BUDGE AND TODDIE
HELEN’S BABIES AT PLAY
The writer of a certain much-abused book sat at breakfast one morning with his wife, and their conversation turned, as it had many times before, upon a brace of boys who had made a little fun for the lovers of trifling stories and a great deal of trouble for their uncle. Mrs. Burton, thanks to that womanly generosity which, like a garment, covers the faults of men who are happily married, was so proud of her husband that she admired even his book; she had made magnificent attempts to defend it at points where it was utterly indefensible; but her critical sense had been frequently offended by her husband’s ignorance regarding the management of children. On the particular morning referred to, this critical sense was extremely active.
“To know, Harry,” said Mrs. Burton, “that you gave so little true personal attention to Budge and Toddie, while you pro2fessed to love them with the tenderness peculiar to blood-relationship, is to wonder whether some people do not really expect children to grow as the forest trees grow, utterly without care or training.”
“I spent most of my time,” Mr. Burton replied, attacking his steak with more energy than was called for at the breakfast-table of a man whose business hours were easy, “I spent most of my time in saving their parents’ property and their own lives from destruction. When had I an opportunity to do anything else?”
A smile of conscious superiority, the honesty of which made it none the less tantalizing, passed lightly over Mrs. Burton’s features as she replied:
“All the while. You should have explained to them the necessity for order, cleanliness and self-restraint. Do you imagine that their pure little hearts would not have received it and acted upon it?”
Mr. Burton offered a Yankee reply.
“Do you suppose, my dear,” said he “that the necessity for all these virtues was never brought to their attention? Did you never hear the homely but significant saying, that3 you may lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink?”
With the promptness born of true intuition, Mrs. Burton went around this verbal obstacle instead of attempting to reduce it.
“You might at least have attempted to teach them something of the inner significance of things,” said Mrs. Burton. “Then they would have brought a truer sense to the contemplation of everything about them.”
Mr. Burton gazed almost worshipfully at this noble creature whose impulses led her irresistibly to the discernment of the motives of action, and with becoming humility he asked:
“Will you tell me how you would have explained the inner significance of dirt, so that those boys could have been trusted to cross a dry road without creating for themselves a halo which should be more visible than luminous?”
“Don’t trifle about serious matters, Harry,” said Mrs. Burton, after a hasty but evident search for a reply. “You know that conscience and æsthetic sense lead to correct lives all persons who subject themselves to their influence, and you know that the purest natures are the most susceptible. If men4 and women, warped and mistrained though their earlier lives may have been, grow into sweetness and light under right incentives, what may not be done with those of whom it was said, ‘Of such is the kingdom of heaven’?”
Mr. Burton instinctively bowed his head at his wife’s last words, but raised it speedily as the lady uttered an opinion which was probably suggested by the holy sentiment she had just expressed.
“Then you allowed them to be dreadfully irreverent in their conversations about sacred things,” said she.
“Really, my dear,” expostulated the victim, “you must charge up some of these faults to the children’s parents. I had nothing to do with the formation of the children’s habits, and their peculiar habit of talking about what you call sacred things is inherited directly from their parents. Their father says he doesn’t believe it was ever intended that mere mention of a man in the Bible should be a patent of sacredness, and Helen agrees with him.”
Mrs. Burton coughed. It is surprising what a multitude of suggestions can be conveyed by a gentle cough.
“I suppose,” she said slowly, as if musing5 aloud, “that inheritance is the method by which children obtain many objectionable qualities for which they themselves are blamed, poor little things. I don’t know how to sympathize in the least degree with this idea of Tom’s and Helen’s, for the Maytons, and my mother’s family, too, have always been extremely reverent toward sacred things. You are right in laying the fault to them instead of the boys, but I cannot see how they can bear to inflict such a habit upon innocent children and I must say that I can’t see how they can tolerate it in each other.”
