Frank Richard Stockton.

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

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394



THE LATE MRS. NULL

than in that room. He went down into the large
hall where the gentlemen generally congregate, and
there, in great distress of mind, he paced up and down
the marble floor, exchanging nothing but the briefest
salutations and answers with the acquaintances he
occasionally encountered. The clerk, behind his
desk at one side of the hall, had seen men walking up
and down in that way, and he thought that the colonel
had probably been speculating in tobacco or wheat ;
but he knew he was good for the amount of his bill,
and he retained his placidity.

In about half an hour, there came down the stairs
at one end of the hall an elderly person who some
what resembled Mr. Brandon of Midbranch. The
clothes and the hat were the same that that gentle
man wore, and the same heavy gold chain with dan
gling seal-rings hung across his ample waistcoat ; but
there was a general air of haggardness and stoop
about him which did not in the least suggest the
upright and portly gentleman who had written his
name in the hotel register the day before yesterday.

Colonel Macon made five strides towards him, and
seized his hand. " What," said he, " how ? "

Mr. Brandon did not look at him ; he let his eyes
fall where they chose, it mattered not to him what
they gazed upon, and in a low voice he said : "It is
all over."

" Over ! " repeated the colonel.

Mr. Brandon put a feeble hand on his friend's arm,
and together they walked into the reading-room,
where they sat down in a corner.

"Have you settled it, then?" asked Colonel Macon,
with great anxiety. " Is she gone ? "

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

" It is settled/ 7 said Mr. Brandon. " We are to be
married."

" Married ! " cried Colonel Macon, springing to nis
feet. "Great heavens, man ! What do you mean?"

Not very fluently, and in sentences with a very few
words in each of them, but words that sank like hot
coals into the soul of his hearer, Mr. Brandon explained
what he meant. It had been of no use, he said, to try
to get out of it ; the old woman had him with the grip
of a vise. That letter had done it all. He ought to
have known that she was not to be frightened. But it
was needless to talk about that. It was all over now,
and he was as much bound to her as if he had promised
before a magistrate.

" But you don't mean to say," exclaimed the colonel,
in a voice of anguish, " that you are really going to
marry her?"

" Sir," said Mr. Brandon, solemnly, " there is no way
to get out of it. If you think there is, you don't know
the woman."

"I would have died first," said the colonel. "I
never would have submitted to her ! "

" I did not submit," replied Mr. Brandon. " That
was done when the letter was written. I roused my
self, and I said everything I could say ; but it was all
useless : she held me to my promise. I told her I
would fly to the ends of the earth rather than marry
her, and then, sir, she threatened me with a prosecu
tion for breach of promise ; and think of the disgrace
that that would bring upon me upon my family
name, and on my niece and her young husband ! It
was a mistake, sir, to suppose that she merely wished
to persecute me. She wished to marry me, and she is

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

going to do it." The colonel bowed his face upon his
hands and groaned. Mr. Brandon looked at him with
a dim compassion in his eyes. " Do not reproach your
self, sir," he said. < We thought we were acting for
the best."

But little more was said, and two crushed old gen
tlemen retired to their rooms.

In the days of her youth Mrs Keswick had been
very well known in Richmond, and there were a good
many elderly ladies and gentlemen now living in that
city who remembered her as a handsome, sparkling,
and somewhat eccentric young woman, and who had
since heard of her as a decidedly eccentric old one.
Mr. Brandon also had a large circle of friends and
acquaintances in the city. And when it became known
that these two elderly persons were to be married and
the news began to spread shortly after Mrs. Keswick
reached the house of the friend with whom she was
staying it excited a great deal of excusable interest.

Mrs. Keswick, according to her ordinary methods of
action, took all the arrangements into her own hands.
She appointed the wedding for the 8th of January,
in order that the happy pair might go to New York
and be present at the nuptials of Junius and Roberta.
Mr. Brandon had thought of writing to Junius, in the
hope that the young man might do something to avert
his fate ; but remembering how utterly unable Junius
had always been to move his aunt one inch, this way
or that, he did not believe that he could be of any
service in this case, in which all the energies of her
mind were evidently engaged, and he readily con
sented that she should attend to all the correspond
ence. It would, indeed, have been too hard for him

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

to break the direful truth to his niece and Junius.
He ventured to suggest that Miss Peyton be sent for,
having a faint hope that he might in some manner
lean upon her ; but Mrs. Keswick informed him that
her niece must stay at home to take charge of the
place. There were two women in the house who were
busy sewing for her, and it would be impossible for her
to come to Richmond.

