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Mr. Harvey's Housekeepers and Nan's Examination Day

by E. Coombs

Of the four little housekeepers, Patty, the eldest, who was fifteen, was chief. Johnny came next. He was housekeeper number two. And then there was Katie, who was eleven, and Nan, nine. Their mother had died two years before, and when the housekeeper left, about a year afterward, Patty, in all the dignity of her fourteen years, decided to dispense with help in future, and that they could do the work among themselves. Mr. Harvey was absorbed in his business, and never greatly disturbed by any irregularities in his household, provided the children were generally peaceable and happy.

So Patty's decision was allowed to stand. Housekeeping had seemed a very easy thing to her, as she had seen her mother go about quietly doing one thing after another, without hurry or confusion. But she found doing the same things herself to be another thing. Oh, the trouble they had with the cooking! The same fire that would not bake the biscuits burned the steak to a crisp. After repeated efforts and experiments, however, bread, steak, and potatoes that could be eaten appeared on the table.

Then they decided to try some cake. Patty, and Johnny, who was always ready to help, knit their brows and puzzled their brains over the recipes. Johnny volunteered to read the directions from the cook-book, while Patty measured and mixed the ingredients.

He read, "'Four eggs, two cups sugar—'"

"Stop, Johnny—don't read so fast. I wonder if the eggs ought to be beaten?"

"Course they ought to; sh'd think any goose'd know that," said Johnny, contemptuously.

"I don't believe they ought to be; the recipe doesn't say anything about beating." So the eggs were broken in with the sugar, and they were stirred together. Then the butter—a liberal quantity—and milk and flour. "'Two tea-spoons cream-tartar; flavor to taste,'" read Johnny.

At length the cake was in the oven, and they watched and waited for it to rise. But it never rose. The fire was made quick; then it was allowed to burn slower; still the cake was an inch below the top of the pan. More than an hour passed, then Patty took it from the oven. What could be the trouble? It was as heavy as lead. Johnny read the recipe over again carefully. "'One tea-spoonful soda'—that's the trouble, Pat; we forgot the soda."

Katie was the most unfortunate of the housekeepers. If she trimmed the lamps, she was sure to spill the oil; if she cooked the dinner, in spite of her wisest precautions it was sure to be burned. And Johnny used laughingly to warn her against looking at stakes, or nails, or twigs, as a rent in her dress was sure to be the result.

Then there was Nan. She did so hate dish-washing! Sometimes, if in the very midst of hot water and rattling crockery, she saw her girl friends outside at play, away she would go, not thinking again of her unfinished task until returning, perhaps half an hour afterward, she would find the towels wet and the water cold in the pan.

And it must be confessed that sometimes even Patty herself would drop her broom, and at the same time her dignity, and join the children, as eager as any of them, forgetful of the dinner hour and the uncooked dinner.

But the sewing—making the clothes—was the worst. Patty was so proud that she would not ask help from anybody—no, not if she ruined her eyes, and worked her fingers to the bone. Garments were picked to pieces, stitch by stitch, to learn how they were made. Dresses were puzzled over, and pulled this way and that; a little cut off here and a piece sewed on there to make them fit.

But now was coming the tug of war. In a week would be the examination at the grammar school to which Nan went, and she had not a thing fit to wear.

Patty wondered what she should do. She consulted her father.

"Why, buy her a dress," he said.

"But I can not buy one all made."

"Make her one, then," and he laid a crisp bill on the table.

So Patty was left to manage as best she might. Taking Nan with her, she went first to the shoe store, where she selected a pair of the daintiest, nicest-fitting boots; then to the dry-goods store, where she bought a number of yards of some sort of twilled goods of a lovely shade of blue. With these, a lace bib, and a large blue bow for her hair, Patty thought Nan would look very pretty.

Purchasing the material had been quite easy; but now came the cutting and making of the dress. The dresses of other girls were studied, fashion plates consulted by all the little housekeepers, and at last a style was decided upon. Then there was a laying on of patterns, and cutting, and basting, and ripping out, and sewing together, till at last the dress was completed. It is true that it was a little too long on the shoulder, and a little too short under the arm, and a little too scant in the skirt. But it was pretty, and the effect was good.

At length the day before examination came, and everything was ready. The lace had been basted into the sleeves, and the dress, French kid boots, bow, and collar were laid away in the best chamber.

But just before dark a lady living in another part of the city sent for Patty to come and spend the night with her, as she was alone. How could she go? There was Nan to be dressed in the morning. But then she could not disappoint her kind friend; so, after giving Katie and Nan many directions for the morning, she left them, promising to meet them at the school-house.

The next morning Johnny got the breakfast, and Nan and Katie cleared away the dishes. Then they went up stairs to dress. Nan had just finished her hair, having pinned on the blue bow, and was surveying its effect in the glass, when the sound of music on the street, just in front of the house, attracted her attention. She rushed to the window. There was a chariot painted in gay colors, and men in scarlet and gold uniforms, and such music! The new dress was forgotten, and she flew down stairs and out of the door. With a troop of children she followed the gaudy chariot and gayly caparisoned horses from street to street.

At length, before she realized how far she had gone, she found herself before the school-house door, and the clock was striking nine. There was no time to go back. She thought of the new dress. No matter; she had on the blue bow.

Patty had gone directly to the school-house, instead of first going home, and was awaiting Nan's appearance.

The bell rang for the second class to come down; and though trying to be calm and dignified, Patty could not help leaning eagerly forward, as the girls came trooping into the recitation-room. She wanted to see how Nan looked in the new blue dress and neat boots.

One by one the girls pushed forward and took their seats, until at last— Could that be Nan? Poor Patty's cheeks burned with mortification as she saw her pressing eagerly forward among the rest, her freckled face beaming with satisfaction. Instead of the beautiful blue dress, she had on a faded calico, considerably outgrown, and her coarse every-day boots with copper tips, half laced up, and much the worse for wear. But, in striking contrast, the blue bow was perched proudly on the top of her head. Then she had forgotten her pocket-handkerchief, and poor Patty was anything but soothed by the snuffs that she gave from time to time.

But when the recitations were heard Nan's dress was forgotten. Her answers were prompt, correct, and distinct; and Patty's feelings were somewhat soothed by the looks and words of praise that passed from one to another of the examining committee, as Nan, still fresh and unwearied, answered the last question correctly.

Then came the awarding of prizes. The silence of expectancy reigned in the school-room, unbroken, save by the whispered consultation of teachers and examiners. At last the principal called the second class forward to the recitation seats.

As the girls passed down the aisles, another great wave of mortification swept over poor Patty, as Nan, in striking contrast to the other girls, in their pretty dresses, still careless and eager, pressed forward among the rest. When the girls reached their places, and all had become quiet, one of the committee rose and said: "You have all done well. I am pleased with the interest which you seem to manifest in your school and studies, and with the industry and application shown by your ready responses. But for prompt, correct, and distinct answers, which her teachers tell me have been uniform throughout the term, I award to Miss Nannie Harvey the first prize." And as Nan, bright and unconscious as ever, stepped forward to receive it, an almost audible smile passed round the room, mingled with a murmur of applause.

But after this, as they trudged home together, Patty was almost as forgetful as Nan of the shabby dress and thick half-worn shoes.