The Late Mrs. Null
Frank Richard Stockton
Part 6 out of 6
intercourse with Annie, but it seemed impossible for her to entirely
forget the deception which that young lady had practised upon her. The
only indication, however, of this resentment was the appellation which
she now bestowed upon her niece. In speaking of her to Lawrence, or
any of the household, she invariably called her "the late Mrs Null,"
and this title so pleased the old lady that she soon began to use it
in addressing her niece. Annie occasionally remonstrated in a manner
which seemed half playful, but was in fact quite earnest, but her aunt
paid no manner of attention to her words, and continued to please
herself by this half-sarcastic method of alluding to her niece's
fictitious matrimonial state.
Letty, and the other servants, were at first much astonished by the
new title given to Miss Annie, and the only way in which they could
explain it was by supposing that Mr Null had gone off somewhere and
died; and although they could not understand why Miss Annie should
show so little grief in the matter, and why she had not put on
mourning, they imagined that these were customs which she had learned
in the North.
Lawrence advised Annie to pay no attention to this whim of her aunt.
"It don't hurt either of us," he said, "and we ought to be very glad
that she has let us off so easily. But there is one thing I think you
ought to do; you should write to your cousin Junius, and tell him of
our engagement; but I would not refer at all to the other matter; you
are not supposed to have anything to do with it, and Miss March can
tell him as much about it as she chooses, Mr Keswick wrote me that he
was going to Midbranch, and that he would communicate with me while
there, but, as I have not since heard from him, I presume he is still
A letter was, therefore, written by Annie, and addressed to Junius,
in Washington, and Lawrence drove her to the railroad station in the
spring-wagon, where it was posted. The family mail came bi-weekly to
Howlett's, as the post-office at the railroad station was entirely too
distant for convenience; and as Saturday approached it was evident,
from Mrs Keswick's occasional remarks and questions, that she expected
a letter. It was quite natural for Lawrence and Annie to surmise that
this letter was expected from Miss March, for Mrs Keswick had not
heard of any rejoinder having been made to her epistle to that lady.
When, late on Saturday afternoon, the boy Plez returned from
Howlett's, Mrs Keswick eagerly took from him the well-worn
letter-bag, and looked over its contents. There was a letter for her
and from Midbranch, but the address was written by Junius, not by Miss
March. There was another in the same hand-writing for Annie. As
the old lady looked at the address on her letter, and then on its
post-mark, she was evidently disappointed and displeased, but she said
nothing, and went away with it to her room. Annie's letter was in
answer to the one she had sent to Washington, which had been promptly
forwarded to Midbranch where Junius had been for some days. It began
by expressing much surprise at the information his cousin had given
him in regard to her assumption of a married title, and although she
had assured him she had very good reasons, he could not admit that it
was right and proper for her to deceive his aunt and himself in this
way. If it were indeed necessary that other persons should suppose
that she were a married woman, her nearest relatives, at least, should
have been told the truth.
At this passage, Annie, who was reading the letter aloud, and Lawrence
who was listening, both laughed. But they made no remarks, and the
Junius next alluded to the news of his cousin's engagement to Mr
Croft. His guarded remarks on this subject showed the kindness of his
heart. He did not allude to the suddenness of the engagement, nor to
the very peculiar events that had so recently preceded it; but reading
between the lines, both Annie and Lawrence thought that the writer had
probably given these points a good deal of consideration. In a general
way, however, it was impossible for him to see any objection to such
a match for his cousin, and this was the impression he endeavored to
give in a very kindly way, in his congratulations. But, even here,
there seemed to be indications of a hope, on the part of the writer,
that Mr Croft would not see fit to make another short tack in his
course of love.
Like the polite gentleman he was, Mr Keswick allowed his own affairs
to come in at the end of the letter. Here he informed his cousin that
his engagement with Miss March had been renewed, and that they were to
be married shortly after Christmas. As it must have been very plain to
those who were present when Miss March left his aunt's house, that she
left in anger with him, he felt impelled to say that he had explained
to her the course of action to which she had taken exception, and
although she had not admitted that that course had been a justifiable
one, she had forgiven him. He wished also to say at this point that
he, himself, was not at all proud of what he had done.
"That was intended for me," interrupted Lawrence.
"Well, if you understand it, it is all right," said Annie.
Junius went on to say that the renewal of his engagement was due, in
great part, to Miss March's visit to his aunt; and to a letter she had
received from her. A few days of intercourse with Mrs Keswick, whom
she had never before seen, and the tenor and purpose of that letter,
had persuaded Miss March that his aunt was a person whose mind had
passed into a condition when its opposition or its action ought not to
be considered by persons who were intent upon their own welfare. His
own arrival at Midbranch, at this juncture, had resulted in the happy
renewal of their engagement.
"I don't know Junius half as well as I wish I did," said Annie, as she
finished the letter, "but I am very sure, indeed, that he will make
a good husband, and I am glad he has got Roberta March--as he wants
"Did you emphasize 'he'?" asked Lawrence.
"I will emphasize it, if you would like to hear me do it," said she.
"It's very queer," remarked Annie, after a little pause, "that
I should have been so anxious to preserve poor Junius from your
clutches, and that, after all I did to save him, I should fall into
those clutches myself."
Whereupon Lawrence, much to her delight, told her the story of the
Mrs Keswick sat down in her room, and read her letter. She had no
intention of abandoning her resolution to let things go as they would;
and, therefore, did not expect to follow up, with further words or
actions, anything she had written in her letter to Roberta March. But
she had had a very strong curiosity to know what that lady would say
in answer to said letter, and she was therefore disappointed and
displeased that the missive she had received was from her nephew, and
not from Miss March. She did not wish to have a letter from Junius.
She knew, or rather very much feared, that it would contain news which
would be bad news to her, and although she was sure that such news
would come to her sooner or later, she was very much averse to
His letter to her merely touched upon the points of Mrs Null, and his
cousin's engagement to Mr Croft; but it was almost entirely filled
with the announcement, and most earnest defence, of his own engagement
to Roberta March. He said a great deal upon this subject, and he said
it well. But it is doubtful if his fervid, and often affectionate,
expressions made much impression upon his aunt. Nothing could make the
old lady like this engagement, but she had made up her mind that he
might do as he pleased, and it didn't matter what he said about it; he
had done it, and there was an end of it.
But there was one thing that did matter: That unprincipled and
iniquitous old man Brandon had had his own way at last; and she and
her way had been set aside. This was the last of a series of injuries
to her and her family with which she charged Mr Brandon and his
family; but it was the crowning wrong. The injury itself she did not
so much deplore, as that the injurer would profit by it. Arrested
in her course of raging passion by a sudden flood of warm and
irresistible emotion, she had resigned, as impetuously as she had
taken them up, her purposes of vengeance, and consequently, her plans
for her nephew and niece. But she was a keen-minded, as well as
passionate old woman, and when she had considered the altered state
of affairs, she was able to see in it advantages as well as
disappointment and defeat. From what she had learned of Lawrence
Croft's circumstances and position, and she had made a good many
inquiries on this subject of Roberta March, he was certainly a good
match for Annie; and, although she hated to have anything to do with
Midbranch, it could not be a bad thing for Junius to be master of that
large estate, and that Mr Brandon had repeatedly declared he would be,
if he married Roberta. Thus, in the midst of these reverses, there was
something to comfort her, and reconcile her to them. But there was no
balm for the wound caused by Mr Brandon's success and her failure.
With the letter of Junius open in her hand, she sat, for a long time,
in bitter meditation. At length a light gradually spread itself over
her gloomy countenance. Her eyes sparkled; she sat up straight in her
chair, and a broad smile changed the course of the wrinkles on her
cheeks. She arose to her feet; she gave her head a quick jerk of
affirmation; she clapped one hand upon the other; and she said aloud:
"I will bless, not curse!"
