Frank Richard Stockton.

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

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Junius Keswick did not see Miss Roberta again that
day, and early in the morning he borrowed one of the
Midbranch horses, and rode away. He did not wish to
be at the house when Mr. Croft should come ; and,
besides, he was very anxious and disturbed in regard
to matters at the Keswick farm. Of all places in the
world, why should Mr. Brandon go there ?

It was not a very pleasant ride that Junius Keswick
took that morning. He had anxieties in regard to
what he would meet with at his aunt's house, and he
had even greater anxieties as to what he was leaving
behind him at Midbranch. It was quite evident that
Roberta was angry with him, and this was enough to
sadden the soul of a man who loved her as he loved
her, who would have married her at any moment, in
spite of all opposition, all threats, all curses. He was
not in the habit of looking at himself after the manner
of Lawrence Croft, but on this occasion he could not
help a little self -survey. Was it a purely disinterested
motive, he asked himself, that took him over to the
Springs to bring back Lawrence Croft? Did he not
believe in his soul that Roberta would never have
spoken so freely to him in regard to what the gentle
man from the North would probably say to her if she
had not intended to decline that gentleman's offer?
And was there not a wish in his heart that this matter
might be definitely and satisfactorily settled before
Roberta and Mr. Croft went to New York for the
winter? He could not deny that this issue to the
affair had been in his mind ; and yet he felt that he
could conscientiously assure himself that if he had

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thought things would turn out otherwise, he still would
have endeavored to make the man perform the duty
expected of him by Roberta, in whose service Junius
always felt himself to be. But, apparently, he had
not benefited himself or anybody else, except, perhaps,
Croft, by this service which he had performed.

It was late in the forenoon when Junius met Mr.
Brandon returning to Midbranch. In answer to his
expressions of surprise, Mr. Brandon, who appeared in
an exceptionally good humor, informed Junius of his
reasons for the visit to the widow Keswick, and what
he had found when he arrived there.

" Your little cousin," said he, " is a most charming
young creature, and on interested motives I should
oppose your going to your aunt's house, were it not
for the fact that she is married, and, therefore, of no
danger to you. I was very glad to find her there.
Her influence over your aunt will, I think, be highly
advantageous, and the first-fruit of it is that the old
lady will now welcome you with open arms. Would
you believe it ! she has already announced that she
wishes to make a match between you and this little
cousin ; and in order to do so, has actually engaged me
to endeavor to bring about a divorce between the
young lady and her absent husband. The widow Kes
wick has as many cranks and crotchets in her head as
there are seeds in a tobacco-pod ; but this is the queer
est and the wildest of them all. The couple seem very
much attached to each other, and nothing can be said
against the husband except that he did not accompany
his wife on her visit to her relatives ; and if he knew
anything about the old lady I don't blame him a bit.
Now your course, my dear boy, is perfectly plain. Let

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your aunt talk as much as she pleases about this
divorce and your union with the little Annie. It
won't hurt anybody, and she must talk herself out in
time. In the meantime take advantage of the present
circumstances to mollify and tone down, so to speak,
the good old lady. Make her understand that we are
all her friends, and that there is no one in the connec
tion who would wish to do her the slightest harm.
This would be our Christian duty at any time, but it
is more particularly our duty now. I would like you
to bring your cousin over to see us before Roberta goes
away. I invited her to come, and told her that my
niece would first call upon her were it not for the
peculiar circumstances. But if the families can be in
a measure brought together, and I shall make it a
point to ride over there occasionally, if your aunt can
be made to understand the kindly feelings we really
have towards her, and can be induced to set aside, even
in a slight degree, the violent prejudice she now holds
against us, all may yet turn out well. Now go, my
boy, and may the best of success go with you. Don't
trouble yourself about sending back the horse. Keep
him as long as you want him."

Mr. Brandon rode on, leaving Junius to pursue his
way. " It is very pleasant," thought the young man,
who had said scarcely a word during the interview,
" to hear Mr. Brandon talk about all turning out well,
but when he gets home he may discover that there is
something to be done at Midbranch as well as on the
Keswick place."

