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The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 15247

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

When Miss Panney had driven herself away from Cobhurst and Dr. Tolbridge's cook had finished her conference with Mrs. Drane and had gone out to the barn to look for her carriage, Miriam Haverley was left with an impression upon her mind. This was to the effect that there was a good deal of managing and directing going on in the house with which she had nothing to do.

Miss Panney went into her kitchen to talk to Molly Tooney, and when she did not want to talk to her any more she sent her upstairs, in order that she might talk to Dr. Tolbridge's cook, which latter person had come into her kitchen, as Molly had informed her after La Fleur's departure, for the purpose of finding fault with the family cooking. Whether or not the old woman had felt herself called upon to instruct Mike in regard to his duty, she did not know, but when Miriam went into the orchard for some apples, she had seen her talking to him at the barn gate, and when she came out again, she saw her there still. Even Ralph took a little too much on himself, though of course he did not mean anything by it, but he had told Molly Tooney that she ought to have breakfast sooner in order that Miss Drane and he might get more promptly to their work. While considering her impression, Molly Tooney came to Miriam, her face red.

"What do you think, miss," said she, "that old bundle of a cook that was here this mornin' has been doin'? She's been bringin' cauld vittles from the docther's kitchen to that nager Mike, as if you an' Mr. Haverley didn't give him enough to eat. I looked in at his winder, a wonderin' what he wanted wid a fire in summer time, an' saw him heatin' the stuff. It's an insult to me an' the family, miss, that's what it is." And the irate woman rested her knuckles on her hips.

Miriam's face turned a little pink.

"I will inquire about that, Molly," she said, and her impression became a conviction.

Toward the close of the afternoon, Miriam went up to her room, and spreading out on the bed the teaberry gown of Judith Pacewalk, she stood looking at it. She intended to put on that gown and wear it. But it did not fit her. It needed all sorts of alterations, and how to make these she did not know; sewing and its kindred arts had not been taught in the schools to which she had been sent. It is true that Miss Panney had promised to cut and fit this gown for her, but Miriam did not wish Miss Panney to have anything to do with it. That old lady seemed entirely too willing to have to do with her affairs.

While Miriam thus cogitated, Cicely Drane passed the open door of her room, and seeing the queer old-fashioned dress upon the bed, she stopped, and asked what it was. Miriam told the whole story of Judith Pacewalk, which greatly interested Cicely, and then she stated her desire to alter the dress so that she could wear it. But she said nothing about her purpose in doing this. She was growing very fond of Cicely, but she did not feel that she knew her well enough to entirely open her heart to her, and tell her of her fears and aspirations in regard to her position in the home so dear to her.

"Wear it, my dear?" exclaimed Cicely. "Why, of course I would. You may not have thought of it, but since you have told me that story, it seems to me that the fitness of things demands that you should wear that gown. As to the fitness of the dress itself, I'll help you about that. I can cut, sew, and do all that sort of thing, and together we will make a lovely gown of it for you. I do not think we ought to change the style and fashion of it, but we can make it smaller without making it anything but the delightful old-timey gown that it is. And then let me tell you another thing, dear Miriam: you must really put up your hair. You will never be treated with proper respect by your cook until you do that. Mother and I have been talking about this, and thought that perhaps we ought to mention it to you, because you would not be likely to think of it yourself, but we thought we had no right to be giving you advice, and so said nothing. But now I have spoken of it, and how angry are you?"

"Not a bit," answered Miriam; "and I shall put up my hair, if you will show me how to do it."

So long as the Dranes admitted that they had no right to give her advice, Miriam was willing that they should give her as much as they pleased.

For several days Cicely and Miriam cut and stitched and fitted and took in and let out, and one morning Miriam came down to breakfast attired in the pink chintz gown, its skirt touching the floor, and with her long brown hair tastefully done up in a knot upon her head.

"What a fine young woman has my little sister grown into!" exclaimed Ralph. "To look at you, Miriam, it seems as if years must have passed since yesterday. That is the pink dress that Dora Bannister wore when she was here, isn't it?"

This remark irritated Miriam a little; Ralph saw the irritation, and was sorry that he had made the remark. It was surprising how easily Miriam was irritated by references to Dora.

"I lent it once," said his sister, as she took her seat at the table, "but I shall not do it again."

That day Mike was interviewed in regard to what might be called his foreign maintenance. The ingenuous negro was amazed. His Irish and his African temperaments struggled together for expression.

