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   Chapter 4 THE HOME

The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 20911

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

It was late in the afternoon when Ralph and Miriam Haverley alighted at the station at Thorbury. Miss Dora Bannister, who had come down to see a friend off, noticed the two standing on the platform. She did not know who they were, but she thought the one to be a very handsome young man, and the other a nice-looking girl who seemed to be all eyes.

"What a queer-looking colored man!" said Miriam. "He looks mashed on top."

The person alluded to was getting down from a wagon drawn by a mournful horse, and now approached the platform.

"Is you Mr. Hav'ley, sir?" he said, touching his hat. "Thought so; I'm the man in charge o' yer place. Got any baggage, sir?"

On being informed that the travellers had brought three trunks with them, and that some boxes would be expected on the morrow, Mike, who with his worn felt hat pressed flat upon his head, might give one the idea of a bottle with the cork driven in, stood for a moment in thought.

"I can take one trunk," he said, "the one ye will want the most tonight, and ye'd better have the others hauled over tomorrow with the boxes. Ye can both go in the wagon, if ye like. The seat can be pushed back, and I can sit on the trunk myself, or ye can hire a kerridge."

"Of course we will take a cab," said Ralph. "How far is it to Cobhurst?"

"Well, some says three miles, and some says four. It depends a good deal on the roads. They're pretty good today."

Having engaged the services of a country cabman, who declared that he had known Cobhurst ever since he was born, and having arranged for the transfer of their goods the next day, the Haverleys rattled out of the town.

"Now," said Miriam, "we are truly going home, and I do not remember ever doing that before. And, Ralph," she continued, after gazing right and left from the cab windows, "one of the first things we ought to do is to get a new man to take charge of the place. That person isn't fit. I never saw such slouchy clothes."

Ralph laughed. "I am the man who is to have charge of the place," he said. "What do you think of my clothes?"

Miriam gave a little pull at his hair for reply. "And there is another thing," she continued. "If that is our horse and wagon, don't you really think that we ought to sell them? They are awful."

"Don't be in a hurry," said Ralph. "We shall soon find out whether we own the horse or not. He may belong to the man. He's not a bad one, either. See, he is passing us now with that big trunk in the wagon."

"Passing us!" exclaimed Miriam. "Almost any horse could do that. Did you ever see such an old poke as we have, and such a bouncy, jolting rattletrap of a carriage? It squeaks all over."

"Alas," said Ralph, "I am thinking of something worse than jolts or squeaks. I am hungry, and I am sure you must be, and I don't see what we are going to do about supper. I am afraid I am not a very good manager, yet. I had an idea that Cobhurst was not so far from the station, and that we could go over and look at the house, and come back to a hotel and stay there for the night; but now I see it will be dark before we get there, and we shall not feel like turning round and going directly back. Perhaps it would be better to turn now."

"Turn back, when we are going to our home!" cried Miriam. "How can you think of such a thing, Ralph? And you needn't suppose that neither of us is a good manager. I am housekeeper now, and I did not forget that we shall need our supper. I have it all there in my bag, and I shall cook it as soon as we reach the house. Of course I knew that we could not expect anything to eat in a place with only a man to take care of it."

"What in the world have you?" asked Ralph, much amused.

"I have four breakfast rolls," she said, "six mutton chops, a package of ground coffee, another of tea, a pound of sugar, and a good big piece of gingerbread. I am sorry I couldn't bring any butter, but I was afraid that might melt in a warm car, and run over everything. As for milk, we shall have to make up our minds to do without that for one meal. I got up early this morning, and went out and bought all these things."

Ralph was on the point of saying, "What are we going to have for breakfast?" But he would not trouble his sister's mind with any such suggestions.

"You are a good little housewife," said he; "I wish we were there, and sitting down at the table-if there is any table."

"I have thought it all out," said Miriam, "if it is one of those large farm-houses, with a big kitchen, where the family eat and spend their evening, we shall eat there, too, this once. You shall build a fire, and I'll have the coffee made in no time. There must be a coffee-pot, or a tin cup, or something to boil in. The chops can be broiled over the coals."

"On what?" asked Ralph.

"You can get a pointed stick and toast them, if there is no other way, sir. And you need not make fun of my supper; the chops are very nice ones, and I have wrapped them up in oiled silk, so that they will not grease the other things."

"Oh, don't talk any more about them," exclaimed Ralph. "It makes me too dreadfully hungry."

