Claude Locker wrote:
"How I long, how I rage to write to you, or to go to you! But if I should write, it would be sure to give you pain, and if I should go to you I should also go crazy. Therefore, I will merely state that I love you madly; more now than ever before; and that I shall continue to do so for the rest of my life, no matter what happens to you, or to me, or to anybody.
"Ever turned toward you,
"How I wish I had been there with a sledgehammer!"
And then there were the newspapers. Many of these the captain had ordered by the Glenford bookseller, and a number were sent by friends, and some even by strangers. And so they learned what was thought of them over a wide range of country, and this publicity Olive found very hard to bear. It was even worse than the deed she was forced to do, and which gave rise to all this disagreeable publicity. That deed was done in the twinkling of an eye, and was the only thing that could be done; but all this was prolonged torture. Of course, the newspapers were not responsible for this. The transaction was a public one in as public a place as could possibly be selected, and it was clearly their duty to give the public full information in regard to it. They knew what had happened, and how could they possibly know what had not happened? Nor could they guess that this was of more importance than the happening. And so they all viewed the action from the point of view that a young woman had blown out a man's brains on the steps of the Treasury. It was a most unusual, exciting, and tragic incident, and in a measure, incomprehensible; and coming at a time when there was a dearth of news, it was naturally much exploited. Many of the papers recognized the fact that Miss Asher had done this deed to save her uncle's life, and applauded it, and praised her quick-wittedness and courage; but all this was spoiled for Olive by the tone of commiseration for her in which it was all stated. She did not see why she should be pitied. Rather should she be congratulated that she was, fortunately, on the spot. Other journals did not so readily give in to the opinion that it was an act of self-defense. It might be so; but they expressed strong disapproval of the legal action in this strange affair. A young woman, accompanied by a relative, had killed an unknown man. The action of the authorities in this case had been rapid and unsatisfactory. The person who had fired the fatal shot and her companion had been cleared of guilt upon their own testimony, and the cause of the man who died had no one to defend it. If two persons can kill a man, and then state to the coroner's jury that it was all right, and thereupon repair to their homes without further interference by the law, then had the cause of justice in the capital of the nation reached a very strange pass.
Such were the views of the reputable journals. But there were some which fell into the captain's hands that were well calculated to arouse his ire. Such a sensational occurrence did not often come in their way, and they made the most of it. They scented the idea that the girl had killed an unknown man to save her uncle's life; blamed the authorities severely for not finding out who he was; suggested there must be a secret reason for this; and hinted darkly at a scandal connected with the affair, which, if investigated, would be found to include some well-known names.
"This is outrageous!" cried the captain. "It is too abominable to be borne! Olive, why should we not tell the exact facts of this thing? We did agree—very willingly at the time—to keep the secret. But I am not willing now, and you are being sacrificed to the stock-market. That is the whole truth of it! If these editors knew the truth they would be chanting your praises. If that scoundrel had killed me, he would have killed you, and then he could have run away to go on with his President shooting. I am going to Washington this very day to tell the whole story. You shall not suffer that stocks may not fall and the political situation made alarming at election time. That is what it all means, and I won't stand it!"
"You will only make things worse, uncle," said Olive. "Then the whole matter will be stirred up afresh. We will be summoned to investigations, and all sorts of disagreeable things. Every item of our lives will be in the papers, and some will be invented. It is very bad now, but in a little while the public will forget that a countryman and a country girl had a fracas in Washington. But the other thing will never be forgotten. It is very much better to leave it as it is."
The captain, notwithstanding the presence of a lady, cursed the officials, the newspapers, the Government, and the whole country. "I am going to do it!" he cried vehemently. "I don't care what happens!"
But Olive put her arms around him and coaxed him for her sake to let the matter rest. And, finally, the captain, grumblingly, assented.
If Olive had been a girl brought up in a gentle-minded household, knowing nothing of the varied life she had lived when a navy girl; sometimes at this school and sometimes at that; sometimes in her native land, and sometimes in the midst of frontier life; sometimes with parents, and sometimes without them; and, had she been less aware from her own experiences and those of others, that this is a world in which you must stand up very stiffly if you do not want to be pushed down; she might have sunk, at least for a time, under all this publicity and blame. Even the praise had its sting.
But she did not sink. The liveliness and the fun went out of her, and her face grew hard and her manner quiet. But she was not quiet within. She rebelled against the unfairness with which she was treated. No matter what the newspapers knew or did not know, they should have known, and should have remembered, that she had saved her uncle's life. If they had known more they would have been just and kind enough no doubt, but they ought to have been just and kind without knowing more.
Captain Asher would now read no more papers. But Olive read them all.
Letters still came; one of them from Mr. Easterfield. But every time a mail arrived there was a disappointment in the toll-gate household. The captain could scarcely refrain from speaking of his disappointment, for it was a true grief to him that Dick Lancaster had not written a word. Of course, Olive did not say anything upon the subject, for she had no right to expect such a letter, and she was not sure that she wanted one, but it was very strange that a person who surely was, or had been, somewhat interested in her uncle and herself should have been the only one among her recent associates who showed no interest whatever in what had befallen her. Even Mr. and Mrs. Fox had written. She wished they had not written, but, after all, stupidity is sometimes better than total neglect.
"Olive," said the captain one pleasant afternoon, "suppose we take a drive to Broadstone? The family is not there, but it may interest you to see the place where I hope your friends will soon be living again. I can not bear to see you going about so dolefully. I want to brighten you up in some way."
"I'd like it," said Olive promptly. "Let us go to Broadstone."
At that moment they heard talking in the tollhouse; then there were some quick steps in the garden; and, almost immediately, Dick Lancaster was in the house and in the room where the captain and his niece were sitting. He stepped quickly toward them as they rose, and gave Olive his left hand because the captain had seized his right and would not let it go.
"I have been very slow getting here," he said, looking from one to the other. "But I would not write, and I have been unconscionably delayed. I am so proud of you," he said, looking Olive full in the face, but still holding the captain by the hand.
Olive's hand had been withdrawn, but it was very cheering to her to know that some one was proud of her.
The captain poured out his delight at seeing the young professor—the first near friend he had seen since his adventure, and, in his opinion, the best. Olive said but little, but her countenance brightened wonderfully. She had always liked Mr. Lancaster, and now he showed his good sense and good feeling; for, while it was evidently on his mind, he made no allusion to anything they had done, or that had happened to them. He talked chiefly of himself.
