The Late Mrs. Null
Frank Richard Stockton
Part 2 out of 6
partook of a collation, consisting of a piece of hoe-cake dipped in pork
fat, and a cup of coffee, which having finished, she declared herself
ready to start. A chair was put into the cart, and secured by ropes to
keep it from slipping; and then, with two women on one side and Uncle
Isham on the other, while another woman stood in the cart to receive and
adjust her, she was placed in position.
Once properly disposed she presented a figure which elicited the lively
admiration of her friends, whose number was now increased by the arrival
of a couple of negro boys on mules, who were going to the post-office,
it being Saturday, and mail day. Around Aunt Patsy's shoulders was a
bright blue worsted shawl, and upon her head a voluminous turban of
vivid red and yellow. Since their emancipation, the negroes in that part
of the country had discarded the positive and gaudy colors that were
their delight when they were slaves, and had transferred their fancy to
delicate pinks, pale blues, and similar shades. But Aunt Patsy's ideas
about dress were those of by-gone days, and she was too old now to
change them, and her brightest handkerchief had been selected for her
head on this important day. Above her she held a parasol, which had been
graciously loaned by her descendant of the fourth generation. It was
white, and lined with pink, and on the edges still lingered some
fragments of cotton lace.
Uncle Isham now took his position by the side of his oxen, and started
them; and slowly creaking, Aunt Patsy's vehicle moved off, followed by
the two boys on mules, three colored women and two girls on foot, and by
two little black urchins who were sometimes on foot, but invariably on
the tail of the cart when they could manage to evade the backward turn
of Uncle Isham's eye.
"Ef I should go to glory on de road, Uncle Isham," said Aunt Patsy, as
the right wheel of the cart emerged from a rather awkward rut, "I don'
want no fuss made 'bout me. You kin jes' bury me in de clothes. I got
on, 'cep'n de pararsol, ob course, which is Liza's. Jes' wrop de quilt
all roun' me, an' hab a extry size coffin. You needn't do nuffin' more'n
"Oh, you's not gwine to glory dis time, Aun' Patsy," replied Uncle
Isham, who did not want to encourage the idea of the old woman's
departure from life while in his ox cart. But after this remark of the
old woman he was extraordinarily careful in regard to jolts and bumps.
When the procession reached the domain of Miss Harriet Corvey, there was
gathered inside the yard quite a number of the usual attendants on mail
days, awaiting the arrival of Wesley Green with his waddling horse and
leather bag. But all interest in the coming of the mail was lost in the
surprise and admiration excited by the astounding apparition of old Aunt
Patsy in the ox cart, attended by her retinue. As the oxen, skilfully
guided by Uncle Isham's long prod, turned into the yard, everybody came
forward to find out the reason of this unlooked-for occurrence. Even old
Madison Chalkley, his stout legs swaddled in home-made overalls,
dismounted from his horse, and Colonel Iston raised his tall form from
the porch step where he had been sitting, and approached the cart.
"Upon my word," said a young fellow, with high boots, slouched hat, and
a riding whip, "if here ain't old Aunt Patsy come after a letter! Where
do you expect a letter from, Aunt Patsy?"
The old woman fixed her spectacles on him for an instant, and then said
in a clear voice which could be heard by all the little crowd: "'Tain't
from nobody dat I owes any money to, nohow, Mahs' Bill Trimble."
A general laugh followed this rejoinder, and Uncle Isham grinned with
gratified pride in the enduring powers of his charge. The old woman now
put down her parasol, and made as if she would descend from the cart.
"You needn't git out, Aun' Patsy," said several negro boys at once.
"We'll fotch your letters to you."
"Git 'long wid you!" said the old woman angrily. "I didn't come here fur
no letters. Ef I wanted letters I'd sen' 'Liza fur 'em. Git out de way."
A chair was now brought, and placed near the cart; a woman mounted into
the vehicle to assist her; Uncle Isham and another colored man stood
ready to receive her, and Aunt Patsy began her descent. This, to her
mind, was a much more difficult and dangerous proceeding than getting
into the cart, and she was very slow and cautious about it. First, one
of her great green baize feet was put over the tail of the cart, and
resting her weight upon the two men, Aunt Patsy allowed it to descend to
the chair, where it was gradually followed by the other foot. Having
safely accomplished this much, the old woman ejaculated: "Bress de
Lor'!" When, in the same prudent manner, she had reached the ground,
she heaved a sigh of relief, and fervently exclaimed: "De Lor' be
Supported by Uncle Isham, and the other man, Aunt Patsy now approached
the steps. She was so old, so little, so bowed, and so apparently
feeble, that several persons remonstrated with her for attempting to go
into the house when anything she wanted would be gladly done for her.
"Much 'bliged," said the old woman, "but I don' want no letters nor
nuffin'. I's come to make a call on de white folks, an' I's gwine in."
This announcement was received with a laugh, and she was allowed to
proceed without further hindrance. She got up the porch steps without
much difficulty, her supporters taking upon themselves most of the
necessary exertion; but when she reached the top, she dispensed with
their assistance. Shuffling to the front door, she there met Miss
Harriet Corvey, who greeted the old woman with much surprise, but shook
hands with her very cordially.
"Ebenin', Miss Har'et," said Aunt Patsy. And then, lowering her voice
she asked: "Is ole miss h'yar?"
Miss Harriet hesitated a moment, and then she answered: "Yes, she is,
but I don't believe she'll come down to see you."
"Oh, I'll go up-stars," said Aunt Patsy. "Whar she?"
"She's in the spare chamber," said Miss Harriet; and Aunt Patsy, with a
nod of the head signifying that she knew all about that room, crossed
the hall, and began, slowly but steadily, to ascend the stairs. Miss
Harriet gazed upon her with amazement, for Aunt Patsy had been considered
chair-ridden when the postmistress was a young woman. Arrived at the end
of her toilsome ascent, Aunt Patsy knocked at the door of the spare
chamber, and as the voice of her old mistress said, "Come in!" she went
When Lawrence Croft reached the Green Sulphur Springs, after his
interview with Miss March, his soul was still bubbling and boiling with
emotion, and it continued in that condition all night, at least during
that great part of the night of which he was conscious. The sight of the
lady he loved, under the new circumstances in which he found her, had
determined him to throw prudence and precaution to the winds, and to ask
her at once to be his wife.
But the next morning Lawrence arose very late. His coffee had evidently
been warmed over, and his bacon had been cooked for a long, long time.
The world did not appear to him in a favorable light, and he was obliged
to smoke two cigars before he was at all satisfied with it. While he was
smoking he did a good deal of thinking, and it was then that he came to
the conclusion that he would not go over to Midbranch and propose to
Roberta March. Such precipitate action would be unjust to himself and
unjust to her. In her eyes it would probably appear to be the act of a
man who had been suddenly spurred to action by the sight of a rival, and
this, if Roberta was the woman he believed her to be, would prejudice
her against him. And yet he knew very well that these reasons would
avail nothing if he should see her as he intended. He had found that he
was much more in love with her than he had supposed, and he felt
positively certain that the next time he was alone with her he would
declare his passion.
Another thing that he felt he should consider was that the presence of
Keswick, if looked upon with a philosophic eye, was not a reason for
immediate action. If the old engagement had positively been broken off,
he was at the house merely as a family friend; while, on the other hand,
if the rupture had not been absolute, and if Roberta really loved this
tall Southerner and wished to marry him, there was a feeling of honor
about Lawrence which forbade him to interfere at this moment. When she
came to New York he would find out how matters really stood, and then he
would determine on his own action.
And yet he would have proposed to Roberta that moment if he had had the
opportunity. Her personal presence would have banished philosophy, and
Lawrence was a long time in coming to these conclusions, and it was late
in the afternoon when he despatched his note. Having now given up his
North Carolina trip--one object of which had been still another visit to
Midbranch on his return--he was obliged to wait until the next day for a
train to the North; and, consequently, he had another evening to devote
to reflections. These, after a time, became unsatisfactory. He had told
the exact truth in his note to Roberta, for he felt that it was
necessary for him to leave that part of the country in order to make
impossible an interview for which he believed the proper time had not
arrived. He was consulting his best interests, and also, no doubt, those
of the lady. And yet, in spite of this reasoning, he was not satisfied
with himself. He felt that his note was not entirely honest and true.
There was subterfuge about it, and something of duplicity. This he
believed was foreign to his nature, and he did not like it.
Lawrence had scarcely finished his breakfast the next morning when Mr
Junius Keswick arrived at the door of his cottage. This gentleman had
walked over from Midbranch and was a little dusty about his boots and
the lower part of his trousers. Lawrence greeted him politely, but was
unable to restrain a slight indication of surprise. It being more
pleasant on the porch than in the house, Mr Croft invited his visitor to
take a seat there, and the latter very kindly accepted the cigar which
was offered him, although he would have preferred the pipe he had in his
"I thought it possible," said Keswick, as soon as the two had fairly
begun to smoke, "that you might not yet have left here, and so came over
in the hope of seeing you."
"Very kind," said Lawrence.
Keswick smiled. "I must admit," said he, "that it was not solely for the
pleasure of meeting you again that I came, although I am very glad to
have an opportunity for renewing our acquaintance. I came because I am
quite convinced that Miss March wished very much to see you at the time
arranged between you, and that she was annoyed and discomposed by your
failure to keep your engagement. Considering that you did not, and
probably could not, know this, I deemed I would do you a service by
informing you of the fact."
"Did Miss March send you to tell me this?" exclaimed Lawrence.
"Miss March knows nothing whatever of my coming," was the answer.
"Then I must say, sir," exclaimed Lawrence, "that you have taken a great
deal upon yourself."
Keswick leaned forward, and after knocking off the ashes of his cigar on
the outside of the railing, he replied in a tone quite unmoved by the
reproach of his companion: "It may appear so on the face of it, but, in
fact I am actuated only by a desire to serve Miss March, for whom I
would do any service that I thought she desired. And, looking at it from
your side, I am sure that I would be very much obliged to any one who
would inform me, if I did not know it, that a lady greatly wished to see
"Why does she want to see me?" asked Croft. "What has she to say to me?"
"I do not know," said Keswick. "I only know that she was very much
disappointed in not seeing you yesterday."
"If that is the case, she might have written to me," said Lawrence.
"I do not think you quite understand the situation," observed his
companion. "Miss March is not a lady who would even intimate to a
gentleman that she wished him to come to her when it was obvious that
such was not his desire. But it seemed to me that if the gentleman
should become aware of the lady's wishes through the medium of a third
party, the matter would arrange itself without difficulty."
"By the gentleman going to her, I suppose," remarked Croft.
"Of course," said Keswick.
"There is no 'of course' about it," was Lawrence's rather quick reply.
At that moment some letters were brought to him from a little
post-office near by, to which he had ordered his mail to be forwarded.
