Frank Richard Stockton.

The novels and stories of Frank R. Stockton . (Volume 5) online

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"Ardis now moved bach a step or two."
From a drawing by W. GRANYILLE SMITH.








ON a pleasant morning, at the very end of summer,
a man was sitting upon a fence by a roadside.
This fence was in that country of low mountains and
rolling land which lies along the eastern base of the
Virginia Blue Eidge. The air was warm, but not too
warm ; and the man liked warm air. The sky was
clear and blue without a cloud $ and there was some
thing in the heart of the man which made him love a
sky like this. He wore a wide straw hat ragged at
the edges ; his shirt was coarse and indicated the color
of the soil, and his trousers of brown cotton cloth
were tucked into the tops of a pair of heavy, well-
worn boots. He was a poor man, and had very little
in this world except a wife and four daughters. But
the air was warm and the sky was blue, and he was
happy. And, to add to his happiness, there came to
him the smell of grapes. The three things that he
loved in this world, next best to his wife and daugh
ters, were warm air, blue sky, and the smell of grapes.
The perfume which so pleased this man did not
come from grapes growing on their vines, for there
was no vineyard nearer than his own very little one,



and this year, the yield being a poor one, his grapes
had all been eaten by his family. A gentle wind
came down a long hill which lay above him, and
down the road upon this hillside also came a wagon
drawn by a pair of oxen. These, moving much more
slowly than the gentle wind, leaned up against each
other at such an angle that it seemed a wonder they
could keep their feet, and held back the creaking
wagon with their unwieldy yoke. By their side
walked a negro man who assisted their descent by
gently napping their sides with his long whip, and by
alternate commands and objurations, always addressing
each animal by his proper name. In the wagon were
six barrels filled with grapes, and it was the fragrance
from these which came down the hill and helped to
make happy the heart of the man upon the fence.

" Hello, Shad ! " cried the man upon the fence, when
the deliberately moving oxen had nearly reached him.
"Is that the whole of the major's grape- crop ? "

"Whoa, Kob ! Back, Rory ! " cried the driver,
mildly accentuating his commands by a tap across
the forehead of the near ox. His team having will
ingly and suddenly come to a stand, the man walked
round in front of them. "Yes, sah," he said, "dat's
putty nigh de hull crap, 'cep'in', ob course, dem wines
what Miss Ardis has tied de red strings on. Ef her
string hadn't give out I reckon dar wouldn't 'a' been
more dan a one-hoss load fer de wine-cellarc"

"What does she tie red strings on for?" asked the

"Fo' eat'n' pupposes, sah. Miss Ardis she's ob de
'pinion dat grapes was made to eat, an' not to be
squzz up in a press ; an' she jes go through de wine-



yard an' tie her strings to eb'ry wine whar de grapes
look mos' good to eat; an' you bet, sah, dat when
de pickers come to dem wines dey jes pass 'em by
as ef dey was no-'count sassafras-bushes, an' go 'long
lookin' fer wines wid no red strings on 'em."

The man on the fence smiled. "That was a very
wise thing to do/' he said. "When you eat grapes
you know you have got a good thing, but wlien you
make 'em into wine nobody knows what you're goin'
to get."

"Dat's all right, sah," said the driver, stumping the
butt of his whip into the road, "ef you've only got
enough grapes to eat comf'ble."

"Oh, of course," said the other, "if a man has a big
vineyard he might as well send what grapes he can't
eat to the wine-cellar, but what I mean is that he
first ought to see that his family have all they

"Miss Ardis she 'tend to dat, sah," said Shad.
"Dar's no use ob nobody else gibin' demselves no
trouble 'bout dat." And he raised his whip in the
air with the intention of starting his oxen.

"By the way, Shad," said the man on the fence, "is
the major sendin' any of his extry grapes to the
wine-cellar this year?"

"Dem grapes is all on de wines yit ; an' Miss Ardis
didn't tie no red strings on 'em, nuther. De major
he come an' tas'e 'em de fust minute dey was ripe, an'
he shuk his head an' he say, e Dey ain't right yit ! '
an' he jes leabe 'em dar fo' de birds, an' I s'pects
dar'll be anudder year ob puttin' stuff inter dar roots
an' cuttin' off dar tops, an' p'r'aps ob grubbin' 'em up
an' beginnin' all ober ag'in."



