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The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 13008

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Cobhurst never looked more lovely than in the early June of the following year. With the beauty of the trees, the grass, the flowers, the vines, and all things natural, it possessed the added attractiveness of a certain personal equation. To all the happy dwellers therein, the dear old house appeared like one in which good people had always lived. Although they used to think that it was as charming as could be, they now perceived that the old mansion and all its surroundings had shown strong evidences of that system of management which Mike called ramshackle. No one said a word against any of the changes that Ralph had made, for in spite of them Cobhurst was still Cobhurst.

On a bench under a tree by the side of the house sat La Fleur, shelling some early spring peas, a tin basin of which she held in her lap. Mrs. Drane, in a rustic chair near by, was sewing, and Miriam, who had come laden with blossoms from the orchard, had stopped in the pleasant shade. Mike, absolutely picturesque in a broad new straw hat, was out in the sunshine raking some grass he had cut, and Seraphina, who remained in the household as general assistant, could be seen through the open window of the kitchen.

"As I told you before, madam," said La Fleur, "I don't think you need feel the least fear about the young horses. Their master has a steady hand, and they know his voice, and as for Mrs. Haverley, she's no more afraid of them than if they were two sheep. As they drove off this afternoon, I had a feeling as if I were living with some of those great families in the old country in whose service I have been. For, said I to myself, 'Here is the young master of the house, actually going to drive out with his handsome wife and his spirited horses, and that in the very middle of the working day, and without the prospect of making a penny of profit.' You don't see that often in this country, except, perhaps, among the very, very rich who don't have to work. But it is a good sign when a gentleman like Mr. Haverley sets such an upper-toned example to his fellow young men.

"I spoke of that to Dr. Tolbridge once. 'Begging your pardon, sir,' said I, 'it seems to me that you never drive out except when you have to.' 'Which is true,' said he, 'because I have to do it so much.' 'You will excuse me, sir, for saying so,' said I, 'but if you did things for pleasure sometimes, your mind would be rested, and you would feel more like comprehending the deliciousness of some of my special dishes, which I notice you now and again say nothing about, because you are so hungry when you eat them, you don't notice their savoriness.'"

"La Fleur," said Mrs. Drane, "I am surprised that you should have spoken to the doctor in that way."

"Oh, I have a mind," said La Fleur, "and I must speak it. My mind is like a young horse-if I don't use it, it gets out of condition; and I don't fear to speak to the doctor. He has brains, and he knows I have brains, and he understands me. He said something like that when I left him, and I am sure I never could have had a night's rest since if I hadn't put a good woman there in my place. With what Mary Woodyard knows already, and with me to pop in on her whenever I can coax Michael to drive me to town, the doctor should never have need for any of his own medicines, so far as digestion goes."

"Don't you think," interpolated Miriam, "that there is a great deal more said and done about eating than the subject is worth?"

Mrs. Drane looked a little anxiously at La Fleur, but the cook did not in the least resent the remark.

"You are young yet, Miss Miriam," she said; "but when you are older, you will think more of the higher branches of education, the very topmost of which is cookery. But it's not only young people, but a good many older ones, and some of them of high station, too, who think that cooking is not a fit matter for the intellect to work on. When I lived with Lady Hartleberry, she said over and over to my lord, and me too, that she objected to the art works I sent up to the table, because she said that the human soul ought to have something better to do than to give itself up to the preparation of dishes that were no better to sustain the body than if they had been as plain as a pike-staff. But I didn't mind her; and everything that Tolati or La Fleur ever taught me, and everything I invented for myself, I did in that house. My lady was an awfully serious woman, and very particular about public worship: and on Sunday morning she used to send the butler around to every servant with a little book, and in that he put down what church each one was going to, and at what time of day they would go. But when he came to me, I always said, 'La Fleur goes to church when she likes and where she chooses.' And the butler, being a man of brains, set down any church and time that happened to suit his fancy, and my lady was never the wiser; and if I felt like going to church, I went, and if I didn't, I didn't. But when the family went to their seat in Scotland, they did not take their butler with them, and the piper was sent round on Sunday morning to find out about the servants going to church. And when he came to me, I said the same thing I had always said, and do you know that pink-headed Scotchman put it down in the book and carried it to my lady. And when she read it, she was in a great rage, to be sure, and sent for me and wanted to know what I meant by such a message. Then I told her I meant no offence by it, and that I didn't think the idiot would put it down, but that I was too old to change my ways, and that if her ladyship wasn't willing that I should keep on in them, she would have to dismiss me. And then I curtsied and left her; and my lord, when he heard of it, got a new piper. 'For,' said he, 'a fool's a dangerous thing to have in the house,' and I stayed on two years. So you see, Miss Miriam, that we are getting to the point,-even my strait-laced lady made her opinions about church-going give way before high art in her cook. For, as much as she might say against my creations and compositions, she had gotten so used to 'em, she couldn't do without 'em."

"Well," said Miriam, "I suppose when the time comes I do not like everything as I do now, I shall care more for some things. But I mustn't sit here; I must go up to my sewing."

"Miriam!" exclaimed Mrs. Drane, "what on earth are you working at? Shutting yourself up, day after day, in your room, and at hours, too, when everyth

ing is so pleasant outside. Cannot you bring out here what you are doing?"