As the address on one of these letters caught his eye, the somewhat
stern expression on his face gave place to a smile, and begging his
visitor to excuse him, he put his other letters into his pocket, and
opened this one. It was very short, and was from Mr Candy's cashier. It
was written from Howlett's, Virginia, a place unknown to him, and stated
that the writer expected in a very short time to give him some accurate
information in regard to Mr Keswick, and expressed the hope that he
would allow the affair to remain entirely in her hands until she should
write again. It was quite natural that, under the circumstances,
Lawrence should smile broadly as he folded up this note. The man in
question was sitting beside him, and, in a measure, was turning the
tables upon him. Lawrence had been very anxious to find out what sort
of a man was Keswick, and the latter now seemed in the way of making
some discoveries in the same line in regard to Lawrence. One thing he
must certainly do; he must write as soon as possible to his enterprising
agent, and tell her that her services were no longer needed. She must
have pushed the matter with a great deal of energy to have brought her
down to Virginia, and he could not help hoping that her discretion was
equal to her investigative capacity.
When, after this little interruption, Lawrence again addressed Junius
Keswick his manner was so much more affable that the other could not
fail but notice it.
"Mr Keswick," he said, "as our conversation seems to be based upon
personalities, perhaps you will excuse me if I ask you if I am mistaken
in believing that you were once engaged to be married to Miss March?"
"You are entirely correct," said Junius. "I was engaged to her, and I
hope to be engaged to her again."
"Indeed!" exclaimed Croft, turning in his chair with a start.
"Yes," continued Keswick, "our engagement was dissolved in consequence
of a certain family complication, and as I said before, I hope in time
to be able to renew it."
Lawrence threw away his cigar, and sat for a few moments in thought. The
engagement, then, did not exist. Roberta was free. Recollections came
to him of his own intercourse with her during the past summer, and his
heart gave a bound. "Mr Keswick," said he, "upon consideration of the
matter I think I will call upon Miss March this morning."
If Keswick had expressed himself entirely satisfied with this decision
he would have done injustice to his feelings. The service he had taken
upon himself to perform for Miss March he had considered a duty, but if
his mission had failed he would have been better pleased than with its
success. He made, however, a courteous reply to Croft's remark, and rose
to depart. But this the other would not allow.
"You told me," said Croft, "that you walked over here; but it is much
warmer now, and you must not think of such a thing as walking back. The
man here has a horse and buggy. I will get him to harness up, and I will
drive you over to Midbranch."
As there was no good reason why he should decline this offer, Junius
accepted it, and in half an hour the two were on their way.
Old Mr Brandon of Midbranch was not in a very happy frame of mind, and
he had good reasons for dissatisfaction. He was an ardent supporter of a
marriage between his niece and Junius Keswick; and when the engagement
had been broken off he had considered that both these young people had
acted in a manner very foolish and contrary to their best interests.
There was no opposition to the match except from old Mrs Keswick, who
was the aunt of Junius, but who considered herself as occupying the
position of a mother. Junius was the son of a sister who had also
married into the Keswick family, and his parents having died while he
was a boy, his aunt had taken him under her charge, and her house had
then became his home; although of late years some of his absences had
been long ones. Mrs Keswick had no personal objections to Roberta, never
having seen that lady, and knowing little of her; but an alliance
between her Junius and any member of that branch of the Brandons,
"which," to use the old lady's own words, "had for four generations
cheated, stripped, and scornfully used my people, scattering their atoms
over the face of three counties," was monstrous. Nothing could make her
consent to such an enormity, and she had informed Junius that if he
married that March girl three of them should live together--himself, his
wife, and her undying curse. In order that Miss March might not fail to
hear of this post-connubial arrangement, she had been informed of it by
letter. Of course this had broken off the engagement, for Roberta would
not live under a curse, nor would she tear a man from the only near
relative he had in the world. Keswick himself, like most men, would have
been willing to have this tearing take place for the sake of uniting
himself to such a charming creature as Roberta March. But the lady on
one side was as inflexible as the lady on the other, and the engagement
was definitely and absolutely ended.
Mr Brandon considered all this as stuff and nonsense. He could not deny
that his branch of the Brandons had certainly got a good deal out of Mrs
Keswick's family. But here was a chance to make everything all right
again, and he would be delighted to see Junius, a relative, although a
distant one, come into possession of Midbranch. As for the old lady's
opposition, that should not be considered at all, he thought. It was his
opinion that her mind had been twisted by her bad temper, and nothing
she could say could hurt anybody.
Of late Mr Brandon had been much encouraged by the fact that Junius had
begun to resume his position as a friend of the family. This was all
very well. If the young people, by occasional meetings, could keep alive
their sentiments toward each other, the time would come when all
opposition would cease, and the marriage would become an assured fact.
He did not believe either of the young people would care enough for a
post-mortem curse, if there should be one, to keep themselves separated
from each other on its account for the rest of their lives.
But the recent quite unexpected return of Lawrence Croft to Midbranch,
combined with the evident discomposure into which Roberta had been
thrown by his failure to come the next day, had given the old gentleman
some unpleasant ideas. His niece had mentioned that she expected Mr
Croft that day, and although she said nothing in regard to her
subsequent disappointment and vexation, his mind was quite acute enough
to perceive it. Exactly what it all meant he knew not, but it augured
danger. For the first time he began to look upon Mr Croft in the light
of a suitor for Roberta. If a jealous feeling at finding another person
on the ground was the cause of his not coming again, it showed that he
was in earnest, and this, added to the evident disturbance of mind of
both Roberta and Junius, was enough to give Mr Brandon most serious
fears that an obstacle to his cherished plan was arising. Roberta was
fond of city life, of society, of travel, and if she had really made up
her mind that her union with Junius was no longer to be thought of, the
advent of a man like Croft, who had been making her acquaintance all
summer, and who had now returned to Virginia, no doubt for the sole
purpose of seeing her again was, to say the least, exceedingly ominous.
One thing only could correct this deplorable state of affairs. The
absurd bar to the union of Junius and Roberta should be removed, and
they should be allowed to enter upon the happiness that was their right.
Above all, the estate of Midbranch should not be suffered to go into the
possession of an outsider, who might be good enough, but who was of no
earthly moment or interest to the Brandons. He would go himself, and see
the widow Keswick, and talk her out of her nonsense. It was a long time
since he had met the old wild cat, as he termed her, and his
recollection of the last interview was not pleasant, but he was not
afraid of her, and he hoped that the common sense of what he would say
would bring her to reason.
Mr Brandon made up his mind during the night; and when he came down to
breakfast he was very glad to find that Junius had already gone out for
a walk. The distance to the widow Keswick's house was about fifteen
miles, a pleasant day's ride for the old gentleman, and as he did not
expect to return until the next day, he felt obliged to inform Roberta
of his destination, although, of course, he said nothing about the
object of his visit. He told his niece that he was obliged to see the
widow Keswick on business, to which remark she listened without reply.
Soon after breakfast he mounted his good horse, Albemarle, and early in
the afternoon he arrived at the widow Keswick's gate. He had looked for
a stormy reception, in which the thunder-bolts of rage should burst
around him, and he was surprised, therefore, to be received with the
frigidity of the North Pole.
"I never expected," she said, without any previous courtesy, "to see one
of your people under my roof, and it is not very long ago since I would
have gone away from it the moment any one of you came near it."
"I am happy, madam," said Mr Brandon, in his most courteous manner,
"that that day is past."
"My staying won't do you any good," said the old lady, whose purple
sun-bonnet seemed to heave with the uprisal of her hair, "except,
perhaps, to get you a better meal than the servants would have given
you. But I want a lawyer, and I can't afford to pay for one either, and
when I saw you coming I just made up my mind to get something out of
you, and if I do it, it'll be the first red mark for my side of the
Mr Brandon assured her that nothing would give him more pleasure than to
assist her in any way in his power.
"Very well, then," said Mrs Keswick, "just sit down on that bench, and,
when we have got through, your horse can be taken, and you can rest a
while, though it seems a very curious thing that you should want to stop
here to rest."
"Well, madam," said Mr Brandon, seating himself as comfortably as
possible on a wooden bench, "I shall be happy to hear anything you have
The old lady did not sit down, but stood up in front of him, leaning on
her umbrella, with which faithful companion she had been about to set
out on her walk. "When my son Junius came home a while ago--" she began.
"Do you still call him your son?" interrupted Mr Brandon.
"Indeed I do!" was the very prompt answer. "That's just what he is. And,
as I was going to say, when he wrote me a short time ago that he was
coming here, I believed, from his letter, that he had some scheme on
hand in regard to your niece, and I made up my mind I wouldn't stay in
the house to hear anything more said on that subject. I had told him
that I never wanted him to say another word about it; and it made my
blood boil, sir, to think that he had come again to try to cozen me into
the vile compact."
"Madam!" exclaimed Mr Brandon.
"The next day," continued Mrs Keswick, "a lady arrived; and as soon as I
saw her drive into the gate I felt sure it was Roberta March, and that
the two had hatched up a plot to come and work on my feelings, and so I
wouldn't come near the house."
"Madam!" exclaimed Mr Brandon, "how could you dream such a thing of my
niece? You don't know her, madam."
"No," said the old lady, "I don't know her, but I knew she belonged to
your family, and so I was not to be surprised at anything she did. But I
found out I was mistaken. An old negro woman recognized this young
person as the daughter of my younger sister you know there were three of
us. The child was born and raised here, but I have not seen and have
scarcely heard of her since she was eight years old."
"That's very extraordinary, madam," said Mr Brandon.
"No, it isn't, when you consider the stubbornness, the obstinacy, and
the wickedness of some people. My sister sickened when the child was
about six years old, and her husband, Harvey Peyton--"
"I have frequently heard of him, madam," said Mr Brandon.
"And I wish I never had," said she. "Well, he was travelling most of the
time, a thing my sister couldn't do; but he came here then and stayed,
off and on, till she died. And not long afterward, just because I told
him that I intended to consider the child as my child, and that she
should have the name of Keswick instead of his name, and should know me
as her mother, and live with me always, he got angry and flared up, and
actually took the child away. I gave it to him hot, I can tell you,
before he left, and I never saw him again. He was so eaten up with rage
because I wanted to take the little Annie for my own, that he filled her
mind with such prejudices against me that when he died a year or two
ago, she actually went to work to get her own living instead of applying
to me for help. But now she has come down here, and I was really filled
with joy to have her again and carry out the plan on which my heart had
long been set--that is to marry her to her cousin Junius, and let them
have this farm when I am gone,----?"
At this Mr Brandon raised his eyebrows, and lowered the corners of his
"But I suddenly discover," continued the old, lady, "that the little
wretch is married--actually married."
At this Mr Brandon lowered his eyebrows and raised the corners of his
mouth. "Did her husband come with her?" he asked, pleasantly. And he
gave a few long, free breaths as if he had just passed in safety a very
dangerous and unsuspected rock.
"No, he didn't," replied the old lady. "I don't know where he is, and,
from what I can make out, he is an utterly good-for-nothing fellow,
allowing his wife to go where she pleases, and take care of herself. Now
this abominable marriage stands square in the way of the plan which
again rose up in my mind the moment I heard that the girl was in my
house. If Junius and she should marry, there would be no more dangers
for me to look out for."
"But the existence of a husband," said Mr Brandon blandly, "puts an end
to all thoughts of such an alliance."