Mrs. Burton raised her napkin, and with fastidious solicitude brushed a tiny crumb or two from her robe as she finished this remark. Dear creature! She needed to display a human weakness to convince her husband that she was not altogether too good for earth, and this implication of a superiority of origin, the darling idea of every woman but Eve, answered the purpose. Her spouse endured the infliction as good husbands always do in similar cases, though he somewhat hastily passed his coffee-cup for more sugar, and asked, in a tone in which self-restraint was distinctly perceptible:
“What else, my dear?”
Mrs. Burton suddenly comprehended the situation; she left her chair, made the one atonement which is always sufficient between husband and wife, and said:
“Only one thing, you dear old boy, and even that is a repetition, I suppose. It’ only this: parents are quite as remiss as loving uncles in training their children, instead of merely watching them. The impress of the older and wiser mind should be placed upon the child from the earliest dawn of its intelligence, so that the little one’s shall be determined, instead of being left to chance.”
“And the impress is readily made, of course, even by a love-struck uncle on a short vacation?”
“Certainly. Even wild animals are often tamed at sight by master-minds.”
“But suppose these impressible little beings should have opinions and wishes and intentions of their own?”
“They should be overcome by the adult mind.”
“And if they object?”
“That should make no difference,” said Mrs. Burton, gaining suddenly an inch or two in stature and queenly beauty.
“Do you mean that you would really make them obey you?” asked Mr. Burton, with a gaze as reverent as if the answer would be by absolute authority.
“Certainly!” replied the lady, adding a grace or two to her fully aroused sense of command.
“By Jove!” exclaimed her husband, “what a remarkable coincidence! That is just what I determined upon when I first took charge of those boys. And yet——”
“And yet you failed,” said Mrs. Burton. “How I wish I had been in your place!”
“So do I, my dear,” said Mr. Burton; “or, at least, I would wish so if I didn’t realize that if you had had charge of those children instead of I, there wouldn’t have occurred any of the blessed accidents that helped to make you Mrs. Burton.”
The lady smiled lovingly, but answered:
“I may have the opportunity yet; in fact—oh, it’s too bad that I haven’t yet learned how to keep anything secret from you—I have arranged for just such an experiment. And I’m sure that Helen and Tom, as well as you, will learn that I am right.”
“I suppose you will try it while I’m away on my spring trip among the dealers?” queried Mr. Burton hastily. “Or,” he con8tinued, “if not, I know you love me well enough to give me timely notice, so I can make a timely excuse to get away from home. When is it to be?”
Mrs. Burton replied by a look which her husband was failing to comprehend when there came help to him from an unexpected source. There were successive and violent rings of the door-bell, and as many tremendous pounds, apparently with a brick, at the back door. Then there ensued a violent slamming of doors, a trampling in the hall as of many war-horses, and a loud, high-pitched shout of, “I got in fyst,” and a louder, deeper one of “So did I!” And then, as Mr. and Mrs. Burton sprang from their chairs with faces full of apprehension and inquiry the dining-room door opened and Budge and Toddie shot in as if propelled from a catapult.
“Hello!” exclaimed Budge, by way of greeting, as Toddie wriggled from his aunt’ embrace, and seized the tail of the family terrier. “What do you think? We’ve got a new baby, and Tod and I have come down here to stay for a few days; papa told us to. Don’t seem to me you had a very nice breakbux,” concluded Budge, after a critical survey of the table.
“And it’s only jus’ about so long,” said Toddie, from whose custody the dog Terry had hurriedly removed his tail by the conclusive proceeding of conveying his whole body out of doors—“only jus’ so long!” repeated Toddie, placing his pudgy hands a few inches apart, and contracting every feature of his countenance, as if to indicate the extreme diminutiveness of the new heir.
Mrs. Burton kissed her nephews and her husband with more than usual fervor and10 inquired as to the sex of the new inhabitant.
“Oh, that’s the nicest thing about it,” said Budge. “It’s a girl. I’m tired of such lots of boys—Tod is as bad as a whole lot, you know, when I have to take care of him. Only, now we’re bothered, ’cause we don’t know what to name her. Mamma told us to think of the loveliest thing in all the world, so I thought about squash-pie right away; but Tod thought of molasses candy, and then papa said neither of ’em would do for the name of a little girl. I don’t see that they’re not as good as roses and violets, and all the other things that they name little girls after.”
