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   Chapter 10 A SILK GOWN AND A BOTTLE

The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 12392

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


It was toward the end of June that Miss Dora Bannister returned from a fortnight's visit to some friends at the seashore, and she had been home a very little while, when she became convinced that her most important duty was to go to see that young girl at Cobhurst. It seemed very strange that so long a time had passed since the arrival of the Haverleys into the neighborhood, and she had never yet seen his sister. In Miss Bannister's mind there was a central point, about which clustered everything connected with Cobhurst: that point was a young man, and the house was his house, and the fields were his fields, and the girl was his sister.

It so happened, the very next day, that Herbert Bannister found it necessary to visit a lady client, who lived about four miles beyond Cobhurst, and when Dora heard this she was delighted. Her brother should take her as far as Cobhurst with him; they should start early enough to give him time to stop and call on Ralph Haverley, which he most certainly ought to do, and then he could go on and attend to his business, leaving her at Cobhurst. Even if neither the brother nor the sister were at home, she would not mind being left at that charming old place. She would take a book with her, for there were so many shady spots where she could sit and read until Herbert came back.

Herbert Bannister, whose mind was devoted to business and the happiness of his sister, was well pleased with this arrangement, and about three o'clock in the afternoon the buggy containing the two stopped in front of the Cobhurst portico.

The front door was open, and they could see through the hall and the open back door into the garden beyond.

Dora laughed as she said, "This is just what happened when I came here before,-everything wide open, as though there were no flies nor dogs nor strangers."

Herbert got out and rang the bell: he rang it twice, but no one came.

Dora beckoned him to her.

"It is of no use," she said; "that also happened when I came before. They don't live in the house, at least in the daytime. But Herbert, there is a man."

At this moment, the negro Mike was seen at a little distance, hurrying along with a tin pitcher in his hand. Herbert advanced, and called to him, and Mike, with his pitcher, approached.

"The boss," he said, in response to their inquiries, "is down in the big meadow, helpin' me get in the hay. We tried to git extry help, but everybody's busy this time o' year, an' he an' me has got to step along pretty sharp to git that hay in before it rains. No, Miss, I dunno where the young lady is. She was down in the hay-field this mornin', rakin', but I 'spects she is doin' some sort of housework jes' now, or perhaps she's in the garden. I'd go an' look her up, but beggin' your pardon, I ain't got one minute to spare, the boss is waitin' for me now," and, touching his shabby old hat, Mike departed.

"What shall we do?" asked Herbert, standing by the buggy.

"I think," said Dora, slowly and decisively, as if she had fully considered the matter, "that you may as well go on, for I don't suppose it would do to disturb Mr. Haverley now. I know that when people are making hay, they can't stop for anything."

"You are right," said her brother, with a smile; "hay-making the will of a rich man on his death-bed; it must be done promptly, if it is done at all. I shall go on, of course, and you will go with me?"

"No, indeed," said Dora, preparing to get down from the buggy; "I would not want to wait for you in that tiresome old horse-hair parlor of the Dudleys. I should ever so much rather sit here, by myself, until you come back. But of course I shall see her before long. Isn't it funny, Herbert? I had to look for her when I came here before, and I suppose I shall always have to look for her whenever I come."

Her brother admitted that it was funny, and accepting her arrangement, he drove away. Dora rang the bell, and stepped into the hall. "I will wait here a little while," she said to herself, "then I will go to Phoebe's house, and ask her where she is. If she does not know, I do not in the least mind walking over to the hay-field, and calling to Mr. Haverley. It would not take him three minutes to come and tell me where I would better go to look for his sister."

At this Miss Bannister smiled a little. She would be really glad to know if Mr. Haverley would be willing to leave that important hay, and make everything wait until he came to speak to her. As she stood, she looked about her; on a table by the wall lay a straw hat trimmed with flowers, and a pair of long gloves, a good deal soiled and worn. Dora's eyes passed carelessly over these, and rested on another pair of gloves, larger and heavier.

"He hasn't driven much, yet," she said to herself, "for they look almost new. I wonder when he will break his colts. Then, I suppose, he will drive a good deal."

Dora was a girl who noticed things, and turning to the other side of the hall, she saw a larger table, and on it lay a powder-horn and a shot-flask, while in the angle of the table and the wall there stood a double-barrelled fowling-piece. This sight made her eyes sparkle; he must like to hunt and shoot. That pleased her very much. Herbert never cared for those things, but she thought a young man should be fond of guns and dogs and horses, and although she had never thought of it before, she now considered it a manly thing to be able to go out into the hay-field and work, if it happened to be necessary.

She went to the back door, and stood, looking out. There was nobody stirring about Phoebe's house, and she asked herself if it would be worth while to go over to it. Perhaps it might be as well to stroll toward the hay-field. She knew where the great meadow was, because she had looked over it when she had stood at the wide barn window with Mr. Haverley. He had pointed out a good many things to her, and she remembered them all.

