She led the way across the hall to the room on the opposite side; a large, well-appointed, and spotlessly neat kitchen.
Ellen could not help exclaiming at its pleasantness.
"Why, yes--I think it is. I have been in many a parlour that I do not like as well.....Margery, if you will put the kettle on and see to the fire, I'll make some of my cakes for tea."
Alice now rolled up her sleeves above the elbows, and tying a large white apron before her, set about gathering the different things she wanted for her work, to Ellen's great amusement.
A white moulding-board was placed upon a table as white; and round it soon grouped the pail of flour, the plate of nice yellow butter, the bowl of cream, the sieve, tray, and sundry etceteras. And then, first sifting some flour into the tray, Alice began to throw in the other things one after another, and toss the whole about with a carelessness that looked as if it would all go wrong, but with a confidence that seemed to say all was going right. Ellen gazed in comical wonderment.
"Did you think cakes were made without hands?" said Alice, laughing at her look. "You saw me wash mine before I began."
"Oh, I'm not thinking of that," said Ellen; "I am not afraid of your hands."
"Did you never see your mother do this?" said Alice, who was now turning and rolling the dough upon the board in a way that seemed to Ellen curious beyond expression.
"No, never," she said. "Mamma never kept house, and I never saw anybody do it."
"Then your aunt does not let you into the mysteries of bread and butter making?"
"Butter making! Oh," said Ellen with a sigh, "I have enough of that."
Alice now applied a smooth wooden roller to the cake, with such quickness and skill that the lump forthwith lay spread upon the board in a thin even layer, and she next cut it into little round cakes with the edge of a tumbler.
Half the board was covered with the nice little white things, which Ellen declared looked good enough to eat already, and she had quite forgotten all possible causes of vexation, past, present, or future, when suddenly a large grey cat jumped upon the table, and, coolly walking upon the moulding-board, planted his paw directly in the middle of one of his mistress's cakes.
"Take him off--oh, Ellen!" cried Alice, "take him off. I can't touch him." But Ellen was a little afraid.
Alice then gently tried to shove puss off with her elbow; but he seemed to think that was very good fun, purred, whisked his great tail over Alice's bare arm, and rubbed his head against it, having evidently no notion that he was not just where he ought to be. Alice and Ellen were too much amused to try any violent method of relief, but Margery, happily coming in, seized puss in both hands and set him on the floor.
"Just look at the print of his paw in that cake," said Ellen.
"He has set his mark on it, certainly. I think it is his now, by the right of possession, and if not the right of discovery."
"I think he discovered the cakes too," said Ellen, laughing.
"Why, yes. He shall have that one baked for his supper."
"Does he like cakes?"
"Indeed he does. He is very particular and delicate about his eating, is Captain Parry."
"Captain Parry!" said Ellen; "is that his name?"
"Yes," said Alice, laughing; "I don't wonder you look astonished, Ellen. I have had that cat five years, and when he was first given me, my brother Jack, who was younger than he is now, and he had been reading Captain Parry's Voyages, gave him that name, and would have him called so. Oh, Jack!" said Alice, half laughing and half crying.
Ellen wondered why; but she went to wash her hands, and when her face was again turned to Ellen, it was unruffled as ever.
"Margery, my cakes are ready," said she, "and Ellen and I are ready too."
"Very well, Miss Alice; the kettle is just going to boil; you shall have tea in a trice. I'll do some eggs for you."
"Something--anything," said Alice; "I feel one cannot live without eating. Come, Ellen, you and I will go and set the tea-table."
Ellen was very happy arranging the cups and saucers and other things that Alice handed her from the cupboard; and when, a few minutes after, the tea and the cakes came in, and she and Alice were cosily seated, poor Ellen hardly knew herself in such a pleasant state of things.
-From "The Wide, Wide World" by Elizabeth Wetherell