THE GIRL AT COBHURST
BY FRANK R. STOCKTON
I. DR. TOLBRIDGE II. MISS PANNEY III. BROTHER AND SISTER IV. THE HOME V. PANNEYOPATHY VI. MRS. TOLBRIDGE'S CALLERS VII. DORA BANNISTER TAKES TIME AND A MARE BY THE FORELOCK VIII. MRS. TOLBRIDGE'S REPORT IS NOT ACCEPTED IX. JOHN WESLEY AND LORENZO DOW AT LUNCHEON X. A SILK GOWN AND A BOTTLE XI. TWO GIRLS AND A CALF XII. TO EAT WITH THE FAMILY XIII. DORA'S NEW MIND XIV. GOOD-NIGHT XV. MISS PANNEY IS AROUSED TO HELP AND HINDER XVI. "KEEP HER TO HELP YOU" XVII. JUDITH PACEWALK'S TEABERRY GOWN XVIII. BLARNEY FLUFF XIX. MISS PANNEY IS "TOOK SUDDEN" XX. THE TEABERRY GOWN IS TOO LARGE XXI. THE DRANES AND THEIR QUARTERS XXII. A TRESPASS XXIII. THE HAVERLEY FINANCES AND MRS. ROBINSON XXIV. THE DOCTOR'S MISSION XXV. BOMBSHELLS AND BROMIDE XXVI. DORA COMES AND SEES XXVII. "IT COULDN'T BE BETTER THAN THAT" XXVIII. THE GAME IS CALLED XXIX. HYPOTHESIS AND INNUENDO XXX. A CONFIDENTIAL ANNOUNCEMENT XXXI. THE TEABERRY GOWN IS DONNED XXXII. MISS PANNEY FEELS SHE MUST CHANGE HER PLANS XXXIII. LA FLEUR LOOKS FUTUREWARD XXXIV. A PLAN WHICH SEEMS TO SUIT EVERYBODY XXXV. MISS PANNEY HAS TEETH ENOUGH LEFT TO BITE WITH XXXVI. A CRY FROM THE SEA XXXVII. LA FLEUR ASSUMES RESPONSIBILITIES XXXVIII. CICELY READS BY MOONLIGHT XXXIX. UNDISTURBED LETTUCE XL. ANGRY WAVES XLI. PANNEYOPATHY AND THE ASH-HOLE XLII. AN INTERVIEWER XLIII. THE SIREN AND THE IRON XLIV. LA FLEUR'S SOUL REVELS, AND MISS PANEY PREPARES TO MAKE A FIRE
THE GIRL AT COBHURST
It was about the middle of a March afternoon when Dr. Tolbridge, giving his horse and buggy into the charge of his stable boy, entered the warm hall of his house. His wife was delighted to see him; he had not been at home since noon of the preceding day.
"Yes," said he, as he took off his gloves and overcoat, "the Pardell boy is better, but I found him in a desperate condition."
"I knew that," said Mrs. Tolbridge, "when you told me in your note that you would be obliged to stay with him all night."
The doctor now walked into his study, changed his overcoat for a well-worn smoking-jacket, and seated himself in an easy chair before the fire. His wife sat by him.
"Thank you," he said, in answer to her inquiries, "but I do not want anything to eat. After I had gone my round this morning I went back to the Pardells, and had my dinner there. The boy is doing very well. No, I was not up all night. I had some hours' sleep on the big sofa."
"Which doesn't count for much," said his wife.
"It counts for some hours," he replied, "and Mrs. Pardell did not sleep at all."
Dr. Tolbridge, a man of moderate height, and compactly built, with some touches of gray in his full, short beard, and all the light of youth in his blue eyes, had been for years the leading physician in and about Thorbury. He lived on the outskirts of the little town, but the lines of his practice extended in every direction into the surrounding country.
The doctor's wife was younger than he was; she had a high opinion of him, and had learned to diagnose him, mentally, morally, and physically, with considerable correctness. It may be asserted, in fact, that the doctor seldom made a diagnosis of a patient as exact as those she made of him. But then it must be remembered that she had only one person to exert her skill upon, while he had many.
The Tolbridge house was one of the best in the town, but the family was small. There was but one child, a boy of fourteen, who was now away at school. The doctor had readjusted the logs upon the andirons, and was just putting the tongs in their place when a maidservant came in.
"There's a boy here, sir," she said, "from Miss Panney. She's sent for you in a hurry."
In the same instant the doctor and his wife turned in their chairs and fixed their eyes upon the servant, but there was nothing remarkable about her; she had delivered her message and stood waiting. The doctor's fists were clenched and there was a glitter in his eye. He seemed on the point of saying something in a loud voice, but he changed his mind, and quietly said, "Tell the boy to come here," and turned back to the fire. Then, when the girl had gone, he struck his fist upon his knee and ejaculated, "Confound Miss Panney!"
"Harry!" exclaimed his wife, "you should not speak of your patients in that way, but I agree with you perfectly;" and then, addressing the boy, who had just entered, and who stood by the door, "Do you mean to say that there is anything serious the matter with Miss Panney?" she said severely. "Does she really want to see the doctor immediately?"
"That's what they told me, ma'am," said the boy, looking about him at the books and the furniture. "They told me that she was took bad, and that I must come here first to tell the doctor to come right away, and if he wasn't at home to leave that message."
"How did you come?" asked Mrs. Tolbridge; "on horseback?"
"No, ma'am; with a wagon."
"You could have come a great deal quicker without the wagon," said she.
"Oh, yes, but then I've got to stop at the store going back."
"That will do," said Mrs. Tolbridge; "you can go now and attend to your other business."
The doctor was quietly looking into the fire, and as his wife turned to him he gave a little snort.
"I was just beginning to get up enough energy," he remarked, "to think of putting on my slippers."
"Well, put them on," said she, in a very decided tone.
"No," replied the doctor, "that will not do; of course I must go to her."
"You mustn't do anything of the kind!" exclaimed Mrs. Tolbridge, her eyes sparkling. "How many times by night and by day has that woman called you away on a fool's errand? It is likely as not that there is nothing more the matter with her than there is with me. She has no right to worry the life out of you in this way. She ought to have gone to heaven long ago."
"You shouldn't talk of my patients in that way, Kitty," said the doctor; "and in the opinion of a good many of her neighbors the old lady is not bound for heaven."
"I don't care where she is going, but one thing is certain: you are not going to her this afternoon. You are not fit for it."
"You must remember, Kitty," said the doctor, "that Miss Panney is an old lady, and though she may sound many a false alarm, the true alarm is to be expected, and I would much prefer to go by daylight than to wait until after supper. The roads are bad, the air is raw, and she would keep me nobody knows how late. I want to go to bed early to-night."
"And that is what you are going to do," said Mrs. Tolbridge.
He looked at her inquiringly. "Harry," said she, "you have been up nearly all night. You have been working the greater part of this day, and I do not intend to let you drive three miles to be nearly talked to death by Racilia Panney. No, you needn't shake your head in that way; she is not to be neglected. I shall go myself and see what is the matter with her, and if it is really anything serious, I can then let you know. I do not believe she would have sent for you at all, if she had not known the wagon was going to town."
"But, my dear," said the doctor, "you cannot—"
"Yes, I can," interrupted his wife. "I want some fresh air and shall enjoy the drive, and Buckskin has done nothing for two days. I shall take the cart, Tom can get up behind, and I can go there in less than half an hour."
"But if there really is anything the matter—" said the doctor.
"It's just as likely as not," interrupted his wife, "that what she wants is somebody to talk to, and that a minister or a lawyer or a stranger from foreign parts would do just as well as you. And now put on your slippers, push the sofa up to the fire, and take your nap, and I'll go and see how the case really stands."
The doctor smiled. "I have no more to say," said he. "There are angels who bless us by coming, and there are angels who bless us by going. You belong to both classes. But don't stay too long."
"In any case I shall be back before dark," she said, and with a kiss on his forehead she left him.
Dr. Tolbridge looked into the fire and considered.
"Ought I to let her go?" he asked himself. This question, mingled with various thoughts and recollections of former experiences with Miss Panney, occupied the doctor's mind until he heard the swift rolling of the dog-cart wheels as they passed his window. Then he arose, put on his slippers, drew up the soft cushioned sofa, and lay down for a nap.
In about half an hour he was aroused by the announcement that Miss Bannister had called to see him.
Long practice in that sort of thing made him wake in an instant, and the young lady who was ushered into the study had no idea that she had disturbed the nap of a tired man. She was a very pretty girl, handsomely dressed; she had large blue eyes, and a very gentle and sweet expression, tinged, however, by an anxious sadness.
"Who is sick, Miss Dora?" asked the doctor, quickly, as he shook hands with her.
She did not seem to understand him. "Nobody," she said. "That is, I have come to see you about myself."
"Oh," said he, "pray take a seat. I imagined from your face," he continued, with a smile, "that some one of your family was in desperate need of a doctor."
"No," said she, "it is I. For a long time I have thought of consulting you, and to-day I felt I must come."
"And what is the matter?" he asked.
"Doctor," said she, a tear forcing itself into each of her beautiful eyes, "I believe I am losing my mind."
"Indeed," said the doctor; "and how is your general health?"
"Oh, that's all right," answered Miss Dora. "I do not think there is the least thing the matter with me that way. It is all my mind. It has been failing me for a good while."
"How?" he asked. "What are the symptoms?"
"Oh, there are ever so many of them," she said; "I can't think of them all. I have lost all interest in everything in this world. You remember how much interest I used to take in things?"
"Indeed I do," said he.
"The world is getting to be all a blank to me," she said; "everything is blank."
"Your meals?" he asked.
"No," she said. "Of course I must eat to live."
"Oh, I sleep well enough. Indeed, I wish I could sleep all the time, so that I could not know how the world—at least its pleasures and affections—are passing away from me. All this is dreadful, doctor, when you come to think of it. I have thought and thought and thought about it, until it has become perfectly plain to me that I am losing my mind."
Dr. Tolbridge looked into the fire.
"Well," said he, presently, "I am glad to hear it."
Miss Dora sprang to her feet.
