"When we returned Isaac was working in the garden. Anita went into the house, and then the man of all work approached me; he had in his hand a little piece of red earthenware, which he held up before me in one hand and touched his cap with the other. 'Sir,' said he, 'is it all pots? Grass, bushes, everything?'
"'Oh, no,' said I. 'What is the matter?'
"'Excuse me,' said he, 'but everywhere I work in the garden I strike pots, and I broke this one. But I will be more careful; I will not rub so deep.'
"For two or three days Anita and I enjoyed ourselves greatly. We walked, we sat in the shade, we lay in hammocks, we read novels. 'That man,' said Anita, 'is of the greatest possible assistance to me. The fact is that, having been taught to do all sorts of things in his infancy, he does the hard work of the kitchen, and all that is necessary for me to do is to give the finishing touches.'
"That afternoon, when I saw the well-known chef Isadore—for some years head cook to the Duke of Oxminster, and willing to accept a second place in the culinary department of my town house only on account of extraordinary privileges and emoluments—when I saw this man of genius coming down the hill carrying a heavy basket which probably contained meats packed in ice, I began to wonder about two things: in the first place, I wondered what exceptional remuneration in addition to his regular salary Baxter had offered Monsieur Isadore in return for his exceptional services in our cot; and in the second place, I wondered if it were exactly fair to practise such a variety of deceptions upon Anita. But I quieted my conscience by assuring it that I was doing everything for her benefit and happiness, particularly in regard to this man of all work, who was probably saving us from chronic dyspepsia. Besides, it was perfectly fair play, for if she had told me she was going to do all my cooking I never would have come to this cot.
"It was that evening, when we were both in a good humor after a good dinner, that my wife somewhat disturbed my peace of mind. 'Everything is going on so smoothly and in such a pastoral and delightful way,' said she, 'that I want some of our friends to visit us. I want them to see for themselves how enjoyable such a life as this is. I do not believe any of them know anything about it.'
"'Friends!' I exclaimed. 'We do not want people here. We cannot entertain them. Such a thing was never contemplated by either of us, I am sure.'
"'That is true,' said Anita; 'but things are different from what I expected. They are ever and ever so much better. And we can entertain people. We have a guest-room which is fitted up and furnished as well as ours is. If we are satisfied, I am sure anybody ought to be. I tell you who will be a good person to invite for the first one—Mr. Rounders.'
"'Rounders!' I exclaimed. 'He is the last man in the world for a guest in this cot.'
"'No, he is not,' answered Anita. 'He would like it very much indeed. He would be perfectly willing and glad to do anything you do, and to live in any way you live. Besides, he told me, not very long ago, that he often thought of the joys of an humble life, without care, without anxiety, enough, no more, and a peaceful mind.'
"'Very well,' said I; 'this is your picnic, and we will have Rounders and his wife.'
"'No, indeed,' said Anita, very emphatically. 'She cannot come anyway, because she is in Europe. But I would not have her if she were here. If he comes, he is to come alone. Shall I write him a note, or will you? There is no time to waste.'
"She wrote the note, and when it was finished Isaac carried it to Baldwin and told him to have it mailed.
"The more I thought about this invitation the more interested I became in it. No one could be more unsuited to a cotter's life than Godfrey Rounders. He was a rich man of middle age, but he was different from any other rich man with whom I was acquainted. It was impossible to talk to him or even to be with him for five minutes without perceiving that he was completely controlled by the money habit. He knew this, but he could not help it. In business resorts, in society, and in the clubs he met great capitalists, millionaires, and men of wealth of all degrees, who were gentlemen, scholars, kind and deferential in manner, and unobtrusive in dress, and not to be distinguished, so far as conversation or appearance could serve as guides, from those high types of gentlemen which are recognized all over the world. Rounders longed to be like one of these, but he found it to be impossible. He was too old to reform, and the money habit had such a hold over him that I believe even when he slept he was conscious of his wealth. He was not a coarse, vulgar Dives: he had the instincts of a gentleman; but these were powerless. The consciousness of money showed itself on him like a perspiration; wipe his brows as he might, it always reappeared.
"He had not been poor in his early life; his father was a man of moderate means, and Rounders had never known privations and hardships; but, in his intense desire to make people think that his character had not been affected by his money, he sometimes alluded to straits and difficulties he had known in early days, of which he was not now in the least ashamed. But he was so careful to keep these incidents free from any suspicion of real hardships or poverty that he always failed to make the impression he desired. I have seen him quite downcast after an interview with strangers, and I was well aware what was the matter with him. He knew that, in spite of his attempts to conceal the domination of his enslaving habit, these people had discovered it. Considering all this, I came to believe it would please Rounders very much to come to stay a few days with us. Life in a cot, without any people to wait upon him, would be a great thing for him to talk about; it might help to make some people believe that he was getting the better of his money habit.
"In the middle of the night I happened to wake, then I happened to think of Rounders, then I happened to think of a story Baxter had told me, and then I burst out into a loud laugh. Fortunately Anita did not awake; she merely talked in her sleep, and turned over. The story Baxter had told me was this: In the past winter I had given a grand dinner, and Rounders was one of the guests. Isadore's specialty was ices, pastry, salads, and all sorts of delicate preparations, and he had excelled himself on this occasion, especially in the matter of sweets. At an unhappy moment Rounders had said to his neighbor that if she could taste the sort of thing she was eating as his cook made it she would know what it really ought to be. An obliging butler carried this remark to Monsieur Isadore as he was sipping his wine in his dressing-gown and slippers. The interesting part of this anecdote was Baxter's description of Isadore's rage. The furious cook took a cab and drove directly to Baxter's hotel. The wording of Monsieur Isadore's volcanic remarks I cannot state, but he butchered, cut up, roasted, carved, peppered, and salted Rounders's moral and social character in such a masterly way that Baxter laughed himself hoarse. The fiery cook would have left my service then and there if Baxter had not assured him that if the gilded reptile ever dined with him again Isadore should be informed beforehand, that he might have nothing to do with anything that went on the table. In consequence of this promise, Monsieur Isadore, having withdrawn a deposit of several thousand dollars from one of the trust companies with which Rounders was connected, consented to remain in my household.
"'Now, then,' I asked myself, 'how are we going to get along with Rounders and my man of all work Isaac?' But the invitation had gone, and there was no help for it. I concluded, and I think wisely, that it would be unkind to trouble Anita by telling her anything about this complication, but I would prepare the mind of the good Isaac.
"I went into the garden the next morning, where our man of all work was gathering vegetables, and when I told him that Mr. Godfrey Rounders was coming to spend a few days with us the face of Isadore—for it was impossible at that moment to think of him as Isaac—was a wonderful sight to see: his brows contracted, his countenance darkened, and his eyes flashed as though they were about to shoot out lightning. Then all color, even his natural ruddiness, departed from his face. He bowed gravely.
"'I have heard it said you have taken some sort of dislike to Mr. Rounders,' said I; 'and while I have nothing to do with it, and do not want to know anything about it, I do not wish to force you into an unpleasant position, and if you would rather go away while Mr. Rounders is here, I will have some one sent to take your place until he leaves. Then we shall want you back again. In this unusual position you have acquitted yourself most admirably.'
"While I was speaking Isadore had been thinking hard and fast; it was easy to see this by the varied expressions which swept over his face. When I had finished he spoke quite blandly:
"'It is that it would be beneath me, sir, to allow any of the dislike of mine to interfere with the comfort or the pleasure of yourself and madame. I beg that you will not believe that I will permit myself even to think of such a thing. I remain so long as it is that you wish me. Is it that you intend that your visitor shall know my position in your town house?'
"'Oh, no,' said I; 'as I have not told my wife, of course I shall not tell him. I am much obliged to you for your willingness to stay. It would be very awkward if you should go.'
"'I understand that, sir,' said Isaac, 'and I would do not one thing to discompose madame or yourself.'
"Rounders arrived according to schedule, and I met him at the gate, and explained that my wife insisted it would be incongruous for a carriage to drive up to the cot. 'I like that!' exclaimed Rounders. 'I like to walk a little.' I took up one of his valises, the good Isaac carried the two larger ones, while Rounders, with an apologetic look from right to left, as if there might be some person present to whom this action should be explained, took up some canes and umbrellas wrapped in a rug, and we all went down to the cot, where Anita was waiting to receive us.
"'Oh, I like this,' said Rounders, quite cheerfully. 'I do not know when I have gone anywhere without some of my people. But I assure you I like it. At the bottom of our hearts we all like this sort of thing.'
"Anita showed him everything, and probably bored him dreadfully; but our guest was determined to be pleased, and never ceased to say how much he liked everything. There was no foolish pride about him, he said; he believed in coming close to nature; and although a great many of the peaceful joys of humanity were denied the man of affairs, still, when the opportunity came, how gladly our inward natures rose up to welcome it! 'Your wife tells me,' said he, 'that she is cook, housekeeper, everything. This is charming! It must be a joy to you to know she is capable of it. But, my dear friend,' he said, putting his hand on my shoulder, 'you must not let her overwork herself. She will be very apt to do it; the temptation is great. I am sure if I were she the temptation to overwork in these new spheres would be very great.'
