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   Chapter 40 ANGRY WAVES

The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 16506

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The ocean rolled angrily on the beach, and Miss Panney walked angrily on the beach, a little higher up, however, than the line to which the ocean rolled.

The old lady was angrier than the ocean, and it was much more than mere wind that made her storm waves roll. Her indignation was directed first against Mrs. Bannister, that silly woman, who, by cutting short her stay at the seashore, had ruined Miss Panney's plans, and also against Ralph, who had not come to Barport as soon as he had received the telegram. If he had arrived, the party might have stayed a little longer for his sake. Why he had not come she knew no more than she knew what she was going to say to him in explanation of her message, and she cared as little for the one as for the other.

Her own visit to Barport had been utterly useless. She had spent money and time, she had tired herself, had been frightened and disgusted,-all for nothing. She did not remember any of her plans that had failed so utterly.

Meeting the bathing-master, she rolled in upon him some ireful waves, because he did not keep a boat outside the breakers to pick up people who might be exhausted and in danger of drowning. In vain the man protested that ten thousand people had said that to him, before, and that the thing could not be done, because so many swimmers would make for the boat and hang on to its sides, just to rest themselves until they were ready to go back. It would simply be a temptation to people to swim beyond the breakers. She went on, in a voice that the noise of the surf could not drown, to tell him that she hoped ten thousand more people would say the same thing to him, and to declare that he ought to have several boats outside during bathing hours, so that people could cling to some of them, and so, perhaps, save themselves from exhaustion on their return, and so that one, at least, could be kept free to succor the distressed. At last the poor man vowed that he acted under orders, and that, if she wanted to pitch into anybody, she ought to pitch into the proprietors of the hotel who employed him, and who told him what he must do.

Miss Panney accepted this advice; and if the sea had broken into the private office of that hotel, the owners and managers could not have had a worse time than they had during the old lady's visit. It may be stated that for the remainder of the season two or three boats might always be seen outside the breakers during bathing hours at the Barport beach.

For the sake of appearances, Miss Panney did not leave Barport immediately; for she did not wish her friends to think that she was a woman who would run after the Bannisters wherever they might please to go. But in a reasonable time she found herself in the Witton household, and the maid who had charge of her room had some lively minutes after the arrival of the old lady therein.

The next day she went to Thorbury to see what had happened, and chanced to spy Phoebe resting herself on a bench at the edge of the public green. Instantly the colored woman sprang to her feet, and began to explain to Miss Panney why she had not made her report before the latter set out on her journey.

"You see, ma'am, I hadn't no shoes as was fit for that long walk out in the country, an' I had to take my best ones to the shoemaker; and though I did my best to make him hurry, it took him a whole day, an' so I had to put off going to Cobhurst, an' I've never got over my walk out thar yit. My j'ints has creaked ever sense."

"If you used them more, they would creak less," snapped Miss Panney. "How are things going on at Cobhurst? What did you see there?"

"I seed a lot, an' I heard a lot," the colored woman answered. "Mike's purty nigh starved, an' does his own washin'. An' things are in that state in the house that would make you sick, Miss Panney, if you could see them. What the rain doesn't wash goes dirty; an' as for that old cook they've got, if she isn't drunk all the time, her mind's givin' way, an' I expect she'll end by pizenin' all of them. The vittles she gave me to eat, bein' nearly tired to death when I got thar, was sich that they give me pains that I hain't got over yit. And what would have happened if I'd eat a full meal, nobody knows."

"Get out with you," cried Miss Panney. "I don't want any more of your jealousy and spite. If that woman gave you anything to eat, I expect it was the only decently cooked thing you ever put into your mouth. Did you see Mr. Haverley? Were the Drane women still there? How were they all getting on together?"

Phoebe's eyes sparkled, and her voice took in a little shrillness.

"I was goin' to git the minister to write you a letter 'bout that, Miss Panney," said she; "but you didn't tell me whar you was goin', nor give me no money for stamps nor nothin'. But I kin say to you now that that woman, which some people may call a cook, but I don't, she told me, without my askin' a word 'bout nothin', that Mr. Hav'ley an' that little Miss Drane was to be married in the fall, an' that they was goin' away, all of them, to the wife's mother's to live, bein' that that old farm out thar didn't pay to run, an' never would. I reckoned they'd git sick of it afore this, which I always said."

"Phoebe!" exclaimed Miss Panney, "I do not believe a word of all that!

How dare you tell me such a lot of lies?"

