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   Chapter 34 A PLAN WHICH SEEMS TO SUIT EVERYBODY

The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 11764

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Since her drive home from Thorbury with Ralph Haverley, Cicely Drane had not ceased to consider the hypothesis which had been suggested to her that day by La Fleur; but this consideration was accompanied by no plan of action, no defined hopes, no fears, no suspicions, and no change in her manner toward the young man, except that in accordance with her mother's prudential notions, which had been indicated to her in a somewhat general way, she had restricted herself in the matter of tête-à-têtes and dual rambles.

She looked upon the relations between Ralph and herself in the most simple and natural manner possible. She was enjoying life at Cobhurst. It delighted her to see her mother so contented and so well. She was greatly interested in her work, for she was a girl of keen intelligence, and thoroughly appreciated and enjoyed the novel theories and reflections of Dr. Tolbridge. She thought it the jolliest thing in the world to have La Fleur here with them. She was growing extremely fond of Miriam, who, although a good deal younger than herself, appeared to be growing older with wonderful rapidity, and every day to be growing nearer and dearer to her, and she liked Ralph better than any man she had ever met. She knew but little of Dora Bannister and had no reason to suppose that any matrimonial connection between her and Mr. Haverley had ever been thought of; in fact, in the sincerity and naturalness of her disposition, she could see no reason why she should not continue to like Mr. Haverley, to like him better and better, if he gave her reason to do so, and more than that, not to forget the hypothesis regarding him.

La Fleur was not capable of comprehending the situation with the sagacity and insight of Miss Panney, but she was a woman of sense, and was now well convinced that it would never do to speak again to Miss Cicely in the way she had spoken to her in Dr. Tolbridge's hall. In her affection and enthusiasm, she had gone too far that time, and she knew that any further suggestions of the sort would be apt to make the girl fly away like a startled bird. Whatever was to be done must be done without the co?peration of the young lady.

Miss Panney's letter to Dora Bannister contained some mild reproaches for the latter's departure from Thorbury without notice to her oldest friend, but her scolding was not severe, and there was as much pleasant information and inquiry as the writer could think of. Moreover, the epistle contained the suggestion that Dora should invite Miriam Haverley to come down and spend some time with her while she was at the seashore. This suggestion none but a very old friend would be likely to make, but Miss Panney was old enough for anything, in friendship or in any other way.

"My mind was on Miriam Haverley," the old lady wrote, "at the moment I heard that you had gone to Barport, and it struck me that a trip of the sort is exactly what that young person needs. She is shut up in the narrowest place in which a girl can be put, with responsibilities entirely beyond her years, and which help to cramp her mind and her ideas. She should have a total change; she should see how the world, outside of her school and her country home, lives and acts-in fact, she needs exactly what Barport and you and Mrs. Bannister can give her. I do not believe that you can bestow a greater benefit upon a fellow-being than to ask Miriam to pay you a visit while you are at the seaside. Think of this, I beg of you, my dear Dora."

This letter was read and re-read with earnest attention. Dora was fond of Miriam in a way, and would be very glad to give her a glimpse of seaside life. Moreover, Miriam's companionship would be desirable; for although Miss Bannister did not expect to lack acquaintances, there would be times when she could not call upon these, and Miriam could always be called upon.

After a consultation with Mrs. Bannister, who was pleased with the idea of having some one to go about with Dora, when she did not feel like it,-which was almost all the time,-Dora wrote to Miriam, asking her to come and visit her during the rest of her stay at Barport. While writing, Dora was not at all annoyed by the thought which made her stop for a few minutes and look out of the window,-that possibly Miriam might not like to make the journey alone, and that her brother might come with her. She did not, however, mention this contingency, but smiled as she went on writing.

Miriam, attired in her teaberry gown, came up from the Cobhurst kitchen, and walked out toward the garden. She was not in good spirits. She had already found that La Fleur was a woman superior to influences from any power derived from the wearing of Judith Pacewalk's pink chintz dress. She was convinced that at this moment that eminent cook was preparing a dinner for the benefit of the Dranes, without any thought of the tastes or desires of the mistress of the house or its master. And yet she could find nothing to say in opposition to this; consequently, she had walked away unprotesting, and that act was so contrary to her disposition that it saddened her. If she had supposed that a bad meal would be the result of the bland autocracy she had just encountered, she would have been better satisfied; but, as she knew the case would be quite otherwise, her spirits continued to fall. Even the meat, that morning, had been ordered without consultation with her.

As Miriam walked dolefully toward the garden gate, Ralph came riding from

Thorbury with the mail-bag, and in it was the letter from Dora.

"Oh, Ralph!" cried Miriam, when, with her young soul glowing in her face, she thrust the open letter into her brother's hand, "may I go? I never saw the sea!"