But she did not go to the hay-field. Just as she was about to step out upon the back porch, she heard a door open behind her, and turning, saw, emerging from the closed apartment which contained the staircase, a strange figure. The head

was that of a young girl about fourteen, with large, astonished blue eyes, and light brown hair hanging in a long plait down her back, while her form was attired in a plum-colored silk gown, very much worn, torn in some places, with several great stains in the front of the skirt, and a long and tattered train. The shoulders were ever so much too wide, the waist was ever so much too big, and the long sleeves were turned back and rolled up. In her hand the figure held a large glass bottle, from the mouth of which hung a short rubber tube, ending in a bulbous mouth-piece.

Dora could not suppress a start and an expression of surprise, but she knew this must be Miriam Haverley, and advanced toward her. In a moment she had recovered her self-possession sufficiently to introduce herself and explain the situation. Miriam took the bottle in her left hand, and held out her right to Dora.

"I have been expecting you would call," she said, "but I had no idea you were here now. The door-bell is in the basement, and I have been upstairs, trying to get dough off my hands. I have been making bread, and I had no idea it was so troublesome to get your hands clean afterwards; but I expect my dough is stickier than it ought to be, and after that I was busy getting myself ready to go out and feed a calf. Will you walk into the parlor?"

"Oh, no," cried Dora, "let me go with you to feed the calf; I shall like that ever so much better."

"It can wait just as well as not," said Miriam; "we can sit in the hall, if you like," and she moved toward an old-fashioned sofa which stood against the wall; as she did so, she stepped on the front of her voluminous silk gown, and came near falling.

"The horrid old thing!" she exclaimed; "I am always tripping over it," and as she glanced at Dora the two girls broke into a laugh. "I expect you think I look like a perfect guy," she said, as they seated themselves, "and so I do, but you see the calf is not much more than a week old, and its mother has entirely deserted it, and kicks and horns at it if it comes near her. It got to be so weak it could scarcely stand up, and I have adopted it, and feed it out of this bottle. The first time I did it I nearly ruined the dress I had on, and so I went to the garret and got this old gown, which covers me up very well, though it looks dreadfully, and is awfully awkward."

"To whom did it belong?" asked Dora. "It is made in such a queer way,-not like really old-fashioned things."

"I am sure I don't know to whom it belonged," said Miriam. "There are all sorts of things in our garret,-except things that are good for some particular purpose,-and this old gown was the best I could find to cover me up. It looks funny, but then the whole of it is funny,-calf-feeding and all."

"Why do you have to make your own bread?" asked Dora. "Don't

Phoebe do that?"

"Oh, Phoebe isn't here now. She went away nearly a week ago, and I do all the work. I went to Thorbury and engaged a woman to come here; but, as that was three days ago and she has not come yet, I think she must have changed her mind."

"But why did Phoebe leave you?" exclaimed Miss Bannister. "She ought to be ashamed of herself, to leave you without any one to help you."

"Well," replied Miriam "she said she wasn't regularly employed, anyway, and there were plenty of cooks in the town that I could get, and that she was obliged to go. You see, the colored church in Thorbury has just got a new minister, and he has to board somewhere; and as soon as Phoebe heard that, she made up her mind to take a house and board him; and she did it before anybody else could get the chance. Mike, her husband, who works for us, talked to her and we talked to her, but it wasn't of any use. I think she considers it one of the greatest honors in the world to board a minister. Mike does not believe in that sort of business, but he says that Phoebe has always been in the habit of doing what she wants to, and he is getting used to it."

"But it is impossible for you to do all the work," said Dora.

"Oh, well," replied Miriam, "some of it doesn't get done, and some of it I am helped with. Mike does ever so much; he makes the fires, and carries the heavy things, and sometimes even cooks. My brother Ralph helps, too, when there is anything he can do, which is not often; but just now they are so busy with their hay that it is harder upon me than it was before. We have had soda biscuit and all that sort of thing, but I saw that Ralph was getting tired of them; and to-day I thought I would try and make some real bread,-though how it is going to turn out, I don't know."

"Come, let us go out and feed the calf," said Dora; "I really want to see how you do it. I have come to make you a good long call, you must know;" and then she explained how her brother had left her, while he went on to attend to his business.

At this Miriam was much relieved. She had been thinking that perhaps she would better go upstairs and take off that ridiculous silk dress, and entertain her visitor properly during the rest of her call; but if Miss Bannister was going to stay a good while, and if there was no coachman outside to see her and her train, there was no reason why she should not go and feed the calf, and then come back and put herself into the proper trim for the reception of visitors. It seemed strange to her, but she was positively sure that she would not have felt so much at ease with this handsomely dressed young lady, if she herself had been attired in her best clothes; but now they had met without its being possible for either Miss Bannister or herself to make any comparisons of attire. The old, draggled silk gown did not count one way or the other. It was simply a covering to keep one's clothes clean when one fed a calf. When they should return to the house, and she took off her old gown, she and her visitor would be better acquainted, and their comparative opinions of each other would not depend so much on clothes. Miriam was accustomed to making philosophical reflections concerning her relations with the rest of the world; and in regard to these relations she was at times very sensitive.

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