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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Bicycle Of Cathay: A Novel - Chapter 17. A Forecaster Of Human Probabilities
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A Bicycle Of Cathay: A Novel - Chapter 17. A Forecaster Of Human Probabilities Post by :Ndoki Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :3339

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A Bicycle Of Cathay: A Novel - Chapter 17. A Forecaster Of Human Probabilities


I was about to turn in the direction of Walford, but then into my trouble-tossed mind there came the recollection that I had intended, no matter what happened, to call on the Larramies before I went home. I owed it to them, and at this moment their house seemed like a port of refuge.

The Larramies received me with wide-opened eyes and outstretched hands. They were amazed to see me before the end of my vacation, for no member of that family had ever come back from a vacation before it was over; but they showed that they were delighted to have me with them, be it sooner or later than they had expected, and I had not been in the house ten minutes before I received three separate invitations to make that house my home until school began again.

The house was even livelier than when I left it. There was a married couple visiting there, enthusiastic devotees of golf; one of Mr. Walter's college friends was with him; and, to my surprise, Miss Amy Willoughby was there again.

Genevieve received me with the greatest warmth, and I could see that her hopes of a gentleman friend revived. Little Clara demanded to be kissed as soon as she saw me, and I think she now looked upon me as a permanent uncle or something of that kind. As soon as possible I was escorted by the greater part of the family to see the bear.

Miss Edith had welcomed me as if I had been an old friend. It warmed my heart to receive the frank and cordial handshake she gave me. She said very little, but there was a certain interrogation in her eyes which assured me that she had much to ask when the time came. As for me, I was in no hurry for that time to come. I did not feel like answering questions, and with as much animation as I could assume I talked to everybody as we went to see the bear.

This animal had grown very fat and super-contented, but I found that the family were in the condition of Gentleman Waife in Bulwer's novel, and were now wondering what they would do with it.

"You see," cried Percy, who was the principal showman, "the neighbors are all on pins and needles about him. Ever since the McKenna sisters spread the story that Orso was in the habit of getting under beds, there isn't a person within five miles of here who can go to bed without looking under it to see if there is a bear there. There are two houses for sale about a mile down the road, and we don't know any reason why people should want to go away except it's the bear. Nearly all the dogs around here are kept chained up for fear that Orso will get hold of them, and there is a general commotion, I can tell you. At first it was great fun, but it is getting a little tiresome now. We have been talking about shooting him, and then I shall have his bones, which I am going to set up as a skeleton, and it is my opinion that you ought to have the skin."

Several demurrers now arose, for nobody seemed to think that I would want such an ugly skin as that.

"Ugly!" cried Percy, who was evidently very anxious to pursue his study of comparative anatomy. "It's a magnificent skin. Look at that long, heavy fur. Why, if you take that skin and have it all cleaned, and combed out, and dyed some nice color, it will be fit to put into any room."

Genevieve was in favor of combing and cleaning, oiling and dyeing the hide of the bear without taking it off.

"If you would do that," she declared, "he would be a beautiful bear, and we would give him away. They would be glad to have him at Central Park."

The Larramies would not listen to my leaving that day. There were a good many people in the house, but there was room enough for me, and, when we had left the bear without solving the problem of his final disposition, there were so many things to be done and so many things to be said that it was late in the afternoon before Miss Edith found the opportunity of speaking to me for which she had been waiting so long.

"Well," said she, as we walked together away from the golf links, but not towards the house, "what have you to report?"

"Report?" I repeated, evasively.

"Yes, you promised to do that, and I always expect people to fulfil their promises to me. You came here by the way of the Holly Sprig Inn, didn't you?"

I assented. "A very roundabout way," she said. "It would have been seven miles nearer if you had come by the cross-road. But I suppose you thought you must go there first."

"That is what I thought," I answered.

"Have you been thinking about her all the time you have been away?"

"Nearly all the time."

"And actually cut off a big slice of your vacation in order to see her?"

I replied that this was precisely the state of the case.

"But, after all, you weren't successful. You need not tell me anything about that--I knew it as soon as I saw you this morning. But I will ask you to answer one thing: Is the decision final?"

I sighed--I could not help it, but she did not even smile. "Yes," I said, "the affair is settled definitely."

For a minute or so we walked on silently, and then she said: "I do not want you to think I am hard-hearted, but I must say what is in me. I congratulate you, and, at the same time, I am sorry for her."

