Frank Richard Stockton.

The Captain's Toll-Gate online

. (page 21 of 22)
Online LibraryFrank Richard StocktonThe Captain's Toll-Gate → online text (page 21 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


was almost inclined to tear her hair.

"They're goin' to stay all night!" she exclaimed. "I really believe they
're goin' to stay all night!" For a moment she thought of rushing
down-stairs and confronting the impertinent visitors, but she stopped;
she was afraid. She did not know what they might say to her, and she
went to the banisters and listened. They were talking; always in a low
voice. It seemed to her that these people could talk forever. Then she
began to think of her front door, which was open; but, of course, nobody
could come while those creatures were in the parlor. But if she missed
anything she'd have them brought up in court if it took every cent she
had in the world and constables from some other town. She slipped to the
back stairs, and softly called the servant, but there was no answer. She
was afraid to go down, for the back door of the parlor commanded all
the other rooms on that floor. Now she felt more terribly lonely and
more nervous. If she had had a pistol she would have fired it through
the floor. Then those women would run away, and she would fasten up the
house. But there they sat, chatter, chatter, chatter, till it nearly
drove her mad. She wished now she had gone down at first.

After a time, and not a very long time, there were some steps in the
street and in the yard, and more women came into the house, but, worse
than that, the others stayed. Family duties were over now, and those
impudent creatures could be content to stay the rest of the evening.

For a moment the worried woman felt as if she would like to go to bed
and cover up her head and so escape these persistent persecutors. But
she shook her head. That would never do. She knew that when she awoke in
the morning some of those women would still be in the parlor, and, to
save her soul, she could not now imagine what it was that kept them
there like hounds upon her track.

It was now eleven o'clock. When had the Port house been open so late as
that? The people in the town must be talking about it, and there would
be more talking the next day. Perhaps it might be in the town paper. The
morning would be worse than the night. She could not bear it any longer.
There was now nothing to be heard in front but that maddening chatter in
the parlor, and up the back stairs came the snores of the servant. She
got a traveling-bag from a closet and proceeded to pack it; then she put
on her bonnet and shawl and put into her bag all the money she had with
her, trembling all the time as if she had been a thief: robbing her own
house. She could not go down the back stairs, because, as has been said,
she could have been seen from the parlor; but a carpenter had been
mending the railing of a little piazza at the back of the house, and she
remembered he had left his ladder. Down this ladder, with her bag in her
hand, Miss Port silently moved. She looked into the kitchen; she could
not see the servant, but she could hear her snoring on a bench. Clapping
her hand over the girl's mouth, she whispered into her ear, and without
a word the frightened creature sat up and followed Miss Port into the
yard.

"Now, then," said Miss Port, whispering as if she were sticking needles
into the frightened girl, "I'm goin' away, and don't you ask no
questions, for you won't get no answers. You just go to bed, and let
them people stay in the parlor all night. They'll be able to take care
of the house, I guess, and if they don't I'll make 'em suffer. In the
morning you can see Mrs. Faulkner - for she's the ringleader - and tell
her that you're goin' home to your mother, and that Miss Port expects
her to pull down all the blinds in this house, and shut and bolt the
doors. She is to see that the eatables is put away proper or else give
to the poor - which will be you, I guess - and then she is to lock all the
doors and take the front-door key to Squire Allen, and tell him I'll
write to him. And what's more, you can say to the nasty thing that if I
find anything wrong in my house, or anything missin', I 'll hold her and
her husband responsible for it, and that I'm mighty glad I don't belong
to their church."

Then she slipped out of the back gate of the yard, and made her way
swiftly to the railroad-station. There was a train for the north which
passed Glenford at half-past twelve, and which could be flagged. There
was one man at the station, and he was very much surprised to see Miss
Port.

"Is anything the matter?" he said.

"Yes," she snapped, "there's some people sick, and I guess there'll be
more of 'em a good deal sicker in the morning. I've got to go."

"A case of pizenin'?" asked the man very earnestly.

"Yes," said she, wrapping her shawl around her; "the worse kind of
pizenin'!" Then she talked no more.