But the captain was not to be repressed, and his tone warmed up a little as he asked if Dick had been reading the newspapers.
At this Olive left the room to make some arrangements for Mr. Lancaster's accommodation.
Seizing this opportunity, Dick Lancaster stopped the captain, who he saw was preparing to go lengthily into the recent affair. "Yes, yes," he said, speaking quickly, "and my blood has run hot as I read those beastly papers. But let me say something to you while I can. I am deeply interested in something else just now. I came here, captain, to propose marriage to your niece. Have I your consent?"
"Consent!" cried the captain. "Why, it is the clearest wish of my heart that you should marry Olive!" And seizing the young man by both arms, he shook him from head to foot. "Consent!" he exclaimed. "I should think so, I should think so! Will she take you, Dick? Is that—"
"I don't know," said Lancaster, "I don't know. I am here to find out. But I hear her coming."
The happy captain thought it full time to go away somewhere. He felt that he could not control his glowing countenance, and that he might say or do something which might be wrong. So he departed with great alacrity, and left the two young people to themselves.
Miss Port puts in an Appearance.
The captain clapped on his hat, and walked up the road toward Glenford. He was very much excited and he wanted to sing, but his singing days were over, and he quieted himself somewhat by walking rapidly. There was a buggy coming from town, but it stopped before it reached him and some one in it got out, while the vehicle proceeded slowly onward. The some one waited until the captain came up to her. It was Miss Maria Port.
"How do you do?" she said, holding out her hand. "I was on my way to see you."
The captain put both his hands in his pockets, and his face grew somewhat dark. "Why do you want to see me?" he asked.
She looked at him steadily for a moment, and then answered, speaking very quietly. "I found that Mr. Lancaster had arrived in town, and had gone to your house, and that he was in such a hurry that he walked. So I immediately hired a buggy to come out here. I am very glad I met you."
"But what in the name of common sense," exclaimed the captain, "did you come to see me for? What difference does it make to you whether Mr. Lancaster is here or not? What have you got to do with me and my affairs, anyway?"
She smiled a smile which was very quiet and flat. "Now, don't get angry," she said. "We can talk over things in a friendly way just as well as not, and it will be a great deal better to do it. And I'd rather talk here in the public road than anywhere else; it's more private."
"I don't want a word to say to you," said the captain, preparing to move on. "I have nothing at all to do with you."
"Ah," said Miss Port, with another smile, "but I think you have. You've got to marry me, you know."
Then the captain stopped suddenly. He opened his mouth, but he could find no immediate words.
"Yes, indeed," said Miss Port, now speaking quietly; "and when I saw Mr. Lancaster had come to town, I knew that I must see you at once. Of course, he has come to take away your niece, and that's the best thing to be done, for she wouldn't want to keep on livin' here where so many people have known her. At first I thought that would be a very good thing, for you would be separated from her, and that's what you need and deserve. Young men are young men, and they are often a good deal kinder than they would be if they stopped to think. But a person of mature age is different. He would know what is due to himself and his standing in society. At least, that is what I did think. But it suddenly flashed on me that they might want to get away as quick as they could—which would be proper, dear knows—and it would be just like you to go with them. And so I came right out."
The captain had listened to all this because he very much wanted to know what she had to say, but now he exclaimed: "Do you suppose I shall pay any attention to all the gossip about my affairs?"
"Now, don't go on like that," said Miss Port; "it doesn't do any good, and if you'll only keep quiet, and think pleasantly about it, there will be no trouble at all. You know you've got to marry me; that's settled. Everybody knows about it, and has known about it for years. I didn't press the matter while father was alive because I knew it would worry him. But now I'm going to do it. Not in any anger or bad feelin', but gently, and as firmly as if I was that tree. I don't want to go to any law, but if I have to do it, I'll do it. I've got my proofs and my witnesses, and I'm all right. The people of your own house are witnesses. And there are ever so many more."
"Woman!" cried the captain, "don't you say another word! And don't you ever dare to speak to me again! I'm not going away, and my niece is not going away; and I assure you that I hate and despise you so much that all the law in the world couldn't make me marry you. Although you know as well as I do that all you've been saying has no sense or truth in it."
Miss Port did not get angry. With wonderful self-repression she controlled her feelings. She knew that if she lost that control there would be an end to everything. She grew pale, but she spoke more gently than before. "You know"—she was about to say "John," but she thought she would better not—"that what I say about determination and all that, I simply say because you do not come to meet me half-way, as I would have you do. All I want is to get you to acknowledge my rights, to defend me from ridicule. You know that I am now alone in the world, and have no one to look to but you—to whom I always expected to look when father died—and if you should carry out your cruel words, and should turn from me as if I was a stranger and a nobody, after all these years of visitin' and attention from you, which everybody knows about, and has talked about, I could never expect anybody else—you bein' gone—to step forward—"
At this the face of the captain cleared, and as he gazed upon the unpleasant face and figure of this weather-worn spinster, the idea that any one with matrimonial intentions should "step forward," as she put it, struck him as being so extremely ludicrous that he burst out laughing.
Then leaped into fire every nervelet of Miss Maria Port. "Laugh at me, do you?" cried she. "I'll give you something to laugh at! And if you 're going to stand up for that thing you have in your house, that murderess—"
She said no more. The captain stepped up to her with a smothered curse so that she moved back, frightened. But he did nothing. He was too enraged to speak. She was a woman, and he could not strike her to the ground. Before her sallow venom he was helpless. He was a man and she was a woman, and he could do nothing at all. He was too angry to stay there another second, and, without a word, he left her, walking with great strides toward the town.
Miss Maria Port stood looking after him, panting a little, for her excitement had been great. Then, with a yellow light in her eyes, she hurried toward her vehicle, which had stopped.
As Captain Asher strode into town he asked himself over and over again what should he do? How should he punish this wildcat—this ruthless creature, who spat venom at the one he loved best in the world, and who threatened him with her wicked claws? In his mind he looked from side to side for help; some one must fight his battle for him; he could not fight a woman. He had not reached town when he thought of Mrs. Faulkner, the wife of the Methodist minister. He knew her; she and her husband had been among the friends who had come out to see him; and she was a woman. He would go directly to her, and ask her advice.
