Uzyskaj dostęp do tej i ponad 60000 książek od 6,99 zł miesięcznie
34 Complete Works of Frank R. StocktonA Bicycle of CathayA Chosen FewA Jolly FellowshipAmos Kilbright; His Adscititious ExperiencesBuccaneers and Pirates of Our CoastsEleven Possible CasesJohn Gayther's Garden and the Stories ToldKate BonnetMrs. Cliff's YachtMy Terminal MorainePomona's TravelsRound-about Rambles in Lands of Fact and FancyRudder GrangeStories by American Authors, Volume 2Stories of New JerseyThe Adventures of Captain HornThe Associate HermitsThe Bee-Man of OrnThe Captain's Toll-GateThe Casting Away of Mrs. Lecks and Mrs AleshineThe DusantesThe Girl At CobhurstThe Great Stone of SardisThe Great War SyndicatedThe House of MarthaThe Lady, or the TigerThe Late Mrs. NullThe Magic Egg and Other StoriesThe Rudder Grangers Abroad And other StoriesThe Squirrel InnThe stories of the three burglarsThe Vizier of the Two-Horned AlexanderTing-a-lingWhat might have been expected
Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:
Liczba stron: 10736
Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostepny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacjach Legimi na:
The Complete Collection of Frank R. Stockton
A Bicycle of Cathay
A Chosen Few
A Jolly Fellowship
Amos Kilbright; His Adscititious Experiences
Buccaneers and Pirates of Our Coasts
Eleven Possible Cases
John Gayther's Garden and the Stories Told
Mrs. Cliff's Yacht
My Terminal Moraine
Round-about Rambles in Lands of Fact and Fancy
Stories by American Authors, Volume 2
Stories of New Jersey
The Adventures of Captain Horn
The Associate Hermits
The Bee-Man of Orn
The Captain's Toll-Gate
The Casting Away of Mrs. Lecks and Mrs Aleshine
The Girl At Cobhurst
The Great Stone of Sardis
The Great War Syndicated
The House of Martha
The Lady, or the Tiger
The Late Mrs. Null
The Magic Egg and Other Stories
The Rudder Grangers Abroad And other Stories
The Squirrel Inn
The stories of the three burglars
The Vizier of the Two-Horned Alexander
What might have been expected
A Bicycle of Cathay, by Frank R. Stockton
A BICYCLE OF CATHAY
By Frank R. Stockton
Author of "The Great Stone of Sardis," "The Associate Hermits" etc.
Illustrated by Orson Lowell
[Illustration: The doctor's daughter]
THE DOCTOR'S DAUGHTER
II. A BAD TWIST
III. THE DUKE'S DRESSING-GOWN
IV. A BIT OF ADVICE
V. THE LADY AND THE CAVALIER
VI. THE HOLLY SPRIG INN
VII. MRS. CHESTER IS TROUBLED
IX. A RUNAWAY
X. THE LARRAMIE FAMILY
XI. THE THREE MCKENNAS
XII. BACK TO THE HOLLY SPRIG
XIII. A MAN WITH A LETTER
XIV. MISS EDITH IS DISAPPOINTED
XV. MISS WILLOUGHBY
XVI. AN ICICLE
XVII. A FORECASTER OF HUMAN PROBABILITIES
XVIII. REPENTANCE AVAILS NOT
XIX. BEAUTY, PURITY, AND PEACE
XX. BACK FROM CATHAY
THE DOCTOR'S DAUGHTER
"I PUT ON MY COAT"
"THE RAIN WAS COMING DOWN HARD"
"ON MY RIGHT A LIGHTED DOORWAY"
A FEW THOUGHTS
"THE BEAUTY OF HER TEETH"
"I KICKED OFF MY EMBROIDERED SLIPPERS"
"IT WOULD BE WELL FOR ME TO SWALLOW A CAPSULE"
"AS SOON AS I HAD SPOKEN THESE WORDS"
"I DISMOUNTED AND APPROACHED THE WALL"
"I THOUGHT FOR A FEW MOMENTS"
"I WENT OUT FOR A WALK"
"SHE BEGAN TO TALK ABOUT WALFORD"
"BUT WE WERE NOT ALONE"
"TO MY LEFT I SAW A LINE OF TREES"
"HE WAS RUNNING AWAY"
"HE SOON FELT THAT HE WAS UNDER CONTROL"
"A LITTLE ARMY HAD THROWN ITSELF UPON ME"
"'WOULD IT BE EASIER TO MANAGE A BOY OR A BEAR?'"
