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Manchester cousin, and the London cousin, and the Brierly-Stoke cousin, who had gone some months before on a voyage to Australia and had just got home in time for Grannie's fête. They chaffed him their light-hearted way too.
"Not married yet, John? Why, man, for what piece of perfection are you waiting? Is there nobody good enough to reign at Laurel Grove?"
"Don't say that! It will make it so hard for 'the not impossible she' who may yet be Mrs. John."
“You will soon be left quite unsupported, the sole bachelor in a much married family. Even Evan has deserted to our side." Evan
the young cousin who had been in Australia, and came back to find his fate awaiting him at home.
The eldest daughter, a pillowy, comfortable creature with a cooing voice, drew the bashful, blushing Evan forward.
"If it isn't against your principles,” she said, “won't you congratulate the boy and the Mummy, Jobu? You truly may."
"Is this another of Aunt Emily's dip. lomatic triumphs ?” John's dark face looked pleasant when he smiled. "Why, of course, Evan, boy, I wish you joy with all my heart. Do I know the lady?”
“Such a dear girl-such a sweet girl," came a chorus of feminine voices. Miss Birch, the granddaughter of a school friend of Grannie's. She would have been here to-day, only her mother fell ill and she had to go home. Some people have such ill luck in their illnesses."
John left the lawn and went up to the veranda, where, under the nodding orange-blooms of the William Allan Richardson, the old lady sat in a basket-chair with a little court about her. John bent and kissed the little white hand.
“I hear you've been playing fairy god-mother again, Aunt Emily, and your benevolent schemes have succeeded as usual."
"Ah, John, you will never let me scheme benevolently for you."
Nevertheless she was very gracious to him, taking his arm when the dinner was announced. It was always John's privilege as the head of the family to be seated next her at the June dinner. And though she disapproved of him in some ways, and his obstinacy piqued her, she could not but be sympathetic and kind when he confided in her that he was very much bothered and worried, and had scarcely thought he should be able to dine at the White House that day, for Eliza, his housekeeper, had fallen ill with an acute attack of the rheumatism to which she was subject.
She recognized the seriousness of the situation, for Eliza, though Grannie thought her too forward and managing, was undoubtedly a very valuable servant; she was also without comparison the best cook in Brierly-Stoke or for many miles round it; indeed it was Brierly-Stoke's firm opinion that she couldn't be beaten in a test of skill even by the French artiste Sir James Hall brought from town while his house was full at the shooting season.
"The worst of it is,” said John, feeling the relief of a good grumble, “I've invited some men for whom I specially wanted things right to dine on the 20th, and Dr. Gibson says Eliza won't be up and about again for three or four weeks. It's an awkward fix, and I don't know where to turn for help. They can't cook anything fit to eat at the Red Lion, or I might have taken them there."
"You can have Cole, and welcome.",
But John shook his head gloomily. Cole could compass nothing but the plain family dinner-the fish and joints and sweets Grannie spread liberally be
fore her guests. But to John's mind to sit down to such a board was not to dine at all, but simply to eat in order to satisfy appetite. Eliza had been in John's service twelve years, ever since he built Laurel Grove and settled him. self there. At first he had been proud of her skill and the reputation it gave him-for he practised a very generous hospitality-as the giver of the most refined and best-thought-out little dinners, but by-and-by, perhaps because he had no worthier object with which to fill his life, he learnt to prize her cooking for its own sake, and became something of an epicure in his way. At least it was understood in the family that when you asked John to dinner you had to be very particular indeed over the menu. So all felt but Grannie, who said in her sweet dignified way that she and Cole were twenty years behind the rest of the world, too old to learn new-fangled ways, and that what had been good enough for John's parents ought to be good enough for himself and his friends.
Yet quite early next morning Grannie was seated in her carriage, and being driven over to Laurel Grove to see if there was nothing she could suggest for Eliza's comfort. One of the London and two of the Manchester grandchildren, privileged as visitors, were seated on the roomy opposite seat of the old-fashioned barouche, and they promised to be very good and quiet when Grannie got out at the gate of Laurel Grove.
Grannie did not quite like having to walk up the long straight path between the laurels which christened the villa. She thought it an inconvenient arrangement for wet days, and if she disapproved of John's dinners she also disapproved of his house. It was too new, too modern. He ought to have lived in an older house and kept more servants; more servants are always wanted in an old house, where there are
no baths or gas or other conveniences -but then the dignity it confers! Grannie thought a great deal of dignity.
Yet she was gentleness itself with the angry and perturbed Eliza, who tossed about on her pillows, and said she couldn't but think Providence had made a mistake, and meant to humble some other Eliza Jones—the name was common enough she supposed-for whatever in the name of wonder would Mr. John do without her?
"Compose yourself, Eliza,” said Mrs. Whipp soothingly, “my nephew will not suffer."
