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   Chapter 14 GOOD-NIGHT

The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 11335

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


When the three young people had been sitting for half an hour on the wide piazza of Cobhurst, enjoying the moonlight effects and waiting for the return of Dr. Tolbridge, Miriam, who was reclining in a steamer chair, ceased making remarks, but very soon after she became silent she was heard again, not speaking, however, but breathing audibly and with great regularity. Ralph and Dora turned toward her and smiled.

"Poor little thing," said the latter in a low voice; "she must be tired out."

"Yes," said Ralph, also speaking in an undertone, "she was up very early this morning, and has been at some sort of work ever since. I do not intend that this shall happen again. You must excuse her, Miss Bannister,-she is a girl yet, you know."

"And a sweet one, too," said Dora, "with a perfect right to go to sleep if she chooses. I should be ashamed of myself if I felt in the least degree offended. Do not let us disturb her until the doctor comes; the nap will do her good."

"Suppose, then," said Ralph, "that we take a little turn in the moonlight. Then we need not trouble ourselves to lower our voices."

"That will be very well," said Dora, "but I am afraid she may take cold, although the night air is so soft. I think I saw a lap robe on a table in the hall; I will spread that over her."

Ralph whispered that he would get the robe, but motioning him back, and having tiptoed into the hall and back again, Dora laid the light covering over the sleeping girl so gently that the regular breathing was not in the least interrupted. Then they both went quietly down the steps, and out upon the lawn.

"She is such a dear girl," said Dora, as they slowly moved away, "and although we only met to-day, I am really growing very fond of her, and I like her the better because there is still so much of the child left in her. Do not you like her the better for that, Mr. Haverley?"

Ralph did agree most heartily, and it made him happy to agree on any subject with a girl who was even more beautiful by moonlight than by day; who was so kind, and tended to his sister, and whose generous disposition could overlook little breaches of etiquette when there was reason to do so.

As they walked backward and forward, not very far away from the piazza, and sometimes stopping to admire bits of the silver-tinted landscape, Dora, with most interesting deftness, gave Ralph further opportunity of knowing her. With his sister as a suggesting subject, she talked about herself; she told him how she, too, had lost her parents early in life, and had been obliged to be a very independent girl, for her stepmother, although just as good as she could be, was not a person on whom she could rely very much. As for her brother, the dearest man on earth, she had always felt that she was more capable of taking care of him, at least in all matters in home life, than he of her.

"But I have been very happy," she went on to say, "for I am so fond of country life, and everything that belongs to it, that the more I have to do with it, the better I like it, and I really begrudge the time that I spend in the city. You do not know with what pleasure I look forward to helping Miriam get breakfast to-morrow morning. I consider it a positive lark. By the way, Mr. Haverley, do you like rolled omelets?"

Ralph declared that he liked everything that was good, and had no doubt that rolled omelets were delicious.

"Then I shall make some," said Dora, "for I know how to do it. And I think you said, Mr. Haverley, that the coffee to-night was too strong."

"A little so, perhaps," said Ralph, "but it was excellent."

"Oh, it shall be better in the morning. I am sure it will be well for one of us to do one thing, and the other another. I will make the coffee."

"You are wonderfully kind to do anything at all," said Ralph, and as he spoke he heard the clock in the house strike ten. It was agreeable in the highest degree to walk in the moonlight with this charming girl, but he felt that it was getting late; it was long past Miriam's bedtime, and he wondered why the doctor did not come.

Dora perceived the perturbations of his mind; she knew that he thought it was time for the little party to break up, but did not like to suggest it. She knew that the natural and proper thing for her to do was to wake up Miriam, and that the two should bid Ralph good-night, and leave him to sit up and wait for the doctor as long as he felt himself called upon to do so, but she was perfectly contented with the present circumstances, and did not wish to change them just yet. It was a pleasure to her to walk by this tall, broad-shouldered young fellow, who was so handsome and so strong, and in so many ways the sort of man she liked, and to let him know, not so much by her words, as by the incited action of his own intelligence, that she was fond of the things he was fond of, and that she loved the life he led.

As they still walked and talked, the thought came to Dora, and it was a very pleasing one, that she might act another part with this young gentleman; she had played the cook, now for a while she could play the mistress, and she knew she could do it so gently and so wisely that he would like it without perceiving it. She turned away her face for a moment; she felt that her pleasure in acting the part of mistress of Cobhurst, even for a little time, was flushing it.

"Suppose," she said, "we walk down to the road, and if we see or hear the doctor coming, we can wait there and save him the trouble of driving in."

They went out of the Cobhurst gateway, but along the moonlighted highway they saw no approaching spot, nor could

they hear the sounds of wheels.

