Part 4 out of 6
"No, I am not," he answered, "and I knew you would not understand me. My
only desire in speaking to you upon this subject is that you may not
unreasonably judge me."
"But I am not unreasonable," said Annie. "You are trying to get Miss
March away from my cousin; and I don't think it is fair, and I don't
want you to do it. When you were here before, I thought you two were
good friends, but now I don't believe it."
How friendly might be the relations between himself and Keswick, when
the latter should read his letter about the Candy affair, and should
know that he was in this house with Miss March, Lawrence could not say;
but he did not allude to this point in his companion's remarks. "I do
not think," he said, "that you have any reason to object to my
endeavoring to win Miss March. Even if she accepts me, it will be to the
advantage of your cousin, because if he still hopes to obtain her, the
sooner he knows he cannot do so, the better it will be for him. My
course is perfectly fair. I am aware that the lady is not at present
engaged to any one, and I am endeavoring to induce her to engage herself
to me. If I fail, then I step aside."
"Entirely aside, and out of the way?" asked Mrs Null.
"Entirely," answered Lawrence.
"Well," said Annie, leaning back in her chair, in which before she had
been sitting very upright, "you have, at last, given me a good deal of
your confidence; almost as much as I gave you. Some of the things you
say I believe, others I don't."
Lawrence was annoyed, but he would not allow himself to get angry. "I am
not accustomed to being disbelieved," he said, gravely. "It is a very
unusual experience, I assure you. Which of my statements do you doubt?"
"I don't believe," said Annie, "that you will give her up if she rejects
you while you are here. You are too wilful. You will follow her, and try
"Mrs Null," said Lawrence, "I do not feel justified in speaking to a
third person of these things, but this is a peculiar case, and,
therefore, I assure you, and request you to believe me, that if Miss
March shall now positively refuse me, I shall feel convinced that her
affections are already occupied, and that I have no right to press my
suit any longer."
"Would you like to begin now?" said Annie. "She is coming down stairs."
"You are entirely too matter-of-fact," said Lawrence, smiling in spite
of himself, and, in a moment, Roberta entered the room.
If the young lady in the high-backed rocking-chair had any idea of
giving Mr Croft and Miss March an opportunity of expressing their
sentiments toward each other, she took no immediate steps to do so; for
she gently rocked herself; she talked about the novel she had been
reading; she blamed Miss March for staying so long in her room on such a
beautiful afternoon; and she was the primary cause of a conversation
among the three upon the differences between New York weather and that
of Virginia; and this continued until old Mrs Keswick joined the party,
and changed the conversation to the consideration of the fact that a
fertilizer agent, a pill man, or a blackmailer would find out a person's
whereabouts, even if he were attending the funeral of his grandmother on
a desert island.
The next morning, about an hour after breakfast, Lawrence was walking up
and down on the grass in front of the house, smoking a cigar, and
troubling his mind. He had had no opportunity on the previous evening to
be alone with Miss March, for the little party sat together in the
parlor until they separated for bed; and so, of course, nothing was yet
settled. He was overstaying the time he had expected to spend here, and
he felt nervous about it. He had hoped to see Miss March after
breakfast, but she seemed to have withdrawn herself entirely from
observation. Perhaps she considered that she had sufficiently rejected
him on the previous morning, and that she now intended, except when she
was sure of the company of the others, to remain in her room until he
should go away. But he had no such opinion in regard to their interview
on Pine Top Hill. He believed that he had been punished, not rejected,
and that when he should be able to explain everything to her, he would
be forgiven. That, at least, was his earnest hope, and hope makes us
believe almost anything.
But, although there were so many difficulties in his way, Lawrence had a
friend in that household who still remained true to him. Mrs Keswick,
with sun-bonnet and umbrella, came out upon the porch, and said
cheerily: "I should think a gentleman like you would prefer to be with
the ladies than to be walking about here by yourself. They have gone to
take a walk in the woods. I should have said that Miss March has gone on
ahead, with her little maid Peggy. My niece was going with her, but I
called her back to attend to some housekeeping matters for me, and I
think she will be kept longer than she expected, for I have just sent
Letty to her to be shown how to cut out a frock. But you needn't wait;
you can go right through the flower-garden, and take the path over the
fields into the woods." And, having concluded this bit of conscienceless
and transparent management, the old lady remarked that she, herself, was
going for a walk, and left him.
Lawrence lost no time in following her suggestions. Throwing away his
cigar, he hurried through the house and the little flower-garden, a gate
at the back of which opened into a wide pasture-field. This field sloped
down gently to a branch, or little stream, which ran through the middle
of it, and then the ground ascended until it reached the edge of the
woods. Following the well-defined path, he looked across the little
valley before him, and could see, just inside the edge of the woods--the
trees and bushes being much more thinly attired than in the summer
time--the form of a lady in a light-colored dress with a red scarf upon
her shoulders, sometimes moving slowly, sometimes stopping. This was
Roberta, and those woods were a far better place than the exposed summit
of Pine Top Hill, in which to plight his troth, if it should be so that
he should be able to do it, and there were doubtless paths in those
woods through which they might afterwards wander, if things should turn
out propitiously. At all events, in those woods would he settle this
His intention was still strong to make a very clean breast of it to
Roberta. If she had blamed him for his prudent reserve, she should have
full opportunity to forgive him. All that he had been she should know,
but far more important than that, he would try to make her know, better
than he had done before, what he was now. Abandoning all his previous
positions, and mounted on these strong resolutions, thus would he dash
into her camp, and hope to capture her.
Reaching the little ravine, at the bottom of which flowed the branch,
now but two or three feet wide, he ran down the rather steep slope and
stepped upon the stout plank which bridged the stream. The instant he
did so, the plank turned beneath him as if it had been hung on pivots,
and he fell into the stony bed of the branch. It was an awkward fall,
for the leg which was undermost came down at an angle, and his foot,
striking a slippery stone, turned under him. In a moment he was on his
feet, and scrambled up the side of the ravine, down which he had just
come. When he reached the top he sat down and put both his hands on his
right ankle, in which he felt considerable pain. In a few minutes he
arose, and began to walk toward the house, but he had not taken a dozen
steps before he sat down again. The pain in his ankle was very severe,
and he felt quite sure that he had sprained it. He knew enough about
such things to understand that if he walked upon this injured joint, he
would not only make the pain worse, but the consequences might be
serious. He was very much annoyed, not only that this thing had happened
to him, but that it had happened at such an inauspicious moment. Of
course, he could not now go on to the woods, and he must get somebody to
help him to the house. Looking about, he saw, at a distance, Uncle
Isham, and he called loudly to him. As soon as Lawrence was well away
from the edge of the ravine, there emerged from some thick bushes on the
other side of it, and at a short distance from the crossing-place, a
negro girl, who slipped noiselessly down to the branch; moved with quick
steps and crouching body to the plank; removed the two round stones on
which it had been skilfully poised, and replaced it in its usual firm
position. This done, she slipped back into the bushes, and by the time
Isham had heard the call of Mr Croft, she was slowly walking down the
opposite hill, as if she were coming from the woods to see why the
gentleman was shouting.
Miss March also heard the call, and came out of the woods, and when she
saw Lawrence sitting on the grass on the other side of the branch, with
one hand upon his ankle, she knew that something had happened, and came
down toward him. Lawrence saw her approaching, and before she was even
near enough to hear him, he began to shout to her to be careful about
crossing the branch, as the board was unsafe. Peggy joined her, and
walked on in front of her; and when Miss March understood what Lawrence
was saying, she called back that she would be careful. When they reached
the ravine, Peggy ran down, stepped upon the plank, jumped on the middle
of it, walked over it, and then back again, and assured her mistress
that it was just as good as ever it was, and that she reckoned the city
gentleman didn't know how to walk on planks, and that "he jes' done fall
Miss March crossed, stepping a little cautiously, and reached Lawrence
just as Uncle Isham, with strong arms and many words of sympathy, had
assisted him to his feet. "What has happened to you, Mr Croft?" she
"I was coming to you," he said; "and in crossing the stream the plank
turned under me, and I am afraid I have sprained my ankle. I can't walk
"I am very sorry," she said.
"Because I was coming to you," he said, grimly, "or because I hurt
"You ought to be ashamed to speak in that way," she answered, "but I
won't find fault with you, now that you are in such pain. Is there
anything I can do for you?"
"No, thank you," said Lawrence. "I will lean on this good man, and I
think I can hop to the house."
"Peggy," said Miss Roberta, "walk on the other side of the gentleman,
and let him lean upon your shoulder. I will go on and have something
prepared to put on his ankle."
With one side supported by the stout Isham, and his other hand resting
on the shoulder of the good little Peggy, who bore up as strongly under
it as if she had been a big walking-stick, Lawrence slowly made his way
to the house. Miss March got there sometime before he did, and was very
glad to find that Mrs Keswick had not yet gone out on the walk for which
she was prepared. That circumspect old lady had found this and that to
occupy her, while she so managed her household matters, that one thing
should follow another, to detain her niece. But when she heard what had
happened, all other impulses gave way to those which belonged to a head
nurse and a mistress of emergencies. She set down her umbrella; shouted
an order to Letty to put a kettle of water on the fire; brought from her
own room some flannel and two bottles of embrocation; and then stopping
a moment to reflect, ordered that the office should be prepared for Mr
Croft, for it would be a shame to make a gentleman, with a sprained
ankle, clamber up stairs.
The office was a small building in the wide front yard, not very far
from the house, and opposite to the arbor, which has been before
mentioned. It was one story high, and contained one large and
comfortable room. Such buildings are quite common on Virginian farms,
and although called offices are seldom used in an official way, being
generally appropriated to the bachelors of the family or their gentleman
visitors. This one was occupied by Junius Keswick, when he was at home,
and a good many of his belongings were now in it; but as it was at
present unoccupied, nothing could be more proper than that Mr Croft
should have it.
About noon of the day of Mr Croft's accident, Uncle Isham had occasion
to go to the cabin of the venerable Aunt Patsy, and, of course he told
her what had happened to the gentleman whom he and Aunt Patsy still
supposed to be Miss Annie's husband. The news produced a very marked
effect upon the old woman. She put down the crazy quilt, upon the
unfinished corner of which she was making a few feeble stitches, and
looked at Uncle Isham with a troubled frown. She was certain that this
was the work of old Mrs Keswick, who had succeeded, at last, in
conjuring the young husband; and the charm she had given him, and upon
which she had relied to avert the ill will of "ole miss," had proved
unavailing. The conjuring had been accomplished so craftily and slyly,
the bewitched plank in one place, and Mrs Keswick far off in another,
that there had been no chance to use the counteracting charm. And yet
Aunt Patsy had thought it a good charm, a very good one indeed.
