It had been long since old Jane had said as much at any one time to any one person, but her mind was stirred. Her life was about to change, and the future was very black to her.
When dinner was ready the captain had not yet returned, and Dick ate his meal by himself. He was now beginning to feel used to this sort of thing. He had scarcely finished, and gone down to the garden-gate to look once more over the road toward Glenford, when the man in the buggy arrived, and he received Mrs. Easterfield's letter.
He lost no moments in making up his mind. He would go to Broadstone, of course, and he did not think it at all necessary to stand on ceremony with the captain. The latter had gone off and left him without making any statement whatever, but he would do better, and he wrote a note explaining the state of affairs. As he was leaving old Jane came to bid him good-by.
"I don't know," said she, "that you will find me here when you come back. The fact of it is I don't know nothin'. But one thing's certain, if she's here I ain't, and if she's too high and mighty to take toll in her honeymoon, the captain'll have to do it himself, or let 'em pass through free."
Mrs. Easterfield was on the lawn when Lancaster arrived, and in answer to the involuntary glance with which Dick's eyes swept the surrounding space, even while he was shaking hands with her, she said: "No, she is not here. She has gone boating, and so you must come and tell me everything, and then we can decide what is best to tell her."
For an instant Dick's soul demurred. If he told Olive anything he would tell her all he knew, and exactly what had happened. But he would not lose faith in this noble woman who was going to help him with Olive if she could. So they sat down, side by side, and he told her everything he knew about Captain Asher and Miss Port.
"It does look very much as if he were going to marry the woman," said Mrs. Easterfield. Then she sat silent and looked upon the ground, a frown upon her face.
Dick was also silent, and his countenance was clouded. "Poor Olive," he thought, "it is hard that this new trouble should come upon her just at this time."
But Mrs. Easterfield said in her heart: "Poor fellow, how little you know what has come upon you! The woman who has turned her uncle from Olive has turned Olive from you."
"Well," said the lady at length, "do you think it is worth while to say anything to her about it? She has already surmised the state of affairs, and, so far as I can see, you have nothing of importance to tell her."
"Perhaps not," said Dick, "but as she sent me on a mission I want to make known to her the result of it so far as there has been any result. It will be very unpleasant, of course—it will be even painful—but I wish to do it all the same."
"That is to say," said Mrs. Easterfield with a smile that was not very cheerful, "you want to be with her, to look at her and to speak to her, no matter how much it may pain her or you to do it."
"That's it," answered Dick.
Mrs. Easterfield sat and reflected. She very much liked this young man, and, considering herself as his friend, were there not some things she ought to tell him? She concluded that there were such things.
"Mr. Lancaster," she said, "have you noticed that there are other young men in love with Miss Asher?"
"I know there is one," said Dick, "for he told me so himself."
"That was Claude Locker?" said she with interest.
"And he promised," continued Dick, "that if he failed he would do all he could to help me. I can not say that this is really for love of me, for his avowed object is to prevent Mr. Du Brant from getting her. We assumed that he was her lover, although I do not know that there is any real ground for it."
"There is very good ground for it," said she, "for he has already proposed to her. What do you think of that?"
"It makes no difference to me," said Dick; "that is, if he has not been accepted. What I want is to find myself warranted in telling Miss Asher how I feel toward her; it does not matter to me how the rest of the world feels."
"Then there is another," said Mrs. Easterfield, "with whom she is now on the river—Mr. Hemphill. He is in love with her; and as he can not stay here very long, I think he will soon propose."
"I can not help it," said Dick; "I love her, and the great object of my life just at present is to tell her so. You said you would help me, and I hope you will not withdraw from that promise."
"No, indeed," said she, "but I do not know her as well as I thought I did. But here she comes now, and without the young man. I hope she has not drowned him!"
Without heeding anything that had just been said to him Dick kept his eyes fixed upon the sparkling girl who now approached them. Every step she made was another link in his chain; Mrs. Easterfield glanced at him and knew this. She pitied him for what he had to tell her now, and more for what he might have to hear from her at another time. But Olive saved Dick from any present ordeal. She stepped up to him and offered him her hand.
"I do not wonder, Mr. Lancaster," she said, "that you did not want to come back and tell me your doleful story, but as I know what it is, we need not say anything about it now, except that I am ever so much obliged to you for all your kindness to me. And now I am going to ask another favor. Won't you let me speak to Mrs. Easterfield a few moments?"
As soon as they were seated, with the door shut, Olive began.
"Well," said she, "he has proposed."
"Mr. Hemphill!" exclaimed Mrs. Easterfield.
"Rupert," Olive answered, "yes, it is truly Rupert who proposed to me."
"I declare," cried Mrs. Easterfield, "you come to me and tell me this as if it were a piece of glad news. Yesterday, and even this morning, you were plunged in grief, and now your eyes shine as if you were positively happy."
"I have told you my aim and object in life," said the girl. "I am trying to do something, and to do it soon, and everything is going on smoothly. And as to being happy, I tell you, Mrs. Easterfield, there is no woman alive who could help being made happy by such a declaration as I have just received. No matter what answer she gave him, she would be bound to be happy."
"Most other women would not have let him make it," said Mrs. Easterfield a little severely.
"There is something in that," said Olive, "but they would not have the object in life I have. I may be unduly exalted, but you would not wonder at it if you had seen him and heard him. Mrs. Easterfield, that man loves me exactly as I used to love him, and he has told me his love just as I would have told him mine if I could have carried out the wish of my heart. His eyes glowed, his frame shook with the ardor of his passion. Two or three times I had to tell him that if he did not trim boat we should be upset. I never saw anything like his impassioned vehemence. It reminded me of Salvini. I never was loved like that before."
"And what answer did you make to him?" asked Mrs. Easterfield, her voice trembling.
"I did not make him any. It would not have been fair to the others or to myself to do that. I shall not swerve from my purpose, but I shall not be rash."
Mrs. Easterfield rose suddenly and stepped to the open window; she could not sit still a moment longer; she needed air. "Olive," she said, "this is mad and wicked folly in you, and it is impertinent in him, no matter how much you encouraged him. I would like to send him back to his desk this minute. He has no right to come to his employer's house and behave in this manner."
Olive did not get angry. "He is not impertinent," said she. "He knows nothing in this world but that I once loved him, and that now he loves me. Employer and employee are nothing to him. I don't believe he would go if you told him to, even if you could do such a thing, which I don't believe you would, for, of course, you would think of me as well as of him."
"Olive Asher," cried Mrs. Easterfield in a voice which was almost a wail, "do you mean to say that you are to be considered in this matter, that for a moment you think of marrying this man?"
"Yes," said Olive; "I do think of it, and the more I think of it the better I think of it. He is a good man; you have told me that yourself; and I can feel that he is good. I know he loves me. There can be no mistake about his words and his eyes. I feel as I never felt toward any other man, that I might become attached to him. And in my opinion a real attachment is the foundation of love, and you must never forget that I once loved him." The girl now stepped close to Mrs. Easterfield. "I am sorry to see those tears," she said; "I did not come here to make you unhappy."
"But you have made me very unhappy," said the elder lady, "and I do not think I can talk any more about this now."
When Olive had gone Mrs. Easterfield hurried down-stairs in search of Lancaster. She did not care what any one might think of her unconventional eagerness; she wanted to find him, and she soon succeeded. He was sitting in the shade with a book, which, when she approached him, she did not believe he was reading.
"Yes," said she, as he started to his feet in evident concern, "I have been crying, and there is no use in trying to conceal it. Of course, it is about Olive, but I can not confide in you now, and I do not know that I have any right to do so, anyway. But I came here to beg you most earnestly not to propose to Miss Asher, no matter how good an opportunity you may have, no matter how much you want to do so, no matter how much hope may spring up in your heart."
"Do you mean," said Dick, "that I must never speak to her? Am I too late? Is she lost to me?"
"Not at all," said she, "you are not too late, but you may be too early. She is not lost to anybody, but if you should speak to her before I tell you to she will certainly be lost to you."
Mr. Locker determines to rush the Enemy's Position.
The party at Broadstone was not in what might be called a congenial condition. There were among them elements of unrest which prevented that assimilation which is necessary to social enjoyment. Even the ordinarily placid Mr. Fox was dissatisfied. The trouble with him was—although he did not admit it—that he missed the company of Miss Asher. He had found her most agreeable and inspiriting, but now things had changed, and he did not seem to have any opportunity for the lively chats of a few days before. He remarked to his wife that he thought Broadstone was getting very dull, and he should be rather glad when the time came for them to leave. Mrs. Fox was not of his opinion; she enjoyed the state of affairs more than she had done when her husband had been better pleased. There was something going on which she did not understand, and she wanted to find out what it was. It concerned Miss Asher and one of the young men, but which one she could not decide. In any case it troubled Mrs. Easterfield, and that was interesting.
Claude Locker seemed to be a changed man; he no longer made jokes or performed absurdities. He had become wonderfully vigilant, and seemed to be one who continually bided his time. He bided it so much that he was of very little use as a member of the social circle.
Mr. Du Brant was also biding his time, but he did not make the fact evident. He was very vigilant also, but was very quiet, and kept himself in the background. He had seen Olive and Mr. Hemphill go out in the boat, but he determined totally to ignore that interesting occurrence. The moment he had an opportunity he would speak to Olive again, and the existence of other people did not concern him.
Mr. Hemphill was walking by the river; Olive had not allowed him to come to the house with her, for his face was so radiant with the ecstasy of not having been discarded by her that she did not wish him to be seen. From her window Mrs. Easterfield saw this young man on his return from his promenade, and she knew it would not be many minutes before he would reach the house. She also saw the diplomat, who was glaring across the grounds at some one, probably Mr. Locker, who, not unlikely, was glaring back at him. She had come up-stairs to do some writing, but now she put down her pen and called to her secretary.
"Miss Raleigh," said she, "it has been a good while since you have done anything for me."
"Indeed it has," said the other with a sigh.
