Frank Richard Stockton.

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slowly and feebly descended the stairs.

" My dear, dear Robert ! " exclaimed Mrs. Keswick,
totally regardless of the fact that Peggy was standing
at the front door with her valise in her hand, and that
there was another servant in the hall, " how pale and
haggard and worn you look ! You must be quite
unwell, and I don't know but that I ought to stay
here and take care of you."

At these words a look of agony passed over the old
man's face, but he said nothing.

"But I am afraid I cannot stay any longer this
time," continued the widow Keswick, " for my niece
would not know what had become of me, and there
are things at home that I must attend to. But I will
come again. Don't think I intend to desert you, dear
Robert. You shall see me soon again. But while I
am gone," she said, turning to the two servants, " I
want you maids to take good care of your master.
You must do it for his sake, for he has always been
kind to you ; but I also want you to do it for my sake.
Don't you forget that. And now, dear Robert, good-
by." As she spoke she extended her hand towards
the old gentleman.

Without a word, but with a good deal of apparent
reluctance, he took the long, bony hand in his, and
probably would have instantly dropped it again, had
not Mrs. Keswick given him a most hearty clutch
and a vigorous and long-continued shake.

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

" It is hard, dear Bobert," she said, " for us to part
with nothing but a hand-shake, but there are people
about, and this will have to do." And then, after
urging him to take good care of his health, so valuable
to them both, and assuring him that he would soon see
her again, she gave his hand a final shake, and left
him. Accompanied by Peggy, she went out to the
spring- wagon and clambered into it. It almost sur
passes belief that Mr. Brandon, a Virginia gentleman
of the old school, should have stood in his hall and
have seen an old lady leave his house and get into a
vehicle without accompanying and assisting her ; but
such was the case on this occasion. He seemed to have
forgotten his traditions and to have lost his impulses.
He simply stood where the widow Keswick had left
him, and gazed at her.

When she was seated and ready to start, the old
lady turned towards him, called out to him in a cheery
voice, " Good-by, Bobert ! " and kissed her hand to
him.

Mrs. Keswick slowly drove away, and Mr. Brandon
stood at his hall door gazing after her until she was
entirely out of sight. Then he ejaculated: "The
devil's daughter ! " and went into his library.

" I wonders," said Peggy, when she returned to the
kitchen, "how you-all's gwine to like habin' dat ole
Miss Keswick libin' h'yar as you-all's mistiss? "

"Who's gwine to hab her?" growled Aunt Judy.

" You-all is," sturdily retorted Peggy. " Dar ain't
no use tryin' to git out ob dat. Dat old Miss Keswick
done gone an' kunjered Mahs' Eobert, an' dey's boun'
to git mar'ed. I done heared all 'bout it, an' she's
comin' h'yar to lib wid Mahs' Eobert. But dat don.'

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

make no diP rence to me. I'se gwine to lib wid Mahs'
Junius an' Miss Rob in New York, I is. But I'se
mighty sorry for you-all."

"You Peggy," shouted the irate Aunt Judy, "shut
up wid your fool talk ! When Mahs 7 Kobert marry
dat ole jimpsun-weed, de angel Gabr'el blow his hohn.
shuh."

Slowly driving along the road to her home, the
widow Keswick gazed cheerfully at the blue sky
above her and the pleasant autumn scenery around
her, sniffed the fine fresh air, delicately scented with
the odor of falling leaves, and settling herself into a
more comfortable position on her seat, she compla
cently said to herself : " Well, I reckon dear Eobert
is about as happy as I can make him."



380



CHAPTER XXXI

THERE were two reasons why Peggy could not go to
live with " Mahs' Junius and Miss Rob " in New York.
In the first place, this couple had no intention of set
ting up an establishment in that city ; and secondly,
Peggy, as Roberta well knew, was not adapted by
nature to be her maid, or the maid of any one else.
Peggy's true vocation in life was to throw her far
away gaze into futurity, and, as far as in her lay, to
adapt present circumstances to what she supposed was
going to happen. It would have delighted her soul
if she could have been the adept in conjuring which
she firmly believed the widow Keswick to be ; but
as she possessed no such gift, she made up the defi
ciency, as well as she could, by mixing up her mind,
her soul, and her desires into a sort of witch's hodge
podge, which she thrust as a spell into the affairs of
other people. Twice had the devices of this stupid-
looking wooden peg of a negro girl stopped Lawrence
Croft in the path he was following in his pursuit of
Roberta March. If Lawrence had known, at the
time, what Peggy was doing, he would have con
sidered her an unmitigated little demon ; but after
wards, if he could have known of it, he would have
thought her a very unprepossessing and conscience
less guardian angel.

