February 3, 1887
The Cooking Club.
”Girls, I have a plan!” exclaimed Dolly Rober.
The girls of the junior class in the Hillsborough school, to which Dolly belonged, had gathered, as they always did on their half-holidays, out at the Rober farm.
Since Dolly’s father returned from California, he had bought back the old homestead, and enlarged the grounds, until it was one of the most beautiful places in the country. Charley Rober was at home on his vacation from the Polytechnic College, and the house was a rendezvous for all the young folks of the village.
“I have a plan, girls!” cried Dolly. “A cooking club! The C.C.’s. We will meet at each other’s houses once a fortnight, and give a lunch. We will cook it ourselves. Each one choose a dish.”
“Splendid!” exclaimed Jenny Hoyt. “I’ll make the rolls.”
“I’ll bring my own butter,” said Daisy Vance. “You can broil a beefsteak beautifully, Dolly, and if you would dress it with mushrooms!”
Half-a-dozen other girls volunteered cake and creams. Then they had to decide on a costume.
“The very plainest calico dress, ruffle at the neck, white apron and cap,” suggested Daisy.
“The very thing!” cried the other girls. But Fan Rober tossed her head. “I shall wear my pink lawn. No use to make a guy of one’s self, even if you do turn cook.”
There was an awkward silence. The truth was, none of the girls expected Fanny to join the club. She was only twelve, while they were fifteen, and, for other reasons, she was not a desirable member. But what could be done? She was Dolly’s sister, and Dolly had proposed the club.
“I,” said Fan, loftily, “shall make a large peach-pie, with puff paste.”
Some of the girls tittered. Dolly flushed. “Don’t you think you had better try a dish not so difficult, Fanny, dear?” she said, gently.
“I thank you, Miss Rober, I know what I can do!” said Fan, her pert nose in the air.
The girls started for the village, after having arranged that the first lunch should be given at Dolly’s on the Wednesday following, which would give them time to make their aprons and caps.
“It will be splendid to work in that big, sunny kitchen!” said Jenny Hoyt; “and Mrs. Rober said we could raid on the dairy for cream, and the pantries for jellies as much as we chose.”
“The whole thing’s simply perfect,” said Nelly Parton, hopping on one foot in her excitement, “if it wasn’t for that horrid little Fan! It fairly struck me dumb when she took it for granted she was to be a member. The cool impudence of it!”
“Oh, Fan has plenty of nerve!” said Jenny. “I don’t know how Dolly stands it. That child is forever tagging after her, meddling, domineering, snubbing poor, gentle Doll. I wish she was my sister for half an hour!”
“Wouldn’t she catch a Tartar?” said Daisy. The other girls laughed and, having reached the village, separated.
Mrs. Rober’s airy, well-furnished kitchen presented a pretty sight on Wednesday morning when filled with the girls, their sleeves rolled up from the white arms, their curls tucked under the close caps, their cheeks red and eyes dancing. Sarah, the cook, had left them in full possession, and was busy in setting the table in the dining-room, for the club had invited their parents to taste the cookery. Only Dolly looked sad and anxious, though she tried to be cheerful.
“It’s that vixen, Fan, that’s been nagging her,” whispered Nelly.
Nell had guessed correctly. Fanny got up that morning resolved “to let the big girls see she was not to be put down.” She had ordered Sarah, scolded Dolly, and altered every arrangement made by either.
“You be’n’t a-goin’ to try to make a puff peach-pie?” demanded Sarah, contemptuously.
“I certainly shall. It ‘requires great care and attention to details,’ the book says, and that’s precisely what I can give.”
She swam out of the kitchen, and came down arrayed in a flounced pink lawn, with floating ribbons.
“O Fanny!” mildly remonstrated her sister. “And you surely will not wear your necklace!”
“I assuredly will, Miss Dorothea.”
Now the necklace was one which Mr. Rober had brought to his little girl in memory of his long absence; it was composed of square medallions of the different gold-bearing quartz of California, set in massive bands and links of the native gold, and was very beautiful and of great value.
“I think mamma wishes you only to wear that when you are grown,” said Dolly, gently. “I have never worn mine.”
“I shall wear it this morning, and I would thank you, Miss Rober, not to dictate to me any longer,” retorted Fanny, red with passion. Dolly sighed, which was her usual answer to her sister’s conceit and ill-humor.
“Why does she always spoil things so?” she thought. “She could be so sweet if she would choose.”
But the trouble was not yet over.
“Mother,” said Fan, rushing out with a red, angry face to the porch, where Mrs. Rober sat with her sewing, “is that creature Prue to stay in the kitchen to-day?”
No Prue was a bone of contention, which Fanny never tired of worrying. She was a gentle, low-voiced mulatto child, whom Dolly found crying and in rags on the road-side one day, and brought home.
“Mother,” she said, “this is black Suky’s girl. Suky died in the almshouse last night, and they have turned her out. I told her you would give her some clothes, and let her stay with us.”
Mrs. Rober hesitated. She had as many servants as she needed, and Prue was a wretched-looking object. But she had been speaking to the children of their duty to God’s poor that very day. Now she was herself put to the test.
“She’s sure to be a thief,” said Fanny. “All the darkeys are.”
