Frank Richard Stockton.

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

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some of his neighbors, and hurried behind the counter.

" Have you any tea," said Miss Annie, "better than
the kind which you usually sell to Mrs. Keswick ? "

"No, ma'am," said he. "We send her the very
best tea we have."

" I am not finding fault with it," she said, " but I
thought you might have some extra kind, more ex
pensive than people usually buy for common use."

" No, ma'am," said he ; " there is fancy teas of that
kind, but you'd have to send to Philadelphia or New
York for them."

" How long would that take? " she asked.

" I reckon it would be four or five days before you'd
get it, ma'am," said the storekeeper.

" I am afraid," said Miss Annie, looking reflectively
along the counter, "that that would be too long."
And then she turned to go, but suddenly stopped.
"Have you any guava jelly?" she asked.

The man smiled. " We don't have no call for any
thing as fancy as that, ma'am," he said. "Is there
anything else ? "

" Not to-day," answered Miss Annie, after throwing
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THE LATE MRS. NULL

a despairing glance upon the rolls of calicoes, the
coils of clothes-lines, the battered tin boxes of tea and
sugar, the dusty and chimneyless kerosene lamps, and
the long rows of canned goods with their gaudy
labels; and then she departed.

When she had gone, the storekeeper returned to
his seat on the mackerel-kit, and was accosted by a
pensive neighbor in high boots, who sat upon the
upturned end of a case of brogans. "You didn't
make no sale that time, Peckett," said he.

"No," said the storekeeper, "her idees is a little
too fancy for our stock of goods."

"Whar's her husband, anyway?" asked a stout,
elderly man in linen trousers and faded alpaca coat,
who was seated on two boxes of pearl starch, one on
top of the other. " Fve heard that he was a member
of the legislatur'. Is that so f "

" He's not that, you can take my word for it," said
Tom Peckett. " Old Miss Keswick give me to under
stand that he was in the fertilizing business."

" That ought to be a good thing for the old lady,"
said the man on the starch-boxes. " She'll git a dis
count off her gwarner."

" I never did see," said the pensive neighbor on the
brogan-case, " how such things do git twisted. It was
only yesterday that I met a man at Tyson's Mill,
who'd just come over from the Valley, and he said
he'd seen this Mr. Noles over thar. He's a hoss-
doctor, and he's going up through all the farms along
thar."

"I reckon when he gits up as fur as he wants to
go," said the man on the starch-boxes, "he'll come
here and settle fur a while."

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

" That won't be so much help to the old lady," said
the storekeeper, " for it wouldn't pay to keep a nefly-
in-law just to doctor one sorrel horse and a pa'r o>
oxen."

" I reckon his wife must be 'spectin' him/' said the
man on the brogan-case, " from her comin' after fancy
vittles."

" If he do come," said the stout, elderly neighbor,
"I wish you'd let me know, Tom Peckett, fur my
black mar' has got a hitch in her shoulder I can't
understand, and I'd like him to look at her."

The storekeeper smiled at the pensive man, and
the pensive man smiled back at the storekeeper.
"You needn't trouble yourself about that young
woman's husband," said Mr. Peckett. "There'll be
a horse-doctor coming along afore you know it, and
he'll attend to that old mar' of yourn without chargin'
you a cent."



253



CHAPTER XXI

THE second afternoon of Lawrence Croft's confine
ment in the little building in Mrs. Keswick's yard
passed drearily enough. The sky retained its sombre
covering of clouds, and the rain came down in a
melancholy, capricious way, as if it were tears shed
by a child who was crying because it was bad. The
monotony of the slowly moving hours was broken
only by a very brief visit from the old lady, who was
going somewhere in the covered spring- wagon, and
who looked in, before she started, to see if her patient
wanted anything, and by the arrival of a bundle of
old novels sent by Mrs. Null. These books Lawrence
looked over with indifferent interest, hoping to find
one among them that was not a love-story ; but he
was disappointed. They were all based upon, and
most of them permeated with the tender passion,
and Lawrence was not in the mood for reading about
that sort of thing. A person afflicted with a disease
is not apt to find agreeable occupation in reading hos
pital reports upon his particular ailment.

