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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 10. Mrs. Easterfield Writes A Letter
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The Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 10. Mrs. Easterfield Writes A Letter Post by :vbhnl Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :443

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The Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 10. Mrs. Easterfield Writes A Letter

CHAPTER X. Mrs. Easterfield writes a Letter

When Miss Port had left her, Olive was so much disturbed by what that placid spinster had told her that she totally forgot Claude Locker's proposal of marriage, as well as the other things she had been thinking about. These things had been not at all unpleasant; she had been thinking of her uncle and her return to the toll-gate house. Her visit to Broadstone was drawing to a close, and she was getting very tired of Mr. Locker and Mr. and Mrs. Fox. She found, now her anger had cooled down, that she was actually missing her uncle, and was thinking of him as of some one who belonged to her. Her own father had never seemed to belong to her; for periods of three years he was away on his ship; and, even when he had been on shore duty, she had sometimes been at school; and when she and her parents had been stationed somewhere together, the lieutenant had been a good deal away from home on this or that naval business. When a girl she had taken these absences as a matter of course, but since she had been living with her uncle her ideas on the subject had changed. She wanted now to be at home with him: and as Broadstone was so near the toll-gate she had no doubt that Mrs. Easterfield would sometimes want her to come to her when, perhaps, she would have different people staying with her.

This was a very pleasant mental picture, and the more Olive had looked at it, the better she had liked it. As to the reconciliation with her uncle, it troubled her mind but little. So often had she been angry with people, and so often had everything been made all right again, that she felt used to the process. Her way was simple enough; when she was tired of her indignation she quietly dropped it; and then, taking it for granted that the other party had done the same, she recommenced her usual friendly intercourse, just as if there had never been a quarrel or misunderstanding. She had never found this method to fail--although, of course, it might easily have failed with one who was not Olive--and she had not the slightest doubt that if she wrote to her uncle that she was coming on a certain day, she would be gladly received by him when she should arrive.

But now? After what that woman had told her, what now? If her uncle had said she was not coming back, there was an end to her mental pictures and her pleasant plans. And what a hard man he must be to say that!

Slowly walking over the grass, Olive went to look for Mrs. Easterfield, and found her in her garden on her knees by a flower-bed digging with a little trowel.

"Mrs. Easterfield," said she, "I am thinking of getting married."

The elder lady sprang to her feet, dropping her trowel, which barely missed her toes. She looked frightened. "What?" she exclaimed. "To whom?"

"Not to anybody in particular," replied Olive. "I am considering the subject in general. Let's go sit on that bench, and talk about it."

A little relieved, Mrs. Easterfield followed her. "I don't know what you mean," she said, when they were seated. "Women don't think of marriage in a general way; they consider it in a particular way."

"Oh, I am different," said Olive; "I am a navy girl, and more like a man. I have to look out for myself. I think it is time I was married, and therefore I am giving the subject attention. Don't you think that is prudent?"

"And you say you have no particular leanings?" the other inquired.

"None whatever," said Olive. "Mr. Locker proposed to me less than an hour ago, but I gave him no answer. He is too precipitate, and he is only one person, anyway."

"You don't want to marry more than one person!" exclaimed Mrs. Easterfield.

"No," said Olive, "but I want more than one to choose from."

Mrs. Easterfield did not understand the girl at all. But this was not to be expected so soon; she must wait a little, and find out more. Notwithstanding her apparent indifference to Claude Locker, there was more danger in that direction than Mrs. Easterfield had supposed. A really persistent lover is often very dangerous, no matter how indifferent a young woman may be.

"Have you been considering the professor?" she asked, with a smile. "I noticed that you were very gracious to him yesterday."

"No, I haven't," said Olive. "But I suppose I might as well. I did try to make him have a good time, but I was still a little provoked and felt that I would like him to go back to my uncle and tell him that he had enjoyed himself. But now I suppose I must consider all the eligibles."

"Why now?" asked Mrs. Easterfield quickly; "why now more than any previous time?"

Olive did not immediately answer, but presently she said: "I am not going back to my uncle. There was a woman here just now--I don't know whether she was sent or not--who informed me that he did not expect me to return to his house. When my mother was living we were great companions for each other, but now you see I am left entirely alone. It will be a good while before father comes back, and then I don't know whether he can settle down or not. Besides, I am not very well acquainted with him, but I suppose that would arrange itself in time. So you see all I can do is to visit about until I am married, and therefore the sooner I am married and settled the better."

"Perhaps this is a cold-blooded girl!" said Mrs. Easterfield to herself. "But perhaps it is not!" Then, speaking aloud, she said: "Olive Asher, were you ever in love?"

The girl looked at her with reflective eyes. "Yes," she said. "I was once, but that was the only time."

