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   Chapter 23 UNCLE CHIPPERTON'S DINNER.

A Jolly Fellowship By Frank R. Stockton Characters: 14703

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


The next day was a busy one for father and mother and myself. All the morning we were out, laying in a small stock of baggage, to take the place of what I had lost on the "Tigris." But I was very sorry, especially on my sister Helen's account, that I had lost so many things in my trunk which I could not replace, without going back myself to Nassau. I could buy curiosities from those regions that were ever so much better than any that I had collected; but I could not buy shells that I myself had gathered, nor great seed-pods, like bean-pods two feet long, which I had picked from the trees, nor pieces of rock that I myself had brought up from a coral-reef.

But these were all gone, and I pacified Helen by assuring her that I would tell her such long stories about these things that she could almost see them in her mind's eye. But I think, by the way she smiled, that she had only a second-rate degree of belief in my power of description. She was a smart little thing, and she believed that Corny was the queen of girls.

While I am speaking of the "Tigris" and our losses, I will just say that the second boat which left the burning steamer was never heard from.

We reached our hotel about noon, pretty tired, for we had been rushing things, as it was necessary for father to go home early the next day. On the front steps we found Uncle Chipperton, who had been waiting for us. He particularly wanted to see me. He lunched with us, and then he took me off to the place where he was to have his dinner, at six o'clock that evening. He wanted to consult with me about the arrangements of the table; where each person should sit, and all that sort of thing. I couldn't see the use in this, because it was only a kind of family party, and we should all be sure to get seated, if there were chairs and places enough. But Uncle Chipperton wanted to plan and arrange everything until he was sure it was just right. That was his way.

After he had settled these important matters, and the head-waiter and the proprietor had become convinced that I was a person of much consequence, who had to be carefully consulted before anything could be done, we went down stairs, and at the street-door Uncle Chipperton suddenly stopped me.

"See here," said he, "I want to tell you something. I'm not coming to this dinner."

"Not-coming!" I exclaimed, in amazement.

"No," said he, "I've been thinking it over, and have fully made up my mind about it. You see, this is intended as a friendly reunion,-an occasion of good feeling and fellowship among people who are bound together in a very peculiar manner."

"Yes," I interrupted, "and that seems to me, sir, the very reason why you should be there."

"The very reason why I should not be there," he said. "You see, I couldn't sit down with that most perverse and obstinate man, Colbert, and feel sure that something or other would not occur which would make an outbreak between us, or, at any rate, bad feeling. In fact, I know I could not take pleasure in seeing him enjoy food. This may be wrong, but I can't help it. It's in me. And I wont be the means of casting a shadow over the happy company which will meet here to-night. No one but your folks need know I'm not coming. The rest will not know why I am detained, and I shall drop in toward the close of the meal, just before you break up. I want you to ask your father to take the head of the table. He is just the man for such a place, and he ought to have it, too, for another reason. You ought to know that this dinner is really given to you in your honor. To be sure, Rectus is a good fellow-splendid-and does everything that he knows how; but my wife and I know that we owe all our present happiness to your exertions and good sense."

He went on in this way for some time, and although I tried to stop him, I couldn't do it.

"Therefore," he continued, "I want your father to preside, and all of you to be happy, without a suspicion of a cloud about you. At any rate, I shall be no cloud. Come around here early, and see that everything is all right. Now I must be off."

And away he went.

I did not like this state of affairs at all. I would have much preferred to have no dinner. It was not necessary, any way. If I had had the authority, I would have stopped the whole thing. But it was Uncle Chipperton's affair, he paid for it, and I had no right to interfere with it.

My father liked the matter even less than I did. He said it was a strange and unwarrantable performance on the part of Chipperton, and he did not understand it. And he certainly did not want to sit at the head of the table in another man's place. I could not say anything to him to make him feel better about it. I made him feel worse, indeed, when I told him that Uncle Chipperton did not want his absence explained, or alluded to, any more than could be helped. My father hated to have to keep a secret of this kind.

