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   Chapter 28 THE GAME IS CALLED

The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 17603

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


In her notions and schemes regarding the person and estate of Ralph Haverley, the good cook, La Fleur, lacked one great advantage possessed by her rival planner and schemer Miss Panney; for she whose cause was espoused by the latter old woman was herself eager for the fray and desirous of victory, whereas Cicely Drane had not yet thought of marrying anybody, and outside of working hours was devoting herself to getting all the pleasure she could out of life, not regarding much whether it was her mother or Miriam or Mr. Haverley who helped her get it. Moreover, the advantages of co-residence, which La Fleur naturally counted upon, were not so great as might have been expected; for Mrs. Drane, having perceived that Ralph was fond of the society of young ladies to a degree which might easily grow beyond her ideas of decorous companionship between a gentleman of the house and a lady boarder, gently interfered with the dual apple gatherings and recreations of that nature. For this, had she been aware of it, Dora Bannister would have been most grateful.

Ralph had gone twice to see Congo, and to talk to Miss Bannister about him, but he had not taken the dog home. Dora said she would take him to Cobhurst the first time she drove over there to see Miriam. Congo would follow her and the carriage anywhere, and this would be so much pleasanter than to have him forced away like a prisoner.

The gig shafts had now been repaired, and Ralph urged his sister to go with him to Thorbury and attend to her social duties; but Miriam disliked the little town and loved Cobhurst. As to social duties, she thought they ought to be attended to, of course, but saw no need to be in a hurry about them; so Ralph, one day, having business in Thorbury, prepared to go in again by himself. He had been lately riding Mrs. Browning, who was still his only available horse for family use; but she was not very agreeable under the saddle, and he now proposed to take the gig. He had thought it might be a good idea to take a little drive out of the town, and see if Congo would follow him. Perhaps Miss Bannister would accompany him, for she was very anxious that the dog should become used to Ralph before leaving his present home; and her presence would help very much in teaching the animal to follow.

But although Miriam declined to go with her brother, she took much interest in his expedition, and came out to the barn to see him harness Mrs. Browning.

"Are you going to Dora Bannister's again?" she asked.

"Yes," said Ralph; "at least I think I shall stop in to see the dog. You know the oftener I do that, the better."

"I think it is a shame," said Miriam, "that you should be driving to town alone, when there are other people who wish so much to go, and you have no use at all for that empty seat."

"Who wants to go?" asked Ralph, quickly.

"Cicely Drane does. She has got into trouble over the doctor's manuscript, and says she can't go on properly without seeing him. She has been expecting him here every day, but it seems as if he never intended to come. She asked me this morning how far it was to Thorbury, and I think she intends to walk in, if he does not come to-day."

"Why didn't you tell me this before?" asked Ralph. "I would have sent her into town or taken her."

"I had not formulated it in my mind," said Miriam. "Will you take her with you to-day? I know that she has made up her mind she cannot wait any longer for the doctor to come."

"Of course I will take her," said Ralph. "Will you ask her to get ready?

Tell her I shall be at the door in ten or fifteen minutes."

Ralph's tone was perfectly good-humored, but Miriam fancied that she perceived a trace of disappointment in it. She was sorry for this, for she could not imagine why any man should object to have Cicely Drane as a companion on a drive, unless his mind was entirely occupied by some other girl; and if Ralph's mind was thus occupied, it must be by Dora Bannister, and that did not please her. So she resolutely put aside all Cicely's suggestions that it might be inconvenient for Mr. Haverley to take her with him, and deftly overcame Mrs. Drane's one or two impromptu, and therefore not very well constructed, objections to the acceptance of the invitation; and in the gig Cicely went with Ralph to Thorbury.

After having left the secretary to attend to her business at the doctor's house, Ralph drove to the Bannister's; but Dora would not see him, and technically was not at home. Alas! She had seen him driving past with Miss Drane, and she was angry. This was contrary to the plan of action she had adopted; but her eighteen-year-old spirit rebelled, and she could not help it. A more hideous trap than that old gig could not be imagined, but she had planned a drive in it with Ralph on some of the quiet country roads beyond Cobhurst. They would take Congo with them, and that would be such a capital plan to teach the dog to follow his new master. And now it was the Drane girl who was driving with him in his gig. She could not go down and see him and meet him in the way she liked to meet him.

Miss Panney, on the other side of the street, had been passing the Tolbridge house at the moment when Ralph and Cicely drove up. She stopped for a moment, her feelings absolutely outraged. It was not uncommon for her to pass places at times when people were doing things in those places which she thought they ought not to do; but this was a case which roused her anger in an unusual manner. Whatever else might happen at Cobhurst, she did not believe that that girl would begin so soon to go out driving with him.

