Mary Louise in the Country eBook: Page1

L. Frank Baum (2007)

  Produced by Michael Gray ([email protected])


  ByEdith Van DyneAuthor of"Aunt Jane's Nieces Series"

  Frontispiece byJ. Allen St. JohnThe Reilly & Lee Co.Chicago

  Copyright, 1916byThe Reilly & Britton Co.

  _Mary Louise in the Country_



  Mary Louise in the Country


  "Is this the station, Gran'pa Jim?" inquired a young girl, as the trainbegan to slow up.

  "I think so, Mary Louise," replied the handsome old gentlemanaddressed.

  "It does look very promising, does it?" she continued, glancing eagerlyout of the window.

  "The station? No, my dear; but the station isn't Cragg's Crossing, youknow; it is merely the nearest railway point to our new home."

  The conductor opened their drawing-room door.

  "The next stop is Chargrove, Colonel," he said.

  "Thank you."

  The porter came for their hand baggage and a moment later the longtrain stopped and the vestibule steps were let down.

  If you will refer to the time-table of the D. R. & G. Railway you willfind that the station of Chargrove is marked with a character dagger([Picture: Character dagger]), meaning that trains stop there only tolet off passengers or, when properly signaled, to let them on. MaryLouise, during the journey, had noted this fact with misgivings thatwere by no means relieved when she stepped from the sumptuous train andfound before her merely a shed-like structure, open on all sides, thatserved as station-house.

  Colonel Hathaway and his granddaughter stood silently upon the platformof this shed, their luggage beside them, and watched their trunkstumbled out of the baggage car ahead and the train start, gather speed,and go rumbling on its way. Then the girl looked around her to discoverthat the primitive station was really the only barren spot in thelandscape.

  For this was no Western prairie country, but one of the oldest settledand most prosperous sections of a great state that had been one of theoriginal thirteen to be represented by a star on our national banner.Chargrove might not be much of a railway station, as it was only elevenmiles from a big city, but the country around it was exceedinglybeautiful. Great oaks and maples stood here and there, some in groupsand some in stately solitude; the land was well fenced and carefullycultivated; roads--smooth or rutty--led in every direction; flocks andherds were abundant; half hidden by hills or splendid groves peeped theroofs of comfortable farmhouses that evidenced the general prosperityof the community.

  "Uncle Eben is late, isn't he, Gran'pa Jim?" asked the girl, as hereyes wandered over the pretty, peaceful scene.

  Colonel Hathaway consulted his watch.

  "Our train was exactly on time," he remarked, "which is more than canbe said for old Eben. But I think, Mary Louise, I now see an automobilecoming along the road. If I am right, we have not long to wait."

  He proved to be right, for presently a small touring car came bumpingacross the tracks and halted at the end of the platform on which theystood. It was driven by an old colored man whose hair was snow whitebut who sprang from his seat with the agility of a boy when Mary Louiserushed forward with words of greeting.

  "My, Uncle Ebe, but it's good to see you again!" she exclaimed, takingboth his dusky hands in her own and shaking them cordially. "How isAunt Polly, and how is your 'rheum'tics'?"

  "Rheum'tics done gone foh good, Ma'y Weeze," he said, his round faceall smiles. "Dis shuah am one prosterous country foh health. Nobuddysick but de invahlids, an' dey jus' 'magines dey's sick, dat's all."

  "Glad to see you, Uncle," said the Colonel. "A little late, eh?--asusual. But perhaps you had a tire change."

  "No, seh, Kun'l, no tire change. I was jus' tryin' to hurry 'long datlazy Joe Brennan, who's done comin' foh de trunks. Niggehs is slow,Kun'l, dey ain't no argyment 'bout dat, but when a white man's areg'leh loaf eh, seh, dey ain' no niggeh kin keep behind him."

  "Joe Brennan is coming, then?"

  "Dat's right, Kun'l; he's comin'. Done start befoh daylight, in delumbeh-wagin. But when I done ketch up wi' dat Joe--a mile 'n' a halfaway--he won't lis'n to no reason. So I dodged on ahead to tell you-unsdat Joe's on de way."