"Rounders certainly did overwork himself, and this was in the line of trying to make us believe that he thoroughly liked this plan of ours of living in a cot by a rill, and that he was quite capable of forgetting his ordinary life of affluence and luxury in the simple joys of our rural household. He would have produced an impression on both Anita and me if he had not said so much about it; but I knew what he was trying to do, and made all the necessary allowances for him.
"But, say what he might, I knew he was not satisfied. I could see that he missed his 'people,' by whom he was accustomed to be surrounded and served; and I soon found out that his meals did not suit him. Anita visited the kitchen much more frequently than she had done just before Rounders arrived, and she talked a great deal about the dishes which were served to us; but, so far as I could judge, she had no more to do with their preparation than she had previously had. I was thoroughly well satisfied with everything; and, although Rounders was not, it was impossible for him to say so when he sat opposite the lady who told him two or three times at every meal that she presided in the kitchen. Of course I would have done everything in my power to give Rounders things to eat that he liked, but I did not know what to do. Our table was just as good, though not as varied, as it was when we were in town; and that Rounders was accustomed to living better than we did I could not for one moment believe. I came to the conclusion that, in spite of his efforts to subdue his dominating habit, he could not resist the temptation to let us know that he was not used to humble life, or even the appearance of it.
"So I enjoyed our three good meals a day,—Anita would not allow us any more,—which were prepared by one of the best cooks on the continent from the choicest materials furnished regularly under Baxter's orders; and if Rounders chose to think that what was good enough for me was not good enough for him, he must go his own way and suffer accordingly. In fortune and in station I was so immeasurably superior to him that it nettled me a little to see him put on airs at the table to which I had invited him. But Rounders was Rounders, and I did not allow my irritation to continue.
"In two or three days our visitor's overwork began to show on him: his naturally plump cheeks hung down, his eyes drooped, and, although he drank a great deal of wine, he was seldom in good spirits. On the fourth day of his visit, after the morning mail had been brought to us by Isaac, Rounders came to me and told me he had just received a letter which would make it necessary for him to go home that afternoon. I expressed my regret, but did not urge him to stay, for it was obvious that he wanted to go. 'I have had a most delightful time,' he said, as he took leave of Anita; 'but business is business, and I cannot put it aside.'
"I believed both these statements to be incorrect: I knew that at that season he was not likely to be called away on business, and he had given me no reason to suppose he was enjoying himself; and as I walked with him to the gate I am afraid I was only stiffly polite. Our spirits rose after his departure. Anita said she had found him an incongruity, and I was tired of the spectacle of a purse-proud man trying to appear like other people. But if I were harsh in my judgment of him I was speedily punished. On the third day after he left I received a message from Baxter, who wanted to see me at Baldwin's tent. He was not allowed to come into the grounds, for Anita said that would look too much like business.
"I found that Baxter's errand was indeed urgent, and that he was fully warranted in disturbing our privacy. The members of an English syndicate were coming down from Canada to make final arrangements with me for the purchase of a great tract of mining land, and as my presence and signature were absolutely necessary in the concluding stages of the transaction, I would be obliged to be in New York on the next day but one.
"I was greatly annoyed by this intelligence. The weather was particularly fine, Anita was reading me a most interesting novel, and I was settling myself down to a thorough enjoyment of our cottage life, which I did not wish interfered with by anybody or anything, and I growlingly asked why the syndicate had chosen such an unsuitable time of the year to come down from Canada. But Baxter did not know. I continued to growl, but there was no way out of it. I must go to New York. For the sake of perhaps half a million dollars, which would not alter our ordinary manner of living, which would not give us any pleasures, privileges, or advantages of any kind which we did not now possess, we must break up our delightful life at the cot and rill, and go back to the humdrum of ordinary society.
"Baxter tried to console me. He said we could easily return when this business had been settled. But I knew that going away would break the charm; I thoroughly understood Anita's nature, and I was sure if she left the cot for a time she would not want to go back to it. But when I told her Baxter's business, and that she would have to have some one come and pack up for her, she flatly declared that no one should do anything of the kind. She would stay where she was.
"'You can't stay here by yourself!' I cried.
"'Of course not,' she said. 'Who could imagine such an absurdity? But I shall not be alone. I was thinking this very morning of Fanny Ransmore and her mother. I want some women guests this time, and they would be delightful after Mr. Rounders. Fanny is as lively as a cricket, and Mrs. Ransmore could take care of anybody. You can tell Baxter to have some one to patrol the grounds at night, and we shall get along beautifully. I am sure you will not be away long.'
"'But can you get the Ransmores?' I asked.
"'Certainly,' said she. 'They are at Newport now; but I will telegraph immediately, and they can start to-night and get here to-morrow afternoon. You need not be afraid they cannot come. They would give up any engagement on earth to be our only guests.'
"The matter was settled according to Anita's plan, and I was more willing to go to New York when I reflected that after the Ransmores came Anita would not be able to read aloud to me."
"At this point," said the Master of the House, "your hero makes me angry. Why should he think he could not go away and leave his wife for three days, when I leave my wife, and daughter too, for three years? His Anita is not worth one twentieth as much as either my wife or daughter. Then again, if I were in his place, I would not allow a disadvantageous half-million to take me away from you two. It is only the absolutely necessary thousands that make me leave you as I do."
"Your sentiments are just as nice as they can be, papa," said the Daughter of the House; "but don't you see if the gentleman did what you would do it would spoil the story?"
John Gayther smiled with pleasure. Here was a young lady who never forgot the principle of the thing, whatever the thing might be.
"That is true!" exclaimed the captain, stretching himself at full length in his chair. "I did not think of that. Madam, please proceed; let the King of Siam recommence his performances."
"I will merely remark," said the Mistress of the House, "that if the King of Siam undertook to emulate my hero in all his performances, it would be a pretty hard thing for his already overtaxed subjects.
"The Ransmores arrived on time, and were as delighted with the invitation as Anita had said they would be. According to her orders, neither of them brought a maid, which must have been pretty hard on the old lady; but they declared that the fun of waiting on themselves would be greater than anything Newport could possibly offer them.
"I went to New York, attended to my business, which occupied me for three days, and then I thought this would be a good opportunity to take a trip to Philadelphia to look at a large steam-yacht which was in course of construction at the shipyards there. I did not feel in such a hurry to go back to the cot now that the Ransmores were there, and I was sure also that Anita would like to hear about the new yacht, in which we hoped to make a Mediterranean voyage during the winter. But early in the forenoon of my second day in Philadelphia, while I was engaged in a consultation concerning some of the interior fittings of the yacht, I received a telegram from Baxter informing me that my wife had returned from the cot on the previous evening, and was now at our town house. At this surprising intelligence I dropped the business in hand and went to New York by the first train.
"'Of course,' said Anita, when we were alone, 'I will tell you why I left that precious cot. We had a very good time after you left, and I showed the Ransmores everything. The next day Fanny and I determined to go fishing, leaving Mrs. Ransmore to read novels in a hammock, an occupation she adores. Isaac was just as good as he could be all the time; he got rods for us, and made us some beautiful bait out of raw beef, for of course we did not want to handle worms; and we started for the river. We had just reached a place where we could see the water, when Fanny called out that somebody had a chicken-yard there, and that we would have to go around it. We walked ever and ever so far, over all sorts of stones and bushes, until we made up our minds we were inside a chicken-yard and not outside, and so we could not get around it. I was very much put out, and did not like it a bit because we could not reach the river; but Fanny saw through it all, and said she was sure the fence had been put there to keep all sorts of things from disturbing us; and then she proposed fishing in the rill.
"'We tried this a long time, but not a bite could we get; and then Fanny went wandering up the stream to see if she could find a spring, because she said she had heard that trout were often found in cold streams. After a while she came running back, and said she had found the spring, and what on earth did I think it was? She had soon come to what seemed to be the upper end of the rill, and went down on her hands and knees and looked under the edge of a great flat rock, and there she saw the end of an iron pipe through which the water was running. When I heard this I threw down my fishing-rod and would have nothing to do with an artificial rill. I remembered then that I had thought, two or three times, it had improved very much since I had first seen it; and when I asked Mr. Baxter about it last night, he said the original rill had not water enough in it for the little cataracts and ponds, and all that, and so he had brought down water from some other stream about half a mile away.
"'When we went back to the cot Fanny seemed to have her suspicions excited, and she pried into everything, and soon told me that the furniture and all the things in the cot were only imitation of the things plain country people use, and were, in reality, of the best materials and wonderfully well made, and that it must have cost a lot of money to buy all these imitations of old-fashioned, poor-folksy things. Then she went into the garden and peered about, and told Isaac, who was working there, that she had never seen so many different kinds of vegetables all ripe at the same time. He touched his cap, and said that was a compliment to his gardening. But pretty soon she saw the edge of a flower-pot sticking above the ground, and showed it to me. I made him dig up whole beds of things, and there was nothing but pots and pots, in which everything was growing.
