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The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 10665

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

When Dr. Tolbridge returned from the visit to the patient who lived beyond Cobhurst, he did not drive into the latter place, for seeing Mike by the gate near the barn, he gave the cushions and whip to him and went on.

As it was yet early in the evening, and bright moonlight, he concluded to go around by the Wittons'. It was not far out of his way, and he wanted to see Miss Panney. What he wanted to say to the old lady was not exactly evident to his own mind, but in a general way he wished her to know that Dora was at Cobhurst.

Dora was a great favorite with the doctor. He had known her all her life, and considered that he knew, not only her good points, of which there were many, but also those that were not altogether desirable, and, of which, he believed, there were few. One of the latter was her disposition to sometimes do as she pleased, without reference to tradition or ordinary custom. He had seen her acting the part of cook, disguised by a pink sunbonnet and an old-fashioned calico gown. And what pranks she and the Haverleys-two estimable young people, but also lively and independent-might play, no one could tell. The duration of Dora's visit would depend on her brother Herbert, and he was a man of business, whose time was not at all at his own disposal, and so, the doctor thought, it would not be a bad thing if Miss Panney would call at Cobhurst the next day, and see what those three youngsters were about.

The Wittons had gone to bed, but Miss Panney was in the parlor, reading.

"Early to bed and early to rise," was not one of her rules.

"Well, really!" she exclaimed, as she rose to greet her visitor, "this is amazing. How many years has it been since you came to see me without being sent for?"

"I do not keep account of years," said the doctor, "and if I choose to stop in and have a chat with you, I shall do it without reference to precedent. This is a purely social call, and I shall not even ask you how you are."

"I beg you will not," said the old lady, "and that will give me a good reason for sending for you when you ought to be informed on that point."

"This is not my first social call this evening," said he. "I took supper at Cobhurst, where Dora Bannister waited on the table."

"What do you mean?" exclaimed Miss Panney, and then the doctor told his tale. As the old lady listened, her spirits rose higher and higher. What extraordinary good luck! She had never planned a match that moved with such smoothness, such celerity, such astonishing directness as this. She did not look upon Dora's disregard of tradition and ordinary custom as an undesirable point in her character. She liked that sort of thing. It was one of the points in her own character.

"I wish I could have seen her!" she exclaimed. "She must have been charming."

"Don't you think there is danger that she may be too charming?" the doctor asked.

"No, I don't," promptly answered Miss Panney.

The doctor looked at her in some surprise.

"We should remember," said he, "that Dora is a girl of wealth; that one-third of the Bannister estate belongs to her, besides the sixty thousand dollars that came to her from her mother."

"That does not hurt her," said Miss Panney.

"And Ralph Haverley was a poor young man when he came here, and Cobhurst will probably make him a good deal poorer."

"I do not doubt it," said Miss Panney.

"Do you believe," said the doctor, after a moment's pause, "that it is wise or right in a girl like Dora Bannister, accustomed to fine living, good society, and an atmosphere of opulence, to allow a poor man like Ralph Haverley to fall in love with her? And he will do it, just as sure as the world turns round."

"Well, let him do it," replied the old lady. "I did not intend to give my opinion on this subject, because, as you know, I am not fond of obtruding my ideas into other people's affairs, but I will say, now, that Dora Bannister will have to travel a long distance before she finds a better man for a husband than Ralph Haverley, or a better estate on which to spend her money than Cobhurst. I believe that money that is made in a neighborhood like this ought to be spent here, and Thomas Bannister's money could not be better spent than in making Cobhurst the fine estate it used to be. I do not believe in a girl like Dora going off and marrying some city fellow, and perhaps spending the rest of her life at the watering-places and Paris. I want her here; don't you?"

"I certainly do, but you forget Mr. Ames."

"I do, and I intend to forget him," she replied, "and so does Dora."

The doctor shook his head. "I do not like it," he said; "young Haverley may be all very well,-I have a high opinion of him, already, but he is not the man for Dora. If he had any money at all, it would be different, but he has not. Now she would not be content to live at Cobhurst as it is, and he ought not to be content to have her do everything to make it what she would have it."

"Doctor," said Miss Panney, "if there is anything about all this in your medicine books, perhaps you know more than I do, and you can go on and talk; but you know there is not, and you know, too, that I was a very sensible middle-aged woman when you were toddling around in frocks and running against people. I believe you are trying to run agai

nst somebody now. Who is it?"

