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   Chapter 16 KEEP HER TO HELP YOU

The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 10633

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

It was about ten o'clock the next morning when Miss Panney drove over to Cobhurst in her phaeton. She did not go up to the house, but tied her roan mare behind a clump of locust trees and bushes, where the animal might stand in peace and shade. Then she walked around the house, and hearing the clatter of crockery in the basement, she looked down through a kitchen window, and saw Mike washing the breakfast dishes.

Going on toward the back of the house, she heard voices and laughter over in the garden. Behind a tangled mass of raspberries, she saw a pink sunbonnet and a straw hat with daisies in it. She knew, then, that Dora and Miriam were picking berries, and then her eyes and ears began to search for Ralph.

She went up on the back piazza and looked over toward the barn, which appeared to be closed, and around and about the house, but saw nothing of the young man. But she would wait; it was scarcely likely that he was at work in the fields by himself. He would probably appear soon, and, if possible, she wanted to speak to him before she saw any one else. She went into the house, and took a seat in the hall, where, through a narrow window by the side of the door, she had a good view of the garden and the grounds at the back, and could also command the front entrance of the house.

Miss Panney had been seated but a very few minutes when the two girls emerged from the bosky intricacies of the garden.

"Upon my word!" exclaimed the old lady, "she has got on Judith Pacewalk's teaberry gown. I could never forget that!"

At this moment there was a clatter of hoofs and a rattle of wheels, and a brown horse, drawing a very loose-jointed wagon, with Ralph Haverley, in a broad hat and light tennis jacket, driving, dashed up to the back door and stopped with a jerk.

"Back so soon!" cried Miriam. "See what a lot of raspberries we have picked. I will take them into the house, and then come out and get the things you have brought."

As Miriam went around toward the kitchen, Ralph sprang to the ground, and

Dora approached him. Miss Panney could see her face under the sunbonnet.

It was suffused with the light of a smiling, beaming welcome.

"You did go quickly, didn't you?" she said. "You must be a good driver."

"I didn't want to lose any time," answered Ralph, "and I made Mrs. Browning step along lively. As it was, I was afraid that your brother might arrive before I got back and that I might find you were gone."

"It was a pity," said Dora, "that you troubled yourself to hurry back. You may have wanted to do other things in Thorbury, and if Herbert missed seeing you to-day he would have plenty of other opportunities."

Ralph laughed. "I should like to meet your brother," he said, "but I am bound to say that I was thinking more of the new cook. I did not want her to leave before I got back."

Dora raised her sunbonnet toward him. Miriam's steps were heard approaching.

"You might have felt sure," she said, "that she would not have gone without seeing you again. You have been so kind and good to her that she would not think of doing that." Then, as Miriam was very near, she approached the wagon. "Did you get the snowflake flour, as I told you?" she asked. "Yes, I see you did, and I am glad you listened to my advice, and bought only a bag of it, for you know you may not like it."

"If it is the flour you use, I know we shall like it," said Ralph; "but still I am bound to follow your advice."

"You would better follow me, now," said Miriam, who had taken some parcels from the wagon, "and bring that bag into the pantry. I do not like Mike to come into our part of the house with his boots."

Ralph shouldered the bag, and Dora stepped up to him.

"I will stay with the horse until you come out again," she said, not speaking very loudly.

Miss Panney, who had heard all that had been said, smiled, and her black eyes twinkled. "Truly," she said to herself, "for so short an acquaintance, this is getting on wonderfully."

Miriam, her arms full of parcels, and her mind full of household economy, walked rapidly by Miss Panney without seeing her at all, and, entering the dining-room, passed through it into the pantry. But when Ralph appeared in the open doorway, the old lady rose and confronted him, her finger on her lip.

"I have just popped in to make a little call on your sister," she whispered; "but I saw she was pretty well loaded as she passed, and I did not wish to embarrass her-I do not mind embarrassing you. Don't put down the bag, I beg. I shall step into the drawing-room, and you can say I am there. By the way, who is that young woman standing by the horse?"

"It is Miss Bannister," answered Ralph, his face unreasonably flushing as he spoke. "She is visiting Miriam and helping her."