"I TAPPED MY LEFT PALM"
"THERE WAS A SUDDEN FLUSH UPON HER FACE"
"THE SCENE VIVIDLY RECURRED TO MY MIND"
DECIPHERING THE DAGO'S LETTER
"'I DON'T THINK YOU OUGHT TO TAKE THIS LETTER'"
"'DO YOU THINK YOU COULD HIT IT WITH AN APPLE?'"
"TALKING ABOUT BABY BEARS"
"I HELD THAT PICTURE A GOOD WHILE"
"'NO, SIR,' SHE SAID"
"CUT LIKE THAT"
THE DOCTOR'S DAUGHTER
It was a beautiful summer morning when slowly I wheeled my way along the principal street of the village of Walford. A little valise was strapped in front of my bicycle; my coat, rolled into a small compass, was securely tied under the seat, and I was starting out to spend my vacation.
I was the teacher of the village school, which useful institution had been closed for the season the day before, much to the gratification of pedagogue and scholars. This position was not at all the summit of my youthful ambition. In fact, I had been very much disappointed when I found myself obliged to accept it, but when I left college my financial condition made it desirable for me to do something to support myself while engaged in some of the studies preparatory to a professional career.
I have never considered myself a sentimental person, but I must admit that I did not feel very happy that morning, and this state of mind was occasioned entirely by the feeling that there was no one who seemed to be in the least sorry that I was going away. My boys were so delighted to give up their studies that they were entirely satisfied to give up their teacher, and I am sure that my vacation would have been a very long one if they had had the ordering of it. My landlady might have been pleased to have me stay, but if I had agreed to pay my board during my absence I do not doubt that my empty room would have occasioned her no pangs of regret. I had friends in the village, but as they knew it was a matter of course that I should go away during the vacation, they seemed to be perfectly reconciled to the fact.
As I passed a small house which was the abode of my laundress, my mental depression was increased by the action of her oldest son. This little fellow, probably five years of age, and the condition of whose countenance indicated that his mother's art was seldom exercised upon it, was playing on the sidewalk with his sister, somewhat younger and much dirtier.
As I passed the little chap he looked up and in a sharp, clear voice, he cried: "Good-bye! Come back soon!" These words cut into my soul. Was it possible that this little ragamuffin was the only one in that village who was sorry to see me depart and who desired my return? And the acuteness of this cut was not decreased by the remembrance that on several occasions when he had accompanied his mother to my lodging I had given him small coins.
I was beginning to move more rapidly along the little path, well worn by many rubber tires, which edged the broad roadway, when I perceived the doctor's daughter standing at the gate of her father's front yard. As I knew her very well, and she happened to be standing there and looking in my direction, I felt that it would be the proper thing for me to stop and speak to her, and so I dismounted and proceeded to roll my bicycle up to the gate.
As the doctor's daughter stood looking over the gate, her hands clasped the tops of the two central pickets.
"Good-morning," said she. "I suppose, from your carrying baggage, that you are starting off for your vacation. How far do you expect to go on your wheel, and do you travel alone?"
"My only plan," I answered, "is to ride over the hills and far away! How far I really do not know; and I shall be alone except for this good companion." And as I said this I patted the handle-bar of my bicycle.
