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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 12. Mr. Rupert Hemphill
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The Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 12. Mr. Rupert Hemphill Post by :Ndoki Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :2368

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The Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 12. Mr. Rupert Hemphill

CHAPTER XII. Mr. Rupert Hemphill

That afternoon it rained, so that the Broadstone people were obliged to stay indoors. Dick Lancaster found Mr. Fox a very agreeable and well-informed man, and Mrs. Fox was also an excellent conversationalist. Mrs. Easterfield, who, after the confidences of the morning, could not help looking at him as something more than an acquaintance, talked to him a good deal, and tried to make the time pass pleasantly, at which business she was an adept. All this was very pleasant to Dick, but it did not compensate him for the almost entire loss of the society of Olive, who seemed to devote herself to the entertainment of the Austrian secretary. Mrs. Easterfield was very sorry that the young foreigner had come at this time, but he had been invited the winter before; the time had been appointed; and the visit had to be endured.

When the rain had ceased, and Dick was about to take his leave, his hostess declared she would not let him walk back through the mud.

"You shall have a horse," she said, "and that will insure an early visit from you, for, of course, you will not trust the animal to other hands than your own. I would ask you to stay, but that would not be treating the captain kindly."

As Dick was mounting Mr. Du Brant was standing at the front door, a smile on his swarthy countenance. This smile said as plainly as words could have done so that it was very amusing to this foreign young man to see a person with rolled-up trousers and a straw hat mount upon a horse. Claude Locker, whose soul had been chafing all the afternoon under his banishment from the society of the angel of his life, was also at the front door, and saw the contemptuous smile. Instantly a new and powerful emotion swept over his being in the shape of a strong feeling of fellowship for Lancaster. It made his soul boil with indignation to see the sneer which the Austrian directed toward the young man, a thoroughly fine young man, who, by said foreigner's monkeyful impudence, and another's mistaken favor, had been made a brother-in-misfortune of himself, Claude Locker.

"I will make common cause with him against the enemy," thought Locker. "If I should fail to get her I will help him to." And although Dick's brown socks were plainly visible as he cantered away, Mr. Locker looked after him as a gallant and honored brother-in-arms.

That evening Claude Locker fought for himself and his comrade. He persisted in talking French with Mr. Du Brant; and his remarkable management of that language, in which ignorance and a subtle facility in intentional misapprehension were so adroitly blended that it was impossible to tell one from the other, amused Olive, and so provoked the Austrian that at last he turned away and began to talk American politics with Mr. Fox, which so elated the poet that the ladies of the party passed a merry evening.

"Would you like me to take him out rowing to-morrow?" asked Claude apart to his hostess.

"With you at the oars?" she asked.

"Of course," said Locker.

"I am amazed," said she, "that you should suspect me of such cold-blooded cruelty."

"You know you don't want him here," said Claude. "His salary can not be large, and he must spend the greater part of it on clothes--and oil."

"Is it possible," she asked, "that you look upon that young man as a rival?"

"By no means," he replied; "such persons never marry. They only prevent other people from marrying anybody. Therefore it is that I remember what sort of a boatman I am."

"My dear," said Mr. Fox, when he and his wife had retired to their room, "after hearing what that Austrian has to say of the American people, I almost revere Mr. Locker."

"I heard some of his remarks," she said, "and I imagined they would have an effect of that kind upon you."

When the Broadstone surrey came from the train the next morning it brought a gentleman.

"What!" exclaimed Mrs. Fox, when from the other side of the lawn she saw him alight. "Another young man with a valise! It seems to me that this is an overdose!"

"Overdoses," remarked Mr. Fox, "are often less dangerous than just enough poison."

Mrs. Easterfield received this visitor at the door. She had been waiting for him, and did not wish him to meet anybody when she was not present. After offering his respectful salutations, Mr. Hemphill, Mr. Easterfield's secretary in the central office of the D. and J., delivered without delay a package of which he was the bearer, and apologized for his valise, stating that Mr. Easterfield had told him he must spend the night at Broadstone.

