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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 33. Dick Lancaster Does Not Write
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The Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 33. Dick Lancaster Does Not Write Post by :rlscott Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :533

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The Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 33. Dick Lancaster Does Not Write

CHAPTER XXXIII. Dick Lancaster does not Write

On the third morning after their arrival at the toll-gate the captain and Olive ventured upon a little walk over the farm. It was very hard upon both of them to be shut up in the house so long. They saw no reporters, nor were there any men with cameras, but the scenery was not pleasant, nor was the air particularly exhilarating. They were not happy; they felt alone, as if they were in a strange place. Some of the captain's friends in the town came to the toll-gate, but there were not many, and Olive saw none of them. The whole situation reminded the girl of the death of her mother.

As soon as it was known that the Ashers were at home there came letters from many quarters. One of these was from Mrs. Easterfield. She would be at Broadstone as soon as she could get her children started from the seashore. She longed to take Olive to her heart, but whether this was in commiseration or commendation was not quite plain to Olive. The letter concluded with this sentence: "There is something behind all this, and when I come you must tell me."

Then there was one from her father in which he bemoaned what had happened. "That such a thing should have come to my daughter!" he wrote. "To my daughter!" There was a great deal more of it, but he said nothing about coming with his young wife to the toll-gate, and Olive's countenance was almost stern when she handed this letter to her uncle.

Claude Locker wrote: "How I long, how I rage to write to you, or to go to you! But if I should write, it would be sure to give you pain, and if I should go to you I should also go crazy. Therefore, I will merely state that I love you madly; more now than ever before; and that I shall continue to do so for the rest of my life, no matter what happens to you, or to me, or to anybody.

"Ever turned toward you,

"CLAUDE LOCKER.

"How I wish I had been there with a sledgehammer!" And then there were the newspapers. Many of these the captain had ordered by the Glenford bookseller, and a number were sent by friends, and some even by strangers. And so they learned what was thought of them over a wide range of country, and this publicity Olive found very hard to bear. It was even worse than the deed she was forced to do, and which gave rise to all this disagreeable publicity. That deed was done in the twinkling of an eye, and was the only thing that could be done; but all this was prolonged torture. Of course, the newspapers were not responsible for this. The transaction was a public one in as public a place as could possibly be selected, and it was clearly their duty to give the public full information in regard to it. They knew what had happened, and how could they possibly know what had not happened? Nor could they guess that this was of more importance than the happening. And so they all viewed the action from the point of view that a young woman had blown out a man's brains on the steps of the Treasury. It was a most unusual, exciting, and tragic incident, and in a measure, incomprehensible; and coming at a time when there was a dearth of news, it was naturally much exploited. Many of the papers recognized the fact that Miss Asher had done this deed to save her uncle's life, and applauded it, and praised her quick-wittedness and courage; but all this was spoiled for Olive by the tone of commiseration for her in which it was all stated. She did not see why she should be pitied. Rather should she be congratulated that she was, fortunately, on the spot. Other journals did not so readily give in to the opinion that it was an act of self-defense. It might be so; but they expressed strong disapproval of the legal action in this strange affair. A young woman, accompanied by a relative, had killed an unknown man. The action of the authorities in this case had been rapid and unsatisfactory. The person who had fired the fatal shot and her companion had been cleared of guilt upon their own testimony, and the cause of the man who died had no one to defend it. If two persons can kill a man, and then state to the coroner's jury that it was all right, and thereupon repair to their homes without further interference by the law, then had the cause of justice in the capital of the nation reached a very strange pass.

Such were the views of the reputable journals. But there were some which fell into the captain's hands that were well calculated to arouse his ire. Such a sensational occurrence did not often come in their way, and they made the most of it. They scented the idea that the girl had killed an unknown man to save her uncle's life; blamed the authorities severely for not finding out who he was; suggested there must be a secret reason for this; and hinted darkly at a scandal connected with the affair, which, if investigated, would be found to include some well-known names.

"This is outrageous!" cried the captain. "It is too abominable to be borne! Olive, why should we not tell the exact facts of this thing? We did agree--very willingly at the time--to keep the secret. But I am not willing now, and you are being sacrificed to the stock-market. That is the whole truth of it! If these editors knew the truth they would be chanting your praises. If that scoundrel had killed me, he would have killed you, and then he could have run away to go on with his President shooting. I am going to Washington this very day to tell the whole story. You shall not suffer that stocks may not fall and the political situation made alarming at election time. That is what it all means, and I won't stand it!"

