramoniums, with their big, poisonous
blossoms. Cows strayed in the lot,
munching the ugly snarls of grass, and
the neighbors’ pigs and fowls made a
daily promenade through the wilderness
Although it seemed a very unattractive
place for a neat little girl to visit, now
especially, since a pipe of the great sewer
had overflowed, and had deluged parts of
the ground. But to that miserable shanty
mamma believed her little Bunch to have
strayed; and there Tiny found her, seated
on a log of wood in the corner of the largest
room, with her apron thrown over
her face and the Midgett girls—there
were two of them—first staring at her,
and then winking at each other.
“Bunch,” said Tiny, “Bunch, mamma
says to hurry right straight home; and
guess what there is for dinner. Chicken
pot-pie, and it’s my turn to have the
wish-bone! Why, Bunch, what’s the matter
with you? What a baby! You’re always
forever a-crying about something or other.
Come on now. I’m going right home;
and you’ll get an awful punishing for coming
The eyes of the Midgett girls glared at
her and the insult.
“O, dear! O, dear!” sobbed Bunch,
just peeping from one corner of her apron
at the outer door.
“O, dear, what?” snapped Tiny, in
such a hurry for a drumstick.
“Tiny, did you see anything on the
front stoop when you came in?” asked
Bunch, her eye still peeping at the outer
“O, any—any cats—any wildcats?”
“Wildcats—what are they?”
“O!” said the Midgetts, shouting together;
“wildcats! dreffle ones! my! yes!
green eyes! awful cats, that spit fire out
o’ their mouths, and claws that’ll scratch
yer to death;” imitating the clawing with
their long dirty fingers quite in the face
of poor Bunch, who immediately retired
to the seclusion of her apron, and continued
her frightened sobs.
“O, where? where?” asked Tiny, excitedly,
opening wide her big blue eyes,
and glancing uneasily in every corner.
“Why, jist out o’ there, hid under the
stoop; an’ when yer go out, they’ll pounce
“O,” said Tiny, bravely, “’tain’t so!
I don’t believe it. There wasn’t any there
when I came in.”
“That’s because they was asleep, then,”
said Ann Matilda. She had red, fiery
red hair, was freckled, and had tusks for
teeth. “They’ve just got woke up now;
and they’re hungry, too.”
“So am I,” said Tiny. “Come, Bunch,
let’s hurry past, and they can’t touch us;
besides, you know no wild animals live
about here nowadays.”
“O, but these ones are what comes up
out of the sewer,” instructed the Midgetts.
Tiny’s courage began quickly to ooze
away, and every bit of it deserted her
when she and Bunch just put their noses
outside of the door, and heard a most ferocious
ya-o-o-ing from—well, they could
not tell where.
Of the Midgett tribe, there was no one
at home but the two girls. There was no
Mr. Midgett, but there was a Mrs. Midgett,
who was out washing. The children
had seen her plunging her hard, red arms
into the soap suds, over their mother’s
wash-tub. She probably had a hard time
managing a living. They were very poor.
Sometimes the girls got employment as
nurse girls or as extra help in the neighbors’
kitchens; but no one cared particularly
to employ them, they were so
vulgar, indolent, and slovenly. So they
subsisted on the odd bits of broken victuals
which they begged from door to door in
baskets. Some people said they always
gathered so much, that they must keep a
boarding-house to get rid of the stuff;
but I always regarded this as a fine bit of
sarcasm. The Midgett mansion was a
forbidden haunt of the children; but on
this day Bunch had gone, for the last
time, on special business of her own.
On Christmas last, Santa Claus had
visited their home, and left for each a
pretty doll of the regulation pattern, with
blue eyes, and golden crimpy hair, dressed
in billowy tarleton, and the height of
fashion, the beauty of which dolls quite
bewildered the unaccustomed eyes of the
Midgetts when the children took their
young ladyships for an airing. And so
one day the Midgetts borrowed them for
a minute, while the children neglected
their responsibilities, leaving them on a
door stone, while they crowded for a closer
peep at the mysterious dancers in a hand-organ.
From that day to this the whereabouts
of the dollships has remained a
solemn secret from the knowledge of all
but the Midgetts. And it was to them
Bunch had gone for a clew to her treasure.
“O,” said Keziah Jane, “while we was
a-standin’ a-waitin’ for yous two to git
away from the music, and give us a chance
to peek in at the dancin’, the black feller
what lives down the sewer come, and
snatches ’em away; and we chases him
like fury, and he run; and we never seed
those ere dolls agin—nor him nor the
“Sh! sh!” cautioned Ann Matilda.
“Who’s that a-knockin’ at the door? Run
quick in the bed-room, and hide under the
bed. Maybe it’s that ere black feller, or
Scramble under the dirty bed went the
two little girls while the door was opened.