In the afternoon, I went around to the hotel where the Chippertons always staid, when they were in New York, to see Corny and her mother. I found them rather blue. Uncle Chipperton had not been able to keep his plan from them, and they thought it was dreadful. I could not help letting them see that I did not like it, and so we didn't have as lively a time as we ought to have had.

I supposed that if I went to see Rectus, and told him about the matter, I should make him blue, too. But, as I had no right to tell him, and also felt a pretty strong desire that some of the folks should come with good spirits and appetites, I kept away from him. He would have been sure to see that something was the matter.

I was the first person to appear in the dining-room of the restaurant where the dinner-table was spread for us. It was a prettily furnished parlor in the second story of the house, and the table was very tastefully arranged and decorated with flowers. I went early, by myself, so as to be sure that everything was exactly right before the guests arrived. All seemed perfectly correct; the name of each member of the party was on a card by a plate. Even little Helen had her plate and her card. It would be her first appearance at a regular dinner-party.

The guests were not punctual. At ten minutes past six, even my father, who was the most particular of men in such things, had not made his appearance. I waited five, ten, fifteen, twenty minutes more, and became exceedingly nervous.

The head-waiter came in and asked if my friends understood the time that had been set. The dinner would be spoiled if it were kept much longer. I said that I was sure they knew all about the time set, and that there was nothing to be done but to wait. It was most unaccountable that they should all be late.

I stood before the fireplace and waited, and thought. I ran down to the door, and looked up and down the street. I called a waiter and told him to look into all the rooms in the house. They might have gone into the wrong place. But they were not to be seen anywhere.

Then I went back to the fireplace, and did some more thinking. There was no sense in supposing that they had made a mistake. They all knew this restaurant, and they all knew the time. In a moment, I said to myself:

"I know how it is. Father has made up his mind that he will not be mixed up in any affair of this kind, where a

quarrel keeps the host of the party from occupying his proper place, especially as he-my father-is expected to occupy that place himself. So he and mother and Helen have just quietly staid in their rooms at the hotel. Mrs. Chipperton and Corny wont come without Uncle Chipperton. They might ride right to the door, of course, but they are ashamed, and don't want to have to make explanations; and it is ridiculous to suppose that they wont have to be made. As for Rectus and his people, they could not have heard anything, but,-I have it. Old Colbert got his back up, too, and wouldn't come, either for fear a quarrel would be picked, or because he could take no pleasure in seeing Uncle Chipperton enjoying food. And Rectus and his mother wouldn't come without him."

It turned out, when I heard from all the parties, that I had got the matter exactly right.

"We shall have to make fresh preparations, sir, if we wait any longer," said the head-waiter, coming in with an air of great mental disturbance.

"Don't wait," said I. "Bring in the dinner. At least, enough for me. I don't believe any one else will be here."

The waiter looked bewildered, but he obeyed. I took my seat at the place where my card lay, at the middle of one side of the table, and spread my napkin in my lap. The head-waiter waited on me himself, and one or two other waiters came in to stand around, and take away dishes, and try to find something to do.

It was a capital dinner, and I went carefully through all the courses. I was hungry. I had been saving up some extra appetite for this dinner, and my regular appetite was a very good one.

I had raw oysters,

And soup,

And fish, with delicious sauce,

And roast duck,

And croquettes, made of something extraordinarily nice,

And beef à la mode,

And all sorts of vegetables, in their proper places,

And ready-made salad,

And orange pie,

And wine-jelly,

And ice-cream,

And bananas, oranges and white grapes,

And raisins, and almonds and nuts,

And a cup of coffee.

I let some of these things off pretty easy, toward the last; but I did not swerve from my line of duty. I went through all the courses, quietly and deliberately. It was a dinner in my honor, and I did all the honor I could to it.

I was leaning back in my chair, with a satisfied soul, and nibbling at some raisins, while I slowly drank my coffee, when the outer door opened, and Uncle Chipperton entered.