Early in her married life Mrs Keswick had been the mother of a little
girl. It had died when it was very small, and it was the only child she
ever had. Of this infant she preserved, as a memento, a complete suit of
its clothes, which she regarded with a feeling almost religious. Years
ago, however, Aunt Patsy, in order to protect herself against the
conjuring powers of the mistress of the house, in which she then served
as a sort of supervising cook, had possessed herself of the shoes
belonging to the cherished suit of clothes. She knew the sacred light in
which they were regarded by their owner, and she felt quite sure that if
"ole miss" ever attempted, in one of her fits of anger, to exercise her
power of limb twisting or back contortion upon her, that the sight of
those little blue shoes would create a revulsion of feeling, and, as she
put it to herself, "stop her mighty short." The shoes had never been
missed, for the box containing the suit was only opened on one day of
the year, and then all the old lady could endure was a peep at the
little white frock which covered the rest of the contents; and Aunt
Patsy well knew that the sight of those little blue shoes would be to
her mistress like two little feet coming back from the grave.
Patsy had been much too old to act as nurse to the infant, Annie Peyton,
then regarded as the daughter of the house, but she had always felt for
the child the deepest affection; and now that she herself was so near
the end of her career that she had little fear of being bewitched, she
was willing to give up the safeguards she had so long possessed, in
order that they might protect the man whom Miss Annie had loved and
married. But they had failed, or rather it had been impossible to use
them, and Miss Annie's husband had been stricken down. "It's pow'ful
hard to git roun' ole miss," she groaned. "She too much fur ole folks
like I is."
At this remark Uncle Isham fired up. Although the conduct of his
mistress troubled him at times very much he was intensely loyal to her,
and he instantly caught the meaning of this aspersion against her. "Now,
look h'yar, Aun' Patsy," he exclaimed, "wot you talkin' 'bout? Wot ole
miss got to do wid Mister Crof' sprainin' he ankle? Ole miss warn't dar;
an' when I done fotch him up to de house, she cut roun' an' do more fur
him dan anybody else. She got de hot water, an' she dipped de flannels
in it, an' she wrop up de ankle all herse'f, an' when she got him all
fixed comfable in de offis, she says to me, says she, 'Now, Isham, you
wait on Mister Crof', an' you gib him eberything he want, an' when de
cool ob de ebenin' comes on you make a fire in dat fireplace, an' stay
whar he kin call you wheneber he wants you to wait on him.' I didn't
eben come down h'yar till I axed him would he want me fur half an hour."
"Well," said Aunt Patsy, her eyes softening a little, "p'raps she didn't
do it dis time. It mout a been his own orkardness. I hopes to mussiful
goodness dat dat was so. But wot fur you call him Mister Crof'? Is dat
he fus' name?"
"I reckon so," said Isham. "He one ob de fam'ly now, an' I reckon dey
calls him by he fus' name. An' now, look h'yar, Aun' Patsy, I wants you
not to disremember dis h'yar. Don' you go imaginin' ebery time anything
happens to folks, that ole miss done been kunjerin' 'em. Dat ain't
pious, an' 'taint suitable fur a ole pusson like you, Aun' Patsy, wot's
jus' settin' on de poach steps ob heaben, a waitin' till somebody finds
out you's dar, an' let's you in."
Aunt Patsy turned her great spectacles full upon him, and then she said:
"You, Isham, ef eber you gits a call to preach to folks, you jus' sing
out: 'Oh, Lor', I aint fit!' And den you go crack your head wid a
mill-stone, fur fear you git called agin, fru mistake."
Uncle Isham made no answer to this piece of advice, but taking up some
clothes which Aunt Patsy's great granddaughter had washed and ironed for
him, he left the cabin. He was a man much given to attending to his own
business, and paying very little attention to those affairs of his
mistress's household, with which he had no personal concern. When Mr
Croft first came to the house he, as well as Aunt Patsy, had been told
that it was Mr Null, the husband of Miss Annie; and although not
thinking much about it, he had always supposed this to be the case. But
now it struck him as a very strange thing that Miss Annie did not attend
to her husband, but allowed his mistress and himself to do everything
that was done for him. It was a question which his mind was totally
incapable of solving, but when he reached the house, he spoke to Letty
on the subject. "Bress your soul!" exclaimed that well-nourished
person, "dat's not Mister Null, wot married Miss Annie. Dat's Mister
Crof', an' he aint married to nobody. Mister Null he aint come yet, but
I reckon he'll be along soon."
"Well den," exclaimed Isham, much surprised, "how come Aun' Patsy to
take he for Miss Annie's husband?"
"Oh, git out!" contemptuously exclaimed Letty, "don' you go put no
'count on dem fool notions wot Aun' Patsy got in she old head. Nobody
knows how dey come dar, no more'n how dey eber manage to git out. 'Taint
no use splainin nothin' to Aun' Patsy, an' if she b'lieves dat's Miss
Annie's husband, you can't make her b'lieve it's anybody else. Jes' you
lef her alone. Nuffin she b'lieves aint gwine to hurt her."
And Isham, remembering his frequent ill success in endeavoring to make
Aunt Patsy think as she ought to think, concluded that this was good
At the time of the conversation just mentioned, Lawrence was sitting in
a large easy chair in front of the open door of the room of which he had
been put in possession. His injured foot was resting upon a cushioned
stool, a small table stood by him, on which were his cigar and match
cases; a pitcher of iced water and a glass, and a late copy of a
semi-weekly paper. Through the doorway, which was but two steps higher
than the grass sward before it, his eyes fell upon a very pleasing
scene. To the right was the house, with its vine-covered porch and
several great oak trees overhanging it, which still retained their heavy
foliage, although it was beginning to lose something of its summer
green. In front of him, at the opposite end of the grassy yard, was the
pretty little arbor in which he had told Mr Junius Keswick of the
difficulties in the way of his speaking his mind to Miss March. Beyond
the large garden, at the back of this arbor, stretched a wide field with
a fringe of woods at its distant edge, gay with the colors of autumn.
The sky was bright and blue, and fair white clouds moved slowly over its
surface; the air was sunny and warm, with bumble-bees humming about some
late-flowering shrubs; and, high in the air, floated two great
turkey-buzzards, with a beauty of motion surpassed by no other flying
thing, with never a movement of their wide-spread wings, except to give
them the necessary inclination as they rose with the wind, and then
turned and descended in a long sweep, only to rise again and complete
the circle; sailing thus for hours, around and around, their shadows
moving over the fields below them.
Fearing that he had sustained some injury more than a mere sprain,
Lawrence had had the Howlett's doctor summoned, and that general
practitioner had come and gone, after having assured Mr Croft that no
bones had been broken; that Mrs Keswick's treatment was exactly what it
should be, and that all that was necessary for him was to remain quiet
for a few days, and be very careful not to use the injured ankle. Thus
he had the prospect of but a short confinement; he felt no present pain;
and there was nothing of the sick-room atmosphere in his surroundings,
for his position close to the door almost gave him the advantage of
sitting in the open air of this bright autumnal day.
But Lawrence's mind dwelt not at all on these ameliorating
circumstances; it dwelt only upon the fact that he was in one house and
Miss March was in another. It was impossible for him to go to her, and
he had no reason to believe that she would come to him. Under ordinary
circumstances it would be natural enough for her to look in upon him and
inquire into his condition, but now the case was very different. She
knew that he desired to see her, that he had been coming to her when he
met with his accident, and she knew, too, exactly what he wanted to say;
and it was not to be supposed that a lady would come to a man to be
wooed, especially this lady, who had been in such an unfavorable humor
when he had wooed her the day before.
But it was quite impossible for Lawrence, at this most important crisis
of his life, to sit without action for three or four days, during which
time it was not unlikely that Miss March might go home. But what was he
to do? It would be rediculous to think of sending for her, she knowing
for what purpose she was wanted; and as for writing a letter, that did
not suit him at all. There was too much to be explained, too much to be
urged, too much to be avowed, and, probably, too many contingencies to
be met, for him to even consider the subject of writing a letter. A
proposal on paper would most certainly bring a rejection on paper. He
could think of no plan; he must trust to chance. If his lucky star, and
it had shone a good deal in his life, should give him an opportunity of
speaking to her, he would lose not an instant in broaching the important
subject. He was happy to think he had a friend in the old lady. Perhaps
she might bring about the desired interview. But although this thought
was encouraging, he could not but tremble when he remembered the very
plain and unvarnished way she had of doing such things.
While these thoughts were passing through his mind, a lady came out upon
the porch, and descended the steps. At the first sight of her through
the vines, Lawrence had thought it might be Miss March, and his heart
had given a jump. But it was not; it was Mrs Null, and she came over the
grass toward him, and stopped in front of his door. "How are you feeling
now?" she asked. "Does your foot still hurt you?"
"Oh, no," said Lawrence, "I am in no pain. The only thing that troubles
me is that I have to stay just here."
"It might have been better on some accounts," said she, "if you had been
taken into the house; but it would have hurt you dreadfully to go up
stairs, unless Uncle Isham carried you on his back, which I don't
believe he could do."
"Of course it's a great deal better out here," said Lawrence. "In fact
this is a perfectly charming place to be laid up in, but I want to get
about. I want to see people." "Many people?" asked she, with a
significant little smile.
Lawrence smiled in return. "You must know, Mrs Null, from what I have
told you," he said, "that there is one person I want to see very much,
and that is why I am so annoyed at being kept here in this chair."
"You must be of an uncommonly impatient turn of mind," she said, "for
you haven't been here three hours, altogether, and hundreds of persons
sit still that long, just because they want to."
"I don't want to sit still a minute," said Lawrence. "I very much wish
to speak to Miss March. Couldn't you contrive an opportunity for me to
"It is possible that I might," she said, "but I won't. Haven't I told
you that I don't approve of this affair of yours? My cousin is in love
with Miss March, and all I should do for you would be directly against
him. Aunt so managed things this morning that I was actually obliged to
give you an opportunity to be with her, but I had intended going with
Roberta to the woods, as she had asked me to do."
"You are very cruel," said Lawrence.
"No, I am not," said she, "I am only just." "I explained to you
yesterday," said he, "that your course of thinking and acting is not
just, and is of no possible advantage to anybody. How can it injure your
cousin if Miss March refuses me and I go away and never see her again?
And, if she accepts me, then you should be glad that I had put an end to
your cousin's pursuit of a woman who does not love him."
"That is nonsense," said she. "I shouldn't be glad at all to see him
disappointed. I should feel like a traitor if I helped you. But I did
not come to talk about these things. I came to ask you what you would
have for dinner."
"I had an idea," said Lawrence, not regarding this remark, "that you
were a young lady of a kindly disposition."
"And you don't think so, now?" she said.
"No," answered Lawrence, "I cannot. I cannot think a woman kind who will
refuse to assist a man, situated as I am, to settle the most important
question of his life, especially as I have told you, before, that it is
really to the interest of the one you are acting for, that it should be
Miss Annie, still standing in front of the door, now regarded Lawrence
with a certain degree of thoughtfullness on her countenance, which
presently changed to a half smile. "If I were perfectly sure," she said,
"that she would reject you, I would try to get her here, and have the
matter settled, but I don't know her very well yet, and can't feel at
all certain as to what she might do."