"And a dinner party coming on and me lying here!" cried Eliza, making another attempt at a flounce and stopping short with a groan. “What will become of the credit of the house with nobody but that little fool Jane to de. pend on-a girl as would lose her head if it wasn't tight on her neck."
Before the thought of such a calamity Eliza broke down in helpless sniffs, and Grannie found herself committed to all sort of rash promises of help and succor, in which it was easy to see, from the petulant shoulder she turned upon her consoler, Eliza put not the smallest faith.
In truth, it was a defenceless household without the redoubtable Eliza to order its goings. Miss Anne Whipp was making a pretence of breakfasting in bed when Grannie knocked at her door, but the tea was colorless and the toast flabby; Miss Anne, the most unassertive of human beings, ate it meek
She was a very tall woman, with a long weak back and a tendency to neuralgia, for which reason she was seldom seen without a strip of red flannel pinned round her face. Grannie, delicately upright, her white china crêpe shawl beautifully draped about her slim shoulders, looked much the younger of the two, though in reality she was ten years cousin Anne's senior. They discussed the situation, Miss
Anne with many gentle laments and by mistake and soiled her little white “poor dears” and “such a pity's, Gran- cotton gloves; but she hadn't cried. nie still with a resolute front, though Grannie dusted the gloves with her she quailed a little as she looked at the handkerchief, kissed the heroine, and, scorched raw toast. Rack her brains as when the direction had been distinctly she might, she could think of no one to repeated to old Peter the coachman, fill the breach; Brierly-Stoke was ill they proceeded very comfortably on supplied with notable women waiting
their way. emergencies, and as for the itinerant “Never shout to a deaf person,” said char-woman, Grannie had all an old- Grannie, improving the occasion, "a fashioned housekeeper's horror of her clear enunciation is much more im-. slipshod services.
portant." “Cole shall come up and put Jane in The little scholars never minded the way of things, and see about din. Grannie's mild lectures; they did not ner,” she decided, "and John must suppose for moment they were bring his friends to the White House. meant to understand them. They shall have a plain, well-cooked meal, and if they can't eat it, why,
CHAPTER II. then, they deserve to go without.”
As she was leaving the room Miss The farm of Roots lay about three: Anne called after her in a flutter. Aunt miles outside the town. It was small Anne was one of the women who al. and not very productive, and hard ways reserve the tit-bits of their news times had pressed sorely on Thomas for a postscript.
Seaward, who had, indeed, never been "Oh, Emily, I heard yesterday-Eliza a prosperous man. That was why heard it from the milkman in the morn- Nancy, the youngest, went out to help ing before she gave in and was forced other people; the five sisters remaining to go to bed-that Nancy Seaward is at home more than sufficed for all home again. She has lost her situation there was to do. Grannie, seated in through no fault of her own, poor dear, the prim best parlor, greeted them in and is looking out for something else." detachments as they bustled in from
“Dear me,” said Grannie, “I wish I dairy and poultry yard-big, bouncing, had known. She should have spent the voluble, fresh-faced young women with day with us yesterday."
hearty manners that just a little overNancy Seaward was only a third whelmed her. She was glad when they cousin, but she had Whipp blood in her carried the children off to drink bowls veins on her mother's side, and, diluted of cream and see the ducklings, and as it was, Grannie loyally recognized Nancy came to her alone. Nancy was its claim.
altogether different from her sisters; “We might drive to Roots," she she looked like nothing in the parlor thought as she walked daintily down except the flowers in the blue bowl between the laurels, holding up her which were due to her inspiration. She silken skirts; “it wouldn't take long, had their freshness, their unconsciousand it would please the children, and I
She was tall and straight, her can explain to Nancy that I didn't hair dark brown, her eyes the deep know she was at home."
gray which looks black in certain The three white sun-bonnets nodded lights. In her lavender print she had delighted acquiescence as Grannie pro- a certain air of Quakerish sobriety and pounded her scheme. They had behaved reliance that met with Grannie's apbeautifully, only Prissy had fallen out proval.
“My dear,” she said, “if I had only known you were at Roots you should have been asked to the White House yesterday. Of course I knew that Susan and Martha and the others could not be spared; but you are holiday making, I hear.”
"'I am looking out for some work. Henry, the dairyman, brought the news yesterday that Mr. John Whipp's housekeeper is ill. Do you think he would allow me to supply her placeas cook, of course, and under her directions, until she recovers?"
The appeal was simple and direct; hope flashed into Grannie's face, and faded again. “You are
very young,” she said anxiously.
“Twenty-two," said Nancy calmly.
"So much? You have the Whipp knack of keeping your youth, child. But even at twenty-two you cannot have much experience, and Mr. John is very, very particular.”
"I can cook a little," said Nancy modestly.
“But, my dear, I thought you were a lady help!"
"A help, but not a lady,” said Nancy, with a little smile. “I don't think the two go together; at least, you cannot be a help if you put the lady first.”
“What, then, were your duties?"
