Lilian Mitchell turned into the dry-goods
store on Randall Street, just as Esther Miller and
Ella Taylor came out. They responded coldly to
her greeting and exchanged significant glances as they
Lilian’s pale face crimsoned.
She was a tall, slender girl of about seventeen, and
dressed in mourning. These girls had been her
close friends once. But that was before the Mitchells
had lost their money. Since then Lilian had been
cut by many of her old chums and she felt it keenly.
The clerks in the store were busy
and Lilian sat down to wait her turn. Near to
her two ladies were also waiting and chatting.
“Helen wants me to let her have
a birthday party,” Mrs. Saunders was saying
wearily. “She has been promised it so long
and I hate to disappoint the child, but our girl left
last week, and I cannot possibly make all the cakes
and things myself. I haven’t the time or
strength, so Helen must do without her party.”
“Talking of girls,” said
Mrs. Reeves impatiently, “I am almost discouraged.
It is so hard to get a good all-round one. The
last one I had was so saucy I had to discharge her,
and the one I have now cannot make decent bread.
I never had good luck with bread myself either.”
“That is Mrs. Porter’s
great grievance too. It is no light task to bake
bread for all those boarders. Have you made your
“No. Maria cannot make
it, she says, and I detest messing with jelly.
But I really must see to it soon.”
At this point a saleswoman came up
to Lilian, who made her small purchases and went out.
“There goes Lilian Mitchell,”
said Mrs. Reeves in an undertone. “She
looks very pale. They say they are dreadfully
poor since Henry Mitchell died. His affairs were
in a bad condition, I am told.”
“I am sorry for Mrs. Mitchell,”
responded Mrs. Saunders. “She is such a
sweet woman. Lilian will have to do something,
I suppose, and there is so little chance for a girl
Lilian, walking down the street, was
wearily turning over in her mind the problems of her
young existence. Her father had died the preceding
spring. He had been a supposedly prosperous merchant;
the Mitchells had always lived well, and Lilian was
a petted and only child. Then came the shock
of Henry Mitchell’s sudden death and of financial
ruin. His affairs were found to be hopelessly
involved; when all the debts were paid there was left
only the merest pittance barely enough for
house-rent for Lilian and her mother to
live upon. They had moved into a tiny cottage
in an unfashionable locality, and during the summer
Lilian had tried hard to think of something to do.
Mrs. Mitchell was a delicate woman, and the burden
of their situation fell on Lilian’s young shoulders.
There seemed to be no place for her.
She could not teach and had no particular talent in
any line. There was no opening for her in Willington,
which was a rather sleepy little place, and Lilian
was almost in despair.
“There really doesn’t
seem to be any real place in the world for me, Mother,”
she said rather dolefully at the supper table.
“I’ve no talent at all; it is dreadful
to have been born without one. And yet I must
do something, and do it soon.”
And Lilian, after she had washed up
the tea dishes, went upstairs and had a good cry.
But the darkest hour, so the proverb
goes, is just before the dawn, and after Lilian had
had her cry out and was sitting at her window in the
dusk, watching a thin new moon shining over the trees
down the street, her inspiration came to her.
A minute later she whirled into the tiny sitting-room
where her mother was sewing.
“Mother, our fortune is made! I have an
“Don’t lose it, then,”
said Mrs. Mitchell with a smile. “What is
it, my dear?”
Lilian sobered herself, sat down by
her mother’s side, and proceeded to recount
the conversation she had heard in the store that afternoon.
“Now, Mother, this is where
my brilliant idea comes in. You have often told
me I am a born cook and I always have good luck.
Now, tomorrow morning I shall go to Mrs. Saunders
and offer to furnish all the good things for Helen’s
birthday party, and then I’ll ask Mrs. Reeves
and Mrs. Porter if I may make their bread for them.
That will do for a beginning, I like cooking, you
know, and I believe that in time I can work up a good
“It seems to be a good idea,”
said Mrs. Mitchell thoughtfully, “and I am willing
that you should try. But have you thought it all
out carefully? There will be many difficulties.”
“I know. I don’t
expect smooth sailing right along, and perhaps I’ll
fail altogether; but somehow I don’t believe
“A great many of your old friends will think ”
“Oh, yes; I know that
too, but I am not going to mind it, Mother. I
don’t think there is any disgrace in working
for my living. I’m going to do my best
and not care what people say.”
Early next morning Lilian started
out. She had carefully thought over the details
of her small venture, considered ways and means, and
decided on the most advisable course. She would
not attempt too much, and she felt sure of success.