"Oh, sit down," said he, "and let me explain myself. My advice is, if you lose your mind, don't mind the loss. It really will do you good. That sounds hard and cruel, doesn't it? But wait a bit. It often happens that the minds of young people are like their first teeth—what are called milk teeth, you know. These minds and these teeth do very well for a time, but after a while they become unable to perform the services which will be demanded of them, and they are shed, or at least they ought to be. Sometimes, of course, they have to be extracted."
"Nonsense, doctor," said the young lady, smiling in spite of herself, "you cannot extract a mind."
"Well, perhaps not exactly that," he answered, "but we can help it to be absorbed and to disappear, and so make a way for the strong, vigorous mind of maturity, which is certain to succeed it. All this has happened and is happening to you, Miss Dora. You have lost your milk mind, and the sooner it is gone the better. You will be delighted with the one that succeeds it. Now then, can you give me an idea about how angry you are?"
"I am not angry at all," she replied, "but I feel humiliated. You think my mental sufferings are all fanciful."
"Oh, no," said the doctor; "to continue the dental simile, they are the last aches of your youthful mentality, forced to make way for the intellect of a woman."
Miss Bannister looked out of the window for a few moments.
"Doctor," she then said, "I do not believe there is any one else who knows me, who would tell me that I have the mind of a child."
"Oh, no," replied Dr. Tolbridge, "for it is not likely that there is any one else to whom you have made the fact known."
There was a quick flush on the face of Miss Dora, and a flash in her blue eyes, and she reached out her hand toward her muff which lay on the table beside her, but she changed her purpose and drew back her hand. The doctor looked at her with a smile.
"You were just on the point of jumping up and leaving the room without a word, weren't you?"
"Yes, I was," said she, "and I have a great mind to do it now, but first I must—"
"Miss Dora," said the doctor, "I am delighted. Actually you are cutting your new mind. Before you can realize the fact, you will have it all full-formed and ready for use. Let me see; this is the ninth of March; bad roads; bad weather; no walking; no driving; nothing inspiriting; disagreeable in doors and out. I think the full change will occur within three weeks. By the end of this month, you will not only have forgotten that your milk mind has troubled you, but that the world was ever blank, and that your joys and affections were ever on the point of passing away from you. You will then be the brave-hearted, bright-spirited woman that Nature intended you to be, after she had passed you through some of the preliminary stages."
The flush on the face of Miss Dora gradually passed away as she listened to this speech.
She rose. "Doctor," said she, "I like that better than what you have been saying. Anyway, I shall not be angry, and I shall wait three weeks and see what happens, and if everything is all wrong then, the responsibility will rest on you."
"Very good," said he, "I agree to the terms. It is a bargain."
Now Miss Dora seemed troubled again. She took up her muff, put it down, drew her furs about her, then let them fall again, and finally turned toward the physician, who had also risen.
"Doctor," she said, "I don't want you to put this visit in the family bill. I wish to—to attend to it myself. How much should I pay you?" and she took out her little pocketbook.
Dr. Tolbridge put his hands behind him.
"This case is out of my usual line of practice," he said, "and my ordinary schedule of fees does not apply to it. For advice such as I have given you I never charge money. I take nothing but cats."
"What!" exclaimed Miss Dora; "what on earth do you mean?"
"I mean cats," he replied, "or rather kittens. I am very fond of kittens, and at present we have not one in the house. So, if you have a kitten—"
"Dr. Tolbridge," cried Miss Dora, her eyes sparkling, "do you really mean that? Would you truly like to have an Angora kitten?"
"That is exactly the breed I want," he answered.
"Why, I have five," she said; "they are only four days old, and perfect beauties. I shall be charmed to give you one, and I will pick out the very prettiest for you. As soon as it is old enough, I will bring it to you, already named, and with a ribbon on its neck. What color would you like the ribbon to be?"
"For Angoras, blue," he said; "I shall be so glad to have a kitten like that; but remember that you must not bring it to me until its eyes are opened, and it has—"
"Doctor," interrupted Miss Dora, raising her forefinger, "you were just on the point of saying, 'and has shed its milk mind.' Now I am going away before you make me angry again."
When his patient had gone, Dr. Tolbridge put another log on the fire, shook up the cushions of the sofa, and lay down to continue his nap.
The Witton family, distant relatives of Miss Panney, with whom she had lived for many years, resided on a farm in the hilly country above Thorbury, and when Mrs. Tolbridge had rattled through the town, she found the country road very rough and bad—hard and bumpy in some places, and soft and muddy in others; but Buckskin was in fine spirits and pulled her bravely on.
When she reached the Witton house she left the horse in charge of the boy, and opening the hall door, went directly up to Miss Panney's room. Knocking, she waited some little time for an answer, and then was told, in a clear, high voice, to come in. The room was large and well lighted. Against one of the walls stood a high-posted bed with a canopy, and on one of the pillows of the bed appeared the head of an elderly woman, the skin darkened and wrinkled by time, the nose aquiline, and the black eyes very sharp and quick of movement. This head was surrounded by the frills of a freshly laundered night-cap, and the smooth white coverlid was drawn up close under its chin.
"Upon my word," exclaimed the person in the bed, "is that you, Mrs. Tolbridge? I thought it was the doctor."
"I don't wonder at that, Miss Panney," said Mrs. Tolbridge. "At times we have very much the same sort of knock."
"But where is the doctor?" asked the old lady.
"I hope he is at home and asleep," was the reply. "He has been working very hard lately, and was up the greater part of last night. He was coming here when he received your message, but I told him he should not do it; I would come myself, and if I found it absolutely necessary that you should see him, I would let him know. And now what is the trouble, Miss Panney?"
Miss Panney fixed her eyes steadfastly upon her visitor, who had taken a seat by the bedside.
"Catherine Tolbridge," said she, "do you know what will happen to you, if you don't look out? You'll lose that man."
"Lose him!" exclaimed the other.
"Yes, just that," replied the old lady; "I have seen it over and over again. Down they drop, right in the middle of their harness. And the stouter and sturdier they are, the worse it is for them; they think they can do anything, and they do it. I'll back a skinny doctor against a burly one, any day. He knows there are things he can't do. He doesn't try, and he keeps afloat."
"That is exactly what I am trying to do," said the doctor's wife, "and if those are your opinions, Miss Panney, don't you think that the doctor's patients ought to have a regard for his health, and that they ought not to make him come to them in all sorts of weather, and at all hours of the day, unless there is something serious the matter with them? Now I don't believe there is anything serious the matter with you today."
"There is always something serious the matter with a person of my age," said Miss Panney, "and as for Dr. Tolbridge's visits to me doing him any harm, it is all stuff and nonsense. They do him good; they rest him; they brighten him up. He's never livelier than when he is with me. He doesn't have to hang over me all the night, giving me this and that, to keep the breath in my body, when he ought to be taking the rest that he needs more than any of us."
Mrs. Tolbridge laughed. "No, indeed," said she, "he never has to do anything of that kind for you. I believe you are the healthiest patient he has."
"That may be," said the other, "and it is much to his credit, and to mine, too. I know when I want a doctor. I don't send for him when I am in the last stages of anything. But we won't talk anything more about that. I want to know all about your husband. Do you think he is really out of health?"
"No," said Mrs. Tolbridge, "he is simply overworked, and needs rest. Just the sort of rest I hope he is getting this afternoon."
"Nonsense," said Miss Panney; "rest is well enough, but you must give him more than that if you do not want to see him break down. You must give him good victuals. Rest, without the best of food, amounts to little in his case."
"Truly, Miss Panney!" exclaimed her visitor, "I think I give my husband as good living as any one in Thorbury has or can expect."
"Humph!" said the old lady. "He may have all that, and yet be starving before your eyes. There isn't a man, woman, or child, in or about Thorbury, who really lives well—excepting, perhaps, myself."
Mrs. Tolbridge smiled. "I think you do manage to live very well, Miss Panney."
"Yes," said the other, "and I'd like to manage to have my friends live well, too. By the way, did you ever make rum-flake for the doctor when he comes in tired and faint?"
"I never heard of it," replied the other.
"I thought as much," said Miss Panney. "Well, you take the whites of two eggs and beat them up, and while you are beating you sprinkle rum over the egg, from a pepper caster, which you ought to keep clean to use for this and nothing else. Then you should sift in sugar according to taste, and when you have put a dry macaroon, which has been soaking in rum all this time, in the bottom of a glass saucer, you pile the flake over it, and it's ready for him, except that sometimes you put in,—let me see!—a little orange juice, I think, but I've got the recipe there in my scrap-book, and I can find it in a minute." So saying, the old lady threw aside the coverlid, and jumped to the floor with the activity of a cat.
Mrs. Tolbridge burst out laughing.
"I declare, Miss Panney!" she exclaimed, "you have your dress on."
"What of that?" said the old lady, opening a drawer. "A warm dress is a good thing to wear, at least I have always found it so."
"But not with a night-cap," said the other.
"That depends on circumstances," said Miss Panney, turning over the pages of a large scrap-book.
"And shoes," continued Mrs. Tolbridge, laughing again.
"Shoes," cried Miss Panney, pushing out one foot, and looking at it. "Well, truly, that was an oversight; but here is the recipe;" and without the aid of spectacles, she began to read. "It's exactly as I told you," she said presently, "except that some people use sponge cake instead of macaroons. The orange juice depends on individual taste. Shall I write that out for you, or will you remember it?"
"Oh, I can remember it," said the other; "but tell me, Miss Panney—"
"Well, then," said the old lady, "make it for him, and see how he likes it. There is one thing, Mrs. Tolbridge, that you should never forget, and that is that the doctor is not only your husband, but the mainstay of the community."
"Oh, I know that, and accept the responsibility; but you must tell me why you are in bed with all your clothes on. I believe that you did not expect the doctor so soon, and when you heard my knock, you clapped on your night-cap and jumped into bed."
"Catherine," quietly remarked the old lady, "there is nothing so discouraging to a doctor as to find a person who has sent for him out of bed. If the patient is up and about, she mystifies him; he is apt to make mistakes; he loses interest; he wonders if she couldn't come to him, instead of his having to go to her; but when he finds the ailing person in bed, the case is natural and straightforward; he feels at home, and knows how to go to work. If you believe in a doctor, you ought to make him believe in you. And if you are in bed, he will believe in you, and if you are out of it, he is apt not to. More than that, Mrs. Tolbridge, there is no greater compliment that you can pay to a physician you have sent for, than to have him find you in bed."
