Lilian's Business Venture by Lucy Maud
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
"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
"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 here."
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 idea!"
"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 business."
"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 I will."
"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
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
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 customer."
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 cooking."
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
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 her motto.
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.