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   Chapter 32 MISS PANNEY FEELS SHE MUST CHANGE HER PLANS

The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 16265

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Molly Tooney waited with some impatience the result of Miriam's interview with Mike. If the "nager" should be discharged for taking cold victuals like a beggar, Molly would be glad of it; it would suit her much better to have a nice Irish boy in his place.

But when Miriam told her cook that evening that Mike had satisfactorily explained the matter of the pie, and also remarked that in future she would like to have bread or cakes made of corn-meal, and that she couldn't see any reason why Mike, who was accustomed to this sort of food, should not have it always, Molly's soul blazed within her; it would have burst out into fiery speech; but the girl before her, although young, was so quiet and sedate, so suggestive of respect, that Molly, scarcely knowing why she did it, curbed herself; but she instantly gave notice that she wished to quit the place on the next day.

When Ralph heard this, he was very angry, and wanted to go and talk to the woman.

"Don't you do anything of the kind," said Miriam. "It is not your business to talk to cooks. I do that. And I want to go to-morrow to Thorbury and get some one to come to us by the day until the new cook arrives. If I can get her, I am going to engage Seraphina, Mike's sister."

Ralph looked at her and laughed.

"Well, well, Miss Teaberry," he said, "you are getting on bravely. Putting up your hair and letting down your skirts has done wonders. You are the true lady of the house now."

"And what have you to say against that?" asked Miriam.

"Not a word!" he cried. "I like it, I am charmed with it, and I will drive you into Thorbury to-morrow. And as to Mike's sister, you can have all his relations if you like, provided they do not charge too much. If we had a lot of darkies here, that would make us more truly ramshackle and jolly than we are now."

"Ralph," said Miriam, with dignity, "stop pulling my ears. Don't you see

Mrs. Drane coming?"

The next day Miriam and Ralph jogged into Thorbury. Miriam, not wearing the teaberry gown, but having its spirit upon her, had planned to inquire of the grocer with whom she dealt, where she might find a woman such as she needed, but Ralph did not favor this.

"Let us first go and see Mrs. Tolbridge," he said. "She is one of our first and best friends, and probably knows every woman in town, and if she doesn't, the doctor does."

This last point had its effect upon Miriam. She wanted to see Dr. Tolbridge to ask if he could not stop in and quiet the mind of Cicely, who really wanted to see him about her work, but who did not like, as Miriam easily conjectured, to ask Ralph to send her to town. Miriam wished to make things as pleasant as possible for Cicely, and Mrs. Tolbridge had not, so far, meddled in the least with her concerns. If, inadvertently, Ralph had proposed a consultation with Mrs. Bannister, there would have been a hubbub in the gig.

The doctor and his wife were both at home, and when the business of the

Haverleys had been stated to them, Mrs. Tolbridge clapped her hands.

"Truly," she cried, "this is a piece of rare good fortune; we will lend them La Fleur. Do you know, my dear girl," she said to Miriam, "that the doctor and I are going away? He will attend a medical convention at Barport, and I will visit my mother, to whom he will come, later. It will be a grand vacation for us, for we shall stay away from Thorbury for two weeks, and the only thing which has troubled us is to decide what we shall do with La Fleur while we are gone. We want to shut up the house, and she does not want to go to her friends, and if she should do so, I am afraid we might lose her. I am sure she would be delighted to come to you, especially as the Dranes are with you. Shall I ask her?"

Miriam jumped to her feet, with an expression of alarm on her countenance, which amused the doctor and her brother.

"Oh, please, Mrs. Tolbridge, don't do that!" she exclaimed. "Truly, I could not have a great cook like La Fleur in our kitchen. I should be frightened to death, and she would have nothing to do anything with. You know, Mrs. Tolbridge, that we live in an awfully plain way. We are not in the least bit rich or stylish or anything of the sort. If Cicely had not told me that she and her mother lived in the same way, we could not have taken them. We keep only a man and a woman, you know, and we all do a lot of work ourselves, and Molly Tooney was always growling because there were not enough things to cook with, and what a French cook would do in our kitchen I really do not know. She would drive us crazy!"

"Come now," said the doctor, laughing, "don't frighten yourself in that way, my little lady. If La Fleur consents to go to you for a couple of weeks, she will understand the circumstances, and will be perfectly satisfied with what she finds. She is a woman of sense. You would better let Mrs. Tolbridge go and talk with her."

Miriam sat down in a sort of despair. Here again, her affairs were being managed for her. Would she ever be able to maintain her independence? She had said all she could say, and now she hoped that La Fleur would treat the proposition with contempt.