"But I want you to do something this minute. It is strictly confidential business. I want you to go down on the lawn, or any other place where Miss Asher may be, and make yourself mal a propos. I am busy now, but I will relieve you before very long. Can you do that? Do you understand?"
The aspect of the secretary underwent a total change. From a dull, heavy-eyed woman she became an intent, an eager emissary. Her hands trembled with the intensity of her desire to meddle with the affairs of others.
"Of course I understand," she exclaimed, "and I can do it. You mean you don't want any of those young men to get a chance to speak to Miss Asher. Do you include Mr. Lancaster? Or shall I only keep off the others?"
"I include all of them," said Mrs. Easterfield. "Don't let any of them have a chance to speak to her until I can come down. And hurry! Here is one coming now."
Hurrying down-stairs, the secretary glanced into the library. There she saw Mrs. Fox in one armchair, and Olive in another, both reading. In the hall were the two little girls, busily engaged in harnessing two small chairs to a large armchair by means of a ball of pink yarn. Outside, about a hundred yards away, she saw Mr. Hemphill irresolutely approaching the house. Miss Raleigh's mind, frequently dormant, was very brisk and lively when she had occasion to waken it. She made a dive toward the children.
"Dear little ones," she cried, "don't you want to come out under the trees and have the good Mr. Hemphill tell you a story? I know he wants to tell you one, and it is about a witch and two pussy-cats and a kangaroo. Come along. He is out there waiting for us." Down dropped the ball of yarn, and with exultant cries each little girl seized an outstretched hand of the secretary, and together they ran over the grass to meet the good Mr. Hemphill.
Of course he was obliged to want to tell them a story; they expected it of him, and they were his employer's children. To be sure he had on mind something very practical and sensible he wished to say to Miss Olive, which had come to him during his solitary walk, and which he did not believe she would object to hearing, although he had said so much to her quite recently. As soon as he should begin to speak she would know that this was something she ought to know. It was about his mother, who had an income of her own, and did not in the least depend upon her son. Miss Olive would certainly agree with him that it was proper for him to tell her this.
But the little girls seized his hands and led him away to a bench, where, having seated him almost forcibly, each climbed upon a knee. The good Mr. Hemphill sent a furtive glare after Miss Raleigh, who, with that smile of gentle gratification which comes to one after having just done a good deed to another, sauntered slowly away.
"Don't come back again," cried out the older of the little girls. "He was put out in the last story, and we want this to be a long one. And remember, Mr, Rupert, it is to be about a witch and two pussy-cats—"
"And a kangaroo," added the other.
At the front door the secretary met Miss Asher, just emerging. "Isn't that a pretty picture" she said, pointing to the group under the trees.
Olive looked at them and smiled. "It is beautiful," she said; "a regular family composition. I wish I had a kodak."
"Oh, that would never do!" exclaimed Miss Raleigh. "He is just as sensitive as he can be, and, of course, it's natural. And the dear little things are so glad to get him to themselves so that they can have one of the long, long stories they like so much. May I ask what that is you are working, Miss Asher?"
"It is going to be what they call a nucleus," said Olive, showing a little piece of fancy work. "You first crochet this, and then its ultimate character depends on what you may put around it. It may be a shawl, or a table cover, or even an apron, if you like crocheted aprons. I learned the stitch last winter. Would you like me to show it to you?"
"I should like it above all things," said the secretary. And together they walked to a rustic bench quite away from the story-telling group. "So far I have done nothing but nucleuses," said Olive, as they sat down. "I put them away when they are finished, and then I suppose some time I shall take up one and make it into something."
"Like those pastry shells," said Miss Raleigh, "which can be laid away and which you can fill up with preserves or jam whenever you want a pie. How many of these have you, Miss Asher?"
"When this is finished there will be four," said Olive.
At some distance, and near the garden, Dick Lancaster, strolling eastward, encountered Claude Locker, strolling westward.
"Hello!" cried Locker. "I am glad to see you. Brought your baggage with you this time, I see. That means you are going to stay, of course."
"A couple of days," replied Dick.
"Well, a man can do a lot in that time, and you may have something to do, but I am not sure. No, sir," continued Locker, "I am not sure. I am on the point of making a demonstration in force. But the enemy is always presenting some new force. By enemy you understand me to mean that which I adore above all else in the world, but which must be attacked, and that right soon if her defenses are to be carried. Step this way a little, and look over there. Do you see that Raleigh woman sitting on a bench with her? Well, now, if I had not had such a beastly generous disposition I might be sitting on that bench this minute. I was deceived by a feint of the opposing forces this morning. I don't mean she deceived me. I did it myself. Although I had the right by treaty to march in upon her, I myself offered to establish a truce in order that she might bury her dead. I did not know who had been killed, but it looked as if there were losses of some kind. But it was a false alarm. The dead must have turned up only missing, and she was as lively as a cricket at luncheon, and went out in a boat with that tailor's model—sixteen dollars and forty-eight cents for the entire suit ready-made; or twenty-three dollars made to order."
Dick smiled a little, but his soul rebelled within him. He regretted that he had given his promise to Mrs. Easterfield. What he wanted to do that moment was to go over to Captain Asher's niece and ask her to take a walk with him. What other man had a better right to speak to her than he had? But he respected his word; it would be very hard to break a promise made to Mrs. Easterfield; and he stood with his hands in his pockets, and his brows knit.
"Now, I tell you what I am going to do," said Locker. "I am going to wait a little while—a very little while—and then I shall bounce over my earthworks, and rush her position. It is the only way to do it, and I shall be up and at her with cold steel. And now I will tell you what you must do. Just you hold yourself in reserve; and, if I am routed, you charge. You'd better do it if you know what's good for you, for that Austrian's over there pulverizing his teeth and swearing in French because that Raleigh woman doesn't get up and go. Now, I won't keep you any longer, but don't go far away. I can't talk any more, for I've got to have every eye fixed upon the point of attack."
Dick looked at the animated face of his companion, and began to ask himself if the moment had not arrived when even a promise made to Mrs. Easterfield might be disregarded. Should he consent to allow his fate to depend upon the fortunes of Mr. Locker? He scorned the notion. It would be impossible for the girl who had talked so sweetly, so earnestly, so straight from her heart, when he had met her on the shunpike, to marry such a mountebank as this fellow, generous as he might be with that which could never belong to him. As to the diplomat, he did not condescend to bestow a thought upon such a black-pointed little foreigner.
Miss Raleigh enjoys a Rare Privilege.
Miss Raleigh was very attentive to the instructions given her by Miss Asher, and while she exhibited the fashion of the new stitch Olive reflected.
"I wonder," she said to herself, "if Mrs. Easterfield has done this. It looks very much like it, and if she did I am truly obliged to her. There is nothing I want so much now as a rest, and I didn't want to stay in the house either. Miss Raleigh," said she, suddenly changing the subject, "were you ever in love?"
The secretary started. "What do you mean by that?" she asked.
"I don't mean anything," said Olive. "I simply wanted to know."
"It is a queer question," said Miss Raleigh, her face changing to another shade of sallowness.
"I know that," said Olive quickly, "but the answers to queer questions are always so much more interesting than those to any others. Don't you think so?"
"Yes, they are," said Miss Raleigh thoughtfully, "but they are generally awfully hard to get. I have tried it myself."
"Then you ought to have a fellow feeling for me," said Olive.
"Well," said the other, looking steadfastly at her companion, "if you will promise to keep it all to yourself forever, I don't mind telling you that I was once in love. Would you like me to tell you who I was in love with?"
"Yes," said Olive, "if you are willing to tell me."
"Oh, I am perfectly willing," said the secretary. "It was Mr. Hemphill."
Olive turned suddenly and looked at her in amazement.
"Yes, it was Mr. Hemphill over there," said the other, speaking very tranquilly, as if the subject were of no importance. "You see, I have been living with the Easterfields for a long time, and in the winter we see a good deal of Mr. Hemphill. He has to come to the house on business, and often takes meals. He is Mr. Easterfield's private and confidential secretary. And, somehow or other, seeing him so often, and sometimes being his partner at cards when two were needed to make up a game, I forgot that I was older than he, and I actually fell in love with him. You see he has a good heart, Miss Asher; anybody could tell that from his way with children; and I have noticed that bachelors are often nicer with children than fathers are."
"And he?" asked Olive.
Miss Raleigh laughed a little laugh. "Oh, I did all the loving," she answered. "He never reciprocated the least little bit, and I often wondered why I adored him as much as I did. He was handsome, and he was good, and he had excellent taste; he was thoroughly trustworthy in his relations to the family, and I believe he would be equally so in all relations of life; but all that did not account for my unconquerable ardor, which was caused by a certain something which you know, Miss Asher, we can't explain."
Olive tried hard not to allow any emotion to show itself in her face, but she did not altogether succeed. "And you still—" said she.
"No, I don't," interrupted Miss Raleigh. "I love him no longer. There came a time when all my fire froze. I discovered that there was—"
"I say, Miss Asher—" it was the voice of Claude Locker.
Olive looked around at him. "Well?" said she.
"Perhaps you have not noticed," said he, "that the tennis ground is now in the shade, and if you don't mind walking that way—" He said a good deal more which Miss Raleigh did not believe, understanding the young man thoroughly, and which Olive did not hear. Her mind was very busy with what she had just heard, which made a great impression on her. She did not know whether she was affronted, or hurt, or merely startled.
Here was a man who loved her, a man she had loved, and one about whom she had been questioning herself as to the possibility of her loving him again. And here was a woman, a dyspeptic, unwholesome spinster, who had just said she had loved him. If Miss Raleigh had loved this man, how could she, Olive, love him? There was something repugnant about it which she did not attempt to understand. It went beyond reason. She felt it to be an actual relief to look up at Claude Locker, and to listen to what he was saying.
"You mean," said she presently, "that you would like Miss Raleigh and me to come with you and play tennis."
