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Miss Pennywell Goes Into Action

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 28, 2011

Miss Pennywell is a lady cast very much in the mold of Mrs. Benson. Right is might!

From the Relief Society Magazine, 1957 –

Miss Pennywell Goes Into Action

Frances P. Reid

Miss Pennywell put down the piece of toast that she was spreading with marmalade. Something was wrong. She pushed the bacon and eggs around on her plate and then peered out the window of the breakfast nook. Across the tidy green fields where bluebells and buttercups bloomed, across the arborvitae hedge and the cobblestone stile where the wild roses climbed, her eyes journeyed to the narrow track that wound in, around, and through the fields on its meandering way from Middleton to Central City.

Peremptorily she rang for Titus, her combination chauffeur and gardener. “Titus,” she rapped her hand sharply on the table, “Titus, what has happened to the Bluebell and Buttercup? It’s late. Never in my fifty years has the Bluebell and Buttercup been late before. I don’t like it, and I won’t have it.”

“Well, you see, Ma’am …”

“Speak up, man. Don’t mouth your words.” Miss Pennywell had little time or patience with indecision.

Titus cleared his throat and directed his words toward a point some two inches from the toe of his sturdy boot, “Ma’am, the Bluebell and Buttercup won’t run any more. They’ve ordered …”

“They? Who is they? Say what you mean, Titus.”

“The company, Ma’am, decided to do away with the B. and B., because … well, because there weren’t enough people riding the train, and …”

“Upstarts! Newfangled nonsense! Of course we need the B. and B. I need it!”

“But, Ma’am, the station wagon …” Titus looked toward the two-car garage where the 1947 station wagon and the 1953 black sedan were parked. “Ma’am, if you are wishing to go to Central City, I’ll bring the car around.” Titus moved toward the door, anxious to be away from his mistress’ displeasure.

“No, Titus,” Miss Pennywell stayed him, “not just yet. But stand by.”

She walked regally from the room and into her neat study, where the rows of dark-covered books with the heavy gold lettering were as impeccably arranged as her prim topknot of graying hair. Putting on her bifocals, Miss Pennywell rolled the stacking ladder to the shelves and climbed up. She ran her fingers carefully along the mellow bindings and pulled down an imposing, legal-appearing volume.

As she read, she sat straighter and straighter. Her mouth settled into a thin, fine line, and her foot tapped steadily. “Hmm-mm-mm. Uh-hm-mm-mm.”

She shut the book smartly, climbed back up, and replaced the volume. Then she marched straightway to her bedroom, put on her best black dress and hat, and rang for Titus.

Titus, bring the car around. I’m going to Central City – now!”

“Yes, Ma’am,” old Titus wiped his fingers on his coveralls to rid them of the dirt from weeding the petunias and hydrangeas.

“And, Titus, you put on your chauffeur’s livery. We’re going to be busy today. Yes, indeed, we are going to be very busy.”

There was a glint in Miss Pennywell’s eyes that meant she had something hatching. Titus knew that look: it was just the way she looked when she had decided to have the old carriage house wired for electricity and had pulled out all the old harness rigs that lined the walls. Something was really going to happen today. He couldn’t help feeling just a little excited. Life had been so quiet and easy lately.

All the way into the city Miss Pennywell sat erect in the back seat. Peeking at her through the rear-view mirror, Titus could see that she kept drawing herself up straighter and straighter, the nearer they came to town. Every now and then she’d say, “Uh-hm-mm-mm. Uh-hum!”

On the outskirts of the city Miss Pennywell tapped Titus on the shoulder and announced, “You’ll drive straight to the offices of the Great Western Trunk Lines.”

Miss Pennywell didn’t have much use for these new self-operating elevators, but she was in too much of a hurry to take the stairs, so, with a few backward looks, she swept into the little square and pushed the button for floor thirteen. As the car moved up, she caught her breath a little, and then settled back. People rode in these every day – she could, too.

When the door slid quietly ajar, she stepped out quickly – maybe more quickly than necessary. Miss Pennywell had read once about someone’s being caught in one of those doors and she certainly didn’t have any time to bother with getting herself out of a stuck elevator.

When the efficient receptionist in the smart anteroom asked her name, Miss Pennywell snapped, “Miss Constance Pennywell of Middleton. Though why that matters, I don’t know.”

“And your business, Ma’am?”

“Young woman,” Miss Pennywell’s brows rose higher, “I’ll tell that to Mr. Hargrove.”

The plum, red-faced man at the huge mahogany desk looked as if he had had a poor breakfast and an even poorer lunch. In a word, he was out of sorts. He noisily grated his chair against the desk and rapped hard with his knuckles on a paperweight made of petrified wood.

“Now, Miss Pennywell, I’m pretty busy today, so if you’ll just state your business quickly, and I can get on to …”

Miss Pennywell stopped him short. “What I have to say won’t take long, but it will take some doing, busy or not as you may be. I’m here to know why you so unlawfully, unkindly, unfairly, and unpatriotically discontinued the Bluebell and Buttercup?”