But the great cook did nothing of the kind. In five minutes, Mrs. Tolbridge returned with the information that La Fleur would be overjoyed to go to Cobhurst for a fortnight. She wanted some country air; she wanted to see the Dranes; she had a great admiration for Miss Haverley, being perfectly able to judge, although she had met her but once, that she was a lady born; she looked upon her brother as a most superior gentleman; and she would be perfectly content with whatever she found in the Cobhurst kitchen.

"She says," added Mrs. Tolbridge, "that if you give her a gridiron, a saucepan, and a fire, she will cook a meal fit for a duke. With brains, she says, one can make up all deficiencies."

Ralph took his sister aside.

"Do go out and see her, Miriam," he said. "If we take her, we shall oblige our friends here, and please everybody. It will only be for a little while, and then you can have your old colored mammy and the pickaninnies, just as you have planned."

When Miriam came back from the kitchen, she found that the doctor had left the house and was going to his buggy at the gate.

"Oh, Ralph!" she exclaimed, "you do not know what a nice woman she is. She is just like an old family nurse." And then she ran out to catch the doctor, and talk to him about Cicely.

"Your sister is a child yet," remarked Mrs. Tolbridge, with a smile.

"Indeed she is," said Ralph; "and she longs for what she never had-old family servants, household ties, and all that sort of thing. And I believe she would prefer a good old Southern mammy to a fine young lover."

"Of course she would," said Mrs. Tolbridge. "That would be natural to any girl of her age, except, perhaps," she added, "one like Dora Bannister. I believe she was in love when she was fifteen."

It seemed strange to Ralph that the mention of a thing of this sort, which must have happened three or four years ago, and to a lady whom he had known a very short time, should send a little pang of jealousy through his heart, but such was the fact.

There were picnic meals at Cobhurst that day; for La Fleur was not to arrive until the morrow, and they were all very jolly.

Mike was in a state of exuberant delight at the idea of having that good Mrs. Flower in the place of Molly Tooney. He worked until nearly twelve o'clock at night to scour and brighten the kitchen and its contents for her reception.

Into this region of bliss there descended, about the middle of the afternoon, a frowning apparition. It was that of Miss Panney, to whom Molly had gone that morning, informing her that she had been discharged without notice by that minx of a girl, who didn't know anything more about housekeeping than she did about blacksmithing, and wanted to put "a dirty, hathen nager" over the head of a first-class Christian cook.

When she heard this news, the old lady was amazed and indignant; and she soundly rated Molly for not coming to her instantly, before

she left her place. Had she known of the state of affairs, she was sure she could have pacified Miriam, and arranged for Molly to retain her place. It was very important for Miss Panney, though she did not say so, to have some one in the Cobhurst family who would keep her informed of what was happening there. If possible, Molly must go back; and anyway the old lady determined to go to Cobhurst and look into matters.

Miss Panney was glad to find Miriam alone on the front piazza, training some over-luxuriant vines upon the pillars; and the moment her eyes fell upon the girl, she saw that she was dressed as a woman, and not in the youthful costume in which she had last seen her. This strengthened the old lady's previous impression that Ralph's sister was rapidly becoming the real head of this house, and that it would be necessary to be very careful in her conduct toward her. It might be difficult, even impossible, to carry out her match-making plans if Miriam should rise up in opposition to them.

The old lady was very cordial, and entreated that Miriam should go on with her work, while she sat in an armchair near by. After a little ordinary chat, Miss Panney mentioned that she had heard that Molly Tooney had been discharged. Instantly Miriam's pride arose, and her manner cooled. Here again was somebody meddling with her affairs. In as few words as possible, she stated that the woman had not been discharged, but had left of her own accord without any good reason; that she did not like her, and was glad to get rid of her; that she had an excellent cook in view, and that until this person could come to her, she had engaged, temporarily, a very good woman.

All this she stated without question or remark from Miss Panney; and when she had finished, she began again to tie the vines to their wires. Miss Panney gazed very steadily through her spectacles at the resolute side face of the girl, and said only that she was very glad that Miriam had been able to make such a good arrangement. It was plain enough to her that Molly Tooney must be dropped, but in doing this, Miss Panney would not drop her plans. They would simply be changed to suit circumstances.

Had Miss Panney known who it was who was coming temporarily to the

Cobhurst kitchen, it is not likely that she could have glided so quietly

from the subject of household service to that of the apple prospect and

Miriam's success with hens, and from these to the Dranes.

