Frank Richard Stockton.

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

. (page 9 of 26)
Online LibraryFrank Richard StocktonThe novels and stories of Frank R. Stockton . (Volume 1) → online text (page 9 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


vented an awkward situation. But I shall ask the
storekeeper no questions about these people. There
is no better way of giving inquisitive folk the entree to
your affairs than by asking questions. Of course there
was no reason why they should stay here after they
had successfully traced Keswick to this part of the
country, and every reason, if they wanted to enjoy

125



THE LATE MRS. NULL

themselves, why they should go away. But I can't
help being sorry that I did not meet the young woman,
and have an opportunity of paying her for her trouble,
and giving her a few words of advice in regard to her
action, or rather non-action, in this matter. She has
a fine head for business, but I should like to feel cer
tain that she understands that her business with me is
over." And he turned his eyes from the glittering
cans, and slept.

The next morning Lawrence Croft rode on to Mrs.
Keswick's house, and when he reached the second or
inner gate, he saw, on the other side of it, an elderly
female, wearing a purple sunbonnet and carrying a
purple umbrella. There was something very eccentric
about the garb of this elderly personage, and many an
inexperienced city man would have taken her for a
retired nurse, or some other domestic retainer of the
family ; but there was a steadfastness in her gaze, and
a fire in her eye, which Indicated to Lawrence that
she was one much more accustomed to give orders
than to take them. He raised his hat very politely,
and asked if Mr. Keswick was to be found there.

If the commander of the army about whom Mr.
Croft had recently been reading had beheld in the
earlier stages of the battle a strong, friendly force ad
vancing to his aid, he would not have been more de
lighted than Lawrence would have been had he known
what a powerful ally to his cause stood beneath that
purple sunbonnet.

"Do you mean Junius Keswick?" said the old
lady.

"Yes, madam," answered Croft.

" He is here, and you will find him at the house."

126



THE LATE MRS. NULL

The gate was partly open, and Lawrence rode in.
The old lady stepped aside to let him pass.

"Do you want to see him on business?" she said.

" How did you know he was here? "

" I inquired at Hewlett's, madam."

Mrs. Keswick world have liked to ask some further
questions, but there was something about Lawrence's
appearance that deterred her.

" You can tie your horse under that tree over there,"
she said, pointing to a spot more trampled by hoofs
than the old lady wished any other portion of her
house-yard to be.

"When Lawrence had tied his bridle to a hook sus
pended by a strap from one of the lower branches of
the indicated tree, he advanced to the house ; and a
very much astonished man was he, to see sitting side
by side on the porch, Junius Keswick and Mr. Candy's
cashier. They were seated in the shade of a mass of
honeysuckle vines, and were so busily engaged in con
versation that they had not perceived his approach.
Even now Lawrence had time to look at them for a
few moments before they turned their eyes upon him.

Equally astonished were the two people on the porch,
who now rose to their feet. Junius Keswick naturally
wondered very much why Mr. Croft should come to
see him here ; and as for the young lady, she was al
most as much terrified as surprised. Had this man
come down from New York to swoop upon her cousin?
Had it been possible that she could have given him
any idea of the whereabouts of Junius? In her last
note to him she had been very careful to promise in
formation, but not to give any, hoping thus to gain
time to get an insight into the matter, and to keep her

127



THE LATE MRS. NULL

cousin out of danger, if, indeed, any danger threatened.
But here the pursuer had found Junius in less than a
day after she had first met him herself. But when she
saw Junius advance and shake hands in a very friendly
way with Mr. Croft, her terror began to decrease, al
though her surprise continued at the same high-water
mark ; and Keswick found himself in a flood of the
same emotion when Croft very politely saluted his
cousin by name, which salutation was returned in a
manner which indicated that the parties were ac
quainted.

At first Croft had been prompted to ignore all
knowledge of the cashier, and meet her as a stranger,
but his better sense prevented this, for how could he
know what she had been saying about him ?

" I was about to introduce you to my cousin," said
Keswick, "but I see that you already know each
other."

" I have had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Null in
New York," said Lawrence, to whom the word cousin
gave what might be called a more important surprise
than anything with which this three-sided interview
had yet furnished its participants. He gave a quick
glance at the lady, and discovered her very steadfastly
gazing at him. " I hope," he said, " that you and your
husband have had a very pleasant trip."

"Mr. Null did not come with me," she quietly
replied.