"Bless my soul, Miss Miriam," he said; "nobody in this world ever brought me nuthin' to eat, 'cause they know'd I didn't need it, an' gittin' the best of livin' right here in your house, Miss Miriam, an' if they had brought it I wouldn't have took it an' swallowed the family pride; an' what's more, the doctor's cook didn't bring that pie on purpose for me. She just comed down here to ax me how to make real good corn-cakes, knowin' that I was a fust-rate cook, an' could make corn-cakes, an' she wanted to know how to do it. When I tole her jes' how to do it,-ash-cakes, griddle-cakes, batter-cake, every kin' of cake,-she was so mighty obligated that she took a little bit of a pie, made of meat, out of the bag what she'd brought along to eat on the way home, not feelin' hungry at lunch time, an' give it to me. An' not wantin' to hurt her feelin's, I jes' took it, an' when I went to my house I het it an' eat it, an' bless your soul, Miss Miriam, it did taste good; for that there woman in the kitchen don't give me half enough to eat, an' never no corn-bread an' ham fat, which is mighty cheap, Miss Miriam, an' a long sight better for a workin' pusson than crusts of wheat bread a week old an'-"

"You don't mean to say," interrupted Miriam, "that Molly does not give you enough to eat? I'll speak to her about that. She ought to be ashamed of herself."

"Now look here, Miss Miriam," said Mike, speaking more earnestly, "don't you go an' do that. If you tell her that, she'll go an' make me the biggest corn-pone anybody ever seed, an' she'll put pizen into it. Oh, it'd never do to say anythin' like that to Molly Tooney, if she's got me to feed. Jes' let me tell you, Miss Miriam, don't you say nothin' to Molly Tooney 'bout me. I never could sleep at night if I thought she was stirrin' up pizen in my vittles. But I tell you, Miss Miriam, if you was to say Molly, that you an' Mr. Haverley liked corn-cakes an' was always used to 'em before you come here, an' that they 'greed with you, then in course she'd make 'em, an' there'd be a lot left over for me, for I don't 'spect you all could eat the corn-bread she'd make, but I'd eat it, bein' so powerful hungry for corn-meal."

"Mike," said Miriam, "you shall have corn-bread, but that

is all nonsense about Molly. I do not see how you could get such a notion into your head."

Mike gave himself a shrug.

"Now look a here, Miss Miriam," he said; "I've heard before of red-headed cooks, an' colored pussons as wasn't satisfied with their victuals, an' nobody knows what they died of, an' the funerals was mighty slim, an' no 'count, the friends an' congregation thinkin' there might be somethin' 'tagious. Them red-headed kind of cooks is mighty dangerous, Miss Miriam, an' lemme tell you, the sooner you git rid of them, the better."

Miriam's previous experiences had brought her very little into contact with negroes, and although she did not care very much about what Mike was saying, it interested her to hear him talk. His intonations and manner of expressing himself pleased her fancy. She could imagine herself in the sunny South, talking to an old family servant. This fancy was novel and pleasant. Mike liked to talk, and was shrewd enough to see that Miriam liked to listen to him. He determined to take advantage of this opportunity to find out something in regard to the doleful news brought to him by La Fleur and which, he feared, might be founded upon fact.

"Now look here, Miss Miriam," said he, lowering his voice a little, but not enough to make him seem disrespectfully confidential, "what you want is a first-class colored cook-not Phoebe, she's no good cook, an' won't live in the country, an' is so mighty stuck up that she don't like nuthin' but wheat bread, an' ain't no 'count anyway. But I got a sister, Miss Miriam. She's a number one, fust-class cook, knows all the northen an' southen an' easten an' westen kind of cookin', an' she's only got two chillun, what could keep in the house all day long an' not trouble nobody, 'side bringin' kindlin' an' runnin' errands; an' the husband, he's dead, an' that's a good sight better, Miss Miriam, than havin' him hangin' round, eatin' his meals here, an' bein' no use, 'cause he had rheumatism all over him, 'cept on his appetite."

This suggestion pleased Miriam; here was a chance for another old family servant.

"I think I should like to have your sister, Mike," she said; "what is her name? Is she working for anybody now?"

"Her name is Seraphina-Seraphina Paddock. Paddock was his name. She's keepin' house now, an' takin' in washin', down to Bridgeport. I reckon she's like to come here an' live, mighty well."

"I wish you'd tell her to come and see me," said Miriam. "I think it would be a very good thing for us to have a colored cook."