“The Bluebell and Buttercup? I don’t seem to place that name just now. You may have the wrong office. I’ll ring for someone to show you …”

“No, you won’t. I will be heard. The Bluebell and Buttercup is one of your trains, as you very well do know, and for all the years of my life it has run regularly on the line from Middleton to Central City. Today, it didn’t run. I want it re-established and permanently, Mr. Hargrove. At once!”

“Oh, you mean that little jerkwater train that wanders through a bunch of little villages. Why, we can’t afford to run a train for just two or three people. We’ve got to make a living. We’ve got to show a profit. We’ve got to be progressive.” Mr. Hargrove’s already ample chest swelled and strained at the restraining buttons.

“Have you quite finished?” Miss Pennywell asked. Then she took from her large black carryall a leather volume with gold printed letters on the outside. “Section four, paragraph seven, line twenty-two, ‘The aforesaid company shall be required by act of law to run a daily schedule on the branch line known as the North Spur – in other words, the Bluebell and Buttercup.’ Hah! Now, what do you say to that, Mr. Hargrove?”

Mr. Hargrove spluttered; he turned beet-red in the face; he cleared his throat fearsomely; then he just sank a little lower in his big overstuffed chair. “Why, I’m sure there must be … Well, I never. Come in here and tell me how to run my railroad. I’ll not have it … I’ll … I’ll …”

“Mr. Hargrove, you’ll just obey the law like everyone else has to do. I want the Bluebell and Buttercup running tomorrow, and I’m going to be on it.”

With that, Miss Pennywell swept out. This time she forgot all about the stairway and, without even thinking of falling elevators, she pushed the ground floor button.

The parking meter still showed half of the hour limit as she marched away from the modernistic facade. “Titus,” Miss Pennywell announced, “we’re going calling on everyone who ever has and does ride the B. and B.”

“Well, let’s see, there is Mrs. Griggs, the cabbage woman; Mr. Dunker, the butcher; the Grimes children; the Piggots; then there are all the farmers around Lewes, and the housewives in most of the towns in between who ride the train when they go to the city for shopping trips.”

“Fine, fine. Just drive to each one, Titus. We’ve a message for them. Won’t take me long to say it, but I’m sure they’ll want to hear what I have to say.”

When Mrs. Griggs stuck her head up from the rows of cabbage she was thinning and lifted the big head of leafy vegetable to her apron, Miss Pennywell unbent a little. “Nice vegetables, Mrs. Griggs. You’ll want to market them, I suppose?”

“Yes, Ma’am, but I don’t know as I can now, with the B. and B. stopped.”

“Yes, you can, Mrs. Griggs. You be at the station tomorrow. Mind what I say! Eight o’clock sharp.”

Mrs. Griggs was still standing there with her mouth open, when Miss Pennywell pulled her head back into the car and ordered Titus to drive on.

At the butcher shop she was even more direct. “Mr. Dunker, you need to do any business in town?”

“Well, now, as a matter of fact, I do, but with the B. and B. not running, I’ll just have to write a letter, I suppose.”

“Oh, now, Mr. Dunker. You just march yourself down to that station tomorrow. Eight sharp!”

And so it went, until Titus began to feel as if he had callouses on his hands from opening the car door and rapping on house doors. Miss Pennywell sure was acting strange; she must be getting a little too old to be running around.

At a few minutes before eight o’clock the next morning, Miss Pennywell closed her front door, stood for a minute on the top step, and then tilted her head. Far off came a faint whistle, and then louder, louder. And a clacking noise that ran faster and faster. Through the meadows and farms on either side of the tracks the little, half-century-old, coal-burning engine and the two wooden coaches puffed into sight. From every window heads protruded and most of the passengers were laughing and calling to one another.

As the train stopped at the crossing for Miss Pennywell, old Mr. Lancers, the conductor, wagged his head and grinned broadly. “I just don’t understand it, Miss Pennywell, Ma’am. Used to be the passengers just sat, never speaking to each other; just frowning or reading their Morning Express.”

Miss Pennywell mounted the steps and swept into the car. Over her shoulders she called to Conductor Lancers, “We oughtn’t to look at the B. and B. as a small line. It’s the principle of the thing. We’ve got a train and we’re going to keep it. Mr. Lancers, if we want something, we have to show how we feel.”

Seating herself with the nearest approach to a flourish, Miss Pennywell folded her hands in the snow-white gloves and, with the bare suggestion of nod, she ordered, “You can start the train now, Mr. Lancers. We’re ready.”



2 Comments »

  1. Uh-hm-mm-mm. Uh-hum!

    Comment by Mina — September 28, 2011 @ 4:31 pm

  2. It is really sad how many mass-transit lines were lost around the 1950s. I’d much rather take a train than drive, and I do so at every opportunity.

    Comment by HokieKate — September 28, 2011 @ 4:50 pm

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