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   Chapter 29 HYPOTHESIS AND INNUENDO

The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 12882

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


To say that Cicely Drane had not thought of Ralph Haverley as an exceedingly agreeable young man would be an injustice to her young womanly nature, but it would be quite correct to state that she had not thought him a whit more agreeable than Miriam. She was charmed with them both; they had taken her into their home circle as if they had adopted her as a sister. It was not until her mother began to put a gentle pressure upon her in order to prevent her gathering too many apples, and joining in too many other rural recreations with Mr. Haverley, that she thought of him as one who was not to be considered in the light of a brother. There could be no doubt that she would have come to the same conclusion if left to herself, but she would not have reached it so soon.

But the effect that her mother's precautionary disposition had had upon her was nothing compared to that produced by the words of La Fleur. For the first time she looked upon Ralph as one on whom other persons looked as her lover, and to sit by the side of the said young man, immediately after being informed of said fact, was not conducive to a free and tranquil flow of remark.

Her own sentiments on the subject, so far as she had put them into shape,-and it was quite natural that she should immediately begin to do this,-were neither embarrassing nor disagreeable. She liked him very much, and there was no reason why she should object to his liking her very much, and if they should ever do more than this, she should not be ashamed of it, and perhaps should be glad of it. But she was sorry that before either of them had thought of this, some one else should have done so.

This might prove to be embarrassing, and the only comfort she could give herself was that La Fleur was such an affectionate old body, always talking of some bit of good fortune for her, that if she had seen her in company with a king or an emperor, she would immediately set herself to find some sort of throne-covering which would suit her hair and complexion.

The definite result of her reflections, made between desultory questions and answers, was that she regarded the young gentleman by her side in a light very different from that in which she had viewed him before she had met La Fleur in the doctor's hall. It was not that she looked upon him as a possible lover-she had sense enough to know that almost any man might be that-he was a hypothetic lover, and in view of the assumption it behooved her to give careful observation to everything in him, herself, or others, which might bear upon the ensuing argument.

As for Ralph, it angered him to look at the young lady by his side, who was as handsome, as well educated and cultured, as tastefully dressed, as intelligent and witty, of as gentle, kind, and winning a disposition, and, judging from what the doctor had told him when he first spoke of the Dranes, of as good blood, family, and position, as any one within the circle of his acquaintance, and then to remember that she had been called a working-girl, and spoken of in a manner that was almost contemptuous.

Ralph always took the side of the man who was down, and, consequently, very often put himself on the wrong side; and although he did not consider that Miss Drane was down, he saw that Miss Panney had tried to put her down, and therefore he became her champion.

"There could not be any one," he said to himself, "better fitted to be the friend and companion of Miriam than Cicely Drane is, and the next time I see that old lady, I shall tell her so. I have nothing to say against Miss Bannister, but I shall stand up for this one."

And now, feeling that it was not polite to treat a young lady with seeming inattention, because he happened to be earnestly thinking about her, he began to talk to Cicely in his liveliest and gayest manner, and she, not wishing him to think that she thought that there was anything out of the way in this, or in his previous preoccupation, responded just as gayly.

Ralph delivered Miss Panney's message to his sister, and Miriam, giving much more weight to the advice and opinion of the old lady, whom she knew very slightly and cared for very little, than to that of her brother, whom she loved dearly, said she would go to see Miss Bannister the next afternoon if it happened to be clear.

It was clear, and she went, and Ralph drove her there in the gig, and Dora was overwhelmed with joy to see her, and scolded Ralph in the most charming way for not bringing her before; Miriam was taken to see Congo, because Dora wanted her to begin to love him, and they were shown into the library, because Dora said that she knew they both loved books, and her father had gathered together so many. In ten minutes, Miriam was in the window seat, dipping, which ended in her swimming, far beyond her depth in Don Quixote, which she had so often read of and never seen, and Dora and Ralph sat, heads together, over a portfolio of photographs of foreign places where the Bannisters had been.

There were very few books at Cobhurst, and Miriam had read all of them she cared for, and consequently it was an absorbing delight to follow the adventures of the Knight of La Mancha.

Ralph had not travelled in Europe, and there were very few pictures at Cobhurst, and he was greatly interested in the photographs, but this interest soon waned in the increasing delight of having Dora seated so close to him, of seeing her fair fingers point out the things he should look at, and listening to her sweet voice, as she talked to him about the scenes and buildings. There was an element of gentle and sympathetic interest in Dora's manner, which reminded him of her visit to Cobhurst, and the good-night on the stairs, and this had a very charming effect upon Ralph, and made him wish that the portfolio were at least double its actual size.

The Haverleys stayed so long that Mrs. Bannister, upstairs, began to be nervous, and wondered if Dora had asked those young people to remain to tea.

On the way home Ralph was in unusually good spirits, and talked much about Dora. She must have seen a great deal of the world, he said, for one so young, and she talked in such an interesting and appreciative way about what she had seen, that he felt almost as if he had been to the places himself.

With this for a text, he dilated upon the subject of Dora and foreign travel, but Miriam was not a responsive heare

r.

