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The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 12519

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

The call by the Bannisters at Cobhurst was made as planned. Had storm or sudden war prevented Mrs. Bannister and Herbert from going, Dora would have gone by herself. She did not appear to be in her usual state of health that day, and Mrs. Bannister, noticing this, and attributing it to Dora's great fondness for fruit at this season and neglect of more solid food, had suggested that perhaps it might be well for her not to take a long drive that afternoon. But this remark was added to the thousand suggestions made by the elder lady and not accepted by the younger.

Miriam was in the great hall when the Bannister family drove up, and she greeted her visitors with a well-poised affability which rather surprised Mrs. Bannister. Dora instantly noticed that she was better dressed than she had yet seen her.

When they were seated in the parlor, Mrs. Bannister announced that their call was intended to include Mrs. Drane and her daughter, and Herbert hoped that this time he would be able to see Mr. Haverley.

Mrs. Drane was sent for, but Miriam did not know where her brother and Miss Drane should be looked for. She had seen them walk by the back piazza, but did not notice in what direction they had gone. At this moment there ran through Dora a sensation similar to that occasioned by a mild galvanic shock, but as she was looking out of the open door, the rest of the company saw no signs of this.

"Excuse me," said Mrs. Bannister, in a low voice, and speaking rather rapidly, "but I thought that Miss Drane was working for Dr. Tolbridge, copying, or something of that kind."

"She is," answered Miriam, "but she has her regular hours, and stops at five o'clock, just as she did when she was in the doctor's house."

When Mrs. Drane had appeared and the visitors had been presented, Miriam said that she would go herself and look for Ralph and Miss Drane. She thought now that it was very likely they were in the orchard.

"Let me go with, you," exclaimed Dora, springing to her feet, and in a moment she and Miriam had left the house.

"I heard her say," said Miriam, "that she wanted some summer apples, fresh from the tree, and that is the reason why I suppose they are in the orchard. You never knew anybody so wild about country things as Miss Drane is. And she knows so little about them too."

"Do you like her?" asked Dora.

"Ever so much. I think she is as nice as can be. She is a good deal older than I am, but sometimes it seems as if it were the other way. I suppose one reason is that she wants to know so much, and I think I must like to tell people things-nice people, I mean."

Dora's mind was in a state of lively receptivity, and it received an impression from Miriam's words that might be of use hereafter. But now they had reached the orchard, and there, standing on a low branch of a tree, was Ralph, and below was Miss Drane. Her laughing face was turned upward, and she was holding her straw hat to catch an apple, but it was plain that she was not skilled in that sort of exercise, and when the apple dropped, it barely touched the rim of the hat and rolled upon the ground, and then they both laughed as if they had known each other for twenty years.

"What a little thing," said Miss Bannister.

"She is small," answered Miriam, "but isn't she pretty and graceful? And her clothes fit her so beautifully. I am sure you will like her."

Ralph came down from the tree, the straw hat was replaced on the head of Miss Drane, and then came introduction and greeting. Never before had Dora Bannister found it so hard to meet any one as she found it to meet these two. She was only eighteen, and had had no experience in comporting herself in an ordinary way when her every impulse prompted her to do or say something quite extraordinary. But she was a girl who could control herself, and she now controlled herself so well, that had Miss Panney or Mrs. Tolbridge been there they would instantly have suspected what was meant by so much self-control. She greeted Miss Drane with much suavity, and asked her if she liked apples.

As the party started for the house, Dora, who was a quick walker, was not so quick as usual, and Ralph naturally slackened his pace a little. In a few moments Miriam and Miss Drane were hurrying toward the house, considerably in advance of the others.

"It is so nice," said Dora, "for your sister to have ladies in the house with her. I have been wanting to see her ever so much, and was afraid something was the matter with her, especially as you did not come for your dog."

As Ralph was explaining his apparent ungraciousness, Dora's soul was roughly shaken. She was angry with him and wanted to show it, but she saw clearly that this would be unsafe. Her hold upon him was very slight, and a few unwise words now might make him no more than a mere acquaintance. She did not wish to say words that would do that, but if she held him by a cord ever so slender, she would obey the promptings of her soul and endeavor to draw him a little toward her. She would take the risks of that, for if he drifted away from her, the cord would be as likely to break as if she drew upon it.

"Oh yes," she said, "I knew all the time why you and Miriam did not come to make a regular society call, but I did suppose that you would drop in to see about Congo. As soon as I got home, after I promised him to you, I began to educate him to cease to care for me, and to care for you. If you had been there, all this would have been easy enough, but as it was, I had to get Herbert or the coachman to take him out walking at the times I used to take him, and when he was tied up I kept away from his little house altogether, so that he should become accustomed to do without me. I stopped feeding him, and made Herbert do that whenever he had time, and I insisted that he should wear a big straw hat, which he does not like, but which is a good deal like the one you wear, and which I thought might have an influence on the mind of Congo."