"If it is a cottage," remarked Miriam, looking reflectively out of the window, "I cannot get it out of mind that there will be all sorts of kitchen things hanging around the old-fashioned fireplace. That would be very nice and convenient, but-"

"You hope it is not a cottage?" said her brother.

"Well," answered Miriam, presently, "home is home, and I made up my mind to be perfectly satisfied with it whatever kind of house it may be. It seems to me that a real home ought to be like parents and relations; we've got them, and we can't change them, and we never think of such a thing. We love them quite as they are. But I cannot help hoping, just a little, that it is not a cottage. The only ones I have ever been in smelt so much of soapsuds."

It was now quite dark, and the road appeared to be growing rougher. Every now and then they jolted over a big stone, or sunk into a deep rut. Ralph let down the front window.

"Are we nearly there?" he asked of the driver.

"Yes, sir," said the man; "we are on the place now."

"You don't mean," exclaimed Miriam, "that this is our road!"

"It's a good deal washed just here," said the man, "by the heavy rains."

Presently the road became smoother and in a few minutes the carriage stopped.

"I am trembling all over," said Miriam, "with thinking of being at home, and with not an idea of what it is like."

In a moment they were standing on a broad flagstone. Although it was dark, they could see the outline of the house before them.

"Ralph," whispered Miriam, drawing close to her brother, "it is not a cottage." Without waiting for a reply she went on: "Ralph," she said, her hands trembling as they held his arm, "it is lordly."

"I had some sort of an idea like that myself," he answered; "but, my dear, don't you think it will be well to keep this man until we go inside and see what sort of accommodations we shall find? Perhaps we may be obliged to go back to the town."

Miriam immediately began to ascend the broad steps of the piazza.

"Come on, Ralph," she said, "and please don't talk like that."

Her brother laughed, paid the driver and dismissed him.

"Now, little girl," he cried, "we have burned our ships, and must take what we shall find."

"Oh, Ralph," cried Miriam, "I couldn't have gone back. If there are floors to the rooms, they will do to sleep on for to-night."

At this moment a wide front door opened, revealing a colored woman holding a lamp.

"Good evenin'," said she; "walk in."

When Ralph and Miriam had entered, the woman looked out the open door.

"Is you all?" she asked.

"Oh, yes," said Ralph.

The woman hesitated a moment, looked out again, and then closed the door.

"Would you like to go to your rooms afore supper?" she asked.

The brother and sister were so absorbed in gazing about them, that they did not hear the question. The lamp, still in the woman's hand, gave a poor and vacillating light, but they could see a wide, long hall, tall doors opening on each side, some high-backed chairs, and other dark-colored furniture.

"Yer rooms is ready," continued the woman; "ye can take yer pick of them. Supper'll be on the table the minute ye come down. Ye'd better take this lamp, sir, and thar's another one in the upper hall. I expect ye two is brother and sister. Ye're alike as two pins of different sizes."

"You're right," said Ralph, holding up the lamp, and looking about him; "but please tell me, where are the stairs?"

"Oh, yer open that glass door right in front of ye," said the woman. "I'd go with yer, but I smell somethin' bilin' over now."

Opening the glass door, they saw before them a narrow staircase in two flights.

"Stairs shut up in a room of their own," said Ralph, as they ascended.

"Did you ever see anything like this before?"

"I never saw anything like anything before," said Miriam, in a low, reverent voice.

On the floor above they found another wide hall, and four or five open doors.

"There is your lamp," said Ralph to his sister; "take the first room you come to, and to-morrow we will pick and choose."

"Who would have thought," said Miriam, "that a woman-"

"Don't let us think or talk of her now," interrupted her brother. "To hurry down to supper is our present business."

When the two went downstairs, they found the colored woman standing by an open door in the rear of the hall.

"Supper's ready, sir," said she, and they entered the dining-room.