Mr. Brandon's reflections were very different from
those of Junius. It appeared to him that a reconcilia
tion between the two families, even though it should

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be a partial one, was reasonably to be expected.
That newly arrived cousin was an angel. She was
bound to do good. A marriage between his niece
and Junius Keswick was the great object of the old
gentleman's heart, and he longed to see the former
engagement between them reestablished before Ro
berta went to New York, where her beauty and at
tractiveness would expose his cherished plan to many
dangers.

The road he was on led directly north, and it was
joined about a quarter of a mile above by the road
which ran through the woods to the Green Sulphur
Springs. On this road, at a point nearly opposite to
him, he could see, through the foliage, a horseman rid
ing towards the point of junction. Something about
this person attracted his attention, and Mr. Brandon
took out a pair of eye-glasses and put them on. As
soon as he had obtained another good view of the
horseman he recognized him as Mr. Croft. The old
gentleman took off his glasses and returned them to his
vest pocket, and his face began to flush. In his early
acquaintance with Mr. Croft he had not objected to
him, because he wished his niece to have company,
and he had a firm belief in the enduring quality of her
affection for Junius. But latterly his ideas in regard
to the New York gentleman had changed. He had
thought him somewhat too assiduous, and when he had
unexpectedly returned from the North, Mr. Brandon
had not been at all pleased, although he had been
careful not to show his displeasure. This condition of
things made him feel uneasy, and had prompted his
visit to the widow Keswick. And now that everything
looked so fair and promising, here was that man, whom

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he had supposed to have left this part of the country,
riding towards his house.

Mr. Brandon was an easy-going man, but he had a
backbone which could be greatly stiffened on occasion.
He sat up very straight on his horse, and urged the
animal to a better pace, so that he arrived first at the
point where the roads met. Here he awaited Mr.
Croft, who soon rode up. The old gentleman's greet
ing was very courteous.

" You are on the way to my house, I presume," he
said.

Mr. Croft assured him that he was, and hoped that
Miss March was quite well.

" I have been from home for a little while," said Mr.
Brandon, "but I believe my niece enjoys her usual
health. I have had a long ride this morning," he
continued, " and feel a little tired. Would it incon
venience you, sir, if we should dismount and sit for
a time on yonder log by the roadside? It would rest
me, and I would like to have a little talk with you."

Lawrence wondered very much that the old gentle
man should want to rest when he was not a mile from
his own house, but of course he consented to the pro
posed plan, and imitated Mr. Brandon by riding under
a large tree, and fastening his bridle to a low-hang
ing bough. The two gentlemen seated themselves on
the log, and Mr. Brandon, without preface, began his
remarks.

"May I be pardoned for supposing, sir," he said,
" that your present visit to my house is intended for
my niece ? "

Lawrence looked at him a little earnestly, and re-
plied that it was so intended.

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"Then, sir, I think I have the right to ask, as my
niece's present guardian, and almost indeed as her
father, whether or not your visit is connected in any
way with matrimonial overtures towards that lady ? "

Not wishing to foolishly and dishonorably deny that
such was his purpose in going to Midbranch, and feel
ing that it would be as unwise to decline answering
the question as it would be unmanly to resort to sub
terfuge about it, Lawrence replied that his object in
visiting Miss March that day was to make matrimonial
overtures to her.

"I think," said Mr. Brandon, "that you will be
obliged to me if I make you acquainted with the
present condition of affairs between Miss March and
Mr. Junius Keswick."

" Has not their engagement been broken off? " in
terrupted Lawrence.

" Only conditionally," answered the old gentleman.
"They love each other. They wish to be married.
With one exception, all their relatives desire that
they should marry. It would be a union, not only
congenial in the highest degree to the parties con
cerned, but of the greatest advantage to our family
and our family fortunes. There is but a single obsta
cle to this most desirable union, and that is the un
warrantable opposition of one person. But I am
happy to say that this opposition is on the point of
being removed. I consider it to be but a matter of
days when my niece and Mr. Keswick, with the full
approbation of the relatives on either side, will renew
in the eyes of the world that engagement which I con
sider still exists in fact."