"Very like," said the other ; "but if the old gentle
man ever expects to make that extry wine he's got to
stick to his work. You can't do anything in this
world if you don't stick to it."

"Dat's so/' said Shad. And with a shout to Bob
and a shout to Rory, and a flip of his whip over the
sides of each of them, he again started his creaking
wagon on its road to the town.

If an object in life of the man on the fence was to
sit in a somewhat elevated position by a road along
which people occasionally passed, he was true to his
principles, for he stuck to the fence long after the
grape-wagon had disappeared round a turn in the
road. He was American born, but of Italian descent.
In the early part of this century a great landholder of
the neighborhood had determined to undertake grape-
growing on a large scale. He studied the subject in
Italy and the south of France, and brought over
several Italian vine-dressers in order that he might
introduce into this country a knowledge of the proper
culture of the grape. His vines had all died out long
ago, but the vine-dressers took root in the soil, and if
they did not flourish, they multiplied.

All of their descendants, except the man on the
fence, had departed from the immediate neighbor
hood -j but this one had always lived here, and for
many years had occupied a very small house on a
corner of the large farm belonging to Major Claver-
den. He cultivated a few acres about this house, and
by making himself useful in many ways to his neigh
bors he earned some money and, in a manner, sup
ported his wife and family. In regard to his own
support he depended almost entirely upon philosophy,



and it must be admitted that, as a rule, he fared
much better than did his wife and daughters.

Warm air, a clear blue sky, and the smell of grapes
could not come to him in every season, but his philos
ophy enabled him to remember them and to look
forward to them even in the bleakest days of winter.
There was never a comforting element in any cir
cumstance and condition of his life which he was not
able to extract. He had an ingenious mind, he was
skilful with tools, he was a good sportsman, and
he was well versed in agriculture and vine-growing.
Had he done as much as he knew how to do he might
have been a moderately prosperous man, but had he
worked hard and systematically he would not have
been so happy ; and thus, without having given the
matter much consideration, he had grown into
the habit of allowing his philosophy to make up
the deficits occasioned by his disinclination to hard
and systematic work.

His family name was Bonetti, but this had long
since been corrupted by the people in the neighbor
hood into Bonnet. Only Major Claverden and his
daughter Ardis called the man by his proper name.
The old major remembered the grandfather Bonetti,
and nothing would have induced him to descend to
the use of a corruption of the Italian name.

The smell of grapes which had hung long in the
summer air had almost faded away, when a lady came
riding down the hill. She was mounted upon a tall
mare ; and in the pasture-field, as close to the fence
as it could get, there came a young colt, trotting, gal
loping, stopping, and whinnying to its mother, who
occasionally turned her head and whinnied in answer.



The lady, who was young and a good rider, came
deliberately down the hill, and as she approached
him the philosophizer got down from the fence and
stood near the road.

"Good morning, Miss Ardis," he said, lifting his

"Good morning, Mr. Bonetti," said she, drawing up
her steed. "How is your little girl? "

"Oh, she's nearly well, thank you," he answered.
"I think it was grapes ; and as the grapes are gone,
the child recovers. Nature is a fine physician, Miss

"But if nature had given you more grapes," said
she, "she would probably have taken away your child.
In that case would you still wish her to practise in
your family f "

Bonetti laughed. "She has treated us very well so
far," he said, "and she never sends any bills. So I
think we shall, for the present at least, keep on em
ploying her. And, by the way, Miss Ardis, do you
know what nature would say to you if she happened
to be about just now and felt like giving advice? "

"I haven't the least idea," she answered.

"Well, it's my opinion she'd say that it wasn't a
good thing to let that colt follow you along the edge
of the field. It would have been safer to shut him
up before you started."

"Oh, I didn't want to have him shut up such a fine
day as this," she said, "and he can't follow me very
far, anyway. When he gets down to the line fence
he will have to stop."

"I'm not so sure about that," said Bonetti. "That
line fence is pretty shacklin', and right much broken



in some places ; and if the colt doesn't get over and
follow you to town, it's as like as not he'll break one
of them thin legs of his tryin' to do it."