Lawrence Croft was a man to whom it gave pleasure
to deal with problematic situations, unexpected de
velopments, and the like ; but this was too much of a
conundrum for him. That the man whose address he
had employed this girl to find out should prove to be

128



THE LATE MRS. NULL

her cousin, and that she should start on her bridal trip
without her husband, were points on which his reason
had no power to work. One thing, however, he
quickly determined upon : he would have an inter
view with Madam Cashier and have her explain these
mysteries. She was, virtually, his agent, and had no
right to conceal from him what she had been doing,
and why she had done it.

It was necessary, however, that he should waste no
time in thoughts of this kind, but should immediately
state to Mr. Keswick the reason of his visit ; for it
could not be supposed he had called in a merely social
way. " I wish to speak to you," he said, " on a little
matter of business."

At these words Mrs. Null excused herself, and went
into the house. Her mind was troubled as she won
dered what the business was which had made this New
York gentleman so extraordinarily desirous to find
her cousin. Was it anything that would injure
Junius? She looked back as she entered the door,
but the object of her solicitude was sitting with a face
so calm and composed that it showed very plainly he
did not expect any communication which would be
harmful to him.

" It is a satisfaction," thought Mr. Croft, "a very
great satisfaction, that I can enter upon the object of
my visit knowing that my affairs and my actions have
not been discussed by this gentleman and Mrs. Null."



129



CHAPTER XII

OLD Mrs. Keswick would willingly have followed the
strange gentleman to the house in order to know the
object of his visit, but as he had come to see Junius she
refrained, for she knew her nephew would not like any
appearance of curiosity on her part. Her reception
of Junius had been very different indeed from that she
had previously accorded him when she declined to be
found under the same roof with him. Now he was
here under very different auspices, and for him the
very plumpest poultry was slain, and everything was
done to make him comfortable and willing to stay and
become acquainted with his cousin, Mrs. Null. A
match between these two young people was the present
object of the old lady's existence, and she set about
making it with as much determination and confidence
as if there had been no such person as Mr. Null. Of
this individual she had the most contemptible opinion.
She had never asked many questions about him, be
cause, in her intercourse with her niece, she wished,
as far as possible, to ignore him. Having mentally
pictured him in various mean conditions of life, she
had finally settled it in her mind that he was an agent
for some patent fertilizer a man of this kind being a
very obnoxious person to her. This avocation, how
ever, constituted in the old lady's mind no excusable

130



THE LATE MRS. NULL

reason for his protracted absence ; and if ever a wife
was deserted, she believed that her niece Annie was
such a wife.

" If he should stay away much longer/' she said to
herself, " we shall have no more trouble in getting a
divorce than to have his funeral sermon preached.
And if there is any talk of his coming here, or of her
going to him, I'll put my foot down on that sort of
thing, if I've a foot left to do it with."

When she had first perceived the approach of Mr.
Croft, a fear had seized her that this might be the
recreant husband, but the gentlemanly appearance of
the stranger soon dispelled this idea from her preju
diced mind. Apart from the fact that she had no
business at the house with her nephew's visitor, she
had positive business in the garden with old Uncle
Isharn, and there she repaired. There was some work
to be done in regard to a flower-pit, in which some of
her choicest plants were to be domiciled during the
winter, and this she wished personally to oversee.
Although the autumn was well advanced, the day was
somewhat warm ; and as the pair whom Mr. Croft had
seen on the porch had been glad to shelter themselves
in the shade of the honeysuckle vines, so Mrs. Keswick
seated herself on a little bench behind a large arbor,
still covered by heavy vines, which stood on the
boundary line between the garden and the front yard,
and opened on the latter. This bench, which was
always shady in the morning, she had had placed there
that she might comfortably direct the labors of old
Isham, the boy Plez, or whoever, for the time being,
happened to be her gardener.

Mr. Croft did not immediately begin the statement
131



THE LATE MRS. NULL

of the business which had brought him to see Junius
Keswick. Several windows of the house opened on
the porch, and he did not wish what he had to say to
be heard by any one except the person he was ad
dressing. "I desire to talk to you on some private
matters," he said. " Could we not walk a little away
from the house? "

"Certainly," said Junius, rising. "We will step
over to that arbor by the garden. We shall be quite
comfortable and secluded there. This is the place,"
said Junius, as they seated themselves in the arbor,
" where, when a boy, I used to come to smoke. My
aunt did not allow this diversion, but I managed to do
a good deal of puffing before I was found out."

" Then you used to live here? " asked Croft.

" Oh, yes," said Keswick ; " my parents died when I
was quite a little fellow, and my aunt had charge of
me until I had grown up."

