Frank Richard Stockton.

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

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idea, suggested by the very friendly nature of their
intercourse, that she was a woman whose mind did not
run out to love or marriage, but now that he knew
that she was susceptible of being wooed and won,
because these things had actually happened to her,
he was very glad that he had come away from Mid-
branch.

The impression soon became very strong upon the
mind of Lawrence that he would like to know what
kind of man was this former lover. He had known
Miss March about a year, and at the time of his first
acquaintance with her she must have come very fresh
from this engagement. To study the man to whom
Koberta March had been willing to engage herself
was, to Lawrence's mode of thinking, if not a pre-
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THE LATE MRS. NULL

requisite procedure in his contemplated course of
action, at least a very desirable one.

But he was rather surprised to find that no one
knew much about Mr. Junius Keswick, or could give
him any account of his present whereabouts, although
he had been, at the time when his engagement was in
force, a resident of New York. To consult a directory
was, therefore, an obvious first step in the affair ; and,
with this intent, Mr. Croft entered, one morning, an
apothecary's shop in a street which, though a busy
one, was in a rather out-of-the-way part of the city.

"We haven't any directory, sir," said the clerk,
"but if you will step across the street you can find
one at that little shop with the green door. Every
body goes there to look at the directory."

The green door on the opposite side of the street,
approached by a single flat step of stone, had a tin
sign upon it, on which was painted :

" INFORMATION

OF EVERY VARIETY

FURNISHED WITHIN."

Pushing open the door, Lawrence entered a long,
narrow room, not very well lighted, with a short
counter on one side, and some desks, partially screened
by a curtain, at the farther end. A boy was behind
the counter, and to him Lawrence addressed himself,
asking permission to look at a city directory.

" One cent, if you look yourself ; three cents, if we
look," said the boy, producing a thick volume from
beneath the counter.

"One cent?" said Lawrence, smiling at the oddity
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of this charge, as he opened the book and turned to
the letter K.

"Yes," said the boy, "and if the fine print hurts
your eyes, well look for three cents."

At this moment a man came from one of the desks
at the other end of the room, and handed the boy a
letter, with which that young person immediately
departed. The new-comer, a smooth-shaven man of
about thirty, with the air of the proprietor or head
manager very strong upon him, took the boy's position
behind the counter, and remarked to Lawrence :
"Most people, when they first come here, think it
rather queer to pay for looking at the directory, but
you see we don't keep a directory to coax people to
come in to buy medicines or anything else. We sell
nothing but information, and part of our stock is what
you get out of a directory. But it's the best plan all
round, for we can afford to give you a clean, good book
instead of one all jagged and worn ; and as you pay
your money, you feel you can look as long as you like,
and come when you please."

" It is a very good plan," said Lawrence, closing the
book, " but the name I want is not here."

" Perhaps it is in last year's directory," said the man,
producing another volume from under the counter.

" That wouldn't do me much good," said Lawrence.
" I want to know where some one resides this year."

"It will do a great deal of good," said the other,
"for if we know where a person has lived, inquiries
can be made there as to where he has gone. Some
times we go back three or four years, and when we
have once found a man's name, we follow him up from
place to place until we can, give the inquirer his pres-

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

ent address. What is the name you wanted, sir!
You were looking in the K's."

" Keswick," said Lawrence, " Junius Keswick."

The man ran his finger and his eyes down a column,
and remarked : " There is Keswick, but it is Peter,
laborer ; I suppose that isn't the party."

Lawrence smiled, and shook his head.

" We will take the year before that," said the man,
with cheerful alacrity, heaving up another volume.
"Here's two Keswicks," he said in a moment, "one
John, and the other Stephen W. Neither of them
right?"

" No," said Lawrence ; " my man is Junius ; and we
need not go any farther back. I am afraid the person
I am looking for was only a sojourner in the city, and
that his name did not get into the directory. I know
that he was here year before last."

"All right, sir," said the other, pushing aside the
volume he had been consulting. " We'll find the man
for you from the hotel books, and what is more, we
can see those two Keswicks that I found last. Per
haps they were relations of his, and he was staying
with them. If you put the matter in our hands, we'll
give you the address to-morrow night, provided it's
an ordinary case. But if he has gone to Australia or
Japan, of course it'll take longer. Is it crime or
relationship f "

"Neither," replied Lawrence.