"Most assuredly you would do that," said she, and to herself she added, "If I want you longer I will let you know."

Mr. Rupert Hemphill was a very handsome man; his nose was fine; his eyes were dark and expressive; he wore silky side-whiskers, which, however, did not entirely conceal the bloom upon his cheeks; his teeth were very good; he was well shaped; and his clothes fitted him admirably.

As has been said before, Mrs. Easterfield was exceedingly interested; she was even a little agitated, which was not common with her. She had Mr. Hemphill conducted to his room, and then she waited for him to come down; this also was not common with her.

"Mr. Locker," she called from the open door, "do you know where Miss Asher is?"

The poet stopped in his stride across the lawn, and approached the lady. "Oh, she is with the Du Brant," said he. "I have been trying to get in some of my French, but neither of them will rise to the fly. However, I am content; it is now three hours before luncheon, and if she has him to herself for that length of time, I think she will be thoroughly disgusted. Then it will be my time, as per agreement."

Mrs. Easterfield was a little disappointed. She wanted Olive by herself, but she did not want to make a point of sending for her. But fortune favored her.

"There she is," exclaimed Locker; "she is just going into the library. Let me go tell her you want her."

"Not at all," said Mrs. Easterfield. "Don't put yourself into danger of breaking your word by seeing her alone before luncheon. I'll go to her."

Mr. Locker continued his melancholy stroll, and Mrs. Easterfield entered the library. Olive must not be allowed to go away until the moment arrived which had been awaited with so much interest.

"I am looking for a copy of _Tartarin sur les Alps_. I am sure I saw it among these French books," said Olive, on her knees before a low bookcase. "Would you believe it, Mr. Du Brant has never read it, and he seems to think so much of education."

Mrs. Easterfield knew exactly where the book was, but she preferred to allow Olive to occupy herself in looking for it, while she kept her eyes on the hall.

"Wait a moment, Olive," said she; "a visitor has just arrived, and I want to make him acquainted with you."

Olive rose with a book in her hand, and Mrs. Easterfield presented Mr. Hemphill to Miss Asher. As she did so, Mrs. Easterfield kept her eyes steadily fixed upon the young lady's face. With a pleasant smile Olive returned Mr. Hemphill's bow. She was generally glad to make new acquaintances.

"Mr. Hemphill is one of my husband's business associates," said Mrs. Easterfield, still with her eyes on Olive. "He has just come from him."

"Did he send us this fine day by you?" said Olive. "If so, we are greatly obliged to him."

The young man answered that, although he had not brought the day, he was delighted that he had come in company with it.

"What atrocious commonplaces!" thought Mrs. Easterfield. "The girl does not know him from Adam!"

Here was a disappointment; the thrill, the pallor, the involuntary start, were totally absent; and the first act of the little play was a failure. But Mrs. Easterfield hoped for better things when the curtain rose again. She conducted Mr. Hemphill to the Foxes and let Olive go away with her book; and, as soon as she had the opportunity, she read the letter from her husband.

"With this I send you Mr. Hemphill," he wrote. "I don't know what you want to do with him, but you must take good care of him. He is a most valuable secretary, and an estimable young man. As soon as you have done with him please send him back."

"I am glad he is estimable," said Mrs. Easterfield to herself. "That will make the matter more satisfactory to Tom when I explain it to him."

When Dick Lancaster, properly booted and wearing a felt hat, returned the borrowed horse, he was met by Mr. Locker, who had been wandering about the front of the house, and when he had dismounted Dick was somewhat surprised by the hearty handshake he received.

"I am sorry to have to tell you," said the poet, "that there is another one."

"Another what?" asked Dick.

"Another unnecessary victim," replied Locker. And with this he returned to the front of the house.

At last Olive came down the stairs, and she was alone. Locker stepped quickly up to her.

"If I should marry," he said, "would I be expected to entertain that Austrian?"

She stopped, and gave the question her serious consideration. "I should think," she said, "that that would depend a good deal upon whom you should marry."

