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   Chapter 12 TO EAT WITH THE FAMILY

The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 15227

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


As the two girls entered the house, Miriam clapped her hands.

"What a surprise this will be for Ralph!" she exclaimed. "He hasn't the slightest idea that you are here, or that anybody is going to spend the night with us. If Mike said anything about you and your brother,-which I doubt, for he is awfully anxious to get in that hay,-Ralph thought, of course, that you were both gone long ago."

The situation suited Dora's fancy admirably.

"Let us make it a regular surprise," she said. "I am going to help you to get supper, and to do whatever you have to do. Suppose you don't tell your brother that I am here, and let him find it out by degrees. Don't you think that will be fun?"

"Indeed it will," cried the other; "and if you don't mind helping a little about the cooking, I think that will be fun too. Perhaps you can tell me some things I don't know."

"Let us begin," exclaimed Dora, "for everything ought to be ready before he comes in. Can you lend me a big apron?"

"I have only one," said Miriam, "and it is not very big; I intended to make some more, but I haven't had time. But you needn't do anything, you know. You can just give me advice and keep me company."

"Oh, I want to do things. I want to work," cried Dora; "it would be cruel to keep me from the fun of helping you get supper. Haven't you something I can slip on instead of this dress? It is not very fine, but I don't want to spatter or burn it."

"None of my clothes are long enough for you," said Miriam; "but perhaps I might find something in the garret. There are all sorts of clothes up there. If you choose, we can go up and look."

In the next minute the two girls were in the great garret, kneeling in front of a trunk, in which Miriam had found the silk robe, which now lay tumbled up in a corner of a stall in the cow-stable. Article after article of female attire was drawn out and tossed on the floor. Dora was delighted; she was fond of old-fashioned things, and here were clothes of various eras. Some colonial, perhaps, and none that had been worn since these two girls had come into the world. There was a calico dress with large pink figures in it which caught Dora's eye; she sprang to her feet, shook it out, and held it up before her.

"This will do," she said. "The length is all right, and it does not matter about the rest of the fit."

"Of course not," said Miriam; "and now let us go down. We need not wait to put the rest of the things back."

As Dora was about to go, her eyes fell on an old-fashioned pink sunbonnet.

"If you don't mind," she said, "I will take that, too. I shall be awfully awkward, and I don't want to get cinders or flour in my hair."

When Dora had arrayed herself in the calico dress with pink flowers, she stood for a moment before the large mirror in Miriam's room. The dress was very short as to waist, and very perpendicular as to skirt, and the sleeves were puffy at the elbows and tight about the wrists, but pink was a color that became her, the quaint cut of the gown was well suited to her blooming face, and altogether she was pleased with the picture in the glass. As for the sunbonnet, that was simply hideous, but it could be taken off when she chose, and the wearing of it would help her very much in making herself known to Mr. Ralph Haverley.

For half an hour the girls worked bravely in the kitchen. Dora had some knowledge of the principles of cookery, though her practice had been small, and Miriam possessed an undaunted courage in culinary enterprises. However, they planned nothing difficult, and got on very well. Dora made up some of Miriam's dough into little rolls.

"I wish I could make these as the Tolbridges' new cook makes them. They say that every morning she sends in a plate of breakfast rolls, each one a different shape, and some of them ever so pretty."

"I don't suppose they taste any better for that," remarked Miriam.

"Perhaps not," said the other, "but I like to see things to eat look pretty." And she did her best to shape the little rolls into such forms that they might please the eye of Mr. Ralph as well as satisfy his palate.

Miriam went up to the dining-room to arrange the table. While doing this she saw Ralph approaching from the barn. In the kitchen, below, Dora, glancing out of the window, also saw him coming, and pulling her sunbonnet well forward, she applied herself more earnestly to her work. Ralph came in, tired and warm, and threw himself down on a long horse-hair sofa in the hall.

"Heigh ho, Miriam," he cried; "hay-making is a jolly thing, all the world over, but I have had enough of it for to-day. How are you getting on, little one? Don't put yourself to too much trouble about my supper. Only give me enough of whatever you have; that is all I ask."

"Ralph," said Miriam, standing gravely by him, "I did not have to get supper all by myself; there is a new girl in the kitchen."

