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Ont Daykumboa - Harper's

 

In the parlor of a dear old-fashioned country house two elderly ladies are seated, one knitting, the other reading the report of yesterday's sermons, giving bits aloud now and then; on the carpet a little boy about three years of age is sprawling, apparently trying to swim on dry land.

The lady knitting is Miss Helena Oakstead, the lady reading is Miss Judith Oakstead, and the small boy is Master Ralph Oakstead, the eldest son of the youngest brother. If you go to the other side of the hall you will find the eldest brother (Master Ralph's uncle) in his study, writing an essay full of great big words. He is Professor Oakstead.

Master Ralph is spending the day with his relatives, and has gotten on with them very well so far, as his sister Daisy, two years his senior, whom he rules right royally, has acted as court interpreter; but she has just departed for a drive with a neighboring friend, and the aunts are left in sole charge of his Highness.

He is very gracious at first, looks over a picture-book with Miss Helena, and makes eager but unintelligible remarks respecting the "bow-wows" and "moos," to which Miss Helena answers, "Um, dear," as being the safest thing to say. But now he is silent, and has been so for at least ten minutes.

"How good Ralph is!" half whispers Miss Helena.

His Highness pricks up his ears.

"Yes, dear little fellow; and he has no one to play with, either."

His Highness sits up—he speaks.

"ONT DAYKUMBOA." "ONT DAYKUMBOA."

"Ont daykumboa."

"What is it, dear?" says Miss Judith.

"Ont daykumboa," repeats Master Ralph.

"What does the child mean?" asks Miss Helena.

"I don't know. What do you want, Ralphie?"

Ralph, with a look of mingled contempt and pity at his stupid relatives, says, slowly but emphatically, "Ont daykumboa."

"Perhaps he is hungry. I'll go and get him a piece of cake," says Miss Helena.

The cake is brought, and promptly accepted; but it is evidently not the thing for which his soul longs, for after devouring half the slice he plaintively murmurs, "Ont daykumboa."

"Well, isn't that daykumboa?" says Miss Judith.

Ralph gives her a scornful look as sole answer, and finishes his cake in awful silence. As the last crumb disappears he sighs, "Ont daykumboa."

"What on earth and under the sun does the child want!" is the combined exclamation of the aunts.

"Perhaps Elijah can help us."

"Oh yes, he knows everything pretty nearly; but he may not like being disturbed now—he's writing, you know."

"Well, perhaps Victoria might be able to tell; she used to take care of children."

So Victoria is summoned from the kitchen. She is a tall majestic negress, who looks as if she had just stepped out of history. Her speech does not quite come up to her stately mien.

"Why, what's de matter wi' de chile?" she queries.

All of Ralph's reply is lost except "daykumboa."

"Well, come 'long wi' Victoria—she git you kumboa. What, ain't gwine to come? Oh laws! dat ain't bein' good bo'."

For Master Ralph has seated himself flatly on a footstool, and with his back against the wall, refuses in the dumbest of dumb-show to be entrapped into "gwine" anywhere.

Miss Helena suggests that they bring to him whatever they find that is at all likely to be "daykumboa."

So at the feet of his Royal Highness is laid such a queer collection of articles as never before appeared in that trim sitting-room: a Child's History of England, a bottle of mucilage, a pair of scissors, a coal shovel, a comb and brush, a bunch of flowers, a photograph album, a bottle of ink, and goodness knows what besides. Miss Helena ransacks her brains and her bureau, Miss Judith brings every portable in the room, and Victoria literally squanders the contents of her larder, but all to no purpose, and what is worse, his Highness, becoming alarmed at such unusual behavior, begins to moan "Ont daykumboa" in a way that draws tears to the eyes of his aunts.

"Judith," exclaims Miss Helena, "the case is getting desperate. We must send for Elijah, no matter if he does get angry.—Victoria, just go to the study, and tell the Professor that he must come here for a few minutes. Do you hear—must!"

Victoria, looking as scared as only a solemn-natured darky can look, departs, and returns speedily with the Professor.

"Is anything the matter with Alcibiades?" he asks. Alcibiades, be it known, is what the Professor always calls Ralph—"for short," he says.

"He is in a most peculiar condition, Elijah—persists in calling for daykumboa, and we can not understand what he means."

"What is it that you want, my boy?" inquires the Professor, bending his dignified back and knees, so as to bring his gray head on a level with Ralph's "curly pow."

Ralph turns to him with an expression of relief, as much as to say, "Well, here's a reasonable being at last," and explains, "Ont daykumboa."

"And what is daykumboa?" says the Professor.

"Daykumboa," repeats Ralph, with a lingering hope that perhaps he is going to get some satisfaction; but this creature is just as dull as the rest, and his Highness, with great want of dignity, begins to whimper.

"The child seems to be in pain," says the Professor, standing up, and regarding his nephew with concern. "Perhaps he has hurt himself."

"I never thought of that," cries Miss Judith.—"Have you hurt yourself, Ralphie?"

"Ont daykumboa," is the only response.

"Looks like he gwine to hab a fit. I gib de chile a good warm bath, if I's you," suggests Victoria.

Miss Helena eagerly catches at the straw.

"That's a good idea, Victoria. Just fill the little foot-tub with hot water, and bring it right in here."

Victoria hurries off to get the bath, and the Professor, seized with a new idea for the explanation of the mystery, goes to his study to search his dictionary for "daykumboa" in some dead or living language.

The foot-tub is brought, and the aunts proceed to undress his Highness, whereat he waxes wroth. They persist; there is a frightful howl, a struggle, and the tub of hot water is very vigorously overturned among the photographs, scissors, and eatables that strew the floor. The Professor, in alarm, comes tearing in, a book in each hand. At that moment a patter as of small feet is heard in the hall, and a little figure with flying golden locks darts into the room.

Ralph rushes into her arms in a kind of ecstasy, crying, "Oh, daykumboa! daykumboa!"

"What is it that Ralph is saying, Daisy?" eagerly asks Miss Helena, in the lull that follows. "He has been wanting daykumboa all the afternoon."

"He says, 'Daisy come back,'" answers the little girl. "That's what you wanted—wasn't it, Ralphie?"

"Es, me ont daykumboa," assents his Highness.

The Professor regards his niece with humble admiration not unmixed with awe, and retires to his study to lay his dictionaries by. Victoria rolls her eyes ceilingward, and says, "Well, I declar'!" then falls to work picking up the ruins of their various offerings, and the two ladies turn to help her after a little silent astonishment.

Ten minutes after, his Highness is seen in the garden pouring sand down his sister's neck, and sternly ordering her to "fit 'till," when she objects, in a tone that makes his aunts wonder if this can be the same boy who spent the greater part of two hours in wailing, "Ont daykumboa."