Frank Richard Stockton.

A Bicycle of Cathay online

. (page 8 of 11)
Online LibraryFrank Richard StocktonA Bicycle of Cathay → online text (page 8 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


said seemed perfectly natural to the occasion, but this could not
last, and I felt within me a strong desire to make some better use of
this interview.

I had not expected to see her again, certainly not so soon, and here I
was alone with her, free to say what I chose; but what should I say? I
had not premeditated anything serious. In fact, I was not sure that I
wished to say anything which should be considered absolutely serious
and definite, but if I were ever to do anything definite - and the more
I talked with this bright-eyed and merry-hearted young lady the
stronger became the longing to say something definite - now was the
time to prepare the way for what I might do or say hereafter.

I was beginning to grow nervous, for the right thing to say would not
present itself, when Percy strode into the room. "Good-morning, Mrs.
Chester," said he, and then, turning to me, he declared that he had
been waiting in the yard, and began to think I might have forgotten I
had come for my wheel.

Of course I rose and she rose, and we followed Percy to the back door
of the house. Outside I saw that the boy of the inn was holding the
horse, and that the wheel was already placed in the back part of the
wagon.

"I've got everything all right, I think," said Percy. "I didn't
suppose it was necessary to wait for you, but you'd better take a look
at it to see if you think it will travel without rubbing or damaging
itself."

I stepped to the wagon and found that the bicycle was very well
placed. "Now, then," said Percy, taking the reins and mounting to his
seat, "all you've got to do is to get up, and we'll be off."

I turned to the back door, but she was not there. "Wait a minute,"
said I, and I hurried into the house. She was not in the hall. I
looked into the large room. She was not there. I went into the parlor,
and out upon the front porch. Then I went back into the house to seek
some one who might call her. I was even willing to avail myself of the
services of citric acid, for I could not leave that house without
speaking to her again.

In a moment Mrs. Chester appeared from some inner room. I believe she
suspected that I had something to say to her which had nothing to do
with the bear or the Larramies, for I had been conscious that my
speech had been a little rambling, as if I were earnestly thinking of
something else than what I was saying, and that she desired I should
be taken away without an opportunity to unburden my mind; but now,
hearing me tramping about and knowing that I was looking for her, she
was obliged to show herself.

As she came forward I noticed that her expression had changed
somewhat. There was nothing merry about her eyes; I think she was
slightly pale, and her brows were a little contracted, as if she were
doing something she did not want to do.

"I hope you found everything all right," she said.

I looked at her steadily. "No," said I, "everything is not all right."

A slight shade of anxiety came upon her face. "I am sorry to hear
that," she said. "Was your wheel injured more than you thought?"

"Wheel!" I exclaimed. "I was not thinking of wheels! I will tell you
what is not all right! It is not right for me to go away without
saying to you that I - "

At this moment there was a strong, shrill whistle from the front of
the house. A most unmistakable sense of relief showed itself upon
her face. She ran to the front door, and called out, "Yes, he is
coming."

[Illustration: "THE SCENE VIVIDLY RECURRED TO MY MIND"]

There was nothing for me to do but to follow her. I greatly disliked
going away without saying what I wanted to say, and I would have been
willing to speak even at the front door, but she gave me no chance.

"Good-bye," she said, extending her hand. It was gloved. It gave no
clasp - it invited none. As I could not say the words which were on my
tongue, I said nothing, and, raising my cap, I hurried away.

To make up for lost time, Percy drove very rapidly. "I came mighty
near having a fight while you were in the house," said he. "It was
that boy at the inn. He's a queer sort of a fellow, and awfully
impertinent. He was talking about you, and he wanted to know if the
bear had hurt you. He said he believed you were really afraid of the
beast, and only wanted to show off before the women.

"I stood up for you, and I told him about Edith's runaway, and then he
said, fair and square, that he didn't believe you stopped the horse.
He said he guessed my sister pulled him up herself, and that then you
came along and grabbed him and took all the credit. He said he
thought you were that sort of a fellow.