" It is generally one of them," said the man, " and if
it's crime we carry it on to a certain point, and then
put it into the hands of the detectives, for we've
nothing to do with police business, private or other
wise. But if it's relationship, we'll go right through

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with it to the end. Any kind of information you may
want we'll give you here ; scientific, biographical, busi
ness, healthfulness of localities, genuineness of an
tiquities, age and standing of individuals, purity of
liquors or teas from sample, Bible items localized,
china verified ; in fact, anything you want to know we
can tell you. Of course we don't pretend that we
know all these things, but we know the people who do
know, or who can find them out. By coming to us,
and paying a small sum, the most valuable informa
tion, which it would take you years to find out, can
be secured with certainty, and generally in a few days.
We know what to do, and where to go, and that's
the point. If it's a new bug or a microscope insect, we
put it into the hands of a man who knows just what
high scientific authority to apply to ; if it's the middle
name of your next-door neighbor we'll give it to you
from his baptismal record. I'm getting up a pamphlet-
circular which will be ready in about a week, and
which will fully explain our methods of business, with
the charges for the different items, etc."

" Well," said Lawrence, taking out his pocket-book,
" I want the address of Junius Keswick, and I think I
will let you look it up for me. What is your charge ! "

" It will be two dollars," said the man, " ordinary ;
and if we find inquiries run into other countries we
will make special terms. And then there's seven
cents, one for your look, and two threes for ours. You
shall hear from us to-morrow night at your hotel or
residence, unless you prefer to call here."

" I will call the day after to-morrow," said Lawrence,
producing a five-dollar note.

"Very good," replied the proprietor. "Will you
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please pay the cashier? " pointing at the same time to
a desk behind Lawrence which the latter had not
noticed.

Approaching this desk, the top of which, except for
a small space in front, was surrounded by short cur
tains, he saw a young girl busily engaged in reading a
book. He proffered her the note, the proprietor at
the same time calling out : " Two, seven."

The girl turned the book down to keep the place ;
then she took the note, and opened a small drawer, in
which she fumbled for some moments. Closing the
drawer, she rose to her feet and waved the note over
the curtain to her right.

. "Haven't any change, eh?" said the man, coming
from behind the counter, and putting on his hat. " As
the boy's not here, I'll step out and get it."

The girl turned up her book, and began to read
again, and Lawrence stood and looked at her, won
dering what need there was of a cashier in a place like
this. She appeared to be under twenty, rather thin-
faced, and was plainly dressed. In a few moments she
raised her eyes from her book, and said : " "Won't you
sit down, sir? I am sorry you have to wait, but we
are short of change to-day, and sometimes it is hard
to get it in this neighborhood."

Lawrence declined to be seated, but was very willing
to talk. "Was it the proprietor of this establish
ment," he asked, " who went out to get the money
changed?"

" Yes, sir," she answered. " That is Mr. Candy."

" A queer name," said Lawrence, smiling.

The girl looked up at him, and smiled in return.
There was a very perceptible twinkle in her eyes,

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which seemed to be eyes that would like to be merry
ones, and a slight movement of the corners of her
mouth which indicated a desire to say something in
reply, but, restrained probably by loyalty to her
employer, or by prudent discretion regarding con
versation with strangers, she was silent.

Lawrence, however, continued his remarks. " The
whole business seems to me very odd. Suppose I were
to come here and ask for information as to where I
could get a five-dollar note changed j would Mr. Candy
be able to tell me?' 7

" He would do in that case just as he does in all
others," she said ; " first, he would go and find out,
and then he would let you know. Giving information
is only half the business ; finding things out is the other
half. That's what he's doing now."

" So, when he comes back," said Lawrence, "he'll
have a new bit of information to add to his stock on
hand, which must be a very peculiar one, I fancy."

The cashier smiled. " Yes," she said, " and a very
useful one, too, if people only knew it."

"Don't they know it?" asked Lawrence. "Don't
you have plenty of custom f "

At this moment the door opened, Mr. Candy en
tered, and the conversation stopped.

