But these observations and reflections occupied a very short time, and Captain Asher walked quickly to meet his visitor. As he stepped out of the garden-gate he was disappointed again. The young man's trousers were turned up above his shoes. The weather was not wet, there was no mud, and if Dick Lancaster's son had not bought a pair of ready-made trousers that were too long for him, why should he turn them up in that ridiculous way?
In spite of these first impressions, the captain gave his old friend's son a hearty welcome, and took him into the house. After dinner he subjected the young man to a crucial test; he asked him if he smoked. If the visitor had answered in the negative he would have dropped still further in the captain's estimation. It was not that the captain had any theories in regard to the sanitary advantages or disadvantages of tobacco; he simply remembered that nearly all the rascals with whom he had been acquainted had been eager to declare that they never used tobacco in any form, and that nearly all the good fellows he had known enjoyed their pipes. In fact, he could not see how good fellowship could be maintained without good talk and good tobacco, so he waited with an anxious interest for his guest's answer.
"Oh, yes," said he, "I am fond of a smoke, especially in company," and so, having risen several inches in the good opinion of his host, he followed him to the little arbor in the garden.
"Now, then," said Captain Asher, when his pipe was alight, "you have told me a great deal about your father, now tell me something about yourself. I do not even know what your business is."
"I am Assistant Professor of Theoretical Mathematics in Sutton College," answered the young man.
Captain Asher put down his pipe and gazed at his visitor across the arbor. This answer was so different from anything he had expected that for the moment he could not express his astonishment, and was obliged to content himself with asking where Sutton College was.
"It is what they call a fresh-water college," replied the young man, "and I do not wonder that you do not know where it is. It is near our town. I graduated there and received my present appointment about three years ago. I was then twenty-seven."
"Your father was good at mathematics," said Captain Asher. "He was a great hand at calculations, but he went in for practise, as I did, and not for theories. I suppose there are other professors who teach regular working mathematics."
"Oh, yes," replied the young man, with a smile, "there is the Professor of Applied Mathematics, but of course the thorough student wants to understand the theories on which his practise is to be based."
"I do not see why he should," replied the other. "If a good ship is launched for me, I don't care anything about the stocks she slides off of."
"Perhaps not," said Lancaster, "but somebody has to think about them."
In the afternoon Captain Asher showed his visitor his little farm, and took him out fishing. During these recreations he refrained, as far as possible, from asking questions, for he did not wish the young man to suppose that for any reason he had been sent there to undergo an examination. But in the evening he could not help talking about the college, not in reference to the work and life of the students, a subject that did not interest him, but in regard to the work and the prospects of the faculty.
"What does your president teach?" he asked. "I believe all presidents have charge of some branch or other."
"Oh, yes," said Lancaster, "our president is Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy."
"I thought it would be something of the kind," said the captain to himself. "Even the head Professor of Mathematical Theories would never get to the top of the heap. He is not useful enough for that."
After he had gone to bed that night Captain Asher found himself laughing about the events of the day. He could not help it when he remembered how his mind had been almost constantly occupied with a consideration of his old shipmate's son with reference to his brother's daughter. And when he remembered that neither of these two young people had ever seen or heard of the other, it is not surprising that he laughed a little.
"It's none of my business, anyway," thought the captain, "and I might as well stop bothering my head about it. I suppose I might as well tell him about Olive, for it is nothing I need keep secret. But first I'll see how long he is going to stay. It's none of his business, anyway, whether I have a niece staying with me or not."
Olive pays Toll.
It is needless to say that Olive was charmed with Broadstone; with its mistress; with the two little girls; with the woods; the river; the mountains; and even the sky; which seemed different from that same sky when viewed from the tollhouse. She was charmed also with the rest of the household, which was different from anything of that kind that she had known, being composed entirely, with the exception of some servants, of women and little girls. Olive, accustomed all her life to men, men, men, grew rapturous over this Amazonian paradise.
"Don't be too enthusiastic," said Mrs. Easterfield; "for a while you may like fresh butter without salt, but the longing for the condiment will be sure to come."
There was Mrs. Blynn, the widow of a clergyman, with dark-brown eyes and white hair, who was always in a good humor, who acted as the general manager of the household, and also as particular friend to any one in the house who needed her services in that way. Then there was Miss Raleigh, who was supposed to be Mrs. Easterfield's secretary. She was a slender spinster of forty or more, with sad eyes and very fine teeth. She had dyspeptic proclivities, and never differed with anybody except in regard to her own diet. She seldom wrote for Mrs. Easterfield, for that lady did not like her handwriting, and she did not understand the use of the typewriter; nor did she read to the lady of the house, for Mrs. Easterfield could not endure to have anybody read to her. But in all the other duties of a secretary she made herself very useful. She saw that the books, which every morning were found lying about the house, were put in their proper places on the shelves, and, if necessary, she dusted them; if she saw a book turned upside down she immediately set it up properly. She was also expected to exert a certain supervision over the books the little girls were allowed to look at. She was an excellent listener and an appropriate smiler; Mrs. Easterfield frequently said that she never knew Miss Raleigh to smile in the wrong place. She took a regular walk every day, eight times up and down the whole length of the lawn.
Mrs. Easterfield gave herself almost entirely to the entertainment of her guest. They roamed over the grounds, they found the finest points of view, at which Olive was expert, being a fine climber, and they tramped for long distances along the edge of the woods, where together they killed a snake. Mrs. Easterfield also allowed Olive the great privilege of helping her work in her garden of nature. This was a wide bed which was almost entirely shaded by two large trees. The peculiarity about this bed was that its mistress carefully pulled up all the flowering plants and cultivated the weeds.
"You see," said she to Olive, "I planted here a lot of flower-seeds which I thought would thrive in the shade, but they did not, and after a while I found that they were all spindling and puny-looking, while the weeds were growing as if they were out in the open sunshine, so I have determined to acknowledge the principle of the survival of the fittest, and whenever anything that looks like a flower shows itself I jerk it out. I also thin out all but the best weeds. I hoe and rake the others, and water them if necessary. Look at that splendid Jamestown weed—here they call it jimson weed—did you ever see anything finer than that with its great white blossoms and dark-green leaves? I expect it to be twice as large before the summer is over. And all these others. See how graceful they are, and what delicate flowers some of them have!"
"I wonder," said Olive, "if I should have had the strength of mind to pull up my flowers and leave my weeds."
"The more you think about it," said Mrs. Easterfield, "the more you like weeds. They have such fine physiques, and they don't ask anybody to do anything for them. They are independent, like self-made men, and come up of themselves. They laugh at disadvantages, and even bricks and flagstones will not keep them down."
"But, after all," said Olive, "give me the flowers that can not take care of themselves." And she turned toward a bed of carnations, bright under the morning sun.
"Do you suppose, little girl," said Mrs. Easterfield, following her, "that I do not like flowers because I do like weeds? Everything in its place; weeds are for the shady spots, but I keep my flowers out of such places. This flower, for instance," touching Olive on the cheek. "And now let us go into the house and see what pleasant thing we can find to do there."
In the afternoon the two ladies went out rowing on the river, and Mrs. Easterfield was astonished at Olive's proficiency with the oar. She had thought herself a good oarswoman, but she was nothing to Olive. She good-naturedly acknowledged her inferiority, however. How could she expect to compete with a navy girl? she said.
"Are you fond of swimming?" asked Olive, as she looked down into the bright, clear water.
"Oh, very," said Mrs. Easterfield. "But I am not allowed to swim in this river. It is considered dangerous."
Olive looked up in surprise. It seemed odd that there should be anything that this bright, free woman was not allowed to do, or that there should be anybody who would not allow it.
Then followed some rainy days, and the first clear day Mrs. Easterfield told Olive that she would take her a drive in the afternoon.
"I shall drive you myself with my own horses," she said, "but you need not be afraid, for I can drive a great deal better than I can row. We must lose no time in seizing all the advantages of this Amazonian life, for to-morrow some of our guests will arrive, the Foxes and Mr. Claude Locker."
"Who are the Foxes?" asked Olive.
"They are the pleasantest visitors that any one could have," was the answer. "They always like everything. They never complain of being cold, nor talk about the weather being hot. They are interested in all games, and they like all possible kinds of food that one can give them to eat. They are always ready to go to bed when they think they ought to, and sit up just as long as they are wanted. Of course, they have their own ideas about things, but they don't dispute. They take care of themselves all the morning, and are ready for anything you want to do in the afternoon or evening. They have two children at home, but they never talk about them unless they are particularly asked to do so. They know a great many people, and you can tell by the way they speak of them that they won't talk scandal about you. In fact, they are model guests, and they ought to open a school to teach the art of visiting."
"And what about Mr. Claude Locker?"
Mrs. Easterfield laughed. "Oh, he is different," she said; "he is so different from the Poxes that words would not describe it. But you won't be long in becoming acquainted with him."
The road over which the two ladies drove that afternoon was a beautiful one, sometimes running close to the river under great sycamores, then making a turn into the woods and among the rocks. At last they came to a cross-road, which led away from the river, and here Mrs. Easterfield stopped her horses.
