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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 28. Here We Go! Lovers Three!
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The Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 28. Here We Go! Lovers Three! Post by :mrtwist Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :1443

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The Captain's Toll-gate - Chapter 28. Here We Go! Lovers Three!

CHAPTER XXVIII. Here we go! Lovers Three!

The three discarded lovers of Broadstone--all discarded, although one of them would not admit it--would have departed the next day had not that day been Sunday, when there were no convenient trains. Mr. Du Brant was due in Washington; Mr. Hemphill was needed very much at his desk, especially since Mr. Easterfield had decided to spend a few days with his wife; and Claude Locker wanted to go. When he had finished the thing he happened to be doing it was his habit immediately to begin something else. All was at an end between him and Miss Asher. He acknowledged this, and he did not wish to stay at Broadstone. But, as it could not be helped, they all stayed over Sunday.

Mr. Easterfield planned an early afternoon expedition to a mission church in the mountains; it would be a novel experience, and a delightful trip, and everybody must go.

In the course of the morning Mr. Du Brant strolled in the eastern parts of the grounds, and Mr. Locker strolled over that portion of the lawn which lay to the west. Mr. Du Brant did not meet with any one with whom he cared to talk, but Mr. Locker was fortunate enough to meet Miss Raleigh.

"I am glad to see you," said he; "you are the person above all other persons I wish to talk to."

"It delights me to hear that," said the lady, her face showing that she spoke the truth.

"Let us go over there and sit down," said he. "Now, then," he continued, "you were present, Miss Raleigh, at a very peculiar moment in my life, a momentous moment, I may say. You enjoyed a privilege--if you consider it such--not vouchsafed to many mortals."

"I did consider it a privilege, you may be sure," exclaimed Miss Raleigh, "and I value it. You do not know how highly I value it!"

"You heard me offer myself, body and soul, to the lady I loved. You were taken into our confidence, you saw me laid upon the table--"

"Oh, dreadful!" cried the lady. "Don't put it that way."

"Well, then," said he, "you saw me postponed for future consideration. You promised you would regard everything you heard as confidential; by so doing you enabled me to speak when otherwise I might not have dared to do so. I am deeply grateful to you; and, as you already know so much about my hopes and my aspirations, I think it right you should know all there is to know."

The conscience of Miss Raleigh stirred itself very vigorously within her, and her voice was much subdued as she said:

"I am sure you are very good."

"Well, then," said Locker, "the proposal you heard me make has been declined. I am discarded; and not directly in a face-to-face interview, but through another by a message. It would have been inconvenient for Miss Asher personally to communicate the intelligence, so as Mrs. Easterfield was coming this way she kindly consented to convey the intelligence."

"I declare," exclaimed Miss Raleigh, "I had not heard of that! Mrs. Easterfield made me her confidant in the early stages of this affair, or I should say, these affairs. But she has not told me that."

"She will doubtless give herself that pleasure later," said Locker.

"No," said she, "she will not think any more about it. I am of no further use. And may I ask if you know anything about the two other gentlemen?"

"Both turned down," said Locker.

"I might have supposed that," answered the lady; "for if Miss Asher would not take you she certainly would not be content with either of them."

"With all my heart I thank you," said Locker warmly. "Such words are welcome to a wounded heart."

For a moment Miss Raleigh was silent, then she remarked, "It is very hard to be discarded."

"You are right there!" exclaimed Locker. "But how do you happen to know anything about it?"

"I have been discarded myself," she answered.

The larger eye of Mr. Locker grew still larger, the other endeavored to emulate its companion's size; and his mouth became a rounded opening. "Discarded?" he cried.

"Yes," said she.

The countenance of the young man was now bright with interest and curiosity. "I don't suppose it would be right to ask you," said he, "even although I have taken you so completely into my confidence--but, never mind. Don't think of it. Of course, I would not propose such a question."

"Of course not," said she, "you are too manly for that." And then she was silent again. Naturally she hesitated to reveal the secrets of her heart, and to a gentleman with whom her acquaintance was of such recent date; but she earnestly wanted to repose confidence in another, as well as to receive it, and it was so seldom, so very seldom, that such an opportunity came to her.

"I do not know," she said, "that I ought to, but still--"

"Oh, don't, if you don't want to," said Locker.

"But I think I do want to," she replied. "You are so kind, so good, and you have confided in me. Yes, I was once discarded, not exactly by word of mouth, or even by message, but still discarded."

"A stranger to me, of course," said Locker, his whole form twisting itself into an interrogation-point.

"No," said she, "and as I have begun I will go on. It was Mr. Hemphill."

"What!" he exclaimed. "That--"

"Yes, it was he," said she, speaking slowly, and in a low voice. "He was Mr. Easterfield's secretary and I was Mrs. Easterfield's secretary, and, of course, we were thrown much together. He has very good qualities; I do not hesitate now to say that; and they impressed themselves upon me. In every possible way I endeavored to make things pleasant for him. I do not believe that when he was at work he ever wanted a glass of cold water that he did not find it within reach. I early discovered that he was very fond of cold water."