" Sorry to keep you waiting, sir," said the proprietor,
passing some money to the cashier over the curtain,
who thereupon handed two dollars and ninety-three
cents to Lawrence through the little opening in front.

" If you call the day after to-morrow, the informa
tion will be ready for you," said Mr. Candy, as the
gentleman departed.

On the appointed day, Lawrence came again, and
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found nobody in the place but the cashier, who handed
him a note.

" Mr. Candy left this for you, in case he should not
be in when you called," she said.

The note stated that the search for the address of
Junius Keswick had opened very encouragingly, but
as it was quite evident that said person was not now
in the city, the investigations would have to be car
ried on on a more extended scale, and a deposit of
three dollars would be necessary to meet expenses.

Lawrence looked from the note to the cashier, who
had been watching him as he read. " Does Mr. Candy
want me to leave three dollars with you? " he asked.

" That's what he said, sir.' 7

" Well," said Lawrence, " I don't care about paying
for unlimited investigation in this way. If the gentle
man I am in search of has left the city, and Mr. Candy
has been able to find out to what place he went, he
should have told me that, and I would have decided
whether or not I wanted him to do anything more."

The face of the cashier appeared troubled. " I
think, sir," she said, "that if you leave the money,
Mr. Candy will do all he can to discover what you
wish to know, and that it will not be very long before
you have the address of the person you are seeking."

"Do you really think he has any clew?" asked
Lawrence.

This question did not seem to please the cashier,
and she answered gravely, though without any show of
resentment : " That is a strange question after I ad
vised you to leave the money."

Lawrence had a kind heart, and it reproached him.
"I beg your pardon," said he. "I will leave the

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money with you, but 1 desire that Mr. Candy will, in
his next communication, give me all the information
he has acquired up to the moment of writing, and then
I will decide whether it is worth while to go on with
the matter, or not."

He thereupon took out his pocket-book and handed
three dollars to the cashier, who, with an air of delib
erate thoughtfulness, smoothed out the two notes, and
placed them in her drawer. Then she said : " If you
will leave your address, sir, I will see that you receive
your information as soon as possible. That will be
better than for you to call, because I can't tell you
when to come."

"Very well," said Lawrence, " and I will be obliged
to you if you will hurry up Mr. Candy as much as you
can." And, handing her his card, he went his way.

The way of Lawrence Croft was generally a very
pleasant one, for the fortunate conditions of his life
made it possible for him to go around most of the
rough places which might lie in it. His family was
an old one, and a good one, but there was very little
of it left, and of its scattered remnants he was the most
important member. But although circumstances did
not force him to do anything in particular, he liked
to believe that he was a rigid master to himself, and
whatever he did was always done with a purpose.
When he travelled he had an object in view j when
he stayed at home the case was the same.

His present purpose was the most serious one of his
life : he wished to marry ; and, if she should prove to
be the proper person, he wished to marry Roberta
March ; and, as a preliminary step in the carrying out
of his purpose, he wanted very much to know what

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sort of man Miss March had once been willing to
marry.

When five days had elapsed without his hearing
from Mr. Candy, he became impatient and betook
himself to the green door with the tin sign. Entering,
he fonnd only the boy and the cashier. Addressing
himself to the latter, he asked if anything had been
done in his business.

" Yes, sir," she said, " and I hoped Mr. Candy would
write you a letter this morning before he went out,
but he didn't. He traced the gentleman to Niagara
Falls, and I think you'll hear something very soon."

" If inquiries have to be carried on outside of the
city," said Lawrence, " they will probably cost a good
deal, and come to nothing. I think I will drop the
matter as far as Mr. Candy is concerned."

" I wish you would give us a little more time," said
the girl. "I am sure you will hear something in a
few days, and you need not be afraid there will be any
thing more to pay unless you are satisfied that you
have received the full worth of the money."

Lawrence reflected for a few moments, and then
concluded to let the matter go on. " Tell Mr. Candy
to keep me frequently informed of the progress of the
affair," said he, " and if he is really of any service to
me I am willing to pay him, but not otherwise."

