Frank Richard Stockton.

The novels and stories of Frank R. Stockton . (Volume 1) online

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Copyright, 1886, 1899, by



IT is quite natural that an author with a family of
grown-up books should be glad to see them gathered
together in reunion, not for some anniversary or
holiday occasion, but to live together permanently, to
sit about one long table, or, to speak practically, to
stand upon one long shelf.

Some of these books have been more prosperous
than their brothers and sisters ; some have appeared
before the public in various shapes and sizes, and even
in different languages j some have worn rich attire,
with various changes of costume, while others have
not yet gone so largely into society, nor known all the
pleasures of a varied toilet. But here, in this edition,
as they stan^^side by side, each one, judged by its out
ward appearance, is just as good as any of the others.
Even chronological precedence has been set aside, for
"The Late Mrs. Null," which is not the oldest book,
takes her place at the head of the line.

I have always been very much at home with my
books ; I have lived in most of the scenes they repre
sent, and in a general way I know what my characters
look like. The reason of this is that when I make my
people say things and do things, I like to see them as
they speak and act. Their images must be before me,


and the more real they are the better. Therefore, it
often happens that after I have planned a character I
look about for an outward semblance with which I can
clothe his fictitious existence ; then, whenever that man
appears in the story I know the fashion in which his
clothes are cut and the manner in which he wears his
hat. But, although I like to draw from models from
life, these models generally sit only for countenance
and clothes, and have nothing to do with the moral
bias and intellectual activity of the heroes and hero
ines I construct.

If I had never seen Mrs. Leeks and Mrs. Aleshine I
do not believe I could have given literary life to those
dear old ladies. But if they were now here with us and
should read about their adventures, I think they might
be interested, but I am sure they would never imagine
that they had anything to do with the story. If the
original of Pomona should be told that she appeared
in one of my stories, I know she would be greatly
pleased, and that she would immediately set her fancy
to work to array her in costly and well-fitting robes ;
to put upon her head a hat with waving plumes or
clusters of richly colored flowers ; to squeeze her feet
into a pair of new shoes two sizes too small for her ;
and then, with a fan in one hand and a bouquet in the
other, would proudly take her place as the most beau
tiful and high-born lady in all the pages of all my
books. As for any association between herself and a
girl on a canal-boat, she would not think of such a
thing, even if she were willing to occupy her time in
reading about the performances of the low-born and
homespun people who play their parts in "Rudder



What jolly old sea-captain on Cape Cod could pos
sibly object if I took his grizzly visage, his sturdy
figure and sea-stained clothes, and gave them to an
other sailor, with a different name, and who had never
in his life been south of Nova Scotia? Even if the
venerable tar should know which he never would
that in any way he had been used as a model, he
would understand, if he were a reasonable mariner,
that it would be impossible for me to make a sailor in
a seaman-like fashion if I, myself, did not see a sailor
as I wrote.

So, having really seen almost all my people, I am
delighted to meet them again, and I would recognize
nearly all of them by their personal appearance, even
if I did not know their names. This is an advantage
I possess over my readers, for my descriptions of my
men and women can never be so good as those mental
pictures of them which only I can see.

But, after all, my satisfaction with this family gath
ering of novels and stories is not the main point to be
considered ; it is the reading public whose opinions
are of real value. If /aTair proportion of those good
people who have read the stories shall wish to read
them again, and if a fair proportion of that im
mense multitude who have never read them at all
shall be willing to take this new edition into their
families and to give it welcome and shelf-room, then
shall the author be most happy to know that, through
his characters, he is meeting again old friends and mak
ing new ones.

About the time these volumes were beginning to
form themselves into a company, to march together
toward whatever measure of success shall lie before



them, I made for myself a new home in the beautiful
valley of the Shenandoah. So, as the new manner of
life of the books and the new manner of life of their
author began together, it was determined to call this
uniform series the "Shenandoah Edition;" and al
though it may not flow as steadily and as rapidly into
the channels of trade and into the good opinion of its
readers as its beautiful namesake rushes onward,
regardless of rocks or shoals, to throw itself into the
arms of the young Potomac, the river will always
present a most excellent example to the books.



