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   Chapter 13 DORA'S NEW MIND

The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 9106

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


When Ralph Haverley made up his mind to agree to anything, he did it with his whole soul, and if he had had any previous prejudices against it, he dismissed them; so as he sat at supper with the doctor and his sister he was very much amused at being waited upon by a woman in a pink sunbonnet. That she should wear such a head-covering in the house was funny enough in itself, but the rest of her dress was also extremely odd, and she kept the front of her dark projecting bonnet turned downward or away, as if she had never served gentlemen before, and was very much overpowered by bashfulness. But for all that she waited very well, and with a light quickness of movement unusual in a servant.

"I am afraid, doctor," said Miriam, when the pink figure had gone downstairs to replenish the plate of rolls, "that you will miss your dinner. I have heard that you have a most wonderful cook."

"She is indeed a mistress of her art," replied the doctor; "but you do very well here, I am sure. That new cook of yours beats Phoebe utterly. I know Phoebe's cooking."

"But you must not give her all the credit," exclaimed Miriam; "I made that bread, although she shaped it into rolls. And I helped with the beefsteak, the potatoes, and the coffee."

"Which latter," said Ralph, "is as strong as if six or seven women had made it, although it is very good."

The meal went on until the two hungry men were satisfied, Miriam being so absorbed in Dora's skilful management of herself that she scarcely thought about eating. There was a place for the woman in pink, if she chose to take it, but she evidently did not wish to sit down. Whenever she was not occupied in waiting upon those at the table, she bethought herself of some errand in the kitchen.

"Well," said Ralph, "those rolls are made up so prettily, and look so tempting, that I wish I had not finished my supper."

"You are right," said the doctor, "they are aesthetic enough for La Fleur," and then pushing back his chair a little, he looked steadfastly, with a slight smile on his face, at the figure, with bowed sunbonnet, which was standing on the other side of the table.

"Well, young woman," he said, "how is your mind by this time?"

For a moment there was silence, and then from out of the sunbonnet there came, clearly and distinctly, the words:-

"That is very well. How is your kitten?"

At this interchange of remarks, Ralph sat up straight in his chair, amazement in his countenance, while Miriam, ready to burst into a roar of laughter, waited convulsively to see what would happen next. Turning suddenly toward Ralph, Dora tore off her sunbonnet and dashed it to the floor. Standing there with her dishevelled hair, her flushed cheeks, her sparkling eyes and her quaint gown, Ralph thought her the most beautiful creature he had ever gazed upon.

"How do you do, Mr. Haverley?" said Dora, advancing and extending her hand; "I know you are not willing to eat with cooks, but I do not believe you will object to shaking hands with one, now and then."

Ralph arose, and took her hand, but she gave him no opportunity to say anything.

"Your sister and I got up this little bit of deception for you, Mr. Haverley," she continued, "and we intended to carry it on a good deal further, but that gentleman has spoiled it all, and I want you to know that I stopped here to see your sister, and finding she had not a soul to help her, I would not leave her in such a plight, and we had a royal good time, getting the supper, and were going to do ever so many more things-I should like to know, doctor, how you knew me. I am sure I did not look a bit like myself."

"You did not look like yourself, but you walked like yourself," replied Dr. Tolbridge. "I watched you when you first tried to toddle alone, and I have seen you nearly every day since, and I know your way of stepping about as well as I know anything. But I must really apologize for having spoiled the fun. I discovered you, Dora, before we had half finished supper, but I thought the trick was being played on me alone. I had no idea that Mr. Haverley thought you were the new cook."

"I certainly did think so," cried Ralph, "and what is more, I intended to discharge you to-morrow morning."

There was a lively time for a few minutes, after which Dora explained what had been said about her mind and a kitten.

"He was just twitting me with having once changed my mind-every one does that," she said; "and then I gave him a kitten. That is all. And now, before I change my dress, I will go

and get some wood for the kitchen fire. I think you said, Mr. Haverley, that the woodhouse was not far away."

"Wood!" cried Ralph; "don't you think of it!"

Miriam burst into a laugh.

"Oh, you ought to have heard the lord of the manor declare that he would not carry fuel for the cook," she cried.

Ralph joined in the laugh that rose against him, but insisted that Dora should not change her dress.

"You could not wear anything more becoming," he said, "and you do not know how much I want to treat the new cook as one of the family."

"I will wear whatever the lord of the manor chooses," said Dora, demurely, and was about to make reference to his concluding remark, but checked herself.

When the two girls joined the gentlemen on the porch, which they did with much promptness, having delegated the greater part of their household duties to Mike, who could take a hand at almost any kind of work, Dr. Tolbridge announced that he must proceed to visit his patient.

"Are you coming back this way, doctor?" asked Dora. "Because if you are, would it be too much trouble for you to look for our buggy on the side of the road, and to bring back the cushions and the whip with you? Herbert may think that in this part of the country the people are so honest that they would not steal anything out of a deserted buggy, but I do not believe it is safe to put too much trust in people."

"A fine, practicable mind," said the doctor; "cuts clean and sharp. I will bring the cushions and the whip, if they have not been stolen before I reach them. And now I will go to the barn and get my horse. We need not disturb the industrious Mike."

"If you are going to the barn, doctor," cried Miriam, seizing her hat, "I will go with you and put the mosquito net over my calf, which I entirely forgot to do. Perhaps, if it is light enough, you will look at its eye."

The doctor laughed, and the two went off together, leaving Dora and Ralph on the piazza.

Dora could not help thinking of herself as a very lucky girl. When she had started that afternoon to make a little visit at Cobhurst, she had had no imaginable reason to suppose that in the course of a very few hours she would be sitting alone with Mr. Haverley in the early moonlight, without even his sister with them. She had expected to see Ralph and to have a chat with him, but she had counted on Miriam's presence as a matter of course; so this tête-à-tête in the quiet beauty of the night was as delightful as it was unanticipated. More than that, it was an opportunity that ought not to be disregarded.

The new mind of Miss Dora Bannister was clear and quick in its perceptions, and prompt and independent in action. It not only showed what she wanted, but indicated pretty clearly how she might get it. Since she had been making use of this fresh intellect, she had been impressed very strongly by the belief that in the matter of matrimonial alliance, a girl should not neglect her interest by depending too much upon the option of other people. Her own right of option she looked upon as a sacred right, and one that it was her duty to herself to exercise, and that promptly. She had just come from the seaside, where she had met some earnest young men, one or two of whom she expected to see shortly at Thorbury. Also Mr. Ames, their young rector, was a very persevering person, and a great friend of her brother.

Of course it behooved her to act with tact, but for all that she must be prompt. It was easy to see that Ralph Haverley could not be expected to go very soon into the society of Thorbury, to visit ladies there, and as she wanted him to learn to know her as rapidly as possible, she resolved to give him every opportunity.

Miriam was gone a long time, because when she reached the barn, the calf was not to be found where she had left it, and she had been obliged to go for Mike and a lantern. After anxious search the little fellow had been found reclining under an apple tree, having gained sufficient strength from the ministrations of its fair attendants to go through the open stable door and to find out what sort of a world it had been born into. It required time to get the truant back, secure it in its stall, and make all the arrangements for its comfort which Miriam thought necessary. Therefore, before she returned to the piazza, Miss Bannister and Ralph had had a long conversation, in which the latter had learned a great deal about the disposition and tastes of his fair companion, and had been much interested in what he learned.

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