" That will be all right," said the cashier, " and if
Mr. Candy is is prevented from doing it, I'll write
to you myself, and keep you posted."

As soon as the customer had gone, the boy, who had
been sitting on the counter, thus spoke to the cashier :
" You know very well that old Mintstick has given that
thing up ! "

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" I know lie has," said the girl, " but I have not."

" You haven't anything to do with it," said the boy.

" Yes, I have," she answered. " I advised that gen
tleman to pay his money, and I'm not going to see
him cheated out of it. Of course, Mr. Candy doesn't
mean to cheat him, but he has gone into that business
about the origin of the tame blackberry, and there's
no knowing when he'll get back to this thing, which
is not in his line, anyway."

" I should say it wasn't ! " exclaimed the boy, with a
loud laugh. " Sendin' me to look up them two Kes-
wicks, who was both put down as cordwainers in year
before last's directory, and askin' 'em if there was any
Juniuses in their families."

" Junius Keswick, did you say? Is that the name
of the gentleman Mr. Candy was looking for ? "

" Yes," said the boy.

Presently the cashier remarked : " I am going to look
at the books." And she betook herself to the desk at
the back part of the shop.

In about half an hour she returned and handed to
the boy a memorandum upon a scrap of paper. " You
go out now to your lunch," she said, " and while you
are out, stop at the St. Winifred Hotel, where Mr.
Candy found the name of Junius Keswick, and see if
it is not down again not long after the date which I
have put on this slip of paper. I think if a person
went to Niagara Falls he'd be just as likely to make a
little trip of it and come back again as to keep travel
ling on, which Mr. Candy supposes he did. If you
find the name again, put down the date of arrival on
this, and see if there was any memorandum about for
warding letters."

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All right," said the boy. " But I'll be gone an hour
and a half. Can't cut into my lunch-time."

In the course of a few days Lawrence Croft received
a note signed Candy & Co. "per" some illegible ini
tials, which stated that Mr. Junius Keswick had been
traced to a boarding-house in the city, but as the estab
lishment had been broken up for some time, endeavors
were now being made to find the lady who had kept
the house, and when this was done it would most likely
be possible to discover from her where Mr. Keswick
had gone.

Lawrence waited a few days and then called at the
Information Shop. Again was Mr. Candy absent ; and
so was the boy. The cashier informed him that she
had found, that is, that the lady who kept the board
ing-house had been found, and she thought she re
membered the gentleman in question, and promised,
as soon as she could, to look through a book in which
she used to keep directions for the forwarding of letters,
and in this way another clew might soon be expected.

" This seems to be going on better," said Lawrence,
"but Mr. Candy doesn't show much in the affair.
Who is managing it? You? "

The girl blushed and then laughed, a little con
fusedly. " I am only the cashier," she said.

" And the laborious duties of your position would, of
course, give you no time for anything else," remarked
Lawrence.

" Oh, well," said the girl, " of course it is easy enough
for any one to see that I haven't much to do as cashier,
but the boy and Mr. Candy are nearly always out,
looking up things, and I have to do other business
besides attending to cash."

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" If you are attending to my business," said Law
rence, " I am very glad, especially now that it has
reached the boarding-house stage, where I think a
woman will be better able to work than a man. Are
you doing this entirely independent of Mr. Candy ? "

" "Well, sir," said the cashier, with an honest, straight
forward look from her gray eyes that pleased Law
rence, " I may as well confess that I am. But there's
nothing mean about it. He has all the same as given it
up, for he's waiting to hear from a man in Niagara, who
will never write to him, and probably hasn't anything
to write, and as I advised you to pay the money I feel
bound in honor to see that the business is done, if it
can be done."

" Have you a brother or a husband to help you in
these investigations and searches ? " asked Lawrence.

" No," said the cashier, with a smile. " Sometimes I
send our boy, and as to boarding-houses, I can go to
them myself after we shut up here."

" I wish," said Lawrence, " that you were married,
and that you had a husband who would not interfere
in this matter at all, but who would go about with
you, and so enable you to follow up your clew thor
oughly. You take up the business in the right spirit,
and I believe you would succeed in finding Mr. Kes-
wick, but I don't like the idea of sending you about
by yourself."