"I like your frankness," said Lawrence, "but, as I said before, you are
"Not at all," said she, "I am very kind, only--"
"You don't show it," interrupted Lawrence.
At this Miss Annie laughed. "Kindness isn't of much use, if it is shut
up, is it?" she said. "I suppose you think it is one of those virtues
that we ought to act out, as well as feel, if we want any credit. And
now, isn't there something I can do for you besides bringing another
man's sweetheart to you?"
Lawrence smiled. "I don't believe she is his sweetheart," he said, "and
I want to find out if I am right."
"It is my opinion," said Miss Annie, "that you ought to think more about
your sprained ankle and your general health, than about having your mind
settled by Miss March. I should think that keeping your blood boiling,
in this way, would inflame your joints."
"The doctor didn't tell me what to think about," said Lawrence. "He only
said I must not walk."
"I haven't heard yet," said Miss Annie, "what you would like to have to
eat." "I don't wish to give the slightest trouble," answered Lawrence.
"What do you generally give people in such scrapes as this? Tea and
Annie laughed. "Nonsense," said she. "What you want is the best meal you
can get. Aunt said if there was anything you particularly liked she
would have it made for you."
"Do not think of such a thing," said Lawrence. "Give me just what the
"Would you like Miss March to bring it out to you?" she asked.
"The word cruel cannot express your disposition," said Lawrence. "I pity
Mr Null." "Poor man," said she; "but it would be a good thing for you if
you could keep your mind as quiet as his is." And with that she went
into the house.
After dinner, Miss March did come out to inquire into Mr Croft's
condition, but she was accompanied by Mrs Keswick. Lawrence invited the
ladies to come in and be seated, but Roberta stood on the grass in front
of the door, as Miss Annie had done, while Mrs Keswick entered the room,
looked into the ice-water pitcher, and examined things generally, to see
if Uncle Isham had been guilty of any sins of omission.
"Do you feel quite at ease now?" said Miss March.
"My ankle don't trouble me," said Lawrence, "but I never felt so
uncomfortable and dissatisfied in my life." And with these latter words
he gave the lady a look which was intended to be, and which probably
was, full of meaning to her.
"Wouldn't you like some books?" said Mrs Keswick, now appearing from the
back of the room. "You haven't anything to read. There are plenty of
books in the house, but they are all old."
"I think those are the most delightful of books," said Miss March. "I
have been looking over the volumes on your shelves, Mrs Keswick. I am
sure there are a good many of them Mr Croft would like to read, even if
he has read them before. There are lots of queer old-time histories and
biographies, and sets of bound magazines, some of them over a hundred
years old. Would you like me to select some for you, Mr Croft? Or shall
I write some of the titles on a slip of paper, and let you select for
"I shall be delighted," said Lawrence, "to have you make a choice for
me; and I think the list would be the better plan, because books would
be so heavy to carry about."
"I will do it immediately," said Miss March, and she walked rapidly to
"Now then," said Mrs Keswick, "I'll put a chair out here on the grass,
close to the door. It's shady there, and I should think it would be
pleasant for both of you, if she would sit there and read to you out of
those books. She is a fine woman, that Miss March--a much finer woman
than I thought she could be, before I knew her."
"She is, indeed," said Lawrence.
"I suppose you think she is the finest woman in the world?" said the old
lady, with a genial grin.
"What makes you suppose so?" asked Lawrence.
"Haven't I eyes?" said Mrs Keswick. "But you needn't make any excuses.
You have made an excellent choice, and I hope you may succeed in getting
her. Perhaps you have succeeded?" she added, giving Lawrence an earnest
look, with a question in it.
Lawrence did not immediately reply. It was not in his nature to confide
his affairs to other people, and yet he had done so much of it, of late,
that he did not see why he should make an exception against Mrs Keswick,
who was, indeed, the only person who seemed inclined to be friendly to
his suit. He might as well let her know how matters stood. "No," he
said, "I have not yet succeeded, and I am very sorry that this accident
has interfered with my efforts to do so."
"Don't let it interfere," said the old lady, her eyes sparkling, while
her purple sun-bonnet was suddenly and severely bobbed. "You have just
as good a chance now as you ever had, and all you have to do is to make
the most of it. When she comes out here to read to you, you can talk to
her just as well as if you were in the woods, or on top of a hill.
Nobody'll come here to disturb you; I'll take care of that."
"You are very kind," said Lawrence, somewhat wondering at her
"I intended to go away and leave her here with you," continued Mrs
Keswick, "if I could find a good opportunity to do so, but she hit on
the best plan herself. And now I'll be off and leave the coast clear. I
will come again before dark and put some more of that stuff on your
ankle. If you want anything, ring this bell, and if Isham doesn't hear
you, somebody will call him. He has orders to keep about the house."
"You are putting me under very great obligations to you, madam," said
But the old lady did not stop to hear any thanks, and hastened to clear
Lawrence had to wait a long time for his list of books, but at last it
came; and, much to his surprise and chagrin, Mrs Null brought it. "Miss
March asked me to give you this," she said, "so that you can pick out
just what books you want."
Lawrence took the paper, but did not look at it. He was deeply
disappointed and hurt. His whole appearance showed it.
"You don't seem glad to get it," said Miss Annie. Lawrence looked at
her, his face darkening. "Did you persuade Miss March," he said, "to
stay in the house and let you bring this?"
"Now, Mr Croft," said the young lady, a very decided flush coming into
her face, "that is going too far. You have no right to accuse me of such
a thing. I am not going to help in your love affairs, but I don't intend
to be mean about it, either. Miss March asked me to bring that list, and
at first I wouldn't do it, for I knew, just as well as I know anything,
that you expected her to come to you with it, and I was very sure you
wanted to see her more than the paper. I refused two or three times, but
she said, at last, that if I didn't take it, she'd send it by some one
in the house; so I just picked it up and brought it right along. I don't
like her as much as I did."
"Why not?" asked Lawrence.
"You needn't accept a man if you don't want him," said Miss Annie, "but
there is no need of being cruel to him, especially when he is laid up.
If she didn't intend to come out to you again, she ought not to have
made you believe so. You did expect her to come, didn't you?"
"Most certainly," said Lawrence, in rather a doleful tone. "Yes, and
there is the chair she was to sit in," said Miss Annie, "while you said
seven words about the books and ten thousand about the way your heart
was throbbing. I see Aunt Keswick's hand in that, as plain as can be. I
don't say I'd put her in that chair if I could do it, but I certainly
am sorry she disappointed you so. Would you like to have any of those
books? If you would, I'll get them for you."
"I am much obliged, Mrs Null," said Lawrence, "but I don't think I care
for any books. And let me say that I am very sorry for the way I spoke
to you, just now."
"Oh, don't mention that," said she. "If I'd been in your place, I should
have been mad enough to say anything. But it's no use to sit here and be
grumpy. You'd better let me go and get you a book. The "Critical
Magazine" for 1767 and 1768, is on that list, and I know there are lots
of queer, interesting things in it, but it takes a good while to hunt
them out from the other things for which you would not care at all. And
then there are all the "Spectators," and "Ramblers," and "The World
Displayed" in eight volumes, which, from what I saw when I looked
through it, seems to be a different kind of world from the one I live
in; and there are others that you will see on your list. But there is
one book which I have been reading lately which I think you will find
odder and funnier than any of the rest. It is the "Geographical Grammar"
by Mr Salmon. Suppose I bring you that. It is a description of the whole
world, written more than a hundred years ago, by an Irish gentleman who,
I think, never went anywhere."
"Thank you," said Lawrence, "I shall be obliged to you if you will be
kind enough to bring me that one." He was glad for her to go away, even
for a little time, that he might think. The smart of the disappointment
caused by the non-appearance of Miss March was beginning to subside a
little. Looking at it more quietly and reasonably, he could see that, in
her position, it would be actually unmaidenly for her to come to him by
herself. It was altogether another thing for this other girl, and,
therefore, perhaps it was quite proper to send her. But, in spite of
whatever reasonableness there might have been in it, he chafed under
this propriety. It would have been far better, he thought, if she had
come and told him that she could not possibly accept him, and that
nothing more must be said about it. But then he did not believe, if she
had given him time to say the words he wished to say, that she would
have come to such a decision; and as he called up her lovely face and
figure, as it stood framed in the open doorway, with a background of the
sunlit arbor and fields, the gorgeous distant foliage, with the blue sky
and its white clouds and circling birds, he thought of the rapture and
ecstasy which would have come to him, if she had listened to his words,
and had given him but a smile of encouragement.
But here came Mrs Null, with a fat brown book in her hand. "One of the
funniest things," she said, as she came to the door, "is Mr Salmon's
chapter on paradoxes. He thinks it would be quite improper to issue a
book of this kind without alluding to geographical paradoxes. Listen to
this one." And then she read to him the elucidation of the apparent
paradox that there is a certain place in this world where the wind
always blows from the south; and another explaining the statement that
in certain cannibal islands the people eat themselves. "There is
something he says about Virginia," said she, turning over the pages,
"which I want you to be sure to read."
"Won't you sit down," said Lawrence, "and read to me some of those
extracts? You know just where to find them."
"That chair wasn't put there for me," said Miss Annie, with a smile.
"Nonsense," said Lawrence. "Won't you please sit down? I ought to have
asked you before. Perhaps it is too cool for you, out there."
"Oh, not at all," said she. "The air is still quite warm." And she took
her seat on the chair which was placed close to the door-step, and she
read to him some of the surprising and interesting facts which Mr Salmon
had heard, in a Dublin coffee-house, about Virginia and the other
colonies, and also some of those relating to the kindly way in which
slave-holders in South America, when they killed a slave to feed their
hounds, would send a quarter to a neighbor, expecting some day to
receive a similar favor in return. When they had laughed over these, she
read some very odd and surprising statements about Southern Europe, and
the people of far-away lands; and so she went on, from one thing to
another, talking a good deal about what she had read, and always on the
point of stopping and giving the book to Lawrence, until the short
autumnal afternoon began to draw to its close, and he told her that it
was growing too chilly for her to sit out on the grass any longer.
"Very well," said she, closing the book, and handing it to him, "you can
read the rest of it yourself, and if you want any other books on the
list, just let me know by Uncle Isham, and I will send them to you. He
is coming now to see after you. I wonder," she said, stopping for a
moment as she turned to leave, "if Miss March had been sitting in that
chair, if you would have had the heart to tell her to go away; or if you
would have let her sit still, and take cold."
Lawrence smiled, but very slightly. "That subject," said he, "is one on
which I don't joke."
"Goodness!" exclaimed Miss Annie, clasping her hands and gazing with an
air of comical commiseration at Mr Croft's serious face. "I should think
not!" and away she went.
