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bring you the money."

She held the telegram, though Ralph had seized it.

"Don't be too quick," she said, "don't be too quick. There, you will tear
it in half. Let me open it for you."

She deftly drew the envelope from his hand, and spread the telegram on
the broad rail of the piazza, on which the moon shone full. Instantly
their heads were close together.

"I cannot read it," groaned Ralph; "my eyes are - "

"I can," interrupted Cicely, and she read aloud the message, which
ran thus, -

"Fear news of accident may trouble you. We are all well. Have written.
Miriam Haverley."

Ralph started back and stood upright, as if some one had shouted to him
from the sky. He said not one word, but Cicely gave a cry of joy. Ralph
turned toward her, and as he saw her face, irradiated by the moonlight
and her sudden happiness, he looked down upon her for one moment, and
then his arms were outstretched toward her; but, quick as was his motion,
her thought was quicker, and before he could touch her, she had darted
back with the telegram in her hand.

"I will show this to mother," she cried, and was in the house in
an instant.

La Fleur was in the hall, where for some time she had been quietly
standing, looking out upon the moonlight. From her position, which was
not a conspicuous one, at the door of the enclosed stairway, she had been
able to keep her eyes upon Ralph and Cicely; and held herself ready,
should she hear Mrs. Drane coming down the stairs, to go up and engage
her in a consultation in regard to domestic arrangements. She had known
of the arrival of the telegraph boy, had seen what followed, and now
listened with rapt delight to Cicely's almost breathless announcement of
the joyful news.

After the girl went upstairs, La Fleur walked away; there was no need for
her to stand guard any longer.

"It isn't only the telegram," she said to herself, "that makes her face
shine and her voice quiver like that." Then she went out to congratulate
Mr. Haverley on the news from his sister. But the young man was not
there; his soul was too full for the restraints of a house or a roof, and
he had gone out, bareheaded, into the moonlight to be alone with his
happiness and to try to understand it.

When Mrs. Drane returned to her room, having gone down at her daughter's
request to pay the telegraph messenger, she found her daughter lying on a
couch, her face wet with tears. But in ten minutes Cicely was sitting up
and chattering gayly. The good lady was rejoiced to know that there was
no foundation for the evils they had feared, but she could not understand
why her daughter, usually a cool-headed little thing and used to
self-control, should be so affected by the news. And in the morning she
was positively frightened when Cicely informed her that she had not slept
a wink all night.

Mrs. Drane had not seen Ralph's face when he stretched out his arms
toward her daughter.




CHAPTER XXXIX

UNDISTURBED LETTUCE


When Ralph Haverley came in from his long moonlight ramble, he was so
happy that he went to bed and slept as sound as rock. But before he
closed his eyes he said to himself, -

"I will do that to-morrow; the very first thing to-morrow."

But people do not always do what they intend to do the very first thing
in the morning, and this was the case with Ralph. La Fleur, who knew that
a letter was expected, sent Mike early to the post-office, and soon after
breakfast Ralph had a letter from Miriam. It was a long one; it gave a
full account of the drowning accident and of some of her own experiences,
but it said not one word of the message sent by Miss Panney, to whom
Miriam alluded very slightly. It gave, however, the important information
that Mrs. Bannister had been so affected by the dreadful scene on the
beach that she declared she could not go into the ocean again, nor even
bear the sight of it, and that, therefore, they were all coming home on
the morrow.

"She will be here to-night," said Ralph, who knew the trains from
Barport.

As soon as he had read the letter Ralph went to look for Cicely. She had
come down late to breakfast, and he had been surprised at her soberness
of manner. On the other hand, Mrs. Drane had been surprised at Ralph's
soberness of manner, and she found herself in the unusual position of the
liveliest person at the breakfast table.

"People who have heard such good news ought to be very happy," she
thought, but she made no remark on the subject.

It was Cicely's custom to spend the brief time she allowed herself
between breakfast and work, upon the lawn, or somewhere out of doors,
but to-day Ralph searched in vain for her. He met La Fleur, however,
and that conscientious cook, in her most respectful manner, asked him,
if he happened to meet Miss Cicely, would he be so good as to give her
a message?

"But I don't know where she is," said Ralph. "I have a letter to
show her."

La Fleur wished very much to know what was in the letter, which, she
supposed, explained the mystery of the telegrams, but at a moment like
this she would not ask.

"She is in the garden, sir," she said. "I asked her to gather me some
lettuce for luncheon. She does it so much more nicely than I could do it,
or Mike. She selects the crispest and most tender leaves of that crimped
and curled lettuce you all like so much, and I thought I would ask you,
sir, if you met her, to be so very kind as to tell her that I would like
a few sprigs of parsley, just a very few. I would go myself, sir, but
there is something cooking which I cannot leave, and I beg your pardon
for troubling you and will thank you, sir, very much if you - "

It was not worth while for her to finish her sentence, for Ralph had
gone.

He found Cicely just as she stooped over the lettuce bed. She rose with a
face like a peach blossom.

"I have a letter from Miriam," he said, "I will give it to you presently,
and you may read the whole of it, but I must first tell you that she,
with Mrs. Bannister and Dora, are coming home to-day. They will reach
Thorbury late this afternoon. Isn't that glorious?"

All the delicate hues of the peach blossom went out of Cicely's face.
That everlasting person had come up again, and now he called her Dora,
and it was glorious to have her back! She did not have to say anything,
for Ralph went rapidly on.

"But before they leave Barport," he said, "I want to send Miriam a
telegram. If Mike takes it immediately to Thorbury, she will get it
before her train leaves."

"A telegram!" exclaimed Cicely, but she did not look up at him.

