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The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 14979

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

About noon on the next day, Mrs. Tolbridge sat down at her desk to finish the writing of the letter which had been so abruptly broken off the day before. She had been very busy that afternoon and a part of this morning, assisting Mrs. Drane and her daughter in their removal from a hot street in a little town to the broad freedom and fine air of a spacious country home.

And this change had given so much pleasure to all parties concerned that it was natural that so good a woman as Mrs. Tolbridge should feel a glow of satisfaction in thinking of the part she had taken in it.

She was satisfied in more ways than one: it was agreeable to her to assist in giving pleasure to others, but besides this, she had a little satisfaction which was peculiarly her own; she was pleased that that very pretty and attractive Cicely would now work for the doctor, instead of working so much with him. Of course she was willing to give up the little room if it were needed, but it was a great deal pleasanter not to have it needed.

"It is so seldom," she thought, as she lifted the lid of her desk, "that things can be arranged so as to please everybody."

At this moment she glanced through the open window and saw Miss Panney at the front gate. Closing her desk, Mrs. Tolbridge pushed back her chair, her glow of satisfaction changing into a little chill.

"Is the doctor at home?" she inquired of the servant who was passing the door, and on receiving the negative reply, the chilly feeling increased.

Miss Panney was in a radiant humor. She seated herself in her favorite rocking-chair; she laid her fan on the table near her and her reticule by it, and she pushed back from her shoulders a little India shawl.

"I am treating myself," she said, "to a regular gala day; in the first place, I intend to stay here to luncheon. People who have a La Fleur must expect to see their friends at their table much oftener than if they had a Biddy in the kitchen. That is one of the penalties of good fortune. I have my cap in my bag, and as soon as I have cooled a little I will take off my bonnet and shawl. This afternoon I am going to see the Bannisters, and after that I intend to call on Mrs. Drane and her daughter. I put off that until the last in order that Miss Drane may be at home. I ought to have called on them before, considering that I did so much in getting them established in Thorbury,-I am sure Mrs. Brinkly would not have taken them if I had not talked her into it,-but one thing and another has prevented my going there. But I have seen Miss Drane; I came to town yesterday in the Witton carriage, and saw her in the street. She is certainly a pretty little thing, and dresses with much taste. We all thought her face was very sweet and attractive. We had a good look at her, for she was waiting for our carriage to pass, in order to cross the street. I told Jim, the driver, to go slowly, for I like to have a good look at people before I know them. And by the way, Kitty, an idea comes into my head," and as she said this, the old lady's eyes twinkled, and a little smile stole over the lower part of her wrinkled face. "Perhaps you may not like the doctor to have such an extremely pretty secretary. Perhaps you may have preferred her to have a stubby nose and a freckled face. How is that, Kitty?"

"Nonsense," said Mrs. Tolbridge. "It makes no manner of difference what sort of a face a secretary has; her handwriting is much more important."

"Oh," said Miss Panney, "I am glad to hear that. And how does she get on?"

"Very well indeed," was the answer; "the doctor seems satisfied with her work."

"That is nice," said Miss Panney, "and how do they like it at Mrs.

Brinkly's? I saw their rooms, which are neatly furnished, and Mrs.

Brinkly keeps a very good table. I have taken many a meal at her house."

Had there been a column of mercury at Mrs. Tolbridge's back, it would have gone down several degrees, as she prepared to answer Miss Panney's question. She did not exactly hesitate, but she was so slow in beginning to speak, that Miss Panney, who was untying her bonnet-strings, had time to add, reflectively, "Yes, they are sure to find her a good landlady."

"The Dranes are not with Mrs. Brinkly now," said Mrs. Tolbridge. "They left yesterday afternoon, although some of their things were not sent away until this morning."

The old lady's hands dropped from her bonnet-strings to her lap.

"Left Mrs. Brinkly!" she exclaimed. "And where have they gone?"

"To Cobhurst, where they will board for a while, during the hot weather. They found it very close and uncomfortable in that part of the town, with the mercury in the eighties."

Miss Panney sat up tall and straight. Her eyes grew bigger and blacker as with her mental vision she glared upon the situation. Presently she spoke, and her voice sounded as if she were in a great empty cask, with her mouth at the bunghole.

"Who did this?" she asked.

