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   Chapter 8 MRS. TOLBRIDGE'S REPORT IS NOT ACCEPTED

The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 16520

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


A few days after Miss Bannister's call at Cobhurst, it was returned by Ralph and Miriam, who drove to Thorbury with the brown mare and the gig. To their disappointment, they found that the young lady was not at home, and the communicative maid informed them that she had gone to the city to help Mrs. Tolbridge to get a new cook.

They went home by the way of the Witton house, and there they found Miss Panney at home. The old lady was very much interested in Miriam, whom she had not before seen out of bed. She scrutinized the girl from hat to boots.

"What do you want me to call you, my dear?" she asked. "Don't you honestly think you are too young to be called Miss Haverley?"

"I think it would be very well if you were to call me Miriam," said the other, who was of the opinion that Miss Panney was old enough to call any woman by her Christian name.

The conversation was maintained almost entirely by the old lady and Ralph, for Miriam was silent and very solemn. Once she broke in with a question:-

"What kind of a person is Miss Bannister?" she asked. Miss Panney gave a short laugh.

"Oh, she is a charming person," she answered, "pretty, good-humored, well educated, excellent taste in dress and almost everything, and very lively and pleasant to talk to. I am very fond of her."

"I am afraid," said Miriam, "that she is too old and too fine for me," and turning to a photograph album she began to study the family portraits.

"Your sister's ideas are rather girlish as yet," said Miss Panney, "but housekeeping at Cobhurst will change all that;" and then she went on with her remarks concerning the Haverley and Butterwood families, a subject upon which Ralph was not nearly so well informed as she was.

When the brother and sister had driven away, Miss Panney reflected that the visit had given her two pieces of information. One was that the Haverley girl was a good deal younger than she had thought her, and the other was that Mrs. Tolbridge was really trying to get a new cook. The first point she did not consider with satisfaction.

"It is a pity," she thought, "that Dora and his sister are not likely to be friends. That would help wonderfully. This schoolgirl, probably jealous of the superiority of grown-up young ladies, may be very much in the way. I am sorry the case is not different."

In regard to the other point the old lady was very well satisfied, and determined to go soon to see what success Mrs. Tolbridge had had.

About the middle of the next forenoon, Miss Panney tied her horse in front of the Tolbridge house and entered unceremoniously, as she was in the habit of doing. She found the doctor's wife standing by the back-parlor window looking out on the garden. When the old lady had seated herself she immediately proceeded to business.

"Well, Kitty," said she, "what sort of a time did you have yesterday?"

"A very discouraging and disagreeable one," said Mrs. Tolbridge. "I might just as well have stayed at home."

"You don't mean to say," asked Miss Panney, "that nobody answered your advertisement?"

"When I reached the rooms of the Non-Resident Club, where the applicants were to call-"

"That's the first time," interrupted Miss Panney, "that I ever heard that that Club was of the slightest use."

"It wasn't of any use this time," said the other; "for although I found several women there who came before the hour appointed, and at least a dozen came in the course of the morning, not one of them would do at all. I was just now looking out at our asparagus bed, and wondering if any of those beautiful heads would ever be cooked properly. The woman in our kitchen knows that she is to depart, and she is in a terribly bad temper, and this she puts into her cooking. The doctor is almost out of temper himself. He says that he has pretty good teeth, but that he cannot bite spite."

Miss Panney now appeared to be getting out of temper.

"I must say, Kitty," she said, in a tone of irritation, "that I do not understand how it was that out of the score or more of applicants, you could not find a better cook than the good-for-nothing creature you have now. What was the matter with them?"

"Everything, it seemed to me," answered Mrs. Tolbridge. "Now here is Dora. She was with me yesterday, and you can ask her about the women we saw."

Miss Panney attached no value whatever to the opinions, in regard to domestic service, of the young lady who had just entered the room, and she asked her no questions. Miss Bannister, however, did not seem in the least slighted, and sat down to join the chat.

"I suppose," said Miss Panney, sarcastically, "that you tried to find that woman that the doctor used to say he wanted: a woman who had committed some great crime, who could find no relief from her thoughts but in constant work, work, work."

Mrs. Tolbridge smiled.

"No, I did not look for her; nor did I try to find the person who was of a chilly disposition and very susceptible to draughts. We used to want one of that sort, but she should be a waitress. But, seriously, there were objections to every one of them. Religion was a great obstacle. The churches of Thorbury are not designed for the consciences of city servants. There was no Lutheran Church for the Swedes; and the fact that the Catholic Church was a mile from our house, with no street-cars, settled the question for most of them. The truth is, none of them wanted to come into the country, unless they could get near Newport or some other suitable summer resort."