"Your wheel does seem to be a sort of a companion," she said; "not so good as a horse, but better than nothing. I should think, travelling all by yourself in this way, you would have quite a friendly feeling for it. Did you ever think of giving it a name?"
"Oh yes," said I. "I have named it. I call it a 'Bicycle of Cathay.'"
"Is there any sense in such a name?" she asked. "It is like part of a quotation from Tennyson, isn't it? I forget the first of it."
"You are right," I said. "'Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.' I cannot tell you exactly why, but that seems to suggest a good name for a bicycle."
"But your machine has two wheels," said she. "Therefore you ought to say, 'Better one hundred years of Europe than two cycles of Cathay.'"
"I bow to custom," said I. "Every one speaks of a bicycle as a wheel, and I shall not introduce the plural into the name of my good steed."
"And you don't know where your Cathay is to be?" she asked.
I smiled and shook my head. "No," I answered, "but I hope my cycle will carry me safely through it."
The doctor's daughter looked past me across the road. "I wish I were a man," said she, "and could go off as I pleased, as you do! It must be delightfully independent."
I was about to remark that too much independence is not altogether delightful, but she suddenly spoke:
"You carry very little with you for a long journey," and as she said this she grasped the pickets of the gate more tightly. I could see the contraction of the muscles of her white hands. It seemed as if she were restraining something.
"Oh, this isn't all my baggage," I replied. "I sent on a large bag to Waterton. I suppose I shall be there in a couple of days, and then I shall forward the bag to some other place."
"I do not suppose you have packed up any medicine among your other things?" she asked. "You don't look as if you very often needed medicine."
I laughed as I replied that in the course of my life I had taken but little.
"But if your cycle starts off rolling early in the morning," she said, "or keeps on late in the evening, you ought to be able to defend yourself against malaria. I do not know what sort of a country Cathay may be, but I should not be a bit surprised if you found it full of mists and morning vapors. Malaria has a fancy for strong people, you know. Just wait here a minute, please," and with that she turned and ran into the house.
I had liked the doctor's daughter ever since I had begun to know her, although at first I had found it a little hard to become acquainted with her.
She was the treasurer of the literary society of the village, and I was its secretary. We had to work together sometimes, and I found her a very straightforward girl in her accounts and in every other way.
In about a minute she returned, carrying a little pasteboard box.
"Here are some one-grain quinine capsules," she said. "They have no taste, and I am quite sure that if you get into a low country it would be a good thing for you to take at least one of them every morning. People may have given you all sorts of things for your journey, but I do not believe any one has given you this." And she handed me the box over the top of the gate.
I did not say that her practical little present was the only thing that anybody had given me, but I thanked her very heartily, and assured her that I would take one every time I thought I needed it. Then, as it seemed proper to do so, I straightened up my bicycle as if I would mount it. Again her fingers clutched the top of the two palings.
"When father comes home," she said, "he will be sorry to find that he had not a chance to bid you good-bye. And, by-the-way," she added, quickly, "you know there will be one more meeting of the society. Did you write out any minutes for the last evening, and would you like me to read them for you?"
"Upon my word!" I exclaimed. "I have forgotten all about it. I made some rough notes, but I have written nothing."
"Well, it doesn't matter in the least," said she, quickly. "I remember everything that happened, and I will write the minutes and read them for you; that is, if you want me to."
I assured her that nothing would please me better, and we talked a little about the minutes, after which I thought I ought not to keep her standing at the gate any longer. So I took leave of her, and we shook hands over the gate. This was the first time I had ever shaken hands with the doctor's daughter, for she was a reserved girl, and hitherto I had merely bowed to her.
As I sped away down the street and out into the open country my heart was a good deal lighter than it had been when I began my journey. It was certainly pleasant to leave that village, which had been my home for the greater part of a year, without the feeling that there was no one in it who cared for me, even to the extent of a little box of quinine capsules.
