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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 4. The Son Of An Old Shipmate
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The Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 4. The Son Of An Old Shipmate Post by :JuvioSuccess Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :2472

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The Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 4. The Son Of An Old Shipmate

CHAPTER IV. The Son of an Old Shipmate

When Olive came down to breakfast the next morning she half repented that she had consented to go away and leave her uncle for so long a time. But when she made known her state of mind the captain laughed at her.

"My child," said he, "I want you to go. Of course, I did not take to the notion at first, but I did not consider then what you will have to tell when you come home. The people of Glenford will be your everlasting debtors. It might be a good thing to invite Maria Port out here. You could give her the best time she ever had in her life, telling her about the Broadstone people."

"Maria Port, indeed!" said Olive. "But we won't talk of her. And you really are willing I should go?"

"I speak the truth when I say I want you to go," replied the captain.

Whereupon Olive assured him that he was truly a good uncle.

After the Easterfield carriage had rolled away with Olive alone on the back seat, waving her handkerchief, the captain requested Jane to take entire charge of the toll-gate for a time; and, having retired to his own room, he took from his pocket the letter he had received the day before.

"I must write an answer to this," he said, "before the postman comes."

The letter was from one of the captain's old shipmates, Captain Richard Lancaster, the best friend he had had when he was in the merchant service. Captain Lancaster had often been asked by his old friend to visit him at the toll-gate, but, being married and rheumatic, he had never accepted the invitation. But now he wrote that his son, Dick, had planned a holiday trip which would take him through Glenford, and that, if it suited Captain Asher, the father would accept for the son the long-standing invitation. Captain Lancaster wrote that as he could not go himself to his old friend Asher, the next best thing would be for his son to go, and when the young man returned he could tell his father all about Captain Asher. There would be something in that like old times. Besides, he wanted his former shipmate to know his son Dick, who was, in his eyes, a very fine young fellow.

"There never was such a lucky thing in the world," said Captain Asher to himself, when he had finished rereading the letter. "Of course, I want to have Dick Lancaster's son here, but I could not have had him if Olive had been here. But now it is all right. The young fellow can stay here a few days, and he will be gone before she gets back. If I like him I can ask him to come again; but that's my business. Handsome women, like that Mrs. Easterfield, always bring good luck. I have noticed that many and many a time."

Then he set himself to work to write a letter to invite young Richard Lancaster to spend a few days with him.

For the rest of that day, and the greater part of the next, Captain Asher gave a great deal of thinking time to the consideration of the young man who was about to visit him, and of whom, personally, he knew very little. He was aware that Captain Lancaster had a son and no other children, and he was quite sure that this son must now be a grown-up young man. He remembered very well that Captain Lancaster was a fine young fellow when he first knew him, and he did not doubt at all that the son resembled the father. He did not believe that young Dick was a sailor, because he and old Dick had often said to each other that if they married their sons should not go to sea. Of course he was in some business; and Captain Lancaster ought to be well able to give him a good start in life; just as able as he himself was to give Olive a good start in housekeeping when the time came.

"Now, what in the name of common sense," ejaculated Captain Asher, "did I think of that for? What has he to do with Olive, or Olive with him?" And then he said to himself, thinking of the young man in the bosom of his family and without reference to anybody outside of it: "Yes, his father must be pretty well off. He did a good deal more trading than ever I did. But after all, I don't believe he invested his money any better than I did mine, and it is just as like as not if we were to show our hands, that Olive would get as much as Dick's son. There it is again. I can't keep my mind off the thing." And as he spoke he knocked the ashes out of his pipe, and began to stride up and down the garden walk; and as he did so he began to reproach himself.

What right had he to think of his niece in that way? It was not doing the fair thing by her father, and perhaps by her, for that matter. For all he knew she might be engaged to somebody out West or down East, or in some other part of the world where she had lived. But this idea made very little impression on him. Knowing Olive as he did, he did not believe that she was engaged to anybody anywhere; he did not want to think that she was the kind of girl who would conceal her engagement from him, or who could do it, for that matter. But, everything considered, he was very glad Olive had gone to Broadstone, for, whatever the young fellow might happen to be, he wanted to know all about him before Olive met him.

Captain Asher firmly believed that there was nothing of the matchmaker in his disposition, but notwithstanding this estimate of himself, he went on thinking of Olive and the son of his old shipmate, both separately and together. He had never said to anybody, nor intimated to anybody, that he was going to give any of his moderate fortune to his niece. In fact, before this visit to him he had not thought much about it, nor did it enter his mind that Olive's Boston aunt, her mother's sister, had favored this visit of the girl to her toll-gate uncle, hoping that he might think about it.

In consequence of these cogitations, and in spite of the fact that he despised matchmaking, Captain Asher was greatly interested in the coming advent of his shipmate's son.