"But there was that funny old body in a shawl," said Dora, "who made no objections to churches, or anything else in fact, as soon as she found out your husband wasn't in trade."

"True," replied Mrs. Tolbridge; "she didn't object, but she was objectionable."

Miss Panney was beginning to fasten her wrap about her. She had heard quite enough, but still she deigned to snap out:-

"What was the matter with her?"

"Oh, she was entirely out of the question," said the lady of the house. "In the first place, she was the widow of a French chef, or somebody of that sort, and has a wonderful opinion of her abilities. She understands all kinds of cooking,-plain or fancy."

"And even butter," said Dora; "she said she knew all about that."

"Yes; and she understood how butcher's meat should be cut, and the choosing of poultry, and I know not what else besides."

"And only asked," cried Dora, laughing, "if your husband was in trade; and when she heard that he was a professional man, was perfectly willing to come."

Miss Panney turned toward Mrs. Tolbridge, sat up very straight in her chair, and glared.

"Was not this the very woman you were looking for? Why didn't you take her?"

"Take her!" repeated Mrs. Tolbridge, with some irritation. "What could I do with a woman like that? She would want enormous wages. She would have to have kitchen maids, and I know not whom, besides, to wait on her; and as for our plain style of living, she could not be expected to stand that. She would be entirely out of place in a house like this."

"Her looks were enough to settle her case," said Dora. "You never saw such an old witch; she would frighten the horses."

"Kitty Tolbridge," said Miss Panney, severely, "did you ask that woman if she wanted high wages, if she required kitchen maids, if she would be satisfied to cook for your family?"

"No, I didn't," said the other; "I knew it was of no use. It was plain to see that she would not do at all."

"Did you get her address?"

"Yes," said Dora; "she gave me a card as we were going out, and insisted on my taking it. It is in my bag at home."

Miss Panney was silent for a moment, and was evidently endeavoring to cool her feelings so as to speak without indignation.

"Kitty Tolbridge," she said presently, "I think you have deliberately turned your back on one of the greatest opportunities ever offered to a woman with a valuable husband. There are husbands who have no value, and who might as well be hurried to their graves by indigestion as in any other way, but the doctor is not one of these. Now, whatever you know of that woman proves her to be the very person who should be in your kitchen at this moment; and whatev

er you have said against her is all the result of your imagination. If I were in your place, I would take the next train for the city; and before I closed my eyes this night, I would know whether or not such a prize as that were in my reach. I say prize because I never heard of such a chance being offered to a doctor's wife in a country town. Now what are you going to do about it, Kitty? If your regard for your husband's physical condition is not sufficient to make you look on this matter as I do, think of his soul. If you don't believe that true religion and good cooking go hand in hand, wait a year and then see what sort of a husband you will have."

Mrs. Tolbridge felt that she ought to resent this speech, that she ought to be, at least, a little angry; but when she was a small girl, Miss Panney was an old woman who sometimes used to scold her. She had not minded the scoldings very much then, and she could not bring herself to mind this scolding very much now. Occasionally she had scolded Miss Panney, and the old lady had never been angry.

"I shall not go to the city," she said, with a smile; "but I will write, and ask all the questions. Then our consciences will be easier."

Miss Panney rose to her feet.

"Do it, I beg of you," she said, "and do it this morning. And now, Dora, if you walked here, I will drive you home in my phaeton, for you ought to send that address to Mrs. Tolbridge without delay."

As the old roan jogged away from the doctor's house, Miss Panney remarked to her companion, "I needn't have hurried you off so soon, Dora, for it is three hours before the next mail will leave; but I did want Mrs. Tolbridge to sit down at once and write that letter without being interrupted by anything which you might have come to tell her. Of course, the sooner you send her the address, the better."

"The boy shall take it to her as soon as I get home," said Dora.

She very much disliked scoldings, and had not now a word to say against the old body who would frighten the horses. Desirous of turning the conversation in another direction without seeming to force it, "It seems to me," she said, "that Mr. and Miss Haverley ought to have somebody better to cook for them than old Phoebe. I have always looked upon her as a sort of a charwoman, working about from house to house, doing anything that people hired her to do."

"That's just what those Haverleys want," said Miss Panney. "At present, everything is charwork at their place, and as to their food, I don't suppose they think much about it, so that they get enough. At their age they can eat anything."

"How old is Miss Haverley?" asked Dora.

"Miss Haverley!" repeated Miss Panney, "she's nothing but a girl, with her hair down her back and her skirts a foot from the ground. I call her a child."