The novels were put aside, and although Lawrence
felt that he had smoked almost too much during that
day, he was about to light another cigar, when he

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

heard a carriage drive into the yard. Turning to the
window, he saw a barouche, evidently a hired one,
drawn by a pair of horses, very lean and bony, but
with their heads reined up so high that they had an
appearance of considerable spirit, and driven by a
colored man, sitting upon a very elevated seat, with
a jaunty air and a well-worn whip. The carriage
drove over the grass to the front of the house, there
was no roadway in the yard, the short, crisp, tough
grass having long resisted the occasional action of
wheels and hoofs, and there stopping, a gentleman
with a valise got out. He paid the driver, who im
mediately turned the vehicle about and drove away.
The gentleman put his foot upon the bottom step as
if he were about to ascend, and then, apparently
changing his mind, he picked up his valise and came
directly towards the office, drawing a key from his
pocket as he walked. It was Junius Keswick, and
in a few minutes his key was heard in the lock. As
it was not locked, the key merely rattled, and Law
rence called out : " Come in."

The door opened, and Junius looked in, evidently
surprised. "I beg your pardon," said he, "I didn't
know you were in here."

" Please walk in," said Lawrence. " I know I am
occupying your room, and it is I who should ask your
pardon. But you see the reason why it was thought
well that I should not have stairs to ascend." And
he pointed to his bandaged foot.

" Have you hurt yourself? " asked Junius, with an
air of concern.

And then Lawrence gave an account of his accident,
expressing at the same time his regret that he found

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

himself occupying the room which belonged to the
other.

"Oh, don't mention that/ 7 said Junius, who had
taken a seat near the window. "There are rooms
enough in the house, and I shall be perfectly comfort
able. It was quite right in my aunt to have you
brought in here, and I should have insisted upon it
myself if I had been at home. I expected to be
away for a week or more, but I have now come back
on account of your letter."

"Does that need explanation?" asked Lawrence.

" Not at all," said Junius. " I had no difficulty in
understanding it, although I must say that it sur
prised me. But I came because I am not satisfied
with the condition of things here, and I wish to be
on the spot. I do not understand why you and Miss
March should be invited here during my absence."

" That I do not understand either," said Lawrence,
quickly, " and I wish to impress it on your mind, Mr.
Keswick, that when I came here I not only expected
to find you, but a party of invited guests. I will say,
however, that I came with the express intention of
meeting Miss March and having that interview with
her which I could not have in her uncle's house."

" I was not entirely correct," said Junius, " when I
said that I did not know why these rather peculiar
arrangements had been made. My aunt is a very
managing person, and I think I perceive her purpose
in this piece of management."

"She is opposed to a marriage between you and
Miss March?"

" Most decidedly," said Junius. " Has she told you
so?"

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

" No," said Lawrence, " but it has gradually dawned
upon me that such is the case. I believe she would
be glad to have Miss March married and out of your
way."

Junius made no answer to this remark, but sat
silent for a few ntoments. Then he said : " Well,
have you settled it with Miss March?"

" No, I have not," said Lawrence. " If the matter
had been decided, one way or the other, I should not
be here. I have no right to trespass on your aunt's
hospitality, and I should have departed as soon as I
had discovered Miss March's sentiments in regard to
me. But I have not been able to settle the matter
at all. I had one opportunity of seeing the lady, and
that was not a satisfactory interview. Yesterday
morning I made another attempt, but before I could
get to her I sprained my ankle. And here I am. I
cannot go to her and of course she will not come to
me. You cannot imagine how I chafe under this
harassing restraint."

" I can imagine it very easily," said Junius.

"The only thing I have to hope for," said Law
rence, "is that to-morrow may be a fine day, and
that the lady may come outside and give me the
chance of speaking to her at this open door."

Junius smiled grimly. " It appears to me," he said,
"as if it were likely to rain for several days. But
now I must go into the house and see the family. I
hope you believe me, sir, when I say I am sorry to
find you in your present predicament."

"Yes," said Lawrence, smiling, although he did not
feel at all gay, "for otherwise I might have been
finally rejected and far away."

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

" If you had been rejected," said Junius, " I should
have been very glad indeed to have you stay with us."

" Thank you," said Lawrence.

" I will look in upon you again," said Junius, as he
left the room.