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

As it was, lie knew not what she had done, and
did not consider her at all.

Junius Keswick took much more delight in farming
than he did in the practice of the law, and it was only
because he had felt himself obliged to do so that he
had adopted the legal profession. To be a farmer,
one must have a farm ; but a lawyer can frequently
make a living from the lands of other men. He was
very willing, therefore, to agree to the plan which
for years had been Mr. Brandon's most cherished
scheme : that he and Eoberta should make their
home at Midbranch, and that he should take charge
of the estate, which would be his wife's property after
the old gentleman's decease. Roberta was as fond of
the country as was Junius, but she was also a city
woman ; and it was arranged that the couple should
spend a portion of each winter in 'New York, at the
house of Mr. March.

Junius and Eoberta, as well as her father, hoped
very much that they might be able to induce Mr.
Brandon to come to New York to attend the wedding,
which was to take place the middle of January ; but
they were not confident of success, for they knew the
old gentleman disliked very much to travel, especially
in winter. Three very pressing letters were therefore
written to Mr. Brandon ; and the writers were much
surprised to receive, in a short time, a collective
answer, in which he stated that he would not only be
present at the wedding, but that he thought of spend
ing several months in New York. It would be very
lonely at Midbranch, he wrote, without Roberta,
though why it should be more so this year than dur
ing preceding winters he did not explain, and he felt

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

a desire to see the changes that had taken place in
the metropolis since he had visited it, years ago.

They would not have been so much surprised had
they known that Mr. Brandon did not feel himself safe
in his own home, by night or by day. Frequently
had he gazed out of a window at the point in the road
on which the first sight of an approaching spring-
wagon could have been caught, and had said to him
self : " If only Eoberta were here, that old hag would
not dare to speak a word to me ! I don't want to go
away, but, by George ! I don't see how I can stay
here without Rob."

There was a short, very black, and somewhat bow-
legged negro man on the place, named Israel Bona
parte, who lived in a little cabin by himself, and was
noted for his unsocial disposition and his taciturnity.
To him Mr. Brandon went one day, and said : " Israel,
I want you to go to work on the fence-rows on my
side of the road to Hewlett's. Grub up the bushes,
clear out the vines and weeds, and see that the rails
and posts are all in order. That will be a job that I
expect will last you until the roads begin to get heavy.
And, by the way, Israel, while you are at work I
want you to keep a lookout for any visitors that may
turn into our road, especially if they happen to be
ladies. Now that Miss Eob is away, I am very par
ticular about knowing beforehand when ladies are
coming to visit me $ and when you see any wagon or
carriage turn in, I want you to make a short cut across
the fields, and let me know it, and I will give you a
quarter of a dollar every time you do so." This was
a very pleasant job of work for the meditative Israel.
He was not very fond of grubbing, but he earned the

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

greater part of his ten dollars a month and rations by
sitting on the fence, smoking a corn-cob pipe, and
attending to the second division of the work which
his employer had set him to do.

Lawrence Croft was in New York at this time, a
very busy man, arranging his affairs in that city so
that they would not need his personal attention for
some time to come ; he sublet, for the remainder of
his lease, the suite of bachelor apartments he had oc
cupied, and he stored his furniture and books. One
might have imagined that he was taking in all pos
sible sails, close reefing the others, battening down
the hatches, and preparing to run before a storm ; and
yet his demeanor did not indicate that he expected
any violent commotion of the elements. On the con
trary, his friends and acquaintances thought him par
ticularly blithe and gay. He told them he was going
to be married.

" To that Virginia lady, I suppose," said one. " I
remember her very well, and consider you fortunate."

"I don't think you ever met her," said Mr. Croft.
" She is a Miss Peyton, from King Thomas County."

" Ah ! " remarked his interlocutor.