"Now, Olive," said she, for she was now very familiar with her guest, "I will leave the return route to you. Shall we go back by the river road—and the scenery will be very different when going in the other direction—or shall we drive over to Glenford, and go home by the turnpike? That is a little farther, but the road is a great deal better?"
"Oh, let us go that way," cried Olive. "We will go through Uncle John's toll-gate, and you must let me pay the toll. It will be such fun to pay toll to Uncle John, or old Jane."
"Very well," said Mrs. Easterfield, "we will go that way."
When the horses had passed through Glenford and had turned their heads homeward, they clattered along at a fine rate over the smooth turnpike, and Olive was in as high spirits as they were.
"Whoever comes out to take toll," said she, "I intend to be treated as an ordinary traveler and nothing else. I have often taken toll, but I never paid it in my life. And they must take it—no gratis traveling for me. But I hope you won't mind stopping long enough for me to say a few words after I have transacted the regular business."
"Oh, no," said Mrs. Easterfield, "you can chat as much as you like. We have plenty of time."
Olive held in her hand a quarter of a dollar; she was determined they should make change for her, and that everything should be done properly.
Dick Lancaster sat in the garden arbor, reading. He was becoming a little tired of this visit to his father's old friend. He liked Captain Asher and appreciated his hospitality, but there was nothing very interesting for him to do in this place, and he had thought that it might be a very good thing if the several days for which he had been invited should terminate on the morrow. There were some very attractive plans ahead of him, and he felt that he had now done his full duty by his father and his father's old friend.
Captain Asher was engaged with some matters about his little farm, and Lancaster had asked as a favor that he might be allowed to tend the toll-gate during his absence. It would be something to do, and, moreover, something out of the way.
When he perceived the approach of Mrs. Easterfield's carriage Lancaster walked down to the tollhouse, and stopped for a minute to glance over the rates of toll which were pasted up inside the door as well as out.
The carriage stopped, and when a young man stepped out from the tollhouse Olive gave a sudden start, and the words with which she had intended to greet her uncle or old Jane instantly melted away.
"Don't push me out of the carriage," said Mrs. Easterfield, good-naturedly, and she, too, looked at the young man.
"For two horses and a vehicle," said Dick Lancaster, "ten cents, if you please."
Olive made no answer, but handed him the quarter with which he retired to make change. Mrs. Easterfield opened her mouth to speak, but Olive put her finger on her lips and shook her head; the situation astonished her, but she did not wish to ask that stranger to explain it.
Lancaster came out and dropped fifteen cents into Olive's hand. He could not help regarding with interest the occupants of the carriage, and Mrs. Easterfield looked hard at him. Suddenly Olive turned in her seat; she looked at the house, she looked at the garden, she looked at the little piazza by the side of the tollhouse. Yes, it was really the same place. For an instant she thought she might have been mistaken, but there was her window with the Virginia creeper under the sill where she had trained it herself. Then she made a motion to her companion, who immediately drove on.
"What does this mean?" exclaimed Mrs. Easterfield. "Who is that young man? Why didn't you give me a chance to ask after the captain, even if you did not care to do so?"
"I never saw him before!" cried Olive. "I never heard of him. I don't understand anything about it. The whole thing shocked me, and I wanted to get on."
"I don't think it a very serious matter," said Mrs. Easterfield. "Some passer-by might have relieved your uncle for a time."
"Not at all, not at all," replied Olive. "Uncle John would never give the toll-gate into the charge of a passer-by, especially as old Jane was there. I know she was there, for the basement door was open, and she never goes away and leaves it so. That man is somebody who is staying there. I saw an open book on the arbor bench. Nobody reads in that arbor but me."
"And that young man apparently," said Mrs. Easterfield. "I agree with you that it is surprising."
For some minutes Olive did not speak. "I am afraid," she said, presently, "that my uncle is not acting quite frankly with me. I noticed how willing he was that I should go to your house."
"Perhaps he expected this person and wanted to get you out of the way," laughed Mrs. Easterfield.
"Well, my dear, I do not believe your uncle is such a schemer. He does not look like it. Take my word for it, it will all be as simple as a-b-c when it is explained to you."
But Olive could not readily take this view of the case, and the drive home was not nearly so pleasant as it would have been if her uncle or old Jane had taken her quarter and given her fifteen cents in change.
That night, soon after the family at Broadstone had retired to their rooms, Olive knocked at the door of Mrs. Easterfield's chamber.
"Do you know," she exclaimed, when she had been told to enter, "that a horrible idea has come into my head? Uncle John may have been taken sick, and that man looked just like a doctor. Old Jane was busy with uncle, and as the doctor had to wait, he took the toll. Oh, I wish we had asked! It was cruel in me not to!"
"Now, that is all nonsense," said Mrs. Easterfield. "If anything serious is the matter with your uncle he most surely would have let you know, and, besides, both the doctors in Glenford are elderly men. I do not believe there is the slightest reason for your anxiety. But to make you feel perfectly satisfied, I will send a man to Glenford early in the morning. I want to send there anyway."
"But I would not like my uncle to think that I was trying to find out anything he did not care to tell me," said Olive.
"Oh, don't trouble yourself about that," answered Mrs. Easterfield. "I will instruct the man. He need not ask any questions at the toll-gate. But when he gets to Glenford he can find out everything about that young man without asking any questions. He is a very discreet person. And I am also a discreet person," she added, "and you shall have no connection with my messenger's errand."
After breakfast the next morning Mrs. Easterfield took Olive aside. "My man has returned," she said; "he tells me that Captain Asher took the toll, and was smoking his pipe in perfect health. He also saw the young man, and his natural curiosity prompted him to ask about him in the town. He heard that he is the son of one of the captain's old shipmates who is making him a visit. Now I hope this satisfies you."
"Satisfies me!" exclaimed Olive. "I should have been a great deal better satisfied if I had heard he was sick, provided it was nothing dangerous. I think my uncle is treating me shamefully. It is not that I care a snap about his visitor, one way or another, but it is his want of confidence in me that hurts me. Could he have supposed I should have wanted to stay with him if I had known a young man was coming?"
"Well, my dear," said Mrs. Easterfield, "I can not send anybody to find out what he supposed. But I am as certain as I can be certain of anything that there is nothing at all in this bugbear you have conjured up. No doubt the young man dropped in quite accidentally, and it was his bad luck that prevented him from dropping in before you left."
Olive shook her head. "My uncle knew all about it. His manner showed it. He has treated me very badly."
Mr. Claude Locker.
The Foxes arrived at Broadstone at the exact hour of the morning at which they had been expected. They always did this; even trains which were sometimes delayed when other visitors came were always on time when they carried the Foxes. They were both perfectly well and happy, as they always were.
As rapidly as it was possible for human beings to do so they absorbed the extraordinary advantages of the house and it surroundings, and they said the right things in such a common-sense fashion that their hostess was proud that she owned such a place, and happy that she had invited them to see it.
In their hearts they liked everything about the place except Olive, and they wondered how they were going to get along with such a glum young person, but they did not talk about her to Mrs. Easterfield; there was too much else.
Mr. Claude Locker was expected on the train by which the Foxes had come, but he did not arrive; and this made it necessary to send again for him in the afternoon.
Mrs. Easterfield tried very hard to cheer up Olive, and to make her entertain the Foxes in her usual lively way, but this was of no use; the young person was not in a good humor, and retired for an afternoon nap. But as this was an indulgence she very seldom allowed herself, it was not likely that she napped.
Mr. Fox spoke to Mrs. Fox about her. "A queer girl," he said; "what do you suppose is the matter with her?"
"The symptoms are those of green apples," replied Mrs. Fox, "and probably she will be better to-morrow."
The carriage came back without Mr. Locker. But just as the soup-plates were being removed from the dinner-table he arrived in a hired vehicle, and appeared at the dining-room door with his hat in one hand, and a package in the other. He begged Mrs. Easterfield not to rise.
"I will slip up to my room," said he, "if you have one for me, and when I come down I will greet you and be introduced."
With this he turned and left the room, but was back in a moment. "It was a woman," he said, "who was at the bottom of it. It is always a woman, you know, and I am sure you will excuse me now that you know this. And you must let me begin wherever you may be in the dinner."
"I have heard of Mr. Locker," said Mr. Fox, "but I never met him before. He must be very odd."
"He admits that himself," said Mrs. Easterfield, "but he asserts that he spends a great deal of his time getting even with people."
In a reasonable time Mr. Locker appeared and congratulated himself upon having struck the roast.
"As a matter of fact," he said, "we will now all begin dinner together. What has gone before was nothing but overture. If I can help it I never get in until the beginning of the play."
He bowed parenthetically as Mrs. Easterfield introduced him to the company; and, as she looked at him, Olive forgot for a moment her uncle and his visitor.
"Don't send for soup, I beg of you," said Mr. Locker, as he took his seat. "I regard it as a rare privilege to begin with the inside cut of beef."
Mr. Locker was not allowed to do all the talking; his hostess would not permit that; but under the circumstances he was allowed to explain his lateness.
"You know I have been spending a week with the Bartons," he said, "and last night I came over from their house to the station in a carriage. There is a connecting train, but I should have had to take it very early in the evening, so I saved time by hiring a carriage."