The doctor's wife laughed. She thought, but she did not say so, that probably this old lady had paid her husband a great many compliments.
"Well, Miss Panney," she said, rising, "what report shall I make?"
The old lady took off her night-cap, and replaced it with her ordinary headgear of lace and ribbons.
"Have you heard anything," she asked, "of the young man who is coming to Cobhurst?"
"No," said Mrs. Tolbridge, "nothing at all."
"Well," continued Miss Panney, "I think the doctor knows something about him through old Butterwood. I have an idea that I know something about him myself, but I wanted to talk to the doctor about him. Of course this is a mere secondary matter. My back has been troubling me a good deal lately, but as the doctor is so pushed, I won't ask him to come here on purpose to see me. If he's in the neighborhood, I shall be very glad to have him call. For the present, I shall try some of the old liniments. Dear knows, I have enough of them, dating back for years and years."
"But it will not do to make any mistakes, Miss Panney. Those old prescriptions might not suit you now."
"Don't trouble yourself in the least about that," said the old lady, lifting her hand impressively; "medicine never injures me. Not a drop of it do I ever take inside of me, prescription or no prescription. But I don't mind putting things on the outside of me—of course, I mean in reason, for there are outside applications that would ruin the constitution of a jack-screw."
There were very few people in the neighborhood of Thorbury who were older than Miss Panney, and very few of any age who were as alert in both mind and body. She had been born in this region; had left it in her youth, and had returned about thirty years ago, when she had taken up her abode with the Wittons, who at that time were a newly married couple. They were now middle-aged people, but Miss Panney still lived with them, and seemed to be much the very same old lady as she was when she arrived. She was a woman who kept a good deal to herself, having many resources for her active mind. With many people who were not acquainted with her socially but knew all about her, she had the reputation of being wicked. The principal reason for this belief was the well-known fact that she always took her breakfast in bed. This was considered to be a French habit, and the French were looked upon as infidels. Moreover, she never went to church, and when questioned upon this subject, had been known to answer that she could not listen with patience to a sermon, for she had never heard one without thinking that she could preach on that subject a great deal better than the man in the pulpit.
In spite of this fact, however, the rector of the Episcopal church of Thorbury and the Methodist minister were both great friends of Miss Panney, and although she did not come to hear them, they liked very much to go to hear her. Mr. Hampton, the Methodist, would talk to her about flower-gardening and the by-gone people and ways of the region, while Mr. Ames, the rector, who was a young man, did not hesitate to assert that he frequently got very good hints for passages in his sermons, from remarks made by Miss Panney about things that were going on in the religious and social world.
But although Miss Panney took pleasure in the company of clergymen and physicians, she boldly asserted that she liked lawyers better.
"In the law," she would say, "you find things fixed and settled. A law is a law, the same for everybody, and no matter how much people may wrangle and dispute about it, it is there, and you can read it for yourself. But the practice of medicine has to be shifted to suit individual cases, and the practice of theology is shifted to suit individual creeds, and you can't put your finger on steady principles as you can in law. When I put my finger down, I like to be sure what is under it."
Miss Panney had other reasons for liking lawyers, for her first real friend had been her legal guardian, old Mr. Bannister of Thorbury. She was one of the few people of the place who remembered this old gentleman, and she had often told how shocked and pained she had been when summoned from boarding-school to attend his funeral, and how she had been impressed by the idea that the preparations for this important event consisted mainly in beating up eggs, stemming raisins, baking cakes and pies, and making all sorts of provision for the sumptuous entertainment of the people who should be drawn together by the death of the principal citizen of the town. To her mind it would have been more appropriate had the company been fed on bread and water.
Thomas Bannister, who succeeded to his father's business, had been Miss Panney's legal friend and counsellor for many years. But he, too, was dead, and the office had now devolved on Herbert Bannister, the grandson of the old gentleman, and the brother of Miss Dora.
Herbert and Miss Panney were very good friends, but not yet cronies. He was still under thirty, and there were many events of the past of which he knew but little, and about which he could not wholly sympathize with her. But she believed that years would ripen him, and that the time would come when she would get along as well with him as she had with his father and grandfather.
She was not supposed to be a rich woman, and she had not been much engaged in suits at law, but it was surprising how much legal business Miss Panney had, as well as business of many other kinds.
When Mrs. Tolbridge had left her, the old lady put away her scrap-book, and prepared to go downstairs.
"It is a great pity," she said to herself, "that one of the bodily ailments which is bound to show itself in the family in the course of the spring, should not have turned up to-day. I want very much to talk to the doctor about the young man at Cobhurst, and I cannot drive about the country in such weather as this."
BROTHER AND SISTER
There were other people in and around Thorbury, who very much wanted to know something about the young man at Cobhurst, but this desire was interfered with by the fact that the young man was not yet at Cobhurst, and did not seem to be in a hurry to get there.
Cobhurst was the name of an estate a mile or so from the Witton farm, whose wide fields had lain for a half a dozen years untilled, and whose fine old mansion had been, for nearly a year, uninhabited. Its former owner, Matthias Butterwood, a bachelor, and during the greater part of his life, a man who took great pride in his farm, his stock, and his fruit trees, had been afflicted in his later years with various kinds of rheumatism, and had been led to wander about to different climates and different kinds of hot springs for the sake of physical betterment.
When at home in these latter days, old Butterwood had been content to have his garden cultivated, for he could still hobble about and look at that, and had left his fields to take care of themselves, until he should be well enough to be his own farmer, as he had always been. But old age, coming to the aid of his other complaints, had carried him off a few months before this story begins.
The only person now living at Cobhurst was a colored man named Mike, who inhabited the gardener's house and held the office of care-taker of the place.
Whenever Mike now came to town with his old wagon and horse, or when he was met on the road, he found people more and more inquisitive about the new owner of Cobhurst. Mike was not altogether a negro, having a good deal of Irish blood in his veins, and this conjunction of the two races in his individuality had had the effect upon his speech of destroying all tendency to negro dialect or Irish brogue, so that, in fact, he spoke like ordinary white people of his grade in life. The effect upon his character, however, had been somewhat different, and while the vivacity of the African and that of the Hibernian, in a degree, had neutralized each other, making him at times almost as phlegmatic as the traditional Dutchman, he would sometimes exhibit the peculiarities of a Sambo, and sometimes those of a Paddy.
Mike could give no satisfaction to his questioners; he knew nothing of the newcomer, except that he had received a postal card, directed to the man in charge of Cobhurst, and which stated that Mr. Haverley would arrive there on the fourth of April.
"More'n that," Mike would say, "I don't know nothin'. Whether he's old or young, and what family he's got, I can't tell ye. All I know is, that he don't seem in no hurry to see his place, an' he must be a reg'lar city man, or he'd know that winter's the time to come to work a farm in the spring of the year."
Other people, however, knew more about Mr. Haverley than Mike did, and Miss Panney could have informed any one that he was a young man, unmarried, and a second nephew to old Butterwood. She had faith that Dr. Tolbridge could give her some additional points, provided she could get an opportunity of properly questioning him.
Meanwhile the days passed on; the roads about Thorbury dried up and grew better; in low, sheltered places, the grass showed a greenish hue; the willows turned yellow, and people began to ponder over the catalogues of seed merchants. At last, it was the third of April, and on that day, in a large bright room of a New York boarding-house, kneeling in front of an open trunk, were Mr. Ralph Haverley and his sister Miriam.
Presently Miriam, whose years had not yet reached fifteen, vigorously pushed a pair of slippers into an unoccupied crevice in the trunk, and then, drawing back, seated herself on a stool.
"The delightful thing about this packing is," she said, "that it will never have to be done again. I am not going to any school, or any country place to board; you are not going to a hotel, not to any house kept by other people; our things do not have to be packed separately; we can put them in anywhere where they will fit; we are both going to the same place; we are going home, and there we shall stay."
"Always?" asked her brother, looking up with a smile.
"Always," answered Miriam. "When one gets a home, one stays there. At least I do."
"And you will not even go away to school?" he asked.
"By no means," said his sister, looking at him with much earnestness. "I have been to school ever since I was six years old,—nearly nine years,—and I positively declare that that is long enough for any girl. Others stay later, but then they do not begin so soon. As to finishing my education, as they call it, I shall do that at home. What a happy thought! It makes me want to skip. And you are to be my teacher, Ralph. I am sure you know everything that I shall need to know."
"I suppose you will examine me to see what I do know," he said, as he folded a heavy overcoat and laid it in the trunk.
Miriam sprang up and began to collect more of her effects.
"We shall see about that," she said, and then, suddenly stopping, she turned toward her brother. "There is one thing, Ralph, about which I need not examine you at all, and that is goodness of heart. If you had not had a very good heart indeed, you would not have waited and waited and waited—fairly pinching yourself, I expect—till I could get away from school and we could both go together and look at our new home in the very same instant."
Ralph Haverley was a brown-haired, bright-eyed young fellow under thirty. He had been educated for a profession, but the death of his parents, before he reached his majority, made it necessary for him to go to work at something by which he could immediately earn money enough to support not only himself, but his little sister. At his father's death, which occurred a month or two after that of his mother, young Haverley found that the family resources, which had never been great, had almost entirely disappeared. He could barely scrape together enough money to send Miriam to a boarding-school and to keep himself alive until he could get work. He had spent a great part of his boyhood in the country. His tastes and disposition inclined him to an out-door life, and, had he been able, he would have gone to the West, and established himself upon a ranch. But this was impossible; he must do the work that was nearest at hand, and as soon as he found it, he set himself at it with a will.
For eight long years he had struggled and labored; changing his occupation several times, but always living in the city; always making his home in a boardinghouse or a hotel. His pluck and energy had had its reward, and for the past three years he had held a responsible and well-paid position in a mercantile house. But his life and his work had for him nothing but a passing interest; he had no sympathy with bonded warehouses, invoices, and ledgers. All he could look forward to was a higher position, a larger salary, and, when Miriam should graduate, a little home somewhere where she could keep house for him. In his dreams of this home, he would sometimes place it in the suburbs, where Sundays and holidays spent in country air would compensate for hasty breakfasts, early morning trains, and late ones in the afternoon. But when he reflected that it would not do to leave his young sister alone all day in a thinly settled, rural place, at the mercy of tramps, he was forced to the conclusion that the thing for them to do was to live in a city apartment. But there was nothing in either of these outlooks to create fervent longings in the soul of Ralph Haverley.
