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The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 13904

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

According to his promise, Dr. Tolbridge came to Cobhurst on the morning of his intended departure for Barport, bringing with him more of his manuscript and some other copying which he wished Cicely to do. He had never known until now how much he needed a secretary. He saw only the ladies, Ralph having gone off to try to shoot some woodcock. The young man was not in a good humor, for he had no dog, and his discontent was increased by the reflection that a fine setter had been presented to him, and he had not yet come into possession of it. He wanted the dog, Congo, because he thought it was a good dog, and also because Dora Bannister had given it to him, and he was impatient to carry out the plan which Dora had proposed to get the animal to Cobhurst.

But this plan, which included a visit from Dora, in order that the dog might come to his new home without compulsion, and which, as modified by Ralph, included a drive or a walk through the woods with the donor in order that the dog might learn to follow him, needed Miriam's co?peration. And this co?peration he could not induce her to give. She seemed to have all sorts of reasons for putting off the invitation for which Miss Bannister was evidently waiting. Of course there was no reason for waiting, but girls are queer. A word from Miriam would bring her, but Miriam was very unresponsive to suggestions concerning said word.

"It is not only ourselves," said the doctor, in reply to some questions from Mrs. Drane in regard to the intended journey, "who are going this afternoon. We take with us Mrs. Bannister and Dora. This is quite a sudden plan, only determined upon last night. They both want a little Barport life before the season closes, and thought it would be pleasant to go with us."

Mrs. Drane and Cicely were not very much interested in the Bannisters, and received this news tranquilly, but Miriam felt a little touch of remorse, and wished she had asked Dora to come out some afternoon and bring her dog, which poor Ralph seemed so anxious to have. She asked the doctor how long he thought the Bannisters would stay away.

"Oh, we shall pick them up as we come back," he said "and that will be in about two weeks." And with this the busy man departed.

Since the beginning of his practice, Dr. Tolbridge had never gone away from Thorbury for an absence of any considerable duration without first calling on Miss Panney to see if she needed any attention from him before he left, and on this occasion he determined not to depart from this custom. It is true, she was very angry with him, but so far as he could help it, he would not allow her anger to interfere with the preservation of a life which he considered valuable.

When the old lady was told that the doctor had called and had asked for her, she stamped her foot and vowed she would not see him. Then her curiosity to know what brought him there triumphed over her resentment, and she went down. Her reception of him was cold and severe, and she answered his questions regarding her health as if he were a census-taker, exhibiting not the slightest gratitude for his concern regarding her physical well-being, nor the slightest hesitation in giving him information which might enable him to further said well-being.

The doctor was as cool as was his patient; and, when he had finished his professional remarks, informed her that the Bannisters were to go with him to Barport. When Miss Panney heard this she sprang from her chair with the air of an Indian of the Wild West bounding with uplifted tomahawk upon a defenceless foe. The doctor involuntarily pushed back his chair, but before he could make up his mind whether he ought to be frightened or amused, Miss Panney sat down as promptly as she had risen, and a grim smile appeared upon her face.

"How you do make me jump with your sudden announcements," she said. "I am sure I am very glad that Dora is going away. She needed a change, and sea air is better than anything else for her. How long will they stay?"

The slight trace of her old cordiality which showed itself in Miss Panney's demeanor through the few remaining minutes of the interview greatly pleased Dr. Tolbridge.

"She is a good old woman at heart," he said to himself, "and when she gets into one of her bad tempers, the best way to bring her around is to interest her in people she loves, and Dora Bannister is surely one of those."

When the doctor had gone, Miss Panney gave herself up to a half minute of unrestrained laughter, which greatly surprised old Mr. Witton, who happened to be passing the parlor door. Then she sat down to write a letter to Dora Bannister, which she intended that young lady to receive soon after her arrival at Barport.

That afternoon the good La Fleur came to Cobhurst, her soul enlivened by the determination to show what admirable meals could be prepared from the most simple materials, and with the prospect of spending a fortnight with Mrs. Drane and Cicely, and with that noble gentleman, the master of the estate, and to pass these weeks in the country. She was a great lover of things rural: she liked to see, pecking and scratching, the fowls with which she prepared such dainty dishes. In her earlier days, the sight of an old hen wandering near a bed of celery, with a bed of beets in the middle distance, had suggested the salad for which she afterwards became somewhat famous.

She knew a great deal about garden vegetables, and had been heard to remark that brains were as necessary in the culling of fruits and roots and leaves and stems as for their culinary transformation into attractions for the connoisseur's palate. She was glad, too, to have the opportunity of an occasional chat with that intelligent negro Mike, and so far as she could judge, there were no objections to the presence of Miriam in the house.

Ralph did not come back until after La Fleur had arrived, and he returned hungry, and a little more out of humor than when he started away.

"I had hoped," he said to Miriam, "to get enough birds to give the new cook a chance of showing her skill in preparing a dish of game for dinner; but these two, which I may say I accidentally shot, are all I brought. It is impossible to shoot without a dog, and I think I shall go to-morrow morning to see Miss Bannister and ask her to let me take Congo home with me. He will soon learn to know me, and the woodcock season does not last forever."

"But Dora will not be at home," said Miriam; "she goes to Barport to-day with the Tolbridges."

Ralph opened his mouth to speak, and then he shut it again. It was of no use to say anything, and he contented himself with a sigh as he went to the rack to put up his gun. Miriam sighed, too, and as she did so, she hoped that it was the dog and not Dora that Ralph was sighing about.

