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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 5. Olive Pays Toll
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The Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 5. Olive Pays Toll Post by :cclittle Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :837

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The Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 5. Olive Pays Toll

CHAPTER V. Olive pays Toll

It is needless to say that Olive was charmed with Broadstone; with its mistress; with the two little girls; with the woods; the river; the mountains; and even the sky; which seemed different from that same sky when viewed from the tollhouse. She was charmed also with the rest of the household, which was different from anything of that kind that she had known, being composed entirely, with the exception of some servants, of women and little girls. Olive, accustomed all her life to men, men, men, grew rapturous over this Amazonian paradise.

"Don't be too enthusiastic," said Mrs. Easterfield; "for a while you may like fresh butter without salt, but the longing for the condiment will be sure to come."

There was Mrs. Blynn, the widow of a clergyman, with dark-brown eyes and white hair, who was always in a good humor, who acted as the general manager of the household, and also as particular friend to any one in the house who needed her services in that way. Then there was Miss Raleigh, who was supposed to be Mrs. Easterfield's secretary. She was a slender spinster of forty or more, with sad eyes and very fine teeth. She had dyspeptic proclivities, and never differed with anybody except in regard to her own diet. She seldom wrote for Mrs. Easterfield, for that lady did not like her handwriting, and she did not understand the use of the typewriter; nor did she read to the lady of the house, for Mrs. Easterfield could not endure to have anybody read to her. But in all the other duties of a secretary she made herself very useful. She saw that the books, which every morning were found lying about the house, were put in their proper places on the shelves, and, if necessary, she dusted them; if she saw a book turned upside down she immediately set it up properly. She was also expected to exert a certain supervision over the books the little girls were allowed to look at. She was an excellent listener and an appropriate smiler; Mrs. Easterfield frequently said that she never knew Miss Raleigh to smile in the wrong place. She took a regular walk every day, eight times up and down the whole length of the lawn.

Mrs. Easterfield gave herself almost entirely to the entertainment of her guest. They roamed over the grounds, they found the finest points of view, at which Olive was expert, being a fine climber, and they tramped for long distances along the edge of the woods, where together they killed a snake. Mrs. Easterfield also allowed Olive the great privilege of helping her work in her garden of nature. This was a wide bed which was almost entirely shaded by two large trees. The peculiarity about this bed was that its mistress carefully pulled up all the flowering plants and cultivated the weeds.

"You see," said she to Olive, "I planted here a lot of flower-seeds which I thought would thrive in the shade, but they did not, and after a while I found that they were all spindling and puny-looking, while the weeds were growing as if they were out in the open sunshine, so I have determined to acknowledge the principle of the survival of the fittest, and whenever anything that looks like a flower shows itself I jerk it out. I also thin out all but the best weeds. I hoe and rake the others, and water them if necessary. Look at that splendid Jamestown weed--here they call it jimson weed--did you ever see anything finer than that with its great white blossoms and dark-green leaves? I expect it to be twice as large before the summer is over. And all these others. See how graceful they are, and what delicate flowers some of them have!"

"I wonder," said Olive, "if I should have had the strength of mind to pull up my flowers and leave my weeds."

"The more you think about it," said Mrs. Easterfield, "the more you like weeds. They have such fine physiques, and they don't ask anybody to do anything for them. They are independent, like self-made men, and come up of themselves. They laugh at disadvantages, and even bricks and flagstones will not keep them down."

"But, after all," said Olive, "give me the flowers that can not take care of themselves." And she turned toward a bed of carnations, bright under the morning sun.

"Do you suppose, little girl," said Mrs. Easterfield, following her, "that I do not like flowers because I do like weeds? Everything in its place; weeds are for the shady spots, but I keep my flowers out of such places. This flower, for instance," touching Olive on the cheek. "And now let us go into the house and see what pleasant thing we can find to do there."

In the afternoon the two ladies went out rowing on the river, and Mrs. Easterfield was astonished at Olive's proficiency with the oar. She had thought herself a good oarswoman, but she was nothing to Olive. She good-naturedly acknowledged her inferiority, however. How could she expect to compete with a navy girl? she said.

"Are you fond of swimming?" asked Olive, as she looked down into the bright, clear water.

