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The change from the motion of the train--for it seemed that he had
been traveling several hours--to the firmer platform for a moment
bewildered him. The station looked strange, and he fancied it
lacked a certain kind of distinctness. But that quality was also
noticeable in the porters and loungers on the platform. He thought
it singular, until it seemed to him that they were not characteristic,
nor in any way important or necessary to the business he had in
hand. Then, with an effort, he tried to remember himself and his
purpose, and made his way through the station to the open road
beyond. A van, bearing the inscription, "Removals to Town and
Country," stood before him and blocked his way, but a dogcart was in
waiting, and a grizzled groom, who held the reins, touched his hat
respectfully. Although still dazed by his journey and uncertain of
himself, he seemed to recognize in the man that distinctive
character which was wanting in the others. The correctness of his
surmise was revealed a few moments later, when, after he had taken
his seat beside him, and they were rattling out of the village
street, the man turned towards him and said:--

"Tha'll know Sir Jarge?"

"I do not," said the young man.

"Ay! but theer's many as cooms here as doan't, for all they cooms.
Tha'll say it ill becooms mea as war man and boy in Sir Jarge's
sarvice for fifty year, to say owt agen him, but I'm here to do it,
or they couldn't foolfil their business. Tha wast to ax me
questions about Sir Jarge and the Grange, and I wor to answer soa
as to make tha think thar was suthing wrong wi' un. Howbut I may
save tha time and tell thea downroight that Sir Jarge forged his
uncle's will, and so gotten the Grange. That 'ee keeps his niece
in mortal fear o' he. That tha'll be put in haunted chamber wi' a
boggle."

"I think," said the young man hesitatingly, "that there must be
some mistake. I do not know any Sir George, and I am NOT going to
the Grange."

"Eay! Then thee aren't the 'ero sent down from London by the story
writer?"

"Not by THAT one," said the young man diffidently.

The old man's face changed. It was no mere figure of speech: it
actually was ANOTHER face that looked down upon the traveler.

"Then mayhap your honor will be bespoken at the Angel's Inn," he
said, with an entirely distinct and older dialect, "and a finer
hostel for a young gentleman of your condition ye'll not find on
this side of Oxford. A fair chamber, looking to the sun; sheets
smelling of lavender from Dame Margery's own store, and, for the
matter of that, spread by the fair hands of Maudlin, her daughter--
the best favored lass that ever danced under a Maypole. Ha! have
at ye there, young sir! Not to speak of the October ale of old
Gregory, her father--ay, nor the rare Hollands, that never paid
excise duties to the king."

"I'm afraid," said the young traveler timidly, "there's over a
century between us. There's really some mistake."

"What?" said the groom, "ye are NOT the young spark who is to marry
Mistress Amy at the Hall, yet makes a pother and mess of it all by
a duel with Sir Roger de Cadgerly, the wicked baronet, for his
over-free discourse with our fair Maudlin this very eve? Ye are
NOT the traveler whose post-chaise is now at the Falcon? Ye are
not he that was bespoken by the story writer in London?"

"I don't think I am," said the young man apologetically. "Indeed,
as I am feeling far from well, I think I'll get out and walk."

He got down--the vehicle and driver vanished in the distance. It
did not surprise him. "I must collect my thoughts," he said. He
did so. Possibly the collection was not large, for presently he
said, with a sigh of relief:--

"I see it all now! My name is Paul Bunker. I am of the young
branch of an old Quaker family, rich and respected in the country,
and I am on a visit to my ancestral home. But I have lived since a
child in America, and am alien to the traditions and customs of the
old country, and even of the seat to which my fathers belong. I
have brought with me from the far West many peculiarities of speech
and thought that may startle my kinsfolk. But I certainly shall
not address my uncle as 'Hoss!' nor shall I say 'guess' oftener
than is necessary."

Much brightened and refreshed by his settled identity, he had time,
as he walked briskly along, to notice the scenery, which was
certainly varied and conflicting in character, and quite
inconsistent with his preconceived notions of an English landscape.
On his right, a lake of the brightest cobalt blue stretched before
a many-towered and terraced town, which was relieved by a
background of luxuriant foliage and emerald-green mountains; on his
left arose a rugged mountain, which he was surprised to see was
snow-capped, albeit a tunnel was observable midway of its height,
and a train just issuing from it. Almost regretting that he had
not continued on his journey, as he was fully sensible that it was
in some way connected with the railway he had quitted, presently
his attention was directed to the gateway of a handsome park, whose
mansion was faintly seen in the distance. Hurrying towards him,
down the avenue of limes, was a strange figure. It was that of a
man of middle age; clad in Quaker garb, yet with an extravagance of
cut and detail which seemed antiquated even for England. He had
evidently seen the young man approaching, and his face was beaming
with welcome. If Paul had doubted that it was his uncle, the first
words he spoke would have reassured him.

"Welcome to Hawthorn Hall," said the figure, grasping his hand
heartily, "but thee will excuse me if I do not tarry with thee long
at present, for I am hastening, even now, with some nourishing and
sustaining food for Giles Hayward, a farm laborer." He pointed to
a package he was carrying. "But thee will find thy cousins Jane
and Dorcas Bunker taking tea in the summer-house. Go to them!
Nay--positively--I may not linger, but will return to thee quickly."
And, to Paul's astonishment, he trotted away on his sturdy,
respectable legs, still beaming and carrying his package in his hand.

"Well, I'll be dog-goned! but the old man ain't going to be left,
you bet!" he ejaculated, suddenly remembering his dialect. "He'll
get there, whether school keeps or not!" Then, reflecting that no
one heard him, he added simply, "He certainly was not over civil
towards the nephew he has never seen before. And those girls--whom
I don't know! How very awkward!"

Nevertheless, he continued his way up the avenue towards the
mansion. The park was beautifully kept. Remembering the native
wildness and virgin seclusion of the Western forest, he could not
help contrasting it with the conservative gardening of this pretty
woodland, every rood of which had been patrolled by keepers and
rangers, and preserved and fostered hundreds of years before he was
born, until warmed for human occupancy. At times the avenue was
crossed by grass drives, where the original woodland had been
displaced, not by the exigency of a "clearing" for tillage, as in
his own West, but for the leisurely pleasure of the owner. Then, a
few hundred yards from the house itself,--a quaint Jacobean
mansion,--he came to an open space where the sylvan landscape had
yielded to floral cultivation, and so fell upon a charming summer-
house, or arbor, embowered with roses. It must have been the one
of which his uncle had spoken, for there, to his wondering
admiration, sat two little maids before a rustic table, drinking
tea demurely, yes, with all the evident delight of a childish
escapade from their elders. While in the picturesque quaintness of
their attire there was still a formal suggestion of the sect to
which their father belonged, their summer frocks--differing in
color, yet each of the same subdued tint--were alike in cut and
fashion, and short enough to show their dainty feet in prim
slippers and silken hose that matched their frocks. As the
afternoon sun glanced through the leaves upon their pink cheeks,
tied up in quaint hats by ribbons under their chins, they made a
charming picture. At least Paul thought so as he advanced towards
them, hat in hand. They looked up at his approach, but again cast
down their eyes with demure shyness; yet he fancied that they first
exchanged glances with each other, full of mischievous intelligence.




Under the Redwoods by Bret Harte
Category:
General Fiction
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