She had left her phaeton at a livery stable, and was on her way to the Bannister house to have a talk with Dora on a subject in which they were now both so much interested. She had been very much surprised when the girl had come to her and freely avowed her feelings and hopes, but she had been delighted. She liked a spirit of that sort, and it was a joy to her to work with one who possessed it. But she knew human nature, and she was very much afraid that Dora's purpose might weaken. It was quite natural that a young person, in a moment of excitement and pique, should figuratively raise her sword in air and vow a vow; but it was also quite natural, when the excitement and pique had cooled down, that the young person should experience what might be called a "vow-fright," and feel unable to go through with her part. In a case such as Dora's, this was very possible indeed, and all that Miss Panney had planned to say on her present visit was intended to inspire the girl, if it should be needed, with some of her own matured inflexibility and fixedness of purpose. But if the man were doing this sort of thing already and Dora should know it, she would have a right to be discouraged.

Before the old lady reached the Bannisters' gate, she saw Mr. Haverley, in his gig, drive away. This brightened her up a little.

"He comes here, anyway," she thought; "what a pity Dora is not in."

Nevertheless, she went on to the Bannister house; and when she found Dora was in, she began to scold her.

"This will never do, will never do," she said. "Get angry with him if you choose, but don't show it. If you do that, you may crash him too low or bounce him too high, and, in either case, he may be off before you know it. It is too early in the game to show him that he has made you angry."

"But if he doesn't want me, I don't want him," said Dora, sulkily.

"If you think that way, my dear," said Miss Panney, "you may as well make up your mind to make a bad match, or die an old maid. The right man very seldom comes of his own accord; it is nearly always the wrong one. If you happen to meet the right man, you should help him to know that he ought to come. That is the way to look at it. That young Haverley does not know yet who it is that he cares for. He is just floating along, waiting for some one to thrust out a boat-hook and pull him in."

"I shall marry no floating log," said Dora, stiffly.

The old lady laughed.

"Perhaps that was not a very good figure of speech," she said; "but really, my dear, you must not interfere with your own happiness by showing temper; and if you look at the affair in its proper light, you will see it is not so bad, after all. Ten to one, he brought her to town because she wanted to come with him,-probably on some patched-up errand; but he came here because he wanted to come. There could be no other reason; and, instead of being angry with him, you should have given him an extraordinary welcome. For the very reason that she has so many advantages over you, being so much with him, you should be very careful to make use of the advantages you have over her. And your advantages are

that you are ten times better fitted to be his wife than she is; and the great thing necessary to be done is to let him see it. But her chances must come to an end. Those Dranes must be got away from Cobhurst."

"I don't like that way of looking at it," said Dora, leaning back in her chair, with a sigh. "It's the same thing as fishing for a man, though I suppose it might have been well to see him when he came."

Now Miss Panney felt encouraged; her patient was showing good symptoms. Let her keep in that state of mind, and she would see that the lover came. She had made a mistake in speaking so bluntly about getting the Dranes out of Cobhurst. Although she would not say anything more to Dora about that important piece of work, she would do it all the same.

This little visit had been an important one to Miss Panney; it had enabled her to understand Dora's character much better than she had understood it before; and she perceived that in this case of matchmaking she must not only do a great deal of the work herself, but she must do it without Dora's knowing anything about it. She liked this, for she was not much given to consulting with people.

Miss Panney had another call to pay in the neighborhood, and she had intended, for form's sake, to spend a little time with Mrs. Bannister; but she did neither. She went back by the way she had come, wishing to learn all she could about the movements of the Cobhurst gig.

Approaching the Tolbridge house, she saw that vehicle standing before the door, with the sleepy Mrs. Browning tied to a post, and as she drew nearer, she perceived Ralph Haverley sitting alone on the vine-shaded piazza. The old lady would not enter the Tolbridge gate, but she stood on the other side of the street, and beckoned to Ralph, who, as soon as he saw her, ran over to her.

Ralph walked a little way with Miss Panney, and after answering her most friendly inquiries about Miriam, he explained how he happened to be sitting alone on the piazza; the doctor and Miss Drane, whom he had brought to town, were at work at some manuscript, and he had preferred to wait outside instead of indoors.

"I called on Miss Bannister," he said, "but she was not at home, so I came back here."

"It is a pity she was out," said Miss Panney, carelessly, "and now that you have mentioned Miss Bannister, I would like to ask you something; why does not your sister return her visits? I saw Dora not very long ago, and found that her feelings had been a little hurt-not much, perhaps, but a little-by Miriam's apparent indifference to her. Dora is a very sensitive girl, and is slow to make friends among other girls. I never knew any friendship so quick and lively as that she showed for Miriam. You know that Dora is still young; it has not been long since she left school; there is not a girl in Thorbury that she cares anything about, and her life at home must necessarily be a lonely one. Her brother is busy, even in the evenings, and Mrs. Bannister is no companion for a lively young girl."