At this amazing speech I turned suddenly towards her, and we both stopped.

"Yes," said she, standing before me with her clear eyes fixed upon my face, "you are to be congratulated. I think it is likely she is the most charming young woman you are ever likely to meet--and I know a great deal more about her than you do, for I have known her for a long time, and your acquaintance is a very short one--she has qualities you do not know anything about; she is lovely! But for all that it would be very wrong for you to marry her, and I am glad she had sense enough not to let you do it."

"Why do you say that?" I asked, a little sharply.

"Of course you don't like it," she replied, "but it is true. She may be as lovely as you think her--and I am sure she is. She may be of good family, finely educated, and a great many more things, but all that goes for nothing beside the fact that for over five years she has been the landlady of a little hotel."

"I do not care a snap for that!" I exclaimed. "I like her all the better for it. I--"

"That makes it worse," she interrupted, and as she spoke I could not but recollect that a similar remark had been made to me before. "I have not the slightest doubt that you would have been perfectly willing to settle down as the landlord of a little hotel. But if you had not--even if you had gone on in the course which father has marked out for you, and you ought to hear him talk about you--you might have become famous, rich, nobody knows what, perhaps President of a college, but still everybody would have known that your wife was the young woman who used to keep the Holly Sprig Inn, and asked the people who came there if they objected to a back room, and if they wanted tea or coffee for their breakfast. Of course Mrs. Chester thought too much of you to let you consider any such foolishness."

I made no answer to this remark. I thought the young woman was taking a great deal upon herself.

"Of course," she continued, "it would have been a great thing for Mrs. Chester, and I honor her that she stood up stiffly and did the thing she ought to do. I do not know what she said when she gave you her final answer, but whatever it was it was the finest compliment she could have paid you."

I smiled grimly. "She likened me to a bear," I said. "Do you call that a compliment?"

Edith Larramie looked at me, her eyes sparkling. "Tell me one thing," she said. "When she spoke to you in that way weren't you trying to find out how she felt about the matter exclusive of the inn?"

I could not help smiling again as I assented.

"There!" she exclaimed. "I am beginning to have the highest respect for my abilities as a forecaster of human probabilities. It was like you to try to find out that, and it was like her to snub you. But let's walk on. Would you like me to give you some advice."

"I am afraid your advice is not worth very much," I answered, "but I will hear it."

"Well, then," she said, "I advise you to fall in love with somebody else just as soon as you can. That is the best way to get this affair out of your mind, and until you do that you won't be worth anything."

I felt that I now knew this girl so well that I could say anything to her. "Very well, then," said I; "suppose I fall in love with you?"

"That isn't a very nice speech," she said. "There is a little bit of spitefulness in it. But it doesn't mean anything, anyway. I am out of the competition, and that is the reason I can speak to you so freely. Moreover, that is the reason I know so much about the matter. I am not biassed. But you need have no trouble--there's Amy."

"Don't say Amy to me, I beg of you!" I exclaimed.

"Why not?" she persisted. "She is very pretty. She is as good as she can be. She is rich. And if she were your wife you would want her to talk more than she does, you would be so glad to listen to her. I might say more about Amy, but I won't."

"Would it be very impolite," said I, "if I whistled?"

"I don't know," she said, "but you needn't do it. I will consider it done. Now I will speak of Bertha Putney. I was bound to mention Amy first, because she is my dear friend, but Miss Putney is a grand girl. And I do not mind telling you that she takes a great interest in you."

"How do you know that?" I asked.

"I have seen her since you were here--she lunched with us. As soon as she heard your name mentioned--and that was bound to happen, for this family has been talking about you ever since they first knew you--she began to ask questions. Of course the bear came up, and she wanted to know every blessed thing that happened. But when she found out that you got the bear at the Holly Sprig her manner changed, and she talked no more about you at the table.

"But in the afternoon she had a great deal to say to me. I did not know exactly what she was driving at, and I may have told her too much. We said a great many things--some of which I remember and some I do not--but I am sure that I never knew a woman to take more interest in a man than she takes in you. So it is my opinion that if you would stop at the Putneys' on your way home you might do a great deal to help you get rid of the trouble you are now in. It makes me feel something like a spy in a camp to talk this way, but I told you I was your friend, and I am going to be one. Spies are all right when they are loyal to their own side."

