The Silver Spur Bakery
"Elizabeth," whispered Ruth, tragically, "I have done something too awful to tell--and I've got to tell it."
"I just knew you were dreadfully worried," whispered back Elizabeth, sympathetically. "I knew it as soon as you came back this morning. Mother thought you were just plain tired, but I felt in my bones that there was worse. What is it?"
The two girls were in their room getting ready for bed, tiptoeing and whispering to avoid waking Mrs. Spooner, who was sleeping in the next room.
"It's this, Elizabeth--" Ruth's whisper was a wail of despair--"I've lost Maudie Pratt's--diamond--ring: And I've promised to pay her for it by Thanksgiving! Elizabeth, it cost--a hundred--dollars! And you know I've got just thirty-five cents in all the world!"
Then, Elizabeth remaining dumb from astonishment, she went on to tell the whole story.
"And, O, Elizabeth, how will I ever get the money?" she ended, despairingly.
"You mustn't tell mother, Ruth," warned Elizabeth, with that sweet, elder-sister air that had grown on her since Mary went away; "she's got worries enough already with father away, and everybody afraid it's going to be a dry year. I can't think just now of any way to earn a hundred dollars quick. I'll sleep on it--maybe I'll dream of a way. One thing's certain; you've got to keep your word, for the credit of the family."
"I was just sure you'd feel that way about it, Elizabeth. What on earth would we do without you!" sighed Ruth, gratefully.
Secure in Elizabeth's ability to find a way, she nestled down among her pillows and went peacefully to sleep. And indeed she needed it sorely, after the miserably wakeful night she had spent with Maudie Pratt.
Elizabeth did not dream at all. She lay awake so long trying to think up some miraculous way by which Ruth and she might earn a hundred dollars, that when she did fall asleep her slumber was entirely too deep for dreams to enter--so deep indeed that it took the warning rattle of the alarm-clock to wake her in time to get the early breakfast necessary for Roy and Jonah.
"Did you think of anything, Elizabeth?" asked Ruth anxiously, as she, too, sprang out of bed at the alarm-clock's warning. And Elizabeth was obliged to confess that she hadn't yet.
"But don't you worry," she soothed, "I'll think of a way. Let's ask Roy, as soon as we get a chance; somehow I feel sure he could help."
It was evening before they found an opportunity to take Roy into their confidence, down at the milk-pen. Milking had been one of the girls' recognized duties before he came, since then he had forbidden them to interfere with the chores, declaring them to be men's work.
Roy set the foaming pails on the fence, turned out the little bunch of milk-pen calves kept to lure home the cows from the open range, and regarded the girls with a grave face.
"I should call that a tough proposition," he said thoughtfully, "but not impossible. In fact it seems that 'most anything's possible if you work hard enough for it. How about cooking, Ruth? You're a dandy on 'pie'n things'. Every ranch round here would buy your truck if it was properly advertised."
"That's just it!" jubilated Elizabeth, "advertise! Ruth, we'll put up a sign-board at the road gate: 'Bread, Doughnuts and Pies for Sale.' Every cowboy that passes will see it, and every single one will buy. I never saw a boy or man that wasn't hungry."
"Elizabeth has a great head," nodded Roy, approvingly, "that's the ticket, Ruth. I'll paint the sign-board to-night and to-morrow you begin baking--money!"
Ruth breathed a sigh of relief. "I just can't thank you enough, Roy," she declared gratefully. "I'll bake day and night if I can just pay Maudie Pratt for that hateful ring!"
Mrs. Spooner was rather bewildered when her young folks--the Babe excepted, begged earnestly for permission to make some money by going into the bakery business.
"We can't tell you just now what it's for, mother," explained Ruth. "Only that it's for something important. You'll know all about it when the right time comes."
"It seems to me that every one of you does as much work as possible, now," doubted Mrs. Spooner. "But as Ruth's heart seems to be set upon this extra labor, I promise not to interfere. And I won't ask any questions about it until you see fit to tell me of your own accord."
The Babe, who had listened carefully to this conversation, beamed hopefully upon them, seeing in the plan certain possibilities.
"I'll help you, Ruth," she volunteered magnanimously. "And maybe if you make a whole heap of money, you might have enough left over to buy a new Ivanhoe. Mine's got seven leaves lost out, right at the most exciting part."
