Frank Richard Stockton.

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

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back till de oders had got in. Jes den' long comes
a white angel on hossback, wot was in a dreffie hurry
to git in to de gate. De cullud angel he mighty p'lite,
an' he went up an' tuk de hoss, an' when de white
angel had got down an' gone in, he went roun' lookin'
fur a tree to hitch him to. But when he went back
ag'in to de gate, Sent Peter had jes shet it, and was
lockin' it up wid a big padlock. He jes looks ober
de gate at de cullud angel an' he says : ' No 'mittance
ahfter six o'clock.' An' den he go in to his supper."

"An' wot dat cullud angel do den?" asked Eliza,
who had been listening breathlessly to this narrative.

" Dunno," said Isham, " but I reckon de debbil come
'long in de night an' tuk him off. Dar's a lesson in
dis h'yar par'ble wot 'u'd do you good to clap to your
heart, Aun' Patsy. Don' you be gwine roun' tryin' to
help oder people jes as you is all ready to go inter
de gate ob heaben. Ef you try any ob dat dar foolish
ness, de fus' thing you know you'll find dat gate shet."

" Is dat your 'Melia County par'ble? " asked the old
woman.

" Dat's it," answered Isham.

"Beckon dat country's better fur 'bacca dan fur
par'bles," grunted Aunt Patsy.

141



CHAPTER XIII

LAWRENCE CEOFT had no idea of leaving the neigh
borhood of Hewlett's until Keswick had made up his
mind what he was going to do, and until he had had
a private talk with Mrs. Null ; and, as it was quite
evident that the family would be offended if a visitor
to them should lodge at Peckett's store, he accepted
the invitation to spend the night at the Keswick
house; and in the afternoon Junius rode with him
to Hewlett's, where he got his valise and paid his
account.

But no opportunity occurred that day for a tete-a-
tete with Mrs. Null. Keswick was with him nearly all
the afternoon ; and in the evening the family sat to
gether in the parlor, where the conversation was a
general one, occasionally very much brightened by
some of the caustic remarks of the old lady in regard
to particular men and women, as well as society at
large. Of course he had many opportunities of judg
ing, to the best of his capacity, of certain phases of
character appertaining to Mr. Candy's cashier: and,
among other things, he came to the conclusion that
probably she was a young woman who would get up
early in the morning, and he, therefore, determined to
do that thing himself, and see if he could not have

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

a talk with her before the rest of the family were
astir.

Early rising was not one of Croft's accustomed habits,
but the next morning he arose a good hour before
breakfast-time. He found the lower part of the house
quite deserted, and when he went out on the porch he
was glad to button up his coat, for the morning air
was very cool. While walking up and down with his
hands in his pockets, and looking in at the front door
every time he passed it, in hopes that he might see Mrs.
Null coming down the stairs, he was greeted with a
cheery " Good morning " by a voice in the front yard.
Turning hastily, he beheld Mrs. Keswick, wearing her
purple sunbonnet, but without her umbrella.

"Glad you like to be up betimes, sir," said she.
" That's my way, and I find it pays. Nobody works
as well, and I don't believe the plants and stock grow
as well, while we are asleep."

Lawrence replied that in the city he did not get up
so early, but that the morning air in the country was
very fine.

" And pretty sharp, too," said Mrs. Keswick. " Come
down here in the sunshine, and you will find it pleas-
anter. Step back a little this way, sir," she said, when
Lawrence had joined her, " and give me your opinion
of that locust-tree by the corner of the porch. I am
thinking of having it cut down. Locusts are very apt
to get diseased inside, and break off, and I am afraid
that one will blow over some day and fall on the
house."

Lawrence said he thought it looked like a very good
tree, and it would be a pity to lose the shade it made.

" I might plant one of another sort," said the old
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THE LATE MRS. NULL

lady, " but trees grow too slow for old people, though
plenty fast enough for young ones. I reckon I'll let
it stand awhile yet. You were talking last night of
Midbranch, sir. There used to be fine trees there,
though it's many years since I've seen them. Have
you been long acquainted with the family there? "

Lawrence replied that he had known Miss March a
good while, having met her in New York.

" She is said to be a right smart young lady," said
Mrs. Keswick, "well educated, and has travelled in
Europe. I am told that she is not only a regular town
lady, but that she makes a first-rate housekeeper when
she is down here in the country."