Only Jelly; no black man, nor wildcats,
either. Jelly, and unharmed; Jelly sent
from mamma to escort her naughty sisters
home, but who was readily frightened into
remaining with them; and so there were
three little entertainers for the Midgett
ogresses that afternoon.
In the course of a half hour came another
rapping at the door. What a reception
the Midgetts were having! Keziah
Jane pushed the children under the bed,
while Ann Matilda opened the door. This
time it was the grown-up sister Rosa.
O, how the children’s hearts throbbed
when they heard Rosa’s pleasant voice!
but they dared to speak never a word;
for Keziah Jane crawled down on the floor
close beside the bed, and looked hard at
them with her wicked black eyes, and
“Are my little sisters here?” asked
O, how they wished she was just near
enough so they might pull her dress!
“O, no, mem!” said red-headed Ann
Matilda, with the door opened on a most
inhospitable crack. “O, no, indeed! they
haven’t been here in a month. I seed ’em
a-goin’ to school with their books jest as
the town clock struck’d two.”
“How strange!” thought Rosa. “They
wouldn’t have gone back to school without
And when she reached home, she told
uncle Tim that she half believed they were
there, though what could entice them to
the horrible hut she could not imagine.
“O my! how cramped up my neck is!”
“O, O, how hungry I am!” cried Tiny,
remembering the drumsticks.
“I don’t like it here, and I want to go
home,” sobbed Jelly.
“Well, get up, then, and le’s hev dinner,”
said the Midgetts.
Dinner! There were old baked potatoes,
and a mess of turnips, and a bite of
fried beefsteak, all mixed in a heap in a
rusty tin pan on the table; and Tiny whispered
to Bunch that there was “a piece
of the very codfish balls which were on
mamma’s breakfast table.” Her appetite
had deserted her, Bunch had cried hers
away, and Jelly had left hers at her own
bountiful table. But the Midgetts ate,
“Now,” said they, “if you’ll be real
good, and mind, we’ll give you a gay old
treat. Want to go a-swimmin’? We
dunno as we mind a-givin’ yer a little
pleasure, pervidin’ yer’ll mind, and not
go near the closet where the black snake
“O,” shouted the children, “we don’t
want to go near any snakes!”
“Besides, we can’t swim,” said Tiny.
“Well, we’ll show yer how,” said Keziah
Jane; “besides, yer all look jest’s
if a good bath wouldn’t hurt yer—don’t
they, Ann Matilda?”
Ann Matilda laughed, and said yes,
looked down at her own bare feet, and
bade the children to “be a-takin’ off their
shoes and stockin’s.”
“Now, then, foller me,” said Keziah
Jane, opening the door which led to the
The children looked down into the
black hole, and shrank back with fear.
The stairs ended in a pool of black,
muddy water, in much the same way that
they do in a bona fide swimming-bath.
You will remember that a pipe of the
sewer had burst, and the dirty water had
overflowed the Midgetts’ cellar. To wade
about in this had been the recreation of
the Midgetts for days.
“Come on now,” said they; “lift up
your dresses, and come along.”
The cellar was growing every minute
lighter the longer they were in it; and
soon the children lost their fear, and began
to paddle about with their naked feet,
taking excellent care to steer clear of the
closet containing the black snake.
“It’s getting awful, awful dark,” said
“That’s so,” said Bunch, wondering,
and looking up to see why the small window
gave so little light. Something outside
moved just then. The window was
opened, and there were two faces looking
down at them—two faces full of astonishment.
They belonged to Rosy and
“Children, get right out of that filth,
and go up stairs,” ordered Rosy.
Up stairs they went, one hanging behind
the other, and entered the room from
the cellar just as Rosy came in at the front
door. Can you imagine how they must
have looked, drenched and spoiled with
the impure water from the dainty ruffles
at their throats to the very nails of their
toes? Like drowned rats! Rosy only
said, with a withering glance at the Midgetts,—
“Never come to our house again for
Then bidding the children gather up
their stockings and shoes, she marched
them off barefooted between herself and
uncle Tim. Tiny’s new buttoned shoes
had found a watery grave; for, as the
bathers came up stairs, one of the Midgett
feet pitched them gracefully into the cellar.
“Tiny,” said Bunch, as they walked
mournfully home, amid the astonished
gaze of the returning school children. “I
don’t believe there was a wildcat there
any of the time.”
“No, nor a black man in the sewer,”
“Nor a black snake in the closet,” said
But there were a hot bath and clean
clothing at home for them, and warm
beds. Whether there was anything more
severe than a good lecture, I will leave
you to guess; for mamma said they were
old enough to know better than to believe
in any such ridiculous nonsense, all excepting
I should be ashamed to finish the conclusion
of the affair; for what do you
think, children? It all actually happened,
once upon a time, to myself and two of
MIRTH is a medicine of life:
It cures its ills, it calms its strife;
It softly smooths the brow of care,
And writes a thousand graces there.