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   Chapter 43 THE SIREN AND THE IRON

The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 11790

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The summer, the Dranes, La Fleur, and Miriam had all left Cobhurst. The summer had gone south for an eight months' stay; the Dranes had gone to their old Pennsylvania home to settle up their affairs, and prepare for the marriage of the younger lady, which was to take place early in the coming spring; La Fleur had returned to the Tolbridges' to remain until the new Cobhurst household should be organized; and Miriam, whose association with Dora and Cicely had aroused her somewhat dormant aspirations in an educational direction, had gone to Mrs. Stone's school for the winter term.

November had come to Cobhurst, and there Ralph remained to get his farm ready for the winter, and his house in order for the bride who would come with the first young leaves. He did not regret this period of solitary bachelorhood, for not having very much money, he required a good deal of time to do what was to be done.

He had planned a good deal of refitting for the house, although not so much as to deprive it of any of those characteristics which made it dear old Cobhurst. And there were endless things to do on the farm, the most important of which, in his eyes, was the breaking of the pair of colts, which task he intended to take into his own hands. Mrs. Browning and the gig were very well in their places, but something more would be needed when the green leaves came.

Seraphina, Mike's sister, now ruled in the kitchen, but Ralph's thoughts had acquired such a habit of leaving the subject on which he was engaged and flying southward, that even when he took a meal with the Tolbridges, which happened not infrequently, he scarcely noticed the difference between their table and his own. Nothing stronger than this could be said regarding his present power of abstracting his mind from surrounding circumstances.

His income was a limited one, although it had been a good deal helped by the products of his farm, and he had to do a great deal of calculating with his pencil before he dared to order work which would oblige him to draw a check with his pen. But by thus giving two dollars' worth of thought to every dollar of expenditure, he made his money go a long way, and the lively and personal interest he took in every little improvement, made a garden fence to him of as much importance and satisfaction as a new post-office would have been to the people of Thorbury.

One day he went into a hardware store of the town to buy some nails, and there he met Miss Panney, who had just purchased a corkscrew.

"A thing you will not want for some time," she said, "for you do not look as if you needed anything to cheer your soul. Now tell me, young man, is it really the engagement rapture that has lasted all this time?"

"Oh, yes," said Ralph, laughing, "and besides that I have had all sorts of good fortune. For instance, one of my hens, setting unbeknown to anybody in a warm corner of the barn, has hatched out a dozen little chicks. Think of that at this season! I have put them in a warm room, and by the time we begin housekeeping we shall have spring chickens to eat before anybody else. And then there is that black colt, Dom Pedro. I had great doubts about him, because he showed such decided symptoms of free will, but now he is behaving beautifully. He has become thoroughly reconciled to a haycart. I have driven him in a light wagon with his sister, and he is just as good as she is, and yesterday I drove him single, and find that he has made up his mind to learn everything I can teach him. Now isn't that a fine thing?"

"Oh, yes," said Miss Panney, "it must be such things as those that make your eyes sparkle! But of course it warms your heart to give her delicate eating when she first comes to you, and to have a fine pair of horses for her to drive behind. If your face beams as it does now while she is away, it will serve as an electric light when she comes back. Good fortune! Oh, yes, of course, you consider that you have it in full measure. But we are sometimes apt to look on our friends' good fortune in an odd way. Now, if I had wanted you to go to Boston to get rich, and instead of that you had insisted on going to Nantucket, and had become rich there, I suppose that I should have been satisfied as long as you were prosperous, but I do not believe I would have been; at least, not entirely so. In this world we do want people to do what we think they ought to do."

"Yes," said Ralph, knowingly, "I see. But now, Miss Panney, don't you really think that Boston would have been too rich a place for me? That it would have expected too much of me, and that perhaps it would have done too much for me? Boston is a good enough place, but if you only knew how much lovelier Nantucket is-"

"Stop, stop, boy!" said the old lady. "I am getting so old now, that I am obliged to stop happy people and disappointed people from talking to me. If I listened to all they had to say, I should have no time for anything else. By the way, have you heard any news from the Bannister family? That sedate Herbert is going to be married, and he intends to live with his wife in the Bannister mansion."

"And how will his sister like that?" asked Ralph.

"She won't like it at all. She has told me she is going away."

"I am sorry for that," he said. "That is too bad."

"Not at all. She could not do better. A girl like that in a town such as Thorbury, with nobody to marry her but the rector, is as much out of place as a canary bird in a poultry yard. I have advised her to visit her relatives in town, and go with them to Europe, where I hope she will marry a prince. Good conscience! Look at her! Imagine that girl in a sweeping velvet robe with one great diamond blazing on her breast."

Ralph turned quickly, and as his eyes fell upon Dora, as she entered the store, it struck him that no royal gowns could make her more beautiful than s

he was at that moment.

