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The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 21868

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Very early that afternoon Miss Dora Bannister was driven to Cobhurst to call upon the young lady who had been taken sick, and who ought not to be neglected by the ladies of Thorbury. Dora had asked her stepmother to accompany her, but as that good lady seldom made calls, and disliked long drives, and could not see why it was at all necessary for her to go, Dora went alone.

When the open carriage with its pair of handsome grays had bumped over the rough entrance to the Cobhurst estate, and had drawn up to the front of the house, Miss Dora skipped lightly out, and rang the door-bell. She rang twice, and as no one came, and as the front door was wide open, she stepped inside to see if she could find any one. She had never been in that great wide hall before, and she was delighted with it, although it appeared to be in some disorder. Two boxes and a trunk were still standing where they had been placed when they were brought from the station. She looked through the open door of the parlor, but there was no one there, and then she knocked on the door of a closed room.

No answer came, and she went to the back door of the long hall and looked out, but not a soul could she see. This was discouraging, but she was not a girl who would willingly turn back, after having set out on an errand of mercy. There was a door which seemed to lead to the basement, and on this she knocked, but to no purpose.

"This is an awfully funny house," she said to herself. "If I could see any stairs, I might go up a little way and call. Surely there must be somebody alive somewhere." Then the thought suddenly came into her mind that perhaps want of life in the particular person she had come to see might be the reason of this dreadful stillness and desertion, and without a moment's hesitation she stepped out of the back door into the open air. She could not stay in that house another second until she knew. Surely there must be some one on the place who could tell her what had happened.

Approaching the gardener's house, she met Phoebe just coming out of the door.

"Bless my soul!" exclaimed the woman of color. "Is that you, Miss Dora? Mike hollered to me that a kirridge had come, and I was a-hurryin' up to the house to see who it was."

"I came to call on Miss Haverley," said Dora. "How is she, Phoebe, and can I see her?"

"Oh, she's well enough, and you can see her if you can find her; but to save my soul, Miss Dora, I couldn't tell you where she is at this minute. You never did in all your life see anybody like that Miss Miriam is. Why, true as I speak, the very sparrers in the trees isn't as wild as she is. From sunrise this morning she has been on the steady go. You'd think, to see her, that the hens and the cows and the colts and even the old apple trees was all silver and gold and diamonds in her eyes, she takes on so about 'em. I can't keep up with her, I can't. The last time I see her, she was goin' into the barn, and I reckon she's thar yit, huntin' hens' nests. If you like, I'll go look for her, Miss Dora."

Phoebe had often worked for the Bannister family, and Dora knew her to be one of the slowest movers among mankind; besides, the idea of calling upon a young lady who was engaged in looking for hens' nests in a barn was an exceedingly attractive one. It had not been long since Dora had taken much delight in that sort of thing herself.

"You needn't trouble yourself, Phoebe," she said; "I will walk over to the barn. I would a great deal rather do that than wait in the house. If I don't see her there, I will come back and leave our cards."

"You might as well do that," said Phoebe, laughing, "for if she isn't thar, she's as like as not at the other end of the farm in the field where the colts is."

The Cobhurst barn was an unusual, and, indeed, a remarkable structure. It was not as old as the house, although it had been built many years ago by Mathias Butterwood, in a fashion to suit his own ideas of what a barn should be.

It was an enormous structure, a great deal larger than the house, and built of stone. It stood against a high bluff, and there was an entrance on the level to the vast lower story, planned to accommodate Mr. Butterwood's herd of fine cattle. A little higher up, a wide causeway, supported by an arch, led into the second story, devoted to horses and all kinds of vehicles, and still higher, almost on a level with the house, there was a road, walled on each side, by which the loaded haywagons could be driven in upon the great third floor of the barn.

When Dora Bannister reached this barn, having followed a path which led to the lower story, she looked in at an open door, and received the impression of vast extent, emptiness, and the scent of hay. She entered, looking about from side to side. At the opposite end of the great room, was an open door through which the sun shone, and as she approached it, she heard a voice and the cracking of cornstalks outside.

Standing in the doorway, she looked out, and saw a large barnyard, the ground near the door covered with fresh straw which seemed to have been recently strewn there. The yard beyond was a neglected and bad-looking expanse, into which no young lady would be likely to penetrate, and from which Dora would have turned away instantly, had she not seen, crossing it, a young man and a horse.