Just before supper time, when Lawrence's door had been closed, and his
lamp lighted, there came a knock, and Mrs Keswick appeared. "That plan
of mine didn't work," she said, "but I will bring Miss March out here,
and manage it so that she'll have to stay till I come back. I have an
idea about that. All that you have to do is to be ready when you get
Lawrence thanked her, and assured her he would be very glad to have a
chance, although he hoped, without much ground for it, that Roberta
would not see through the old lady's schemes.
Mrs Keswick lotioned and rebandaged the sprained ankle, and then she
said. "I think it would be pleasant if we were all to come out here
after supper, and have a game of whist. I used to play whist, and
shouldn't mind taking a hand. You could have the table drawn up to your
chair, and,--let me see--yes, there are three more chairs. It won't be
like having her alone with you," she said, with the cordial grin in
which she sometimes indulged, "but you will have her opposite to you for
an hour, and that will be something."
Lawrence approved heartily of the whist party, and assured Mrs Keswick
that she was his guardian angel.
"Not much of that," she said, "but I have been told often enough that
I'm a regular old matchmaker, and I expect I am."
"If you make this match," said Lawrence, "you will have my eternal
The supper sent out to Lawrence was a very good one, and the
anticipation of what was to follow made him enjoy it still more, for his
passion had now reached such a point that even to look at his love,
although he could only speak to her of trumps and of tricks, would be a
refreshing solace which would go down deep into his thirsty soul.
But bedtime and old Isham came, and the whist players came not. It
needed no one to tell Lawrence whose disinclination it was that had
prevented their coming.
"I reckon," said Uncle Isham, as he looked in at Letty's cabin on his
way to his own, "dat dat ar Mister Crof' aint much use to gittin'
hisse'f hurt. All de time I was helpin' him to go to bed he was a
growlin' like de bery debbil."
Although October in Southern Virginia can generally be counted upon as a
very charming month, it must not be expected that her face will wear one
continuous smile. On the day after Lawrence Croft's misadventure the sky
was gray with low-hanging clouds, there was a disagreeable wind from the
north-east, and the air was filled with the slight drizzle of rain. The
morning was so cool that Lawrence was obliged to keep his door shut, and
Uncle Isham had made him a small wood fire on the hearth. As he sat
before this fire, after breakfast, his foot still upon a stool, and
vigorously puffed at a cigar, he said to himself that it mattered very
little to him whether the sun shone, or all the rains of heaven
descended, so long as Roberta March would not come out to him; and that
she did not intend to come, rain or shine, was just as plain as the
marks on the sides of the fireplace, probably made by the heels of Mr
Junius Keswick during many a long, reflective smoke.
On second thoughts, however, Lawrence concluded that a rainy day was
worse for his prospects than a bright one. If the sun shone, and
everything was fair, Miss March might come across the grassy yard and
might possibly stop before his open door to bid him good morning, and to
tell him that she was sorry that a headache had prevented her from
coming to play whist the evening before. But this last, he presently
admitted, was rather too much to expect, for he did not think she was
subject to headaches, or to making excuses. At any rate he might have
caught sight of her, and if he had, he certainly would have called to
her, and would have had his say with her, even had she persisted in
standing six feet from the door-step. But now this dreary day had shut
his door and put an interdict upon strolls across the grass. Therefore
it was that he must resign any opportunity, for that day, at least, of
soothing the harrowing perturbations of his passion by either the
comforting warmth of hope, or by the deadening frigidity of a
consummated despair. This last, in truth, he did not expect, but still,
if it came, it would be better than perturbations; they must be soothed
at any cost. But how to incur this cost was a difficult question
altogether. So, puffing, gazing into the fire, and knitting his brows,
he sat and thought.
As a good-looking young man, as a well-dressed young man, as an educated
and cultured man, as a man of the clubs, and of society, and, when
occasion required, as a very sensible man of business, Mr Croft might
be looked upon as essentially a commonplace personage, and in our walks
abroad we meet a great many like him. But there dwelt within him a
certain disposition, which, at times, removed him to quite a distance
from the arena in which commonplace people go through their prescribed
performances. He would come to a determination, generally quite
suddenly, to attain a desired end in his own way, without any reference
to traditionary or conventional methods; and the more original and
startling these plans the better he liked it.
This disposition it was which made Lawrence read with so much interest
the account of the defeated general who made the cavalry charge into the
camp of his victorious enemy. Defeat had been his, all through his short
campaign, and it now seemed that the time had come to make another bold
effort to get the better of his bad luck. As he could not woo Miss March
himself, he must get some one else to do it for him, or, if not actually
to woo the lady, to get her at least into such a frame of mind that she
would allow him to woo her, even in spite of his present disadvantages.
This would be a very bold stroke, but Lawrence put a good deal of faith
If Miss March were properly talked to by one of her own sex, she might
see, as perhaps she did not now see, how cruel was her line of conduct
toward him, and might be persuaded to relent, at least enough to allow
his voice to reach her; and that was all he asked for. He had not the
slightest doubt that the widow Keswick would gladly consent to carry any
message he chose to send to Miss March, and, more than that, to throw
all the force of her peculiar style of persuasion into the support of
his cause. But this, he knew very well, would finish the affair, and not
at all in the way he desired. The person he wanted to act as his envoy
was Mrs Null. To be sure, she had refused to act for him, but he thought
he could persuade her. She was quiet, she was sensible, and could talk
very gently and confidingly when she chose; she would say just what he
told her to say, and if a contingency demanded that she should add
anything, she would probably do it very prudently. But then it would be
almost as difficult to communicate with her as with Miss March.
While he was thus thinking, in came the old lady, very cross. "You
didn't get any rubber of whist last night, did you?" said she, without
salutatory preface. "But I can tell you it wasn't my fault. I did all
that I could, and more than I ought, to make her come, but she just put
her foot down and wouldn't stir an inch, and at last I got mad and went
to bed. I don't know whether she saw it or not, but I was as mad as
hops; and I am that way yet. I had a plan that would have given you a
chance to talk to her, but that ain't any good, now that it is raining.
Let me look at your ankle; I hope that is getting along all right, any
While the old lady was engaged in ministering to his needs, he told her
of his plan. He said he wished to send a message to Miss March by some
one, and if he could get the message properly delivered, it would help
him very much.
"I'll take it," said she, looking up suddenly from the piece of soft,
old linen she was folding; "I'll go to her this very minute, and tell
her just what you want me to."
"Mrs Keswick," said Lawrence, "you are as kind as you can possibly be,
but I do not think it would be right for you to go on an errand like
this. Miss March might not receive you well, and that would annoy me
very much. And, besides, to speak frankly, you have taken up my cause so
warmly, and have been such a good friend to me, that I am afraid your
earnest desire to assist me might perhaps carry you a little too far.
Please do not misunderstand me. I don't mean that you would say anything
imprudent, but as you are kind enough to say that you really desire this
match, it will be very natural for you to show your interest in it to a
degree that would arouse Miss March's opposition."
"Yes, I see," said the old lady, reflectively, "she'd suspect what was
at the bottom of my interest. She's a sharp one. I've found that out. I
reckon it will be better for me not to meddle with her. I came very near
quarreling with her last night, and that wouldn't do at all."
"You see, madam," said Lawrence, well satisfied that he had succeeded in
warding off the old lady's offer without offending her, "that I do not
want any one to go to Miss March and make a proposal for me. I could do
that in a letter. But I very much object to a letter. In fact it
wouldn't do at all. All I wish is, that some one, by the exercise of a
little female diplomacy, should induce her to let me speak to her. Now,
I think that Mrs Null might do this, very well."
"That is so," said the old lady, who, having now finished her bandaging,
was seated on a chair by the fireplace. "My niece is smart and quick,
and could do this thing for you just as well as not. But she has her
quips and her cranks, like the rest of us. I called her out of the room
last night to know why she didn't back me up better about the whist
party, and she said she couldn't see why a gentleman, who hadn't been
confined to the house for quite a whole day, should be so desperately
lonely that people must go to his room to play whist with him. It seemed
to me exactly as if she thought that Mr Null wouldn't like it. Mr Null
indeed! As if his wishes and desires were to be considered in my house!
I never mention that man now, and Annie does not speak of him either.
What I want is that he shall stay away just as long as he will; and if
he will only stay away long enough to make his absence what the law
calls desertion, I'll have those two divorced before they know it. Can
you tell me, sir, how long a man must stay away from his wife before he
can be legally charged with desertion?"
"No, madam, I can not," said Lawrence. "The laws, I believe, differ in
the various States."
"Well, I'm going to make it my business to find out all about it," said
Mrs Keswick. "Mr Brandon has promised to attend to this matter for me,
and I must write to him, to know what he has been doing. Well, Mrs Null
and Miss March seem to be very good friends, and I dare say my niece
could manage things so as to give you the chance you want. I'll go to
the house now, and send her over to you, so that you can tell her what
you want her to say or do."
"Do you think she will come, madam?" asked Lawrence.
The old lady rose to her feet, and knitted her brows until something
like a perpendicular mouth appeared on her forehead. "No," said she,
"now I come to think of it I don't believe she will. In fact I know she
won't. Bother take it all, sir! What these young women want is a good
whipping. Nothing else will ever bring them to their senses. What
possible difference could it make to Mr Null whether she came to you and
took a message for you, or whether she didn't come; especially in a case
like this, when you can't walk, or go to anybody?"
"I don't think it ought to make any difference whatever," said Lawrence.
"In fact I don't believe it would."
"It's no use talking about it, Mr Croft," said the old lady, moving
toward the door. "I can go to my niece and talk to her, but the first
thing I'd know I'd blaze out at her, and then, as like as not, she'd
blaze back again, and then the next thing would be that she'd pack up
her things and go off to hunt up her fertilizer agent. And that mustn't
be. I don't want to get myself in any snarls, just now. There is nothing
for you to do, Mr Croft, but to wait till it clears off, so that dainty
young woman can come out of doors, and then I think I can manage it so
that you can get a chance to speak to her."
"I am very much obliged to you," said Lawrence. "I suppose I must wait."
"I'll see that Isham brings you a lot of dry hickory, so that you can
have a cheerful fire, even if you can't have cheerful company," said Mrs
Keswick, as she closed the door after her.
Lawrence looked through the window at the sky, which gave no promise of
clearing. And then he gazed into the fire, and considered his case. He
had spent a large portion of his life in considering his case, and,
therefore, the operation was a familiar one to him. This time the case
was not a satisfactory one. Everything in this love affair with Miss
March had gone on in a manner in which he had not intended, and of which
he greatly disapproved. No one in the world could have planned the
affair more prudently than he had planned it. He had been so careful not
to do anything rash, that he had, at first, concealed, even from the
lady herself, the fact that he was in love with her, and nothing could
be farther from his thoughts and desires than that any one else should
know of it. And yet, how had it all turned out? He had taken into his
confidence Mr Junius Keswick, Mr Brandon, old Mrs Keswick, Mrs Null, as
she wished to be called, and almost lastly, the lady herself. "If I
should lay bare my heart to the colored man, Isham," he said to himself,
"and the old centenarian in the cabin down there, I believe there would
be no one else to tell. Oh, yes, there is Candy, and the anti-detective.