"Oh, very," said Mrs. Easterfield. "But I am not allowed to swim in this river. It is considered dangerous."

Olive looked up in surprise. It seemed odd that there should be anything that this bright, free woman was not allowed to do, or that there should be anybody who would not allow it.

Then followed some rainy days, and the first clear day Mrs. Easterfield told Olive that she would take her a drive in the afternoon.

"I shall drive you myself with my own horses," she said, "but you need not be afraid, for I can drive a great deal better than I can row. We must lose no time in seizing all the advantages of this Amazonian life, for to-morrow some of our guests will arrive, the Foxes and Mr. Claude Locker."

"Who are the Foxes?" asked Olive.

"They are the pleasantest visitors that any one could have," was the answer. "They always like everything. They never complain of being cold, nor talk about the weather being hot. They are interested in all games, and they like all possible kinds of food that one can give them to eat. They are always ready to go to bed when they think they ought to, and sit up just as long as they are wanted. Of course, they have their own ideas about things, but they don't dispute. They take care of themselves all the morning, and are ready for anything you want to do in the afternoon or evening. They have two children at home, but they never talk about them unless they are particularly asked to do so. They know a great many people, and you can tell by the way they speak of them that they won't talk scandal about you. In fact, they are model guests, and they ought to open a school to teach the art of visiting."

"And what about Mr. Claude Locker?"

Mrs. Easterfield laughed. "Oh, he is different," she said; "he is so different from the Poxes that words would not describe it. But you won't be long in becoming acquainted with him."

The road over which the two ladies drove that afternoon was a beautiful one, sometimes running close to the river under great sycamores, then making a turn into the woods and among the rocks. At last they came to a cross-road, which led away from the river, and here Mrs. Easterfield stopped her horses.

"Now, Olive," said she, for she was now very familiar with her guest, "I will leave the return route to you. Shall we go back by the river road--and the scenery will be very different when going in the other direction--or shall we drive over to Glenford, and go home by the turnpike? That is a little farther, but the road is a great deal better?"

"Oh, let us go that way," cried Olive. "We will go through Uncle John's toll-gate, and you must let me pay the toll. It will be such fun to pay toll to Uncle John, or old Jane."

"Very well," said Mrs. Easterfield, "we will go that way."

When the horses had passed through Glenford and had turned their heads homeward, they clattered along at a fine rate over the smooth turnpike, and Olive was in as high spirits as they were.

"Whoever comes out to take toll," said she, "I intend to be treated as an ordinary traveler and nothing else. I have often taken toll, but I never paid it in my life. And they must take it--no gratis traveling for me. But I hope you won't mind stopping long enough for me to say a few words after I have transacted the regular business."

"Oh, no," said Mrs. Easterfield, "you can chat as much as you like. We have plenty of time."

Olive held in her hand a quarter of a dollar; she was determined they should make change for her, and that everything should be done properly.

Dick Lancaster sat in the garden arbor, reading. He was becoming a little tired of this visit to his father's old friend. He liked Captain Asher and appreciated his hospitality, but there was nothing very interesting for him to do in this place, and he had thought that it might be a very good thing if the several days for which he had been invited should terminate on the morrow. There were some very attractive plans ahead of him, and he felt that he had now done his full duty by his father and his father's old friend.

Captain Asher was engaged with some matters about his little farm, and Lancaster had asked as a favor that he might be allowed to tend the toll-gate during his absence. It would be something to do, and, moreover, something out of the way.

When he perceived the approach of Mrs. Easterfield's carriage Lancaster walked down to the tollhouse, and stopped for a minute to glance over the rates of toll which were pasted up inside the door as well as out.

The carriage stopped, and when a young man stepped out from the tollhouse Olive gave a sudden start, and the words with which she had intended to greet her uncle or old Jane instantly melted away.

"Don't push me out of the carriage," said Mrs. Easterfield, good-naturedly, and she, too, looked at the young man.

"For two horses and a vehicle," said Dick Lancaster, "ten cents, if you please."

Olive made no answer, but handed him the quarter with which he retired to make change. Mrs. Easterfield opened her mouth to speak, but Olive put her finger on her lips and shook her head; the situation astonished her, but she did not wish to ask that stranger to explain it.