"No it don't," said the old lady, bringing her umbrella down with force
on the porch. "Not a bit of it. Such an outrageous marriage should not
be suffered to exist. They should be divorced. He does nothing for her,
and neglects and deserts her absolutely. There's every ground for a
divorce, or enough grounds, at any rate. All that's necessary is for a
lawyer to take it up. I don't know any lawyers, and when I saw you
riding up from the road gate I said to myself: 'Here's the very man I
want,--and it's full time I should get something from people who have
taken nearly everything from me.'"
Mr Brandon bowed.
"And now," continued the old lady, "I am going to put the case into your
hands. The man is, evidently, a good-for-nothing scoundrel, and has
probably spent the little money that her miserable father left her. It's
a clear case of desertion, and there should be no trouble at all in
getting the divorce."
Mr Brandon looked down upon the floor of the porch, and smiled. This was
a pretty case, he thought, to put into his hands. Here was a marriage
which was the strongest protection in the promotion of his own plan, and
he was asked to annul it. "Very good," thought Mr Brandon, "very good."
And he smiled again. But he was an old-fashioned gentleman, and not used
to refuse requests made to him by ladies. "I will look into it, madam,"
said he. "I will look into it, and see what can be done."
"Something must be done," said the old lady; "and the right thing too.
How long do you intend to stay here?"
"I thought of spending the night, madam, as my horse and myself are
scarcely in condition to continue our journey to-day."
"Stay as long as you like," said Mrs Keswick. "I turn nobody from my
doors, even if they belong to the Brandon family. I want you to talk to
my niece, and get all you can out of her about this thing, and then you
can go to work and blot out this contemptible marriage as soon as
"The first thing," said Mr Brandon, "will be to talk to the lady."
This reply being satisfactory to Mrs Keswick, Uncle Isham was called to
take the horse and attend to him, while the master was invited into the
Mr Brandon first met Mrs Null at supper time, and her appearance very
much pleased him. "It is not likely," he said to himself, "that the man
lives who would willingly give up such a charming young creature as
this." They were obliged to introduce themselves to each other, as the
lady of the house had not yet appeared. After a while Letty, who was in
attendance, advised them to sit down as "de light bread an' de
batter-bread was gittin' cole."
"We could not think of such a thing as sitting at table before Mrs
Keswick arrives," said Mr Brandon.
"Oh, dar's no knowin' when she'll come," said the blooming Letty. "She
may be h'yar by breakfus time, but dar ain't nobuddy in dis yere worl'
kin tell. She's down at de bahn now, blowin' up Plez fur gwine to sleep
when he was a shellin' de cohnfiel' peas. An' when she's got froo wid
him she's got a bone to pick wid Uncle Isham 'bout de gyardin'. 'Tain't
no use waitin' fur ole miss. She nebber do come when de bell rings. She
come when she git ready, an' not afore."
Mr Brandon now felt quite sure that it was the intention of his hostess
not to break bread with one of his family, and so he seated himself, Mrs
Null taking the head of the table and pouring out the tea and coffee.
"It has been a long time, madam, since you were in this part of the
country," said the old gentleman, as he drew the smoking batter-bread
toward him and began to cut it.
"Yes," said Mrs Null, "not since I was a little girl. I suppose you have
heard, sir, that Aunt Keswick and my father were on very bad terms, and
would not have anything to do with each other?"
"Oh, yes," said Mr Brandon, "I have heard that."
"But my father is not living now, and I am down here again."
"And your husband? He did not accompany you?" said Mr Brandon.
"No," replied Mrs Null, very quickly. "We were both very sorry that it
was not possible for him to come with me."
Mr Brandon's spirits began to rise. This did not look quite like
desertion. "I have no doubt you have a very good husband. I am sure you
deserve such a one," he said with the air of a father, and the purpose
of a lawyer.
"Good!" exclaimed Mrs Null, her eyes sparkling.
"He couldn't be better if he tried! Will you have sweet milk, or
"Buttermilk, if you please," said Mr Brandon. "Of course your aunt was
delighted to have you with her again."
"Oh," said Mrs Null, with a laugh, "she was not at home when I arrived,
but when she returned nothing could be too good for me. Why, she had
been here scarcely half an hour, and hadn't taken off her sun-bonnet,
before she told me I was to marry Junius and we two were to have this
"A very pleasant plan, truly," said Mr Brandon.
"But then, you see," continued the young girl, "Mr Null stood dreadfully
in the way of such an arrangement; and when Aunt Keswick heard about him
you can't imagine what a change came over her."
"Oh, yes I can; yes I can," exclaimed Mr Brandon--"I can imagine it
"But she didn't give up a bit," said Mrs Null. "I don't think she ever
does give up."
"You are right, there," said Mr Brandon, "quite right. But what does she
propose to do?"
"I don't know, I'm sure; but she said I had no right to marry without
the consent of my surviving relatives, and that she was going to look
into it. I can't think what she means by that."
Mr Brandon made no immediate answer. He gave Mrs Null some damson
preserves, and he took some himself, and then he helped himself to a
great hot roll, from a plate that Letty had just brought in, and
carefully opening it he buttered it on the inside, and covered one-half
of it with the damson preserves. This he began slowly to eat, drinking
at times from the foaming glass of buttermilk at the side of his plate,
from which the coffee-cup had been removed. When he had finished the
half roll he again spoke. "I think, my dear young lady, that your aunt
is desirous of having your marriage set aside."
"How can she do that?" exclaimed the girl, her face flushing. "Has she
been talking to you about it?"
"I cannot deny that she has spoken to me on the subject," he answered,
"I being a lawyer. But I will say to you, in strict confidence, please,
that if you and your husband are sincerely attached to each other there
is nothing on earth she can do to separate you."
"Attached!" exclaimed Mrs Null. "It would be impossible for us to be
more attached than we are. We never have had the slightest difference,
even of opinion, since our wedding day. Why, I believe that we are more
like one person than any married couple in the world."
"I am very glad to hear it," said Mr Brandon, finishing his
buttermilk--"very glad indeed. And, feeling as you do, I am certain
that nothing your aunt can say will make any impression on you in regard
to seeking a divorce."
"I should think not!" said Mrs Null, sitting up very straight. "Divorce
"I fully uphold you in the stand you have taken," said Mr Brandon. "But
I beg you will not mention this conversation to your aunt. It would only
annoy her. Is your cousin expected here shortly?"
"I believe so," she said. "To be sure, my aunt left the house the last
time he came, but she has his address, and has written for him. I think
she wants us to get acquainted as soon as possible, so that no time will
be lost in marrying us after poor Mr Null is disposed of."
"Very good, very good," said Mr Brandon with a laugh. "And now, my dear
young friend, I want to give you a piece of advice. Stay here as long as
you can. Your aunt will soon perceive the absurdity of her ideas in
regard to your husband, and will cease to annoy you. Make a friend of
your cousin Junius, whom I know and respect highly; and he certainly
will be of advantage to you. Above all things, endeavor to thoroughly
reconcile him and Mrs Keswick, so that she will cease to oppose his
wishes, and to interfere with his future fortune. If you can bring back
good feeling between these two, you will be the angel of the family."
"Thank you," said Mrs Null, as they rose from the table.
The next morning, after Mr Brandon and Mrs Null had breakfasted
together, the mistress of the house, having apparently finished the
performance of the duties which had kept her from the breakfast-table,
had some conversation with her visitor. In this he repeated very little
of what he had said to the younger lady the night before, but he
assured Mrs Keswick that he had discovered that it would be a very
delicate thing to propose to her niece a divorce from her husband, a
thing to which she was not at all inclined, as he had found.
"Of course not! of course not!" exclaimed Mrs Keswick. "She can't be
expected to see what a wretched plight she has got herself into by
marrying this straggler from nobody knows where."
"But, madam," said Mr Brandon, "if you worry her about it, she will
leave you, and then all will be at an end. Now, let me advise you as
your lawyer. Keep her here as long as you can. Do everything possible to
foster friendship and good feeling between her and Junius; and to do
this you must forget as far as possible all that has gone by, and be
friendly with both of them yourself."
"Humph!" said the widow Keswick. "I didn't ask you for advice of that
"It is all a part of the successful working of the case, madam," said Mr
Brandon. "A thorough good feeling must be established before anything
else can be done."
"I suppose so," said the old lady. "She must learn to like us before she
begins to hate him. And how about your niece? Are you going to send her
down here to help on in the good feeling?"
"I have not brought my niece into this affair," replied Mr Brandon, with
"Well, then, see that you don't," was the widow Keswick's reply. And the
When Mr Brandon rode away on his good horse Albemarle, he looked at the
post of the road gate from which he was lifting the latch by means of
the long wooden handle arranged for the convenience of riders, and said
to himself: "John Keswick was a good man, but I don't wonder he came out
here and shot himself. It is a great pity though that it wasn't his wife
who did it, instead of him. That would have been a blessing to all of
us. But," he added, contemplatively, as he closed the gate, "the people
in this world who ought to blow out their brains, never do."
Soon after he had gone, Mrs Null went up Pine Top Hill, and sat down on
the rock to have a "think." "Now, then, Freddy," she said, "everything
depends on you. If you don't stand by me I am lost--that is to say, I
must go away from here before Junius comes; and you know I don't want to
do that. I want to see him on my account, and on his account too; but I
don't want him crammed down my throat for a husband the moment he
arrives, and that is just what will happen if you don't do your duty, Mr
Null. Even if it wasn't for you, I don't want to look at him from the
husband point of view, because, of course, he is a very different person
from what he used to be, and is a total stranger to me.
"It is actually more than twelve years since I have seen him, and
besides that, he is just as good as engaged to that niece of Mr
Brandon's, who is a horrible mixture of a she-wolf and a female mule, if
I am to believe Aunt Keswick, but I expect she is, truly, a very nice
girl. Though, to be sure, she can't have much spirit if she consented to
break off her marriage just on account of the back-handed benediction
which Aunt Keswick told me she offered her as a wedding gift. If I had
wanted to marry a man I would have let the old lady curse the heels off
her boots before I would have paid any attention to her. Cursing don't
hurt anybody but the curser.
"What I want of Junius is to make a friend of him, if he turns out to be
the right kind of a person, and to tell him about this Mr Croft who is
so anxious to find him. The only person I have met yet who seems like an
ordinary Christian is old Mr Brandon, and he's a sly one, I'm afraid.
Aunt Keswick thinks he stopped here on his way somewhere, but I don't
believe a word of it. I believe he came for reasons of his own, and went
right straight back again. You are almost as much to him, Freddy, as you
are to me. It would have made you laugh if you could have seen how his
face lighted up when he heard we were happy together, and that I would
not listen to a divorce. And yet I am sure he has promised Aunt Keswick
to see what he can do about getting one. He wants me to stay here and
make friends of Aunt Keswick and Junius, but he wouldn't like that if it
were not for you, Mr Null. You make everything safe for him.