"I did not know Miss Raleigh played," he answered, "but I thought perhaps—"
"Oh, no," said Olive. "I would not think of such a thing. In fact, Miss Raleigh and I are engaged. We are very busy about some important work."
Mr. Locker gazed at the crocheted nucleus with an air of the loftiest disdain. "Of course, of course," said he, "but you really oblige me, Miss Asher, to speak very plainly and frankly and to say that I really do not care about playing tennis, but that I want to speak to you on a most important subject, which, for reasons that I will explain, must be spoken of immediately. So, if Miss Raleigh will be kind enough to postpone the little matter you have on hand—"
Olive smiled and shook her head. "No, indeed, sir," she said; "I would not hurt a lady's feelings in that way, and moreover, I would not allow her to hurt her own feelings. It would hurt your feelings, Miss Raleigh, wouldn't it, to be sent away like a child who is not wanted?"
"Yes," said the secretary, "I think it would."
Mr. Locker listened in amazement. He had not thought the mature maiden had the nerve to say that.
"Then again," said Olive, "this isn't the time for you to talk business with me, and you should not disturb me at this hour."
"Oh," said Locker, bringing down the forefinger of his right hand upon the palm of his left, "that is a point, a very essential point. I voluntarily surrendered the period of discourse which you assigned to me for a reason which I now believe did not exist, and this is only an assertion of the rights vested in me by you."
Miss Raleigh listened very attentively to these remarks, but could not imagine what they meant.
Olive looked at him graciously. "Yes," she said, "you are very generous, but your period for discourse, as you call it, will have to be postponed."
"But it can't be postponed," he answered. "If I could see you alone I could soon explain that to you. There are certain reasons why I must speak now."
"I can't help it," said Olive. "I am not going to leave Miss Raleigh, and I am sure she does not want to leave me, so if you are obliged to speak you must speak before her."
Mr. Locker gazed from one to the other of the two ladies who sat before him; each of them wore a gentle but determined expression. He addressed the secretary.
"Miss Raleigh," said he, "if you understood the reason for my strong desire to speak in private with Miss Asher, perhaps you would respect it and give me the opportunity I ask for. I am here to make a proposition of marriage to this lady, and it is absolutely necessary that I make it without loss of time. Do you desire me to make it in your presence?"
"I should like it very much," said Miss Raleigh.
Mr. Locker gave her a look of despair, and turned to Olive. "Would you permit that?" he asked.
"If it is absolutely necessary," she said, "I suppose I shall have to permit it."
Mr. Locker had the soul of a lion in his somewhat circumscribed body, and he was not to be recklessly dared to action.
"Very well, then," said he, "I shall proceed as if we were alone, and I hope, Miss Raleigh, you will at least see fit to consider yourself in a strictly confidential position."
"Indeed I shall," she replied; "not one word shall ever—"
"I hope not," interrupted Claude, "and I will add that if I should ever be accidentally present when a gentleman is about to propose to you, Miss Raleigh, I shall heap coals of fire upon your head by instantaneously withdrawing."
The secretary was about to thank him, but Olive interrupted. "Now, Claude Locker," said she, "what can you possibly have to say to me that you have not said before?"
"A good deal, Miss Asher, a good deal, although I don't wonder you suppose that no man could say more to you of his undying affection than I have already said. But, since I last spoke on the subject, I have been greatly impressed by the fact that I have not said enough about myself; that I have not made you understand me as I really am. I know very well that most people, and I suppose that at some time you have been among them, look upon me as a very frivolous young man, and not one to whom the right sort of a girl should give herself in marriage. But that is a mistake. I am as much to be depended upon as anybody you ever met. My apparently whimsical aspect is merely the outside—my shell, marked off in queer designs with variegated colors—but within that shell I am as domestic, as sober, and as surely to be found where I am expected to be as any turtle. This may seem a queer figure, but it strikes me as a very good one. When I am wanted I am there. You can always depend upon me."
There was not a smile upon the face of either woman as he spoke. They were listening earnestly, and with the deepest interest. Miss Raleigh's eyes sparkled, and Olive seemed to be most seriously considering this new aspect in which Mr. Locker was endeavoring to place himself.
"Perhaps you may think," Claude continued, "that you would not desire turtle-like qualities in a husband, you who are so bright, so bounding, so much like a hare, but I assure you, that is just the companion who would suit you. All day you might skip among the flowers, and in the fields, and wherever you were, you would always know where I was—making a steady bee-line for home; and you would know that I would be there to welcome you when you arrived."
"That is very pretty!" said Miss Raleigh. And then she quickly added: "Excuse me for making a remark."
"Now, Miss Asher," continued Locker, "I have tried, very imperfectly, I know, to make you see me as I really am, and I do hope you can put an end to this suspense which is keeping me in a nervous tingle. I can not sleep at night, and all day I am thinking what you will say when you do decide. You need not be afraid to speak out before Miss Raleigh. She is in with us now, and she can't get out. I would not press you for an answer at this moment, but there are reasons which I can not say anything about without meddling with other people's business. But my business with you is the happiness of my life, and I feel that I can not longer endure having it momentarily jeopardized."
At the conclusion of this speech a faint color actually stole into Miss Raleigh's face, and she clasped her thin hands in the intensity of her approval.
"Mr. Locker," said Olive, speaking very pleasantly, "if you had come to me to-day and had asked me for a decision based upon what you had already said to me, I think I might have settled the matter. But after what you have just told me, I can not answer you now. You give me things to think about, and I must wait."
"Heavens" exclaimed Mr. Locker, clasping his hands. "Am I not yet to know whether I am to rise into paradise, or to sink into the infernal regions?"
Olive smiled. "Don't do either, Mr. Locker," she said. "This earth is a very pleasant place. Stay where you are."
He folded his arms and gazed at her. "It is a pleasant place," said he, "and I am mighty glad I got in my few remarks before you made your decision. I leave my love with you on approbation, and you may be sure I shall come to-morrow before luncheon to hear what you say about it."
"I shall expect you," said Olive. And as she spoke her eyes were full of kind consideration.
"Now, that's genuine," said Miss Raleigh, when Locker had departed. "If he had not felt every word he said he could not have said it before me."
"No doubt you are right," said Olive. "He is very brave. And now you see this new line, which begins an entirely different kind of stitch!"
In the middle distance Mr. Du Brant still strolled backward and forward, pulverizing his teeth and swearing in French. He seldom removed his eyes from Miss Asher, but still she sat on that bench and crocheted, and talked, and talked, and crocheted, with that everlasting Miss Raleigh! He had seen Locker with her, and he had seen him go; and now he hoped that the woman would soon depart. Then it would be his chance.
The young Austrian had become most eager to make Olive his wife. He earnestly loved her; and, beyond that, he had come to see that a marriage with her would be most advantageous to his prospects. This beautiful and brilliant American girl, familiar with foreign life and foreign countries, would give him a position in diplomatic society which would be most desirable. She might not bring him much money; although he believed that all American girls had some money; but she would bring him favor, distinction, and, most likely, advancement. With such a wife he would be a welcome envoy at any court. And, besides, he loved her. But, alas, Miss Raleigh would not go away.
About half an hour after Claude Locker left Olive he encountered Dick Lancaster.
"Well," said he, "I charged. I was not routed, I can't say that I was even repulsed. But I was obliged to withdraw my forces. I shall go into camp, and renew the attack to-morrow. So, my friend, you will have to wait. I wish I could say that there is no use of your waiting, but I am a truthful person and can't do that."
Lancaster was not pleased. "It seems to me," he said, "that you trifle with the most important affairs of life."
"Trifle!" exclaimed Locker. "Would you call it trifling if I fail, and then to save her from a worse fate, were to back you up with all my heart and soul?"
Dick could not help smiling. "By a worse fate," he said, "I suppose you mean—"
"The Austrian," interrupted Locker. "Mrs. Easterfield has told me something about him. He may have a title some day, and he is about as dangerous as they make them. Instead of accusing me of trifling, you ought to go down on your knees and thank me for still standing between him and her."
"That is a duty I would like to perform myself," said Dick.
"Perhaps you may have a chance," sighed Locker, "but I most earnestly hope not. Look over there at that he-nurse. Those children have made him take them walking, and he is just coming back to the house."
The Conflicting Serenades.
Mrs. Easterfield worked steadily at her letter, feeling confident all the time that her secretary was attending conscientiously to the task which had been assigned to her, and which could not fail to be a most congenial one. One of the greatest joys of Miss Raleigh's life was to interfere in other people's business; and to do it under approval and with the feeling that it was her duty was a rare joy.
The letter was to her husband, and Mrs. Easterfield was writing it because she was greatly troubled, and even frightened. In the indulgence of a good-humored and romantic curiosity to know whether or not a grown-up young woman would return to a sentimental attachment of her girlhood, she had brought her husband's secretary to the house with consequences which were appalling. If this navy girl she had on hand had been a mere flirt, Mrs. Easterfield, an experienced woman of society, might not have been very much troubled, but Olive seemed to her to be much more than a flirt; she would trifle until she made up her mind, but when she should come to a decision Mrs. Easterfield believed she would act fairly and squarely. She wanted to marry; and, in her heart, Mrs. Easterfield commended her; without a mother; now more than ever without a father; her only near relative about to marry a woman who was certainly a most undesirable connection; Olive was surely right in wishing to settle in life. And, if piqued and affronted by her father's intended marriage, she wished immediately to declare her independence, the girl could not be blamed. And, from what she had said of Mr. Hemphill, Mrs. Easterfield could not in her own mind dissent. He was a good young man; he had an excellent position; he fervently loved Olive; she had loved him, and might do it again. What was there to which she could object? Only this: it angered and frightened her to think of Olive Asher throwing herself away upon Rupert Hemphill. So she wrote a very strong letter to her husband, representing to him that the danger was very great and imminent, and that he was needed at Broadstone just as soon as he could get there. Business could be set aside; his wife's happiness was at stake; for if this unfortunate match should be made, it would be her doing, and it would cloud her whole life. Of herself she did not know what to do, and if she had known, she could not have done it. But if he came he would not only know everything, but could do anything. This indicated her general opinion of Mr. Tom Easterfield.
