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   Chapter 35 MISS PANNEY HAS TEETH ENOUGH LEFT TO BITE WITH

The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 11475

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


After her recent quick pull and strong pull, Miss Panney rested placidly on her oars. She knew that Miriam had gone, but she had not yet heard whether the Dranes had returned to their former lodging in Thorbury, or had left the neighborhood altogether. She presumed, however, that they were in the town; for the young woman's work for Dr. Tolbridge was probably not completed. She intended to call on Mrs. Brinkly and find out about this; and she also determined to drop in at Cobhurst, and see how poor Ralph was getting on by himself. But for these things there was no hurry.

But jogging into town one morning, she was amazed to meet Ralph and Mrs. Drane returning to Cobhurst in the gig. Both vehicles stopped, and Ralph immediately began to tell the old lady of Miriam's good fortune. He told, also, of his own good fortune in having Mrs. Drane and her daughter to run the house during Miriam's absence, and was in high good spirits and glad to talk.

Miss Panney listened with rigid attention; but when Ralph had finished, she asked Mrs. Drane if she had left her daughter alone at Cobhurst, while she and Mr. Haverley came to town.

"Oh, yes," answered the other lady; "Cicely is there, and hard at work; but she is not alone. You know our good La Fleur is with us, and will remain as long as the doctor and Mrs. Tolbridge are away."

When Miss Panney received this last bit of information, she gazed intently at Mrs. Drane and then at Ralph, after which she bade them good morning, and drove off.

"The old lady is not in such jolly good humor as when she lunched with us the other day," said Ralph.

"That is true," said Mrs. Drane; "but I have noticed that very elderly people are apt to be moody."

Twice in the course of a year Miss Panney allowed herself to swear, if there happened to be occasion for it. In her young days a lady of fashion would sometimes swear with great effect; and Miss Panney did not entirely give up any old fashion that she liked. Now, there being good reason for it, and no one in sight, she swore, and directed her abjurations against herself. Then her mind, somewhat relieved from the strain upon it, took in the humorous points of the situation, and she laughed outright.

"If the Dranes had hired some sharp-witted rogue to help them carry out their designs, he could not have done it better than I have done it. I have simply put the whole game into their hands; I have given them everything they want."

But before she reached Thorbury, she saw that the situation was not hopeless. There was one thing that might be done, and that successfully accomplished the game would be in her hands. Ralph must be made to go to Barport. A few days with Dora at the seaside, with some astute person there to manage the affair, would settle the fate of Mr. Ralph Haverley. At this thought her eyes sparkled, and she began to feel hungry. At this important moment she did not wish to occupy her mind with prattle and chat, and therefore departed from her usual custom of lunching with a friend or acquaintance. Hitching her roan mare in front of a confectionery shop, she entered for refreshment.

Seated at a little table in the back room, with a cup of tea and some sandwiches before her, Miss Panney took more time over her slight meal than any previous customer had ever occupied in disposing of a similar repast, at least so the girl at the counter believed and averred to the colored man who did outside errands. The girl thought that the old lady's deliberate method of eating proceeded from her want of teeth; but the man who had waited at dinners where Miss Panney was a guest contemptuously repudiated this assumption.

"I've seen her eat," said he, "and she's never behind nobody. She's got all the teeth she wants for bitin'."

"Then why doesn't she get through?" asked the girl. "When is she ever going to leave that table?"

"When she gits ready," answered the man; "that's the time Miss Panney does everything."

Sipping her tea and nibbling her sandwich, Miss Panney considered the situation. It would be, of course, a difficult thing to get that young man to visit his sister at Barport. It would cost money, and there would seem to be no good reason for his going. Of course no such influence could be brought to bear upon him at this end of the line. Whatever inducement was offered, must be offered from Barport. And there was no one there who could do it, at least with the proper effect. The girls would be glad to have him there, but nothing that either of them could, with propriety, be prompted to say, would draw him into such extravagant self-gratification. But if she were at Barport, she knew that she could send him such an invitation, or sound such a call to him, that he would be sure to come.

Accordingly Miss Panney determined to go to Barport without loss of time; and although she did hot know what sort of summons she should issue to Ralph after she got there, she did not in the least doubt that circumstances would indicate the right thing to do. In fact, she would arrange circumstances in such a way that they should so indicate.

Having arrived at this conclusion, Miss Panney finished eating her sandwich with an earnestness and rapidity which convinced the astonished girl at the counter that she had all the teeth she needed to bite with; and then she went forth to convince other people of the same thing. On the sidewalk she met Phoebe.

"How d'ye do, Miss Panney?" said that single-minded colored woman. "I hain't seen you for a long time."

Miss Panney returned the salutation, and stood for a moment in thought.

"Phoebe," said she, "when did you last see Mike?"