The captain was not shown into the parlor of the parsonage, but into the minister's study, that gentleman being away. He heard a great sound of talking as he passed the parlor door, and it was not long before Mrs. Faulkner came in. He hesitated as she greeted him.
"You have company," he said, "but can I see you for a very few minutes? It is important."
"Of course you can," said she, closing the study door. "Our Dorcas Society meets here to-day, but we have not yet come to order. I shall be glad to hear what you have to say."
So they sat down, and he told her what he had to say, and as she listened she grew very angry. When she heard the epithet which had been applied to Olive she sprang to her feet. "The wretch!" she cried.
"Now, you see, Mrs. Faulkner," said the captain, "I can do nothing at all myself, and there is no way to make use of the law; that would be horrible for Olive, and it could not be done; and so I have come to ask help of you. I don't see that any other man could do more than I could do."
Mrs. Faulkner sat silent for a few minutes. "I am so glad you came to me," she said presently. "I have always known Miss Port as a scandal-monger and a mischief-maker, but I never thought of her as a wicked woman. This persecution of you is shameful, but when I think of your niece it is past belief! You are right, Captain Asher; it must be a woman who must take up your cause. In fact," said she after a moment's thought, "it must be women. Yes, sir." And as she spoke her face flushed with enthusiasm. "I am going to take up your cause, and my friends in there, the ladies of the Dorcas Society, will stand by me, I know. I don't know what we shall do, but we are going to stand by you and your niece."
Here was a friend worth having. The captain was very much affected, and was moved with unusual gratitude. He had been used to fighting his own battles in this world, and here was some one coming forward to fight for him.
There came upon him a feeling that it would be a shame to let this true lady take up a combat which she did not wholly understand. He made up his mind in an instant that he would not care what danger might be threatened to other people, or to trade, or to society, he would be true to this lady, to Olive, and to himself. He would tell her the whole story. She should know what Olive had done, and how little his poor girl deserved the shameful treatment she had received.
Mrs. Faulkner listened with pale amazement; she trembled from head to foot as she sat.
"And you must tell no one but your husband," said the captain. "This is a state secret, and he must promise to keep it before you tell."
She promised everything. She would be so proud to tell her husband.
When the captain had gone, Mrs. Faulkner, in a very unusual state of mind, went into the parlor, took the chair, and putting aside all other business, told to the eagerly receptive members the story of Miss Port and Captain Asher. How she had persecuted him, and maligned him, and of the shameful way in which she had spoken of his niece. But not one word did she tell of the story of the two gentlemen in the barouche, and of the air-gun. She was wild to tell everything, but she was a good woman.
"Now, ladies," said Mrs. Faulkner, "in my opinion, the thing for us to do is to go to see Maria Port; tell her what we think of her; and have all this wickedness stopped."
Without debate it was unanimously agreed that the president's plan should be carried out. And within ten minutes the whole Dorcas Society of eleven members started out in double file to visit the house of Maria Port.
The Dorcas on Guard.
Miss Port had not been home very long and was up in her bedroom, which looked out on the street, when she heard the sound of many feet, and, hurrying to the window, and glancing through the partly open shutters, she saw that a company of women were entering the gate into her front yard. She did not recognize them, because she was not familiar with the tops of their hats; and besides, she was afraid she might be seen if she stopped at the window; so she hurried to the stairway and listened. There were two great knocks at the door—entirely too loud—and when the servant-maid appeared she heard a voice which she recognized as that of Mrs. Faulkner inquiring for her. Instantly she withdrew into her chamber and waited, her countenance all alertness.
When the maid came up to inform her that Mrs. Faulkner and a lot of ladies were down-stairs, and wanted to see her, Miss Port knit her brows, and shut her lips tightly. She could not connect this visit of so many Glenford ladies with anything definite; and yet her conscience told her that their business in some way concerned Captain Asher. He had had time to see them, and now they had come to see her; probably to induce her to relinquish her claims upon him. As this thought came into her mind she grew angry at their impudence, and, seating herself in a rocking-chair, she told the servant to inform the ladies that she had just reached home, and that it was not convenient for her to receive them at present.
Mrs. Faulkner sent hack a message that, in that case, they would wait; and all the ladies seated themselves in the Port parlor.
"The impudence!" said Miss Port to herself; "but if they like waitin,' they can wait, I guess they'll get enough of it!"
So Maria Port sat in her room and the ladies sat in the parlor below; and they sat, and they sat, and they sat, and at last it began to grow dark.
"I guess they'll be wantin' their suppers," said Maria, "but they'll go and get them without seein' me. It's no more convenient for me to go down now than when they first came."
There had been, and there was, a great deal of conversation down in the parlor, but it was carried on in such a low tone that, to her great regret, Miss Port could not catch a word of it.
"Now," said Mrs. Pilsbury, "I must go home, for my husband will want his supper and the children must be attended to."
"And so must I," said Mrs. Barney and Mrs. Sloan. They would really like very much to stay and see what would happen next, but they had families.
"Ladies," said Mrs. Faulkner, "of course, we can't all stay here and wait for that woman; but I propose that three of us shall stay and that the rest shall go home. I'll be one to stay. And then, in an hour three of you come back, and let us go and get our suppers. In this way we can keep a committee here all the time. All night, if necessary. When I come back I will bring a candlestick and some candles, for, of course, we don't want to light her lamps. If she should come down while I am away, I'd like some one to run over and tell me. It's such a little way."
At this the ladies arose, and there was a great rustling and chattering, and the face of Miss Maria, in the room above, gleamed with triumph.
"I knew I'd sit 'em out," said she; "they haven't got the pluck I've got." But when the servant came up and told her that "three of them ladies was a-sittin' in the parlor yet and said they was a-goin' to wait for her," she lost her temper. She sent down word that she didn't intend to see any of them, and she wanted them to go home.
To this Mrs. Faulkner replied that they wished to see her, and that they would stay. And the committee continued to sit.