Lawrence replied that he had no doubt that all this
was very true.

"I have never seen her," continued the old lady,
" for there has not been much communication between
the two families of late years, although they used to
be intimate enough. But my nephew and niece have
been away a great deal, and old people can't be ex
pected to do much in the way of visiting. But I have
a notion," she said, after gazing a few moments in a
reflective way at the corner of the house, "that it
would be well now to be a little more sociable again.
My niece has no company here of her own sex, except
me, and I think it would do her good to know a young
lady like Miss March. Mr. Brandon has asked me to
let Annie come there, but I think it would be a great
deal better for his niece to visit us. Mrs. Null is the
latest comer."

Lawrence, speaking much more earnestly than when
discussing the locust-tree, replied that he thought this
would be quite proper.

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

" I think I may invite her to come here next week,"
said Mrs. Keswick, still meditatively and without ap
parent regard to the presence of Croft, " probably on
Friday, and ask her to spend a week. And, by the
way, sir," she said, turning to her companion, "if
you are still in this part of the country I would be glad
to have you ride over and stay a day or two while
Miss March is here. I will have a little party of
young folks in honor of Mrs. Null. I have done noth
ing of the kind for her, so far."

Lawrence said he had no doubt that he would stay
at the Green Sulphur a week or two longer, and that
he would be most happy to accept Mrs. Keswick's kind
invitation.

They then moved towards the house, but, suddenly
stopping, as if she had just thought of something, Mrs.
Keswick remarked : " I shall be obliged to you, sir, if
you will not say anything about this little plan of mine
just now. I have not spoken of it to any one, having
scarcely made up my mind to it, and I suppose I should
not have mentioned it to you if we had not been talk
ing about Mitibranch. There is nothing I hate so
much as to have people hear I am going to give them
an invitation, or that I am going to do anything, in
fact, before I have fully made up my mind about it."

Lawrence assured her that he would say nothing on
the subject, and she promised to send him a note to the
Green Sulphur, in case she finally determined on hav
ing the little company at her house.

" Now," triumphantly thought Croft, " it matters not
what Keswick decides to do, for I don't need his
assistance. An elderly angel in a purple sunbonnet
has come to my aid. She is about to do ever so much

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

more for me than I could expect of Mm, and I prefer
her assistance to that of my rival. Altogether it is
the most unexpected piece of good luck."

After breakfast there came to Lawrence the oppor
tunity of a private conference with Mrs. Null. He
was standing alone on the porch when she came out of
the door with her hat on and a basket in her hand,
and said she was going to see a very old colored woman
who lived in the neighborhood, who was considered a
very interesting personage ; and perhaps he would like
to go there with her. Nothing could suit Croft better
than this, and off they started.

As soon as they were outside the yard gate the lady
remarked : " I have been trying hard to give you a
chance to talk to me when the others were not by. I
knew you must be perfectly wild to ask me what all
this meant why I never told you that Mr. Keswick
was my cousin, and the rest of it."

" I can't say," said Lawrence, " that I am absolutely
untamed and ferocious in regard to the matter, but I
do really wish very much that you would give me
some explanation of your very odd doings. In fact,
that is the only thing that now keeps me here."

" I thought so," said Mrs. Null. " As I supposed
you had got through with your business with Junius,
I did not wish to detain you here any longer than was
necessary."

" Thank you," said Lawrence.

" You are welcome," she said. " And when I saw
you standing on the porch by yourself, the idea of being
generous to old Aunt Patsy came into my mind. And
here we are. Now, what do you want to know first ? "

" Well," said Mr. Croft, " I would like very much to
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THE LATE MRS. NULL

know how a young lady like you came to be Mr,
Candy's cashier."

" I supposed you would want to know that," she said.
"It's a dreadfully long story, and as it is a strictly
family matter I had almost made up my mind last
night that I ought not to tell it to you at all ; but as I
don't know how much you are mixed up with the
family, I afterwards thought it best, for my own sake,
to explain the matter to you. So I will give you the
principal points. My mother was a sister of Mrs. Kes-
wick, and Junius's mother was another sister. Both
his parents died when he was a boy, and Aunt Keswick
brought him up. My mother died here when I was
quite small, and I stayed until I was eight years old.
Aunt Keswick and my father were not very good
friends, and when she came to look upon me as en
tirely her own child, and wished to deprive him of all
rights and privileges as a parent, he resented it very
much, and at last took me away. I don't remember
exactly how this was done, but I know there was a
tremendous quarrel, and my father and aunt never
met again.

