MRS. DREDGE TO THE RESCUE.
High tea at Penelope Mansion was an institution. Mrs. Flint said in confidence to her boarders that she preferred high tea to late dinner. She said that late dinner savored too distinctly of the mannish element for her to tolerate. It reminded her, she said, of clerks returning home dead-beat after a day’s hard toil; it reminded her of sordid labor, and of all kinds of unpleasant things; whereas high tea was in itself womanly, and was in all respects suited to the gentle appetites of ladies who were living genteelly on their means. Mrs. Flint’s boarders were as a rule impressed by her words, and high tea was, in short, a recognized institution of the establishment.
On the evening of the day when poor little Daisy had disappeared from her Palace Beautiful Mrs. Flint’s boarders were enjoying their genteel repast in the cool shades of her parlor. They had shrimps for tea, and eggs, and buttered toast, and a small glass dish of sardines, to say nothing of a few little dishes of different preserves. Mrs. Dredge, who was considered by the other ladies to have an appetite the reverse of refined, had, in addition to these slight refreshments, a mutton chop. This she was eating with appetite and relish, while Miss Slowcum languidly tapped her egg, and remarked as she did so that it was hollow, but not more so than life. Mrs. Mortlock, since the commencement of her affliction, always sat by Mrs. Flint’s side, and when she imagined that her companions were making use of their sight to some purpose she invariably requested Mrs. Flint to describe to her what was going on. On this particular evening the whole party were much excited and impressed by the unexpected return of Poppy, alias Sarah.
“It took me all of a heap!” said Mrs. Flint; “I really thought the girl was saucy, and had gone—but never a bit of it. If you’ll believe me, ladies, she came in as humble as you please, and quite willing to go back to her work in a quiet spirit. ‘Sarah,’ I said to her in the morning, ‘you’ll rue this day,’ and she did rue it, and to some purpose, or she wouldn’t have returned so sharp in the evening. She’s a good girl, taking her all in all, is Sarah, and being my own niece, of course I put up with a few things from her which I would not take from a stranger.”
“She spoke pretty sharp this morning about you, Mrs. Flint, to my continual reader,” said Mrs. Mortlock; “I wouldn’t take no airs, if I was you, from Sarah Maria. Miss Slowcum, I’ll trouble you for the pepper, please. Seeing that I’m afflicted, and cannot now use my eyesight, I think there might be a little consideration in the small matter of pepper shown to me, but feel as I will I can find it in no way handy. Thank you, Miss Slowcum; sorry to trouble you, I’m sure.”
“She grows more snappish each day,” whispered Miss Slowcum to Mrs. Dredge; but just then the attention of all the good ladies was diverted by a ringing peal at the hall door-bell, followed by eager voices in the hall, and then by the entrance of Poppy, alias Sarah, who broke in upon the quiet of high tea with a red and startled face.