The young man was leading the horse by its forelock, and was walking in a sidewise fashion, with his back toward Dora. The horse, a rough-looking creature, seemed reluctant to approach the barn, and its leader frequently spoke to it encouragingly, and patted its neck, as he moved on.

This young man was tall and broad-shouldered. He wore a light soft hat, which well suited his somewhat curling brown hair. A corduroy suit and high top boots, in which he strode fearlessly through the debris and dirt of the yard, gave him, in Dora's eyes, a manly air, and she longed for him to turn his face toward her, that she might speak to him, and ask him where she would be apt to find his sister-for of course this must be Mr. Haverley.

But he did not turn; instead of that he now backed himself toward the stable door, pulling the horse after him. Dora was pleased to stand and look at him; his movements struck her as athletic and graceful. He was now so near that she felt she ought to make her presence known. She stepped out upon the fresh straw, intending to move a little out of his way and then accost him, but he spoke first.

"Good," he said; "don't you want to take hold of this mare by the forelock, as I am doing, and keep her here until I get a halter?" And as he spoke he turned toward Miss Bannister.

His face was a handsome one, fully equal in quality to his height, his shoulders, and his grace of movement. His blue eyes opened wide at the sight of the young lady in gray hat and ostrich plumes, fashionable driving costume edged with fur, for the spring air was yet cool, and bright silk parasol, for the spring sun was beginning to be warm. With almost a stammer, he said:-

"I beg your pardon, I thought it was my sister I heard behind me."

"Oh, it doesn't matter in the least," said Dora, with a charming smile; "I am Miss Bannister. I live in Thorbury, and I came to call on your sister. Phoebe told me she thought she was out here, and so I came to look for her myself. A barn is so charming to me, especially a great one like this, that I would rather make a call in it than in the house."

"I will go and look for her," said Ralph. "She cannot be far away." And then he glanced at the horse, as if he were in doubt what to do with it at this juncture.

"Oh, let me hold your horse," cried Dora, putting down the parasol by the side of the barn and approaching; "I mean while you go and get its halter. I am ever so fond of horses, and like to hold them and feed them and pet them. Is this one gentle?"

"I don't know much about her," said Ralph, laughing, "for we have just taken possession of the place, and are only beginning to find out what animals we own, and what they are like. This old mare seems gentle enough, though rather obstinate. I have just brought her in out of the fields, where she has been grazing ever since the season opened."

"She looks like a very good horse, indeed," said Dora, patting the tangled hair on the creature's neck.

"I brought her in," said Ralph, "thinking I might rub her down, and get her into proper trim for use. My sister is much disappointed to find that out of our four horses, two are unbroken colts, and one is in constant use by the man. I think if I can give her a drive, even if it is behind a jogging old mare, it will set up her spirits again."

"You must let me hold her," said Dora, "while you get the halter, and then you can tie her, while we go and look for your sister. Don't think of such a thing as letting her go, after all your trouble in catching her."

"If I could get her into these stables," said Ralph, "I might shut her in, but I don't think that I shall be able to pull her through that doorway in this fashion."

Without further ado, Miss Dora put out her right hand, in its neatly fitting kid glove, and took hold of the mare's forelock, just above Ralph's hand. The young man demurred an instant, and then, laughing, ran into the stable to find a halter. His ownership of everything was so fresh that he forgot that the lower part of the barn was occupied by the cow stables-which the old mare did not wish to enter, or even approach. He hurriedly rummaged here and there among the stalls, finding nothing but some chains and rope's ends fastened to the mangers, but in his hasty search he could not help thinking how extremely ingenuous and neighborly was that handsome girl outside.

Dora held firmly the forelock of the mare, and patted the good animal's head with the other hand; but, strange to say, the animal did not like being held by the young lady, and gradually she backed, first toward the side of the barn, and then out toward the open yard. Dora attempted to restrain her, but in spite of all her efforts was obliged to follow the retrogressive animal.

"It's my gloves she doesn't like," she said to herself; "I know some horses can't bear the smell of kid, but I can't take them off now, and I will not let go. I wish he would hurry with the halter."

Little by little poor Dora was pulled forward, until she reached a spot which was at the very end of the clean straw, and yet not very far from the wall of the barn. Here she vigorously endeavored to make a stand, for if she went another step forward her dainty boots would sink into mud and dirt.

"Whoa!" she called out to the mare; "whoa, now!"