Mrs. Tolbridge was glad to talk; it suited her much better at this time to do the talking than for her companion to do it, and she proceeded quite volubly.

"Oh, we all thought the change would be an excellent thing for them, especially for Mrs. Drane, who is not strong; and as they had seen Cobhurst and were charmed with the place, and as the Haverleys were quite willing to take them for a little while, it seemed an excellent thing all round. It was, however, our cook, La Fleur, who was the chief mover in the matter. She was very much opposed to their staying with Mrs. Brinkly,-you see she had lived with them and has quite an affection for them,-and actually went so far as to talk of taking a house in the country and boarding them herself. And you know, Miss Panney, how bad it would be for the doctor to lose La Fleur."

"Did the doctor have anything to do with this?" asked Miss Panney.

Now Mrs. Tolbridge did hesitate a little.

"Yes," she said, "he spoke to the Haverleys about it; he thought it would be an excellent thing for them."

Miss Panney rose, with her face as hard as granite. She drew her shawl about her shoulders, and took up her fan and bag. Mrs. Tolbridge also rose, much troubled.

"You must not imagine for a minute, Miss Panney," she said, "that the doctor had the slightest idea that this removal would annoy you. In fact, he spoke about consulting you in regard to it, and had he seen you before the affair was settled, I am sure he would have done so. And you must not think, either, that the doctor urged the Haverleys to take these ladies, simply because he wished to keep La Fleur. He values her most highly, but he thought of others than himself. He spoke particularly of the admirable influence Mrs. Drane would have on Miriam."

The old lady turned her flashing eyes on Mrs. Tolbridge, and, slightly lowering her head, she almost screamed these words: "Blow to the top of the sky Mrs. Drane's influence on Miriam! That is not what I care for."

Then she turned and walked out of the parlor, followed by Mrs. Tolbridge. At the front door she stopped and turned her wrathful and inexorable countenance upon the doctor's wife; then she deliberately shook her skirts, stamped her feet, and went out of the door.

When Dr. Tolbridge heard what had happened, he was sorely troubled. "I must go to see her," he said. "I cannot allow her to remain in that state of mind. I think I can explain the affair and make her look at it more as we do, although, I must ad

mit, now that I recall some things she recently said to me, that she may have some grave objections to Cicely's residence at Cobhurst. But I shall see her, and I think I can pacify her."

Mrs. Tolbridge was not so hopeful as her husband; he had not seen Miss Panney at the front door. But she could not bring herself to regret the advice she had given him when he proposed consulting Miss Panney in regard to the Dranes' removal.

"I shall never object to La Fleur," she said to herself. "I will bear all her impositions and queernesses for the sake of his health and pleasure, but I cannot give up my little room to Cicely Drane."

And that very hour she caused to be replaced in the said room the desk and other appurtenances which had been taken out when the room had been arranged for the secretary.

These changes had hardly been made, when Dora Bannister called.

"Miss Panney was at our house to-day," said the girl, "and I cannot imagine what was the matter with her. I never saw anybody in such a state of mind."

"What did she say?" asked Mrs. Tolbridge.

"She said very little, and that was one of the strangest things about her. But she sat and stared and stared and stared at me, as if I were some sort of curiosity on exhibition, and did not answer anything I said to her. I was awfully nervous, though I knew from the few words she had said that she was not angry with me; but she kept on staring and staring and staring, and then she suddenly leaned forward and put her arms around me and kissed me. Then she sat back in her chair again, slapped her two hands upon her knees, and said, speaking to herself, 'It shall be done. I am a fool to have a doubt about it.' And then she went without another word. Now was not that simply amazing? Did she come here, and did she act in that way?"

"She was here," said Mrs. Tolbridge, "but she did not do anything so funny as that."

"Well, I suppose I shall find out some day what she means," said Dora. "And now, Mrs. Tolbridge, I did not come altogether to see you this afternoon. I hope Miss Drane has not gone home yet, for I thought it would be nice to meet her here. Mother and I are going to call on them, but I do not know when that will be; and I have heard so much about the doctor's secretary that I am perishing to see her. They say she is very pretty and bright. I wanted mother to go there to-day, but we have had a long drive this morning, and to-morrow she and I and Herbert are going to call at Cobhurst; and you know mother will never consent to crowd things. And so I thought I would come here this afternoon by myself. It won't be like a call, you know."