"That's the time I was going to pitch into him, but then I thought it
would be a pretty low-down thing for me to be fighting a country
tavern-boy, so I simply gave him my opinion of him. I don't believe
he'd have held the horse, only he thought it would make you get away
quicker. He hates you. Did you ever kick him or anything?"

I laughed, and, telling Percy that I had never kicked the boy, I
thanked him for his championship of me.




CHAPTER XIII

A MAN WITH A LETTER


When my unfortunate bicycle had been started on its way to Waterton, I
threw myself into the family life of the Larramies, determined not to
let them see any perturbations of mind which had been caused by the
extraordinary promptness of the younger son. If a man had gone with me
instead of that boy, I would have had every opportunity of saying what
I wanted to say to the mistress of the Holly Sprig. I may state that I
frequently found myself trying to determine what it was I wanted to
say.

I did my best to suppress all thoughts relating to things outside of
this most hospitable and friendly house. I went to see the bear with
the younger members of the family. I played four games of tennis, and
in the afternoon the whole family went to fish in a very pretty
mill-pond about a mile from the house. A good many fish were caught,
large and small, and not one of the female fishers, except Miss
Willoughby, the nervous young lady, and little Clara, would allow me
to take a fish from her hook. Even Mrs. Larramie said that if she
fished at all she thought she ought to do everything for herself, and
not depend upon other people.

As much as possible I tried to be with Mr. Larramie and Walter. I had
not the slightest distaste for the company of the ladies, but there
was a consciousness upon me that there were pleasant things in which a
man ought to restrict himself. There was nothing chronic about this
consciousness. It was on duty for this occasion only.

That night at the supper-table the conversation took a peculiar turn.
Mr. Larramie was the chief speaker, and it pleased him to hold forth
upon the merits of Mrs. Chester. He said, and his wife and others of
the company agreed with him, that she was a lady of peculiarly
estimable character; that she was out of place; that every one who
knew her well felt that she was out of place; but that she so graced
her position that she almost raised it to her level. Over and over
again her friends had said to her that a lady such as she was - still
young, of a good family, well educated, who had travelled, and moved
in excellent society - should not continue to be the landlady of a
country inn, but the advice of her friends had had no effect upon her.

It was not known whether it was necessary for her to continue the
inn-keeping business, but the general belief was that it was not
necessary. It was supposed that she had had money when she married
Godfrey Chester, and he was not a poor man.

Then came a strange revelation, which Mr. Larramie dwelt upon with
considerable earnestness. There was an idea, he said, that Mrs.
Chester kept up the Holly Sprig because she thought it would be her
husband's wish that she should do so. He had probably said something
about its being a provision for her in case of his death. At any rate,
she seemed desirous to maintain the establishment exactly as he had
ordered it in his life, making no change whatever, very much as if she
had expected him to come back, and wished him to find everything as he
had left it.

"Of course she doesn't expect him to come back," said Mr. Larramie,
"because it must now be four years since the time of his supposed
murder - "

"Supposed!" I cried, with much more excited interest than I would have
shown if I had taken proper thought before speaking.

"Well," said Mr. Larramie, "that is a fine point. I said 'supposed'
because the facts of the case are not definitely known. There can be
no reasonable doubt, however, that he is dead, for even if this fact
had not been conclusively proved by the police investigations, it
might now be considered proved by his continued absence. It would have
been impossible for Mr. Chester alive to keep away from his wife for
four years - they were devoted to each other. Furthermore, the exact
manner of his death is not known - although it must have been a
murder - and for these reasons I used the word 'supposed.' But, really,
so far as human judgment can go, the whole matter is a certainty. I
have not the slightest doubt in the world that Mrs. Chester so
considers it, and yet, as she does not positively know it - as she has
not the actual proofs that her husband is no longer living - she
refuses in certain ways, in certain ways only, to consider herself a
widow."

"And what ways are those?" I asked, in a voice which, I hope,
exhibited no undue emotion.

"She declines to marry again," said Mrs. Larramie, now taking up the
conversation. "Of course, such a pretty woman - I may say, such a
charming woman - would have admirers, and I know that she has had some
most excellent offers, but she has always refused to consider any of
them. There was one gentleman, a man of wealth and position, who had
proposed to her before she married Mr. Chester, who came on here to
offer himself again, but she cut off everything he had to say by
telling him that as she did not positively know that her husband was
not living, she could not allow a word of that sort to be said to her.
I know this, because she told me so herself."