"'I went back to the house and looked about a good deal more, with Fanny at my elbow to tell me how poor people would never have this or that or the other thing. Then I was very angry with myself for not being able to see things without having them pointed out to me by that Fanny Ransmore, who was not invited to pry about and make herself disagreeable in that way.'
"'And were you angry with me?' I asked.
"'Yes,' she answered; 'for a little while. But when I remembered the plans I had made I thought we were about square, and that I had concealed as much from you as you had from me. I was not angry, but I was determined I would not stay in that mock-cot any longer. I could not bear the sight of anything I looked at. I thought the quickest way of settling the matter was to get rid of the whole business at once, and I told Isaac to put a crowbar under the kitchen stove, which was full of burning wood, and turn it over. But he was horrified, and said he might be arrested and put in prison for doing that; and, besides, it would be such a shame to waste so many beautiful things. Fanny and her mother thought so, too. And I asked Isaac where the family lived who used to own the cot, and he said they were still at the hotel, not being able to find any suitable quarters. So I sent for the widow and her daughter and son, and I told them to take the cot just as it was, and to keep it forever, and I would have Mr. Maxwell make out the law papers. They went about shouting with delight at everything they saw, very different from that Fanny! So it was really a very nice thing to do, and I feel a great deal better. And here I am, and you will find Fanny and her mother somewhere in the house whenever you want to see them. After this I think it will be better for us both not to try any affectionate frauds on each other.'
"I was very glad the investigating Fanny had not discovered all my affectionate frauds, and that I was able myself to reveal to Anita the identity of the useful Isaac. This did amaze her, and for a moment I thought she was going to cry; but she was not in the habit of doing much of that sort of thing, and presently she laughed. 'Monsieur Isadore,' she exclaimed, 'working in the garden and washing pots and pans! Why, don't you know some people think he is almost as good as our head chef Leonard?'
"'As good!' I cried. 'He is infinitely better. Leonard could never have done for us what our good Isaac did. And now I must tell you a story about Isadore that Baxter related to me this morning as we drove up from the station.' I then told her the story of Isadore alias Isaac—of his dislike for Mr. Rounders, and of the noble manner in which he had determined to stand by us when he heard that gentleman was about to visit us. 'After Rounders's arrival,' I remarked, 'things went on apparently as well as before—'
"'Apparently!' Anita interrupted. 'They went on better than before. I let Isaac, as we called him, do a great deal more of the cooking than he did before Mr. Rounders came. I thought our meals were remarkably good, and if Mr. Rounders did not like them, as I sometimes thought he did not, I believed it was because he could not help putting on airs even to us.'
"I laughed. 'Well,' said I, 'the state of the case was this: during the whole time Rounders stayed with us, Isadore did not cook one particle of food for him.'
"'That was impossible,' cried Anita. 'I noticed nothing of the kind, and, besides, Mr. Rounders would have found it out immediately.'
"'Of course neither of us noticed it,' said I, 'for Isadore did not serve us with any of the things he gave to Rounders. And as for the latter discovering that he was eating his food raw, he had no idea that such was the case. He supposed he was eating what we ate, and therefore did not like to say anything about it.'
"'But I do not understand!' cried Anita. 'How could any one eat things and not know they were uncooked?'
"'You do not understand,' said I, 'because you do not comprehend the deep and wonderful art of Isadore. Baxter tried to explain some of it to me as he heard it from the lips of the chef himself, but I do not know enough of kitchen magic to understand it. As Isadore waited on us, he was able to bring us well-prepared food, and to give Mr. Rounders something very different, but which looked just like that we had. Even his coffee was served in a cup heated hot in the oven, while the coffee itself had merely been warmed. I cannot explain all these uncooked meals, and if you want to know more you must ask Isadore himself. But Baxter told me that spices and condiments must have been used with wonderful effect, and that the poor man must have lived mostly on biscuits. Isadore said that all his life he would laugh when he thought of Mr. Rounders trying to eat a chicken croquette the inside of which was perfectly raw, while the outside smoked, and looking at the same time with astonishment at you and me as we quietly ate what seemed to be exactly like the thing he had on his plate.'
"'But, Harold,' said Anita, 'that was a shameful way to treat our guest!'
"'That is what Baxter said to Isadore; but the cook excused himself by stating that all this happened in a cot, in a dear little cot, where everything was different from everything else in the world, and where he had tried to make you and me happy, and where he himself had been so happy, especially when he saw Mr. Rounders trying to eat chicken croquettes. He was also so pleased with the life at the cot that he is going to have one of his own when he goes back to Alsace, which will be shortly, as he has made enough to satisfy his wants, and he intends to retire there and be happy in a cot.'
"Anita reflected for a few moments, and then she said: 'I think life in a cot might be very happy indeed—for Isaac.'"
With this the Mistress of the House rose from her chair.
"Is that at all?" exclaimed her daughter. "There are several things I want to know."
"That is all," replied the story-teller. "Like the good King of Siam, I consider my already overtaxed subjects." And with this she went into the house.
"Do either of you suppose," remarked the Master of the House, "that that Anita woman gave the whole of that great estate to the widow and her two children? How much land do you think, John Gayther, was enclosed inside that chicken wire?"
"I have been calculating it in my head," replied the gardener, "and it must have been over a thousand acres. And for my part, sir, I don't believe it was all given to the widow. When Mr. Baxter came to attend to the papers I think he made over the cot and about seven acres of land, which was quite enough to be attended to by a half-grown boy."
"That is my opinion, too," said the Daughter of the House, "and I think that the opulent owner of that great estate made a deer-park of the rest of it, with reindeer, fallow deer, red deer, stags, and all sorts of deer, and not one of them able to jump over the wire."
"Ah, me!" said the captain, rising and folding his arms as he leaned his broad back against a pillar of the summer-house, "these great volcanoes of wealth, always in eruption, always squirting out town houses, country houses, butlers, chefs, under-chefs, diamonds, lady's-maids, horses, carriages, seaside gardens, thousand-acre poultry-yards, private sidewalks, and clouds of money which obscure the sun, daze my eyes and amaze my soul! John Gayther, I wish you would send me one of your turnip-hoers; I want him to take my second-best shoes to be mended."
THIS STORY IS TOLD BY
THE MASTER OF THE HOUSE
AND IS CALLED
THE GILDED IDOL AND THE KING CONCH-SHELL
THE GILDED IDOL AND THE KING CONCH-SHELL
The rose-vines were running riot over the old garden wall, and as it was now midsummer and the season of their full bloom had passed, John Gayther set to work one morning to prune and train them. The idea of doing this was forcibly impressed upon his mind that day by the fact that the Mistress of the House had returned the evening before, and he knew that she would notice the untidy appearance of the rose-vines as soon as it should please her to come into the garden. The family had been at the sea-shore for nearly two weeks, and the gardener had missed them sorely, especially the Daughter of the House. They had now all returned, and the butler had told him that they had brought with them a visitor, a Frenchman. John Gayther, whose mind was always full of the Daughter of the House, immediately inquired if he was young; but the butler's answer was unsatisfactory, as he said the gentleman was neither young nor old, and talked queer English. As the butler himself—who was English—talked what seemed to the gardener queer English, John did not lay much stress upon that statement.
He was soon to make his own observations, however, for a sweet voice he knew well called out to him: "We are all back, John, in the dear old garden!"
John turned, and found four persons had come up quietly and were watching his work. He returned the cordial greetings of the family, and then the Master of the House informally introduced their companion. "We have a foreign gentleman with us, John; he belongs to the same nation as your great hero Lafayette, and therefore I know you will be pleased to have him join our story-telling party. For it has been decided by the ruling power in this house that a story is to be told this morning; so leave your vines, and come with us."
John was obliged to follow as the party took the path to the summer-house, but he went unwillingly. Lafayette was a great and good man, but it did not follow that all his countrymen were of that sort; and, in fact, John knew but little about Frenchmen. He immediately conceived a dislike to this one as he saw him walking by the side of the Daughter of the House and evidently pleased with her company. He greatly disliked the idea of telling a story to this stranger, and determined it should not be made interesting.
There was nothing in the Frenchman's appearance to excite this dislike. There was nothing striking about him. He was a good-looking man verging on middle age perhaps, with a rather short little figure and an airy walk.
"Now," said the Master of the House, when the party were all disposed to the best advantage, and the Frenchman had gone into an ecstasy over the view from the summer-house, "John Gayther, you are to listen carefully to this story, for I am going to tell it myself, being moved thereto by the story my wife told here."
