The Educational Breakfast by Lucretia P Hale

Story type: Literature

Mrs. Peterkin’s nerves were so shaken by the excitement of the fall of the three little boys into the enclosure where the cow was kept that the educational breakfast was long postponed. The little boys continued at school, as before, and the conversation dwelt as little as possible upon the subject of education.

Mrs. Peterkin’s spirits, however, gradually recovered. The little boys were allowed to watch the cow at her feed. A series of strings was arranged by Agamemnon and Solomon John, by which the little boys could be pulled up, if they should again fall down into the enclosure. These were planned something like curtain-cords, and Solomon John frequently amused himself by pulling one of the little boys up or letting him down.

Some conversation did again fall upon the old difficulty of questions. Elizabeth Eliza declared that it was not always necessary to answer; that many who could did not answer questions,–the conductors of the railroads, for instance, who probably knew the names of all the stations on a road, but were seldom able to tell them.

“Yes,” said Agamemnon, “one might be a conductor without even knowing the names of the stations, because you can’t understand them when they do tell them!”

“I never know,” said Elizabeth Eliza, “whether it is ignorance in them, or unwillingness, that prevents them from telling you how soon one station is coming, or how long you are to stop, even if one asks ever so many times. It would be so useful if they would tell.”

Mrs. Peterkin thought this was carried too far in the horse-cars in Boston. The conductors had always left you as far as possible from the place where you wanted to stop; but it seemed a little too much to have the aldermen take it up, and put a notice in the cars, ordering the conductors “to stop at the farthest crossing.”

Mrs. Peterkin was, indeed, recovering her spirits. She had been carrying on a brisk correspondence with Philadelphia, that she had imparted to no one, and at last she announced, as its result, that she was ready for a breakfast on educational principles.

A breakfast indeed, when it appeared! Mrs. Peterkin had mistaken the alphabetical suggestion, and had grasped the idea that the whole alphabet must be represented in one breakfast.

This, therefore, was the bill of fare: Apple-sauce, Bread, Butter, Coffee, Cream, Doughnuts, Eggs, Fish-balls, Griddles, Ham, Ice (on butter), Jam, Krout (sour), Lamb-chops, Morning Newspapers, Oatmeal, Pepper, Quince-marmalade, Rolls, Salt, Tea Urn, Veal-pie, Waffles, Yeast-biscuit.

Mr. Peterkin was proud and astonished. “Excellent!” he cried. “Every letter represented except Z.” Mrs. Peterkin drew from her pocket a letter from the lady from Philadelphia. “She thought you would call it X-cellent for X, and she tells us,” she read, “that if you come with a zest, you will bring the Z.”

Mr. Peterkin was enchanted. He only felt that he ought to invite the children in the primary schools to such a breakfast; what a zest, indeed, it would give to the study of their letters!

It was decided to begin with Apple-sauce.

“How happy,” exclaimed Mr. Peterkin, “that this should come first of all! A child might be brought up on apple-sauce till he had mastered the first letter of the alphabet, and could go on to the more involved subjects hidden in bread, butter, baked beans, etc.”

Agamemnon thought his father hardly knew how much was hidden in the apple. There was all the story of William Tell and the Swiss independence. The little boys were wild to act William Tell, but Mrs. Peterkin was afraid of the arrows. Mr. Peterkin proposed they should begin by eating the apple-sauce, then discussing it, first botanically, next historically; or perhaps first historically, beginning with Adam and Eve, and the first apple.

Mrs. Peterkin feared the coffee would be getting cold, and the griddles were waiting. For herself, she declared she felt more at home on the marmalade, because the quinces came from grandfather’s, and she had seen them planted; she remembered all about it, and now the bush came up to the sitting-room window. She seemed to have heard him tell that the town of Quincy, where the granite came from, was named from them, and she never quite recollected why, except they were so hard, as hard as stone, and it took you almost the whole day to stew them, and then you might as well set them on again.

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Mr. Peterkin was glad to be reminded of the old place at grandfather’s. In order to know thoroughly about apples they ought to understand the making of cider. Now, they might some time drive up to grandfather’s, scarcely twelve miles away, and see the cider made. Why, indeed, should not the family go this very day up to grandfather’s and continue the education of the breakfast?

“Why not, indeed?” exclaimed the little boys. A day at grandfather’s would give them the whole process of the apple, from the orchard to the cider-mill. In this way they could widen the field of study, even to follow in time the cup of coffee to Java.

It was suggested, too, that at grandfather’s they might study the processes of maple syrup as involved in the griddle-cakes.