Phoebe was getting very angry, though she did not dare to show it; but instead of taking back anything she had said, she put on more lie-power.

"You may believe me, Miss Panney, or you needn't; that's just as you choose," she said "but I can tell you more than I have told you, and that is, that from what I've seen and heard, I believe Mr. Hav'ley an' Miss Drane is married already, an' that they was only waitin' for the Tolbridges to come home to send out the cards."

Miss Panney glared at the woman. "I tell you what I believe, and that is that you never went to Cobhurst at all. You must tell me something, and you are making up the biggest story you can," and with this she marched away.

"I reckon the next time she sends me on an arrand," thought Phoebe, whose face would have been very red if her natural color had not interfered with the exhibition of such a hue, "she'll send me in a hack, and pay me somethin' for my time. I was bound to tell her 'zactly what she didn't want to hear, an' I reckon I done it, an' more'n that if she gets her back up 'bout this, an' goes out to Cobhurst, that old cook'll find herself in hot water. It was mighty plain that she was dreadful skeered for fear anybody would think thar was somethin' goin' on 'twixt them two."

If Phoebe had been more moderate in her doubleheaded treachery, Miss Panney might have been much disturbed by her news, but the story she had heard was so preposterous that she really believed that the lazy colored woman had not gone to Cobhurst, and by the time she reached the Bannister house her mind was cleared for the reception of fresh impressions.

She was fortunate enough to find Dora alone, and as soon as it was prudent she asked her what news she had heard from Cobhurst. Dora was looking her loveliest in an early autumn costume, and answered that she had heard nothing at all, which surprised Miss Panney very much, for she had expected that Miriam would have been to see Dora before this time.

"Common politeness would dictate that," said Miss Panney, "but I expect that that child is so elated and excited by getting back to the head of her household that everything else has slipped out of her mind. But if you two are such close friends, I don't think you ought to mind that sort of thing. If I were you, I would go out and see her. Eccentric people must be humored."

"They needn't expect that from me," said Dora, a little sharply. "If Miriam lived there by herself, I might go; but as it is, I shall not. It is their duty to come here, and I shall not go there until they do."

Miss Panney drummed upon the table, but otherwise did not show her impatience.

"We can never live the life we ought in this world, my dear," she said, "if we allow our sensitive fancies to interfere with the advancement of our interests."

"Miss Panney," cried Dora, sitting upright in her

chair, "do you mean that I ought to go out there, and try to catch Ralph Haverley, no matter how they treat me?"

"Yes," said Miss Panney, leaning back in her chair, "that is exactly what I mean. There is no use of our mincing matters, and as I hold that it is the duty of every young woman to get herself well married, I think it is your duty to marry Mr. Haverley if you can. You will never meet a man better suited to you, and who can use your money with as much advantage to yourself. I do not mean that you should go and make love to him, or anything of that sort. I simply mean that you should allow him to expose himself to your influences."

"I shall do nothing of the kind!" cried Dora, her face in a flush; "if he wants that sort of exposure, let him come here. I don't know whether I want him to come or not. I am too young to be thinking of marrying anybody, and though I don't want to be disrespectful to you, Miss Panney, I will say that I am getting dreadfully tired of your continual harping about Ralph Haverley, and trying to make me push myself in front of him so that his lordship may look at me. If he had been at Barport, or there had been any chance of his coming there, I should have suspected that you went there for the express purpose of keeping us up to the work of becoming attached to each other. And I say plainly that I shall have no more to do with exerting influence on him, through his sister or in any other way. There are thousands of other men just as good as he is, and if I have not met any of them yet, I have no doubt I shall do so."

"Dora," said Miss Panney, speaking very gently, "you are wrong when you say that there was no chance of Ralph's coming to Barport. If some things had not gone wrong, I have reason to believe he would have been there before you left, and I am quite sure that if you had stayed there until now, you would have been walking on the sands with him at this minute."

Dora looked at her in surprise, and the flush on her face subsided a little.

"What do you mean?" she asked. "You do not think he would have gone there on my account?"

"Yes, I do," said Miss Panney. "That is exactly what I mean, and now, my dear Dora, do not let-"

At this moment Mrs. Bannister walked into the room, and was very glad to see Miss Panney, and to know that she had returned in safety from the seashore.

When Dora went up to her room, after the visitor had gone, she shut the door and sat down to think.

"After all," she said to herself, "I do not believe much in the thousand other men. Not one of them is here, and none may ever come, and if Ralph really did intend to come to me at the seashore, I wish we had stayed there. It is such a good place to find out just how people feel."