At the sound of these words, plainly uttered in trouble, Ralph, who happened to be in a stall next to the barn wall looking over some ropes, glanced through a little window about four feet from the ground, and saw Mi

ss Bannister very close to him, tottering on the edge of the straw, and just about to let go of the mare, or step into the mire. Before he could shape words to tell her to release her dangerous hold, or make up his mind to rush around to the door to go to her assistance, she saw him, and throwing out her left hand in his direction, she exclaimed:-

"Oh, hold me, please."

Instantly Ralph put out his long arm, and caught her by the hand.

"Thank you," said Miss Dora. "In another moment she would have pulled me into the dirt. Perhaps now I can make her walk up on the clean straw. Come, come," she continued persuasively to the mare, which, however, obstinately declined to advance.

"Let go of her, I beg of you, Miss Bannister," cried Ralph. "It will hurt you to be pulled on two sides in this way."

Dora was a strong young girl, and so far the pulling had not hurt her at all. In fact, she liked it, at least on one side.

"Oh, I couldn't think of letting her go," she replied, "after all the trouble you have had in catching her. The gate is open, and in a minute she would be out in the field again. If she will only make a few steps forward, I am sure I can hold her until you come out. If you would draw me in a little bit, Mr. Haverley, perhaps she would follow."

Ralph did not in the least object to hold the smoothly gloved little hand in his own, but he was really afraid that the girl would be hurt, if she persisted in this attempt to make a halter of herself. If he released his hold, he was sure she would be jerked face forward into the mire, or at least be obliged to step into it; and as for the mare, it was plain to be seen that she did not intend to come any nearer the shed. He therefore doubled his entreaties that she would let the beast go, as it made no difference whether she ran into the fields or not. He could easily catch her again, or the man could.

"I don't want to let her go," said Dora. "Your sister would have a pretty opinion of me when she is ready to take her drive, and finds that I have let her horse run away; and, besides, I don't like to give up things. Do you like to give up things? I am sure you don't, for I saw you bringing this horse into the yard, and you were very determined about it. If I let her go, all your determination and trouble will have been for nothing. I should not like that. Come, come, you obstinate creature, just two steps forward. I have some lumps of sugar in my pocket which I keep to give to our horses, but of course I can't get it with both my hands occupied. I wish I had thought of the sugar. By the way, the sugar is not in my pocket; after all, it is in this little bag on my belt; I don't suppose you could reach it."

Ralph stretched out his other hand, but he could not reach the little leather bag with its silver clasp. If he could have jumped out of the window, he would have done so without hesitation, but the aperture was not large enough. He could not help being amused by the dilemma in which he was placed by this young lady's inflexibility. He did not know a girl, his sister not excepted, whom, under the circumstances, he would not have left to the consequences of what he would have called her obstinacy. But there was something about Dora-some sort of a lump of sugar-which prevented him from letting go of her hand.

"I never saw a horse," said she, "nor, indeed, any sort of a living thing, which was so unwilling to come to me. You are very good to hold me so strongly, and I am sure I don't mind waiting a little longer, until some one comes by."

"There is no one to come by," exclaimed Ralph, "and I most earnestly beg of you-"

At this moment the horse began to back; Miss Dora's fingers nervously clasped themselves about Ralph's hand, which pressed hers more closely and vigorously than before. There was a strong pull, a little jerk, and the forelock of the mare slipped out of Miss Dora's hand.

"There!" she cried; "that is exactly what I knew would happen. The wicked creature has galloped out of the gate."

The young lady now made a step or two nearer the barn, Ralph still holding her hand, as if to assist her to a better footing.

She did not need the assistance at all, but she looked up gratefully, as

Ralph loosened his grasp, and she gently withdrew her hand.

"Thank you ever so much," she said. "If it had not been for you, I do not know where I should have been pulled to; but it is too bad that the horse got off, after all."

"Don't mention it," said Ralph. "I'll have her again in no time," and then he ran outside to join her.

"Now, sir," said she, and giving him no time to make any proposition, "I should like very much to find your sister, and see her, for at least a few moments before I go. Do you think she is anywhere in this glorious old barn? Phoebe told me she was."

"Is this a girl or a woman?" thought Ralph to himself. The charming and fashionable costume would have settled this question in the mind of a lady, but Ralph felt a little puzzled. But be the case what it might, it would be charming to go with her through the barn or anywhere else. As they walked over the lower floor of the edifice toward the stairway in the corner, Dora remarked:-

"How happy your cows ought to be, Mr. Haverley, to have such a wide, cool place as this to live in. What kind of cows have you?"

