A Mystery in the Kitchen by Olive Thorne Miller

The boy who has a sister and the girl who has a brother are the ones who will best like this story of the spirited twins, Jessie and Jack. Jessie wanted to take music lessons and Jack tried mining in Colorado.
SOMETHING very mysterious was going on in the Jarvis kitchen. The table was covered with all sorts of good things—eggs and butter and raisins and citron and spices; and Jessie, with her sleeves rolled up and a white apron on, was bustling about, measuring and weighing and chopping and beating and mixing those various ingredients in a most bewildering way.

Moreover, though she was evidently working for dear life, her face was full of smiles; in fact, she seemed to have trouble to keep from laughing outright, while Betty, the cook, who was washing potatoes at the sink, fairly giggled with glee every few minutes, as if the sight of Miss Jessie working in the kitchen was the drollest thing in the world.

It was one of the pleasantest sights that big, sunny kitchen had seen for many a day, and the only thing that appeared mysterious about it was that the two workers acted strangely like conspirators. If they laughed—as they did on the slightest provocation—it was very soft and at once smothered. Jessie went often to the door leading into the hall, and listened; and if there came a knock on the floor, she snatched off her apron, hastily wiped her hands, rolled down her sleeves, asked Betty if there was any flour on her, and then hurried away into another part of the house, trying to look cool and quiet, as if she had not been doing anything.

On returning from one of these excursions, as she rolled up her sleeves again, she said:

"Betty, we must open the other window if it is cold. Mamma thought she smelled roast turkey!"

Betty burst into a laugh which she smothered in her apron. Jessie covered her mouth and laughed, too, but the window was opened to make a draught and carry out the delicious odours, which, it must be confessed, did fill that kitchen so full that no wonder they crept through the cracks, and the keyholes, and hung about Jessie's dress as she went through the hall, in a way to make one's mouth water.

"What did ye tell her?" asked Betty, as soon as she could speak.

"Oh, I told her I thought potpie smelled a good deal like turkey," said Jessie, and again both laughed. "Wasn't it lucky we had potpie to-day? I don't know what I should have said if we hadn't."

Well, it was not long after that when Jessie lined a baking-dish with nice-looking crust, filled it with tempting looking chicken legs and wings and breasts and backs and a bowlful of broth, laid a white blanket of crust over all, tucked it in snugly around the edge, cut some holes in the top, and shoved it into the oven just after Betty drew out a dripping pan in which reposed, in all the glory of rich brown skin, a beautiful turkey. Mrs. Jarvis couldn't have had any nose at all if she didn't smell that. It filled the kitchen full of nice smells, and Betty hurried it into the pantry, where the window was open to cool.

Then Jessie returned to the spices and fruits she had been working over so long, and a few minutes later she poured a rich, dark mass into a tin pudding-dish, tied the cover on tight, and slipped it into a large kettle of boiling water on the stove.

"There!" she said, "I hope that'll be good."

"I know it will," said Betty confidently. "That's y'r ma's best receipt."

"Yes, but I never made it before," said Jessie doubtfully.

"Oh, I know it'll be all right, 'n' I'll watch it close," said Betty; "'n' now you go'n sit with y'r ma. I want that table to git dinner."

"But I'm going to wash all these things," said Jessie.

"You go long! I'd ruther do that myself. 'Twon't take me no time," said Betty.

Jessie hesitated. "But you have enough to do, Betty."

"I tell you I want to do it," the girl insisted.

"Oh, I know!" said Jessie; "you like to help about it. Well, you may; and I'm much obliged to you, besides." And after a last look at the fine turkey cooling his heels (if he had any) in the pantry, Jessie went into the other part of the house.

When dinner time arrived and papa came from town, there duly appeared on the table the potpie before mentioned, and various other things pleasant to eat, but nothing was seen of the turkey so carefully roasted nor of the chicken pie, nor of the pudding that caused the young cook so much anxiety. Nothing was said about them, either, and it was not Thanksgiving nor Christmas, though it was only a few days before the former.