"Yes," said he; "I want to telegraph to Miriam that you and I are
engaged to be married. I want her to know it before she gets here. Shall
I send it?"

She raised to him a face more brightly hued than any peach
blossom - rich with the color of the ripe fruit. Ten minutes after this,
two wood doves, sitting in a tree to the east of the lettuce bed, and
looking westward, turned around on their twig and looked toward the
east. They were sunny-minded little creatures, and did not like to be
cast into the shade.

As they went out of the garden gate, Cicely said, "You have always been a
very independent person and accustomed to doing very much as you please,
haven't you?"

"It has been something like that," answered Ralph; "but why?"

"Only this," she said; "would you begin already to chafe and rebel if I
were to ask you not to send that telegram? It would be so much nicer to
tell her after she gets back."

"Chafe!" exclaimed Ralph, "I should think not. I will do exactly as
you wish."

"You are awfully good," said Cicely, "but you must agree with me more
prudently now that we are out here, and I will not tell mother until
Miriam knows."

A gray old chanticleer, who was leading his hens across the yard,
stopped at this moment and looked at Ralph, but it is not certain that
he sniffed.

Ralph knew very well when people, coming from Barport, should arrive in
Thorbury, but his mind was so occupied that when he went to the barn, he
forgot so many things he should have done at the house, and he ran
backward and forward so often, and waited so long for an opportunity to
say something he had just thought of, to somebody who did not happen to
be ready to listen at the precise moment he wished to speak, that he had
just stepped into the gig to go to the station for his sister, when
Miriam arrived alone in the Bannister carriage. Not finding anybody at
the station to meet her, they had sent her on.

Mrs. Drane was not the liveliest person at the dinner table, and she
wondered much how Ralph and Cicely, who had been so extremely sober at
breakfast time, should now be so hilarious. The arrival of Miriam seemed
hardly reason enough for such intemperate gayety.

As for Miriam, she overflowed with delight. The ocean was grand, but
Cobhurst was Cobhurst. "There was nothing better about my trip than the
opportunity it gave me of coming back to my home. I never did that
before, you know, my children."

This she said loftily from her seat at the head of the table. Dinner was
late and lasted long, and Ralph had gone into the room on the lower
floor, in which he kept his cigars, and which he called his office, when
Miriam followed him. There was no unencumbered chair, and she seated
herself on the edge of the table.

"Ralph," said she, "I want to say something to you, now, while it is
fresh in my mind. I think we can sometimes understand our affairs better
when we go away from them and are not mixed up in them. I have been
thinking a great deal since I have been at Barport about our affairs
here, not only as they are but as they may be, and most likely will be,
and I have come to the conclusion that some of these days, Ralph, you
will want to be married."

"Do you mean me?" cried Ralph. "You amaze me!"

"Oh, you are only a man, and you need not be amazed," said his sister.
"This is the way I have been thinking of it: if you ever do want to get
married, I hope you will not marry Dora Bannister. I used sometimes to
think that that might be a good thing to do, though I changed my mind
very often about it, but I do not think so, now, at all. Dora is an
awfully nice girl in ever so many ways, but since I have been at Barport
with her, I am positive that I do not want you to marry her."

Ralph heaved a long sigh and put his hands in his pockets.

"Bless my soul!" he exclaimed, "this is very discouraging; if I do not
marry Dora, who is there that I can marry?"

"You goose," said his sister, "there is a girl here, under your very
nose, ever so much nicer and more suitable for you than Dora. If you
marry anybody, marry Cicely Drane. I have been thinking ever and ever so
much about her and about you, and I made up my mind to speak to you of
this as soon as I got home, so that you might have a chance to think
about it before you should see Dora. Don't you remember what you used to
tell me about the time when you were obliged to travel so much, and how,
when you had a seat to yourself in a car, and a crowd of people were
coming in, you used to make room for the first nice person you saw,
because you knew you would have to have somebody sitting alongside of
you, and you liked to choose for yourself? Now that is the way I feel
about your getting married; if you marry Cicely Drane, I shall feel safe
for the rest of my life."

"Miriam!" exclaimed Ralph, "you astonish me by the force of your
statements. Wait here one moment," and he ran into the hall through which
he had seen Cicely passing, and presently reappeared with her.

"Miss Drane," said he, "do you know that my sister thinks that I ought to
marry you?"

In an instant Miriam had slipped from the table to the floor.

"Good gracious, Ralph!" she cried. "What do you mean?"

"I am merely stating your advice," he answered; "and now, Miss Drane, how
does it strike you?"

"Well," said Cicely, demurely, "if your sister really thinks we should
marry, I suppose - I suppose we ought to do it."

Miriam's eyes flashed from one to the other, then there were two girlish
cries and a manly laugh, and in a moment Miriam and Cicely were in each
other's arms, while Ralph's arms were around them both.

"Now," said Cicely, when this group had separated itself into its several
parts, "I must run up and tell mother." And very soon Mrs. Drane
understood why there had been sobriety at breakfast and hilarity at
dinner. She was surprised, but felt she ought not to be; she was a little
depressed, but knew she would get over that.

La Fleur did not hear the news that night, but it was not necessary; she
had seen Ralph and Cicely coming through the garden gate without a leaf
of lettuce or a single sprig of parsley.




CHAPTER XL

ANGRY WAVES


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Phoebe!" exclaimed Miss Panney, "I do not believe a word of all that!
How dare you tell me such a lot of lies?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Miss Panney," cried Dora, sitting upright in her chair, "do you mean
that I ought to go out there, and try to catch Ralph Haverley, no matter
how they treat me?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Online LibraryFrank Richard StocktonThe Girl at Cobhurst → online text (page 22 of 25)