Lawrence walked to the window of the club-room,
and stood there, slowly puffing his cigar. Had any
body met this one? he thought. He knew she had
seen but little company during her father's life, but
was it likely that any of his acquaintances had had
business at Candy's Information Shop? As this idea
came into his mind, there seemed to be something
unpleasant in the taste of his cigar, and he threw it
into the fire. A few turns, however, up and down the
now almost deserted rooms restored his tone. He

384



THE LATE MRS. NULL

lighted another cigar ; and now there came up before
him a vision of the girl who, from loyalty to her dead
father, preferred to sit all day behind Candy's money-
desk rather than go to a relative who had not been
his friend. And then he saw the young girl who took
up so courageously the cause of one of her own blood
the boy cousin of her childhood ; and with a lover's
pride, Lawrence thought of the dash, the spirit, and
the bravery with which she had done it.

" By George ! " he said to himself, his eyes sparkling
and his step quickening, " she has more in her than all
the rest of them put together ! "

Who were included in " the rest of them " Lawrence
was not prepared just then to say, but the expression
was intended to have a very wide range.

It was about the middle of December when Law
rence paid another visit to Mrs. Keswick's house.
The day was cold but clear, and as he drove up to the
outer gate, he saw the old lady returning from a walk
'to Hewlett's. She stepped along briskly, and was in
a very good humor, for she had just posted a carefully
concocted letter to Mr. Brandon, in which she had
expatiated, in her peculiar style, on the pleasure which
she expected from an early visit to Midbranch. She
had not the slightest idea of going there at present,
but she thought it quite time to freshen up the old
gentleman's anticipations.

Descending from his carriage to meet her, Lawrence
was very warmly greeted, and the two went up to the
house together.

"I expect the late Mrs. Null will be very glad to
see you," said Mrs. Keswick. " I think she has burnt
up all her widow's weeds."

385



THE LATE MRS. NULL

" You should be very much obliged to your niece,"
said Mr. Croft, " for so delicately ridding you of that
dreadful fertilizer man."

" Humph ! " said the old lady. " She cheated me
out of the pleasure of telling him what I thought of
him, and I shall never forgive her for that."

As Lawrence and Annie sat together in the parlor
that evening, he told her what he had been doing in
New York, and this brought to her lips a question
which she was very anxious to have answered. She
knew that Lawrence was rich ; that his methods of
life and thought made him a man of the cities ; and
she felt quite certain that the position to which he
would conduct her was that of the mistress of a hand
some town house, and the wife of a man of society.
She liked handsome town houses, and she was sure she
would like society ; but it would all be very new and
strange to her, and although she was a brave girl at
heart, she shrank from making such a plunge as this.

"How are we going to live?" repeated Lawrence.
" That, of course, is to be as you shall choose ; but I
have a plan to propose to you, and I want very much
to hear what you think about it. And the plan is
that we shall not live anywhere for a year or two, but
wander, fancy-free, over as much of the world as
pleases us, and then decide where we shall settle
down, and how we shall like to do it."

If Annie's answer had been expressed in words, it
might have been given here. It may be said, however,
that it was very quick, very affirmative, and, in more
ways than one, highly satisfactory to Lawrence.

"Is it London, and a landlady, and tea!" she
presently asked.

386



THE LATE MRS. NULL

"Yes, it is that," he said.

"Is it the shops on the Boulevards?"

" Yes," said Lawrence.

"And the Appian Way? and the island of Capri?
and snow mountains in the distance 1 " she asked.

" In their turn, most certainly," said her lover, " and
it shall be the midnight sun, and the Nile, if you like."

"Freddy," exclaimed the late Mrs. Null, "I thank
thee for what thou hast given me ! " And she clasped
the hand of Lawrence in both her own.



387



CHAPTEE XXXII

THE marriage of Junius Keswick and Roberta March
was appointed for the 15th of January, and Mr.
Brandon had arranged to be in New York a few days
before the event. He intended, however, to leave
Midbranch soon after the first of the year, and to
spend a week with some of his friends in Richmond.

It was on the afternoon of New Year's Bay, and
Mr. Brandon was sitting in his library with Colonel
Pinckney Macon, an elderly gentleman of social habits
and genial temper whom Mr. Brandon had invited to
Midbranch to spend the holidays, and who was after
wards to be his travelling companion as far as Rich
mond. The two had had a very good dinner, and
were now sitting before the fire smoking their pipes,
and paying occasional attention to two tumblers of
egg-nog which stood on a small table between them.
They were telling anecdotes of olden times, and were
in very good humor indeed, when a servant came in
with a note which had just been brought for Mr.
Brandon. The old gentleman took the missive, and
put on his eyeglasses; but the moment he read the
address, he let his hand fall on his knee, and gave vent
to an angry ejaculation.