John, greatly relieved by this announcement, signified his cordial approbation, and the captain began his relation:
"Captain Abner Budlong was a retired sailorman. He was rather small of stature, with mild blue eyes, and a little gold ring in each of his ears. He was in the prime of life, and had been so often wet with salted water and dried by salted winds that he looked as though he might last forever.
"He had ceased to sail in ships, because his last vessel, of which he had been part-owner, had positively declined to sail any longer under him. When this misguided craft decided to go to the bottom of the sea, Captain Abner, in a little boat, accompanied by his crew, betook himself to the surface of the land, and there he determined to stay for the rest of his life. His home was on the sea-shore. In the summer-time he fished and took people out to sail in his boat; and in the cold weather he generally devoted himself to putting things into his house, or arranging or rearranging the things already there. He himself was his family, and therefore there was no difference of opinion as to the ordering of that household.
"The house was divided through the middle by a narrow hallway; that part to the right as one entered the front door was called by Captain Abner the 'bachelor side,' while the portion to the left he designated as the 'married side.' The right half might have suggested a forecastle, and was neat and clean, with sanded floors and everything coiled up and stowed away in true shipshape fashion. But the other half was viewed by Captain Abner as something in the quarter-deck style. Exactly half the hall was carpeted, and the little parlor opening from it was also carpeted, painted, and papered, and filled with a great variety of furniture and ornaments which the captain had picked up by sea and land. Everything was very pretty and tasteful, according to the captain's ideas of taste and art, and everything was sacred; no collector could have bought anything out of that little parlor, no matter how much money he might offer.
"This parlor and the room above had been furnished, decorated, and ornamented for the future mistress of Captain Abner's household, and he was ready to dedicate them to her services whenever he should be so lucky as to find her. So far, as he sometimes expressed himself, he had not had a chance to sing out, 'There she blows!'
"One afternoon, when Captain Abner was engaged in dusting the ornaments in the parlor, his good friend Samuel Twitty stood in the doorway and accosted him. Sam Twitty had been mate to Captain Abner, and as he had always been accustomed to stand by his captain, he stood by him when he left the sea for the land; although they did not live in the same house, they were great cronies, and were always ready to stand by each other, no matter what happened. Sam's face and figure were distinguished by a pleasant plumpness; he was two or three years the junior of Captain Abner, and his slippered feet were very flat upon the ground. He held his pipe behind his back in such a position that it hung over the uncarpeted part of the hallway. A pipe in the married part of the house was never allowed.
"'Sam,' said Captain Abner, 'you've hove in sight jes at the right minute, for I'm kind o' puzzled. Here's this conch-shell, which is the biggest I ever seed, and a king conch-shell at that, and I can't make up my mind whether she'd like it here in the middle of the mantelpiece, or whether she'd like to have the gilded idol here, where it would be the fust thing she'd see when she came into the room. Sometimes I'm inclined in the way of the heathen idol, and sometimes in the way of the king conch-shell. And how am I to know which she likes? What do you think about it?'
"'Well, now, Cap'n Abner,' said Sam, his head cocked a little to one side, 'that's a pretty hard question to answer, considerin' I don't know who she is and what kind o' taste she's got. But I'll tell you what I'd do if I was you. I'd put that king conch-shell on the mantelpiece, or I would put the gilded idol there, it wouldn't matter much which, and then I'd put the other one handy, so that when she fust come in, and you could see she didn't like whatever it was that was in the middle of the mantelpiece, you could whip it off and put the other thing there almost afore she knowed it.'
"'Sam,' said Captain Abner, 'that's a real good rule to go by, and it looks to me as if it might fit other things besides gilded idols and conch-shells. And now that you're here I'd like you to stay and take supper with me. I've got something to tell you.'
"After the evening meal, which was prepared by Captain Abner and his guest, who were both expert maritime cooks and housekeepers, these two old friends sat down to smoke their pipes, the parlor door having been carefully shut.
"'Sam,' said the captain, 'I've got everything ready for her that I can think of. There isn't anything more she'd be likely to want. So now I'm goin' after her, and I'm goin' to start on Monday mornin'.'
"Sam Twitty was astonished. He had had an idea that Captain Abner would go on preparing for her to the end of his days, and it was a shock to him to hear that the work of preparation, in which he had been interested for so many years, and in which he had so frequently assisted, should now be brought suddenly to a close.
"'Ready!' he ejaculated. 'I wouldn't have believed it if ye hadn't told me yourself. And yet, come to think of it, I can't see for the life of me what else you can do for her.'
"'There ain't nothin' else,' said Abner, 'and on Monday mornin' I'm settin' out to look for her.'
"'Do you go by land or by water?' asked Sam.
"'Land,' was the answer. 'There ain't no chance of runnin' across her by sea.'
"'And how are you goin'? Walkin'?'
"'No, sir,' said Abner. 'I'm goin' to hire a horse and a buggy. That's how I'm goin'.'
"'And where are you goin' to steer fust?' asked Sam.
"'I'm goin' fust to Thompsontown, and after I've took my observations there I'll fetch a compass and sail every which way, if need be. There's lots of people of all sorts in Thompsontown, and I don't see why she shouldn't be one of them.'
"'No more do I,' said Sam Twitty. 'I think it's more'n likely she'll be one of them.'
"Very early the next morning, almost before the first streaks of dawn, Captain Abner was awakened by a voice under his window.
"'Shipmate ahoy!' said the voice, which was Sam Twitty's. In a moment Abner's head was out of the window.
"'Cap'n Abner,' said Sam, 'I'm goin' with you.'
"Abner did not immediately answer, but presently he replied: 'Look here, Sam Twitty; you come around after breakfast and tell me that ag'in.'
"Promptly after breakfast Sam appeared.
"'Look a' here,' said Captain Abner, when they had lighted their morning pipes, 'that ain't a bad notion of yours. Somethin' might turn up when I'd want advice, and you might give me some like you gave me about the king conch-shell and the gilded idol. It ain't a bad idea, and, as you say so, I'd like you to come along.'
"Sam did not reply with the alacrity that might have been expected of him. He puffed silently at his pipe and gazed upon the ground. 'You said you was a-goin' in a buggy,' he remarked.
"'Yes; that's what I'm expectin' to do.'
"'Then how am I to get back?' inquired Sam.
"'That's so,' said Abner. 'I never thought of that.'
"'Look a' here, cap'n,' said Abner; 'what do you say to a spring-wagon with seats for four, two in front, and two behind?'
"This suited Captain Abner, and Sam went on to say: 'There'll be another good thing about that; if you get her and bring her back—'
"'Which is what I'm goin' for and intend to do.'
"'Then,' continued Sam, 'you two could sit on the back seat, and I could sit in front and drive.'
"'Did you ever drive, Sam?' asked Captain Abner.
"'Not yet; but I wouldn't mind l'arnin'.'
"'But you won't l'arn with me and her,' said Captain Abner.
"'How are you goin' to manage it, then?' asked Sam. 'You won't want me and her to sit on the back seat, and it wouldn't look jes right for you an' her to be in front, and me behind all by myself, as if I was company.'
"'Don't know,' said Captain Abner. 'We'll get her fust, and then let her sit where she wants to.'
"'There's one thing I wouldn't like to see,' said Sam Twitty, 'and that's you and me sittin' behind, and her a-drivin'.'
"'There won't be none of that,' said Captain Abner; 'that ain't my way.'"
"Is that a good beginning?" asked the Master of the House, suddenly addressing his wife.
"Yes," she replied, "very good; and I see this is to be a real man's story."
"And so it should be, mamma," said the Daughter of the House. "Men know more about men than they do about women."
"Don't be too sure of that," said her father. "But no matter. The two friends started out on Monday morning after breakfast for Thompsontown. Considerable delay was occasioned at the livery-stable by certain pieces of advice which Sam Twitty offered to Captain Abner. In the first place, he objected to a good black horse which had been attached to the wagon, giving it as his opinion that that looked too much like a funeral, and that a cheerful-colored horse would be much better adapted to a matrimonial expedition. A gray horse, slower than the black one, was substituted, and Sam was quite satisfied. Then a great many things in the way of provisions and conveniences came into his mind which he thought would be well to take on the voyage, and he even insisted upon rigging up an extension at the back of the wagon on which her trunk could be carried on the home journey.
"At last they got away, and as they drove slowly out of the little village not one of the inhabitants thereof knew anything about their intended journey, except that they were going to Thompsontown; for Captain Abner and Sam Twitty would have as soon thought of boring a hole in the bottom of a boat in which they were to sail as of telling their neighbors they were going to look for her and to bring her back in that spring-wagon.
"The old gray horse jogged very comfortably over the smooth road until a toll-gate was perceived near by.
"'Now, then, cap'n,' said Sam, as they drew up in front of the little house by the roadside, 'whatever you pay here you ought to charge to the expense of gettin' her.'
"'That's so,' said his companion; 'but if she's all right I ain't goin' to mind no tolls.'
"A pleasant-faced woman now came to the door of the little house and stood expectant, while Captain Abner thrust his hand into his pocket.