Now Miss Port began to be seriously concerned. What in the world could these women want? They were very much in earnest; that was certain. Could it be possible that she had said more than she intended to Captain Asher, and that she had given him to understand that she would use any of these women as witnesses if she went to law? However, whatever they meant, she intended to sit them out. So she told her maid to make her some tea and to bring it up with some bread and butter and preserves, and a light. She also ordered her to be careful that the people in the parlor should see her as she went up-stairs. "I guess they'll know I'm in earnest when they see the tea," she said. "I've set out a mess of 'em, and it won't take long to finish up them three!"
She partook of her refreshments, and she reclined in her rocking-chair, and waited for the hungry ones below to depart. "I'll give 'em half an hour," said she to herself.
Before that time had elapsed she heard another stir below, and she exclaimed: "I knew it" and there were steps in the hallway, and some people went out. She sprang to her feet; she was about to run down-stairs and lock and bolt every door; but a sound arrested her. It was the talking of women in the parlor. She stopped, with her mouth wide open, and her eyes staring, and then the servant came up and told her that "them three had gone, and that another three had come back, and they had told her to say that they were goin' to stay in squads all night till she came down to see them."
Miss Port sat down, her elbows on the table, and her chin in her hands. "It must be something serious," she thought. "The ladies of this town are not in the habit of staying out late unless it is to nurse bad cases, or to sit up with corpses." And then the idea struck her that probably there might be something the matter that she had not thought of. She had caused lots of mischief in her day, and it might easily be that she had forgotten some of it. But the more she thought about the matter, the more firmly she resolved not to go down and speak to the women. She would like to send for a constable and have them cleared out of the house, but she knew that none of the three constables in town would dare to use force with such ladies as Mrs. Faulkner and the members of the Dorcas Society.
So she sat and waited, and listened, and grew very nervous, but was more obstinate now than ever, for she was beginning to be very fearful of what those women might have to say to her. She could "talk down one woman, but not a pack of 'em." Thus time passed on, with occasional reports from the servant until the latter fell asleep, and came up-stairs no more. There were sounds of footsteps in the street, and Miss Port put out her light, and went to the front shutters. Three women were coming in. They entered the house, and in a few minutes afterward three women went out. Miss Port stood up in the middle of the floor, and was almost inclined to tear her hair.
"They're goin' to stay all night!" she exclaimed. "I really believe they 're goin' to stay all night!" For a moment she thought of rushing down-stairs and confronting the impertinent visitors, but she stopped; she was afraid. She did not know what they might say to her, and she went to the banisters and listened. They were talking; always in a low voice. It seemed to her that these people could talk forever. Then she began to think of her front door, which was open; but, of course, nobody could come while those creatures were in the parlor. But if she missed anything she'd have them brought up in court if it took every cent she had in the world and constables from some other town. She slipped to the back stairs, and softly called the servant, but there was no answer. She was afraid to go down, for the back door of the parlor commanded all the other rooms on that floor. Now she felt more terribly lonely and more nervous. If she had had a pistol she would have fired it through the floor. Then those women would run away, and she would fasten up the house. But there they sat, chatter, chatter, chatter, till it nearly drove her mad. She wished now she had gone down at first.
After a time, and not a very long time, there were some steps in the street and in the yard, and more women came into the house, but, worse than that, the others stayed. Family duties were over now, and those impudent creatures could be content to stay the rest of the evening.
For a moment the worried woman felt as if she would like to go to bed and cover up her head and so escape these persistent persecutors. But she shook her head. That would never do. She knew that when she awoke in the morning some of those women would still be in the parlor, and, to save her soul, she could not now imagine what it was that kept them there like hounds upon her track.
It was now eleven o'clock. When had the Port house been open so late as that? The people in the town must be talking about it, and there would be more talking the next day. Perhaps it might be in the town paper. The morning would be worse than the night. She could not bear it any longer. There was now nothing to be heard in front but that maddening chatter in the parlor, and up the back stairs came the snores of the servant. She got a traveling-bag from a closet and proceeded to pack it; then she put on her bonnet and shawl and put into her bag all the money she had with her, trembling all the time as if she had been a thief: robbing her own house. She could not go down the back stairs, because, as has been said, she could have been seen from the parlor; but a carpenter had been mending the railing of a little piazza at the back of the house, and she remembered he had left his ladder. Down this ladder, with her bag in her hand, Miss Port silently moved. She looked into the kitchen; she could not see the servant, but she could hear her snoring on a bench. Clapping her hand over the girl's mouth, she whispered into her ear, and without a word the frightened creature sat up and followed Miss Port into the yard.
"Now, then," said Miss Port, whispering as if she were sticking needles into the frightened girl, "I'm goin' away, and don't you ask no questions, for you won't get no answers. You just go to bed, and let them people stay in the parlor all night. They'll be able to take care of the house, I guess, and if they don't I'll make 'em suffer. In the morning you can see Mrs. Faulkner—for she's the ringleader—and tell her that you're goin' home to your mother, and that Miss Port expects her to pull down all the blinds in this house, and shut and bolt the doors. She is to see that the eatables is put away proper or else give to the poor—which will be you, I guess—and then she is to lock all the doors and take the front-door key to Squire Allen, and tell him I'll write to him. And what's more, you can say to the nasty thing that if I find anything wrong in my house, or anything missin', I 'll hold her and her husband responsible for it, and that I'm mighty glad I don't belong to their church."
Then she slipped out of the back gate of the yard, and made her way swiftly to the railroad-station. There was a train for the north which passed Glenford at half-past twelve, and which could be flagged. There was one man at the station, and he was very much surprised to see Miss Port.
"Is anything the matter?" he said.
"Yes," she snapped, "there's some people sick, and I guess there'll be more of 'em a good deal sicker in the morning. I've got to go."
"A case of pizenin'?" asked the man very earnestly.
"Yes," said she, wrapping her shawl around her; "the worse kind of pizenin'!" Then she talked no more.
The servant-girl slept late, and there were a good many ladies in the parlor when she came down. She did not give them a chance to ask her anything, but told her message promptly. It was a message pretty fairly remembered, although it had grown somewhat sharper in the night. When it was finished the girl added: "And I'm to have all the eatables in the house to take home to my mother, and Squire Allen is to pay me four dollars and seventy-five cents, which has been owin' to me for wages for ever so long."
Olive and Dick Lancaster sat together in the captain's parlor. She was very quiet—she had been very quiet of late—but he was nervous.