Her correspondence kept the widow Keswick very
busy. She decided that she would be married in a
church which she used to attend in her youth ; and to
all of her old friends, and to all those of Mr. Brandon
whose names she could learn by diligent inquiry, in
vitations were sent to attend the ceremony j but no
one outside of Eichmond was invited.

The old lady did not come to the city with a purple
sunbonnet and a big umbrella. She wore her best
bonnet, which had been used for church-going pur
poses for many years, and arrayed herself in a travelling
suit which was of excellent material, although of most
antiquated fashion. She discussed very freely with
her friends the arrangements she had made, and pro
tuberant candor being at times one of her most notice
able characteristics, she did not leave it altogether to
others to say that the match she was about to make
was a most remarkably good one. For years it had
been a hard struggle for her to keep up the Keswick
farm, but now she had fought a battle and won a
victory which ought to make her comfortable and
satisfied for the rest of her life. If Mr. Brandon's
family had taken a great deal from her, she would
more than repay herself by appropriating the old
gentleman, together with his possessions.

398



THE LATE MRS. NULL

After the depression following the first shock, Mr.
Brandon endeavored to stiffen himself. There was a
great deal of pride in him, and if he were obliged to go
to the altar, he did not wish his old friends to suppose
that he was going there to be sacrificed. He had
brought this dreadful thing upon himself, but he
would try to stand up like a man and bear it ; and,
after all, it might not be for long : the widow Keswick
was a good deal older than he was. Other thoughts
occasionally came to comfort him : she could not make
him continually live with her, and he had plans for
visits to Eichmond, and even to New York; and,
better than that, she might want to spend a good deal
of time at her own farm.

" For the sake of my name and my niece," he said
to himself, " I must bear it like a man."

And, in answer to an earnest adjuration, Colonel
Pinckney Macon solemnly promised that he would
never reveal, to man or woman, that his friend did
not marry the widow Keswick entirely of his own
wish and accord.

It was the desire of Mrs. Keswick that the marriage,
although conducted in church, should be very simple
in its arrangements. There would be no bridesmaids
or groomsmen; no flowers; no breakfast; and the
couple would be dressed in travelling costume. The
friends of the old lady persuaded her to make con
siderable changes in her attire, and a costume was
speedily prepared, which, while it suggested the fash
ions of the present day, was also calculated to recall
reminiscences of those of a quarter of a century ago.
This simplicity was the only thing connected with the
affair which satisfied Mr. Brandon, and he would have

399



THE LATE MRS. NULL

been glad to have the marriage entirely private, with
no more witnesses than the law demanded. But to
this Mrs. Keswick would not consent. She wanted to
have her former friends about her. Accordingly, the
church was pretty well filled with old colonels, old
majors, old generals, and old judges, with their wives
and their sisters, and, in a few cases, their daughters.
All the elderly people in Richmond who, in the days
of their youth, had known the gay Miss Matty Petti-
grew and the handsome Bob Brandon felt a certain
rejuvenation of spirit as they went to the wedding of
the couple who had once been these two.

The old lady looked full of life and vigor, and, de
spite the circumstances, Mr. Brandon preserved a good
deal of his usual manly deportment. But when, in
the course of the marriage service, the clergyman
came to the question in which the bridegroom was
asked if he would have this woman to be his wedded
wife, to love and keep her for the rest of their lives,
the answer, " I will," came forth in a feeble tone, which
was not wholly divested of a tinge of despondency.

With the lady it was quite otherwise. When the
like question was put to her, she stepped back, and in
a loud, clear voice exclaimed : " Not I ! Marry that
man there?" she continued in a higher tone, and
pointing her finger at the astounded Mr. Brandon.
" Not for the world, sir ! Before he was born, his
family defrauded and despoiled my people, and as
soon as he took affairs into his own hands, he continued
the villainous law robberies until we are poor and he
is rich ; and, not content with that, he basely wrecks
and destroys the plans I had made for the comfort of
my old age, in order that his paltry purposes may be

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THE LATE MRS. NULL

carried out. After all that, does anybody here suppose
that I would take him for a husband f Marry him !
Not I ! " And, with these words, the old lady turned
her back on the clergyman and walked rapidly down
the centre aisle until she reached the church door.
There she stopped, and turning towards the stupefied
assemblage, she snapped her bony fingers in the air,
and exclaimed : " Now, Mr. Kobert Brandon of Mid-
branch, our account is balanced."

She then went out of the door, and took a street-car
for the train that would carry her to her home.



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