"A most commendable dissipation," interrupted Locker.

"He had no dissipations," said Miss Raleigh. "His character was unimpeachable. In very many ways I was attracted to him, in very many ways I endeavored to make life pleasant for him; and I am afraid that sometimes I neglected Mrs. Easterfield's interests so that I might do little things for him, such as dusting, keeping his ink-pots full, providing fresh blotting-paper, and many other trifling services which devotion readily suggested."

Locker heaved a sigh of commiseration which she mistook for one of sympathy.

"I will not go into particulars," she continued, "but at last he discovered that--well, I will be plain with you--he discovered that I loved him. Then, sir--it is humiliating to me to say it, but I will not flinch--he discarded me. He did not use words, but his manner was sufficient. Never again did I go near his desk, never did I tender him the slightest service. It was a terrible blow! It was humiliating"

"I should think so," said Locker, "from him"

"But I will say no more," she remarked with a sigh. "I have told you what you have heard that you may understand how thoroughly I sympathize with you, for all is over with me in that direction, as I suppose all is over with you in your direction. And now I must go, for this long conference may be remarked. But before I go, I will say that if ever you--"

"Oh, no, no, no!" interrupted Locker, "it would not do at all! I really have begun to believe that I was cut out for a bachelor."

"What!" said Miss Raleigh, with great severity. "Do you suppose, sir, that I--"

"Not at all, not at all" cried Locker. "Not for one moment do I suppose that you--"

"If for one moment," said she, "I had imagined you would suppose--"

"But I assure you, Miss Raleigh, I never did suppose that you would imagine I would think--but if you do suppose I thought you imagined I could possibly conceive--"

"But I really did think," said Miss Raleigh, speaking more gently. "But if I was wrong--"

"Nay, think no more about it," Locker interrupted, "and let us be friends again."

He offered her his hand, which she shook warmly, and then departed.

It had been arranged that Lancaster was not to leave Broadstone on the next day. He had expected to do so, but Mr. Easterfield had planned for a day's fishing for himself, Mr. Fox, and the professor, and he would not let the latter off. The ladies had accepted an invitation to luncheon that day; the next day some new visitors were expected; and in order not to interfere with Mr. Easterfield's plans, evidently intended to restore to Broadstone some of the social harmony which had recently been so disturbed, Dick consented to stay, although he really wanted to go. He could not forget that his vacation was passing.

"Very well, then," Mrs. Easterfield remarked to him that Sunday evening, "if you must go on Tuesday, I suppose you must, although I think it would be better for you if I were to keep my eye on you for a little while longer."

"Perhaps so," said Lancaster, "but the time has come when curb-bits, cages, and good advice are not for me. I must burst loose from everything and go my way, right or wrong, whatever it may be."

"I see that," said she; "but if it had not been for the curbed bit and all that, you would be leaving this place a discarded lover, like the rest of them. They depart with their love-affairs finished forever, ended; you go as free to woo, to win, or to lose as you ever were. And you owe this entirely to me, so whatever else you do, don't sneer at my curbs and my cages; to them you owe your liberty."

The professor fully appreciated everything she had done for him, and told her so earnestly and warmly. But she interrupted his grateful expressions.

"It would have been very hard on me," she said, "if Olive had asked me to carry to you the news of your rejection. That is what I did for the others, I suppose you know."

"Oh, yes," said Lancaster; "Locker told me."

"I might have supposed that," said she. "And now I feel bound to tell you also, although it is not a message, that Olive does not expect to see you at her uncle's house. She infers that you are going to continue your vacation journey."

"I have made my plans for my journey," said he, "and I do not think, Mrs. Easterfield, that you will care to have me talk them over with you."

"No, indeed," she replied; "I do not want to hear a word about them, but I am going to give you one piece of advice, whether you like it or not. Don't be in a hurry to ask her to marry you. At this moment she does not want to marry anybody. Her position has entirely changed. She wanted to marry so that her plans might be settled before her father and his new wife arrive; and now she considers that they are settled. So be careful. It is true that the objections she formerly had to you are removed, but before you ask her to marry you, you should seriously ask yourself what reason there is she should do so. She does not know you very well; she is not interested in you; and I am very sure she is not in love with you. Now you know, for I have told you so, that I would be delighted to see you two married. I believe you would suit each other admirably, but although you may agree with me in this opinion, I am quite sure she does not; at least, not yet. Now, this is all I am going to say, except that you have my very best wishes that you may get her."

"I shall never forget that," said he, "but I see I am not to be free from the memory, at least, of the curb and the cage."

After breakfast on Monday the three discarded lovers departed in a dog-cart, Mr. Du Brant in front with the driver, and Claude Locker and Hemphill behind. For some minutes the party was silent. If circumstances had permitted they would have gone separately.