For some legal reason, probably connected with the fact that old Butterwood died at a health resort in Arkansas, Haverley did not learn until late in the winter that his mother's uncle had left to him the estate of Cobhurst. The reason for this bequest, as stated in the will, was the old man's belief that the said Ralph Haverley was the only one of his blood relations who seemed to be getting on in the world, and to him he left the house, farm, and all the personal property he might find therein and thereon, but not one cent of money. Where the testator's money was bestowed, Ralph did not know, for he did not see the will.
When Ralph heard of his good fortune, his true life seemed to open before him; his Butterwood blood boiled in his veins. He did not hesitate a moment as to his course, for he was of the opinion that if a healthy young man could not make a living out of a good farm he did not deserve to live at all. He gave immediate notice of his intention to abandon mercantile life, and set himself to work by day and by night to wind up his business affairs, so that he might be free by the beginning of April. It was this work which helped him to control his desire to run off and take a look at Cobhurst without waiting for his sister.
Of the place which was to be their home, Miriam knew absolutely nothing, but Ralph had heard his mother talk about her visits to her uncle, and, in his mind, the name Cobhurst had always called up visions of wide halls and lofty chambers, broad piazzas, sunny slopes and lawns, green meadows, and avenues bordered with tall trees—a grand estate in fact, with woods full of nuts, streams where a boy could fish, and horses that he might ride. Had these ideas existed in Miriam's mind, the brother and sister would have visited Cobhurst the day after he brought her the letter from the lawyer; but her conceptions of the place were vague and without form, except when she associated it with the homes of girls she had visited. But as none of these suited her very well, she preferred to fall back upon chaotic anticipation.
"When I think of Cobhurst," she wrote to her brother, "I smell marigolds, and think of rather poor blackberries that you pick from bushes. Please do not put in your letters anything that you know about it, for I would rather see everything for myself."
It was late in the afternoon when Ralph and Miriam Haverley alighted at the station at Thorbury. Miss Dora Bannister, who had come down to see a friend off, noticed the two standing on the platform. She did not know who they were, but she thought the one to be a very handsome young man, and the other a nice-looking girl who seemed to be all eyes.
"What a queer-looking colored man!" said Miriam. "He looks mashed on top."
The person alluded to was getting down from a wagon drawn by a mournful horse, and now approached the platform.
"Is you Mr. Hav'ley, sir?" he said, touching his hat. "Thought so; I'm the man in charge o' yer place. Got any baggage, sir?"
On being informed that the travellers had brought three trunks with them, and that some boxes would be expected on the morrow, Mike, who with his worn felt hat pressed flat upon his head, might give one the idea of a bottle with the cork driven in, stood for a moment in thought.
"I can take one trunk," he said, "the one ye will want the most tonight, and ye'd better have the others hauled over tomorrow with the boxes. Ye can both go in the wagon, if ye like. The seat can be pushed back, and I can sit on the trunk myself, or ye can hire a kerridge."
"Of course we will take a cab," said Ralph. "How far is it to Cobhurst?"
"Well, some says three miles, and some says four. It depends a good deal on the roads. They're pretty good today."
Having engaged the services of a country cabman, who declared that he had known Cobhurst ever since he was born, and having arranged for the transfer of their goods the next day, the Haverleys rattled out of the town.
"Now," said Miriam, "we are truly going home, and I do not remember ever doing that before. And, Ralph," she continued, after gazing right and left from the cab windows, "one of the first things we ought to do is to get a new man to take charge of the place. That person isn't fit. I never saw such slouchy clothes."
Ralph laughed. "I am the man who is to have charge of the place," he said. "What do you think of my clothes?"
Miriam gave a little pull at his hair for reply. "And there is another thing," she continued. "If that is our horse and wagon, don't you really think that we ought to sell them? They are awful."
"Don't be in a hurry," said Ralph. "We shall soon find out whether we own the horse or not. He may belong to the man. He's not a bad one, either. See, he is passing us now with that big trunk in the wagon."
"Passing us!" exclaimed Miriam. "Almost any horse could do that. Did you ever see such an old poke as we have, and such a bouncy, jolting rattletrap of a carriage? It squeaks all over."
"Alas," said Ralph, "I am thinking of something worse than jolts or squeaks. I am hungry, and I am sure you must be, and I don't see what we are going to do about supper. I am afraid I am not a very good manager, yet. I had an idea that Cobhurst was not so far from the station, and that we could go over and look at the house, and come back to a hotel and stay there for the night; but now I see it will be dark before we get there, and we shall not feel like turning round and going directly back. Perhaps it would be better to turn now."
"Turn back, when we are going to our home!" cried Miriam. "How can you think of such a thing, Ralph? And you needn't suppose that neither of us is a good manager. I am housekeeper now, and I did not forget that we shall need our supper. I have it all there in my bag, and I shall cook it as soon as we reach the house. Of course I knew that we could not expect anything to eat in a place with only a man to take care of it."
"What in the world have you?" asked Ralph, much amused.
"I have four breakfast rolls," she said, "six mutton chops, a package of ground coffee, another of tea, a pound of sugar, and a good big piece of gingerbread. I am sorry I couldn't bring any butter, but I was afraid that might melt in a warm car, and run over everything. As for milk, we shall have to make up our minds to do without that for one meal. I got up early this morning, and went out and bought all these things."
Ralph was on the point of saying, "What are we going to have for breakfast?" But he would not trouble his sister's mind with any such suggestions.
"You are a good little housewife," said he; "I wish we were there, and sitting down at the table—if there is any table."
"I have thought it all out," said Miriam, "if it is one of those large farm-houses, with a big kitchen, where the family eat and spend their evening, we shall eat there, too, this once. You shall build a fire, and I'll have the coffee made in no time. There must be a coffee-pot, or a tin cup, or something to boil in. The chops can be broiled over the coals."
"On what?" asked Ralph.
"You can get a pointed stick and toast them, if there is no other way, sir. And you need not make fun of my supper; the chops are very nice ones, and I have wrapped them up in oiled silk, so that they will not grease the other things."
"Oh, don't talk any more about them," exclaimed Ralph. "It makes me too dreadfully hungry."
"If it is a cottage," remarked Miriam, looking reflectively out of the window, "I cannot get it out of mind that there will be all sorts of kitchen things hanging around the old-fashioned fireplace. That would be very nice and convenient, but—"
"You hope it is not a cottage?" said her brother.
"Well," answered Miriam, presently, "home is home, and I made up my mind to be perfectly satisfied with it whatever kind of house it may be. It seems to me that a real home ought to be like parents and relations; we've got them, and we can't change them, and we never think of such a thing. We love them quite as they are. But I cannot help hoping, just a little, that it is not a cottage. The only ones I have ever been in smelt so much of soapsuds."
It was now quite dark, and the road appeared to be growing rougher. Every now and then they jolted over a big stone, or sunk into a deep rut. Ralph let down the front window.
"Are we nearly there?" he asked of the driver.
"Yes, sir," said the man; "we are on the place now."
"You don't mean," exclaimed Miriam, "that this is our road!"
"It's a good deal washed just here," said the man, "by the heavy rains."
Presently the road became smoother and in a few minutes the carriage stopped.
"I am trembling all over," said Miriam, "with thinking of being at home, and with not an idea of what it is like."
In a moment they were standing on a broad flagstone. Although it was dark, they could see the outline of the house before them.
"Ralph," whispered Miriam, drawing close to her brother, "it is not a cottage." Without waiting for a reply she went on: "Ralph," she said, her hands trembling as they held his arm, "it is lordly."
"I had some sort of an idea like that myself," he answered; "but, my dear, don't you think it will be well to keep this man until we go inside and see what sort of accommodations we shall find? Perhaps we may be obliged to go back to the town."
Miriam immediately began to ascend the broad steps of the piazza.
"Come on, Ralph," she said, "and please don't talk like that."
Her brother laughed, paid the driver and dismissed him.
"Now, little girl," he cried, "we have burned our ships, and must take what we shall find."
"Oh, Ralph," cried Miriam, "I couldn't have gone back. If there are floors to the rooms, they will do to sleep on for to-night."
At this moment a wide front door opened, revealing a colored woman holding a lamp.
"Good evenin'," said she; "walk in."
When Ralph and Miriam had entered, the woman looked out the open door.
"Is you all?" she asked.
"Oh, yes," said Ralph.
The woman hesitated a moment, looked out again, and then closed the door.
"Would you like to go to your rooms afore supper?" she asked.
The brother and sister were so absorbed in gazing about them, that they did not hear the question. The lamp, still in the woman's hand, gave a poor and vacillating light, but they could see a wide, long hall, tall doors opening on each side, some high-backed chairs, and other dark-colored furniture.
"Yer rooms is ready," continued the woman; "ye can take yer pick of them. Supper'll be on the table the minute ye come down. Ye'd better take this lamp, sir, and thar's another one in the upper hall. I expect ye two is brother and sister. Ye're alike as two pins of different sizes."
"You're right," said Ralph, holding up the lamp, and looking about him; "but please tell me, where are the stairs?"
"Oh, yer open that glass door right in front of ye," said the woman. "I'd go with yer, but I smell somethin' bilin' over now."
Opening the glass door, they saw before them a narrow staircase in two flights.
"Stairs shut up in a room of their own," said Ralph, as they ascended. "Did you ever see anything like this before?"
"I never saw anything like anything before," said Miriam, in a low, reverent voice.
On the floor above they found another wide hall, and four or five open doors.
"There is your lamp," said Ralph to his sister; "take the first room you come to, and to-morrow we will pick and choose."
"Who would have thought," said Miriam, "that a woman—"
"Don't let us think or talk of her now," interrupted her brother. "To hurry down to supper is our present business."
When the two went downstairs, they found the colored woman standing by an open door in the rear of the hall.
"Supper's ready, sir," said she, and they entered the dining-room.