By rights, they ought to know." He did not include the good little Peggy
in this category, because he was not aware that there was such a person.
After about an hour of these doleful cogitations, he again turned to
look out of his front window, which commanded a view of the larger
house, when he saw, coming down the steps of the porch, a not very tall
figure, wrapped in a waterproof cloak, with the hood drawn over its
head. He did not see the face of the figure, but he thought from the
light way in which it moved that it was Mrs Null; and when it stepped
upon the grass and turned its head, he saw that he was right.
"Can her aunt have induced her to come to me?" was Lawrence's first
thought. But his second was very different, for she began to walk toward
the large gate which led out of the yard. Instantly Lawrence rose, and
hopped on one foot to the window, where he tapped loudly on the glass.
The lady turned, and then he threw up the sash.
"Won't you step here, please?" he called out.
Without answering, she immediately came over the wet grass to the
"I have something to say to you," he said, "and I don't want to keep you
standing in the rain. Won't you come inside for a few minutes?"
"No, thank you," said she. "I don't mind a slight rain like this. I
have lived so long in the city that I can't imagine how country people
can bear to shut themselves in, when it happens to be a little wet. I
can't stand it, and I am going out for a walk." "It is a very sensible
thing to do," said Lawrence, "and I wish I could go with you and have a
good long talk."
"What about?" said she.
"About Miss March."
"Well, I am rather tired of that subject," she said, "and so I reckon it
is just as well that you should stay here by your fire--I see you have
one there--and that I should take my walk by myself."
"Mrs Null," said Lawrence, "I want to implore you to do a favor for me.
I don't see how it can be disagreeable to you, and I am sure it will
confer the greatest possible obligation upon me."
"What is it?" she asked.
"I want you to go to Miss March, and endeavor, in some way--you will
know how, better than I can tell you--to induce her to let me have a few
words with her. If it is only here at this open window it will do."
Mrs Null laughed. "Imagine," she said, "a woman putting on a waterproof
and overshoes, and coming out in the rain, to stand with an umbrella
over her head, to be proposed to! That would be the funniest proceeding
I ever heard of!"
Lawrence could not help smiling, though he was not in the mood for it.
"It may seem amusing to you," he said, "but I am very much in earnest. I
am in constant fear that she will go away while I am confined to this
house. Do you know how long she intends to stay?"
"She has not told me," was the answer.
"If you will carry it," he said, "I will give you a message for her."
"Why don't you write it?" said Miss Annie.
"I don't want to write anything," he said. "I should not know how it had
been received, nor would it be likely to get me any satisfaction. I want
a live, sympathetic medium, such as you are. Won't you do this favor for
"No, I won't," said Miss Annie, her very decided tone appearing to give
a shade of paleness to her features. "How often must I tell you that I
will not help you in this thing?"
"I would not ask you," said Lawrence, "if I could help myself."
"It is not right that you should ask me any more," she said. "I am not
in favor of your coming here to court Miss March, while my cousin is
away, and I should feel like a traitor if I helped you at all,
especially if I were to carry messages to her. Of course, I am very
sorry for you, shut up here, and I will do anything I can to make you
more comfortable and contented; but what you ask is too hard for me."
And, as she said this, a little air of trouble came into the large eyes
with which she was steadfastly regarding him. "I don't want to seem
unkind to you, and I wish you would ask me something that I can do for
you. I'll walk down to Howlett's and get you anything you may like to
have. I'll bring you a lot of novels which I found in the house, and
which I expect, anyway, you will like better than those old-time books.
And I'll cook you anything that is in the cook-book. But I really cannot
go wooing for you, and if you ask me to do that, every time I come near
you, I really must--"
"My dear Mrs Null," interrupted Lawrence, "I promise not to say any more
to you on this subject. I see it is distasteful to you, and I beg your
pardon for having mentioned it so often. You have been very kind to me,
indeed, and I should be exceedingly sorry to do anything to offend you.
It would be very bad for me to lose one of my friends, now that I am
shut up in this box, and feel so very dependent."
"Oh, indeed," said Miss Annie. "But I suppose if you were able to step
around, as you used to do, it wouldn't matter whether you offended me or
"Mrs Null," said Lawrence, "you know I did not mean anything like that.
Do you intend to be angry with me, no matter what I say?"
"Not a bit of it," she answered, with a little smile that brought back
to her face that warm brightness which had grown upon it since she had
come down here. "I haven't the least wish in the world to be angry with
you, and I promise you I won't be, provided you'll stop everlastingly
asking me to go about helping you to make love to people."
Lawrence laughed. "Very good," said he. "I have promised to ask nothing
more of that sort. Let us shake hands on it."
He stretched his hand from the window, and Miss Annie withdrew from the
folds of her waterproof a very soft and white little hand, and put it
into his. "And now I must be off," she said. "Are you certain you don't
want anything from the store at Howlett's?"
"Surely, you are not going as far as that," he said.
"Not if you don't want anything," she answered. "Have you tobacco enough
to last through your imprisonment? They keep it."
"Now, miss," said Lawrence; "do you want to make me angry by supposing I
would smoke any tobacco that they sell in that country store?"
"It ought to be better than any other," said Miss Annie. "They grow it
in the fields all about here, and the storekeepers can get it perfectly
fresh and pure, and a great deal better for you, no doubt, than the
stuff they manufacture in the cities."
"When you learn to smoke," said Lawrence, "your opinion concerning
tobacco will be more valuable."
"Thank you," she said, "and I will wait till then before I give you any
more of it. Good morning." And away she went.
Lawrence shut down the window, and hopped back to the fire. "There is my
last chance gone," said he to himself. "I suppose I may as well take old
Mrs Keswick's advice, and wait for fair weather. But, even then, who can
say what sort of sky Roberta March will show?" And, not being able to
answer this question, he put two fresh sticks on the fire, and then
sedately sat and watched their gradual annihilation. As for Miss Annie,
she took her walk, and stepped along the road as lightly and blithely as
if the skies had been blue, and the sun shining; and almost before she
knew it, she had reached the store at Howlett's. Ascending the high
steps to the porch, quite deserted on this damp, unpleasant morning, she
entered the store, the proprietor of which immediately jumped up from
the mackerel kit at the extreme end of the room, where he had been
sitting in converse with some of his neighbors, and hurried behind the
"Have you any tea," said Miss Annie, "better than the kind which you
usually sell to Mrs Keswick?"
"No, ma'am," said he. "We send her the very best tea we have."
"I am not finding fault with it," she said, "but I thought you might
have some extra kind, more expensive than people usually buy for common
"No, ma'am," said he, "there is fancy teas of that kind, but you'd have
to send to Philadelphia or New York for them."
"How long would that take?" she asked.
"I reckon it would be four or five days before you'd get it, ma'am,"
said the storekeeper.
"I am afraid," said Miss Annie, looking reflectively along the counter,
"that that would be too long." And then she turned to go, but suddenly
stopped. "Have you any guava jelly?" she asked.
The man smiled. "We don't have no call for anything as fancy as that,
ma'am," he said. "Is there anything else?"
"Not to-day," answered Miss Annie, after throwing a despairing glance
upon the rolls of calicoes, the coils of clothes-lines, the battered tin
boxes of tea and sugar, the dusty and chimneyless kerosene lamps, and
the long rows of canned goods with their gaudy labels; and then she
When she had gone, the storekeeper returned to his seat on the mackerel
kit, and was accosted by a pensive neighbor in high boots who sat upon
the upturned end of a case of brogans. "You didn't make no sale that
time, Peckett," said he.
"No," said the storekeeper, "her idees is a little too fancy for our
stock of goods."
"Whar's her husband, anyway?" asked a stout, elderly man in linen
trousers and faded alpaca coat, who was seated on two boxes of pearl
starch, one on top of the other. "I've heard that he was a member of the
legislatur'. Is that so?"
"He's not that, you can take my word for it," said Tom Peckett. "Old
Miss Keswick give me to understand that he was in the fertilizing
"That ought to be a good thing for the old lady," said the man on the
starch boxes. "She'll git a discount off her gwarner."
"I never did see," said the pensive neighbor on the brogan case, "how
such things do git twisted. It was only yesterday that I met a man at
Tyson's Mill, who'd just come over from the Valley, and he said he'd
seen this Mr Noles over thar. He's a hoss doctor, and he's going up
through all the farms along thar."
"I reckon when he gits up as fur as he wants to go," said the man on the
starch boxes, "he'll come here and settle fur awhile."
"That won't be so much help to the old lady," said the storekeeper,
"for it wouldn't pay to keep a neffy-in-law just to doctor one sorrel
horse and a pa'r o' oxen."
"I reckon his wife must be 'spectin' him," said the man on the brogan
case, "from her comin' after fancy vittles."
"If he do come," said the stout, elderly neighbor, "I wish you'd let me
know, Tom Peckett, fur my black mar has got a hitch in her shoulder I
can't understand, and I'd like him to look at her."
The storekeeper smiled at the pensive man, and the pensive man smiled
back at the storekeeper. "You needn't trouble yourself about that young
woman's husband," said Mr Peckett. "There'll be a horse doctor coming
along afore you know it, and he'll attend to that old mar of yourn
without chargin' you a cent."
The second afternoon of Lawrence Croft's confinement in the little
building in Mrs Keswick's yard, passed drearily enough. The sky retained
its sombre covering of clouds, and the rain came down in a melancholy,
capricious way, as if it were tears shed by a child who was crying
because it was bad. The monotony of the slowly moving hours was broken
only by a very brief visit from the old lady, who was going somewhere in
the covered spring wagon, and who looked in, before she started, to see
if her patient wanted anything; and by the arrival of a bundle of old
novels sent by Mrs Null. These books Lawrence looked over with
indifferent interest, hoping to find one among them that was not a love
story, but he was disappointed. They were all based upon, and most of
them permeated with, the tender passion, and Lawrence was not in the
mood for reading about that sort of thing. A person afflicted with a
disease is not apt to find agreeable occupation in reading hospital
reports upon his particular ailment.
The novels were put aside, and although Lawrence felt that he had smoked
almost too much during that day, he was about to light another cigar,
when he heard a carriage drive into the yard. Turning to the window he
saw a barouche, evidently a hired one, drawn by a pair of horses, very
lean and bony, but with their heads reined up so high that they had an
appearance of considerable spirit, and driven by a colored man, sitting
upon a very elevated seat, with a jaunty air and a well-worn whip. The
carriage drove over the grass to the front of the house--there was no
roadway in the yard, the short, crisp, tough grass having long resisted
the occasional action of wheels and hoofs--and there stopping, a
gentleman, with a valise, got out. He paid the driver, who immediately
turned the vehicle about, and drove away. The gentleman put his foot
upon the bottom step as if he were about to ascend, and then, apparently
changing his mind, he picked up his valise, and came directly toward the
office, drawing a key from his pocket as he walked. It was Junius
Keswick, and in a few minutes his key was heard in the lock. As it was
not locked the key merely rattled, and Lawrence called out: "Come in."