And with that she went happy to bed.
On the following Monday, Lawrence announced that his ankle was now
quite well enough for him to go to New York, where his affairs
required his presence. Neither he, nor the late Mrs Null, regarded
this parting with any satisfaction, but their very natural regrets at
the necessary termination of these happy autumn days were a good deal
tempered by the fact that Lawrence intended to return in a few weeks,
and that then the final arrangements would be made for their marriage.
It was not easy to decide what these arrangements would be, for in
spite of the many wrongnesses of the old lady's head and heart, Annie
had conceived a good deal of affection for her aunt, and felt a strong
disinclination to abandon her to her lonely life, which would be more
lonely than before, now that Junius was to be married. On the other
hand, Lawrence, although he had discovered some estimable points in
the very peculiar character of Mrs Keswick, had no intention of living
in the same house with her. This whole matter, therefore, was left in
abeyance until the lovers should meet again, some time in December.
Lawrence and Annie had desired very much that Junius should visit them
before Mr Croft's departure for the North, for they both had a high
esteem for him, and both felt a desire that he should be as well
satisfied with their matrimonial project as they were with his. But
they need not have expected him. Junius had conceived a dislike for Mr
Croft, which was based in great part upon disapprobation of what he
himself had done in connection with that gentleman; and this manner
of dislike is not easily set aside. The time would come when he would
take Lawrence Croft and Annie by the hand, and honestly congratulate
them, but for that time they must wait.
Lawrence departed in the afternoon; and the next day Mrs Keswick set
about that general renovation and rearrangement of her establishment
which many good housewives consider necessary at certain epochs, such
as the departure of guests, the coming in of spring, or the advent of
winter. These arrangements occupied two days, and on the evening that
they were finished to her satisfaction, the old lady informed her
niece, that early the next morning, she was going to start for
Midbranch, and that it was possible, nay, quite probable, that she
would stay there over a night. "I might go and come back the same
day," she said, "but thirty miles a day is too much for Billy, and
besides, I am not sure I could get through what I have to do, if I do
not stay over. I would take you with me but this is not to be a mere
visit; I have important things to attend to, and you would be in the
way. You got along so well without me when you first came here that
I have no doubt you will do very well for one night. I shall drive
myself, and take Plez along with me, and leave Uncle Isham and Letty
to take care of you."
Under ordinary circumstances Annie would have been delighted to go to
Midbranch, a place she had never seen, and of which she had heard so
much, but she had no present desire to see Roberta March, and said so;
further remarking that she was very willing to stay by herself for
a night. She hoped much that her aunt would proceed with the
conversation, and tell her why she had determined upon such an
extraordinary thing as a visit to Midbranch; where she knew the old
lady had not been for many, many years. But Mrs Keswick had nothing
further to say upon this subject, and began to talk of other matters.
After a very early breakfast next morning, Mrs Keswick set out
upon her journey, driving the sorrel horse with much steadiness,
intermingled with severity whenever he allowed himself to drop out of
his usual jogging pace. Plez sat in the back part of the spring-wagon,
and whenever the old lady saw an unusually large stone lying in the
track of the road, she would stop, and make him get out and throw it
to one side.
"I believe," she said, on one of these occasions, "that a thousand men
in buggies might pass along this road thrice a day for a year, and
never think of stopping to throw that rock out of the way of people's
wheels. They would steer around it every time, or bump over it, but
such a thing as moving it would never enter their heads."
The morning was somewhat cool, but fine, and the smile which
occasionally flitted over the corrugated countenance of Mrs Keswick
seemed to indicate that she was in a pleasant state of mind, which
might have been occasioned by the fine weather and the good condition
of the roads, or by cheerful anticipations connected with her visit.
It was not very long after noonday that, with a stifled remark of
disapprobation upon her lips, she drew up at the foot of the broad
flight of steps by which one crossed the fence into the Midbranch
yard. Giving Billy into the charge of Plez, with directions to take
him round to the stables and tell somebody to put him up and feed him,
she mounted the steps, and stopped for a minute or so on the broad
platform at the top; looking about her as she stood. Everything, the
house, the yard, the row of elms along the fence, the wide-spreading
fields, and the farm buildings and cabins, some of which she could see
around the end of the house, were all on a scale so much larger and
more imposing than those of her own little estate that, although
nothing had changed for the better since the days when she was
familiar with Midbranch, she was struck with the general superiority
of the Brandon possessions to her own. Her eyes twinkled, and she
smiled; but there did not appear to be anything envious about her.
She presented a rather remarkable figure as she stood in this
conspicuous position. Annie had insisted, when she was helping her
aunt to array herself for the journey, that she should wear a bonnet
which for many years had been her head-gear on Sundays and important
occasions, but to this the old lady positively objected. She was not
going on a mere visit of state or ceremony; her visit at Midbranch
would require her whole attention, and she did not wish to distract
her mind by wondering whether her bonnet was straight on her head or
not, and she was so unaccustomed to the feel of it that she would
never know if it got turned hind part foremost. She could never be at
her ease, nor say freely what she wished to say, if she were dressed
in clothes to which she was not accustomed. She was perfectly
accustomed to her sun-bonnet, and she intended to wear that. Of course
she carried her purple umbrella, and she wore a plain calico dress,
blue spotted with white, which was very narrow and short in the
skirt, barely touching the tops of her shoes, the stoutest and most
serviceable that could be procured in the store at Howlett's. She
covered her shoulders with a small red shawl which, much to Annie's
surprise, she fastened with a large and somewhat tarnished silver
brooch, an ornament her niece had never before seen. Attired thus, she
certainly would have attracted attention, had there been any one
there to see, but the yard was empty, and the house door closed. She
descended the steps, crossed the yard with what might be termed a
buoyant gait, and, mounting the porch, knocked on the door with the
handle of her umbrella. After some delay a colored woman appeared, and
as soon as the door was opened, Mrs Keswick walked in.
"Where is your master?" said she, forgetting all about the
"Mahs' Robert is in the libery," said the woman.
"And where are Miss Roberta March and Master Junius Keswick?"
"Miss Rob went Norf day 'fore yestiddy," was the answer, "an' Mahs'
Junius done gone 'long to 'scort her. Who shall I tell Mahs' Robert is
"There is no need to tell him who I am," said Mrs Keswick. "Just take
me in to him. That's all you have to do."
A good deal doubtful of the propriety of this proceeding, but
more doubtful of the propriety of opposing the wishes of such a
determined-looking visitor, the woman stepped to the back part of the
hall, and opened the door. The moment she did so, Mrs Keswick entered,
and closed the door behind her.
Mr Brandon was seated in an arm chair by a table, and not very far
from a wood fire of a size suited to the season. His slippered feet
were on a cushioned stool; his eye-glasses were carefully adjusted on
the capacious bridge of his nose; and, intent upon a newspaper which
had arrived by that morning's mail, he presented the appearance of a
very well satisfied old gentleman, in very comfortable circumstances.
But when he turned his head and saw the Widow Keswick close the door
behind her, every idea of satisfaction or comfort seemed to vanish
from his mind. He dropped the paper; he rose to his feet; he took
off his eye-glasses; he turned somewhat red in the face; and he
ejaculated: "What! madam! So it is you, Mrs Keswick?"
The old lady did not immediately answer. Her head dropped a little on
one side, a broad smile bewrinkled the lower part of her well-worn
visage, and with her eyes half-closed, behind her heavy spectacles,
she held out both her hands, the purple umbrella in one of them, and
exclaimed in a voice of happy fervor: "Robert! I am yours!"