"Saved time?" exclaimed Mrs. Easterfield.
"I saved all the time from dinner until the Bartons went to bed, which would have been lost if I had taken the train. Besides, I like to travel in carriages. One is never too late for a carriage; it is always bound to wait for you."
In the recesses of his mind Mr. Fox now said to himself, "This is a fool." And Mrs. Fox, in the recesses of her mind, remarked, "I am quite sure that Mr. Fox will look upon this young man as a fool."
"I spent what was left of the night at a tavern near the station," continued Mr. Locker, "where I would have had to stay all night if I had not taken the carriage. And I should have been in plenty of time for the morning train if I had not taken a walk before breakfast. Apparently that is a part of the world where it takes a good deal longer to go back to a place than it does to get away from it."
"But where did the woman come in?" asked Mrs. Easterfield.
"Oh, she came in with some tea and sandwiches in the middle of the afternoon," said Mr. Locker. "I was waiting in the parlor of the tavern. She was fairly young, and as I ate she stood and talked. She talked about Horace Walpole." At this even Olive smiled. "It was odd, wasn't it?" continued Mr. Locker, glancing from one to the other. "But that is what she did. She had been reading about him in an old book. She asked me if I knew anything about him, and I told her a great deal. It was so very interesting to tell her, and she was so interested, that when the train arrived I was too much occupied to think that it might start again immediately, but it did that very thing, and so I was left. However, the Walpole young woman told me there was a freight-train along in about an hour, and so we continued our conversation. When this train came I asked the engineer how many cigars he would take to let me ride in the cab. He said half a dozen, but as I only had five, I promised to send him the other by mail. However, as I smoked two of his five, I suppose I ought to send him three."
"This young man," said Mr. Fox to himself, "is trying to appear more of a fool than he really is."
"I have no doubt," said Mrs. Fox to herself, "that Mr. Fox is of the opinion that this young man is making an effort to appear foolish."
That evening was a dull one. Mrs. Easterfield did her best, Claude Locker did his best, and Mr. and Mrs. Fox did their best to make things lively, but their success was poor. Miss Raleigh, the secretary, sat ready to give an approving smile to any liveliness which might arise, and Mrs. Blynn, with the dark eyes and soft white hair, sat sewing and waiting; never before had it been necessary for her to wait for liveliness in Mrs. Easterfield's house. A mild rain somewhat assisted the dullness, for everybody was obliged to stay indoors.
Early the next morning Olive Asher went down-stairs, and stood in the open doorway looking out upon the landscape, glowing in the sunshine and brighter and more odorous from the recent rain. Some time during the night this young woman had made up her mind to give no further thought to her uncle who kept the toll-gate. There was no earthly reason why he, or anything he wanted to do, or did not want to do, or did, should trouble and annoy her. A few months before she had scarcely known him, not having seen him since she was a girl; and, in fact, he was no more to her now than he was before she went to his house. If he chose to offer her any explanation of his strange conduct, that would be very well; if he did not choose, that would also be very well. The whole affair was of no consequence; she would drop it entirely from her mind.
Olive's bounding spirits now rose very high, and when Claude Locker came in with his shoes soaked from a tramp in the wet grass she greeted him in such a way that he could scarcely believe she was the grumpy girl of the day before. As they went into breakfast Mrs. Fox remarked to her husband in a low voice that Miss Asher seemed to have recovered entirely from her indisposition.
In the course of the morning Mr. Locker found an opportunity to speak in private with Mrs. Easterfield. "I am in great trouble," he said; "I want to marry Miss Asher."
"You show unusual promptness," said Mrs. Easterfield.
"Not at all," replied Locker. "This sort of thing is not unusual with me. My mind is a highly sensitive plate, and receives impressions almost instantaneously. If it were a large mind these impressions might be placed side by side, and each one would perhaps become indelible. But it is small, and each impression claps itself down on the one before. This last one, however, is the strongest of them all, and obliterates everything that went before."
"It strikes me," said Mrs. Easterfield, "that if you were to pay more attention to your poems and less to young ladies it would be better."
"Hardly," said Mr. Locker; "for it would be worse for the poems."
The general appearance of Mr. Locker gave no reason to suppose that he would be warranted in assuming a favorable issue from any of the impressions to which his mind was so susceptible. He was small, rather awkwardly set up, his head was large, and the features of his face seemed to have no relation to each other. His nose was somewhat stubby, and had nothing to do with his mouth or eyes. One of his eyebrows was drawn down as if in days gone by he had been in the habit of wearing a single glass. The other brow was raised over a clear and wide-open light-blue eye. His mouth was large, and attended strictly to its own business. It transmitted his odd ideas to other people, but it never laughed at them. His chin was round and prominent, suggesting that it might have been borrowed from somebody else. His cheeks were a little heavy, and gave no assistance in the expression of his ideas.
His profession was that of a poet. He called himself a practical poet, because he made a regular business of it, turning his poetic inspirations into salable verse with the facility and success, as he himself expressed it, of a man who makes boxes out of wood. Moreover, he sold these poems as readily as any carpenter sold his boxes. Like himself, Claude Locker's poems were always short, always in request, and sometimes not easy to understand.
The poem he wrote that night was a word-picture of the rising moon entangled in a sheaf of corn upon a hilltop, with a long-eared rabbit sitting near by as if astonished at the conflagration.
"A very interesting girl, that Miss Asher," said Mr. Fox to his wife that evening. "I do not know when I have laughed so much."
"I thought you were finding her interesting," said Mrs. Fox. "To me it was like watching a game of roulette at Monte Carlo. It was intensely interesting, but I could not imagine it as having anything to do with me."
"No, my dear," said Mr. Fox, "it could have nothing to do with you."
After Mrs. Easterfield retired she sat for a long time, thinking of Olive. That young person and Mr. Locker had been boating that afternoon, and Olive had had the oars. Mr. Locker had told with great effect how she had pulled to get out of the smooth water, and how she had dashed over the rapids and between the rocks in such a way as to make his heart stand still.
"I should like to go rowing with her every day," he had remarked confidentially. "Each time I started I should make a new will."
"Why a new one?" Mrs. Easterfield had asked.
"Each time I should take something more from my relatives to give to her," had been the answer.
As she sat and thought, Mrs. Easterfield began to be a little frightened. She was a brave woman, but it is the truly brave who know when they should be frightened, and she felt her responsibility, not on account of the niece of the toll-gate keeper, but on account of the daughter of Lieutenant Asher, whom she had once known so well. The thing which frightened her was the possibility that before anybody would be likely to think of such a thing Olive might marry Claude Locker. He was always ready to do anything he wanted to do at any time; and for all Mrs. Easterfield knew, the girl might be of the same sort.
But Mrs. Easterfield rose to the occasion. She looked upon Olive as a wild young colt who had broken out of her paddock, but she remembered that she herself had a record for speed. "If there is to be any running I shall get ahead of her," she said to herself, "and I will turn her back. I think I can trust myself for that."
Olive slept the sound sleep of the young, but for all that she had a dream. She dreamed of a kind, good, thoughtful, and even affectionate, middle-aged man; a man who looked as though he might have been her father, and whom she was beginning to look upon as a father, notwithstanding the fact that she had a real father dressed in a uniform and on a far-away ship. She dreamed ever so many things about this newer, although elder, father, and her dream made her very happy.
But in the morning when she woke her dream had entirely passed from her mind, and she felt just as much like a colt as when she had gone to bed.
The Captain and his Guest go Fishing and come Home Happy.
When Dick Lancaster told Captain Asher he had taken toll from two ladies in a phaeton he was quite eloquent in his description of said ladies. He declared with an impressiveness which the captain had not noticed in him before that he did not know when he had seen such handsome ladies. The younger one, who paid the toll, was absolutely charming. She seemed a little bit startled, but he supposed that was because she saw a strange face at the toll-gate. Dick wanted very much to know who these ladies were. He had not supposed that he would find such stylish people, and such a handsome turnout in this part of the country.
"Oh, ho," said Captain Asher, "do you suppose we are all farmers and toll-gate keepers? If you do, you are very much mistaken, although I must admit that the stylish people, as you call them, are scattered about very thinly. I expect that carriage was from Broadstone over on the mountain. Was the team dapple gray, pony built?"
"Yes," said Lancaster.
"Then it was Mrs. Easterfield driving some of her company. I have seen her with that team. And by George," he exclaimed, "I bet my head the other one was Olive! Of course it was. And she paid toll! Well, well, if that isn't a good one! Olive paying toll! I wish I had been here to take it! That truly would have been a lark!"
Dick Lancaster did not echo this wish of his host. He was very glad, indeed, that the captain had not been at the toll-gate when the ladies passed through. Captain Asher was still laughing.
"Olive must have been amazed," he said. "It was queer enough for her to go through my gate and pay toll, but to pay it to an Assistant Professor of Theoretical Mathematics was a good deal queerer. I can't imagine what she thought about it."
"She did not know I am that!" exclaimed Dick Lancaster. "There is nothing of the professor in my outward appearance—at least, I hope not."
"No, I don't think there is," replied the captain. "But she must have been amazed, all the same. I wish I had been here, or old Jane, anyway. But, of course, when a stranger showed himself she would not have said anything."