"'How much is it?' said he.
"'It's ten cents,' said she.
"Then Sam Twitty, who did not wish to sit silent, remarked that it was a fine day, and the toll-gate woman said that indeed it was. Captain Abner was now looking at some small change in the palm of his hand.
"'I ain't got ten cents,' said he. 'Here's only six, and I can't scrape up another copper. Sam, can you lend me four cents?'
"Sam searched his pockets. 'Haven't got it,' said he. 'Them little things we bought jes afore we started cleaned me out of change.'
"'The same thing's happened to me, too,' said Abner; 'and, madam, I'll have to ask you to change a five-dollar note, which is the smallest I've got.'
"The toll-gate woman said she was very sorry, but indeed she had not five dollars in change, either at the toll-gate or in the house where she lived just behind in a little garden. The day before she had had a good deal of change, but she had paid it all into the company.
"'Then what are we goin' to do?' asked Sam. 'I suppose you won't let us go through without payin'?'
"The woman smiled and shook her head. 'I couldn't do that; it's against the rules. Sometimes when people come along and find they have nothin' to pay toll with they go back and get the money somewhere. It's our rules, and if I broke them I might lose my place.'
"'Which we wouldn't think of makin' you do,' remarked Sam.
"'But that's one thing I can't do,' said Captain Abner. 'I can't turn round and go back. If the folks knew I was turned back because I couldn't pay toll I'd never hear the end of it.'
"'That's so,' agreed Sam. 'It would never do to go back.'
"The toll woman stood and looked at them and smiled. She was a pleasant personage, not inclined to worry over the misfortunes of her fellow-beings.
"'Isn't there a place somewhere near here where I could get a note changed?' asked Abner.
"'I can't say,' answered the toll woman. 'I don't believe any of the houses along the road has got five dollars in change inside of them, and even if you went across the country to any of the farm-houses, you wouldn't be likely to find that much. But if you are not in a hurry and wouldn't mind waitin', it's as like as not that somebody will be along that's got five dollars in change. You don't seem to know this part of the country,' she added.
"'No,' said Abner; 'when me and my mate travels we generally take the public conveyances. This is the fust time we've druv on this road.'
"Then up spoke Sam Twitty: 'Does you and your husband live here and keep the toll-gate, ma'am?'
"The woman looked as though she thought the plump person a little inquisitive, but she smiled and answered, 'My husband used to keep the toll-gate, but since he died I've kept it.'
"Captain Abner looked troubled. 'I don't mind so much waitin' myself,' said he, 'but it's the horse I'm thinkin' about. I promised I'd have him fed at twelve o'clock sharp every day I have him. He's used to it, and I don't want him givin' out afore I'm through with him.'
"'When horses is used to bein' fed at regular times,' said the toll-gate woman, 'they do show it if they don't get fed. But, if you don't mind, I've got a little stable back there, and some corn, and if you choose to drive your horse into the yard and give him a feed I'll charge you jes what anybody else would. And while he's a-feedin' most likely somebody'll come along that's got five dollars in change.'
"For some minutes Sam Twitty had not said a word, but now he most earnestly advised his friend to accept this offer, and, jumping to the ground, he hurried to open the gate so that Captain Abner might drive in. Abner had not yet made up his mind upon the subject, but, as Sam stood there by the open gate, he drove in.
"'Look a' here!' said Sam, as they stood by the stable door. 'This is a jolly good go! Did you take notice of that toll-gate woman? She's tiptop to look at. Did you see how clean she is, and what a nice way of smilin', an' a good deal of red in her cheeks, too, and jes about old enough, I should say, if I was called upon. And, more than that, I should say, judgin' from what I've seen of her, she's as likely to be as accommodatin' as any person I ever did see that I had seed for so short a time. I jes put her into my mind a-goin' into your parlor and sayin' that conch-shells was jes what she liked on mantelpieces. And I could put her in jes as well with the gilded idol.'
"'You seem to do a lot of thinkin' in a mighty short time,' said Abner. 'But what's all that got to do with anything?'
"'Do!' exclaimed Sam. 'It's got lots to do. Why wouldn't she be a good one for her? I don't believe you'd find a better one in Thompsontown.'
"'Sam Twitty!' exclaimed Abner, rather testily, 'what are you talkin' about? Do you suppose I'd paint and paper and clean up and furnish one side of my house for her, and then start out on a week's cruise to look for her, and then take and put in her place and give everything I've been gettin' for her for so many years to the fust woman I meet, and she a toll-gate woman at that?'"
The Frenchman, who had been listening with great apparent interest, now looked so inquiringly at the Master of the House that he paused in his story.
"Excuse my interrupt," he said apologetically; "but what is toll-gate woman?"
"My conscience!" exclaimed the captain, "you haven't understood a word of my story!" He then proceeded to explain a toll-gate and its office and emoluments; but it was at once evident that the Frenchman knew all about the thing—he did not know the English words which expressed it; and he had a clear comprehension of the narrative.
"Those two men pull two ways," he said gleefully; "ought to make a good story."
"It is a good story if my papa tells it," spoke up the Daughter of the House. And John Gayther was pleased to note a sharpness in her voice.
"Yes, miss; that is just what I say—a very much good story. I long for the end to come."
"Not exactly the compliment intended," remarked the Mistress of the House, with a smile.
"How do you think it will end?" asked the Daughter of the House, impulsively, addressing the Frenchman.
"It is not polite to imagine," he replied.
"But I want to know," she persisted. "It is not impolite to guess."
"Well, then, miss, he marry nobody. Too many women in that Villa Thompson. But we sadly interrupt! Beg pardon, captain."
"The captain I am telling about in my story," said the Master of the House, resuming his narrative, "could not silence Sam Twitty.
"'Now I tell you, cap'n,' he said, as he assisted in taking the horse out of the wagon, 'don't you go and miss a chance. Here's a fust-rate woman, with red cheeks and mighty pretty hair, and a widow, too. Even if you don't take her now, it's my advice that you look at her sharp with the idea that if things don't turn out in Thompsontown as you'd like them to, it would be mighty comfortin' to you to pick her up on your way back.'
"When Captain Abner and Sam returned from the stable they looked up and down the far-stretching road, and then, at the invitation of the toll-gate woman, they seated themselves on a bench at the back of the toll-house.
"''Tisn't a very good time for people to be passin',' said she. 'Not many folks is on the road between twelve and one. They're generally feedin' themselves and their horses. But if you can make yourselves comfortable here in the shade, I don't think you'll have to wait very long. I'll jes step in and see if my dinner ain't cooked. There ain't nobody in sight.'
"Sam Twitty rubbed his hands together. 'In my opinion,' said he, 'that woman is a fust-class housekeeper.'
"In a very few minutes she returned. 'If you gentlemen don't mind,' said she, 'I can give you your dinner here at the same price you'd have to pay anywhere else. I always cook a lot on Mondays, so's I can have something cold for the rest of the week. It's on the table now, and you can go in and wait on yourselves.'
"Sam gave a quick glance at Abner. 'You go in with her,' said he, 'and eat your dinner. I'm not hungry, and I'll wait out here and keep the toll-gate. Afterwards I'll get a bite.'
"The toll-gate woman smiled. 'Perhaps it would be better for me to go in and wait on one of you at a time; but I don't think it's likely there'll be anybody passin'.'
"Abner did not object—he was hungry; and he followed the toll-gate woman into her house. Sam Twitty made a motion as if he would dance a little in his slippered feet.
"'That's jes like runnin' across a dead whale what's jes expired of too much fat. All you've got to do is to cut it up and try it down. The fust thing Cap'n Abner does is to run into a widow woman that'll suit him, I believe, better than anybody he'll meet, if he cruises around Thompsontown for a week.'
"Sam sat down on the bench and pictured things in his mind: he took the toll-gate woman all over Captain Abner's house, even into the unmarried part, and everywhere he saw her the same bright-cheeked, pleasantly smiling woman she was here in her own house. The picture pleased him so much that he withdrew his senses from the consideration of everything else, and therefore it was he did not hear wheels on the road, and was awakened from his pleasant dreams by a voice outside the door. He bounced to his slippered feet, and entered the toll-house.
"On the roadway was a buggy and a horse, and in the buggy sat a smiling young woman. Why she smiled Sam could not imagine; but then, he could not see the comical expression on his own face on being thus suddenly aroused to a sense of his duty.
"'How much is the toll?' said the young woman, still smiling.
"Sam looked at her; she was a good-looking young person, and he liked her smile, for it betokened a sense of humor, and that pleased him. 'How much?' he repeated. 'A vehicle, a man, and a horse—'
"'But this is a girl and a mare,' she interrupted. 'How much is that?'
"Sam looked up and smiled. This young person certainly had a sense of humor. 'I wonder how much that would be,' he said. 'I guess I'll have to get a pencil and paper and work it out.'
"The girl laughed. 'You are not the toll-gate keeper?' she asked.