  "How far is it from here to Cragg's Crossing, then?" inquired MaryLouise.

  "They call it ten miles," replied her grandfather, "but I imagine it'snearer twelve."

  "And this is the nearest railway station?"

  "Yes, the nearest. But usually the Crossing folks who own motor carsdrive to the city to take the trains. We alighted here because in ourown case it was more convenient and pleasant than running into the cityand out again, and it will save us time."

  "We be home in half'n hour, mos' likely," added Uncle Eben, as heplaced the suit cases and satchels in the car. Colonel Hathaway andMary Louise followed and took their seats.

  "Is it safe to leave our trunks here?" asked the girl.

  "Undoubtedly," replied her grandfather. "Joe Brennan will doubtlessarrive before long and, really, there is no person around to stealthem."

  "I've an idea I shall like this part of the country," said Mary Louisemusingly, as they drove away.

  "I am confident you will, my dear."

  "Is Cragg's Crossing as beautiful as this?"

  "I think it more beautiful."

  "And how did you happen to find it, Gran'pa Jim? It seems as isolatedas can be."

  "A friend and I were taking a motor trip and lost our way. A farmertold us that if we went to Cragg's Crossing we would find a good roadto our destination. We went there, following the man's directions, andencountered beastly roads but found a perfect gem of a tiny, antiquatedtown which seems to have been forgotten or overlooked by map-makers,automobile guides and tourists. My friend had difficulty in getting meaway from the town, I was so charmed with it. Before I left I haddiscovered, by dint of patient inquiry, a furnished house to let, andyou know, of course, that I promptly secured the place for the summer.That's the whole story, Mary Louise."

  "It is interesting," she remarked. "As a result of your famousdiscovery you sent down Uncle Eben and Aunt Polly, with our car and alot of truck you thought we might need, and now--when all is ready--youand I have come to take possession."

  "Rather neatly arranged, I think," declared the Colonel, withsatisfaction.

  "Do you know anything about the history of the place, Gran'pa, or ofthe people who live in your tiny, forgotten town?"

  "Nothing whatever. I imagine there are folks Cragg's Crossing who havenever been a dozen miles away from it since they were born. The villageboasts a 'hotel'--the funniest little inn you can imagine--where we hadan excellent home-cooked meal; and there is one store and ablacksmith's shop, one church and one schoolhouse. These, with half adozen ancient and curiously assorted residences, constitute the shy andretiring town of Cragg's Crossing. Ah, think we have found JoeBrennan."

  Uncle Eben drew up beside a rickety wagon drawn by two sorry nags whojust now were engaged in cropping grass from the roadside. On the seathalf reclined a young man who was industriously ea
ting an apple. Hewore a blue checked shirt open at the throat, overalls, suspenders anda straw hat that had weathered many seasons of sunshine and rain. Hisfeet were encased in heavy boots and his bronzed face betokened anout-of-door life. There are a million countrymen in the United Statesjust like Joe Brennan in outward appearance.

  Joe did not stop munching; he merely stared as the automobile stoppedbeside him.

  "Say, you Joe!" shouted Uncle Eben indignatly, "wha' foh yo' donesett'n' heah?"

  "Rest'n'," said Joe Brennan, taking another bite from his apple.

  "Ain't yo' gwine git dem trunks home to-day?" demanded the old darkey.

  Joe seemed to consider this question carefully before he ventured tocommit himself. Then he looked at Colonel Hathaway and said:

  "What I want t' know, Boss, is whether I'm hired by the hour, er by theday?"

  "Didn't Uncle Eben tell you?"

  "Naw, he didn't. He jes' said t' go git the trunks an' he'd gimme adollar fer the trip."

  "Well, that seems to settle the question, doesn't it!"

  "Not quite, Boss. I be'n thinkin' it over, on the way, an' a dollar'stoo pesky cheap fer this trip. Sometimes I gits twenty-five cents ahour fer haulin' things, an' this looks to me like a day's work."