Mr Brandon, recovered from his first surprise, had made a step forward
to go round the table and greet his visitor; but at these words he
stopped as if he had been shot. Perception, understanding, and even
animation, seemed to have left him as he vacantly stared at the
elderly female with purple sun-bonnet and umbrella, blue calico gown,
red shawl and coarse boots, who held out her arms towards him, and who
gazed upon him with an air of tender, though decrepit, fondness.
"Don't you understand me, Robert?" she continued. "Don't you remember
the day, many a good long year ago, it is true, when we walked
together down there by the branch, and you asked me to be yours? I
refused you, Robert, and, although you went down on your knees in the
damp grass and besought me to give you my heart, I would not do it.
But I did not know you then as I know you now, Robert, and the words
of true love which you spoke to me that morning come to me now with
a sweetness which I was too young and trifling to notice then. That
heart is yours now, Robert. I am yours." And, with these words, she
made a step forward.
At this demonstration Mr Brandon appeared suddenly to recover his
consciousness and he precipitately made two steps backwards, just
missing tumbling over his footstool into the fireplace.
"Madam!" he exclaimed, "what are you talking about?"
"Of the days of our courtship, and your love, Robert," she said. "My
love did not come then, but it is here now. Here now," she repeated,
putting the hand with the umbrella in it on her breast.
"Madam," exclaimed the old gentleman, "you must be raving crazy! Those
things to which you allude, happened nearly half a century ago; and
since that you have been married and settled, and----"
"Robert," interrupted the Widow Keswick, "you are mistaken. It is not
quite forty-five years since that morning, and why should hearts like
ours allow the passage of time or the mere circumstance of what might
be called an outside marriage, but now extinct, to come between them?
There is many a spring, Robert, which does not show when a man first
begins to dig, but it will bubble up in time. And, Robert, it bubbles
now." And with her head bent a little downwards, although her eyes
were still fixed upon him, she made another step in his direction.
Mr Brandon now backed himself flat against some book-shelves in his
rear. The perspiration began to roll from his face, and his whole form
trembled. "Mrs Keswick! Madam!" he exclaimed, "You will drive me mad!"
The old lady dropped the end of her umbrella on the floor, rested her
two hands on the head of it, settled herself into an easy position to
speak, and, with her head thrown back, fixed a steady gaze upon the
trembling old gentleman. "Robert," she said, "do not try to crush
emotions which always were a credit to you, although in those days
gone by I didn't tell you so. Your hair was black then, Robert, and
you looked taller, for you hadn't a stoop, and your face was very
smooth, and so was mine, and I remember I had on a white dress with a
broad ribbon around the waist, and neither of us wore specs. What you
said to me was very fresh and sweet, Robert, and it all comes to me
now as it never came before. You have never loved another, Robert, and
you don't know how happy it makes me to think that, and to know that I
can come to you and find you the same true and constant lover that you
were when, forty-five years ago, you went down on your knees to me by
the branch. We can't stifle those feelings of by-gone days which well
up in our bosoms, Robert. After all these years I have learned what a
prize your true love is, and I return it. I am yours."
At this Mr Brandon opened his mouth with a spasmodic gasp, but no word
came from him. He looked to the right and left, and then made a lunge
to one side, as if he would run around the old lady and gain the door.
But Mrs Keswick was too quick for him. With two sudden springs she
reached the door and put her back against it.
"Don't leave me, Robert," she said, "I have not told you all. Don't
you remember this breastpin?" unfastening the large silver brooch from
her shawl and holding it out to him. "You gave it to me, Robert; there
were almost tears of joy in your eyes on the first day I wore it,
although I was careful to let you know it meant nothing. Where are
those tears to-day, Robert? It means something now. I have kept it
all these years, although in the lifetime of Mr Keswick it was never
cleaned, and I wore it to-day, Robert, that your eyes might rest upon
it once again, and that you might speak to me the words you spoke to
me the day after I let you pin it on my white neckerchief. You waited
then, Robert, a whole day before you spoke, but you needn't wait now.
Let your heart speak out, dear Robert."
But dear Robert appeared to have no power to speak, on this or any
other subject. He was half sitting, half leaning on the corner of a
table which stood by a window, out of which he gave sudden agonized
and longing glances, as if, had he strength enough, he would raise the
sash and leap out.
The old lady, however, had speech enough for two. "Robert," she
exclaimed, "how happy may we be, yet! If you wish to give up, to a
younger couple, this spacious mansion, these fine grounds and noble
elms, and come to my humble home, I shall only say to you, 'Robert,
come!' I shall be alone there, Robert, and shall welcome you with joy.
I have nobody now to give anything to. The late Mrs Null, by which I
mean my niece, will marry a man who, if reports don't lie, is rich
enough to make her want nothing that I have; and as for Junius, he is
to have your property, as we all know. So all I have is yours, if you
choose to come to me, Robert. But, if you would rather live here, I
will come to you, and the young people can board with us until your
decease; after that, I'll board with them. And I'm not sure,
Robert, but I like the plan of coming here best. There are lots of
improvements we could make on this place, with you to furnish the
money, and me to advise and direct. The first thing I'd do would be
to have down those abominable steps over the front fence, and put a
decent gate in its place; and then we would have a gravelled walk
across the yard to the porch, wide enough for you and me, Robert,
to walk together arm-in-arm when we would go out to look over the
plantation, or stroll down to that spot on the branch, Robert, where
the first plightings of our troth began."
The words of tender reminiscence, and of fond though rather late
devotion, with which Mrs Keswick had stabbed and gashed the soul of
the poor old gentleman, had at first deranged his senses, and then
driven him into a state of abject despair, but the practical remarks
which succeeded seemed to have a more direful effect upon him. The
idea of the being with the sun-bonnet and the umbrella entering into
his life at Midbranch, tearing down the broad steps which his honored
father had built, cutting a gravelled path across the green turf which
had been the pride of generations, and doing, no man could say what
else, of advice and direction, seemed to strike a chill of terror into
his very bones.
The quick perception of Mrs Keswick told her that it was time to
terminate the interview. "I will not say anything more to you now,
Robert," she said. "Of course you have been surprised at my coming to
you to-day, and accepting your offer of marriage, and you must have
time to quiet your mind, and think it over. I don't doubt your
affection, Robert, and I don't want to hurry you. I am going to stay
here to-night, so that we can have plenty of time to settle everything
comfortably. I'll go now and get one of the servants to show me to a
room where I can take off my things. I'll see you again at dinner."
And, with a smile of antiquated coyness, she left the room.
Mr Brandon was not a weak man, nor one very susceptible to outside
influences, but, in the whole course of his life, nothing so
extraordinarily nerve-stirring had occurred to him as this visit of
old Mrs Keswick, endeavoring to appear in the character of the young
creature he had wooed some forty-five years before. For a long time,
Mrs Keswick had been the enemy of himself and his family; and many a
bitter onslaught she had made upon him, both by letter, and by word of
mouth. These he had borne with the utmost bravery and coolness, and
there were times when they even afforded him entertainment. But this
most astounding attack was something against which no man could have
been prepared; and Mr Brandon, suddenly pounced upon in the midst of
his comfortable bachelordom by a malevolent sorceress and hurled back
to the days of his youth, was shown himself kneeling, not at the feet
of a fair young girl, but before a horrible old woman.