He looked at me in astonishment. Then he looked at the table, with the clean plates and glasses at every place, but one. Then he took it all in, or at least I supposed he did, for he sat down on a chair near the door, and burst out into the wildest fit of laughing. The waiters came running into the room to see what was the matter; but for several minutes Uncle Chipperton could not speak. He laughed until I thought he'd crack something. I laughed, too, but not so much.

"I see it all," he gasped, at last. "I see it all. I see just how it happened."

And when we compared our ideas of the matter, we found that they were just the same.

I wanted him to sit down and eat something, but he would not do it. He said he wouldn't spoil such a unique performance for anything. It was one of the most comical meals he had ever heard of.

I was glad he enjoyed it so much, for he paid for the whole dinner for ten, which had been prepared at his order.

When we reached the street, Uncle Chipperton put on a graver look.

"This is all truly very funny," he said, "but, after all, there is something about it which makes me feel ashamed of myself. Would you object to take a ride? It is only about eight o'clock. I want to go up to see old Colbert."

I agreed to go, and we got into a street-car. The Colberts lived in one of the up-town streets, and Uncle Chipperton had been at their house, on business.

"I never went to see them in a friendly way before," he said.

It was comforting to hear that this was to be a friendly visit.

When we reached the house, we found the family of three in the parlor. They had probably had all the dinner they wanted, but they did not look exactly satisfied with the world or themselves.

"Look here, Colbert," said Uncle Chipperton, after shaking hands with Mrs. Colbert, "why didn't you go to my dinner?"

"Well," said Mr. Colbert, looking him straight in the face, "I thought I'd better stay where I was. I didn't want to make any trouble, or pick any quarrels. I didn't intend to keep my wife and son away; but they wouldn't go without me."

"No, indeed," said Mrs. Colbert.

"Oh, well!" said Uncle Chipperton, "you needn't feel bad about it. I didn't go, myself."

At this, they all opened their eyes as wide as the law allowed.

"No," he continued, "I didn't want to make any disturbance, or ill-feeling, and so I didn't go, and my wife and daughter didn't want to go without me, and so they didn't go, and I expect Will's father and mother didn't care to be on hand at a time when bad feeling might be shown, and so they didn't go. There was no one there but Will. He ate all of the dinner that was eaten. He went straight through it, from one end to the other. And there was no ill-feeling, no discord, no cloud of any kind. All perfectly harmonious, wasn't it, Will?"

"Perfectly," said I.

"I just wish I had known about it," said Rectus, a little sadly.

"And now, Mr. Colbert," said Uncle Chipperton, "I don't want this to happen again. There may be other reunions of this kind, and we may want to go. And there ought to be such reunions between families whose sons and daughter have been cast away together, on a life-raft, in the middle of the ocean."

"That's so," said Mrs. Colbert, warmly.

"I thought they were saved on a life-raft," said old Colbert, dryly. "And I didn't know it was in the middle of the ocean."

"Well, fix that as you please," said Uncle Chipperton. "What I want to propose is this: Let us settle our quarrel. Let's split our difference. Will you agree to divide that four inches of ground, and call it square? I'll pay for two inches."

"Do you mean you'll pay half the damages I've laid?" asked old Colbert.

"That's what I mean," said Uncle Chipperton.

"All right," said Mr. Colbert; "I'll agree." And they shook hands on it.

"Now, then," said Uncle Chipperton, who seemed unusually lively, "I must go see the Gordons, and explain matters to them. Wont you come along, Rectus?" And Rectus came.

On the way to our hotel, we stopped for Corny and her mother. We might as well have a party, Uncle Chipperton said.

We had a gay time at our rooms. My father and mother were greatly amused at the way the thing had turned out, and very much pleased that Mr. Colbert and Uncle Chipperton had become reconciled to each other.

"I thought he had a good heart," said my mother, softly, to me, looking over to Uncle Chipperton, who was telling my father, for the second time, just how I looked, as I sat alone at the long table.

Little Helen had not gone to bed yet, and she was sorry about the dinner in the same way that Rectus was. So was Corny, but she was too glad that the quarrel between her father and Mr. Colbert was over, to care much for the loss of the dinner. She was always very much disturbed by quarrels between friends or friends' fathers.

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