"Indeed, I don't know," said Ralph, laughing. "I haven't had time to make their acquaintance. I have seen them, only from a distance. They are but a very small herd, and I am sure there are no fancy breeds among them."

"Do you know," said Dora, as they went up the broad steps, sprinkled with straw and hayseed, "that what are called common cows are often really better than Alderneys, or Ayrshires, and those sorts? And this is the second story! How splendid and vast! What do you have here?"

"On the right are the horse stables," said Ralph, "and in those stalls there should be a row of prancing chargers and ambling steeds; and on the great empty floor, which you see over here, there should be the carriages,-the coupe, the family carriage, the light wagon, the pony phaeton, the top buggy, and all the other vehicles which people in the country need. But, alas! you only see that old hay-wagon, which I am sure would fall to pieces if horses attempted to pull it, and that affair with two big wheels and a top. I think they call it a gig, and I believe old Mr. Butterwood used to drive about in it."

"Indeed he did," said Dora. "I remember seeing him when I was a little girl. It must be very comfortable. I should think your sister and you would enjoy driving in that. In a gig, you know, you can go anywhere-into wood-roads, and all sorts of places where you couldn't turn around with anything with four wheels. And how nice it is that it has a top. I've heard it said that Mr. Butterwood would always have everything comfortable for himself. Perhaps your sister is in some of these smaller rooms. What are they?"

"Oh, harness rooms, and I know not what," answered Ralph, and then he called out:-

"Miriam!" His voice was of a full, rich tone, and it was echoed from the bare walls and floors.

"If my sister is in the barn at all," said Ralph, "I think she must be on the floor above this, for there is the hay, and the hens' nests, if there are any-"

"Oh, let us go up there," said Dora; "that is just where we ought to find her."

There was not the least affectation in Dora's delight, as she stood on the wide upper floor of the barn. Its great haymows rose on either side, not piled to the roof as before, but with enough hay left over from former years to fill the air with that delightful scent of mingled cleanliness and sweetness which belongs to haylofts. At the back was a wide open door with a bar across it, out of which she saw a far-stretching landscape, rich with varied colors of spring, and through a small side door at the other end of the floor, which there was level with the ground, came a hen, clucking to a brood of black-eyed, downy little chicks, which she was bringing in for the night to the spacious home she had chosen for them.

Whether or not Dora would have enjoyed all this as much had she been alone is a point not necessary to settle, but she was a true country girl, and had loved chickens, barns, and hay from her babyhood up. She stepped quickly to the open door, and she and Ralph leaned upon the bar and looked out upon the beautiful scene.

"How charming it will be," she said, "for your sister to come here and sit with her reading or sewing. She can look out and see you, almost wherever you happen to be on your farm."

"I don't believe Miriam will be content to sit still and watch anybody," replied Ralph. "I wonder where she can be;" and twice he called her, once directing his voice up toward the haymows and once out into the open air. Dora still leaned on the bar and looked out.

"It would be nice if we could see her walking somewhere in the fields," she said, and she and Ralph both swept the landscape with their eyes, but they saw nothing like a moving girl in shade or sunshine.

Miss Bannister was not in the least embarrassed, as she stood here with this young man whom she had met such a little time before. She did not altogether feel that she was alone with him. The thought that any moment the young man's sister might make one of the party, produced a sensation not wholly unlike that of knowing she was already there.

The view of the far-off hills with the shadows across their sides and their forest-covered tops glistening in the sunshine was very attractive, and there was a blossomy perfume in the outside air which mingled charmingly with the hay-scents from within; but Dora felt that it would not do to protract her pleasure in these things, especially as she noticed signs of a slight uneasiness on the face of her companion. Probably he wanted to go and look for his sister, so they walked slowly over the floor of the great hayloft, and out of the little door where the hen and chickens had come in, and Ralph accompanied the young lady to her carriage.

"I am sure I shall find Thomas and the horses fast asleep," said she, "for I have made a long call, or, at least, have tried to make one, and you must tell your sister that my stay proves how much I wanted to see her. I hope she will call on me the first time she comes to Thorbury."

"Oh, I shall drive her over on purpose," said Ralph, and, with a smile,

Miss Bannister declared that would be charming.

When the carriage had rolled upon the smooth road outside of Cobhurst, Miss Dora drew off her left glove and looked at her wrist. "Dear me!" said she to herself, "I thought he would have squeezed those buttons entirely through my skin, but I wouldn't have said a word for anything. I wonder what sort of a girl his sister is. If she resembles him, I know I shall like her."

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