"Done!" agreed Roy heartily, "I promise that you shall have a new Ivanhoe if you help. The bargain's between you and me, Baby. We'll leave the girls out of it."
"Except to see that you earn your book," laughed Elizabeth.
That night when they were all gathered around the evening lamp, Roy painted the sign on a smooth white board, with some of the brown paint left over from the phaeton. Bread, he declared, was Ruth's "long suit," but as cowboys would scarcely like dry bread, it was cut out of the list. Pies, however, were always acceptable. Custard being objected to as too "squshy," they decided on mince and apple as being best for cooks and customers. Doughnuts, of course, because everybody liked the little fried cakes, and they could be conveniently handled. Completed, the sign read:
"HOME-MADE DOUGHNUTS.APPLE PIES.
"Now," decided Roy, after all the family had duly admired his handiwork, "I'm going to Emerald early in the morning, and I'll fetch back all your necessary supplies, down to the paper bags to hold 'em, by noon. The McGregor ranch is shipping cattle--they'll pass here Thursday, one of their punchers told me; that'll be day after to-morrow. You can spend the afternoon baking and be ready for them, for I'm certain they'll buy you out. Their range-cook's quit, and Chunky Bill's cooking for the outfit, so they're about starved for something good to eat."
"We'll be obliged to have the first groceries charged to you, mother," apologized Ruth, "but we promise to pay for them ourselves."
"Very well--only don't buy too much at a time," warned Mrs. Spooner, who was doubtful of the success of the enterprise, "until you are sure of making sales."
"We'll succeed all right, never you fear, mumsy," asserted Roy, with cheerful confidence. "I'll drum up trade, and Ruth's good cooking'll do the rest."
Fuel in that woodless country was quite an item; Roy, realizing this, brought home the next day a load of coke along with the other supplies, all, it was agreed, to be paid for out of the proceeds of the sales.
Also he brought good news from Emerald, where he had met one of the cowboys from the McGregor ranch, who not only confirmed the report of the cattle passing next day, but told him that the ranch cook had quit out there, as well as the man hired to go with the shipping outfit. He offered to get Ruth the job of baking for the ranch until a new cook could be procured.
"Of course I said Ruth would take the job, so he's to bring along the order in the morning. How's that for a beginning for The Silver Spur Bakery?"
"I see land ahead!" exulted Elizabeth, joyfully waving her big cook-apron. "Allow me to invest you with your uniform, Mademoiselle Chef: You will now proceed to mix the magic potions, while the Babe kindles the fire on the Altar of Cookery known to mere mortals as the kitchen range, and I complete the rites by rolling out the crust and filling the tins. Know all men by these greetings, the Silver Spur Bakery is ready for business, and Roy may go tack up the sign."
Inspired by the hope of reward, they made a frolic of the baking working with such zeal and enthusiasm that when evening came and the chief cook doffed her floury apron with a sigh of weary content, there were shelves full of pies and pans full of doughnuts as a result of their labors. Delicate pies, with crisply melting covers and toothsome "inwards," and doughnuts that were deliciously tender and flavory.
"Just for this once we'll let everybody have a treat," decided Ruth, generously. "We'll just make a big pot of coffee and have doughnuts and pie for supper. I want Roy and Jonah to have a taste; they'll relish sweets for a change."
"And I think we'd better let them fix the price, too," suggested Elizabeth. "Men always know more about such things than we do."
Roy and Jonah were most appreciative judges, declaring that twenty-five cents apiece was dirt-cheap for the apple, and--mincemeat costing so much more than dried apples--fifty cents for the mince pies. The doughnuts, being superlatively excellent, were valued at five cents apiece, or fifty cents a dozen.
The Babe could not be kept off the porch next morning, hovering there to watch for the McGregor outfit. Soon, like Bluebeard's sister-in-law, she reported a cloud of dust rising--the customers were coming!
Far ahead of the herd rode a single horseman who turned in at the gate and came galloping up to the house. The futile chuck-wagon, with its incompetent cook, slid past unnoticed while the message from Mrs. McGregor was delivered. She had sent a tin bread-box of ample size, and she wanted it filled with so much bread, cake and pie, that the Silver Spur Bakery was rather startled. She thought the amount she specified might last them for half the week, the messenger said, and at the end of that time she would return the empty tin box to be refilled. And the Spooner girls were to put their own prices on their wares.