"It is very kind, Mr. Lancaster," said Olive, breaking the silence, "for you to come to see us instead of writing. It is so much pleasanter for friends—"
"Oh, it was not kind," he said, interrupting her. "In fact, it was selfishness. And now I want to tell you quickly, Miss Asher, while I have the chance, the reason of my coming here to-day. It was not to offer you my congratulations or my sympathy, although you must know that I feel for you and your uncle as much in every way as any living being can feel. I came to offer my love. I have loved you almost ever since I knew you as much as any man can love a woman, and whenever I have been with you I could hardly hold myself back from telling you. But I was strong, and I did not speak, for I knew you did not love me."
Olive was listening, looking steadily at him.
"No," she said, "I did not love you."
He paid no attention to this remark, as if it related to something which he knew all about, but went on, "I resolved to speak to you some time, but not until I had some little bit of a reason for supposing you would listen to me; but when I read the account of what you did in Washington, I knew you to be so far above even the girl I had supposed you to be; then my love came down upon me and carried me away. And all that has since appeared in the papers has made me so long to stand by your side that I could not resist this longing, and I felt that no matter what happened, I must come and tell you all."
"And now?" asked Olive.
"There is nothing more," said Dick. "I have told you all there is. I love you so truly that it seems to me as if I had been born, as if I had lived, as if I had grown and had worked, simply that I might be able to come to you and say, I love you. And now that I have told you this, I hope that I have not pained you."
"You have not pained me," said Olive, "but it is right that I should say to you that I do not love you." She said this very quietly and gently, but there was sadness in her tones.
Dick Lancaster sprang up, and stood before her. "Then let me love you" he cried. "Do not deny me that! Do not take the life out of me! the soul out of me! Do not turn me away into utter blackness! Do not say I shall not love you!"
Olive's clear, thoughtful eyes were looking into his. "I believe you love me," she answered slowly. "I believe every word you say. But what I say is also true. I will admit that I have asked myself if I could love you. There was a time when I was in great trouble, when I believed that it might be possible for me to marry some one without loving him, but I never thought that about you. You were different. I could not have married you without loving you. I believe you knew that, and so you did not ask me."
His voice was husky when he spoke again.
"But you do not answer me," he said. "You have seen into my very soul. May I love you?"
She still looked into his glowing eyes, but she did not speak. It was with herself she was communing, not with him.
But there was something in the eyes which looked into his which made his heart leap, and he leaned forward.
"Olive," he whispered, "can you not love me?"
Her lips appeared as if they were about to move, but they did not, and in the next moment they could not. He had her in his arms.
Poor foolish, lovely Olive! She thought she was so strong. She imagined that she knew herself so well. She had seen so much; she had been so far; she had known so many things and people that she had come to look upon herself as the decider of her own destiny. She had come to believe so much in herself and in her cold heart that she was not afraid to listen to the words of a burning heart! Her heart could keep so cool!
And now, in a flash, the fire had spread! The coolest hearts are often made of tinder.
Poor foolish, lovely, happy Olive! She scarcely understood what had happened to her. She only knew that she had been born and had lived, and had grown, that he might come to her and say he loved her. What had she been thinking of all this time?
"You are so quick," she said, as she put back some of her disheveled hair.
"Dearest," he whispered, "it seems to me as if I had been so slow, so slow, so very slow!"
It was a long time before Captain Asher returned, and when he entered the parlor he found these two still there. They had been sitting by the window, and when they came forward to meet him Dick's arm was around the waist of Olive. The captain looked at them for a moment, and then he gave a shout, and encircled them both in his great arms.
When they were cool enough to sit down and Olive and Dick had ceased trying to persuade the captain that he was not the happiest of the three, Olive said to him: "I have told Dick everything—about the air-gun and all. Of course, he must know it."
"And I have been looking at you," said Dick, putting his hand upon the captain's shoulder, "as the only hero I have ever met. Not only for what you have done, but for what you have refrained from doing."
"Nonsense!" said the captain. "Olive now—"
"Oh! Olive is Olive!" said Dick. And he did not mind in the least that the captain was present.
* * * * *
It was on the next afternoon that the Broadstone carriage stopped at the toll-gate. Mrs. Easterfield sprang out of it, asking for nobody, for she had spied Olive in the arbor.
"It seems to me," she said, as she burst into tears and took the girl into her arms, "it does seem to me as if I were your own mother!"
"The only one I have," said Olive, "and very dear!"
It was some time after this that Mrs. Easterfield was calm enough to stop the flow of exciting conversation and to say to Olive, taking both her hands tenderly within her own: "My dear, we have been talking a great deal of sentiment, and now I want seriously to speak to you on a matter of business."
"Business!" asked Olive in surprise.
"Yes, it is really business from your point of view; and I have come round to that point of view myself. Olive, I want you to marry!"
"Oh," said Olive, "that is it, is it? That is what you call business?"
"Yes, dear; I am now looking at your future, and at marriage in the very sensible way you regarded those matters when you were staying with me."
"But," said Olive, who could scarcely help laughing, "there was a good reason then for my being so sensible, and that reason no longer exists. I can now afford single-blessedness."
"No, Olive, dear, you can not. Circumstances are all against that consummation. You are not made for that sort of thing. And your uncle is an old man, and even with him you need a young protector. I want you to marry Richard Lancaster. You know my heart has been set on it for some time, and now I urge it. You could never bring forth a single objection to him."
"Except that I did not love him."
"Neither did you love the young men you were considering as eligible. Now, do try to be a sensible girl."
"Mrs. Easterfield, are you laughing at me?" asked Olive.
"Far from it, my dear. I am desperately in earnest. You see, recent events—"
"Dick Lancaster and I are engaged to be married," said Olive demurely, not waiting for the end of that sentence. "And," she added, laughing at Mrs. Easterfield's astonished countenance, "I have not yet considered whether or not it is sensible."
After Mrs. Easterfield had given a half dozen kisses to partly express her pleasure, she said: "And where is he now? I must see him!"
"He went back to his college late last night; it was impossible for him to stay here any longer at present."
As Mrs. Easterfield was going away—she had waited and waited for the captain who had not come—Olive detained her.
"You are so dear," she said, "that I must tell you a great thing." And then she told the story of the two men in the barouche.