"Well," said the doctor, "if it is anybody, it is young Haverley."

Miss Panney smiled. "You may think so," she said, "but I want you to know that you are also running against me, and I say to you, confidentially, and with as much trust in you as I used to have that you would not tell who it was who spread your bread with forbidden jam, that I have planned a match between these two; and if they marry, I intend to make pecuniary matters more nearly even between them, than they are now."

The doctor looked at her earnestly.

"Do you suppose," said he, "that he would take money from you?"

"What I should do for him," she answered, "could not be prevented by him or any one else."

"But there is no reason," urged the other.

The old lady smiled, took off her glasses, wiped them with her handkerchief, and put them on again.

"There is so little in medicine books," she said. "His grandfather was my cousin."

"The one-?" asked the startled doctor.

"Yes, that very one," she answered quickly; "but he does not know it, and now we will drop the subject. I will try to get to Cobhurst to-morrow before Dora leaves, and I will see if I cannot help matters along a little."

The doctor laughed. "I was going to ask you to interfere with matters."

"Well, don't," she said. "And now tell me about your cook. Is she as good as ever?"

"As good?" said the doctor. "She is better. The more she learns about our tastes, the more perfectly she gratifies them. Mrs. Tolbridge and I look upon her as a household blessing, for she gives us three perfect meals a day, and would give us more if we wanted them; the butcher reverences her, for she knows more about meat and how to cut it than he does. Our man and our maid either tremble at her nod or regard her with the deepest affection, for I am told that they spend a great deal of their time helping her, when they should be attending to their own duties. She has, in fact, become so necessary to our domestic felicity, and I may say, to our health, that I do not know what will become of us if we lose her."

"Is there any chance of that?" eagerly asked the old lady.

"I fear there is," was the answer.

Miss Panney sprang to her feet, her eyes flashing.

"Now look here, Dr. Tolbridge," she said, "don't tell me that that woman is going to leave you because she wants higher wages and you will not pay them. I beg you to remember that I got you that woman. I saw she was what you needed, and I worked matters so that she came to you. She has proved to be everything that I expected. You are looking better now than I have seen you look for five years. You have been eating food that you like, and food that agrees with you, and a chance to do that comes to very few people in your circumstances. There is no way in which you could spend your money better than-"

The doctor raised his hand deprecatingly.

"There is no question of money," he said. "She has not asked for higher wages, and if she had, I should pay anything in reason. The trouble is more serious. You may remember that when she first came to this country, she lived with the Dranes, and she left them because they could no longer afford to employ her. She has the greatest regard for that family, and has lately heard that they are becoming poorer and poorer. There are only two of them,-mother and daughter,-and on account of some sort of unwise investment they are getting into a pretty bad way. I used to know Captain Drane, and was slightly acquainted with his family. I heard of their misfortune through a friend in Pennsylvania, and as I knew that La Fleur took such an interest in the family, I mentioned it to her. The result was disastrous; she has been in a doleful mood ever since, and yesterday assured Mrs. Tolbridge that if it should prove that Mrs. Drane and her daughter, who had been so good to her, had become so poor that they could not afford to employ a servant, she must leave us and go to them. She would ask no wages and would take no denial. She would stay with them and serve them for the love she bore them, as long as they needed her. I know she is in earnest, for she immediately wrote to Mrs. Drane, and asked me to put the letter in the post-office; and, by the way, she writes a great deal better hand than I do."

Miss Panney, who had reseated herself, gazed earnestly at the floor.

"Doctor," she said, "this is very serious. I have not yet met La Fleur, but I very much want to. I am convinced that she is a woman of character, and when she says she intends to do a thing, she will do it. That is, unless somebody else of character, and of pretty strong character too, gets in her way. I do not know what advice to give you just now, but she must not leave you. That must be considered as settled. I am coming to your house to-morrow afternoon, and please ask Mrs. Tolbridge to be at home. We shall then see what is to be done."

"There is nothing to be done," said the doctor, rising. "We cannot improve the circumstances of the Dranes, and we cannot prevent La Fleur from going to them if her feelings prompt her to do it."

"Stuff!" said the old lady. "There is always something to be done. The trouble is, there is not always some one to do it; but, fortunately for some of my friends, I am alive yet."

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