The door opened, and Junius looked in, evidently surprised. "I beg your
pardon," said he, "I didn't know you were in here."
"Please walk in," said Lawrence. "I know I am occupying your room, and
it is I who should ask your pardon. But you see the reason why it was
thought well that I should not have stairs to ascend." And he pointed to
his bandaged foot.
"Have you hurt yourself?" asked Junius, with an air of concern.
And then Lawrence gave an account of his accident, expressing at the
same time his regret that he found himself occupying the room which
belonged to the other.
"Oh, don't mention that," said Junius, who had taken a seat near the
window. "There are rooms enough in the house, and I shall be perfectly
comfortable. It was quite right in my aunt to have you brought in here,
and I should have insisted upon it, myself, if I had been at home. I
expected to be away for a week or more, but I have now come back on
account of your letter."
"Does that need explanation?" asked Lawrence.
"Not at all," said Junius. "I had no difficulty in understanding it,
although I must say that it surprised me. But I came because I am not
satisfied with the condition of things here, and I wish to be on the
spot. I do not understand why you and Miss March should be invited here
during my absence."
"That I do not understand either," said Lawrence, quickly, "and I wish
to impress it on your mind, Mr Keswick, that when I came here, I not
only expected to find you, but a party of invited guests. I will say,
however, that I came with the express intention of meeting Miss March,
and having that interview with her which I could not have in her uncle's
"I was not entirely correct," said Junius, "when I said that I did not
know why these rather peculiar arrangements had been made. My aunt is a
very managing person, and I think I perceive her purpose in this piece
of management." "She is opposed to a marriage between you and Miss
"Most decidedly," said Junius. "Has she told you so?"
"No," said Lawrence, "but it has gradually dawned upon me that such is
the case. I believe she would be glad to have Miss March married, and
out of your way."
Junius made no answer to this remark, but sat silent for a few moments.
Then he said: "Well, have you settled it with Miss March?"
"No, I have not," said Lawrence. "If the matter had been decided, one
way or the other, I should not be here. I have no right to trespass on
your aunt's hospitality, and I should have departed as soon as I had
discovered Miss March's sentiments in regard to me. But I have not been
able to settle the matter, at all. I had one opportunity of seeing the
lady, and that was not a satisfactory interview. Yesterday morning, I
made another attempt, but before I could get to her I sprained my ankle.
And here I am; I can not go to her, and, of course, she will not come to
me. You cannot imagine how I chafe under this harassing restraint."
"I can imagine it very easily," said Junius.
"The only thing I have to hope for," said Lawrence, "is that to-morrow
may be a fine day, and that the lady may come outside and give me the
chance of speaking to her at this open door."
Junius smiled grimly. "It appears to me," he said, "as if it were likely
to rain for several days. But now I must go into the house and see the
family. I hope you believe me, sir, when I say I am sorry to find you in
your present predicament."
"Yes," said Lawrence, smiling, although he did not feel at all gay,
"for, otherwise, I might have been finally rejected and far away."
"If you had been rejected," said Junius, "I should have been very glad,
indeed, to have you stay with us."
"Thank you," said Lawrence.
"I will look in upon you again," said Junius, as he left the room.
Lawrence's mind, which had been in a very unpleasant state of troubled
restiveness for some days, was now thrown into a sad turmoil by this
arrival of Junius Keswick. As he saw that tall and good-looking young
man going up the steps of the house porch, with his valise in his hand,
he clinched both his fists as they rested on the arm of his chair, and
objurgated the anti-detective.
"If it had not been for that rascal," he said to himself, "I should not
have written to Keswick, and he would not have thought of coming back at
this untimely moment. The only advantage I had was a clear coast, and
now that is gone. Of course Keswick was frightened when he found I was
staying in the same house with Roberta March, and hurried back to attend
to his own interests. The first thing he will do now will be to propose
to her himself; and, as they have been engaged once, it is as like as
not she will take him again. If I could use this foot, I would go into
the house, this minute, and have the first word with her." At this he
rose to his feet and made a step with his sprained ankle, but the sudden
pain occasioned by this action caused him to sit down again with a
groan. Lawrence Croft was not a man to do himself a physical injury
which might be permanent, if such doing could possibly be avoided, and
he gave up the idea of trying to go into the house.
"I tell you what it is, Letty," said Uncle Isham, when he returned to
the kitchen after having carried Lawrence's supper to him, "dat ar
Mister Croft in de offis is a gittin wuss an' wuss in he min', ebery
day. I neber seed a man more pow'ful glowerin' dan he is dis ebenin."
"I reckin' he j'ints is healin' up," said Letty. "Dey tells me dat de
healin' pains mos' gen'rally runs into de min'."
About nine o'clock in the evening Junius Keswick paid Lawrence a visit;
and, taking a seat by one side of the fireplace, accepted the offer of a
"How are things going on in the house?" asked Lawrence.
"Well," said Keswick, speaking slowly, "as you know so much of our
family affairs, I might as well tell you that they are in a somewhat
upset condition. When I went in, I saw, at first, no one but my cousin,
and she seemed so extraordinarily glad to see me that I thought
something must be wrong, somewhere; and when my aunt returned--she was
not at home when I arrived--she was thrown into such a state of mind on
seeing me, that I didn't know whether she was going to order me out of
the house or go herself. But she restrained herself, wonderfully,
considering her provocation, for, of course, I have entirely disordered
her plans by appearing here, when she had arranged everything for you to
have Miss March to yourself. But, so far, the peace has been kept
between us, although she scarcely speaks to me."
"And Miss March?" said Lawrence. "You have seen her?"
"Yes," said Junius, "I saw her at supper, and for a short time
afterwards, but she soon retired to her room."
"Do you think she was disturbed by your return?" asked Lawrence.
"I won't say that," said Junius, "but she was certainly not herself. Mrs
Null tells me that she expects to go home to-morrow morning, having
written to her uncle to send for her."
"That is bad, bad, very bad," said Lawrence.
After that there was a pause in the conversation, during which Mr Croft,
with brows very much knit, gazed steadfastly into the fire. "Mr
Keswick," he said presently, "what you tell me fills me with
consternation. It is quite plain that I shall have no chance to see Miss
March, and, as there is no one else in the world who will do it for me,
I am going to ask you to go to her, to-morrow morning, and speak to her
in my behalf."
When this had been said, Junius Keswick dropped his cigar upon the
floor, and sat up very straight in his chair, gazing fixedly at
Lawrence. "Upon my word!" he said, "I knew you were a cool man, but that
request freezes my imagination. I cannot conceive how any man can ask
another to try to win for him a lady whom he knows the other man
desires to win for himself. You have made some requests before that
were rather astounding, but this one overshadows them all."
"I admit," said Lawrence, "that what I ask is somewhat out of the way,
but you must consider the circumstances. Suppose I had met you in mortal
combat, and I had dropped my sword where you could reach it and I could
not; would you pick it up and give it to me? or would you run me
"I don't think that comparison is altogether a good one," said Junius.
"Yes, it is," said Lawrence, "and covers the case entirely. I am here,
disabled, and if you pick up my sword, as I have just asked you to do,
it is not to be assumed that your action gives me the victory. It merely
gives me an equal chance with yourself."
"Do you mean," said Junius, "that you want me to go to Miss March, and
deliberately ask her if she will marry you?"
"No," said Lawrence, "I have done that myself. But there are certain
points in regard to which I want to be set right with Miss March. And
now I wish you to understand me, Mr Keswick. I speak to you, not only as
a generous and honorable man, which I have found you to be, but as a
rival. I cannot believe that you would be willing to profit by my
present disadvantages, and, as I have said two or three times before, it
would certainly be for your interest, as a suitor for the lady, to have
this matter settled."
"Wouldn't it be better, then," said Junius, "if I were to go
immediately, and speak to her for myself?"
"No," said Lawrence, "I don't think that would settle the affair at all.
From what I understand of your relations with Miss March, she knows you
are her lover, and yet she neither accepts nor declines you. If you were
to go to her now, it is not likely she would give you any definite
answer. But in regard to me, it would be different. She would say yes or
no. And if she made the latter answer I think you could walk over the
course. I am not vain enough to say that I have been an obstacle to your
success, but I assure you that I have tried very hard to make myself
such an obstacle."
"It seems to me," said Junius, imitating his companion in the matter of
knitting his brows and gazing into the fire, "that this affair could be
managed very simply. Miss March is not going at the break of day. Why
don't you contrive to see her before she starts, and say for yourself
what you have to say?"
"Nothing would please me better than that," said Croft, "but I don't
believe she would give me any chance to speak with her. Since my
accident, she has persistently and pointedly refused to grant me even
the shortest interview."
"That ought to prove to you," said Keswick, "that she does not desire
your attentions. You should consider it as a positive answer."
"Not at all," said Lawrence, "not at all. And I don't think you would
consider it a positive answer if you were in my place. I think she has
taken some offence which is entirely groundless, and if you will consent
to act for me it will enable me to set straight this misunderstanding."
"Confound it!" exclaimed Keswick. "Can't you write to her? or get some
one else to take your love messages?"
"No," said Lawrence, "I cannot write to her, for I am not sure that
under the circumstances she would answer my letter. And I have already
asked Mrs Null, the only other person I could ask, to speak for me, but
she has declined."
"By the Lord Harry!" exclaimed Junius, "you are the rarest wooer I ever
"I assure you," said Lawrence, his face flushing somewhat, "that it is
not my desire to carry on my wooing in this fashion. My whole soul is
opposed to it, but circumstances will have it so. And as I don't intend,
if I can help it, to have my life determined by circumstances, I must go
ahead in despite of them, although I admit that it makes the road very
"I should think it would," said Junius. And then there was a pause in
"Well, Mr Keswick," said Lawrence, presently, "Will you do this thing
"Am I to understand," said Junius, "that if I don't do it, it won't be
"Yes," said Lawrence, "you are positively my last chance. I have racked
my brains to think of some other way of presenting my case to Miss
March, but there is no other way. I might stand at my door, and call to
her as she entered the carriage, but that would be the height of
absurdity. I might hop on one foot into the house, but, even if I wished
to present myself in that way, I don't believe I could get up that long
flight of steps. It would be worse than useless to write, for I should
not know what was thought of my letter, or even if it had been read. Mrs
Keswick cannot carry my message; Mrs Null will not; and I have only you
to call upon. I know it is a great deal to ask, but it means so much to
me--to both of us, in fact--that I ask it."
