Frank Richard Stockton.

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

. (page 15 of 26)
Online LibraryFrank Richard StocktonThe novels and stories of Frank R. Stockton . (Volume 1) → online text (page 15 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

was certain that this was the work of old Mrs. Keswick,
who had succeeded, at last, jin conjuring the young
husband ; and the charm she had given him, and upon
which she had relied to avert the ill will of " ole miss,"
had proved unavailing. The conjuring had been ac
complished so craftily and slyly, the bewitched plank
in one place and Mrs. Keswick far off in another, that
there had been no chance to use the counteracting
charm. And yet Aunt Patsy had thought it a good
charm a very good one indeed.

Early in her married life Mrs. Keswick had been the
mother of a little girl. It had died when it was very
small, and it was the only child she ever had. Of this
infant she preserved, as a memento, a complete suit
of its clothes, which she regarded with a feeling almost



religious. Years ago, however, Aunt Patsy, in order
to protect herself against the conjuring powers of the
mistress of the house, in which she then served as a
sort of supervising cook, had possessed herself of the
shoes belonging to the cherished suit of clothes. She
knew the sacred light in which they were regarded by
their owner, and she felt quite sure that if " ole miss "
ever attempted, in one of her fits of anger, to exercise
her power of limb-twisting or back-contortion upon
her, that the sight of those little blue shoes would
create a revulsion of feeling, and, as she put it to her
self, " stop her mighty short." The shoes had never
been missed, for the box containing the suit was only
opened on one day of the year, and then all the old
lady could endure was a peep at the little white frock
which covered the rest of the contents ; and Aunt
Patsy well knew that the sight of those little blue shoes
would be to her mistress like two little feet coming
back from the grave.

Patsy had been much too old to act as nurse to the
infant Annie Peyton, then regarded as the daughter
of the house, but she had always felt for the child the
deepest affection ; and now that she herself was so near
the end of her career that she had little fear of being
bewitched, she was willing to give up the safeguards
she had so long possessed, in order that they might
protect the man whom Miss Annie had loved and mar
ried. But they had failed, or rather it had been im
possible to use them, and Miss Annie's husband had
been stricken down.

" It's pow'ful hard to git roun 7 ole miss," she groaned.
" She too much fur ole folks like I is."

At this remark Uncle Isham fired up. Although


the conduct of his mistress troubled him at times very
much, he was intensely loyal to her, and he instantly
caught the meaning of this aspersion against her.
" Now, look h'yar, Aun' Patsy ! " he exclaimed, " wot
you talkin' 'bout? Wot ole miss got to do wid Mister
Oof sprainin' he ankle f Ole miss warn't dar ; an'
when I done fotch him up to de house, she cut roun'
an' do more fur him dan anybody else. She got de
hot water, an 7 she dipped de flannels in it, an' she wrop
up de ankle all herse'f ; an' when she got him all fixed
comf 'able in de office, she says to me, says she : l Now,
Isham, you wait on Mister Crof , an' you gib him
eberything he want ; an' when de cool ob de ebenin'
comes on you make a fire in dat fireplace, an' stay
whar he kin call you whenebber he wants you to wait
on him.' I didn't eben come down h'yar till I axed
him would he want me fur half an hour."

" Well," said Aunt Patsy, her eyes softening a little,
" p'r'aps she didn't do it dis time. It mought 'a' been
his own orkardness. I hopes to mussiful goodness dat
dat was so. But wot fur you call him Mister Crof ?
Is dat he fus' name ? "

" I reckon so," said Isham. " He one ob de fam'ly
now, an' I reckon dey calls him by he fus' name. An'
now, look h'yar, Aun' Patsy, I wants you not to dis-
remember dis h'yar. Don' you go imaginin', ebery
time anything happens to folks, dat ole miss done
been kunjerin' 'em. Dat ain't pious, an' 'tain't suitable
fur a ole pusson like you, Aun' Patsy, wots jes settin'
on de poach steps ob heaben, a-waitin' till somebody
finds out you's dar an' lets you in."

Aunt Patsy turned her great spectacles full upon
him, and then she said : " You Isham, ef ebber you gits



a call to preach to folks, you jes sing out : ' Oh, Lor',
I ain't fit ! ' And den you go crack your head wid a
millstone, fur fear you git called ag'in, fru mistake."