During the delivery by Budge of this information, Toddie had been steadily exclaiming, “I—I—I—I—I—I——!” like a prudent parliamentarian who wants to make sure of recognition by the chair. In his excitement, he failed to realize for some seconds that his brother had concluded, but he finally exclaimed: “An’ I—I—I—I—I’m goin’ to give her my turtle, an’ show her how to make mud pies wif currants in ’em.”
“Huh!” said Budge, with inexpressible contempt in his tones. “Girls don’t like such things. I’m going to give her my blue11 necktie, and take her riding in the goat-carriage.”
“Well, anyhow,” said Toddie, with the air of a man who was wresting victory from the jaws of defeat, “I’ll give her caterpillars. I know she’ll be sure to like them, ’cause they’e got lovely fur jackets all heavenly-green an’ red an’ brown, like ladies’s djesses.”
“And you don’t know what lots of prayin’ Tod and me had to do to get that baby,” said Budge. “My! It just makes me ache to think about it! Whole days and weeks and months!”
“Yesh,” said Toddie. “An’ Budgie sometimes was goin’ to stop, ’caush he fought the Lord was too busy to listen to us. But I just told him that the Lord was our biggesht papa, an’ just what papas ought to be, an’ papa at home was just like papas ought to be. An’ the baby comeded. Oh! Yesh, an’ we had to be awful good too. Why don’t you be real good an’ pray lots? Then maybe you’ll get a dear, sweet, little baby!”
The temporary reappearance of the dog, Terry, put an end to the dispute, for both boys moved toward him, which movement soon developed into a lively chase. Being not unacquainted with the boys, and know12ing their tender mercies to be much like those of the wicked, Terry sought and found a forest retreat and the boys came panting back and sat dejectedly upon the well-curb. Mrs. Burton, who stood near the window, leaning upon her husband’s shoulder, looked tenderly upon them, and murmured:
“The poor little darlings are homesick already. Now is the time for my reign to begin. Boys!”
Both boys looked up at the window. Mrs. Burton gracefully framed a well-posed picture of herself as she leaned upon the sill, and her husband hung admiringly upon her words. “Boys, come into the house, and let’s have a lovely talk about mamma.”
“Don’t want to talk about mamma,” said Toddie, a suspicion of a snarl modifying his natural tones. “Wantsh the dog.”
“But mammas and babies are so much nicer than dogs,” pleaded Mrs. Burton, after a withering glance at her husband, who had received Toddie’s remark with a titter.
“Well, I don’t think so,” said Budge, reflectively. “We can always see mamma and the baby, but Terry we can only see once in a while, and he never wants to see us, somehow.”
“My dear,” said Mr. Burton humbly, “if13 you care for the experience of another, my advice is that you let those boys come out of their disappointment themselves. They’ll do it in their own way in spite of you.”
“There are experiences,” remarked Mrs. Burton, with chilling dignity, “which are useful only through the realization of their worthlessness. Anyone can let children alone. Darlings, did you ever hear the story of little Patty Pout?”
“No,” growled Budge, in a manner that would have discouraged any one not conscious of having been born to rule.
“Well, Patty Pout was a nice little girl,” said Mrs. Burton, “except that she would sulk whenever things did not happen just as she wanted them to. One day she had a stick of candy, and was playing ‘lose and find’ with it; but she happened to put it away so carefully that she forgot where it was, so she sat down to sulk, and suddenly there came up a shower and melted that stick of candy, which had been just around the corner all the while.”
“Is Terry just around the corner?” asked Toddie, jumping up, while Budge suddenly scraped the dirt with the toes of his shoes and said:
“If Patty’d et up her candy while she had it, she wouldn’t have had any trouble.”