"I had thought," said Ralph, "that Miss Bannister went a good deal into society."

"Oh, no," answered Miss Panney; "she sometimes visits her relatives, who are society people; but in years and disposition she is too young for that sort of thing. Society women and society men would simply bore her. At heart she is a true country girl, and I think it was because Miriam had country tastes, and loved that sort of life, that Dora's affections went out so quickly to her. I wish your sister had the same feelings toward her."

"Oh, Miriam likes her very much," exclaimed Ralph, "and is always delighted to see her; but my little sister is wonderfully fond of staying at home. I have told her over and over again that she ought to return Miss Bannister's calls."

"Make her do it," said the old lady. "It is her duty, and I assure you, it will be greatly to her advantage. Miriam is a most lovely girl, but her character has not hardened itself into what it is going to be, and association with a thoroughbred girl, such as Dora Bannister, admirably educated, who has seen something of the world, with an intelligence and wit such as I have never known in any one of her age, and more than all with a soul as beautiful as her face, cannot fail to be an inestimable benefit to your sister. What Miriam most needs, at this stage of her life, is proper companionship of her own age and sex."

Ralph assented. "But," said he, "she is not without that, you know. Miss

Drane, who with her mother now lives with us, is a most-"

Miss Panney's face grew very hard.

"Excuse me," she interrupted, "I know all about that. Of course the Dranes are very estimable people, and there are many things, especially in the way of housekeeping, which Mrs. Drane could teach Miriam, if she chose to take the trouble. But while I respect the daughter's efforts to support herself and her mother, it must be admitted that she is a working-girl-nothing more or less-and must continue to be such. Her present business, of course, can only last for a little while, and she will have to adopt some regular calling. This life she expects, and is preparing herself for it. But a mind such as hers is, or must speedily become, is not the one from which Miriam's young mind should receive its impressions. The two will move in very different spheres, and neither can be of any benefit to the other. More than that I will not say; but I will say that your sister can never find any friend so eager to love her, and so willing to help and be helped by her in so many ways in which girls can help each other, as my dear Dora. Now bestir yourself, Mr. Haverley, and make Miriam look at this thing as she ought to. I don't pretend to deny that I have spoken to you very much for Dora's sake, for whom I have an almost motherly feeling; but you should act for your sister's sake. And please don't forget what I have said, young man, and give Miriam my best love."

When Ralph walked back to the Tolbridge piazza he found the working-girl sitting there, waiting for him. His mind was not in an altogether satisfactory condition; some things Miss Panney had said had pleased and even excited him, but there were other things that he resented. If she had not been such an old lady, and if she had not talked so rapidly, he might have shown this resentment. But he had not done so, and now the more he thought about it, the stronger the feeling grew.

As for Cicely Drane, she was a great deal more quiet during the drive home, than she had been when going to Thorbury. Her mind was in an unsatisfactory condition, and this had been occasioned by an interview with La Fleur, who had waylaid her in the hall as she came out of the doctor's office.

The good cook had been in a state of enthusiastic delight, since, looking out of the kitchen window where she had been sitting, with a manuscript book of recipes in her lap, planning the luncheon and dinner, she had seen the lord of Cobhurst drive up to the gate with dear Miss Cicely. It was a joy like that of listening to a party of dinner guests, who were eating her favorite ice. With intense impatience she had awaited the appearance of Cicely from the doctor's office; and, having drawn her to one side, she hastily imparted her sentiments.

"It's a shabby gig, Miss Cicely," she said, "such as the farmers use in the old country, but it's his own, and not hired, and the big house is his own, and all the broad acres. And he's a gentleman from head to heel, living on his own estate, and as fine a built man as ever rode in the Queen's army. Oh, Miss Cicely, your star is at the top of the heavens this time, and I want you to let me know if there is anything you want in the way of hats or wraps or clothes, or anything of that kind. It doesn't make the least difference to me, you know, just now, and we'll settle it all after a while. It is the Christian duty for every young lady to look the smartest, especially at a time like this."

Cicely, her face flushed, drew herself away.

"La Fleur," she said, speaking quickly and in a low voice, "you ought to be ashamed of yourself." And she hurried away, fearing that Mr. Haverley was waiting for her.

La Fleur was not a bit ashamed of herself; she chuckled as she went back to the kitchen.

"She's a young thing of brains and beauty," said she to herself, "and I don't doubt that she had the notion in her own mind. But if it wasn't there, I have put it there, and if it was there, I've dished it and dressed it, and it will be like another thing to her. As for the rest of it, he'll attend to that. I haven't a doubt that he is the curly-headed, brave fellow to do that; and I'll find out from her mother if she needs anything, and not hurt her pride neither."

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