"You were kind enough to say a little while ago," said Junius, "that you
considered me an honorable man. I try to be such, and, therefore, will
frankly state to you that I can think of but three motives, satisfactory
to myself, for undertaking this business for you, and not one of them is
a generous one. In the first place, I might care to do it in order to
have this matter settled, for you are such an extraordinary suitor, that
I don't know in what form you may turn up, the next time. Secondly, from
what you tell me of Miss March's repugnance to meet you, I don't believe
my mission will have an issue favorable to you, and the more
unfavorable it is, the better I shall like it. My third reason for
acting for you is, that the whole affair is such an original one that it
will rather interest me to be engaged in it. This last reason would not
hold, however, if I had the least expectation of being successful."
"You consent then?" said Lawrence, quickly, turning towards the other.
"You'll go to Miss March for me?"
"Yes, I think I will," said Junius, "if you will accept the services of
a man who is decidedly opposed to your interests."
"Of course I never expected you to favor them," said Lawrence, "nor is
it necessary that you should. All I ask is, that you carry a message to
Miss March, and if she needs any explanation of it, that you will
explain in the way that I shall indicate; that you shall tell me how she
received my message; and that you shall bring me back her answer. There
is no need of your making any proposition to her; that has already been
done; what I want is, that she should not go away from here with a
misunderstanding between us, and that she shall give me at least the
promise of a hearing."
"Very good," said Junius, "now, what is it that you want me to say?"
This was not an easy question for Lawrence to answer. He knew very well
what he wanted to say, if he had a chance of saying it himself. He
wanted to pour his whole heart out to Roberta March, and, showing her
its present passion, to ask her to forgive those days in which his mind
only had appeared to be engaged. He believed he could say things that
would force from her the pardon of his previous short-comings, if she
considered them as such. She had been very gracious to him in time past,
and he did not see why she should not be still more gracious now, if he
could remove the feelings of resentment, which he believed were
occasioned by her womanly insight into the motives of his conduct toward
her, during those delightful summer days at Midbranch.
But to get another person to say all this was a very different thing. He
was sure, however, that if it were not said now, it would never be said.
It would be death to all his hopes if Miss March went away, feeling
towards him as she now felt; therefore he stiffened his purpose which
was quite used to being stiffened; hardened his sensibilities; and took
his plunge. Gazing steadfastly at the back of the fireplace while he
spoke, he endeavored to make Junius Keswick understand the nature, and
the probable force of the objections to his line of action as a suitor,
which had grown up in the mind of Miss March; and he also endeavored to
show how completely and absolutely he had been changed by the vigor and
ardor of his present affection; and how he was entitled to be considered
by Miss March as a lover who had but one thought and purpose, and that
was to win her; and, as such, he asked her to give him an opportunity to
renew his proposal to her. "Now, then," said Lawrence, "I have placed
the case before you, and I beg you will present it, as nearly as
possible, in the form in which I have given it to you."
"Mr Croft," said Junius, "this case of yours is worse than I thought it
was. What woman of spirit would accept a man who admitted, that during
the whole of his acquaintance with her he had had his doubts in regard
to suitability, etc., but who, when a crisis arrived, and another man
turned up, had determined to overlook all his objections and take her,
"That is a very cold-blooded way of putting it," said Lawrence, "and I
don't believe at all that she will look upon it in that light. If you
will set the matter before her as I have put it to you, I believe she
will see it as I wish her to see it."
"Very well," said Junius, rising, and taking out his watch, "I will make
your statement as accurately as I can, and without any interpretations
of my own. And now I must bid you good-night. I had no idea it was after
"And you will observe her moods?" asked Lawrence.
"Yes," said Junius as he opened the door, "I will carefully observe her
When Junius had gone, Lawrence turned his face again toward the
fireplace, where the last smouldering stick had just broken apart in the
middle, and the two ends had wearily fallen over the andirons as if they
wished it understood that they could do no more burning that night.
Taking this as a hint, Lawrence prepared to retire. "Old Isham must have
gone to bed long ago," he said, "but as I have asked for so much
assistance to-day, I think it is well that I should try to do some
things for myself."
It was, indeed, very late, but behind the partially closed shutters of a
lower room of the house sat old Mrs Keswick, gazing at the light that
was streaming from the window of the office, and wondering what those
two men were saying to each other that was keeping them sitting up
together until after midnight.
Annie Peyton, too, had not gone to bed, and looking through her chamber
window at the office, she hoped that cousin Junius would come away
before he lost his temper. Of course she thought he must have been very
angry when he came home and found Mr Croft here at the only time that
Roberta March had ever visited the house, and it was quite natural that
he should go to his rival, and tell him what he thought about it. But he
had been there a long, long time, and she did hope they would not get
very angry with each other, and that nothing would happen. One thought
comforted her very much. Mr Croft was disabled, and Junius would scorn
to take advantage of a man in that condition.
At an upper window, at the other end of the house, sat Roberta March,
ready for bed, but with no intention of going there until Junius Keswick
had come out of the office. Knowing the two men as she did, she had no
fear that any harm would come to either of them during this long
conference, whatever its subject might be. That she, herself, was that
subject she had not the slightest doubt, and although it was of no
earthly use for her to sit there and gaze upon that light streaming into
the darkness of the yard, but revealing to her no more of what was going
on inside the room than if it had been the light of a distant star,
still she sat and speculated. At last the office door opened, and Junius
came out, turning to speak to the occupant of the room as he did so. The
brief vision of him which the watchers caught, as he stood for a moment
in the lighted doorway before stepping out into the darkness, showed
that his demeanor was as quiet and composed as usual; and one of the
three women went to bed very much relieved.
From breakfast time the next morning until ten o'clock in the
forenoon, at which hour the Midbranch carriage arrived, Junius Keswick
had been vainly endeavoring to get an opportunity to speak with Miss
March. That lady had remained in her own room nearly all the morning,
where his cousin had been with her; and his aunt, who had her own
peculiar ways of speeding the parting guest, had retired to some
distant spot on the estate, either to plan out some farming operation
for the ensuing season, or to prevent her pent-up passion from boiling
over in her own house.
Thus Junius had the lower floor to himself, and he strode about in
much disquietude, debating whether he ought to send a message to
Roberta, or whether he should wait till she had finished her packing,
or whatever it was, that was keeping her up-stairs. His last private
interview with her had not been a pleasant one, and if he had intended
to speak to her for himself, he would not have felt much encouraged
by her manner of the preceding evening; but he was now engaged on the
affairs of another, and he believed that a failure to attend to them
would be regarded as a breach of faith.
When Mr Brandon's carriage drove into the yard he began to despair,
but now Roberta came running down stairs to speak to Sam, the driver,
and ask him how long it would be necessary to rest his horses. Sam
thought an hour would be long enough, as they would have a good rest
when they got home; and this matter having been settled, Junius came
forward, and requested Roberta to step in the parlor, as he had
something to say to her. Without reply, she followed him into the
room, and he closed the door. They sat down, one on one side of
the round centre table, and one on the other, and Junius began his
He was by profession a lawyer, and he had given a great deal of
attention to the art of putting things plainly, and with a view to a
just effect. He had carefully prepared in his mind what he should
say to Roberta. He wished to present this man's message without the
slightest exhibition of desire for its success, and yet without any
tendency to that cold-blooded way of stating it, to which Croft had
objected. He had, indeed, picked up his adversary's sword, and while
he did not wish, in handing it to him, to prick him with it, or do him
some such underhand injury, he did not think it at all necessary to
sharpen the weapon before giving it back.
What Junius had to say occupied a good deal of time. He expressed
himself carefully and deliberately; and as nearly as a skilfully
stuffed and prepared animal in a museum resembles its wild original of
the forest, so did his remarks resemble those that Lawrence would have
made had he been there. Roberta listened to him in silence until he
had finished, and then she rose to her feet, and her manner was
such that Junius rose also. "Junius Keswick," she said, "you have
deliberately come to me, and offered me the hand of another man in
"Not that," said Junius, "I merely came to explain----."
"Do not split hairs," she interrupted, "you did exactly that. You came
to me because he could not come himself, and offered him to me. Now go
to him from me, and tell him that I accept him." And, with that, she
swept out of the room, and came down stairs no more until bonneted,
and accompanied by Miss Annie, she hurried to the front door, and
entered the carriage which was there waiting for her, with Peggy by
the driver. With some quick good-byes and kisses to Annie, but never a
word to Junius, or anybody else, she drove away.
If Junius Keswick had been nervous and anxious that morning, as he
strode about the house, waiting for an opportunity to speak to Miss
March, it may well be supposed that Lawrence Croft, shut up in his
little room at the end of the yard, would be more so. He had sat at
his window, waiting, and waiting. He had occasionally seen Mr Keswick
come out on the porch, and with long strides pace backward and
forward, and he knew by that sign that he had yet no message to bring
him. He had seen the Midbranch carriage drive into the yard; he had
seen Miss March come out on the porch, and speak to the driver, and
then go in again; he had seen the carriage driven under a large tree,
where the horses were taken out and led away to be refreshed; in an
hour or more, he saw them brought back and harnessed to the vehicle,
which was turned and driven up again to the door, when some baggage
was brought down and strapped on a little platform behind. Shortly
afterwards Peggy came round the end of the house, with a hat on, and
a little bundle under her arm, and approached the carriage, making,
however, a wide turn toward the office, at which, and a mile or two
beyond, her far-off gaze was steadily directed.
Lawrence threw up the sash and called to her, and his guardian imp
approached the window. "Are you Miss March's maid? I think I have seen
you at Midbranch."
"Yaas, sah, you's done seen me, offen," said Peggy.
"Does Miss March intend to start immediately?" he asked.
"Yaas, sah," said the good Peggy, "she'll be out in a minute, soon
as she done kissin' Mah's Junius good-bye in de parlor." And then,
noticing a look of astonishment on the gentleman's face, she added:
"Dey's gwine to be mar'ed, Chris'mus."
"What!" exclaimed Lawrence.
"Good-bye, Mister Crof,'" said Peggy, "I's got to hurry up."
Lawrence made no answer, but mechanically tossed her a coin, which,
picking up, she gave him a farewell grin, and hastened to take her
seat by the driver.
Very soon afterward Lawrence saw Roberta come out, accompanied only by
Mrs Null, and hurry down the steps. Forgetting his injured ankle, he
sprang to his feet, and stepping quickly to the door, opened it, and
stood on the threshold. But Miss March did not even look his way. He
gazed at her with wide-open eyes as she hastily kissed Mrs Null, and
sprang into the carriage, which was immediately driven off. As Mrs
Null turned to go into the house, she looked toward the office and
nodded to him. He believed that she would have come to him if he had
called her, but he did not call. His mind was in such a condition that
he would not have been capable of framing a question, had she come. He
felt that he could speak to no one until he had seen Keswick. Closing
the door he went back to his chair; and as he did so, his ankle pained
him sadly, but of this he scarcely thought.