"It's from that rabid old witch, the widow Kes-
388



THE LATE MRS. NULL

wick ! " he exclaimed. " I've a great mind to throw it
into the fire without reading it."

" Don't do that!" cried Colonel Macon. "It is a
New Year present she is sending you. Kead it, sir j
read it, by all means."

Mr. Brandon had given his friend an account of
his unexampled and astounding persecutions by the
widow Keswick, and the old colonel had been much
interested thereby, and it would have greatly grieved
his soul not to become acquainted with this new
feature of the affair. "Bead it, sir," he cried 5 "I
would like to know what sort of New Year congratu
lations she offers you."

" Congratulations, indeed ! " said Mr. Brandon, " you
needn't expect anything of that kind." But he opened
the note, and, turning so that he could get a good
light upon it, began to read aloud as follows :

' ' MY DEAREST EGBERT, ' '

"Confound it, sir!" exclaimed the reader, "did
you ever hear of such a piece of impertinence as
that?"

Colonel Pinckney Macon leaned back in his chair
and laughed aloud. "It is impertinent," he cried,
"but it's confoundedly jolly! Go on, sir. Go on, I
beg of you."

Mr. Brandon continued

" It is not for me to suggest anything of the kind, but
I write this note simply to ask you what you would think
of a triple wedding ? There would certainly be some
thing very touching about it, and it would be very satis
factory and comforting, I am sure, to our nieces and their
husbands to know that they were not leaving either of

389



THE LATE MRS. NULL

us to a lonely life. Would we not make three happy pairs,
dear Robert ? Remember, I do not propose this ; I only
lay it before your kindly and affectionate heart.
"Your own

"MARTHA ANN KESWICK."

Colonel Maeon, who, with much difficulty and red
ness of face, had restrained himself during the reading
of this note, now burst into a shout of laughter, while
Mr. Brandon sprang to his feet, and, crumpling the
note in his hand, threw it into the fire j and then,
turning around, he exclaimed : " Did the world ever
hear anything like that ! Triple wedding, indeed !
Does the pestiferous old shrew imagine that anything
in this world would induce me to marry her ? "

"Why, my dear sir," cried Colonel Macon, "of
course she don't. I know the widow Keswick as
well as you do. She wouldn't marry you to save your
soul, sir. All she wants to do is to worry and perse
cute you, and to torment your senses out of you, in
revenge for your having got the better of her. Now,
take my advice, sir, and don't let her do it."

"I'd like to know how I am going to hinder her,"
said Mr. Brandon.

" Hinder her ! " exclaimed Colonel Macon. " Noth
ing easier in this world, sir ! Just you turn right
square round and face her, sir, and you'll see that
she'll stop short, sir; and, what's more, she'll run,
sir ! "

"How am I to face her?" asked Mr. Brandon. "I
have faced her, and I assure you, sir, she didn't run."

" That was because you did not go to work in the
right way," said the colonel. " Now, if I were in your
place, sir, this is what I would do : I'd turn on her

390



THE LATE MRS. NULL

and I'd scare her out of all the wits she has left. I'd
say to her : ' Madam, I think your proposition is an
excellent one. I am ready to marry you to-day, or,
at the very latest, to-morrow morning. I'll come to
your house, and bring a clergyman and some of my
friends. Don't let there be the least delay, for I desire
to start immediately for New York, and to take you
with me. 7 Now, sir, a note like that would frighten
that old woman so that she would leave her house,
and wouldn't come back for six weeks ; and the letter
you have just burnt would be the last attack she
would make on you. Now, sir, that is what I would
do if I were in your place."

Mr. Brandon sat down, drained his tumbler of egg-
nog, and began to think of what his friend had said.
And as he thought of it, the conviction forced itself
upon him that this idea of Colonel Macon's was a good
one in fact, a splendid one. Now that he came to
look upon the matter more clearly than he had done
before, he saw that this persecution on the part of the
widow Keswick was not only base, but cowardly. He
had been entirely too yielding, had given way too
much. Yes, he would face her ! By George, that was
a royal idea ! He would turn round and make a dash
at her, and scare her out of her five senses.

Pens, ink, and paper were brought out; more
egg-nog was ordered ; and Mr. Brandon, aided and
abetted by Colonel Macon, wrote a letter to Mrs.
Keswick.

