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   Chapter 18 BLARNEY FLUFF

The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 14721

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


About three o'clock that afternoon, La Fleur, Mrs. Tolbridge's cook, sat in the middle of her very pleasant kitchen, composing the dinner. Had she been the chef of a princely mansion, she could not have given the subject more earnest nor intelligent consideration. It is true the materials at hand were not those from which a dinner for princes would have been prepared. But what she had was sufficient for the occasion, and this repast for a country gentleman in moderate circumstances and his wife was planned with conscientiousness as well as skill. From the first she had known very well that it would be fatal to her pretensions to prepare for the Tolbridges an expensive and luxurious meal, but she had determined that they should never sit down to any but a good one.

Her soup had been determined upon and was off her mind, and she had prepared that morning, from some residuary viands, which would have been wasted had she not used them in this way, the little entree which was to follow. Her filet, which the butcher had that morning declared he never separated from the contiguous portions for any one, but had very soon afterward cut out for her, lay in the refrigerator, awaiting her pleasure and convenience. The vegetables had been chosen, and her thoughts were now intent upon a "sweet" which should harmonize with the other courses.

On a chair, by the door opening into the garden, sat George, the doctor's man, who was coachman, groom, and gardener, and who, having picked a basket of peas, had been requested to shell them. By an open window, Amanda, the chambermaid, was extracting the stones from a little dish of olives.

George was working rapidly and a little impatiently.

"Madam," said he, "do you want all these peas shelled?"

La Fleur turned and looked at him with a pleasant smile.

"I want enough to surround my filet, but whether you shell enough for us to have any, depends entirely on your good will, George."

"Of course I'll shell as many as you want," said he, "but I've got a lot to do this afternoon. There is the phaeton to be washed, that I don't want the doctor to come home and find muddy yet; and I ought to have done it this morning, madam, when I was walking about the garden with you, a tellin' you what I had and a hearin' what I ought to have."

"I was so glad to have you go with me, and show me everything," said La Fleur, "because I do not yet exactly understand American gardens. It is such a nice garden, too, and you do not know how pleased I was, after you left me and I was coming to the house, to see that fine bed of aubergines. When will any of them be ripe, do you think, George?"

The man looked up in surprise.

"There is nothing of that sort in my garden," said he. "I never heard of them."

"Oh, yes, you have," said La Fleur, "you call them egg-plants. You see, I am learning your American names for things. And now, Amanda, if you have finished the olives I'll get you to make a fine powder of those things which I have put into the mortar. Thump and grind them well with the pestle; they are to make the stuffing for the olives."

"But, madam, what is to become of the sewing Mrs. Tolbridge wants me to do? I have only hemmed two of the dozen napkins she gave me to do day before yesterday."

"Now, Amanda," said La Fleur, "you ought to know very well, that without a meal on the table, napkins are of no use. You might have the meals without napkins, but it wouldn't work the other way. And I am sure those napkins are not to be used for a week, or perhaps several weeks, and this dinner must be eaten to-day. So you can see for yourself-"

At this moment there was a knock at the inner door of the kitchen.

"Who can that be!" exclaimed La Fleur. "Come in."

The door opened, and Miss Panney entered the kitchen. La Fleur rose from her seat, and for a moment the two elderly women stood and looked at each other.

"And this is La Fleur," said Miss Panney; "Mrs. Tolbridge has been talking about you, and I asked her to let me come in and see you. I want to speak to you for a few minutes, and I will sit down here. Don't you stand up."

La Fleur liked people to come and talk to her, provided they were the right sort of people, and came in the right way. Miss Panney's salutation pleased her; she had a respect for people who showed a proper recognition of differences of position. If Miss Panney had been brought into the kitchen by Mrs. Tolbridge and in a manner introduced to La Fleur, the latter would have regarded her as something of an equal, and would not have respected her. Had the old lady accosted her in a supercilious manner, La Fleur would have disliked her, even if she had supposed she were a person to be respected. But Miss Panney had filled all the requirements necessary for the cook's favorable opinion. In the few words she had spoken, she had shown that she was a friend of the mistress of the house; that she had heard interesting things of the cook, and therefore wished to see her; that she knew this cook was a woman of sense, who understood what was befitting to her position, and would therefore stand when talking to a lady, and, moreover, in consequence of the fact that this cook was superior to her class, she would waive the privileges of her class, and request the cook to sit, while talking to her. To have waived this privilege without first indicating that she knew La Fleur would acknowledge her possession of it, would have been damaging to Miss Panney.