It was a large and rather sparely furnished room, but Miriam and Ralph took no note of anything except the table, which stood in the middle of the floor, lighted by a hanging lamp. It was a large table and arranged for eight people with chairs at every place. The woman gave a little laugh, as she said:—
"I reckon you all may think this is a pretty big table for two people, an' one not growed up, but you see I didn't know nothin' about the size of the family, an' Mike he didn't know nothin' either. I'm Phoebe, Mike's wife, an' I ain't got nothin' in the world to do with this house, for mostly I go out to service in the town, but I'm here now; and of course we didn't want you all to come an' find nothin' to eat, an' no beds made, an' as you didn't write no orders, sir, we had just to do the best we could accordin' to our own lights. I reckoned there would be the gem'en and his wife, an' perhaps two growed-up sons, though Mike, he was doubtful about the growed-up sons, especially as to thar bein' two of them. Then I reckoned thar'd be a darter, just about your age, Miss, an' then there'd be two younger chillen, one a boy an' one a girl, an' a gov'ness for these two. Of course I didn't know whether the gov'ness was in the habit of eatin' at your table or not, but I reckoned that this time, comin' so late, you'd all eat at the same table, an' I put a plate an' a cheer for her. An' Mike went ter town, an' got groc'ries an' things enough for to-night and tomorrow, an' as everything was ready I just left everything as it was. I reckoned you wouldn't want ter wait until I'd sot the whole table over again."
"By no means," cried Ralph, and down they sat, Ralph at one end of the long table, and Miriam at the other. It was a good supper; beefsteak, an omelet, hot rolls, fried potatoes, coffee, tea, preserved fruit, and all on the scale suited to a family of eight.
When Phoebe had retired to the kitchen, presumably for additional supplies, Miriam stretched her arms over the table.
"Think of it, Ralph," she said, "this is our supper. The first meal we ever truly owned."
They had not been long at the table when they were startled by the loud ringing of the door-bell.
"'Pon my word," ejaculated Phoebe, "it's a long time since that bell's been rung," and getting down a plate of hotter biscuit, with which she had been offering temptations, she left the room. Presently she returned, ushering in Dr. Tolbridge.
Briefly introducing himself, the doctor welcomed the brother and sister to the neighborhood of Thorbury, and apologized for the extreme promptness of his call.
"I heard you had arrived," he said, "from a hackman I met on the road, and having made a visit near by I thought I would look in on you. It might be days before I should again have a chance. But don't let me disturb your supper; I beg that you will sit down again."
"And I beg you, sir," said Ralph, "to sit down with us."
"Well," said the doctor, smiling, "I am hungry, and my own supper-time is passed. You seem to have plenty of room for a guest."
"Oh, yes, indeed, sir," said Miriam, who had already taken a fancy to the doctor's genial face. "Phoebe thought we were a large family, and you can take the seat of one of the grown-up sons, or the daughter's chair, or the place that was intended for either the little boy or little girl, or perhaps you would like the governess' seat."
At this Phoebe turned her face to the wall and giggled.
"A fine imagination," said the doctor, "and what is better, a bountiful meal. Please consider me, for the present, the smallest boy, who might naturally be supposed to have the biggest appetite."
"It would have been funnier," said Miriam, gravely, "if you had been the governess."
The supper was a lively one; the three appetites were excellent; the doctor was in his jolliest mood, and Ralph and Miriam were delighted with him. On his part, he could not help looking upon it in the light of a joke—an agreeable one, however—that these two young people, one of them a mere child, should constitute the new Cobhurst family. He had known that the property had gone to an unmarried man who was in business, and had not thought of his coming here to live.
"And now," said the doctor, as they rose from the table, "I must go. My wife will call on you very soon, and in the meantime, what is there that I can do for you?"
"I think," answered Miriam, looking about her to see that Phoebe was not in the room, "that it would be very nice if you could get us a new man. We like the woman well enough, but the man is awful."
The doctor looked at her, astonished.
"Do you mean Mike?" he asked, "the faithful Mike, who has been in charge here ever since Mr. Butterwood took to travelling about for the good of his rheumatisms? Why, my dear young lady, the whole country looks upon Mike as a pattern man-of-all-work. He may be getting a little cranky and independent in his notions, for he has been pretty much his own master for years, but I am sure you could find no one to take his place who would be more trustworthy or so generally useful."
Ralph was about to explain that it was only the appearance of the man to which his sister objected, but she spoke for herself.
"Of course, we oughtn't always to judge people by their looks," she said, "but in my thoughts about our home, I never connected it with such a very shabby person. But then, if he is an old family servant, he may be the very kind of a man the place needs."
"Oh, I advise you to stick to Mike, by all means," said the doctor, "and to Phoebe, too, if she will stay with you. But I think she prefers the town to this somewhat secluded place."
"A good omen," said Ralph, as he closed the door after the doctor. "As a neighbor, I believe that man is at the head of his class, and I am very glad that he happened to be the first one who came to see us."
"Well," said Miriam, "we haven't seen the others yet, and I am glad that we don't know whether this doctor is homeopathic or allopathic, so that we can get started in liking him before we know whether we approve of his medicines or not."
"Upon my word," cried Ralph, "I never knew that you had opinions about the different medical schools. Did they teach you that sort of thing at Mrs. Stone's?"
"I suppose I can have opinions without having them taught to me, can't I?" she answered. "I saw a lot of sickness among the girls, and I am homeopathic."
"Stuff," exclaimed Ralph, "I don't believe you ever took any medicine in your life."
"I have not taken much," answered Miriam, "but I have taken enough to settle it in my mind that I am never going to take any more of the same sort."
"And they were not little sugar pills?"
"No, indeed they were not," said Miriam, very decidedly.
"I've made a fire in the parlor," said Phoebe, coming in, "if you all want to sit there afore you go to bed."
"I don't want to sit anywhere," cried Miriam, "and I am crazy to get a peep out of doors. Come on, Ralph, just for a minute."
Ralph followed her out on the piazza.
"It's awfully dark," said Miriam, "but if we walk carefully, I think we can get far enough away from the house to look up at it, and find out a little what it looks like."
They groped their way across the driveway, and on to the grass beyond.
"We can see a good deal of it against the sky!" exclaimed Miriam. "What tall pillars! It looks like a Greek temple in front. And from what I can make out, it's pretty much all front."
"I suppose it is a regular old-fashioned house," said her brother, "with a Grecian portico front, and perhaps another at the back. But you must come in now, for you have on neither hat nor wrap." And he took her by the hand.
"It isn't cold," said Miriam, "and oh, Ralph, look up at the stars. Those are our stars, every one of them."
Ralph laughed, as he led her into the house.
"Yes, indeed," she insisted, "we own all the way down, and all the way up."
"Now then," said Miriam, when they had closed the door behind them, "how shall we explore the house? Shall we each take a lamp, or will candles be better?"
"Little girl!" exclaimed her brother, "I had no idea that you were such a bunch of watch springs. It is nearly nine o'clock, and after the day's work that you have done, it is time you were in bed. House exploring can be done to-morrow."
"Yes, indeed, Miss," said Phoebe, who stood by, anxious to shut up the house and retire to her own domicile, "and I will go up into your room with you and show you about things."
Half an hour after this, Miriam came out of her bedroom, holding a bit of lighted candle in her hand. She was dressed, with the exception of her shoes. Softly she advanced to the foot of the stairs which led to the floor above.
"They are partly my stairs," she said to herself, as she paused for a moment at the bottom of the step. "Ralph told me that he considered the place as much mine as his, and I have a right to go up. I cannot go to sleep without seeing what is up here. I never imagined such a third floor as this one."
In less than a minute, Miriam was slowly creeping along the next floor of the house, which was indeed an odd one. For it was nothing more than a gallery, broader at the ends than the sides, with a railed open space, through which one could look down to the floor below. Some of the doors were open and she peeped into the rooms, but saw nothing which induced her to enter them. Having made the circuit of the gallery, she reached a narrow staircase which wound still higher upward.
"I must go up," she said; "I cannot help it."
Arrived at the top of these stairs, Miriam held up her candle and looked about her. She was in a great, wide, magnificent, glorious garret! Her soul swelled. To own such a garret was almost too much joy! It was the realization of a thousand dreams.
Slowly advancing, she beheld fascinations on every side. Here were old trunks, doubtless filled with family antiquities; there was a door fastened with a chain and a padlock—there must be a key to that, or the lock could be broken; in the dim light at the other end of the garret, she could see what appeared to be a piled-up collection of boxes, chests, cases, little and big, and all sorts of old-fashioned articles of use and ornament, doubtless every one of them a treasure. A long musket, its stock upon the floor, reclined against a little trunk covered with horse-hair, from under the lid of which protruded the ends of some dusty folded papers.
"Oh, how I wish Ralph were here, and that we had a lamp. I could spend the night here, looking at everything; but I can't do it now with this little candle end."
At her feet was a wooden box, the lid of which was evidently unfastened, for it lay at an angle across the top.
"I will look into this one box," she said, "and then I will go down."
She knelt down, and with the candle in her right hand, pushed aside the lid with her left. From the box there grinned at her a human skull, surrounded by its bones. She started back.
"Uncle Butterwood," she gasped and tried to rise, but her strength and senses left her, and she fell over unconscious, upon the floor. The candle dropped from her hand, and, fortunately, went out.
About ten o'clock the next morning, Mike, in his little wagon, rattled up to the door of Dr. Tolbridge.
The doctor was not at home, but his wife came out.
"That young girl!" she exclaimed. "Why, what can be the matter with her?"
"I dunno, ma'am," answered Mike. "Phoebe told me just as the wagon got there with the boxes an' trunks, an' nobody but me to help the man upstairs with 'em, an' said I must get away to the doctor's jes' as fast as I could drive. She said somethin' about her sleepin' in the garret and ketchin' cold, but she wouldn't let me stop to ax no questions. She said the doctor was wanted straight off."
"I am very sorry," said Mrs. Tolbridge, "that he is not here, but he said he was going to stop and see Miss Panney. I can't tell you any other place to which he was going. If you drive back by the Witton road, you may find him, or, if he has not yet arrived, it might be well to wait for him."
Arrived at the Witton house, Mike saw Miss Panney, wrapped in a heavy shawl and wearing a hood, taking her morning exercise on the piazza.
"They want the doctor already!" she exclaimed in answer to Mike's inquiries. "Who could have thought that? And he left here nearly half an hour ago. His wife will send him when he gets home, but there is no knowing when that will be. However, she must have somebody to attend to her. Mike, I will go myself. I will go with you in your wagon. Wait one minute."
Into the house popped Miss Panney, and in a very short time returned, carrying with her an umbrella and a large reticule made of brown plush, and adorned with her monogram in yellow. One of the Witton girls came with her, and assisted her to the seat, by the side of Mike.
