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- Spring Days - 2/56 -


"For goodness' sake, cook, go back to your kitchen; put that dreadful pair of boots under your apron."

"No, miss; I'll be revenged. He has insulted me."

"You can't be revenged now, cook; you see he has shut himself in; you had better go back to your kitchen."

The groom, who was washing the carriage, stood, mop in hand, grinning, appreciating the discomfiture of the coachman, who was paying the penalty of his joke.

"Cook, if you don't go back to your kitchen instantly, I'll give you notice. It is shameful--think what a scandal you are making in the stable-yard. Go back to your kitchen--I order you. It is half-past six, go and attend to your master's dinner."

"He has insulted me, he has insulted me. I'll have your blood!" she cried, battering at the door. The rattling of chains was heard as the horses turned their heads.

"Put those boots under your apron, cook; go back to your kitchen, do as I tell you."

The woman retreated, Maggie following. At intervals there were stoppages, and cook re-stated her desire to have the coachman's blood. Maggie did not attempt to argue with her, but sternly repeated her order to go back to her kitchen, and to conceal the old boots under her apron.

"What business had he to rummage in my box, interfering with my things; he put them all along the kitchen table; he did it because I told you, miss, that he was carrying on with the kitchenmaid. He goes with her every evening into the wood shed, and a married man, too! I wouldn't be his poor wife."

"Go back to your kitchen, cook; do as I tell you."

With muttered threats cook entered the house, and commanded the kitchenmaid to interfere no more with the oven, but to attend to her saucepans.

"What a violent woman," thought Maggie, "horrid woman. I am sure she's Irish. I'll get rid of her as soon as I can. The place is filthy, but I daren't speak to her now. She's stirring the saucepan with her finger."

At that moment quick steps were heard coming down the corridor, and Sally entered.

"Cook, cook, I want you to put back the dinner half an hour. I have to go down the town."

"O Sally, I beg of you, what will father say?"

"Father isn't everybody. I daresay the train will be a little late; it often is. He won't know anything about it, that is if you don't tell him."

"What do you want to go down the town for?"

"Never you mind. I don't ask you what you do."

"You want to go down the slonk," whispered Maggie.

The cook stopped stirring the saucepan, and the kitchenmaid stood listening greedily.

"Nothing of the kind," Sally answered defiantly. "You're always trying to get up something against me. Cook, will you keep back the dinner twenty minutes?"

"Cook, I forbid you. I'm mistress here."

"How dare you insult me before the servants! Grace is mistress here, if it comes to that."

"Grace has given me over the housekeeping. I am mistress when she is too unwell to attend to it."

"Nothing of the sort. Grace is the eldest, I would give way to her, but I'm not going to give way to you. Cook, the dinner won't be ready for another half hour, will it?"

"I don't know when the dinner will be ready, and I don't care."

"It is a quarter to seven now, dinner won't be ready before seven, will it, cook? Keep it back a bit. Now I must be off."

And, as Maggie expected, Sally ran past the glass houses and the pear and apple trees, for there was at the end of the vegetable garden a door in the brick wall that enclosed the manor house. It was used by the gardeners, and it communicated with a path leading through some corn and grass land to the high road. There were five acres of land attached to the manor house, tennis lawn, shady walks, flower garden, kitchen garden, stables, and coach house at the back, and all this spoke in somewhat glaring fashion the wealth and ease of a rich city merchant.

"There she goes," thought Maggie, flaunting her head. "What a fool she is to bully father instead of humouring him. We shall never hear the end of this. His dinner put back so that she may continue her flirtation with Meason! I shall have to tell the truth. Why should I tell a lie?"

"Please, miss," said the butler as Maggie passed through the baize door, "I think it right to tell you about cook. We find it very hard to put up with her in the servants' hall. She is a very violent- tempered woman; nor can I say much for her in other respects. Last week she sold twenty pounds of dripping, and it wasn't all dripping, miss, it was for the most part butter."

"John, I really can't listen to any more stories about cook. Has the quarter-to-seven come in yet?"

"I haven't seen it pass, miss, but I saw Mr. Willy coming up the drive a minute ago."

Willy entered, and she turned to him and said: "Where have you been to, Willy?"

"Brighton. Has father come in yet?"

"No. You came by the tramcar?"

"Yes."

With shoulders set well back and toes turned out, Willy came along the passage. His manner was full of deliberation, and he carried a small brown paper parcel under his arm as if it were a sword of state. Maggie followed him up the steep and vulgarly carpeted staircase that branched into the various passages forming the upper part of the house. Willy's room was precise and grave, and there everything was held under lock and key. He put the brown paper parcel on the table; he took off his coat and laid it on the bed, heaving, at the same time, a sigh.

"Did you notice if the quarter-to-seven has been signalled?"

"Yes, but don't keep on worrying; the train is coming along the embankment."

"Then there will be a row to-night."

"Why?"

"Sally told cook to keep the dinner back; she has gone down the slonk to speak to Meason."

"Why didn't you tell cook that she must take her orders from you and no one else?"

"So I did, but Sally said I was no more mistress here than she was. I said Grace had given me charge of the house, when she could not attend to it; but Sally will listen to no one, she'll drive father out of his mind. There's no one he hates like the Measons."

"What is the matter with Grace? Where is she?"

"She's in her room, lying on the bed crying. She says she wants to die; she says that she doesn't care what becomes of her. She'll never care for another man, and father will not give his consent. What's- his-name has nothing--only a small allowance; he'll never have any more, he isn't a working man. I know father, he'll never hear of any one who is not a working man. I wish you'd speak to her."

"I've quite enough to do with my own affairs; I've had bad luck enough as it is, without running into new difficulties of my own accord."

"If she refuses Berkins, father'll never get over it. I wish you would speak to her."

"No, don't ask me. I never meddle in other people's affairs. I've had trouble enough. Now I want to dress."

When Maggie went downstairs, she found her father in the drawing-room.

"The train was a little late to-night. Has Willy come back from Brighton?"

"Yes, father."

"I've been looking over his accounts and I find he has lost nearly two thousand pounds in Bond Street, and I don't think he is doing any good with that agency in Brighton. I never approved of one or the other. I approve of nothing but legitimate city business. Shops in the West End! mere gambling. Where is Grace?"

"She's in her room."

"In her room? I suppose she hasn't left it all day? This is very terrible. I don't know what to do with you. Since your poor mother died my life has been nothing but trouble and vexation. I can't manage you, you are too strong for me. So she hasn't left her room; crying her eyes out, because I won't consent to her marrying a penniless young officer! But I will not squander my money. I made it all myself, by my own industry, and I refuse to keep young fellows in idleness."

"I don't give you any trouble, father."


Spring Days - 2/56

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