Uncle Isham made no answer to this piece of advice,
but taking up some clothes which Aunt Patsy's great-
granddaughter had washed and ironed for him, he left
the cabin. He was a man much given to attending to
his own business, and paying very little attention to
those affairs of his mistress's household with which he
had no personal concern. When Mr. Croft first came
to the house, he, as well as Aunt Patsy, had been told
that it was Mr. Null, the husband of Miss Annie, and
although not thinking much about it, he had always
supposed this to be the case. But now it struck him
as a very strange thing that Miss Annie did not attend
to her husband, but allowed his mistress and himself
to do everything that was done for him. It was a
question which his mind was totally incapable of
solving ; but when he reached the house, he spoke
to Letty on the subject.

" Bress your soul ! " exclaimed that well-nourished
person, "dat's not Mister Null, wot married Miss
Annie. Dat's Mister Crof, an' he ain't married to
nobody. Mister Null he ain't come yet, but I reckon
he'll be along soon."

""Well, den," exclaimed Isham, much surprised,
"how come Aun' Patsy to take he fur Miss Annie's
husband ! "

"Oh, git out!" contemptuously exclaimed Letty.
" Don' you go put no 'count on dem fool notions wot
Aun' Patsy got in she ole head. Nobody knows how
dey come dar, no more'n how dey ebber manage to git
out. 'Tain't no use 'splainin' no thin' to Aun' Patsy,



an' if she b'lieves dat's Miss Annie's husband, you
can't make her b'lieve it's anybody else. Jes you lef
her alone. Nuffin she b'lieves ain't gwine to hurt

And Isham, remembering his frequent ill success in
endeavoring to make Aunt Patsy think as she ought
to think, concluded that this was good advice.

At the time of the conversation just mentioned,
Lawrence was sitting in a large easy-chair in front of
the open door of the room of which he had been put
in possession. His injured foot was resting upon a
cushioned stool j a small table stood by him, on which
were his cigar- and match-cases, a pitcher of iced water
and a glass, and a late copy of a semi-weekly paper.
Through the doorway, which was but two steps higher
than the grass sward before it, his eyes fell upon a very
pleasing scene. To the right was the house, with its
vine-covered porch and several great oak-trees over
hanging it, which still retained their heavy foliage,
although it was beginning to lose something of its
summer green. In front of him, at the opposite end
of the grassy yard, was the pretty little arbor in which
he had told Mr. Junius Keswick of the difficulties in
the way of his speaking his mind to Miss March. Be
yond the large garden, at the back of this arbor,
stretched a wide field with a fringe of woods at its
distant edge, gay with the colors of autumn. The sky
was bright and blue, and fair white clouds moved
slowly over its surface ; the air was sunny and warm,
with bumblebees humming about some late-flowering
shrubs ; and high in the air floated two great turkey-
buzzards, with a beauty of motion surpassed by no
other flying thing, with never a movement of their



wide-spread wings, except to give them the necessary
inclination as they rose with the wind, and then turned
and descended in a long sweep, only to rise again and
complete the circle sailing thus for hours, around and
around, their shadows moving over the fields below

Fearing that he had sustained some injury more than
a mere sprain, Lawrence had had the Hewlett's doctor
summoned, and that general practitioner had come
and gone, after having assured Mr. Croft that no bones
had been broken, that Mrs. Keswick's treatment was
exactly what it should be, and that all that was neces
sary for him was to remain quiet for a few days, and
be very careful not to use the injured ankle. Thus
he had the prospect of but a short confinement $ he
felt no present pain ; and there was nothing of the
sick-room atmosphere in his surroundings, for his
position close to the door almost gave him the advan
tage of sitting in the open air of this bright autumnal

But Lawrence's mind dwelt not at all on these
ameliorating circumstances; it dwelt only upon the
fact that he was in one house and Miss March was in
another. It was impossible for him to go to her, and
he had no reason to believe that she would come to
him. Under ordinary circumstances it would be natu
ral enough for her to look in upon him and inquire
into his condition, but now the case was very different.
She knew that he desired to see her, that he had been
coming to her when he met with his accident, and she
knew, too, exactly what he wanted to say ; and it was
not to be supposed that a lady would come to a man
to be wooed, especially this lady, who had been in such