"Do you expect to have them much longer with you?" she asked. "The work the doctor gave the young lady must be nearly finished. When that is done, I suppose she will go back to town to try to get something to do there."

"Oh, they have not thought of going," said Miriam; "the doctor's book is a very long one, and when I saw him yesterday, he told me that he had ever so much more work for her to do, and he is going to bring it out here before he goes to Barport. I should be very sorry indeed if Cicely had to leave here, and I don't think I should let her do it, work or no work. I like her better and better every day, and it is the greatest comfort and pleasure to have her here. It almost seems as if she were my sister, and Mrs. Drane is just as nice as she can be. She is so good and kind, and never meddles with anything."

Miss Panney listened with great attention. She now saw how she must change her plans. If Ralph were to marry Dora, Miriam must like Dora. As for his own liking, there would be no trouble about that, after the Drane girl should be got rid of. In regard to this riddance, Miss Panney had intended to make an early move and a decided one. Now she saw that this would not do. The Drane girl, that alien intruder, whom Dr. Tolbridge's treachery had thrust into this household, was the great obstacle to the old lady's schemes, but to oust her suddenly would ruin everything. Miriam would rise up in opposition, and at present that would be fatal. Miriam was not a girl whose grief and anger at the loss of one thing could be pacified by the promise of another. Having lost Cicely, she would turn her back upon Dora, and what would be worse, she would undoubtedly turn Ralph's back in that direction.

To this genial young man, his sister was still his chief object on earth.

Later, this might not be the case.

When Miriam began to like Dora,-and this must happen, for in Miss Panney's opinion the Bannister girl was in every way ten times more charming than Cicely Drane,-then, cautiously, but with quick vigor, Miss Panney would deliver the blow which would send the Dranes not only from Cobhurst, but back to their old home. In the capacity of an elderly and experienced woman who knew what everybody said and thought, and who was able to make her words go to the very spinal marrow of a sensitive person, she was sure she could do this. And when she had done it, it would cheer her to think that she had not only furthered her plans, but revenged herself on the treacherous doctor.

Now was heard from within, the voice of Cicely, who had come downstairs from her work, and who, not knowing that Miriam had a visitor, was calling to her that it was time to get dinner.

"My dear," said Miss Panney, "go in and attend to your duties, and if you will let me, I shall like ever so much to stay and take dinner with you, and you need not put yourself to the least trouble about me. You ought to have very simple meals now that you are doing your own work. I very much want to become better acquainted with your little friend Cicely and her good mother. Now that I know that you care so much for them, I feel greatly interested in them both, and you know, my dear, there is no way of becoming acquainted with people which is better than sitting at table with them."

Miriam was not altogether pleased, but said the proper things, and went to call Mike to take the roan mare, who was standing asleep between the shafts of her phaeton.

Miss Panney now had her cues; she did not offer to help in any way, and made no suggestions in any direction. At luncheon she made herself agreeable to everybody, and before the meal was over they all thought her a most delightful old lady with a wonderful stock of good stories. On her side Miss Panney was also greatly pleased; she found Ralph even a better fellow than she had thought him. He had not only a sunny temper, but a bright wit, and he knew what was being done in the world. Cicely, too, was satisfactory. She was a most attractive little thing, pretty to a dangerous extent, but in her treatment of Ralph there was not the least sign of flirtation or demureness. She was as free and familiar with him as if she had known him always.

"Men are not apt to marry the girls they have known always," said Miss Panney to herself, "and Dora can do better than this one if she has but the chance; and the chance she must have."

While listening with the most polite attention to a reminiscence related by Mrs. Drane, Miss Panney earnestly considered this subject. She had thought of many plans, some of them vague, but all of the same general character, for bringing Dora and Miriam together and promoting a sisterly affection between them, for her mind had been busy with the subject since Miriam had left her alone on the piazza, but none of the plans suited her. They were clumsy and involved too much action on the part of Dora. Suddenly a satisfying idea shot into the old lady's mind, and she smiled so pleasantly that Mrs. Drane was greatly encouraged, and entered into some details of her reminiscence which she had intended to omit, thinking they might prove tiresome.

"If they only could go away together, somewhere," said Miss Panney to herself, "that would be grand; that would settle everything. It would not be long before Dora and Miriam would be the dearest of chums, and with Ralph's sister away, that Drane girl would have to go. It would all be so natural, so plain, so beautiful."

When Miss Panney drove home, about the middle of the afternoon, she was still smiling complacently at this good idea, and wondering how she might carry it out.

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