"Mighty good thing. There ain't nothin' better than a colored cook; but jus' let me tell you, Miss Miriam, my sister's mighty particular 'bout goin' to places an' takin' her family, an' furniture, an' settin' herself up to live when she don't know whether things is fixed an' settled there, or whether the fust thing she knows is she's got to pull up stakes an' git out agin."

"I am sure everything is fixed and settled here," said Miriam, in surprise.

"Well, now look a here, Miss Miriam," said Mike, "'spose you was clean growed up, an' you're near that now, as anybody can see, an' you was goin' to git married to somebody, or 'spose Mr. Haverley was goin' to git married to somebody, why don' you see you'd go way with your husband, an' your brother he'd come here with his new wife, an' everything would be turned over an' sot upside down, an' then Seraphina, she'd have to git up an' git, for there'd sure to be a new kin' of cook wanted or else none, an' Seraphina, she'd fin' her house down to Bridgeport rented to somebody who had gone way without payin' the rent, an' had been splittin' kindlin' on the front steps an' hacking 'em all up, and white-washin' the kitchen what she papered last winter to hide the grease spots what they made through living like pigs, an' Seraphina, she can't stand nothing like that."

Miriam burst out laughing.

"Mike," she cried, "nobody is going to get married here."

Mike's eyes glistened.

"That so, sure?" he said. "You see, Miss Miriam, you an' your brother is both so 'tractive, that I sort o' 'sposed you might be thinkin' of gittin' married, an' if that was so, I couldn't go to Seraphina, an' git her to come here when things wasn't fixed an' settled."

"If that is all that would keep your sister from coming," said Miriam, "she need not trouble herself."

"Now look a here, Miss Miriam," said Mike, quickly, "of course everything in this world depends on sarcumstances, an' if it happened that Mr. Hav'ley was the one to git married, an' he was to take some lady that was livin' here anyway an' was used to the place, an' the ways of the house, an' didn't want to go anywheres else an' wanted to stay here an' not to chance nothin' an' have the same people workin' as worked before, like Miss Drane, say, with her mother livin' here jes' the same, an' you keepin' house jes' as you is now, an' all goin' on without no upsottin', of course Seraphina, she wouldn't mind that. She'd like mighty well to come, whether your brother was married or not; but supposin' he married a lady like Miss Dora Bannister. Bless my soul, Miss Miriam, everything in this place would be turned heels up an' heads down, an' there wouldn't be no colored pussons wanted in this 'stablishment, Seraphina nor me nuther, an' I reckon you wouldn't know the place in six months, Miss Miriam, with that Miss Dora runnin' it, an' old Miss Panney with her fingers in the pie, an' nobody can't help her doin' that when Miss Dora is concerned, an' you kin see for yourself, Miss Miriam, that Seraphina, an' me, too, is bound to be bounced if it was to come to that."

"I will talk to you again about your sister," said Miriam, and she went away, amused.

Mike was delighted.

"It's all a cussed old lie, jes' as I thought it wuz," said he to himself; "an' that old Miss Panney'll fin' them young uns is harder nuts to crack than me an' Phoebe wuz. I got in some good licks fur dat purty Miss Cicely, too."

Miriam's amusement gradually faded away as she approached the house. At first it had seemed funny to hear any one talk about Ralph or herself getting married, but now it did not appear so funny. On the contrary, that part of Mike's remarks which concerned Ralph and Dora was positively depressing. Suppose such a thing were really to happen; it would be dreadful. She had thought her brother overfond of Dora's society, but the matter had never appeared to her in the serious aspect in which she saw it now.

She had intended to find Ralph, and speak to him about Mike's sister; but now she changed her mind. She was wearing the teaberry gown, and she would attend to her own affairs as mistress of the house. If Ralph could be so cruel as to marry Dora, and put her at the head of everything,-and if she were here at all, she would want to be at the head of everything,-then she, Miriam, would take off the teaberry gown, and lock it up in the old trunk.

"But can it be possible," she asked herself, as a tear or two began to show themselves in her eyes, "that Ralph could be so cruel as that?"

As she reached the door of the house, Cicely Drane was coming out. Involuntarily Miriam threw her arms around her and folded her close to the teaberry gown.

Miriam was not in the habit of giving away to outbursts of this sort, and as she released Cicely she said with a little apologetic blush,-

"It is so nice to have you here. I feel as if you ought not ever to go away."

"I am sure I do not want to go, dear," said Cicely, with the smile of good-fellowship that always went to the heart of Miriam.

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