Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
Public Domain Books
Dinner with the Witch
Biddy meanwhile had waddled around the room slapping the boards with her broad bare feet as she prepared their dinner. She was evidently trying to put on style, for she turned out her toes excessively. She spoke several times about “the toime when she resoided with yer mamma,” then at length, “Whayer’s the tablecloth, Granny?”
“Now, wud ye listen to thot, an’ she knowin’ that divil a clath hev we in the wurruld, an’ glad enough to hev vittles on the table, let alone a clath,” said Granny, oblivious of the wreck she was making of Biddy’s pride.
“Will ye hay tay or coffee, Yahn?” said Biddy.
“Tea,” was Yan’s choice.
“Faix, an’ Oi’m glad ye said tay, fur Oi ain’ seen a pick o’ coffee sense Christmas, an’ the tay Oi kin git in the woods, but thayer is somethin’ Oi kin set afore ye that don’t grow in the woods,” and the old woman hobbled to a corner shelf, lifted down an old cigar box and from among matches, tobacco, feathers, tacks, pins, thread and dust she picked six lumps of cube sugar, formerly white.
“Thayer, shure, an’ Oi wuz kapin’ this fur whin his riv’rence comes; wanst a year he’s here, God bless him! but that’s fower wakes ahid, an’ dear knows fwhat may happen afore thin. Here, an’ a hearty welcome,” said she, dropping three of the lumps in Yan’s tea. “We’ll kape the rest fur yer second cup. Hev some crame?” and she pushed over a sticky-handled shaving-mug full of excellent cream. “Biddy, give Yahn some bread.”
The loaf, evidently the only one, was cut up and two or three slices forced into Yan’s plate.
“Mebbe the butther is a little hoigh,” exclaimed the hostess, noting that Yan was sparing of it. “Howld on.” She went again to the corner shelf and got down an old glass jar with scalloped edge and a flat tin cover. It evidently contained jam. She lifted the cover and exclaimed:
“Well, Oi niver!” Then going to the door she fished out with her fingers a dead mouse and threw it out, remarking placidly, “Oi’ve wondered whayer the little divil wuz. Oi ain’t sane him this two wakes, an’ me a-thinkin’ it wuz Tom ate him. May Oi be furgiven the onjustice av it. Consarn them flies! That cover niver did fit.” And again her finger was employed, this time to scrape off an incrustation of unhappy flies that had died, like Clarence, in their favourite beverage.
“Thayer, Yan, now ate hearty, all av it, an’ welcome. It does me good to see ye ate–thayer’s lots more whayer that come from,” though it was obvious that she had put her all upon the table.
Poor Yan was in trouble. He felt instinctively that the good old soul was wrecking her week’s resources in this lavish hospitality, but he also felt that she would be deeply hurt if he did not appear to enjoy everything. The one possibly clean thing was the bread. He devoted himself to that; it was of poorest quality; one or two hairs looping in his teeth had been discouraging, but when he bit at a piece of linen rag with a button on it he was fairly upset. He managed to hide the rag, but could not conceal his sudden loss of appetite.
“Hev some more av this an’ this,” and in spite of himself his plate was piled up with things for him to eat, including a lot of beautifully boiled potatoes, but unfortunately the hostess carried them from the pot on the stove in a corner of her ancient and somber apron, and served him with her skinny paw.
Yan’s appetite was wholly gone now, to the grief of his kind entertainer, “Shure an’ she’d fix him up something to stringthen him," and Yan had hard work to beg off.
“Would ye like an aig,” ventured Biddy.
“Why, yes! oh, yes, please,” exclaimed Yan, with almost too much enthusiasm. He thought, “Well, hens are pure-minded creatures, anyway. An egg’s sure to be clean.”
Biddy waddled away to the ’barrun’ and soon reappeared with three eggs.
“B’iled or fried?”
“Boiled,” said Yan, aiming to keep to the safe side.
Biddy looked around for a pot.
“Shure, that’s b’ilin’ now,” said Granny, pointing to the great mass of her undergarments seething in the boiler, and accordingly the eggs were dropped in there.
Yan fervently prayed that they might not break. As it was, two did crack open, but he got the other one, and that was virtually his dinner.
A Purple Blackbird came hopping in the door now.
“Will, now, thayer’s Jack. Whayer hev ye been? I thought ye wuz gone fur good. Shure Oi saved him from a murtherin’ gunner,” she explained. “(Bad scran to the baste! I belave he was an Or’ngeman.) But he’s all right now an’ comes an’ goes like he owned the place. Now, Jack, you git out av that wather pail,” as the beautiful bird leaped into the half-filled drinking bucket and began to take a bath.
“Now luk at that,” she shouted, “ye little rascal, come out o’ that oven,” for now the Blackbird had taken advantage of the open door to scramble into the dark warm oven.
“Thayer he goes to warrum his futs. Oh, ye little rascal! Next thing ye know some one’ll slam the dooer, not knowin’ a thing, and fire up, an’ it’s roastin’ aloive ye’ll be. Shure an’ it’s tempted Oi am to wring yer purty neck to save yer loife,” and she drove him out with the harshest of words and the gentlest of hands.
Then Yan, with his arms full of labelled plants, set out for home.
“Good-boi, choild, come back agin and say me soon. Bring some more hairbs. Good-boi, an’ bless ye. Oi hope it’s no sin to say so, fur Oi know yer a Prattison an’ ye are all on yez goin’ to hell, but yer a foine bhoy. Oi’m tumble sorry yer a Prattison.”
When Yan got back to the Raftens’ he found the dinner table set for one, though it was now three in the afternoon.
“Come and get your dinner,” said Mrs. Raften in her quiet motherly way. “I’ll put on the steak. It will be ready in five minutes.”
“But I’ve had my dinner with Granny de Neuville.”
“Yes, I know!”
“Did she stir yer tea with one front claw an’ put jam on yer bread with the other?” asked Raften, rather coarsely.
“Did she b’ile her pet Blackbird fur yer soup?” said Sam.
Yan turned very red. Evidently all had a good idea of what he had experienced, but it jarred on him to hear their mockery of the good old soul.
He replied warmly, “She was just as kind and nice as she could be.”
“You had better have a steak now,” said Mrs. Raften, in solicitous doubt.
How tempting was the thought of that juicy brown steak! How his empty stomach did crave it! But the continued mockery had stirred him. He would stand up for the warm-hearted old woman who had ungrudgingly given him the best she had–had given her all–to make a hearty welcome for a stranger. They should never know how gladly he would have eaten now, and in loyalty to his recent hostess he added the first lie of his life:
“No, thank you very much, but really I am not in the least hungry. I had a fine dinner at Granny de Neuville’s.”
Then, defying the inner pangs of emptiness, he went about his evening chores.