“She has no home, Fanny,” said her sister. “She must come here. Don’t you remember? ‘Inasmuch as you did it not to one of the least of these.’”
“She can stay,” said Mrs. Rober.
Prue, when bathed and dressed, was a pleasant enough object, and proved exceedingly useful. But Fanny treated her like a slave.
Poor Prue was in a state of subdued rapture at the club-meeting, and the prospect of waiting on the young ladies. She had scrubbed her face until it shone, put on her clean gown, and tied her woolly locks up with a bit of red ribbon. Now she stood ready for orders by the range.
“It makes me sick to look at her,” said Fanny. “If she stays in the kitchen I leave it.”
Prue, with her quivering lips, turned to go.
“Stay where you are, child,” said Mrs. Rober, quietly. “You forget yourself strangely, Frances. You make me ashamed of you,” she added, in a lower voice.
“How fine you are, Fan,” said Jenny Hoyt, who prided herself on “freeing her mind” on all occasions. “And what a necklace for a cook! But it’s magnificent. Let’s have a look at it.”
Fanny, nothing loth, unclasped the necklace, and it was passed around for admiration. Then work began in earnest. Rolls, cake, roasted chicken, salads, meringues, custards—all went on at once.
Mr. Rober, Squire Hoyt and Charley peeped in the windows and tormented the youthful cooks; their mothers arrived and were seated on the broad porches shaded by roses and ivy.
At last twelve o’clock struck.
“Are we all ready?” said Daisy.
“Yes,” responded Fanny. “But—but where’s my necklace?” putting her hand to her throat with a start of terror. There was instant alarm and confusion. Search was made, in every likely unlikely place, in vain. Nobody remembered who last had taken the necklace.
“I am quite sure I gave it back to you, Fanny,” said Jenny.
“You did; I am positive you did,” said Fanny, with a pale face. “And I laid it down just here on the dresser where Prue was washing the spoons. Prue! That’s where it’s gone!” she fairly shrieked. “The little thief! I always told you she was a thief! Where is she?”
Prue had gone to the well for water. Mr. Rober, Charley, and the other guests, hearing the outcry, crowded into the kitchen. Fresh search was made, but in vain. It was impossible that so large and conspicuous an object could remain hidden, accidentally dropped. The mothers of the other girls began to look annoyed. Fan, in the centre of the group, talked loud and fast.
“The thing is plain as daylight. I was not outside the kitchen. Nobody was in it but the club and Prue. Of course, none of the girls stole it, so she is the thief! There she comes with the water. Singing to herself, I declare! Father, send for a policeman and send her to jail right away. I’ll go search her, the horrid little thief!”
She rushed to the door, but Dolly stepped in front of her and held out her arms.
“Stop, Fanny!” she said. Her voice trembled when she found everybody looking at her, but she went on, resolutely, “Father, Prue is a good girl. She has nothing but her character. Don’t take it from her. Don’t tell her that you think her a thief. Wait a little longer. She will not run away in the meantime.”
“Dolly is right,” said Mr. Rober. “We have found the girl honest and truthful. Let us wait awhile.”
Fanny began to sob passionately, but a stern word from her mother quieted her. The lunch was placed on the table, and the guests, with the flushed, white-capped cooks, seated themselves around it, while Prue, with smiling and delighted face, prepared to wait on them. But the mulatto girl’s face was the only one that wore a smile. Every other one wore an anxious look of restraint in spite of Mr. Rober’s efforts to bring back cheerfulness. One dish after another was tried, with attempts at compliments and jokes which met with poor success.
Finally, an immense leaden-colored mass was taken from the oven and placed before Charley.
“What is this?” he said, drumming on it with his knife. “Stony and hard. A fragment of the Tower of Babel? Pastry made by the Mound-Builders!”
“It’s my peach-pie,” said Fanny’s shrill voice, “and I’ll thank you to open it.”
Charley rose and sawed away at the tough lid until he cut a wedge out of it, while the guests civilly concealed an amused smile.
“Inside, we find,” he said, “hot water, peaches, and”—
There was a pause in his remarks, in which an expression of curiosity in his face seemed to change into surprise.
“The necklace, ladies and gentlemen!” holding it up on his fork.
An outcry followed; Fanny stood, with burning cheeks and wet eyes, holding her hands to her neck.
“It must have dropped off,” she stammered.
“This pie,” continued Charley, gravely, “is a dish which requires great care and attention to details, and is, therefore, one in which my sister Frances excels.”
“That will do, Charley,” said Mrs. Rober, aside. “The lesson has been severe enough.”
The lunch became merry and gay after that. But Fanny took no share in the gayety. When the guests were all gone she threw herself into her mother’s arms, sobbing bitterly.
“I’ll leave the cooking club! They like Dolly better than me. What is the reason, mother?”
“Dear child, you must look for the reason in yourself,” said Mrs. Rober, with a sigh, for she knew how hard and bitter are the stripes with which conceit and selfishness are beat out of us in life.
1. A dress made of “lawn,” with high thread-count and a fine, silky feel; in the 1880s, usually make of linen.
2. Puff pastry, a flaky pastry that requires significant laminating to create its flaky lightness.
3. “Chose” is in the original.
4. Idiom for meeting one’s match or someone of a great strength and determination.
5. Biblical. Matthew 25:40: “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”