This amazing and startling state of affairs was too much for him
immediately to comprehend. It stunned and bewildered him. Such,
indeed, was the effect upon him that the first act of his mind, when
he was left alone, and it began to act, was to ask of itself if there
were really any grounds upon which Mrs Keswick could, with any reason,
take up her position? The absolute absurdity of her position, however,
became more and more evident, as Mr Brandon's mind began to straighten
itself and stand up. And now he grew angry. Anger was a passion with
which he was not at all unfamiliar, and the exercise of it seemed to
do him good. When he had walked up and down his library for a quarter
of an hour, he felt almost like his natural self; and with many nods
of his head and shakes of his fist, he declared that the old woman was
crazy, and that he would bundle her home just as soon as he could.
By dinner-time he had cooled down a good deal, and he resolved to
treat her with the respect due to her age and former condition of
sanity; but to take care that she should not again be alone with him,
and to arrange that she should return to her home that day.
Mrs Keswick came to the table with a smiling face, and wearing a
close-fitting white cap, which looked like a portion of her night
gear, tied under her chin with broad, stiff strings. In this she
appeared to her host as far more hideous than when wearing her
sun-bonnet. Mr Brandon had arranged that two servants should wait upon
the table, so that one of them should always be in the room, but in
his supposition that the presence of a third person would have any
effect upon the expression of Mrs Keswick's fond regard, he was
mistaken. The meal had scarcely begun, when she looked around the room
with wide-open eyes, and exclaimed: "Robert, if we should conclude
to remain here, I think we will have this room re-papered with some
light-colored paper. I like a light dining-room. This is entirely too
The two servants, one of whom was our old friend, Peggy, actually
stopped short in their duties at this remark; and as for Mr Brandon,
his appetite immediately left him, to return no more during that meal.
He was obliged to make some answer to this speech, and so he briefly
remarked that he had no desire to alter the appearance of his
dining-room, and then hastened to change the conversation by making
some inquiries about that interesting young woman, her niece, who, he
had been informed, was not a married lady, as he had supposed her to
At this intelligence, Peggy dropped two spoons and a fork; she had
never heard it before.
"The late Mrs Null," said Mrs Keswick, "is a young woman who likes to
cut her clothes after her own patterns. They may be becoming to her
when they are made up, or they may not be. But I am inclined to think
she has got a pretty good head on her shoulders, and perhaps she
knows what suits her as well as any of us. I can't say it was easy to
forgive the trick she played on me, her own aunt, and just the same,
in fact, as her mother. But Robert," and as she said this the old lady
laid down her knife and fork, and looked tenderly at Mr Brandon, "I
have determined to forgive everybody, and to overlook everything,
and I do this as much for your sake, dear Robert, as for my own. It
wouldn't do for a couple of our age to be keeping up grudges against
the young people for their ways of getting out of marriages or getting
into them. We will have my niece and her husband here sometimes, won't
Mr Brandon straightened himself and remarked: "Mr Croft, whom I have
heard your niece is to marry, will be quite welcome here, with his
wife." Then, putting his napkin on the table, and pushing back his
chair, he said: "Now, madam, you must excuse me, for I have orders to
give to some of my people which I had forgotten until this moment. But
do not let me interfere with your dinner. Pray continue your meal."
Never before had Mr Brandon been known to leave his dinner until he
had finished it, and he was not at all accustomed to give such a poor
reason for his actions as the one he gave now, but it was simply
impossible for him to sit any longer at table, and have that old woman
talk in that shocking manner before the servants.
"Robert," cried Mrs Keswick, as he left the room, "I'll save some
dessert for you, and we'll eat it together."
Mr Brandon's first impulse, when he found himself out of the
dining-room, was to mount his horse and ride away; but there was no
place to which he wished to ride; and he was a man who was very loath
to leave the comforts of his home. "No," he said. "She must go, and
not I." And then he went into his parlor, and strode up and down. As
soon as Mrs Keswick had finished her dinner, he would see her there,
and speak his mind to her. He had determined that he would not again
be alone with her, but, since the presence of others was no restraint
whatever upon her, it had become absolutely necessary that he should
speak with her alone.
It was not long before the Widow Keswick, with a brisk, blithe step,
entered the parlor. "I couldn't eat without you, Robert," she cried,
"and so I really haven't half finished my dinner. Did you have to come
in here to speak to your people?"
Mr Brandon stepped to the door, and closed it. "Madam," he said, "it
will be impossible for me, in the absence of my niece, to entertain
you here to-night, and so it would be prudent for you to start for
home as soon as possible, as the days are short. It would be too much
of a journey for your horse to go back again to-day, and your vehicle
is an open one; therefore I have ordered my carriage to be prepared,
and you may trust my driver to take you safely home, even if it should
be dark before you get there. If you desire it, there is a young
maid-servant here who will go with you."
"Robert," said Mrs Keswick, approaching the old gentleman and gazing
fondly upward at him, "you are so good, and thoughtful, and sweet. But
you need not put yourself to all that trouble for me. I shall stay
here to-night, and in your house, dear Robert, I can take care of
myself a great deal better than any lady could take care of me."
"Madam," exclaimed Mr Brandon, "I want you to stop calling me by my
first name. You have no right to do so, and I won't stand it."
"Robert," said the old lady, looking at him with an air of tender
upbraiding, "you forget that I am yours, now, and forever."
Never, since he had arrived at man's estate, and probably not before,
had Mr Brandon spoken in improper language to a lady, but now it was
all he could do to restrain himself from the ejaculation of an oath,
but he did restrain himself, and only exclaimed: "Confound it, madam,
I cannot stand this! Why do you come here, to drive me crazy with your
"Robert," said Mrs Keswick, very composedly "I do not wonder that my
coming to you and accepting the proposals which you once so heartily
made to me, and from which you have never gone back, should work a
good deal upon your feelings. It is quite natural, and I expected it.
Therefore don't hesitate about speaking out your mind; I shall not be
offended. So that we belong to each other for the rest of our days, I
don't mind what you say now, when it is all new and unexpected to you.
You and I have had many a difference of opinion, Robert, and your
plans were not my plans. But things have turned out as you wished, and
you have what you have always wanted; and with the other good things,
Robert, you can take me." And, as she finished speaking, she held out
both hands to her companion.
With a stamp of his foot, and a kick at a chair which stood in his
way, Mr Brandon precipitately left the room, and slammed the door
after him; and if Peggy had not nimbly sprung to one side, he would
have stumbled over her, and have had a very bad fall for a man of his
It was not ten minutes after this, that, looking out of a window, Mrs
Keswick saw a saddled horse brought into the back yard. She hastened
into the hall, and found Peggy. "Run to Mr Brandon," she said, "and
bid him good-bye for me. I am going up stairs to get ready to go home,
and haven't, time to speak to him, myself, before he starts on his
At the receipt of this message the heart of Mr Brandon gave a bound
which actually helped him to get into the saddle, but he did not
hesitate in his purpose of instant departure. If he staid, but for
a moment, she might come out to him, and change her mind, so he put
spurs to his horse and galloped away, merely stopping long enough, as
he passed the stables, to give orders that the carriage be prepared
for Mrs Keswick, and taken round to the front.
As he rode through the cool air of that fine November afternoon, the
spirits of Mr Brandon rose. He felt a serene satisfaction in assuring
himself that, although he had been very angry, indeed, with Mrs
Keswick, on account of her most unheard of and outrageous conduct, yet
he had not allowed his indignation to burst out against her in any way
of which he would afterward be ashamed. Some hasty words had escaped
him, but they were of no importance, and, under the circumstances, no
one could have avoided speaking them. But, when he had addressed her
at any length, he had spoken dispassionately and practically, and she,
being at bottom a practical woman, had seen the sense of his advice,
and had gone home comfortably in his carriage. Whether she took her
insane fancies home with her, or dropped them on the road, it mattered
very little to him, so that he never saw her again; and he did not
intend to see her again. If she came again to his house, he would
leave it and not return until she had gone; but he had no reason to
suppose that he would be forced into any such exceedingly disagreeable
action as this. He did not believe she would ever come back. For,
unless she were really crazy--crazy--and in that case she ought to be
put in the lunatic asylum--she could not keep up, for any length of
time, the extraordinary and outrageous delusion that he would be
willing to renew the feelings that he had entertained for her in her
Mr Brandon rode until nearly dark, for it took a good while to free
his mind from the effects of the excitements and torments of that day.
