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   Chapter 1 DR. TOLBRIDGE

The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 14296

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


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 o

f 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."

"And sleep?"

"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.

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