When the same phaeton, the same horse, and the same boy that had brought Maria Port to the tollhouse, conveyed there a young man with two valises, one rather large, Captain Asher did not hurry from the house to meet his visitor. He had seen him coming, and had preferred to stand in his doorway and take a preliminary observation of him. Having taken this, Captain Asher was obliged to confess to himself that he was disappointed.

The first cause of his disappointment was the fact that the young man wore a colored shirt and no vest, and a yellow leather belt. Now, Captain Asher for the greater part of his active life had worn colored shirts, sometimes very dark ones, with no vests, but he had not supposed that a young man coming to a house where there was a young lady accustomed to the best society would present himself in such attire. The captain instantly remembered that his visitor could not know that there was a young lady at the house, but this did not satisfy him. Such attire was not respectful, even to him. The leather belt especially offended him. The captain was not aware of the _neglige summer fashions for men which then prevailed.

The next thing that disappointed him was that young Lancaster, seen across the garden, did not appear to be the strapping young fellow he had expected to see. He was moderately tall, and moderately broad, and handled his valise with apparent ease, but he did not look as though he were his father's son. Dick Lancaster had married the daughter of a captain when he was only a second mate, and that piece of good fortune had been generally attributed to his good looks.

But these observations and reflections occupied a very short time, and Captain Asher walked quickly to meet his visitor. As he stepped out of the garden-gate he was disappointed again. The young man's trousers were turned up above his shoes. The weather was not wet, there was no mud, and if Dick Lancaster's son had not bought a pair of ready-made trousers that were too long for him, why should he turn them up in that ridiculous way?

In spite of these first impressions, the captain gave his old friend's son a hearty welcome, and took him into the house. After dinner he subjected the young man to a crucial test; he asked him if he smoked. If the visitor had answered in the negative he would have dropped still further in the captain's estimation. It was not that the captain had any theories in regard to the sanitary advantages or disadvantages of tobacco; he simply remembered that nearly all the rascals with whom he had been acquainted had been eager to declare that they never used tobacco in any form, and that nearly all the good fellows he had known enjoyed their pipes. In fact, he could not see how good fellowship could be maintained without good talk and good tobacco, so he waited with an anxious interest for his guest's answer.

"Oh, yes," said he, "I am fond of a smoke, especially in company," and so, having risen several inches in the good opinion of his host, he followed him to the little arbor in the garden.

"Now, then," said Captain Asher, when his pipe was alight, "you have told me a great deal about your father, now tell me something about yourself. I do not even know what your business is."

"I am Assistant Professor of Theoretical Mathematics in Sutton College," answered the young man.

Captain Asher put down his pipe and gazed at his visitor across the arbor. This answer was so different from anything he had expected that for the moment he could not express his astonishment, and was obliged to content himself with asking where Sutton College was.

"It is what they call a fresh-water college," replied the young man, "and I do not wonder that you do not know where it is. It is near our town. I graduated there and received my present appointment about three years ago. I was then twenty-seven."

"Your father was good at mathematics," said Captain Asher. "He was a great hand at calculations, but he went in for practise, as I did, and not for theories. I suppose there are other professors who teach regular working mathematics."

"Oh, yes," replied the young man, with a smile, "there is the Professor of Applied Mathematics, but of course the thorough student wants to understand the theories on which his practise is to be based."

"I do not see why he should," replied the other. "If a good ship is launched for me, I don't care anything about the stocks she slides off of."

"Perhaps not," said Lancaster, "but somebody has to think about them."

In the afternoon Captain Asher showed his visitor his little farm, and took him out fishing. During these recreations he refrained, as far as possible, from asking questions, for he did not wish the young man to suppose that for any reason he had been sent there to undergo an examination. But in the evening he could not help talking about the college, not in reference to the work and life of the students, a subject that did not interest him, but in regard to the work and the prospects of the faculty.

"What does your president teach?" he asked. "I believe all presidents have charge of some branch or other."

"Oh, yes," said Lancaster, "our president is Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy."

"I thought it would be something of the kind," said the captain to himself. "Even the head Professor of Mathematical Theories would never get to the top of the heap. He is not useful enough for that."

After he had gone to bed that night Captain Asher found himself laughing about the events of the day. He could not help it when he remembered how his mind had been almost constantly occupied with a consideration of his old shipmate's son with reference to his brother's daughter. And when he remembered that neither of these two young people had ever seen or heard of the other, it is not surprising that he laughed a little.

"It's none of my business, anyway," thought the captain, "and I might as well stop bothering my head about it. I suppose I might as well tell him about Olive, for it is nothing I need keep secret. But first I'll see how long he is going to stay. It's none of his business, anyway, whether I have a niece staying with me or not."

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