"And now, Freddy, I tell you again, that all depends upon you. If I'm to
stay here--and I want to do that, for a time any way, for although Aunt
Keswick is so awfully queer, she's my own aunt, and that's more than I
can say for anybody else in the world--you must stiffen up, and stand by
me. It won't do to give way for a minute. If necessary you must take
tonics, and have a steel rod down your back, if you can't keep yourself
erect without it. You must have your legs padded, and your chest thrown
out; and you must stand up very strong and sturdy, Freddy, and not let
them push you an inch this way or that. And now that we have made up our
minds on this subject, we'll go down, for it's getting a little cool on
the top of this hill."
On the morning of her uncle's departure from Midbranch, Roberta came out
on the porch, and took her seat in a large wooden arm-chair, putting
down her key basket on the floor beside her. The day was bright and
sunny, and the shadows of two or three turkey buzzards, who were
circling in the air, moved over the field in front of the house. In this
field also moved, not so fast, nor so gracefully as the shadows, two
ploughs, one near by, and the other at quite a distance. The woods which
shut out a great part of the horizon showed many a bit of color, but the
scene, although bright enough in some of its tones, was not a cheering
one to Roberta; and she needed cheering.
Had it not been for the delay of her father in making his winter visit
to New York, she would now be in that city, but if things had gone on as
she expected they would, she would have been perfectly satisfied to
remain several weeks longer at Midbranch. Junius Keswick, who had not
visited the house for a long time, had come to them again; and, now that
the subject of love and marriage had been set aside, it was charming to
have him there as a friend. They not only walked in the woods, but they
took long rides over the country, Mr Brandon having waived his
objections in regard to his niece riding about with gentlemen. She had
even been pleased with the unexpected return of Lawrence Croft, for, for
reasons of her own, she wished very much to have a talk with him. But he
had not fulfilled his promise to her, and had gone away in a very
This morning she felt a little lonely, too, for Junius had left the
place before breakfast, and she did not know where he had gone; and her
uncle had actually ridden away to see that horrible widow Keswick,
merely stating that his errand was a business one, and that he would be
back the next day. Roberta knew that there had been a great deal of
business, particularly that of an unpleasant kind, between the two
families, but she did not believe that there was any ordinary affair
concerning dollars and cents which would require the presence of her
uncle at the house of his old enemy. She was very much afraid that he
had gone there to try to smooth up matters in regard to Junius and
herself. The thought of this made her indignant. She did not know what
her uncle would say, and she did not want him to say anything. He could
not make the horrible old creature change her mind in regard to the
marriage, and if this was not done, there was no use discussing the
matter at all, and she did not wish people to think she was anxious for
It was plain, however, that her uncle's desire for it had experienced a
strong revival; and the unexpected return of Lawrence Croft had probably
had a great effect on him. He had not objected to the visits of that
gentleman during the summer, but he had never shown any strong liking
for him, and Roberta said to herself that she could not see, for her
part, why this should be; Mr Croft was a thorough gentleman, an
exceedingly well educated and agreeable man.
As to Junius, she was afraid that he had not the spirit which she used
to think he possessed. There was something about him she could not
understand. In former days, when Junius was in New York, she compared
him with the young men there, very much to his advantage, but now Mr
Croft seemed to throw him somewhat in the background. When Croft wanted
to do anything he did it; even his failure to come to her when he said
he would do so showed strength of will. If Junius had promised to come
he would have come, even if he had not wanted to do so, and there would
have been something weak about that.
While she thus sat thinking, and gazing over the landscape, she saw afar
off, on a portion of the road which ran along-side the woods, a vehicle
slowly making its way to the house. Roberta had large and beautiful
eyes, but they were not of the kind which would enable her to discover
at so great a distance what sort of vehicle this was, and who was in it.
As the road led nowhere but to Midbranch she was naturally desirous to
know who was coming. She stepped into the hall, and, taking a small
bell, rang it vigorously, and in a moment her youthful handmaiden,
Peggy, appeared upon the scene. Peggy's habit of projecting her eyes
into the far away could often be turned to practical account for her
vision was, in a measure, telescopic.
"What is that coming here along the road?" asked Miss Roberta, stepping
upon the porch, and pointing out the distant vehicle.
Peggy stood up straight, let her arms hang close to her sides, and
looked steadfastly forth. "Wot's comin', Miss Rob," said she, "is the
buggy 'longin' to Mister Michaels, at de Springs, an' his ole
mud-colored hoss is haulin' it. Dem dat's in it is Mahs' Junius an'
"Are you sure of that?" exclaimed Miss Roberta in astonishment. "Look
"Yaas'm," replied Peggy. "I's sartin shuh. But dey jes gwine behin' de
The road was not again visible for some distance, but when the buggy
reappeared Peggy gave a start, and exclaimed: "Dar's on'y one pusson in
it now, Miss Rob."
"Which is it?" exclaimed her mistress quickly, shading her eyes, and
endeavoring to see for herself.
"It's Mister Crof'," said Peggy. "Mahs' Junius mus' done gone back."
"It is too bad!" exclaimed Miss Roberta. "I will not see him. Peggy,"
she said, snatching up the key basket, and stepping toward the hall
door, "when that gentleman, Mr Croft, comes, you must tell him that I am
up-stairs lying down, that I am not well, and cannot see him, and that
your Master Robert is not at home."
"Ef Mahs' Junius come, does you want me to tell him de same thing?"
"But you said he was not in the buggy," said her mistress.
"No'm," answered Peggy, "but p'raps he done cut acrost de plough fiel',
an' git h'yar fus'."
"If he comes first," said Miss Roberta, a shade of severity pervading
her handsome features, "I want to see him." And with this, she went
Peggy, with her shoes on, possessed the stolid steadiness of a wooden
grenadier, for the heaviness of the massive boots seemed to permeate her
whole being, and communicated what might be considered a slow and heavy
footfall to her intellect. Peggy, without shoes, was a panther on two
legs, and her mind, like her body, was capable of enormous leaps.
Slipping off her heavy brogans, she made a single bound, and stood upon
the railing of the porch, and, throwing her arm around a post, gazed
forth from this point of vantage.
"Bress my eberlastin' soul!" she exclaimed, "if Mister Crof ain't got
ter de road gate, and is a waitin' dar fur somebody to come open it!
Does he think anybody gwine to see him all de way from de house, and
come open de gate? Reckin' he don' know dat ole mud-color hoss. He
mought git out and let down de whole fence, an' dat ole hoss ud nebber
move. Bress my soul moh' p'intedly! ef Mahs' Junius ain't comin' 'long
ter open de gate!"
For a few moments Peggy stood and stared, her mind not capable of
grasping this astounding situation. "No, he ain't nudder!" she presently
exclaimed with an air of relief. "Mahs' Junius done tole him dat ef he
want dat gate open he better git down and open it hese'f. Dat's right
Mahs' Junius! Stick up to dat! Dar go Mahs' Junius into de woods an'
Mister Crof' he git out, an' go after him. Dey's gwine to fight, sartin,
shuh! Lordee! wot fur dey 'low dem bushes ter grow 'long de fence to
keep folks from seein' wot's gwine on!"
There was nothing now to be seen from the railing, and Peggy jumped down
on the porch. Her activity seemed to pervade her being. She ran down the
front steps, crossed the lawn, and mounted the stile. Here she could
catch sight of the two men who seemed to be disputing. This was too much
for Peggy. If there was to be a fight she wanted to see it; and, apart
from her curiosity, she had a loyal interest in the event. Down the
steps, and along the road she went at the top of her speed, and soon
reached the gate. Her arrival was not noticed by any one except the
mud-colored horse, who gazed at her inquiringly; and looking through the
bars, without opening the gate, Peggy had a good view of the gentlemen.
The situation was a more simple one than Peggy had imagined. The road,
for the last half mile, had been an up-hill one, and Keswick, as much to
stretch his own legs as to save those of the horse, had alighted to
walk, while Lawrence, as in duty bound, had waited for him at the gate.
Here a little argument had arisen. Keswick, who did not wish to be at the
house, or indeed about the place while Roberta was having her conference
with Mr Croft, had said that he had concluded not to go up to the house at
present, but would take a walk through the woods instead. Lawrence, who
thought he divined his reason, felt an honorable indisposition to accept
this advantage at the hands of a man who was, most indisputably, his
rival. If they went together it would not appear as if he had waited for
Keswick's absence to return; and there would still be no reason why he
should not have his private walk and talk with Miss March.
At all events, it seemed to him unfair to leave Keswick at the gate
while he went up to the house by himself, and the notion of it did not
please him at all. Keswick, however, was very resolute in his
opposition. He objected even to seeing Roberta and Croft together. He
thought, besides, if he and Croft came to the house at the same time it
would appear very much as if he, Junius, had brought the other, and this
was an appearance he wished very much to avoid. He had walked away, and
Lawrence had jumped from the buggy to continue the friendly argument
which was not finished when Peggy arrived. Almost immediately after this
event Keswick positively insisted that he would go for a walk, and
Lawrence reluctantly turned toward the vehicle.
Peggy's mind was filled with horror. Master Junius had been frightened
away, and the other man was coming up to the house! She could not stand
there and allow such a catastrophe. Jerking open the gate, she rushed
into the road and confronted Keswick.
"Mahs' Junius," she exclaimed, "Miss Rob's orful sick wid her back an'
her j'ints, an' she say she can't see no kump'ny folks, an' Mahs' Robert
he done gone away to see ole Miss Keswick. I jes run down h'yar to tell
you to hurry up."
Keswick started. "Where did you say your Master Robert had gone?"
"To ole Miss Keswick's. He went dis mawnin'."
Junius turned slightly pale, and addressing Mr Croft, said: "Something
very strange must have happened here! Miss March is ill, and Mr Brandon
has gone to a place to which I think nothing but a matter of the utmost
importance could take him."
"In that case," said Mr Croft, "it will be highly improper for me to go
to the house just now. I am very glad that I heard the news before I got
there. I will return to the Springs, and will call to-morrow and inquire
after Miss March's health. Do not let me detain you as your presence is
evidently much needed at the house."
"Thank you," said Keswick, hurriedly shaking hands with him. "I am
afraid something very unexpected has happened, and so beg you will
excuse me. Good-morning." And passing through the gateway, he rapidly
strode toward the house, while Lawrence prepared to turn his horse's
head toward the Springs.
But, although Junius Keswick walked rapidly, Peggy, who had started
first for the house, kept well in advance of him. Away she went,
skipping, running, dancing. Once she stopped and turned, and saw that
the buggy, with the mud-colored horse, was being driven away, and that
Master Junius was coming along the road to the house. Then she started
off, and ran steadily, the rapid show of the light-colored soles of her
feet behind her suggestive of a steamer's wake. Up the broad stile she
went, two steps at a time, and down the other side in a couple of jumps;
a dozen skips took her across the lawn; and she bounded up to the porch
as if each wooden step had been a springing board. She rushed up-stairs,
and stood at the open door of Miss Roberta's room where that lady
reclined upon a lounge.
"Hi', Miss Rob!" she exclaimed, involuntarily snapping her fingers as
she spoke. "Mahs' Junius comin', all by hese'f, an' I done sent de udder
gemman clean off, kitin'!"
Junius Keswick was received by Miss Roberta in the parlor. Her face was
colder and sterner than he had ever seen it before, and his countenance
was very much troubled. Each wished to speak first, and ask questions,
but the lady went immediately to the front.
