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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Bicycle Of Cathay: A Novel - Chapter 15. Miss Willoughby
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A Bicycle Of Cathay: A Novel - Chapter 15. Miss Willoughby Post by :vbhnl Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :2286

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A Bicycle Of Cathay: A Novel - Chapter 15. Miss Willoughby


It was decreed the next day that I should not leave until after dinner. They would send me over to Blackburn Station by a cross-road, and I could then reach Waterton in less than an hour. "There is another good thing about this arrangement," said Miss Edith, for it was she who announced it to me, "and that is that you can take charge of Amy."

I gazed at her mystified, and she said, "Don't you know that Miss Willoughby is going in the same train with you?"

"What!" I exclaimed, far too forcibly.

"Yes. Her visit ends to-day. She lives in Waterton. But why should that affect you so wonderfully? I am sure you cannot object to an hour in the train with Amy Willoughby. She may talk a good deal, but you must admit that she talks well."

"Object!" I said. "Of course I don't object. She talks very well indeed, and I shall be glad to have the pleasure of her company."

"No one would have thought so," she said, looking at me with a criticising eye, "who had seen you when you heard she was going."

"It was the suddenness," I said.

"Oh yes," she replied, "and your delicate nerves."

In my soul I cried out to myself: "Am I ever to break free from young women! Is there to be a railroad accident between here and Waterton! If so, I shall save the nearest old gentleman!"

I believe the Larramies were truly sorry to have me go. Each one of them in turn told me so. Mrs. Larramie again said to me, with tears in her eyes, that it made her shudder to think what that home might be if it had not been for me.

Mr. Larramie and Walter promised to get up some fine excursions if I would stay a little longer, and Genevieve made me sit down beside her under a tree.

"I am awfully sorry you are going," she said. "I always wanted a gentleman friend, and I believe if you'd stay a little longer you'd be one. You see, Walter is really too old for me to confide in, and Percy thinks he's too old--and that's a great deal worse. But you're just the age I like. There are so many things I would say to you if you lived here."

Little Clara, cried when she heard I was going, and I felt myself obliged to commit the shameful deception of talking about baby bears and my possible return to this place.

Miss Edith accompanied us to the station, and when I took leave of her on the platform she gave me a good, hearty handshake. "I believe that we shall see each other again," she said, "and when we meet I want you to make a report, and I hope it will be a good one!"

"About what?" I asked.

She smiled in gentle derision, and the conductor cried, "All aboard!"

I found a vacant seat, and, side by side, Miss Willoughby and I sped on towards Waterton.

For some time I had noticed that Miss Willoughby had ceased to look past me when she spoke to me, and now she fixed her eyes fully upon me and said:

"I am always sorry when I go away from that house, for I think the people who live there are the dearest in the world, excepting my own mother and aunt, who are nearer to me than anybody else, although, if I needed a mother, Mrs. Larramie would take me to her heart, I am sure, just as if I were her own daughter, and I am not related to them in any way, although I have always looked upon Edith as a sister, and I don't believe that if I had a real sister she could possibly have been as dear a girl as Edith, who is so lovable and tender and forgiving--whenever there is anything to forgive--and who, although she is a girl of such strong character and such a very peculiar way of thinking about things, has never said a hard word to me in all her life, even when she found that our opinions were different, which was something she often did find, for she looks upon everything in this world in her own way, and bases all her judgments upon her own observations and convictions, while I am very willing to let those whom I think I ought to look up to and respect judge for me--at least in a great many things, but of course not in all matters, for there are some things which we must decide for ourselves without reference to other people's opinions, though I should be sorry indeed if I had so many things to decide as Edith has, or rather chooses to have, for if she would depend more upon other people I think it would not only be easier for her, but really make her happier, for if you could hear some of the wonderful things which she has discussed with me after we have gone to bed at night it would really make your head ache--that is, if you are subject to that sort of thing, which I am if I am kept awake too long, but I am proud to say that I don't think I ever allowed Edith to suppose that I was tired of hearing her talk, for when any one is as lovely as she is I think she ought to be allowed to talk about what she pleases and just along as she pleases."


Surprising as it may appear, nothing happened on that railroad journey. No cow of Cathay blundered in front of the locomotive; no freight train came around a curve going in the opposite direction upon the same track; everything went smoothly and according to schedule. Miss Willoughby did not talk all the time. She was not the greatest talker I ever knew; she was not even the fastest; she was always willing to wait until her turn came, but she had wonderful endurance for a steady stretch. She never made a bad start, she never broke, she went steadily over the track until the heat had been run.

