Chapter 2

Rules



When the two girls reached the door of the Baconrind family, Berta cleaned her fingers before pressing the bell. Berta’s mother, Mrs. Baconrind, opened the door. Thunderstruck she looked first at Berta, then at Elfrida.


“Good evening, Mrs. Baconrind”, Elfrida politely said but that one only wrung her hands and lamented:
“The way you look! How terrible! Step into the house through the cellar or you will soil everything.”


The two girls walked to the cellar door at the backside of the house. When Berta opened it, her mother was waiting there already.


“Please take off your clothes outside. The dirt must not come in!”
“Shall we put the dirty clothes into the washing basked, Mummy?” Berta asked.
“Certainly, but wrap them in towels so that nothing drips onto the clean floor.”


Elfrida and Berta did as bidden by Mrs. Baconrind, then they walked to the tub. When they wanted to fill in water, Mrs. Baconrind said they should not take too much bath foam.


“Foam always leaves such ugly residues in the tub”, she added. “And do not splash water on the floor, it has just been wiped.”
Elfrida sighed with relief when Berta’s mother had left. The hot water was wonderful and Elfrida willingly shampooed her hair as Berta did. When they were finished and Elfrida dried herself, Berta started to wipe the tube dry with a cloth.


“What are you doing there, Berta?”
“There will be no spots if the tub is rubbed dried at once.”
“Well, but the tub’s in the cellar, no one sees it.”
“That’s not the point. My Mummy always says that everything has to be clean and orderly because pigs are orderly.”
“Well, I’m looking forward to some clean and orderly supper”, Elfrida said. “Let’s go upstairs.”
“I’m looking forward as well but please first hang your towel for drying.”
“What for?” Elfrida by and by became cross. “It comes into the washer anyway.”
Berta wrinkled her nose and walked upstairs. With a sign Elfrida followed her.
“Please, children, take a seat.” Mrs. Baconrind pointed at the table. “Daddy unfortunately will be rather late today, he’s working after hours.”
Elfrida bent towards Berta.
“What kind of work has your Daddy?”
“He’s working in a furniture shop, polishing the newly delivered furniture.”


Now a large bowl was placed onto the table. Each also received a yet larger plate on which a landscape in pink and blue was depicted. Beside this napkins were lying, held by glinting silver rings. A red candle was standing on the white table cloth.


“May I light the candle, Mrs. Baconrind?” Elfrida asked.
Mother and daughter looked at each other quite shocked.
“Certainly not, Elfrida”, Mrs. Baconrind snapped. “Lit candles are reeking and the wax might drip onto the clean table cloth.”
“… and please take care not to spill anything when eating”, Berta added.
But in the end they could start and Mrs. Baconrind handed a big tongue to Elfrida, saying: “Our guest is to begin.”
Greedily Elfrida took the lid from the bowl and sank the tongue into it. When she lifted it again, five lettuce leaves were in the tongue.
“Please do not take so many at once”, Mrs. Baconrind advised her. “Something might fall over the edge of the plate and onto the table.”
Sighing, Elfrida put back two leaves, passed the tongue and wanted to stuff the remaining three leaves into her mouth.


“We did not say ‘Enjoy your meal’”, Berta reminded her.
“Enjoy your meal.”
“Enjoy your meal, Elfrida. Do you wish to say a prayer?”
“Thank you, no, Mrs. Baconrind.”


Finally Elfrida was permitted to eat her three lettuce leaves. She hardly had swallowed them when she took the tongue once more for a second helping.
“One lettuce leave for each of you”, Mrs. Baconrind informed them. “There will be dessert.”


When they had eaten up, the table was cleared and laid anew. This time the plates were a little smaller and there were fresh napkins. Another bowl was brought and placed onto the table. Elfrida preferred to say nothing when also a new candle was set. This time it was Berta’s turn. She took a big fork and fetched a pickled cucumber out of the bowl. Then she passed the fork to Elfrida.


“When we are finished, please help with clearing the dishes”, Mrs. Baconrind said. “I shall now soak the dishes, Berta will wash them and Elfrida dry them. Afterwards we have to lay a fresh tablecloth.”
“Why should we not spill when the tablecloth is changed anyway?” Elfrida by now became impatient.
Berta looked at her angrily and replied: “Because, dear Elfrida, it has to be that way. Order and cleanliness are very, very important, you know…”
“All right, pigs are orderly”, Elfrida moaned, “but I’m still hungry. May we get some crunchies at the telly, Mrs. Baconrind?
They eyes of Berta’s mother almost popped out of her pig’s head. She held to the door post and glared at Elfrida. Then she drew back the hand, fetched a cloth and rubbed the spot where it had been at the door post.
“What do you want at the television?” she gasped.
“Well, some sweets.” Elfrida was now very bewildered. “Because that’s what we do at home.”
“Well, first there will be no watching television in the evening and second there is no eating in the living room. Something might spill onto the nice clean carpet and moreover…”
“I know”, Elfrida groaned. “Order and cleanliness are very, very important.”
“Just so, moreover you have to hoover Berta’s room before going to sleep, air it and make the beds and…”


The telephone rang and Mrs. Baconrind hurried to pick up the receiver.