When Miss Panney wished to influence a person in favor of or against another person, she was accustomed to go about the business in a very circumspect way, and to accommodate the matter and the manner of her remarks to the disposition of the person addressed, and to the occasion. She wished very much to influence Ralph in favor of Miss Bannister, and if she had had the opportunity of a conversation with him, she knew she could have done this in a very easy and natural way. But there was no time for conve

rsation now, and she might not again have the chance of seeing him alone, so she adopted a very different course, and with as much readiness and quickness as Daniel Boone would have put a rifle-ball into the head of an Indian the moment he saw it protrude from behind a tree, so did Miss Panney concentrate all she had to say into one shot, and deliver it quickly.

"Help Miriam, eh?" she whispered; "take my advice, my boy, and keep her to help you." And without another word she proceeded to the drawing-room, where she seated herself in the most comfortable chair.

Ralph stood still a minute with the bag on his shoulder. He scarcely understood what had been said to him, but the words had been so well aimed and sent with such force that before he reached Miriam and the pantry his mind was illumined by the shining apparition of Dora as his partner and helpmate. Two minutes before there had been no such apparition. It is true that his mind had been filled with misty, cloudlike sensations, entirely new to it, but the words of the old lady had now condensed them into form.

When Miriam was informed of the visitor in the drawing-room, she frowned a little, and made up a queer face, and then, taking off her long apron, went to perform her duty as lady of the house.

Ralph returned to Dora, and as he looked at the girl who was patting the neck of the brown mare, she seemed to have changed, not because she was different from what she had been a few minutes before, but because he looked upon her differently. As he approached, every word that she had spoken to him that day crowded into his memory. The last thing she had said was that she would wait until he returned to her, and here she was, waiting. When he spoke, his manner had lost the free-heartedness of a little while before; there was a slight diffidence in it.

Hearing that Miss Panney was in the house, Dora turned her bonnet downward, and she also frowned a little.

"Why should that old person come in this very morning?" she thought.

But in an instant the front of the bonnet was raised toward Ralph, and upon the young face under it there was not a shadow of dissatisfaction.

"Of course I must go in and see her," she said, and then, speaking as if Ralph were one on whom she had always been accustomed to rely for counsel, "do you think I need go upstairs and change my dress? If this is good enough for you and Miriam, isn't it good enough for Miss Panney?"

As Ralph gazed into the blue eyes that were raised to his, it was impossible for him to think of anything for which their owner was not good enough. This impression upon him was so strong that he said, with blurting awkwardness, that she looked charming as she was, and needed not the slightest change. The value of this impulsive remark was fully appreciated by Dora, but she gave no sign of it, and simply said that if he were suited, she was.

They were moving toward the house when Dora suddenly laid her hand upon his arm.

"You have forgotten the horse, Mr. Ralph," she said.

The touch and the name by which she called him for the first time made the young man forget, for an instant, everything in the world, but the girl who had touched and spoken.

"Have you anything to tie her with? Oh, yes, there is a chain on that post."

As Ralph turned the horse toward the hitching-post, Dora ran before him, and stood ready with the chain in her hand.

"Oh, no," she said, as he motioned to take it from her, "let me hook it on her bridle. Don't you want to let me help you at all?"

As side by side Dora and Ralph entered the drawing-room, Miss Panney declared in her soul that they looked like an engaged couple, coming to ask for her blessing. And when Dora saluted her with a kiss, and, drawing up a stool, took a seat at her feet, the old lady gave her her blessing, though not audibly.

As Miss Panney was in a high good humor, she wanted everybody else to be so, and in a few minutes even the sedate Miriam was chatting freely and pleasantly.

"And so that graceless Phoebe has left you," said the old lady; "to board the minister, indeed! I will see that minister, and give him a text for a sermon. But you cannot keep up this sort of thing, my young friends; not even with Dora's help." And she stroked the soft hair of Miss Bannister, from which the sunbonnet had been removed.

"I will see Mike before I go, and send him for Molly Tooney. Molly is a good enough woman, and if I send for her, she will come to you until you have suited yourselves with servants. And now, my dear child, where did you find that gay dress? Upstairs in some old trunk, I suppose. Stand over there and let me look at you. It is a good forty years since I have seen that gown. Do you know to whom it used to belong? But of course you do not. It was Judith Pacewalk's teaberry gown."

"And who was Judith Pacewalk?" asked Dora; "and why was it teaberry? It is not teaberry color."

"No," said Miss Panney; "the color had nothing to do with it, but I must say it has kept very well. Let me see," taking out her watch, "it is not yet eleven o'clock, and if you young people have time enough, I will tell you the story of that gown. What does the master say?"

Ralph declared that they must have the story, and that time must not be considered.

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