"Oh! Mrs. Brown, do prove yourself a friend in need," exclaimed young Mrs. Elton, entering her neighbor's kitchen about ten o'clock, one bright summer morning.
"Here, read this," holding out a yellow paper, the like of which has struck terror to many a feminine heart.
"No bad news, I hope," said Mrs. Brown.
The telegram read, "Mother and Dolly till evening train. Have good dinner. Tom."
"Now, possibly, if I had time to go over my cooking school notes, and then had a good market, and plenty of time for preparation, I might evolve a suitable dinner, but--" the pause was expressive.
Mrs. Brown smiled. "What would be Tom's idea of a good dinner, an elaborate one?"
"Oh, no--three or four courses, well cooked and served. Tom and I have abolished cooking school menus, as being too expensive. I do not seem to have the knack of changing or adapting them to our small family, and limited marketing, and Tom hates to eat 'leftovers,' so we decided to live on plainer food. This gives me time for my painting, which, with my cooking, I did not get."
"I see," said Mrs. Brown, "now as to service, Jennie shall come over, and wait on your table--not a word", as Mrs. Elton began to speak. "One good turn deserves another,' and who came over and arranged the flowers, and tables for my last luncheon when Ruth had a headache? I'll not need Jennie tonight as Mr. Brown is away."
"I suppose it would seem nicer if I could sit quietly at table, and not be obliged to be up and down," said Mrs. Elton, gratefully.
"But the dinner--what had you planned?"
"Oh, I could not plan--I simply came to you. I have nothing to do with, but a large steak, (I bought enough for two days), a can of tomatoes, and some prunes. Oh, yes, and what was left of a chicken I was going to have for my luncheon today."
"Well, I'm sure you can get up quite a nice dinner," said Mrs. Brown. "Of course you have eggs and all such supplies--if not Jennie could go down town for you, as you will have not time to go yourself."
"Yes, I am quite well supplied, and I forgot to say Tom brought home two bunches of celery last evening, and there is plenty of that."
"Oh, how nice. Your salad, which I was wishing for, is assured now. Here is your menu: Soup, beefsteak roll, potato balls, breaded tomato, chicken salad, prune pudding. This with the jelly and pickles you always have, will be sufficient, I am sure."
"Oh, yes, indeed. I must not seem to have tried to make an impression, and if I can cook this right, I'll be so pleased."
"I do not think you will have any trouble," said Mrs. Brown, "you understand, your chicken and celery with a mayonnaise will make your salad--you can make that?"
"Yes, I have often made that; it's one thing I can do in the cooking line."
"The chicken bones," continued Mrs. Brown, "boiled in salted water, nicely flavored will make the soup, and here you can use bits of celery too tough for your salad, some kitchen boquet, etc. You can season to your taste. The leaves of your celery will garnish your salad. Strips of bread, buttered and crisped in oven, served with your soup adds much to the effect. Potato balls, you can--"
"Oh, yes," interrupted Mrs. Elton, "another thing I can make is potato balls. I often have them for breakfast."
"I spoke of them as being something you could get ready before, and heat in oven to a nice brown while dishing up dinner," said Mrs. Brown. "Now, your meat. Make a rich dressing of crumbed bread, butter and egg, season nicely, and spread over your steak roll, tie firmly and roast in oven, basting with melted butter, arrange on platter with potato balls around the edge. You can make a good gravy from the juice and melted butter left in the pan, thicken with browned flour. This, with your prune pudding, for which I'll give you my written recipe, is your dinner. Nothing difficult or expensive, and I'm sure all will be good, as you are painstaking in all you do, and that is more than half in cooking, as in other things."
"No, as in other things, genius counts, Mrs. Brown. I could think of nothing but broiled steak, and mashed potato, plain canned tomato, and celery with stewed prunes for dessert. I never dreamed of making soup and salad of that chicken--or of evolving a delicate pudding with prunes as a foundation."
"You have not had quite as long an experience as I have," replied Mrs. Brown; "besides, cooking is my strong point as yours is, in arranging your house and table in an artistic manner, yet, believe me, an artist can be a cook."
"Well, I go to prove that assertion, also to surprise my mother-in-law, whom I never saw, who firmly believes that Tom married a doll who knows nothing beyond a pencil and paint brush."
"If you need help call on me," said Mrs. Brown as her young neighbor flitted across the lawn, with her notes, which she had hastily scribbled down, flying from her hand "like a flag of victory" as she laughingly exclaimed.
Several hours later she again appeared at Mrs. Brown's door. This time she was attired in one of her pretty house dresses. With pink cheeks and shining eyes she said, "Don't you want to come over and see the results?"
"Certainly," said Mrs. Brown, rising and laying aside her sewing. "Jennie would better come, too, and you can show her where things are."
"Everything is ready to serve," said Mrs. Elton, "unless you think of something else which has been forgotten, it's worth all the work to feel that Tom will be satisfied, and I'm sure he will."
And he was.