A Saucepan Sketch
A Saucepan Sketch
GREG'S Christmas present had been "Golden Precepts for the Young." Babbie's was a silver thimble. They had both said "Thank you" in the politest manner possible, and sighed deep down in their little breasts.
"I thuppoth I'll have to read it," Greg said.
"It's howider for me," said Babs, dropping her present to the bottom of her little pocket.
These speeches were made at a safe distance from the house.
"Go and play at wild beasts under the piano," Uncle Spruson had said after dinner—at least he did not exactly use Dickens' words, but the import was the same. Greg and Babs quite understood they were to make themselves scarce.
Dinner had made Uncle Spruson's eyes heavy and his nose deeper in tinge. He wanted to doze quietly in his chair and think of nought save this: "How sweet 'tis to lie and think of nought."
"I thuppoth I can have another helping of pudding ath ith Chrithmath? " Greg had said, stretching out his plate.
"An' me," said Babs, who had not half-finished her first.
But Uncle Spruson had quite finished. "Go away at once," he said. "Do you think I want you ill on my hands? Can't I have a bit of peace now you are here?"
"A thmall pieth ath ith Chrithmath," Greg pleaded, still holding out his plate.
"No you shan't, just for lisping," returned Uncle Spruson sharply. He pushed back his chair and crossed over to the cushion-strewed couch.
"I didn't lithp, Uncle Thpruthon," said the little boy reproachfully; "did I, Babth?"
"No," said Babs, "he never lisped a bit " There was indignation in her voice. "Aren't you going to give us any?"
"Go away—go away at once—go away!" shouted Uncle Spruson, and the voice was so thunderous they both slipped from their chairs and went with all possible despatch. Babs had not even the presence of mind to take the remains of her first helping in her handkerchief. Through the hall they went to the garden door, the two little black-clad waifs whom the waves of the great sea had just washed up into Uncle Spruson's reluctant care.
"He'th a thelfith old beatht!" said Greg. "He ate all the breatht of the fowl and the legth, and gave nth the thkinny wingth. An' he'th alwayth thaying I lithp. He'th a beatht!"
"A howid cat," was Babbie's more feminine epithet. "All the same, you weally do lisp a bit, Gweg, dear, though of course it isn't his business."
"Of courth not," said Greg with conviction. "Oh, he'th a beatht!"
"Tell you what we'll do," said Babs, as a fowl, gaunt and long-legged, passed and suggested itself, "let's let the new year's goose out of the coop and get the cat and Binkie and have a chase."
Greg's eyes brightened instantly.
"I only with we had crackerth to tie on their tailth ath well," he said.
Ten minutes, filled with as keen joy as there is to be found on earth, followed, but the sounds that brought small boys and girls and people of larger growth to all the back windows of the terrace, also broke in upon the slumbers of Uncle Spruson. He spent five minutes and most of his breath in rapid "foreign" language, and shook his fist and his head and a walking-stick at Babs and Greg, who looked quite hurt at his agitation over so small an occurrence.
"We wath only having a bit of fun," said Greg, a note of injury in his voice. "I thuppoth you would like to have fun at Chrithmath if you wath a little boy and girl?"
But Uncle Spruson was too heavy and sleepy for supposition of any kind, and threatened vengeance unutterable if a foot was set in the garden again. Then he returned to his sofa. Martha, the maid all tattered and torn, had gone the way of most flesh after Christmas dinner, and was sleeping profoundly in her bedroom. The children crept into the deserted kitchen.
"Thuppoth we pretend you're a Chrithmath pudding, Babth," said Greg. "You're juth like one, and I've not had half enough."
"But what could we do?" said Babs, not quite seeing the point, though the likeness was certainly noticeable, she was so round, and fat, and soft, and sweet, and full of strange surprises.
"Oh, I'll thtir you up like that," said Greg, demonstrating vigorously, "and thmash you about with a thpoon like that and tathe you like—oh—oh! I didn't mean to bite tho hard—and then have five helpingth of you, and not give Uncle Thpruthon any."
"But I'm not boiled," said Babs, entering instantly into the fun, "and I'm not even tied up, Gweg. You are a pwetty cook!"
Greg seized a kitchen tablecloth, and Babs obediently allowed herself to be tied up as well as Greg could tie.
"I'm afwaid I can't be boiled," she said mournfully, standing up, a comical little figure with just her head and little bobbing yellow curls showing above the great pudding cloth round her neck.