A BAD TWIST
It was about the middle of the afternoon that I found myself bowling along a smooth highway, bordered by trees and stretching itself almost upon a level far away into the distance. Had I been a scorcher, here would have been a chance to do a little record-breaking, for I was a powerful and practised wheelman. But I had no desire to be extravagant with my energies, and so contented myself with rolling steadily on at a speed moderate enough to allow me to observe the country I was passing through.
There were not many people on the road, but at some distance ahead of me I saw a woman on a wheel. She was not going rapidly, and I was gaining on her. Suddenly, with no reason whatever that I could see, her machine gave a twist, and, although she put out her foot to save herself, she fell to the ground. Instantly I pushed forward to assist her, but before I could reach her she was on her feet. She made a step towards her bicycle, which lay in the middle of the road, and then she stopped and stood still. I saw that she was hurt, but I could not help a sort of inward smile. "It is the old way of the world," I thought. "Would the Fates have made that young woman fall from her bicycle if there had been two men coming along on their wheels?"
As I jumped from my machine and approached her she turned her head and looked at me. She was a pale girl, and her face was troubled. When I asked her if she had hurt herself, she spoke to me without the slightest embarrassment or hesitation.
"I twisted my foot in some way," she said, "and I do not know what I am going to do. It hurts me to make a step, and I am sure I cannot work my wheel."
"Have you far to go?" I asked.
"I live about two miles from here," she answered. "I do not think I have sprained my ankle, but it hurts. Perhaps, however, if I rest for a little while I may be able to walk."
"I would not try to do that," said I. "Whatever has happened to your foot or ankle, you would certainly make it very much worse by walking such a distance. Perhaps I can ride on and get you a conveyance?"
"You would have to go a long way to get one," she answered. "We do not keep a horse and I really--"
"Don't trouble yourself in the least," I said. "I can take you to your home without any difficulty whatever. If you will mount your machine I can push you along very easily."
"But then you would have to walk yourself," she said, quickly, "and push your wheel too."
Of course it would not have been necessary for me to walk, for I could have ridden my bicycle and have pushed her along on her own, but under the circumstances I did not think it wise to risk this. So I accepted her suggestion of walking as if nothing else could be done.
"Oh, I do not mind walking a bit," said I. "I am used to it, and as I have been riding for a long time, it would be a relief to me."
She stood perfectly still, apparently afraid to move lest she should hurt her foot, but she raised her head and fixed a pair of very large blue eyes upon me. "It is too kind in you to offer to do this! But I do not see what else is to be done. But who is going to hold up my wheel while you help me to get on it?"
"Oh, I will attend to all that," said I, and picking up her bicycle, I brought it to her. She made a little step towards it, and then stopped.
"You mustn't do that," said I. "I will put you on." And holding her bicycle upright with my left hand, I put my right arm around her and lifted her to the seat. She was such a childlike, sensible young person that I did not think it necessary to ask any permission for this action, nor even to allude to its necessity.
"Now you might guide yourself with the handle-bar," I said. "Please steer over to that tree where I have left my machine." I easily pushed her over to the tree, and when I had laid hold of my bicycle with my left hand, we slowly proceeded along the smooth road.
"I think you would better take your feet from the pedals," said I, "and put them on the coasters--the motion must hurt you. It is better to have your injured foot raised, anyway, as that will keep the blood from running down into it and giving you more pain."
She instantly adopted my suggestion, and presently said, "That is a great deal more pleasant, and I am sure it is better for my foot to keep it still. I do hope I haven't sprained my ankle! It is possible to give a foot a bad twist without spraining it, isn't it?"
I assented, and as I did so I thought it would not be difficult to give a bad twist to any part of this slenderly framed young creature.
"How did you happen to fall?" I asked--not that I needed to inquire, for my own knowledge of wheelcraft assured me that she had tumbled simply because she did not know how to ride.
"I haven't the slightest idea," she answered. "The first thing I knew I was going over, and I wish I had not tried to save myself. It would have been better to go down bodily."