I was very glad to have such a girl on my side, but this did not seem to be a very good time to talk about the advantages of a call upon Miss Putney.

In spite of all the entreaties of the Larramie family, I persisted in my intention of going on to Walford the next morning, and, in reply to their assurances that I would find it dreadfully dull in that little village during the rest of my vacation, I told them that I should be very much occupied and should have no time to be dull. I was going seriously to work to prepare myself for my profession. For a year or two I had been deferring this important matter, waiting until I had laid by enough money to enable me to give up school-teaching and to apply myself entirely to the studies which would be necessary. All this would give me enough to do, and vacation was the time in which I ought to do it. The distractions of the school session were very much in the way of a proper contemplation of my own affairs.

"That sounds very well," said Miss Edith, when there was no one by, "but if you cannot get the Holly Sprig Inn out of your mind, I do not believe you will do very much 'proper contemplation.' Take my advice and stop at the Putneys'. It can do you no harm, and it might help to free your mind of distractions a great deal worse than those of the school."

"By filling it with other distractions, I suppose you mean," I answered. "A fickle-minded person you must think me. But it pleases me so much to have you take an interest in me that I do not resent any of your advice."

She laughed. "I like to give advice," she said, "but I must admit that I sometimes think better of a person if he does not take it. But I will say--and this is all the advice I am going to give you at present--that if you want to be successful in making love, you must change your methods. You cannot expect to step up in front of a girl and stop her short as if she were a runaway horse. A horse doesn't like that sort of thing, and a girl doesn't like it. You must take more time about it. A runaway girl doesn't hurt anybody, and, if you are active enough, you can jump in behind and take the reins and stop her gradually without hurting her feelings, and then, most likely, you can drive her for all the rest of your life."

"You ought to have that speech engraved in uncial characters on a slab of stone," said I. "Any museum would be glad to have it."

I had two reasons besides the one I gave for wishing to leave this hospitable house. In the first place, Edith Larramie troubled me. I did not like to have any one know so much about my mental interior--or to think she knew so much. I did not like to feel that I was being managed. I had a strong belief that if anybody jumped into a vehicle she was pulling he would find that she was doing her own driving and would allow no interferences. I liked her very much, but I was sure that away from her I would feel freer in mind.

The other reason for my leaving was Amy Willoughby. During my little visit to her house my acquaintance with her had grown with great rapidity. Now I seemed to know her very well, and the more I knew her the better I liked her. It may be vanity, but I think she wanted me to like her, and one reason for believing this was the fact that when she was with me--and I saw a great deal of her during the afternoon and evening I spent with the Larramies--she did not talk so much, and when she did speak she invariably said something I wanted to hear.

Remembering the remarks which had been made about her by her friend Edith, I could not but admit that she was a very fine girl, combining a great many attractive qualities, but I rebelled against every conviction I had in regard to her. I did not want to think about her admirable qualities. I did not want to believe that in time they would impress me more forcibly than they did now. I did not want people to imagine that I would come to be so impressed. If I stayed there I might almost look upon her in the light of a duty.

The family farewell the next morning was a tumultuous one. Invitations to ride up again during my vacation, to come and spend Saturdays and Sundays, were intermingled with earnest injunctions from Genevieve in regard to a correspondence which she wished to open with me for the benefit of her mind, and declarations from Percy that he would let me know all about the bear as soon as it was decided what would be the best thing to happen to him, and entreaties from little Clara that I would not go away without kissing her good-bye.

But amid the confusion Miss Edith found a chance to say a final word to me. "Don't you try," she said, as I was about to mount my bicycle, "to keep those holly sprigs in your brain until Christmas. They are awfully stickery, they will not last, and, besides, there will not be any Christmas."

"And how about New-Year's Day?" I asked.

"That is the way to talk," skid she. "Keep your mind on that and you will be all right."

As I rode along I could not forget that it would be necessary for me to pass the inn. I had made inquiries, but there were no byways which would serve my purpose. There was nothing for me to do but keep on, and on I kept. I should pass so noiselessly and so swiftly that I did not believe any one would notice me, unless, indeed, it should be the boy. I earnestly hoped that I should not see the boy.

Whether or not I was seen from the inn as I passed it I do not know. In fact, I did not know when I passed it. No shout of immature diabolism caught my ear, no scent of lemon came into my nostrils, and I saw nothing but the line of road directly in front of me.

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