"We could turn a chair upthide down," said Greg thoughtfully, "an' pretend 'twath a thauthpan."
But Babs hopped across the floor, as well as the bag would allow, to the place where the largest of all the saucepans stood. It was a mammoth one—a boiler to speak technically—oval in shape, impossibly black and heavy.
Bump!—thud! Babs had dragged it down from its low shelf on to the ground.
"You're much too fat and big," Greg said; "and whath the good tying you up, Babth? you've come undone."
"Puddings do sometimes," said Babs, "an' I b'leeve I am little enough to get in. You can put the cloth on after, Gweg."
It was utterly marvellous how she did it, how she compressed those plump little arms and legs of her into such small space; but after a certain amount of bumping and laughing, and hard breathing and oh-ing, there was the pudding in the pot, just as surely and securely as Martha's had been in the morning. The only difference was this pudding did not bounce about while it boiled, as did Martha's, it was too tight a fit.
"There, you're cooked now; come and be thwallowed," was Greg's invitation when she had boiled about five minutes.
"All wight," said Babe. "Is the dish weady? and I hope you've got bwandy to light me up—oh—oh!—ah—ah! Gweg—oh—oh!"
Poor little pudding! It was one thing to get into the saucepan but quite another to get out. She struggled, bruised herself, banged the sides, squeezed herself up small; Greg dragged, pulled and tried to lift her, all to no purpose. There she was, wedged tightly in, with one be-socked little leg doubled under her and the other bent so the knee touched her chin; one arm was free and her head with its affrighted curls and startled eyes.
"I thuppoth you mutht have thwelled," Greg said, surprise mingled with concern upon his face. "Thatht like a real pudding."
"Oh—oh!" said Babs. "Ugh! Ah—ah! oh—oh! it hurts! My leg's all jambed up—oh—oh! Gweg, be quick!—oh—oh! get me out! oh, my arm—ah—ah! oh—oh! fetch some one!"
Tears of pain were smarting in her eyes, a cold horror fastened itself upon her poor little heart; suppose they could never get her out; suppose she had to stay here always, be fed here, learn her lessons, be taken to church and everywhere—all in a saucepan! She gave a desperate struggle, and then almost shrieked with the pain it caused her.
Uncle Spruson was dreaming rosy, delicious dreams that parted his heavy lips in an infantile way and made him snore mightily.
Greg shook him.
"Uncle Thpruthon!" he said.
Uncle Spruson smiled and sighed, and dreamed again.
"Uncle Thpruthon!" shouted Greg right down his ear, "get up at onth! Babth in the thauthpan."
"Eh, what?" said Uncle Spruson. He rubbed his eyes to rub in the broken dreams, but it was no use. "What's the matter, you young vagabond!—how dare you wake me up!"
"The thauthpan," said Greg, pulling his sleeve.
"You shall have no cake for this, sir! Go away and play with your presents."
"Babth," said Greg.
"Can't you speak out!" roared the injured man.
"Babth—the thauthpan. We wath playing Chrithmath pudding. She'th all thwelled out, and she'th crying," said Greg, beginning to sob too.
From the kitchen came a series of despairing yells, and a sudden cold fear made Uncle Spruson's brow clammy. The child had fallen into a pan of boiling water! That was it, and it was Christmas Day, and his sister, their mother was dead and he had been asleep.
Long before the thought was finished he was in the kitchen, with wildly staring eyes and legs that shook under him.
"Why—great heavens! there's no water in!" he said in a tone in which the glad relief struggled with instantaneous anger. "Barbara, get out this minute, you naughty, wicked little girl!"
Babs shed two new tears. To think anyone could call her by her baptismal name at such a crisis! Then she looked at her stern uncle in mute reproach, banged and struggled her best to show him the genuineness of her intentions, and looked reproachfully up at him again.
"Bless my soul!" said Uncle Spruson.
By this time Martha was on the scene, and for the next half hour the three of them worked harder than ever they had worked in their lives to get the child out.
"You'll break her back, sir," Martha would say when Uncle Spruson was tugging with all his strength, and "Look out for her left leg," he would answer when she was trying to coax the right one out by inches.
At last they gave it up and sat down and stared at each other.
"Couldn't we thmath it with an axe?" said Greg.
"’Twould be auite aisy if you'd drop it out of the window!" said Martha. "Sure an' I was afther breakin' a sucepan misself that way only last week!"
