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   Chapter 42 AN INTERVIEWER

The Girl at Cobhurst By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 10458

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The roan mare travelled well that morning, and Miss Panney was at Cobhurst before the doctor reached his patient's house. To her regret she found that Mrs. Drane and Miriam had driven to Thorbury. Miss Drane was upstairs at her work, and Mr. Haverley was somewhere on the place, but could easily be found. All this she learned from Mike, whom she saw outside.

"And where is the cook?"

"She's in the kitchen," said Mike.

"A good place for her," replied the old lady; "let her stay there. I will see Mr. Haverley, and I will see him out here. Go and find him and tell him I am sitting under that tree."

Ralph arrived, bright-eyed.

"Well, sir," cried the old lady, "and so you have decided to take a wife to yourself, eh?"

"Indeed I have," said he, with the air of one who had conquered a continent, and giving Miss Panney's outstretched hand a hearty shake.

"Sit down here," said she, "and tell me all about it. I suppose your soul is hungering for congratulations."

"Oh yes," he said, laughing; "they are the collateral delights which are next best to the main happiness."

"Now," said Miss Panney, "I suppose you feel quite certain that Miss Drane is a young woman who will suit your temperament and your general intellectual needs?"

"Indeed I do," cried Ralph. "She suits me in every possible way."

"And you have thoroughly investigated her character, and know that she has the well-balanced mind which will be very much wanted here, and that she has cut off and swept away all remnants of former attachments to other young men?"

Ralph twisted himself around impatiently.

"One moment," said Miss Panney, raising her hand. "And you are quite positive that she would have been willing to marry you if you had not owned this big farm; and that if you had had a dozen other girls to choose from, you still would have chosen her; and that you really think such a small person will appear well by the side of a tall fellow like you; and you are entirely convinced that you will never look around on other men's wives and wish that your wife was more like this one or that one; and that-"

"Miss Panney!" cried Ralph, "do you suppose there was ever a man in the world who thought about all those things when he really loved a woman?"

"No," said she, "I do not suppose there ever was one, and it was in the hope that such a one had at last appeared on earth that I put my questions to you."

"Well, I can answer them all in a bunch," said he; "she is exactly the wife I want, and nobody in the world would suit me as well. And if there is any one who does not think so-"

"Stop!" exclaimed Miss Panney; "your face is getting red. Never jump over a wall when there is a bottomless ditch on the other side. You might miss the ditch, but it is not likely. You are in love, and when people are that way, the straight back of a saw is parallel to every line of its teeth. Don't quarrel, and I will go on with my congratulations."

"Very queer ones they are so far, I am sure," replied Ralph, his face still flushed a little.

"Oh yes," said Miss Panney, rising, "there are a lot of queer things in this world, and I may be one of them. Now I will go and see your young lady. I do not know her very well yet, and I must make her better acquaintance."

"Miss Panney," said Ralph, quickly, "if you are going to stir her up with questions such as you put to me, I beg you will not see her."

"Boy, boy," said the old lady, "don't bubble and boil. I have a great regard for you, and care a great deal more for you than I do for her, and it is only people that I care a great deal for that I stir up. Go back to your grindstone, or whatever you were at work at, and do not worry your mind about your little Cicely. It may be that I shall like her enough to wish that I had made the match."

When Cicely accidentally met Ralph in the garden, a few hours later, she said to him that she could not have imagined that Miss Panney was such a dear old lady.

"Why, Ralph," said the girl, looking up at him with moistened eyes, "she talked to me so sweetly and gave me such good advice that I actually cried. And never before, dear Ralph, did good advice make me feel so happy that I had to cry."

And at this point the two wood doves, who had become regular detectives, actually pecked at each other in their despair of emulation.

Miss Panney's interview with Cicely had not been very long, because the old lady was anxious to see La Fleur before the doctor got there, and she went down into the kitchen, where, although she did not know it, the cook was expecting her. La Fleur's soul was in a state of turbulent triumph, but her expression was as soft as a dish of jelly.

Miss Panney sat down on the chair offered her, while the cook remained standing.

"I came down to ask you," said the old lady, "if you have heard whether Dr. Tolbridge and his wife have returned. I suppose you will be going back to them immediately."

