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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 9. Miss Port Takes A Drive With The Butcher
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The Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 9. Miss Port Takes A Drive With The Butcher Post by :cclittle Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :3338

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The Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 9. Miss Port Takes A Drive With The Butcher

CHAPTER IX. Miss Port takes a Drive with the Butcher

As the butcher and Miss Port drove out of town the latter did not talk quite so much as was her wont. She seemed to have something on her mind, and presently she proposed to Mr. Morris that he should take the shunpike for a change.

"That would be a mile and a half out of my way!" he exclaimed. "I can't do it."

"I should think you'd get awfully tired of this same old road," said she.

"The easiest road is the one I like every time," said Mr. Morris, who was also not inclined to talk.

Miss Port did not care to pass the toll-gate that day; she was afraid she might see the captain, and that in some way or other he would interfere with her trip, but fortune favored her, as it nearly always did. Old Jane came to the gate, and as this stolid old woman never asked any questions, Miss Port contented herself with bidding her good morning, and sitting silent during the process of making change.

This self-restraint very much surprised old Jane, who straightway informed the captain that Miss Port was riding with the butcher to Broadstone--she knew it was Broadstone, for he had no other customers that way--and she guessed something must be the matter with her, for she kept her mouth shut, and didn't say nothing to nobody.

As the wagon moved on Miss Port heaved a sigh. Fearful that she might see the captain somewhere, she had not even allowed herself to survey the premises in order to catch a glimpse of the shipmate's son. This was a rare piece of self-denial in Maria, but she could do that sort of thing on occasion.

When the butcher's wagon neared the Broadstone house Miss Port promptly got down, and Mr. Morris went to the kitchen regions by himself. She never allowed herself to enter a house by the back or side door, so now she went to the front, where, disappointed at not seeing any of the family although she had made good use of her eyes, she was obliged to ask a servant to conduct her to Mrs. Blynn. Before she had had time to calculate the cost of the rug in the hall, or to determine whether the walls were calcimined or merely whitewashed, she found herself with that good lady.

Miss Port's business with Mrs. Blynn indicated a peculiar intelligence on the part of the visitor. It was based upon very little; it had not much to do with anything; it amounted to almost nothing; and yet it appeared to contain certain elements of importance which made Mrs. Blynn give it her serious consideration.

After she had talked and peered about as long as she thought was necessary, Maria said she was afraid Mr. Morris would be waiting for her, and quickly took her leave, begging Mrs. Blynn not to trouble herself to accompany her to the door. When she left the house Maria did not seek the butcher's wagon, but started out on a little tour of observation through the grounds. She was quite sure Mr. Morris was waiting for her, but for this she did care a snap of her finger; he would not dare to go and leave her. Presently she perceived a young gentleman approaching her, and she recognized him instantly--it was the goggle-eyed man who had been described to her. Stepping quickly toward Mr. Locker, she asked him if he could tell her where she could find Miss Asher; she had been told she was in the grounds.

The young man goggled his eye a little more than usual. "Do you know her?" said he.

"Oh, yes," replied Maria; "I met her at the house of her uncle, Captain Asher."

"And, knowing her, you want to see her"

Astonished, Miss Port replied, "Of course."

"Very well, then," said he; "beyond that clump of bushes is a seat. She sits thereon. Accept my condolences."

"I will remember every word of that," said Miss Port to herself, "but I haven't time to think of it now. He's just ravin'."

Olive had just had an interview with Mr. Locker which, in her eyes, had been entirely too protracted, and she had sent him away. He had just made her an offer of marriage, but she had refused even to consider it, assuring him that her mind was occupied with other things. She was busy thinking of those other things when she heard footsteps near her.

"How do you do" said Miss Port, extending her hand.

Olive rose, but she put her hands behind her back.

"Oh!" said Miss Port, dropping her hand, but allowing herself no verbal resentment. She had come there for information, and she did not wish to interfere with her own business. "I happened to be here," she said, "and I thought I'd come and tell you how your uncle is. He took dinner with us yesterday, and I was sorry to see he didn't have much appetite. But I suppose he's failin', as most people do when they get to his age. I thought you might have some message you'd like to send him."

"Thank you," said Olive with more than sufficient coldness, "but I have no message."

