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   Chapter 20 THE TEABERRY GOWN IS TOO LARGE

The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 16654

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


When Dora Bannister had gone away in Miss Panney's phaeton, Miriam walked gravely into the house, followed by her brother.

"Now," said she, "I must go to work in earnest."

"Work!" exclaimed Ralph. "I think you have been working a good deal harder than you ought to work, and certainly a good deal harder than I intend you to work. As soon as he has had his dinner, Mike shall take the wagon, and go after the woman Miss Panney told us of."

"Of course I have been working," said Miriam, "but while Dora Bannister was here, what we did was not like straightforward work; it all seemed to mean something that was not just plain housekeeping. For one thing, the dough I intended to bake into bread was nearly all used up in making those rolls that Dora worked up into such pretty shapes; and now, if the new woman comes, I shall not have another chance to try my hand at making bread until she leaves us, for I am not going to do anything of the sort with a servant watching me. And there are all those raspberries we picked this morning. I am sure I do not know what to do with them, for there are ever so many more than we shall want to eat with cream. What was it, Ralph, that you said you liked, made of raspberries?"

Ralph looked a little puzzled.

"I think," he said, "it must have been something of the tart order. What did I tell you?"

"You did not tell me anything," said Miriam, "and I do not believe that tarts are ever made of raspberries. Dora Bannister said she wanted to cook something for you that you told her you liked, but as you have forgotten what it was, I suppose it does not make much difference now."

Ralph had said so many things to Dora that he could not remember what remark he had made about cooked raspberries; but it delighted him to think that, whatever it was, Dora had wished to make it for him.

After dinner Miriam went up to her room, where upon the bed lay Judith Pacewalk's teaberry gown. She took off her own school-girl dress, and put on the pink gown. It was the first time she had ever worn the clothes of a woman. When she had attired herself in the silken robe which had been so fatal to the fortunes and life of Judith Pacewalk, it had been slipped on in masquerade fashion, debased from its high position to a mere protection from spilt milk. Miriam had thought of the purple silk when Miss Panney was telling her story, and had said to herself that if the stall in the cow-stable had been ever so much darker and dirtier, and if the milk stains had been more and bigger, the career of that robe would have ended all the more justly.

The teaberry gown was too long for Miriam, and too large in every way. She knew that for herself; but hearing Ralph's footsteps outside, she had a longing to know what he would say on the subject, so, holding up her skirt to keep herself from tripping, she ran downstairs and called him into the big hall.

"How do you like me in the teaberry gown?" she asked.

Without a thought of any figurative significance connected with the dress, Ralph only saw that it was as unsuitable to his sister as it had been well suited to Dora.

"You will have to grow a good deal bigger and older before you are able to fill that gown, my little one," he said.

"That is not the way I do things," said Miriam, severely. "I shall make the gown fit me."

Ralph was about to say that it would be a pity to cut down and alter that picturesque piece of old-fashioned attire into an ordinary garment, and that it would be well to keep it as a family relic, or to give it away to some one who could wear it as it was, but Miriam's manner assured him that she was extremely sensitive on the subject of this gown, and he considered it wise to offer no further opinion about it. So he went about his affairs, and Miriam, having resumed her ordinary dress, went out with her cook-book to a bench under a tree on the lawn. She never stayed in the house when it was possible to be out of doors.

"I wish I could find out," she said to herself, "what Dora Bannister intended to make for Ralph out of raspberries. Whatever it is, I know I can make it just as well, and I want to do it all myself before the new cook comes. It could not have been jam," she said, as she turned over the leaves; "for Ralph does not care much for jam, and he would not have told her he liked that. And then there is jelly; but it must take a long time to make jelly, and I do not believe she would undertake to give him that for dinner, made from raspberries picked this morning. Besides, I cannot imagine Ralph saying he wanted jelly for his dinner. Well, well!" she exclaimed aloud, as she stopped to read a recipe, "they do make tarts out of raspberries! That must have been it, for Ralph is desperately fond of every kind of pastry. I will go into the house this minute, and make him some raspberry tarts. We shall have them for supper, even if they give him the nightmare. I am not going to have him say again that he wished the new cook, as he kept calling Dora Bannister, had stayed a little longer."

Alas! at dinner time Ralph had been guilty of that indiscretion. Without exactly knowing it, he had missed in the meal a certain very pleasant element, which had been put into the supper and breakfast by Dora's desire to gratify his especial tastes. While he missed their visitor in many other ways, he alluded to her premature departure only in connection with their domestic affairs.