"Miss Drane is not here," said Mrs. Tolbridge; "but if you want to see her, you can do it to-morrow, if you go to Cobhurst. She and her mother are now living there, boarding with the Haverleys."

"Living at Cobhurst!" exclaimed Dora; and as she uttered these words, the girl turned pale.

"Heavens!" mentally ejaculated the doctor's wife. "I do nothing this day but explode bombshells."

In a moment Dora recovered nearly all her color, and laughed.

"It is so funny," she said, "that all sorts of things happen in this town without our knowing it. Is she still going to be the doctor's secretary?"

"Yes, she can do her work out there as well as here."

Dora looked out of the window as if she saw something in the garden, and

Mrs. Tolbridge charitably took her out to show her some new dahlias.

Early the next morning, Dr. Tolbridge drove into the Witton yard. No matter who waited for him, he would not delay this visit. When he asked for Miss Panney, he had a strong idea that the old lady would refuse to see him. But in an astonishingly short space of time, she marched into the parlor, every war-flag flying, and closed the door behind her.

Without shaking hands or offering the visitor any sort of salutation, she seated herself in a chair in the middle of the room. "Now," said she, "don't lose any time in saying what you have got to say."

Not encouraged by this reception, the doctor could not instantly arrange what he had to say. But he shortly got his ideas into order, and proceeded to lay the case in its most favorable light before the old lady, dwelling particularly on the reasons why she had not been consulted in the affair.

Miss Panney heard him to the end without a change in the rigidity of her face and attitude. "Very well, then," she said, when he had finished, "I see exactly what you have done. You have thrown me aside for a cook."

"Not at all!" exclaimed the doctor. "I had no idea of throwing you aside.

In fact, Miss Panney, I never thought of you in the matter at all."

"Exactly, exactly," said the old lady, with emphatic sharpness; "you never thought of me at all. That is the sum and substance of what you have done. I gave you my confidence. I told you my intentions, my hopes, the plan which was to crown and finish the work of my life. I told you I would make the grandson of the only man I ever loved my heir, and I would do this, because I wished him to marry the daughter of the man who was my best friend on earth. The marriage of these two and the union of the estate of Cobhurst with the wealth of the Bannisters was a project which, as I told you, had grown dear to my heart, and for which I was thinking and dreaming and working. All this you knew, and without a word to me, and if you speak the truth, all for the sake of your wretched stomach, you clap into Cobhurst a girl who will be engaged to Ralph Haverley in less than a month."

The doctor moved impatiently in his chair.

"Nonsense, Miss Panney. Cicely Drane will not harm your plans. She is a sensible, industrious girl, who attends to her own business, and-"

"Precisely," said Miss Panney; "and her own business will be to settle for life at Cobhurst. She may not be courting young Haverley to-day, but she will begin to-morrow. She will do it, and what is more, she would be a fool if she did not. It does not matter what sort of a girl she is;" and now Miss Panney began to speak louder, and stood up; "it does not matter if she had five legs and two heads; you have no right to thrust any intruder into a household which I had taken into my charge, and for which I had my plans, all of which you knew. You are a false friend, Dr. Tolbridge, and at your doorstep I have shaken the dust from my skirts and my feet." And with a quick step and a high head, she marched out of the room.

The doctor took a little book out of his pocket, and on a blank leaf wrote the following:-


Potass. Bromid. 3iij

Tr. Dig. Natis. m. xxx

Tr. Lavand. Comp. ad 3iij

M.S. teaspoonful every three hours.

H. D.

Having sent this to Miss Panney by a servant, he went his way. Driving along, his conscience stung him a little when he thought of the fable his wife had told him; but the moral of the fable had made but little impression upon him, and as an antidote to the sting he applied his conviction that matchmaking was a bad business, and that in love affairs, as well as in many diseases, the very best thing to do was to let nature take its course.

When Miss Panney read the paper which had been sent to her, her eyes flashed, and then she laughed.

"The wretch!" she exclaimed; "it is just like him." And in the afternoon she sent to her apothecary in Thorbury for the medicine prescribed. "If it cools me down," she said to herself, "I shall be able to work better."

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