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   Chapter 30 A CONFIDENTIAL ANNOUNCEMENT

The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 17506

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Having finished her visit of ceremony, Miss Panney asked permission of Miriam to see Molly Tooney. That woman was, in a measure, her protégé, and she had some little business with her. Declining to have the cook sent for, Miss Panney descended to the kitchen.

She had not talked with Molly more than five minutes, and had not approached the real subject of the interview, which concerned the social relations between the Haverleys and the Dranes, when the Irishwoman lifted up her hands, and opened wide her eyes.

"The Saints an' the Sinners!" she exclaimed, "if here isn't that auld drab of a sausage, that cook of the docther's, a comin' here again to tell me how to cook for them Dranes. Bad luck to them, they don't pay me nothin', an' only give me trouble."

Miss Panney turned quickly, and through the window she saw La Fleur approaching the kitchen door.

"She comes here to tell you how to cook for those people?" said Miss

Panney, quickly.

"Indade she does, an' it's none of her business, nather, the meddlin' auld porpoise."

"Molly," said Miss Panney, "go away and leave me here. I want to talk to this woman."

"Which is more than I do," said the cook, and straightway departed to the floor above.

La Fleur had come to see Mrs. Drane, but perceiving Miss Panney's phaeton at the door, she had concluded that there was company in the house, and had consequently betaken herself to the kitchen to make inquiries. When she found there Miss Panney, instead of Molly Tooney, La Fleur was surprised, but pleased, for she remembered the old lady as one who appreciated good cookery and a good cook.

"How do you do, La Fleur," said Miss Panney. "I am glad to see you. I suppose you still keep up your old interest in Mrs. Drane and her daughter. Do you often find time to come out here to see them?"

"Not often, madam, but sometimes. I can always find time for what I really want to do. If I like to be away for an hour or two, I'll sit up late the night before, long after midnight sometimes, planning the meals and the courses for the next day, and when I go away, I leave everything so that I can take it right up, the minute I get back, and lose nothing in time or in any other way."

"It is only a born chef who could do that," said Miss Panney, "and it is very pleasant to see your affection for your former employers. Do you suppose that they will remain here much longer?"

"Remain!" exclaimed La Fleur; "they've never said a word to me, madam, about going away, and I don't believe they have thought of it. I am sure I haven't."

Miss Panney shook her head.

"It's none of my business," she said, "but I've lived a long time in this world, and that gives me a right to speak my mind to people who haven't lived so long. It may have been all very well for the Dranes to have come here for a little vacation of a week or ten days, but to stay on and on is not the proper thing at all, and if you really have a regard for them, La Fleur, I think it is your duty to make them understand this. You might not care to speak plainly, of course, but you can easily make them perceive the situation, without offending them, or saying anything which an old servant might not say, in a case like this."

"But, madam," said La Fleur, "what's to hinder their stopping here? There's no spot on earth that could suit them better, to my way of thinking."

"La Fleur," said Miss Panney, regarding the other with moderate severity, "you ought to know that when people see a young woman like Miss Drane brought to live in a house with a handsome young gentleman, who, to all intents and purposes, is keeping a bachelor's hall,-for that girl upstairs is entirely too young to be considered a mistress of a house,-and when they know that the young lady's mother is a lady in impoverished circumstances, the people are bound to say, when they talk, that that young woman was brought here on purpose to catch the master of the house, and I don't think, La Fleur, that you would like to hear that said of Mrs. Drane."

As she listened, the bodily eyes of La Fleur were contracted until they were almost shut, but her mental eyes opened wider and wider. She suspected that there was something back of Miss Panney's words.

"If I heard anybody say that, madam, meaning it, I don't think they would care to say it to me again. But leaving out all that and looking at the matter with my lights, it does seem to me that if Mr. Haverley wanted a mistress for his house, and felt inclined to marry Miss Cicely Drane, he couldn't make a better choice."

"Choice!" repeated Miss Panney, sarcastically. "He has no choice to make. That is settled, and that is the very reason why people will talk the more and sharper, and nothing you can say, Madam Jane La Fleur, will stop them. Not only does this look like a scheme to marry Mr. Haverley to a girl who can bring him nothing, but to break off a most advantageous match with a lady who, in social position, wealth, and in every way, stands second to no one in this county."

"And who may that be, please?" asked La Fleur.

Miss Panney hesitated. It would be a bold thing to give the answer that was on her tongue, but she was no coward, and this was a crisis of importance. A proper impression made upon this woman might be productive of more good results than if made upon any one else.

"It is Miss Dora Bannister," she said, "and of course you know all about the Bannister family. I tell you this, because I consider that, under the circumstances, you ought to know it, but I expect you to mention it to no one, for the matter has not been formally announced. Now, I am sure that a woman of your sense can easily see what the friends of Mr. Haverley, who know all about the state of affairs, will think and say when they see Mrs. Drane's attempt to get for her daughter what rightfully belongs to another person."