But so far as Miriam was concerned, he could have done nothing worse than this. To have heard her brother say that Dora Bannister was the most lovely girl he had ever seen, and that he was filled with grief at losing the delights of her society, might have been disagreeable to her, or it might not. But to have him even in the lightest way intimate that her housekeeping was preferable to that of his own sister nettled her self-esteem.

"I will show him," she said, "that he is mistaken."

In the pleasant coolness of the great barn, Ralph stretched himself on a pile of new-made hay to think. He was a farmer, and he intended to try to be a good farmer, and he knew that good farmers, during working hours, do not lie down on piles of hay to think. But notwithstanding that, in this hay-scented solitude, looking out of the great door upon the quiet landscape with the white clouds floating over it, he thought of Dora. He had been thinking of her in all sorts of irregular and disjointed ways ever since he had risen in the morning; but now he wished to think definitely, and lay down here for that purpose. One cannot think definitely and single-mindedly when engaged in farm work, especially if he sometimes finds himself a little awkward at said work and is bothered by it.

Whenever he could do it, Ralph Haverley liked to get things clear and straightforward in his mind. He had applied this rule to all matters of his former business, and he now applied it to the affairs of his present estate. But how much more important was it to apply the rules to Dora Bannister! Nothing had ever put his mind into a condition less clear and straightforward than the visit of that young lady. The main point to be decided upon was: what should he do about seeing her again? He was filled by an all-pervading desire to do that; but how should he set about it? The simplest plan would be to go and see her; but if he did so, he knew he ought to take his sister with him, and he had no reason to believe that Miriam would be in any hurry to return Miss Bannister's visit. If he had been acquainted with the brother, the case would have been different, but that gentleman had not yet called upon him.

Having thought some time on this subject, Ralph sat upright, and rearranged his reflections.

"Why is it," he said to himself, "that I am so anxious to see her again, and to see her as soon as possible?"

To the solution of this question, Ralph applied the full force of his intellectual powers. The conclusion that came to him after about six seconds of deliberation was not well defined, but it indicated that if almost any young man had had in his house-actually living with him and taking part in his household affairs-an unusually handsome young woman, who, not only by her appearance, but by her gentle and thoughtful desire to adapt herself to the t

astes and circumstances of himself and his sister, seemed to belong in the place into which she had so suddenly dropped, that young man would naturally want to see that young woman just as soon as he could. This would be so in any similar case, and there was no use in trying to find out why it was so in this case.

He rose to his feet, and at that moment he heard Miriam calling to him.

"Ralph," she said, running into the barn, "I have been looking all over for you. The new woman cannot come to-day."

"I do not see why you should appear so delighted about it," said Ralph;

"I am very sorry to hear it."

"And I am not," replied Miriam. "There are some things I want to do before she comes, and I am very glad to have the chance. Mike brought back word from her that if you send the wagon in the cool of the morning, she will come over with her trunk."

"You are a funny girl," said Ralph, "to be actually pleased at the prospect of cooking and doing housework a little longer." And as he said that, he congratulated himself that his sister had not had the chance of thinking him a funny fellow for lying stretched on the hay when he ought to have been at work.

Miriam was now in good spirits again. She walked to the great open window, and, leaning on the bar, looked out.

"What a lovely air," she said, and then she turned to her brother. "It is nice to have visitors, and to have plenty of people to do your work, but it is a hundred times jollier for just us two to be here by ourselves. Don't you think so, Ralph?" And, without waiting for her brother's answer, she went on. "You see, we can do whatever we please. We can be as free as anything-as free as cats. Here, puss, puss," she called to the gray barn cat in the yard below. "No, she will not even look at me. Cats are the freest creatures in the world; they will not come to you if they do not want to. If you call your dog, he feels that he has to come to you. Ralph, do you know I think it is the most absurd thing in the world that in a place like this we should have no dog."

"I have been waiting for somebody to give me one," said Ralph, taking up a pitchfork and preparing to throw some hay into the stable below.

"That will be the nicest way of getting one," said Miriam, as she came and stood by him, and watched him thrust the hay into the yawning hole. "We do not want a dog that people are willing to sell. We want one that is the friend of the family, and which the owners are obliged to part with because they are going to Europe, or something of that sort. Such a dog we should prize. Don't you think so, Ralph?"