"You will only make things worse, uncle," said Olive. "Then the whole matter will be stirred up afresh. We will be summoned to investigations, and all sorts of disagreeable things. Every item of our lives will be in the papers, and some will be invented. It is very bad now, but in a little while the public will forget that a countryman and a country girl had a fracas in Washington. But the other thing will never be forgotten. It is very much better to leave it as it is."

The captain, notwithstanding the presence of a lady, cursed the officials, the newspapers, the Government, and the whole country. "I am going to do it!" he cried vehemently. "I don't care what happens!"

But Olive put her arms around him and coaxed him for her sake to let the matter rest. And, finally, the captain, grumblingly, assented.

If Olive had been a girl brought up in a gentle-minded household, knowing nothing of the varied life she had lived when a navy girl; sometimes at this school and sometimes at that; sometimes in her native land, and sometimes in the midst of frontier life; sometimes with parents, and sometimes without them; and, had she been less aware from her own experiences and those of others, that this is a world in which you must stand up very stiffly if you do not want to be pushed down; she might have sunk, at least for a time, under all this publicity and blame. Even the praise had its sting.

But she did not sink. The liveliness and the fun went out of her, and her face grew hard and her manner quiet. But she was not quiet within. She rebelled against the unfairness with which she was treated. No matter what the newspapers knew or did not know, they should have known, and should have remembered, that she had saved her uncle's life. If they had known more they would have been just and kind enough no doubt, but they ought to have been just and kind without knowing more.

Captain Asher would now read no more papers. But Olive read them all.

Letters still came; one of them from Mr. Easterfield. But every time a mail arrived there was a disappointment in the toll-gate household. The captain could scarcely refrain from speaking of his disappointment, for it was a true grief to him that Dick Lancaster had not written a word. Of course, Olive did not say anything upon the subject, for she had no right to expect such a letter, and she was not sure that she wanted one, but it was very strange that a person who surely was, or had been, somewhat interested in her uncle and herself should have been the only one among her recent associates who showed no interest whatever in what had befallen her. Even Mr. and Mrs. Fox had written. She wished they had not written, but, after all, stupidity is sometimes better than total neglect.

"Olive," said the captain one pleasant afternoon, "suppose we take a drive to Broadstone? The family is not there, but it may interest you to see the place where I hope your friends will soon be living again. I can not bear to see you going about so dolefully. I want to brighten you up in some way."

"I'd like it," said Olive promptly. "Let us go to Broadstone."

At that moment they heard talking in the tollhouse; then there were some quick steps in the garden; and, almost immediately, Dick Lancaster was in the house and in the room where the captain and his niece were sitting. He stepped quickly toward them as they rose, and gave Olive his left hand because the captain had seized his right and would not let it go.

"I have been very slow getting here," he said, looking from one to the other. "But I would not write, and I have been unconscionably delayed. I am so proud of you," he said, looking Olive full in the face, but still holding the captain by the hand.

Olive's hand had been withdrawn, but it was very cheering to her to know that some one was proud of her.

The captain poured out his delight at seeing the young professor--the first near friend he had seen since his adventure, and, in his opinion, the best. Olive said but little, but her countenance brightened wonderfully. She had always liked Mr. Lancaster, and now he showed his good sense and good feeling; for, while it was evidently on his mind, he made no allusion to anything they had done, or that had happened to them. He talked chiefly of himself.

But the captain was not to be repressed, and his tone warmed up a little as he asked if Dick had been reading the newspapers.

At this Olive left the room to make some arrangements for Mr. Lancaster's accommodation.

Seizing this opportunity, Dick Lancaster stopped the captain, who he saw was preparing to go lengthily into the recent affair. "Yes, yes," he said, speaking quickly, "and my blood has run hot as I read those beastly papers. But let me say something to you while I can. I am deeply interested in something else just now. I came here, captain, to propose marriage to your niece. Have I your consent?"

"Consent!" cried the captain. "Why, it is the clearest wish of my heart that you should marry Olive!" And seizing the young man by both arms, he shook him from head to foot. "Consent!" he exclaimed. "I should think so, I should think so! Will she take you, Dick? Is that--"

"I don't know," said Lancaster, "I don't know. I am here to find out. But I hear her coming."

The happy captain thought it full time to go away somewhere. He felt that he could not control his glowing countenance, and that he might say or do something which might be wrong. So he departed with great alacrity, and left the two young people to themselves.

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