If it had appeared to the mind of La Fleur that it was a dreadful thing to get for one's daughter a lifelong advantage which happened to belong to another, she might have greatly resented this imputation against Mrs. Drane. But as she should not have hesitated to try and obtain said advantage, if there was any chance of doing it, the imputation lost force. She did not, therefore, get angry, but merely asked, wishing to get as deep into the matter as possible, "And then it is all settled that he's to marry Miss Bannister?"

"Everything is not yet arranged, of course," said Miss Panney, speaking rapidly, for she heard approaching footsteps, "and you are not to say anything about all this or mention me in connection with it. I only spoke to you for the sake of the Dranes. It is your duty to get them away from here."

She had scarcely finished speaking when Miriam entered the kitchen. La Fleur had never seen her before, for on her previous visit it had been Ralph who had given her permission to interview Molly Tooney, and she regarded her with great interest. La Fleur's long years of service had given her many opportunities of studying the characters of mistresses, in high life as well as middle life, but never had she seen a mistress like this school-girl, with her hair hanging down her back.

Miriam advanced toward La Fleur.

"My cook told me that you were here, and I came down, thinking that you might want to see me."

"This is Madam La Fleur," interpolated Miss Panney, "the celebrated chef who cooks for Dr. Tolbridge. She came, I think, to see Mrs. Drane."

"Not altogether. Oh, no, indeed," said La Fleur, humbly smiling and bowing, with her eyes downcast and her head on one side. "I wished, very much, also, to pay my respects to Miss Haverley. I am only a cook, and I am much obliged to this good lady-Miss Panic, I think is the name-"

"Panney," sharply interpolated the old lady.

"Beg pardon, I am sure, Miss Panney-for what she has said about me; but when I come to pay my respects to Mrs. Drane, I wish to do the same to the lady of the house."

There was a gravity and sedateness in Miriam's countenance, which was not at all school-girlish, and which pleased La Fleur; in her eyes it gave the girl an air of distinction.

"I am glad to see you," said Miriam, and turned to Miss Panney, as if wondering at that lady's continued stay in the kitchen. Miss Panney understood the look.

"I am getting points from La Fleur, my dear," she said, "cooking points,-you ought to do that. She can give you the most wonderful information about things you ought to know. Now, La Fleur, as you want to see Mrs. Drane, and it is time I had started for home, it will be well for us to go upstairs and leave the kitchen to Molly Tooney."

Miss Panney was half way up the stairs when La Fleur detained Miriam b

y a touch on the arm.

"I will give you all the points you want, my dear young lady," she said. "You have brains, and that is the great thing needful in overseeing cooking. And I will come some day on purpose to tell you how the dishes that your brother likes, and you like, ought to be cooked to make them delicious, and you shall be able to tell any one how they should be done, and understand what is the matter with them if they are not done properly. All this the lady of the house ought to know, and I can tell you anything you ask me, for there is nothing about cooking that I do not thoroughly understand; but I will not go upstairs now, and I will not detain you from your visitor. I will take a turn in the grounds, and when the lady has gone, I will ask leave to speak with Mrs. Drane."

With her head on one side, and her smile and her bow, La Fleur left the kitchen by the outer door. She stepped quickly toward the barn, looking right and left as she walked. She wished very much to see Mike, and presently she had that pleasure. He had just come out of the barnyard, and was closing the gate. She hurried toward him, for, although somewhat porpoise-built, she was vigorous and could walk fast.

"I am so pleased to see you, Michael," she said. "I have brought you something which I think you will like," and, opening a black bag which she carried on her arm, she produced a package wrapped in brown paper.

"This," she said, opening the wrapping, "is a pie-a veal and 'am pie-such as you would not be likely to find in this country, unless you got me to make it for you. I baked it early this morning, intending to come here, and being sure you would like it; and you needn't have any scruples about taking it. I bought everything in it with my own money. I always do that when I cook little dishes for people I like."

The pie had been brought as a present for Mrs. Drane, but, feeling that it was highly necessary to propitiate the only person on the place who might be of use to her, La Fleur decided to give the pie to Mike.

The face of the colored man beamed with pleasure.

"Veal and ham. Them two things ought to go together fust rate, though I've never eat 'em in that way. An' in a pie, too; that looks mighty good. An' how do ye eat it, Mrs.-'scuse me, ma'am, but I never can rightly git hold of yer name."

"No wonder, no wonder," said the other; "it is a French name. My second husband was a Frenchman. A great cook, Michael,-a Frenchman. But the English of the name is flower, and you can call me Mrs. Flower. You can surely remember that, Michael."

Mike grinned widely.

"Oh, yes indeed, ma'am," said he; "no trouble 'bout that, 'specially when

I think what pie crust is made of, an' that you's a cook."

"Oh, it isn't that kind of flower," said La Fleur, laughing; "but it doesn't matter a bit,-it sounds the same. And now, Michael, you must warm this and eat it for your dinner. Have you a fire in your house?"

"I can make one in no time," said Mike. "Then you think I'd better not let the cook warm it for me?"