Agamemnon pointed out the connection between the two subjects: they were both the products of trees,–the apple-tree and the maple. Mr. Peterkin proposed that the lesson for the day should be considered the study of trees, and on the way they could look at other trees.

Why not, indeed, go this very day? There was no time like the present. Their breakfast had been so copious they would scarcely be in a hurry for dinner, and would, therefore, have the whole day before them.

Mrs. Peterkin could put up the remains of the breakfast for luncheon.

But how should they go? The carryall, in spite of its name, could hardly take the whole family, though they might squeeze in six, as the little boys did not take up much room.

Elizabeth Eliza suggested that she could spend the night at grandfather’s. Indeed, she had been planning a visit there, and would not object to staying some days. This would make it easier about coming home, but it did not settle the difficulty in getting there.

Why not “Ride and Tie”?

The little boys were fond of walking; so was Mr. Peterkin; and Agamemnon and Solomon John did not object to their turn. Mrs. Peterkin could sit in the carriage, when it was waiting for the pedestrians to come up; or, she said, she did not object to a little turn of walking. Mr. Peterkin would start, with Solomon John and the little boys, before the rest, and Agamemnon should drive his mother and Elizabeth Eliza to the first stopping-place.

Then came up another question,–of Elizabeth Eliza’s trunk. If she stayed a few days she would need to carry something. It might be hot, and it might be cold. Just as soon as she carried her thin things she would need her heaviest wraps. You never could depend upon the weather. Even “Probabilities” got you no farther than to-day.

In an inspired moment Elizabeth Eliza bethought herself of the expressman. She would send her trunk by the express, and she left the table directly to go and pack it. Mrs. Peterkin busied herself with Amanda over the remains of the breakfast. Mr. Peterkin and Agamemnon went to order the horse and the expressman, and Solomon John and the little boys prepared themselves for a pedestrian excursion.

Elizabeth Eliza found it difficult to pack in a hurry; there were so many things she might want, and then again she might not. She must put up her music, because her grandfather had a piano; and then she bethought herself of Agamemnon’s flute, and decided to pick out a volume or two of the Encyclopaedia. But it was hard to decide, all by herself, whether to take G for griddle-cakes, or M for maple-syrup, or T for tree. She would take as many as she could make room for. She put up her work-box and two extra work-baskets, and she must take some French books she had never yet found time to read. This involved taking her French dictionary, as she doubted if her grandfather had one. She ought to put in a “Botany,” if they were to study trees; but she could not tell which, so she would take all there were. She might as well take all her dresses, and it was no harm if one had too many wraps. When she had her trunk packed she found it over-full; it was difficult to shut it. She had heard Solomon John set out from the front door with his father and the little boys, and Agamemnon was busy holding the horse at the side door, so there was no use in calling for help. She got upon the trunk; she jumped upon it; she sat down upon it, and, leaning over, found she could lock it! Yes, it was really locked.

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But, on getting down from the trunk, she found her dress had been caught in the lid; she could not move away from it! What was worse, she was so fastened to the trunk that she could not lean forward far enough to turn the key back, to unlock the trunk and release herself! The lock had slipped easily, but she could not now get hold of the key in the right way to turn it back.

She tried to pull her dress away. No, it was caught too firmly. She called for help to her mother or Amanda, to come and open the trunk. But her door was shut. Nobody near enough to hear! She tried to pull the trunk toward the door, to open it and make herself heard; but it was so heavy that, in her constrained position, she could not stir it. In her agony she would have been willing to have torn her dress; but it was her travelling dress, and too stout to tear. She might cut it carefully. Alas, she had packed her scissors, and her knife she had lent to the little boys the day before! She called again. What silence there was in the house! Her voice seemed to echo through the room. At length, as she listened, she heard the sound of wheels.

Was it the carriage, rolling away from the side door? Did she hear the front door shut? She remembered then that Amanda was to “have the day.” But she, Elizabeth Eliza, was to have spoken to Amanda, to explain to her to wait for the expressman. She was to have told her as she went downstairs. But she had not been able to go downstairs! And Amanda must have supposed that all the family had left, and she, too, must have gone, knowing nothing of the expressman. Yes, she heard the wheels! She heard the front door shut!

