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The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 14105

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

"Judith Pacewalk," said Miss Panney, "was Matthias Butterwood's cousin. Before Matthias got rich and built this house, he lived with his Aunt Pacewalk on her farm. That was over at Pascalville, about thirty miles from here. He superintended the farm, and Judith and he were very good friends, although he never showed any signs of caring anything for her except in the way of a cousin; but she cared for him. There was no doubt about that. I lived in Pascalville, then, and used to be a great deal at their house, and it was as plain as daylight to me that Judith was in love with her cousin, although she was such a quiet girl that few people suspected it, and I know he did not.

"The Pacewalks were poor, and always had been; and it could not be expected that a man like Matthias Butterwood could stay long on that little farm. He had a sharp business head, and was a money-maker, and as soon as he was able he bought a farm of his own, and this is the farm; but there was no house on it then, except the little one that Mike now lives in. But Matthias had grand ideas about an estate, and in the course of five years he built this house and the great barn, and made a fine estate of it.

"When this was going on, he still lived with his Aunt Pacewalk. He did not want to go to his own house until everything was finished and ready. Of course, everybody supposed he would take a wife there, but he never said anything about that, and gave a sniff when the subject was mentioned. During the summer in which Cobhurst was finished-he named the place himself-he told his aunt that in the fall he was going there to live, and that he wanted her and Judith to come there and make him a visit of a month. He said he intended to have his relations visit him by turns, and that was the sort of family he would have. Now it struck me that if Judith went there and played her cards properly, she could stay there as mistress. Although she was a girl very much given to keeping her own counsel, I knew very well that she had something of the same idea.

"As I said before, the Pacewalks were poor, and although they lived well enough, money was scarce with them, and it was seldom that they were able to spend any of it for clothes. But about this time Judith came to me-I was visiting them at the time-and talked a little about herself, which was uncommon. She said that if she went to Matthias' fine new house, and sat at the head of his table,-and of course that would be her place there, as it was at her mother's table,-she thought that she ought to dress better than she did. 'I do not mean,' she said, 'that I want any fine clothes for company; but I ought to have something neat and proper for everyday wear, and I want you to help me to think of some way to buy it.' So we talked the matter over, and came to the conclusion that the best way to do was to try to gather teaberries enough to pay for the material for a chintz gown.

"In those days-I don't know how it is now-Pascalville was the greatest place for teaberries. They used them as a flavor for candy, ice-cream, puddings, cakes, and I don't know what else. They made summer drinks of it, and it was used as a perfume for home-made hair-washes and tooth-powder. So Judith and I and a girl named Dorcas Stone, who was a friend of ours, went to work gathering teaberries in the woods. We worked early and late, and got enough to trade off at the store for the ten yards of chintz with which that gown is made.

"As for the making of it, Judith and I did all that ourselves. Dorcas Stone might be willing enough to go with us to pick berries, but when she found what was to be bought with them, she drew out of the business. She was not a girl who was particularly sharp about seeing things herself, or keeping people from seeing through her; but she wanted to marry Matthias Butterwood, and when she found Judith was to have a new gown she would have nothing to do with it, which was a pity, for she was a very fine sewer, especially as to gathers.

"We cut the gown from some patterns we got from a magazine; I fitted it, and we both sewed. When it was done, and Judith tried it on, it was very pretty and becoming, and she looked better in it than in the gown she wore when she went to a party. When we had seen that everything was all right, Judith took off the dress, folded it up, and put it away in a drawer. 'Now,' said she, 'I shall not wear that until I go to Cobhurst.'

"Well, as everybody knows, houses are never finished at the time they are expected to be, and that was the way with this house, and as Matthias would not go into it until everything was quite ready, the moving was put off and put off until it began to be cold weather, and then he said he would not go into it until spring, for it would be uncomfortable to live in the new house in the winter.

"I was very sorry for this, for I thought that the sooner Judith got here the better her chance would be for staying here the rest of her life. Judith did not say much, but I am sure she was sorry too, and Matthias seemed a little out of spirits, as if he were getting a little tired of living with the Pacewalks, and wanted to be in his own house. I think he began to feel more like seeing people, and I know he visited the Stones a good deal.

"One day when I was at the Pacewalks' and we were sitting alone, he looked at me and my clothes, and then he said, 'I wish Judith cared more for clothes than she does. I do not mean getting herself up for high days and holidays, but her everyday clothes. I like a woman to wear neat and becoming things all the time.' 'I am sure,' I said, 'Judith's clothes are always very neat!'

"'If you mean clean,' he said, 'I will agree to that, but when the color is all washed out of a thing, or it is faded in streaks like that blue gown she wears, the wearing of it day after day is bound to make a person think that a young woman does not care how she looks to her own family, and I do not like young women not to care how they look to their families, especially when calico is only twelve cents a yard, and needles and thread cost almost nothing.' 'Matthias,' said I, 'I expect you have been to see Dorcas Stone, and are comparing her clothes with Judith's. Now, Dorcas' father is a well-to-do man, and Judith hasn't any father, and she does the best she can with the clothes she has.' 'It is not money I am talking about,' he said, 'it is disposition. If a young woman wants to look well in her own family, she will find some way to do it. At any rate, she could let it be seen that she is not satisfied to look like a dowdy.' And then he went away.

"This was the first time that Matthias had ever spoken to me about

Judith, and I knew just as well as if he had told me that it was Dorcas

Stone's clothes that had got him into that way of thinking.