"You are quite right," said La Fleur. "I don't believe she's half as good a cook as you are, Michael, for I've heard that all colored people have a knack that way; and like as not she'd burn it to a crisp."

Wrapping up the pie and handing it to the delighted negro, La Fleur proceeded to business, for she felt she had no time to lose.

"And how are you getting on, Michael?" said she. "I suppose everybody is very busy preparing for the master's wedding."

"The what!" exclaimed Mike, his eyebrows elevating themselves to such a degree that his hat rose.

"Mr. Haverley's marriage with Miss Dora Bannister. Isn't that to take place very soon, Michael?"

Mike put his pie on the post of the barn gate, took off his hat, and wiped his brow with his shirt-sleeve.

"Bless my evarlastin' soul, Mrs. Flower! who on this earth told you that?"

"Is it then such a great secret? Miss Panney told it to me not twenty minutes ago."

Mike put on his hat; he took his pie from the post, and held it, first in one hand and then in the other. He seemed unable to express what he thought.

"Look a here, Mrs. Flower," he said presently, "she told you that, did she?"

"She really did," was the answer.

"Well, then," said Mike, "the long an' the short of it is, she lies. 'Tain't the fust time that old Miss Panney has done that sort of thing. She comes to me one day, more than six year ago, an' says, 'Mike,' says she, 'why don't you marry Phoebe Moxley?' ''Cause I don't want to marry her, nor nobody else,' says I. 'But you ought to,' said she, 'for she's a good woman an' a nice washer an' ironer, an' you'd do well together.' 'Don't want no washin' nor ironin', nor no Phoebe, neither,' says I. But she didn't mind nothin' what I said, an' goes an' tells everybody that me an' Phoebe was goin' to be married; an' then it was we did git married, jest to stop people talkin' so much about it, an' now look at us. Me never so much as gittin' a bite of corn-bread, an' she a boardin' the minister! Jes' you take my word for it, Mrs. Flower, old Miss Panney wants Miss Dora to marry him, an' she's goin' about tellin' people, thinkin' that after a while they'll do it jes' 'cause everybody 'spects them to."

"But don't you think they intend to marry, Mike?" forgetting to address him by his full name.

Mike was about to strike the pie in his right hand with his left, in order to give emphasis to his words, but he refrained in time.

"Don't believe one cussed word of it," said he. "Mr. Haverley ain't the man to do that sort of thing without makin' some of his 'rangements p'int that way, an' none of his 'rangements do p'int that way. If he'd been goin' to git married, he'd told me, you bet, an' we'd laid out the farm work more suitable for a weddin' than it is laid out. I ain't goin' to believe no word about no weddin' till I git it from somebody better nor Miss Panney. If he was goin' to marry anybody, he'd be more like to marry that purty little Miss Drane. She's right here on the spot, an' she ain't pizen proud like them Bannisters. She's as nice as cake, an' not stuck up a bit. Bless my soul! She don't know one thing about nothin'."

"You're very much mistaken, Michael," exclaimed La Fleur. "She is very well educated, and has been sent to the best schools."

"Oh, I don't mean school larnin'," said Mike; "I mean 'bout cows an' chickens. She'll come here when I'm milkin', an' ask me things about the critters an' craps that I knowed when I was a baby. I reckon she's the kind of a lady that knows all about what's in her line, an' don't know nothin' 'bout what's not in her line. That's the kind of young lady I like. No spyin' around to see what's been did, an' what's hain't been did. I've lived with them Bannisters."

La Fleur gazed reflectively upon the ground.

"I never thought of it before," she said, "but Miss Cicely would make a very good wife for a gentleman like Mr. Haverley. But that's neither here nor there, and none of our business, Michael. But if you hear anything more about this marriage between Mr. Haverley and Miss Bannister, I wish you'd come and tell me. I've had a deal of curiosity to know if that old lady's been trying to make a fool of me. It isn't of any consequence, but it is natural to have a curiosity about such things, and I shall be very thankful to you if you will bring me any news that you may get. And when you come, Michael, you may be sure that you will not go away hungry, be it daytime or night."

"Oh, I'll come along, you bet," said Mike, "an' I am much obleeged to you, Mrs. Flower, for this here pie."

When the good cook had gone to speak with Mrs. Drane, Mike repaired to the woodshed, where, picking up an axe, he stood for some moments regarding a short, knotty log on end in front of him. His blood flowed angrily.

"Marry that there Bannister girl," he said to himself. "A pretty piece of business if that family was to come here with their money an' their come-up-ence. They'd turn everythin' upside down on this place. No use for ramshackle farmin' they'd have, an' no use for me, nuther, with their top boots an' stovepipe hats."

Mike had been discharged from the Bannisters' service because of his unwillingness to pay any attention to his personal appearance.

"If that durned Miss Panney," he continued, "keeps on tellin' that to the people, things will be a cussed sight worse than me a livin' here without decent vittles, an' Phoebe a boardin' that minister that ain't paid no board yit. Blast them all, I say." And with that he lifted up his axe and brought it down on the end of the upturned log with such force that it split into two jagged portions.

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