"If this is so," said Lawrence, grinding his heel

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very deeply into the ground, "why was I not told
of it?"

" My dear sir ! " exclaimed Mr. Brandon, " have you
ever intimated to me or to any of my family that your
intentions in visiting Midbranch were other than those
of an ordinary friend or acquaintance? "

Lawrence admitted that he had never made any
such intimation.

" Then, sir," said Mr. Brandon, " what reason could
we have for mentioning this subject to you a subject
that would not have been referred to now, had it not
been for your admission of your intended object in
visiting my house I "

Lawrence had no answer to make to this, but it was
not easy to turn him from his purpose. " Excuse me,
sir," he said, " but I think a matter of this sort should
be left to the lady. If she is not inclined to receive
my addresses she will say so, and there is an end
of it."

The face of Mr. Brandon slightly reddened, but his
voice remained as quiet and courteous as before.
" You do not comprehend, sir, the state of affairs, or
you would see that a procedure of that kind would
be extremely ill-judged at this time. Were it known
that at this critical moment Miss March was addressed
by another suitor, it would seriously jeopardize the
success of plans which we all have very much at
heart."

Lawrence did not immediately reply to this crafty
speech. His teeth were very firmly set, and he looked
steadfastly before him. " I do not understand all this,"
he said presently, " nor do I see that there is any need
for my understanding it. In fact, I have nothing to

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do with it. I wish to propose marriage to Miss March.
If she declines my offer there is an end of the matter.
If she accepts me, then it is quite proper that all your
plans should fall to the ground. She is the principal
in the affair, and it is due to her and due to me that
she should make the decision in this case."

Mr. Brandon had not quite so many teeth as his
younger companion, but the very fair number which
remained with him were set together quite as firmly
as those of Lawrence had been. He remarked, speak
ing very distinctly but without any show of emotion :
" I see, sir, that it is quite impossible for us to think
alike on this subject, and there is, therefore, nothing
left for me to do but to ask you and I assure you,
sir, that the request is as destitute of any intention of
discourtesy as if it were based upon the presence of
sickness or family affliction that you will not visit
my house at present."

Lawrence rose to his feet with a good deal of color
in his face. " That settles the matter for the present,"
he said. " Of course I shall not go to a house which
is forbidden to me. I wish you good morning, sir."
And he stalked to his horse, and endeavored to pull
down the limb to which its bridle was attached.

Mr. Brandon followed him. " You must mount be
fore you can unfasten your bridle," he said. "And
allow me to assure you, sir, that as soon as this little
affair is settled I shall be very happy indeed to see
you again at my house."

Lawrence, having succeeded in loosening his bridle
from the tree, made answer with a bow, and galloped
away to the Green Sulphur Springs.

Mr. Brandon now mounted and rode home. This
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was the first time in his life that he had ever forbidden
any one to visit Midbranch, and yet he did not feel
that he had been either discourteous or inhospitable.
" There are times," he said to himself, " when a man
must stand up for his own interest j and this is one of
the times."



118



CHAPTER XI

IN the little dining-room of the cottage at the Green
Sulphur Springs sat that evening Lawrence Croft, a
perturbed and angry but a resolute man. He had
been quite a long time coming to the conclusion to
propose to Eoberta March, and now that he had made
up his mind to do so, even in spite of certain convic
tions, it naturally aroused his indignation to find him
self suddenly stopped short by such an insignificant
person as Mr. Brandon, a gentleman to whom, in this
affair, he had given no consideration whatever. The
fact that the lady wished to see him added much to
his annoyance and discomfiture. He had no idea what
reason she had for desiring an interview with him, but
whatever she should say to him he intended to follow
by a declaration of his sentiments. He had not the
slightest notion in the world of giving up the prosecu
tion of his suit ; but having been requested not to come
to Midbranch, what was he to do ? He might write to
Miss March, but that would not suit him. In a matter
like this he would wish to adapt his words and his
manner to the moods and disposition of the lady, and
he could not do this in a letter. When he wooed a
woman, he must see her and speak to her. To any
clandestine approach, any whispered conversation