"But who is Olive?" asked Lancaster.
"She's my niece," said the captain. "I don't think I have mentioned her to you. She is on a visit to me, but just now she is staying at Broadstone. I suppose she will be there about a week longer."
"It's odd he has not mentioned her to me," thought Lancaster, and then, as the captain went to ask old Jane if she had seen Olive pass, the young man retired to the arbor with a book which he did not read.
His desire to inform his host that it would be necessary to take leave of him on the morrow had very much abated. It would be very pleasant, he thought, to be a visitor in a family of which that girl was a member. But if she were not to return for a week, how could he expect to stay with the captain so long? There would be no possible excuse for such a thing. Then he thought it would be very pleasant to be in a country of which that young woman was one of the inhabitants. Anyway, he hoped the captain would invite him to make a longer stay. The great blue eyes with which the young lady had regarded him as she paid the toll would not fade out of his mind.
"She must have wondered who it was that took the toll," said old Jane. "And there wasn't no need of it, anyway. I could have took it as I always have took it when you was not here, and before either of them came."
"Either of them" struck the captain's ear strangely. Here was this old woman coupling these two young people in her mind!
The next morning Captain Asher sat on his little piazza, smoking his pipe and thinking about Olive driving through the gate and paying toll to a stranger. But he now considered the incident from a different point of view. Of course, Olive had been surprised when she had seen the young man, but she might also have wondered how he happened to be there and she not know of it. If he were staying long enough to be entrusted with toll-taking it might—in fact, the captain thought it probably would—appear very strange to her that she should not know of it. So now he asked himself if it would not be a good thing if he were to write her a little note in which he should mention Mr. Lancaster and his visit. In fact, he thought the best thing he could do would be to write her a playful sort of a note, and tell her that she should feel honored by having her toll taken up by a college professor. But he did not immediately write the note. The more he thought about it, the more he wished he had been at the toll-gate when Mrs. Easterfield's phaeton passed by.
Captain Asher did not write his note at all. He did not know what to say; he did not want to make too much of the incident, for it was really a trifling matter, only worthy of being mentioned in case he had something more important to write about. But he had nothing more important; there was no reason why he should write to Olive during her short stay with Mrs. Easterfield. Besides, she would soon be back, and then he could talk to her; that would be much better. Now, two strong desires began to possess him; one was for Olive to come home; and the other for Dick Lancaster to go away. There had been moments when he had had a shadowy notion of bringing the two together, but this idea had vanished. His mind was now occupied very much with thoughts of his beautiful niece and very little with the young man in the colored shirt and turned-up trousers who was staying with him.
Dick Lancaster, in his arbor, was also thinking a great deal about Olive, and very little about that stalwart sailor, her uncle. If he had merely seen the young woman, and had never heard anything about her, her face would have impressed him, but the knowledge that she was an inmate of the house in which he was staying could not fail to affect him very much. He was puzzling his mind about the girl who had given him a quarter of a dollar, and to whom he had handed fifteen cents in change. He wondered how such a girl happened to be living at such a place. He wondered if there were any possibility of his staying there, or in the neighborhood, until she should come back; he wondered if there were any way by which he could see her again. He might have wondered a good many other things if Captain Asher had not approached the arbor. The captain having been aroused from his mental contemplation of Olive by a man in a wagon, had glanced over at the arbor and had suddenly been struck with the conviction that that young man looked bored, and that, as his host, he was not doing the right thing by him.
"Dick," said the captain, "let's go fishing. It's not late yet, and I'll put my mare to the buggy, and we can drive to the river. We will take something to eat with us, and make a day of it."
Lancaster hesitated a moment; he had been thinking that the time had come when he should say something about his departure, but this invitation settled the matter for that day; and in half an hour the two had started away, leaving the toll-gate in charge of old Jane, who was a veteran in the business, having lived at the toll-gate years before the captain.
As they drove along the smooth turnpike Lancaster remembered with great interest that this road led to the gap in the mountains; that the captain had told him Broadstone was not very far from the gap; and that the river was not very far from Broadstone; and his face glowed with interest in the expedition.
But when, after a few miles, they turned into a plain country road which, as the captain informed him, led in a southeasterly direction, to a point on the river where black bass were to be caught and where a boat could be hired, the corners of Dick Lancaster's mouth began to droop. Of necessity that road must reach the river miles to the south of Broadstone.
It was a very good day for fishing, and the captain was pleased to see that the son of his old shipmate was a very fair angler. Toward the close of the afternoon, with the conviction that they had had a good time and that their little expedition had been a success, the two fishermen set out for home with a basket of bass: some of them quite a respectable size; stowed away under the seat of the buggy. When they reached the turnpike the old mare, knowing well in which direction her supper lay, turned briskly to the left, and set out upon a good trot. But this did not last very long. To her great surprise she was suddenly pulled up short; a carriage with two horses which had been approaching had also stopped.
On the back seat of this carriage sat Mrs. Easterfield; on one side of her was a little girl, and on the other side was another little girl, each with her feet stuck out straight in front of her.
"Oh, Captain Asher," exclaimed the lady, with a most enchanting smile, "I am so glad to meet you. I was obliged to go to Glenford to take one of my little girls to the dentist, and I inquired for you each time I passed your gate."
The captain was very glad he had been so fortunate as to meet her, and as her eyes were now fixed upon his companion, he felt it incumbent upon him to introduce Mr. Richard Lancaster, the son of an old shipmate.
"But not a sailor, I imagine," said Mrs. Easterfield.
"Oh, no," said the captain, "Mr. Lancaster is Assistant Professor of Theoretical Mathematics in Sutton College."
Dick could not imagine why the captain said all this, and he flushed a little.
"Sutton College?" said Mrs. Easterfield. "Then, of course, you know Professor Brent."
"Oh, yes," said Lancaster. "He is our president."
"I never met him," said she, "but he was a classmate of my husband, and I have often heard him speak of him. And now for my errand, Captain Asher. Isn't it about time you should be wanting to see your niece?"
The captain's heart sank. Did she intend to send Olive home?
"I always want to see her," he said, but without enthusiasm.
"But don't you think it would be nice," said the lady, "if you were to come to lunch with us to-morrow? It was to ask you this that I inquired for you at the toll-gate."
Now, this was another thing altogether, and the captain's earnest acceptance would have been more coherent if it had not been for the impatience of his mare.
"And I want you to bring your friend with you," continued Mrs. Easterfield. "The invitation is for you both, of course."
Dick's face said that this would be heavenly, but his mouth was more prudent.
"It will be strictly informal," continued Mrs. Easterfield. "Only myself and family, three guests, and Olive. We shall sit down at one. Good-by."
Mrs. Easterfield was entirely truthful when she said she was glad to meet the captain. Her anxiety about Olive and Claude Locker was somewhat on the increase. She was very well aware that the most dangerous thing for one young woman is one young man; and in thinking over this truism she had been impressed with the conviction that it was not well for Mr. Claude Locker to be the one man at Broadstone. Then, in thinking of possible young men, her mind naturally turned to the young man who was visiting Olive's uncle. She did not know anything about him, but he was a young man, and if he proved to be worth something, he could be asked to come again. So it was really to Dick Lancaster, and not to Captain Asher, that the luncheon invitation had been given.
The appointment with the Glenford dentist had made it necessary for her to leave home that afternoon. To be sure, she had sent the Foxes with Olive and Claude Locker upon the drive through the gap, and, under ordinary circumstances, and with ordinary people, there would have been no reason for her to trouble herself about them, but neither the circumstances nor the people were ordinary, and she now felt anxious to get home and find out what Claude Locker and Olive had done with Mrs. and Mr. Fox.
Captain Asher is not in a Good Humor.
The next morning was very bright for Captain Asher; he was going to see Olive, and he did not know before how much he wished to see her.
When Dick Lancaster came from the house to take his seat in the buggy the sight of the handsome suit of dark-blue serge, white shirt and collar, and patent-leather shoes, with the trousers hanging properly above them, placed Dick very much higher in the captain's estimation than the young man with the colored shirt and rolled-up trousers could ever have reached. The captain, too, was well dressed for the occasion, and Mrs. Easterfield had no reason whatever to be ashamed of these two gentlemen when she introduced them to her other visitors.
She liked Professor Lancaster. Having lately had a good deal of Claude Locker, she was prepared to like a quiet and thoroughly self-possessed young man.
Olive was the latest of the little company to appear, and when she came down she caused a genuine, though gentle sensation. She was most exquisitely dressed, not too much for a luncheon, and not enough for a dinner. This navy girl had not studied for nothing the art of dressing in different parts of the world. Her uncle regarded her with open-eyed astonishment.
"Is this my brother's daughter?" he asked himself. "The little girl who poured my coffee in the morning and went out to take toll?"
Olive greeted her uncle with absolute propriety, and made the acquaintance of Mr. Lancaster with a formal courtesy to which no objection could be made. Apparently she forgot the existence of Mr. Locker, and for the greater part of the meal she conversed with Mr. Fox about certain foreign places with which they were both familiar.