The servant-girl slept late, and there were a good many ladies in the
parlor when she came down. She did not give them a chance to ask her
anything, but told her message promptly. It was a message pretty fairly
remembered, although it had grown somewhat sharper in the night. When it
was finished the girl added: "And I'm to have all the eatables in the
house to take home to my mother, and Squire Allen is to pay me four
dollars and seventy-five cents, which has been owin' to me for wages for
ever so long."




_CHAPTER XXXVI_

_Cold Tinder._


Olive and Dick Lancaster sat together in the captain's parlor. She was
very quiet - she had been very quiet of late - but he was nervous.

"It is very kind, Mr. Lancaster," said Olive, breaking the silence, "for
you to come to see us instead of writing. It is so much pleasanter for
friends - "

"Oh, it was not kind," he said, interrupting her. "In fact, it was
selfishness. And now I want to tell you quickly, Miss Asher, while I
have the chance, the reason of my coming here to-day. It was not to
offer you my congratulations or my sympathy, although you must know that
I feel for you and your uncle as much in every way as any living being
can feel. I came to offer my love. I have loved you almost ever since I
knew you as much as any man can love a woman, and whenever I have been
with you I could hardly hold myself back from telling you. But I was
strong, and I did not speak, for I knew you did not love me."

Olive was listening, looking steadily at him.

"No," she said, "I did not love you."

He paid no attention to this remark, as if it related to something which
he knew all about, but went on, "I resolved to speak to you some time,
but not until I had some little bit of a reason for supposing you would
listen to me; but when I read the account of what you did in Washington,
I knew you to be so far above even the girl I had supposed you to be;
then my love came down upon me and carried me away. And all that has
since appeared in the papers has made me so long to stand by your side
that I could not resist this longing, and I felt that no matter what
happened, I must come and tell you all."

"And now?" asked Olive.

"There is nothing more," said Dick. "I have told you all there is. I
love you so truly that it seems to me as if I had been born, as if I had
lived, as if I had grown and had worked, simply that I might be able to
come to you and say, I love you. And now that I have told you this, I
hope that I have not pained you."

"You have not pained me," said Olive, "but it is right that I should say
to you that I do not love you." She said this very quietly and gently,
but there was sadness in her tones.

Dick Lancaster sprang up, and stood before her. "Then let me love you"
he cried. "Do not deny me that! Do not take the life out of me! the soul
out of me! Do not turn me away into utter blackness! Do not say I shall
not love you!"

Olive's clear, thoughtful eyes were looking into his. "I believe you
love me," she answered slowly. "I believe every word you say. But what I
say is also true. I will admit that I have asked myself if I could love
you. There was a time when I was in great trouble, when I believed that
it might be possible for me to marry some one without loving him, but I
never thought that about _you_. You were different. I could not have
married you without loving you. I believe you knew that, and so you did
not ask me."

His voice was husky when he spoke again.

"But you do not answer me," he said. "You have seen into my very soul.
May I love you?"

She still looked into his glowing eyes, but she did not speak. It was
with herself she was communing, not with him.

But there was something in the eyes which looked into his which made his
heart leap, and he leaned forward.

"Olive," he whispered, "can you not love me?"

Her lips appeared as if they were about to move, but they did not, and
in the next moment they could not. He had her in his arms.

Poor foolish, lovely Olive! She thought she was so strong. She imagined
that she knew herself so well. She had seen so much; she had been so
far; she had known so many things and people that she had come to look
upon herself as the decider of her own destiny. She had come to believe
so much in herself and in her cold heart that she was not afraid to
listen to the words of a burning heart! _Her_ heart could keep so cool!

And now, in a flash, the fire had spread! The coolest hearts are often
made of tinder.

Poor foolish, lovely, happy Olive! She scarcely understood what had
happened to her. She only knew that she had been born and had lived, and
had grown, that he might come to her and say he loved her. What had she
been thinking of all this time?

"You are so quick," she said, as she put back some of her disheveled
hair.

"Dearest," he whispered, "it seems to me as if I had been so slow, so
slow, so very slow!"

