Mary Louise in the Country eBook: Page2

L. Frank Baum (2007)


  The tiny town, however, was not all that belonged to the Cragg'sCrossing settlement. Barely a quarter of a mile away from the village astream with beautifully wooded banks ran diagonally through thecountryside. It was called a "river" by the natives, but it was more ofa creek; halfway between a small rivulet and a brook, perhaps. But itsbanks afforded desirable places for summer residences, several of whichhad been built by well-to-do families, either retired farmers or citypeople who wished for a cool and quiet place in which to pass thesummer months.

  These residences, all having ample grounds and facing the creek oneither side, were sufficiently scattered to be secluded, and it was toone of the most imposing of these that Uncle Eben guided theautomobile. He crossed the creek on a primitive but substantial bridge,turned to the right, and the first driveway led to the house that wasto be Mary Louise's temporary home.

  "This is lovely!" exclaimed the girl, as they rolled up a winding driveedged by trees and shrubbery, and finally drew up before the entranceof a low and rambling but quite modern house. There was Aunt Polly, herround black face all smiles, standing on the veranda to greet them, andMary Louise sprang from the car first to hug the old servant--UncleEben's spouse--and then to run in to investigate the establishment,which seemed much finer than she had dared to imagine it.

  The main building was of two stories, but the wings, several of whichjutted out in various directions, were one story in height, somewhat onthe bungalow plan. There was a good-sized stable in connection--nowused as a garage--and down among the oaks toward the river an openpavilion had been built. All the open spaces were filled with flowersand ferns, in beds and borders, and graveled paths led here and therein a very enticing way. But the house was now the chief fascination andthe other details Mary Louise gleaned by sundry glances from openwindows as she rambled from room to room.

  At luncheon, which Aunt Polly served as soon as her young mistresscould be coaxed from her tour of inspection, the girl said:

  "Gran'pa Jim, who owns this place?"

  "A Mrs. Joselyn," he replied.

  "A young woman?"

  "I believe so. It was built by her mother, a Mrs. Kenton, some fifteenyears ago, and is still called 'the Kenton Place.' Mrs. Kenton died andher daughter, who married a city man named Joselyn, has used it as asummer home until this year. I think Mrs. Joselyn is a woman ofconsiderable means."

  "The furnishings prove that," said Mary Louise. "They're not all in thebest of taste, but they are plentiful and meant to be luxurious. Whydoesn't Mrs. Joselyn occupy her home this summer? And why, if she iswealthy, does she rent the place?"

  "Those are problems I am unable to solve, my dear," replied the Colonelwith a smile. "When old man Cragg, who is the nearest approach to areal estate agent in the village, told me the place was for rent, Iinquired the price and contracted to lease it for the summer. Thatsatisfied me, Mary Louise, but if you wish to inquire into the historyand antecedents of the Kenton and Joselyn families, I have no doubtthere are plenty of village gossips who can fill your ears full of it."

  "Dar's one thing I foun' out, seh," remarked Uncle Eben, who alwaysserved at table and was not too diffident to join in the conversationof his betters, at times; "dis Joselyn man done dis'pear--er run away--er dig out, somehow--an' he missus is mos' plumb crazy 'bout it."

  "When did that happen?" asked Mary Louise.

  "'Bout Chris'mas time, de stoahkeepah say. Nobody don't like him downheah, 'cause he put on a 'strord'nary 'mount o' airs an' didn't mix widde town people, nohow. De stoahkeepeh t'inks Marse Joselyn amcrooked-like an' done squandeh a lot o' he wife's money befoh he went."

  "Perhaps," said Mary Louise musingly, "that is why the poor woman isglad to rent this house. I wish, however, we had gotten it for a morepleasant reason."

  "Don't pay attention to Eben's chatter, my dear," advised hergrandfather. "His authority seems to be the ancient storekeeper, whom Isaw but once and didn't fancy. He looks like an old owl, in those big,horn-rimmed spectacles."

  "Dat stoahkeepeh ain' no owl, Kun'l," asserted Uncle Eben earnestly."He done know all dey is to know 'roun' dese diggin's, an' a lot moah,too. An' a owl is a mighty wise bird, Kun'l, ef I do say it, an' nodisrespec'; so what dat stoahkeepeh say I's boun' to take notice of."

  Mary Louise spent the afternoon in examining her new possession and"getting settled." For--wonder of wonders!--Joe Brennan arrived withthe trunks at three o'clock, some nine hours before the limit ofmidnight. The Colonel, as he paid the man, congratulated him on makingsuch good time.

  "Ya-as," drawled Joe; "I done pretty well, considerin'. But if I hadn'thired out by the day I'd sure be'n a loser. I've be'n a good ten hoursgoin' fer them trunks, fer I started at five this mornin'; so, if I'dtooken a doller fer the job, I'd only made ten cents a hour, my pricebein' twenty-five. But, as it is," he added with pride, "I git myreg'lar rate of a dollar 'n' a quarter a day."

  "Proving that it pays to drive a bargain," commented the Colonel.

  Mary Louise unpacked Gran'pa Jim's trunk first and put his room in"apple-pie order," as Aunt Polly admiringly asserted. Then she settledher own pretty room, held a conference with her servants about themeals and supplies, and found it was then time to dress for dinner. Shewas not yet old enough to find household duties a bore, so theafternoon had been delightfully spent.

  Early after breakfast the next morning, however, Mary Louise startedout to explore the grounds of her domain. The day was full of sunshineand the air laden with fragrance of flowers--a typical May morning.Gran'pa Jim would, of course, read for an hour or two and smoke hispipe; he drew a chair upon the broad veranda for this very purpose; butthe girl had the true pioneer spirit of discovery and wanted to knowexactly what her five acres contained.

  The water was doubtless the prime attraction in such a neighborhood.Mary Louise made straight for the river bank and found the shallowstream--here scarce fifty feet in width--rippling along over its stonybed, which was a full fifty feet wider than the volume of water thenrequired. When the spring freshets were on perhaps the stream reachedits banks, but in the summer months it was usually subdued as now. Thebanks were four feet or more above the rabble of stones below, andclose to the bank, facing the river on her side, Mrs. Kenton had builta pretty pavilion with ample seats and room for half a dozen wickerchairs and a table, where one could sit and overlook the water. MaryLouise fervently blessed the old lady for this idea and at once seatedherself in the pavilion while she examined at leisure the scene spreadout before her.

  Trees hid all the neighboring residences but one. Just across the riverand not far from its bank stood a small, weather-beaten cottage thatwas in sharp contrast with the rather imposing Kenton residenceopposite. It was not well kept, nor even picturesque. The grounds wereunattractive. A woodpile stood in the front yard; the steps leading tothe little porch had rotted away and had been replaced by a plank--rather unsafe unless one climbed it carefully, Mary Louise thought.There were time-worn shades to the windows, but no curtains. A pane ofglass had been broken in the dormer window and replaced by a foldednewspaper tacked over it. Beside the porch door stood a washtub onedge; a few scraggly looking chickens wandered through the yard; if notan abode of poverty it was surely a place where careless indifferenceto either beauty or the comfort of orderly living prevailed.

  So much Mary Louise had observed, wondering why Mrs. Kenton had notbought the cottage and torn it down, since it was a blot on thesurrounding landscape, when she saw the door open and a man come out.She gave a little gasp of astonishment as her eyes followed this man,who slowly took the path to the bridge, from whence the road led intothe village.