Upon the features of La Fleur, which were inclined to be bulbous, there now appeared a smile, which was very different from that with which she encouraged and soothed her conscripted assistants. It was a smile that showed that she was pleasurably honored, and it was accompanied by a slight bow and a downward glance. Then turning to the man and the maid, she told them in a low voice that they might go, a permission of which they instantly availed themselves.

Miss Panney now sat down, and La Fleur, pushing her chair a little away from the table, availed herself of the permission to do likewise.

"I have eaten some of your cooking, La Fleur," said Miss Panney, "and I liked it so much that I wished to ask you something about it. For one thing, where did you get that recipe for that delicious ice, flavored with raspberry?"

The cook smiled with a new smile-one of genuine pleasure.

"To make that ice," she answered, "one must have more than a recipe: one must be educated. Tolati, my first husband, invented that ice, and no chef in Europe could make it but himself. But he taught me, and I make it for Dr. and Mrs. Tolbridge. It has a quality of cream, though there is no cream in it."

"I never tasted anything of the kind so good," said Miss Panney, "and I am a judge, for I have lived long and eaten meals prepared by the best cooks."

"French, perhaps," said La Fleur.

"Oh, yes," was the reply, "and those of other nations. I have travelled."

"I could see that," said La Fleur, "by your appreciation of my work. French cooking is the best in the world, and if you have an English cook to do it, then there is nothing more to be desired. It is like the French china, with the English designs, which they make now. I once visited their works, and was very proud of my countrymen."

"The conceited old body," thought Miss P

anney; but she said, "Very true, very true. It is delightful to me to think that my friends here have a cook who can prepare meals which are truly fit, not only to nourish the body without doing it any harm, but to gratify the most intelligent taste. I have noticed, La Fleur, that there is always something about your dishes that pleases the eye as well as the palate. When we say that cooking is thoroughly wholesome, delicious, and artistic, we can say no more."

"You do me proud," said La Fleur, "and I hope, madam, that you may eat many a meal of my cooking. I want to say this, too: I could not cook for Dr. and Mrs. Tolbridge as I do, if I did not feel that they appreciate my work. I know they do, and so I am encouraged to do my best."

"Not only does the doctor appreciate you," said Miss Panney, "but his health depends upon you. He is a man who is peculiarly sensitive to bad cooking. I have known him all his life, and known him well. He was getting in a bad way, La Fleur, when you came here, and you are already making a new man of him."

"I like to hear that," said La Fleur. "I have a high opinion of Dr. Tolbridge. I know what he is and what he needs. I often sit up late at night, thinking of things that will be good for him, and which he will like. We all work here: every one of the household is industrious, but the doctor and I are the only ones who must work with our brains. The others simply work with their bodies and hands."

Miss Panney fixed her black eyes on the bulbous-faced cook.

"The word conceit," she thought, "is imbecile in this case."

"I am glad you are both so well able to do it," she said aloud. "And you like it here? The place suits you?"

"Oh, yes, madam," replied La Fleur; "it suits me very well. It is not what I am accustomed to, but I gave up all that of my own accord. Life in great houses has its advantages and its pleasures, and its ambitions, too; but I am getting on in years, and I am tired of the worry and bustle of large households. I came to this country to visit my relatives, and to rest and enjoy myself; but I soon found that I could not live without cooking. You might as well expect Dr. Tolbridge to live without reading."

"That is very true, La Fleur," said Miss Panney; "and it seems to me that you are in the very home where you can spend the rest of your days most profitably to others, and most happily to yourself. And yet I hear that you are considering the possibility of not staying here."