It was a long time before Captain Asher returned, and when he entered
the parlor he found these two still there. They had been sitting by the
window, and when they came forward to meet him Dick's arm was around the
waist of Olive. The captain looked at them for a moment, and then he
gave a shout, and encircled them both in his great arms.

When they were cool enough to sit down and Olive and Dick had ceased
trying to persuade the captain that he was not the happiest of the
three, Olive said to him: "I have told Dick everything - about the
air-gun and all. Of course, he must know it."

"And I have been looking at you," said Dick, putting his hand upon the
captain's shoulder, "as the only hero I have ever met. Not only for what
you have done, but for what you have refrained from doing."

"Nonsense!" said the captain. "Olive now - "

"Oh! Olive is Olive!" said Dick. And he did not mind in the least that
the captain was present.

* * * * *

It was on the next afternoon that the Broadstone carriage stopped at the
toll-gate. Mrs. Easterfield sprang out of it, asking for nobody, for she
had spied Olive in the arbor.

"It seems to me," she said, as she burst into tears and took the girl
into her arms, "it does seem to me as if I were your own mother!"

"The only one I have," said Olive, "and very dear!"

It was some time after this that Mrs. Easterfield was calm enough to
stop the flow of exciting conversation and to say to Olive, taking both
her hands tenderly within her own: "My dear, we have been talking a
great deal of sentiment, and now I want seriously to speak to you on a
matter of business."

"Business!" asked Olive in surprise.

"Yes, it is really business from your point of view; and I have come
round to that point of view myself. Olive, I want you to marry!"

"Oh," said Olive, "that is it, is it? That is what you call business?"

"Yes, dear; I am now looking at your future, and at marriage in the very
sensible way you regarded those matters when you were staying with me."

"But," said Olive, who could scarcely help laughing, "there was a good
reason then for my being so sensible, and that reason no longer exists.
I can now afford single-blessedness."

"No, Olive, dear, you can not. Circumstances are all against that
consummation. You are not made for that sort of thing. And your uncle is
an old man, and even with him you need a young protector. I want you to
marry Richard Lancaster. You know my heart has been set on it for some
time, and now I urge it. You could never bring forth a single objection
to him."

"Except that I did not love him."

"Neither did you love the young men you were considering as eligible.
Now, do try to be a sensible girl."

"Mrs. Easterfield, are you laughing at me?" asked Olive.

"Far from it, my dear. I am desperately in earnest. You see, recent
events - "

"Dick Lancaster and I are engaged to be married," said Olive demurely,
not waiting for the end of that sentence. "And," she added, laughing at
Mrs. Easterfield's astonished countenance, "I have not yet considered
whether or not it is sensible."

After Mrs. Easterfield had given a half dozen kisses to partly express
her pleasure, she said: "And where is he now? I must see him!"

"He went back to his college late last night; it was impossible for him
to stay here any longer at present."

As Mrs. Easterfield was going away - she had waited and waited for the
captain who had not come - Olive detained her.

"You are so dear," she said, "that I must tell you a great thing." And
then she told the story of the two men in the barouche.

Mrs. Easterfield turned pale, and sat down again. She had actually lost
her self-possession. She made Olive tell her the story over and over
again. "It is too much," she said, "for one day. I am glad the captain
is not here, I would not know what to say to him. I may tell Tom?" she
said. "I must tell him; he will be silent as a rock."

Olive smiled. "Yes, you may tell Tom," she said.

"I have told Dick, but on no account must Harry ever know anything
about it."

Mrs. Easterfield looked at her in amazement. That the girl could joke at
such a moment!

When the captain came home Olive told him how she had entrusted the
great secret to Mrs. Easterfield and her husband.

"Well," said he, "I intended to tell you, but haven't had a chance yet,
that I spoke of the matter to Mrs. Faulkner. So I have told two persons
and you have told three, and I suppose that is about the proportion in
which men and women keep secrets."




_CHAPTER XXXVII_

_In which Some Great Changes are Recorded._


A few days after his return to his college Prof. Richard Lancaster found
among his letters one signed "Your backer, Claude Locker."