Of Ralph's decision there could be no question, and the Cobhurst family was instantly in a flurry. Mrs. Drane, Cicely, and Miriam gave all their

thoughts and every available moment of time to the work necessary on the simple outfit that was all that Miriam needed or desired; and in two days she was ready for the journey. Ralph was glad to do anything he could to help in the good work, but, as this was little, he was obliged to content himself with encomiums upon the noble character of Dora Bannister. That she should even think of offering such an inexpressible delight and benefit to his sister was sufficient proof of Miss Bannister's solid worth and tender, gracious nature. These remarks made to the ladies in general really did help in the good work, for, while Ralph was talking in this way, Cicely bent more earnestly over her sewing and stitched faster. Until now, she had never thought much about Miss Bannister; but, without intending it, or in the least desiring it, she began to think a good deal about her, even when Ralph was not there.

Miriam herself settled the manner of her journey. She had thought for a moment of Ralph as an escort, but this would cause him trouble and loss of time, which was not at all necessary, and-what was very important-would at least double the expenses of the trip; so she wrote to Miss Pender, the head teacher in her late school, begging that she might come to her and be shipped to Barport. Miss Pender had great skill and experience in the shipping of girls from the school to destinations in all parts of the country. Despatched by Miss Pender, the wildest or the vaguest school-girl would go safely to her home, or to whatever spot she might be sent.

As this was vacation, and she happened to be resting idly at school, Miss Pender gladly undertook the congenial task offered her; and welcomed Miriam, and then shipped her to Barport with even more than her usual success.

When the dear girl had gone, everybody greatly missed her,-even La Fleur, for of certain sweets the child had eaten twice as much as any one else in the house. But all were happy over her great pleasure, including the cook, who hated to have even the nicest girls come into her kitchen.

Thus far Miss Panney's plan worked admirably, but one idea she had in regard to Miriam's departure never came into the mind of any one at Cobhurst. That the Dranes should go away because Miriam, as mistress of the establishment, was gone, was not thought of for an instant. With La Fleur and Mrs. Drane in the house, was there any reason why domestic and all other affairs should not go on as usual during Miriam's brief absence?

Everything did indeed go on pretty much as it had gone on before, although it might have been thought that Ralph was now living with the Dranes. La Fleur expanded herself into all departments of the household, and insisted upon doing many little things that Cicely had been in the habit of doing for herself and her mother; and, with the assistance of Mike, who was always glad to help the good Mrs. Flower whenever she wanted him-which was always-and did it whenever he had a chance-which was often-the household wheels moved smoothly.

In one feature of the life at Cobhurst there was a change. The absence of Miriam threw Cicely and Ralph much more together. For instance, they breakfasted by themselves, for Mrs. Drane had always been late in coming down in the morning, and it was difficult for her to change her habits. Moreover, it now happened frequently that Cicely and Ralph found that each must be the sole companion of the other; and in this regard more than in any other was Miriam missed. But to say that in this regard more than any other her absence was regretted would be inaccurate.

Cicely felt that she ought to regret it, but she did not. To be so much with Ralph was contrary to her own plans of action, and to what she believed to be her mother's notions on the subject; but she could not help it without being rude to the young man, and this she did not intend to be. He was lonely and wanted a companion; and in truth, she was glad to fill the position. If he had not talked to her so much about Dora Bannister's great goodness, she would have been better pleased. But she could nearly always turn this sort of conversation upon Miriam's virtues, and on that subject the two were in perfect accord.

Mrs. Drane intended now to get up sooner in the morning, but she did not do it; and she resolved that she would not drop asleep in her chair early in the evening, as she had felt perfectly free to do when Miriam was with them; but she calmly dozed all the same.

There was another obstacle to Mrs. Drane's good intentions, of which she knew nothing. This was the craft of La Fleur, who frequently made it a point to call upon the good lady for advice or consultation, and who was most apt to do this at times when her interview with Mrs. Drane would leave Ralph and Cicely together. It was wonderful how skilfully this accomplished culinary artist planned some of these situations.

Ralph was surprised to find that he could so well bear the absence of his sister. He would not have believed it had he been told it in advance. He considered it a great piece of luck that Miriam should be able to go to the seashore, but it was also wonderful luck that Miss Drane should happen to be here while Miriam was away. Had both gone, he would have had a doleful time of it. As it was, his time was not at all doleful. All the chickens, hens, cats, calves, and flowers that Miriam had had under her especial care were now attended to most sedulously by Cicely, and in these good works Ralph gave willing and constant assistance. In fact, he found that he could do a great deal more for Cicely than Miriam had been willing he should do for her. This co?peration was very pleasing to him, for Cicely was a girl who knew little about things rural but wanted to know much, and Ralph was a young fellow who liked to teach such girls as Cicely.

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