But, when he entered the house and took his seat in his library chair
by the fire, he had almost regained his usual composed and well
satisfied frame of mind.
Then, through the quietly opened door, came Mrs Keswick, and
stealthily stepping towards him in the fitful light of the blazing
logs, she put her hand on his arm and said: "Dear Robert, how glad I
am to see you back!"
The next morning, about ten o'clock, Mrs Keswick sent her eighteenth
or twentieth message to Mr Brandon, who had shut himself up in his
room since a little before supper-time on the previous evening. The
message was sent by Peggy, and she was instructed to shout it outside
of her master's door until he took notice of it. Its purport was that
it was necessary that Mrs Keswick should go home to-day, and that her
horse was harnessed and she was now ready to go, but that she could
not think of leaving until she had seen Mr Brandon again. She would
therefore wait until he was ready to come down.
Mr Brandon looked out of the window and saw the spring-wagon at the
outside of the broad stile, with Plez standing at the sorrel's head.
He remembered that the venerable demon had said, at the first, that
she intended to stay but one night, and he could but believe that she
was now really going. Knowing her as he did, however, he was very well
aware that if she had said she would not leave until she had seen him,
she would stay in his house for a year, unless he sooner went down to
her; therefore he opened his door, and slowly and feebly descended the
"My dear, dear Robert!" exclaimed Mrs Keswick, totally regardless of
the fact that Peggy was standing at the front door with her valise in
her hand, and that there was another servant in the hall, "how pale,
and haggard, and worn you look! You must be quite unwell, and I don't
know but that I ought to stay here and take care of you."
At these words a look of agony passed over the old man's face, but he
"But I am afraid I cannot stay any longer this time," continued the
Widow Keswick, "for my niece would not know what had become of me, and
there are things at home that I must attend to; but I will come again.
Don't think I intend to desert you, dear Robert. You shall see me soon
again. But while I am gone," she said, turning to the two servants, "I
want you maids to take good care of your master. You must do it for
his sake, for he has always been kind to you, but I also want you
to do it for my sake. Don't you forget that. And now, dear Robert,
good-bye." As she spoke, she extended her hand towards the old
Without a word, but with a good deal of apparent reluctance, he took
the long, bony hand in his, and probably, would have instantly dropped
it again, had not Mrs Keswick given him a most hearty clutch, and a
vigorous and long-continued shake.
"It is hard, dear Robert," she said, "for us to part, with nothing but
a hand-shake, but there are people about, and this will have to
do." And then, after urging him to take good care of his health, so
valuable to them both, and assuring him that he would soon see her
again, she gave his hand a final shake, and left him. Accompanied by
Peggy, she went out to the spring-wagon and clambered into it. It
almost surpasses belief that Mr Brandon, a Virginia gentleman of the
old school, should have stood in his hall, and have seen an old lady
leave his house and get into a vehicle, without accompanying and
assisting her; but such was the case on this occasion. He seemed to
have forgotten his traditions, and to have lost his impulses. He
simply stood where the Widow Keswick had left him, and gazed at her.
When she was seated, and ready to start, the old lady turned towards
him, called out to him in a cheery voice: "Good-bye, Robert!" and
kissed her hand to him.
Mrs Keswick slowly drove away, and Mr Brandon stood at his hall
door, gazing after her until she was entirely out of sight. Then he
ejaculated: "The Devil's daughter!" and went into his library.
"I wonders," said Peggy when she returned to the kitchen, "how you
all's gwine to like habin dat ole Miss Keswick libin h'yar as you
"Who's gwine to hab her?" growled Aunt Judy.
"You all is," sturdily retorted Peggy. "Dar ain't no use tryin' to git
out ob dat. Dat old Miss Keswick done gone an' kunjered Mahs' Robert,
an' dey's boun' to git mar'ed. I done heered all 'bout it, an' she's
comin' h'yar to lib wid Mahs' Robert. But dat don' make no dif'rence
to me. I's gwine to lib wid Mahs' Junius an' Miss Rob in New York, I
is. But I's mighty sorry for you all."
"You Peggy," shouted the irate Aunt Judy, "shut up wid your fool talk!
When Mahs' Robert marry dat ole jimpsun weed, de angel Gabr'el blow
his hohn, shuh."
Slowly driving along the road to her home, the Widow Keswick gazed
cheerfully at the blue sky above her, and the pleasant autumn scenery
around her; sniffed the fine fresh air, delicately scented with the
odor of falling leaves; and settling herself into a more comfortable
position on her seat, she complacently said to herself: "Well, I
reckon the old scapegrace has got his money's worth this time!"
There were two reasons why Peggy could not go to live with "Mahs'
Junius and Miss Rob" in New York. In the first place, this couple
had no intention of setting up an establishment in that city; and
secondly, Peggy, as Roberta well knew, was not adapted by nature to be
her maid, or the maid of any one else. Peggy's true vocation in life
was to throw her far-away gaze into futurity, and, as far as in her
lay, to adapt present circumstances to what she supposed was going to
happen. It would have delighted her soul if she could have been the
adept in conjuring, which she firmly believed the Widow Keswick to be;
but, as she possessed no such gift, she made up the deficiency, as
well as she could, by mixing up her mind, her soul, and her desires,
into a sort of witch's hodge-podge, which she thrust as a spell
into the affairs of other people. Twice had the devices of this
stupid-looking wooden peg of a negro girl stopped Lawrence Croft in
the path he was following in his pursuit of Roberta March. If Lawrence
had known, at the time, what Peggy was doing, he would have considered
her an unmitigated little demon; but afterward, if he could have
known of it, he would have thought her a very unprepossessing and
conscienceless guardian angel.
As it was, he knew not what she had done, and never considered her at
Junius Keswick took much more delight in farming than he did in the
practice of the law, and it was only because he had felt himself
obliged to do so, that he had adopted the legal profession. To be
a farmer, one must have a farm; but a lawyer can frequently make a
living from the lands of other men. He was very willing, therefore,
to agree to the plan which, for years, had been Mr Brandon's most
cherished scheme; that he and Roberta should make their home at
Midbranch, and that he should take charge of the estate, which would
be his wife's property after the old gentleman's decease. Roberta was
as fond of the country as was Junius, but she was also a city woman;
and it was arranged that the couple should spend a portion of each
winter in New York, at the house of Mr March.
Junius, and Roberta, as well as her father, hoped very much that they
might be able to induce Mr Brandon to come to New York to attend the
wedding, which was to take place the middle of January; but they were
not confident of success, for they knew the old gentleman disliked
very much to travel, especially in winter. Three very pressing letters
were therefore written to Mr Brandon; and the writers were much
surprised to receive, in a short time, a collective answer, in which
he stated that he would not only be present at the wedding, but that
he thought of spending several months in New York. It would be very
lonely at Midbranch, he wrote, without Roberta--though why it should
be more so this year, than during preceding winters, he did not
explain--and he felt a desire to see the changes that had taken place
in the metropolis since he had visited it, years ago.
They would not have been so much surprised had they known that Mr
Brandon did not feel himself safe in his own home, by night or by day.