Lawrence's mind, which had been in a very un
pleasant state of troubled restiveness for some days,
was now thrown into a sad turmoil by this arrival of
Junius Keswick. As he saw that tall and good-look
ing young man going up the steps of the house porch
with his valise in his hand, he clinched both his fists
as they rested on the arm of his chair, and objurgated
the anti-detective.

" If it had not been for that rascal," he said to him
self, " I should not have written to Keswick, and he
would not have thought of coming back at this un
timely moment. The only advantage I had was a
clear coast, and now that is gone. Of course Keswick
was frightened when he found I was staying in the
same house with Roberta March, and hurried back
to attend to his own interests. The first thing he
will do now will be to propose to her himself 5 and,
as they have been engaged once, it is as like as not
she will take him again. If I could use this foot, I
would go into the house this minute, and have the
first word with her." At this he rose to his feet and
made a step with his sprained ankle ; but the sudden
pain occasioned by this action caused him to sit down
again with a groan. Lawrence Croft was not a man
to do himself a physical injury which might be per
manent, if such doing could possibly be avoided,
and he gave up the idea of trying to go into the
house.

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

" I tell you what it is, Letty," said Uncle Isham,
when he returned to the kitchen after having carried
Lawrence's supper to him, " dat ar Mister Croft in de
office is a-gittin' wus an' wus in he min' ebery day. I
nebber seed a man more pow'ful glowerin 7 dan he is
dis ebenin'."

" I reckon he joints is healin' up," said Letty. " Dey
tells me dat de healin' pains mos' generally runs into
de min'."

About nine o'clock in the evening Junius Keswick
paid Lawrence a visit, and, taking a seat by one side
of the fireplace, accepted the offer of a cigar.

"How are things going on in the house?" asked
Lawrence.

"Well," said Keswick, speaking slowly, "as you
know so much of our family affairs, I might as well
tell you that they are in a somewhat upset condition.
When I went in, I saw, at first, no one but my cousin,
and she seemed so extraordinarily glad to see me that
I thought something must be wrong, somewhere j and
when my aunt returned she was not at home when I
arrived she was thrown into such a state of mind on
seeing me that I didn't know whether she was going
to order me out of the house or go herself. But she
restrained herself wonderfully, considering her prov
ocation ; for, of course, I have entirely disordered her
plans by appearing here, when she had arranged
everything for you to have Miss March to yourself.
But, so far, the peace has been kept between us, al
though she scarcely speaks to me."

"And Miss March?" said Lawrence. "You have
seen her ? "

" Yes," said Junius ; " I saw her at supper and for
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THE LATE MRS. NULL

a short time afterwards, but she soon retired to her
room."

" Do you think she was disturbed by your return? "
asked Lawrence.

" I won't say that," said Junius, " but she was cer
tainly not herself. Mrs. Null tells me that she expects
to go home to-morrow morning, having written to her
uncle to send for her."

" That is bad, bad, very bad," said Lawrence.

After that there was a pause in the conversation,
during which Mr. Croft, with brows very much knit,
gazed steadfastly into the fire. "Mr. Keswick," he
said presently, "what you tell me fills me with con
sternation. It is quite plain that I shall have no
chance to see Miss March ; and as there is no one else
in the world who will do it for me, I am going to ask
you to go to her to-morrow morning, and speak to
her in my behalf."

When this had been said, Junius Keswick dropped
his cigar upon the floor, and sat up very straight in
his chair, gazing fixedly at Lawrence. "Upon my
word ! " he said. " I knew you were a cool man, but
that request freezes my imagination. I cannot con
ceive how any man can ask another to try to win for
him a lady whom he knows the other man desires to
win for himself. You have made some requests be
fore that were rather astounding, but this one over
shadows them all."

"I admit," said Lawrence, "that what I ask is
somewhat out of the way, but you must consider the
circumstances. Suppose I had met you in mortal
combat, and I had dropped my sword where you
could reach it and I could not; would you pick

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

it up and give it to me, or would you run me
through f "

" I don't think that comparison is altogether a good
one/ 7 said Junius.

"Yes, it is/ 7 said Lawrence, "and covers the case
entirely. I am here, disabled, and if you pick up my
sword, as I have just asked you to do, it is not to be
assumed that your action gives me the victory. It
merely gives me an equal chance with yourself."