As we went on she told me that she had not had much practice, as it had been but a few weeks since she had become the possessor of a wheel, and that this was the first trip she had ever taken by herself. She had always gone in company with some one, but to-day she had thought she was able to take care of herself, like other girls. Finding her so entirely free from conventional embarrassment, I made bold to give her a little advice on the subject of wheeling in general, and she seemed entirely willing to be instructed. In fact, as I went on with my little discourse I began to think that I would much rather teach girls than boys. At first sight the young person under my charge might have been taken for a school-girl, but her conversation would have soon removed that illusion.
We had not proceeded more than a mile when suddenly I felt a very gentle tap on the end of my nose, and at the same moment the young lady turned her head towards me and exclaimed: "It's going to rain! I felt a drop!"
"I will walk faster," I said, "and no doubt I will get you to your house before the shower is upon us. At any rate, I hope you won't be much wet."
"Oh, it doesn't matter about me in the least," she said. "I shall be at home and can put on dry clothes, but you will be soaked through and have to go on. You haven't any coat on!"
If I had known there was any probability of rain I should have put on my coat before I started out on this somewhat unusual method of travelling, but there was no help for it now, and all I could do was to hurry on. From walking fast I began to trot. The drops were coming down quite frequently.
"Won't that tire you dreadfully?" she said.
"Not at all," I replied. "I could run like this for a long distance."
[Illustration: "I PUT ON MY COAT"]
She looked up at me with a little smile. I think she must have forgotten the pain in her foot.
"It must be nice to be strong like that," she said.
Now the rain came down faster, and my companion declared that I ought to stop and put on my coat. I agreed to this, and when I came to a suitable tree by the road-side, I carefully leaned her against it and detached my coat from my bicycle. But just as I was about to put it on I glanced at the young girl. She had on a thin shirt-waist, and I could see that the shoulders of it were already wet. I advanced towards her, holding out my coat. "I must lay this over you," I said. "I am afraid now that I shall not get you to your home before it begins to rain hard."
She turned to me so suddenly that I made ready to catch her if her unguarded movement should overturn her machine. "You mustn't do that at all!" she said. "It doesn't matter whether I am wet or not. I do not have to travel in wet clothes, and you do. Please put on your coat and let us hurry!"
I obeyed her, and away we went again, the rain now coming down hard and fast. For some minutes she did not say anything; but I did not wonder at this, for circumstances were not favorable to conversation. But presently, in spite of the rain and our haste, she spoke:
"It must seem dreadfully ungrateful and hard-hearted in me to say to you, after all you have done for me, that you must go on in the rain. Anybody would think that I ought to ask you to come into our house and wait until the storm is over. But, really, I do not see how I can do it."
I urged her not for a moment to think of me. I was hardy, and did not mind rain, and when I was mounted upon my wheel the exercise would keep me warm enough until I reached a place of shelter.
"I do not like it," she said. "It is cruel and inhuman, and nothing you can say will make it any better. But the fact is that I find myself in a very--Well, I do not know what to say about it. You are the school-teacher at Walford, are you not?"
This question surprised me, and I assented quickly, wondering what would come next.
"I thought so," she said. "I have seen you on the road on your wheel, and some one told me who you were. And now, since you have been so kind to me, I am going to tell you exactly why I cannot ask you to stop at our house. Everything is all wrong there to-day, and if I don't explain what has happened, you might think that things are worse than they really are, and I wouldn't want anybody to think that."
[Illustration: "THE RAIN WAS COMING DOWN HARD"]
I listened with great attention, for I saw that she was anxious to free herself of the imputation of being inhospitable, and although the heavy rain and my rapid pace made it sometimes difficult to catch her words, I lost very little of her story.