"Now," said she to herself, as she fixed an immediate-delivery stamp upon the letter, "that ought to bring him here before lunch to-morrow."
When Olive saw fit to go to her room Miss Raleigh felt relieved from guard, and went to Mrs. Easterfield to report. She told that lady everything that had happened, even including her own emotions at various points of the interview. The amazed Mrs. Easterfield listened with the greatest interest.
"I knew Claude Locker was capable of almost any wild proceeding," she said, "but I did not think he would do that!"
"There is one thing I forgot," said the secretary, "and that is that I promised Mr. Locker not to mention a word of what happened."
"I am very glad," replied Mrs. Easterfield, "that you remembered that promise after you told me everything, and not before. You have done admirably so far."
"And if I have any other opportunities of interpolating myself, so to speak," said Miss Raleigh, "shall I embrace them?"
Mrs. Easterfield laughed. "I don't want you to be too obviously zealous," she answered. "I think for the present we may relax our efforts to relieve Miss Asher of annoyance." Mrs. Easterfield believed this. She had faith in Olive; and if that young woman had promised to give Claude Locker another hearing the next day she did not believe that the girl would give anybody else a positive answer before that time.
Miss Raleigh went away not altogether satisfied. She did not believe in relaxed vigilance; for one thing, it was not interesting.
Olive was surprised when she found that Mr. Lancaster was to stay to dinner, and afterward when she was informed that he had been invited to spend a few days, she reflected. It looked like some sort of a plan, and what did Mrs. Easterfield mean by it? She knew the lady of the house had a very good opinion of the young professor, and that might explain the invitation at this particular moment, but still it did look like a plan, and as Olive had no sympathy with plans of this sort she determined not to trouble her head about it. And to show her non-concern, she was very gracious to Mr. Lancaster, and received her reward in an extremely interesting conversation.
Still Olive reflected, and was not in her usual lively spirits. Mr. Fox said to Mrs. Fox that it was an abominable shame to allow a crowd of incongruous young men to swarm in upon a country house party, and interfere seriously with the pleasures of intelligent and self-respecting people.
That night, after Mrs. Easterfield had gone to bed, and before she slept, she heard something which instantly excited her attention; it was the sound of a guitar, and it came from the lawn in front of the house. Jumping up, and throwing a dressing-gown about her, she cautiously approached the open window. But the night was dark, and she could see nothing. Pushing an armchair to one side of the window, she seated herself, and listened. Words now began to mingle with the music, and these words were French. Now she understood everything perfectly. Mr. Du Brant was a musician, and had helped himself to the guitar in the library.
From the position in which she sat Mrs. Easterfield could look upon a second-story window in a projecting wing of the house, and upon this window, which belonged to Olive's room, and which was barely perceptible in the gloom, she now fixed her eyes. The song and the thrumming went on, but no signs of life could be seen in the black square of that open window.
Mrs. Easterfield was not a bad French scholar, and she caught enough of the meaning of the words to understand that they belonged to a very pretty love song in which the flowers looked up to the sky to see if it were blue, because they knew if it were the fair one smiled, and then their tender buds might ope; and, if she smiled, his heart implored that she might smile on him. There was a second verse, much resembling the first, except that the flowers feared that clouds might sweep the sky; and they lamented accordingly.
Now, Mrs. Easterfield imagined that she saw something white in the depths of the darkness of Olive's room, but it did not come to the front, and she was very uncertain about it. Suddenly, however, something happened about which she could not be in the least uncertain. Above Olive's room was a chamber appropriated to the use of bachelor visitors, and from the window of this room now burst upon the night a wild, unearthly chant. It was a song with words but without music, and the voice in which it was shot out into the darkness was harsh, was shrill, was insolently blatant. And thus the clamorous singer sang:
"My angel maid—ahoy! If aught should you annoy, By act or sound, From sky or ground, I then pray thee To call on me My angel maid—ahoy, My ange—my ange—l maid Ahoy! Ahoy! Ahoy!"
The music of the guitar now ceased, and no French words were heard. No ditty of Latin origin, be it ever so melodious and fervid, could stand against such a wild storm of Anglo-Saxon vociferation. Every ahoy rang out as if sea captains were hailing each other in a gale!
"What lungs he has" thought Mrs. Easterfield, as she put her hand over her mouth so that no one should hear her laugh. At the open window, at which she still steadily gazed, she now felt sure she saw something white which moved, but it did not come to the front.
A wave of half-smothered objurgation now rolled up from below; it was not to be readily caught, but its tone indicated rage and disappointment. But the guitar had ceased to sound, and the French love song was heard no more. A little irrepressible laugh came from somewhere, but who heard it beside herself Mrs. Easterfield could not know. Then all was still, and the insects of the night, and the tree frogs, had the stage to themselves.
Early in the morning Miss Raleigh presented herself before Mrs. Easterfield to make a report. "There was a serenade last night," she said, "not far from Miss Asher's window. In fact, there were two, but one of them came from Mr. Locker's room, and was simply awful. Mr. Du Brant was the gentleman who sang from the lawn, and I was very sorry when he felt himself obliged to stop. I do not think very much of him, but he certainly has a pleasant voice, and plays well on the guitar. I think he must have been a good deal cut up by being interrupted in that dreadful way, for he grumbled and growled, and did not go into the house for some time. I am sure he would have been very glad to fight if any one had come down."
"You mean," said Mrs. Easterfield, "if Mr. Locker had come."
"Well," said the secretary, "if Mr. Hemphill had appeared I have no doubt he would have answered. Mr. Du Brant seemed to me ready to fight anybody."
"How do you know so much about him?" asked Mrs. Easterfield. "And why did you think of Mr. Hemphill?"
"Oh, he was looking out of his window," said Miss Raleigh. "He could not see, but he could hear."
"I ask you again," said Mrs. Easterfield, "how do you know all this?"
"Oh, I had not gone to bed, and, at the first sound of the guitar, I slipped on a waterproof with a hood, and went out. Of course, I wanted to know everything that was happening."
"I had not the least idea you were such an energetic person," remarked Mrs. Easterfield, "and I think you were entirely too rash. But how about Mr. Lancaster? Do you know if he was listening?"
Miss Raleigh stood silent for a moment, then she exclaimed: "There now, it is too bad! I entirely forgot him! I have not the slightest idea whether he was asleep or awake, and it would have been just as easy—"
"Well, you need not regret it," said Mrs. Easterfield. "I think you did quite enough, and if anything of the kind occurs again I positively forbid you to go out of the house."
"There is one thing we've got to look after," said Miss Raleigh, without heeding the last remark, "this may result in bloodshed."
"Nonsense," said Mrs. Easterfield; "nothing of that kind is to be feared from the gentlemen who visit Broadstone."
"Still," said Miss Raleigh, "don't you think it would be well for me to keep an eye on them?"
"Oh, you may keep both eyes on them if you want to," said Mrs. Easterfield. Then she began to talk about something else, but, although she dismissed the matter so lightly, she was very glad at heart that she had sent for her husband. Things were getting themselves into unpleasant complications, and she needed Tom.
There was a certain constraint at the breakfast table. Mr. Fox had heard the serenades, although his consort had slept soundly through the turmoil; and, while carefully avoiding any reference to the incidents of the night, he was anxiously hoping that somebody would say something about them. Mrs. Easterfield saw that Mr. Du Brant was in a bad humor, and she hoped he was angry enough to announce his early departure. But he contented himself with being angry, and said nothing about going away.
Mr. Hemphill was serious, and looked often in the direction of Olive. As for Dick Lancaster, Miss Raleigh, whose eye was fixed upon him whenever it could be spared from the exigencies of her meal, decided that if there should be a fight he would be one of the fighters; his brow was dark and his glance was sharp; in fact, she was of the opinion that he glared. Claude Locker did not come to breakfast until nearly everybody had finished. His dreams had been so pleasant that he had overslept himself.
In the eyes of Mrs. Easterfield Olive's conduct was positively charming. No one could have supposed that during the night she had heard anything louder than the ripple of the river. She talked more to Mr. Du Brant than to any one else, although she managed to draw most of the others into the conversation; and, with the assistance of the hostess, who gave her most good-humored help, the talk never flagged, although it did not become of the slightest interest to any one who engaged in it. They were all thinking about the conflict of serenades, and what might happen next.
Shortly after breakfast Miss Raleigh came to Mrs. Easterfield. "Mr. Du Brant is with her," she said quickly, "and they are walking away. Shall I interpolate?"
"No," said the other with a smile, "you can let them alone. Nothing will happen this morning, unless, indeed, he should come to ask for a carriage to take him to the station."
Mrs. Easterfield was busy in her garden when Dick Lancaster came to her. "What a wonderfully determined expression you have!" said she. "You look as if you were going to jump on a street-car without stopping it!"
"You are right," said he, "I am determined, and I came to tell you so. I can't stand this sort of thing any longer. I feel like a child who is told he must eat at the second table, and who can not get his meals until every one else is finished."
"And I suppose," she said, "you feel there will be nothing left for you."
"That is it," he answered, "and I don't want to wait. My soul rebels! I can't stand it!"
"Therefore," she said, "you wish to appear before the meal is ready, and in that case you will get nothing." He looked at her inquiringly. "I mean," said she, "that if you propose to Miss Asher now you will be before your time, and she will decline your proposition without the slightest hesitation."
"I do not quite understand that," said Dick. "Would she decline all others?"
"I am afraid not."
"But why do you except me?" asked Dick. "Surely she is not engaged. I know you would tell me at once if that were so."
"It is not so," said Mrs. Easterfield.
"Then I shall take my chances. With all this serenading and love-making going on around me and around the woman I love with all my heart. I can not stand and wait until I am told my time has come. The intensity and the ardor of my feelings for her give me the right to speak to her. Unless I know that some one else has stepped in before me and taken the place I crave, I have decided to speak to her just as soon as I can. But I thought it was due to you to come first and tell you."
