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   Chapter 22 A TRESPASS

The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 13769

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Having received permission to stop work at four o'clock on a beautiful summer afternoon, Cicely Drane put away her papers and walked rapidly home. She found her mother on Mrs. Brinkly's front piazza, fanning herself vigorously and watching some children, who, on the other side of the narrow street, were feeding a tethered goat with clippings from a newspaper.

After a few words to explain her early return, Cicely went up to her own room, and took from a drawer a little pocketbook, and opening it, examined the money contained therein. Apparently satisfied with the result, she went downstairs, wallet in hand.

"Mother," said she, "you must find it dreadfully hot and stupid here, and as this is a bit of a holiday, I intend we shall take a drive."

Mrs. Drane was about to offer some sort of economic objection, but before she could do so, Cicely was out of the little front yard, and hurrying toward the station, where there were always vehicles to be hired.

She engaged the man who had the best-looking horse, and in a little open phaeton, a good deal the worse for wear, she returned to her mother.

Andy Griffing, the driver, was a grizzled little man with twinkling eyes and a cheery air that seemed to indicate that an afternoon drive was as much a novelty and pleasure to him as it could possibly be to any two ladies; which was odd, considering that for the last forty years Andy had been almost constantly engaged in taking morning, afternoon, evening, and night drives.

The only direction given him by Cicely was to take them along the prettiest country roads that he knew of, and this suited him well, for he not only considered himself a good judge of scenery, but he knew which roads were easiest for his horse.

As they travelled leisurely along, the ladies enjoying the air, the fields, the sweet summer smells, the stretches of woods, the blue and white sky, and everything that goes to make a perfect summer afternoon. Andy endeavored to add to their pleasure by giving them information regarding the inhabitants of the various dwellings they passed.

"That whitish house back there among the trees," said he, "with the green blinds, is called the Witton place. The Wittons themselves are nuthin' out o' the common; but there's an old lady lives there with 'em, who if you ever meet, you'll know agin, if you see her agin. Her name's Panney,-Miss Panney,-and she's a one-er. What she don't know about me, I don't know, and what she won't know about you, three days after she gits acquainted with you, you don't know. That's the kind of a person Miss Panney is. There's a lot of very nice people, some rich and some poor, and some queer and some not quite so queer, that lives in and around Thorbury, and if you like it at Mrs. Brinkly's and conclude to stay there any length of time, I don't doubt you'll git acquainted with a good many of 'em; but take my word for it, you'll never meet anybody who can go ahead of Miss Panney in the way of turnin' up unexpected. I once had a sick hoss, who couldn't do much more than stand up, but I had to drive him one day, 'cause my other one was hired out. 'Now' says I, as I drew out the stable, 'if I can get around town this mornin' without meetin' Miss Panney, I think old Bob can do my work, and to-morrow I'll turn him out to grass.' And as I went around the first corner, there was Miss Panney a drivin' her roan mare. She pulled up when she seed me, and she calls out, 'Andy, what's the matter with that hoss?' I told her he was a little under the weather, but I had to use him that day, 'cause my other hoss was out. Then she got straight out of that phaeton she drives in, and come up to my hoss, and says she, 'Andy, you ought to be ashamed of yourself to make a hoss work when he is in a condition like that. Take him right back to your stable, or I'll have you up before a justice.' 'Now look here, Miss Panney,' says I, 'which is the best, for a hoss to jog a little round town when he ain't feeling quite well, or for a man to sit idle on his front doorstep and see his family starve?' 'Now, Andy,' says she, 'is that the case with you?' and havin' brought up the pint myself, I was obliged to say that it was. 'Very good, then,' said she, and she took her roan mare by the head and led it up to the curbstone. 'Now then,' said she, 'you can take your hoss out of the cab and put this hoss in, and you can drive her till your hoss gets well, and durin' that time I'll walk.'

"Well, of course I didn't do that, and I took my hoss back to the stable, and my family didn't starve nuther; but I just tell you this to show you what sort of a woman Miss Panney is."

"I should think she was a very estimable person," said Mrs. Drane.

"Oh, there's nothin' the matter with her estimation," said Andy. "That's level enough. I only told you that to show you how you can always expect her to turn up unexpected."

"Mrs. Brinkly spoke of Miss Panney," said Cicely; "she said that she was the first one to come and see her about rooms for us."

"That was certainly very kind," said Mrs. Drane, "considering that she does not know us at all, except through Dr. Tolbridge. I remember his speaking of her."

"That place over there," said Andy, "you can jest see the tops of the chimneys, that's called Cobhurst; that's where old Matthias Butterwood used to live. It was an awful big house for one man, but he was queer. There's nobody livin' there now but two young people, sort of temporary, I guess, though the place belongs to 'em. I don't think they are any too well off. They don't give us hack-drivers much custom, never havin' any friends comin' or goin', or trunks or anything. He's got no other business, they say, and don't know no more about farmin' than a potato knows about preachin'. There's nothin' on the place that amounts to anything except the barn. There's a wonderful barn there, that old Butterwood spent nobody knows how much money on, and he a bachelor. You can't see the barn from here, but I'll drive you where you can get a good look at it."

In a few minutes, he made a turn, and whipped up his horse to a better speed, and before Mrs. Drane and her daughter could comprehend the state of affairs, they were rolling over a not very well kept private road, and approaching the front of a house.

"Where are you going, driver?" exclaimed Mrs. Drane, leaning forward in astonishment.

Andy turned his beaming countenance upon her, and flourished his whip.

