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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 1. Olive
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The Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 1. Olive Post by :sbeard Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :1778

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The Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 1. Olive

CHAPTER I. Olive

A long, wide, and smoothly macadamized road stretched itself from the considerable town of Glenford onward and northward toward a gap in the distant mountains. It did not run through a level country, but rose and fell as if it had been a line of seaweed upon the long swells of the ocean. Upon elevated points upon this road, farm lands and forests could be seen extending in every direction. But there was nothing in the landscape which impressed itself more obtrusively upon the attention of the traveler than the road itself. White in the bright sunlight and gray under the shadows of the clouds, it was the one thing to be seen which seemed to have a decided purpose. Northward or southward, toward the gap in the long line of mountains or toward the wood-encircled town in the valley, it was always going somewhere.

About two miles from the town, and at the top of the first long hill which was climbed by the road, a tall white pole projected upward against the sky, sometimes perpendicularly, and sometimes inclined at a slight angle. This was a turnpike gate or bar, and gave notice to all in vehicles or on horses that the use of this well-kept road was not free to the traveling public. At the approach of persons not known, or too well known, the bar would slowly descend across the road, as if it were a musket held horizontally while a sentinel demanded the password.

Upon the side of the road opposite to the great post on which the toll-gate moved, was a little house with a covered doorway, from which toll could be collected without exposing the collector to sun or rain. This tollhouse was not a plain whitewashed shed, such as is often seen upon turnpike roads, but a neat edifice, containing a comfortable room. On one side of it was a small porch, well shaded by vines, furnished with a settle and two armchairs, while over all a large maple stretched its protecting branches. Back of the tollhouse was a neatly fenced garden, well filled with old-fashioned flowers; and, still farther on, a good-sized house, from which a box-bordered path led through the garden to the tollhouse.

It was a remark that had been made frequently, both by strangers and residents in that part of the country, that if it had not been for the obvious disadvantages of a toll-gate, this house and garden, with its grounds and fields, would be a good enough home for anybody. When he happened to hear this remark Captain John Asher, who kept the toll-gate, was wont to say that it was a good enough home for him, even with the toll-gate, and its obvious disadvantages.

It was on a morning in early summer, when the garden had grown to be so red and white and yellow in its flowers, and so green in its leaves and stalks, that the box which edged the path was beginning to be unnoticed, that a girl sat in a small arbor standing on a slight elevation at one side of the garden, and from which a view could be had both up and down the road. She was rather a slim girl, though tall enough; her hair was dark, her eyes were blue, and she sat on the back of a rustic bench with her feet resting upon the seat; this position she had taken that she might the better view the road.

With both her hands this girl held a small telescope which she was endeavoring to fix upon a black spot a mile or more away upon the road. It was difficult for her to hold the telescope steadily enough to keep the object-glass upon the black spot, and she had a great deal of trouble in the matter of focusing, pulling out and pushing in the smaller cylinder in a manner which showed that she was not accustomed to the use of this optical instrument.

"Field-glasses are ever so much better," she said to herself; "you can screw them to any point you want. But now I've got it. It is very near that cross-road. Good! it did not turn there; it is coming along the pike, and there will be toll to pay. One horse, seven cents."

She put down the telescope as if to rest her arm and eye. Presently, however, she raised the glass again. "Now, let us see," she said, "Uncle John? Jane? or me?" After directing the glass to a point in the air about two hundred feet above the approaching vehicle, and then to another point half a mile to the right of it, she was fortunate enough to catch sight of it again. "I don't know that queer-looking horse," she said. "It must be some stranger, and Jane will do. No, a little boy is driving. Strangers coming along this road would not be driven by little boys. I expect I shall have to call Uncle John." Then she put down the glass and rubbed her eye, after which, with unassisted vision, she gazed along the road. "I can see a great deal better without that old thing," she continued. "There's a woman in that carriage. I'll go myself." With this she jumped down from the rustic seat, and with the telescope under her arm, she skipped through the garden to the little tollhouse.