While these things were being settled two other riders from the shipping herd came up for sample orders, and hurried into the kitchen with the Babe and Mrs. Spooner, eager to buy something to satisfy the pangs of hunger to which Chunky Bill's cooking had delivered them.
The stocky little Englishman who had brought Mrs. McGregor's note, and said he would be back from Emerald on his return trip next morning for the box, if they would have it ready for him, paused at the edge of the porch and negotiated a more personal errand.
"And I've a little order of my own, Miss," grinned he cowboy genially. "You see, I'm from the old country, myself, and I'm fairly longing for a taste of plum-pudding once more. Think you're equal to making one? I'm willing to pay your own price."
There was a note of wistful eagerness in his voice that touched Ruth's sympathies, but a plum-pudding was, she feared, beyond her powers. Elizabeth, seeing her hesitation, spoke promptly. "Certainly, we'll be pleased to fill your order," she said, with business like briskness. "And if it isn't as good as any you ever ate in England you needn't pay for it."
"I'm sure it'll be rippin' good pudding, if you make it, miss," politely assured the cowboy, and, with a sweeping bow, he mounted his pony and galloped away to join the approaching herd.
As the hundreds of cattle tramped slowly by, one after another of the attending punchers turned in at the Spooner's gate, a purchaser to the full extent of his pocketbook.
Doughnuts and pies fairly melted away; Mrs. Spooner and the Babe filling the bags in the kitchen while Ruth and Elizabeth delivered the goods and received the money.
And, when they counted up the receipts that night, they found that, deducting all expenses, there would be five dollars profit!
"And the McGregor ranch to bake for!" crowed Elizabeth, joyously. "Ruth, I plainly see land ahead!"
"I'm so relieved!" sighed Ruth, "But Elizabeth, are you sure you can manage the pudding?"
"'In the bright lexicon of youth there's no such word as fail', little sister," laughed Elizabeth. "Of course I can bake--or boil--or steam a pudding as well as a born Britisher! In fact, being an American citizen, I don't see why I can't make even a better one. Let me take a look at that old cook-book of mother's."
All the next day they baked for the McGregor ranch, besides boiling the pudding for the Englishman. Elizabeth declared she wanted him to try it before he paid for it, but after one glance and a hearty sniff, he decided to pay in advance the two dollars and fifty cents which Elizabeth had figured out as a fair price.
That it was satisfactory was fully proven when he returned for the next baking, with orders for half-dozen more.
"I poured brandy over it and set it afire, like they do in England," he said. "And every bloomin' puncher that tasted it is wild for more! They call it 'The Perishin' Martyr Pie.' O, it's made a hit, all right."
After that there was quite a run on puddings, and hardly a day passed that the girls did not make a "Perishin' Martyr Pie"--a name that tickled them immensely. Even the Babe learned to mix the batter, and Roy declared he was quite an expert at boiling martyrs.
Money flowed into the little green pasteboard box, so that now there was plenty of company for the lonely thirty-five cents it had originally contained, when Ruth rashly decided she would pay Maudie Pratt for the lost diamond ring. It must be admitted that as the money tide rose Ruth's spirits fell.
"O, it would be so lovely if we were earning it for ourselves," she lamented. "Think of the things we could buy: If we could only give it to mother to help with the living I should be perfectly satisfied--but to go and hand it over to Maudie Pratt for a ring she just made me put on--"
"Now, Ruth," Elizabeth interrupted, laying a loving arm across her junior's shoulder, "we're all getting lots of fun out of the work. I think the whole family is finding that it is really play to earn money. Maybe we'll get into the habit and keep it up after Maudie's ring's paid for. Don't you worry. If we do the best we can, and do it every day, we are going to arrive at delectable places."
Ruth looked at her sister fondly. What would they do without Elizabeth's strong heart and capable head for planning? It was Elizabeth who hunted up a Mexican boy sufficiently reliable to be trusted with a lard-can full of the 'pies 'n things' which found a good market at the round-ups. This was not the season for them, but there is always something of the sort taking place in the cattle country, and Juan was willing to drive an absurd number of miles for a modest share in their profits. Never a cowboy passed the Spooners' attractive sign without galloping up for a purchase, and the early receipts from the bakery were astonishingly good.