"Oh, I'm just goin' to drive round the side of the house," he said; "at the back there's a little knoll where we can stop, and you can see the whole of the barn with the three ways of gittin' into it, one for each story." At that moment they rolled past the front piazza on which were Miriam and Ralph, gazing at them in surprise. The latter had risen when he had heard the approaching carriage, supp

osing they were to have visitors. But as the vehicle passed the door he looked at his sister in amazement.

"It can't be," said he, "that those people have come to visit Mike?"

"Or Molly Tooney?" said Miriam.

As for Mrs. Drane and Cicely, they were shocked. They had never been in the habit of driving into private grounds for the sake of seeing what might be there to see, and Mrs. Drane sharply ordered the driver to stop.

"What do you mean," said she, "by bringing us in here?"

"Oh, that's nuthin'," said Andy, with a genial grin; "they won't mind your comin' in to look at the barn. I've druv lots of people in here to look at that barn, though, to be sure, not since these young people has been livin' here, but they won't mind it an eighth of an inch."

"I shall get out and apologize," said Mrs. Drane, "for this shameful intrusion, and then you must drive us out of the grounds immediately. We do not wish to stop to look at anything," and with this she stepped from the little phaeton and walked back to the piazza.

Stopping at the bottom of the steps, she saluted the brother and sister, whose faces showed that they were in need of some sort of explanation of her arrival at their domestic threshold.

In a few words she explained how the carriage had happened to enter the grounds, and hoped that they would consider that the impropriety was due entirely to the driver, and not to any desire on their part to intrude themselves on private property for the sake of sight-seeing. Ralph and Miriam were both pleased with the words and manner of this exceedingly pleasant-looking lady.

"I beg that you will not consider at all that you have intruded," said

Ralph. "If there is anything on our place that you would care to look at,

I hope that you will do so."

"It was only the barn," said Mrs. Drane, with a smile. "The man told us it was a peculiar building, but I supposed we could see it without entering your place. We will trespass no longer."

Ralph went down the steps, and Miriam followed.

"Oh, you are perfectly welcome to look at the barn as much as you wish to," he said. "In fact, we are rather proud to find that this is anything of a show place. If the other lady will alight, I will be pleased to have you walk into the barn. The door of the upper floor is open, and there is a very fine view from the back."

Mrs. Drane smiled.

"You are very good indeed," she said, "to treat intrusive strangers with such kindness, but I shall be glad to have you know that we are not mere tourists. We are, at present, residents of Thorbury. I am Mrs. Drane, and my daughter is engaged in assisting Dr. Tolbridge in some literary work."

"If you are friends of Dr. Tolbridge," said Ralph, "you are more than welcome to see whatever there is to see on this place. The doctor is one of our best friends. If you like, I will show you the barn, and perhaps my sister will come with us."

Miriam, who for a week or more had been beset by the very unusual desire that she would like to see somebody and speak to somebody who did not live at Cobhurst, willingly agreed to assist in escorting the strangers, and Cicely having joined the group, they all walked toward the barn.

There were no self-introductions, Ralph merely acting as cicerone, and Miriam bringing up the rear in the character of occasional commentator. Mrs. Drane had accepted the young gentleman's invitation because she felt that the most polite thing to do under the circumstances was to gratify his courteous desire to put them at their ease, and, being a lover of fine scenery, she was well rewarded by the view from the great window.

The pride of possession began to glow a little within Ralph as he pointed out the features of this castle-like barn. Mrs. Drane agreed to his proposition to descend to the second floor. But as these two were going down the broad stairway, Cicely drew back, and suddenly turning, addressed Miriam.

"I have been wanting to ask a great many questions," she said, "but I have felt ashamed to do it. I have nearly always lived in the country, but I know hardly anything about barns and cows and stables and hay and all that. Do the hens lay their eggs up there in your hay?"

Miriam smiled gravely.

"It is very hard to find out," she said, "where they do lay their eggs. Some days we do not get any at all, though I suppose they lay them, just the same. There is a henhouse, but they never go in there."

Cicely moved toward the stairway, and then she stopped; she cast her eyes toward the mass of hay in the mow above, and then she gave a little sigh. Miriam looked at her and understood her perfectly, moreover she pitied her.

"How is it," said she as they went down the stairs, "that you lived in the country, and do not know about country things?"

"We lived in suburbs," she said. "I think suburbs are horrible; they are neither one thing nor the other. We had a lawn and shade trees, and a croquet ground, and a tennis court, but we bought our milk and eggs and most of our vegetables. There isn't any real country in all that, you know. I was never in a haymow in my life. All I know about that sort of thing is from books."

When, with many thanks for the courtesies offered them, Mrs. Drane and her daughter had driven away, Miriam sat by herself on the piazza and thought. She had a good deal of time, now, to think, for Molly Tooney was a far more efficient servant than Phoebe had been, and although her brother gave her as much of his time as he could, she was of necessity left a good deal to herself.

She began by thinking what an exceedingly gentlemanly man her brother was; in his ordinary working clothes he had been as much at his ease with those ladies as though he had been dressed in a city costume, which, however, would not have been nearly so becoming to him as his loose flannel shirt and broad straw hat. She then began to regret that her mind worked so slowly. If it had been quicker to act, she would have asked that young lady to come some day and go up in the haymow with her. It would be a positive charity to give a girl with longings, such as she saw that one had, a chance of knowing what real country life was. It would be pleasant to show things to a girl who really wanted to know about them. From this she began to think of Dora Bannister. Dora was a nice girl, but Miriam could not think of her as one to whom she could show or tell very much; Dora liked to do the showing and telling herself.

"I truly believe," said Miriam to herself, and a slight flush came on her face, "that if she could have done it, she would have liked to stay here a week, and wear the teaberry gown all the time and direct everything,-although, of course, I would never have allowed that." With a little contraction of the brows, she went into the hall, where she heard her brother's step.

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