The name of this girl was Olive Asher. Captain John Asher, who took the toll, was her uncle, and she had now been living with him for about six weeks. Olive was what is known in certain social circles as a navy girl. About twenty years before she had come to her uncle's she had been born in Genoa, her father at the time being a lieutenant on an American war-vessel lying in the harbor of Villa Franca. Her first schooldays were passed in the south of France, and she spent some subsequent years in a German school in Dresden. Here she was supposed to have finished her education but when her father's ship was stationed on our Pacific coast and Olive and her mother went to San Francisco they associated a great deal with army people, and here the girl learned so much more of real life and her own country people that the few years she spent in the far West seemed like a post-graduate course, as important to her true education as any of the years she had spent in schools.

After the death of her mother, when Olive was about eighteen, the girl had lived with relatives, East and West, hoping for the day when her father's three years' cruise would terminate, and she could go and make a home for him in some pleasant spot on shore. Now, in the course of these family visits she had come to stay with her father's brother, John Asher, who kept the toll-gate on the Glenford pike.

Captain John Asher was an older man than his brother, the naval officer, but he was in the prime of life, and able to hold the command of a ship if he had cared to do it. But having been in the merchant service for a long time, and having made some money, he had determined to leave the sea and to settle on shore; and, finding this commodious house by the toll-gate, he settled there. There were some people who said that he had taken the position of toll-gate keeper because of the house, and there were others who believed that he had bought the house on account of the toll-gate. But no matter what people thought or said, the good captain was very well satisfied with his home and his official position. He liked to meet with people, and he preferred that they should come to him rather than that he should go to them. He was interested in most things that were going on in his neighborhood, and therefore he liked to talk to the people who were going by. Sometimes a good talking acquaintance or an interesting traveler would tie his horse under the shade of the maple-tree and sit a while with the captain on the little porch. Certain it was, it was the most hospitable toll-gate in that part of the country.

There was a road which branched off from the turnpike, about a mile from the town, and which, after some windings, entered the pike again beyond the toll-gate, and although this road was not always in very good condition, it had seen a good deal of travel, which, in time, gave it the name of the shunpike. But since Captain Asher had lived at the toll-gate it was remarked that the shunpike was not used as much as in former times. There were penurious people who had once preferred to go a long way round and save money whose economical dispositions now gave way before the combined attractions of a better road, and a chat with Captain Asher.

It had been predicted by some of her relatives that Olive would not be content with her life in her uncle's somewhat peculiar household. He was a bachelor, and seldom entertained company, and his ordinary family consisted of an elderly housekeeper and another servant. But Olive was not in the least dissatisfied. From her infancy up, she had lived so much among people that she had grown tired of them; and her good-natured uncle, with his sea stories, the garden, the old-fashioned house, the fields and the woods beyond, the little stream, which came hurrying down from the mountains, where she could fish or wade as the fancy pleased her, gave her a taste of some of the joys of girlhood which she had not known when she was really a girl.

Another thing that greatly interested her was the toll-gate. If she had been allowed to do so, she would have spent the greater part of her time taking money, making change, and talking to travelers. But this her uncle would not permit. He did not object to her doing some occasional toll-gate work, and he did not wonder that she liked it, remembering how interesting it often was to himself, but he would not let her take toll indiscriminately.

So they made a regular arrangement about it. When the captain was at his meals, or shaving, or otherwise occupied, old Jane attended to the toll-gate. At ordinary times, and when any of his special friends were seen approaching, the captain collected toll himself, but when women happened to be traveling on the road, then it was arranged that Olive should go to the gate.

Two or three times it had happened that some young men of the town, hearing their sisters talk of the pretty girl who had taken their toll, had thought it might be a pleasant thing to drive out on the pike, but their money had always been taken by the captain, or else by the wooden-faced Jane, and nothing had come of their little adventures.

The garden hedge which ran alongside the road was very high.

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