St. Nicholas Magazine for Boys and Girls, September 1878
Who Put Out the Tea-Party?
by Ellen Frances Terry
One day, when I was a small girl, my little sister Katy and I found in the
yard a dry-goods box, in which the new carpets had been sent home. As usual, we
ran to where grandma sat knitting and nodding:
"Oh, grandma, mayn't we have it?" cried I.
"Yet hab it, dranma?" echoed Katy.
"You know we never had a baby-house."
"No, nebber had no baby-'ouse."
"Oh, say yes!"
Then, before she knew what she was to do, or say, or what she never had done, or
said, we coaxed her to the back door and pointed to our treasure. She couldn't
refuse us, and the box was given to us.
John made us a card-board chimney, and cut a square window in either end, for,
of course, we set it on its feet, turning its back to the lane against whose
fence it stood, looking into the yard. Grandma gave us red curtains for the
windows, and a big striped apron, which hung across the front and did for a
door. We had to have a door, for, when we took tea, the chickens came, without
invitation, peeping inside, looking for crumbs. And, seeing what looked like a
party, down flew, with a whir and rustle, a flock of doves, saying, "Coo-oo! how
do-oo-do!" and prinking themselves in our very faces. Yes, we really had too
many of these surprise-parties; for, another time, it was a wasp that came to
tea, and flew from me to Katy, and from Katy to me, till we flew, too, to hide
our heads in grandma's lap. Then she gave us the apron, which was very grand,
though the blue stripes were walking into the red ones, and there were a good
many little holes which let small arrows of light fly out. That was when we
lighted the chandelier, and they (the holes and the arrows) were the very things
to let people know what grand doings there were inside.
Then, when our crockery was arranged on the shelf at the back, a stool set in
the middle for a table, our two small green chairs placed one at either end, and
a good many nails driven into the "walls" to serve as hooks,—then we gave a
party. The dolls were invited, of course, and their invitations Katy wrote on
her slate. To be sure, the letters looked a good deal like Jack and
Jill,—climbing up hill and tumbling down again,—still the dolls understood us.
There were no little girls invited, because little girls couldn't have squeezed
in, unless they were willing to be hung up, like the extra dollies.
But oh! wouldn't they have liked to go? We had ice-cream, just made of
vanilla, cream-candy, and water,—delicious! Then there was a whole tea-potful of
chocolate-tea, which was a chocolate-cream drop scraped fine and mixed with
water. Do just try it sometime. Thimble-biscuits, too, and holes with cookies
round them. I never expect to be as happy again as I was when I dropped the
curtain at half-past four precisely, and lighted the chandelier, which I forgot
to say was a candle cut in two, stuck in cologne-bottles of different shapes and
We well knew—for didn't we go out twice to look?—how splendidly the light
streamed through the two windows and the eight holes. Why, the chickens knew it,
too, on their perches, for they opened one sleepy eye after another, solemnly
changed legs, and dozed off again. Those long rays of light, playing truant, ran
down the lane and flashed into the very eyes of naughty Billy Quinn, who was
going home from a visit, whistling, and with his hands in his pockets.
Of course the dolls arrived promptly, and took off their shawls in the best
bedroom, which was that convenient shelf that was turned into anything on short
notice. The baby-dolls had to go early to bed under the table, and you can
imagine how much pleasanter it is to say, "Bed-time, children!" than to have it
said to you. Mrs. Green was a perfect little Mrs. Herod in her treatment of her
children. Indeed, their yells under punishment were heart-rending; but when she
was only dear Katy she was tender as one of those cooing doves.
So we ate up the ice-cream, and turned the tea-pot upside down to squeeze out
the last drop of chocolate-tea. Mrs. Green was just doing this very thing when
the most dreadful event happened. Crash!—bang!—clatter!—the whole world had
turned upside down. Out went the lights, and everything fell together in a
dismal heap; but whether up or down nobody could tell. There was a splash of
cold, cold water in my face as the wash-bowl and pitcher fell and crashed beside
me. Katy lay with her small nose buried in the butter-plate. The house had
For a few seconds not a sound was heard, but then there was a half-stifled burst
of laughter, which quickly died away as some thickly shod feet scampered down
the alley. Yes, the beautiful house was tipped over, and the tea-party put out,
as an extinguisher is slipped over a candle, or a hat clapped upon a butterfly.
Inside, there was a confused heap, with legs uppermost,—table-legs, chair-legs,
little legs clad in white stockings, and, mixed hopelessly up with these, the
dolls, the dishes, the candles.
This heap, however, was silent only for a moment. Then a feeble cry struggled up
through it,—a cry which, reaching the upper air, grew loud, doubled itself,
became two cries, and rushed out through a window, which, having lost its way,
was where the roof ought to be. Then growing fast and shrill, the cry ran toward
the house, waking up the Brown baby, who at once joined in. The rooster waked
suddenly, and feeling that something had happened, thought it could do no harm
to crow, and that agitated his household to the last hen. Then to the cackling
and crowing, Beppo added a bark of duty, and nearly turned inside out, tugging
at his chain, and howling between times. The canary began his scales, and the
scream grew and grew and rushed into the house through every door and window.
Uncle John was reading the paper, but, hearing the fearful uproar, he dashed
into the yard, turned back the house with one hand, with the other picked out
from the heap of legs all the white ones, and dragged us from the wreck of our
residence. It was quickly done, but not too soon, for a little flame, which was
hiding under the close mass of ruins, now hopped merrily up on the tarletan
skirts of Alice Isabella, the prettiest of the dolls.
While we were being taken to grandma to be cried over and comforted, and the
poor old house lay on its side forgotten, that flame finished off poor dolly,
ran up to the roof, ate up the red-striped curtain in the twinkling of an eye,
and, in fact, made short work of the whole thing. We knew nothing of this that
night, but were so honored and indulged as to make us think everything else had
turned a new leaf as well as the house.
The next morning, grandma, coming into the breakfast-room, was called to the
window by Uncle John, who was looking at something in the yard. There was a
forlorn little figure sitting on a log among the charred embers of the burnt
house. It was I, sobbing as if my heart would break, and beside me was Katy, who
stood sadly by, trying with a corner of her apron to dry my tears. But her eyes
were wet, too, and in the fat arms were squeezed a leg and shoe, which was all
that was left of Alice Isabella.
What wicked eye had watched the festivities through the window, or what cruel
heart had yielded to the temptation to turn over the house upon it all, we never
knew. I heard that Billy Quinn was punished that night for coming home late to
supper, and now, looking impartially at the matter over all these years, I am
inclined to think it was that very Billy Quinn, and no other, who put out the