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 hungry together?

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 Bunch?”

“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.”

A bunch of poppy heads

“Tiny, I do believe that Bunch has gone down to the Midgetts’. You must go and find her before you eat your dinner; and hurry, now.”

“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 Bunch.

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 and tiny.

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 of refuse.

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 here!”

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 door.

“Any what?”

“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 onto yer.”

“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 dolls.”

“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 those wildcats.”

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 said,—

“Wildcats!”

“Are my little sisters here?” asked Rosa.

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 their dinners.”

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!” said Bunch.

“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, and enjoyed.

“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 lives.”

“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 cellar stairs.

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 Jelly.

“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 uncle Tim.

“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 cold pieces.”

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,” said Tiny.

“Nor a black snake in the closet,” said Jelly.

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 little Jelly.

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 my sisters.


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.