Frequently had he gazed out of a window at the point in the road on
which the first sight of an approaching spring-wagon could have been
caught; and had said to himself: "If only Roberta were here, that old
hag would not dare to speak a word to me! I don't want to go away,
but, by George! I don't see how I can stay here without Rob."
There was a short, very black, and somewhat bowlegged negro man on the
place, named Israel Bonaparte, who lived in a little cabin by himself,
and was noted for his unsocial disposition, and his taciturnity. To
him Mr Brandon went one day, and said: "Israel, I want you to go to
work on the fence rows on my side of the road to Howlett's. Grub up
the bushes, clear out the vines and weeds, and see that the rails and
posts are all in order. That will be a job that I expect will last you
until the roads begin to get heavy. And, by the way, Israel, while you
are at work, I want you to keep a lookout for any visitors that may
turn into our road, especially if they happen to be ladies. Now that
Miss Rob is away, I am very particular about knowing, beforehand, when
ladies are coming to visit me; and when you see any wagon or carriage
turn in, I want you to make a short cut across the fields, and let me
know it, and I will give you a quarter of a dollar every time you do
so." This was a very pleasant job of work for the meditative Israel.
He was not very fond of grubbing, but he earned the greater part of
his ten dollars a month and rations, by sitting on the fence, smoking
a corn-cob pipe, and attending to the second division of the work
which his employer had set him to do.
Lawrence Croft was in New York at this time, a very busy man,
arranging his affairs in that city, so that they would not need
his personal attention for some time to come; he sub-let, for the
remainder of his lease, the suite of bachelor apartments he had
occupied, and he stored his furniture and books. One might have
imagined that he was taking in all possible sails; close reefing the
others; battening down the hatches; and preparing to run before a
storm; and yet his demeanor did not indicate that he expected any
violent commotion of the elements. On the contrary, his friends and
acquaintances thought him particularly blithe and gay. He told them he
was going to be married.
"To that Virginia lady, I suppose," said one. "I remember her very
well; and consider you fortunate."
"I don't think you ever met her," said Mr Croft. "She is a Miss
Peyton, from King Thomas County."
"Ah!" remarked his interlocutor. Lawrence walked to the window of the
club-room, and stood there, slowly puffing his cigar. Had anybody met
this one? he thought. He knew she had seen but little company during
her father's life, but was it likely that any of his acquaintances had
had business at Candy's Information Shop? As this idea came into his
mind, there seemed to be something unpleasant in the taste of his
cigar, and he threw it into the fire. A few turns, however, up and
down the now almost deserted rooms, restored his tone; he lighted
another cigar, and now there came up before him a vision of the girl
who, from loyalty to her dead father, preferred to sit all day behind
Candy's money desk rather than go to a relative who had not been his
friend. And then he saw the young girl who took up so courageously the
cause of one of her own blood--the boy cousin of her childhood; and
with a lover's pride, Lawrence thought of the dash, the spirit, and
the bravery with which she had done it.
"By George!" he said to himself, his eyes sparkling, and his step
quickening, "she has more in her than all the rest of them put
Who were included in "the rest of them," Lawrence was not prepared
just then to say, but the expression was intended to have a very wide
It was about the middle of December, when Lawrence paid another visit
to Mrs Keswick's house. The day was cold, but clear, and as he drove
up to the outer gate, he saw the old lady returning from a walk to
Howlett's. She stepped along briskly, and was in a very good humor,
for she had just posted a carefully concocted letter to Mr Brandon, in
which she had expatiated, in her peculiar style, on the pleasure
which she expected from an early visit to Midbranch. She had not the
slightest idea of going there, at present, but she thought it quite
time to freshen up the old gentleman's anticipations.
Descending from his carriage to meet her, Lawrence was very warmly
greeted, and the two went up to the house together.
"I expect the late Mrs Null will be very glad to see you," said Mrs
Keswick. "I think she has burned up all her widow's weeds."
"You should be very much obliged to your niece," said Mr Croft, "for
so delicately ridding you of that dreadful fertilizer man."
"Humph!" said the old lady. "She cheated me out of the pleasure of
telling him what I thought of him, and I shall never forgive her for
As Lawrence and Annie sat together in the parlor that evening, he told
her what he had been doing in New York, and this brought to her lips a
question, which she was very anxious to have answered. She knew that
Lawrence was rich; that his methods of life and thought made him a man
of the cities; and she felt quite certain that the position to
which he would conduct her was that of the mistress of a handsome
town-house, and the wife of a man of society. She liked handsome
town-houses, and she was sure she would like society; but it would all
be very new and strange to her, and, although she was a brave girl at
heart, she shrank from making such a plunge as this.
"How are we going to live?" repeated Lawrence. "That, of course, is
to be as you shall choose, but I have a plan to propose to you, and I
want very much to hear what you think about it. And the plan is, that
we shall not live anywhere for a year or two, but wander, fancy free,
over as much of the world as pleases us; and then decide where we
shall settle down, and how we shall like to do it."
If Annie's answer had been expressed in words, it might have been
given here. It may be said, however, that it was very quick, very
affirmative, and, in more ways than one, highly satisfactory to
"Is it London, and a landlady, and tea?" she presently asked.
"Yes, it is that," he said.
"Is it the shops on the Boulevards?"
"Yes," said Lawrence.
"And the Appian Way? And the Island of Capri? And snow mountains in
the distance?" she asked.
"In their turn, most certainly," said her lover, "and it shall be the
midnight sun, and the Nile, if you like."
"Freddy," exclaimed the late Mrs Null, "I thank thee for what thou
hast given me!" And she clasped the hand of Lawrence in both her own.
The marriage of Junius Keswick and Roberta March was appointed for the
fifteenth of January, and Mr Brandon had arranged to be in New York a
few days before the event. He intended, however, to leave Midbranch
soon after the first of the year, and to spend a week with some of his
friends in Richmond.
It was on the afternoon of New Year's Day, and Mr Brandon was sitting
in his library with Colonel Pinckney Macon, an elderly gentleman
of social habits and genial temper, whom Mr Brandon had invited to
Midbranch to spend the holidays, and who was afterwards to be his
travelling companion as far as Richmond. The two had had a very good
dinner, and were now sitting before the fire smoking their pipes, and
paying occasional attention to two tumblers of egg-nogg, which stood
on a small table between them. They were telling anecdotes of olden
times, and were in very good humor indeed, when a servant came in with
a note, which had just been brought for Mr Brandon. The old gentleman
took the missive, and put on his eye-glasses, but the moment he read
the address, he let his hand fall on his knee, and gave vent to an
"It's from that rabid old witch, the Widow Keswick!" he exclaimed,"
I've a great mind to throw it into the fire without reading it."
"Don't do that," cried Colonel Macon. "It is a New Year present she is
sending you. Read it, sir, read it by all means."
Mr Brandon had given his friend an account of his unexampled and
astounding persecutions by the Widow Keswick, and the old colonel had
been much interested thereby; and it would have greatly grieved his
soul not to become acquainted with this new feature of the affair.
"Read it, sir," he cried; "I would like to know what sort of New Year
congratulations she offers you."
"Congratulations indeed!" said Mr Brandon; "you needn't expect
anything of that kind." But he opened the note; and, turning, so that
he could get a good light upon it, began to read aloud, as follows:
"MY DEAREST ROBERT."
"Confound it, sir," exclaimed the reader, "did you ever hear of such a
piece of impertinence as that?"
Colonel Pinckney Macon leaned back in his chair, and laughed aloud.
"It is impertinent," he cried, "but it's confoundedly jolly! Go on,
sir. Go on, I beg of you."