As long as he could see the mansion of Broadstone, Claude Locker spoke no word. When the time had come to go he had not wanted to go. When taking leave of Dick Lancaster he had congratulated that favored young man upon the fact that he had not been rejected, and had assured him that if he had remained at Broadstone he would have done his best to back him up as he had said he would.

Hemphill was not inclined to talk. Of course, Locker did not care to converse with the young diplomat, and consequently he found himself bored, and to relieve his feelings he burst into song. His words were impromptu, and although the verse was not very good, it was very impressive. It began as follows:

"Here we go,
Lovers three,
All steeped deep
In miseree."

At this Mr. Hemphill turned and looked at him, while a deep grunt came from the front seat, but the singer kept on without much attention to meter, and none at all to tune.

"This is so,
Here we go,
Hopes all blasted,
Flags half-masted.
While it lasted,
We poor--"

"Look here," cried Du Brant, turning round suddenly, "I beg you desist that. You are insulting. And what you say is not true, as regards me at least. You can sing for yourself."

"Not true!" cried Locker. "Oh, ho, oh ho! Perhaps you have forgotten yourself, kind sir."

This little speech seemed to make Du Brant very angry, and he fairly shouted at Locker: "No, I haven't forgotten myself, and I have not forgotten you! You have insulted me before, and I should like to make you pay for it! I should like to have satisfaction from you, sir"

"That sounds well," cried Locker. "Do you mean to fight?"

"I want the satisfaction due to a gentleman," answered the young Austrian.

"Good," cried Locker, "that would suit me exactly. It would brighten me up. Let's do it now. I am not going to stop at Washington, and this is the only time I can give you. Driver, can we get to the station in time if we stop a little while?"

The person addressed was a young negro who had become intensely interested in the conversation.

"Oh, yes, sah," he answered. "We'll git dar twenty minutes before de train does, and if you takes half an hour I can whip up. That train's mostly late, anyway."

"All right," cried Locker. "And now, sir, how shall we fight? What have you got to fight with?"

"This is folly," growled Du Brant. "I have nothing to fight with. I do not fight with fists, like you Americans."

"Haven't you a penknife" coolly asked Locker. "If not, I daresay Mr. Hemphill will lend you one."

Du Brant now fairly trembled with anger. "When I fight," said he, "I fight like a gentleman; with a sword or a pistol."

"I am sorry," said Locker, "but if I remembered to bring my sword and pistol I must have put them in the bottom of my trunk, and that has gone on to the station. Have you two pistols or swords with you? Or do you think you could get sufficient satisfaction out of a couple of piles of stones that we could hurl at each other?"

Du Brant made no English answer to this, but uttered some savage remarks in French.

"Do you understand what all that means?" inquired Locker of Hemphill, who had been quietly listening to what had been going on.

"Yes," said the other, "he is cursing you up hill, and down dale."

"Oh," said Locker, "it sounds to me as if he were calculating his last week's expenses. But when he gets to French cursing, I drop him. I can't fight him that way."

The colored boy now showed that he was very much disappointed. He had expected the pleasure of a fight, and he was afraid he was going to lose it.

"I tell you, sah," he said to Locker, "why don't you try kick-shins? Do you know what kick-shins is? You don't know what kick-shins is? Well, kick-shins is this: one fellow stands in front of the other fellow, and one takes hold of the collar of the other fellow, and the other fellow takes hold of his collar, and then they kicks each other's shins, and the one what squeals fust, he's licked, and the other one gits the gal. You've got pretty thin shoes, sah," addressing Du Brant, "and your feet ain't half as big as his'n, but your toes is more p'inted."

"No kick-shins for me," said Locker. "I've got to be economical about my clothes."

Du Brant's rage now became ungovernable. "Do you apologize," he cried, "or I take you by the throat, and I strangle you."

Hemphill, who had been smiling mildly at the kick-shin proposition, now turned himself about. "You will not do that," he said, "and if you don't sit quiet and keep your mouth shut, I'll toss you out of this cart, and make you walk the rest of the way to the station."

As Hemphill looked quite big and strong enough to execute this threat, and as he was too quiet a man to be ignored, Du Brant turned his face to the horse, and said no more.

"I did not know you were such a trump" cried Locker. "Give me your hand. I should hate to be strangled by a foreigner!"

When they took the train Du Brant went by himself into the smoking-car, and Locker and Hemphill had a seat together.

"Do you know," said Locker, "I am beginning to like you, although I must admit that before this morning I can remember no feeling of the sort."

"That is not surprising," said Hemphill. "A man is not generally fond of his rival."

"We will let it go at that," said Locker, "we'll let it go at that! I should not wonder, if we had all stayed at Broadstone; and if the central object of interest had also remained; and, if I had failed, as I have failed, to make the proper impression; and if the professor, whom I promised to back up in case I should find myself out of the combat, should also have failed; I should not wonder if I had backed up you."

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