September 1, 1899.





r I THERE was a wide entrance-gate to the old family
JL mansion of Midbranch, but it was never opened
to admit the family or visitors j although occasionally
a load of wood, drawn by two horses and two mules,
came between its tall chestnut posts, and was taken by
a roundabout way among the l fcrees to a spot at the back
of the house, where the chips of several generations
of sturdy wood-choppers had formed a ligneous soil
deeper than the arable surface of any portion of the
nine hundred and fifty acres which formed the farm
of Midbranch. This seldom-opened gate was in a
corner of the lawn, and the driving of carriages, or
the riding of horses through it to the porch at the
front of the house would have been the ruin of the
short, thick grass which had covered that lawn, it was
generally believed, ever since Virginia became a State.
But there had to be some way for people who came
in carriages or on horseback to get into the house, and
therefore the fence at the bottom of the lawn, at a
point directly in front of the porch, was crossed by a
set of broad wooden steps, five outside and five inside,
with a platform at the top. These stairs were wide



enough to accommodate eight people abreast ; so that
if a large carriage-load of visitors arrived, none of them
need delay in crossing the fence. At the outside of the
steps ran the narrow road which entered the planta
tion a quarter of a mile away, and passed around the
lawn and the garden to the barns and stables at the

On the other side of the road, undivided from it by
hedge or fence, stretched, like a sea gently moved by a
ground-swell, a vast field, sometimes planted in tobacco,
and sometimes in wheat. In the midst of this field
stood a tall persimmon-tree which yearly dropped its
half-candied fruit upon the first light snow of the
winter. It is true that persimmons, quite fit to eat,
were to be found on this tree at an earlier period than
this, but such fruit was never noticed by the people in
those parts, who would not rudely wrench from Jack
Frost his one little claim to rivalry with the sun as a
fruit-ripener. To the right of the field was a wide
extent of pasture -land, running down to a small stream,
or " branch," which, flowing between two other streams
of the same kind a mile or two on either side of it, had
given its name to the place. In front, to the left, lay a
great forest of chestnut, oak, sassafras, and sweet-gum,
with here and there a clump of tall pines, standing up
straight and stiff with an air of Puritanic condemnation
of the changing fashions of the foliage about them.

On one side of the platform of the broad stile, which
has been mentioned, sat, one summer afternoon, the
lady of the house. She was a young woman, and al
though her face was a good deal shadowed by her far-
spreading hat, it was easy to perceive that she was
a handsome one. She was the 'niece of Mr. Eobert


Brandon, the elderly bachelor who owned Midbranch,
and her mother, long since dead, had called her Ro
berta, which was as near as she could come to the name
of her only brother.

Miss Roberta's father was a man whose mind and
time were entirely given up to railroads ; and although
he nominally lived in New York, he was, for the
greater part of the year, engaged in endeavors to for
ward his interests somewhere west of the Mississippi.
Two or three months of the winter were generally
spent in his city home. At these times he had his
daughter with him, but the rest of the year she lived
with her uncle, whose household she directed with
much good will and judgment. The old gentleman
did not keep her all the summer at Midbranch. He
knew what was necessary for a young lady who had
been educated in Germany and Switzerland, and who
had afterwards made a very favorable impression in
Paris and London ; and so, during the hot weather, he
took her with him to one of the fashionable Southern
resorts, where they always stayed exactly six weeks.

