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The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 14188

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

In a small room at the back of Dr. Tolbridge's house there sat a young woman by the window, writing. This was Cicely Drane; and although it was not yet ten days since Miss Panney broached her plan of the employment of Miss Drane as the doctor's secretary, or rather copyist, here she was, hard at work, and she had been for two days.

The window opened upon the garden, and in the beds were a great many bright and interesting flowers, but paying no heed to these, Cicely gave her whole attention to her task, which, indeed, was not an easy one. With knitted brows she bent over the manuscript of the "Diagnosis of Sympathy," and having deciphered a line or two, she wrote the words in a fair hand on a broad sheet before her. Then she returned to the study of the doctor's caligraphy, and copied a little more of it, but the proportion of the time she gave to the deciphering of the original manuscript to that occupied in writing the words in her own hand was about as ten is to one. An hour had elapsed since she had begun to write on the page, which she had not yet filled.

Miss Cicely Drane was a small person, nearing her twenty-second year. She had handsome gray eyes, tastefully arranged brown hair, and a vivacious and pleasing face. Her hands were small, her feet were small, and she did not look as if she weighed a hundred pounds, although, in fact, her weight was considerably more than that. Her dress was a simple one, on which a great deal of thought had been employed to make it becoming.

For a longer time than usual she now bent over the doctor's manuscript, endeavoring to resolve a portion of it into comprehensible words. Then she held up the page to the light, replaced it on the table, stood up and looked at it, and finally sat down again, her elbows on the paper, and her tapering fingers in the little brown curls at the sides of her head. Presently she raised her head, with a sigh. "It is of no use," she said. "I must go and ask him what this means; that is, if he is at home."

With the page in her hand, she went to the office door, and knocked.

"Come in," said Dr. Tolbridge.

Miss Drane entered; the doctor was alone, but he had his hat in his hand and was just going out.

"I am glad I caught you," said she, "for there is a part of this page in which I can see no meaning."

"What is it?" said the doctor. "Read it."

Slowly and distinctly she read:-

"'The cropsticks of flamingo bicrastus quack.'"

The doctor frowned, laid his hat on the table, and seating himself took the paper from Cicely Drane.

"This is strange," said he. "It does seem to be 'cropsticks of flamingo,' but what can that mean?"

"That is what I came to ask you," said she. "I have been puzzling over it a good while, and I supposed, of course, you would know what it is."

"But I do not," said the doctor. "It is often very hard for me to read my own writing, and this was written two years ago. You can leave this sheet with me, and this evening I will look over it and try to make something out of it."

Cicely Drane was methodical in her ways; she could not properly go on with the rest of her work without this page, and so she told the doctor.

"Oh, never mind any more work for today," said he. "It is after four o'clock now, and you ought to go out and get a little of this pleasant sunshine. By the way, how do you like this new business?"

"I should like it very well," said Cicely, as she stood by the table, "if I could get on faster with it, but I work so very, very slowly. I made a calculation this morning, that if I work at the same rate that I have been working since I came here, it will take me thirteen years and eleven months to copy your manuscript."

The doctor laughed. "If a child should walk to school," he said, "at the same rate of speed that he takes his first toddling step on the nursery floor, it might take him about thirteen years to get there. That is, if his school were at the average distance. You will get on fast enough when you become acquainted with my writing."

She was on the point of saying that surely he had had time to get acquainted with it, and yet he could not read it; but she considered that she did not yet know the doctor well enough for that.

The doctor rose and took up his hat; then he suddenly turned toward Miss Drane and said, "La Fleur, our cook, came to speak to me this morning about your mother. She says she thinks that you are not well lodged; that the street is in the hottest part of the town, and that Mrs. Drane's health will suffer if you stay there. Does your mother object to your present quarters?"

Cicely, who had been half way to the door, now came back and stood by the table.

"Mother never objects to anything," she said. "She thinks our rooms are very neat and comfortable, and that Mrs. Brinkly is a kind landlady, but she has complained a great deal of the heat. You know our house was very airy."

"I am sorry," said the doctor, "that Mrs. Brinkly's house is not likely to prove pleasant. It is in a closely built portion of the town, but it seemed the only place where we could find suitable accommodations for your mother and you."

"Oh, it is a nice place," exclaimed Cicely, "and I am sure we shall like it, except in hot weather, such as we are having now. I have no doubt we shall get used to it after a little while."

"La Fleur does not think so," said the doctor. "She is very much dissatisfied with the Brinkly establishment. I think I saw signs of mental disturbance in our luncheon to-day."

Cicely laughed. She was a girl who was pleasant to look at when she laughed, for her features accommodated themselves so naturally to mirthful expression.

"It is almost funny," she said, "to see how fond La Fleur is of mother. She lived with us less than a year, and yet one might suppose she had always been a servant of the family. I think one reason for her feeling is that mother never does anything. You know she has never been used to do anything, and of late years she has not been well enough. La Fleur likes all that; she thinks it is a mark of high degree. She told me once that my mother was a lady who was born to be served, and who ought not to be allowed to serve herself."

"She does not seem to object to your working," remarked the doctor.

"I am sure she does not like that, but then she considers it a thing that cannot be helped. You know," continued Cicely, with a smile, "she is not so particular about me, for I have some trade blood. Father's father was a merchant."

"So you are only a grade aristocrat," said the doctor; "but I must go. I will talk to Mrs. Tolbridge about this affair of lodgings."

That evening Mrs. Tolbridge and the doctor held a conference in regard to the quarters of the Dranes.