"You see," said she, "my father is very fond of gardening, and he takes great pride in his vegetables, especially the early ones. He has peas this year ahead of everybody else in the neighborhood, and it was only day before yesterday that he took me out to look at them. He has been watching them ever since they first came up out of the ground, and when he showed me the nice big pods and told me they would be ready to pick in a day or two, he looked so proud and happy that you might have thought his peas were little living people. I truly believe that even at prayer-time he could not help thinking how good those peas would taste.
"But this morning when he came in from the garden and told mother that he was going to pick our first peas, so as to have them perfectly fresh for dinner, she said that he would better not pick them to-day, because the vegetable man had been along just after breakfast, and he had had such nice green peas that she had bought some, and therefore he had better keep his peas for some other day.
"Now, I don't want you to think that mother isn't just as good as gold, for she is. But she doesn't take such interest in garden things as father does, and to her all peas are peas, provided they are good ones. But when father heard what she had done I know that he felt exactly as if he had been stabbed in one of his tenderest places. He did not say one word, and he walked right out of the house, and since that they haven't spoken to each other. It was dreadful to sit at dinner, neither of them saying a word to the other, and only speaking to me. It was all so different from the way things generally are that I can scarcely bear it.
"And I went out this afternoon for no other reason than to give them a chance to make it up between them. I thought perhaps they would do it better if they were alone with each other. But of course I do not know what has happened, and things may be worse than they were. I could not take a stranger into the house at such a time--they would not like to be found not speaking to each other--and, besides, I do not know--"
Here I interrupted her, and begged her not to give another thought to the subject. I wanted very much to go on, and in every way it was the best thing I could do.
As I finished speaking she pointed out a pretty house standing back from the road, and told me that was where she lived. In a very few minutes after that I had run her up to the steps of her piazza and was assisting her to dismount from her wheel.
"It is awful!" she said. "This rain is coming down like a cataract!"
"You must hurry in-doors," I answered. "Let me help you up the steps." And with this I took hold of her under the arms, and in a second I had set her down in front of the closed front door. I then ran down and brought up her wheel. "Do you think you can manage to walk in?" said I.
"Oh yes!" she said. "If I can't do anything else, I can hop. My mother will soon have me all right. She knows all about such things."
She looked at me with an anxious expression, and then said, "How do you think it would do for you to wait on the piazza until the rain is over?"
"Good-bye," I said, with a laugh, and bounding down to the front gate, where I had left my bicycle, I mounted and rode away.
The rain came down harder and harder. The road was full of little running streams, and liquid mud flew from under my whirling wheels. It was not late in the afternoon, but it was actually getting dark, and I seemed to be the only living creature out in this tremendous storm. I looked from side to side for some place into which I could run for shelter, but here the road ran between broad open fields. My coat had ceased to protect me, and I could feel the water upon my skin.
But in spite of my discomforts and violent exertions I found myself under the influence of some very pleasurable emotions, occasioned by the incident of the slender girl. Her childlike frankness was charming to me. There was not another girl in a thousand who would have told me that story of the peas. I felt glad that she had known who I was when she was talking to me, and that her simple confidences had been given to me personally, and not to an entire stranger who had happened along. I wondered if she resembled her father or her mother, and I had no doubt that to possess such a daughter they must both be excellent people.
THE DUKE'S DRESSING-GOWN
Thinking thus, I almost forgot the storm, but coming to a slight descent where the road was very smooth I became conscious that my wheel was inclined to slip, and if I were not careful I might come to grief. But no sooner had I reached the bottom of the declivity than I beheld on my right a lighted doorway. Without the slightest hesitation I turned through the wide gateway, the posts of which I could scarcely see, and stopped in front of a small house by the side of a driveway. Waiting for no permission, I carried my bicycle into a little covered porch. I then approached the door, for I was now seeking not only shelter but an opportunity to dry myself. I do not believe a sponge could have been more thoroughly soaked than I was.
At the very entrance I was met by a little man in short jacket and top-boots.