"How did it happen that you and Mr Croft were coming here together?
Where had you been?"
"We came from the Green Sulphur Springs, where I called on him this
"I thought he was obliged to return immediately to the North. What made
him change his mind?"
"Perhaps it will be better not to discuss that now," said Junius.
"I wish to discuss it," was the reply. "What induced him not to go?"
"I did," answered Junius, looking steadfastly at her. "Did you not wish
to see him?"
For a moment Miss Roberta did not answer, but her face grew pale, and
she threw herself back in the chair in which she was sitting. "Never in
my life," she said, "have I been subjected to such mortification! Of
course I wished him to come, but to come of his own accord, and not at
my bidding. How do you suppose I would have felt if he had presented
himself, and asked me what I wished to say to him? It is an insult you
have offered me."
"It is not an insult," said Keswick quietly. "It was a service of--of
affection. I saw that you were annoyed and troubled by Mr Croft's
failure to keep his engagement, and what I did was simply--"
"Stop!" said Roberta peremptorily. "I do not wish to talk of it any
Junius stood before her a moment in silence, and then he said: "Will you
tell me if my Aunt Keswick is ill or dead, and why did Mr Brandon go
"She is neither;" answered Roberta, "and he went there on business." And
with this she arose and left the room.
Peggy, who had been in the hall, now made a bolt down the back stairs
into the basement regions, where was situated the kitchen. In this
spacious apartment she found Aunt Judy, the cook, sitting before a large
wood fire, and holding in her hand a long iron ladle. There was nothing
near her which she could dip or stir with a ladle, and it was probably
retained during her period of leisure as a symbol of her position and
Peggy squatted on her heels, close to Aunt Judy's side, and thus
addressed her: "Aun' Judy, ef I tell you sumfin', soul an' honor, hope
o' glory, you'll neber tell?"
"Hope o' glory, neber!" said Aunt Judy, turning a look of interest on
"Well, den, look h'yar. You know Miss Rob she got two beaux; one is
Mahs' Junius, an' de udder is de gemman wid de speckle trousers from de
"Yes, I know dat," said Aunt Judy. "Has dey fit?"
"Not yit, but dey wos gwine to," said Peggy, "but I seed 'em, an' I tore
down de road to de gate whar dey wos gittin ready to fight, an' I jes'
let dat dar Mister Crof' know wot low-down white trash Miss Rob think he
wos, an' den he said ef dat war so 'twant no use fur to come in, an' he
turn' roun' de buggy, an' cl'ar'd out. Den Mahs' Junius he come to de
house, an' dar Miss Rob in de parlor waitin' fur him. I stood jes'
outside de doh', so's to be out de way, but Mahs' Junius he kinder back
agin de doh', an' shet it. But I clap'd my year ter de crack, an' I hear
eberything dey said."
"Wot dey say?" asked Aunt Judy, her mouth open, her eyes dilated, and
the long ladle trembling in her hand.
"Mahs' Junius he say to Miss Rob that he lub her better'n his own skin,
or de clouds in de sky, or de flowers in de fiel' wot perish, an' dat de
udder man he done cut an' run, an' would she be Miss Junius all de res'
ob der libes foreber an' eber, amen?"
"Dat wos pow'ful movin'!" ejaculated Aunt Judy. "An' wot did Miss Rob
"Miss Rob she say, 'I 'cept your kind offer, sah, wid pleasure.' An' den
I hearn 'em comin', an' I cut down h'yar."
"Glory! Hallelujah!" exclaimed Aunt Judy, bringing her ladle down upon
the brick hearth. "Now is I ready to die when my time comes, fur Mahs'
Junius 'll have dis farm, an' de house, an' de cabins, an' dey won't
go to no strahnger from de Norf."
"Amen," said Peggy. "An' Aun' Judy, dat ar piece ob pie ain't no 'count
"You kin hab it, chile," said Aunt Judy, rising, and taking from a shelf
a large piece of cold apple pie, "an' bressed be de foots ob dem wot
fotch good tidin's."
Junius Keswick did not see Miss Roberta again that day, and early in the
morning he borrowed one of the Midbranch horses, and rode away. He did
not wish to be at the house when Mr Croft should come; and, besides, he
was very anxious and disturbed in regard to matters at the Keswick farm.
Of all places in the world why should Mr Brandon go there?
It was not a very pleasant ride that Junius Keswick took that morning.
He had anxieties in regard to what he would meet with at his aunt's
house, and he had even greater anxieties as to what he was leaving
behind him at Midbranch. It was quite evident that Roberta was angry
with him, and this was enough to sadden the soul of a man who loved her
as he loved her, who would have married her at any moment, in spite of
all opposition, all threats, all curses. He was not in the habit of
looking at himself after the manner of Lawrence Croft, but on this
occasion he could not help a little self-survey.
Was it a purely disinterested motive he asked himself, that took him
over to the Springs to bring back Lawrence Croft? Did he not believe in
his soul that Roberta would never have spoken so freely to him in regard
to what the gentleman from the North would probably say to her if she
had not intended to decline that gentleman's offer? And was there not a
wish in his heart that this matter might be definitely and
satisfactorily settled before Roberta and Mr Croft went to New York for
the winter? He could not deny that this issue to the affair had been in
his mind; and yet he felt that he could conscientiously assure himself
that if he had thought things would turn out otherwise, he still would
have endeavored to make the man perform the duty expected of him by
Roberta, in whose service Junius always felt himself to be. But,
apparently, he had not benefited himself or anybody else, except,
perhaps, Croft, by this service which he had performed.
It was late in the forenoon when Junius met Mr Brandon returning to
Midbranch. In answer to his expressions of surprise, Mr Brandon, who
appeared in an exceptionally good humor, informed Junius of his reasons
for the visit to the widow Keswick, and what he had found when he
"Your little cousin," said he, "is a most charming young creature, and
on interested motives I should oppose your going to your aunt's house,
were it not for the fact that she is married, and, therefore, of no
danger to you. I was very glad to find her there. Her influence over
your aunt will, I think, be highly advantageous, and the first fruit of
it is that the old lady will now welcome you with open arms. Would you
believe it! she has already announced that she wishes to make a match
between you and this little cousin; and in order to do so, has actually
engaged me to endeavor to bring about a divorce between the young lady
and her absent husband. The widow Keswick has as many cranks and
crotchets in her head as there are seeds in a tobacco pod; but this is
the queerest and the wildest of them all. The couple seem very much
attached to each other, and nothing can be said against the husband
except that he did not accompany his wife on her visit to her relatives;
and if he knew anything about the old lady I don't blame him a bit. Now
your course, my dear boy, is perfectly plain. Let your aunt talk as much
as she pleases about this divorce, and your union with the little Annie.
It won't hurt anybody, and she must talk herself out in time. In the
mean time take advantage of the present circumstances to mollify and
tone down, so to speak, the good old lady. Make her understand that we
are all her friends, and that there is no one in the connection who
would wish to do her the slightest harm. This would be our Christian
duty at any time, but it is more particularly our duty now. I would like
you to bring your cousin over to see us before Roberta goes away. I
invited her to come, and told her that my niece would first call upon
her were it not for the peculiar circumstances. But if the families can
be in a measure brought together--and I shall make it a point to ride
over there occasionally--if your aunt can be made to understand the
kindly feelings we really have toward her, and can be induced to set
aside, even in a slight degree, the violent prejudice she now holds
against us, all may yet turn out well. Now go, my boy, and may the best
of success go with you. Don't trouble yourself about sending back the
horse. Keep him as long as you want him."
Mr Brandon rode on, leaving Junius to pursue his way. "It is very
pleasant," thought the young man, who had said scarcely a word during
the interview, "to hear Mr Brandon talk about all turning out well, but
when he gets home he may discover that there is something to be done at
Midbranch as well as on the Keswick place."
Mr Brandon's reflections were very different from those of Junius. It
appeared to him that a reconciliation between the two families, even
though it should be a partial one, was reasonably to be expected. That
newly arrived cousin was an angel. She was bound to do good. A marriage
between his niece and Junius Keswick was the great object of the old
gentleman's heart, and he longed to see the former engagement between
them re-established before Roberta went to New York, where her beauty
and attractiveness would expose his cherished plan to many dangers.
The road he was on led directly north, and it was joined about a
quarter of a mile above by the road which ran through the woods to the
Green Sulphur Springs. On this road, at a point nearly opposite to him,
he could see, through the foliage, a horseman riding toward the point of
junction. Something about this person attracted his attention, and Mr
Brandon took out a pair of eye-glasses and put them on. As soon as he
had obtained another good view of the horseman he recognized him as Mr
Croft. The old gentleman took off his glasses and returned them to his
vest pocket, and his face began to flush. In his early acquaintance with
Mr Croft he had not objected to him, because he wished his niece to have
company, and he had a firm belief in the enduring quality of her
affection for Junius. But, latterly, his ideas in regard to the New York
gentleman had changed. He had thought him somewhat too assiduous, and
when he had unexpectedly returned from the North, Mr Brandon had not
been at all pleased, although he had been careful not to show his
displeasure. This condition of things made him feel uneasy, and had
prompted his visit to the widow Keswick. And now that everything looked
so fair and promising, here was that man, whom he had supposed to have
left this part of the country, riding toward his house.
Mr Brandon was an easy-going man, but he had a backbone which could be
greatly stiffened on occasion. He sat up very straight on his horse, and
urged the animal to a better pace, so that he arrived first at the point
where the roads met. Here he awaited Mr Croft, who soon rode up. The
old gentleman's greeting was very courteous.
"You are on the way to my house, I presume," he said.
Mr Croft assured him that he was, and hoped that Miss March was quite
"I have been from home for a little while," said Mr Brandon, "but I
believe my niece enjoys her usual health. I have had a long ride this
morning," he continued, "and feel a little tired. Would it inconvenience
you, sir, if we should dismount and sit for a time on yonder log by the
roadside? It would rest me, and I would like to have a little talk with
Lawrence wondered very much that the old gentleman should want to rest
when he was not a mile from his own house, but of course he consented to
the proposed plan, and imitated Mr Brandon by riding under a large tree,
and fastening his bridle to a low-hanging bough. The two gentlemen
seated themselves on the log, and Mr Brandon, without preface, began his
"May I be pardoned for supposing, sir," he said, "that your present
visit to my house is intended for my niece?"
Lawrence looked at him a little earnestly, and replied that it was so
"Then, sir, I think I have the right to ask, as my niece's present
guardian, and almost indeed as her father, whether or not your visit is
connected in any way with matrimonial overtures toward that lady?"
Not wishing to foolishly and dishonorably deny that such was his purpose
in going to Midbranch; and feeling that it would be as unwise to decline
answering the question as it would be unmanly to resort to subterfuge
about it, Lawrence replied, that his object in visiting Miss March that
day was to make matrimonial overtures to her.
"I think," said Mr Brandon, "that you will be obliged to me if I make
you acquainted with the present condition of affairs between Miss March
and Mr Junius Keswick."
"Has not their engagement been broken off?" interrupted Lawrence.
"Only conditionally," answered the old gentleman. "They love each other.
