« PreviousContinue »
is !' were among the exclamations which broke from them every moment, whilst every eye glistened with delight, and every mouth gushed with the water of hope. Eh, mother, I'll stir for you,' cried Tam. No; let me--let me- let me let me !' exclaimed half a score other voices, amongst which could be heard that of the child of two years, who only spoke from imitation of the rest. This the mother, for reasons good, was pleased to decline, although the perspiration was already pouring in streams over her good-natured cheeks. Tam, however, was not to be balked in his obliging design; so he rushed to a drawer, got a horn-spoon, and next instant was aiding his mother in her culinary duty. The help he gave might have been repelled, if the rest had not immediately followed his example; so that, before she could utter a word of remonstrance, her spoon was struggling in the boiling mess with six or eight others, wielded by hands quite as vigorous, and a little more active than her own. To have attempted to thrust out these volunteer spoons, would, she perceived, only cause the loss of as much jelly as would stick to them, and this as often as they might be withdrawn. Feeling herself quite unable to contend with the enemy, she tried to temporise with him. She said she would allow them to stir, if they would promise not to take out the spoons to lick them. All readily promised, and next moment, as if the forbiddance had only served to suggest the trick to them, each man was seen cooling his spoon by a vigorous application of his breath, and endeavouring to divest it of its luscious burden. Vain was every piteous protestation of the perspiring woman
threat (for she at length began to threaten)-equally vain all attempts to thrust them away from a place to which the
necessity of constant stirring chained herself. She vowed she would tell their father, and they should see what he would say ; but they well knew that they would all be in their beds before he came home. By and by, the time came when she herself should taste the jelly, to ascertain if it was sufficiently boiled; and for this purpose she took out some, which she put into a saucer, and placed on the dresser. When, after a minute, she tumed round to taste this little quantity, she beheld the saucer applied vertically to Tam’s face, while his two wicked gray eyes twinkled merrily over the upper edge. The rascal had licked it as clean as if it had been washed. "Ah, Tam !' she could only cry. She now put a small quantity into two saucers, which she placed on the sides of the fireplace, so as to be directly under her eye. That instant both were whisked off by two new culprits, who securely enjoyed the treat at the back of the door, while she could only cry to them that they should have none when it was ready. But these tricks of three of the younkers unavoidably led to other tricks, it being an old-established maxim in this house, that, if one got anything good, whether by free-will offering or by stealth, all the rest were entitled to as much. Davie, there fore, and Will, considering themselves defrauded by Tam, Jock, and Peter, instantly set about measures for the purpose of righting themselves; and seizing two of the little pots which their mother had placed on the table for the reception of the jelly, began to help themselves to a reasonable proportion out of the pan by means
The mother entreated that they would put down the pots, as the jelly was now ready, and would spoil if longer kept on the fire. She even promised them whole slices of bread covered with jelly if they would do
of their spoons.
as she bade them. But they had long come to know the force of the old proverb, that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Mrs. Sempill was now in a sad stew with heat and apprehension, and wished heartily that she had never attempted to make jelly. "Oh, bairns, bairns,' she exclaimed piteously; then added in her own thoughts, was there ever any poor woman so tormented by a family as I have been! If he had but been at hame himself (meaning her husband), they might have been kept away from me a while. But he's never here when he's wanted.'
All regrets, however, were now vain, and she was glad to conclude the business, as she thought, by pouring out the contents of her pan, which she found would fill only three pots and a tea-cup, being not above the half of what she would have had if the children, to use her own expression, had behaved themselves.
In a compound state between parboiled, baked, and melted, poor Mrs Sempill now sat down to rest on a chair as far from the fire as possible, while the juveniles, still far from sated, flocked about the three pots and the tea-cup, to gaze upon the still hot liquid, and calculate how many slices of loaf it could make delicious. Nothing of course but the absolute dread of scalding their fingers could have prevented them from plunging into it; the mother knew that, and was for the meantime at ease on the subject. But this state of things lasted but for a short time. A tremendous attack was now made upon her for pieces with jelly on them, by way of trying it. She had, they alleged, promised them as much, and there, they said, was the loaf ready to be cut for the purpose. Weel, but, bairns, ye have taken twice as much already as would have made jelly-pieces for ye. You canna baith
eat your piece and hae it.' 'Ah, but you promised,' they said; and from this position nothing could drive them. As for what had been taken during the cooking, why, it was not jelly then. They had only taken a few tastings. Now that it was poured out, and fully made, it was quite a different thing. Worsted even in argument, worthy Mrs Sempill had no alternative but to comply with their requests. Each, in short, got a slice of bread covered neatly over with the lukewarm stuff-a process which exhausted the tea-cup, and made a considerable inroad upon the contents of one of the pots. So quickly were these pieces devoured, that he who first got one had finished it, and was clamouring for more, long ere she had supplied the last. Vainly did she try to repel the demand. It was immediately supported by a second voice, and these two again by a third, belonging to other young gentlemen who had finished their pieces, so that, let her spread as quickly as she liked, she had always one-half clamouring and another eating. At this stage of the business, her hopes were limited to two pots. She thought, if she could only save these, her labours might not be quite in vain. But at this moment some one entered the shop, and she found it necessary to leave the scene of action, to see what was wanted. It was only a little girl asking change for a penny; and in despatching this application, little time, it may be supposed, was needed. Yet, short as was the term of her absence, great events had meanwhile taken place in the kitchen. When she returned thither, the first sight that met her eye was one of her full pots in the act of tumbling off the dresser, from which it had been pushed in a struggle between Jock and Jamie for the possession of the loaf. Of
se, the pot broke on the
stone floor, over which its contents spread in a liquid stream. Meanwhile two other youngsters, perched on the table, were busily engaged in spooning out the contents of the next best pot, so that the view presented to Mrs Sempill at the moment of her return was of a nature altogether to afflict her with complete despair. She had now no hope of saving even a wreck of what had cost her so much trouble, and her first and most natural emotion was to resign the whole to that destruction to which it seemed to have been predestined. Weel, weel, bairns,' said she, just take it all amang you. It's the first jelly I've made, and it will be the last.' She then sat patiently down beside the fire, and looked quietly on while the swarm of her offspring spooned away at the remains of the precious mess, of which, in five minutes, not one particle remained either upon table, or floor, or spoon, or pot, neither in the pan from which the liquid had been poured; nor was there left, indeed, any memorial that such a thing as currantjelly had once been there, excepting here and there a streak across a cheek or a brow, and a general stickiness over most of the furniture of the room, including particularly all handles of doors and drawers, the cause of which must be obvious.
Such was the history of Mrs. Sempill's first attempt at gentility. It is scarcely necessary to add, that her last recorded exclamation became a strict truth, and that she never again borrowed Mrs Mitchell's brass pan.