an unfavorable humor when he had wooed her the day

But it was quite impossible for Lawrence, at this
most important crisis of his life, to sit without action
for three or four days, during which time it was not
unlikely that Miss March might go home. But what
was he to do t It would be ridiculous to think of send
ing for her, she knowing for what purpose she was
wanted ; and as for writing a letter, that did not suit
him at all. There was too much to be explained, too
much to be urged, too much to be avowed, and prob
ably too many contingencies to be met, for him to
even consider the subject of writing a letter. A pro
posal on paper would most certainly bring a rejection
on paper. He could think of no plan ; he must trust
to chance. If his lucky star and it had shone a good
deal in his life should give him an opportunity of
speaking to her, he would lose not an instant in broach
ing the important subject. He was happy to think
he had a friend in the old lady. Perhaps she might
bring about the desired interview. But although this
thought was encouraging, he could not but tremble
when he remembered the very plain and unvarnished
way she had of doing such things.

While these thoughts were passing through his mind,
a lady came out upon the porch and descended the
steps. At the first sight of her through the vines,
Lawrence had thought it might be Miss March, and
his heart had given a jump. But it was not ; it was
Mrs. Null 5 and she came over the grass towards him,
and stopped in front of his door. " How are you feel
ing now?" she asked. "Does your foot still hurt



" Oh, no," said Lawrence, " I am in no pain. The
only thing that troubles me is that I have to stay just

" It might have been better on some accounts," said
she, " if you had been taken into the house ; but it
would have hurt you dreadfully to go up-stairs, unless
Uncle Isham carried you on his back, which I don't
believe he could do."

" Of course it's a great deal better out here," said
Lawrence. " In fact, this is a perfectly charming place
to be laid up in. But I want to get about. I want to
see people."

" Many people ! " asked she, with a significant little

Lawrence smiled in return. " You must know, Mrs.
Null, from what I have told you," he said, " that there
is one person I want to see very much, and that is why
I am so annoyed at being kept here in this chair."

"You must be of an uncommonly impatient turn
of mind," she said, " for you haven't been here three
hours altogether, and hundreds of persons sit still that
long just because they want to."

" I don't want to sit still a minute," said Lawrence.
" I very much wish to speak to Miss March. Couldn't
you contrive an opportunity for me to do so ? "

" It is possible that I might," she said, " but I won't.
Haven't I told you that I don't approve of this affair
of yours ? My cousin is in love with Miss March, and
all I should do for you would be directly against him.
Aunt so managed things this morning that I was
actually obliged to give you an opportunity to be
with her ; but I had intended going with Roberta to
the woods, as she had asked me to do."



" You are very cruel/' said Lawrence.

" No, I am not," said she ; " I am only just."

"I explained to you yesterday," said he, "that
your course of thinking and acting is not just, and
is of no possible advantage to anybody. How can it
injure your cousin if Miss March refuses me and I go
away and never see her again? And if she accepts
me, then you should be glad that I had put an end
to your cousin's pursuit of a woman who does not
love him."

" That is nonsense," said she. " I shouldn't be glad
at all to see him disappointed. I should feel like a
traitor if I helped you. But I did not come to talk
about these things. I came to ask you what you
would have for dinner."

" I had an idea," said Lawrence, not regarding this
remark, " that you were a young lady of a kindly dis

" And you don't think so now? " she said.

"No," answered Lawrence, "I cannot. I cannot
think a woman kind who will refuse to assist a man
situated as I am to settle the most important ques
tion of his life, especially as I have told you before
that it is really to the interest of the one you are
acting for that it should be settled."

Miss Annie, still standing in front of the door, now
regarded Lawrence with a certain degree of thought-
fulness on her countenance, which presently changed
to a half-smile. " If I were perfectly sure," she said,
"that she would reject you, I would try to get her
here, and have the matter settled ; but I don't know
her very well yet, and can't feel at all certain as to
what she might do."



" I like your frankness," said Lawrence, " but, as I
said before, you are very cruel."

" Not at all," said she j " I am very kind, only"

" You don't show it," interrupted Lawrence.

At this Miss Annie laughed. "Kindness isn't of
much use if it is shut up, is it?" she said. "I sup
pose you think it is one of those virtues that we
ought to act out, as well as feel, if we want any
credit. And now, isn't there something I can do for
you besides bringing another man's sweetheart to
you ? "

Lawrence smiled. "I don't believe she is his
sweetheart," he said, "and I want to find out if I
am right."