"Was that your aunt whom I met at the gate?
There was something about her bearing and general
appearance which greatly interested me."

"She is a most estimable lady," returned Junius.
And not wishing further to discuss his relative, he
added : " And now, what is it, sir, that I can have the
pleasure of doing for you ? "

" The matter regards Miss March," said Croft.

" I presumed so," remarked the other.

"I will state it as briefly as possible," continued
Croft. "In consequence of your visit to me at the
Springs, I set out, the day before yesterday, to make
another attempt to call on Miss March, the first one
having been frustrated, as you may remember, by the
information we received at the gate in regard to Miss

132



THE LATE MRS. NULL

March's indisposition, which, as I have heard nothing
more of it, I hope was of no importance."

" Of none whatever," said Junius.

" When I was within a mile or so of Midbranch,"
continued Croft, " I met Mr. Brandon, who requested
me not to come to his house, and, in fact, to cease my
visits altogether."

" What ! " cried Keswick, very much surprised.
" That is not at all like Mr. Brandon. What reason
could he have for treating you in such a manner ? "

" The very best in the world," said Croft. " Hav
ing, as the guardian of his niece, asked me the object
of my visit to Miss March, and having been informed
by me that it was my intention to propose matrimony
to the lady, he requested that I would not visit at his
house."

" On what ground did he base his objection to your
visit?" asked Keswick.

" He made no objection to me ; he simply stated that
he did not desire me to come, because he wished his
niece to marry you."

" Quite plainly spoken," remarked Keswick.

"Nothing could be more so," replied Croft. "I
could not expect any one to be franker with me than
he was. He went on to inform me that a match be
tween the lady and yourself was greatly desired by
the whole family connection, with a single exception,
which, however, he did not name, and while he gave
me to understand that he had no reason to fear, that,
so far as the lady was concerned, my proposal would
interfere with your prospects, still, were it known that
there was another aspirant in the field, a very unde
sirable state of things might ensue. What this state

133



THE LATE MRS. NULL

of affairs was he did not state, but I presume it had
something to do with the exceptional opposition to
which he referred."

" And what did you say to all that? " asked Junius.

" I said very little. When a man asks me not to
come to his house, I don't go. But, nevertheless, I
have fully made up my mind to propose to Miss
March as soon as I can get an opportunity. I have
nothing to do with family arrangements or family
opposition. You have told me that you are not en
gaged to her, and I am going to try to be engaged to
her. She is the one to decide this matter. And now
I have called upon you, Mr. Keswick, to see if there
is any way in which you can assist me in obtaining an
interview with Miss March."

" Don't you think," said Junius, " that it is rather
cool in you to ask me to assist you in this matter? "

" Not at all," replied the other. " If it had not been
for you I should now be in New York, with no thought
of present proposals of marriage. But you came to
me, and insisted that 1 should see the lady."

"That was simply because she had expressed a
strong desire to see you."

"Very good," said Lawrence. "I tried to go to
her, as you know, and was prevented. Now all I ask
of you is to help me to do what you so strongly urged
me to do. There is nothing particularly cool in that,
I think."

Keswick did not immediately reply. "I am not
sure," he said, "that Miss March still wishes to see
you."

"That may be," replied Croft, speaking a little
warmly. " None of us exactly know what she thinks

134



THE LATE MRS. NULL

or wishes. But I want to find out what she thinks
about me by distinctly asking her. And I should
suppose you would consider it to your advantage, as
well as mine, that I should do so."

" I have my own opinion on that point/' said Kes
wick, " which it is not necessary to discuss at present.
If I were to assist you to an interview with Miss March
it would be on the lady's account, not on yours or
mine. But apart from the fact that I do not know if
she now desires an interview, I would not do anything
that would offend or annoy Mr. Brandon."

"I don't ask that of you," said Croft, "but couldn't
you use your influence with him to give me a fair
chance with the lady ? That is all I ask, and, whether
she accepts me or rejects me, I am sure everybody
ought to be satisfied."

Keswick smiled. " You don't leave any margin for
sentiment," he said, " but I suppose it is just as well to
deal with this matter in a practical way. I do not
think, however, that any influence I can exert on Mr.
Brandon would induce him to allow you to address his
niece if he is opposed to it, and I am sure he would
have a very strange opinion of me if I attempted such
a thing. At present I do not see that I can help you
at all, but I will think over the matter, and we will
talk of it again."