It was a large and rather sparely furnished room, but Miriam and Ralph took no note of anything except the table, which stood in the middle of the floor, lighted by a hanging lamp. It was a large table and arranged for eight people with chairs at every place. The woman gave a little laugh, as she said:-

"I reckon you all may think this is a pretty big table for two people, an' one not growed up, but you see I didn't know nothin' about the size of the family, an' Mike he didn't know nothin' either. I'm Phoebe, Mike's wife, an' I ain't got nothin' in the world to do with this house, for mostly I go out to service in the town, but I'm here now; and of course we didn't want you all to come an' find nothin' to eat, an' no beds made, an' as you didn't write no orders, sir, we had just to do the best we could accordin' to our own light

s. I reckoned there would be the gem'en and his wife, an' perhaps two growed-up sons, though Mike, he was doubtful about the growed-up sons, especially as to thar bein' two of them. Then I reckoned thar'd be a darter, just about your age, Miss, an' then there'd be two younger chillen, one a boy an' one a girl, an' a gov'ness for these two. Of course I didn't know whether the gov'ness was in the habit of eatin' at your table or not, but I reckoned that this time, comin' so late, you'd all eat at the same table, an' I put a plate an' a cheer for her. An' Mike went ter town, an' got groc'ries an' things enough for to-night and tomorrow, an' as everything was ready I just left everything as it was. I reckoned you wouldn't want ter wait until I'd sot the whole table over again."

"By no means," cried Ralph, and down they sat, Ralph at one end of the long table, and Miriam at the other. It was a good supper; beefsteak, an omelet, hot rolls, fried potatoes, coffee, tea, preserved fruit, and all on the scale suited to a family of eight.

When Phoebe had retired to the kitchen, presumably for additional supplies, Miriam stretched her arms over the table.

"Think of it, Ralph," she said, "this is our supper. The first meal we ever truly owned."

They had not been long at the table when they were startled by the loud ringing of the door-bell.

"'Pon my word," ejaculated Phoebe, "it's a long time since that bell's been rung," and getting down a plate of hotter biscuit, with which she had been offering temptations, she left the room. Presently she returned, ushering in Dr. Tolbridge.

Briefly introducing himself, the doctor welcomed the brother and sister to the neighborhood of Thorbury, and apologized for the extreme promptness of his call.

"I heard you had arrived," he said, "from a hackman I met on the road, and having made a visit near by I thought I would look in on you. It might be days before I should again have a chance. But don't let me disturb your supper; I beg that you will sit down again."

"And I beg you, sir," said Ralph, "to sit down with us."

"Well," said the doctor, smiling, "I am hungry, and my own supper-time is passed. You seem to have plenty of room for a guest."

"Oh, yes, indeed, sir," said Miriam, who had already taken a fancy to the doctor's genial face. "Phoebe thought we were a large family, and you can take the seat of one of the grown-up sons, or the daughter's chair, or the place that was intended for either the little boy or little girl, or perhaps you would like the governess' seat."

At this Phoebe turned her face to the wall and giggled.

"A fine imagination," said the doctor, "and what is better, a bountiful meal. Please consider me, for the present, the smallest boy, who might naturally be supposed to have the biggest appetite."

"It would have been funnier," said Miriam, gravely, "if you had been the governess."

The supper was a lively one; the three appetites were excellent; the doctor was in his jolliest mood, and Ralph and Miriam were delighted with him. On his part, he could not help looking upon it in the light of a joke-an agreeable one, however-that these two young people, one of them a mere child, should constitute the new Cobhurst family. He had known that the property had gone to an unmarried man who was in business, and had not thought of his coming here to live.

"And now," said the doctor, as they rose from the table, "I must go. My wife will call on you very soon, and in the meantime, what is there that I can do for you?"

"I think," answered Miriam, looking about her to see that Phoebe was not in the room, "that it would be very nice if you could get us a new man. We like the woman well enough, but the man is awful."

The doctor looked at her, astonished.

"Do you mean Mike?" he asked, "the faithful Mike, who has been in charge here ever since Mr. Butterwood took to travelling about for the good of his rheumatisms? Why, my dear young lady, the whole country looks upon Mike as a pattern man-of-all-work. He may be getting a little cranky and independent in his notions, for he has been pretty much his own master for years, but I am sure you could find no one to take his place who would be more trustworthy or so generally useful."

Ralph was about to explain that it was only the appearance of the man to which his sister objected, but she spoke for herself.

"Of course, we oughtn't always to judge people by their looks," she said, "but in my thoughts about our home, I never connected it with such a very shabby person. But then, if he is an old family servant, he may be the very kind of a man the place needs."

"Oh, I advise you to stick to Mike, by all means," said the doctor, "and to Phoebe, too, if she will stay with you. But I think she prefers the town to this somewhat secluded place."

"A good omen," said Ralph, as he closed the door after the doctor. "As a neighbor, I believe that man is at the head of his class, and I am very glad that he happened to be the first one who came to see us."