But after awhile the McGregors secured a cook, and there were no more round-ups in reach; the cowboys had all become surfeited with a rich excess of "Perishin' Martyrs," so that orders declined and finally fell off altogether on that commodity. The grocer was paid, there was nearly a barrel of flour on hand, and part of a large tin of lard, but there was only seventy-nine dollars earned. Thanksgiving was approaching, and the hearts of the girls began to sink, thinking of its nearness and of the insufficient money in the green box.
And then, the very day before Thanksgiving, the unexpected happened, when Mrs. McGregor rode over, bright and early, from her ranch with a most unusual and imperative order for pumpkin-pies!
It seemed that a lot of unexpected guests had arrived from the east to spend Thanksgiving at the ranch, and, to celebrate the occasion properly, the McGregors had decided to join forces with a neighboring ranch and have a big barbecue and picnic-dinner in the open, to which all the neighbors were invited. The other ranch was to furnish all the meat for the feast--fat mutton and beef and shotes, to be barbecued deliciously over pits of glowing coals, while Mrs. McGregor was to provide the bread, pies and vegetables.
"Of course you should have been notified days ago," said the pleasant little lady, with deprecating hands outspread, "only I didn't know myself 'till last night! Now my cook can manage the bread and vegetables, and you, my dears, must furnish the pumpkin-pies or I'm a forsworn woman: I've calculated and re-calculated, and I find that, allowing five pieces to a pie, it will take a hundred and six pies to give everybody plenty--you know how men eat! Now dears--" she put a persuasive arm around each girl--"can you bake them?"
Ruth gasped. "How in the world can we--in one day? Of course we have plenty of pumpkins--Jonah raised a big patch of them for cow-feed, and there's a barrel of flour and plenty of lard and sugar and things. But in one day--"
"We'll do it, Mrs. McGregor," interrupted Elizabeth, smilingly. "We'll fill your order, and thank you very much. Jonah Bean shall deliver them early in the morning."
"My dear girl, you've simply saved my life--I can never thank you enough!" Mrs. McGregor rose, fumbling in her pretty silver wrist-bag. "Twenty-six dollars and fifty cents, I believe. Here's your money--and thank you very, very much: And don't you forget that every single member of your family is expected at our Thanksgiving dinner."
"Why did you take her order, Elizabeth?" wondered Ruth, when their guest was gone, "it will work us to death!"
"Not a bit of it, dear child. Listen, Ruth Spooner, there's just seventy-nine dollars in your green box. Twenty-six added makes a hundred and five. Five dollars is a great plenty for expenses, seeing that we have the pumpkins already. The odd fifty cents will buy a little present for the Babe, and leave you your full hundred to pay Maudie Pratt for her ring. 'Rah, 'rah, 'rah for the girls of the Silver Spur! Our debt's paid!"
"Glory!" Ruth's shouts suddenly wavered, the apron she waved aloft was thrown over her face as she burst into tears.
"O, Elizabeth--shut the door--I don't want anybody else to see me cry. I'm a wretch--and you're a genius--but--but--I can't help thinking about us all working so hard and Maudie Pratt getting all our money!"
"I know, honey," said Elizabeth, understandingly, "if I stop to think I feel that way myself. Let's not stop to think."
Ruth choked down her tears, bathed her eyes and turned a resolute face from the washstand.
"I'm all right," she said in a determinedly cheerful voice.
Elizabeth threw open the bedroom door and ran out among their helpers.
"Kindle a fire, Babe, while we get the pumpkins. Isn't it a mercy that Roy and Jonah are off the range to-day and can stay. Everybody'll have to get to work cutting up pumpkins--even mother."
All day they baked. The stove in the house, the brick oven in the yard which had scarcely been allowed to get cold since Ruth began her enterprise, were both kept filled. The baked pies were lifted out of their tins as soon as cool enough and dropped into paper plates. But even so they could not get enough tins to keep the baking up to the volume required for getting out the hundred pies in that length of time. At last Ruth announced in tones of dismay:
"There isn't a single tin left. What shall we do?"
"H'm, let me work my giant brain a moment," pondered Elizabeth. "How about tin shingles? There're a lot of new ones, you know, nice and clean. And plenty of lard-cans. Roy can cut rings from the cans, and lay them on the shingles. They'll be extra large pies, but they'll hold the dough all right."