The gentleman who was sitting on the other side of
the platform, with his face turned towards her, had
known Miss Roberta for a year or more, having met
her at the North, and also in the Virginia mountains ;
and being now on a visit to the Green Sulphur Springs,
about four miles from Midbranch, he rode over to see
her nearly every day. There was nothing surprising
in this, because the Green Sulphur, once a much-
frequented resort, had seen great changes, and now,
although the end of the regular season had not ar
rived, it had Mr. Lawrence Croft for its only guest.
There was a spacious hotel there ; there was a village



of cottages of varying sizes j there were buildings for
servants and managers ; there was a tenpin-alley and
a quoit-ground ; there were arbors and swings ; and a
square hole in a stone slab, through which a little pool
of greenish water could be seen, with a tin cup, some
what rusty, lying by it. But all was quiet and de
serted, except one cottage, in which the man lived who
had charge of the place, and where Mr. Croft boarded.
It was very pleasant for him to ride over to Midbranch
and take a walk with Miss Roberta ; and this was what
they had been doing to-day.

Horseback rides had been suggested, but Mr. Bran
don objected to these. He knew Mr. Croft to be a
young man of good family and very comfortable for
tune, and he liked him very much when he had him
there to dinner, but he did not wish his niece to go
galloping around the country with him. To quiet
walks in the woods, and through the meadows, he
could, of course, have no objection. A good many of
Mr. Brandon's principles, like certain of his books,
were kept upon a top shelf, but Miss Roberta always
liked to humor the few which the old gentleman was
wont to have within easy reach.

This afternoon they had rambled through the woods,
where the hard, smooth road wound picturesquely
through the places in which it had been easiest to
make a road, and where the great trunks of the trees
were partly covered by clinging vines, which Miss
Roberta knew to be either Virginia creeper or
poison-oak, although she did not remember which
of these had clusters of five leaves, and which of

The horse on which Mr. Croft had ridden over from


the Springs was tied to a fence near by, and he now
seemed to indicate by his restless movements that it
was quite time for the gentleman to go home ; but with
this opinion Mr. Croft decidedly differed. He had had
a long walk with the lady, and plenty of opportunities
to say anything that he might choose, but still there
was something very important which had not been said,
and which Mr. Croft very much wished to say before
he left Miss Roberta that afternoon. His only reason
for hesitation was the fact that he did not know what
he wished to say.

He was a man who always kept a lookout on the
bows of his daily action ; in storm or in calm, in fog or
in bright sunshine, that lookout must be at his post ;
and upon his reports it depended whether Mr. Croft
set more sail, put on more steam, reversed his engine,
or anchored his vessel. A report from this lookout
was what he hoped to elicit by the remark which he
wished to make. He desired greatly to know whether
Miss Roberta March looked upon him in the light of a
lover, or in that of an intimate acquaintance, whose
present intimacy depended a good deal upon the
propinquity of Midbranch and the Green Sulphur
Springs. He had endeavored to produce upon her
mind the latter impression. If he ever wished her to
regard him as a lover he could do this in the easiest
and most straightforward way, but the other procedure
was much more difficult, and he was not certain that
he had succeeded in it. How to find out in what light
she viewed him without allowing the lady to perceive
his purpose was a very delicate operation.

" I wish," said Miss Roberta, poking with the end of
her parasol at some half- withered wild flowers which



lay on the steps beneath her, " that you would change
your mind, and take supper with us."

Mr. Croft's mind was very busy endeavoring to
think of some casual remark, some observation regard
ing man, nature, or society, or even an anecdote or
historical incident, which, if brought into the con
versation, might produce upon the lady's countenance
some shade of expression, or some variation in her
tone or words, which would give him the information
he sought for. But what he said was : " Are they
really suppers that you have, or are they only teas?"

" Now I know," said the lady, " why you have some
times taken dinner with us, but never supper. You
were afraid that it would be a tea."

Lawrence Croft was thinking that if this girl be
lieved that he was in love with her, it would make a
great deal of difference in his present course of action.
If such were the case, he ought not to come here so
often, or, in fact, he ought not to come at all, until he
had decided for himself what he was going to do. But
what could he say that would cause her, for the brief
est moment, to unveil her idea of himself. " I never
could endure," he said, " those meals which consist of
thin shavings of bread with thick plasters of butter,
aided and abetted by sweet cakes, preserves, and tea."

