The Silver Party
by Louisa M. Alcott
"Such a long morning! Seems as if
dinner-time would never come!" sighed
Tony, as he wandered into the dining-room for
a third pick at the nuts and raisins to beguile
his weariness with a little mischief.
It was Thanksgiving Day. All the family
were at church, all the servants busy preparing
for the great dinner; and so poor Tony, who
had a cold, had not only to stay at home, but
to amuse himself while the rest said their
prayers, made calls, or took a brisk walk to get
an appetite. If he had been allowed in the
kitchen, he would have been quite happy; but
cook was busy and cross, and rapped him on
the head with a poker when he ventured near
the door. Peeping through the slide was also
forbidden, and John, the man, bribed him with
an orange to keep out of the way till the table
That was now done. The dining-room was
empty and quiet, and poor Tony lay down on
the sofa to eat his nuts and admire the fine
sight before him. All the best damask, china,
glass, and silver was set forth with great care.
A basket of flowers hung from the chandelier,
and the sideboard was beautiful to behold with
piled-up fruit, dishes of cake, and many-colored
finger-bowls and glasses.
"That's all very nice, but the eating part is
what I care for. Don't believe I 'll get my
share to-day, because mamma found out about
this horrid cold. A fellow can't help sneezing,
though he can hide a sore throat. Oh, hum! nearly
two more hours to wait;" and with a
long sigh Tony closed his eyes for a luxurious
When he opened them, the strange sight he
beheld kept him staring without a thought of
sleep. The big soup-ladle stood straight up at
the head of the table with a face plainly to be
seen in the bright bowl. It was a very heavy,
handsome old ladle, so the face was old, but
round and jolly; and the long handle stood
very erect, like a tall thin gentleman with a big head.
"Well, upon my word that's queer!" said
Tony, sitting up also, and wondering what would
To his great amazement the ladle began to
address the assembled forks and spoons in a
silvery tone very pleasant to hear:--
"Ladies and gentlemen, at this festive season
it is proper that we should enjoy ourselves.
As we shall be tired after dinner, we will at
once begin our sports by a grand promenade.
Take partners and fall in!"
At these words a general uprising took place;
and before Tony could get his breath a long
procession of forks and spoons stood ready.
The finger-bowls struck up an airy tune as if
invisible wet fingers were making music on their
rims, and led by the stately ladle like a
drum-major, the grand march began. The forks were
the gentlemen, tall, slender, and with a fine
curve to their backs; the spoons were the
ladies, with full skirts, and the scallops on the
handles stood up like silver combs; the large
ones were the mammas, the teaspoons were the
young ladies, and the little salts the children.
It was sweet to see the small things walk at the
end of the procession, with the two silver rests
for the carving knife and fork trotting behind
like pet dogs. The mustard-spoon and pickle-fork
went together, and quarrelled all the way,
both being hot-tempered and sharp-tongued.
The steel knives looked on, for this was a very
aristocratic party, and only the silver people
could join in it.
"Here 's fun!" thought Tony, staring with
all his might, and so much interested in this
remarkable state of things that he forgot hunger
and time altogether.
Round and round went the glittering train, to
the soft music of the many-toned finger-bowls,
till three turns about the long oval table had
been made; then all fell into line for a
contradance, as in the good old times before every
one took to spinning like tops. Grandpa Ladle
led off with his oldest daughter, Madam Gravy
Ladle, and the little salts stood at the bottom
prancing like real children impatient for their
turn. When it came, they went down the middle
in fine style, with a cling! clang! that made
Tony's legs quiver with a longing to join in.
It was beautiful to see the older ones twirl
round in a stately way, with bows and
courtesies at the end, while the teaspoons and small
forks romped a good deal, and Mr. Pickle and
Miss Mustard kept every one laughing at their
smart speeches. The silver butter-knife, who
was an invalid, having broken her back and
been mended, lay in the rack and smiled sweetly
down upon her friends, while the little Cupid
on the lid of the butter-dish pirouetted on one
toe in the most delightful manner.
When every one had gone through the dance,
the napkins were arranged as sofas and the
spoons rested, while the polite forks brought
sprigs of celery to fan them with. The little
salts got into grandpa's lap; and the silver dogs
lay down panting, for they had frisked with
the children. They all talked; and Tony could
not help wondering if real ladies said such
things when they put their heads together and
nodded and whispered, for some of the remarks
were so personal that he was much confused.
Fortunately they took no notice of him, so he
listened and learned something in this queer way.