"Mr. Lancaster," said Mrs. Easterfield, speaking very quietly, "if you decide to go to Miss Asher and ask her to marry you, I know you will do it, for I believe you are a man who keeps his word to himself, but I assure you that if you do it you will never marry her. So you really need not bother yourself about going to her; you can simply decide to do it, and that will be quite sufficient; and you can stay here and hold these long-stemmed dahlias for me as I cut them."
A troubled wistfulness showed itself upon the young man's face. "You speak so confidently," he said, "that I almost feel I ought to believe you. Why do you tell me that I am the only one of her suitors who would certainly be rejected if he offered himself?"
Mrs. Easterfield dropped the long-stemmed dahlias she had been holding; and, turning her eyes full upon Lancaster, she said, "Because you are the only one of them toward whom she has no predilections whatever. More than that, you are the only one toward whom she has a positive objection. You are the only one who is an intimate friend of her uncle, and who would be likely, by means of that intimate friendship, to bring her into connection with the woman she hates, as well as with a relative she despises on account of his intended marriage with that woman."
"All that should not count at all," cried Dick. "In such a matter as this I have nothing to do with Captain Asher! I stand for myself and speak for myself. What is his intended wife to me? Or what should she be to her?"
"Of course," said Mrs. Easterfield, "all that would not count at all if Olive Asher loved you. But you see she doesn't. I have had it from her own lips that her uncle's intended marriage is, and must always be, an effectual barrier between you and her."
"What" cried Dick. "Have you spoken to her of me? And in that way?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Easterfield, "I have. I did not intend to tell you, but you have forced me to do it. You see, she is a young woman of extraordinary good sense. She believes she ought to marry, and she is going to try to make the very best marriage that she possibly can. She has suitors who have very strong claims upon her consideration—I am not going to tell you those claims, but I know them. Now, you have no claim—special claim, I mean—but for all this, I believe, as I have told you before, that you are the man she ought to marry, and I have been doing everything I can to make her cease considering them, and to consider you. And this is the way she came to give me her reasons for not considering you at all. Now the state of the case is plain before you."
Dick bowed his head and fixed his eyes upon the dahlias on the ground.
"Don't tread on the poor things," she said, "and don't despair. All you have to do is to let me put a curbed bit on you, and for you to consent to wear it for a little while. See," said she, moving her hands in the air, as if they were engaged upon the bridle of a horse, "I fasten this chain rather closely, and buckle the ends of the reins in the lowest curb. Now, you must have a steady hand and a resolute will until the time comes when the curb is no longer needed."
"And do you believe that time will come?" he asked.
"It will come," she said, "when two things happen; when she has reason to love you, and has no reason to object to you; and, in my opinion, that happy combination may arrive if you act sensibly."
"But—" said Dick.
At this moment a quick step was heard on the garden-path and they both turned. It was Olive.
"Mr. Lancaster," she cried, "I want you; that is, if Mrs. Easterfield can spare you. We are making up a game of tennis. Mr. Du Brant and Mr. Hemphill are there, but I can not find Mr. Locker."
Mrs. Easterfield could spare him, and Dick Lancaster, with the curbed chain pressing him very hard, walked away with Olive Asher.
The Captain and Maria.
When the captain drove into Glenford on the day when his mind had been so much disturbed by Dick Lancaster's questions regarding a marriage between him and Maria Port, he stopped at no place of business, he turned not to the right nor to the left, but went directly to the house of his old friend with whom he had spent the night before.
Mr. Simeon Port was sitting on his front porch, reading his newspaper. He looked up, surprised to see the captain again so soon.
"Simeon," said the captain, "I want to see Maria. I have something to say to her."
The old man laid down his newspaper. "Serious?" said he.
"Yes, serious," was the answer, "and I want to see her now."
Mr. Port reflected for a moment. "Captain," said he, "do you believe you have thought about this as much as you ought to?"
"Yes, I have," replied the captain; "I've thought just as much as I ought to. Is she in the house?"
Mr. Port did not answer. "Captain John," said he presently, "Maria isn't young, that's plain enough, considerin' my age; but she never does seem to me as if she'd growed up. When she was a girl she had ways of her own, and she could make water bile quick, and now she can make it bile just as quick as ever she did, and perhaps quicker. She's not much on mindin' the helm, Captain John, and there're other things about her that wouldn't be attractive to husbands when they come to find them out. And if I was you I'd take my time."
"That's just what I intend to do," said the captain. "This is my time, and I am going to take it."
Miss Port, who was busy in the back part of the house, heard voices, and now came forward. She was wiping her hands upon her apron, and one of them she extended to the captain.
"I am glad to see you—John," she said, speaking in a very gentle voice, and hesitating a little at the last word.
The captain looked at her steadfastly, and then, without taking her hand, he said: "I want to speak to you by yourself. I'll go into the parlor."
She politely stepped back to let him pass her, and then her father turned quickly to her.
"Did you expect to see him back so soon?" he asked.
She smiled and looked down. "Oh, yes," said she, "I was sure he'd come back very soon."
The old man heaved a sigh, and returned to his paper.
Maria followed the captain. "John," said she, speaking in a low voice, "wouldn't you rather come into the dinin'-room? He's a little bit hard of hearin', but if you don't want him to hear anything he'll take in every word of it."
"Maria Port," said the captain, speaking in a strong, upper-deck voice, "what I have to say I'll say here. I don't want the people in the street to hear me, but if your father chooses to listen I would rather he did it than not."
She looked at him inquiringly. "Well," she answered, "I suppose he will have to hear it some time or other, and he might as well hear it now as not. He's all I've got in the world, and you know as well as I do that I run to tell him everything that happens to me as soon as it happens. Will you sit down?"
"No," said the captain, "I can speak better standing. Maria Port, I have found out that you have been trying to make people believe that I am engaged to marry you."
The smile did not leave Maria's face. "Well, ain't you?" said she.
A look of blank amazement appeared on the face of the captain, but it was quickly succeeded by the blackness of rage. He was about to swear, but restrained himself.
"Engaged to you?" he shouted, forgetting entirely the people in the street; "I'd rather be engaged to a fin-back shark!"
The smile now left her face. "Oh, thank you very much," she said. "And this is what you meant by your years of devotion! I held out for a long time, knowing the difference in our ages and the habits of sailors, and now—just when I make up my mind to give in, to think of my father and not of myself, and to sacrifice my feelin's so that he might always have one of his old friends near him, now that he's got too feeble to go out by himself, and at his age you know as well as I do he ought to have somebody near him besides me, for who can tell what may happen, or how sudden—you come and tell me you'd rather marry a fish. I suppose you've got somebody else in your mind, but that don't make no difference to me. I've got no fish to offer you, but I have myself that you've wanted so long, and which now you've got."
The angry captain opened his mouth to speak; he was about to ejaculate Woman! but his sense of propriety prevented this. He would not apply such an epithet to any one in the house of a friend. Wretch rose to his lips, but he would not use even that word; and he contented himself with: "You! You know just as well as you know you are standing there that I never had the least idea of marrying you. You know, too, that you have tried to make people think I had, people here in town and people out at my house, where you came over and over again pretending to want to talk about your father's health, when it did not need any more talking about than yours does. You know you have made trouble in my family; that you so disgusted my niece that she would not stop at my house, which had been the same thing as her home; you sickened my friends; and made my very servants ashamed of me; and all this because you want to marry a man who now despises you. I would have despised you long ago if I had seen through your tricks, but I didn't."
There was a smile on Miss Port's face now, but it was not such a smile as that with which she had greeted the captain; it was a diabolical grin, brightened by malice. "You are perfectly right," she said; "everybody knows we are engaged to be married, and what they think about it doesn't matter to me the snap of my finger. The people in town all know it and talk about it, and what's more, they've talked to me about it. That niece of your'n knows it, and that's the reason she won't come near you, and I'm sure I'm not sorry for that. As for that old thing that helps you at the toll-gate, and as for the young man that's spongin' on you, I've no doubt they've got a mighty poor opinion of you. And I've no doubt they're right. But all that matters nothin' to me. You're engaged to be married to me; you know it yourself; and everybody knows it; and what you've got to do is to marry, or pay. You hear what I say, and you know what I'm goin' to stick to."
It may be well for Captain Asher's reputation that he had no opportunity to answer Miss Port's remarks. At that instant Mr. Simeon Port appeared at the door which opened from the parlor on the piazza. He stepped quickly, his actions showing nothing of that decrepitude which his dutiful daughter had feared would prevent him from seeking the society of his friends. He fixed his eyes on his daughter and spoke in a loud, strong voice.
"Maria," said he, "go to bed! I've heard what you've been saying, and I'm ashamed of you. I've been ashamed of you before, but now it's worse than ever. Go to bed, I tell you! And this time, go!"
There was nothing in the world that Maria Port was afraid of except her father, and of him personally she had not the slightest dread. But of his dying without leaving her the whole of his fortune she had an abiding terror, which often kept her awake at night, and which sent a sickening thrill through her whenever a difficulty arose between her and her parent. She was quite sure what he would do if she should offend him sufficiently; he would leave her a small annuity, enough to support her; and the rest of his money would go to several institutions which she had heard him mention in this connection. If she could have married Captain Asher she would have felt a good deal safer; it would have taken much provocation to make her father leave his money out of the family if his old friend had been one of that family.
Now, when she heard her father's voice, and saw his dark eyes glittering at her, she knew she was in great danger, and the well-known chill ran through her. She made no answer; she cared not who was present; she thought of nothing but that those eyes must cease to glitter, and that angry voice must not be heard again. She turned and walked to her room, which was on the same floor, across the hall.
"And mind you go to bed!" shouted her father. "And do it regular. You're not to make believe to go to bed, and then get up and walk about as soon as my back is turned. I'm comin' in presently to see if you've obeyed me."