Mr. Burton hurried into the back parlor to laugh comfortably, and without visible disrespect, while Mrs. Burton remembered that it was time to ring the cook and chambermaid to breakfast. A moment or two later she returned to the window, but the boys were gone; so was a large stone jar, which was one of those family heirlooms which are abhorred by men but loved as dearly by women as ancestral robes or jewels. Mrs. Burton had that mania for making preserves which posterity has inflicted upon even some of the brightest and best members of the race, and the jar referred to had been carefully scalded that morning and set in the sun, preparatory to being filled with raspberry jam.
“Harry,” said Mrs. Burton, “won’t you step out and get that jar for me? It must be dry by this time.”
Mr. Burton consulted his watch, and replied:
“I’ve barely time to catch the fast train to town, my dear, but the boys won’t fail to get back by dinner-time. Then you may be able to ascertain the jar’s whereabouts.”
Mr. Burton hurried from the front door, and his wife made no less haste in the opposite direction. The boys were invisible, and a careful glance at the adjacent country showed no traces of them. Mrs. Burton called the cook and chambermaid, and the three women took, each one, a roadway through the lightly wooded ground near the house. Mrs. Burton soon recognized familiar voices, and following them to their source, she emerged from the wood near the rear of the boys’s own home. Going closer, she traced the voices to the Lawrence barn, and she appeared before the door of that structure to see her beloved jar in the middle of the floor, and full of green tomatoes, over which the boys were pouring the contents of bottles labeled “Mustang Liniment” and “Superior Carriage Varnish.” The boys became conscious of the presence of their aunt, and Toddie, with a smile in which confidence blended with the assurance of success attained, said:
“We’s makin’ pickles for you, ’cause you told us a nysh little story. This is just the way mamma makes ’em, only we couldn’t make the stuff in the bottles hot.”
Mrs. Burton’s readiness of expression16 seemed to fail her, and as she abruptly quitted the spot, with a hand of each nephew in her own, Budge indicated the nature of her feelings by exclaiming:
“Ow! Aunt Alice! don’t squeeze my hand so hard!”
“Boys,” said Mrs. Burton, “why did you take my jar without permission?”
“What did you say?” asked Budge. “Do you mean what did we take it for?”
“Why, we wanted to give you a s’prise.”
“You certainly succeeded,” said Mrs. Burton, without a moment’s hesitation.
“You must give us s’prises, too,” said Toddie. “S’prises is lovaly; papa gives us lots of ’em. Sometimes they’s candy, but they’s nicest when they’s buttonanoes” (bananas).
“How would you like to be shut up in a dark room all morning, to think about the naughty thing you’ve done?” asked Mrs. Burton.
“Huh!” replied Budge. “That wouldn’t be no s’prise at all. We can do that any time that we do anything bad, and papa and mamma finds out. Why, you forgot to bring your pickles home! I don’t think you act very nice about presents and s’prises.”
Mrs. Burton did not explain nor did she spend much time in conversation. When she reached her own door, however, she turned and said:
“Now, boys, you may play anywhere in the yard that you like, but you must not go away or come into the house until I call you, at twelve o’clock. I shall be very busy this morning, and must18 not be disturbed. You will try to be good boys, won’t you?”
“I will,” exclaimed Toddie, turning up an honest little face for a kiss, and dragging his aunt down until he could put his arms about her and give her an affectionate hug. Budge seemed lost in meditation, but the sound of the closing of the door brought him back to earth; he threw the door open, and exclaimed:
“Come here—I want to ask you something.”
“It’s your business to come to me, Budge, if you have a favor to ask,” said Mrs. Burton, from the parlor.
“Oh! Well, what I want to know is, how did the Lord make the first hornet—the very first one that ever was?”
“Just the way he made everything else,” replied Mrs. Burton. “Just by wanting it done.”
“Then did Noah save hornets in the ark?” continued Budge. “’Cause I don’t see how he kept ’em from stingin’ his boys and girls, and then gettin’ killed ’emselves.”
“You ask me about it after lunch, Budge,19” said Mrs. Burton, “and I will tell you all I can. Now run and play.”
