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   Chapter 41 PANNEYOPATHY AND THE ASH-HOLE

The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 14019

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Neither Ralph nor his sister nor either of the Drane ladies had the least reason to believe that Dora minded the news contained in Miriam's note, except that it had given her a heartfelt delight and joy, and that it had made her unable to wait a single moment longer than was necessary to come and tell them all how earnestly she congratulated them, and what a capital good thing she thought it was. She caught Ralph by himself and spoke to him so much like a sympathetic sister that he was a little, just the least little bit in the world, pained.

As Cicely had never had any objection to Miss Bannister, excepting her frequent appearances in Ralph's conversation, she received Dora's felicitations with the same cordiality that she saw in her lovely eyes and on her lips. And Mrs. Drane thought that if this girl were a sample of the Haverleys' friends and neighbors, her daughter's lot would be even more pleasant than she had supposed it would be. As for Miriam, she and Dora walked together, their arms around each other's waists, up and down in the garden, and back and forward in the orchard, until the Bannister coachman went to sleep on his box.

During this long interview, the younger girl became impressed, not only with the fact that Dora thought so well of the match, that, if she had been looking for a wife for Ralph, she certainly would have selected Miss Drane, but with the stability of Miss Bannister's affection for her, which did not seem to be affected in the least by the changes which would take place in the composition of the Cobhurst household. Dora had said, indeed, that she had no doubt that she and Miriam would be more intimate than ever, because Mr. Haverley would be so monopolized by his wife.

This was all very pleasant to Miriam, but it did not in the least cause her to regret Ralph's choice. Dora was a lovely girl, but it was now plainer than ever that she was also a very superior one, whereas Cicely was just like other people and did not pretend to be anything more, and, moreover, she would not have wished her brother to marry anyone whose idea of matrimony was the monopoly of her husband, and she knew that Cicely had no such idea. But Dora was the dearest of good friends, Miriam was very sure of that.

The Bannister carriage had scarcely left the Cobhurst gates when the dog, Congo, came bounding after it. Dora looked at him as his great brown eyes were turned up towards her, and his tail was wagging with the joy of following her once more, she knew that his training was so good that she had only to tell him to go back and he would obey her, sorrowfully, with his tail hanging down. He was Ralph's dog now, and she ought to send him back, but would she? She looked at him for a few moments, considering the question, and then she said,-

"Come, Congo" and with a bound he was in the carriage and at her feet. "You were not an out and out gift, poor fellow," she said, stroking his head. "I expected you to be partly my dog, all the same, and now we will see if she will let him claim you."

The dog heard all this, but Dora spoke so low, the coachman could not hear it, and she did not intend that any one else should know it unless the dog told.

Ralph did not miss Congo until the next morning, and then, having become convinced that the dog must have followed the Bannister carriage, he expressed, in the presence of Cicely, his uncertainty as to whether it would be better for him to go after the dog himself, or to send Mike.

"If I were you," said Miss Cicely, "I would not send for him at all. If Miss Bannister really wants to get rid of him, and does not know anybody else who would take him, she may send him back herself. But it seems to me that a setter is not the best sort of a dog for a farm like this. I should think you ought to have a big mastiff, or something of that sort."

"It is a great pity," said Ralph, musingly, "that he happened to be unchained."

"The more I think about it," said Cicely, "the less I like setters. They are so intimately connected with the death of the beautiful. Did you ever think of that?"

Ralph never had, and as a man now came up to talk to him about hay, the dog and everything connected with it passed out of his mind.

When Miss Panney reached home after her abrupt parting from Dora Bannister, she took a dose of the last medicine that Dr. Tolbridge had prescribed for her. It was against her rules to use internal medicines, but she made exceptions on important occasions, and as this was a remedy for the effects of anger, she had taken it before and she took it now. Then she went to bed and there she stayed until three o'clock the next afternoon. This greatly disturbed the Wittons, for they had always believed that this hearty old lady would not be carried off by any disease, but when her time had come would simply take to her bed and die there, after the manner of elderly animals.

About the middle of the afternoon Mrs. Witton came up into her room. She did not do this often, for the old lady had always made everybody in the house understand that this room was her castle, and when any one was wanted there, he or she would be summoned.

"You must be feeling very badly," said the meek and anxious Mrs. Witton "don't you think it would be better to send for a doctor?"

"There is no doctor," said Miss Panney, shortly.

"Oh yes," said the other, "there are several excellent doctors in Thorbury, and Dr. Parker takes all of Dr. Tolbridge's practice while he is away."

"Stuff!" remarked Miss Panney. "I spanked Dr. Parker, when he wore little frocks, for running his tin wheelbarrow against me so that I nearly fell over it."

"But he has learned a great deal since then," pleaded Mrs. Witton "and if you do not want any new doctors, isn't there something I can do for you? If you will tell me how you feel, it may be that some sort of herb tea-or a mustard plaster-"

"Gammon and spinach!" cried Miss Panney, throwing off the bedclothes as if she were about to spring into the middle of the floor. "I want no teas nor plasters. I have had as much sleep as I care for, and now I am going to get up. So trot downstairs, if you please, and tell Margaret to bring me up some hot water."

For an hour or two before supper time, Miss Panney occupied herself in clearing out her medicine closet. Every bottle, jar, vial, box, or package it contained was placed upon a large table and divided into two collections. One consisted of the lotions and medicines prescribed for her by Dr. Tolbridge, and the other of those she herself, in the course of many years, had ordered or compounded,-not only for her own use, but for that of others. She had long prided herself on her skill in this sort of thing, and was always willing to prepare almost any sort of medicine for ailing people, asking nothing in payment but the pleasure of seeing them take it.