"No," said Miriam, "because it is a secret; but it is nearly finished, and as I shall have to tell you about it very soon, I may as well do it now: I have been altering Judith Pacewalk's teaberry gown for Cicely. It was altered once for me, and that makes it all the harder to make it fit her now. I am not very good at that sort of thing, and so it has taken me a long time. I expected to have it ready for her when she came back from the wedding trip, but I could not do it. I shall finish it to-day, however, and to-morrow I am going to invest her with it. She is now the head of the house, and it is she who should wear the teaberry gown. Don't tell her, please, until to-morrow; I thought it would be nice to have a little ceremony about it, and in that case I shall have to have some one to help me."

"It is very good of you, my dear," said Mrs. Drane, "to think of such a thing, and Cicely and your brother will be delighted, I know, to find out what you think of this change of administration. Ralph said to me the other day that he was afraid you were not altogether happy in yielding your place to another. He had noticed that you had gotten into the habit of going off by yourself."

Miriam laughed.

"Just wait until he hears the beautiful speech I am going to make to-morrow, and then he will see what a wise fellow he is."

"Mrs. Drane! Miss Miriam!" exclaimed La Fleur, her face beginning to glow with emotion; "let me help to make this a grand occasion. Let me get up a beautiful lunch. There isn't much time, it is true, but I can do it. I'll make Michael drive me to town early in the morning, and I'll have everything ready in time. A dinner would be all very well, but a luncheon gives so much better chance to the imagination and the intellect. There're some things you have to have at a dinner, but at a lunch there is nothing you are obliged to have, and nothing you may not have if you want it. And if you don't mind, I'd like you to ask old Miss Panney. I've been a good deal at odds with her since I have known her, but I'm satisfied now, and if there is anything I can do to make her satisfied, I'm more than ready. Besides, when I do get up anything extraordinary in the way of a meal, I like to have people at the table who can appreciate it. And as for that, I haven't met anybody in this country who is as well grounded in good eating as that old lady is."

Her proposition gladly agreed to, La Fleur rose to a high heaven of excited delight. She had had no chance to show her skill in a wedding breakfast, for the young couple had been married very quietly in Pennsylvania, and she was now elated with the idea of exhibiting her highest abilities in an Investiture Luncheon.

She handed the basin of peas through the open window to Seraphina, and retired to her room, to study, to plan, and to revel in flights of epicurean fancy.

"Mike," said Seraphina to her brother, who was now raking the grass near the kitchen window, "did you hear dat ar ole cook a talkin' jes' now?"

"No," said Mike, "I hain't got no time to harken to people talkin', 'cept they're talkin' to me, an' it 'pends on who they is whether I listens then or not."

"That fool thinks she made this world," said Seraphina. "I've been thinkin' she had some notion like dat. She do put on such a'rs."

"Git out," said Mike. "You never heard her say nothing like that."

"I didn't hear all she said," replied the colored woman, "but I heard more'n 'nough, an' I heard her talkin' about her creation. Her creation indeed! I'll let her know one thing; she didn't make me."

"Now look a here, Seraphiny," said Mike; "the more you shet up now, now you's in the prime of life, the gooder you'll feel when you gits old. An' so long as Mrs. Flower makes them thar three-inch-deep pies for me, I don't care who she thinks she made, an' who she thinks she didn't make. Thar now, that's my opinion."

* * * * *

The Investiture Luncheon, at which the Tolbridges and Miss Panney were present, was truly a grand and beautiful affair, to which Dora would certainly have been invited had she not been absent on her bridal trip with Mr. Ames. Seldom had La Fleur or either of her husbands prepared for prince, ambassador, or titled gourmand a meal which better satisfied the loftiest outreaches of the soul in the truest interests of the palate.

Cicely appeared in the teaberry gown, and if the spirit of Judith Pacewalk hovered o'er the scene, and allowed its gaze to wander from the charming bride, over the happy faces of the rest of the company, to the half-open door of the dining-room, where shone the radiant face of the proudest cook in the world, it must have been as well satisfied with the fate of the pink garment as it could possibly expect to be.

It was late in the afternoon when the luncheon party broke up, and although Miss Panney was the last guest to leave, she did not go home, but drove herself to Thorbury, and tied her roan mare in front of the office of Mr. Herbert Bannister. When the young lawyer looked up and perceived his visitor, he heaved a sigh, for he had expected in a few moments to lock up his desk, and stop, on his way home, at the house of his lady love. But the presence of Miss Panney at his office meant business, and business with her meant a protracted session. Miss Panney did not notice the sigh, and if she had, it would not have affected her. Her soul had been satisfied this day, and no trifle could disturb her serenity.

"Now what I want," said she, after a good deal of prefatory remark, "is for you to give me my will. I want to alter it."

"But, madam," said young Bannister, when he had heard the alterations desired by Miss Panney, "is not this a little quixotic? Excuse me for saying so. Mr. Haverley is not even related to you, and you are bestowing upon him-"

"Herbert Bannister," said the old lady, "if you were your father instead of yourself, you would know that this young man ought to have been my grandson. He isn't; but I choose to consider him as such, and as such I shall leave him what will make him a worthy lord of Cobhurst. Bring me the new will as soon as it is ready and bring also the old one, with all the papers I have given you, from time to time, regarding the disposition of my property. I shall burn them, every one, and although it may set the Wittons' chimney on fire the conflagration will make me happy."


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