Mr Brandon continued:
"It is not for me to suggest anything of the kind, but I write this
note simply to ask you what you would think of a triple wedding? There
would certainly be something very touching about it, and it would be
very satisfactory and comforting, I am sure, to our nieces and their
husbands to know that they were not leaving either of us to a lonely
life. Would we not make three happy pairs, dear Robert? Remember, I do
not propose this, I only lay it before your kindly and affectionate
"Martha Ann Keswick."
Colonel Macon, who, with much difficulty and redness of face, had
restrained himself during the reading of this note, now burst into a
shout of laughter, while Mr Brandon sprang to his feet, and crumpling
the note in his hand, threw it into the fire; and then, turning
around, he exclaimed: "Did the world ever hear anything like that!
Triple wedding, indeed! Does the pestiferous old shrew imagine that
anything in this world would induce me to marry her?"
"Why, my dear sir," cried Colonel Macon, "of course she don't. I know
the Widow Keswick as well as you do. She wouldn't marry you to save
your soul, sir. All she wants to do is to worry and persecute you, and
to torment your senses out of you, in revenge for your having got the
better of her. Now, take my advice, sir, and don't let her do it.
"I'd like to know how I am going to hinder her," said Mr Brandon.
"Hinder her!" exclaimed Colonel Macon. "Nothing easier in this world,
sir! Just you turn right square round, and face her, sir; and you'll
see that she'll stop short, sir; and, what's more, she'll run, sir!"
"How am I to face her?" asked Mr Brandon. "I have faced her, and I
assure you, sir, she didn't run."
"That was because you did not go to work in the right way," said the
colonel. "Now, if I were in your place, sir, this is what I would do.
I'd turn on her and I'd scare her out of all the wits she has left.
I'd say to her: 'Madam, I think your proposition is an excellent one.
I am ready to marry you to-day, or, at the very latest, to-morrow
morning. I'll come to your house, and bring a clergyman, and some of
my friends. Don't let there be the least delay, for I desire to start
immediately for New York, and to take you with me.' Now, sir, a note
like that would frighten that old woman so that she would leave her
house, and wouldn't come back for six weeks; and the letter you have
just burned would be the last attack she would make on you. Now, sir,
that is what I would do if I were in your place."
Mr Brandon sat down, drained his tumbler of egg-nogg, and began to
think of what his friend had said. And, as he thought of it, the
conviction forced itself upon him that this idea of Colonel Macon's
was a good one; in fact, a splendid one. Now that he came to look upon
the matter more clearly than he had done before, he saw that this
persecution on the part of the Widow Keswick was not only base, but
cowardly. He had been entirely too yielding, had given way too much.
Yes, he would face her! By George! that was a royal idea! He would
turn round, and make a dash at her, and scare her out of her five
Pens, ink, and paper were brought out; more egg-nogg was ordered; and
Mr Brandon, aided and abetted by Colonel Macon, wrote a letter to Mrs
This letter took a long time to write, and was very carefully
constructed. With outstretched hands, Mr Brandon met the old lady on
the very threshold of her proposition. He stated that nothing would
please him better than an immediate wedding, and that he would have
proposed it himself had he not feared that the lady would consider him
too importunate. (This expression was suggested by Colonel Macon.)
In order that they might lose no time in making themselves happy, Mr
Brandon proposed that the marriage should take place in a week, and
that the ceremony should be performed in Richmond. (The colonel wished
him to say that he would immediately go to her house for the purpose,
but Mr Brandon would not consent to write this. He was afraid that the
widow would sit at her front door with a shot-gun and wait for him,
and that some damage might thereby come to an unwary neighbor.)
Each of them had many old friends in Richmond, and it would be very
pleasant to be married there. He intended to start for that city in a
day or two, and he would be rejoiced to meet her at eleven o'clock on
the morning of the fifth instant, in the corridor, or covered bridge,
connecting the Exchange and Ballard hotels, and there arrange all the
details for an immediate marriage. The letter closed with an earnest
hope that she would accede to this proposed plan, which would so soon
make them the happiest couple upon earth; and was signed "Your devoted
"By which I mean," said Mr Brandon, "that I am devoted to her
The letter was read over by Colonel Macon, and highly approved by him.
"If you had met that woman, sir, when she first came to you," he said
to Mr Brandon, "with the spirit that is shown in this letter, you
would have put a shiver through her, sir, that would have shaken the
bones out of her umbrella, and she would have cut and run, sir, before
you knew it."
The messenger from Howlett's was kept at Midbranch all night, and
the next morning he was sent back with Mr Brandon's note. Two days
afterward Colonel Macon and Mr Brandon started for Richmond, and in
the course of a few hours, they were comfortably sipping their "peach
and honey" at the Exchange and Ballard's.
The next day was most enjoyably spent with a number of old friends;
and in reminiscences of the past war, and in discussions of the coming
political campaign, Mr Brandon had thrown off every sign of the
annoyance and persecution to which he had lately been subjected.
"By George, sir!" said Colonel Macon to him the next morning, "do you
know that you are a most untrustworthy and perfidious man?"
"Sir!" exclaimed Mr Brandon, "what do you mean?"
"I mean," replied Colonel Pinckney Macon, with much dignity, "that
you promised at eleven o'clock to-day to meet a lady in the corridor
connecting these two hotels. It wants three minutes of that time now,
sir, and here you are reading the 'Dispatch' as if you never made a
promise in your life."
"I declare," said Mr Brandon, rising, "my conduct is indefensible,
but I am going to my room, and, on my way, will keep my part of the
"I will go with you," said the colonel.
Together they mounted the stairs, and approached the corridor; and, as
they opened its glass doors, they saw, sitting in a chair on one side
of the passage, the Widow Keswick.
If Mr Brandon had not been caught by his friend he would have fallen
over backwards. Regaining an upright position, he made a frantic turn,
as if he would fly, but he was not quick enough; Mrs Keswick had him
by the arm.
"Robert!" she exclaimed. "I knew how true and faithful you would be.
It has just struck eleven. How do you do, Colonel Macon?" And she
extended her hand.
There was no one in the corridor at the time but these three, but the
place was much used as a passageway, and Colonel Macon, who was very
pale, but still retained his presence of mind, knew well, that if
any one were to come along at this moment, it would be decidedly
unpleasant, not only for his friend, but himself. "I am glad to meet
you again, Mrs Keswick," he said. "Let us go into one of the parlors.
It will be more comfortable."
"How kind," murmured Mrs Keswick, as she clung to the arm of Mr
Brandon, "for you to bring our good friend, Colonel Macon."
They went into a parlor, which was empty, and where they were not
likely to be disturbed. Mr Brandon walked there without saying a word.
His face was as pallid as its well-seasoned color would allow, and he
looked straight before him with an air which seemed to indicate that
he was trying to remember something terrible, or else trying to forget
it, and that he himself did not know which it was.
Colonel Macon did not stay long in the parlor. There was that in the
air of Mrs Keswick which made him understand that there were other
places in Richmond where he would be much more welcome than in that
room. He went down into the large hall where the gentlemen generally
congregate; and there, in great distress of mind, he paced up and down
the marble floor, exchanging nothing but the briefest salutations and
answers with the acquaintances he occasionally encountered. The clerk,
behind his desk at one side of the hall, had seen men walking up and
down in that way, and he thought that the colonel had probably been
speculating in tobacco or wheat; but he knew he was good for the
amount of his bill, and he retained his placidity.
In about half an hour, there came down the stairs, at one end of
the hall, an elderly person who somewhat resembled Mr Brandon of
Midbranch. The clothes and the hat were the same that that gentleman
wore, and the same heavy gold chain with dangling seal-rings hung
across his ample waistcoat; but there was a general air of haggardness
and stoop about him which did not in the least suggest the upright and
portly gentleman who had written his name in the hotel register the
day before yesterday.