"Do you mean," said Junius, "that you want me
to go to Miss March and deliberately ask her if she
will marry you?"

"No," said Lawrence, "I have done that myself.
But there are certain points in regard to which I
want to be set right with Miss March. And now I
wish you to understand me, Mr. Keswick. I speak to
you, not only as a generous and honorable man, which
I have found you to be, but as a rival. I cannot
believe that you would be willing to profit by my
present disadvantages, and, as I have said two or
three times before, it would certainly be for your
interest, as a suitor for the lady, to have this matter
settled."

"Wouldn't it be better, then," said Junius, "if I
were to go immediately and speak to her for my
self? "

" No," said Lawrence ; " I don't think that would
settle the affair at all. From what I understand of
your relations with Miss March, she knows you are
her lover, and yet she neither accepts nor declines
you. If you were to go to her now, it is not likely
she would give you any definite answer. But in re
gard to me, it would be different. She would say yes

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

or no. And if she made the latter answer I think
you could walk over the course. I am not vain
enough to say that I have been an obstacle to your
success, but I assure you that I have tried very hard
to make myself such an obstacle."

"It seems to me," said Junius, imitating his com
panion in the matter of knitting his brows and gazing
into the fire, " that this affair could be managed very
simply. Miss March is not going at the break of
day. Why don't you contrive to see her before she
starts, and say for yourself what you have to say I "

" Nothing would please me better than that," said
Croft ; " but I don't believe she would give me any
chance to speak with her. Since my accident, she
has persistently and pointedly refused to grant me
even the shortest interview."

" That ought to prove to you," said Keswick, " that
she does not desire your attentions. You should con
sider it as a positive answer."

"Not at all," said Lawrence, "not at all. And I
don't think you would consider it a positive answer
if you were in my place. I think she has taken some
offence which is entirely groundless, and if you will
consent to act for me it will enable me to set straight
this misunderstanding."

"Confound it!" exclaimed Keswick. "Can't you
write to her, or get some one else to take your love-
messages f "

" No," said Lawrence, " I cannot write to her, for I
am not sure that under the circumstances she would
answer my letter. And I have already asked Mrs.
Null, the only other person I could ask, to speak for
me, but she has declined."

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

"By the Lord Harry!" exclaimed Junius, "you
are the rarest wooer I ever heard of."

"I assure you," said Lawrence, his face flushing
somewhat, " that it is not my desire to carry on my
wooing in this fashion. My whole soul is opposed to
it, but circumstances will have it so. And as I don't
intend, if I can help it, to have my life determined by
circumstances, I must go ahead in despite of them,
although I admit that it makes the road very rough."

" I should think it would," said Junius. And then
there was a pause in the conversation.

"Well, Mr. Keswick," said Lawrence, presently,
" will you do this thing for me? "

" Am I to understand," said Junius, " that if I don't
do it, it won't be done ? "

" Yes," said Lawrence ; " you are positively my last
chance. I have racked my brains to think of some
other way of presenting my case to Miss March, but
there is no other way. I might stand at my door
and call to her as she entered the carriage ; but that
would be the height of absurdity. I might hop on
one foot into the house ; but, even if I wished to
present myself in that way, I don't believe I could
get up that long flight of steps. It would be worse
than useless to write, for I should not know what was
thought of my letter, or even if it had been read.
Mrs. Keswick cannot carry my message ; Mrs. Null
will not ; and I have only you to call upon. I know
it is a great deal to ask, but it means so much to me
to both of us, in fact that I ask it."

" You were kind enough to say, a little while ago,"
said Junius, "that you considered me an honorable
man. I try to be such, and therefore will frankly

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

state to you that I can think of bnt three motives,
satisfactory to myself, for undertaking this business
for you, and not one of them is a generous one. In
the first place, I might care to do it in order to have
this matter settled ; for you are such an extraordinary
suitor that I don't know in what form you may turn
up the next time. Secondly, from what you tell me
of Miss March's repugnance to meet you, I don't be
lieve my mission will have an issue favorable to you ;
and the more unfavorable it is, the better I shall like
it. My third reason for acting for you is that the
whole affair is such an original one that it will rather
interest me to be engaged in it. This last reason
would not hold, however, if I had the least expecta
tion of being successful."

