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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 11. Mr. Locker Is Released On Bail
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The Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 11. Mr. Locker Is Released On Bail Post by :JuvioSuccess Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :1723

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The Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 11. Mr. Locker Is Released On Bail

CHAPTER XI. Mr. Locker is released on Bail

Nearly the whole of that morning Dick Lancaster sat in the arbor in the tollhouse garden, his book in his hand. Part of the time he was thinking about what he would like to do, and part of the time he was thinking about what he ought to do. He felt sure he had stayed with the captain as long as he had been expected to, but he did not want to go away. On the contrary, he greatly desired to remain within walking distance of Broadstone. He was in love with Olive. When he had seen her at luncheon, cold and reserved, he had been greatly impressed by her, and when he went out boating with her the next day he gave her his heart unreservedly. When people fell in love with Olive they always did it promptly.

As he sat, with Olive standing near the footlights of his mental stage and the drop-curtain hanging between her and all the rest of the world, the captain strolled up to him.

"Dick," said he, "somehow or other my tobacco does not taste as it ought to. Give me a pipeful of yours."

When the captain had filled his pipe from Dick's bag he lighted it and gave a few puffs. "It isn't a bit better than mine," said he, "but I will keep on and smoke it. Dick, let's go and take a walk over the hills. I feel rather stupid to-day. And, by the way, I hope you will be able to stay with me for the rest of your vacation. Have you made plans to go anywhere else?"

"No plans of the slightest importance," answered Lancaster with joyous vivacity. "I shall be delighted to stay."

This prompt acceptance somewhat surprised the captain. He had spoken without premeditation, and without thinking of anything at all except that he did not want everybody to go away and leave him. He had begun to know something of the pleasures of family life; of having some one to sit at the table with him; to whom he could talk; on whom he could look. In fact, although he did not exactly appreciate such a state of things, some one he could love. He was getting really fond of Dick Lancaster.

As for Olive, he did not know what to think of her; sometimes he was sure she was not coming back, and at other times he thought it likely he might get a letter that very day appointing the time for her return. He stood puffing his pipe and thinking about this after Dick had spoken.

"But it does not matter," he said to himself, "which way it happens. If she doesn't come I want him here, and if she does come, he is good enough for anybody, and perhaps she may be pleased." And then he indulged in a little fragment of the dream which had come to him before; he saw two young people in a charming home, not at the toll-gate, and himself living with them. Plenty of money for all moderate needs, and all happy and satisfied. Then with a sigh he knocked the tobacco from his pipe and said to himself: "If I hear she is coming, I will let her know he is still here, and then she must judge for herself."

As they walked together over the hills, Dick Lancaster was very anxious to know something about Olive's return, but he did not like to ask. The captain had been very reticent on the subject of his niece, and Dick was a gentleman. But to his surprise, and very much to his delight, the captain soon began to talk about Olive. He told Dick how his brother had entered the navy when the elder was first mate on a merchant vessel; how Alfred had risen in the service; had married; and how his wife and daughter had lived in various parts of the world. Then he spoke of a good many things he had heard about Olive, and other things he had found out since she had lived with him; and as he went on his heart warmed, and Dick Lancaster listened with as warm a heart as that from which the captain spoke.

And thus they walked over the hills, this young man and this elderly man, each in love with the same girl.

During all the walk Dick never asked when Miss Asher was coming back to the tollhouse, nor did Captain Asher make any remarks upon the subject. It was not really of vital importance to Dick, as Broadstone was so near, and it was of such vital importance to the captain that it was impossible for him to speak of it.

The next day the bright-hearted Richard trod buoyantly upon the earth; he did not care to read; he did not want to smoke; and he was not much inclined to conversation; he was simply buoyant, and undecided. The captain looked at him and smiled.

"Why don't you walk over to Broadstone?" he said. "It will do you good. I want you to stay with me, but I don't expect you to be stuck down to this tollhouse all day. I am going about the farm to-day, but I shall expect you to supper."

When he was ready to start Dick Lancaster felt a little perplexed. His ideas of friendly civility impelled him to ask the captain if there was anything he could do for him, if there was any message or missive he could take to his niece, or anything he could bring from her, but he was prudent and refrained; if the captain wished service of this sort he was a man to ask for it.

The first person Dick met at Broadstone was Mrs. Easterfield, cutting roses.

"I am very glad to see you, Professor Lancaster," said she, as she put down her roses and her scissors. "Would you mind, before you enter into the general Broadstone society, sitting down on this bench and talking a little to me?"

Dick could not help smiling. What man in the world, even if he were in love with somebody else, could object to sitting down by such a woman and talking to her?

"What I am going to say," said Mrs. Easterfield, "is impertinent, unwarranted, and of an officious character. You and I know each other very slightly; neither of us has long been acquainted with Captain Asher, you have met his niece but twice, and I have never really known her until what you might call the other day. But in spite of all this, I propose that you and I shall meddle a little in their affairs. I have taken the greatest fancy to Miss Asher, and, if you can do it without any breach of confidence, I would like you to tell me if you know of any misunderstanding between her and her uncle."

"I know of nothing of the kind," said Dick with great interest, "but I admit I thought there might be something wrong somewhere. He knew I was coming here to-day--in fact, he suggested it--but he sent Miss Asher no sort of message."