They wish to be married. With one exception, all their relatives desire
that they should marry. It would be a union, not only congenial in the
highest degree to the parties concerned, but of the greatest advantage
to our family and our family fortunes. There is but a single obstacle to
this most desirable union, and that is the unwarrantable opposition of
one person. But, I am happy to say that this opposition is on the point
of being removed. I consider it to be but a matter of days when my niece
and Mr Keswick, with the full approbation of the relatives on either
side, will renew in the eyes of the world that engagement which I
consider still exists in fact."
"If this is so," said Lawrence, grinding his heel very deeply into the
ground, "why was I not told of it?"
"My dear sir!" exclaimed Mr Brandon, "have you ever intimated to me or
to any of my family, that your intentions in visiting Midbranch were
other than those of an ordinary friend or acquaintance?"
Lawrence admitted that he had never made any such intimation.
"Then, sir," said Mr Brandon, "what reason could we have for mentioning
this subject to you--a subject that would not have been referred to now,
had it not been for your admission of your intended object in visiting
Lawrence had no answer to make to this, but it was not easy to turn him
from his purpose. "Excuse me, sir," he said, "but I think a matter of
this sort should be left to the lady. If she is not inclined to receive
my addresses she will say so, and there is an end of it."
The face of Mr Brandon slightly reddened, but his voice remained as
quiet and courteous as before. "You do not comprehend, sir, the state of
affairs, or you would see that a procedure of that kind would be
extremely ill-judged at this time. Were it known that at this critical
moment Miss March was addressed by another suitor, it would seriously
jeopardize the success of plans which we all have very much at heart."
Lawrence did not immediately reply to this crafty speech. His teeth were
very firmly set, and he looked steadfastly before him. "I do not
understand all this," he said, presently, "nor do I see that there is
any need for my understanding it. In fact I have nothing to do with it.
I wish to propose marriage to Miss March. If she declines my offer there
is an end of the matter. If she accepts me, then it is quite proper that
all your plans should fall to the ground. She is the principal in the
affair, and it is due to her and due to me that she should make the
decision in this case."
Mr Brandon had not quite so many teeth as his younger companion, but the
very fair number which remained with him were set together quite as
firmly as those of Lawrence had been. He remarked, speaking very
distinctly but without any show of emotion: "I see, sir, that it is
quite impossible for us to think alike on this subject, and there is,
therefore, nothing left for me to do but to ask you--and I assure you,
sir, that the request is as destitute of any intention of discourtesy as
if it were based upon the presence of sickness or family
affliction--that you will not visit my house at present."
Lawrence rose to his feet with a good deal of color in his face. "That
settles the matter for the present," he said. "Of course I shall not go
to a house which is forbidden to me. I wish you good-morning, sir." And
he stalked to his horse, and endeavored to pull down the limb to which
its bridle was attached.
Mr Brandon followed him. "You must mount before you can unfasten your
bridle," he said. "And allow me to assure you, sir, that as soon as this
little affair is settled I shall be very happy indeed to see you again
at my house."
Lawrence having succeeded in loosening his bridle from the tree, made
answer with a bow, and galloped away to the Green Sulphur Springs.
Mr Brandon now mounted and rode home. This was the first time in his
life that he had ever forbidden any one to visit Midbranch, and yet he
did not feel that he had been either discourteous or inhospitable.
"There are times," he said to himself, "when a man must stand up for his
own interest; and this is one of the times."
In the little dining-room of the cottage at the Green Sulphur Springs
sat that evening Lawrence Croft, a perturbed and angry, but a resolute
man. He had been quite a long time coming to the conclusion to propose
to Roberta March, and now that he had made up his mind to do so, even in
spite of certain convictions, it naturally aroused his indignation to
find himself suddenly stopped short by such an insignificant person as
Mr Brandon, a gentleman to whom, in this affair, he had given no
consideration whatever. The fact that the lady wished to see him added
much to his annoyance and discomfiture. He had no idea what reason she
had for desiring an interview with him, but, whatever she should say to
him, he intended to follow by a declaration of his sentiments. He had
not the slightest notion in the world of giving up the prosecution of
his suit; but, having been requested not to come to Midbranch, what was
he to do? He might write to Miss March, but that would not suit him. In
a matter like this he would wish to adapt his words and his manner to
the moods and disposition of the lady, and he could not do this in a
letter. When he wooed a woman, he must see her and speak to her. To any
clandestine approach, any whispered conversation beneath her window, he
would give no thought. Having been asked by the master of the house not
to go there, he would not go; but he would see her, and tell his love.
And, more than that, he would win her.
That morning, while waiting for the time to approach when it would be
proper for him to go to Midbranch, he had been reading in a bound volume
of an old English magazine, which was one of the five books the cottage
possessed, an account of a battle which had interested him very much.
The commander of one army had massed his forces along and below the
crest of a line of low hills, the extreme right of his line being
occupied by a strong force of cavalry. The army opposed to him was much
stronger than his own, and it was not long before the battle began to go
very much against him. His positions on the left were carried by the
combined charge of the larger portion of the enemy's forces, and, in
spite of a vigorous resistance, his lines were forced back, down the
hill, and into the valley. It was quite evident he could make no stand,
and was badly beaten. Thereupon, he sent orders to his generals on the
left to retreat, in as good order as possible, across a small river in
their rear. While this movement was in progress, and the enemy was
making the greatest efforts to prevent it, the commander put himself at
the head of his cavalry and led them swiftly from the scene of battle.
He took them diagonally over the crest of the hill, down the other side,
and then charging with this fresh body of horse upon the rear and camp
of the enemy, he swiftly captured the general-in-chief, his staff, and
the Minister of War, who had come down to see how things were going on.
With these important prisoners he dashed away, leaving the acephalous
enemy to capture his broken columns if he could.
This was the kind of thing Lawrence Croft would like to do. For an hour
or more he puzzled his brains as to how he should make such a cavalry
charge, and at last he came to a determination; he would ask Junius
Keswick to assist him. There was something odd about this plan which
pleased Croft. Keswick was his rival, with the powerful backing of Mr
Brandon and a whole tribe of relatives, and it might naturally be
supposed that he was the last man in the world of whom he would ask
assistance. But, looking at it from his point of view, Lawrence thought
that not only would he be taking no undue advantage of the other in
asking him to help him in this matter, but that Keswick ought not and
would not object to it. If Miss March really preferred Croft, Keswick
should feel himself bound in honor to do everything he could to let the
two settle the affair between themselves. This was drawing the point
very fine, but Lawrence persuaded himself that if the case were reversed
he would not marry a girl who had not chosen another man, simply because
she had had no opportunity of doing so. He had a strong belief that
Keswick was of his way of thinking, and before he went to bed he wrote
his rival a note, asking him to call upon him the following day.
Early the next morning the note was carried over to Midbranch by a
messenger, who returned, saying that Mr Keswick had gone away, and that
his present address was Howlett's in the same county. This piece of
information caused Lawrence Croft to open his eyes very wide. A few days
before he had received a letter from Mrs Null, written at Howlett's, and
now Keswick had gone there. He had been very much surprised when he
found that the cashier had so successfully carried on the search for
Keswick as to come into the very county in Virginia where he was; and he
intended to write to her that he had no further occasion for her
services; but he had not done so, and here were the pursuer and the
pursued in the same town, or village, or whatever Howlett's was. He gave
Mrs Null credit for being one of the best detectives he had ever heard
of; for, apparently, she had not only been able to successfully track
the man she was in search of, but to find out where he was going, and
had reached the place in question before he did. But he also berated her
soundly in his mind for her over-officiousness. He had not wished her to
swoop down upon the man, but only to inform him of his whereabouts. The
next thing that would probably happen would be the appearance of Mrs
Null at the Green Sulphur Springs, holding Keswick by the collar. He
deeply regretted that he had ever intrusted this young woman with the
investigation, not because he had since met Keswick himself, but for
the reason that she was entirely too energetic and imprudent. If Keswick
should find out from her that she had been in search of him, and why, it
might bring about a very unpleasant state of affairs.
Croft saw now, quite plainly, what he must do. He must go to Howlett's
as quickly as possible. Perhaps Keswick and the cashier had not yet met,
and, in that case, all he would have to do would be to remunerate the
young woman and her husband--for she had informed him that she intended
to combine this business with a wedding tour--and send them off
immediately. He could then have his conference with Keswick there as
well as at the Springs. If any mischief had already been done, he did
not know what course he might have to pursue, but it was highly
necessary for him to be on the spot as soon as possible. He greatly
disliked to leave the neighborhood of Roberta March, but his absence
would only be temporary.
After an early dinner, he mounted the horse which he had hired from his
host of the Springs, and, with a valise strapped behind him, set out for
Howlett's. He had made careful inquiries in regard to the road, and
after a ride somewhat tiresome to a man not used to such protracted
horseback exercise, arrived at his destination about sundown. When he
reached the scattered houses which formed, as he supposed, the outskirts
of the village, for such he had been told it was, he rode on, but soon
found that he had left Howlett's behind him, and that those supposed
outskirts were the place itself. Hewlett's was nothing, in fact, but a
collection of eight or ten houses quite widely separated from each
other, and the only one of them which exhibited any public character
whatever, was the store, a large frame building standing a little back
from the road. Turning his horse, Lawrence rode up to the store and
inquired if there was any house in the neighborhood where he could get
lodging for the night.
The storekeeper, who came out to him, was a very little man whose
appearance recalled to Croft the fact that he had noticed, in this part
of the State, a great many men who were extremely tall, and a great many
who were extremely small, which peculiarity, he thought, might assist a
physiologist in discovering the different effects of hot bread upon
different organizations. He was quite as cordial, however, as the
biggest, burliest, and jolliest host who ever welcomed a guest to his
inn, as he informed Mr Croft that there was no house in the village
which made a business of entertaining strangers, but if he chose to stop
with him he would keep him and his horse for the night, and do what he
could to make him comfortable.
Lawrence ate supper that night with the storekeeper, his wife, and five
of his children; but as he was very hungry, and the meal was a plentiful
one, he enjoyed the experience.
"I suppose you're goin' on to Westerville in the mornin'?" said the
"No," replied Croft, "I am not going any farther than this place. Do you
know if a gentleman named Keswick arrived here recently?"
"Why, yaas," said the man, "if you mean Junius Keswick."
"Certainly he did," said Mrs Storekeeper. "He rode through here
yesterday, and he stopped at the store to see if we had any of that
Lynchburg tobacco he used to smoke when he lived here. He's gone on to
"Where is that?" asked Croft.
"It's about two miles out on the Westerville road," said the little man.
"If I'd knowed you wanted to see him, I'd 'a told you to keep right on,
and you could 'a stopped with Mrs Keswick over night."
Lawrence wished to ask some questions about Mrs Null, but he was afraid
to do so lest he might excite suspicions by connecting her with Keswick.
If the latter had gone two miles out of town, perhaps she had not yet
The room in which Lawrence slept that night was to him a very odd one.
It was a long apartment, at one end of which was a clean, comfortable
bed, a couple of chairs, and a table on which was a basin and pitcher.