"Oh!" said Miss Port. "You're in a fine place here," she continued, looking about her, "very different from the toll-gate; and I expect the Easterfields has everything they want that money can more than pay for." Having delivered this little shot at the reported extravagance of the lady of the manor, she remarked: "I don't wonder you don't want to go back to your uncle, and run out to take the toll. It must have been a very great change to you if you're used to this sort of thing."

"Who said I was not going back?" asked Olive sharply.

"Your uncle," said Miss Port. "He told me at our house. Of course, he didn't go into no particulars, but that isn't to be expected, he's not the kind of man to do that."

Olive stood and looked at this smooth-faced, flat-mouthed spinster. She was pale, she trembled a little, but she spoke no word; she was a girl who did not go into particulars, especially with a person such as this woman standing before her.

Miss Port did not wish to continue the conversation; she generally knew when she had said enough. "Well," she remarked, "as you haven't no message to send to your uncle, I might as well go. But I did think that as I was right on my way, you'd have at least a word for him. Good mornin'." And with this she promptly walked away to join Mr. Morris, cataloguing in her mind as she went the foolish and lazy hammocks and garden chairs, the slow motions of a man who was sweeping leaves from the broad stone, and various other evidences of bad management and probable downfall which met her eyes in every direction.

When Miss Port approached the toll-gate on her return she was very anxious to stop, and hoped that the captain would be at the gate. Fortune favored her again, and there he stood in the doorway of the little tollhouse.

"Oh, captain," she exclaimed, extending herself somewhat over the butcher's knees in order to speak more effectively, "I've been to Broadstone, and I've seen your niece. She's dressed up just like the other fine folks there, and she's stiffer than any of them, I guess. I didn't see Mrs. Easterfield, although I did want to get a chance to tell her what I thought about her plantin' weeds in her garden, and spreadin' new kinds of seeds over this country, which goes to weeds fast enough in the natural way. As to your niece, I must say she didn't show me no extra civility, and when I asked her if she had any message for you, she said she hadn't a word to say."

The captain was not in the least surprised to hear that Olive had not treated Miss Port with extra civility. He remembered his niece treating this prying gossip with positive rudeness, and he had been somewhat amused by it, although he had always believed that young people should be respectful to their elders. He did not care to talk about Olive with Miss Port, but he had to say something, and so he asked if she seemed to be having a good time.

"If settin' behind bushes with young men, and goggle-eyed ones at that, is havin' a good time," replied Miss Port, "I'm sure she's enjoyin' herself." And then, as she caught sight of Lancaster: "I suppose that's the young man who's visitin' you. I hope he makes his scholars study harder than he does. He isn't readin' his book at all; he's just starin' at nothin'. You might be polite enough to bring him out and introduce him, captain," she added in a somewhat milder tone.

The captain did not answer; in fact, he had not heard all that Miss Port had said to him. If Olive had refused to send him a word, even the slightest message, she must be a girl of very stubborn resentments, and he was sorry to hear it. He himself was beginning to get over his resentment at her treatment of him at the Broadstone luncheon, and if she had been of his turn of mind everything might have been smoothed over in a very short time.

"Well?" remarked Maria in an inquiring tone.

"Excuse me," said the captain, "what were you saying?"

Miss Maria settled herself in her seat. "If you and that young man wastin' his time in the garden can't keep your wits from wool-gatherin'," said she, "I hope old Jane has got sense enough to go on with the housekeepin'. I'll call again when you've sent your young man away, and got your young woman back."

Maria said little to the taciturn butcher on their way to Glenford, but she smiled a good deal to herself. For years it had been the desire of her life to go to live in the toll-gate--not with any idea of ousting Captain Asher--oh, no, by no means. Old Mr. Port could not live much longer, and his daughter would not care to reside in the Glenford house by herself. But the toll-gate would exactly suit her; there was life; there was passing to and fro; there was money enough for good living and good clothes without any encroachment on whatever her father might leave her; and, above all, there was the captain, good for twenty years yet, in spite of his want of appetite, which she had mentioned to his niece. This would be a settlement which would suit her in every way, but so long as that niece lived there, there would be no hope of it; even the shipmate's son would be in the way. But she supposed he would soon be off.

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