The letter began:

"You owe her to me. You should never forget that. If I had done
better no one can say what might have been the result. This
proposition can not be gainsaid, for as no one ever saw me do
better, how should anybody know? I knew I was leaving her to you.
She might not have known it, but I did. I did not suppose it would
come so soon, but I was sure it would ultimately come to pass. It
has come to pass, and I feel triumphant. In the great race in which
I had the honor to run, you made a most admirable second. The best
second is he who comes in first. In order for a second to take
first place it is necessary that the leader in the race, be that
leader horse, man, or boat, should experience a change in
conditions. I experienced such a change, voluntary or involuntary
it is unnecessary to say. You came in first, and I congratulate you
as no living being can congratulate you who has not felt for a
moment or two that it was barely possible that he might, in some
period of existence, occupy the position which you now hold.

"Do not be surprised if you hear of my early marriage. Some woman no
better-looking than I am may seek me out. If this should happen, and
you know of it, please think of me with gratitude, and remember that
I was once

"Your backer,

"CLAUDE LOCKER."

Olive also received a letter from Mr. Locker, which ran thus:

"Mrs. Easterfield told me. She wrote me a letter about it, and I
think her purpose was to make me thoroughly understand that I was
not in this matter at all. She did not say anything of the kind,
but I think she thought it would be a dreadful thing, if by any act
of mine, I should cause you to reconsider your arrangement with
Professor Lancaster. I have written to the said professor, and have
told him that it is not improbable that I shall soon marry. I don't
know yet to what lady I shall be united, but I believe in the truth
of the adage, 'that all things come to those who can not wait.'
They are in such a hurry that they take what they can get.

"If you do not think that this is a good letter, please send it back
and I will write another. What I am trying to say is, that I would
sacrifice my future wife, no matter who she may be, to see you
happy. And now believe me always

"Your most devoted acquaintance,

"CLAUDE LOCKER.

"P.S. - Wouldn't it be a glorious thing if you were to be married in
church with all the rejected suitors as groomsmen and Lancaster as
an old Roman conqueror with the captive princess tied behind!"

Now that all the turmoil of her life was over, and Olive at peace with
herself, her thoughts dwelt with some persistency upon two of her
rejected suitors. Until now she had had but little comprehension of the
love a man may feel for a woman - perhaps because she herself never
loved - but now she looked back upon that period of her life at
Broadstone with a good deal of compunction. At that time it had seemed
to her that it really made very little difference to her three lovers
which one she accepted, or if she rejected them all. But now she asked
herself if it could be possible that Du Brant and Hemphill had for her
anything of the feeling she now had for Dick Lancaster. (Locker did not
trouble her mind at all.) If so, she had treated them with a cruel and
shameful carelessness. She had really intended to marry one of them, but
not from any good and kind feeling; she was actuated solely by pique and
self-interest; and she had, perhaps, sacrificed honest love to her
selfishness; and, what was worse, had treated it with what certainly
appeared like contempt, although she certainly had not intended that.

She felt truly sorry, and cast about in her mind for some means of
reparation. She could think of but one way: to find for each of them a
very nice girl - a great deal nicer than herself - and to marry them all
with her blessing. But, unfortunately for this scheme, Olive had no
girl friends. She had acquaintances "picked up here and there," as she
said, but she knew very little about any of them, and not one of them
had ever struck her as being at all angelic or superior in any way.
Neither of the young men who were lying so heavily on her mind had
written to any one, either at the toll-gate or at Broadstone, since the
very public affair in which she had played a conspicuous part; and her
consolation was that as each one had read that account he had said to
himself: "I am thankful that girl did not accept me! What a fortunate
escape!" But still she wished that she had behaved differently at
Broadstone.

She said nothing to any one of these musings, but she ventured one day
to ask Mr. Easterfield how Mr. Hemphill was faring. His reply was only
half satisfactory. He reported the young man as doing very well, and
being well; he was growing fat, and that did not improve his looks; and
he was getting more and more taciturn and self-absorbed. "Why was he
taciturn?" Olive asked herself. "Was he brooding and melancholy?" She
did not know anything about the fat, and what might be its primal cause;
but her mind was not set at ease about him.