There was a good deal more talk of the sort, and of course it
interested me greatly, although I tried not to show it, but I could
not help wondering why the subject had been brought forward in such an
impressive manner upon the present occasion. It seemed to me that
there was something personal in it - personal to me. Had that boy Percy
been making reports?

In the evening I found out all about it, and in a very straightforward
and direct fashion. I discovered Miss Edith by herself, and asked her
if all that talk about Mrs. Chester had been intended for my benefit,
and, if so, why.

She laughed. "I expected you to come and ask me about that," she said,
"for of course you could see through a good deal of it. It is all
father's kindness and goodness. Percy was a little out of temper when
he came back, and he spun a yarn about your being sweet on Mrs.
Chester, and how he could hardly get you away from her, and all that.
He had an idea that you wanted to go there and live, at least for the
summer. Something a boy said to him made him think that. So father
thought that if you had any notions about Mrs. Chester you ought to
have the matter placed properly before you without any delay, and I
expect his reason for mentioning it at the supper-table was that it
might then seem like a general subject of conversation, whereas it
would have been very pointed indeed if he had taken you apart and
talked to you about it."

"Indeed it would," said I. "And if you will allow me, I will say that
boys are unmitigated nuisances! If they are not hearing what they
ought not to hear, they are imagining what they ought not to
imagine - "

"And telling things that they ought not to tell," she added, with a
laugh.

"Which is an extremely bad thing," said I, "when there is nothing to
tell."

For the rest of that evening I was more lively than is my wont, for it
was a very easy thing to be lively in that family. I do not think I
gave any one reason to suppose that I was a man whose attention had
been called to a notice not to trespass.

As usual, I communed with myself before going to bed. Wherefore this
feeling of disappointment? What did it mean? Would I have said
anything of importance, of moment, to Mrs. Chester, if the boy Percy
had given me an opportunity? What would I have said? What could I have
said? I could see that she did not wish that I should say anything,
and now I knew the reason for it. It was all plain enough on her side.
Even if she had allowed herself any sort of emotion regarding me, she
did not wish me to indulge in anything of the land. But as for myself.
I could decide nothing about myself.

I smiled grimly as my eyes fell upon the little box of capsules. My
first thought was that I should take two of them, but then I shook my
head. "It would be utterly useless," I said; "they would do me no
good."

In the course of the next morning I found myself alone. I put on my
cap, lighted a pipe, and started down the flag walk to the gate. In a
few moments I heard running steps behind me, and, turning, I saw Miss
Edith. "Don't look cross," she said. "Were you going for a walk?"

I scouted the idea of crossness, and said that I had thought of taking
a stroll.

"That seems funny," said she, "for nobody in this house ever goes out
for a lonely walk. But you cannot go just yet. There's a man at the
back of the house with a letter for you."

"A letter!" I exclaimed. "Who in the world could have sent a letter to
me here?"

"The only way to find out," she answered, "is to go and see."

Under a tree at the back of the house I found a young negro man, very
warm and dusty, who handed me a letter, which, to my surprise, bore no
address. "How do you know this is for me?" said I.

He was a good-natured looking fellow. "Oh, I know it's for you, sir,"
said he. "They told me at the little tavern - the Holly something - that
I'd find you here. You're the gentleman that had a bicycle tire eat
up by a bear, ain't you?"

I admitted that I was, and still, without opening the letter, I asked
him, where it came from.

"That was given to me in New York, sir," said he, "by a Dago, one of
these I-talians. He gave me the money to go to Blackburn Station in
the cars, and then I walked over to the tavern. He said he thought I'd
find you there, sir. He told me just what sort of a lookin' man you
was, sir, and that letter is for you, and no mistake. He didn't know
your name, or he'd put it on."

"Oh, it is from the owner of the bear," said I.

"Yes, sir," said the man, "that's him. He did own a bear - he told
me - that eat up your tire."