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beneath her window, he would give no thought.
Having been asked by the master of the house not to
go there, he would not go. But he would see her, and
tell his love j and, more than that, he would win her.
That morning, while waiting for the time to ap
proach when it would be proper for him to go to Mid-
branch, he had been reading in a bound volume of an
old English magazine, which was one of the five books
the cottage possessed, an account of a battle which had
interested him very much. The commander of one
army had massed his forces along and below the crest
of a line of low hills, the extreme right of his line being
occupied by a strong force of cavalry. The army
opposed to him was much stronger than his own, and
it was not long before the battle began to go very
much against him. His positions on the left were
carried by the combined charge of the larger portion
of the enemy's forces, and, in spite of a vigorous resist
ance, his lines were forced back, down the hill, and
into the valley. It was quite evident he could make
no stand, and was badly beaten. Thereupon he sent
orders to his generals on the left to retreat, in as good
order as possible, across a small river in their rear.
While this movement was in progress, and the enemy
was making the greatest efforts to prevent it, the com
mander put himself at the head of his cavalry and led
them swiftly from the scene of battle. He took them
diagonally over the crest of the hill, down the other
side, and then, charging with this fresh body of horse
upon the rear and camp of the enemy, he swiftly cap
tured the general-in-chief, his staff, and the minister
of war, who had come down to see how things were
going on. "With these important prisoners he dashed

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away, leaving the acephalous enemy to capture his
broken columns if he could.

This was the kind of thing Lawrence Croft would
like to do. For an hour or more he puzzled his brains
as to how he should make such a cavalry charge, and
at last he came to a determination : he would ask
Junius Keswick to assist him. There was something
odd about this plan which pleased Croft. Keswick was
his rival, with the powerful backing of Mr. Brandon
and a whole tribe of relatives, and it might naturally
be supposed that he was the last man in the world of
whom he would ask assistance. But, looking at it from
his point of view, Lawrence thought that not only
would he be taking no undue advantage of the other
in asking him to help him in this matter, but that
Keswick ought not and would not object to it. If
Miss March really preferred Croft, Keswick should
feel himself bound in honor to do everything he could
to let the two settle the affair between themselves.
This was drawing the point very fine, but Lawrence
persuaded himself that if the case were reversed he
would not marry a girl who had not chosen another
man simply because she had had no opportunity of
doing so. He had a strong belief that Keswick was
of his way of thinking, and before he went to bed
he wrote his rival a note, asking him to call upon him
the following day.

Early the next morning the note was carried over
to Midbranch by a messenger, who returned, saying
that Mr. Keswick had gone away, and that his present
address was Hewlett's in the same county. This piece
of information caused Lawrence Croft to open his eyes
very wide. A few days before he had received a letter

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from Mrs. Null, written at Hewlett's, and now Keswick
had gone there. He had been very much surprised
when he found that the cashier had so successfully
carried on the search for Keswick as to come into the
very county in Virginia where he was ; and he in
tended to write to her that he had no further occasion
for her services j but he had not done so, and here
were the pursuer and the pursued in the same town,
or village, or whatever Hewlett's was. He gave Mrs.
Null credit for being one of the best detectives he had
ever heard of ; for, apparently, she had not only been
able to successfully track the man she was in search of,
but to find out where he was going, and had reached
the place in question before he did. But he also be
rated her soundly in his mind for her over-officious-
ness. He had not wished her to swoop down upon the
man, but only to inform him of his whereabouts. The
next thing that would probably happen would be the
appearance of Mrs. Null at the Green Sulphur Springs,
holding Keswick by the collar. He deeply regretted
that he had ever intrusted this young woman with the
investigation, not because he had since met Keswick
himself, but for the reason that she was entirely too
energetic and imprudent. If Keswick should find out
from her that she had been in search of him, and why,
it might bring about a very unpleasant state of affairs.
Croft saw now, quite plainly, what he must do. He
must go to Hewlett's as quickly as possible. Perhaps
Keswick and the cashier had not yet met, and, in that
case, all he would have to do would be to remunerate
the young woman and her husband for she had in
formed him that she intended to combine this business
with a wedding- tour and send them off immediately.