" I won't deny," said the cashier, " that since I have
begun this affair I would like very much to carry it
out ; so, if you don't object, I won't give it up just yet,
and as soon as anything happens I'll let you know."



27



CHAPTER III

AUTUMN in Virginia, especially if one is not too near
the mountains, is a season in which greenness sails very
close to Christmas, although generally veering away in
time to prevent its verdant hues from tingeing that
happy day with the gloomy influence of the prophetic
proverb about churchyards. Long after the time
when the people of the regions watered by the Hudson
and the Merrimac are beginning to button up their
overcoats, and to think of weather-strips for their
window-sashes, the dwellers in the land through which
flow the Appomattox and the James may sit upon
their broad piazzas, and watch the growing glories of
the forests, where the crimson stars of the sweet-gum
blaze among the rich yellows of the chestnuts, the
lingering green of the oaks, and the enduring verdure
of the pines. The insects still hum in the sunny air,
and the sun is now a genial orb whose warm rays
cheer but not excoriate.

The orb just mentioned was approaching the hori
zon, when, in an adjoining county to that in which
was situated the hospitable mansion of Midbranch, a
little negro boy about ten years old was driving some
cows through a gateway that opened on a public road.
The cows, as they were going homeward, filed willingly

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through the gateway, which led into a field, at the far
end of which might be dimly discerned a house behind
a mass of foliage ; but the boy, whose head and voice
were entirely too big for the rest of him, assailed them
with all manner of reproaches and impellent adjectives,
addressing each cow in turn as : " You, sah ! " When
the compliant beasts had hustled through, the young
ster got upon the gate, and giving it a push with one
bare foot, he swung upon it as far as it would go j then
lifting the end from the surface of the ground he shut
it with a bang, fastened it with a hook, and ran after
the cows, his wild provocatives to bovine haste ringing
high into the evening air.

This youth was known as Plez, his whole name being
Pleasant Valley, an inspiration to his mother from the
label on a grape-box, which had drifted into that re
gion from the North. He had just stooped to pick up
a clod of earth with which to accentuate his vocifera
tions, when, on rising, he was astounded by the appari
tion of an elderly woman wearing a purple sunbonnet,
and carrying a furled umbrella of the same color.
Behind the spectacles, which were fixed upon him,
blazed a pair of fiery eyes, and the soul of Plez shriv
elled and curled up within him. His downcast eyes
were bent upon his upturned toes, the clod dropped
from his limp fingers, and his mouth, which had been
opened for a yell, remained open, but the yell had
apparently swooned.

The words of the old lady were brief, but her um
brella was full of jerky menace, and when she left him,
and passed on towards the outer gate, Plez followed
the cows to the house with the meekness of a sus
pected sheep-dog.

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The cows had been milked, some by a rotund black
woman named Letty, and some, much to their dis
comfort, by Plez himself, and it was beginning to grow
dark, when an open spring- wagon driven by a colored
man, and with a white man on the back seat, came
along the road, and stopped at the gate. The driver,
having passed the reins to the occupant on the back
seat, got down, opened the gate, and stood holding it
while the other drove the horse into the road which
ran by the side of the field to the house behind the
trees. At this time a passer-by, if there had been one,
might have observed, partly protruding from behind
some bushes on the other side of the public road, and
at a little distance from the gate, the lower portion of
a purple umbrella. As the spring- wagon approached,
and during the time that it was turning into the gate,
and while it was waiting for the driver to resume his
seat, this umbrella was considerably agitated, so much
so indeed as to cause a little rustling among the leaves.
When the gate had been shut, and the wagon had
passed on towards the house, the end of the umbrella
disappeared, and then, on the other side of the bush,
there came into view a sunbonnet of the same color
as the umbrella. This surmounted the form of an old
lady, who stepped into the pathway by the side of the
road, and walked away with a quick, active step which
betokened both energy and purpose.

The house, before which, not many minutes later,
this spring- wagon stopped, was not a fine old family



Online LibraryFrank Richard StocktonThe novels and stories of Frank R. Stockton . (Volume 1) → online text (page 2 of 26)