I now tore open the blank envelope, and found it contained a letter on
a single sheet, and in this was a folded paper, very dirty. The letter
was apparently written in Italian, and had no signature. I ran my eye
along the opening lines, and soon found that it would be a very
difficult piece of business for me to read it. I was a fair French and
German scholar, but my knowledge of Italian was due entirely to its
relationship with Latin. I told the man to rest himself somewhere, and
went to the house, and, finding Miss Edith, I informed her that I had
a letter from the bear man, and asked her if she could read Italian.

"I studied the language at school," she said, "but I have not
practised much. However, let us go into the library - there is a
dictionary there - and perhaps we can spell it out."

We spread the open sheet upon the library-table, and laid the folded
paper near by, and, sitting side by side, with a dictionary before us,
we went to work. It was very hard work.

"I think," said my companion, after ten minutes' application, "that
the man who sent you this letter writes Italian about as badly as we
read it. I think I could decipher the meaning of his words if I knew
what letters those funny scratches were intended to represent. But let
us stick to it. After a while we may get a little used to the writing,
and I must admit that I have a curiosity to know what the man has to
say about his bear."

After a time the work became easier. Miss Edith possessed an acuteness
of perception which enabled her to decipher almost illegible words by
comparing them with others which were better written. We were at last
enabled to translate the letter. The substance of it was as follows:

The writer came to New York on a ship. There was a man on the ship,
an Italian man, who was very wicked. He did very wicked things to the
writer. When he got to New York he kept on being wicked. He was so
wicked that the writer made up his mind to kill him. He waited for him
one night for two hours.

[Illustration: DECIPHERING THE DAGO'S LETTERS]

At last the moment came. It was very dark, and the victim came,
walking fast. The avenger sprang from a door-way and plunged his knife
into the back of the victim. The man fell, and the moment he fell the
writer of the letter knew that he was not the man he had intended to
kill. The wicked man would not have been killed so easily. He turned
over the man. He was dead. His eyes were used to the darkness, and he
could see that he was the wrong man.

The coat of the murdered man had fallen open, and a paper showed
itself in an inside pocket. The Italian waited only long enough to
snatch this paper. He wanted to have something which had belonged to
that poor, wrongly murdered man. After that he heard no more about the
great mistake he had committed. He could not read the newspapers, and
he asked nobody any questions. He put the paper away and kept it. He
often thought he ought to burn the paper, but he did not do it. He was
afraid. The paper had a name on it, and he was sure it was the name
of the man he had killed. He thought as long as he kept the paper
there was a chance for his forgiveness.

This was all four years ago. He worked hard, and after a while he
bought a bear. When his bear ate up the India-rubber on my bicycle he
was very much frightened, for he was afraid he might be sent to
prison. But that was not the fright that made him run away.

When he talked to the boy and asked him the name of the keeper of the
inn, and the boy told him what it was, the earth seemed to open and he
saw hell. The name was the name that was on the paper he had taken
from the man he had killed by mistake, and this was his wife whose
house he was staying at. He was seized with such a horror and such a
fear that everything might be found out, and that he would be
arrested, that he ran away to the railroad and took a train for New
York.

He did not want his bear. He did not want to be known as the man who
had been going about with a bear. One thing he wanted, and that was to
get back to Italy, where he would be safe. He was going back very soon
in a ship. He had changed his name. He could not be found any more.
But he knew his soul would never have any peace if he did not send
the paper to the wife of the man he had made a mistake about. But he
could not write a letter to her, so he sent it to me, for me to give
her the paper and to tell her what he had written in the letter. He
left America forever. Nobody in this country would ever see him again.
He was gone. He was lost to all people in this country, but his soul
felt better now that he had done that which would make the lady whose
husband he had killed know how it had happened. The bear he would give
to her. That was all that he could do for her.

There was no formal close to the letter; the writer had said what he
had to say and stopped.

Miss Edith and I looked at each other. Her eyes had grown large and
bright. "Now, shall we examine the paper?"

"I do not know that we have a right to do so," I said. I know my voice
was trembling, for I was very much agitated. "That belongs to - to
her!"