" Thank you," said Croft, rising. " And when shall
I call upon you to hear your decision? "

It was rather difficult for Junius Keswick to answer
a question like this on the spur of the moment. He
arose and walked with Croft out of the arbor. His
first impulse, as a Virginia gentleman, was to invite
his visitor to stay at the house until the matter should

135



THE LATE MRS. NULL

be settled, but he did not know what extraordinary
freak on the part of his aunt might be caused by such
an invitation. But before he had decided what to say,
they were met by Mrs. Keswick coming from the gar
den. Junius thereupon presented Mr. Croft, who was
welcomed by the old lady with extended hand and ex
ceeding cordiality.

" I am very glad," she said, " to meet a friend of my
nephew. But where are you going, sir? Certainly
not towards your horse ! You must stay and dine
with us."

Lawrence hesitated. He had no claims on the hos
pitality of these people, but he wished very much to
have an opportunity to speak to Mrs. Null. " Thank
you," he said, "but I am staying down here at the
village, and it is but a short ride."

" Staying at Hewlett's ! " exclaimed Mrs. Keswick.
" At which hotel, may I ask? "

Lawrence laughed. " I am stopping with the store
keeper," he said.

"That settles it!" said the old lady, giving her
umbrella a jab into the ground. " Tom Peckett's ac
commodations may be good enough for pedlers and
travelling agents, but they are not fit for gentlemen,
especially one of my nephew's friends. You must stay
with us, sir, as long as you are in this neighborhood.
I insist upon it."

Junius was very much astonished at his aunt's speech
and manner. The old lady was not at all inhospitable ;
so far was it otherwise the case that, rather than de
prive an objectionable visitor of the shelter of her roof,
she would go from under it herself; but he had never
known her to " gush " in this manner upon a stranger.

136



THE LATE MRS. NULL

He now felt at liberty, however, to obey his own im
pulses, and urged Mr. Croft to stay with them.

" You are very kind indeed," said Lawrence, " and
I shall be glad to defer for the present my return to
my l I otel.' This will give me f e additional pleasure
of renewing my acquaintance with Mrs. Null."

" What ! " exclaimed Mrs. Keswick, " do you % know
her, too ? And to think of your stopping at Peckett's !
Your home, sir, while you stay in these parts, is here."

Before the three reached the house, Mrs. Keswick
had inquired how long Mr. Croft had known her niece ;
and had discovered, much to her disappointment, that
he had never met Mr. Null.

Shortly after the arrival at the house of the gentle
man on horseback, little Plez ran into the kitchen,
where Letty was engaged in preparing vegetables for
dinner.

"Who d'ye think is done come?" he exclaimed.
" Miss Annie's husband ! Jes rid up to de house."

"Dat so?" cried Letty, dropping into her lap the
knife and the potato she was peeling. " Well, truly,
when things does happen in dis worl' dey comes all in
a lump. None ob de fam'ly been nigh de house fur
ebber so long ; an' den, 'long comes Mahs' Junius hisse'f,
an' Miss Annie, dat's been away sence she was a chile,
an' ole Mr. Brandon, wot Uncle Isham say ain't been
h'yar fur years an' years ; an' now Miss Annie's hus
band comes kitin' up ! An' dar's ole Aun' Patsy wot
says dat if dat gemman ebber come h'yar she want to
know it fus' thing. She was dreffle p'inted about dat.
An' now, look h'yar, you Plez, jes you cut round to
your Aun' Patsy's, an' tell her Miss Annie's husband's
done come."

137



THE LATE MRS. NULL

" Whar ole miss f " inquired Plez. " She 'sleep f "

" No, she mighty wide awake/' said Letty. " But
you take dem knives an' dat board an' brick, an' run
down to de branch to clean 'em. An' when you gits
dar, you jes slip along 'hind de bushes till you's got
ter de cohn-fiel', an' den you cut 'cross dar to Aun'
Patsy's. An' don' you stop no time dar, fur if ole miss
finds you's done gone, she'll chop you up wid dem
knives."

Plez was quite ready for a reckless dash of this kind,
and in less than twenty minutes old Patsy was in
formed that Mr. Null had arrived. The old woman
was much affected by the information. She was un
easy and restless, and talked a good deal to herself,
occasionally throwing out a moan or a lament in the
direction of her " son Tom's yaller boy Bob's chile."
The crazy-quilt, which was not yet finished, though
several pieces had been added since we last saw it,
was laid aside ; and by the help of the above-mentioned
great-granddaughter the old hair trunk was hauled
out and opened. Over this hoard of treasures Aunt
Patsy spent nearly two hours, slowly taking up the
various articles it contained, turning them over,
mumbling over them, and mentally referring many
of them to periods which had become historic. At
length she pulled out from one of the corners of the
trunk a pair of very little blue morocco shoes tied
together by their strings. These she took into her lap,
and, shortly afterwards, had the trunk locked and
pushed back into its place. The shoes, having been
thoroughly examined through her great iron-bound
spectacles, were thrust under the mattress of her bed.