"But I don't want to be broken too," said poor little Babs, looking up with streaming eyes.
Uncle Spruson despatched Greg for a cab.
"We'd better go and find an ironmonger's; they make the things and perhaps know how to unmake them," he said unhappily.
Then he stared at his niece with gloomy eyes until the cab came, and did not soften in the least at her repeated and tearful assurances that she would "never do it again."
The cabman and Uncle Spruson between them managed to lift the saucepan with its living contents into the cab, then the latter and Greg took their seats in solemn silence, and the cabman, who had been distressingly facetious about the matter, clambered up to his place and started the horse.
But the first ironmonger was out for the day, and at the second Uncle Spruson rang the bell till he was nearly blue in the face without receiving a reply.
"Try the blackthmith," said Greg.
Poor little Babs! her endurance utterly flown as the cramp and pains increased, was crying at the very top of her voice, and Greg was weeping in the same key out of sheer sympathy.
Poor Uncle Spruson! He was a bachelor of fastidious ways; conventionality was the god he worshipped, and Society at once his pleasure and his dearest pain. And lo! just as he knocked at a blacksmith's shop in a quiet street of the suburb, round the corner came a party of ladies and gentlemen of his acquaintance on horseback.
Poor Uncle Spruson! He had an old flannel coat on, a pair of burst slippers; and a black velvet smoking cap; and the lady, whose beauty made him whisper to himself repeatedly that fifty was the prime of life and the very age for happy marriage, was on the foremost horse.
Poor Uncle Spruson! He had a grimy little nephew at his heels, and he was helping the cabman to carry a great black saucepan in which the dirtiest little girl in the world was sitting, weeping noisily.
The riders exhausted every interjection in their vocabularies, then they dismounted and made a circle round the unhappy trio.
There were clever men there, clever women—men learned in abstruse sciences, women of brilliant inventive powers—and yet not one of them knew a single trustworthy recipe for extracting small girls from saucepans.
The blacksmith was away Christmasing, so they had to place the load back in the cab and drive on, the riders making a bodyguard. Uncle Spruson leaned back in his seat and relieved his feelings somewhat by that proverbial act of utter exasperation known as gnashing the teeth.
"Let's try a doctor," said one of the gentlemen; "he might have the proper tools—forceps or galvanic batteries or magnetism or hypnotism or something."
So they went to the doctor's and formed a little procession through his front garden up to the door—Uncle Spruson and the cabman bent with the weight of the saucepan, Greg in the rear with a black fist stuck in each eye and lamentations on his lips, the beautiful lady, who already had a secret, tender regard for the little waifs she some day might be asked to mother, and two of the young men in eyeglasses and riding boots, who pronounced the affair "quite too awf'ly funny and jolly, don't cher know"—but the doctor had just been summoned to a case of apoplexy.
Right about turn, down the path went the procession. Uncle Spruson pulled his cap down over his eyes and wondered why he had been born, Babs yelled despairingly, and Greg choked with sobs. Then an odd thing happened. The risible side of Uncle Spruson's character had never been properly developed, but just as he was heaving up the saucepan with the cabman, and the group, silent and sympathetic, stood round, and Bab's wild eyes and bobbing curls were on a level with his shoulder, the utter absurdity of the situation dawned upon him and he began to laugh. He laughed till he trembled and shook, and his hands grew weak and the tears coursed down his cheeks. It was the very last thing on earth the cabman had been prepared for, and he was unequal to the sudden extra demand on his strength. Someway they let the pan slip; with a great bump and crack it fell to the pavement. The lady shut her eyes—she expected to see the child in fragments if she looked—everyone else made a rush and closed round the saucepan.
"My thcrimmy!" said Greg severing the connection between his fists and eyeballs. Up bounced Babs like a little jack-in-the-box.
"Oh—oh!" she said in a tone of fervid relief, "oh—oh! I was getting 'fwaid I'd have to live in it for ever and always. Oh—oh! aren't I glad!"
They went away and left the saucepan lying on the pavement in five pieces. Uncle Spruson took an hour to change his coat and make himself respectable; then he went out to tea with a flower in his button-hole. The occurrence had strengthened his conviction that he could never take care of the pair unaided.
"You can have as much Christmas cake as you want," he said recklessly as he opened the front door.
"He'th not thuth an old beatht after all," said Greg.