In this frame of mind she sat and thought and thought, until a servant, who had been to the post office, came up and brought her a note from Miriam Haverley.

The next morning Dora Bannister, in an open carriage, drawn by the family bays, appeared at the door of the Witton mansion. Miss Panney, with overshoes on and a little shawl about her, for the mornings were beginning to be cool, was walking up and down between two rows of old-fashioned boxwood bushes. She hurried forward, for she knew very well that Dora had not come to call on the Wittons.

"Miss Panney," said the young lady, "I am on my way to Cobhurst, and I thought you might like to go there, and so if you choose, I shall be glad to take you with me."

"Now, my dear girl," said Miss Panney, "you are a trump. I always thought you were, but I will not say anything more about that. I shall be delighted to go with you, and we can talk on the way. If you will come in or take a seat on the piazza, I shall be ready in five minutes."

As Miss Panney busied herself preparing for the drive and the call, her mind was a great deal more active than her rapid fingers. She had been intending to go to Cobhurst, but did not wish to do so until she had decided what she should say to Ralph about the telegram she had sent him. Until that morning, this had given her very little concern, but as the time approached when it would be absolutely necessary to speak upon the subject, she found that she was a good deal concerned about it. She saw that it was very important that nothing should be said to rouse Ralph into opposition.

But now everything seemed bright and clear before her. After Dora, looking perfectly lovely, as she did this morning, had shone upon Ralph for half an hour, or even less, the old lady felt that if the young man asked her any questions about her telegram she would not in the least mind telling him how she came to send it, giving him, of course, a version of her motive which would make him understand her anxious solicitude, in case anything had happened to any one dear to him, that his arrival should not be delayed an instant, as well as the sympathetic delight she would have felt in witnessing the joy his presence in Barport would cause to the dear ones, alive and well.

This somewhat complicated explanation might need policy and alteration, but Miss Panney now felt quite ready for anything Ralph might ask about the telegram. If any one else asked any questions, she would answer as happened to please her.

As they drove away Miss Panney immediately began to congratulate Dora on her return to her senses. She was in high good humor, "You ought to know, my dear, that if the loveliest woman in the world found herself stuck in a quagmire, it would be quite foolish for her to expect that the right sort of man would come and pull her out. In all probability it would be precisely the wrong sort of man who would do it. Consequently, it would be wise in her if she saw the right sort of man going by, not only to let him know that she was there, but to let him understand that she was worth pulling out. All women are born in a quagmire, and some are so anxious to get out that they take the first hand that is stretched toward them, and some, I am sorry to say, never get out at all. But they are the wise ones who do not leave it to chance, who shall be their liberators. Number yourself, my dear, among this happy class. I am so glad it is cool enough this morning for you to wear that lovely costume. It is as likely as not that by tomorrow it will be too warm. All these little things tell, my child, and I am glad to know that even the thermometer is your friend."

"I had a letter from Miriam yesterday afternoon," said Dora, "in which she told me that her brother Ralph is engaged to Miss Drane."

Miss Panney turned around like a weather vane struck by a squall. She seized the girl's arm with her bony fingers.

"What!" she exclaimed.

Ordinarily, the pain of the old lady's grasp would have made Dora wince, but she did not seem to feel it. Without the slightest sign of emotion in her face, she answered,-

"It is so. It happened while I was at Barport."

"Stop!" cried Miss Panney, in a voice that made the driver pull up his horses with a jerk. In a moment she had stepped from the low carriage to the ground, and with quick strides was walking back to the Witton house. Dora turned in the seat, looked after her, and laughed. It was a sudden, bitter laugh, which the circumstances made derisive.

Never before had Miss Panney's soul been so stung, burned, and lacerated, all at once, as by this laugh. But the sound had scarcely left Dora Bannister's lips when she bounded out of the carriage and ran after the old lady. Throwing her arms around her neck, she kissed her on the cheek.

"I am awfully sorry I did that," she said, "and I beg your pardon. I don't mind the thing a bit, and won't you let me take you home in the carriage?"

Dora might as well have embraced a milestone and talked to it, for the moment she could release herself, Miss Panney stalked away without a word.

When she was again driving toward Cobhurst, Dora took from the front of the carriage a little hand mirror, and carefully arranged her hat, her feathers, her laces and ribbons. Then having satisfied herself that her features were in perfect order, she put back her glass.

"I am not going to let any of them see," she said, "that I mind it in the least."

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