The Peterkin Papers Chapter 15


EVER since the picnic the Peterkins had been wanting to have “something” at their house in the way of entertainment. The little boys wanted to get up a “great Exposition,” to show to the people of the place. But Mr. Peterkin thought it too great an effort to send to foreign countries for “exhibits,” and it was given up.

There was, however, a new water-trough needed on the town common, and the ladies of the place thought it ought to be something handsome,–something more than a common trough,–and they ought to work for it.

Elizabeth Eliza had heard at Philadelphia how much women had done, and she felt they ought to contribute to such a cause. She had an idea, but she would not speak of it at first, not until after she had written to the lady from Philadelphia. She had often thought, in many cases, if they had asked her advice first, they might have saved trouble.

Still, how could they ask advice before they themselves knew what they wanted? It was very easy to ask advice, but you must first know what to ask about. And again: Elizabeth Eliza felt you might have ideas, but you could not always put them together. There was this idea of the water-trough, and then this idea of getting some money for it. So she began with writing to the lady from Philadelphia. The little boys believed she spent enough for it in postage-stamps before it all came out.

But it did come out at last that the Peterkins were to have some charades at their own house for the benefit of the needed water-trough,–tickets sold only to especial friends. Ann Maria Bromwick was to help act, because she could bring some old bonnets and gowns that had been worn by an aged aunt years ago, and which they had always kept. Elizabeth Eliza said that Solomon John would have to be a Turk, and they must borrow all the red things and cashmere scarfs in the place. She knew people would be willing to lend things.

Agamemnon thought you ought to get in something about the Hindoos, they were such an odd people. Elizabeth Eliza said you must not have it too odd, or people would not understand it, and she did not want anything to frighten her mother. She had one word suggested by the lady from Philadelphia in her letters,–the one that had “Turk” in it,–but they ought to have two words

“Oh, yes,” Ann Maria said, “you must have two words; if the people paid for their tickets they would want to get their money’s worth.”

Solomon John thought you might have “Hindoos”; the little boys could color their faces brown, to look like Hindoos. You could have the first scene an Irishman catching a hen, and then paying the water-taxes for “dues,” and then have the little boys for Hindoos.

A great many other words were talked of, but nothing seemed to suit. There was a curtain, too, to be thought of, because the folding-doors stuck when you tried to open and shut them. Agamemnon said that the Pan-Elocutionists had a curtain they would probably lend John Osborne, and so it was decided to ask John Osborne to help.

If they had a curtain they ought to have a stage. Solomon John said he was sure he had boards and nails enough, and it would be easy to make a stage if John Osborne would help put it up.

All this talk was the day before the charades. In the midst of it Ann Maria went over for her old bonnets and dresses and umbrellas, and they spent the evening in trying on the various things,–such odd caps and remarkable bonnets ! Solomon John said they ought to have plenty of bandboxes; if you only had bandboxes enough a charade was sure to go off well; he had seen charades in Boston. Mrs. Peterkin said there were plenty in their attic, and the little boys brought down piles of them, and the back parlor was filled with costumes.

Ann Maria said she could bring over more things if she only knew what they were going to act. Elizabeth Eliza told her to bring anything she had,–it would all come of use.

The morning came, and the boards were collected for the stage. Agamemnon and Solomon John gave themselves to the work, and John Osborne helped zealously. He said the Pan-Elocutionists would lend a scene also. There was a great clatter of bandboxes, and piles of shawls in corners, and such a piece of work in getting up the curtain! In the midst of it came in the little boys, shouting, “All the tickets are sold, at ten cents each !”

“Seventy tickets sold!” exclaimed Agamemnon.

“Seven dollars for the water-trough!” said Elizabeth Eliza.

“And we do not know yet what we are going to act!” exclaimed Ann Maria.

But everybody’s attention had to be given to the scene that was going up in the background, borrowed from the Pan-Elocutionists. It was magnificent, and represented a forest.

“Where are we going to put seventy people?” exclaimed Mrs. Peterkin, venturing, dismayed, into the heaps of shavings, and boards, and litter.

The little boys exclaimed that a large part of the audience consisted of boys, who would not take up much room. But how much clearing and sweeping and moving of chairs was necessary before all could be made ready! It was late, and some of the people had already come to secure good seats, even before the actors had assembled.

“What are we going to act?” asked Ann Maria.

“I have been so torn with one thing and another,” said Elizabeth Eliza, “I haven’t had time to think!”

“Haven’t you the word yet?” asked John Osborne, for the audience was flocking in, and the seats were filling up rapidly.

“I have got one word in my pocket,” said Elizabeth Eliza, “in the letter from the lady from Philadelphia. She sent me the parts of the word. Solomon John is to be a Turk, but I don’t yet understand the whole of the word.”

“You don’t know the word, and the people are all here!” said John Osborne, impatiently.

“Elizabeth Eliza !” exclaimed Ann Maria, “Solomon John says I’m to be a Turkish slave, and I’ll have to wear a veil. Do you know where the veils are? You know I brought them over last night.”