"Now then," said she, "get along as fast as you can. I shall not mind the jolts."
"Phoebe," said Miss Panney, as she entered the Cobhurst door, "it's a long time since I have seen you, and I have not been in this house for eight years. I hope you will be able to tell me something about this sudden sickness, for Mike is as stupid as a stone post, and knows nothing at all."
"Now, Miss Panney," said Phoebe, speaking very earnestly, but in a low voice, "I can't say that I can really give you the true head and tail of it, for it's mighty hard to find out what did happen to that young gal. All I know is that she didn't come down to breakfast, and that Mr. Haverley went up to her room hisself, and he knocked and he knocked, and then he pushed the door open and went in, and, bless my soul, Miss Panney, she wasn't there. Then he hollered, and me and him, we sarched and sarched the house. He went up into the garret by hisself, for you may be sure I wouldn't go there, but he was just wild, and didn't care where he went, and there he found her dead asleep on the floor, and a livin' skeleton a sittin' watchin' her."
"Nonsense!" exclaimed Miss Panney; "he never told you that."
"That's the pint of what I got out of him, and you know, Miss Panney, that that garret's hanted."
Miss Panney wasted no words in attempting to disprove this assertion.
"He found her asleep on the floor?" said she.
"Yes, Miss Panney," answered Phoebe, "dead asleep, or more likely, to my mind, in a dead faint, among all the drafts and chills of that garret, and in her stockin' feet. She had tuk up a candle with her, but I'spect the skeleton blowed it out. And now she's got an awful cold, so she can scarcely breathe, and a fever hot enough to roast an egg."
At this moment Ralph appeared in the hall. The visitor immediately went up to him.
"Mr. Haverley, I suppose. I am Miss Panney. I am a neighbor, and I came to see if I could do anything for your sister before the doctor arrives. I am a good nurse, and know all about sicknesses;" and she explained why she had come and the doctor had not.
When Miriam turned her head and saw the black eyes of Miss Panney gazing down upon her, she pushed herself back in the bed, and exclaimed,—
"Are you his wife?"
"No, indeed," said Miss Panney, "I wouldn't marry him for a thousand pounds. I am your nurse. I am going to give you something nice to make you feel better. Put your hand in mine. There, that will do. Keep yourself covered up, even if you are a little warm, and I will come back presently with the nicest kind of a cup of tea."
"It's a cold and a fever," she said to Ralph, outside the chamber door. "The commonest thing in the world. But I'll make her a hot drink that will do her more good than anything else that could be given her, and when the doctor comes, he'll tell you so. He knows me, and what I can do for sick people. I brought everything that's needed in my bag, and I am going down to the kitchen myself. But how in the world did she come to stay on the garret floor all night? She couldn't have been in a swoon all that time."
"No," answered Ralph; "she told me she came to her senses, she didn't know when, but that everything was pitch dark about her, and feeling dreadfully tired and weak, she put her head down on her arm, and tried to think why she was lying on such a hard floor, and then she must have dropped into the heavy sleep in which I found her. She was tired out with her journey and the excitement. Do you think she is in danger, Miss Panney?"
"Don't believe it," said the old lady. "She looks strong, and these young things get well before you know it."
"Now, my young lady," said Miss Panney, as she stood by Miriam's bedside, with a steaming bowl, "you may drink the whole of this, but you mustn't ask me for any more, and then you may go to sleep, and to-morrow morning you can get up and skip around and see what sort of a place Cobhurst is by daylight."
"I can't wait until to-morrow for that," said Miriam, "and is that tea or medicine?"
"It's both, my dear; sit up and drink it off."
Miriam still eyed the bowl. "Is it homeopathic or allopathic?" she asked.
"Neither the one or the other," was the discreet reply; "it is Panneyopathic, and just the thing for a girl who wants to get out of bed as soon as she can."
Miriam looked full into the bright black eyes, and then took the bowl, and drank every drop of the contents.
"Thank you," she said. "It is perfectly horrid, but I must get up."
"Now you take a good long nap, and then I hope you will feel quite able to go down and begin to keep house for your brother."
"The first thing to do," said Miriam, as Miss Panney carefully adjusted the bedclothes about her shoulders, "is to see what sort a house we have got, and then I will know how I am to keep it."
When her young patient had dropped asleep, Miss Panney went downstairs. In the lower hall she found Ralph walking up and down.
"There is no earthly need of your worrying yourself about your sister. I am sure the doctor would say she is in no danger at all," said the old lady. "And now, if you don't mind, I would like very much to go up into the garret and see what frightened your sister."
"It was apparently a box of human bones," he said, "but I barely glanced at it. You are perfectly welcome to go up and examine."
It was a quarter of an hour before Miss Panney came down from the garret, laughing.
"I studied anatomy on those bones," she said. "Every one of them is marked in ink with its name. I had forgotten all about them. Mathias' brother Reuben was a scientific man, and he used the skeleton. That is, he studied all sorts of things, though he never did anything worth notice. I took a look round the garret," she continued, "and I tell you, sir, that if you care anything for family relics and records, you have them to your heart's content. I expect there are things up there that have not been touched for fifty years."
"I should suppose," said Ralph, "that the servants of the house would have had some curiosity about such objects, if no one else had."
Miss Panney laughed.
"There hasn't been a servant in that garret for many a long year," said she. "You evidently don't know that this house is considered haunted, particularly the garret; and I suppose that box of bones had a good deal to do with the notion."
"Well," said Ralph, "no doubt the ghosts have been a great protection to our family treasures."
"And to your whole house," said the old lady; "watch-dogs would be nothing to them."
Miss Panney and Ralph ate dinner together. The old lady would not leave until the doctor had come; and the conversation was an education to young Haverley in regard to the Butterwood family and the Thorbury neighborhood. At the conclusion of the meal, Phoebe came into the room.
"I went upstairs to see how she was gettin' on, sir," she said; "an' she was awake, an' she made me get a pencil an' paper out of her bag, an' she sent you this note."
On a half-sheet of note-paper, he read the following: "Dear Ralph, I went upstairs and looked at the third floor and a good deal of the garret, without you being with me. I really want to be perfectly fair, and so you must not stop altogether from looking at things until I am able to go with you. I think good things to look at by yourself would be stables and barnyards, and the lower part of barns. Please do not go into haylofts, nor into the chicken-yard, if there is one. You might keep your eyes on the ground until you get to these places and then look up. If there are horses and cows, don't tell me anything about them when you see me. Don't tell me anything. I think I shall be well to-morrow, perhaps to-night. Miriam."
Ralph laughed heartily, and read the note aloud.
"I should say," said Miss Panney, "that that girl has a good deal more conscience than fever. She ought to have slept longer, but as she is awake I will go up and take a look at her; while you can blindfold yourself, if you like, and go out to the barns."
The doctor did not arrive until late in the afternoon, and it was nearly half an hour after he had gone up to his patient before he reported to Ralph.
"She is all right," said he, "but I am not."
The young man looked puzzled.
"By which I mean," continued the other, "that Miss Panney's concoction and the girl's vigorous young nature have thrown off the effects of her nap in the haunted garret, and that I am an allopathist, whereas I ought to be a homeopathist. The young lady and I have had a long conversation on that subject and others. I find that she is a Nonconformist."
"What?" asked Ralph.
"I use the word in its political and social, as well as its religious meaning. That is a sister worth taking care of, sir. Lock her up in her room, if she inclines to any more midnight wanderings."
"And now, having finished with the young patient," said Miss Panney, who was waiting with her bonnet and shawl on, "you can take up an old one, and I will get you to drive me home on your way back to Thorbury."
The doctor had been very much interested in Miriam, and talked about her to Miss Panney as he drove her to the Witton house, which, by the way, was a mile and a half out of his direct road. The old lady listened with interest, but did not wish to listen very much; she wished to talk of Ralph.
"I like him," she said; "he has pluck. I have had a good deal of talk with him, and he told me frankly that he could not afford to put money into the place and farm it as it ought to be farmed. But he was born a country man, and he has the heart of a country man; and he is going to see if he can make a living out of it for himself and his sister."
"Which may result," said the doctor, "in his becoming a mere farm laborer and putting an end to his sister's education."
"Nonsense!" exclaimed the old lady. "Young fellows—college men—go out on ranches in the West and do that sort of thing, and it lowers them in nobody's estimation. Let young Haverley call his farm a ranch and rough it. It would be the same thing. I've backed him up strongly. It's a manly choice of a manly life. As for his sister, she has been so long at school that it will do her more good to stop than to go on."
"It will be hard scratching," said the doctor, "to get a living out of Cobhurst, and I hope these young people will not come to grief while they are making the experiment."
Miss Panney smiled without looking at her companion.
"Don't be afraid of that," she said presently; "I have pretty good reason to think that he will get on well enough."
That evening Miriam sat up in bed with a shawl about her shoulders and discoursed to her brother.
"Now, Ralph," said she, "you must have seen a lot of things about our place, because, when I came to think of it, it was plain enough that you couldn't help it. I am crazy to see what you saw, but you mustn't tell me anything except what I ask you. Please be particular about that."
"Go on," said Ralph. "You shall not have a word more or less than you want."
"Well, then, is your bed comfortable?"
"Perfectly," he answered.
"And have you pillows enough?"
"More than I want," said Ralph.
"And are the doors and windows all fastened and locked downstairs?"
He laughed. "You needn't bother yourself about that sort of thing. I will attend to the locking up."
She slightly knitted her brows in reflection. "Now then, Ralph," said she, "I am coming to it, and mind, not a word more than I ask for. Have we any horses?"
"We have," he replied.
Miriam clasped her hands and looked at her brother with sparkling eyes.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, "four horses!"
"Two of them," he began, but she stopped him in an instant.
"Don't tell me another thing," she cried; "I don't want to know what color they are, or anything about them. To-morrow I shall see them for myself. Oh, Ralph, isn't it perfectly wonderful that we should have four horses? I can't stand anything more just now, so please kiss me good-night."
About an hour afterwards Ralph was awakened by a knock at his door.
"Who is there?" he cried.
The door opened a very little way.
"Ralph," said Miriam, through the crack, "is there one of our horses which can be ridden by a lady?"
Ralph's first impulse was to throw a pillow at the door, but he remembered that sisters were different from fellows at school.