"Yes," said he, and went on taking up forkloads of hay and thrusting them into the hole. He was wondering if this were a good time to tell Miriam that that very morning Dora Bannister had been talking about there being no dog at Cobhurst, and had asked him if he would like to have one; for if he would, she had a very handsome black setter, which had been given to her when it was a little puppy, and of which she was very fond, but which had now grown too big and lively to be cooped up in the yard of their house. He had said that he would be charmed to have the dog, and had intended to tell Miriam about it, but now a most excellent opportunity had come to do so, he hesitated. Miriam's soul did not seem to incline toward their late visitor, and perhaps she might not care for a gift from her. It might be better to wait awhile. Then there came a happy thought to Ralph; here was a good reason for going to see Dora. It would be no more than polite to take an interest in the animal which had been offered him, and even if he did not immediately bring it to Cobhurst, he could go and look at it. Miriam now returned to the house, leaving her brother pondering over the question whether or not the next morning would be too soon to go and look at the dog.

The sun had set, and Ralph, having finished his day's work, and having helped his sister as much as she and Mike would let him, sat on the piazza, gazing between the tall pillars upon the evening landscape, and still trying to decide whether or not it would be out of the way to go the next morning to Dora Bannister. The evening light grew less and less, and Ralph's healthy instincts drew his mind from thoughts of Dora to thoughts of supper. It certainly was very late for the evening meal, but he would not worry Miriam with any signs of impatience. That would be unkind indeed, when she was slaving away in the kitchen, while he sat here enjoying the evening coolness.

In a few minutes he heard his sister's step in the hall, and then a sob. He had scarcely time to turn, when Miriam ran out, and threw herself down on the wide seat beside him. Her face, as he could see it in the dim light, was one of despair, and as sob after sob broke from her, tears ran down her cheeks. Tenderly he put his arm around her and urged her to tell him what had happened.

"Oh, Ralph," she sobbed, "it is very hard, but I know it is true. I have been just filled with vanity and pride, and after all I am nothing like as good as she is, nor as good as anybody, and the best I can do is to go back to school."

"What is the matter?" exclaimed Ralph. "You poor little thing, how came you to be so troubled?"

Miriam gave a long sigh and dropped her head on her brother's shoulder.

"Oh, Ralph," she said, "they are six inches high."

"What are?" cried Ralph, in great amazement.

"The tarts," she said; "the raspberry tarts I was making for you, because you like them, and because Dora Bannister was going to make them for you, and I determined that I could do it just as well as she could, and that I would do it and that you would not have to miss her for anything. But it is of no use; I cannot do things as well as she can, and those tarts are not like tarts at all; they are like chimneys."

"I expect they are very good indeed. Now do not drop another tear, and let us go in and eat them."

"No," said Miriam, "they are not good. I know what is the matter with them. I have found out that I have no more idea of making pie crust than I have about the nebulous part of astronomy, and that I never could comprehend. I wanted to make the lightest, puffiest pastry that was possible, and I used some self-raising flour, the kind that has the yeast ground up with it, and when I put those tarts in the oven to bake, they just rose up, and rose up, until I thought they would reach up the chimney. They are perfectly horrid."

Ralph sprang to his feet, and lifted his sister from her seat. "Come along, little one," he cried, "and I shall judge for myself what sort of a pastry-cook you are."

"The pigs shall judge that," said Miriam, who had now dried her eyes, "but fortunately there are other things to eat."

The tarts, indeed, were wonderful things to look at, resembling, as Miriam had said, a plateful of little chimneys, with a sort of swallow's nest of jam at the top, but Ralph did not laugh at them.

"Wait until their turn comes," said Ralph, "and I will give my opinion about them."

When he had finished the substantial part of the meal, he drew the plate of tarts toward him.

"I will show you how to eat the Cobhurst tart. You cut it down from top to bottom: then you lay the two sections on their rounded sides: then you get a lot more of jam, which I see you have on the side table, and you spread the cut surfaces with it: then you put it together as it was before, and slice it along its shorter diameter. Good?" said he; "they are delicious."

Miriam took a piece. "It is good enough," she said, "but it is not a tart. If Dora Bannister had made them, they would have been real tarts."

"It is very well I said nothing about the dog," thought Ralph; and then he said aloud, "It is not Dora Bannister that we have to consider; it is Molly Tooney. She is to save you from the tears and perplexities of flour and yeast, and to make you the happy little lady of the house that you were before the wicked Phoebe went away. But one thing I insist upon: I want the rest of those tarts for my breakfast."

Miriam looked at her brother with a smile that showed her storm was over.

"You are eating those things, dear Ralph," she said, "because I made them, and that is the only good thing about them."

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