"Well, now, really, Miss Panney, I can't say, but it

's been a mighty long time. He don't come into town to see me, and I's too busy to go way out thar. I does the minister's wash now, besides boardin' him an' keepin' his clothes mended. An' then it's four or five miles out to that farm. I can't 'ford to hire no carriage, an' Mike ain't no right to expect me to walk that fur."

"Phoebe," said Miss Panney, "you are a lazy woman and an undutiful wife. It is not four miles to Cobhurst, and you walk two or three times that distance every day, gadding about town. You ought to go out there and attend to Mike's clothes, and see that he is comfortable, instead of giving up the little time you do work to that minister, and everybody knows that the reason you have taken him to board is that you want to set yourself up above the rest of the congregation."

"Good laws, Miss Panney!" exclaimed Phoebe, "I don't see as how anybody can think that!"

"Well, I do," replied the old lady, "and plenty of other people besides. But as you won't go out to Cobhurst to attend to your own duty, I want you to go there to attend to something for me. I was going myself, but I start for the seashore to-morrow, and have not time. I want to know how that poor Mr. Ralph is getting along. Molly Tooney has left, and his sister is away, and of course those two Drane women are temporary boarders and take no care of him or his clothes. To be sure, there is a woman there, but she is that English-French creature who gives all her time to fancy dishes, and I suppose never made a bed or washed a shirt in her life."

"That's so, Miss Panney," said Phoebe, eagerly, "an' I reckon it's a lot of slops he has to eat now. 'Tain't like the good wholesome meals I gave him when I cooked thar. An' as fur washin', if there's any of that done, I reckon Mike does it."

"I should not wonder," said the old lady. "And, Phoebe, I want you to go out there this afternoon, and look over Mr. Haverley's linen, and see what ought to be washed or mended, and take general notice of how things are going on. I shall see his sister, and I want to report the state of affairs at her home. For all I know, those Dranes and their cook may pack up and clear out to-morrow if the notion takes them. Then you must meet me at the station at nine o'clock to-morrow morning, and tell me what you find out. If things are going all wrong, Mr. Haverley will never write to his sister to disturb her mind. Start for Cobhurst as soon as you can, and I will pay your carriage hire-no, I will not do that, for I want you to make a good long stay, and it will cost too much to keep a hack waiting. You can walk just as well as not, and it will do you good. And while you are there, Phoebe, you might take notice of Miss Drane. If she has finished the work she was doing for the doctor, and is just sitting about idly or strolling around the place, it is likely they will soon leave, for if the young woman does not work they cannot afford to stay there. And that is a thing Miss Miriam ought to know all about."

"Seems to me, Miss Panney," said the colored woman, "that 'twould be a mighty good thing for Mr. Hav'ley to get married. An' thar's that Miss Drane right thar already."

"What stupid nonsense!" exclaimed Miss Panney. "I thought you had more sense than to imagine such a thing as that. She is not in any way suitable for him. She is a poor little thing who has to earn her own living, and her mother's too. She is not in the least fit to be the mistress of that place."

"Don't see whar he'll get a wife, then," said Phoebe. "He never goes nowhar, and never sees nobody, except p'r'aps Miss Dora Bannister; an' she's too high an' mighty for him."

"Phoebe, you are stupider than I thought you were. No lady is too high and mighty for Mr. Haverley. And if he should happen to fancy Miss Dora, it will be a capital match. What he needs is to marry a woman of position and means. But that is not my business, or yours either, and by the way, Phoebe, since you are here, I will get you to take a letter to the post-office for me. I will go back into this shop and write it. You can take these two cents and buy an envelope and a sheet of paper, and bring them in to me."

With this Miss Panney walked into the shop, and having asked the loan of pen and ink, horrified the girl at the counter by proceeding to the table she had left, which, in a corner favored by all customers, had just been prepared for the next comer, and, having pushed aside a knife and fork and plate, made herself ready to write her letter, which was to a friend in Barport, informing her that the writer intended making her a visit.

"I shall get there," she thought, "about as soon as it does, but it looks better to write."

Before the letter was finished, Phoebe was nearly as angry as the shop-girl; but at last, with exactly two cents with which to buy a stamp, she departed for the post-office.

"The stingy old thing!" she said to herself as she left the shop; "not a cent for myself, and makes me walk all the way out to that Cobhurst, too! I see what that old woman is up to. She's afraid he'll marry the young lady what's out thar, an' she wants him to marry Miss Dora, an' git a lot of the Bannister money to fix up his old house, an' then she expects to go out thar an' board with 'em, for I reckon she's gittin' mighty tired of the way them Wittons live. She's always patchin' up marriages so she can go an' live with the people when they first begins housekeepin', an' things is bran-new an' fresh. She did that with young Mr. Witton, but their furniture is gittin' pretty old an' worn out now. If she tries it with Mr. Hav'ley an' Dora Bannister, I reckon she'll make as big a botch of it as she did with Mike an' me."

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