Things went on quietly and pleasantly at the toll-gate, and at
Broadstone. Dick came down as often as he could and spent a day or two
(usually including a Sunday) with Olive and her uncle. It was now
October, and colleges were in full tide. It was also the hunting season,
and that meant that Mr. Tom would be at Broadstone for a couple of
weeks, and Mrs. Easterfield said she must have Olive at that time. And,
in order to make the house lively, she invited Lieutenant Asher and his
wife at the same time, as Olive and her young stepmother were now very
good friends. Then the captain invited his old friend Captain Lancaster,
Dick's father, to visit him at the toll-gate.

These were bright days for these old shipmates; and, strange to say, as
they sat and puffed, they did not talk so much of things that had been,
as they puffed and made plans of things which were to be. And these
plans always concerned the niece of one, and the son of the other.
Captain Asher was not at all satisfied with Dick's position in the
college. He could not see how eminence awaited any young man who taught
theories; he would like Dick's future to depend on facts.

"Two and two make four," said he; "there is no need of any theory about
that, and that's the sort of thing that suits me."

Captain Lancaster smiled. He was a dry old salt, and listened more than
he talked.

"Just now," he remarked, "I guess Dick will stick to his theories, and
for a while he won't be apt to give his mind to mathematics very much,
except to that kind of figuring which makes him understand that one and
one makes one."

There was a thing the two old mates were agreed upon. No matter-what
Dick's position might be in the college, his salary should be as large
as that of any other professor. They could do it, and they would do it.
They liked the idea, and they shook hands over it.

Olive was greatly pleased with Captain Lancaster. "There is the scent of
the sea about him," she wrote to Dick, "as there is about Uncle John and
father, but it is different. It is constant and fixed, like the smell
of salt mackerel. He would never keep a toll-gate; nor would he marry a
young wife. Not that I object to either of these things, for if the one
had not happened I would never have known you; and if the other had not
happened, I might not have become engaged to you."

The two captains dined at Broadstone while Olive was there, and Captain
Lancaster highly approved of Mrs. Easterfield. All seafaring men did - as
well as most other men.

"It is a shame she had to marry a landsman," said Captain Lancaster,
when he and Captain John had gone home. "It seems to me she would have
suited you."

"You might mention that the next time you go to her house," said Captain
Asher. "I don't believe it has ever been properly considered."

It was at this time that Olive's mind was set at rest about one of her
discarded lovers. Mr. Du Brant wrote her a letter.

"MY DEAR MISS ASHER - It is very long since I have had any
communication with you, but this silence on my part has been the
result of circumstances, and not owing, I assure you upon my honor,
to any diminution of the great regard (to use a moderate term)
which I feel for you. I had not the pleasure of seeing you when I
left Broadstone, but our mutual friend, Mrs. Easterfield, told me
you had sent to me a message. I firmly (but I trust politely)
declined to receive it. And so, my dear Miss Asher, as the offer I
made you then has never received any acknowledgment, I write now
to renew it. I lay my heart at your feet, and entreat you to do me
the honor of accepting my hand in marriage.

"And let me here frankly state that when first I read of your great
deed - you are aware, of course, to what I refer - I felt I must
banish all thought of you from my heart. Let me explain my position,
I had just received news of the death of my uncle, Count Rosetra,
and that I had inherited his title and estates. It is a noble name,
and the estates are great. Could I confer these upon one who was
being so publicly discussed - the actor in so terrible a drama? I
owed more to society, and to my noble race, and to my country than I
had done before becoming a noble. But ah, my torn heart! O Miss
Asher, that heart was true to you through all, and has asserted
itself in a vehement way. I recognized your deed as noble; I thought
of your beauty and your intellect; of your attractive vivacity; of
your manner and bearing, all so fine; and I realized how you would
grace my title and my home; how you would help me to carry out the
great ambitions I have.

"Will you, lady, deign to accept my homage and my love? A favorable
answer will bring me to make my personal solicitations.

"Your most loving and faithful servant,

"CHRISTIAN DU BRANT.


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 21

Online LibraryFrank Richard StocktonThe Captain's Toll-Gate → online text (page 21 of 22)