"Yes," answered La Fleur, "I am considering that; but it is not because I am dissatisfied with anything here. It is altogether a different question. I am very much attached to the family I first lived with in this country. They are in trouble now, and I think they may need me. If they do, I shall go to them. I have quite settled all that in my mind. I am now waiting for an answer to a letter I have written to Mrs. Drane."

"La Fleur," said Miss Panney, "if you leave Dr. Tolbridge, I think it will be a great mistake; and, although I do not want to hurt your feelings, I feel bound to say that it will be almost a crime."

The cook's face assumed an expression of firmness.

"All that may be," she said, "but it makes no difference. If they need me, I shall go to them."

"But cannot somebody else be found to go to them? You are not as necessary there as you are here, nor so highly prized. They let you go of their own accord."

"No one else will go to them for nothing," said La Fleur, "and I shall do that."

Miss Panney sat with her brows knit.

"If the Dranes have become poor," she said presently, "it is natural that you should want to help them; but it may not be at all necessary that you should go to them. In fact, by doing that, you might embarrass them very much. There are only two of them, I believe,-mother and daughter. Do they do anything to support themselves?"

"Miss Cicely is trying to get a situation as teacher. If she can do that, she can support her mother. At present they are doing nothing, and I fear have nothing to live on. I know my going to them would not embarrass them. I can help them in ways you do not think of."

"La Fleur," said Miss Panney, "your feelings are highly honorable to you, but you are not going about this business in the right way. I have heard of the Drane family, and know what sort of people they are. They would not have you work for them for nothing, and perhaps buy with your own money the food you cook. What should be done is to help them to help themselves. If Miss Drane wishes a position as teacher, one should be got for her."

"That is out of my line," said La Fleur, shaking her head, "out of my line. I can cook for them, but I can't help them to be teachers."

"But perhaps I can, and I am going to try. What you have told me encourages me very much. To get a position as teacher for Miss Drane ought to be easy enough. To get Dr. Tolbridge a cook who could take your place would be impossible."

La Fleur smiled. "I believe that," she said.

"Now what I do is for the sake of the doctor," continued Miss Panney. "I do not know the Dranes personally, but I have no objection to benefit them if I can. But for the sake of a friend whom I have known all his days, I wish to keep you in this kitchen. I am not afraid to say this to you, because I know you are not a person who would take advantage of the opinion in which you are held, to make demands upon the family which they could not satisfy."

"You need not say anything about that, madam," replied La Fleur. "Nobody can tell me anything about my work and value which I did not know before, and as for my salary, I fixed that myself, and there shall be no change."

Miss Panney rose. "La Fleur," she said, "I am very glad I came here to talk to you. I did not suppose that I should meet with such a sensible woman, and I shall ask a favor of you; please do not take any steps in this matter without consulting me. I am going to work immediately to see what I can do for Miss Drane, and if I succeed it will be far better for her and her mother than if you went to them. Don't you see that?"

"Yes," said La Fleur, "that is reasonable enough, but I must admit that I should like to see them."

Miss Panney ignored the latter remark.

"Now do not forget, La Fleur," she said, "to send me word when you get a letter, and then I may write to Miss Drane, but I shall go to work for her immediately. And now I will leave you to go on with your dinner. I shall dine here to-day, and I shall enjoy the meal so much better because I know the chef who prepared it."

La Fleur resumed her seat and the consideration of her "sweet."

"She is a wheedling old body," she said to herself, "but I suppose I ought to give her something extra for that speech."

The next morning Mrs. Tolbridge came into the kitchen. "La Fleur," said she, "what is the name of that delicious dessert you gave us last night?"

The cook sighed. "She will always call the 'sweet' a dessert," she thought; and then she answered, "That was Blarney Fluff, ma'am, with sauce Irlandaise."

Mrs. Tolbridge laughed. "Whatever is its name," she said, "we all thought it was the sweetest and softest, most delightful thing of the kind we had ever tasted. Miss Panney was particularly pleased with it."

"I hoped she would be," said La Fleur.

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