" You consent, then? " said Lawrence, quickly, turn
ing towards the other. " You'll go to Miss March for
me?"

"Yes, I think I will," said Junius, "if you will
accept the services of a man who is decidedly opposed
to your interests."

" Of course I never expected you to favor them,"
said Lawrence, " nor is it necessary that you should.
All I ask is that you carry a message to Miss March,
and, if she needs any explanation of it, that you will
explain in the way that I shall indicate 5 that you
shall tell me how she received my message ; and that
you shall bring me back her answer. There is no
need of your making any proposition to her ; that has
already been done ; what I want is that she should
not go away from here with a misunderstanding be
tween us, and that she shall give me at least the
promise of a hearing."

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

" Very good," said Junius ; " now, what is it that
you want me to say ? "

This was not an easy question for Lawrence to answer.
He knew very well what he wanted to say, if he had
a chance of saying it himself. He wanted to pour his
whole heart out to Roberta March, and, showing her
its present passion, to ask her to forgive those days in
which his mind only had appeared to be engaged.
He believed he could say things that would force from
her the pardon of his previous shortcomings, if she
considered them as such. She had been very gracious
to him in time past, and he did not see why she should
not be still more gracious now, if he could remove the
feelings of resentment which he believed were occa
sioned by her womanly insight into the motives of his
conduct towards her during those delightful summer
days at Midbranch.

But to get another person to say all this was a very
different thing. He was sure, however, that if it were
not said now, it would never be said. It would be
death to all his hopes if Miss March went away, feeling
towards him as she now felt; therefore he stiffened
his purpose, which was quite used to being stiffened,
hardened his sensibilities, and took his plunge. Gaz
ing steadfastly at the back of the fireplace while he
spoke, he endeavored to make Junius Keswick under
stand the nature and the probable force of the objec
tions to his line of action as a suitor, which had grown
up in the mind of Miss March ; and he also endeavored
to show how completely and absolutely he had been
changed by the vigor and ardor of his present affec
tion; and how he was entitled to be considered by
Miss March as a lover who had but one thought and

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

purpose, and that was to win her; and, as such, he
asked her to give him an opportunity to renew his
proposal to her. "Now, then," said Lawrence, "I
have placed the case before you, and I beg you will
present it as nearly as possible in the form in which
I have given it to you."

"Mr. Croft," said Junius, "this case of yours is
worse than I thought it was. What woman of spirit
would accept a man who admitted that during the
whole of his acquaintance with her he had had his
doubts in regard to suitability, etc., but who, when a
crisis arrived, and another man turned up, had deter
mined to overlook all his objections and take her,
anyway."

" That is a very cold-blooded way of putting it,"
said Lawrence, "and I don't believe at all that she
will look upon it in that light. If you will set the
matter before her as I have put it to you, I believe
she will see it as I wish her to see it."

"Very well," said Junius, rising and taking out
his watch ; " I will make your statement as accurately
as I can, and without any interpretations of my own.
And now I must bid you good night. I had no idea
it was after twelve o'clock."

"And you will observe her moods?" asked Law
rence.

" Yes," said Junius, as he opened the door, " I will
carefully observe her moods."

When Junius had gone, Lawrence turned his face
again towards the fireplace, where the last smouldering
stick had just broken apart in the middle, and the
two ends had wearily fallen over the andirons as if
they wished it understood that they could do no more

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

burning that night. Taking this as a hint, Lawrence
prepared to retire. "Old Isham must have gone to
bed long ago," he said ; " but as I have asked for so
much assistance to-day, I think it is well that I should
try to do some things for myself."

It was, indeed, very late j but behind the partially
closed shutters of a lower room of the house sat old
Mrs. Keswick, gazing at the light that was streaming
from the window of the office, and wondering what
those two men were saying to each other that was
keeping them sitting up together until after midnight.

Annie Peyton, too, had not gone to bed, and looking
through her chamber window, at the office, she hoped
that Cousin Juntos would come away before he lost
his temper. Of course she thought he must have been
very angry when he came home and found Mr. Croft
here at the only time that Roberta March had ever


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