Page:Female Prose Writers of America.djvu/306

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272
MARIA J. B. BROWNE.

ceeded with his investigation by seizing a “bill of fare,” which the nearest neighbour had just laid down.

“What’s this, pa?” he inquired, bringing the smooth, clean paper into contact with his greasy mouth. It was a fixed habit of Master James’s this, of introducing everything to the acquaintanceship of his facial orifice, whether said orifice was in receiving order or not.

“I do’ know, child; let it alone, and hand it right straight back to the gentleman—it’s his’n,” replied Mr. Skates, getting not a little impatient at his son’s inquisitiveness.

“But what is it, pa?” persisted James, pouting and scowling that the dawning of his curiosity should be so cruelly repressed.

“I do’ know, I tell you; it looks like a little newspaper about vittles. Now hold your tongue!” retorted Mr. Skates, as he took the soiled paper out of James’s hand, and administered a box on his ear sufficiently expressive to set him snivelling.

This scene of course added to the amusement of the gay young people across the table. They discoursed very audibly about “Jonathans,” and “bumpkins,” and “country animals,” and one young woman, more bold and vulgar-souled and ill-bred than her companions, though her face was royally beautiful, and her voice as soft and sweet as the song of a siren, and her diction, even in rude sarcasm, as polished and musical as the diction of an orator, called quite aloud, “Waiter, do give me that little newspaper about vittles!” Her party joined in the joke with boisterous merriment, and poor Katy, instead of feeling honest contempt, rejoiced that her baby screamed just then, for even an uncomfortable and annoying circumstance relieved the bitter confusion of a consciousness that she and her well-meaning husband were the unfortunate objects of such unprincipled ridicule.

“That’s what we call a bill of fare, mum, not a newspaper,” replied the waiter, obsequiously, placing the paper in her fair hand.

“Oh, I understand, sir!” retorted the disconcerted beauty, a flush of indignation mounting to her very temples, that a servant should dare to presume her ignorant; “your explanation is unnecessary, quite;” but before she could deliver the rebuke she medi-