" You should have reserved those remarks," she said,
u until you had found out what sort of evening meal
we have."

He could certainly say something, he thought.
Perhaps it might be some little fanciful story which
would call up in her mind, without his appearing to
intend it, some thought of his relationship to her as a
lover that is, if she had ever had such a notion. If



this could be done, her face would betray the fact.
But, not being ready to make such a remark, he said :
" I beg your pardon, but do you really have suppers in
the English fashion?"

" Oh, no," answered Miss Roberta, " we don't have a
great cold joint, with old cheese, and pitchers of brown
stout and ale, but neither do we content ourselves with
thin bread and butter, and preserves. We have coffee
as well as tea, hot rolls, fleecy and light, hot batter
bread made of our finest corn meal, hot biscuits and
stewed fruit, with plenty of sweet milk and buttermilk ;
and, if anybody wants it, he can always have a slice
of cold ham."

" If I could only feel sure," thought Mr. Croft, " that
she looked upon me merely as an acquaintance, I would
cease to trouble my mind on this subject, and let every
thing go on as before. But I am not sure, and I would
rather not come here again until I am." "And at
what hour," he asked, " do you partake of a meal like

"In summer-time," said Miss Roberta, "we have
supper when it is dark enough to light the lamps. My
uncle dislikes very much to be deprived, by the advent
of a meal, of the outdoor enjoyment of a late after
noon, or, as we call it down here, the evening."

" It would be easy enough," thought Mr. Croft, " for
me to say something about my being suddenly obliged
to go away, and then notice its effect upon her. But,
apart from the fact that I would not do anything so
vulgar and commonplace, it would not advantage me
in the slightest degree. She would see through the
flimsiness of my purpose, and, no matter how she
looked upon me, would show nothing but a well-bred



regret that I should be obliged to go away at such a
pleasant season." " I think the hour for your supper/ 7
said he, "is a very suitable one, but I am not sure
that such a variety of hot bread would agree with

" Did you ever see more healthy -looking ladies and
gentlemen than you find in Virginia?" asked Miss

" It is not that I want to know if she looks favorably
upon me," said Lawrence Croft to himself, " for when
I wish to discover that, I shall simply ask her. What
I wish now to know is whether or not she considers
me at all as a lover. There surely must be something
I can say which will give me a clew." " The Vir
ginians, as a rule," he replied, " are certainly a very
well-grown and vigorous race."

" In spite of the hot bread," she said with a smile.

Just then Mr. Croft believed himself struck by a
happy thought. " You are not prepared, I suppose,
to say, in consequence of it ; and that recalls the fact
that so much in this world happens in spite of things,
instead of in consequence of them."

" I don't know that I exactly understand," said Miss

" Well, for instance," said Mr. Croft, " take the case
of marriage. Don't you think that a man is more apt
to marry in spite of his belief that he would be much
better on 7 as a bachelor, than in consequence of a
conviction that a benedict's life would suit him

"That," said she, "depends a good deal on the

As she said this Lawrence glanced quickly at her to


observe the expression of her countenance. The coun
tenance plainly indicated that its owner had suddenly
been made aware that the afternoon was slipping
away, and that she had forgotten certain household
duties that devolved upon her.

" Here conies Peggy," she said, " and I must go into
the house and give out supper. Don't you now think
it would be well for you to follow our discussion of a
Virginia supper by eating one? "

At this moment there arrived at the bottom of the
inside steps a small girl, very black, very solemn, and
very erect, with her hands folded in front of her very
straight up-and-down calico frock, her features ex
pressive of a wooden stolidity which nothing but a
hammer or chisel could alter, and with large eyes fixed
upon a far-away, which, apparently, had disappeared,
leaving the eyes in a condition of idle outgo.

" Miss Rob," said this wooden Peggy, " Aun' Judy
says it's more'n time to come housekeep."

" Which means," said Miss Roberta, rising, " that I
must go and get my key -basket, and descend into the
store-room. Won't you come in f We shall find uncle
on the back porch."