"He took me to New York; and there we lived
very happily until about two years ago, when my
father died. He was a lawyer by profession, but at
that time held a salaried position in a railroad com
pany, and when he died, of course our income ceased.
The money that was left did not last very long, and
then I had to decide what I was to do. It would have
been natural for me to go to my only relatives, Aunt
Keswick and Junius. But my father had been so
opposed to my aunt having anything to do with me
that I could not bear to go to her. He had really

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

been so much afraid that she would try to win me
away from him, or in some way gain possession of me,
that he would not even let her know our address, and
never answered the few letters from her which reached
him, and which, he told me, were nothing but demands
that her sister's child should be given back to her.
Junius had written to me, how many times I do not
know, but two letters had come to me that were very
good and affectionate, quite different from my aunt's ;
but even these my father would not let me answer 5 it
would be all the same thing, he said, as if I opened
communication with my Aunt Keswick.

" Therefore, out of respect to my father, and also in
accordance with my own wishes, I gave up all idea of
coming down here, and went to work to support my
self. I tried several things, and at last, through a
friend of my father, who was a regular customer of
Mr. Candy, I got the position of cashier in the Informa
tion Shop. It was an awfully queer place, but the
work was very easy, and I soon got used to it. Then
you came making inquiries for an address. At first I
did not know that the person you wanted was Junius
Keswick, and my cousin, but after I began to look into
the matter I found that it must be he who you were
after. Then I became very much troubled, for I liked
Junius, who was the only one of my blood whom I had
any reason to care for,- and when one sees a person
setting a detective for it is all the same thing upon
the track of another person, one is very apt to think
that some harm is intended to the person that is being
looked up. I did not know what business Junius was
in, nor what his condition was, but even if he had been
doing wrong, I did not wish you to find him until I

148



THE LATE MRS. NULL

had first seen him, and then, if I found you could do
him any harm, I would warn him to keep out of your
way."

"Do you think that was fair treatment of me?"
asked Croft.

" You were nothing to me, and Junius was a great
deal," she answered. "And yet I think I was fair
enough. The only money you paid was what Mr.
Candy charged ; and when I spoke of receiving money
for my services when the affair was finished I only
did it that it might all be more businesslike, and that
you should not drop me and set somebody else looking
after Junius. That was the great thing I was afraid
of, so I did all I could to make you satisfied with me."

" I don't see how your conscience could allow you
to do all this," said Croft.

" My conscience was very much pleased with me,"
was the answer. " What I did was a stratagem, and
perfectly fair, too. If I had found that it was right for
you to see Junius, I would have done everything I could
to help you communicate with him. But when I did
at last see him, down you swooped upon us before I
had an opportunity of saying a word about you."

"Your marriage was a very fortunate thing for
you," said Mr. Croft, " for if it had not been for that I
should never have allowed you to go about the country
looking up a gentleman in my behalf. But how did
you get over your repugnance to your aunt?"

" I didn't get over it," she said ; " I conquered it, for
I found that this was the most likely place to meet
Junius. And Aunt Keswick has certainly treated me
in the kindest manner, although she is very angry
about Mr. Null. But when I first came, and she did

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

not know who I was, she behaved in the most extraor
dinary manner."

" What did she do! " asked Croft,

" Never you mind/' she answered, with a little laugh.
" You can't expect to know all the family affairs."

They had now arrived at Aunt Patsy's cabin, and
Mrs. Null entered, followed at a little distance by
Croft. The old woman had seen them as they were
walking along the road, and her little black eyes
sparkled with peculiar animation behind her great
spectacles. Her granddaughter happened not to be
at home, but Aunt Patsy got up, and with her apron
rubbed off the bottoms of two chairs, which she placed
in convenient positions for her expected visitors.
When they came in they found her in a very per
turbed condition. She answered Mrs. Null's questions
with a very few words and a great many grunts, and
kept her eyes fixed nearly all the time upon Mr. Croft,
endeavoring to find out, perhaps, if he had yet been
subjected to any kind of conjuring.

