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   Chapter 11 TWO GIRLS AND A CALF

The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 13365

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Having gone to the kitchen to fill the bottle with milk, which she had set to warm, Miriam accompanied her guest to the barn. As she walked by the side of Dora, with the bottle in one hand and the other holding up her voluminous silk robe, it was well for her peace of mind that no stately coachman sat upon a box and looked at her.

In a corner of the lower floor of the barn they found the calf, lying upon a bed of hay, and covered by a large piece of mosquito netting, which Miriam had fastened above and around him. Dora laughed as she saw this.

"It isn't every calf," she said, "that sleeps so luxuriously."

"The flies worried the poor thing dreadfully," said Miriam, "but I take it off when I feed it."

She proceeded to remove the netting, but she had scarcely done so, when she gave an exclamation that was almost a scream.

"Oh, dear, oh, dear!" she cried; "I believe it is dead," and down she sat upon the floor close to the calf, which lay motionless, with its head and neck extended. Down also sat Dora. She did not need to consider the hay-strewn floor and her clothes; for although she wore a very tasteful and becoming costume, it was one she had selected with reference to barn explorations, field strolls, and anything rural and dusty which any one else might be doing, or might propose. No one could tell what dusty and delightful occupation might turn up during an afternoon at Cobhurst.

"Its eye does look as if it were dead," she exclaimed. "What a pity!"

"Oh, you can't tell by that eye," said Miriam, over whose cheeks a few tears were now running. "Dr. Tolbridge says it has infantile ophthalmia in that eye, but that as soon as it gets strong enough, he can cure it. We must turn up its other eye."

She took the little creature's head in her lap, with the practicable eye uppermost. This slowly rolled in its socket, as she bent over it.

"There is life in it yet," she cried; "give me the bottle." The calf slowly rolled its eye to the position from which it had just moved, and declined to consider food.

"Oh, it must drink; we must make it drink," said Miriam. "If I open its mouth, will you put in the end of that tube? If it gets a taste of the milk, it may want more. We must not let it die. But you must be careful," she continued. "That bottle leaks all round the cork. Spread part of my skirt over you."

Dora followed this advice, for she had not considered a milk-stained lap among the contingent circumstances of the afternoon. Holding the bottle over the listless animal, she managed to get some drops on its tongue.

"Now," said Miriam, "we will put that in its mouth, and shut its jaws, and perhaps it may begin to suck. It will be perfectly dreadful if it dies."

The two girls sat close together, their eyes fixed upon the apparently lifeless head of the bovine infant.

"See!" cried Miriam, presently, "its throat moves; I believe it is sucking the milk."

Dora leaned over and gazed. It was indeed true; the calf was beginning to take an interest in food. The interest increased; the girls could see the milk slowly diminishing in the bottle. Before long the creature gave its head a little wobble. Miriam was delighted.

"That is the way it always does, when its appetite is good. We must let it drink every drop, if it will."

There they sat on the hard, hay-strewn floor, one entirely, and the other almost entirely covered with purple silk, their eyes fixed upon the bottle and the feeding calf. After a time the latter declined to take any more milk, and raised its head from Miriam's lap.

"There," she cried; "see, it can hold up its own head. I expect it was only faint from want of food. After this I will feed it oftener. It was the bread-making that made me forget it this time."

"Let us wait a minute," said Dora, who was now taking an earnest and womanly interest in the welfare of this weakling. "Perhaps after a while it may want some more." And so they continued to sit. Every motion of the calf's head, and every effort it made to bend its legs, or change its position, sent sparkles of delight into Miriam's eyes, and brightened Dora's beautiful face with sympathetic smiles.

Dora had taken up the bottle, and was about to give the calf an opportunity to continue its repast, when suddenly she stopped and sat motionless. Outside the barn, approaching footsteps could be plainly heard. They were heavy, apparently those of a man. Dora dropped the bottle, letting it roll unheeded upon the floor; then pushing Miriam's skirt from her lap, she sprang to her feet, and stepped backwards and away from the little group so quickly, that she nearly stumbled over some inequalities in the floor. Miriam looked up in astonishment.

"You needn't be frightened," she said. "How red you are! I suppose it is only Ralph."

"I was afraid it was," said Dora, in a low voice, as she shook out her skirts. "I wouldn't have had him see me that way for anything."

Now Miriam was angry. There was nothing to be ashamed of, that she could see, and it was certainly very rude in Miss Bannister to drop her bottle, and nearly push her over in her haste to get away from her and her poor calf.

The person who had been approaching the barn now entered, but it was not Ralph Haverley. It was a shorter and a stouter young man, with side whiskers.

"Why, Herbert!" exclaimed Dora, in a tone of surprise and disappointment, "have you got back already?"

Her brother smiled. "I haven't got back," he said, "for I haven't been anywhere yet. I had not gone a mile before one of the springs of the buggy broke, and it keeled over so far that I came near tumbling out. It happened at a place where there were no houses near, so I drew the buggy to the roadside, took out the horse, and led him back. I heard voices in here, and I came in. I must go and look for Mr. Haverley, and ask him to lend me a vehicle in which we may return home."

Dora stood annoyed; she did not want to return home; at least, not so soon. She had calculated on Herbert making a long stay with Mrs. Dudley.

"I suppose so," she replied, in an injured tone; "but before we say anything else, Herbert, let me introduce you to Miss Haverley."