"Can't say anything about that until we try," said he; "and now, Miriam, please go to bed and to sleep."
Miriam shut the door and went away, but in her dreams she rode a prancing charger into Miss Stone's schoolyard, and afterwards drove all the girls in a tally-ho.
MRS. TOLBRIDGE'S CALLERS
The next day was a very fine one, and as the roads were now good, and the air mild, Miss Panney thought it was quite time that she should begin to go about and see her friends without depending on the vehicles of other people, so she ordered her little phaeton and her old roan mare, and drove herself to Thorbury to see Mrs. Tolbridge.
"The doctor tells me," said that good lady, "that you take great interest in those young people at Cobhurst."
"Indeed I do," said Miss Panney, sitting up as straight in her easy chair as if it had been a wooden bench with no back; "I have been thinking about him all the morning. He ought to be married."
Mrs. Tolbridge laughed.
"Dear me, Miss Panney," said she, "it is too soon to begin thinking of a wife for the poor fellow. He has not had time to feel himself at home."
"My motto is that it is never too soon to begin, but we won't talk about that. Kitty, you are the worst matchmaker I ever saw."
"I think I made a pretty good match for myself," said the other.
"No, you didn't. The doctor made that, and I helped. You had nothing to do with the preliminary work, which is really the most important."
Mrs. Tolbridge smiled. "I am sure I am very much obliged," she said.
"You ought to be. And now while we are on the subject, let me ask you: Have you a new cook?"
"I have," replied the other, "but she is worse than the last one."
Miss Panney rose to her feet, and walked across the room.
"Kitty Tolbridge!" she exclaimed, "this is too bad. You're trifling with the greatest treasure a woman can have on this earth—the life of a good husband."
"But what am I to do?" asked Mrs. Tolbridge. "I have tried everywhere, and I can get no one better."
"Everywhere," repeated Miss Panney. "You mean everywhere in Thorbury. You oughtn't to expect to get a decent cook in this little town. You should go to the city and get one. What you want is to keep the doctor well, no matter what it costs. He doesn't look well, and I don't see how he can be well, on the kind of cooking you can get in Thorbury."
Mrs. Tolbridge flushed a little.
"I am sure," she said, "that Thorbury people, for generations and generations, have lived on Thorbury cooking, and they have been just as healthy as any other people."
"Ah, Kitty, Kitty!" exclaimed the old lady, "you forget how things have changed. In times gone by the ladies of the household superintended all the cooking, and did a good deal of it besides; and they brought something into the kitchen that seldom gets into it now, and that is brains. A cook with a complete set of brains might be pretty hard to get, and would cost a good deal of money. But it is your duty, Kitty, to get as good a one as you can. If she has only a tea-cup full of brains, it will be better than none at all. Don't mind the cost. If you have to do it, spend more on cooking, and less on raw material."
This was all Miss Panney had to say on the subject, and shortly she departed.
After brief stops at the post-office and one or two shops, she drove to the abode of the Bannisters. Miss Panney tied her roan to the hitching-post by the sidewalk, and went up the smooth gravel path to the handsome old house, which she had so often visited, to confer on her own affairs and those of the world at large with the father and the grandfather of the present Bannister, attorney-at-law.
She and the house were all that were left of those old days. Even the widow was the second wife, who had come into the family while Miss Panney was away from Thorbury.
Mrs. Bannister was not at home, but Miss Dora was, and that entirely satisfied the visitor. When the blooming daughter of the house came hurrying into the parlor, Miss Panney, who had previously raised two of the window shades, gazed at her earnestly as she saluted her, and nodded her head approvingly. Then the two sat down to talk.
They talked of several things, and very soon of the Cobhurst people.
"Oh, have you seen them?" exclaimed Dora. "I have, but only for a minute at the station, and then I didn't know who they were, though I was told afterward. They seemed to be very nice."
"They are," said Miss Panney. "The girl is bright, and young Mr. Haverley is an exceedingly agreeable gentleman, just the sort of man who should be the owner of Cobhurst. He is handsome, well educated, and spirited. I saw a good deal of him, for I spent the best part of yesterday there. I should say that your brother would find him a most congenial neighbor. There are so few young men hereabout who are worth anything."
"That is true," replied Dora, with a degree of earnestness, "and I know Herbert will be delighted. I am sure he would call if he were here, but he is away, and doesn't expect to be back for a week."
It crossed Miss Panney's mind that a week's delay in a matter of this sort would not be considered a breach of courtesy, but she did not say so.
"It would be friendly if Mrs. Bannister and you were to call on the sister, before long," she remarked.
"Of course we will do it," said Dora, with animation. "I should think a young lady would be dreadfully lonely in that great house, at least at first, and perhaps we can do something for her."
Although Miss Panney had seen Miriam only in bed, she had a strong conviction that she was not yet a young lady, but this, like the other reflection, was not put into words.
It was not noon when Miss Panney left the Bannister house, and the mind of Miss Dora, which had been renewing itself within her with all the vigor and freshness which Dr. Tolbridge had predicted, was at a loss how to occupy itself until dinner-time, which, with the Bannisters and most of the gentlefolk of Thorbury, was at two o'clock.
Dora put on her prettiest hat and her wrap and went out. She wanted to call on somebody and to talk, and suddenly it struck her that she would go and inquire about the kitten she had given Dr. Tolbridge, and carry it a fresh ribbon. She bought the ribbon, and found Mrs. Tolbridge and the kitten at home.
When the ornament had been properly adjusted, Miss Dora put the kitten upon the floor and remarked: "Now there is some comfort in doing a thing like that for Dr. Tolbridge, because he will be sure to notice it. There are some gentlemen who hardly ever notice things you do for them. Herbert is often that way."
"Yes, my dear," said Mrs. Tolbridge, who had turned toward a desk at which she had been writing. "The doctor is a man I can recommend, and I hope you may get a husband as good as he is. And by the way, if you ever do get such a one, I also hope you will be able to find some one who will cook his meals properly. I find that I cannot do that in Thorbury, and I am going to try to get one in the city. I am now writing an advertisement which I shall put into several of the papers, and day after to-morrow I shall go down to see the people who answer."
"Oh, that will be fun," cried Dora; "I wish I could go with you."
"And why not?"
"Why not, indeed?" replied the young lady, and the matter was immediately arranged.
"And while we are talking about servants," said Dora, whose ebullient mind now found a chance to bring in the subject which was most prominent within it, "I should think that the new people at Cobhurst would find it troublesome to get the right sort of service."
"Perhaps so," replied Mrs. Tolbridge, "although I have a fancy they are going to have a very independent household, at least for a time. It is a great pity that the young girl was taken sick just as she entered into her new home."
"Sick!" exclaimed Dora; "I never heard of that."
"Oh, it wasn't anything serious," said the other, her thoughts turning to the advertisement, which she wished to get into the post-office before dinner, "and I have no doubt she is quite well now, but still it was a pity."
"Indeed it was!" exclaimed Dora, in tones of the most earnest sympathy and commiseration. "It was the greatest kind of a pity, and I think I really ought to call on her very soon." And in this mood she went home to dinner.
DORA BANNISTER TAKES TIME AND A MARE BY THE FORELOCK
Very early that afternoon Miss Dora Bannister was driven to Cobhurst to call upon the young lady who had been taken sick, and who ought not to be neglected by the ladies of Thorbury. Dora had asked her stepmother to accompany her, but as that good lady seldom made calls, and disliked long drives, and could not see why it was at all necessary for her to go, Dora went alone.
When the open carriage with its pair of handsome grays had bumped over the rough entrance to the Cobhurst estate, and had drawn up to the front of the house, Miss Dora skipped lightly out, and rang the door-bell. She rang twice, and as no one came, and as the front door was wide open, she stepped inside to see if she could find any one. She had never been in that great wide hall before, and she was delighted with it, although it appeared to be in some disorder. Two boxes and a trunk were still standing where they had been placed when they were brought from the station. She looked through the open door of the parlor, but there was no one there, and then she knocked on the door of a closed room.
No answer came, and she went to the back door of the long hall and looked out, but not a soul could she see. This was discouraging, but she was not a girl who would willingly turn back, after having set out on an errand of mercy. There was a door which seemed to lead to the basement, and on this she knocked, but to no purpose.
"This is an awfully funny house," she said to herself. "If I could see any stairs, I might go up a little way and call. Surely there must be somebody alive somewhere." Then the thought suddenly came into her mind that perhaps want of life in the particular person she had come to see might be the reason of this dreadful stillness and desertion, and without a moment's hesitation she stepped out of the back door into the open air. She could not stay in that house another second until she knew. Surely there must be some one on the place who could tell her what had happened.
Approaching the gardener's house, she met Phoebe just coming out of the door.
"Bless my soul!" exclaimed the woman of color. "Is that you, Miss Dora? Mike hollered to me that a kirridge had come, and I was a-hurryin' up to the house to see who it was."
"I came to call on Miss Haverley," said Dora. "How is she, Phoebe, and can I see her?"
"Oh, she's well enough, and you can see her if you can find her; but to save my soul, Miss Dora, I couldn't tell you where she is at this minute. You never did in all your life see anybody like that Miss Miriam is. Why, true as I speak, the very sparrers in the trees isn't as wild as she is. From sunrise this morning she has been on the steady go. You'd think, to see her, that the hens and the cows and the colts and even the old apple trees was all silver and gold and diamonds in her eyes, she takes on so about 'em. I can't keep up with her, I can't. The last time I see her, she was goin' into the barn, and I reckon she's thar yit, huntin' hens' nests. If you like, I'll go look for her, Miss Dora."
Phoebe had often worked for the Bannister family, and Dora knew her to be one of the slowest movers among mankind; besides, the idea of calling upon a young lady who was engaged in looking for hens' nests in a barn was an exceedingly attractive one. It had not been long since Dora had taken much delight in that sort of thing herself.
"You needn't trouble yourself, Phoebe," she said; "I will walk over to the barn. I would a great deal rather do that than wait in the house. If I don't see her there, I will come back and leave our cards."
"You might as well do that," said Phoebe, laughing, "for if she isn't thar, she's as like as not at the other end of the farm in the field where the colts is."
The Cobhurst barn was an unusual, and, indeed, a remarkable structure. It was not as old as the house, although it had been built many years ago by Mathias Butterwood, in a fashion to suit his own ideas of what a barn should be.