"Oh no," said La Fleur, her eyes humbly directed toward the floor as she spoke, "at least not for a permanency. I shall get the doctor a good cook. I shall make it my business to see that she is a person fully capable of filling the position. I have my eye

s on such a one. As for me, I shall stay here with my dear Miss Cicely."

"Good heavens, woman!" exclaimed Miss Panney, "your Miss Cicely isn't head of this house. What do you mean by talking in that way? Miss Haverley is mistress of this establishment. Haven't you sense enough to know that you are in her service, and that Miss Drane and her mother are merely boarders?"

Not a quiver or a shake was seen on the surface of the gentle jelly.

"Oh, of course," said La Fleur, with her head on one side, and her smile at its angle of humility, "I meant that I would come to her when she is settled here as Mrs. Haverley, and her dear mother is living with her, and when Miss Miriam has gone to finish her education at whatever seminary is decided on. Then this house will seem like my true home, and begging your pardon, madam, you cannot imagine how happy I am going to be."

"You!" exclaimed Miss Panney. "What earthly difference does it make to anybody whether you are happy or not?"

The jelly seemed to grow softer and more transparent.

"I am only a cook," said La Fleur, "but I can be as happy as persons of the highest quality, and I understand their natures very well, having lived with them. And words cannot tell you, madam, how it gladdens my old heart to think that I had so much to do myself with the good fortunes of us all, for the Dranes and me are a happy family now, and I hope may long be so, and hold together. I am sure I did everything that my humble mind could conceive, to give those two every chance of being together, and to keep other people away by discussing household matters whenever needed; for I had made up my mind that Miss Cicely and Mr. Haverley were born for each other, and if I could help them get each other, I would do it. When your telegram came, madam, it disturbed me, for I saw that it might spoil everything, by taking him away just at the time when they had nobody but each other for company, and when he was beginning to forget that he had ever been engaged to Miss Bannister, as you told me he was, madam, though I think you must have been a little mistaken, as we are all apt to be through thinking that things are as we want them to be. But I couldn't help feeling thankful that nobody but me was home when the telegram was brought without any envelope on it, and I had no chance to give it to him until it was too late to take a train that night; for the trouble the poor gentleman was in on account of his sister, being sure, of course, that something had happened to her, put him into such a doleful way that Miss Cicely gave herself up, heart and soul, to comfort him. And when a beautiful young woman does that for a young man, their hearts are sure to run together, like two eggs broken into one bowl. Now that's exactly what theirs did that night, for being so anxious about them I watched them and kept Mrs. Drane away. The very next morning when I asked her to go into the garden and pick some lettuce, and then told him where she was, he offered himself and was accepted. So you see, madam, that without boasting, or exalting myself above others, I may really claim that I made this match that I set my heart on. Although, to be sure-for I don't take away rightful credit from anybody-some of the credit is yours for having softened up their hearts with your telegram, just at the very moment when that sort of softening could be of the most use."

Miss Panney sat up very cold and severe.

"La Fleur," said she, "I thought you were a cook who prided herself on attending to her business. Since I have been sitting here, listening to your twaddle, the cat has been making herself comfortable in that pan of bread dough that you set by the fire to rise."

La Fleur turned around; her impulse was to seize a poker and rush at the cat. But she stood where she was and infused more benignity into her smile.

"Poor thing," said she, "she doesn't do any harm. There's a thick towel over the pan, and I should be ashamed of my yeast if it couldn't lift a cat."

When Miss Panney went upstairs she laughed. She did not want to laugh, but she could not help it. She had scarcely driven out of the gate when she met Dr. Tolbridge.

"A pretty trick you have played me!" he cried.

"Yes, indeed, a very pretty one," replied the old lady, pulling up her mare. "I thought you knew me better than to think that I would come here to look into this engagement business with you or anybody else. Or that I would let you get ahead of me, either. Well, I have got all the points I want, and more too, and now you can go along, and Mr. Ralph will tell you that he is the happiest man in the world, and your secretary will tell you that she is the happiest young woman, and the cook you are going to lose will vow that she is the happiest old woman, and if you stay until Mrs. Drane and Miriam come back, the one will tell you that she is the happiest middle-aged woman, and the other that she is the happiest girl, and if you give Mike a half dollar, he will tell you that he is the happiest negro in the world. Click!"

The doctor went on to Cobhurst, where Mrs. Drane and Miriam soon arrived, and he heard everything that Miss Panney told him he would hear.

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