It was certainly odd, and stranger things happened that night. In the first place, Jessie sat up in her room and wrote a letter; and then, after her mother was in bed and everything still, she stole down the back stairs with a candle, quietly, as though she was doing some mischief. Betty, who came down to help her, brought a box in from the woodshed; and the two plotters, very silently, with many listenings at the door to see if any one was stirring, packed that box full of good things.

In it the turkey, wrapped in a snowy napkin, found a bed, the chicken pie and the plum pudding—beautiful looking as Betty said it would be—bore him company; and numerous small things, jam jars, fruits, etc., etc., filled the box to its very top. Then the cover, provided with screws so that no hammering need be done, was fastened on.

"Now you go to bed, Miss Jessie," whispered Betty. "I'll wait."

"No, you must be tired," said Jessie. "I'd just as lief."

"But I'd ruther," said Betty shortly—"'n' I'm going to; it won't be long now."

So Jessie crept quietly upstairs, and before long there was a low rap on the kitchen door. Betty opened it, and there stood a man.

"Ready?" said he.

"Yes," answered Betty; "but don't speak loud; Miss Jarvis has sharp ears, 'n' we don't want her disturbed. Here's the card to mark it by," and she produced a card from the table.

The man put it in his pocket, shouldered the box, and Betty shut the door.

Not one of those good things ever went into the Jarvis dining-room!

The next morning things went on just as usual in the house. The kitchen door was left open and Mrs. Jarvis was welcome to smell any of the appetizing odours that wafted out into her room. Jessie resumed her study, and especially her practice, for she hoped some day to be a great musician. She waited on her mother and took charge of the housekeeping, so much as was necessary with the well-tried servant at the head of the kitchen. And though she had but sixteen years over her bright brown head, she proved herself to be what in that little New England town was called "capable."

But that box of goodies! Let us see where it went.

It was Thanksgiving morning in a rough-looking little mining settlement in Colorado. In a shanty rougher and more comfortless than the rest were two persons: one, a man of thirty, was deeply engaged in cleaning and oiling a gun which lay in pieces about him on the rough bench where he sat; the other, a youth of sixteen, was trying to make a fire burn in the primitive-looking affair that did duty as a stove. Both wore coarse miner's suits, and picks and other things about the room told that their business was to dig for the yellow dust we are all so greedy to have.

Evidently luck had not been good, for the whole place appeared run down, and the two looked absolutely hungry.

It was Thanksgiving morning, as I said, but no thankfulness shone in the two pale, thin faces. Both were sad, and the younger one almost hopeless.

"Jack," said the elder, pausing in his operations, "mind you give that old hen a good boil, or we won't be able to eat it."

"It'll be better'n nothing, anyway, I suppose," said Jack gloomily.

"Not much. 'Specially if you don't get the taste of sage brush out of it. Lucky I happened to get that shot at her, anyway," he went on, "I've seen worse dinners—even Thanksgiving dinners—than a sage hen."

"I haven't," said Jack shortly; for the mention of Thanksgiving had brought up before him with startling vividness the picture of a bright dining-room in a certain town far away, a table loaded with good things, and surrounded by smiling faces, and the contrast was almost more than he could bear.

"Well, don't be down on your luck, boy, so long as you can get a good fat hen to eat, if she does happen to be too fond of seasoning before she's dead!" replied the other cheerfully; "we haven't struck it yet, but it's always darkest just before dawn, you know. We may be millionaires before this time to-morrow."

"We may," answered Jack; but he didn't look as if he had much hope of it.

A few hours later the occupants of the cabin sat down to their Thanksgiving dinner. It consisted of the hen aforesaid, cut in pieces and boiled—looking very queer, too—served in the kettle in which the operation had been performed. The table was at one end of the bench, the table service two jackknives and two iron spoons—absolutely nothing else.

The elder sat on the bench, the younger drew up a keg that had held powder, and the dinner was about to begin.

But that hen was destined never to be eaten, for just at that moment the door was pushed open in the rude way of the country, a box set down on the floor, and a rough voice announced:

"A box for Mr. Jack Jones."

Jack started up.

"For me, there must be a mistake! Nobody knows——" He stopped, for he had not mentioned that his name was assumed.