The door closed again, and Mrs. Burton, somewhat confused, but still resolute, seated herself at the piano for practice. She had been playing perhaps ten minutes, when a long-drawn sigh from some one not herself caused her to turn hastily and behold the boy Budge. A stern reproof was ready, but somehow it never reached the young man. Mrs. Burton afterward explained her silence by saying that Budge’s countenance was so utterly doleful that she was sure his active conscience had realized the impropriety of his affair with the jar, and he had come to confess.
“Aunt Alice,” said Budge, “do you know I don’t think much of your garden? There ain’t a turtle to be found in it from one end to the other, and no nice grassy place to slide down like there is at our house.”
“Can’t you understand, little boy,” replied Mrs. Burton, “that we arranged the house and grounds to suit ourselves, and not little boys who come to see us?”
“Well, I don’t think that was a very nice thing to do,” said Budge. “My papa says we ought to care as much about pleasing20 other folks as we do for ourselves. I didn’t want to make you that jar of pickles, but Tod said ’twould be nice for you, so I went and did it, instead of askin’ a man that drove past to give me a ride. That’s the way you ought to do about gardens.”
“Suppose you run out now,” said Mrs. Burton, “I told you not to come in until I called you.”
“But you see I came in for my top—I laid it down in the dining-room when I came in, and now it ain’t there at all. I’d like to know what you’ve done with it, and why folks can’t let little boys’s things alone.”
“Budge,” exclaimed Mrs. Burton, turning suddenly on the piano-stool, “I think there’ a very cross little boy around here somewhere. Suppose I were to lose something?”
“’Twas a three-cent top,” said Budge. “’Twasn’t only a something.”
“Suppose, then, that I were to lose a top,” said Mrs. Burton, “what do you suppose I would do if I wanted it very much?”
“You’d call the servant to find it—that’ what I want you to do now,” said Budge.
“I shouldn’t do anything of the kind. Try to think, now, of what a sensible person ought to do in such a case.”
Budge dejectedly traced with his toe one of the figures in the carpet, and seemed buried in thought; suddenly, however, his face brightened, and he looked up shyly and said, with an infinite scale of inflection:—
“I thought you would find out,” said Mrs. Burton, with an encouraging kiss and embrace, which Budge terminated quite abruptly.
“One victory to report to my superior officer, the dear old humbug,” murmured Mrs. Burton, as she turned again to the keyboard. But before the lady could again put herself en rapport with the composer Budge came flying into the room with a radiant face, and the missing top.
“I told you I knew what you’d do,” said he, “an’ I just went and done it. I prayed about it. I went up-stairs into a chamber and shut the door, and knelt down an’ said, ‘Dear Lord, bless everybody, an’ don’t let me be bad, an’ help me to find that top again, an’ don’t let me have to pray for it as long as I had to pray for that baby.’s And then when I came down-stairs there was that top on the register, just where I left it. Say, Aunt Alice, I think brekbux was an awful long22 while ago. Don’t you have cakes and oranges to give to little boys?”
“Children should never eat between meals,” Mrs. Burton replied. “It spoils their digestion and makes them cross.”
“Then I guess my digestion’s spoilt already,” said Budge, “for I’m awful cross sometimes, an’ you can’t spoil a bad egg;—that’ what Mike says. So I guess I’d better have some cake; I like the kind with raisins an’ citron best.”
“Only this once,” murmured Mrs. Burton to herself, as she led the way to the dining-room closet, partly for the purpose of hiding her own face. “And I won’t tell Harry about it,” she continued, with greater energy. “Here’s a little piece for Toddie, too,” said Mrs. Burton, “and I want you both to remember that I don’t want you to come indoors until you’re called.”
Budge disappeared, and his aunt had an hour so peaceful that she began to react against it and started to call her nephews into the house. Budge came in hot haste in answer to her call, and volunteered the information that the Burton chicken-coop was much nicer than the one at his own house, for the latter was without means of ingress for23 small boys. Toddy, however, came with evident reluctance, and stopped en route to sit on the grass and gyrate thereon in a very constrained manner.
“What’s the matter, Toddie?” asked Mrs. Burton, who speedily discerned that the young man was ill at ease.