"I think La Fleur concerns herself entirely too much in the matter," said the lady. "She first came to me, and then she went to you. You have done a good deal for Mrs. Drane in giving her daughter employment, and we cannot be expected to attend to her every need. I do not consider Mrs. Brinkly's

house a very pleasant one in hot weather, and I would be glad to do anything I could to establish them more pleasantly, but I know of nothing to do, at least at present; and then you say they have not complained. From what I have seen of Mrs. Drane, I think she is a very sensible woman, and under the circumstances probably expects some discomforts."

"But that is not all that is to be considered," said her husband. "La Fleur's dissatisfaction, which is very evident, must be taken into the question. She has a scheming mind. Before she left this morning she asked me if I thought a little house could be gotten outside the town, for a moderate rent. I believe she would not hesitate to take such a house, and board and lodge the Dranes herself."

"Doctor!" exclaimed Mrs. Tolbridge, "whatever happens, I hope we are not going to be the slaves of a cook."

The doctor laughed.

"Whatever happens," he said, "we are always that. All we can do is to try and be the slaves of a good one."

"I am not altogether sure that that is the right way to look at it," said Mrs. Tolbridge; and then she went on with her sewing, not caring to expatiate on the subject. Her husband appreciated only the advantages of La Fleur, but she knew something of her disadvantages. The work on which she was engaged at that moment would have been done by the maid, had not that young woman's services been so frequently required of late by the autocrat of the kitchen.

The doctor sat silent for a few minutes. He had a kindly feeling for Mrs. Drane, and was willing to do all he could for her, but his thoughts were now principally occupied with plans for the continuance of good living in his own home.

"I suppose it would not be practicable," he said presently, "to invite them to stay with us during the heated term."

Mrs. Tolbridge dropped her work into her lap.

"That is not to be thought of for a moment," she said. "We have no room for them, unless we give up having any more friends this summer; and besides that, you would see La Fleur, with the other servants at her heels, devoting herself to the gratification of every want and notion of Mrs. Drane, and thinking no more of me than if I were a chair in a corner."

"We shall not have that," said the doctor, rising, and placing his hand on his wife's head. "You may be sure we shall not have that. And now I will go and get a bit of my handwriting, and see if you can help me decipher it."

He left the room, but in an instant returned.

"A happy thought has just struck me!" he exclaimed. "I wonder if those young Haverley people would take Mrs. Drane into their house for the rest of the summer? It would be an excellent thing for them, for their household needs the presence of an elderly person, and I am sure that no one could be quieter, or more pleasant, and less troublesome, than Mrs. Drane would be. What do you think of that idea?"

Mrs. Tolbridge looked up approvingly.

"It is not a bad one," she said; "but what would the daughter do? She could not come into town every day to do your work. It is too long a walk for her, and she could not afford a conveyance."

"No," said the doctor, "of course she could not go back and forwards every day, but it would not be necessary. She could take the work out there and do it as well as here, and she could come in now and then, when a chance offered, and ask me about the hard words, for which she could leave blanks. Or, if I happen to be in the neighborhood, I could stop in there and see how she was getting on. I would much rather arrange the business in that way, than have her pop into my office at any moment to ask me about my illegible words."

"I should think the work could be done just as well out of the house as in it," said the doctor's wife, who would be willing to have again the use of the little room that she had cheerfully given up to the copyist of her husband's book, which she, quite as earnestly as Miss Panney, desired to be given to the world.

"The first thing to do," said she, "is to make them acquainted. At first the Haverleys would not be likely to favor the plan. They no doubt consider themselves sufficient company for each other, and although a slight addition to their income would probably be of advantage, I think they are too young and unpractical to care much about that."

"How would it do to have the Dranes and the Haverleys here, and give them a first-class La Fleur dinner?" asked the doctor.

"I do not like that," said his wife. "The intention would be too obvious.

The thing should be done more naturally."

"Well," said the doctor, "I wish we had Miss Panney here. She has a great capacity for rearranging and simplifying the circumstances of a complicated case."

Mrs. Tolbridge made no answer, but very intently examined her sewing.

"But if we can think of no deeply ingenious plan," continued the doctor, "we will go about it in a straightforward way. I will see Ralph Haverley, and if I can win him over to the idea I will let him talk to his sister. He can do it better than we can. If they utterly reject the whole scheme, we will wait a week or so, and propose it again, just as if we had never done it before. I have found this plan work very well with persons who, on account of youth, or some other reason, are given to resentment of suggestions and to quick decisions. When a rejected proposition is laid before them a second time, the disposition to resent has lost its force, and they are as likely to accept it as not."

"You are right," said Mrs. Tolbridge, "for I have tried that plan with you."

The doctor looked at her and laughed.

"It is astonishing," he exclaimed, "what coincidences we meet with in this world," and with that he left the room.

As soon as her husband had gone, Mrs. Tolbridge leaned back in her chair and laughed quietly.

"To think of asking Miss Panney to aid in a plan like that!" she said to herself. "Why, when the old lady hears of it she will blaze like fury. To send that pretty Cicely to live in the house for which she herself has selected a mistress, will seem to her like high treason. But the arrangement suits me perfectly, and I can only hope that Miss Panney may not hear of it until everything is settled."

The more Dr. Tolbridge thought of the plan to establish Mrs. and Miss Drane, for a time, at Cobhurst, the better he liked it. Not only did he think the arrangement would be a desirable one on the Drane side, but also on the Haverley side. From the first, he had taken a lively interest in Miriam, and he considered that her life of responsibility and independence in that lonely household was as likely to warp her mind in some directions as it was to expand it in others. Suitable companionship would be a great advantage to her in this regard, and he fancied that Cicely Drane would be as congenial and helpful a chum, and Mrs. Drane as unobjectionable a matronly adviser, as could be found. If the plan suited all concerned, it might perhaps be continued beyond the summer. He would see Ralph as soon as possible.

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