Mrs. Easterfield turned pale, and sat down again. She had actually lost her self-possession. She made Olive tell her the story over and over again. "It is too much," she said, "for one day. I am glad the captain is not here, I would not know what to say to him. I may tell Tom?" she said. "I must tell him; he will be silent as a rock."
Olive smiled. "Yes, you may tell Tom," she said.
"I have told Dick, but on no account must Harry ever know anything about it."
Mrs. Easterfield looked at her in amazement. That the girl could joke at such a moment!
When the captain came home Olive told him how she had entrusted the great secret to Mrs. Easterfield and her husband.
"Well," said he, "I intended to tell you, but haven't had a chance yet, that I spoke of the matter to Mrs. Faulkner. So I have told two persons and you have told three, and I suppose that is about the proportion in which men and women keep secrets."
In which Some Great Changes are Recorded.
A few days after his return to his college Prof. Richard Lancaster found among his letters one signed "Your backer, Claude Locker."
The letter began:
"You owe her to me. You should never forget that. If I had done better no one can say what might have been the result. This proposition can not be gainsaid, for as no one ever saw me do better, how should anybody know? I knew I was leaving her to you. She might not have known it, but I did. I did not suppose it would come so soon, but I was sure it would ultimately come to pass. It has come to pass, and I feel triumphant. In the great race in which I had the honor to run, you made a most admirable second. The best second is he who comes in first. In order for a second to take first place it is necessary that the leader in the race, be that leader horse, man, or boat, should experience a change in conditions. I experienced such a change, voluntary or involuntary it is unnecessary to say. You came in first, and I congratulate you as no living being can congratulate you who has not felt for a moment or two that it was barely possible that he might, in some period of existence, occupy the position which you now hold.
"Do not be surprised if you hear of my early marriage. Some woman no better-looking than I am may seek me out. If this should happen, and you know of it, please think of me with gratitude, and remember that I was once
Olive also received a letter from Mr. Locker, which ran thus:
"Mrs. Easterfield told me. She wrote me a letter about it, and I think her purpose was to make me thoroughly understand that I was not in this matter at all. She did not say anything of the kind, but I think she thought it would be a dreadful thing, if by any act of mine, I should cause you to reconsider your arrangement with Professor Lancaster. I have written to the said professor, and have told him that it is not improbable that I shall soon marry. I don't know yet to what lady I shall be united, but I believe in the truth of the adage, 'that all things come to those who can not wait.' They are in such a hurry that they take what they can get.
"If you do not think that this is a good letter, please send it back and I will write another. What I am trying to say is, that I would sacrifice my future wife, no matter who she may be, to see you happy. And now believe me always
"Your most devoted acquaintance,
"P.S.—Wouldn't it be a glorious thing if you were to be married in church with all the rejected suitors as groomsmen and Lancaster as an old Roman conqueror with the captive princess tied behind!"
Now that all the turmoil of her life was over, and Olive at peace with herself, her thoughts dwelt with some persistency upon two of her rejected suitors. Until now she had had but little comprehension of the love a man may feel for a woman—perhaps because she herself never loved—but now she looked back upon that period of her life at Broadstone with a good deal of compunction. At that time it had seemed to her that it really made very little difference to her three lovers which one she accepted, or if she rejected them all. But now she asked herself if it could be possible that Du Brant and Hemphill had for her anything of the feeling she now had for Dick Lancaster. (Locker did not trouble her mind at all.) If so, she had treated them with a cruel and shameful carelessness. She had really intended to marry one of them, but not from any good and kind feeling; she was actuated solely by pique and self-interest; and she had, perhaps, sacrificed honest love to her selfishness; and, what was worse, had treated it with what certainly appeared like contempt, although she certainly had not intended that.
She felt truly sorry, and cast about in her mind for some means of reparation. She could think of but one way: to find for each of them a very nice girl—a great deal nicer than herself—and to marry them all with her blessing. But, unfortunately for this scheme, Olive had no girl friends. She had acquaintances "picked up here and there," as she said, but she knew very little about any of them, and not one of them had ever struck her as being at all angelic or superior in any way. Neither of the young men who were lying so heavily on her mind had written to any one, either at the toll-gate or at Broadstone, since the very public affair in which she had played a conspicuous part; and her consolation was that as each one had read that account he had said to himself: "I am thankful that girl did not accept me! What a fortunate escape!" But still she wished that she had behaved differently at Broadstone.
She said nothing to any one of these musings, but she ventured one day to ask Mr. Easterfield how Mr. Hemphill was faring. His reply was only half satisfactory. He reported the young man as doing very well, and being well; he was growing fat, and that did not improve his looks; and he was getting more and more taciturn and self-absorbed. "Why was he taciturn?" Olive asked herself. "Was he brooding and melancholy?" She did not know anything about the fat, and what might be its primal cause; but her mind was not set at ease about him.
Things went on quietly and pleasantly at the toll-gate, and at Broadstone. Dick came down as often as he could and spent a day or two (usually including a Sunday) with Olive and her uncle. It was now October, and colleges were in full tide. It was also the hunting season, and that meant that Mr. Tom would be at Broadstone for a couple of weeks, and Mrs. Easterfield said she must have Olive at that time. And, in order to make the house lively, she invited Lieutenant Asher and his wife at the same time, as Olive and her young stepmother were now very good friends. Then the captain invited his old friend Captain Lancaster, Dick's father, to visit him at the toll-gate.
These were bright days for these old shipmates; and, strange to say, as they sat and puffed, they did not talk so much of things that had been, as they puffed and made plans of things which were to be. And these plans always concerned the niece of one, and the son of the other. Captain Asher was not at all satisfied with Dick's position in the college. He could not see how eminence awaited any young man who taught theories; he would like Dick's future to depend on facts.
"Two and two make four," said he; "there is no need of any theory about that, and that's the sort of thing that suits me."
Captain Lancaster smiled. He was a dry old salt, and listened more than he talked.
"Just now," he remarked, "I guess Dick will stick to his theories, and for a while he won't be apt to give his mind to mathematics very much, except to that kind of figuring which makes him understand that one and one makes one."
There was a thing the two old mates were agreed upon. No matter-what Dick's position might be in the college, his salary should be as large as that of any other professor. They could do it, and they would do it. They liked the idea, and they shook hands over it.