Mr. Croft declined with thanks, and took his leave,
and the lady walked across the smooth grass to the
house, followed by the rigid Peggy.

The young man approached his impatient horse, and,
not without some difficulty, got himself mounted. He
had not that facility of sympathetically combining
his own will and that of his horse which comes to men
who, from their early boyhood, are wont to consider
horses as objects quite as necessary to locomotion as
shoes and stockings. But Lawrence Croft was a fair



graduate of a riding-school, and he went away in very
good style to his cottage at the Green Sulphur Springs.
"I believe/' he said to himself as he rode through
the woods, " that Miss March expects no more of me
than she would expect of any very intimate friend. I
shall feel perfectly free, therefore, to continue my in
vestigations regarding two points : First, is she worth
having ? Second, will she have me f And I must be
very careful not to get the position of these points

When Miss Roberta went into the store-room, it
was Peggy who, under the supervision of her mistress,
measured out the fine white flour for the biscuits for
supper. Peggy was being educated to do these things
properly, and she knew exactly how many times the
tin scoop must fill itself in the barrel for the ordinary
needs of the family. Miss Roberta stood, her eyes
contemplatively raised to the narrow window, through
which she could see a flush of sunset mingling itself
with the outer air ; and Peggy scooped once, twice,
thrice, four times ; then she stopped, and, raising her
head, there came into the far-away gloom of her eyes
a quick sparkle like a flash of black lightning. She
made another and entirely supplementary scoop, and
then she stopped, and let the tin utensil fall into the
barrel with a gentle thud.

"That will do," said Miss Roberta.

That night, when she should have been in her bed,
Peggy sat alone by the hearth in Aunt Judy's cabin,
baking a cake. It was a peculiar cake, for she could
get no sugar for it, but she had supplied this deficiency
with molasses. It was made of Miss Roberta's finest
white flour, and there were eggs in it and butter, and



it contained, besides, three raisins, an olive, and a
prune. When the outside of the cake had been suffi
ciently baked, and every portion of it had been scru
pulously eaten, the good little Peggy murmured to
herself : " It's pow'ful comfortin' for Miss Rob to have
sumfin' on her min'."



ABOUT a week after Mr. Lawrence Croft had had his
conversation with Miss March on the stile steps at
Midbranch, he was obliged to return to his home in
New York. He was not a man of business, but he
had business $ and, besides this, he considered if he con
tinued much longer to reside in the utterly attraction-
less cottage at the Green Sulphur Springs, and rode
over every day to the very attractive house at Mid-
branch, that the points mentioned in the previous
chapter might get themselves reversed. He was a
man who was proud of being, under all circumstances,
frank and honest with himself. He did not wish, if it
could be avoided, to deceive other people, but he was
prudent and careful about exhibiting his motives and
intended course of action to his associates. Himself,
however, he took into his strictest confidence. He was
fond of the idea that he went into the battle of life
covered and protected by a great shield, but that the
inside of the shield was a mirror in which he could
always see himself. Looking into this mirror, he now
saw that, if he did not soon get away from Miss Ro
berta, he would lay down his shield and surrender,
and it was his intent that this should not happen
until he wished it to happen.



It was very natural, when Lawrence reached New
York, that he should take pleasure in talking about
Miss Koberta March and her family with any one who
knew them. He was particularly anxious, if he could
do so delicately and without exciting any suspicion of
his object, to know as much as possible about Sylvester
March, the lady's father. In doing this, he did not
feel that he was prying into the affairs of others, but
he could not be true to himself unless he looked well
in advance before he made the step on which his mind
was set. It was in this way that he happened to learn
that, about two years before, Miss March had been
engaged to be married, but that the engagement had
been broken off for reasons not known to his inform
ants, and he could find out nothing about the gentle
man, except that his name was Junius Keswick.

The fact that the lady had had a lover put her in
a new light before Lawrence Croft. He had had an

Online LibraryFrank Richard StocktonThe novels and stories of Frank R. Stockton . (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 26)