"More than that, I knew he would never have taken the trouble to say that much about Judith if he had not been taking more interest in her than he ever had before. He was a practical, businesslik

e man, and I believed then, and I believe now, that he was looking for some one to be mistress of Cobhurst, and if Judith had suited his ideas of what such a woman ought to be, he would have preferred her to any one else. I think that was about as far as he was likely to go in such matters at that time, though of course if he had gotten a loving wife, he might have become a loving husband, for Matthias was a good fellow at bottom, though rather hard on top.

"When he had gone, I went straight upstairs to Judith, and said to her, if she knew what was good for her, she would get out that teaberry gown and put it on for supper, and wear it regularly at meals and at all times when it would be suitable as a house gown. 'I shall do nothing of the sort,' she said; 'I got it to wear when I go to Cobhurst, and I shall keep it until then. If I put it on now, it will be a poor-looking thing by spring.' I told her that was all nonsense, and she could wear that and get another in the spring, but she shook her head and was not to be moved. Now, I would have been glad enough to give her the stuff to make a new gown, but I had hinted at that sort of thing before, and did not intend to do it again, for she was a good deal prouder than she was poor. Nor could I think of telling her what Matthias had said, for not only was she very sensitive, and would have been hurt that he should have talked to me in that way about her, but she would not have consented to dress herself on purpose to please a man's fancy.

"I could not do anything more then, but I have always been a matchmaker, and I did not give up this match. I did everything I could to make Judith look well in the eyes of Matthias, and I said everything I could to make his eyes look favorably on her, but it was all of no use. Judith went to a Christmas party, and she wore a purple silk gown that had belonged to her mother. It was rather large for her, and a good deal heavier than anything she had been accustomed to wear, and she got very warm in the crowded room, and coming home in a sleigh, she caught cold, and died in less than a month.

"So you see, my dears, Judith Pacewalk never wore her teaberry gown, in which, I believe, she would have been mistress of Cobhurst. When her mother died, not long afterward, everything they owned went to Matthias and his brother Reuben. The Pacewalk farm was sold, and all the personal property of both brothers, including that disastrous box of bones, was brought here, where it is yet, I suppose; and so, my good young people, I imagine you will not wonder that I was surprised to see that pink gown again, having helped, as I did, with every seam, pleat, and gather of it. If you will look at it closely, you will see that there is good work on it, for Judith and I knew how to use our needles a good deal better than most ladies do nowadays."

Miriam now spoke with much promptness.

"I am ever so glad to hear that story, Miss Panney," she said, "and as that teaberry gown should have been worn by the mistress of Cobhurst, I intend to wear it myself, every day, as long as it lasts, and if it does not fit me, I can alter it."

Whether this remark, which was delivered with considerable spirit, was occasioned by the young girl's natural pride, or whether a little jealousy had been aroused by the evident satisfaction with which the old lady gazed at Dora, arrayed in this significant garment, Miss Panney could not know, but she took instant alarm. Nothing could be more fatal to her plans than to see the sister opposed to them. She had been delighted at the intimacy that had evidently sprung up between her and Dora, but she knew very well that if this sedate school-girl should resent any interference with her prerogatives, the intimacy would be in danger.

Miss Panney had no doubt that Dora and Ralph were on the right road, and would do very well if left to themselves, but she scarcely believed that the young man was yet sufficiently in love to brave the opposition of his sister, which would be all the more wild and unreasonable because she was yet a girl, and in a position of which she was very proud.

For Dora and Ralph to marry, Dora and Miriam should be the best of friends, so that both brother and sister should desire the alliance, and in furtherance of this happy result, Miss Panney determined to take Dora away with her. She had been at Cobhurst long enough to produce a desirable impression upon Ralph, and if she stayed longer, there was no knowing what might happen between her and Miriam. Dora, as well as the other, was high-spirited and young, and it was as likely as not that as she showed an inclination to continue to wear the teaberry gown, there would be a storm in which matrimonial schemes would be washed out of sight.

"Dora," said Miss Panney, "I am now going to drive to Thorbury, and it will be a great deal better for you to go with me than to wait for your brother, for it may be very late in the day before he can come for you. And more than that, it is ten to one that by this time he has forgotten all about you, especially if his office is full of clients. So please get yourself ready as soon as possible. And, Miriam, if you will come over to see me some morning, and bring that teaberry gown with you, I will alter it to fit you, and arrange it so that you can do the sewing yourself. It is very appropriate that the little lady of the house should wear that gown."

Into the minds of Dora and Miss Panney there came, simultaneously, this idea: that no matter how much or how often Miriam might wear that gown, she would not be the first one whom it had figuratively invested with the prerogatives of the mistress of Cobhurst.

Miss Bannister, who well knew her brother's habits, agreed to the old lady's suggestion, and it was well she did so, for when she got home, Herbert declared that he had been puzzling his mind to devise a plan for sending for his sister and the broken buggy on the same afternoon. As for going himself, it was impossible.

When Dora came downstairs arrayed in her proper costume, Ralph thought her a great deal prettier than when she wore the pink chintz. Miss Panney thought so, too, and she managed to leave them together, while she went with Miriam to get pen and paper with which to write a note to Molly Tooney.

"Molly cannot read," said the old lady, "but if Mike will take that to her, she will come to you and stay as long as you like," and then she went on to talk about the woman until she thought that Ralph and Dora had had about five minutes together, which she considered enough.

"You must both come and see me," cried Miss Bannister, as, leaning from the phaeton, she stretched out her hand to Miriam.

"Indeed we shall do so," said Ralph, and as his sister relinquished the hand of the visitor he took it himself.

Miss Panney was not one of those drivers who start off with a jerk. Had she been such a one, Miss Bannister might have been pulled against the side of the phaeton, for the grasp was cordial.

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