Olive was greatly pleased with Captain Lancaster. "There is the scent of the sea about him," she wrote to Dick, "as there is about Uncle John and father, but it is different. It is constant and fixed, like the smell of salt mackerel. He would never keep a toll-gate; nor would he marry a young wife. Not that I object to either of these things, for if the one had not happened I would never have known you; and if the other had not happened, I might not have become engaged to you."
The two captains dined at Broadstone while Olive was there, and Captain Lancaster highly approved of Mrs. Easterfield. All seafaring men did—as well as most other men.
"It is a shame she had to marry a landsman," said Captain Lancaster, when he and Captain John had gone home. "It seems to me she would have suited you."
"You might mention that the next time you go to her house," said Captain Asher. "I don't believe it has ever been properly considered."
It was at this time that Olive's mind was set at rest about one of her discarded lovers. Mr. Du Brant wrote her a letter.
"MY DEAR MISS ASHER—It is very long since I have had any communication with you, but this silence on my part has been the result of circumstances, and not owing, I assure you upon my honor, to any diminution of the great regard (to use a moderate term) which I feel for you. I had not the pleasure of seeing you when I left Broadstone, but our mutual friend, Mrs. Easterfield, told me you had sent to me a message. I firmly (but I trust politely) declined to receive it. And so, my dear Miss Asher, as the offer I made you then has never received any acknowledgment, I write now to renew it. I lay my heart at your feet, and entreat you to do me the honor of accepting my hand in marriage.
"And let me here frankly state that when first I read of your great deed—you are aware, of course, to what I refer—I felt I must banish all thought of you from my heart. Let me explain my position, I had just received news of the death of my uncle, Count Rosetra, and that I had inherited his title and estates. It is a noble name, and the estates are great. Could I confer these upon one who was being so publicly discussed—the actor in so terrible a drama? I owed more to society, and to my noble race, and to my country than I had done before becoming a noble. But ah, my torn heart! O Miss Asher, that heart was true to you through all, and has asserted itself in a vehement way. I recognized your deed as noble; I thought of your beauty and your intellect; of your attractive vivacity; of your manner and bearing, all so fine; and I realized how you would grace my title and my home; how you would help me to carry out the great ambitions I have.
"Will you, lady, deign to accept my homage and my love? A favorable answer will bring me to make my personal solicitations.
"Your most loving and faithful servant,
"CHRISTIAN DU BRANT.
"(Now Count Rosetra.)"
"What a bombastic mixture!" thought Olive, as she read this effusion. "I wonder if there is any real love in it! If there is, it is so smothered it is easily extinguished."
And she extinguished it; and thoughts of Count Rosetra troubled her no more.
She did not show Dick this letter, but she thought it due to Mrs. Easterfield to read it to her. "He has got it into his head that an American woman, such as you, will make his house attractive to people he wants there," commented that lady. "You have not considered me at all, you ungrateful girl! Only think how I could have exploited 'my friend, the countess'! And what a fine place for me to visit!"
It had been arranged by the two houses that Dick and Olive should be married in the early summer when the college closed; and Mrs. Easterfield had arranged in her own mind that the wedding should be in her city house. It would not be too late in the season for a stylish wedding—a thing Mrs. Easterfield had often wished she could arrange, and it was hopeless to think of waiting until her little ones could help her to this desire of her heart. She held this great secret in reserve, however, for a delightful surprise at the proper time.
But she and Olive both had a wedding surprise before Olive's visit was finished. It was, in fact, the day before Olive's return to the toll-gate that Mr. Easterfield walked in upon them as they were sitting at work in Mrs. Easterfield's room. He had been unexpectedly summoned to the city three days before, and had gone with no explanation to his wife. She did not think much about it, as he was accustomed to going and coming in a somewhat erratic manner.
"It seems to me," she said, looking at him critically after the first greetings, "that you have an important air."
"I am the bearer of important news," he said, puffing out his cheeks.
In answer to the battery of excited inquiries which opened upon him he finally said: "I was solemnly invited to town to attend a solemn function, and I solemnly went, and am now solemnly returned."
"Pshaw!" said Mrs. Easterfield. "I don't believe it's anything."
"A wedding is something. A very great something. It is a solemn thing; and made more solemn by the loss of my secretary."
"What!" almost screamed his wife. "Mr. Hemphill?"
"The very man. And, O Miss Olive, if you could but have seen him in his wedding-clothes your heart would have broken to think that you had lost the opportunity of standing by them at the altar."
"But who was the bride?" asked Mrs. Easterfield impatiently.
"Miss Eliza Grogworthy."
"Now, Tom, I know you are joking! Why can't you be serious?"
"I am as serious as were that couple. I have known her for some time, and she was very visible."
"Why, she is old enough to be his mother!"
"Not quite, my dear. In such a case as this, one must be particular about ages. She is a few years older than he is probably, but she is not bad looking, and a good woman with a nice big house and lots of money. He has walked out of my office into a fine position, and I unselfishly congratulated him with all my heart."
"Poor Mr. Hemphill!" sighed Olive. She was thinking of the very young man she had sighed for when a very young girl.
"He needs no pity," said Mr. Easterfield seriously. "I should not be surprised if he feels glad that he was not—well, we won't say what," he added, looking mischievously at Olive. "This is really a great deal better thing for him. He is not a favorite of my wife, but he is a thoroughly good fellow in his way, and I have always liked him. There were certain things necessary to him in this life, and he has got them. That can not be said about everybody by a long shot! No, he is to be congratulated."
Olive was silent. She was trying to make up her mind that he was really to be congratulated, and to get rid of a lingering doubt.
"Well, that is the end of him in our affairs!" exclaimed Mrs. Easterfield. "Why didn't you tell us what you were going to town for?"
"Because he asked me not to mention it to any one. And, besides, that is not all I went to town for."
"Oh," said his wife, "any more weddings?"
"No," said Mr. Easterfield, helping himself to an easy chair. "You know I have lately been so much with nautical people I have acquired a taste for the sea."
"I did not know it," said his wife; "but what of it?"
"Well, as Lieutenant Asher and his wife are here yet, and have no earthly reason for being anywhere in particular; and as Captain Asher seems to be tired of the toll-gate; and as Captain Lancaster doesn't care where he is; and as Miss Olive doesn't know what to do with herself until it is time for her to get married; and as you are always ready to go gadding; and as the children need bracing up; and as you can not get along without Miss Raleigh; and as Mrs. Blynn is a good housekeeper; and as I have an offer for renting our town house; I propose that we all go to sea together."