Colonel Macon made five strides towards him, and seized his hand.
"What," said he, "how----?"
Mr Brandon did not look at him; he let his eyes fall where they chose;
it mattered not to him what they gazed upon; and, in a low voice, he
said: "It is all over."
"Over!" repeated the colonel.
Mr Brandon put a feeble hand on his friend's arm, and together they
walked into the reading room, where they sat down in a corner.
"Have you settled it then?" asked Colonel Macon with great anxiety.
"Is she gone?"
"It is settled," said Mr Brandon. "We are to be married."
"Married!" cried Colonel Macon, springing to his feet. "Great Heavens,
man! What do you mean?"
Not very fluently, and in sentences with a very few words in each of
them, but words that sank like hot coals into the soul of his hearer,
Mr Brandon explained what he meant. It had been of no use, he said, to
try to get out of it; the old woman had him with the grip of a vise.
That letter had done it all. He ought to have known that she was not
to be frightened, but it was needless to talk about that. It was all
over now, and he was as much bound to her as if he had promised before
"But you don't mean to say," exclaimed the colonel in a voice of
anguish, "that you are really going to marry her?"
"Sir," said Mr Brandon, solemnly, "there is no way to get out of it.
If you think there is, you don't know the woman."
"I would have died first!" said the colonel. "I never would have
submitted to her!"
"I did not submit," replied Mr Brandon. "That was done when the
letter was written. I roused myself, and I said everything I could
say, but it was all useless, she held me to my promise. I told her I
would fly to the ends of the earth rather than marry her, and then,
sir, she threatened me with a prosecution for breach of promise; and
think of the disgrace that that would bring upon me; upon my family
name; and on my niece and her young husband. It was a mistake, sir, to
suppose that she merely wished to persecute me. She wished to marry
me, and she is going to do it."
The colonel bowed his face upon his hands, and groaned. Mr Brandon
looked at him with a dim compassion in his eyes. "Do not reproach
yourself, sir," he said. "We thought we were acting for the best."
But little more was said, and two crushed old gentlemen retired to
In the days of her youth, Mrs Keswick had been very well known in
Richmond; and there were a good many elderly ladies and gentlemen, now
living in that city, who remembered her as a handsome, sparkling, and
somewhat eccentric young woman, and who had since heard of her as a
decidedly eccentric old one. Mr Brandon, also, had a large circle of
friends and acquaintances in the city; and when it became known that
these two elderly persons were to be married--and the news began to
spread shortly after Mrs Keswick reached the house of the friend with
whom she was staying--it excited a great deal of excusable interest.
Mrs Keswick, according to her ordinary methods of action, took all the
arrangements into her own hands. She appointed the wedding for the
eighth of January, in order that the happy pair might go to New York,
and be present at the nuptials of Junius and Roberta. Mr Brandon had
thought of writing to Junius, in the hope that the young man might do
something to avert his fate, but remembering how utterly unable Junius
had always been to move his aunt one inch, this way or that, he did
not believe that he could be of any service in this case, in which
all the energies of her mind were evidently engaged, and he readily
consented that she should attend to all the correspondence. It would,
indeed, have been too hard for him to break the direful truth to his
niece and Junius. He ventured to suggest that Miss Peyton be sent for,
having a faint hope that he might in some manner lean upon her; but
Mrs Keswick informed him that her niece must stay at home to take
charge of the place. There were two women in the house, who were
busy sewing for her, and it would be impossible for her to come to
Her correspondence kept the Widow Keswick very busy. She decided that
she would be married in a church which she used to attend in her
youth; and to all of her old friends, and to all those of Mr Brandon
whose names she could learn by diligent inquiry, invitations were sent
to attend the ceremony; but no one outside of Richmond was invited.
The old lady did not come to the city with a purple sun-bonnet and
a big umbrella. She wore her best bonnet, which had been used for
church-going purposes for many years, and arrayed herself in a
travelling suit which was of excellent material, although of most
antiquated fashion. She discussed very freely, with her friends, the
arrangements she had made, and protuberant candor being at times
one of her most noticeable characteristics, she did not leave it
altogether to others to say that the match she was about to make was
a most remarkably good one. For years it had been a hard struggle for
her to keep up the Keswick farm, but now she had fought a battle, and
won a victory, which ought to make her comfortable and satisfied for
the rest of her life. If Mr Brandon's family had taken a great deal
from her, she would more than repay herself by appropriating the old
gentleman, together with his possessions.
After the depression following the first shock, Mr Brandon endeavored
to stiffen himself. There was a great deal of pride in him, and if he
was obliged to go to the altar, he did not wish his old friends to
suppose that he was going there to be sacrificed. He had brought this
dreadful thing upon himself, but he would try to stand up like a man,
and bear it; and, after all, it might not be for long; the Widow
Keswick was a good deal older than he was. Other thoughts occasionally
came to comfort him; she could not make him continually live with her,
and he had plans for visits to Richmond, and even to New York; and,
better than that, she might want to spend a good deal of time at her
"For the sake of my name, and my niece," he said to himself, "I must
bear it like a man."
And, in answer to an earnest adjuration, Colonel Pinckney Macon
solemnly promised that he would never reveal, to man or woman, that
his friend did not marry the Widow Keswick entirely of his own wish
It was the desire of Mrs Keswick that the marriage, although conducted
in church, should be very simple in its arrangements. There would be
no bridesmaids or groomsmen; no flowers; no breakfast; and the couple
would be dressed in travelling costume. The friends of the old lady
persuaded her to make considerable changes in her attire, and a
costume was speedily prepared, which, while it suggested the fashions
of the present day, was also calculated to recall reminiscences of
those of a quarter of a century ago. This simplicity was the only
thing connected with the affair which satisfied Mr Brandon, and he
would have been glad to have the marriage entirely private, with no
more witnesses than the law demanded. But to this Mrs Keswick would
not consent. She wanted to have her former friends about her.
Accordingly, the church was pretty well filled with old colonels,
old majors, old generals, and old judges, with their wives and their
sisters, and, in a few cases, their daughters. All the elderly people
in Richmond, who, in the days of their youth, had known the gay
Miss Matty Pettigrew, and the handsome Bob Brandon, felt a certain
rejuvenation of spirit as they went to the wedding of the couple, who
had once been these two.
The old lady looked full of life and vigor, and, despite the
circumstances, Mr Brandon preserved a good deal of his usual manly
deportment. But, when in the course of the marriage service, the
clergyman came to the question in which the bride-groom was asked if
he would have this woman to be his wedded wife, to love and keep her
for the rest of their lives, the answer, "I will," came forth in a
feeble tone, which was not wholly divested of a tinge of despondency.
With the lady it was quite otherwise. When the like question was put
to her, she stepped back, and in a loud, clear voice, exclaimed:
"Not I! Marry that man, there?" she continued in a higher tone, and
pointing her finger at the astounded Mr Brandon. "Not for the world,
sir! Before he was born, his family defrauded and despoiled my people,
and as soon as he took affairs into his own hands, he continued the
villainous law robberies until we are poor, and he is rich; and, not
content with that, he basely wrecks and destroys the plans I had made
for the comfort of my old age, in order that his paltry purposes may
be carried out. After all that, does anybody here suppose that I would
take him for a husband? Marry him! Not I!" And, with these words, the
old lady turned her back on the clergyman, and walked rapidly down the
centre aisle, until she reached the church door. There she stopped,
and turning towards the stupefied assemblage, she snapped her bony
fingers in the air, and exclaimed: "Now, Mr Robert Brandon of
Midbranch, our account is balanced."
She then went out of the door, and took a street car for the train
that would carry her to her home.
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