When everything had been examined and placed on its appropriate end of the table, Miss Panney cal

led for an empty coalscuttle, into which she tumbled, without regard to spilling or breakage, the whole mass of medicaments which had been prepared or prescribed by herself, and she then requested the servant to deposit the contents of the scuttle in the ash-hole.

"After this," she said to herself, "I will get somebody else to do my concocting," and she carefully replaced her physician's medicines on the shelves.

It was three days later when Miss Panney was told that Dr. Tolbridge was in the parlor and wished to see her.

"Well," said the old lady, as she entered the parlor, "I supposed that after your last call here, you would not come again."

"Oh, bless my soul!" said the doctor, "I haven't any time to consider what has happened, I must give my whole attention to what is happening or may happen. How are you? and how have you been during my absence?"

"Oh, I had medicines enough" said she, "if I had needed them, but

I didn't."

"Well, I wanted to see for myself, and, besides, I was obliged to come," said the doctor; "I want to know what has happened since we left. We got home late last night, and I have not seen anybody who knows anything."

"And so," said the old lady, "you will swallow an insult in order to gratify your curiosity."

"Insult, indeed!" said he. "I have a regular rule about insults. When anybody under thirty insults me, I give her a piece of my mind if she is a woman, and a taste of my horsewhip if he is a man. But between thirty and fifty, I am very careful about my resentments, because people are then very likely to be cracked or damaged in some way or other, either in body or mind, and unless I am very cautious, I may do more injury than I intend. But toward folks over fifty, especially when they are old friends, I have no resentments at all. I simply button up my coat and turn up my collar, and let the storm pelt; and when it is fine weather again, I generally find that I have forgotten that it ever rained."

"And when a person is in the neighborhood of seventy-five, I suppose you thank her kindly for a good slap in the face."

The doctor laughed heartily.

"Precisely," said he. "And now tell me what has happened. You are all right, I see. How are the Cobhurst people getting on?"

"Oh, well enough," said Miss Panney. "The young man and that Cicely Drane of yours have agreed to marry each other, and I suppose the old lady will live with them, and Miriam will have to get down from her high horse and agree to play second fiddle, or go to school again. She is too young for anything else."

The doctor stared. "You amaze me!" he cried.

"Oh, you needn't be amazed," said Miss Panney; "I did it!"

"You?" said the doctor, "I thought you wanted him to marry Dora."

"If you thought that," said Miss Panney, flashing her black eyes upon him, "why did you lend yourself to such an underhanded piece of business as the sending of that Drane girl there?"

"Oh, bless my soul!" exclaimed the doctor, "I did not lend myself to anything. I did not send her there to be married. Let us drop that, and tell me how you came to change your mind."

"I have a rule about dropping things," said the old lady, "and with people of vigorous intellect, I never do it, but when any one is getting on in years and a little soft-minded, so that he does what he is told to do without being able to see the consequences of it, I pity him and drop the subject which worries his conscience. I have not changed my mind in the least. I still think that Dora would be the best wife young Haverley could have, and after I found that you had added to your treacheries or stupidities, or whatever they were, by carrying her off to Barport, I intended to take advantage of the situation, so I got Dora to invite Miriam there, feeling sure that the Drane women would have sense enough to know that they then ought to leave Cobhurst; but they had not sense enough, and they stayed there. Then I saw that the situation was critical, and went to Barport myself, and sent the young man a telegram that would have aroused the heart of a feather-bed and made it be with me in three hours, but it did not rouse him and he did not come; and before that silly Mrs. Bannister got back with the two girls, the mischief was done, and that little Drane had taken advantage of the opportunity I had given her to trap Mr. Ralph. Oh, she is a sharp one! and with you and me to help her, she could do almost anything. You take off her rival, and I send away the interfering sister; and all she has to do is to snap up the young man, while her mother and that illustrious cook of yours stand by and clap their hands. But I do not give you much credit. You are merely an inconsiderate blunderer, to say no more. You did not plan anything; I did that, and when my plans don't work one way, they do in another. This one was like a boomerang that did not hit what it was aimed at, but came banging and clattering back all the same. And now I will remark that I have given up that sort of thing. I can throw as well as ever, but I am too old to stand the back-cracks."

"You are not too old for anything," said the doctor, "and you and I will do a lot of planning yet. But tell me one thing; do you think that this Haverley-Drane combination is going to deprive me of La Fleur?"

"Upon my word!" cried the old lady, springing to her feet, "never did I see a man so steeped in selfishness. Not a word of sympathy for me! In all this unfortunate affair, you think of nothing but the danger of losing your cook! Well, I am happy to say you are going to lose her. That will be your punishment, and well you deserve it. She will no more think of staying with you, after the Dranes set up housekeeping at Cobhurst, than I would think of coming to cook for you. And so you may go back to your soggy bread, and your greasy fries, and your dishwater coffee, and get yellow and green in the face, thin in the legs, and weak in the stomach, and have good reason to say to yourself that if you had let Miss Panney alone, and let her work out that excellent plan she had confided to you, you would have lived to a healthy old age, with the best cook in this part of the country making you happy three times a day, and satisfied with the world between meals."

"Deal gently with the erring," said the doctor. "Don't crush me. I want to go to Cobhurst this morning, to see them all, and find out my fate. Wouldn't you like to go with me? I have a visit to make, two or three miles above here, but I shall be back soon, and will drive you over. What do you say?"

"Very good," said Miss Panney. "I have been thinking of calling on the happy family."

As soon as the doctor had departed Miss Panney ordered her phaeton.

"I intended going to Cobhurst to-day," she said to herself, "but I do not propose to go with him. I shall get there first and see how the land lies, before he comes to muddle up things with his sordid anxieties about his future victuals and drink."

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