She turned, but in the corner to which she directed her eyes, she saw only a calf; there was no young person in silk attire. The moment that Miriam perceived that the man who came in was not her brother, but the brother of some one else, her face had crimsoned, she had pushed away the unfortunate calf, and, springing to her feet, had darted into the shadows of an adjoining stall. From this, before Dora had recovered from her surprise at not seeing her, Miriam em

erged in the costume of a neatly dressed school-girl, with her skirts just reaching to the tops of her boots. It had been an easy matter to slip off that expansive silk gown. She advanced with the air of defensive gravity with which she generally greeted strangers, and made the acquaintance of Mr. Bannister.

"I am sure," she said, when she had heard what had happened, "that my brother will be very glad to lend you the gig. That is the only thing we have at present which runs properly."

"A gig will do very well, indeed," said Mr. Bannister. "We could not want anything better than that; although," he continued, "I am not sure that my harness will suit a two-wheeled vehicle."

"Oh, we have gig harness," said Miriam, "and we will lend you a horse, too, if you like."

Dora now thought it was time to say something. She was irritated because Herbert had returned so soon, and because he was going to take her away before she was ready to go; and although she would have been delighted to have a drive in the Cobhurst gig, provided the proper person drove her, she did not at all wish to return to Thorbury in that ridiculous old vehicle with Herbert. In the one case, she could imagine a delightful excursion in she knew not what romantic by-roads and shaded lanes; but in the other, she saw only the jogging old gig, and all the neighbors asking what had happened to them.

"I think," she said, "it will be well to see Mr. Haverley as soon as possible. Perhaps he knows of a blacksmith's shop, where the buggy can be mended."

Herbert smiled. "Repairs of that sort," he said, "require a good deal of time. If we waited for the buggy to be put in travelling condition, we would certainly have to stay here all night, and probably the greater part of tomorrow."

In the sudden emotions which had caused her to act almost exactly as Dora had acted, Miriam had entirely forgotten her resentment toward her companion.

"Why can't you stay?" she asked. "We have plenty of room, you know."

The man of business shook his head.

"Thank you very much," he replied, "but I must be in my office this evening. I think I shall be obliged to borrow your gig. I will walk over to the field-"

"Oh, you need not take the trouble to do that," said Miriam. "They are way over there at the end of the meadow beyond the hill. The gig is here in the barn, and I can lend it to you just as well as he can."

"You are very kind," said Herbert, "and I will accept your amendment. It will be the better plan, because if I saw your brother, I should certainly interfere with his work. He might insist upon coming to help me, which is not at all necessary. Where can I find the gig, Miss Haverley?"

Miriam led her visitors to the second floor.

"There it is," she said, "but of course you must have the harness belonging to it, for your buggy harness will not hold up the shafts properly. It is in the harness room, but I do not know which it is. There is a lot of harness there, but it is mostly old and worn out."

"I will go and look," said Herbert. "I think it is only part of it that I shall need."

During this conversation Dora had said nothing. Now as she stood by the old gig, toppling forward with its shafts resting upon the floor, she thought she had never seen such a horrible, antediluvian old trap in her life. Nothing could add so much to her disappointment in going so soon, as going in that thing. If there had been anything to say which might prevent her brother from carrying out his intention, she would have said it, but so far there had been nothing.

She followed the others into the harness room, and as her eyes glanced around the walls, they rested upon a saddle hanging on its peg. Instantly she thought of something to say.

"Herbert," she remarked, not too earnestly, "I think we shall be putting our friends to a great inconvenience by borrowing the gig. You will never be able to find the right harness and put it on so that there will not be an accident on the road, and Mr. Haverley or the man will have to be sent for. And, besides, there will be the trouble of getting the gig back again. Now, don't you think it will be a great deal better for you to put that saddle on the horse, and ride him home, and then send the carriage for me? That would be very simple, and no trouble at all."

Mr. Bannister turned his admiring eyes upon his sister.

"I declare, Dora," he said, "that is a good practical suggestion. If Miss Haverley will allow me, I will borrow the saddle and the bridle and ride home; I shall like that."

"Of course you are welcome to the saddle, if you wish it," said Miriam; "but you need not send for your sister. Why can't she stay with me to-night? I think it would be splendid to have a girl spend the night with me. Perhaps I oughtn't to call you a girl, Miss Bannister."

Dora's eyes sparkled. "But I am a girl, just as you are," she exclaimed, "and I should be delighted to stay. You are very good to propose it. Herbert is an awfully slow rider (I believe he always walks his horse), and I am sure it would be after dark before the carriage would get here."

"Do let her stay," cried Miriam, seizing Dora's arm, as if they had been old friends; "I shall be so glad to have her."

Mr. Bannister laughed.

"It is not for me to say what Dora shall do," he replied. "You two must decide that, and if I go home to report our safety, it will be all right. It is now too late for me to go to Mrs. Dudley's, especially as I ride so slowly; but I will drive there to-morrow, and stop for Dora on my return."

"Settled!" cried Miriam; and Dora gazed at her with radiant face. It was delightful to be able to bestow such pleasure.

In two minutes Mr. Bannister had brought in his horse. In the next minute all three of the party were busy unbuckling his harness; in ten minutes more it had been taken off, the saddle and bridle substituted, and Mr. Bannister was riding to Thorbury.

Dora of the sparkling eyes drew close to Miriam.

"Would you mind my kissing you?" she asked.

There was nothing in the warm young soul of the other girl which in the least objected to this token of a new-born friendship.

As Dora and Miriam, each with an arm around the waist of the other, walked out of the barn and passed the lower story, the calf, who had been the main instrument in bringing about the cordial relations between the two, raised his head and gazed at them with his good eye. Then perceiving that they had forgotten him, and were going away without even arranging his mosquito net for the night, he slowly turned his clouded visual organ in their direction, and composed himself to rest.

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