  "If you made good time," said Colonel Hathaway, "you might do it easilyin four hours."

  Joe shook his head.

  "Not me, sir," he replied. "I hain't got the constitution fer it. An'them hosses won't trot 'less I lick 'em, an' ef I lick 'em I'm guiltyo' cru'lty ter animals--includin' myself. No, Boss, the job's toocheap, so I guess I'll give it up an' go home."

  "But you're nearly at the station now," protested the Colonel.

  "I know; but it's half a mile fu'ther an' the hosses is tired. I guessI'll go home."

  "Oh, Gran'pa!" whispered Mary Louise, "it'll never do to leave ourtrunks lying there by the railroad tracks."

  The Colonel eyed Joe thoughtfully.

  "If you were hired by the day," said he, "I suppose you would do aday's work?"

  "I'd hev to," admitted Joe. "That's why I 'asked ye how about it. Jes'now it looks to me like I ain't hired at all. The black man said he'dgimme a dollar fer the trunks, that's all."

  "How much do you charge a day?" asked the Colonel.

  "Dollar 'n' a quarter's my reg'lar price, an' I won't take no less,"asserted Joe.

  Mary Louise nearly laughed outright, but the Colonel frowned and said:

  "Joe Brennan, you've got me at your mercy. I'm going to hire you by theday, at a dollar and a quarter, and as your time now belongs to me Irequest you to go at once for those trunks. You will find them justbeyond the station."

  The man's face brightened. He tossed away the core of his apple andjerked the reins to make the horses hold up their heads.

  "A bargain's a bargain, Boss," he remarked cheerfully, "so I'll getthem air trunks to yer house if it takes till midnight."

  "Very good," said the Colonel. "Drive on, Uncle."

  The old servant started the motor.

  "Dat's what I calls downright robbery, Kun'l," he exclaimed, highlyincensed. "Didn't I ask de stoahkeepeh what to pay Joe Brennen fohbringin' oveh dem trunks, an' didn't he say a dolleh is big pay fohsuch-like a trip? If we's gwine live in dis town, where day don'un'stand city prices an' de high cost o' livin' yit, we gotta hol' 'emdown an' keep 'em from speckilatin' with us, or else we'll spile 'emfer de time when we's gone away."

  "Very true, Uncle. Has Joe a competitor?"

  Uncle Eben reflected.

  "Ef he has, Kun'l, I ain't seen it," he presently replied; "but I guessall he's got is dat lumbeh-wagin."

  Mary Louise had enjoyed the controversy immensely and was relieved bythe promise of the trunks by midnight. For the first time in her lifethe young orphaned girl was to play housekeeper for her grandfather andsurely one of her duties was to see that the baggage was safelydeposited in their new home.

  This unknown home in an unknown town had an intense fascination for herjust now. Her grandfather had been rather reticent in his descriptionof the house he had rented at Cragg's Crossing, merely asserting it wasa "pretty place" and ought to make them a comfortable home for thesummer. Nor had the girl questioned him very closely, for she loved to"discover things" and be surprised--whether pleasurably or not did notgreatly interfere with the thrill.

  The motor took them speedily along a winding way to Cragg's Crossing, atoy town that caused Mary Louise to draw a long breath of delight atfirst sight. The "crossing" of two country roads had probably resulted,at some far-back period, in farmers' building their residences on thefour corners, so as to be neighborly. Farm hands or others built littledwellings adjoining--not many of them, though--and some unambitious ormisdirected merchant erected a big frame "store" and sold groceries,dry goods and other necessities of life not only to the community atthe Crossing but to neighboring farmers. Then someone started thelittle "hotel," mainly to feed the farmers who came to the store totrade or the "drummers" who visited it to sell goods. A church and aschoolhouse naturally followed, in course of time, and then, as if itsdestiny were fulfilled, the sleepy little town--ten miles from thenearest railway--gradually settled into the comatose state in whichColonel Hathaway and his granddaughter now found it.