He did not have to wait long for Junius Keswick, for in about ten
minutes that individual entered. Lawrence turned, as his visitor
opened the door; and he saw a countenance which had undergone a very
noticeable change. It was not dark or lowering; it was not pale; but
it was gray and hard; and the eyes looked larger than Lawrence had
Without preface or greeting Junius approached him, and said: "I have
taken your message to Miss March, and have brought you one in return.
You are accepted."
Lawrence pushed back his chair, and stared blankly at the other. "What
do you mean?" he presently asked.
"I mean what I say," said Keswick. "Miss March has accepted you."
A crowd of emotions rushed through the brain of Lawrence Croft; joy
was among them, but it was a joy that was jostled and shaken and
pushed, this way and that. "I do not understand," he said. "I did not
expect such a decisive message. I supposed she might send me some
encouragement, some--. Why didn't she see me before she left?"
"I am not here to explain her actions if I could," said Junius, who
had not sat down. "She said: 'Tell him I accept him.' That is all.
"But, stop!" cried Lawrence, on his feet again. "You must tell me more
than that. Did you say to her only what I said to you? How did it
"Oh," said Junius, turning suddenly at the door, "I forgot that you
asked me to observe her mood. Well, she was very angry."
"With me?" cried Lawrence.
"With me," said Junius. And closing the door behind him, he strode
The accepted lover sat down. He had never spoken more truly than when
he said he did not understand it. "Is she really mine?" he exclaimed.
And with his eyes fixed on the blank wall over the mantel-piece, he
repeated over and over again: "Is she mine? Is she really mine?" He
had well developed mental powers, but the work of setting this matter
straight and plain was too difficult for him.
If she had sent him some such message as this: "I am very angry with
you, but some day you can come and explain yourself to me;" his heart
would have leaped for joy. He would have believed that his peace had
been made, and that he had only to go to her to call her his own. Now
his heart desired to leap with joy, but it did not seem to know how to
do it. The situation was such an anomalous one. After such a message
as this, why had she not let him see her? Why had she been angry with
Keswick? Was that pique? And then a dark thought crossed his mind. Had
he been accepted to punish the other? No, he could not believe that;
no woman such as Roberta March would give herself away from such a
motive. Had Keswick been joking with him? No, he could not believe
that; no man could joke with such a face.
Even the fact that Mrs Keswick had not bid Miss March farewell,
troubled the mind of Lawrence. It was true that she might not yet know
that the match, which she had so much encouraged, had been finally
made, but something must be very wrong, or she would not have been
absent at the moment of her guest's departure. And what did that
beastly little negro mean by telling him that Keswick and Miss March
were to be married at Christmas, and that the two were kissing each
other good-bye in the parlor? Why, the man had not even come out to
put her in the carriage, and the omission of this courtesy was very
remarkable. These questions were entirely too difficult for him to
resolve by himself. It was absolutely necessary that more should be
told to him, and explained to him. Seeing the negro boy Plez crossing
the yard, he called him and asked him to tell Mr Keswick that Mr Croft
wished to see him immediately.
"Mahs' Junius," said the boy, "he done gone to de railroad to take
de kyars. He done took he knapsack on he back, an' walk 'cross de
When, about an hour or two afterwards, Uncle Isham brought Mr Croft
his dinner, the old negro appeared to have lost that air of attentive
geniality which he usually put on while waiting on the gentleman.
Lawrence, however, took no notice of this, but before the man reached
the table, on which he was to place the tray he carried, he asked: "Is
it true that Mr Keswick has gone away by train?"
"Yaas, sah," answered Isham.
"And where is Mrs Keswick?" asked Lawrence. "Isn't she in the house?"
"No, sah, done gwine vis'tin, I 'spec."
"When will she return?"
"Dunno," said Isham. "She nebber comes to me an' tells me whar she
gwine, an' when she comin' back."
And then, after satisfying himself that nothing more was needed of him
for the present, Isham left the room; and when he reached the kitchen,
he addressed himself to its plump mistress: "Letty," said he, "when
dat ar Mister Crof has got froo wid his dinner, you go an' fotch back
de plates an' dishes. He axes too many questions to suit me, dis day."
"You is poh'ly to-day, Uncle Isham," said Letty.
"Yaas," said the old man, "I's right much on the careen."
Uncle Isham, perhaps, was not more loyal to the widow Keswick than
many old servants were and are to their former mistresses, but his
loyalty was peculiar in that it related principally to his regard for
her character. This regard he wished to be very high, and it always
troubled and unsettled his mind, when the old lady herself or anybody
else interfered with his efforts to keep it high. For years he had
been hoping that the time would come when she would cease to "rar and
chawge," but she had continued, at intervals, to indulge in that most
unsuitable exercise; and now that it appeared that she had reared and
charged again, her old servant was much depressed. She had gone away
from the house, and, for all he knew, she might stay away for days or
weeks, as she had done before, and Uncle Isham was never so much "on
the careen" as when he found himself forced to believe that his old
mistress was still a woman who could do a thing like that.
Letty had no objections to answering questions, but much to her
disappointment, Lawrence asked her none. He had had enough of
catechising negroes. But he requested her to ask Mrs Null if she would
be kind enough to step out, for a few minutes, and speak to him. When,
very shortly thereafter, that lady appeared, Lawrence was seated at
his open door ready to receive her.
"How are you?" she said. "And how is your ankle to-day? You have had
nobody to attend to it."
"It has hurt me a good deal," he answered. "I think I must have given
it a wrench this morning, but I put on it some of the lotion Mrs
Keswick left with me, and it feels better."
"It is too bad," said Mrs Null, "that you have to attend to it
"Not at all," said Lawrence. "Now that I know how, I can do it,
perfectly well, and I don't care a snap about my ankle, except that it
interferes with more important affairs. Why do you suppose Miss March
went away without speaking to me, or taking leave of me in any way?"
"I thought that would trouble you," said she, "and, to speak honestly,
I don't think it was right. But Roberta was in a very agitated
condition, when she left here, and I don't believe she ever thought of
taking leave of you, or any one, except me. She and I are very good
friends, but she don't confide much in me. But one thing I am pretty
sure of, and that is that she is dreadfully angry with my cousin
Junius, and I am very sorry for that."
"How did he anger her?" asked Lawrence, wishing to find out how much
this young woman knew. "I haven't the least idea," said Miss Annie.
"All I know is, she had quite a long talk with him, in the parlor, and
after that she came flying up-stairs, just as indignant as she could
be. She didn't say much, but I could see how her soul raged within
her." And now the young lady stopped speaking, and looked straight
into Lawrence's face. "It isn't possible," she said, "that you have
been sending my cousin to propose to her for you?"
This was not a pleasant question to answer, and, besides, Lawrence had
made up his mind that the period had passed for making confidants of
other persons, in regard to his love affairs. "Do you suppose I would
do that?" he said.
"No, I don't," Miss Annie answered. "Cousin Junius would never have
undertaken such a thing, and I don't believe you would be cruel enough
to ask him."
"Thank you for your good opinion," said Lawrence. "And now can you
tell me when Mr Keswick is expected to return?"
"He has gone back to Washington, and he told me he should stay there
"And why has not Mrs Keswick been out to see me?" asked Lawrence.
"You are dreadfully inquisitive," said Miss Annie, "but to tell you
the simple truth, Mr Croft, I don't believe Aunt Keswick takes any
further interest in you, now that Roberta has gone. She had set her
heart on making a match between you two, and doing it here without
delay; and I think that everything going wrong about this has put her
into the state of mind she is in now."
"Has she really gone away?" asked Lawrence.
"Oh, that don't amount to anything," said Miss Annie. "She went over
the fields to Howlett's, to see the postmistress, who is an old
friend, to whom she often goes for comfort, when things are not right
at home. But I am going after her this afternoon in the spring wagon.
I'll take Plez along with me to open the gates. I am sure I shall
bring her back."
"I must admit, Mrs Null," said Lawrence, "that I am very inquisitive,
but you can easily understand how much I am troubled and perplexed."
"I expect Miss March's going away troubled you more than anything
else," said she.
"That is true," he answered, "but then there are other things which
give me a great deal of anxiety. I came here to be, for a day or two,
the guest of a lady on whom I have no manner of claim for prolonged
hospitality. And now here I am, compelled to stay in this room and
depend on her kindness or forbearance for everything I have. I would
go away, immediately, but I know it would injure me to travel. The few
steps I took yesterday have probably set me back for several days."
"Oh, it would never do for you to travel," said she, "with such a
sprained ankle as you have. It would certainly injure you very much to
be driven all the way to the Green Sulphur Springs. I am told the road
is very rough, between here and there, but perhaps you didn't notice
it, having come over on horseback."
"Yes, I did notice it, and I could not stand that drive. And, even if
I could be got to the train, to go North, I should have to walk a good
deal at the stations."
"You simply must not think of it," said Miss Annie. "And now let me
give you a piece of advice. I am a practical person, as you may know,
and I like to do things in a practical way. The very best thing that
you can do, is to arrange with Aunt Keswick to stay here as a boarder,
until your ankle is well. She has taken boarders, and in this case
I don't think she would refuse. As I told you before, you must not
expect her to take the same interest in you, that she did when you
first came, but she is really a kind woman, though she has such
dreadfully funny ways, and she wouldn't have neglected you to-day, if
it hadn't been that her mind is entirely wrapped up in other things.
If you like, I'll propose such an arrangement to her, this afternoon."
"You are very kind, indeed," said Lawrence, "but is there not danger
of offending her by such a proposition?"
"Yes, I think there is," answered Miss Annie, "and I have no doubt she
will fly out into a passion when she hears that the gentleman, whom
she invited here as a guest, proposes to stay as a boarder, but I
think I can pacify her, and make her look at the matter in the proper
way." "But why mention it at all, and put yourself to all that trouble
about it?" said Lawrence.
"Why, of course, because I think you will be so much better satisfied,
and content to keep quiet and get well, if you feel that you have a
right to stay here. If Aunt Keswick wasn't so very different from
other people, I wouldn't have mentioned this matter for, really, there
is no necessity for it; but I know very well that if you were to drop
out of her mind for two or three days, and shouldn't see anything of
her, that you would become dreadfully nervous about staying here."
"You are certainly very practical, Mrs Null, and very sensible,
and very, very kind; and nothing could suit me better under the
circumstances than the plan you propose. But I am extremely anxious
not to give offence to your aunt. She has treated me with the utmost
kindness and hospitality."
"Oh, don't trouble yourself about that," said Miss Annie, with a
little laugh. "I am getting to know her so well that I think I can
manage an affair like this, very easily. And now I must be off, or it
will be too late for me to go to Howlett's, this afternoon, and I am a
very slow driver. Are you sure there is nothing you want? I shall go
directly past the store, and can stop as well as not."
"Thank you very much," said Lawrence, "but I do not believe that
Howlett's possesses an article that I need. One thing I will ask you
to do for me before you go. I want to write a letter, and I find that
I am out of paper; therefore I shall be very much obliged to you, if