A shadow came over the soul of Miss Bannister.

Would it be possible, she thought, to maintain, with a girl who did not yet put up her hair or wear long skirts, the intimacy she had hoped to maintain with Mr. Haverley's sister?

Very much the same idea was in the mind of Miss Panney, but she thought it well to speak encouragingly. "I wish, for her brother's sake, the girl were older," said she: "but housekeeping will help to mature her much more quickly than if she had remained at school. And as for school," she added, "it strikes me it would be a good thing for her to go back there-after awhile."

Dora thought this a good opinion, but before she could say anything on the subject, she lifted her eyes, and beheld Ralph Haverley walking down the street toward them. He was striding along at a fine pace, and looked as if he enjoyed it.

"I declare," ejaculated Miss Bannister, "here he is himself. We shall meet him."

"He? who?" and Miss Panney looked from side to side of the road, and the moment she saw the young man, she smiled.

It pleased her that Dora should speak of him as "he," showing that the brother was in her mind when they had been talking of the sister.

Miss Panney drew up to the sidewalk, and Ralph stopped.

He was greatly pleased with the cordial greeting he received from the two ladies. These Thorbury people were certainly very sociable and kind-hearted. The sunlight was on Dora's soul now, and it sparkled in her eyes.

"It was my other hand that I gave you when I met you before," she said, with a charming smile.

"Yes," said Ralph, also with a smile, "and I think I held it an uncommonly long time."

"Indeed you did," said Dora; and they both laughed.

Miss Panney listened in surprise.

"You two seem to know each other better than I supposed," she said. "When did you become acquainted?"

"We have met but once before," replied Dora, "but that was rather a peculiar meeting." And then she told the story of her call at Cobhurst, and of the mare's forelock, and the old lady was delighted with the narration. She had never planned a match which had begun so auspiciously. These young people must be truly congenial, for already a spirit of comradeship seemed to have sprung up between them. But of course that sort of thing could not be kept up to the desirable point without the assistance of the sister. In some way or other, that girl must be managed. Miss Panney determined to give her mind to it.

With Ralph standing close by the side of the phaeton, the reins lying loose on the back of the drowsy roan, and Dora leaning forward from her seat, so as to speak better with the young man, the interview was one of considerable length, and no one seemed to think it necessary that it should be brought to a close. Ralph had come to attend to some business in the town, and had preferred to walk rather than drive the brown mare.

"Did you ever catch that delightfully obstinate creature?" cried Dora.

"And did you give your sister a drive in the gig?"

"Oh, yes," said Ralph, "I easily caught her again, and I curried and polished her up myself, and trimmed her mane and tail and fetlocks, and since she has been having good meals of oats, you can hardly imagine what a sleek-looking beast she has become. We drove her into Thorbury when Miriam returned your call. I am sorry you were not at home, so that you might have seen what a change had come over Mrs. Browning."

Dora looked inquiringly.

"That is the name that Miriam has given to the mare."

Dora laughed.

"If Mrs. Browning is one of your sister's favorite poets," she said, "that will be a bond between us, for I like her poems better than I do her husband's, at least I understand them better. I wonder if your sister will ever ask me to take a drive with her in the gig? I could show her so many pretty places."

"Indeed she will," said Ralph; "but you mustn't think we are going to confine ourselves to that sedate conveyance and the old mare. The colts are old enough to be broken, and when they are ready to drive we shall have a spanking team."

"That will be splendid," exclaimed Dora. "I cannot imagine anything more inspiriting than driving with a pair of freshly broken horses."

Miss Panney gave a little sniff.

"That sort of thing," she said, "sometimes exalts one's spirit so high that it is never again burdened by the body; but all horses have to be broken, and people continue to live."

She smiled as she thought that the pair of young colts which she had taken in hand seemed to give promise of driving together most beautifully. But it would not do to stop here all the morning, and as there was no sign that Dora would tire of asking questions or Ralph of answering them, the old lady gathered up the reins.

"You mustn't be surprised, Mr. Haverley," she said, "if the ladies of Thorbury come a good deal to Cobhurst. We have more time than the gentlemen, and we all want to get well acquainted with your sister, and help her in every way that we can. Miss Bannister is going to drive over very soon and stop for me on the way, so that we shall call on her together."

When the young man had bowed and departed, and the old roan was jogging on, Dora leaned back in the phaeton and said to herself, that, without knowing it, Miss Panney was an angel. When they should go together to Cobhurst, the old lady would be sure to spend her time talking to the girl.

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