The handsome face of Miss Ardis grew thoughtful
and her dark eyes turned toward the colt, who stood
close to the other side of the fence, trying to thrust
his head between two of the bars.

"I believe you are right, Mr. Bonetti," she said;
"I will go back and have the colt put up." And
quickly turning her mare, she set off on a gallop up
the hill.

The colt instantly followed on his side of the fence.
Bounding along, he kept neck and neck with his
mother, his little feet sounding in quick thuds upon
the short turf.

Bonetti stood in the road and looked admiringly
after the young lady. "When she's got anything to
do," he said to himself, "she goes right along and
does it ! " And then he walked to the fence and
resumed his seat on the top rail. He had a little
patch of potatoes which was ready to be dug, and
there was a man who lived about a mile and a half
up the road who owned a potato-hook a much
better implement than an ordinary spade with which
to dig potatoes ; and as this man sometimes rode to
town in the morning, Bonetti was waiting in the hope
that he might see him and talk to him about borrow
ing his potato-hook. If the man should not pass by,
Bonetti would walk up to his house ; but this, of
course, would take time.

Not many minutes had elapsed before a man on
horseback appeared at the top of the hill, but it was
not the man for whom Bonetti was waiting. This



was a tall gentleman, fairly well dressed, although
his clothes were a little rusty, and he rode a bony
horse of a muddy cream-color, which hue was so
peculiar that having been once seen, this horse could
never be mistaken for any other. This gentleman
was about forty years old, although his sober dress
and the weather-beaten appearance of his features
made him look much older. He wore no beard, but
the razor could not remove the strong bluish tinge
which covered his cheeks and chin, and this also
helped to make him look older than he was.

When Bonetti perceived the new-comer his eyes
sparkled. He would rather see Dr. Lester than
twenty other men each carrying a potato-hook which
he did not intend to use that day. The new-comer
brought no suggestion to Bonetti of any one of the
three things which he loved next to his wife and
daughters, but he and the doctor were both philoso-
phizers and great friends.

"Morning, Bonnet," said the doctor, stopping his
horse. "Can you tell me what sent Miss Ardis back
home in such a hurry? She just now passed me in a
mad gallop, and had scarcely time to give me a word."

"She has gone back," said the other, "because the
colt was following her. She is goin 7 to have him shut

"Confound the colt ! " said Dr. Lester. And throw
ing his long right leg over the back of the horse, he
dismounted, and, still holding the bridle in his hand,
approached the fence and took a seat on the top rail
near Bonetti.

"If you're goin 7 to do any confounding" said the
latter, "you'd better confound me, for I put it into



her head to have the colt shut up. He's too good a
colt to run any risks with."

"Your advice may have been all very well for the
colt," said the doctor, "but it was bad for me. When
I was more than half a mile away from the major's
gate I saw Miss Ardis ride out of it, and I knew
by the little yellow mail -bag she wore that she was
going to town. I hurried up, and I am quite sure I
should have overtaken her and have ridden into
town with her, and perhaps come back with her, if she
had not changed her mind and gone charging home."

"You've good eyes, doctor," said Bonetti, "to see
that little bag so far."

"I have very good eyes for some things," the other
replied, "and I must say I am disappointed."

"What is the good of that? " asked Bonetti. "Just
stay here and make yourself comfortable till she comes
back, and when we see her at the top of the hill you
can get on your horse and be ready to go along with
her just as you would have done before."

The doctor settled himself more easily upon the
fence. "Yes," he said, "I suppose the best thing to
do is to wait."

Bonetti looked around at him with a little twinkle
in his eye. "How long do you expect to wait, doc
tor? " he asked. "I don't mean here by the road, but
before putting the question to her."

The doctor straightened himself up so suddenly that
he jerked the cream-colored horse's head from the
grass on which he was browsing. "Put the question
to her ! " he exclaimed. "Do you suppose I could ever
be such an inordinate fool as to put the question to
Miss Ardis Claverden?"



"It strikes me," said Bonetti, "that a man feelin' as
you do in the direction of any woman would be bound
to put the question to her, if he had a chance."