When the time came for me to speak she listened with great interest, and sometimes at my words her eyes sparkled almost as much as they did when she was speaking herself. She knew a great many things, and I was pleased to find out that she was especially interested in the good qualities of the people she knew. I never heard so many gracious sentiments in so short a time.

Miss Willoughby's residence was but a short distance from the station at Waterton; and as she thought it entirely unnecessary to take a cab, I attended to her baggage, and offered to walk with her to her home and carry her little bag. I was about to leave her at the door, but this she positively forbade. I must step in for a minute or two to see her mother and her aunt They had heard of me, and would never forgive her if she let me go without their seeing me. As the door opened immediately, we went in.

Miss Willoughby's mother and aunt were two most charming elderly ladies, immaculately dainty in their dress, cordial of manner, bright of eye, and diminutive of hand, producing the impression of gentle goodness set off by soft white muslin, folded tenderly.

They had heard of me. In the few days in which I had been with the Larramies, Miss Willoughby had written of me. They insisted that I should stay to supper, for what good reason could there be for my taking that meal at the hotel--not a very good one--when they would be so glad to have me sup with them and talk about our mutual friends?

I had no reasonable objection to offer, and, returning to the station, I took my baggage to the hotel, where I prepared to sup with the Willoughby family.

They were now a little family of three, although there was a brother who had started away the day before on a bicycling tour very like my own, and they were both so delighted to have Amy visit the Larramies, and they were both so delighted to have her come back.

The supper was a delicate one, suitable for canary birds, but at an early stage of the meal a savory little sirloin steak was brought on which had been cooked especially for me. Of course I could not be expected to be satisfied with thin dainties, no matter how tasteful they might be.

This house was the abode of intelligence, cultivated taste, and opulence. It was probably the finest mansion of the town. In every room there were things to see, and after supper we looked at them, and, as I wandered from pictures to vases and carved ivory, the remarks of the two elder ladies and Miss Willoughby seemed like a harmonized chorus accompanying the rest of the performance. Each spoke at the right time, each in her turn said the thing she ought to say. It was a rare exhibition of hospitable enthusiasm, tempered by sympathetic consideration for me and for each other.

I soon discovered that many of the water-color drawings on the walls were the work of Miss Willoughby, and when she saw I was interested in them she produced a portfolio of her sketches. I liked her coloring very much. It was sometimes better than her drawing. It was dainty, delicate, and suggestive. One picture attracted me the moment my eyes fell upon it; it was one of the most carefully executed, and it represented the Holly Sprig Inn.

"You recognize that!" said Miss Willoughby, evidently pleased. "You see that light-colored spot in the portico? That's Mrs. Chester; she stood there when I was making the drawing. It is nothing but two or three little dabs, but that is the way she looked at a distance. Around on this side is the corner of the yard where the bear tried to eat up the tire of your bicycle."

I gazed and gazed at the little light-colored spot in the portico. I gave it form, light, feeling. I could see perfect features, blue eyes which looked out at me, a form of simple grace.


I held that picture a good while, saying little, and scarcely listening to Miss Willoughby's words. At last I felt obliged to replace it in the portfolio. If the artist had been a poor girl, I would have offered to buy it; if I had known her better, I would have asked her to give it to me; but I could do nothing but put it back.

Glancing at the clock I saw that it was time for me to go, but when I announced this fact the ladies very much demurred. Why should I go to that uncomfortable hotel? They would send for my baggage. There was not the least reason in the world why I should spend the night in that second-rate establishment.

"See," said Mrs. Willoughby, opening the door of a room in the rear of the parlor, "if you will stay with us to-night we will lodge you in the chamber of the favored guest. All the pictures on the walls were done by my daughter."

I looked into the room. It was the most charming and luxurious bedroom I had ever seen. It was lighted, and the harmony of its furnishings was a treat to the eye.

But I stood firm in my purpose to depart. I would not spend the night in that house. There would be a fire, burglars, I knew not what! Against all kind entreaties I urged the absolute necessity of my starting away by the very break of day, and I could not disturb a private family by any such proceeding. They saw that I was determined to go, and they allowed me to depart.

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