"I have been in this family a hundred years,"
began the soup-ladle; "and it seems to me that
each generation is worst than the last. My first
master was punctual to a minute, and madam
was always down beforehand to see that all was
ready. Now master comes at all hours; mistress
lets the servants do as they like; and the
manners of the children are very bad. Sad
state of things, very sad!"
"Dear me, yes!" sighed one of the large
spoons; "we don't see such nice housekeeping
now as we did when we were young. Girls
were taught all about it then; but now it is all
books or parties, and few of them know a
skimmer from a gridiron."
"Well, I 'm sure the poor things are much
happier than if they were messing about in
kitchens as girls used to do in your day. It is
much better for them to be dancing, skating,
and studying than wasting their young lives
darning and preserving, and sitting by their
mammas as prim as dishes. I prefer the present
way of doing things, though the girls in this
family do sit up too late, and wear too high
heels to their boots."
The mustard-spoon spoke in a pert tone, and
the pickle-fork answered sharply,--
"I agree with you, cousin. The boys also
sit up too late. I 'm tired of being waked to
fish out olives or pickles for those fellows when
they come in from the theatre or some dance;
and as for that Tony, he is a real pig,--eats
everything he can lay hands on, and is the
torment of the maid's life."
"Yes," cried one little salt-spoon, "we saw
him steal cake out of the sideboard, and he
never told when his mother scolded Norah."
"So mean!" added the other; and both the
round faces were so full of disgust that Tony
fell flat and shut his eyes as if asleep to hide
his confusion. Some one laughed; but he
dared not look, and lay blushing and listening
to remarks which plainly proved how careful
we should be of our acts and words even when
alone, for who knows what apparently dumb
thing may be watching us.
"I have observed that Mr. Murry reads
the paper at table instead of talking to his
family; that Mrs. Murry worries about the
servants; the girls gossip and giggle; the boys
eat, and plague one another; and that small
child Nelly teases for all she sees, and is never
quiet till she gets the sugar-bowl," said Grandpa
Ladle, in a tone of regret. "Now, useful and
pleasant chat at table would make meals
delightful, instead of being scenes of confusion and
"I bite their tongues when I get a chance,
hoping to make them witty or to check unkind
words; but they only sputter, and get a lecture
from Aunt Maria, who is a sour old spinster,
always criticising her neighbors."'
As the mustard-spoon spoke, the teaspoons
laughed as if they thought her rather like Aunt
Maria in that respect.
"I gave the baby a fit of colic to teach her to
let pickles alone, but no one thanked me," said
"Perhaps if we keep ourselves so bright that
those who use us can see their faces in us, we
shall be able to help them a little; for no one
likes to see an ugly face or a dull spoon. The
art of changing frowns to smiles is never
old-fashioned; and lovely manners smooth away the
little worries of life beautifully." A silvery voice
spoke, and all looked respectfully at Madam
Gravy Ladle, who was a very fine old spoon,
with a coat of arms on it, and a polish that all envied.
"People can't always be remembering how
old and valuable and bright they are. Here in
America we just go ahead and make manners
and money for ourselves. I don't stop to ask
what dish I 'm going to help to; I just pitch in
and take all I can hold, and don't care a bit
whether I shine or not. My grandfather was a
kitchen spoon; but I'm smarter than he was,
thanks to my plating, and look and feel as good
as any one, though I have n't got stags' heads
and big letters on my handle."
No one answered these impertinent remarks
of the sauce-spoon, for all knew that she was
not pure silver, and was only used on occasions
when many spoons were needed. Tony was
ashamed to hear her talk in that rude way to the
fine old silver he was so proud of, and resolved
he 'd give the saucy spoon a good rap when he
helped himself to the cranberry.
An impressive silence lasted till a lively fork
exclaimed, as the clock struck, "Every one is
coasting out-of-doors. Why not have our share
of the fun inside? It is very fashionable this
winter, and ladies and gentlemen of the best
families do it, I assure you."
"We will!" cried the other forks; and as the
dowagers did not object, all fell to work to
arrange the table for this agreeable sport. Tony
sat up to see how they would manage, and was
astonished at the ingenuity of the silver people.
With a great clinking and rattling they ran to
and fro, dragging the stiff white mats about; the
largest they leaned up against the tall caster,
and laid the rest in a long slope to the edge of
the table, where a pile of napkins made a nice
snowdrift to tumble into.