The luncheon was not a success; there was a certain stiffness about it which even Mrs. Easterfield could not get rid of; and when the gentlemen went out to smoke on the piazza Olive disappeared, sending a message to Mrs. Easterfield that she had a bad headache and would like to be excused. Her excuse was a perfectly honest one, for she was apt to have a headache when she was angry; and she was angry now.
The reason for her indignation was the fact that her uncle's visitor was an extremely presentable young man. Had it been otherwise, Olive would have given the captain a good scolding, and would then have taken her revenge by making fun of him and his shipmate's son. But now she felt insulted that her uncle should conceal from her the fact that he had an entirely proper young gentleman for a visitor. Could he think she would want to stay at his house to be with that young man? Was she a girl from whom the existence of such a person was to be kept secret? She was very angry, indeed, and her headache was genuine.
Captain Asher was also angry. He had intended to take Olive aside and tell her all about Dick Lancaster, and how he had refrained from saying anything about him until he found out what sort of a young man he was. If, then, she saw fit to scold him, he was perfectly willing to submit, and to shake hands all around. But now he would have no chance to speak to her; she had not treated him properly, even if she had a headache. He admitted to himself that she was young and probably sensitive, but it was also true that he was sensitive, although old. Therefore, he was angry.
Mrs. Easterfield was disturbed; she saw there was something wrong between Olive and her uncle, and she did not like it. She had invited Lancaster with an object, and she did not wish that other people's grievances should interfere with said object. Olive was grumpy up-stairs and Claude Locker was in the doleful dumps under a tree, and if these two should grump and dump together, it might be very bad; consequently, Mrs. Easterfield was more anxious than ever that there should be at least two young men at Broadstone.
For this reason she asked Lancaster if he were fond of rowing; and when he said he was, she invited him to join them in a boat party the next day to help her and Olive pull the big family boat. Mr. Fox did not like rowing, and Mr. Locker did not know how.
On the drive home Captain Asher and Lancaster did not talk much. Even the young man's invitation to the rowing party did not excite much interest in the captain. These two men were both thinking of the same girl; one pleasantly, and the other very unpleasantly. Dick was charmed with her, although he had had very little opportunity of becoming acquainted with her, but he hoped for better luck the next day.
The captain did not know what to make of her. He felt sure that she was at fault, and that he was at fault, and he could not see how things could be made straight between them. Only one thing seemed plain to him, and this was that, with things as they were at present, she was not likely to come back to his house; and this would not be necessary; he knew very well that there were other places she could visit; and that early in the fall her father would be home.
Dick Lancaster walked to Broadstone the next morning because Captain Asher was obliged to go to Glenford on business, but the young man did not in the least mind a six-mile walk on a fine morning.
All the way to Glenford the captain thought of Olive; sometimes he wished she had never come to him. Even now, with Lancaster to talk to, he missed her grievously, and if she should not come back, the case would be a great deal worse than if she had never come at all. But one thing was certain: If she returned as the young lady with whom he had lunched at Broadstone, he did not want her. He felt that he had been in the wrong, that she had been in the wrong; and it seemed as if things in this world were gradually going wrong. He was not in a good humor.
When he stopped his mare in front of a store, Maria Port stepped up to him and said: "How do you do, captain? What have you done with your young man?"
The captain got down from his buggy, hitched his mare to a post, and then shook hands with Miss Port.
"Dick Lancaster has gone boating to-day with the Broadstone people," he said.
"What!" exclaimed Miss Port. "Gone there again already? Why it was only yesterday you took dinner with them."
"Lunch," corrected the captain.
"Well, you may call it what you please," said Maria, "but I call it dinner. And them two's together without you, that you tried so hard to keep apart!"
"I did not try anything of the kind," said the captain a little sharply; "it just happened so."
"Happened so!" exclaimed Miss Port. "Well, I must say, Captain Asher, that you've a regular genius for makin' things happen. The minute she goes, he conies. I wish I could make things happen that way."
The captain took no notice of this remark, and moved toward the door of the store.
"Look here, captain," continued Miss Port, "can't you come and take dinner with us? You haven't seen Pop for ever so long. It won't be lunch, though, but an honest dinner."
The captain accepted the invitation; for old Mr. Port was one of his ancient friends; and then he entered the store. Miss Port was on the point of following him; she had something to say about Olive; but she stopped.
"I'll keep that till dinner-time," she said to herself.
Old Mr. Port had always been a very pleasant man to visit, and he had not changed now, although he was nearly eighty years old. He had been a successful merchant in the days when Captain Asher commanded a ship, and there was good reason to believe that a large measure of his success was due to his constant desire to make himself agreeable to the people with whom he came in business contact. He was just as agreeable to his friends, of whom Captain Asher was one of the oldest.
The people of Glenford often puzzled themselves as to what sort of a woman Maria's mother could have been. None of them had ever seen her, for she had died years before old Mr. Port had come into that healthful region to reside; but all agreed that her parents must have been a strangely assorted pair, unless, indeed, as some of the wiser suggested, she got her disposition from a grandparent.
"That navy niece of yours must be a wild girl," said Miss Port to the captain as she carved the beef.
"Wild!" exclaimed the captain. "I never saw anything wild about her."
"Perhaps not," said his hostess, "but there's others that have. It was only three days ago that she took that young man, that goggle-eyed one, out on the river in a boat, and did her best to upset him. Whether she stood up and made the boat rock while he clung to the side, or whether she bumped the boat against rocks and sand-bars, laughin' the louder the more he was frightened, I wasn't told. But she did skeer him awful. I know that."
"You seem to know a good deal about what is going on at Broadstone," remarked the captain, somewhat sarcastically.
"Indeed I do," said she; "a good deal more than they think. They've got such fine stomachs that they can't eat the beef they get at the gap, and Mr. Morris goes there three times a week, all the way from Glenford, to take them Chicago beef. The rest of the time they mostly eat chickens, I'm told."
"And so your butcher takes meat and brings back news," said the captain. "The next time he passes the toll-gate I will tell him to leave the news with me, and I will see that it is properly distributed." And with this, he began to talk with Mr. Port.
"Oh, you needn't be so snappish about her," insisted Maria. "If you are in that temper often, I don't wonder the young woman wanted to go away."
The captain made no answer, but his glance at the speaker was not altogether a pleasant one. Old Mr. Port did not hear very well; but his eyesight was good, and he perceived from the captain's expression that his daughter had been saying something sharp. This he never allowed at his table; and, turning to her, he said gently, but firmly:
"Maria, don't you think you'd better go up-stairs and go to bed?"
"He's all the time thinkin' I'm a child," said Miss Maria, with a grin; "but how awfully he's mistook." Then she added: "Has that teacher got money enough to support a wife when he marries her? I don't suppose his salary amounts to much. I'm told it's a little bit of a college he teaches at."
"I do not know anything about his salary," said the captain, and again attempted to continue the conversation with the father.
But the daughter was not to be put down. "When is Olive Asher coming back to your house?" she asked.
The captain turned upon her with a frown. "I did not say she was coming back at all," he snapped.
Now old Mr. Port thought it time for him to interfere. To him Maria had always been a young person to be mildly counseled, but to be firmly punished if she did not obey said counsels. It was evident that she was now annoying his old friend; Maria had a great habit of annoying people, but she should not annoy Captain Asher.
"Maria," said Mr. Port, "leave the table instantly, and go to bed."
Miss Port smiled. She had finished her dinner, and she folded her napkin and dusted some crumbs from her lap. She always humored her father when he was really in earnest; he was very old and could not be expected to live much longer, and it was his daughter's earnest desire that she should be in good favor with him when he died. With a straight-cut smile at the captain, she rose and left the two old friends to their talk, and went out on the front piazza. There she saw Mr. Morris, the butcher, on his way home with an empty wagon. She stepped out to the edge of the sidewalk and stopped him.
"Been to Broadstone?" she asked.
"Yes," said the butcher with a sigh, and stopping his horse. Miss Port always wanted to know so much about Broadstone, and he was on his way to his dinner.
"Well," said Miss Port, "what monkey tricks are going on there now? Has anybody been drowned yet? Did you see that young man that's stayin' at the toll-gate?"
"Yes," said the butcher, "I saw him as I was crossing the bridge. He was in the big boat helping to row. Pretty near the whole family was in the boat, I take it."
"That's like them, just like them!" she exclaimed. "The next thing we'll hear will be that they've all gone to the bottom together. I don't suppose one of them can swim. Was the captain's niece standin' up, or sittin' down?"
"They were all sitting down," said the butcher, "and behaving like other people do in a boat." And he prepared to go on.
"Stop one minute," said Miss Port. "Of course you are goin' out there day after to-morrow?"
"No," said Mr. Morris. "I'm going to-morrow. They've ordered some extra things." Then he said, with a sort of conciliatory grin, "I'll get some more news, and have more time to tell it."
"Now, don't be in such a hurry," said Miss Port, advancing to the side of the wagon. "I want very much to go to Broadstone. I've got some business with that Mrs. Blynn that I ought to have attended to long ago. Now, why can't I ride out with you to-morrow? That's a pretty broad seat you've got."
The butcher looked at her in dismay. "Oh, I couldn't do that, Miss Port," he said. "I always have a heavy load, and I can't take passengers, too."