The doctor remained for a moment sitting up
straight, and then he settled down again to his former
easy position, his body leaning forward, his elbows on
his knees, and his heels on the second rail below him.
"Bonnet," said he, "I hoped you had a better opinion
of me than that. Who am I to offer to marry a girl
like Miss Ardis? What have I got to give her?
What sort of a place have I to take her to I Do you
suppose she could live in one room, as I do, and be con
tent with the meals that old Aunt Hetty cooks for me ?
I tell you, Bonnet, that if a man like me, pretty well
on in years, without good looks, without any money to
speak of, and who does nothing to earn a livelihood
for himself or anybody else, were to propose to marry
a young lady who has lived the life that Miss Ardis
has always lived, he would commit what I call an im
pertinent crime."

Bonetti reflected for a moment. "I reckon you're
right, doctor," he said. "The points of the case seem
to be on your side. I have heard people say that you
never practised on any patient for love or money. Is
that so?"

"That is so, Bonnet," replied the doctor. "I am
sorry for it but it cannot be helped now. It is nearly
twenty years since I came back from the university
and put my diploma up on a top shelf in my room. I
did not feel myself ready to take people's lives in my
hands, and if they sent for me for little things they
might send for me for great ones ; and the more I
studied and looked into the matter, the stronger I felt



that there was no reason why I should put myself for
ward as a practising physician in a country where
there were already plenty of good doctors. I used to
think that the time would come when I would feel
ready to make a start in my profession, but it has not
come yet, and it never will. If I had not had a little
income enough for one man to scratch along with I
should have been obliged to take some risks, like other
beginners ; but that was not the case, and I did not
take the risks."

"I have noticed," said Bonetti, "that you never so
much as state your notions about a cold or a toothache.
There isn't an old woman in the county who wouldn't
do that ! "

" You are right," said the doctor j "but people are
not bound to take advice from an old woman, and they
might feel bound to take it from a man who had been
graduated from a college of medicine."

Bonetti smiled. "I reckon, doctor," he said, "that
you'd been as good as any of 'em, if you had only
thought so. But, as you say, that's neither here nor
there at the present time. But it seems a little hard
that a man of good family, who reads as much as you
do and who knows as much as you do, and who does
as many different kinds of things as you do by day
and by night, should have to come to look on himself
as you look on yourself."

"It is hard, Bonnet," replied the other, "but it can't
be helped."

"Doctor," said Bonetti, "suppose Miss Ardis was to
come to you and say that she had seen what was in
your mind and knew why you didn't speak it out, and
considerin' the circumstances of the case, she'd do the



speakin' herself, and say squarely that she was ready
to marry you just as you stood : what would you do

Doctor Lester gazed steadfastly at the grass beneath
him. "In that case," he said, "we will suppose it is
in the morning she makes that statement to me."

"All right," said Bonetti, "we will let it be in the

"Very well," answered the doctor. "I should just
simply let myself be the happiest man on earth that
morning, and in the evening I'd go and hang myself.
I have thought of this thing myself, Bonnet, and that
is what I should do. If I waited longer than that
evening I might not be able to hang myself."

"I don't know but you are right, doctor," said Bo
netti. "I reckon that hangin' on the same day would
be the best thing you could do."

The doctor made no answer, but continued to gaze
at the grass.

"But with things in that way, doctor," said Bonetti,
after a little pause, "do you intend to keep on thinkin'
of Miss Ardis as you do think of her ? "

"Keep on ! " exclaimed the doctor. "I intend to
keep on until the end of time at least, to the end of
my time. I would not say this to everybody, Bonnet,
but you and I have talked over this matter so often
before that I don't mind letting you see just how the
case stands."

"It strikes me," said Bonetti, "that it would be
wearin' on a man to keep on with a thing like this."

"It would be a good deal more wearing on me to
stop it," said the doctor.

"Of course it wouldn't do to stop it too suddenly,"


said the philosophizing Bonetti. "It is like smokin' or
any other habit ; and considerin' you have had it ever
since she was not more than a child, the breakin' of it
off is a thing to be careful about." Turning his eyes
suddenly toward the top of the hill, he exclaimed :
"And here she comes ! " but almost instantly added :
"No, she doesn't, either ! "

Dr. Lester had let down his long legs preparatory to
slipping from the fence, but now he drew them back
again and looked up the hill. It was not Miss Ardis
who was coming ; it was a negro boy on horseback.
The two men watched him as he approached.