But could they have gone without her? Then she recalled that she had proposed walking on a little way with Solomon John and her father, to be picked up by Mrs. Peterkin, if she should have finished her packing in time. Her mother must have supposed that she had done so,–that she had spoken to Amanda, and started with the rest. Well, she would soon discover her mistake. She would overtake the walking party, and, not finding Elizabeth Eliza, would return for her. Patience only was needed. She had looked around for something to read; but she had packed up all her books. She had packed her knitting. How quiet and still it was! She tried to imagine where her mother would meet the rest of the family. They were good walkers, and they might have reached the two-mile bridge. But suppose they should stop for water beneath the arch of the bridge, as they often did, and the carryall pass over it without seeing them, her mother would not know but she was with them? And suppose her mother should decide to leave the horse at the place proposed for stopping and waiting for the first pedestrian party, and herself walk on, no one would be left to tell the rest when they should come up to the carryall. They might go on so, through the whole journey, without meeting, and she might not be missed till they should reach her grandfather’s!

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Horrible thought! She would be left here alone all day. The expressman would come, but the expressman would go, for he would not be able to get into the house!

She thought of the terrible story of Ginevra, of the bride who was shut up in her trunk, and forever! She was shut up on hers, and knew not when she should be released! She had acted once in the ballad of the “Mistletoe Bough.” She had been one of the “guests,” who had sung “Oh, the Mistletoe Bough!” and had looked up at it, and she had seen at the side-scenes how the bride had laughingly stepped into the trunk. But the trunk then was only a make-believe of some boards in front of a sofa, and this was a stern reality.

It would be late now before her family would reach her grandfather’s. Perhaps they would decide to spend the night. Perhaps they would fancy she was coming by express. She gave another tremendous effort to move the trunk toward the door. In vain. All was still.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Peterkin sat some time at the door, wondering why Elizabeth Eliza did not come down. Mr. Peterkin had started on, with Solomon John and all the little boys. Agamemnon had packed the things into the carriage,–a basket of lunch, a change of shoes for Mr. Peterkin, some extra wraps,–everything that Mrs. Peterkin could think of for the family comfort. Still Elizabeth Eliza did not come. “I think she must have walked on with your father,” she said, at last; “you had better get in.” Agamemnon now got in. “I should think she would have mentioned it,” she continued; “but we may as well start on, and pick her up!” They started off. “I hope Elizabeth Eliza thought to speak to Amanda, but we must ask her when we come up with her.”

But they did not come up with Elizabeth Eliza. At the turn beyond the village they found an envelope stuck up in an inviting manner against a tree. In this way they had agreed to leave missives for each other as they passed on. This note informed them that the walking party was going to take the short cut across the meadows, and would still be in front of them. They saw the party at last, just beyond the short cut; but Mr. Peterkin was explaining the character of the oak-tree to his children as they stood around a large specimen.

“I suppose he is telling them that it is some kind of a ‘ Quercus,’” said Agamemnon, thoughtfully.

Mrs. Peterkin thought Mr. Peterkin would scarcely use such an expression; but she could see nothing of Elizabeth Eliza. Some of the party, however, were behind the tree, some were in front, and Elizabeth Eliza might be behind the tree. They were too far off to be shouted at. Mrs. Peterkin was calmed, and went on to the stopping-place agreed upon, which they reached before long. This had been appointed near Farmer Gordon’s barn, that there might be somebody at hand whom they knew, in case there should be any difficulty in untying the horse. The plan had been that Mrs. Peterkin should always sit in the carriage, while the others should take turns for walking; and Agamemnon tied the horse to a fence, and left her comfortably arranged with her knitting. Indeed, she had risen so early to prepare for the alphabetical breakfast, and had since been so tired with preparations, that she was quite sleepy, and would not object to a nap in the shade, by the soothing sound of the buzzing of the flies. But she called Agamemnon back, as he started off for his solitary walk, with a perplexing question:–

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“Suppose the rest all should arrive, how could they now be accommodated in the carryall? It would be too much for the horse! Why had Elizabeth Eliza gone with the rest without counting up? Of course, they must have expected that she–Mrs. Peterkin–would walk on to the next stopping-place!”

She decided there was no way but for her to walk on. When the rest passed her they might make a change. So she put up her knitting cheerfully. It was a little joggly in the carriage, she had already found, for the horse was restless from the flies, and she did not like being left alone.

She walked on then with Agamemnon. It was very pleasant at first, but the sun became hot, and it was not long before she was fatigued. When they reached a hay-field she proposed going in to rest upon one of the hay-cocks. The largest and most shady was at the other end of the field, and they were seated there when the carryall passed them in the road. Mrs. Peterkin waved parasol and hat, and the party in the carryall returned their greetings; but they were too far apart to hear each other.