She answered not, but entered her room, and closed the door after her.
Mr. Port now turned to the captain. "I never could find out," he said, "where Maria got that mind of her'n. It isn't from my side, for my father and mother was as good people as ever lived, and it wasn't from her mother, for you knew her, and there wasn't anything of the kind about her."
"No," said Captain Asher, "not the least bit of it."
"It must have been from her grandmother Ellis," said the old man. "I never knew her, for she died before I was acquainted with the family, but I expect she died of deviltry. That's the only insight I can get into the reasons for Maria's havin' the mind she's got. But I tell you, Captain John, you've had a blessed escape! I didn't know she was in the habit of goin' out to your house so often. She didn't tell me that."
"Simeon," said the captain, "I think I will go now. I have had enough of Maria. I don't suppose I'll hear from her very soon again."
The old man smiled. "No," said he, "I don't think she'll want to trouble you any more."
Miss Port, whose ear was at the keyhole of her door not twelve feet away, grinned malignantly.
Soon after Captain Asher had gone Mr. Port walked to the door of his daughter's room, gave a little knock, and then opened the door a little.
"You are in bed, are you?" said he. "Well, that's good for you. Turn down that coverlid and let me see if you've got your nightclothes on." She obeyed. "Very well," he continued; "now you stay there until I tell you to get up."
Captain Asher went home, still in a very bad humor. He had ceased to be angry with Maria Port, he was done with her; and he let her pass out of his mind. But he was angry with other people, especially with Olive. She had allowed herself to have a most contemptuous opinion of him; she had treated him shamefully; and as he thought of her his indignation increased instead of diminishing. And young Lancaster had believed it! And old Jane! It was enough to make a stone slab angry, and the captain was not a stone slab.
Mr. Tom arrives at Broadstone.
After the conclusion of the game of tennis in which Olive and three of her lovers participated, Claude Locker, returning from a long walk, entered the grounds of Broadstone. He had absented himself from that hospitable domain for purposes of reflection, and also to avoid the company of Mr. Du Brant. Not that he was afraid of the diplomat, but because of the important interview appointed for the latter part of the morning. He very much wished that no unpleasantness of any kind should occur before the time for that interview.
Having found that he had given himself more time than was necessary for his reflections and his walk, he had rested in the shade of a tree and had written two poems. One of these was the serenade which he would have roared out on the night air on a very recent occasion if he had had time to prepare it. It was, in his opinion, far superior to the impromptu verses of which he had been obliged to make use, and it pleased him to think that if things should go well with him after the interview to which he was looking forward, he would read that serenade to its object, and ask her to substitute it in her memory for the inharmonic lines which he had used in order to smother the degenerate melody of a foreign lay. The other poem was intended for use in case his interview should not be successful. But on the way home Mr. Locker experienced an entire change of mind. He came to believe that it would be unwise for him to arrange to use either of those poems on that day. For all he knew, Miss Asher might like foreign degenerate lays, and she might be annoyed that he had interfered with one. He remembered that she had told him that if he had insisted on an immediate answer to his proposition it would have been very easy to give it to him. He realized what that meant; and, for all he knew, she might be quite as ready this morning to act with similar promptness. That Du Brant business might have settled her mind, and it would therefore be very well for him to be careful about what he did, and what he asked for.
About half an hour before luncheon, when he neared the house and perceived Miss Asher on the lawn, it seemed to him very much as if she were looking for him. This he did not like, and he hurried toward her.
"Miss Asher," said he, "I wish to propose an amendment."
"To what?" asked Olive. "But first tell me where you have been and what you have been doing? You are covered with dust, and look as hot as if you had been pulling the boat against the rapids. I have not seen you the whole morning."
"I have been walking," said he, "and thinking. It is dreadful hot work to think. That should be done only in winter weather."
"It would be a woeful thing to take a cold on the mind," said Olive.
"That is so!" he replied. "That is exactly what I am afraid of this morning, and that is the reason I want to propose my amendment. I beg most earnestly that you will not make this interview definitive. I am afraid if you do I may get chills in my mind, soul, and heart from which I shall never recover. I have an idea that the weather may not be as favorable as it was yesterday for the unveiling of tender emotions."
"Why so?" asked Olive.
"There are several reasons," returned Mr. Locker. "For one thing, that musical uproar last night. I have not heard anything about that, and I don't know where I stand."
Olive laughed. "It was splendid," said she. "I liked you a great deal better after that than I did before."
"Now tell me," he exclaimed hurriedly, "and please lose no time, for here comes a surrey from the station with a gentleman in it—do you like me enough better to give me a favorable answer, now, right here?"
"No," said Olive. "I do not feel warranted in being so precipitate as that."
"Then please say nothing on the subject," said Locker. "Please let us drop the whole matter for to-day. And may I assume that I am at liberty to take it up again to-morrow at this hour?"
"You may," said Olive. "What gentleman is that, do you suppose?"
"I know him," said Locker, "and, fortunately, he is married. He is Mr. Easterfield."
"Here's papa! Here's papa!" shouted the two little girls as they ran out of the front door.
"And papa," said the oldest one, "we want you to tell us a story just as soon as you have brushed your hair! Mr. Rupert has been telling us stories, but yours are a great deal better."
"Yes," said the other little girl, "he makes all the children too good. They can't be good, you know, and there's no use trying. We told him so, but he doesn't mind."
There was story-telling after luncheon, but the papa did not tell them, and the children were sent away. It was Mrs. Easterfield who told the stories, and Mr. Tom was a most interested listener.
"Well," said he, when she had finished, "this seems to be a somewhat tangled state of affairs."
"It certainly is," she replied, "and I tangled them."
"And you expect me to straighten them?" he asked.
"Of course I do," she replied, "and I expect you to begin by sending Mr. Hemphill away. You know I could not do it, but I should think it would be easy for you."
"Would you object if I lighted a cigar?" he asked.
"Of course not," she said. "Did you ever hear me object to anything of the kind?"
"No," said he, "but I never have smoked in this room, and I thought perhaps Miss Raleigh might object when she came in to do your writing."
"My writing!" exclaimed Mrs. Easterfield. "Now don't trifle! This is no time to make fun of me. Olive may be accepting him this minute."
"It seems to me," said Mr. Easterfield, slowly puffing his cigar, "that it would not be such a very bad thing if she did. So far as I have been able to judge, he is my favorite of the claimants. Du Brant and I have met frequently, and if I were a girl I would not want to marry him. Locker is too little for Miss Asher, and, besides, he is too flighty. Your young professor may be good enough, but from my limited conversation with him at the table I could not form much of an opinion as to him one way or another. I have an opinion of Hemphill, and a very good one. He is a first-class young man, a rising one with prospects, and, more than that, I think he is the best-looking of the lot."
"Tom," said Mrs. Easterfield, "do you suppose I sent for you to talk such nonsense as that? Can you imagine that my sense of honor toward Olive's parents would allow me even to consider a marriage between a high-class girl, such as she is—high-class in every way—to a mere commonplace private secretary? I don't care what his attributes and merits are; he is commonplace to the backbone; and he is impossible. If what ought to be a brilliant career ends suddenly in Rupert Hemphill I shall have Olive on my conscience for the rest of my life."
"That settles it," said Mr. Tom Easterfield; "your conscience, my dear, has not been trained to carry loads, and I shall not help to put one on it. Hemphill is a good man, but we must rule him out."
"Yes," said she, "Olive is a great deal more than good. He must be ruled out."
"But I can't send him away this afternoon," Tom continued. "That would put them both on their mettle, and, ten to one, he would considerately announce his engagement before he left."
"No," said she. "Olive is very sharp, and would resent that. But now that you are here I feel safe from any immediate rashness on their part."
"You are right," said Mr. Tom. "My very coming will give them pause. And now I want to see the girl."
"What for?" asked Mrs. Easterfield.
"I want to get acquainted with her. I don't know her yet, and I can't talk to her if I don't know her."
"Are you going to talk to her about Hemphill?"
"Yes, for one thing," he answered.
"Well," said she, "you will have to be very circumspect. She is both alert, and sensitive."
"Oh, I'll be circumspect enough," he replied. "You may trust me for that."
It was not long after this that Mrs. Easterfield, being engaged in some hospitable duties, sent Olive to show Mr. Tom the garden, and it was rather a slight to that abode of beauty that the tour of the rose-lined paths occupied but a very few minutes, when Mr. Easterfield became tired, and desired to sit down. Having seated themselves on Mrs. Easterfield's favorite bench, Olive looked up at her companion, and asked:
"Well, sir, what is it you brought me here to say to me?"
Mr. Tom laughed, and so did she.
"If it is anything about the gentlemen who are paying their addresses to me, you may as well begin at once, for that will save time, and really an introduction is not necessary."
Mr. Easterfield's admiration for this young lady, which had been steadily growing, was not decreased by this remark. "This girl," said he to himself, "deserves a nimble-witted husband. Hemphill would never do for her. It seems to me," he said aloud, "that we are already well enough acquainted for me to proceed with the remarks which you have correctly assumed I came here to make."
"Yes," said she, "I have always thought that some people are born to become acquainted, and when they meet they instantly perceive the fact, and the thing is accomplished. They can then proceed."
"Very well," said he, "we will proceed."
"I suppose," said Olive, "that Mrs. Easterfield has explained everything, and that you agree with her and with me that it is a sensible thing for a girl in my position to marry, and, having no one to attend wisely to such a matter for me, that I should endeavor to attend to it myself as wisely as I can. Also, that a little bit of pique, caused by the fact that I am to have an old schoolfellow for a stepmother, is excusable."
"And it is this pique which puts you in such a hurry? I did not exactly understand that."
"Yes, it does," said she. "I very much wish to announce my own engagement, if not my marriage, before any arrangements shall be made which may include me. Do you think me wrong in this?"
"No, I don't," said Mr. Easterfield. "If I were a girl in your place I think I would do the same thing myself."