"Now, what's the sense of your talkin' like that?" said Miss Port. "You've got a great big horse, and plenty of room, and would you have me go hire a carriage and a driver to go out there when you can take me just as well as not?"
The butcher thought he would be very willing. He did not care for her society, and, moreover, he knew that both at Broadstone and in the town he would be ridiculed when it should be known that he had been taking Maria Port to drive.
"Oh, I couldn't do it," he replied. "Of course, I'm willing to oblige—"
"Oh, don't worry yourself any more, Mr. Morris," interrupted Miss Port. "I'm not askin' you to take me now, and I won't keep you from your dinner."
The next morning as Mr. Morris, the butcher, was driving past the Port house at rather a rapid rate for a man with a heavy wagon, Miss Maria appeared at her door with her bonnet on. She ran out into the middle of the street, and so stationed herself that Mr. Morris was obliged to stop. Then, without speaking, she clambered up to the seat beside him.
"Now, you see," said she, settling herself on the leather cushion, "I've kept to my part of the bargain, and I don't believe your horse will think this wagon is a bit heavier than it was before I got in. What's the name of the new people that's comin' to Broadstone?"
Miss Port takes a Drive with the Butcher.
As the butcher and Miss Port drove out of town the latter did not talk quite so much as was her wont. She seemed to have something on her mind, and presently she proposed to Mr. Morris that he should take the shunpike for a change.
"That would be a mile and a half out of my way!" he exclaimed. "I can't do it."
"I should think you'd get awfully tired of this same old road," said she.
"The easiest road is the one I like every time," said Mr. Morris, who was also not inclined to talk.
Miss Port did not care to pass the toll-gate that day; she was afraid she might see the captain, and that in some way or other he would interfere with her trip, but fortune favored her, as it nearly always did. Old Jane came to the gate, and as this stolid old woman never asked any questions, Miss Port contented herself with bidding her good morning, and sitting silent during the process of making change.
This self-restraint very much surprised old Jane, who straightway informed the captain that Miss Port was riding with the butcher to Broadstone—she knew it was Broadstone, for he had no other customers that way—and she guessed something must be the matter with her, for she kept her mouth shut, and didn't say nothing to nobody.
As the wagon moved on Miss Port heaved a sigh. Fearful that she might see the captain somewhere, she had not even allowed herself to survey the premises in order to catch a glimpse of the shipmate's son. This was a rare piece of self-denial in Maria, but she could do that sort of thing on occasion.
When the butcher's wagon neared the Broadstone house Miss Port promptly got down, and Mr. Morris went to the kitchen regions by himself. She never allowed herself to enter a house by the back or side door, so now she went to the front, where, disappointed at not seeing any of the family although she had made good use of her eyes, she was obliged to ask a servant to conduct her to Mrs. Blynn. Before she had had time to calculate the cost of the rug in the hall, or to determine whether the walls were calcimined or merely whitewashed, she found herself with that good lady.
Miss Port's business with Mrs. Blynn indicated a peculiar intelligence on the part of the visitor. It was based upon very little; it had not much to do with anything; it amounted to almost nothing; and yet it appeared to contain certain elements of importance which made Mrs. Blynn give it her serious consideration.
After she had talked and peered about as long as she thought was necessary, Maria said she was afraid Mr. Morris would be waiting for her, and quickly took her leave, begging Mrs. Blynn not to trouble herself to accompany her to the door. When she left the house Maria did not seek the butcher's wagon, but started out on a little tour of observation through the grounds. She was quite sure Mr. Morris was waiting for her, but for this she did care a snap of her finger; he would not dare to go and leave her. Presently she perceived a young gentleman approaching her, and she recognized him instantly—it was the goggle-eyed man who had been described to her. Stepping quickly toward Mr. Locker, she asked him if he could tell her where she could find Miss Asher; she had been told she was in the grounds.
The young man goggled his eye a little more than usual. "Do you know her?" said he.
"Oh, yes," replied Maria; "I met her at the house of her uncle, Captain Asher."
"And, knowing her, you want to see her"
Astonished, Miss Port replied, "Of course."
"Very well, then," said he; "beyond that clump of bushes is a seat. She sits thereon. Accept my condolences."
"I will remember every word of that," said Miss Port to herself, "but I haven't time to think of it now. He's just ravin'."
Olive had just had an interview with Mr. Locker which, in her eyes, had been entirely too protracted, and she had sent him away. He had just made her an offer of marriage, but she had refused even to consider it, assuring him that her mind was occupied with other things. She was busy thinking of those other things when she heard footsteps near her.
"How do you do" said Miss Port, extending her hand.
Olive rose, but she put her hands behind her back.
"Oh!" said Miss Port, dropping her hand, but allowing herself no verbal resentment. She had come there for information, and she did not wish to interfere with her own business. "I happened to be here," she said, "and I thought I'd come and tell you how your uncle is. He took dinner with us yesterday, and I was sorry to see he didn't have much appetite. But I suppose he's failin', as most people do when they get to his age. I thought you might have some message you'd like to send him."
"Thank you," said Olive with more than sufficient coldness, "but I have no message."
"Oh!" said Miss Port. "You're in a fine place here," she continued, looking about her, "very different from the toll-gate; and I expect the Easterfields has everything they want that money can more than pay for." Having delivered this little shot at the reported extravagance of the lady of the manor, she remarked: "I don't wonder you don't want to go back to your uncle, and run out to take the toll. It must have been a very great change to you if you're used to this sort of thing."
"Who said I was not going back?" asked Olive sharply.
"Your uncle," said Miss Port. "He told me at our house. Of course, he didn't go into no particulars, but that isn't to be expected, he's not the kind of man to do that."
Olive stood and looked at this smooth-faced, flat-mouthed spinster. She was pale, she trembled a little, but she spoke no word; she was a girl who did not go into particulars, especially with a person such as this woman standing before her.
Miss Port did not wish to continue the conversation; she generally knew when she had said enough. "Well," she remarked, "as you haven't no message to send to your uncle, I might as well go. But I did think that as I was right on my way, you'd have at least a word for him. Good mornin'." And with this she promptly walked away to join Mr. Morris, cataloguing in her mind as she went the foolish and lazy hammocks and garden chairs, the slow motions of a man who was sweeping leaves from the broad stone, and various other evidences of bad management and probable downfall which met her eyes in every direction.
When Miss Port approached the toll-gate on her return she was very anxious to stop, and hoped that the captain would be at the gate. Fortune favored her again, and there he stood in the doorway of the little tollhouse.
"Oh, captain," she exclaimed, extending herself somewhat over the butcher's knees in order to speak more effectively, "I've been to Broadstone, and I've seen your niece. She's dressed up just like the other fine folks there, and she's stiffer than any of them, I guess. I didn't see Mrs. Easterfield, although I did want to get a chance to tell her what I thought about her plantin' weeds in her garden, and spreadin' new kinds of seeds over this country, which goes to weeds fast enough in the natural way. As to your niece, I must say she didn't show me no extra civility, and when I asked her if she had any message for you, she said she hadn't a word to say."
The captain was not in the least surprised to hear that Olive had not treated Miss Port with extra civility. He remembered his niece treating this prying gossip with positive rudeness, and he had been somewhat amused by it, although he had always believed that young people should be respectful to their elders. He did not care to talk about Olive with Miss Port, but he had to say something, and so he asked if she seemed to be having a good time.
"If settin' behind bushes with young men, and goggle-eyed ones at that, is havin' a good time," replied Miss Port, "I'm sure she's enjoyin' herself." And then, as she caught sight of Lancaster: "I suppose that's the young man who's visitin' you. I hope he makes his scholars study harder than he does. He isn't readin' his book at all; he's just starin' at nothin'. You might be polite enough to bring him out and introduce him, captain," she added in a somewhat milder tone.
The captain did not answer; in fact, he had not heard all that Miss Port had said to him. If Olive had refused to send him a word, even the slightest message, she must be a girl of very stubborn resentments, and he was sorry to hear it. He himself was beginning to get over his resentment at her treatment of him at the Broadstone luncheon, and if she had been of his turn of mind everything might have been smoothed over in a very short time.
"Well?" remarked Maria in an inquiring tone.
"Excuse me," said the captain, "what were you saying?"
Miss Maria settled herself in her seat. "If you and that young man wastin' his time in the garden can't keep your wits from wool-gatherin'," said she, "I hope old Jane has got sense enough to go on with the housekeepin'. I'll call again when you've sent your young man away, and got your young woman back."
Maria said little to the taciturn butcher on their way to Glenford, but she smiled a good deal to herself. For years it had been the desire of her life to go to live in the toll-gate—not with any idea of ousting Captain Asher—oh, no, by no means. Old Mr. Port could not live much longer, and his daughter would not care to reside in the Glenford house by herself. But the toll-gate would exactly suit her; there was life; there was passing to and fro; there was money enough for good living and good clothes without any encroachment on whatever her father might leave her; and, above all, there was the captain, good for twenty years yet, in spite of his want of appetite, which she had mentioned to his niece. This would be a settlement which would suit her in every way, but so long as that niece lived there, there would be no hope of it; even the shipmate's son would be in the way. But she supposed he would soon be off.