"Likely not!" said the man, with a knowing look, "but folks has a mighty queer way of findin' out," and he shut the door and left.

Jack stood staring at the box as if he had lost his wits. It could not be from home, for no one knew where he went when he stole out of the house one night six months ago, and ran away to seek his fortune. Not a line had he ever written—not even when very ill, as he had been; not even when without a roof to cover his head, as he had been more than once; not even when he had not eaten for two days, as also, alas, had been his experience.

He had deliberately run away, because—how trivial it looked to him now, and how childish seemed his conduct—because he thought his father too hard on him; would not allow him enough liberty; wanted to dictate to this man of sixteen; he intended to show him that he could get on alone.

Poor Jack, the only comfort he had been able to extract from his hard lot these many months of wandering, of work, of suffering such as he had never dreamed of—his only comfort was that his tender mother didn't know, his only sister would no more be worried by his grumbling and complaints, and his father would be convinced now that he wasn't a baby. Small comfort, too, to balance the hardships that had fallen to his lot since the money he had drawn from the savings bank—his little all—was used up.

"Why don't you open it?" The gruff but not unkind voice of his roommate, whom he called Tom, aroused him. "Maybe there's something in it better'n sage hen," trying to raise a smile.

But no smile followed. Mechanically Jack sought the tools to open it, and in a few moments the cover was off.

It was from home! On the very top was a letter addressed to Jack Jarvis in a hand that he well knew.

He hastily stuffed it into his pocket unopened. The layers of paper were removed, and as each one was thrown off, something new appeared. Not a word was spoken, but the kettle of sage hen was silently put on the floor by Tom as the bench began to fill up. A jar of cranberry sauce, another of orange marmalade, oranges and apples, a plum pudding, a chicken pie, and lastly, in its white linen wrapper, the turkey we saw browning in that far-off New England kitchen.

As one by one these things were lifted out and placed on the bench a deep silence reigned in the cabin. Jack had choked at sight of the letter, and memories of days far different from these checked even Tom's usually lively tongue. A strange unpacking it was; how different from the joyful packing at dead of night with those two laughing girl faces bending over it!

When all was done, and the silence grew painful, Jack blurted out: "Help yourself," and bustled about, busily gathering up the papers and folding them, and stuffing them back in the box, as though he were the most particular housekeeper in the world. But if Jack couldn't eat, something, too, ailed Tom. He said simply:

"Don't feel hungry. Believe I'll go out and see what I can find," and shouldering his gun, now cleaned and put together, he quickly went out and shut the door.

Jack sat down on the keg and looked at the things which so vividly brought home, and his happy life there, before him. He did not feel hungry, either. He sat and stared for some time. Then he remembered his letter. He drew it from his pocket and opened it. It was very thick; and when he pulled it out of the envelope the first thing he saw was the smiling face of his sister Jessie, his twin sister, his playmate and comrade, his confidante from the cradle. The loss of her ever-willing sympathy had been almost more to him than all the rest of his troubles.

This was another shock that brought something to his eyes that made him see the others through a mist. There were the pictures of his mother, whose gentle voice he could almost hear, and of his father, whose gray hairs and sad face he suddenly remembered were partly his work.

At last he read the letter. It began:

Dear Jack:—I've just found out where you are, and I'm so glad. I send you this Thanksgiving dinner. It was too bad for you to go off so. You don't know how dreadful it was for mamma; she was sick a long time, and we were scared to death about her, but she's better now; she can sit up most all day.

Oh, Jack! Father cried! I'm sure he did, and he almost ran out of the room, and didn't say anything to anybody all day. But I was determined I'd find you. I shan't tell you how I did it, but Uncle John helped me, and now, Jack, he says he wants just such a fellow as you to learn his business, and he'll make you a very good offer. And, Jack, that's my turkey—my Winnie—and nobody but Betty knows anything about this box and this letter. I send you all my money out of the savings bank (I didn't tell anybody that), and I want you to come home. You'll find the money under the cranberries. I thought it would be safe there, and I knew you'd eat them all, you're so fond of cranberries. I didn't tell anybody because I want to surprise them, and besides, let them think you came home because you got ready. It's nobody's business where you got the money anyway.