"I wish you knew Mr. Bannister better," she said in a pause in her brother's remarks. "He must have been everywhere that his sister has been, and probably saw a great deal more."

"No doubt," said Ralph, carelessly, "and probably has forgotten most of it; men generally do that. A girl's mind is not crammed with business and all that sort of stuff, and she can keep it free for things that are worth remembering."

Miriam did not immediately answer, but presently she said, speaking with a certain air of severity:-

"If my soul ached for the company of anybody as Miss Panney told you Dora Bannister's soul ached for my company, I think I should have a little more to say to her when she came to see me, than Dora Bannister had to say to me to-day."

"My dear child!" exclaimed Ralph, "that was because you were so busy with your book. She saw you were completely wrapped up in it, and so let you take your own pleasure in your own way. I think that is one of her good points. She tries to find out what pleases people."

"Bother her good points!" snapped Miriam. "You will make a regular porcupine of her if you keep on. I wish Mr. Bannister had given you the dog."

Ralph was very much disturbed; it was seldom that his sister snapped at him. He could see, now that he considered the matter, that Miriam had been somewhat neglected. She was young and a little touchy, and this ought to be considered. He thought it might be well, the next time he saw Miss Bannister by herself, to explain this to her. He believed he could do it without making it appear a matter of any great importance. It was important, however, for he should very much dislike to see ill will grow up between Miriam and Miss Bannister. What Miss Panney had said about this young lady was very, very true, although, of course, it did not follow that any one else need be disparaged.

Early in the forenoon of the next day, Miss Panney drove to Cobhurst. She had come, she informed Miriam, not only to see her, dear girl, but to make a formal call upon the Dranes.

The call was very formal; Miss Drane left her work to meet the visitor, but having been loftily set aside by that lady during a stiff conversation with her mother about old residents in the neighborhood in which they had lived, she excused herself, after a time, and went back to her table and her manuscripts.

Then Miss Panney changed the conversational scene, and began to talk about Thorbury.

"I do not know, madam," she said, "that you are aware that I was the cause of your coming to this neighborhood."

Mrs. Drane was a quiet lady, and the previous remarks of her visitor had been calculated to render her more quiet, but this roused her.

"I certainly did not," she said. "We came on the invitation and through the kindness of Dr. Tolbridge, my old friend."

"Yes, yes, yes," said Miss Panney, "that is all true enough, but I told him to send for you. In fact, I insisted upon it. I did it, of course, for his sake; for I knew that the arrangement would be of advantage to him in various ways, but I was also glad to be of service to your daughter, of whom I had heard a good report. Furthermore, I interested myself very much in getting you lodgings, and found you a home at Mrs. Brinkly's that I hoped you would like. If I had not done so, I think you would have been obliged to go to the hotel, which is not pleasant and much more expensive than a private house. I do not mention these things, madam, because I wish to be thanked, or anything of that sort; far from it. I did what I did because I thought it was right; but I must admit, if you will excuse my mentioning it, that I was surprised, to say the least, that I was not consulted, in the slightest degree, on the occasion of your leaving the home I had secured for you."

"I am very sorry," said Mrs. Drane, "that I should appear to have been discourteous to one who had done us a service, for which, I assure you, we are both very much obliged, but Dr. and Mrs. Tolbridge managed the whole affair of our removal from Mrs. Brinkly's house, and I did not suppose there was any one, besides them and ourselves, who would take the slightest interest in the matter."

"Oh, I find no fault," said Miss Panney. "It is not an affair of importance, but I think you will agree, madam, that after the interest I had shown in procuring you suitable accommodation, I might have been spared what some people might consider the mortification of being told, when I stated to Mrs. Tolbridge that I intended to call upon you, that you were not then living with the lady whose consent to receive you into her family I had obtained, after a great deal of personal solicitation and several visits."

Upon this presentation of the matter, Mrs. Drane could not help thinking that the old lady had been treated somewhat uncivilly, and expressed her regret in the most suitable terms she could think of, adding that she was sure that Miss Panney would agree that the change had been an excellent one.

"Of course, of course," said Miss Panney. "For a temporary country residence, I suppose you could not have found a better spot, though it must be a long walk for your daughter when she goes to submit her work to Dr. Tolbridge."

"That has not yet been necessary," said Mrs. Drane; "Mr. Haverley is very kind-"

At this point Miss Panney rose. She had said all she wanted to say, and to decline to hear anything about Ralph Haverley's having been seen driving about with a young woman who had been engaged as Dr. Tolbridge's secretary, was much better than speaking of it, and she took her leave with a prim politeness.

Mrs. Drane was left in an uncomfortable state of mind. It was not pleasant to be reminded that this delightful country house was only a temporary home, for that implied a return to Thorbury, a town she disliked; and although she had, of course, expected to go back there, she had not allowed the matter to dwell in her mind at all, putting it into the future, without consideration, as she liked to do with things that were unpleasant.

Moreover, there was something, she could not tell exactly what, about Miss Panney's words and manner, which put an unsatisfactory aspect upon the obvious methods of Cicely's communications with her employer.

Mrs. Drane's mind had already been slightly disturbed on this subject, but Miss Panney had revived and greatly increased the disturbance.

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