It was an enormous structure, a great deal larger than the house, and built of stone. It stood against a high bluff, and there was an entrance on the level to the vast lower story, planned to accommodate Mr. Butterwood's herd of fine cattle. A little higher up, a wide causeway, supported by an arch, led into the second story, devoted to horses and all kinds of vehicles, and still higher, almost on a level with the house, there was a road, walled on each side, by which the loaded haywagons could be driven in upon the great third floor of the barn.
When Dora Bannister reached this barn, having followed a path which led to the lower story, she looked in at an open door, and received the impression of vast extent, emptiness, and the scent of hay. She entered, looking about from side to side. At the opposite end of the great room, was an open door through which the sun shone, and as she approached it, she heard a voice and the cracking of cornstalks outside.
Standing in the doorway, she looked out, and saw a large barnyard, the ground near the door covered with fresh straw which seemed to have been recently strewn there. The yard beyond was a neglected and bad-looking expanse, into which no young lady would be likely to penetrate, and from which Dora would have turned away instantly, had she not seen, crossing it, a young man and a horse.
The young man was leading the horse by its forelock, and was walking in a sidewise fashion, with his back toward Dora. The horse, a rough-looking creature, seemed reluctant to approach the barn, and its leader frequently spoke to it encouragingly, and patted its neck, as he moved on.
This young man was tall and broad-shouldered. He wore a light soft hat, which well suited his somewhat curling brown hair. A corduroy suit and high top boots, in which he strode fearlessly through the debris and dirt of the yard, gave him, in Dora's eyes, a manly air, and she longed for him to turn his face toward her, that she might speak to him, and ask him where she would be apt to find his sister—for of course this must be Mr. Haverley.
But he did not turn; instead of that he now backed himself toward the stable door, pulling the horse after him. Dora was pleased to stand and look at him; his movements struck her as athletic and graceful. He was now so near that she felt she ought to make her presence known. She stepped out upon the fresh straw, intending to move a little out of his way and then accost him, but he spoke first.
"Good," he said; "don't you want to take hold of this mare by the forelock, as I am doing, and keep her here until I get a halter?" And as he spoke he turned toward Miss Bannister.
His face was a handsome one, fully equal in quality to his height, his shoulders, and his grace of movement. His blue eyes opened wide at the sight of the young lady in gray hat and ostrich plumes, fashionable driving costume edged with fur, for the spring air was yet cool, and bright silk parasol, for the spring sun was beginning to be warm. With almost a stammer, he said:—
"I beg your pardon, I thought it was my sister I heard behind me."
"Oh, it doesn't matter in the least," said Dora, with a charming smile; "I am Miss Bannister. I live in Thorbury, and I came to call on your sister. Phoebe told me she thought she was out here, and so I came to look for her myself. A barn is so charming to me, especially a great one like this, that I would rather make a call in it than in the house."
"I will go and look for her," said Ralph. "She cannot be far away." And then he glanced at the horse, as if he were in doubt what to do with it at this juncture.
"Oh, let me hold your horse," cried Dora, putting down the parasol by the side of the barn and approaching; "I mean while you go and get its halter. I am ever so fond of horses, and like to hold them and feed them and pet them. Is this one gentle?"
"I don't know much about her," said Ralph, laughing, "for we have just taken possession of the place, and are only beginning to find out what animals we own, and what they are like. This old mare seems gentle enough, though rather obstinate. I have just brought her in out of the fields, where she has been grazing ever since the season opened."
"She looks like a very good horse, indeed," said Dora, patting the tangled hair on the creature's neck.
"I brought her in," said Ralph, "thinking I might rub her down, and get her into proper trim for use. My sister is much disappointed to find that out of our four horses, two are unbroken colts, and one is in constant use by the man. I think if I can give her a drive, even if it is behind a jogging old mare, it will set up her spirits again."
"You must let me hold her," said Dora, "while you get the halter, and then you can tie her, while we go and look for your sister. Don't think of such a thing as letting her go, after all your trouble in catching her."
"If I could get her into these stables," said Ralph, "I might shut her in, but I don't think that I shall be able to pull her through that doorway in this fashion."
Without further ado, Miss Dora put out her right hand, in its neatly fitting kid glove, and took hold of the mare's forelock, just above Ralph's hand. The young man demurred an instant, and then, laughing, ran into the stable to find a halter. His ownership of everything was so fresh that he forgot that the lower part of the barn was occupied by the cow stables—which the old mare did not wish to enter, or even approach. He hurriedly rummaged here and there among the stalls, finding nothing but some chains and rope's ends fastened to the mangers, but in his hasty search he could not help thinking how extremely ingenuous and neighborly was that handsome girl outside.
Dora held firmly the forelock of the mare, and patted the good animal's head with the other hand; but, strange to say, the animal did not like being held by the young lady, and gradually she backed, first toward the side of the barn, and then out toward the open yard. Dora attempted to restrain her, but in spite of all her efforts was obliged to follow the retrogressive animal.
"It's my gloves she doesn't like," she said to herself; "I know some horses can't bear the smell of kid, but I can't take them off now, and I will not let go. I wish he would hurry with the halter."
Little by little poor Dora was pulled forward, until she reached a spot which was at the very end of the clean straw, and yet not very far from the wall of the barn. Here she vigorously endeavored to make a stand, for if she went another step forward her dainty boots would sink into mud and dirt.
"Whoa!" she called out to the mare; "whoa, now!"
At the sound of these words, plainly uttered in trouble, Ralph, who happened to be in a stall next to the barn wall looking over some ropes, glanced through a little window about four feet from the ground, and saw Miss Bannister very close to him, tottering on the edge of the straw, and just about to let go of the mare, or step into the mire. Before he could shape words to tell her to release her dangerous hold, or make up his mind to rush around to the door to go to her assistance, she saw him, and throwing out her left hand in his direction, she exclaimed:—
"Oh, hold me, please."
Instantly Ralph put out his long arm, and caught her by the hand.
"Thank you," said Miss Dora. "In another moment she would have pulled me into the dirt. Perhaps now I can make her walk up on the clean straw. Come, come," she continued persuasively to the mare, which, however, obstinately declined to advance.
"Let go of her, I beg of you, Miss Bannister," cried Ralph. "It will hurt you to be pulled on two sides in this way."
Dora was a strong young girl, and so far the pulling had not hurt her at all. In fact, she liked it, at least on one side.
"Oh, I couldn't think of letting her go," she replied, "after all the trouble you have had in catching her. The gate is open, and in a minute she would be out in the field again. If she will only make a few steps forward, I am sure I can hold her until you come out. If you would draw me in a little bit, Mr. Haverley, perhaps she would follow."
Ralph did not in the least object to hold the smoothly gloved little hand in his own, but he was really afraid that the girl would be hurt, if she persisted in this attempt to make a halter of herself. If he released his hold, he was sure she would be jerked face forward into the mire, or at least be obliged to step into it; and as for the mare, it was plain to be seen that she did not intend to come any nearer the shed. He therefore doubled his entreaties that she would let the beast go, as it made no difference whether she ran into the fields or not. He could easily catch her again, or the man could.
"I don't want to let her go," said Dora. "Your sister would have a pretty opinion of me when she is ready to take her drive, and finds that I have let her horse run away; and, besides, I don't like to give up things. Do you like to give up things? I am sure you don't, for I saw you bringing this horse into the yard, and you were very determined about it. If I let her go, all your determination and trouble will have been for nothing. I should not like that. Come, come, you obstinate creature, just two steps forward. I have some lumps of sugar in my pocket which I keep to give to our horses, but of course I can't get it with both my hands occupied. I wish I had thought of the sugar. By the way, the sugar is not in my pocket; after all, it is in this little bag on my belt; I don't suppose you could reach it."
Ralph stretched out his other hand, but he could not reach the little leather bag with its silver clasp. If he could have jumped out of the window, he would have done so without hesitation, but the aperture was not large enough. He could not help being amused by the dilemma in which he was placed by this young lady's inflexibility. He did not know a girl, his sister not excepted, whom, under the circumstances, he would not have left to the consequences of what he would have called her obstinacy. But there was something about Dora—some sort of a lump of sugar—which prevented him from letting go of her hand.
"I never saw a horse," said she, "nor, indeed, any sort of a living thing, which was so unwilling to come to me. You are very good to hold me so strongly, and I am sure I don't mind waiting a little longer, until some one comes by."
"There is no one to come by," exclaimed Ralph, "and I most earnestly beg of you—"
At this moment the horse began to back; Miss Dora's fingers nervously clasped themselves about Ralph's hand, which pressed hers more closely and vigorously than before. There was a strong pull, a little jerk, and the forelock of the mare slipped out of Miss Dora's hand.
"There!" she cried; "that is exactly what I knew would happen. The wicked creature has galloped out of the gate."
The young lady now made a step or two nearer the barn, Ralph still holding her hand, as if to assist her to a better footing.
She did not need the assistance at all, but she looked up gratefully, as Ralph loosened his grasp, and she gently withdrew her hand.
"Thank you ever so much," she said. "If it had not been for you, I do not know where I should have been pulled to; but it is too bad that the horse got off, after all."
"Don't mention it," said Ralph. "I'll have her again in no time," and then he ran outside to join her.
"Now, sir," said she, and giving him no time to make any proposition, "I should like very much to find your sister, and see her, for at least a few moments before I go. Do you think she is anywhere in this glorious old barn? Phoebe told me she was."
"Is this a girl or a woman?" thought Ralph to himself. The charming and fashionable costume would have settled this question in the mind of a lady, but Ralph felt a little puzzled. But be the case what it might, it would be charming to go with her through the barn or anywhere else. As they walked over the lower floor of the edifice toward the stairway in the corner, Dora remarked:—
"How happy your cows ought to be, Mr. Haverley, to have such a wide, cool place as this to live in. What kind of cows have you?"
"Indeed, I don't know," said Ralph, laughing. "I haven't had time to make their acquaintance. I have seen them, only from a distance. They are but a very small herd, and I am sure there are no fancy breeds among them."
"Do you know," said Dora, as they went up the broad steps, sprinkled with straw and hayseed, "that what are called common cows are often really better than Alderneys, or Ayrshires, and those sorts? And this is the second story! How splendid and vast! What do you have here?"