That evening Uncle Isham stepped in to see the
138



THE LATE MRS. NULL

old woman, who was counteracting the effects of the
cool evening air by sitting as close as possible to
the remains of the fire which had cooked the supper.
She was very glad to see him. She wanted somebody
to whom she could unburden her mind.

" Wot you got to say 'bout Miss Annie's husband/'
she asked, "wot done come to-day?"

" Was dat him ? " exclaimed the old man. " Nobody
tole me dat."

This was true, for the good-natured Letty, having
discovered the mistake that had been made, had con
cluded to say nothing about it, and to keep away from
Aunt Patsy's for a few days, until the matter should
be forgotten.

" Well, I 'spec' Miss Annie's mighty glad to git him
back ag'in," continued the old man, after a moment's
reflection. "He's right much of a nice-lookin' gem-
man. I seed him dis ebenin' a-ridin' wid Mahs'
Junius."

"P'r'aps Miss Annie is glad," said the old woman,
" cos she don' know. But I ain't."

" Wot's de reason fur dat?" inquired Isham.

" It's a pow'ful dreffle thing dat Miss Annie's hus
band's done come down h'yar. He don' know ole miss."

" Wot's de matter wid ole miss? " asked Isham, in a
quick tone.

"She done talk to me 'bout him," said the old
woman. " She done tole me jes wot she think ob him.
She hate him from he heel up. I dunno wot she'll do
to him now she got him. Mighty great pity fur pore
Miss Annie dat he efer come h'yar."

"Ole miss ain't gwine to do nuffin to him," said
Isham, in a gruff and troubled tone.

139



THE LATE MRS. NULL

" Don' you b'lieve dat," said Aunt Patsy. " When
ole miss don' like a pusson, dat pusson had better look
out. But I ain't gwine to be sottin' h'yar an' see
mis'ry comin' to Miss Annie."

" Wot you gwine to do ? " asked Isham.

"I'se gwine to speak my min' to ole miss. I'se
gwine to tell her not to do no kunjerin' to Miss
Annie's husban'. She gwine to hurt dat little gal
more'n she hurt anybody else."

Old Isham sat looking into the fire with a very
worried and anxious expression on his face. He was
intensely loyal to his mistress, aware as he was of her
shortcomings, or rather her long-goings. Although
he felt a good deal of fear that there might be some
truth in Aunt Patsy's words, he was very sure that if
she took it upon herself to give warning or reproof to
old Mrs. Keswick, a storm would ensue ; and where
the lightning would strike he did not know. "You
better look out, Aun' Patsy," he said. " You an' ole
miss been mighty good fr'en's fur a pow'ful long time,
an' now don' you go gittin' yourse'f in no fraction wid
her, jes as you 'bout to die."

" Ain't gwine to die," said the old woman, " till I
done tole her wot's on my min'."

" Aun' Patsy," said Uncle Isham, after gazing silently
in the fire for a minute or two, " dar was a brudder
wot come up from 'Melia County to de las' big preach-
in', an' he tole in his sarment a par'ble wot I b'lieve
will 'ply fus'-rate to dis 'casion. I'se gwine to tell
you dat."

" Go 'long wid it," said Aunt Patsy.

"Well, den," said Isham, "dar was once a cullud
angel wot went up to de gate ob heaben to git in. He

140



THE LATE MRS. NULL

didn't know nuffin 'bout de ways ob de place, bein' a
strahnger, an' when lie see all de white angels a-
crowdin' in at de gate where Sent I'eter was a-settin',
he sorter looked round to see if dar warn't no gate
wot he might go in at. Den ole Sent Peter he sings
out : l Look h'yar, uncle, whar you gwine I Dar ain't
no cullud gal'ry in dis 'stablishment. You's got to
come in dis same gate wid de oder folks.' So de
cnllud angel he come up to de gate, but he kin'er hung



Online LibraryFrank Richard StocktonThe novels and stories of Frank R. Stockton . (Volume 1) → online text (page 9 of 26)