"Now, my dear," said Miss Panney, "what did you come here for? Do you want a saw or a pitchfork?"

"I came," said Dora, with her most charming smile, "because I saw you two in here, and I wanted to speak to you. It is a funny place for this sort of thing, but I do not see either of you very often, now, and I thought I would like to tell you, before you heard it from any one else, of my engagement."

"To whom?" cried Miss Panney, in a voice that made the ox-chains rattle.

Dora looked around anxiously, but there was no one in the front part of the store.

"To Mr. Ames," she replied.

"The rector!" exclaimed Ralph.

"Yes," said Dora; "I want to write to Miriam about it, and do you know I have lost her address."

"Dora Bannister," interrupted Miss Panney, "it may be a little early to make bridal presents, but I want to give you this corkscrew. It is a very good one, and I think that after a while you will have need of it. Good morning."

When the old lady had abruptly departed, the two young people laughed, and Ralph offered his congratulations.

"I do not know Mr. Ames very well," he said, "but I have heard no end of good of him. But this is very surprising. It seems-"

"Seems what?" asked Dora.

"Well, since you ask me," Ralph answered, hesitating a little, "it seems odd, not, perhaps, that you should marry the rector, but that you should marry anybody. You appear to me too young to marry."

"Oh, indeed!" said Dora; "you think that?"

"I do not know that you understand me," said Ralph, "but I mean that you are so full of youth-and all that, and enjoy life so much, that it is a pity that you should not have more of youthful enjoyment before you begin any other kind."

Dora laughed.

"Truly," said she, "I never looked at the matter in that light. Perhaps I ought to have done so. You think me too young, and if you had had a chance, perhaps you would have warned me! You are so kind and so considerate, but don't you think you ought to speak to Mr. Ames about it? He does not know you very well, but he has heard no end of good of you, and perhaps what you say might make him reflect."

As she spoke she looked at him with her eyes not quite so wide open as usual. Ralph returned her gaze steadfastly.

"I know what you are thinking of," he said. "You are thinking of a fable with an animal in it and some fruit, and the animal was a small one, and the fruit was on a high trellis."

"Oh, dear," said Dora. "It must be very nice to have read as much as you have, and to know fables and all sorts of things to refer to. But my life hasn't been long enough for all that."

The more Ralph's mind dwelt upon the matter, the more dissatisfied did he feel that this beautiful young creature should marry the rector. If, in truth, she applied the fable to him, this was all the more reason why he should feel sorry for her. If anything of all this showed itself in his eyes, he did not know it, but Dora's eyes opened to their full width, and grew softer.

"I expect I surprise you," she said, "by talking to you of these things, but I have so few friends to confide in. Herbert is wrapped up in his own engagement, and Mrs. Bannister is entirely apart from me. Almost ever since I have known you two, I have felt that Miriam and you were friends with whom I could talk freely, and I am now going to tell you, and I know you will never mention it, that I do not believe I shall ever marry Mr. Ames."

"What!" exclaimed Ralph. "Didn't you say you were engaged to him?"

"Of course I said so; and I am, and I was very glad to be able to say it to Miss Panney, for she is always bothering me about such things; but the engagement is a peculiar one. Mr. Ames has been coming to see me for a long time, and I think it was because he heard that I was planning to go away that he decided to declare himself at once, before he lost his opportunity. I told him that I had never thought of anything of the sort; but he was very insistent, and at last I consented, provided the engagement should be a long one, and that, if after I had seen more of the world and knew myself better, I should decide to change my mind, I must be allowed to do so. He fought terribly against this, but there was nothing for him to do but agree, and so now we are engaged on approbation, as it were. This is a great relief to me in various ways, because I feel as if I were safely anchored, and not drifting about whichever way the wind blows, while other people are sailing where they want to; and yet, whenever I please, I can loosen my anchor, and spread my sails, and skim away over the beautiful sea."

It is seldom that a siren, leaning lightly against a bright new hay-cutter, with a background of iron rakes and hoes and spades, sings her soft song. But it was so now, and Dora, her heart beating quickly, looked from under her long lashes to note the effect of her words.

"If he will drop the little Drane," she said to herself, "I will drop the rector."

But Ralph stood looking past her. It was as plain as could be that he was not approaching the rocks; that he did not like the song; and that he was thinking what he should say about it.

"Oh, dear," said Dora, suddenly starting. "I have ever so much to do this morning, and it must be nearly noon. I wonder what made that queer Miss Panney think of giving me this corkscrew."

Ralph knew very well that the old lady meant the little implement as a figurative auxiliary of consolation, but he merely remarked that Miss Panney did and gave very queer things. He opened the door for her, and she bade him good-by and went out.

She crossed the street, and when on the opposite sidewalk, she turned her luminous eyes back upon the glass doors she had passed through.

But there was no one looking out after her. Ralph was standing at the counter, buying nails.

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