When all the questions which young people gener
ally put to old servants had been asked by Mrs. Null,
and Croft had made as many remarks as might have
been expected of him in regard to the age and recol
lections of this interesting old negress, Aunt Patsy
began to be much more disturbed, fearing that the in
terview was about to come to an end. She actually got
up and went to the back door to look for Eliza.

"Do you want her?" anxiously inquired Mrs. Null,
going to the old woman's side.

"Yaas, I wants her," said Aunt Patsy. "I 'spec'
she at Aggy's house, dat cabin ober dar, but I can't
holler loud 'nuf to make her h'yere me."

150



THE LATE MRS. NULL

" Til run over there and tell her you want her," said
Mrs. Null, stepping out of the door.

"Dat's a good chile," said Aunt Patsy, with more
warmth than she had yet exhibited. " Dat's your own
mudder's good chile ! " And then she turned quickly
into the room.

Croft had risen as if he were about to follow Mrs.
Null, or, at least, to see where she had gone. But
Aunt Patsy stopped him. " Jes you stay h'yar one
little minute," she said hurriedly. " I got one word
to say to you, sah." And she stood up before him as
erect as she could, fixing her great spectacles directly
upon him. " You look out, sah, fur ole miss," she said,
in a voice naturally shrill, but now heavily handi
capped by age and emotion j " ole Miss Keswick, I
means. She boun' to do you harm, sah. She tole me
so wid her own mouf."

" Mrs. Keswick ! " exclaimed Croft. " Why, you
must be mistaken, good aunty. She can have no ill
feelings towards me."

" Don' you b'lieve dat ! " said the old woman.
" Don' you b'lieve one word ob dat ! She hate you,
sah, she hate you ! She not gwine to tell you dat.
She make you think she like you f us' -rate, an' den de
nex' thing you knows, she kunjer you, an' shribble up
de siners ob your legs, an' gib you mis'ry in your back,
wot you nebber git rid ob no mo'. Can't tell you
nuffin else now, for h'yar comes Miss Annie," she
added hurriedly, and, stepping to the bedside, she
drew from under the mattress a pair of little blue
shoes, tied together by their strings. " Jes you take
dese h'yar shoes," she said, " an' ef ebber you think ole
miss gwine to kunjer you, jes you hoi' up dem shoes

151



THE LATE MRS. NULL

right afore her face. Dar, now, stuff 'em in your
pocket. Don 7 you tell Miss Annie wot I done say to
you. 'Member dat, sah. It 'u'd kill her, shuh."

At this moment Mrs. Null entered, just as the shoes
had been slipped into the side-pocket of Mr. Croft's
coat by the old woman. And as she did so she whis
pered, in a tone that could not but have its effect upon
him, " Now, nebber tell her, honey."

" Here is Eliza," said Mrs. Null, as she came in, fol
lowed by the great-granddaughter. " And I think,"
she said to Mr. Croft, " it is time for us to go. Good-
by, Aunt Patsy. You can send back the basket by
Eliza."

When the two left the cabin, Croft walked thought
fully for a few moments, wondering what in the world
the old woman could have meant by her strange words
and gift to him. Concluding, however, that they could
have been nothing but the drivellings of weak-minded
old age, he dismissed them from his min,d and turned
his attention to his companion. "We were speak
ing," he said, "of Mr. Null. Do you expect him
shortly!"

Well, no," said the lady. " I can't say that I do."

" That is odd," said Lawrence. " I thought this was
your wedding-journey."

" So it is, in a measure," said she, " but there is no
necessity of his coming here. Didn't I tell you that
my aunt was opposed to the marriage? "

"But she might as well make up her mind to it
now," he said.

" She is not in the habit of making up her mind to
things she doesn't like. Do you know," she added, look
ing around with a half -smile, as if she took pleasure in

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

astonishing him, " that Aunt Keswick is going to try
to have us divorced f "

" What ! " exclaimed Croft. " Divorced ! Is there
any ground for it! "

" She has other matrimonial plans for me, that's all."

" What an extraordinary individual she must be ! "
he exclaimed. " But she can never carry out such a
ridiculous scheme as that."

"I don't know," she said. "She has already con
sulted Mr. Brandon on the subject."

" What nonsense ! " cried Croft. " If you and Mr.
Null are satisfied, nobody else has anything to do
with it."