"I heard your step," said he. "Been caught in the rain, eh? Well, this is a storm! And now what're we going to do? You must come in. But you're in a pretty mess, I must say! Hi, Maria!"
At these words a large, fresh-looking woman came into the little hall.
"Maria," said the man, "here's a gentleman that's pretty nigh drowned, and he's dripping puddles big enough to swim in."
The woman smiled. "Really, sir," said she, "you've had a hard time. Wheeling, I suppose. It's an awful time to be out. It's so dark that I lighted a lamp to make things look a little cheery. But you must come in until the rain is over, and try and dry yourself."
"But how about the hall, Maria?" said the man. "There'll be a dreadful slop!"
"Oh, I'll make that all right," she said. She disappeared, and quickly returned with a couple of rugs, which she laid, wrong side up, on the polished floor of the hallway. "Now you can step on those, sir, and come into the kitchen. There's a fire there."
I thanked her, and presently found myself before a large stove, on which it was evident, from the odors, that supper was preparing. In a certain way the heat was grateful, but in less than a minute I was bound to admit to myself that I felt as if I were enveloped in a vast warm poultice. The little man and his wife--if wife she were, for she looked big enough to be his mother, and young enough to be his daughter--stood talking in the hall, and I could hear every word they said.
[Illustration: "ON MY RIGHT A LIGHTED DOORWAY"]
"It's of no use for him to try to dry himself," she said, "for he's wet to the bone. He must change his clothes, and hang those he's got on before the fire."
"Change his clothes!" exclaimed the man. "How ever can he do that? I've nothing that'll fit him, and of course he has brought nothing along with him."
"Never you mind," said she. "Something's got to be got. Take him into the little chamber. And don't consider the floor; that can be wiped up."
She came into the kitchen and spoke to me. "You must come and change your clothes," she said. "You'll catch your death of cold, else. You're the school-master from Walford, I think, sir? Indeed, I'm sure of it, for I've seen you on your wheel."
Smiling at the idea that through the instrumentality of my bicycle I had been making myself known to the people of the surrounding country, I followed the man into a small bed-chamber on the ground-floor.
"Now," said he, "the quicker you get off your wet clothes and give yourself a good rub-down the better it will be for you. And I'll go and see what I can do in the way of something for you to put on."
I asked him to bring me the bag from my bicycle, and after doing so he left me.
Very soon I heard talking outside of my door, and as both my entertainers had clear, high voices, I could hear distinctly what they said.
"Go get him the corduroys," said she. "He's a well-made man, but he's no bigger than your father was."
"The corduroys?" he said, somewhat doubtfully, I thought.
"Yes," she replied. "Go get them! I should be glad to have them put to some use."
"But what for a coat?" said he. "There's nothing in the house that he could get on."
"That's true," said she. "But he must have something. You can get him the Duke's dressing-gown."
"What!" exclaimed the man. "You don't mean--"
"Yes, I do mean," said she. "It's big enough for anybody, and it'll keep him from ketching cold. Go fetch it!"
In a short time there was a knock at my door, and the little man handed me in a pair of yellow corduroy trousers and a large and gaudy dressing-gown. "There!" said he. "They'll keep you warm until your own clothes dry."
With a change of linen from my bag, which had fortunately kept its contents dry, the yellow trousers, and a wonderful dressing-gown, made of some blue stuff embroidered with gold and lined throughout with crimson satin, I made a truly gorgeous appearance. But it struck me that it would be rather startling to a beholder were I to appear barefooted in such raiment, for my shoes and stockings were as wet as the rest of my clothes. I had not finished dressing before the little man knocked again, this time with some gray socks and a pair of embroidered slippers.
"These'll fit you, I think," said he, "for I'll lay you ten shillings that I'm as big in the feet as you are."