Mrs. Easterfield writes a Letter.
When Miss Port had left her, Olive was so much disturbed by what that placid spinster had told her that she totally forgot Claude Locker's proposal of marriage, as well as the other things she had been thinking about. These things had been not at all unpleasant; she had been thinking of her uncle and her return to the toll-gate house. Her visit to Broadstone was drawing to a close, and she was getting very tired of Mr. Locker and Mr. and Mrs. Fox. She found, now her anger had cooled down, that she was actually missing her uncle, and was thinking of him as of some one who belonged to her. Her own father had never seemed to belong to her; for periods of three years he was away on his ship; and, even when he had been on shore duty, she had sometimes been at school; and when she and her parents had been stationed somewhere together, the lieutenant had been a good deal away from home on this or that naval business. When a girl she had taken these absences as a matter of course, but since she had been living with her uncle her ideas on the subject had changed. She wanted now to be at home with him: and as Broadstone was so near the toll-gate she had no doubt that Mrs. Easterfield would sometimes want her to come to her when, perhaps, she would have different people staying with her.
This was a very pleasant mental picture, and the more Olive had looked at it, the better she had liked it. As to the reconciliation with her uncle, it troubled her mind but little. So often had she been angry with people, and so often had everything been made all right again, that she felt used to the process. Her way was simple enough; when she was tired of her indignation she quietly dropped it; and then, taking it for granted that the other party had done the same, she recommenced her usual friendly intercourse, just as if there had never been a quarrel or misunderstanding. She had never found this method to fail—although, of course, it might easily have failed with one who was not Olive—and she had not the slightest doubt that if she wrote to her uncle that she was coming on a certain day, she would be gladly received by him when she should arrive.
But now? After what that woman had told her, what now? If her uncle had said she was not coming back, there was an end to her mental pictures and her pleasant plans. And what a hard man he must be to say that!
Slowly walking over the grass, Olive went to look for Mrs. Easterfield, and found her in her garden on her knees by a flower-bed digging with a little trowel.
"Mrs. Easterfield," said she, "I am thinking of getting married."
The elder lady sprang to her feet, dropping her trowel, which barely missed her toes. She looked frightened. "What?" she exclaimed. "To whom?"
"Not to anybody in particular," replied Olive. "I am considering the subject in general. Let's go sit on that bench, and talk about it."
A little relieved, Mrs. Easterfield followed her. "I don't know what you mean," she said, when they were seated. "Women don't think of marriage in a general way; they consider it in a particular way."
"Oh, I am different," said Olive; "I am a navy girl, and more like a man. I have to look out for myself. I think it is time I was married, and therefore I am giving the subject attention. Don't you think that is prudent?"
"And you say you have no particular leanings?" the other inquired.
"None whatever," said Olive. "Mr. Locker proposed to me less than an hour ago, but I gave him no answer. He is too precipitate, and he is only one person, anyway."
"You don't want to marry more than one person!" exclaimed Mrs. Easterfield.
"No," said Olive, "but I want more than one to choose from."
Mrs. Easterfield did not understand the girl at all. But this was not to be expected so soon; she must wait a little, and find out more. Notwithstanding her apparent indifference to Claude Locker, there was more danger in that direction than Mrs. Easterfield had supposed. A really persistent lover is often very dangerous, no matter how indifferent a young woman may be.
"Have you been considering the professor?" she asked, with a smile. "I noticed that you were very gracious to him yesterday."
"No, I haven't," said Olive. "But I suppose I might as well. I did try to make him have a good time, but I was still a little provoked and felt that I would like him to go back to my uncle and tell him that he had enjoyed himself. But now I suppose I must consider all the eligibles."
"Why now?" asked Mrs. Easterfield quickly; "why now more than any previous time?"
Olive did not immediately answer, but presently she said: "I am not going back to my uncle. There was a woman here just now—I don't know whether she was sent or not—who informed me that he did not expect me to return to his house. When my mother was living we were great companions for each other, but now you see I am left entirely alone. It will be a good while before father comes back, and then I don't know whether he can settle down or not. Besides, I am not very well acquainted with him, but I suppose that would arrange itself in time. So you see all I can do is to visit about until I am married, and therefore the sooner I am married and settled the better."
"Perhaps this is a cold-blooded girl!" said Mrs. Easterfield to herself. "But perhaps it is not!" Then, speaking aloud, she said: "Olive Asher, were you ever in love?"
The girl looked at her with reflective eyes. "Yes," she said. "I was once, but that was the only time."
"Would you mind telling me about it?" asked Mrs. Easterfield.
"Not at all," replied the girl. "I was between thirteen and fourteen, and wore short dresses, and my hair was plaited. My father was on duty at the Philadelphia Navy-Yard, and we lived in that city. There was a young man who used to come to bring messages to father; I think he was a clerk or a draftsman. I do not remember his name, except that his first name was Rupert, and father always called him by that. He was a beautiful man-boy or boy-man, however you choose to put it. His eyes were heavenly blue, his skin was smooth and white, his cheeks were red, and he had the most charming mouth I ever saw. He was just the right height, well shaped, and wore the most becoming clothes. I fell madly in love with him the second time I saw him, and continued so for a long time. I used to think about him and dream about him, and write little poems about him which nobody ever saw. I tried to make a sketch of his face once, but I failed and tore it up."
"What did he do?" asked Mrs. Easterfield.
"Nothing whatever," said Olive. "I never spoke to him, or he to me. I don't believe he ever noticed me. Whenever I could I went into the room where he was talking to father, but I was very quiet and kept in the background, and I do not think his eyes ever fell upon me. But that did not make any difference at all. He was beautiful above all other men in the world, and I loved him. He was my first, my only love, and it almost brings tears in my eyes now to think of him."
"Then you really could love the right person if he were to come along," said Mrs. Easterfield.
"Why do you think I couldn't? Of course I could. But the trouble is he doesn't come, so I must try to arrange the matter with what material I have."
When Mrs. Easterfield left the garden she went rapidly to her room. There was a smile on her lips, and a light in her eye. A novel idea had come to her which amused her, pleased her, and even excited her. She sat down at her writing-table and began a letter to her husband. After an opening paragraph she wrote thus:
"Is not Mr. Hemphill, of the central office of the D. and J., named Rupert? It is my impression that he is. You know he has been to our house several times to dinner when you invited railroad people, and I remember him very well. If his name is Rupert will you find out, without asking him directly, whether or not he was engaged about seven years ago at the navy-yard. I am almost positive I once had a conversation with him about the navy-yard and the moving of one of the great buildings there. If you find that he had a position there, don't ask him any more questions, and drop the subject as quickly as you can. But I then want you to send him here on whatever pretext you please—you can send me any sort of an important message or package—and if I find it desirable, I shall ask him to stay here a few days. These hard-worked secretaries ought to have more vacations. In fact, I have a very interesting scheme in mind, of which I shall say nothing now for fear you may think it necessary to reason about it. By the time you come it will have been worked out, and I will tell you all about it. Now, don't fail to send Mr. Hemphill as promptly as possible, if you find his name is Rupert, and that he has ever been engaged in the navy-yard."
This letter was then sent to the post-office at the gap with an immediate-delivery stamp on it.
When Mrs. Easterfield went down-stairs, her face still glowing with the pleasure given by the writing of her letter, she met Claude Locker, whose face did not glow with pleasure.
"What is the matter with you?" she asked.
"I feel like a man who has been half decapitated," said he. "I do not know whether the execution is to be arrested and my wound healed, or whether it is to go on and my head roll into the dust."
"A horrible idea!" said Mrs. Easterfield. "What do you really mean?"
"I have proposed to Miss Asher and I was treated with indifference, but have not been discarded. Don't you see that I can not live in this condition? I am looking for her."
"It will be a great deal better for you to leave her alone," replied Mrs. Easterfield. "If she has any answer for you she will give it when she is ready. Perhaps she is trying to make up her mind, and you may spoil all by intruding yourself upon her."
"That will not do at all," said Locker, "not at all. The more Miss Asher sees of me in an unengaged condition the less she will like me. I am fully aware of this. I know that my general aspect must be very unpleasant, so if I expect any success whatever, the quicker I get this thing settled the better."
"Even if she refuses you," said Mrs. Easterfield.
"Yes," he answered; "then down comes the axe again, away goes my head, and all is over! Then there is another thing," he said, without giving Mrs. Easterfield a chance to speak. "There is that mathematical person. When will he be here again?"
"I do not know," replied Mrs. Easterfield; "he has merely a general invitation."
"I don't like him," said Locker. "He has been here twice, and that is two times too many. I hate him."
"Because he is unobjectionable," Locker answered, "and I am very much afraid Miss Asher likes unobjectionable people. Now I am objectionable—I know it—and the longer I remain unengaged the more objectionable I shall become. I wish you would invite nobody but such people as the Foxes."
"Because they are married," replied Locker. "But I must not wait here. Can you tell me where I shall be likely to find her?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Easterfield, "she is with the Foxes, and they are married."
Mr. Locker is released on Bail.