"Can it be possible he is cherishing any hard feelings against her?" she remarked. "I should not have supposed he was that sort of man."

"He is not that sort of man," said Dick warmly. "He was talking to me about her yesterday, and from what he said, I am sure he thinks she is the finest girl in the world."

"I am glad to hear that," said she, "but it makes the situation more puzzling. Can it be possible that she is treating him badly?"

"Oh, I could not believe that!" exclaimed Dick fervently. "I can not imagine such a thing."

Mrs. Easterfield smiled. He had really known the girl but for one day, for the first meeting did not count; and here he was defending the absolute beauty of her character. But the assumption of the genus young man often overtops the pyramids. She now determined to take him a little more into her confidence.

"Miss Asher has intimated to me that she does not expect to go back to her uncle's house, and this morning she made a reference to the end of her visit here, but I thought you might be able to tell me something about her uncle. If he really does not expect her back I want her to stay here."

"Alas," said Dick, "I can not tell you anything. But of one thing I feel sure, and that is that he would like her to come back."

"Well," said Mrs. Easterfield, "I am not going to let her go away at present, and if Captain Asher should say anything to you on the subject, you are at liberty to tell him that. From what you said the other day, I suppose you will soon be leaving this quiet valley for the haunts of men."

"Oh, no," exclaimed Dick. "He wants me to stay with him as long as I can, and I shall certainly do it."

"Now," said Mrs. Easterfield, rising, "I must go and finish cutting my roses. I think you will find everybody on the tennis grounds."

Mrs. Easterfield had cut in all twenty-three roses when Claude Locker came to her from the house. His face was beaming, and he skipped over the short grass.

"Congratulate me," he said, as he stepped before her.

Mrs. Easterfield dropped her roses and her scissors and turned pale. "What do you mean?" she gasped.

"Oh, don't be frightened," he said. "I have not been acquitted, but the execution has been stopped for the present, and I am out on bail. I really feel as though the wound in my neck had healed."

"What stuff!" said Mrs. Easterfield, her color returning. "Try to speak sensibly."

"Oh, I can do that," said Mr. Locker; "upon occasion I can do that very well. I proposed again to Miss Asher not twenty minutes ago. She gave me no answer, but she made an arrangement with me which I think is going to be very satisfactory; she said she could not have me proposing to her every time I saw her--it would attract attention, and in the end might prove annoying--but she said she would be willing to have me propose to her every day just before luncheon, provided I did not insist upon an answer, and would promise to give no indication whatever at any other time that I entertained any unusual regard for her. I agreed to this, and now we understand each other. I feel very confident and happy. The other person has no regular time for offering himself, and if any effort of mine can avail he shall not find an irregular opportunity."

Mrs. Easterfield laughed. "Come pick up my roses," she said. "I must go in."

"It is like making love," said Locker as he picked up the flowers, "charming, but prickly." At this moment he started. "Who is that?" he exclaimed.

Mrs. Easterfield turned. "Oh, that is Monsieur Emile Du Brant. He is one of the secretaries of the Austrian legation. He is to spend a week with us. Suppose you take my flowers into the house and I will go to meet him."

Claude Locker, his arms folded around a mass of thorny roses, and a pair of scissors dangling from one finger, stood and gazed with savage intensity at the dapper little man--black eyes, waxed mustache, dressed in the height of fashion--who, with one hand outstretched, while the other held his hat, advanced with smiles and bows to meet the lady of the house. Locker had seen him before; he had met him in Washington; and he had received forty dollars for a poem of which this Austrian young person was the subject.

He allowed the lady and her guest to enter the house before him, and then, like a male Flora, he followed, grinding his teeth, and indulging in imprecations.

"He will have to put on some other kind of clothes," he muttered, "and perhaps he may shave and curl his hair. That will give me a chance to see her before lunch. I do not know that she expected me to begin to-day, but I am going to do it. I have a clear field so far, and nobody knows what may happen to-morrow."

As Locker stood in the hallway waiting for some one to come and take his flowers, or to tell him where to put them, he glanced out of the back door. There, to his horror, he saw that Mrs. Easterfield had conducted her guest through the house, and that they were now approaching the tennis ground, where Professor Lancaster and Miss Asher were standing with their rackets in their hands, while Mr. and Mrs. Fox were playing chess under the shade of a tree.

"Field open!" he exclaimed, dropping the roses and the scissors. "Field clear! What a double-dyed ass am I!" And with this he rushed out to the tennis ground; Mrs. Easterfield did not play.

Before Mrs. Easterfield returned to the house she stood for a moment and looked at the tennis players.

"Olive and three young men," she said to herself; "that will do very well."

A little before luncheon Claude Locker became very uneasy, and even agitated. He hovered around Olive, but found no opportunity to speak to her, for she was always talking to somebody else, mostly to the newcomer. But she was a little late in entering the dining-room, and Locker stepped up to her in the doorway.

"Is this your handkerchief?" he asked.

"No," said she, stopping; "isn't it yours?"

"Yes," he replied, "but I had to have some way of attracting your attention. I love you so much that I can scarcely see the table and the people."

"Thank you," she said, "and that is all for the next twenty-four hours."

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