"Good," cried Ralph; "I am very glad to hear that. When did she come?"

"This afternoon," said Miriam, "and she is cooking supper now. But, Ralph," she continued, "there is hardly any wood in the kitchen. We have-she has used up nearly all that was brought in this morning."

"Well," said Ralph, "there is plenty of it cut, in the woodhouse."

"But, Ralph," said Miriam, "I don't like to ask her to go after the wood, herself, and some is needed now."

"Mike is just as busy as he can be down at the barn," said her brother, "and I cannot call him now. If you show her the woodhouse, she can get what she wants with very little trouble, and Mike will bring in a lot of it to-night."

"But, Ralph," persisted his sister, "I don't want to ask her to stop her cooking and go out and get wood. It does not look like good management, for one thing, and for other reasons I do not want to do it. Don't you think you could bring her some wood? Just a little basketful of short sticks will do."

Ralph sat up and knitted his brows. "Miriam," said he, "if your new cook is the right sort of a woman, she ought to be able to help herself in emergencies of this kind, with the woodhouse not a dozen yards from the kitchen. But as she is a stranger to the place, and I don't want to discourage anybody who comes to help you, I will get some wood for her, but I must say that it does not look very well for the lord of the manor to be carrying fuel to the cook."

"It isn't the lord of the manor," cried Miriam; "it is the head hay-maker, and when you dress yourself for supper, she will never think of you as the man who brought in the wood."

Dora, from the kitchen window, saw Ralph go out to the woodhouse, and she saw him returning with an arm-load of small sticks. Then she turned her back to the kitchen door, and bent her head over a beefsteak she was preparing for the gridiron.

Ralph came in with the wood, and put it down by the side of the great stove. As he glanced at the slight form in the pink gown, it struck him that this woman would not be equal to the hard work which would be sometimes necessary here.

"I suppose this wood will be as much as you will want for the present," he said, as he turned toward the door, "and the man will fill this box to-night, but if you need any more before he does so, there is the woodhouse just across the yard, where you can easily get a few sticks."

Dora half turned herself in the direction of the woodhouse, and murmured,

"Yes, sir."

"Miriam," said Ralph, as he went into the dining-room, where his sister was putting the knives and forks upon the supper table, "do you think that woman is strong enough to wa

sh, iron, and do all the things that Phoebe used to do when she was here? How old is she?"

"I don't know, exactly," answered Miriam, going to a cupboard for some glasses; "and as to rough work, I can't tell what she can do, until she tries."

When Ralph had made his toilet and come downstairs, attired in a very becoming summer suit, his sister complimented him.

"Hay-making makes you ever so much handsomer," she said; "you look as if you had been on a yachting cruise. There is one thing I forgot to say to you, but I do not suppose it will make any difference, as we are real country people now: our new cook is accustomed to eating at the table with the family."

Ralph's face flushed. "Upon my word!" he exclaimed, staring at his sister. "Well," he continued, "I don't care what she is accustomed to, but she cannot eat at our table. I may carry wood for cooks, but I do not eat with them."

"But, Ralph," said Miriam, "you ought to consider the circumstances. She is not a common Irishwoman, or German. She is an American, and has always taken her meals with the family in which she lived. I could not ask her to eat in the kitchen. You know, Mike takes his meals there since Phoebe has gone. Indeed, Ralph, I cannot expect her to do a thing that she has never done in her life, before. Do you really think you would mind it? You work with Mike in the field, and you don't mind that, and this girl is very respectable, I assure you."

Ralph stood silent. He had supposed his sister, young as she was, knew more of the world than to make an arrangement with a servant which would put her, in many respects, on an equality with themselves. He was very much annoyed, but he would not be angry with Miriam, if he could help it, nor would he put her in the embarrassing position of revoking the agreement with this American woman, probably a farmer's daughter, and, in her own opinion, as good as anybody. But, although he might yield at present, he determined to take the important matter of engaging domestic servants into his own hands. His sister had not yet the necessary judgment for that sort of thing.

"Miriam," said he, "for how long have you engaged this woman?"

"Nothing at all has been said about time," she answered.