"Would you mind telling me about it?" asked Mrs. Easterfield.

"Not at all," replied the girl. "I was between thirteen and fourteen, and wore short dresses, and my hair was plaited. My father was on duty at the Philadelphia Navy-Yard, and we lived in that city. There was a young man who used to come to bring messages to father; I think he was a clerk or a draftsman. I do not remember his name, except that his first name was Rupert, and father always called him by that. He was a beautiful man-boy or boy-man, however you choose to put it. His eyes were heavenly blue, his skin was smooth and white, his cheeks were red, and he had the most charming mouth I ever saw. He was just the right height, well shaped, and wore the most becoming clothes. I fell madly in love with him the second time I saw him, and continued so for a long time. I used to think about him and dream about him, and write little poems about him which nobody ever saw. I tried to make a sketch of his face once, but I failed and tore it up."

"What did he do?" asked Mrs. Easterfield.

"Nothing whatever," said Olive. "I never spoke to him, or he to me. I don't believe he ever noticed me. Whenever I could I went into the room where he was talking to father, but I was very quiet and kept in the background, and I do not think his eyes ever fell upon me. But that did not make any difference at all. He was beautiful above all other men in the world, and I loved him. He was my first, my only love, and it almost brings tears in my eyes now to think of him."

"Then you really could love the right person if he were to come along," said Mrs. Easterfield.

"Why do you think I couldn't? Of course I could. But the trouble is he doesn't come, so I must try to arrange the matter with what material I have."

When Mrs. Easterfield left the garden she went rapidly to her room. There was a smile on her lips, and a light in her eye. A novel idea had come to her which amused her, pleased her, and even excited her. She sat down at her writing-table and began a letter to her husband. After an opening paragraph she wrote thus:

"Is not Mr. Hemphill, of the central office of the D. and J., named Rupert? It is my impression that he is. You know he has been to our house several times to dinner when you invited railroad people, and I remember him very well. If his name is Rupert will you find out, without asking him directly, whether or not he was engaged about seven years ago at the navy-yard. I am almost positive I once had a conversation with him about the navy-yard and the moving of one of the great buildings there. If you find that he had a position there, don't ask him any more questions, and drop the subject as quickly as you can. But I then want you to send him here on whatever pretext you please--you can send me any sort of an important message or package--and if I find it desirable, I shall ask him to stay here a few days. These hard-worked secretaries ought to have more vacations. In fact, I have a very interesting scheme in mind, of which I shall say nothing now for fear you may think it necessary to reason about it. By the time you come it will have been worked out, and I will tell you all about it. Now, don't fail to send Mr. Hemphill as promptly as possible, if you find his name is Rupert, and that he has ever been engaged in the navy-yard."

This letter was then sent to the post-office at the gap with an immediate-delivery stamp on it.

When Mrs. Easterfield went down-stairs, her face still glowing with the pleasure given by the writing of her letter, she met Claude Locker, whose face did not glow with pleasure.

"What is the matter with you?" she asked.

"I feel like a man who has been half decapitated," said he. "I do not know whether the execution is to be arrested and my wound healed, or whether it is to go on and my head roll into the dust."

"A horrible idea!" said Mrs. Easterfield. "What do you really mean?"

"I have proposed to Miss Asher and I was treated with indifference, but have not been discarded. Don't you see that I can not live in this condition? I am looking for her."

"It will be a great deal better for you to leave her alone," replied Mrs. Easterfield. "If she has any answer for you she will give it when she is ready. Perhaps she is trying to make up her mind, and you may spoil all by intruding yourself upon her."

"That will not do at all," said Locker, "not at all. The more Miss Asher sees of me in an unengaged condition the less she will like me. I am fully aware of this. I know that my general aspect must be very unpleasant, so if I expect any success whatever, the quicker I get this thing settled the better."

"Even if she refuses you," said Mrs. Easterfield.

"Yes," he answered; "then down comes the axe again, away goes my head, and all is over! Then there is another thing," he said, without giving Mrs. Easterfield a chance to speak. "There is that mathematical person. When will he be here again?"

"I do not know," replied Mrs. Easterfield; "he has merely a general invitation."

"I don't like him," said Locker. "He has been here twice, and that is two times too many. I hate him."

"Why so?"

"Because he is unobjectionable," Locker answered, "and I am very much afraid Miss Asher likes unobjectionable people. Now I am objectionable--I know it--and the longer I remain unengaged the more objectionable I shall become. I wish you would invite nobody but such people as the Foxes."

"Why?"

"Because they are married," replied Locker. "But I must not wait here. Can you tell me where I shall be likely to find her?"

"Yes," said Mrs. Easterfield, "she is with the Foxes, and they are married."

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