“Elizabeth Eliza! Solomon John wants you to send him the large cashmere scarf !” exclaimed one of the little boys, coming in.

“Elizabeth Eliza! you must tell us what kind of faces to make up!” cried another of the boys.

And the audience were heard meanwhile taking the seats on the other side of the thin curtain.

“You sit in front, Mrs. Bromwick; you are a little hard of hearing; sit where you can hear.”

“And let Julia Fitch come where she can see,” said another voice.

“And we have not any words for them to hear or see!” exclaimed John Osborne, behind the curtain.

“Oh, I wish we’d never determined to have charades! exclaimed Elizabeth Eliza. “Can’t we return the money?”

“They are all here; we must give them something!” said John Osborne, heroically.

“And Solomon John is almost dressed,” reported Ann Maria, winding a veil around her head.

“Why don’t we take Solomon John’s word ‘Hindoos’ for the first?” said Agamemnon.

John Osborne agreed to go in the first, hunting the “hin,” or anything, and one of the little boys took the part of the hen, with the help of a feather duster. The bell rang, and the first scene began.

It was a great success. John Osborne’s Irish was perfect. Nobody guessed the word, for the hen crowed by mistake; but it received great applause.

Mr. Peterkin came on in the second scene to receive the water-rates, and made a long speech on taxation. He was interrupted by Ann Maria as an old woman in a huge bonnet. She persisted in turning her back to the audience, speaking so low nobody heard her; and Elizabeth Eliza, who appeared in a more remarkable bonnet, was so alarmed she went directly back, saying she had forgotten something But this was supposed to be the effect intended, and it was loudly cheered.

Then came a long delay, for the little boys brought out a number of their friends to be browned for Hindoos. Ann Maria played on the piano till the scene was ready. The curtain rose upon five brown boys done up in blankets and turbans.

“I am thankful that is over,” said Elizabeth Eliza, “for now we can act my word. Only I don’t myself know the whole.”

“Never mind, let us act it,” said John Osborne, “and the audience can guess the whole.”

“The first syllable must be the letter P,” said Elizabeth Eliza, “and we must have a school.”

Agamemnon was master, and the little boys and their friends went on as scholars. All the boys talked and shouted at once, acting their idea of a school by flinging pea-nuts about, and scoffing at the master.

“They’ll guess that to be ‘row,’” said John Osborne in despair; “they’ll never guess ‘P’!”

The next scene was gorgeous. Solomon John, as a Turk, reclined on John Osborne’s army-blanket. He had on a turban, and a long beard, and all the family shawls. Ann Maria and Elizabeth Eliza were brought in to him, veiled, by the little boys in their Hindoo costumes.

This was considered the great scene of the evening, though Elizabeth Eliza was sure she did not know what to do,–whether to kneel or sit down; she did not know whether Turkish women did sit down, and she could not help laughing whenever she looked at Solomon John. He, however, kept his solemnity. “I suppose I need not say much,” he had said, “for I shall be the ‘Turk who was dreaming of the hour.’” But he did order the little boys to bring sherbet, and when they brought it without ice insisted they must have their heads cut off, and Ann Maria fainted, and the scene closed.

“What are we to do now?” asked John Osborne, warming up to the occasion.

“We must have an ‘inn’ scene,” said Elizabeth Eliza, consulting her letter; “two inns, if we can.”

“We will have some travellers disgusted with one inn, and going to another,” said John Osborne.

“Now is the time for the bandboxes,” said Solomon John, who, since his Turk scene was over, could give his attention to the rest of the charade.

Elizabeth Eliza and Ann Maria went on as rival hostesses, trying to draw Solomon John, Agamemnon, and John Osborne into their several inns. The little boys carried valises, hand-bags, umbrellas, and bandboxes. Bandbox after bandbox appeared, and when Agamemnon sat down upon his the applause was immense. At last the curtain fell.

“Now for the whole,” said John Osborne, as he made his way off the stage over a heap of umbrellas.

“I can’t think why the lady from Philadelphia did not send me the whole,” said Elizabeth Eliza, musing over the letter.

“Listen, they are guessing,” said John Osborne. “‘D-ice-box.‘ I don’t wonder they get it wrong.”

“But we know it can’t be that!” exclaimed Elizabeth Eliza, in agony. “How can we act the whole if we don’t know it ourselves?”

“Oh, I see it!” said Ann Maria, clapping her hands. “Get your whole family in for the last scene.”

Mr. and Mrs. Peterkin were summoned to the stage, and formed the background, standing on stools; in front were Agamemnon and Solomon John, leaving room for Elizabeth Eliza between; a little in advance, and in front of all, half kneeling, were the little boys, in their india-rubber boots.

The audience rose to an exclamation of delight, “The Peterkins !” “P-Turk-Inns!”

It was not until this moment that Elizabeth Eliza guessed the whole.

“What a tableau!” exclaimed Mr. Bromwick; “the Peterkin family guessing their own charade.”

The End.