“Why,” said Toddie, “I got into a hen’ nesht where there was some eggs, an’ made believe I was a henny-penny that was goin’ to hatch little tsickens, an’ some of ’em was goin’ to be brown, an’ some white an’ some black, an’ dey was all goin’ to be such dear little fuzzy balls, an’ dey was goin’ to sleep in24 the bed wif me every night, an’ I was goin’ to give one of de white ones to dat dear little baby sister, an’ one of ’em to you, ’cause you was sweet, too, an’ dey was all goin’ to have tsickens of deir own some day, an’ I sitted down in de nesht ever so soffaly ’cause I hasn’t got fevvers, you know, an’ when I got up dere wasn’t nuffin dere but a nasty muss. An’ I don’t feel comfitable.”
Mrs. Burton grasped the situation at once, and shouted: “Toddie, sit down on the grass. Budge, run home and ask Maggie for a clean suit for Toddie. Jane, fill the bathtub.”
“Don’t want to sit on the gwass,” whined Toddie. “I feels bad, an’ I wantsh to be loved.”
“Aunty loves you very much, Toddie,” said Mrs. Burton, tenderly. “Doesn’t that make you happy?”
“No,” exclaimed the youth with great emphasis. “Dat kind of lovin’ don’t do no good to little boys with eggy dresses. Wantsh you to come out an’ sit down by me an’ love me.”
Toddie’s eyes said more than his lips, so Mrs. Burton hurried out to him, prudently throwing a light shawl about her waist. Toddie greeted her with an effusiveness which25 was touching in more senses than one, as Mrs. Burton’s morning robe testified by the time Budge returned. Carefully enveloped in a hearth-rug, Toddie was then conveyed to the bathroom, and when he emerged he was so satisfied with the treatment he had received that he remarked:
“Aunt Alice, will you give me a forough baff every day, if I try to hatch out little tsickens for you?”
The events of the morning resulted in luncheon being an hour late, so Mrs. Burton was compelled to make considerable haste in preparing herself for a round of calls. She was too self-possessed, however, to forget the possible risks to which her home would be subjected during her absence, so she called her nephews to her and proceeded to instruct them in the duties and privileges of the afternoon.
“Darlings,” she said, putting an arm around each boy, “Aunt Alice must be away this afternoon for an hour or two. I wonder who will take care of the house for her?”
“I want to go wif you,” said Toddie, with a kiss.
“I can’t take you, dear,” said the lady, after returning Toddie’s salute. “The walk26 will be too long; but auntie will come back to her dear little Toddie as soon as she can.”
“Oh, you’re goin’ to walk to where you’ goin’, are you?” said Toddie, wriggling from his aunt’s arm. “Den I wouldn’t go wif you for noffin’ in the wyld.”
The pressure of Mrs. Burton’s arm relaxed, but she did not forget her duty.
“Listen, boys,” said she. “Don’t you like to see houses neatly and properly arranged, like your mamma’s and mine?”
“I do!” said Budge. “I always think heaven must be that way, with parlors an’ pictures an’ books an’ a piano. Only they don’t ever have to sweep in heaven, do they, ’cause there ain’t no dirt there. But I wonder what the Lord does to make the little angels happy when they want to make dirt-pies, and can’t?”
“Aunt Alice will have to explain that to you when she comes back, Budge. But little angels never want to make mud-pies.”
“Why, papa says people’s spirits don’t change when they die,” said Budge. “So how can little boy angels help it?”
Mrs. Burton silently vowed that at a more convenient season she would deliver a course of systematic theology which should correct27 her brother-in-law’s loose teachings. At present, however, the sun was hurrying toward Asia, and she had made but little progress in securing insurance against accident to household goods.
“You both like nicely arranged rooms,” pursued Mrs. Burton, but Toddie demurred.
“I don’t like ’em,” said he. “They’re the kind of places where folks always says ‘Don’t!’s to little boysh that wantsh to have nysh times.”
