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The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 14505

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

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.

"How many?"


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.

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