"Something of everything." Nancy looked at her hands, which seemed to know the meaning of work. "Colonel and Mrs. Purchase were as nice as possible to me; they would have liked me to go abroad with them, but father objected. They are both old and delicate, and-rather dependent on others"-she smiled again. “Colonel Purchase liked dainty food, and I think I learned to please him.”
Grannie listened with growing approval. Nancy was modest and yet self-reliant; she had no false pride. It would be tempting Fate to refuse so manifest a gift at her hands.
"If I could be sure it was quite right,” she murmured wistfully, “but I am afraid you will find Eliza's temper trying. To be sure there is Miss Whipp; she would be very kind to you, but she is an invalid too, and would only add to your cares.
You are so young, and”—Grannie did not add "pretty," but all at once it struck her with a kind of shock that Nancy with tbe pink color of excitement in her cheeks and her earnest black-lashed gray eyes was beautiful. “My dear, I don't know if it would be right."
“Let me try," said Nancy. "If I don't suit him then I can come home again."
But Grannie would not consent without a family consultation, and as many of the Seawards as could be gathered at such short notice were summoned to the parlor. Thomas Seaward was at market, but his eldest daughter would answer for him. They relinquished Nancy with the utmost cheerfulness; she was always happiest when she was busy, and there was really nothing for her to do at home but to idle about in the garden. If she had been a boy it would have been another story, but there were girls enough and to spare at Roots already! In the end Nancy found herself seated by Grannie in the carriage, the children opposite, and her little portmanteau on the box beside Peter.
"I hope the experiment will answer," said Grannie to herself, as for the second time that day she left Laurel Grove, “but”-She pursed her lips and shook her head.
John Whipp was dining with a friend that night and did not return to Laurel Grove till late. The occasion was not one of ceremony, and he went straight from the bank without going home to dress. So that the clock in the hall was striking one and his household was hushed in sleep by the time he discorered Grannie's little note secured to the pin-cushion in his bedroom. Nancy Seaward-which was Nancy? He had a confused memory of a number of bouncing, dark-eyed, roguish young women seen in the rare visits paid by him to Roots, and it crossed him with a faint sense of annoyance that one of them should be presiding over his disorganized household. Aunt Emily had surely failed in her usual perfect tact. If the girl had not been a relative-but a cousin, even if it were but in the third degree-how could one give her orders, or criticise her amateur efforts without a chance of wounding her susceptibilities?
"Please, sir," the little maid Jane (who had taken up his shaving water at eight) knocked at her master's door at a quarter to nine on the following morning, "will you come down soon, sir ?-there is an omelette for breakfast."
John was accustomed to this formula from Eliza, and smiled to himself at Jane's foolish confidence. As if any other omelette in the world but one of Eliza's making would suffer by delay. He knew what to expect!
Breakfast was neatly laid for one.
"Where is Miss Seaward ?” he asked of Jane.
"She has breakfasted, sir."
John was conscious of a great sense of relief. He could pardon an insufferably bad meal so long as he had not to eat in the company of a giggling Miss Seaward, who would want to be talked to.
But what was this? The omelette itself, a golden brown glory, light, fragrant, delicious! He traced Eliza's hand in it. Eliza at her very best. Poor woman, how faithful she was; but he really must, in common humanity, forbid her to toil for him while she was so ill. The coffee, of course, would pay for the excellence of the omelette. Who ever tasted good coffee in a farm
house? But no, the coffee was perfection, the milk absolutely boiling, the cream in the old-fashioned pitcher whipped to a froth till it lay like snow on the top of the cup.
“Really, really,” said John, munching the crisp flakes of toast with an infinite relish, “this will never do."
He rang for the little maid.
“I am afraid you have been troubling Eliza about breakfast, and she so ill. Now remember, I cannot permit it. A boiled egg, not too hard, will do very well for me, and if you cannot manage coffee, a cup of tea"
Jane opened a pair of frightened eyes. "Please, sir, Miss Jones is feeling very bad, and she hasn't done a hand's turn, not since yesterday morning when the pain come on.”
"Then who-cooked breakfast?"
"Miss Seaward, sir, the lady as come yesterday.”
John looked as he felt, dumfounded. “Will you ask Miss Seaward if she will kindly allow me to speak to her?” he said at last.
“She is out, sir; this is market-day, and she said it was best to go early. But I am to ask you, sir, what you would like for dinner.”
"Anything, anything," said John, making a sudden bolt from the room, for the first time treating this important question as if it were a thing of naught.
He returned from the bank in a state of suspended curiosity. Now, of course, it would be necessary to see Miss Seaward. He pictured their tête-à-tête meal; she would be rather red with her efforts over the fire, she would probably wear a high-necked velveteen with a good deal of white lace about it as an easy compromise between morning and evening dress, she-well, the situation was not an easy one, still he felt bound to face it. Any one who could set before him such a breakfast as he