At the other end were piles of new-looking boxes, containing groceries
of various kinds, rolls of cotton cloth and other dry goods, and, what
attracted his attention more than anything else, a vast number of bright
tin cans, bearing on their sides brilliant pictures of tomatoes,
peaches, green corn, and other preservable eatables. These were
evidently the reserved stores of the establishment, and they were so
different from the bedroom decorations to which he was accustomed, that
it quite pleased Lawrence to think that with all his experience in life
he was now lodged in a manner entirely novel to him. As he lay awake
looking at the moonlight glittering on the sides of the multitude of
cans, the thought came into his mind that this had probably been the
room of the Nulls when they were here.
"As this is the only house in the place where travellers are
entertained," he said to himself, "of course they must have come to it.
And as they are not here now, it is quite plain that they must have gone
away. I am very glad of it, especially if they left before Keswick
arrived, for their departure probably prevented an awkward situation.
But I shall ask the storekeeper no questions about these people. There
is no better way of giving inquisitive folk the _entree_ to your affairs
than by asking questions. Of course there was no reason why they should
stay here after they had successfully traced Keswick to this part of the
country; and every reason, if they wanted to enjoy themselves, why they
should go away. But I can't help being sorry that I did not meet the
young woman, and have an opportunity of paying her for her trouble, and
giving her a few words of advice in regard to her action, or, rather,
non-action in this matter. She has a fine head for business, but I
should like to feel certain that she understands that her business with
me is over."
And he turned his eyes from the glittering cans, and slept.
The next morning, Lawrence Croft rode on to Mrs Keswick's house, and
when he reached the second, or inner gate, he saw, on the other side of
it, an elderly female, wearing a purple sun-bonnet and carrying a purple
umbrella. There was something very eccentric about the garb of this
elderly personage, and many an inexperienced city man would have taken
her for a retired nurse, or some other domestic retainer of the family,
but there was a steadfastness in her gaze, and a fire in her eye, which
indicated to Lawrence that she was one much more accustomed to give
orders than to take them. He raised his hat very politely, and asked if
Mr Keswick was to be found there.
If the commander of the army, about whom Mr Croft had recently been
reading, had beheld in the earlier stages of the battle a strong,
friendly force advancing to his aid, he would not have been more
delighted than Lawrence would have been had he known what a powerful
ally to his cause stood beneath that purple sun-bonnet.
"Do you mean Junius Keswick?" said the old lady.
"Yes, madam," answered Croft.
"He is here, and you will find him at the house."
The gate was partly open, and Lawrence rode in. The old lady stepped
aside to let him pass.
"Do you want to see him on business?" she said. "How did you know he was
"I inquired at Howlett's, madam."
Mrs Keswick would have liked to ask some further questions, but there
was something about Lawrence's appearance that deterred her.
"You can tie your horse under that tree over there," she said, pointing
to a spot more trampled by hoofs than the old lady wished any other
portion of her house-yard to be.
When Lawrence had tied his bridle to a hook suspended by a strap from
one of the lower branches of the indicated tree, he advanced to the
house; and a very much astonished man was he to see, sitting side by
side on the porch, Junius Keswick and Mr Candy's cashier. They were
seated in the shade of a mass of honeysuckle vines, and were so busily
engaged in conversation that they had not perceived his approach. Even
now Lawrence had time to look at them for a few moments before they
turned their eyes upon him.
Equally astonished were the two people on the porch, who now arose to
their feet. Junius Keswick naturally wondered very much why Mr Croft
should come to see him here; and as for the young lady, she was almost
as much terrified as surprised. Had this man come down from New York to
swoop upon her cousin? Had it been possible that she could have given
him any idea of the whereabouts of Junius? In her last note to him she
had been very careful to promise information, but not to give any,
hoping thus to gain time to get an insight into the matter, and to keep
her cousin out of danger, if, indeed, any danger threatened. But here
the pursuer had found Junius in less than a day after she had first met
him herself. But when she saw Junius advance and shake hands in a very
friendly way with Mr Croft, her terror began to decrease, although her
surprise continued at the same high-water mark, and Keswick found
himself in a flood of the same emotion when Croft very politely saluted
his cousin by name, which salutation was returned in a manner which
indicated that the parties were acquainted.
At first Croft had been prompted to ignore all knowledge of the cashier,
and meet her as a stranger, but his better sense prevented this, for how
could he know what she had been saying about him.
"I was about to introduce you to my cousin," said Keswick, "but I see
that you already know each other."
"I have had the pleasure of meeting Mrs Null in New York," said
Lawrence, to whom the word cousin gave what might be called a more
important surprise than anything with which this three-sided interview
had yet furnished its participants. He gave a quick glance at the lady,
and discovered her very steadfastly gazing at him. "I hope," he said,
"that you and your husband have had a very pleasant trip."
"Mr Null did not come with me," she quietly replied.
Lawrence Croft was a man to whom it gave pleasure to deal with
problematic situations, unexpected developments, and the like; but this
was too much of a conundrum for him. That the man, whose address he had
employed this girl to find out, should prove to be her cousin, and that
she should start on her bridal trip without her husband, were points on
which his reason had no power to work. One thing, however, he quickly
determined upon. He would have an interview with Madam Cashier, and have
her explain these mysteries. She was, virtually, his agent, and had no
right to conceal from him what she had been doing, and why she had done
It was necessary, however, that he should waste no time in thoughts of
this kind, but should immediately state to Mr Keswick the reason of his
visit; for it could not be supposed he had called in a merely social
way. "I wish to speak to you," he said, "on a little matter of
At these words Mrs Null excused herself, and went into the house. Her
mind was troubled as she wondered what the business was which had made
this New York gentleman so extraordinarily desirous to find her cousin.
Was it anything that would injure Junius? She looked back as she entered
the door, but the object of her solicitude was sitting with a face so
calm and composed that it showed very plainly he did not expect any
communication which would be harmful to him.
"It is a satisfaction," thought Mr Croft, "a very great satisfaction
that I can enter upon the object of my visit knowing that my affairs and
my actions have not been discussed by this gentleman and Mrs Null."
Old Mrs Keswick would willingly have followed the strange gentleman to
the house in order to know the object of his visit, but as he had come
to see Junius she refrained, for she knew her nephew would not like any
appearance of curiosity on her part. Her reception of Junius had been
very different indeed from that she had previously accorded him when she
declined to be found under the same roof with him. Now he was here under
very different auspices, and for him the very plumpest poultry was
slain, and everything was done to make him comfortable and willing to
stay and become acquainted with his cousin, Mrs Null. A match between
these two young people was the present object of the old lady's
existence, and she set about making it with as much determination and
confidence as if there had been no such person as Mr Null. Of this
individual she had the most contemptible opinion. She had never asked
many questions about him, because, in her intercourse with her niece,
she wished, as far as possible, to ignore him. Having mentally pictured
him in various mean conditions of life, she had finally settled it in
her mind that he was an agent for some patent fertilizer; a man of this
kind being a very obnoxious person to her. This avocation, however,
constituted in the old lady's mind no excusable reason for his
protracted absence; and if ever a wife was deserted, she believed that
her niece Annie was such a wife.
"If he should stay away much longer," she said to herself, "we shall
have no more trouble in getting a divorce than to have his funeral
sermon preached. And if there is any talk of his coming here, or of her
going to him, I'll put my foot down on that sort of thing, if I've a
foot left to do it with."
When she had first perceived the approach of Mr Croft, a fear had seized
her that this might be the recreant husband, but the gentlemanly
appearance of the stranger soon dispelled this idea from her prejudiced
mind. Apart from the fact that she had no business at the house with her
nephew's visitor, she had positive business in the garden with old Uncle
Isham, and there she repaired. There was some work to be done in regard
to a flower pit, in which some of her choicest plants were to be
domiciled during the winter, and this she wished personally to oversee.
Although the autumn was well advanced, the day was somewhat warm; and as
the pair, whom Mr Croft had seen on the porch, had been glad to shelter
themselves in the shade of the honeysuckle vines, so Mrs Keswick seated
herself on a little bench behind a large arbor, still covered by heavy
vines, which stood on the boundary line between the garden and the front
yard, and opened on the latter. This bench, which was always shady in
the morning, she had had placed there that she might comfortably direct
the labors of old Isham, the boy Plez, or whoever, for the time being,
happened to be her gardener.
Mr Croft did not immediately begin the statement of the business which
had brought him to see Junius Keswick. Several windows of the house
opened on the porch, and he did not wish what he had to say to be heard
by any one except the person he was addressing. "I desire to talk to you
on some private matters," he said. "Could we not walk a little away from
"Certainly," said Junius, rising. "We will step over to that arbor by
the garden. We shall be quite comfortable and secluded there. This is
the place," said Junius, as they seated themselves in the arbor, "where,
when a boy, I used to come to smoke. My aunt did not allow this
diversion, but I managed to do a good deal of puffing before I was found
"Then you used to live here?" asked Croft.
"Oh, yes," said Keswick, "my parents died when I was quite a little
fellow, and my aunt had charge of me until I had grown up."
"Was that your aunt whom I met at the gate? There was something about
her bearing and general appearance which greatly interested me."
"She is a most estimable lady," returned Junius. And not wishing further
to discuss his relative, he added: "And now, what is it, sir, that I
can have the pleasure of doing for you?"
"The matter regards Miss March," said Croft.
"I presumed so," remarked the other. "I will state it as briefly as
possible," continued Croft. "In consequence of your visit to me at the
the Springs, I set out, the day before yesterday, to make another
attempt to call on Miss March, the first one having been frustrated, as
you may remember, by the information we received at the gate in regard
to Miss March's indisposition, which, as I have heard nothing more of
it, I hope was of no importance."
"Of none whatever," said Junius.
"When I was within a mile or so of Midbranch," continued Croft, "I met
Mr Brandon, who requested me not to come to his house, and, in fact, to
cease my visits altogether."
"What!" cried Keswick, very much surprised. "That is not at all like Mr
Brandon. What reason could he have for treating you in such a manner?"
"The very best in the world," said Croft. "Having, as the guardian of
his niece, asked me the object of my visit to Miss March, and, having
been informed by me that it was my intention to propose matrimony to the
lady, he requested that I would not visit at his house." "On what
ground did he base his objection to your visit?" asked Keswick.
"He made no objection to me; he simply stated that he did not desire me
to come, because he wished his niece to marry you."
"Quite plainly spoken," remarked Keswick.
"Nothing could be more so," replied Croft. "I could not expect any one
to be franker with me than he was. He went on to inform me that a match
between the lady and yourself was greatly desired by the whole family
connection, with a single exception, which, however, he did not name,
and, while he gave me to understand that he had no reason to fear that,
so far as the lady was concerned, my proposal would interfere with your
prospects, still, were it known that there was another aspirant in the
field, a very undesirable state of things might ensue. What this state
of affairs was he did not state, but I presume it had something to do
with the exceptional opposition to which he referred."
"And what did you say to all that?" asked Junius.
"I said very little. When a man asks me not to come to his house, I
don't go. But, nevertheless, I have fully made up my mind to propose to
Miss March as soon as I can get an opportunity. I have nothing to do
with family arrangements or family opposition. You have told me that
you are not engaged to her, and I am going to try to be engaged to her.