To secure competent servants was one
of the problems of Willington people. At Drayton,
a large neighbouring town, were several factories,
and into these all the working girls from Willington
had crowded, leaving very few who were willing to
go out to service. Many of those who did were
poor cooks, and Lilian shrewdly suspected that many
a harassed housekeeper in the village would be glad
to avail herself of the new enterprise.
Lilian was, as she had said of herself,
“a born cook.” This was her capital,
and she meant to make the most of it. Mrs. Saunders
listened to her businesslike details with surprise
“It is the very thing,”
she said. “Helen is so eager for that party,
but I could not undertake it myself. Her birthday
is Friday. Can you have everything ready by then?”
“Yes, I think so,” said
Lilian briskly, producing her notebook. “Please
give me the list of what you want and I will do my
From Mrs. Saunders she went to Mrs.
Reeves and found a customer as soon as she had told
the reason of her call. “I’ll furnish
all the bread and rolls you need,” she said,
“and they will be good, too. Now, about
your jelly. I can make good jelly, and I’ll
be very glad to make yours.”
When she left, Lilian had an order
for two dozen glasses of apple jelly, as well as a
standing one for bread and rolls. Mrs. Porter
was next visited and grasped eagerly at the opportunity.
“I know your bread will be good,”
she said, “and you may count on me as a regular
Lilian thought she had enough on hand
for a first attempt and went home satisfied.
On her way she called at the grocery store with an
order that surprised Mr. Hooper. When she told
him of her plan he opened his eyes.
“I must tell my wife about that.
She isn’t strong and she doesn’t like
After dinner Lilian went to work,
enveloped in a big apron, and whipped eggs, stoned
raisins, stirred, concocted, and baked until dark.
When bedtime came she was so tired that she could hardly
crawl upstairs; but she felt happy too, for the day
had been a successful one.
And so also were the days and weeks
and months that followed. It was hard and constant
work, but it brought its reward. Lilian had not
promised more than she could perform, and her customers
were satisfied. In a short time she found herself
with a regular and growing business on her hands,
for new customers were gradually added and always
came to stay.
People who gave parties found it very
convenient to follow Mrs. Saunders’s example
and order their supplies from Lilian. She had
a very busy winter and, of course, it was not all
plain sailing. She had many difficulties to contend
with. Sometimes days came on which everything
seemed to go wrong when the stove smoked
or the oven wouldn’t heat properly, when cakes
fell flat and bread was sour and pies behaved as only
totally depraved pies can, when she burned her fingers
and felt like giving up in despair.
Then, again, she found herself cut
by several of her old acquaintances. But she
was too sensible to worry much over this. The
friends really worth having were still hers, her mother’s
face had lost its look of care, and her business was
prospering. She was hopeful and wide awake, kept
her wits about her and looked out for hints, and learned
to laugh over her failures.
During the winter she and her mother
had managed to do most of the work themselves, hiring
little Mary Robinson next door on especially busy
days, and now and then calling in the assistance of
Jimmy Bowen and his hand sled to carry orders to customers.
But when spring came Lilian prepared to open up her
summer campaign on a much larger scale. Mary
Robinson was hired for the season, and John Perkins
was engaged to act as carrier with his express wagon.
A summer kitchen was boarded in in the backyard, and
a new range bought; Lilian began operations with a
striking advertisement in the Willington News
and an attractive circular sent around to all her
patrons. Picnics and summer weddings were frequent.
In bread and rolls her trade was brisk and constant.
She also took orders for pickles, preserves, and jellies,
and this became such a flourishing branch that a second
assistant had to be hired.
It was a cardinal rule with Lilian
never to send out any article that was not up to her
standard. She bore the loss of her failures, and
sometimes stayed up half of the night to fill an order
on time. “Prompt and perfect” was
The long hot summer days were very
trying, and sometimes she got very tired of it all.
But when on the anniversary of her first venture she
made up her accounts she was well pleased. To
be sure, she had not made a fortune; but she had paid
all their expenses, had a hundred dollars clear, and
had laid the solid foundations of a profitable business.
“Mother,” she said jubilantly,
as she wiped a dab of flour from her nose and proceeded
to concoct the icing for Blanche Remington’s
wedding cake, “don’t you think my business
venture has been a decided success?”
Mrs. Mitchell surveyed her busy daughter
with a motherly smile. “Yes, I think it
has,” she said.