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The Children's Book by  Horace E. Scudder
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A TALE OF POTTED SPRATS

BY AMELIA OPIE

MOST mistresses of families have a family receipt-book; and are apt to believe that no receipts are so good as their own.

With one of these notable ladies a young housekeeper went to pass a few days, both at her town and country-house. The hostess was skilled, not [345] only in culinary lore, but in economy; and was in the habit of setting on her table, even when not alone, whatever her taste or carefulness had led her to pot, pickle, or preserve, for occasional use.

Before a meager family dinner was quite over, a dish of POTTED SPRATS was set before the lady of the house, who, expatiating on their excellence, derived from a family receipt of a century old, pressed her still unsatisfied guest to partake of them.

The dish was as good as much salt and little spice could make it; but it had one peculiarity—it had a strong flavor of garlic, and to garlic the poor guest had a great dislike.

But she was a timid woman; and good-breeding, and what she called benevolence, said, "no." "Is it not excellent?" said the hostess. "Very," faltered out the half-suffocated guest;—and this was lie the first. "Did you ever eat anything like it before?" "Never," replied the other more firmly; for then she knew that she spoke the truth, and longing to add, "and I hope I never shall eat anything like it again." "I will give you the receipt," said the lady, kindly; "it will be of use to you as a young housekeeper: for it is economical, as well as good, and serves to make out, when we have a scrap-dinner. My servants often dine on it." "I wonder you can get any servants to live with you" thought the guest; "but I dare say you do not get any one to stay long!" "You do not, however, eat as if you liked it." "Oh, yes, indeed I do, very much," (lie the second) she replied, "but you forget I have already eaten a good dinner:" (lie the third. Alas! What had benevolence, so called, to answer for this occasion!")

"Well, I am delighted to find that you like my sprats," said the flattered hostess, while the cloth was removing: adding, "John! Do not let those sprats be eaten in the kitchen!" an order which the guest heard with indescribable alarm.

The next day they were to set off for the country-house, or cottage. When they were seated in the carriage, a large box was put in, and the guest fancied she smelt garlic; but

"Where ignorance is bliss,

'T is folly to be wise."

She therefore asked no questions; but tried to enjoy the present, regardless of the future. At a certain distance they stopped to bait the horses. There the guest expected that they should get out, and take some refreshment; but her economical companion, with a shrewd wink of the eye, observed, "I always sit in the carriage on these occasions. If one gets out, the people at the inn expect one to order a luncheon. I therefore take mine with me." So saying, John was summoned to drag the carriage out of sight of the inn windows. He then unpacked the box, took out of it knives and forks, plates, etc., and also a jar, which, impregnating the air with its effluvia, even before it was opened, disclosed to the alarmed guest that its contents were the dreaded sprats!

"Alas!" thought she, "Pandora's box was nothing to this! for in that, Hope remained behind; but, at the bottom of this is Despair!" In vain did the unhappy lady declare (lie the fourth) that she never ate in the morning." Her hostess would take no denial. However, she contrived to get a piece of sprat down, enveloped in bread; and the rest she threw out of the window, when her companion was looking another way—who, on turning round, exclaimed, "so you have soon dispatched the fish! Let me give you another; do not refuse, because you think they are nearly finished; I assure you there are several left; and (delightful information!) we shall have a fresh supply to-morrow!" However, this time she was allowed to know when she had eaten enough; and the travelers proceeded to their journey's end.

This day, the sprats did not appear at dinner;—but, there being only a few left, they were kept for a bonne bouche, and reserved for supper! A meal of which, this evening, on account of indisposition, the hostess did not partake, and was therefore at liberty to attend entirely to the wants of her guest, who would fain have declined eating [346] also, but it was impossible; she had just declared that she was quite well, and had often owned that she enjoyed a piece of supper after an early dinner. There was therefore no retreat from the maze in which her insincerity had involved her; and eat she must: but, when she again smelled on her plate the nauseous composition, which being near the bottom of the pot was more disagreeable than ever, human patience and human infirmity could bear no more; the scarcely tasted morsel fell from her lips, and she rushed precipitately into the open air, almost disposed to execrate, in her heart, potted sprats, the good breeding of her officious hostess, and even Benevolence itself.


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