"'No,' replied Sam. 'I'm keepin' it for her. She's eatin' her dinner. Don't you know the toll yourself? You've paid it before, haven't you?'
"'No, I haven't,' she replied. 'I am visiting in the neighborhood. But I won't haggle about being a girl. I'll pay the price for a man, if you will let me know what it is.'
"An idea came suddenly into Sam Twitty's head: this was a very bright girl, a very attractive girl, who was visiting in the neighborhood, and he determined to keep her at the toll-gate a few minutes if he could.
"'I don't want to make any mistake,' he said quickly. 'I'll jes pop into the house and see what the toll really'll be for you.'
"'Oh, you needn't do that,' said the young woman. 'Of course it is the same—'
"But Sam was gone; and she laughed and said to herself that the deputy toll-gate keeper was a very funny person. Sam ran to the house, panting. He beckoned to Captain Abner to step outside.
"'Look a' here,' he said; 'you hurry out to the gate and take a good long look at the girl that's there. She's a-visitin' in the neighborhood. Now mind you take a good look at her, and I'll be there in a minute.'
"Without exactly understanding the reason for this earnest injunction, Abner went to the gate. He was accustomed to taking Sam's advice if he saw no good reason against it.
"The toll-gate woman was on her feet, but Sam detained her, and said something about the relation between sex and toll.
"'Well, well,' said the woman, 'she must be a queer one. I'll go out to her.'
"'Oh, no,' cried Sam. 'Sit here and finish your dinner. He's comin' right back, and I'll collect the toll.' Half-way to the toll-house Sam met Abner. 'What do you think of her?' he asked hurriedly. 'Did you take a good look at her?'
"'Yes, I did,' replied his friend, 'and I don't think nothin' of her. What is there to think about her?'
"'Go back to your dinner,' cried Sam. 'I've got to collect her toll.'
"'I want you to tell me,' said the girl, not smiling now, 'do you keep a detective here? Do you think I want to cheat the road out of its toll? I am ready to pay the charge, whatever it is.'
"'Detective!' exclaimed Sam.
"'Yes,' said she; 'that little brown man who came out here and looked at me as if he were determined to know me the next time he saw me.'
"'Oh, him!' said Sam. 'That's a friend of mine, Cap'n Abner Budlong. He's no detective, nor nothin' like one. He jes came out to see who was passin' while I was findin' out about the toll. He's always fond of seein' people.'
"'I should think he was,' said the young woman. 'In fact, I think you are a funny lot, toll-gate woman and all. Now here is a quarter; please take the toll and give me the change, that is, if you know how to calculate.'
"Sam took the money, but he did not immediately make the change. 'I don't want you to think hard of any of us,' said he, 'on account of your bein' kept here a little longer than common. But specially I don't want you to think hard of my friend Cap'n Abner Budlong, the gentleman who stepped out here to see who was passin'. Bless your soul, he's no detective! He's one of the finest fellows I know, and you jes ought to see his house at Shamrick. It's filled with more things that's nice to look at and things that's comfortable to use than any other house in that region. Everything's jes as clean and shipshape—'
"'He must have a good wife,' the young woman interrupted.
"'He hasn't got no wife at all,' said Sam, delighted to get in this piece of information. 'Never had one.'
"The girl looked at him, and then she laughed merrily. 'I really must go on,' she said. 'You truly are a funny lot, all of you.' And as she drove on she looked back, still laughing.
"Sam Twitty rubbed his hands together quite cheerfully, and went into the house to get his dinner.
"'Did that woman change your five-dollar note?' asked the keeper of the toll-gate.
"'Bless my soul!' exclaimed Sam. 'I never thought to ask her.'
"'What did you ask her?' cried the woman. 'She was out there for the longest time, and I thought of course you was gettin' your note changed.'
"Sam smiled. 'She was very interesting,' said he."
"What a treasure Sam Twitty would be in a matrimonial bureau!" exclaimed the Mistress of the House.
"Provided he exercised a little more caution in the selection of his specimens," suggested John Gayther, respectfully. "Some might be too green and some the other way, you know; he didn't seem over-particular."
"Three travellers passed through," continued the Master of the House, "but not one of them could change a five-dollar note; and Abner chafed at the delay.
"'I don't like wastin' time like this,' said he to Sam, as the two smoked their after-dinner pipes.
"'Wastin'!' exclaimed Sam. 'I don't call this wastin' time. We didn't start till late this mornin', and here we've got sight of two of her a'ready. Here's this one, as red-cheeked and sociable as anybody could expect, and then there's that gal in the buggy.'
"'Gal in the buggy!' exclaimed Abner. 'What on earth are you talkin' about her for?'
"'Why shouldn't I?' asked Sam. 'I tell you, Cap'n Abner, she's the prettiest and the liveliest young woman you'd be likely to meet if you cruised for a year, and she's visitin' right in the neighborhood, and can't be far from Shamrick.'
"'Codwollops!' said Abner, contemptuously.
"In the course of an hour old Joshua Asbury drove up in his farm-wagon, and changed the five-dollar note, and was glad to do it, for he did not like to carry so much inconvenient silver and copper in his pocket. The two friends now made ready to depart.
"'Let's hurry up,' said Sam. 'We've done fust-rate so far, and maybe we'll sight one or two more afore bedtime.'
"'When you come back,' said the woman, 'I'd be glad to have you stop and rest, and give your horse a feed if you want to.'
"Sam Twitty assured her most earnestly that they certainly would stop, whether they wanted rest and a feed or not; and he thanked her warmly as he paid for the kind entertainment she had given them.
"'Sam,' said Abner, when they were on the road, 'the trouble with you is, you're too quick. If you was at the tiller you'd run into the fust port you come to, and there wouldn't be no v'yage at all.'
"'There's no knowin' when a fellow may want to run into port,' replied Sam, 'and it's a good thing to find out all about them as you're coastin' along.'
"A few miles from the toll-gate they came to the bottom of a long hill, and half-way up it they saw, going in the same direction as themselves, a man walking vigorously.
"'By the general cut of his clothes,' said Sam, 'I'd say he is a minister.'
"'I expect you're right,' said Abner. 'Most likely fillin' some fishin' minister's pulpit Sunday, and walkin' home Monday.'
"The pedestrian clergyman walked more slowly as he neared the top of the hill, and the gray horse gradually overhauled him.
"'Look a' here,' said Sam, nudging his companion, 'let's give him a lift. He must be dreadfully hot. And then, by George, Cap'n Abner, jes think what a jolly thing it'll be—goin' after her, and takin' a minister along, sittin' comfortable on the back seat! That's like holdin' a landin'-net ready to scoop her up the minute you get her to the top of the water.'
"They stopped and asked the clergyman if he were going to Thompsontown, and when he said he was, they invited him to get in and take the unoccupied seat. He proved to be an agreeable companion; he was young and very grateful. Sam soon fell into a very friendly conversation with him, and two or three times, when Abner thought that his friend was on the point of saying something that bore too directly on the object of their journey, he pressed his port boot gently upon Sam's starboard slipper.
"Toward the middle of the afternoon they reached Thompsontown, where the young clergyman said he was going to stop for the night, and go on by train the next day. Sam Twitty was glad to hear this, and advised him to stop at the Spinnaker Boom, where he and Captain Abner intended to stay until they finished the business which brought them to Thompsontown.
"Thompsontown was a seaside resort, and rather a lively place in the season. There was a large hotel for summer visitors who could afford to pay good prices, and several smaller houses of entertainment, such as the Spinnaker Boom, where people of moderate means were made very comfortable.
"It was much too early for supper, and Captain Abner and Sam took a long walk on the beach, and at their invitation the young clergyman joined them. This gentleman, who did not seem to know any one in Thompsontown, proved to be a thorough landsman; but as he was chatty and glad to acquire knowledge, it gave Captain Abner and Sam a great deal of pleasure to talk to him on nautical points and thereby improve his mind. On their return, Sam stopped with a start, and almost dropped his pipe.
"'What's the matter?' cried Captain Abner. 'Did you see her spout?'
"Sam made no answer, but stood with his mouth open. He had remarkably good vision. The clergyman stopped and looked at him inquiringly.
"'They are coming, both of them!' said Sam.
"'Both of who?' asked Abner.
"'The gal in the buggy, and the toll-gate woman.'"
"If I were telling this story," here interrupted the Daughter of the House, excitedly, "I really do not know which one I would marry to Captain Abner!"
"Thank you for the compliment, my dear," said her father.
"Well, there they both were: side by side they were walking along the smooth beach and approaching our three men. Sam's eyes sparkled. The toll-gate woman appeared much more comely and attractive than when engaged in her professional duties earlier in the day. She was now attired in fresh-looking summer clothes, and wore a pretty straw hat. As for the girl of the buggy, she was quite another person. It would have been impossible for any one who had merely seen her within the limited confines of a small vehicle to form any idea of the buoyant air and the lively step of this handsome young woman.