Now do come right home, Jack. You can get here in a week's time, I know.

Your affectionate sister,
Jessie.

Jack laid the letter down with a rush of new feelings and thoughts that overwhelmed him. He sat there for hours; he knew nothing of time. He had mechanically turned the cranberry jar upside down and taken from the bottom, carefully wrapped in white paper, fifty dollars.

A pang went through him. Well did he know what that money represented to his sister; by how many sacrifices she had been saving it for a year or two, with the single purpose of taking the lessons from a great master that were to fit her to teach, to take an independent position in the world, to relieve her father, who had lost a large slice of his comfortable income, and who was growing old and sad under his burden. She had often talked it over with Jack.

Now she had generously given up the whole to him, all her hopes and dreams of independence; and he—he who should have been the support of his sister, the right arm of his father—he had basely deserted.

These thoughts and many more surged through his mind that long afternoon, and when Tom returned as the shadows were growing long, he sat exactly as he had been left.

On Tom's entrance he roused himself. There was a new light in his eye.

"Come, Tom," he said, "dinner's waiting. You must be hungry by this time."

"I am that," said Tom, who had been through his own mental struggles meanwhile.

The two sat down once more to their Thanksgiving dinner, and this time they managed to eat, though Jack choked whenever he thought of tasting a bit of Jessie's pet turkey, Winnie; and much as he liked turkey, and a home turkey at that, he could not touch it.

After the meal, when the provisions were stored away in the cupboard (a soap box) much too small for such a supply, it had grown quite dark, and the two, still disinclined to talk, went to their beds—if the rough bunks they occupied may be dignified by that name.

But not to sleep—at least not Jack, who tumbled and tossed all night and got up in the morning with an energy and life he had not shown for weeks.

After breakfast Tom shouldered his pick and said:

"I'll go on, Jack, while you clear up." Yet he felt in his heart he should never see Jack again; for there was a homestruck look in his face that the man of experience in the ways of runaway boys knew well.

He was not surprised that Jack did not join him, nor that when he returned at night to the cabin he found him gone and a note pinned up on the door:

I can't stand it—I'm off for home. You may have my share of everything.
Jack.

It was a cold evening in early December, and there seemed to be an undercurrent of excitement in the Jarvis household. The table was spread in the dining-room with the best silver and linen. Mrs. Jarvis was better, and had even been able to go into the kitchen to superintend the preparations for dinner.

Jessie went around with a shining face that no one understood and she could not explain.

Betty was strangely nervous, and had made several blunders that morning which mortified the faithful servant very much. An air of expectancy pervaded the whole house, though the two heads of it had not a hint of the cause.

Jessie heard the train she had decided to be the important one. She could hardly contain herself for expectation. She tried hard to sober herself now and then by the thought, "Perhaps he won't come," but she couldn't stay sobered, for she felt as certain that he would as that she lived.

You all know how it happened. The door opened and Jack walked in. One instant of blank silence, and then a grand convulsion.

Jack fell on his knees with his face in his mother's lap, though he had not thought a moment before of doing any such thing. Jessie hung over him, frantically hugging him. Mr. Jarvis, vainly trying to join this group, could only lay his hands on Jack's head and say in a broken voice: "My son! My son!" while Betty performed a war dance around the party, wildly brandishing a basting spoon in one hand and wiping her streaming eyes on the dishcloth which she held in the other.

It was long before a word could be spoken, and the dinner was totally ruined, as Betty declared with tears (though they were not for sorrow), before any one could calm down enough to eat.

Then the reaction set in, and justice was done to the dinner, while talk went on in a stream. Jack did not tell his adventures; he only said that he had come from the city, where he had made arrangements for a situation with Uncle John—at which Jessie's eyes sparkled. His looks, even after a week of comfort and hope, spoke for his sufferings.

There is little more to tell. Jack Jarvis at seventeen was a different boy from the Jack who at sixteen started out to seek his fortune. You may be sure that Jessie had her music lessons after all, and that a new Winnie with a fine young brood at her heels stalked about the Jarvis grounds the next spring.