Olive's face expressed her gratitude. "And now," said she, "what do you think of the young men? I feel so well acquainted with you through Mrs. Easterfield that I shall give a great deal of weight to your opinion. But first let me ask you one thing: After what you have heard of me do you think I am a flirt?"
Mr. Tom knitted his brows a little, then he smiled, and then he looked out over the flower-beds without saying anything.
"Don't be afraid to say so if you think so," said she. "You must be perfectly plain and frank with me, or our acquaintanceship will wither away."
Under the influence of this threat he spoke. "Well," said he, "I should not feel warranted in calling you a flirt, but it does seem to me that you have been flirting."
"I think you are wrong, Mr. Easterfield," said Olive, speaking very gravely. "I never saw any one of these young men before I came here except Mr. Hemphill, and he was an entirely different person when I knew him before, and I have given no one of them any special encouragement. If Mr. Locker were not such an impetuous young man, I think the others would have been more deliberate, but as it was easy to see the state of his mind, and as we are all making but a temporary stay here, these other young men saw that they must act quickly, or not at all. This, while it was very amusing, was also a little annoying, and I should greatly have preferred slower and more deliberate movements on the part of these young men. But all my feelings changed when my father's letter came to me. I was glad then that they had proposed already."
"That is certainly honest," said Mr. Tom.
"Of course it is honest," replied Olive. "I am here to speak honestly if I speak at all. Now, don't you see that if under these peculiar circumstances one eligible young man had proposed to me I ought to have considered myself fortunate? Now here are three to choose from. Do you not agree with me that it is my duty to try to choose the best one of them, and not to discourage any until I feel very certain about my choice?"
"That is business-like," said Mr. Easterfield; "but do you love any one of them?"
"No, I don't," answered Olive, "except that there is a feeling in that direction in the case of Mr. Hemphill. I suppose Mrs. Easterfield has told you that when I was a schoolgirl I was deeply in love with him; and now, when I think of those old times, I believe it would not be impossible for those old sentiments to return. So there really is a tie between him and me; even though it be a slight one; which does not exist at all between me and any one of the others."
For a moment neither of them spoke. "That is very bad, young woman," thought Mr. Tom. "A slight tie like that is apt to grow thick and strong suddenly." But he could not discourse about Mr. Hemphill; he knew that would be very dangerous. He would have to be considered, however, and much more seriously than he had supposed.
"Well," said he, "I will tell you this: if I were a young man, unmarried, and on a visit to Broadstone at this time, I should not like to be treated as you are treating the young men who are here. It is all very well for a young woman to look after herself and her own interests, but I should be very sorry to have my fate depend upon the merits of other people. I may not be correct, but I am afraid I should feel I was being flirted with."
"Well, then," said Olive, giving a quick, forward motion on the bench, "you think I ought to settle this matter immediately, and relieve myself at once from the imputation of trifling with earnest affection?"
"Oh, no, no, no!" cried Mrs. Easterfield. "Not at all! Don't do anything rash!"
Olive leaned back on the bench, and laughed heartily. "There is so much excellent advice in this world," she said, "which is not intended to be used. However, it is valuable all the same. And now, sir, what is it you would like me to do? Something plain; intended for every-day use."
Mr. Tom leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. "It does not appear to me," he said, "that you have told me very much I did not know before, for Mrs. Easterfield put the matter very plainly before me."
"And it does not seem to me," said Olive, "that you have given me any definite counsel, and I know that is what you came here to do."
"You are mistaken there," he said. "I came here to find out what sort of a girl you are; my counsels must depend on my discoveries. But there is one thing I want to ask you; you are all the time talking about three young men. Now, there are four of them here."
"Yes," she answered quickly. "But only three of them have proposed; and, besides, if the other were to do so, he would have to be set aside for what I may call family reasons. I don't want to go into particulars because the subject is very painful to me."
For a moment Mr. Tom did not speak. Then, determined to go through with what he had come to do, which was to make himself acquainted with this girl, he said: "I do not wish to discuss anything that is painful to you, but Mrs. Easterfield and I are very much disturbed for fear that in some way your visit to Broadstone created some misunderstanding or disagreeable feeling between you and your uncle. Now, would you mind telling me whether this is so, or not?"
She looked at him steadily. "There is an unpleasant feeling between me and my uncle, but this visit has nothing to do with it. And I am going to tell you all about it. I hate to feel so much alone in the world that I can't talk to anybody about what makes me unhappy. I might have spoken to Mrs. Easterfield, but she didn't ask me. But you have asked me, and that makes me feel that I am really better acquainted with you than with her."
This remark pleased Mr. Tom, but he did not think it would be necessary to put it into his report to his wife. He had promised to be very circumspect; and circumspection should act in every direction.
"It is very hard for a girl such as I am," she continued, "to be alone in the world, and that is a very good reason for getting married as soon as I can."
"And for being very careful whom you marry," interrupted Mr. Easterfield.
"Of course," said she, "and I am trying very hard to be that. A little while ago I had a father with whom I expected to live and be happy, but that dream is over now. And then I thought I had an uncle who was going to be more of a father to me than my own father had ever been. But that dream is over, too."
"And why?" asked Mr. Easterfield.
"He is going to marry a woman," said Olive, "that is perfectly horrible, and with whom I could not live. And the worst of it all is that he never told me a word about it."
As she said this Olive looked very solemn; and Mr. Tom, not knowing on the instant what would be proper to say, looked solemn also.
"You may think it strange," said she, "that I talk in this way to you, but you came here to find out what sort of girl I am, and I am perfectly willing to help you do it. Besides, in a case like this, I would rather talk to a man than to a woman."
Mr. Tom believed her, but he did not know at this stage of the proceedings what it would be wise to say. He was also fully aware that if he said the wrong thing it would be very bad, indeed.
"Now, you see," said she, "there is another reason why I should marry as soon as possible. In my case most girls would take up some pursuit which would make them independent, but I don't like business. I want to be at the head of a household; and, what is more, I want to have something to do—I mean a great deal to do—with the selection of a husband."
The conversation was taking a direction which frightened Mr. Tom. In the next moment she might be asking advice about the choice of a husband. It was plain enough that love had nothing to do with the matter, and Mr. Tom did not wish to act the part of a practical-minded Cupid. "And now let me ask a favor of you," said he. "Won't you give me time to think over this matter a little?"
"That is exactly what I say to my suitors," said Olive, smiling.
Mr. Tom smiled also. "But won't you promise me not to do anything definite until I see you again?" he asked earnestly.
"That is not very unlike what some of my suitors say to me," she replied. "But I will promise you that when you see me again I shall still be heart-free."
"There can be no doubt of that," Mr. Tom said to himself as they arose to leave the garden. "And, my young woman, you may deny being a flirt, but you permitted the addresses of two young men before you were upset by your father's letter. But I think I like flirts. At any rate, I can not help liking her, and I believe she has got a heart somewhere, and will find it some day."
When Mr. Tom returned to the house he did not find his wife, for that lady was occupied somewhere in entertaining her guests. Now, although it might have been considered his duty to go and help her in her hospitable work, he very much preferred to attend to the business which she had sent for him to do. And walking to the stables, he was soon mounted on a good horse, and riding away southward on the smooth gray turnpike.
The Captain and Mr. Tom.
Captain Asher was standing at the door of the tollhouse when he saw Mr. Easterfield approaching. He recognized him, although he had had but one brief interview with him one day at the toll-gate some time before. Mr. Easterfield was a man absorbed in business, and the first summer Mrs. Easterfield was at Broadstone he was in Europe engaged in large and important affairs, and had not been at the summer home at all. And so far this summer, he had been there but once before, and then for only a couple of days. Now, as the captain saw the gentleman coming toward the toll-gate he had no reason for supposing that he would not go through it. Nevertheless, his mind was disturbed. Any one coming from Broadstone disturbed his mind. He had not quite decided whether or not to ask any questions concerning the late members of his household, when the horseman stopped at the gate, and handed him the toll.
"Good morning, captain," said Mr. Easterfield cheerily, for he had heard much in praise of the toll-gate keeper from his wife.
"Good morning, Mr. Easterfield," said the captain gravely.
"I am glad I do not have to introduce myself," said Mr. Easterfield, "for I am only going through your gate as far as that tree to tie my horse. Then, if convenient to you, I should like to have a little talk with you."
The captain's mind, which had been relieved when Mr. Easterfield paid his toll, now sank again. But he could not say a talk would be inconvenient. "If I had known that you were not going on," he said, "you need not have paid."
"Like most people in this life," said Mr. Easterfield, "I pay for what I have already done, and not for what I am going to do. And now have you leisure, sir, for a short conversation?"
The captain looked very glum. He felt not the slightest desire now to ask questions, and still less desire to be interrogated. However, he was not afraid of anything any one might say to him; and if a certain subject was broached, he had something to say himself.
"Yes," said he; "do you prefer indoors or out of doors?"
"Out of doors, if it suits," replied the visitor, "for I would like to take a smoke."
"I am with you there," said the captain, as he led the way to the little arbor.
Here Mr. Easterfield lighted a cigar, and the captain a pipe.
"Now, sir," said the latter, when the tobacco in his bowl was in a satisfactory glow, "what is it you want to talk about?" He spoke as if he were behind entrenchments, and ready for an attack.
"We have two of your guests with us," answered Mr. Easterfield, "Professor Lancaster, and your niece."
"Oh," said the captain, evidently relieved. "I thought perhaps you had come to ask questions about some reports you may have heard in regard to me."
"Not at all, not at all," said Mr. Easterfield. "I would not think of mentioning your private affairs, about which I have not the slightest right or wish to speak. But as we have apparently appropriated two of your young people, I think, and Mrs. Easterfield agrees with me, that it is but right you should be informed as to their health, and what they are doing."
The captain puffed vigorously. "When is Dick Lancaster coming back" he asked.
"I can't say anything about that," replied Mr. Easterfield, "for I am not master of ceremonies. We would like to keep him as long as we can, but, of course, your claims must be considered."