This letter took a long time to write, and was very
carefully constructed. With outstretched hands, Mr.
Brandon met the old lady on the very threshold of her
proposition. He stated that nothing would please him

391



THE LATE MRS. NULL

better than an immediate wedding, and that he would
have proposed it himself had he not feared that the
lady would consider him too importunate. (This ex
pression was suggested by Colonel Macon.) In order
that they might lose no time in making themselves
happy, Mr. Brandon proposed that the marriage
should take place in a week, and that the ceremony
should be performed in Kichmond. (The colonel
wished him to say that he would immediately go to
her house for the purpose, but Mr. Brandon would not
consent to write this. He was afraid that the widow
would sit at her front door with a shot-gun and wait
for him, and that some damage might thereby come
to an unwary neighbor.) Each of them had many old
friends in Richmond, and it would be very pleasant to
be married there. He intended to start for that city
in a day or two, and he would be rejoiced to meet her
at eleven o'clock on the morning of the 5th instant,
in the corridor or covered bridge connecting the Ex
change and Ballard hotels, and there arrange all the
details for an immediate marriage. The letter closed
with an earnest hope that she would accede to this
proposed plan, which would so soon make them the
happiest couple upon earth, and was signed "Your
devoted Robert."

" By which I mean," said Mr. Brandon, " that I am
devoted to her destruction."

The letter was read over by Colonel Macon, and
highly approved by him. "If you had met that
woman, sir, when she first came to you," he said to
Mr. Brandon, "with the spirit that is shown in this
letter, you would have put a shiver through her, sir,
that would have shaken the bones out of her umbrella,

392



THE LATE MRS. NULL

and she would have cut and run, sir, before you
knew it."

The messenger from Hewlett's was kept at Mid-
branch all night, and the next morning he was sent
back with Mr. Brandon's note. Two days afterwards
Colonel Macon and Mr. Brandon started for Richmond,
and in the course of a few hours they were comfort
ably sipping their " peach and honey " at the Exchange
and Ballard's.

The next day was most enjoyably spent with a number
of old friends ; and in reminiscences of the past war,
and in discussions of the coming political campaign, Mr.
Brandon had thrown off every sign of the annoyance
and persecution to which he had lately been subjected.

" By George, sir ! " said Colonel Macon to him, the
next morning, " do you know that you are a most un
trustworthy and perfidious man?"

" Sir ! " exclaimed Mr. Brandon, " what do you
mean f "

"I mean," replied Colonel Pinckney Macon, with
much dignity, "that you promised at eleven o'clock
to-day to meet a lady in the corridor connecting these
two hotels. It wants three minutes of that time now,
sir, and here you are reading the l Despatch ' as if you
never made a promise in your life."

" I declare," said Mr. Brandon, rising, " my conduct
is indefensible ; but I am going to my room, and, on
my way, will keep my part of the contract."

" I will go with you," said the colonel.

Together they mounted the stairs and approached
the corridor ; and as they opened its glass doors they
saw, sitting in a chair on one side of the passage, the
widow Keswick.



THE LATE MRS. NULL

If Mr. Brandon had not been caught by his friend
he would have fallen over backward. Regaining an
upright position, he made a frantic turn as if he would
fly j but he was not quick enough ; Mrs. Keswick had
him by the arm.

" Robert ! " she exclaimed. " I knew how true and
faithful you would be. It has just struck eleven.
How do you do, Colonel Macon ? " And she extended
her hand.

There was no one in the corridor at the time but
these three ; but the place was much used as a passage
way, and Colonel Macon, who was very pale, but still
retained his presence of mind, knew well that if any
one were to come along at this moment, it would be
decidedly unpleasant, not only for his friend, but him
self. " I am glad to meet you again, Mrs. Keswick,"
he said. " Let us go into one of the parlors. It will
be more comfortable."

" How kind," murmured Mrs. Keswick, as she clung
to the arm of Mr. Brandon, " for you to bring our good
friend, Colonel Macon ! "

They went into a parlor, which was empty, and
where they were not likely to be disturbed. Mr.
Brandon walked there without saying a word. His
face was as pallid as its well-seasoned color would
allow, and he looked straight before him with an air
which seemed to indicate that he was trying to re
member something terrible, or else trying to forget
it, and that he himself did not know which it was.

Colonel Macon did not stay long in the parlor.
There was that in the air of Mrs. Keswick which
made him understand that there were other places
in Richmond where he would be much more welcome


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