“Say, are you living in this fashion since long?” Elfrida asked her friend.
“Why, could one live otherwise?”
Now Mrs. Baconrind returned and reported that Gertrude Bobbles had been at the phone and something had happened to Elfrida’s father.
“Your mother says that he fell from the ladder when wanted to repair something. Because his foot is hurting so much she wants to take him to the hospital for X-raying as she says.”
Elfrida looked at her wide-eyed and Mrs. Baconrind continued: “On her way to the hospital she will leave your little brother with us, because he cannot stay at home all alone.”
Elfrida pitied poor Daddy. All the time such things happened to him. But her expression lightened: Bruno was to spend the night in the house of the Baconrinds! What good luck! She would not have thought that she ever could be so delighted over her little brother.
“Must that be?” Elfrida faked disliking.
“Well, I should be glad if my brother came visiting me.”
Mrs. Baconrind was about to add something when it rang at the door.
“O dear Gertrude, do come in”, Mrs. Baconrind said to Mrs. Bobbles when opening the door.
“Sorry, I can’t, Rita, have got to take the poor chap to the hospital.”
“Why, that man can do nothing right, my dear.”
“Well, his leg is hurting after all.”
“Oh, he shouldn’t make such a fuss”, Mrs. Baconrind added while Gertrude Bobbles kissed her two children good-bye and walked back to the car.


Elfrida boiled with fury. How could that daft Mrs. Baconrind badmouth Daddy so? Bruno looked as bored as ever but Elfrida was sure that he understood well enough. He was not stupid after all. Berta’s mother now turned to her.


“Please tell your brother how to behave. Perhaps he first goes into the bathroom to wash his hands. He probably did not do so all day.”
“All right, I’ll do it.”


Elfrida stepped up close to Bruno and told him things about order and cleanliness, winking at him. With a bored glance Bruno went into the bathroom.
Mrs. Baconrind just busied herself polishing the front door with a cloth when there was some rattle and clinking in the bathroom. Alarmed, she interrupted her polishing and rushed into the house to take a look. Elfrida and Berta remained in the corridor, looking at each other wonderingly. Then there was a scream. It was Mrs. Baconrind, running out of the bathroom and yelling:


“He shot the soap at the ceiling light! Everything is a mess of soap and shards!”
“Oh!” Elfrida said. “The slippery soap certainly slipped out of his hands. That’s very terrible but he is a very neat Ottiphant who likes it to be clean.”
Berta glimpsed at her.
“That’s news to me”, she whispered.
“He’s still training it.”


Lamenting loudly, Mrs. Baconrind fetched hand brush, dustpan, mop, and bucket at once to reset the bathroom. Not to have the children under her feet, she ordered them into the living room to read something. Only the telly was not to be switched on because “looking television makes stupid”. Only the ads on new cleansing agents found the interest of Berta’s mother.


The three children made themselves comfortable in the living room and each took one of the orderly piled books. Elfrida studied the covers. The titles were most thrilling like “Rudy learns to clean his Bike”, “Hanni’s Adventures at Dish cleaning”, or “The Dust Monster and the brave Cleaning Bears”.
Disgusted, she put aside the books and watched with fascination how Bruno tried the remote. He finally succeeded and now the kids watched on the screen the brawl between a cat and a mouse. They not only dismantled the house in it but also the garden and the complete district. In between they could hear the moaning and lamenting of Mrs. Baconrind who up to now had not found all the dirty spots in the bathroom. No one was much interested because the events in the telly were much more thrilling. After a time cat and mouse got along again because there was nothing left to destroy and the whole town was razed to the ground. At this moment Mrs. Baconrind entered the room. She saw the switched on screen and the disorder the cartoons had left.


“Berta, was is this?”
“That’s Tom and Jerry, Mummy.”
“What I mean is: What does it mean?”
“They fought.”
“But, my dears, do you not see what a mess they made? Who do you think will clean that up?”
“The illustrator.” Elfrida was very convinced.
Mrs. Baconrind switched off the television and took the remote from howling Bruno.
“Now go and wash at once.”
“But Mummy, we did already wash.”
“Then wipe the remote. And then you all go to brush your teeth. Bed time.”