" Mr. Null and I are of one mind," said she, " and
agree perfectly. But don't you think it is a terrible
thing to know you must always face an irritated aunt ? "

" Oh," said Croft, looking around at her very coldly
and sternly, " I begin to see. I suppose a separation
would improve your prospects in life. But it can't be
done if your husband is opposed to it."

" Mr. Croft," said the lady, her face flushing a good
deal, " you have no right to speak to me in that way,
and attribute such motives to me. No matter whom
I had married, I would never give him up for the sake
of money, or a farm, or anything you think my aunt
could give me."

" I beg your pardon," said Croft, " if I made a mis
take, but I don't see what else I could infer from your
remarks."

" My remarks," said she, " were well, they have a
different meaning from what you supposed." She
walked on in silence for a few moments, and then,
looking up to her companion, she said : "I have a

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

great mind to tell you something, if you will promise,
at least for the present, not to breathe it to a living
soul."

Instantly the lookout on the bow of Lawrence Croft's
life action called out : " Breakers ahead ! " and almost
instantly its engine was stopped, and every faculty of
its commander was on the alert. " I do not know," he
said, " that I am entitled to your confidence. Would
it be of any advantage to you to tell me what you
propose I "

" It would be of advantage, and you are entitled,"
she added quickly. "It is about Mr. Null, and you
ought to know it, for you instigated my wedded life."

"I instigated!" exclaimed Mr. Croft. And then
he stopped short, both in his speech and walk.

"Yes," said the lady, stopping also, and turning to
face him, "you did, and you ought to remember it.
You said if I had a husband to travel about with me
you would like very much to employ me in the search
for Mr. Keswick, and it was solely on that account
that I went and got married."

Observing the look of blank and utter amazement
on his face, she smiled, and said : " Please don't look so
horribly astonished. Mr. Null is void."

As she made this remark the lady looked up at her
companion with a smile and an expression of curiosity
as to how he would take the announcement. Law
rence gazed blankly at her for a moment, and then
he broke into a laugh. " You don't mean to say," he
exclaimed, "that Mr. Null is an imaginary being?"

"Entirely so," she replied. "My dear Freddy is
nothing but a fanciful idea, with no attribute whatever
except the name."

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

" You are a most extraordinary young person," said
Lawrence, "almost as extraordinary as your aunt.
What in the world made you think of doing such a
thing? and why do you wish to keep up the delusion
among your relatives, even so far as to drive your aunt
to the point of getting you divorced from your airy
husband? " And he laughed again.

" I told you how I came to think of it," she said, as
they walked on again. " It was very plain that if I
wanted to travel about as your agent I must be mar
ried, and I have found a husband quite a protection
and an advantage, even when he doesn't go about with
me ; and as to keeping up the delusion, as you call it,
in my own family, I have found that to be absolutely
necessary, at least for the present. My aunt, even
when I was a little girl, determined to take my mar
riage into her own hands ; and since I have returned
to her, this desire has come up again in the most
astonishing way. It is her principal subject of con
versation with me. Were it not for the protection
which my dear Freddy Null gives me I should be
thrown bodily into the arms of the person whom my
aunt has selected, and he would be obliged to take me,
whether he wanted to or not, or be cast forth forever.
So you see how important it is that my aunt should
think I am married ; and I do hope you will not tell
anybody about Mr. Null."

"Of course I will keep your secret," said Croft;
"you may rely upon that. But don't you think do
you believe that this sort of thing is altogether right f "

She did not answer for a few moments, and then
she said : "I suppose you must consider me a very
deceptive sort of person, but you should remember

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

that these things were not done for my own good, and,
as far as I can see, they were the only things that could
be done. Do you suppose I was going to let you
pounce down on my cousin and do him some injury ?
For, as you kept your object such a secret, I did not
suppose it could be anything but an injury you in
tended him."

" A fine opinion of me ! " said Croft.

" And then, do you suppose," she continued, " that
I would allow my aunt to quarrel with Junius and
disinherit him, as she says she will should he decline
to marry me ? I expected to drop my married name
when I came here, but I had not been with my aunt
fifteen minutes before I saw that it would never do for
me to be a single woman while I stayed with her ; and
so I kept my Freddy by me. I did not intend, at all,
to tell you all these things about my cousin, and I only
did it because I did not wish you to think that I was


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