Nearly the whole of that morning Dick Lancaster sat in the arbor in the tollhouse garden, his book in his hand. Part of the time he was thinking about what he would like to do, and part of the time he was thinking about what he ought to do. He felt sure he had stayed with the captain as long as he had been expected to, but he did not want to go away. On the contrary, he greatly desired to remain within walking distance of Broadstone. He was in love with Olive. When he had seen her at luncheon, cold and reserved, he had been greatly impressed by her, and when he went out boating with her the next day he gave her his heart unreservedly. When people fell in love with Olive they always did it promptly.
As he sat, with Olive standing near the footlights of his mental stage and the drop-curtain hanging between her and all the rest of the world, the captain strolled up to him.
"Dick," said he, "somehow or other my tobacco does not taste as it ought to. Give me a pipeful of yours."
When the captain had filled his pipe from Dick's bag he lighted it and gave a few puffs. "It isn't a bit better than mine," said he, "but I will keep on and smoke it. Dick, let's go and take a walk over the hills. I feel rather stupid to-day. And, by the way, I hope you will be able to stay with me for the rest of your vacation. Have you made plans to go anywhere else?"
"No plans of the slightest importance," answered Lancaster with joyous vivacity. "I shall be delighted to stay."
This prompt acceptance somewhat surprised the captain. He had spoken without premeditation, and without thinking of anything at all except that he did not want everybody to go away and leave him. He had begun to know something of the pleasures of family life; of having some one to sit at the table with him; to whom he could talk; on whom he could look. In fact, although he did not exactly appreciate such a state of things, some one he could love. He was getting really fond of Dick Lancaster.
As for Olive, he did not know what to think of her; sometimes he was sure she was not coming back, and at other times he thought it likely he might get a letter that very day appointing the time for her return. He stood puffing his pipe and thinking about this after Dick had spoken.
"But it does not matter," he said to himself, "which way it happens. If she doesn't come I want him here, and if she does come, he is good enough for anybody, and perhaps she may be pleased." And then he indulged in a little fragment of the dream which had come to him before; he saw two young people in a charming home, not at the toll-gate, and himself living with them. Plenty of money for all moderate needs, and all happy and satisfied. Then with a sigh he knocked the tobacco from his pipe and said to himself: "If I hear she is coming, I will let her know he is still here, and then she must judge for herself."
As they walked together over the hills, Dick Lancaster was very anxious to know something about Olive's return, but he did not like to ask. The captain had been very reticent on the subject of his niece, and Dick was a gentleman. But to his surprise, and very much to his delight, the captain soon began to talk about Olive. He told Dick how his brother had entered the navy when the elder was first mate on a merchant vessel; how Alfred had risen in the service; had married; and how his wife and daughter had lived in various parts of the world. Then he spoke of a good many things he had heard about Olive, and other things he had found out since she had lived with him; and as he went on his heart warmed, and Dick Lancaster listened with as warm a heart as that from which the captain spoke.
And thus they walked over the hills, this young man and this elderly man, each in love with the same girl.
During all the walk Dick never asked when Miss Asher was coming back to the tollhouse, nor did Captain Asher make any remarks upon the subject. It was not really of vital importance to Dick, as Broadstone was so near, and it was of such vital importance to the captain that it was impossible for him to speak of it.
The next day the bright-hearted Richard trod buoyantly upon the earth; he did not care to read; he did not want to smoke; and he was not much inclined to conversation; he was simply buoyant, and undecided. The captain looked at him and smiled.
"Why don't you walk over to Broadstone?" he said. "It will do you good. I want you to stay with me, but I don't expect you to be stuck down to this tollhouse all day. I am going about the farm to-day, but I shall expect you to supper."
When he was ready to start Dick Lancaster felt a little perplexed. His ideas of friendly civility impelled him to ask the captain if there was anything he could do for him, if there was any message or missive he could take to his niece, or anything he could bring from her, but he was prudent and refrained; if the captain wished service of this sort he was a man to ask for it.
The first person Dick met at Broadstone was Mrs. Easterfield, cutting roses.
"I am very glad to see you, Professor Lancaster," said she, as she put down her roses and her scissors. "Would you mind, before you enter into the general Broadstone society, sitting down on this bench and talking a little to me?"
Dick could not help smiling. What man in the world, even if he were in love with somebody else, could object to sitting down by such a woman and talking to her?
"What I am going to say," said Mrs. Easterfield, "is impertinent, unwarranted, and of an officious character. You and I know each other very slightly; neither of us has long been acquainted with Captain Asher, you have met his niece but twice, and I have never really known her until what you might call the other day. But in spite of all this, I propose that you and I shall meddle a little in their affairs. I have taken the greatest fancy to Miss Asher, and, if you can do it without any breach of confidence, I would like you to tell me if you know of any misunderstanding between her and her uncle."
"I know of nothing of the kind," said Dick with great interest, "but I admit I thought there might be something wrong somewhere. He knew I was coming here to-day—in fact, he suggested it—but he sent Miss Asher no sort of message."
"Can it be possible he is cherishing any hard feelings against her?" she remarked. "I should not have supposed he was that sort of man."
"He is not that sort of man," said Dick warmly. "He was talking to me about her yesterday, and from what he said, I am sure he thinks she is the finest girl in the world."
"I am glad to hear that," said she, "but it makes the situation more puzzling. Can it be possible that she is treating him badly?"
"Oh, I could not believe that!" exclaimed Dick fervently. "I can not imagine such a thing."
Mrs. Easterfield smiled. He had really known the girl but for one day, for the first meeting did not count; and here he was defending the absolute beauty of her character. But the assumption of the genus young man often overtops the pyramids. She now determined to take him a little more into her confidence.
"Miss Asher has intimated to me that she does not expect to go back to her uncle's house, and this morning she made a reference to the end of her visit here, but I thought you might be able to tell me something about her uncle. If he really does not expect her back I want her to stay here."
"Alas," said Dick, "I can not tell you anything. But of one thing I feel sure, and that is that he would like her to come back."
"Well," said Mrs. Easterfield, "I am not going to let her go away at present, and if Captain Asher should say anything to you on the subject, you are at liberty to tell him that. From what you said the other day, I suppose you will soon be leaving this quiet valley for the haunts of men."
"Oh, no," exclaimed Dick. "He wants me to stay with him as long as I can, and I shall certainly do it."
"Now," said Mrs. Easterfield, rising, "I must go and finish cutting my roses. I think you will find everybody on the tennis grounds."
Mrs. Easterfield had cut in all twenty-three roses when Claude Locker came to her from the house. His face was beaming, and he skipped over the short grass.
"Congratulate me," he said, as he stepped before her.
Mrs. Easterfield dropped her roses and her scissors and turned pale. "What do you mean?" she gasped.
"Oh, don't be frightened," he said. "I have not been acquitted, but the execution has been stopped for the present, and I am out on bail. I really feel as though the wound in my neck had healed."
"What stuff!" said Mrs. Easterfield, her color returning. "Try to speak sensibly."
"Oh, I can do that," said Mr. Locker; "upon occasion I can do that very well. I proposed again to Miss Asher not twenty minutes ago. She gave me no answer, but she made an arrangement with me which I think is going to be very satisfactory; she said she could not have me proposing to her every time I saw her—it would attract attention, and in the end might prove annoying—but she said she would be willing to have me propose to her every day just before luncheon, provided I did not insist upon an answer, and would promise to give no indication whatever at any other time that I entertained any unusual regard for her. I agreed to this, and now we understand each other. I feel very confident and happy. The other person has no regular time for offering himself, and if any effort of mine can avail he shall not find an irregular opportunity."
Mrs. Easterfield laughed. "Come pick up my roses," she said. "I must go in."
"It is like making love," said Locker as he picked up the flowers, "charming, but prickly." At this moment he started. "Who is that?" he exclaimed.
Mrs. Easterfield turned. "Oh, that is Monsieur Emile Du Brant. He is one of the secretaries of the Austrian legation. He is to spend a week with us. Suppose you take my flowers into the house and I will go to meet him."
Claude Locker, his arms folded around a mass of thorny roses, and a pair of scissors dangling from one finger, stood and gazed with savage intensity at the dapper little man—black eyes, waxed mustache, dressed in the height of fashion—who, with one hand outstretched, while the other held his hat, advanced with smiles and bows to meet the lady of the house. Locker had seen him before; he had met him in Washington; and he had received forty dollars for a poem of which this Austrian young person was the subject.
He allowed the lady and her guest to enter the house before him, and then, like a male Flora, he followed, grinding his teeth, and indulging in imprecations.
"He will have to put on some other kind of clothes," he muttered, "and perhaps he may shave and curl his hair. That will give me a chance to see her before lunch. I do not know that she expected me to begin to-day, but I am going to do it. I have a clear field so far, and nobody knows what may happen to-morrow."
As Locker stood in the hallway waiting for some one to come and take his flowers, or to tell him where to put them, he glanced out of the back door. There, to his horror, he saw that Mrs. Easterfield had conducted her guest through the house, and that they were now approaching the tennis ground, where Professor Lancaster and Miss Asher were standing with their rackets in their hands, while Mr. and Mrs. Fox were playing chess under the shade of a tree.