"I really think, Mr. Haverley," said Dora, turning toward the house, "that I ought to go and arouse Miriam, and then we will retire. It is a positive shame to keep her out of her bed any longer."

This suggestion much relieved Ralph, and they walked rapidly to the porch, but when they reached it they found an empty steamer chair and no Miriam anywhere. They looked at each other in much surprise, and entering the house they looked in several of the rooms on the lower floor. Ralph was about to call out for his sister, but Dora quickly touched him on the arm.

"Hush," she said, smiling, "do not call her. Do you see that lap robe on the table? I will tell you exactly what has happened; while we were down at the road she awoke, at least enough to know that she ought to go to bed, and I really believe that she was not sufficiently awake to remember that I am here, and that she simply got up, brought the robe in with her, and went to her room. Isn't it funny?"

Ralph was quite sure that Dora's deductions were correct, for when Miriam happened to drop asleep in a chair in the evening, it was her habit, when aroused, to get up and go to bed, too sleepy to think about anything else; but he did not think it was funny now. He was mortified that Miss Bannister should have been treated with such apparent disrespect, and he began to apologize for his sister.

"Now, please stop, Mr. Haverley," interrupted Dora. "I am so glad to have her act so freely and unconventionally with me, as if we had always been friends. It makes me feel almost as if we had known each other always, and it does not make the slightest difference to me. Miriam wanted to give me another room, but I implored her to let me sleep with her in that splendid high-posted bedstead, and so all that I have to do is to slip up to her room, and, if I can possibly help it, I shall not waken her. In the morning I do not believe she will remember a thing about having gone to bed without me. So good-night, Mr. Haverley. I am going to be up very early, and you shall see what a breakfast the new cook will give you. I will light this candle, for no doubt poor Miriam has put out her lamp, if she did not depend entirely on the moonlight. By the way, Mr. Haverley," she said, turning toward him, "is there anything I can do to help you in shutting up the house? You know I am maid of all work as well as cook. Perhaps I should go down and see if the kitchen fire is safe."

"Oh, no, no!" exclaimed Ralph; "I attend to all those things,-at least, when we have no servant."

"But doesn't Miriam help you?" asked Dora, taking up the candle which she had lighted.

"No," said he; "Miriam generally bids me good-night and goes upstairs an hour before I do."

"Very well," said Dora; "I will say only one more thing, and that is that if I were the lord of the manor, who had been working in the hay-field all day, I would not sit up very long, waiting for a wandering doctor."

Ralph laughed, and as she approached the door of the stairway, he opened it for her.

"Suppose," she said, stopping for a moment in the doorway, and shielding the flame of the candle from a current of air with a little hand that was so beautifully lighted that for a moment it attracted Ralph's eyes from its owner's face, "you wait here for a minute, and I will go up and see if she is really safe in her own room. I am sure you will be better satisfied if you know that."

Ralph looked his thanks, and softly, but quickly, she went up the stairs.

At a little landing she stopped.

"Do you know," she whispered, looking back, with the candle throwing her head and hair into the prettiest lights and shadows, "I think this stairway is lovely;" and then she went on and disappeared.

In a few minutes she leaned over the upper part of the banisters and softly spoke to him.

"She is sleeping as sweetly and as quietly as the dearest of angels. I do not believe I shall disturb her in the least. Good-night, Mr. Haverley." And with her face thrown into a new light,-this time by the hall lamp below,-she smiled ever so sweetly, and then drew back her head. In half a minute it reappeared. She was right; he was still looking up.

"I forgot to say," she whispered, "that all the windows in Miriam's room are open. Do you think she was too sleepy to notice that, or is she accustomed to so much night air?"

"I really do not know," said Ralph, in reply.

"Very well, then," said Dora; "I will attend to all that in my own way. Good-night again, Mr. Haverley;" and with a little nod and a smile, she withdrew her face from his view.

If she had come back within the next minute, she would have found him still looking up. She felt quite sure of this, but she could think of no good reason for another reappearance.

Ralph lighted a pipe and sat down on the piazza. He looked steadily in front of him, but he saw no grass, no trees, no moonlighted landscape, no sky of summer night. He saw only the face of a young girl, leaning over and looking down at him from the top of a stairway. It was the face of a girl who was so gentle, so thoughtful for others, so quick to perceive, so quick to do; who was so fond of his sister, and so beautiful. He sat and thought of the wondrous good fortune that had brought this girl beneath his roof, and had given him these charming hours with her.

And when his pipe was out, he arose, declared to himself that, no matter what the doctor might think of it, he would not wait another minute for him, and went to bed,-his mind very busy with the anticipation of the charming hours which were to come on the morrow.

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