"It is my opinion," said Miss Annie, "that you
ought to think more about your sprained ankle and
your general health than about having your mind
settled by Miss March. I should think that keeping
your blood boiling, in this way, would inflame your

"The doctor didn't tell me what to think about,"
said Lawrence. " He only said I must not walk."

"I haven't heard yet," said Miss Annie, "what you
would like to have to eat."

"I don't wish to give the slightest trouble," an
swered Lawrence. " What do you generally give peo -
ple in such scrapes as this? Tea and toast? "

Annie laughed. "Nonsense," said she. "What
you want is the best meal you can get. Aunt said if
there was anything you particularly liked she would
have it made for you."

"Do not think of such a thing," said Lawrence.
" Give me just what the family has."



"Would you like Miss March to bring it out to
you?" she asked.

" The word cruel cannot express your disposition,"
said Lawrence. " I pity Mr. Null."

" Poor man," said she ; " but it would be a good
thing for you if you could keep your mind as quiet
as his is." And with that she went into the house.

After dinner, Miss March did come out to inquire
into Mr. Croft 7 s condition, but she was accompanied by
Mrs. Keswick. Lawrence invited the ladies to come
in and be seated ; but Eoberta stood on the grass in
front of the door, as Miss Annie had done, while Mrs.
Keswick entered the room, looked into the ice -water
pitcher, and examined things generally, to see if
Uncle Isham had been guilty of any sins of omission.

" Do you feel quite at ease now? " said Miss March.

" My ankle doesn't trouble me," said Lawrence, " but
I never felt so uncomfortable and dissatisfied in my
life." And with these latter words he gave the lady
a look which was intended to be, and which probably
was, full of meaning to her.

"Wouldn't you like some books?" said Mrs. Kes
wick, now appearing from the back of the room.
"You haven't anything to read. There are plenty
of books in the house, but they are all old."

" I think those are the most delightful of books,"
said Miss March. "I have been looking over the
volumes on your shelves, Mrs. Keswick. I am sure
there are a good many of them Mr. Croft would like
to read, even if he has read them before. There are
lots of queer old-time histories and biographies, and
sets of bound magazines, some of them over a hun
dred years old. Would you like me to select some



for you, Mr. Croft? Or shall I write some of the
titles on a slip of paper, and let you select for your

"I shall be delighted," said Lawrence, "to have
you make a choice for me ; and I think the list
would be the better plan, because books would be so
heavy to carry about."

"I will do it immediately," said Miss March, and
she walked rapidly to the house.

" Now, then," said Mrs. Keswick, " Fll put a chair
out here on the grass, close to the door. It's shady
there, and I should think it would be pleasant for
both of you if she would sit there and read to you
out of those books. She is a fine woman, that Miss
March a much finer woman than I thought she
could be, before I knew her."

" She is, indeed," said Lawrence.

"I suppose you think she is the finest woman in
the world ? " said the old lady, with a genial grin.

" What makes you suppose so ? " asked Lawrence.

"Haven't I eyes?" said Mrs. Keswick. "But you
needn't make any excuses. You have made an ex
cellent choice, and I hope you may succeed in getting
her. Perhaps you have succeeded ? " she added, giv
ing Lawrence an earnest look, with a question in it.

Lawrence did not immediately reply. It was not
in his nature to confide his affairs to other people,
and yet he had done so much of it, of late, that he
did not see why he should make an exception against
Mrs. Keswick, who was, indeed, the only person who
seemed inclined to be friendly to his suit. He might
as well let her know how matters stood. "No," he
said, " I have not yet succeeded, and I am very sorry



that this accident has interfered with my efforts to
do so."

" Don't let it interfere," said the old lady, her eyes
sparkling, while her purple sunbonnet was suddenly
and severely bobbed. "You have just as good a
chance now as you ever had, and all you have to do
is to make the most of it. When she comes out here
to read to you, you can talk to her just as well as if
you were in the woods or on top of a hill. iNobody'll
come here to disturb you ; I'll take care of that."

"You are very kind," said Lawrence, somewhat
wondering at her enthusiasm.

"I intended to go away and leave her here with
you," continued Mrs. Keswick, " if I could find a good
opportunity to do so, but she hit on the best plan
herself. And now Til be off and leave the coast clear.
I will come again before dark and put some more of
that stuff on your ankle. If you want anything, ring
this bell, and if Isham doesn't hear you, somebody will
call him. He has orders to keep about the house."