"'Upon my word!' exclaimed Sam Twitty, advancing toward them. 'Who would have expected to meet you two here!'
"At this meeting all our characters were variously affected. The toll-gate woman beamed with pleasure; the young woman of the buggy looked as if she were about to laugh; the young minister looked very much interested, although he could have given no good reason why he should be; the countenance of Captain Abner Budlong betrayed no interest whatever; and Sam Twitty was in a glow of delight.
"'I suppose you are surprised to meet me here,' said the toll-gate woman, 'but this is the way of it: a neighbor and his wife came along soon after you left, and offered to bring me to Thompsontown; and of course I jumped at the chance, and left the toll-gate in charge of my brother, who lives hard by. And in the town, at the house of a friend, I met this young lady, and—' glancing at her companion, she added: 'I really did not catch the name.'
"'Miss Denby,' stated the young person referred to.
"The three men here bowed to Miss Denby; then, stepping nearer to Sam, the toll-gate woman asked in a low voice, 'Who is the minister?'
"'I don't know his name,' said Sam, 'but I'll find out in a minute.' And then he approached the girl of the buggy. 'I am so glad to see you,' he said.
"She laughed outright. 'It is awfully funny,' answered she, 'that you care whether you see me or not.'
"'I don't think it's funny at all,' said Sam. 'But jes let me ask you one thing: what's the name of the toll-gate woman?'
"'Well, I declare!' she exclaimed. 'From the way she talked about you I thought you were old friends. Her name is Mrs. Sickles.'
"Sam skipped over to the young clergyman and put his question: 'Mr-r-r.?'
"'Rippledean,' said the young man.
"In an instant the quick-slippered Sam had joined the party in the bonds of conventional acquaintanceship, having added to the rest of his information the fact that he was Samuel Twitty of Shamrick.
"'You are the funniest people I ever met,' exclaimed the lively Denby girl. 'None of you seems to know the rest.'
"'It is very pleasant to know each other, I am sure,' remarked the toll-gate woman; 'and if I had anything to say about what would be agreeable on such a breezy afternoon as this, now that there's a party of us, I would say it would be to get a boat and take a sail on this sparkling water.'
"'A sail!' cried Sam. 'Why, that will be the best thing in the world, and if you'll wait ten minutes I'll get a boat. Cap'n Silas Peck is a friend of mine, and has got two boats that ain't likely to be out. I'll run down and get one, and have it here in no time.'
"In less than a quarter of an hour the party was seated in Captain Peck's sail-boat, Captain Abner at the tiller, and Sam Twitty in charge of the sheet. They decided to sail out to an island about three miles from shore. A stiff breeze was blowing, and Captain Abner was in his glory. The wind was much too high for ordinary pleasure-boats, and there were no other sails upon the bay; but summer visitors and seafaring men stood along the beach and watched the admirable manner in which that little craft was handled. Word was passed from one to another that it was Captain Abner Budlong of Shamrick who was at the tiller; many of the watchers had heard of Captain Abner and what he had done in days gone by, and they were proud to see what their neighbor of Shamrick was doing now.
"Mrs. Sickles sat beaming, both hands grasping the rail and her feet firmly braced, but with an expression of perfect trust, as she gazed from Captain Abner to Sam Twitty, which would have been edifying to any one of weak habits of faith. The younger woman's hat was off, and her hair was flying like a streamer from a masthead. She drank in the salt breeze with delight, and her eyes sparkled as the boat dipped at the turn of Captain Abner's tiller until the rail cut under the surface of the water as if it were skimming a pan of milk. She looked upon the bright-eyed sailor at the helm as though he were some sort of a salt-water deity whom it was suitable to worship. It was better than sparkling wine to her to dash over the sparkling water.
"The island shore drew near; the little boat bore bravely down upon it, and then with a beautiful sweep fell into the wind; her great wing dropped and hung listless, and her keel gently grazed the sand."
"Very beautiful! Oh, so fine a turn to words!" exclaimed the Frenchman, who was very intent upon the story.
"My papa is a sailor," said the Daughter of the House, proudly. "You should see him bring around a great vessel with a grand sweep, so quietly and so gracefully!"
"You never saw me do anything of the kind," said her father, in surprise.
"I have never seen you," she admitted reluctantly, "but I know just how you would do it."
Her father smiled and laid a hand on her head.
"Well, my dear," he said, "what Sam Twitty told the inmates of the boat was this: 'If there was an egg-shell 'twixt her bow and the beach, Cap'n Abner wouldn't have smashed it.'
"The captain stemmed the praises which now poured upon him, with a jerk of the head. 'That's all very well,' said he, 'but I'm goin' to give Sam Twitty a chance; he'll sail you back.'
"When the party was on shore and the boat safely moored, Sam Twitty began to jump about like a collie dog in charge of a flock of sheep. He had said little in the boat, but his mind had been busily at work with the contemplation of great possibilities. There was much to be done, and but little time to do it in, but Sam's soul warmed up to its work. Casting a rapid glance around, he singled out Captain Abner, and, dashing into the little party, cut him off from his companions, and drove him out of ear-shot.
"'Now, Cap'n Abner,' said he, 'your time's come, and the quicker you get to work the better.'
"'Work!' cried Abner. 'What work have I got to do!'
"'Do!' exclaimed Sam. 'You've got lots to do. Look at that sun. It's settin' jes as steady as if it was bein' towed into port, and you'll never get another chance like this. Here's two women to pop your question to; here is a minister on hand; here's me and the young woman what don't get chosen, for witnesses; here's all them white caps skippin' over the water; and here's this clean stretch of sand. There couldn't be a better place for a sailor to be married in than jes here.'
"'But I tell you, Sam,' said Abner, a little querulously, 'I didn't come here to marry one of them women. I didn't start on this trip to make fast to the fust female person I might fall in with. I set out on a week's cruise, and I want to see a lot of them afore I make a ch'ice.'
"'I tell you, cap'n,' said Sam, very earnestly, 'it won't do. You might hang round Thompsontown for a year, and you wouldn't find any two such women as them two. Here they are, two kinds to pick from: one of them as ripe as a peach, and the other like a cross between a cricket and a blossom. And you've got no time to fool away. When the sun goes down you've got to sail back to Thompsontown, and then one will go one way and the other another, and where the minister will go to, nobody knows. They'll all be scattered and out of sight, and this glorious chance you've got might as well be at the bottom of the sea. Now, cap'n, I tell you, this thing that's right afore you is what you come for. Jes you listen to what I say to you: you go to that Mrs. Sickles and let her see how you're standin' and what your course is. She's no fool, and she can see the sense of gettin' over a sandbar at high tide jes as well as you can.'
"Captain Abner hesitated a moment. 'She's a mighty fine woman, Sam,' said he, 'but if I go and set the case afore her, and she agrees to ship with me, then I can't ask the other one, and there might as well be no other one; and she's as pert a little clipper as ever I seed, Sam, and she likes sailin', that she does.'
"'Now don't you worry about that,' said Sam. 'You jes say all you've got to say to her, and hear all she's got to say, but don't sign no papers and take her aboard until you talk to that other girl. Now hurry up, and walk along the beach a little further off.'
"Without waiting for an answer, Sam Twitty galloped away, or that was what he would have done had he been a sheep-dog. He darted in between Mrs. Sickles and her companions; he turned her down the beach; he talked to her in rapid snaps about the sea, the sky, the sand, and before she knew it he had driven her alongside of Captain Abner. Then, with what might have been compared to a bark of satisfaction, he bounced away to join the others, who were looking for shells.
"In about ten minutes Sam Twitty's port eye told him that Captain Abner and the toll-gate woman were approaching, but in Abner there were signs of a disposition to fall back. In an instant he had bounded between them and was showing shells to the widow. Then, letting her go on by herself, he turned sharply upon Abner.
"'Well,' said he, their heads close together, 'what did she say? Is she all right?'
"Captain Abner threw a glance over the water as if his soul were yearning for the fancied possibilities of Thompsontown. 'Oh, it's all right enough, so far as she counts,' said he. 'I went straight at it, and put the whole thing afore her. I told her about the house and the two parts to it and what they was for, and she said that was charmin'. And I told her about the king conch-shell and the gilded idol, and she said she thought either one of them would be jes lovely, and nothin', she thought, could be better on mantelpieces than gilded idols and king conch-shells. And everything else was jes as slick and smooth as if she was slidin' off the stocks. She's good-lookin' enough, Sam, but she ain't got no mind, and I didn't fix up that house, and bother myself year in and year out a-gettin' it all right, to take it and give it to a woman what's got no mind. She'd be jes as well satisfied to see me a-settin' up on the mantelpiece as if the gilded idol or the king conch-shell was there.'
"'And she don't suit you?' asked Sam, eagerly.
"'No, sir,' replied the other; 'she don't suit.'