"What will they do for sleds?" thought Tony;
and the next minute chuckled when he saw them
take the slices of bread laid at each place, pile
on, and spin away, with a great scattering of
crumbs like snowflakes, and much laughter as
they landed in the white pile at the end of the
"Won't John give it to 'em if he comes in
and catches 'em turning his nice table topsy-turvy!"
said the boy to himself, hoping nothing
would happen to end this jolly frolic. So he
kept very still, and watched the gay forks and
spoons climb up and whiz down till they were
tired. The little salts got Baby Nell's own
small slice, and had lovely times on a short
coast of their own made of one mat held up by
grandpa, who smiled benevolently at the fun,
being too old and heavy to join in it.
They kept it up until the slices were worn
thin, and one or two upsets alarmed the ladies;
then they rested and conversed again. The
mammas talked about their children, how sadly
the silver basket needed a new lining, and what
there was to be for dinner. The teaspoons
whispered sweetly together, as young ladies
do,--one declaring that rouge powder was not as
good as it used to be, another lamenting the sad
effect of eggs upon her complexion, and all
smiled amiably upon the forks, who stood about
discussing wines and cigars, for both lived in
the sideboard, and were brought out after dinner,
so the forks knew a great deal about such
matters, and found them very interesting, as all
gentlemen seem to do.
Presently some one mentioned bicycles, and
what fine rides the boys of the family told about.
The other fellows proposed a race; and before
Tony could grasp the possibility of such a thing,
it was done. Nothing easier, for there stood a
pile of plates, and just turning them on their
edges, the forks got astride, and the big wheels
spun away as if a whole bicycle club had
Old Pickle took the baby's plate, as better
suited to his size. The little salts made a
tricycle of napkin-rings, and rode gayly off,
with the dogs barking after them. Even the
carving-fork, though not invited, could not resist
the exciting sport, and tipping up the wooden
bread-platter, went whizzing off at a great pace,
for his two prongs were better than four, and his
wheel was lighter than the china ones.
Grand-papa Ladle cheered them on, like a fine old
gentleman as he was, for though the new craze
rather astonished him, he liked manly sports,
and would have taken a turn if his dignity and
age had allowed. The ladies chimed their
applause, for it really was immensely exciting
to see fourteen plates with forks astride racing
round the large table with cries of, "Go it,
Pickle! Now, then, Prongs! Steady, Silver-top!
Hurrah for the twins!"
The fun was at its height when young Prongs
ran against Pickle, who did not steer well, and
both went off the table with a crash. All
stopped at once, and crowded to the edge to
see who was killed. The plates lay in pieces,
old Pickle had a bend in his back that made
him groan dismally, and Prongs had fallen down
Wails of despair arose at that awful sight, for
he was a favorite with every one, and such a
tragic death was too much for some of the
tender-hearted spoons, who fainted at the idea
of that gallant fork's destruction in what to them
was a fiery volcano.
"Serves Pickle right! He ought to know he
was too old for such wild games," scolded Miss
Mustard, peering anxiously over at her friend,
for they were fond of one another in spite of
"Now let us see what these fine folks will do
when they get off the damask and come to grief.
A helpless lot, I fancy, and those fellows deserve
what they 've got," said the sauce-spoon, nearly
upsetting the twins as she elbowed her way to
the front to jeer over the fallen.
"I think you will see that gentle people are
as brave as those who make a noise," answered
Madam Gravy, and leaning over the edge of the
table she added in her sweet voice, "Dear
Mr. Pickle, we will let down a napkin and pull you
up if you have strength to take hold."
"Pull away, ma'am," groaned Pickle, who well
deserved his name just then, and soon, thanks
to Madam's presence of mind, he was safely laid
on a pile of mats, while Miss Mustard put a
plaster on his injured back.
Meanwhile brave Grandpapa Ladle had slipped
from the table to a chair, and so to the floor
without too great a jar to his aged frame; then
sliding along the carpet, he reached the register.
Peering down that dark, hot abyss he cried,
while all listened breathlessly for a reply,
"Prongs, my boy, are you there?"
"Ay, ay, sir; I 'm caught in the wire screen.
Ask some of the fellows to lend a hand and get
me out before I 'm melted," answered the fork,
with a gasp of agony.
Instantly the long handle of the patriarchal
Ladle was put down to his rescue, and after a
moment of suspense, while Prongs caught firmly
hold, up he came, hot and dusty, but otherwise
unharmed by that dreadful fall. Cheers greeted
them, and every one lent a hand at the napkin
as they were hoisted to the table to be embraced
by their joyful relatives and friends.
"What did you think about down in that
horrid place?" asked one of the twins.
"I thought of a story I once heard master
tell, about a child who was found one cold day
sitting with his feet on a newspaper, and when
asked what he was doing, answered, 'Warming
my feet on the "Christian Register."' I hoped
my register would be Christian enough not to
melt me before help came. Ha! ha! See
the joke, my dears?" and Prongs laughed as
gayly as if he never had taken a header into
"What did you see down there?" asked the
other twin, curious, as all small people are.