"Well," said Miriam, "we haven't seen the others yet, and I am glad that we don't know whether this doctor is homeopathic or allopathic, so that we can get started in liking him before we know whether we approve of his medicines or not."

"Upon my word," cried Ralph, "I never knew that you had opinions about the different medical schools. Did they teach you that sort of thing at Mrs. Stone's?"

"I suppose I can have opinions without having them taught to me, can't I?" she answered. "I saw a lot of sickness among the girls, and I am homeopathic."

"Stuff," exclaimed Ralph, "I don't believe you ever took any medicine in your life."

"I have not taken much," answered Miriam, "but I have taken enough to settle it in my mind that I am never going to take any more of the same sort."

"And they were not little sugar pills?"

"No, indeed they were not," said Miriam, very decidedly.

"I've made a fire in the parlor," said Phoebe, coming in, "if you all want to sit there afore you go to bed."

"I don't want to sit anywhere," cried Miriam, "and I am crazy to get a peep out of doors. Come on, Ralph, just for a minute."

Ralph followed her out on the piazza.

"It's awfully dark," said Miriam, "but if we walk carefully, I think we can get far enough away from the house to look up at it, and find out a little what it looks like."

They groped their way across the driveway, and on to the grass beyond.

"We can see a good deal of it against the sky!" exclaimed Miriam. "What tall pillars! It looks like a Greek temple in front. And from what I can make out, it's pretty much all front."

"I suppose it is a regular old-fashioned house," said her brother, "with a Grecian portico front, and perhaps another at the back. But you must come in now, for you have on neither hat nor wrap." And he took her by the hand.

"It isn't cold," said Miriam, "and oh, Ralph, look up at the stars. Those are our stars, every one of them."

Ralph laughed, as he led her into the house.

"Yes, indeed," she insisted, "we own all the way down, and all the way up."

"Now then," said Miriam, when they had closed the door behind them, "how shall we explore the house? Shall we each take a lamp, or will candles be better?"

"Little girl!" exclaimed her brother, "I had no idea that you were such a bunch of watch springs. It is nearly nine o'clock, and after the day's work that you have done, it is time you were in bed. House exploring can be done to-morrow."

"Yes, indeed, Miss," said Phoebe, who stood by, anxious to shut up the house and retire to her own domicile, "and I will go up into your room with you and show you about things."

Half an hour after this, Miriam came out of her bedroom, holding a bit of lighted candle in her hand. She was dressed, with the exception of her shoes. Softly she advanced to the foot of the stairs which led to the floor above.

"They are partly my stairs," she said to herself, as she paused for a moment at the bottom of the step. "Ralph told me that he considered the place as much mine as his, and I have a right to go up. I cannot go to sleep without seeing what is up here. I never imagined such a third floor as this one."

In less than a minute, Miriam was slowly creeping along the next floor of the house, which was indeed an odd one. For it was nothing more than a gallery, broader at the ends than the sides, with a railed open space, through which one could look down to the floor below. Some of the doors were open and she peeped into the rooms, but saw nothing which induced her to enter them. Having made the circuit of the gallery, she reached a narrow staircase which wound still higher upward.

"I must go up," she said; "I cannot help it."

Arrived at the top of these stairs, Miriam held up her candle and looked about her. She was in a great, wide, magnificent, glorious garret! Her soul swelled. To own such a garret was almost too much joy! It was the realization of a thousand dreams.

Slowly advancing, she beheld fascinations on every side. Here were old trunks, doubtless filled with family antiquities; there was a door fastened with a chain and a padlock-there must be a key to that, or the lock could be broken; in the dim light at the other end of the garret, she could see what appeared to be a piled-up collection of boxes, chests, cases, little and big, and all sorts of old-fashioned articles of use and ornament, doubtless every one of them a treasure. A long musket, its stock upon the floor, reclined against a little trunk covered with horse-hair, from under the lid of which protruded the ends of some dusty folded papers.

"Oh, how I wish Ralph were here, and that we had a lamp. I could spend the night here, looking at everything; but I can't do it now with this little candle end."

At her feet was a wooden box, the lid of which was evidently unfastened, for it lay at an angle across the top.

"I will look into this one box," she said, "and then I will go down."

She knelt down, and with the candle in her right hand, pushed aside the lid with her left. From the box there grinned at her a human skull, surrounded by its bones. She started back.

"Uncle Butterwood," she gasped and tried to rise, but her strength and senses left her, and she fell over unconscious, upon the floor. The candle dropped from her hand, and, fortunately, went out.

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