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He could then have his conference with Keswick there
as well as at the Springs. If any mischief had already
been done, he did not know what course he might have
to pursue, but it was highly, necessary for him to be
on the spot as soon as possible. He greatly disliked to
leave the neighborhood of Roberta March, but his
absence would only be temporary.

After an early dinner, he mounted the horse which
he had hired from his host of the Springs, and, with
a valise strapped behind him, set out for Hewlett's.
He had made careful inquiries in regard to the road,
and after a ride somewhat tiresome to a man not used
to such protracted horseback exercise, arrived at his
destination about sundown. When he reached the
scattered houses which formed, as he supposed, the
outskirts of the village, for such he had been told it
was, he rode on, but soon found that he had left How-
lett's behind him, and that those supposed outskirts
was the place itself. Hewlett's was nothing, in fact,
but a collection of eight or ten houses quite widely
separated from one another, and the only one of them
which exhibited any public character whatever was
the store, a large frame building standing a little back
from the road. Turning his horse, Lawrence rode up
to the store and inquired if there was any house in the
neighborhood where he could get lodging for the night.

The storekeeper, who came out to him, was a very
little man, whose appearance recalled to Croft the fact
that he had noticed, in this part of the State, a great
many men who were extremely tall, and a great many
who were extremely small, which peculiarity, he
thought, might assist a physiologist in discovering the
different effects of hot bread upon different organiza-

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tions. He was quite as cordial, however, as the big
gest, burliest, and j oiliest host who ever welcomed a
guest to his inn, as he informed Mr. Croft that there
was no house in the village which made a business of
entertaining strangers, but if he chose to stop with
him he would keep him and his horse for the night,
and do what he could to make him comfortable.

Lawrence ate supper that night with the store
keeper, his wife, and five of his children ; but as he
was very hungry, and the meal was a plentiful one,
he enjoyed the experience.

"I suppose you're goin' on to Westerville in the
mornin' ? " said the little host.

" No," replied Croft ; " I am not going any farther
than this place. Do you know if a gentleman named
Keswick arrived here recently ? "

" Why, yaas," said the man, " if you mean Junius
Keswick."

"Certainly he did," said Mrs. Storekeeper. "He
rode through here yesterday, and he stopped at the
store to see if we had any of Miat Lynchburg tobacco
he used to smoke when he lived here. He's gone on
to his aunt's."

"Where is that?" asked Croft.

" It's about two miles out on the Westerville road,"
said the little man. " If I'd knowed you wanted to see
him, I'd 'a' told you to keep right on, and you could
'a' stopped with Mrs. Keswick overnight."

Lawrence wished to ask some questions about Mrs.
Null, but he was afraid to do so lest he might excite
suspicions by connecting her with Keswick. If the
latter had gone two miles out of town, perhaps she
had not yet seen him.

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The room in which Lawrence slept that night was
to him a very odd one. It was a long apartment, at
one end of which was a clean, comfortable bed, a
couple of chairs, and a table on which was a basin
and pitcher. At the other end were piles of new-look
ing boxes, containing groceries of various kinds, rolls
of cotton cloth and other dry-goods, and, what at
tracted his attention more than anything else, a vast
number of bright tin cans, bearing on their sides bril
liant pictures of tomatoes, peaches, green corn, and
other preservable eatables. These were evidently the
reserved stores of the establishment, and they were so
different from the bedroom decorations to which he
was accustomed that it quite pleased Lawrence to
think that with all his experience in life he was now
lodged in a manner entirely novel to him. As he lay
awake looking at the moonlight glittering on the sides
of the multitude of cans, the thought came into his
mind that this had probably been the room of the
Nulls when they were here.

" As this is the only house in the place where travel
lers are entertained," he said to himself, " of course
they must have come to it. And as they are not here
now, it is quite plain that they must have gone away.
I am very glad of it, especially if they left before
Keswick arrived, for their departure probably pre



Online LibraryFrank Richard StocktonThe novels and stories of Frank R. Stockton . (Volume 1) → online text (page 8 of 26)