She is the one to decide this matter. And now I have called upon you, Mr
Keswick, to see if there is any way in which you can assist me in
obtaining an interview with Miss March."
"Don't you think," said Junius, "that it is rather cool in you to ask me
to assist you in this matter?"
"Not at all," replied the other. "If it had not been for you I should
now be in New York, with no thought of present proposals of marriage.
But you came to me, and insisted that I should see the lady." "That was
simply because she had expressed a strong desire to see you."
"Very good," said Lawrence. "I tried to go to her, as you know, and was
prevented. Now all I ask of you is to help me to do what you so strongly
urged me to do. There is nothing particularly cool in that, I think."
Keswick did not immediately reply. "I am not sure," he said, "that Miss
March still wishes to see you."
"That may be," replied Croft, speaking a little warmly. "None of us
exactly know what she thinks or wishes. But I want to find out what she
thinks about me by distinctly asking her. And I should suppose you would
consider it to your advantage, as well as mine, that I should do so."
"I have my own opinion on that point," said Keswick, "which it is not
necessary to discuss at present. If I were to assist you to an interview
with Miss March it would be on the lady's account, not on yours or mine.
But apart from the fact that I do not know if she now desires an
interview, I would not do anything that would offend or annoy Mr
"I don't ask that of you," said Croft, "but couldn't you use your
influence with him to give me a fair chance with the lady? That is all I
ask, and, whether she accepts me or rejects me, I am sure everybody
ought to be satisfied."
Keswick smiled. "You don't leave any margin for sentiment," he said,
"but I suppose it is just as well to deal with this matter in a
practical way. I do not think, however, that any influence I can exert
on Mr Brandon would induce him to allow you to address his niece if he
is opposed to it, and I am sure he would have a very strange opinion of
me if I attempted such a thing. At present I do not see that I can help
you at all, but I will think over the matter, and we will talk of it
"Thank you," said Croft, rising. "And when shall I call upon you to hear
It was rather difficult for Junius Keswick to answer a question like
this on the spur of the moment. He arose and walked with Croft out of
the arbor. His first impulse, as a Virginia gentleman, was to invite
his visitor to stay at the house until the matter should be settled, but
he did not know what extraordinary freak on the part of his aunt might
be caused by such an invitation. But before he had decided what to say,
they were met by Mrs Keswick coming from the garden. Junius thereupon
presented Mr Croft, who was welcomed by the old lady with extended hand
and exceeding cordiality.
"I am very glad," she said, "to meet a friend of my nephew. But where
are you going, Sir? Certainly not toward your horse. You must stay and
dine with us."
Lawrence hesitated. He had no claims on the hospitality of these people,
but he wished very much to have an opportunity to speak to Mrs Null.
"Thank you," he said, "but I am staying down here at the village, and it
is but a short ride." "Staying at Hewlett's?" exclaimed Mrs Keswick. "At
which hotel, may I ask?"
Lawrence laughed. "I am stopping with the storekeeper," he said.
"That settles it!" said the old lady, giving her umbrella a jab into the
ground. "Tom Peckett's accommodations may be good enough for pedlers and
travelling agents, but they are not fit for gentlemen, especially one of
my nephew's friends. You must stay with us, sir, as long as you are in
this neighborhood. I insist upon it." Junius was very much astonished
at his aunt's speech and manner. The old lady was not at all
inhospitable; so far was it otherwise the case, that, rather than
deprive an objectionable visitor of the shelter of her roof, she would
go from under it herself; but he had never known her to "gush" in this
manner upon a stranger. He now felt at liberty, however, to obey his own
impulses, and urged Mr Croft to stay with them.
"You are very kind, indeed," said Lawrence, "and I shall be glad to
defer for the present my return to my 'hotel.' This will give me the
additional pleasure of renewing my acquaintance with Mrs Null."
"What!" exclaimed Mrs Keswick, "do you know her, too? And to think of
you stopping at Peckett's! Your home, sir, while you stay in these
parts, is here."
Before the three reached the house, Mrs Keswick had inquired how long Mr
Croft had known her niece; and had discovered, much to her
disappointment, that he had never met Mr Null. Shortly after the arrival
at the house of the gentleman on horseback little Plez ran into the
kitchen, where Letty was engaged in preparing vegetables for dinner.
"Who d'ye think is done come?" he exclaimed. "Miss Annie's husband! Jes'
rid up to de house."
"Dat so?" cried Letty, dropping into her lap the knife and the potato
she was peeling. "Well, truly, when things does happen in dis worl' dey
comes all in a lump. None ob de fam'ly been nigh de house for ebber so
long; an' den, 'long comes Mahs' Junius hisse'f, an' Miss Annie dat's
been away sence she was a chile, an' ole Mr Brandon, wot Uncle Isham say
ain't been h'yar fur years and years, an' now Miss Annie's husband comes
kitin' up! An' dar's ole Aun' Patsy wot says dat if dat gemman ebber
come h'yar she want to know it fus' thing. She was dreffle p'inted about
dat. An' now, look h'yar, you Plez, jus' you cut round to your Aun'
Patsy's, an' tell her Miss Annie's husband's done come."
"Whar ole Miss?" inquired Plez. "She 'sleep?"
"No, she mighty wide awake," said Letty. "But you take dem knives an'
dat board an' brick, an' run down to de branch to clean 'em. An', when
you gits dar, you jus' slip along, 'hind de bushes, till you's got ter
de cohn fiel', an' den you cut 'cross dar to Aun' Patsy's. An' don' you
stop no time dar, fur if ole Miss finds you's done gone, she'll chop you
up wid dem knives."
Plez was quite ready for a reckless dash of this kind, and in less than
twenty minutes old Patsy was informed that Mr Null had arrived. The old
woman was much affected by the information. She was uneasy and restless,
and talked a good deal to herself, occasionally throwing out a moan or a
lament in the direction of her "son Tom's yaller boy Bob's chile." The
crazy quilt, which was not yet finished, though several pieces had been
added since we last saw it, was laid aside; and by the help of the above
mentioned great granddaughter the old hair trunk was hauled out and
opened. Over this hoard of treasures, Aunt Patsy spent nearly two hours,
slowly taking up the various articles it contained, turning them over,
mumbling over them, and mentally referring many of them to periods which
had become historic. At length she pulled out from one of the corners of
the trunk a pair of very little blue morocco shoes tied together by
their strings. These she took into her lap, and, shortly afterward, had
the trunk locked, and pushed back into its place. The shoes, having been
thoroughly examined through her great iron-bound spectacles, were thrust
under the mattress of her bed.
That evening, Uncle Isham stepped in to see the old woman, who was
counteracting the effects of the cool evening air by sitting as close as
possible to the remains of the fire which had cooked the supper. She was
very glad to see him. She wanted somebody to whom she could unburden her
mind. "Wot you got to say 'bout Miss Annie's husband," she asked, "wot
done come to-day?"
"Was dat him?" exclaimed the old man. "Nobody tole me dat."
This was true, for the good-natured Letty, having discovered the
mistake that had been made, had concluded to say nothing about it and to
keep away from Aunt Patsy's for a few days, until the matter should be
"Well, I spec Miss Annie's mighty glad to git him back agin," continued
the old man, after a moment's reflection. "He's right much of a nice
lookin' gemman. I seed him this ebenin' a ridin' wid Mahs' Junius."
"P'raps Miss Annie is glad," said the ole woman, "coz she don' know. But
"Wot's de reason fur dat?" inquired Isham.
"It's a pow'ful dreffle thing dat Miss Annie's husband's done come down
h'yar. He don' know ole miss."
"Wot's de matter wid ole miss?" asked Isham, in a quick tone.
"She done talk to me 'bout him," said the old woman. "She done tole me
jus' wot she think of him. She hate him from he heel up. I dunno wot
she'll do to him now she got him. Mighty great pity fur pore Miss Annie
dat he ever come h'yar."
"Ole miss ain't gwine ter do nuffin' to him," said Isham, in a gruff and
"Don' you b'lieve dat," said Aunt Patsy. "When ole miss don' like a
pusson, dat pusson had better look out. But I ain't gwine to be sottin'
h'yar an' see mis'ry comin' to Miss Annie."
"Wot you gwine to do?" asked Isham.
"I's gwine ter speak my min' to ole miss. I's gwine to tell her not to
do no kunjerin' to Miss Annie's husban'. She gwine to hurt dat little
gal more'n she hurt anybody else."
Old Isham sat looking into the fire with a very worried and anxious
expression on his face. He was intensely loyal to his mistress, aware as
he was of her short-comings, or rather her long-goings. Although he felt
a good deal of fear that there might be some truth in Aunt Patsy's
words, he was very sure that if she took it upon herself to give warning
or reproof to old Mrs Keswick, a storm would ensue; and where the
lightning would strike he did not know. "You better look out, Aun'
Patsy," he said. "You an' ole miss been mighty good fren's fur a pow'ful
long time, an' now don' you go gittin' yourse'f in no fraction wid her,
jus' as you' bout to die."
"Ain't gwine to die," said the old woman, "till I done tole her wot's on
"Aun' Patsy," said Uncle Isham, after gazing silently in the fire for a
minute or two, "dar was a brudder wot come up from 'Melia County to de
las' big preachin', an' he tole in his sarment a par'ble wot I b'lieve
will 'ply fus rate to dis 'casion. I's gwine to tell you dat."
"Go 'long wid it," said Aunt Patsy.
"Well, den," said Isham, "dar was once a cullud angel wot went up to de
gate ob heaben to git in. He didn't know nuffin' 'bout de ways ob de
place, bein' a strahnger, an' when he see all de white angels a crowdin'
in at de gate where Sent Peter was a settin', he sorter looked round to
see if dar warn't no gate wot he might go in at. Den ole Sent Peter he
sings out: 'Look h'yar, uncle, whar you gwine? Dar ain't no cullud
gal'ry in dis 'stablishment. You's got to come in dis same gate wid de
udder folks.' So de cullud angel he come up to de gate, but he kin' a
hung back till de udders had got in. Jus' den 'long comes a white angel
on hossback, wot was in a dreffle hurry to git in to de gate. De cullud
angel, he mighty p'lite, an' he went up an' tuk de hoss, an' when de
white angel had got down an' gone in, he went roun' lookin' fur a tree
to hitch him to. But when he went back agin to de gate, Sent Peter had
jus' shet it, and was lockin' it up wid a big padlock. He jus' looks
ober de gate at de cullud angel an' he says: 'No 'mittance ahfter six
o'clock.' An' den he go in to his supper."
"An' wot dat cullud angel do den?" asked Eliza, who had been listening
breathlessly to this narrative.
"Dunno," said Isham, "but I reckin de debbil come 'long in de night an'
tuk him off. Dar's a lesson in dis h'yar par'ble wot 'ud do you good to
clap to your heart, Aun' Patsy. Don' you be gwine roun' tryin' to help
udder people jus' as you is all ready to go inter de gate ob heaben. Ef
you try any ob dat dar foolishness, de fus' thing you know you'll find
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