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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 7. The Captain And His Guest Go Fishing And Come Home Happy
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The Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 7. The Captain And His Guest Go Fishing And Come Home Happy Post by :mrtwist Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :2874

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The Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 7. The Captain And His Guest Go Fishing And Come Home Happy

CHAPTER VII. The Captain and his Guest go Fishing and come Home Happy

When Dick Lancaster told Captain Asher he had taken toll from two ladies in a phaeton he was quite eloquent in his description of said ladies. He declared with an impressiveness which the captain had not noticed in him before that he did not know when he had seen such handsome ladies. The younger one, who paid the toll, was absolutely charming. She seemed a little bit startled, but he supposed that was because she saw a strange face at the toll-gate. Dick wanted very much to know who these ladies were. He had not supposed that he would find such stylish people, and such a handsome turnout in this part of the country.

"Oh, ho," said Captain Asher, "do you suppose we are all farmers and toll-gate keepers? If you do, you are very much mistaken, although I must admit that the stylish people, as you call them, are scattered about very thinly. I expect that carriage was from Broadstone over on the mountain. Was the team dapple gray, pony built?"

"Yes," said Lancaster.

"Then it was Mrs. Easterfield driving some of her company. I have seen her with that team. And by George," he exclaimed, "I bet my head the other one was Olive! Of course it was. And she paid toll! Well, well, if that isn't a good one! Olive paying toll! I wish I had been here to take it! That truly would have been a lark!"

Dick Lancaster did not echo this wish of his host. He was very glad, indeed, that the captain had not been at the toll-gate when the ladies passed through. Captain Asher was still laughing.

"Olive must have been amazed," he said. "It was queer enough for her to go through my gate and pay toll, but to pay it to an Assistant Professor of Theoretical Mathematics was a good deal queerer. I can't imagine what she thought about it."

"She did not know I am that!" exclaimed Dick Lancaster. "There is nothing of the professor in my outward appearance--at least, I hope not."

"No, I don't think there is," replied the captain. "But she must have been amazed, all the same. I wish I had been here, or old Jane, anyway. But, of course, when a stranger showed himself she would not have said anything."

"But who is Olive?" asked Lancaster.

"She's my niece," said the captain. "I don't think I have mentioned her to you. She is on a visit to me, but just now she is staying at Broadstone. I suppose she will be there about a week longer."

"It's odd he has not mentioned her to me," thought Lancaster, and then, as the captain went to ask old Jane if she had seen Olive pass, the young man retired to the arbor with a book which he did not read.

His desire to inform his host that it would be necessary to take leave of him on the morrow had very much abated. It would be very pleasant, he thought, to be a visitor in a family of which that girl was a member. But if she were not to return for a week, how could he expect to stay with the captain so long? There would be no possible excuse for such a thing. Then he thought it would be very pleasant to be in a country of which that young woman was one of the inhabitants. Anyway, he hoped the captain would invite him to make a longer stay. The great blue eyes with which the young lady had regarded him as she paid the toll would not fade out of his mind.

"She must have wondered who it was that took the toll," said old Jane. "And there wasn't no need of it, anyway. I could have took it as I always have took it when you was not here, and before either of them came."

"Either of them" struck the captain's ear strangely. Here was this old woman coupling these two young people in her mind!

The next morning Captain Asher sat on his little piazza, smoking his pipe and thinking about Olive driving through the gate and paying toll to a stranger. But he now considered the incident from a different point of view. Of course, Olive had been surprised when she had seen the young man, but she might also have wondered how he happened to be there and she not know of it. If he were staying long enough to be entrusted with toll-taking it might--in fact, the captain thought it probably would--appear very strange to her that she should not know of it. So now he asked himself if it would not be a good thing if he were to write her a little note in which he should mention Mr. Lancaster and his visit. In fact, he thought the best thing he could do would be to write her a playful sort of a note, and tell her that she should feel honored by having her toll taken up by a college professor. But he did not immediately write the note. The more he thought about it, the more he wished he had been at the toll-gate when Mrs. Easterfield's phaeton passed by.

Captain Asher did not write his note at all. He did not know what to say; he did not want to make too much of the incident, for it was really a trifling matter, only worthy of being mentioned in case he had something more important to write about. But he had nothing more important; there was no reason why he should write to Olive during her short stay with Mrs. Easterfield. Besides, she would soon be back, and then he could talk to her; that would be much better. Now, two strong desires began to possess him; one was for Olive to come home; and the other for Dick Lancaster to go away. There had been moments when he had had a shadowy notion of bringing the two together, but this idea had vanished. His mind was now occupied very much with thoughts of his beautiful niece and very little with the young man in the colored shirt and turned-up trousers who was staying with him.