Mrs. Peterkin and Agamemnon slowly resumed their walk.

“Well, we shall find Elizabeth Eliza in the carryall,” she said, “and that will explain all.”

But it took them an hour or two to reach the carryall, with frequent stoppings for rest, and when they reached it no one was in it. A note was pinned up in the vehicle to say they had all walked on; it was “prime fun.”

In this way the parties continued to dodge each other, for Mrs. Peterkin felt that she must walk on from the next station, and the carryall missed her again while she and Agamemnon stopped in a house to rest, and for a glass of water. She reached the carryall to find again that no one was in it. The party had passed on for the last station, where it had been decided all should meet at the foot of grandfather’s hill, that they might all arrive at the house together. Mrs. Peterkin and Agamemnon looked out eagerly for the party all the way, as Elizabeth Eliza must be tired by this time; but Mrs. Peterkin’s last walk had been so slow that the other party were far in advance and reached the stopping-place before them. The little boys were all rowed out on the stone fence, awaiting them, full of delight at having reached grandfather’s. Mr. Peterkin came forward to meet them, and, at the same moment with Mrs. Peterkin, exclaimed: “Where is Elizabeth Eliza?” Each party looked eagerly at the other; no Elizabeth Eliza was to be seen. Where was she? What was to be done? Was she left behind? Mrs. Peterkin was convinced she must have somehow got to grandfather’s. They hurried up the hill. Grandfather and all the family came out to greet them, for they had been seen approaching. There was great questioning, but no Elizabeth Eliza!

It was sunset; the view was wide and fine. Mr. and Mrs. Peterkin stood and looked out from the north to the south. Was it too late to send back for Elizabeth Eliza? Where was she?

Meanwhile the little boys had been informing the family of the object of their visit, and while Mr. and Mrs. Peterkin were looking up and down the road, and Agamemnon and Solomon John were explaining to each other the details of their journeys, they had discovered some facts.

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“We shall have to go back,” they exclaimed. “We are too late! The maple-syrup was all made last spring.”

“We are too early; we shall have to stay two or three months,–the cider is not made till October.”

The expedition was a failure! They could study the making of neither maple-syrup nor cider, and Elizabeth Eliza was lost, perhaps forever! The sun went down, and Mr. and Mrs. Peterkin still stood to look up and down the road.

* * * * *

Elizabeth Eliza, meanwhile, had sat upon her trunk as it seemed, for ages. She recalled all the terrible stories of prisoners,–how they had watched the growth of flowers through cracks in the pavement. She wondered how long she could live without eating. How thankful she was for her abundant breakfast!

At length she heard the door-bell. But who could go to the door to answer it? In vain did she make another effort to escape; it was impossible!

How singular!–there were footsteps. Some one was going to the door; some one had opened it. “They must be burglars.” Well, perhaps that was a better fate–to be gagged by burglars, and the neighbors informed–than to be forever locked on her trunk. The steps approached the door. It opened, and Amanda ushered in the expressman.

Amanda had not gone. She had gathered, while waiting at the breakfast-table, that there was to be an expressman whom she must receive.

Elizabeth Eliza explained the situation. The expressman turned the key of her trunk, and she was released!

What should she do next? So long a time had elapsed she had given up all hope of her family returning for her. But how could she reach them?

She hastily prevailed upon the expressman to take her along until she should come up with some of the family. At least she would fall in with either the walking party or the carryall, or she would meet them if they were on their return.

She mounted the seat with the expressman, and slowly they took their way, stopping for occasional parcels as they left the village.

But, much to Elizabeth Eliza’s dismay, they turned off from the main road on leaving the village. She remonstrated, but the driver insisted he must go round by Millikin’s to leave a bedstead. They went round by Millikin’s, and then had further turns to make. Elizabeth Eliza explained that in this way it would be impossible for her to find her parents and family, and at last he proposed to take her all the way with her trunk. She remembered with a shudder that when she had first asked about her trunk he had promised it should certainly be delivered the next morning. Suppose they should have to be out all night? Where did express-carts spend the night? She thought of herself in a lone wood, in an express-wagon! She could scarcely bring herself to ask, before assenting, when he should arrive.

“He guessed he could bring up before night.”

And so it happened that as Mr. and Mrs. Peterkin in the late sunset were looking down the hill, wondering what they should do about the lost Elizabeth Eliza, they saw an express wagon approaching. A female form sat upon the front seat.

“She has decided to come by express,” said Mrs. Peterkin. “It is–it is–Elizabeth Eliza!”

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