“But, Toddie,” reasoned Mrs. Burton, “the way to have nice times is to learn to enjoy what is nicest. People have been studying how to make homes pretty ever since the world began.”
“Adam an’ Eve didn’t,” said Toddie. “Lord done it for ’em; an’ he let ’em do just what dey wanted to. I bet little Cain an’ Abel had more fun than any uvver little boys dat ever was.”
“Oh, no, they didn’t,” said Mrs. Burton, “because they never were in that lovely garden. Their parents had to think and plan a long time to make their home beautiful. Just think, now, how many people have had to plan and contrive before the world got to be as pleasant a place as it is28 now! When you look at your mamma’ parlor and mine, you see what thousands and millions of people have had to work to bring about.”
“Gwacious!” exclaimed Toddie, his eyes opening wider and wider. “Dat’s wonnerful!”
“Yes, and every nice person alive is doing the same now,” continued Mrs. Burton, greatly encouraged by the impression she had made, “and little boys should try to do the same. Every one should, instead of disturbing what is beautiful, try to enjoy it, and want to make it better instead of worse. Even little boys should feel that way.”
“I’e goin’ to ’member that,” said Toddie, with a far-away look. “I fink it awful nysh for little boys to fink the same finks dat big folks do.”
“Dear little boy,” said Mrs. Burton, arising. “Then you won’t let anybody disturb anything in Aunt Alice’s house, will you? You’ll take care of everything for her just as if you were a big man, won’t you?”
“Yesh, indeedy,” said Toddie.
“An’ me, too,” said Budge.
“You’re two manly little fellows, and I shall have to bring you something real nice,29” said Mrs. Burton, kissing her nephews good-by. “There!” she whispered to herself, as she passed out of the garden-gate, “I wonder what my lord and master will say of that victory over imperfect natures, of the sense of the fitness of things? He would have left the boys under the care of the servants; I am proud of having been able to leave them to themselves.”
On her return, two hours later, Mrs. Burton was met at her front door by two very dirty little boys, with faces full of importance and expectancy.
“We done just what you told us, Aunt Alice,” said Toddie. “We didn’t touch a thing, an’ we thought of everything we could do to make the world prettier. D’just come see.”
With a quickened step Mrs. Burton followed her nephews into the back parlor. Furniture, pictures, books, and bric-a-brac were exactly as she left them, but some improvements had been designed and partly executed. A bit of wall several feet long, and bare from floor to ceiling, except for a single picture, had long troubled Mrs. Burton’ artistic eye, and she now found that tasteful minds, like great ones, think alike.
“I think no room is perfect without flowers,” said Budge; “so does papa an’ mamma, so we thought we’d s’prise you with some.”
On the floor, in a heap which was not without tasteful arrangement, was almost a cartload of stones disposed as a rockery, and on the top thereof, and working through the crevices, was a large quantity of street dust. From several of the crevices protruded ferns, somewhat wilted, and bearing evidence of having been several times disarranged and dropped upon the dry soil which partly covered their roots. Around the base was twined several yards of Virginia creeper while from the top sprang a well-branched specimen of the “Datura stramonium” (the common “stink-weed”). The three conservators of the beautiful gazed in silence for a moment, and then Toddie looked up with angelic expression and said:
“Isn’t it lovaly?”
“I hope what you brought us is real nice,” remarked Budge, “for ’twas awful hard work to make that rockery. I guess I never was so tired in all my life. Mamma’s is on a big box, but we couldn’t find any boxes anywhere, an’ we couldn’t find the servants to ask ’em. That ain’t the kind of datura that31 has flowers just like pretty vases, but papa says it’s more healthy than the tame kind. The ferns look kind o’s thirsty, but I couldn’t see how to water ’em without wettin’ the carpet, so I thought I’d wait till you came home, and ask you about it.”
There was a sudden rustle of silken robes and two little boys found themselves alone. When, half an hour later, Mr. Burton returned from the city, he found his wife more reticent than he had ever known her to be, while two workmen with market baskets were sifting dust upon his hall-carpets and making a stone-heap in the gutter in front of the house.
Categories: English Literature