Lancaster came out and dropped fifteen cents into Olive's hand. He could not help regarding with interest the occupants of the carriage, and Mrs. Easterfield looked hard at him. Suddenly Olive turned in her seat; she looked at the house, she looked at the garden, she looked at the little piazza by the side of the tollhouse. Yes, it was really the same place. For an instant she thought she might have been mistaken, but there was her window with the Virginia creeper under the sill where she had trained it herself. Then she made a motion to her companion, who immediately drove on.

"What does this mean?" exclaimed Mrs. Easterfield. "Who is that young man? Why didn't you give me a chance to ask after the captain, even if you did not care to do so?"

"I never saw him before!" cried Olive. "I never heard of him. I don't understand anything about it. The whole thing shocked me, and I wanted to get on."

"I don't think it a very serious matter," said Mrs. Easterfield. "Some passer-by might have relieved your uncle for a time."

"Not at all, not at all," replied Olive. "Uncle John would never give the toll-gate into the charge of a passer-by, especially as old Jane was there. I know she was there, for the basement door was open, and she never goes away and leaves it so. That man is somebody who is staying there. I saw an open book on the arbor bench. Nobody reads in that arbor but me."

"And that young man apparently," said Mrs. Easterfield. "I agree with you that it is surprising."

For some minutes Olive did not speak. "I am afraid," she said, presently, "that my uncle is not acting quite frankly with me. I noticed how willing he was that I should go to your house."

"Perhaps he expected this person and wanted to get you out of the way," laughed Mrs. Easterfield.

"Well, my dear, I do not believe your uncle is such a schemer. He does not look like it. Take my word for it, it will all be as simple as a-b-c when it is explained to you."

But Olive could not readily take this view of the case, and the drive home was not nearly so pleasant as it would have been if her uncle or old Jane had taken her quarter and given her fifteen cents in change.

That night, soon after the family at Broadstone had retired to their rooms, Olive knocked at the door of Mrs. Easterfield's chamber.

"Do you know," she exclaimed, when she had been told to enter, "that a horrible idea has come into my head? Uncle John may have been taken sick, and that man looked just like a doctor. Old Jane was busy with uncle, and as the doctor had to wait, he took the toll. Oh, I wish we had asked! It was cruel in me not to!"

"Now, that is all nonsense," said Mrs. Easterfield. "If anything serious is the matter with your uncle he most surely would have let you know, and, besides, both the doctors in Glenford are elderly men. I do not believe there is the slightest reason for your anxiety. But to make you feel perfectly satisfied, I will send a man to Glenford early in the morning. I want to send there anyway."

"But I would not like my uncle to think that I was trying to find out anything he did not care to tell me," said Olive.

"Oh, don't trouble yourself about that," answered Mrs. Easterfield. "I will instruct the man. He need not ask any questions at the toll-gate. But when he gets to Glenford he can find out everything about that young man without asking any questions. He is a very discreet person. And I am also a discreet person," she added, "and you shall have no connection with my messenger's errand."

After breakfast the next morning Mrs. Easterfield took Olive aside. "My man has returned," she said; "he tells me that Captain Asher took the toll, and was smoking his pipe in perfect health. He also saw the young man, and his natural curiosity prompted him to ask about him in the town. He heard that he is the son of one of the captain's old shipmates who is making him a visit. Now I hope this satisfies you."

"Satisfies me!" exclaimed Olive. "I should have been a great deal better satisfied if I had heard he was sick, provided it was nothing dangerous. I think my uncle is treating me shamefully. It is not that I care a snap about his visitor, one way or another, but it is his want of confidence in me that hurts me. Could he have supposed I should have wanted to stay with him if I had known a young man was coming?"

"Well, my dear," said Mrs. Easterfield, "I can not send anybody to find out what he supposed. But I am as certain as I can be certain of anything that there is nothing at all in this bugbear you have conjured up. No doubt the young man dropped in quite accidentally, and it was his bad luck that prevented him from dropping in before you left."

Olive shook her head. "My uncle knew all about it. His manner showed it. He has treated me very badly."

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