This touched Ralph, and he did not wish that Miss Bannister should suppose that he thought so little of a gift of which she thought so much. And in order to entirely remove any suspicion of ungratefulness, he endeavored to make her unders

tand that he had wished very much to go to see the dog, but wished much more to go to see her.

"I hate a great many of these social rules," he said, "and although I did not know any of the rest of your family, I knew you, and felt very much inclined to call on you and let the customs take care of themselves."

"I wish you had!" exclaimed Dora; "I like to see people brave enough to trample on customs."

Her spirits were rising, and she walked still slower. This tête-à-tête was very delightful to Ralph, but he had no desire to trample on all social customs, and his feelings of courteous hospitality urged him to go as rapidly as possible to greet the special visitor who was waiting for him; but to desert that gentleman's sister, or make her walk quickly when she did not wish to, was equally opposed to his ideas of courtesy, and so it happened that Dora and Ralph entered the parlor so much later than the others that a decided impression was made on the minds of Mrs. and Miss Drane. And this was what Dora wished. She felt that it would be a very good thing in this case to assert some sort of a pre?mption claim. It could do no harm, and might be of great service.

After the manner of the country gentlemen who in mixed society are apt to prefer their own sex for purposes of converse, Herbert Bannister monopolized Ralph. His sister talked with Cicely Drane, and in spite of her natural courage and the reasons for self-confidence which she had just received, Dora's spirits steadily fell as she conversed with this merry, attractive girl, who knew so well how to make herself entertaining, even to other girls, and who was actually living in Ralph Haverley's house.

Dora made the visit shorter than it otherwise would have been. She had come, she had seen, and she wanted to go home and think about the rest of the business. The drive home was, in a degree, pleasant because Herbert had a great deal to say about Mr. Haverley, whom he had found most agreeable, and because Mrs. Bannister spoke in praise of Ralph's manly beauty, but it would depend upon future circumstances whether or not remarks of this kind could be considered entirely satisfactory.

That evening, in her own room, in a loose dressing-gown, and with her hair hanging over her shoulders, Dora devoted herself to an earnest consideration of her relations with Ralph Haverley. At first sight it seemed odd that there should be any relations at all, for she had known him but a short time, and he had made few or no advances toward her-not half so many or such pronounced ones as other men had made, during her few visits to fashionable resorts. But she settled this part of the question very promptly.

"I like him better than anybody I have ever seen," she said to herself. "In fact, I love him, and now-" and then she went on to consider the rest of the matter, which was not so easy to settle.

Cicely Drane was terribly hard to settle. There was that girl,-all the more dangerous because, being charming and little, a man would be more apt to treat her as a good comrade than if she were charming and tall,-who was with him all the time. And how she would be with him, Dora's imagination readily perceived, because she knew how she herself would be with him under the circumstances. Before breakfast in the dewy grass, gathering apples; during work hours, talking through the open window as he chanced to pass; after five o'clock, walks in the orchard, walks over the farm, in the woods everywhere, and always those two together, because there were four of them. How much worse it was that there were four of them! And the evenings, moonlight, starlight; on the piazza; good-night on the stairs-it was maddening to think of.

But, nevertheless, she thought of it hour after hour, with no other result than to become more and more convinced that she was truly in love with a man who had never given any sign that he loved her, and that there was every reason to believe that when he gave a sign that he loved, it would be to another woman, and not to her.

She rose and looked out of the window. A piece of the moon, far gone in the third quarter, was rising above a mass of evergreens. She had a courageous young soul, and the waning brightness of the lovers' orb did not affect her as a disheartening sign.

"It is not right," she said to herself. "I will not do it. I will not hang like an apple on a tree for any one to pick who chooses, or if nobody chooses, to drop down to the chickens and pigs. A woman has as much right to try to do the best for herself as a man has to try to do the best for himself. I can't really trample on customs as a man can, but I can do it in my mind, and I do it now. I love him, and I will get him if I can."

With this Dora sat down, and left the bit of moon to shed what luminousness it could over the landscape.

Her resolution shed a certain luminousness over Dora's soul. To determine to do a thing is nearly always inspiriting.

"Yes," she thought, "I will do what I can. He has promised to come very soon, and he shall not have Congo the first time he comes. He shall come, and I shall go, and I shall be great friends with Miriam. There will be nothing false in that, for I like her ever so much, and I shall remember to think more of what she likes. No one shall see me break down any customs of society,-especially, he shall not,-but out of my mind they are swept and utterly gone."

Having thus shaped her course, Dora thought she would go to bed. But suddenly an idea struck her, and she stood and pondered.

"I believe," she said, speaking aloud in her earnestness, "I believe that that is what Miss Panney meant. She has spoken so well of him to me; she has heard about that girl, and she said, yes, she certainly did say, 'It shall be done.' She wants it, I truly believe; she wants me to marry him."

For a few minutes she stood gazing at her ring, and then she said,-

"I will go to her; I will tell her everything. It will be a great thing to have Miss Panney on my side. She does not care for customs, and she will never breathe a word to a soul."

Dr. Tolbridge was not mistaken in his estimate of the sort of mind Dora

Bannister would have when she should shed her old one.

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