"Very well, then," said he, "she can come to the table to-night and to-morrow morning, for, I suppose, if I object, she will go off and leave you again without anybody, but to-morrow she must be told that she cannot eat with us; and if she does not like that, she must leave, and I will go to the city and get you a proper servant. The hay is in now, and there is no more important work to which I could give a day. Now do not be angry, little one, because I object to your domestic arrangements. We all have to make mistakes, you know, when we begin."

"Thank you, Ralph," said Miriam. "I really am ever so much obliged to you," and going up to her brother, she lifted her face to his. Ralph stooped to kiss her, but suddenly stopped.

"Who, in the name of common sense, is that!" he exclaimed. The sound of wheels was plainly heard upon the driveway, and turning, they saw a buggy stop at the door.

"It is Dr. Tolbridge!" cried Miriam.

Through the open front door Ralph saw that it was the doctor, preparing to alight.

"Miriam," said he, quickly, "we must ask the doctor to stay to supper, and if he does, that cook must not come to the table. It will not do at all, as you can see for yourself. We cannot ask our friends and neighbors to sit down with servants."

"I will see," said Miriam. "I think that can be made all right," and they both went to the door to meet their visitor.

The doctor shook hands with them most cordially.

"Glad to see you both so ruddy; Cobhurst air must agree with you. And now, before we say anything else, let me ask you a question: Have you had your supper?"

"No," answered Ralph, "and I hope you have not."

"Your hopes are realized. I have not, and if you do not mind letting me sup with you, I will do it."

The brother and sister, who both liked the hearty doctor, assured him that they would be delighted to have him stay.

"The reason of my extending an invitation to myself is this: I have been making a visit in the country, where I was detained much longer than I expected, and as I drove homeward, I said to myself, 'Good sir, you are hungry, and where are you going to get your evening meal? You cannot reach home until long after the dinner hour, and moreover you have a patient beyond Cobhurst, whom you ought to see this evening. It would be a great pity to drive all the way to Thorbury, and then back again, to-night. Now there are those young Cobhurst people, who, you know, have supper at the end of the day, instead of dinner, like the regular farmers that they are, and as you want to see them, anyway, and find out how they are getting on, it will be well to stop there, and ten to one, you will find that they have not yet sat down to the table.'"

"A most excellent conclusion," said Ralph, "and I will call Mike, and have him take your horse."

Having left the doctor in the charge of her brother, Miriam hurried downstairs to apprise Dora of the state of affairs.

"I am sorry," she said, "but we will have to give up the trick we were going to play on Ralph, for Dr. Tolbridge has come, and will stay to supper, and so, while you go upstairs and put on your own dress, I will finish getting these things ready. I will see Ralph before we sit down, and tell him all about it."

Dora made no movement toward the stairs.

"I knew it was the doctor," she said, "for I went out and looked around the corner of the house, and saw his horse. But I do not see why we should give up our trick. Let us play it on the doctor as well as on your brother."

Miriam stood silent a few moments.

"I do not know how that would do," she said. "That is a very different thing. And besides, I do not believe Ralph would let you come to the table. You ought to have seen how angry he was when I told him the new cook must eat with us."

"Oh, that was splendid!" cried Dora. "I will not come to the table. That will make it all the funnier when we tell him. I can eat my supper anywhere, and I will go upstairs and wait on you, which will be better sport than sitting down at the table with you."

"But I do not like that," said Miriam. "I will not have you go without your supper until we have finished."

"My dear Miriam!" exclaimed Dora, "what is a supper in comparison with such a jolly bit of fun as this? Let me go on as the new cook. And now we must hurry and get these things on the table. It will make things a great deal easier for me, if they can eat before it is time to light the lamps."

When Miriam went to call the gentlemen to supper, the doctor said to her:-

"Your brother has told me that you have a new servant, and that she is so preposterous as to wish to take her meals with you, but that he does not intend to allow it. Now, I say to you, as I said to him, that if she expected to sit at the table before I came, she must do it now. I am used to that sort of thing, and do not mind it a bit. In the families of the farmers about here, with whom I often take a meal, it is the custom for the daughter of the family to cook, to wait on the table, and then sit down with whomever may be there, kings or cobblers. I beg that you will not let my coming make trouble in your household."

Miriam looked at her brother.

"All right," said Ralph, with a smile, "if the doctor does not mind, I shall not. And now, do let us have something to eat."

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