It was a good idea, and it worked out very well, with a little care in handling the bulky "tins," so that there was no more time lost in waiting for cooling pies.
Jonah, who kept the fires going, became cheerfully loquacious under the influence of the strong coffee Mrs. Spooner insisted on making, to keep the workers awake at their tasks. He regaled them with thrilling stories of the war, and Munchausen deeds of bravery performed by himself while in service. Tales which served the twofold purpose of inspiring Jonah and amusing his hearers.
The girls insisted upon their mother and the Babe going to bed, so as to be rested for the barbecue, which they determined to attend, as the ranch lay only a little way beyond Emerald. But they, with Roy and Jonah as able assistants, kept on baking till the last pie of the hundred and six was cooling on the shelf, and the voice of the oldest and most experienced rooster warned them of the coming dawn.
However, every Spooner was up and dressed in time next morning, with the pies safely packed in the wagon, which Jonah was to drive, Roy and the girls acting as Mrs. Spooner's escort.
When they started Ruth rode ahead. Nobody but Elizabeth knew what was behind her resolutely smiling face. Pinned in the pocket of her jacket there was a roll of bills--a hundred dollars. The thought of Maudie's exultation over its receipt pinched Elizabeth almost as much as giving up the money. She lagged behind a little and talked of it with Roy. They agreed that the money-earning fever had got into their blood, and that nothing less than a new enterprise to companion this old one, which they agreed must be carried forward, would satisfy either of them.
They had reached Emerald when Ruth, trotting briskly along its one street, suddenly felt her pony go lame, and quickly dismounted to examine its hoof for a possible pebble or ball of clay.
Suddenly, with a curious little choking cry, she sprang into the saddle and raced ahead, the pony now going quite easily.
Roy and Elizabeth exchanged indignant glances. Evidently Ruth was overcome because she had to give up her precious money so soon.
"I guess it's got on her nerves," whispered Elizabeth. "I feel pretty much like crying, myself."
"Ruth must be going ahead to let Cousin Hannah know we are coming," remarked her mother, placidly. "I hope it'll be so that they can all go. I haven't seen any of them since the Harvest Home festival."
But Ruth had stopped a little way ahead, waving impatiently for her family to catch up, and hastening on they all arrived at the Pratt home together.
Mr. Pratt and his wife came out, Maudie, very much dressed up, followed languidly.
"Have you got my money, Ruth?" she called in her high, shrill voice. "I bet anything you haven't--and I was depending on it to go to Chicago and study music."
"No," answered Ruth, with emphatic clearness, "I'm never going to pay you for that ring. I want to keep the money for myself, and mother and Elizabeth, and the Babe. O, what lovely things we'll have out of a whole--hundred--dollars!"
The Pratts stared, mystified by this mad speech. Elizabeth gasped--it did sound shocking. Mrs. Spooner was so little informed that she supposed there was a joke on hand, and laughed with motherly complaisance. Only Roy, pulling back close to Elizabeth's shoulder, muttered in an undertone.
"Ruth's got something up her sleeve. Hold on, don't make up your mind too quick about it."
"What in time was Ruthie goin' to pay you a hundred dollars for?" Cousin Hannah demanded, at last.
"For my diamond ring," cried Maudie, "my lovely diamond ring that Grandma gave me, and that I wouldn't have lost for a thousand dollars."
"It never cost to exceed twenty-five," snorted Mr. Pratt. "Ruthie's just right not to pay you more'n that--or half as much. It was partly your fault for lending the ring."
"I'm not going to pay her a cent," repeated Ruth, with dancing eyes. "I've got the money--a hundred dollars--see here," and she flourished a sheaf of bills that made them gasp again.
"I guess I can make you pay," stormed Maudie, "you promised, and you've got to keep your word."
"Well, you did lose Maudie's diamond, you know. Ain't you goin' to replace it, Ruth?" asked Cousin Hannah, a little wistfully.
"You must do the right thing, daughter," cautioned Mrs. Spooner, taking a part in the conversation for the first time.
"I will, mother," said Ruth, suddenly sobered; and she went toward Maudie Pratt with the sheaf of greenbacks in one hand, and something which nobody could see clasped tightly in the other.