The two ladies had listened breathlessly to these words, and now Olive sprang up in great excitement, and Mrs. Easterfield clapped her hands in delight.
"How clever you are, Tom!" she exclaimed. "What a splendid idea! How can we go?"
"I have leased a yacht, and we are going to the Mediterranean."
"It has just Begun!"
This wonderful scheme which Mr. Easterfield had planned and carried out met with general favor. Perhaps if they had all been consulted before he made the plan there would have been many alterations, and discussions, and doubts. But the thing was done, and there was nothing to say but "Yes" or "No." The time had come for the house party at Broadstone to break up, and the lieutenant and Mrs. Asher had arranged to spend the next few months in the city, but they gladly accepted Mr. Easterfield's generous invitation and would return to the toll-gate alter a few weeks preparatory to sailing, that the party might get together, for Captain Lancaster was to remain at the tollhouse. Mr. Easterfield also invited Claude Locker "to make things lively in rough weather," and that young man accepted with much alacrity.
Mrs. Easterfield was in such a state of delight that she nearly lost her self-possession. Sometimes, her husband told her, she scarcely spoke rationally. If she had been asked to wish anything that love or money could bring her, it would have been this very thing; but she would not have believed it possible. She was busy everywhere planning for everybody, and making out various lists. But, as she said, there is a little black spot in almost every joy. And her little black spot was Dick Lancaster.
"Poor Professor Lancaster!" she said to her husband. "We to have such a great pleasure, and he shut up in close rooms! And Olive far away!"
"Are you sure about Olive?" asked Mr. Easterfield. "She has never said positively that she is going. I most earnestly hope that she will not back out because Lancaster can not go. If she stays her uncle will stay."
"And for that very reason she will go," said Mrs. Easterfield. "And I think Professor Lancaster will urge her to go. He is unselfish enough, I am sure, to wish her to have this great pleasure. And, talking of Olive, one thing is certain, Tom, we must be back early in the spring. There will be a great deal to do before the wedding. And, O Tom, I will tell you—but you must not tell any one, for I am keeping it for a surprise—I am going to give them a fine wedding. They will be married in church, of course, but the reception will be at our house. You will like that, I know."
"Will there be good eating?"
"Plenty of it."
"Then I shall like it."
All this was very well, but, nevertheless, this talk made the enthusiastic lady a little uneasy. It was true Olive had never said in words conclusively whether she would go or not. But she was extremely anxious that her father should go, and she implicitly followed Mrs. Easterfield's directions in making preparations for him, and was just as earnest in making her own; and her friend was certainly justified in thinking all this was a tacit consent.
As for the two captains, they were so delighted at this heavenly prospect that they gave up talking about Dick and Olive, and read guide-books to each other, and studied maps, and sea-charts until their brains were nearly addled. They were a source of great amusement to the young people when Dick came for his frequent short visits.
It was evident to all interested that Professor Lancaster approved of the expedition, for he entered heartily into all the talk about the various places to be visited, and all that was to be done on the vessel; and he did not bore them with any lamentations in regard to the coming separation between him and Olive. And, of course, every one respected his feelings, and said nothing to him about it.
The weeks went by; all the preparations were made; and at last the time came when the company were to assemble at the toll-gate and Broadstone before the final plunge into the unknown. Olive wished to have them all to dinner on the first day of this short visit.
"Our house is a little one," she said to Mrs. Easterfield, "but we can make it big enough. You know nautical people understand how to do that. What a jolly company we shall have! You know Dick will be there."
"Yes, poor Dick!" sighed Mrs. Easterfield, when Olive had left.
The Easterfields, with Lieutenant Asher and his wife, arrived very promptly at the toll-gate on that important day, and their drive through the bright, crisp air put them in a merry mood. They had hoped to bring Mr. Locker, but he had not arrived. They found two captains at the toll-gate in even merrier mood. Dick Lancaster was there, having arrived that morning, and they were none of them surprised that he looked serious. The ladies were not immediately asked to go up-stairs to remove their wraps, for Olive was not there to receive them. She soon, however, made her appearance in a lovely white dress that had been made for the trip under Mrs. Easterfield's supervision. Dick Lancaster immediately got up from his chair and joined her; and the Reverend Mr. Faulkner appeared from some mysterious place, and the astonished guests were treated to a very pretty marriage ceremony.
It was soon over, and the two jolly captains laughed heartily at the bewilderment of the Broadstone party. And then there was a wild time of hand-shaking and congratulations and embracing. By his wife's orders, Mr. Tom kissed Olive, which seemed perfectly proper to everybody except Mrs. Lieutenant Asher. She was also a young bride, with no similar experiences.
Later, when all were composed, Olive explained. "What has happened just now is all on account of Mr. Easterfield's invitation. I wrote immediately to Dick, and we settled it between us that he would ask for a vacation—they always give vacations when professors are married, and he knew of some one to take his place—and then we would be married, and ask Mr. and Mrs. Easterfield to invite us to take our wedding trip with them. Dick had to stay at the college until the last minute almost, and so we didn't say anything about the wedding—and we were both afraid of—well, we don't like a fuss—and so we planned this. And when Dick came he brought the license and Mr. Faulkner. And now I don't see how Mr. Easterfield can help inviting us."
Mr. Easterfield was standing by his wife, and as Olive finished her explanation he took his wife's hand and gave it a gentle squeeze of sympathy; and that heroic woman never flinched; nor did she ever say one word about that pretty wedding she had planned for the spring.
They had all nearly finished the fried chicken with white sauce, when Claude Locker arrived. He had missed the regular train and had come on a freight; had got a horse when he reached Broadstone.
"I am more tired than if I had walked," he grumbled. "I am always in bad luck! I am an unlucky dog! But you are so good you will excuse me, Miss Asher."
"That is not my name," said Olive gravely.
And with both eyes of the same size, Mr. Locker looked around, wondering why everybody was laughing.
"Let me introduce Mrs. Lancaster," said Dick with a bow.
"Do you mean," cried Locker, starting up, "that this thing is really done?"
"No," said Olive. "It has just begun."