A Mystery in the Kitchen

Written by Olive Thorne Miller.

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 fruits 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 funniest thing in the world.

It was one of the most pleasant 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 often—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 trips, 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 the 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 you tell her?” asked Betty, as soon as she could speak.
“Oh, I told her I thought pot pie smelled a good deal like turkey,” said Jessie, and again they both laughed. “Wasn’t it lucky we had pot pie to-day? I don’t know what I would 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 lay, 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 your mom’s best recipe.”
“Yes, but I’ve never made it before,” said Jessie doubtfully.
“Oh, I know it’ll be alright, ‘and’ I will watch it closely,” said Betty; “and now you go and sit with your ma. I want that table to get dinner.”
“But I’m going to wash all these things,” said Jessie.
“You go along! I’d rather do that myself. It won’t take me any time at all,” 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. 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 appeared on the table the pot pie and 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.

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 snuck down the back stairs with a candle, quietly, as though she was doing something mischievous. Betty, who came down to help her, brought a box in from the woodshed; and the two women, 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 the turkey company; and numerous small things, jam jars, fruits, etc., filled the box to its very top. Then the cover, provided with screws so that no hammering needed to be done, was fastened on.

“Now you go to bed Jessie,” said Betty. “I’ll wait.”
“No, you must be tired,” said Jessie. “I’d just as happily wait.”
“But I’d rather,” said Betty shortly—”and I’m going to; it won’t be long now.”
So Jessie crept quietly upstairs, and before long there was a low knock on the kitchen door. Betty opened it, and there stood a man.
“Ready?” he said.
“Yes,” answered Betty; “but don’t speak loud; Miss Jarvis has sharp ears, and 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. 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 people: one, a man of thirty, deeply engaged in cleaning and oiling some tools; 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 miner’s suits, and picks and other things about the room told that their business was to dig for the yellow gold 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 duties, “mind you give that old hen a good seasoning, or we won’t be able to eat it.”
“It’ll be better than nothing, anyway, I suppose,” said Jack gloomily.
“Not much. Especially if you don’t get the taste of sage brush out of it. 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!” 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. 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 never meant to be eaten, for just at that moment the door was pushed open, a box set down on the floor, and a rough voice announced:
“A box for Mr. Jack Jones.”
Jack stood 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 have a mighty strange way of finding’ 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 snuck out of the house one night six months ago.
He had deliberately run away, because—he felt that he was not treated how he felt a sixteen year old should be treated and he wanted to show his father he could do more.
“Why don’t you open it?” The gruff but not unkind voice of his roommate, whom he called Tom, woke him up. “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 knew well.

He quickly 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 the 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 the middle of the 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, stopped Tom. He simply said:
“Don’t feel hungry. Believe I’ll go out and see what I can find,” 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, and confidante from the cradle.
At last he read the letter. It began:

Dear Jack:—I’ve just found out where you are, and I’m so glad. I’m sending you this Thanksgiving dinner. It was too bad for you to go off so. You don’t know how dreadful it was for mom; she was sick for a long time, and we were scared, 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 won’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, nobody but Betty knows anything about this box and this letter. I’m sending you all my money out of the savings (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 wanted 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,

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. Jessie’s money, she had worked so hard for it and she had such big plans. Why did she do this?

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.
At 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.
After the meal, when the provisions were stored away in the cupboard, it had grown quite dark, and the two, still not in the mood to talk, went to their beds for the night.
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 he 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.

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 oversee the preparations for dinner.
Jessie went around with a shining face that no one understood and she could not explain.
Jessie heard the train she had decided to be the important one. She could hardly contain herself for expectation. She tried hard to contain herself now and then by the thought, “Perhaps he won’t come,” but she couldn’t stay contained, 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 noise.

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, 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.
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.
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. And you may be sure that Jessie had her music lessons after all and went on to do everything her heart had wished for.

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