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   Chapter 2 MISS PANNEY

The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 13530

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

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 clapp

ed 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


"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."

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