" You are putting me under very great obligations
to you, madam," said Lawrence.

But the old lady did not stop to hear any thanks,
and hastened to clear the coast.

Lawrence had to wait a long time for his list of
books, but at last it came ; and, much to his surprise
and chagrin, Mrs. STull brought it. "Miss March
asked me to give you this," she said, "so that you
can pick out just what books you want."

Lawrence took the paper, but did not look at it.
He was deeply disappointed and hurt. His whole
appearance showed it.

" You don't seem glad to get it," said Miss Annie.



Lawrence looked at her, his face darkening. " Did
you persuade Miss March/' he said, "to stay in the
house and let you bring this?"

" Now, Mr. Croft," said the young lady, a very de
cided flush coming into her face, " that is going too
far. You have no right to accuse me of such a thing.
I am not going to help in your love-affairs, but I
don't intend to be mean about it, either. Miss March
asked me to bring that list, and at first I wouldn't do
it, for I knew, just as well as I know anything, that
you expected her to come to you with it, and I was
very sure you wanted to see her more than the paper.
I refused two or three times, but she said, at last,
that if I didn't take it she'd send it by some one in
the house ; so I just picked it up and brought it right
along. I don't like her as much as I did."

"Why not?" asked Lawrence.

" You needn't accept a man if you don't want him,"
said Miss Annie, " but there is no need of being cruel
to him, especially when he is laid up. If she didn't
intend to come out to you again, she ought not to
have made you believe so. You did expect her to
come, didn't you?"

" Most certainly," said Lawrence, in rather a dole
ful tone.

" Yes, and there is the chair she was to sit in," said
Miss Annie, "while you said seven words about the
books and ten thousand about the way your heart
was throbbing. I see Aunt Keswick's hand in that,
as plain as can be. I don't say I'd put her in that
chair if I could do it, but I certainly am sorry she
disappointed you so. "Would you like to have any of
those books? If you would, I'll get them for you."



"I am much obliged, Mrs. Null," said Lawrence,
" but I don't think I care for any books. And let me
say that I am very sorry for the way I spoke to you
just now."

"Oh, don't mention that," said she. "If I'd been
in your place I should have been mad enough to say
anything. But it's no use to sit here and be grumpy.
You'd better let me go and get you a book. The
1 Critical Magazine ' for 1767 and 1768 is on that list,
and I know there are lots of queer, interesting things
in it, but it takes a good while to hunt them out from
the other things for which you would not care at all.
And then, there are all the l Spectators' and 'Ram
blers,' and < The World Displayed ' in eight volumes,
which, from what I saw when I looked through it,
seems to be a different kind of world from the one I
live in 5 and there are others that you will see on
your list. But there is one book which I have been
reading lately, which I think you will find odder and
funnier than any of the rest. It is the t Geographical
Grammar,' by Mr. Salmon. Suppose I bring you that.
It is a description of the whole world, written more
than a hundred years ago by an Irish gentleman who,
I think, never went anywhere."

" Thank you," said Lawrence ; " I shall be obliged
to you if you will be kind enough to bring me that
one." He was glad for her to go away, even for a
little time, that he might think. The smart of the
disappointment caused by the non-appearance of Miss
March was beginning to subside a little. Looking at
it more quietly and reasonably, he could see that, in
her position, it would be actually unmaidenly for her
to come to him by herself. It was altogether another



thing for this other girl, and therefore perhaps it was
quite proper to send her. But, in spite of whatever
reasonableness there might have been in it, he chafed
under this propriety. It would have been far better,
he thought, if she had come and told him that she
could not possibly accept him, and that nothing more
must be said about it. But then, he did not believe,
if she had given him time to say the words he wished
to say, that she would have come to such a decision ;
and as he called up her lovely face and figure as it
stood framed in the open doorway, with a background
of the sunlit arbor and fields, the gorgeous distant
foliage, with the blue sky and its white clouds and
circling birds, he thought of the rapture and ecstasy
which would have come to him if she had listened to
his words and had given him but a smile of encour

But here came Mrs. Null, with a fat brown book in

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

Online LibraryFrank Richard StocktonThe novels and stories of Frank R. Stockton . (Volume 1) → online text (page 15 of 26)