The next morning there came to Cobhurst a man, bringing a black setter and a verbal message from Miss Bannister

to the effect that if Mr. Haverley would tie up the dog and feed him himself for two or three days and be kind to him, she had no doubt Congo would soon know him as his master.

"Now that is the kind of a girl I like," said Ralph to his sister. "She promises to do a thing and she does it, even if the other party is not prompt in stepping forward to attend to his share of the affair."

There was nothing to say against this, and Miriam said nothing, but contented herself with admiring the dog, which was worthy of all the praise she could give him. Congo was tied up, and Mike and Mrs. Drane and Cicely, and finally La Fleur, came to look at him and to speak well of him. When all had gone away but the colored man and the cook, the latter asked why Miss Bannister had been mentioned in connection with this dog.

"'Cause he was her dog," said Mike. "She got him when he was a little puppy no bigger nor a cat, an' you'd a thought, to see her carry him about an' put him in a little bed an' kiver him up o' night an' talk to him like a human bein', that she loved him as much as if he'd been a little baby brother; an' she's thought all the world of him, straight 'long until now, an' she's gone an' give him to Mr. Hav'ley."

La Fleur reflected for a moment.

"Are you sure, Mike," she asked, "that they are not engaged?"

"I'm dead sartain sure of it," he said. "His sister told me so with her own lips. Givin' dogs don't mean nothin', Mrs. Flower. If people married all the people they give dogs to, there'd be an awful mix in this world. Bless my soul, I'd have about eight wives my own self."

La Fleur smiled at Mike's philosophy, and applied his information to the comfort of her mind.

"If his sister says they are not engaged," she thought, "it's like they are not, but it looks to me as if it were time to take the Bannister pot off the fire."

La Fleur now retired to a seat under a tree near the kitchen door, and applied her intellect to the consideration of the dinner, and the future of the Drane family and herself. The present state of affairs suited her admirably. She could desire no change in it, except that Mr. Haverley should marry Miss Cicely in order to give security to the situation. For herself, this was the place above all others at which she would like to live, and a mistress such as Miss Cicely, who knew little of domestic affairs, but appreciated everything that was well done, was the mistress she would like to serve. She would be sorry to leave the good doctor, for whom, as a man of intellect, she had an earnest sympathy, but he did not live in the country, and the Dranes were nearer and dearer to her than he was. He should not be deserted nor neglected. If she came to spend the rest of her life on this fine old estate, she would engage for him a good young cook, who would be carefully instructed by her in regard to the peculiarities of his diet, and who should always be under her supervision. She would get him one from England; she knew of several there who had been her kitchen maids, and she would guarantee that the one she selected would give satisfaction.

Having settled this part of her plan, she now began to ponder upon that important feature of it which concerned the marriage of Miss Cicely with Ralph Haverley. Why, under the circumstances, this should not take place as a mere matter of course and as the most natural thing in the world, she could not imagine. But in all countries young people are very odd, and must be managed. She had not yet had any good opportunity of judging of the relations between these two; she had noticed that they were on very easy and friendly terms with each other, but this was not enough. It might be a long time before people who were jolly good friends came to look upon each other from a marrying point of view. Things ought to be hurried up; that Miss Bannister would be away for two weeks; she, La Fleur, would be here for two weeks. She must try what she could do; the fire must be brightened,-the draught turned on, ashes raked out, kindling-wood thrust in if necessary, to make things hotter. At all events the dinner-bell must ring at the appointed time, in a fortnight, less one day.

Ralph came striding across the lawn, and noticing La Fleur, approached her.

"I am glad to see you," he said, "for I want to tell you how much I enjoyed your beefsteak this morning. One could not get anything better cooked than that at Delmonico's. The dinner last night was very good, too."

"Oh, don't mention that, sir," said La Fleur, who had risen the moment she saw him, and now stood with her head on one side, her eyes cast down, and a long smile on her face. "That dinner was nothing to what I shall give you when Miss Miriam has sent for some things from the town which I want. And as for the steak, I beg you will not judge me until I have got for myself the cuts I want from the butcher. Then you shall see, sir, what I can do for you. In a beautiful home like this, Mr. Haverley, the cooking should be of the noblest and best."

Ralph laughed.

"So long as you stay with us, La Fleur," he said, "I am sure Cobhurst will have all it deserves in that respect."

"Thank you very much, sir," she said, dropping a little courtesy. Then, raising her eyes, she cast them over the landscape and bent them again with a little sigh.

"You are a gentleman of feeling, Mr. Haverley," she said, "and can understand the feelings of another, even if she be an old woman and a cook, and I know you can comprehend my sentiments when I find myself again serving my most gracious former mistress Mrs. Drane, and her lovely daughter, whose beautiful qualities of mind and soul it does not become me to speak of to you, sir. They were most kind to me when I first came to this country, she and her daughter, two angels, sir, whom I would serve forever. Do not think, sir, that I would not gladly serve you and your lady sister, but they are above all. It was last night, sir, as I sat looking out of my window at the beautiful trees in the moonlight, and I have not seen such trees in the moonlight since I lived in the Isle of Wight at Lord Monkley's country house there; La Fleur was his chef, and I was only there on a visit, because at that time I was attending to the education of my boy, who died a year afterward; and I thought then, sir, looking out at the moonlight, that I would go with the Dranes wherever they might go, and I would live with them wherever they might live; that I would serve them always with the best I could do, and that none could do better. But I beg your pardon, sir, for standing here, and talking in this way, sir," and with a little courtesy and with her head more on one side and more bowed down, she shuffled away.

"Now then," said she to herself, as she entered the kitchen, "if I have given him a notion of a wife with a first-class cook attached, it is a good bit of work to begin with."

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