"Lots of dust and pins, a doll's head baby
put there, Norah's thimble, and the big red
marble that boy Tony was raging about the
other day. It's a regular catch-all, and shows
how the work is shirked in this house," answered
Prongs, stretching his legs, which were a little
damaged by the fall.
"What shall we do about the plates?" asked
Pickle, from his bed.
"Let them lie, for we can't mend them.
John will think the boy broke them, and he'll
get punished, as he deserves, for he broke a
tumbler yesterday, and put it slyly in the
ash-barrel," said Miss Mustard, spitefully.
"Oh! I say, that's mean," began Tony; but
no one listened, and in a minute Prongs answered
"I 'm a gentleman, and I don't let other
people take the blame of my scrapes. Tony has
enough of his own to answer for."
"I'll have that bent fork for mine, and make
John keep it as bright as a new dollar to pay for
this. Prongs is a trump, and I wish I could tell
him so," thought Tony, much gratified at this
"Right, grandson. I am pleased with you;
but allow me to suggest that the Chinese
Mandarin on the chimney-piece be politely requested
to mend the plates. He can do that sort of
thing nicely, and will be charmed to oblige us,
I am sure."
Grandpapa's suggestion was a good one;
and Yam Ki Lo consented at once, skipped to
the floor, tapped the bits of china with his fan,
and in the twinkling of an eye was back on his
perch, leaving two whole plates behind him,
for he was a wizard, and knew all about blue china.
Just as the silver people were rejoicing over
this fine escape from discovery, the clock struck,
a bell rang, voices were heard upstairs, and it
was very evident that the family had arrived.
At these sounds a great flurry arose in the
dining-room, as every spoon, fork, plate, and
napkin flew back to its place. Pickle rushed to
the jar, and plunged in head first, regardless of
his back; Miss Mustard retired to the caster;
the twins scrambled into the salt-cellar; and the
silver dogs lay down by the carving knife and
fork as quietly as if they had never stirred a
leg; Grandpapa slowly reposed in his usual
place; Madam followed his example with
dignity; the teaspoons climbed into the holder,
uttering little cries of alarm; and Prongs stayed
to help them till he had barely time to drop
down at Tony's place, and lie there with his
bent leg in the air, the only sign of the great
fall, about which he talked for a long time
afterward. All was in order but the sauce-spoon,
who had stopped to laugh at the Mandarin till
it was too late to get to her corner; and before
she could find any place of concealment, John
came in and caught her lying in the middle of
the table, looking very common and shabby
among all the bright silver.
"What in the world is that old plated thing
here for? Missis told Norah to put it in the
kitchen, as she had a new one for a present
to-day--real silver--so out you go;" and as he
spoke, John threw the spoon through the
slide,--an exile forevermore from the good society
which she did not value as she should.
Tony saw the glimmer of a smile in Grand-papa
Ladle's face, but it was gone like a flash,
and by the time the boy reached the table
nothing was to be seen in the silver bowl but his
own round rosy countenance, full of wonder.
"I don't think any one will believe what I 've
seen, but I mean to tell, it was so very curious,"
he said, as he surveyed the scene of the late
frolic, now so neat and quiet that not a wrinkle
or a crumb betrayed what larks had been going on.
Hastily fishing up his long-lost marble, the
doll's head, and Norah's thimble, he went
thoughtfully upstairs to welcome his cousins,
still much absorbed by this very singular affair.
Dinner was soon announced; and while it
lasted every one was too busy eating the good
things before them to observe how quiet the
usually riotous Tony was. His appetite for
turkey and cranberries seemed to have lost its
sharp edge, and the mince-pie must have felt
itself sadly slighted by his lack of appreciation
of its substance and flavor. He seemed in a
brown-study, and kept staring about as if he
saw more than other people did. He examined
Nelly's plate as if looking for a crack, smiled at
the little spoon when he took salt, refused
pickles and mustard with a frown, kept a certain
bent fork by him as long as possible, and tried
to make music with a wet finger on the rim of
his bowl at dessert.
But in the evening, when the young people
sat around the fire, he amused them by telling
the queer story of the silver party; but he very
wisely left out the remarks made upon himself
and family, remembering how disagreeable the
sauce-spoon had seemed, and he privately
resolved to follow Madam Gravy Ladle's advice
to keep his own face bright, manners polite, and
speech kindly, that he might prove himself to
be pure silver, and be stamped a gentleman.