"I think," said Miss Edith, "that we ought to look at it. It is merely
a folded paper. I do not think we ought to thrust information upon
Mrs. Chester without knowing what it is. Perhaps the man made a
mistake in the name. We may do a great deal of mischief if we do not
know exactly what we are about." And so saying she took the paper and
opened it.

It was nothing but a grocery bill, but it was made out to - Godfrey
Chester, Dr. Evidently it was for goods supplied to the inn. It was
receipted.

For a few moments I said nothing, and then I exclaimed, in tones which
made my companion gaze very earnestly at me: "I must go to her
immediately! I must take these papers! She must know everything!"

"Excuse me," said Miss Edith, "but don't you think that something
ought to be done about apprehending this man - this Italian? Let us go
and question his messenger." We went out together, she carrying,
tightly clasped, both the letter and the bill.

The black man could tell us very little. An Italian he had never seen
before had given him the letter to take to Holly Sprig Inn, and give
to the gentleman who had had his tire eaten by a bear. If the
gentleman was not there, he was to ask to have it sent to him. That
was everything he knew.

"Did the Italian give you money to go back with?" asked Miss Edith,
and the man rather reluctantly admitted that he did.

"Well, you can keep that for yourself," said she, "and we'll pay your
passage back. But we would like you to wait here for a while. There
may be some sort of an answer."

The man laughed. "'Taint no use sendin' no answer," said he; "I
couldn't find that Dago again. They're all so much alike. He said he
was goin' away on a ship. You see it was yesterday he gave me that
letter. I 'spect he'll be a long way out to sea before I get back,
even if I did know who he was and what ship he was goin' on. But if
you want me to wait, I don't mind waitin'."

"Very good," said Miss Edith; "you can go into the kitchen and have
something to eat." And, calling a maid, she gave orders for the man's
entertainment.

"Now," said she, turning to me, "let us take a walk through the
orchard. I want to talk to you."

"No," said I, "I can't talk at present. I must go immediately to the
inn with those papers. It is right that not a moment should be lost in
delivering this most momentous message which has been intrusted to
me."

"But I must speak to you first," said she, and she walked rapidly
towards the orchard. As she still held the papers in her hand, I was
obliged to follow her.




CHAPTER XIV

MISS EDITH IS DISAPPOINTED


As soon as we had begun to walk under the apple-trees she turned to me
and said: "I don't think you ought to take this letter and the bill to
Mrs. Chester. It would not be right. There would be something cruel
about it."

"What do you mean?" I exclaimed.

"Of course I do not know exactly the state of the case," she answered,
"but I will tell you what I think about it as far as I know. You must
not be offended at what I say. If I am a friend to anybody - and I
would be ashamed if I were not a friend to you - I must tell him just
what I think about things, and this is what I think about this thing:
I ought to take these papers to Mrs. Chester. I know her well enough,
and it is a woman who ought to go to her at such a time."

"That message was intrusted to me," I said. "Of course it was," she
answered, "but the bear man did not know what he was doing. He did not
understand the circumstances."

[Illustration: "'I DON'T THINK YOU OUGHT TO TAKE THIS LETTER'"]

"What circumstances?" I asked.

She gave me a look as if she were going to take aim at me and wanted
to be sure of my position. Then she said: "Percy told us he thought
you were courting Mrs. Chester. That was pure impertinence on his
part, and perhaps what father said at the table was impertinence too,
but I know he said it because he thought there might be something in
Percy's chatter, and that you ought to understand how things stood.
Now, you may think it impertinence on my part if you choose, but it
really does seem to me that you are very much interested in Mrs.
Chester. Didn't you intend to walk down to the Holly Sprig when you
were starting out by yourself this morning?"

"Yes," said I, "I did."

"I thought so," she replied. "That, of course, was your own business,
and what father said about her being unwilling to marry again need not
have made any difference to you if you had chosen not to mind it. But
now, don't you think, if you look at the matter fairly and squarely,
it would be pretty hard on Mrs. Chester if you were to go down to her
and make her understand that she really is a widow, and that now she
is free to listen to you if you want to say anything to her? This may


1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11

Online LibraryFrank Richard StocktonA Bicycle of Cathay → online text (page 8 of 11)