"How can you talk in that way?" he exclaimed. "As if there were anything to depend upon!"

"Nothing to depend upon," said Olive, slightly raising her eyebrows. "That is bad." And she went into the dining-room.

The afternoon was an exceptionally fine one, but the party at Broadstone did not take advantage of it; there seemed to be a spirit of unrest pervading the premises, and when the carriage started on a drive along the river only Mr. and Mrs. Fox were in it. Mrs. Easterfield would not leave Olive and Mr. Hemphill, and she did not encourage them to go. Consequently there were three young men who did not wish to go.

"It seems to me," said Mr. Fox, as they rolled away, "that a young woman, such as Miss Asher, has it in her power to interfere very much with the social feeling which should pervade a household like this. If she were to satisfy herself with attracting one person, all the rest of us might be content to make ourselves happy in such fashions as might present themselves."

"The rest of us!" exclaimed Mrs. Fox.

"Yes," replied her husband. "I mean you, and Mrs. Easterfield, and myself, and the rest. That young woman's indeterminate methods of fascination interfere with all of us."

"I don't exactly see how they interfere with me," said Mrs. Fox rather stiffly.

"If the carriage had been filled, as was expected," said her husband, "I might have had the pleasure of driving you in a buggy."

She turned to him with a smile. "Immediately after I spoke," she said, "I imagined you might be thinking of something of that kind."

Mrs. Easterfield was not a woman to wait for things to happen in their own good time. If possible, she liked to hurry them up. In this Olive and Hemphill affair there was really nothing to wait for; if she left them to themselves there would be no happenings. As soon as was possible, she took Olive into her own little room, where she kept her writing-table, and into whose sacred precincts her secretary was not allowed to penetrate.

"Now, then," said she, "what do you think of Mr. Hemphill?"

"I don't think of him at all," said Olive, a little surprised. "Is there anything about him to think of?"

"He sat by you at luncheon," said Mrs. Easterfield.

"I know that," said Olive, "and he was better than an empty chair. I hate sitting by empty chairs."

"Olive," exclaimed Mrs. Easterfield with vivacity, "you ought to remember that young man!"

"Remember him?" the girl ejaculated.

"Certainly," said Mrs. Easterfield. "After what you told me about him, I expected you would recognize him the moment you saw him. But you did not know him; you did not do anything I expected you to do; and I was very much disappointed."

"What are you talking about?" asked Olive.

"I am talking about Mr. Hemphill; Mr. Rupert Hemphill; who, about seven years ago, was engaged in the Philadelphia Navy-Yard, and who came to your house on business with your father. From what you told me of him I conjectured that he might now be my husband's Philadelphia secretary, for his name is Rupert, and I had reason to believe that he was once engaged in the navy-yard. When I found out I was entirely correct in my supposition I had him sent here, and I looked forward with the most joyous anticipations to being present when you first saw him. But it was all a fiasco! I suppose some people might think I was unwarrantably meddling in the affairs of others, but as it was in my power to create a most charming romance, I could not let the opportunity pass."

Olive did not hear a word of Mrs. Easterfield's latest remarks; her round, full eyes were fixed upon the wall in front of her, but they saw nothing. Her mind had gone back seven years.

"Is it possible," she exclaimed presently, "that that is my Rupert, my beautiful Rupert of the roseate cheeks, the Rupert of my heart, my only love! The Endymion-like youth I watched for every day; on whom I gazed and gazed and worshiped and longed for when he had gone; of whom I dreamed; to whom my soul went out in poetry; whose miniature I would have painted on the finest ivory if I had known how to paint; and whose image thus created I would have worn next my heart to look at every instant I found myself alone, if it had not been that my dresses were all fastened down the back! I am going to him this instant! I must see him again! My Rupert, my only love!" And with this she started to the door.

"Olive," cried Mrs. Easterfield, springing from her chair, "stop, don't you do that! Come back. You must not--"

But the girl had flown down the stairs, and was gone.

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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.