“I’m an old fool, that’s certain!” muttered he, as, after a final surreptitious sort of glance at the unaccustomed embellishment, he turned away. “But then I don’t go out calling every day!”
He slipped on his coat, opened his door, and descended the stairs with his usual solid deliberation. As he emerged upon the balcony, the sunshine had just lighted up the tree-tops in the garden, but a little nest of white mist still rested upon the fountain, whose indefatigably small gabble could be heard proceeding mysteriously from the centre thereof. A few large, thin mosquitoes, cold and portentously hungry from their all-night’s fast, came swooping at the professor with shrieks of dismal tenuity, intending to get a warm breakfast out of him. But he had had large experience in dealing with such gentry, and, so far from standing treat, he slew several and threw the rest into confusion.
“And now,” said he to himself, as he descended the steps, “I’ll take a look at Dolly; Michael hasn’t let out Lady Bountiful or the hens yet, I suspect.”
The barn lay in a separate enclosure to the west of the garden; it was a primitive structure enough, but had been refitted within so as to afford accommodation for the family steed and the cow. The former, Dolly, was a well-preserved bay, neatly put together, and, had the professor been so inclined, she might have become a celebrity in her day. As it was, she had seen no more stirring duty than to convey her owner to and from church, during the years of his ministrations there; to draw the plow and the hay-cart occasionally, and to gallop over the rough country roads beneath the side-saddle, for the benefit of Cornelia or Sophie. She was at this time about fifteen years old, but still retained much of the spirit of her best days, and not unfrequently gave the professor some pains to keep her within bounds.
He threw open the barn-door, and forth upon the crisp air floated the close, sweet smell of hay and cow’s breath. Some swallows twittered and glanced up near the dark roof, as smart and wide-awake as if they had not just been startled out of bed. The sun, shining through the cracks and knot-holes into the dusky interior, drew lines of dusty light across the darkness. A hen, that had escaped from the coop and got up into the hay-loft to lay an egg, set up a strongly-remonstrative cackle against being disturbed in so interesting a proceeding. Lady Bountiful lowed argumentatively, and Dolly stamped, wagged her head knowingly up and down, and then shook it with a whinny. The professor patted her neck and smoothed down her nose.
“Need some exercise, don’t you, old girl?” quoth he, looking pleasantly upon her. “All right! we’ll go down-town after breakfast. Yes! we’ll make a call on Abbie.” So saying, he pulled down some fresh hay, and left her to champ it; then, picking his way across the uneven floor to where the white and horned countenance of Lady Bountiful was thrust through the bars of her stall, he slipped her halter and let her out into the meadow. Having examined the wagon, to make sure it was in proper order, he concluded his labors by throwing open the hen-coop, out of which immediately hastened a troop of indignant and astonished fowls, led by a rooster, who seemed always to be vacillating between insufferable masculine arrogance and an effeminate curiosity and avarice.