"I should think so," remarked the captain.
"Professor Lancaster is a remarkably fine young man," said the other, "and as he is a friend of yours, and as I should like him to be a friend of mine, it would give me pleasure to talk to you more about him. But I may as well confess that my real object in coming here is to talk about your niece. Of course, as I said before, it might appear that I have no right to meddle with your family affairs, but in this case I certainly think I am justified; for, as Mrs. Easterfield invited the young lady to leave you and to come to her, and as all that has happened to her has happened at our house, and in consequence of that invitation, I think that you, as her nearest accessible relative, should be told of what has occurred."
The captain made no answer, but gazed steadily into the face of the speaker.
"Therefore," continued Mr. Easterfield, "I will simply state that my wife and I have very good reason to believe that your niece is about to engage herself in marriage; and I will only add that we are very sorry, indeed, that this should have occurred under our roof."
A sudden and curious change came over the face of the captain; a light sparkled in his eye, and a faint flush, as if of pleasure, was visible under his swarthy skin. He leaned toward his companion.
"Is it Dick Lancaster?" he asked quickly.
Mr. Easterfield answered gravely: "I wish it were, but I am very sorry to say it is not."
The light went out of the captain's eye. He leaned back on his bench and the little flush in his cheeks was succeeded by a somber coldness. "Very good," said he; "I don't want to hear anything more about it, and, what is more, it would not be right for you to tell me, even if I did want to know. It is none of my business."
"Now, really, Captain Asher," began Mr. Easterfield.
"No, sir," the captain interrupted. "It is none of my business, and I don't want to hear anything about it. And now, sir, I would like to tell you something. It is something I thought you came here to ask about, and I did not like it, but now I want to tell you of my own free will, in confidence. That is to say, I don't want you to speak of it to anybody in your house. I suppose you have heard something about my intending to marry a woman in town?"
"Yes," said Mr. Easterfield, "I can not deny that I have, but I considered it was entirely your own affair, and I had not—"
"Of course," interrupted the captain, "and I want to tell you—but I don't want my niece to hear it as coming from me—that that whole thing is a most abominable lie! That woman has been trying to make people believe I am going to marry her, and she has made a good many believe it, but I would rather cut my throat than marry her. But I have told her what I think of her in a way she can not mistake. And that ends her! I tell you this, Mr. Easterfield, because I believe you are a good man, and you certainly seem to be a friendly man, and I would like you to know it. I would have liked very much to tell everybody, especially my own flesh and blood, but now I assure you, sir, I am too proud to have her know it through me. Let her go on and marry anybody she pleases, and let her think anything she pleases about me. She has been satisfied with her own opinion of me without giving me a chance to explain to her, or to tell her the truth, and now she can stay satisfied with it until somebody else sets her straight."
"But this is very hard, captain," said Mr. Easterfield; "hard on you, hard on her, and hard on all of us, I may say."
The captain made no answer to these words, and did not appear to hear them. "I tell you, Mr. Easterfield," he said presently, "that I did not know until now how much I cared for that girl. I don't mind saying this to you because you come to me like a friend, and I believe in you. Yes, sir, I did not know how much I cared for her, and it is pretty hard on me to find out how little she cares for me."
"You are wrong there," said Mr. Easterfield. "My wife tells me that Miss Asher has frequently talked to her about you and her life here, and it is certain she has—"
"Oh, that does not make any difference," interrupted the captain. "I am talking about things as they are now. It was all very well as long as things seemed to be going right, but I believe in people who stand by you when things seem to be going wrong, and who keep on standing by you until they know how they are going, and that is exactly what she did not do. Now, there was Dick Lancaster; he came to me and asked me squarely about that affair. To be sure, I cut him off short, for it angered me to think that he, or anybody else, should have such an idea of me, and, besides, it was none of his business. But it should have been her business; she ought to have made it her business; and, even if the thing had stood differently, I would have told her exactly how it did stand; and then she could have said to me what she thought about it, and what she was going to do. But instead of that, she just made up her mind about me, and away went everything. Yes, sir, everything. I can't tell you the plans I had made for her and for myself, and, I may say, for Dick Lancaster. If it suited her, I wanted her to marry him, and if it suited her I wanted to go and live with them in his college town, or any other place they might want to go. Again and again, after I knew Dick, have I gone over this thing and planned it out this way, and that way, but always with us three in the middle of everything. Do you see that?" continued the captain after a slight pause, as he drew from his pocket a dainty little pearl paper-cutter. "That belongs to her. She used to sit out here, and cut the leaves of books as she read them. I can see her little hand now as it went sliding along the edges of the pages. When she went away she left it on the bench, and I took it. And I've kept it in my pocket to take out when I sit here, and cut books with it when I have 'em. I haven't many books that ain't cut, but I've sat here and cut 'em till there wasn't any left. And then I cut a lot of old volumes of Coast Survey Reports. It is a foolish thing for an old man to do, but then—but then—well, you see, I did it."
There was a choke in the captain's voice as he leaned over to put the paper-cutter in his pocket and to pick up his pipe, which he had laid on the bench beside him. Mr. Easterfield was touched and surprised. He would not have supposed the captain to be a man of such tender sentiment. And he took him at once to his heart. "It is a shame," his thoughts ran, "for this man to be separated from the niece he so loves. She is a cold-hearted girl, or she does not understand him. It must not be."
Had he been a woman he would have said all this, but, being a man, he found it difficult to break the silence which followed the captain's last words. He did not know what to say, although he had no hesitation in making up his mind what he was going to do about it all. He arose.
"Captain Asher," he said, "I have now told you what I thought you should know, and I must take my departure. I would not presume for a moment to offer you any advice in regard to your family affairs, but there is one thing Mrs. Easterfield and I will interfere with, if we can, for we feel that we have a right to do it, and that is any definite and immediate engagement of your niece. If she should promise herself in marriage at our house we shall feel that we are responsible for it, and that, in fact, we brought it about. Whether the match shall seem desirable to you or not, we do not wish to be answerable for it."
"Oh, I need not be counted in at all," said the captain, who had recovered his composure. "It is her own affair. I suppose it was the news of her father's intended marriage that put her in such a hurry."
"You are right," said Mr. Easterfield.
"Just like her" the captain exclaimed. "And I don't blame her. I'm with her there"
When Mr. Tom reached Broadstone he dismounted at the stable, and walked to the house. Nobody was to be seen on the grounds. It was a warm afternoon when those whose hearts were undisturbed by the turmoils of love were apt to be napping, and those who were in the tumultuous state of mind referred to, preferred to separate themselves from each other and the rest of the world until the cause of their inquietude should consider the heat of the summer day as sufficiently mitigated for her to appear again among her fellow beings.
Mr. Easterfield did not care to meet any of his guests, and hoped to find his wife in her room, that he might report, and consult. But, as he approached the house, he saw at an upper window a female head. It stayed there just long enough for him to see that it was Olive's head; then it disappeared. When he reached the hall door there stood Olive.
Mr. Tom was a little disappointed. He wanted to see his wife immediately, and then to see Olive. But he could not say so.
"Well," said the girl, coming down the steps, "it looks as if we had arranged to meet. But although we didn't, let's take a little walk. I have something I want to say to you."
Mr. Easterfield turned, and walked away from the house. He was a masterful man, and did not like to have his plans interfered with. Therefore he made a dash, and had the first word. "Miss Asher," said he, "I am glad to hear anything you have to say, but first you must really listen to me."
Olive looked at him with surprise. She also was a masterful person, and not accustomed to be treated in this way. But he gave her no chance.
"Miss Asher," said he, "I have come to you to speak for one of your lovers, the truest, best lover you ever had, and I believe, ever will have."
Olive looked at him steadfastly, and her face grew hard. "Mr. Easterfield," she said, "this will not do. I have told you I will not have it. Mrs. Easterfield and you have been very good and kind, and I have told you everything, but you do not seem to remember one thing I have said. I will not have anybody forced upon me; no matter if he happens to be an angel from heaven, or no matter how much better he may be than anybody else on earth. I have my reasons for this determination. They are good reasons, and, above all, they are my reasons. I don't want you to think me rude, but if you persist in forcing that gentleman upon my attention, I shall have to request that the whole subject be dropped between us."
"Who in the name of common sense do you think I am talking about?" exclaimed Mr. Tom. "Do you think I refer to Mr. Lancaster?"
"I do," she said. "You know you would not come to plead the cause of any one of the others."
He looked down at her half doubtfully, wondering a little how she would take what he was going to say. "You are mistaken," he said quietly. "I have nothing whatever to say about Mr. Lancaster. The lover I speak of is your uncle."
Then her face turned red. "Why do you use that expression? Did he send you to say it?"
"Not at all. I came of my own free will. I went to see Captain Asher immediately after I left you. Perhaps you are thinking that I have no right to intrude in your family affairs, but I do not mind your thinking that. I had a long talk with your uncle. I found that the uppermost sentiment of his soul was his love for you. You had come into his life like the break of day. Every little thing you had owned or touched was dear to him because it had been yours, or you had used it. All his plans in life had been remade in reference to you."
They had stopped and were standing facing each other. They could not walk and talk as they were talking.
"Yet, but," she exclaimed, her face pale and her eyes fixed steadfastly upon him, "but what of that—"
"There are no yets and buts," he exclaimed, half angry with her that she hesitated. "I know what you were going to say, but that woman you have heard of is nothing to him. He hates her worse than you hate her. She has imposed upon you; how I know not; but she is an impostor."
At this instant she seized him by the arm. "Mr. Easterfield," she cried, and as she spoke the tears were running down her cheeks, "please let me have a carriage—something covered! I would go on my wheel, for that would be quicker, but I don't want anybody to speak to me or see me! Will you have it brought to the back door, Mr. Easterfield, please? I will run to the house, and be waiting when it comes."
She did not wait for him to answer. He did not ask her where she was going. He knew very well. She ran to the house, and he hurried to the stable.