"It's the major's boy Tom," said Bonetti.

The doctor said nothing, but looked steadfastly at
the boy, and when he came near enough Bonetti called
out : " O Tom ! where you goin' ? "

The boy, who carried by a strap over his shoulder,
not a neat yellow leather bag, but a large and well-
worn brown satchel, replied : "I's gwine to de pos'-

"I thought Miss Ardis was goin'," said Bonetti.

"Yes, sah," replied Tom, "she 'tentioned to go, but
comp'ny done come, an' I's gwine." And with that
he rode on.

Dr. Lester got down from the fence, put the bridle
over the neck of his horse, and standing on one long
leg, put the foot of the other into the stirrup and

"Goin' to town?" asked Bonetti.

"No," said the doctor, "I have no call to go to town.
I reckon I will stop on my way back and have a chat
with Major Claverden. That isn't what I expected,
Bonnet, but it is better than nothing. Good morn-



ing." And turning his cream-colored steed, he began
the ascent of the hill.

"I almost wish," said Bonetti to himself, "that I had
let that colt break its legs. And yet, what would have
been the good of it t If the doctor ever gets an extra
fair chance to speak his mind to Miss Ardis, it's ten
to one he'll forget himself and do it. And if that
ever happens, good-by to Dr. Lester ! Whether she
takes him or turns him off, it will be all the same. If
he doesn't hang for her sake, he'll do it for his own."

And then Bonetti, having a superstition that it is
unlucky to wait by a roadside until five persons pass
in the same direction, and being oppressed therefore
with the fear that should the owner of the potato-hook
now appear there might be some reason why that in
strument could not be borrowed, got down from the
fence and went home.



BALD HILL, the estate of Major Claverden, was a very
good one, although, as any one in the neighborhood
would tell you, it was not what it used to be before the
war. But while this might be true in many respects,
the owner of Bald Hill, a man of sixty-five years and
in very good physical condition, was enabled to live in
comfort and, to a certain degree, in the style to which
the Claverden family had been accustomed. His
spacious house was of brick, built in the somewhat
severe fashion of many of the old Virginia mansions.
A fine lawn shaded by large trees, most of which had
been planted by the major's father, stretched before
the house, and the character of the farm, which in
cluded some six hundred acres, was not to be judged
from the stony hill, a quarter of a mile from the house,
which gave its name to the estate. Much of the land
was fairly good, and enough of the arable portion of it
was under cultivation to satisfy its owner's present

There were horses for riding, driving, and farm pur
poses, all of them good ones and raised on the place ;
there were vehicles of various sorts in the carriage-
house ; the negro driver wore a very good black coat
and a high silk hat ; there was always plenty to eat



and to drink ; the woodlands afforded abundance of
oak and hickory logs for wintei fires ; and the major's
only child, Ardis, was as well dressed as any young
lady in her position need wish to be.

Mrs. Claverden had died when her daughter was very
young, and the child had been given the family name
of her mother. "I wish my daughter always to re
member," the major would say, "that she is an Ardis
as well as a Claverden." And if he happened to have
an appreciative listener he would probably continue :
"A remarkable thing about these two families is this :
I never heard a Claverden say that he was better than
an Ardis, or an Ardis that he was better than a Clav
erden ; and considering the high position of the two
families, this is exceptional. I feel warranted in saying
it is truly exceptional ! Now, while I desire that my
daughter shall never feel that she is better than her
neighbors, I hope that she may so live that each one
who knows her shall say that she is better than any one
else, excepting, of course, the speaker and his family.
I may add that I see no reason to doubt that this will
be the case."

The major's admiration for his daughter was well
grounded, for everybody admired her, even those who
criticised her independence of thought and action. In
high regard and esteem of her, her father stood pre
eminent. In his mind she was the reason why good
things should be and bad things should not be ; fur
thermore, he was often of the opinion that she was
the reason why good things were and bad things were

Ardis did what she pleased because her father felt

Online LibraryFrank Richard StocktonThe novels and stories of Frank R. Stockton . (Volume 5) → online text (page 1 of 34)