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HOME > Short Stories > Half-A-Dozen Housekeepers > CHAPTER III—AN EMERGENCY CASE
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THE next morning broke clear, bright, and sparkling, but bitterly cold. I cannot attempt to tell you all the doings of that indefatigable and ingenious bevy of girls during the day. Miss Miranda, their opposite neighbor, had kept to her post of observation, the window, very closely, and had seen much to awaken scorn and surprise.

“Wa’al, Jane!” said she, excitedly, in the afternoon, “there they go ag’in! That’s the fourth time the hoss has been harnessed into Allen’s pung to-day; and now they’ve got their uncle. Whatever they find to laugh so over, and where they go to, is more’n I can see. They haven’t done up their dinner dishes, I know, for I’ve been watching of ’em and they hain’t had time to do ’em so quick as this, though Bell Winship is as spry as a skeeter when she gets a-goin’.”

Miss Miranda’s organs of vision were better than magnifying glasses, for, aided by a lively imagination, they could dart around corners and through doors with great ease. Bell avowed confidentially to Patty that morning, when she met her neighbor’s eyes fixed on the pantry window, that she believed Miss Miranda could see a fly-speck on top of a liberty-pole.

The girls had made the day a very long and lively one, and in the evening, their spirits still high and their inventive powers still unimpaired, they gave an impromptu concert. The audience was small but appreciative. Grandmother was in a private box—the high-backed arm-chair in the cosiest corner; Uncle Harry sat on a hastily-erected throne made by perching a stool on the dining-table, and being given a large pair of goggles, was requested to serve as dramatic and musical critic for the morning newspapers. Two or three of the boarders from Mrs. Carter’s famous Winter Farmhouse on the hill, the young schoolmaster (a Bowdoin student earning his college course by odd terms of teaching), and Hugh Pennell, his chum and classmate, home on a brief holiday, made quite a brave show when seated in three rows, while the unaffected laughter, the open mouths, and the staring eyes of “the help,” Emma Jane Perkins, Betty Bean, and ’Bijah Flagg, who were grouped at the hall door, helped in the general merriment.

Bell had a keen sense of the ridiculous and a voice like a meadow-lark. Jo was capital, too, as a mimic, so together, they gave some absurdly funny scenes from famous operas. Bell had thrown on an evening dress of her cousin’s, which happened to be left in the house, and this, with its short sleeves, showing her round, girlish arms, and its long train, made her such a distracting little prima donna of fifteen, that Hugh Pennell quite laid his boyish heart at her feet. She sang “The Last Rose of Summer” with all the smiles, head-tossings, arch looks, casting down of eyelids, and kissing of finger-tips at the close, which generally accompany it when sung by the stage soprano, and she was naturally greeted with rapturous applause. Then Jo, as the tenor, in dressing-gown and smoking-cap for male attire, sang a fervent duet with Alice Forsaith, rendering it with original Italian words and embraces at the end of every measure.


Tableaux showing scenes from well-known novels, and thrilling historical events depicted in pantomime, came next, and the company was invited to name them as they followed one another in quick succession,—Eliza crossing the river by leaping from ice block to ice block, the bloodhounds in hot pursuit; Pochahontas saving the life of her noble Captain John; Rochester, holding Jane Eyre spellbound by the steely glitter of his eye; and the Pilgrim Fathers and Mothers, landing on a stern and rock-bound coast, ably represented by the dining-room table. As Uncle Harry sat on the table he was obliged to be the center of this thrilling scene, which was variously surmised by the audience to be the capture of a slave-ship by pirates, the rescue of a babe from a tenement-house fire, the killing of Julius C?sar in the Roman Senate, or an impassioned attempt to drag Casabianca from the burning deck.

After bidding their visitors goodnight, Bell and Jo went into the kitchen to put buckwheat cakes to raise for breakfast.

“I believe I’ll chop the meat hash for a half-hour while the kitchen is warm,” said Jo. “Emma Jane is right about the knife; it is dull beyond words!”

“If it is any duller than Emma Jane herself, I am sorry for it,” rejoined Bell.

“It’s a poor workman who complains of his tools, Jo,” said Patty, looking in at the door, with a superior air; “Columbus discovered America in an open boat.”

“He would never have discovered America with this chopping-knife,” quoth Jo, bringing it down with vicious emphasis on the unoffending meat.

“Did you notice Emma Jane’s expression as she stood in the doorway to night?”

“I did,” replied Bell, as she bustled about her last tasks at closet, cupboard, and sink. “Not a penny of my money shall go to the heathen in other lands until I have done some missionary work with her. In ten days I propose to make her stand straight, hold her head up, keep her mouth closed when not occupied in conversation or eating, stop straining her hair out by the roots, tie the ends of her braids with ribbon instead of twine, give up her magenta hood, and a few other little details.”

“I don’t see how you dare advise her at her advanced age,” responded Jo. “I suppose she is thirteen, but she appears about thirty. Look, Bell, can this hash be safely trusted now to the pearly teeth of our parlor boarders, or are the pieces too large for their ‘delicate sensibilities’?”

“I think that it may escape criticism,” laughed Bell. “Cover it with a clean towel and a platter, and one of us will give it a last castigation before it goes in the frying-pan.”

“I never had such a good time in my life, never, never!” sighed Lilia, as she blew out the lamp, and tucked herself on the front side of the bed, a little later. “I have only two things to trouble me. First: my wisdom tooth feels as if it were going to ache again. Second: it is my turn to build the kitchen fire in the morning.”

“Console yourself with one thought, my dear,” murmured Bell, drowsily, yet sagely. “Both these misfortunes can’t happen to you, for if your tooth chances to ache, we shall not have the heart to make you build the fire.”

“Don’t tell her that,” urged Jo, with a prodigious yawn, “or she will be feigning toothache constantly.”

Lilia’s fears had good foundation, however, for in the middle of the night, Jo, who slept next the front side, wakened suddenly to find her slipping quietly out of bed.

“What’s the matter, Lilia!” she whispered.

“Nothing; don’t wake the others, but that miserable tooth grumbles just enough to keep me awake, and my temple aches and my cheek, too. Where is the lotion I use for bathing my face, do you know?”

“Yes, where you put it this morning, on the back of the wash-stand; sha’n’t I light the lamp and help you?”

“No, no, hush!” said Lilia. “I can put my hand on it in the dark. Here it is! I’ll bathe my face a few minutes, and then try to go to sleep.”

So, she anointed herself freely, put the bottle and sponge under the head of the bed lest she should need them again, and, finally, the pain growing less, fell asleep.

In the morning, Bell, who wakened first, rubbed her eyes drowsily, glanced at Lilia, who was breathing quietly, and uttered a piercing shriek. This in turn aroused the other girls, who joined in the shriek on general principles, and then, blinking in the half-light, ............
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