"'All right!' exclaimed the ever-ready Sam; 'jes you wait where you are one minute.' In less than that time the agile Sam had rounded up Miss Denby and had her walking along the beach by the side of Captain Abner, and whether she thought that skilful skipper was going to show her some rare seaweed or the state of his mind, Sam considered not for one minute. He had brought the two together, and that was all he cared about.
"The good Mrs. Sickles was standing alone, reflectively gazing upon the little waves, so Sam had no trouble in carrying off the minister to a little distance for confidential remarks.
"'I want you to tell me, sir,' said he, 'if there is any law ag'in' your marryin' a party on the sea-shore, especially when one of them is a sailor?'
"Mr. Rippledean laughed. 'As I am a regularly ordained minister, I can perform a marriage anywhere,' said he, 'provided the parties are of legal age, and there are no objections. But what are you talking about? Who wants to be married?'
"'I can't say jes now,' answered Sam; 'matters isn't settled yet: but everything is goin' ahead lively with a stiff breeze, and I guess we'll get into soundin's pretty soon. I only spoke to you to know if you'd be all right when the couple's ready.'
"'There is nothing the matter with me,' said the young man; 'but I would like to know—'
"'Jes you lay to for a while,' said Sam, 'and I'll tell you all about it.' And then, noticing that Mrs. Sickles was glancing toward the captain and his companion as if she thought to join them, he dashed out upon her to cut her off.
"Meanwhile Miss Denby, with glowing eyes, was saying: 'Yes, I do love to sail, and to sail in a small boat, close to the water, almost as if I were in it, skimming like a bird with my wings dipping. Oh, it is grand! And you have a sail-boat?'
"And the captain answered: 'Indeed I have, and there's none better, either for sailing on the wind, or before the wind, or with next to no wind at all.'
"'How wonderfully you must sail it! I could not keep my eyes off you as you brought us over here. It was grand! You made her do anything you pleased.'
"The captain smiled and nodded. 'But I think of my house as much as I do of my boat, miss,' said he. 'I've got a mighty nice parlor that's as good as any ship's cabin. And now let me put this p'int to you: if you had a big king conch-shell, the prettiest you ever seed, and it was on the middle of the mantelpiece, and you had a gilded idol in another place, would you put the idol where the conch-shell was, and the conch-shell where the idol was, or would you leave 'em both jes where they was afore?'
"The young woman laughed merrily. 'What kind of an idol would it be?' she asked. 'A beautiful piece of carving?'
"''Tain't that,' said Captain Abner; 'it's jes a piece of wood whittled out by a heathen; but it used to be in a temple, and it's gilded all over.'
"'Oh, dear!' said she, 'I don't think much of that sort of an idol. I might like to be a gilded idol myself, if I had the right person to worship me. But as for a wooden idol, I wouldn't put that on the mantelpiece, and I am of the same opinion as to the conch-shell.'
"'But it's a king conch-shell,' said the captain.
"'I don't care,' said she; 'king or queen, it would be all the same to me. But if I were you I think I'd be most of the time in the boat. What is a house, no matter what it has in it, compared to a boat dancing over the waves and speeding before the wind?'
"Captain Abner looked at her. 'I expect you'd like to learn to steer, wouldn't you?'
"'Indeed I would,' she answered. 'There is nothing I would like better.'
"Captain Abner put his hands into his pockets and gently whistled, and, leaving him, Miss Denby ran to join the toll-gate woman. Down swooped Sam Twitty.
"'Is it all right?' he whispered to Abner.
"'All up,' the other answered, 'and I'm glad of it. She don't want no gilded idol, and she don't want no king conch-shell. She wants her hand on the tiller, that's what she wants. She's got too much mind for me. After I've been workin' year in and year out a-gettin' my affairs the way I wants them, I don't fancy anybody comin' down on me and takin' the tiller out of my hands.'
"Sam made two or three steps forward, and then he stood gazing in the direction of the setting sun. Resting on one slippered foot and extending the other before him, he folded his arms and remained a few moments wrapped in thought. Suddenly he turned.
"'Cap'n Abner,' he cried, 'it won't do to sink this chance! It'll never pop up ag'in. You must have spoke pretty plain to that toll-gate woman, considerin' the way she's been turnin' it over in her mind.'
"'Yes, I did,' said Captain Abner, 'and that's the way I found out what she was. But I didn't ask her to ship with me.'
"'And you don't want her to?' said Sam.
"'No, I don't.'
"'And you don't want the other one, nuther?'
"'No, I don't,' replied Captain Abner, doggedly. 'I don't want nuther of 'em. And I say, Sam, the sun's gettin' down and it's about time for us to be settin' sail.'
"'There's a good stretch of sky under that sun yet,' said Sam, 'and jes you wait a bit, cap'n.'
"Sam Twitty walked slowly along the sandy beach; he looked as a sheep-dog might look who was wondering within himself whether or not he had brought back from the fields as many sheep as he had taken out. He stopped, and looked about at the party. Captain Abner was walking toward the boat; the minister and the Denby girl were standing together, comparing shells; the toll-gate woman was strolling by herself a little higher up the beach, still in a reflective mood. Sam gazed from his companions to the sky, the water, the beautiful glistening sands.
"'It's a shame to lose all this,' he said to himself; 'it's a burnin' shame to sink it all.' Then suddenly, as if his master had whistled, he sped to the side of Mrs. Sickles. Backward and forward these two walked, Sam talking earnestly and the toll-gate woman listening with great interest. Captain Abner now and then gave them an impatient glance, but the other couple did not regard them at all.
"'But, Mr. Twitty,' said Mrs. Sickles, 'this is so unexpected. I had an idea of the kind about Cap'n Abner, for I could not help it, but you—really! I've heard of you often, Mr. Twitty, but I never saw you until to-day.'
"'Now, Mrs. Sickles,' said Sam, 'you couldn't have had a better day to see me in, if you'd waited a year; and a-speakin' quick and sharp as I've got to do, for the sun's keepin' on goin' down, there couldn't be a better day to marry me in.'
"'Oh, Mr. Twitty!' cried Mrs. Sickles, with flushed face.
"'There couldn't be a better time or a better place,' said Sam, 'and a minister right here, and two witnesses.'
"'But, Mr. Twitty,' said she, 'I really thought that Cap'n Budlong—and from what he told me about his house and his things—'
"'Cap'n Abner is one of the finest men in this world,' interrupted Sam, 'and he's got a fust-class house, and I ain't got none, and he's got all sorts of things from all parts of the world that he's put in it. But I can get a house and things to put in it, and I can do without gilded idols and king conch-shells, and, what's still more to the p'int, Mrs. Sickles, I wants you, and he don't.'
"'There's something in that,' said the toll-gate woman, and then she added: 'but as to marryin' you here and now, Mr. Twitty, it's not to be thought of.'
"Sam walked slowly away; one might have thought his head drooped under a rebuke. He approached the young minister and the girl of the buggy.
"'Look a' here,' said he to the former; 'you don't mean to say, sir, that you'd back out of marryin' a couple right here and now, that was growed up and of full age, and nothin' to hinder.'
"'Marry!' cried Miss Denby. 'A wedding right here on this beautiful island! Oh, that would be glorious! Who wants to be married?'
"'I do,' said Sam.
"They both laughed. 'But the other person?' asked Mr. Rippledean. 'There must be a bride if you want a wedding.'
"'Oh, the bride'll be Mrs. Sickles,' said Sam. 'But the trouble is she ain't altogether willin'.'
"'I told you,' said the merry Miss Denby—'you know I told you that you are the funniest people I ever met, and you truly are. People generally come to an agreement between themselves before they speak to the clergyman.'
"'Mr. Twitty,' said the clergyman, 'I strongly advise you to give up your present notions of immediate matrimony, and wait at least until all parties agree upon time and place and upon the other circumstances of this union for which you seem so impatient.'
"'Hello, Sam!' shouted Captain Abner from the water's edge, 'ain't you comin' along?'
"Sam made no answer to any one. He walked silently down toward the boat. Everything seemed to be breaking loose from him, and slipping away. His old friend, who had so long wanted her, and who had prepared his house for her, and had set out to look for her, had declined to take her when he saw her; and he, Sam, who had so thoroughly understood the opportunities which had been spread before the little party that afternoon, and who knew what would happen if these opportunities were allowed to slip out of sight, had been set aside by one woman, laughed at by another, had been advised by a clergyman, and had been scolded by Captain Abner. His soul resented all this, and he saw that the edge of the sun was nearly touching the rim of the distant sea. With a great slap upon his thigh, he sprang to the side of the boat, and turned and faced the others, all of whom were now approaching him.
"'I am to sail this boat back to Thompsontown,' he cried. 'It's been agreed I'm to do it, and I'm goin' to do it; but one thing I'll tell you—the sun can go down, the night can come on, and you can all stay here till mornin' if you like, but this boat don't leave this island with me at the helm till I'm a married man!' With this he skipped on board, sat down in the stern, and clapped his broad hands on the tiller.