Dick Lancaster, in his arbor, was also thinking a great deal about Olive, and very little about that stalwart sailor, her uncle. If he had merely seen the young woman, and had never heard anything about her, her face would have impressed him, but the knowledge that she was an inmate of the house in which he was staying could not fail to affect him very much. He was puzzling his mind about the girl who had given him a quarter of a dollar, and to whom he had handed fifteen cents in change. He wondered how such a girl happened to be living at such a place. He wondered if there were any possibility of his staying there, or in the neighborhood, until she should come back; he wondered if there were any way by which he could see her again. He might have wondered a good many other things if Captain Asher had not approached the arbor. The captain having been aroused from his mental contemplation of Olive by a man in a wagon, had glanced over at the arbor and had suddenly been struck with the conviction that that young man looked bored, and that, as his host, he was not doing the right thing by him.

"Dick," said the captain, "let's go fishing. It's not late yet, and I'll put my mare to the buggy, and we can drive to the river. We will take something to eat with us, and make a day of it."

Lancaster hesitated a moment; he had been thinking that the time had come when he should say something about his departure, but this invitation settled the matter for that day; and in half an hour the two had started away, leaving the toll-gate in charge of old Jane, who was a veteran in the business, having lived at the toll-gate years before the captain.

As they drove along the smooth turnpike Lancaster remembered with great interest that this road led to the gap in the mountains; that the captain had told him Broadstone was not very far from the gap; and that the river was not very far from Broadstone; and his face glowed with interest in the expedition.

But when, after a few miles, they turned into a plain country road which, as the captain informed him, led in a southeasterly direction, to a point on the river where black bass were to be caught and where a boat could be hired, the corners of Dick Lancaster's mouth began to droop. Of necessity that road must reach the river miles to the south of Broadstone.

It was a very good day for fishing, and the captain was pleased to see that the son of his old shipmate was a very fair angler. Toward the close of the afternoon, with the conviction that they had had a good time and that their little expedition had been a success, the two fishermen set out for home with a basket of bass: some of them quite a respectable size; stowed away under the seat of the buggy. When they reached the turnpike the old mare, knowing well in which direction her supper lay, turned briskly to the left, and set out upon a good trot. But this did not last very long. To her great surprise she was suddenly pulled up short; a carriage with two horses which had been approaching had also stopped.

On the back seat of this carriage sat Mrs. Easterfield; on one side of her was a little girl, and on the other side was another little girl, each with her feet stuck out straight in front of her.

"Oh, Captain Asher," exclaimed the lady, with a most enchanting smile, "I am so glad to meet you. I was obliged to go to Glenford to take one of my little girls to the dentist, and I inquired for you each time I passed your gate."

The captain was very glad he had been so fortunate as to meet her, and as her eyes were now fixed upon his companion, he felt it incumbent upon him to introduce Mr. Richard Lancaster, the son of an old shipmate.

"But not a sailor, I imagine," said Mrs. Easterfield.

"Oh, no," said the captain, "Mr. Lancaster is Assistant Professor of Theoretical Mathematics in Sutton College."

Dick could not imagine why the captain said all this, and he flushed a little.

"Sutton College?" said Mrs. Easterfield. "Then, of course, you know Professor Brent."

"Oh, yes," said Lancaster. "He is our president."

"I never met him," said she, "but he was a classmate of my husband, and I have often heard him speak of him. And now for my errand, Captain Asher. Isn't it about time you should be wanting to see your niece?"

The captain's heart sank. Did she intend to send Olive home?

"I always want to see her," he said, but without enthusiasm.

"But don't you think it would be nice," said the lady, "if you were to come to lunch with us to-morrow? It was to ask you this that I inquired for you at the toll-gate."

Now, this was another thing altogether, and the captain's earnest acceptance would have been more coherent if it had not been for the impatience of his mare.

"And I want you to bring your friend with you," continued Mrs. Easterfield. "The invitation is for you both, of course."

Dick's face said that this would be heavenly, but his mouth was more prudent.

"It will be strictly informal," continued Mrs. Easterfield. "Only myself and family, three guests, and Olive. We shall sit down at one. Good-by."

Mrs. Easterfield was entirely truthful when she said she was glad to meet the captain. Her anxiety about Olive and Claude Locker was somewhat on the increase. She was very well aware that the most dangerous thing for one young woman is one young man; and in thinking over this truism she had been impressed with the conviction that it was not well for Mr. Claude Locker to be the one man at Broadstone. Then, in thinking of possible young men, her mind naturally turned to the young man who was visiting Olive's uncle. She did not know anything about him, but he was a young man, and if he proved to be worth something, he could be asked to come again. So it was really to Dick Lancaster, and not to Captain Asher, that the luncheon invitation had been given.

The appointment with the Glenford dentist had made it necessary for her to leave home that afternoon. To be sure, she had sent the Foxes with Olive and Claude Locker upon the drive through the gap, and, under ordinary circumstances, and with ordinary people, there would have been no reason for her to trouble herself about them, but neither the circumstances nor the people were ordinary, and she now felt anxious to get home and find out what Claude Locker and Olive had done with Mrs. and Mr. Fox.

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