I would have been glad to gaze at myself in a full-length mirror, but there was no opportunity for the indulgence of such vanity; and before leaving the room I sat down for a moment to give a few thoughts to the situation. My mind first reverted to the soaked condition of my garments and the difficulty of getting them dry enough for me to put them on and continue my journey. Then I found that I had dropped the subject and was thinking of the slender girl, wondering if she had really hurt herself very much, congratulating myself that I had been fortunate enough to be on hand to help her in her need, and considering what a plight she would have been in if she had been caught in that terrible rain and utterly unable to get herself to shelter.
Suddenly I stopped short in my thinking, and going to my bag I took from it the little box of quinine capsules which had been given to me by the doctor's daughter, and promptly proceeded to swallow one of them.
"It may be of service to me," I said to myself.
When I made my appearance in the hallway I met the little man, who immediately burst into a roar of laughter.
"Lord, sir!" said he. "You must excuse me, but you look like a king on a lark! Walk into the parlor, sir, and sit down and make yourself comfortable. She's hurrying up supper to give you something warm after your wettin'. Would you like a little nip of whiskey, sir, to keep the damp out?"
[Illustration: A Few Thoughts]
I declined the whiskey, and seated myself in the neatly-furnished parlor. It was wonderful, I thought, to fall into such a hospitable household, and then I began to ask myself whether or not it would be the proper thing to offer to pay for my entertainment. I thought I had quite properly divined the position in life of the little man. This small house, so handsomely built and neatly kept, must be a lodge upon some fine country place, and the man was probably the head gardener, or something of the kind.
It was not long before my hostess came into the room, but she did not laugh at my appearance. She was a handsome woman, erect and broad, with a free and powerful step. She smiled as she spoke to me.
"You may think that that's an over-handsome gown for such as us to be owning. It was given to my man by the Duke of Radford. That was before we were married, and he was an undergardener then. The Duchess wouldn't let the Duke wear it, because it was so gay, and there wasn't none of the servants that would care to take it, for fear they'd be laughed at, until they offered it to John. And John, you must know, he'd take anything! But I came in to tell you supper's ready; and, if you like, I'll bring you something in here, and you can eat it on that table, or--"
Here I interrupted my good hostess, and declared that, while I should be glad to have some supper, I would not eat any unless I might sit down with her husband and herself; and, as this proposition seemed to please her, the three of us were soon seated around a very tastefully furnished table in a dining-room looking out upon a pretty lawn. The rain had now almost ceased, and from the window I could see beautiful stretches of grass, interspersed with ornamental trees and flower-beds.
The meal was plain but abundant, with an appetizing smell pervading it which is seldom noticed in connection with the tables of the rich. When we had finished supper I found that the skies had nearly cleared and that it was growing quite light again. I asked permission to step out upon a little piazza which opened from the dining-room and smoke a pipe, and while I was sitting there enjoying the beauty of the sunlight on the sparkling grass and trees I again heard the little man and his wife talking to each other.
"It can't be done," said he, speaking very positively. "I've orders about that, and there's no getting round them."
"It's got to be done!" said she, "and there's an end of it! The clothes won't be dry until morning, and it won't do to put them too near the stove, or they'll shrink so he can't get them on. And he can't go away to hunt up lodgings wearing the Duke's dressing-gown and them yellow breeches!"
"Orders is orders," said the man, "and unless I get special leave, it can't be done."
"Well, then, go and get special leave," said she, "and don't stand there talking about it!"
There was no doubt that my lodging that night was the subject of this conversation, but I had no desire to interfere with the good intentions of my hostess. I must stay somewhere until my clothes were dry, and I should be glad to stop in my present comfortable quarters.
So I sat still and smoked, and very soon I heard the big shoes of the little man grating upon the gravel as he walked rapidly away from the house. Now came the good woman out upon the piazza to ask me if I had found my tobacco dry. "Because if it's damp," said she, "my man has some very good 'baccy in his jar."
I assured her that my pouch had kept dry; and then, as she seemed inclined to talk, I begged her to sit down if she did not mind the pipe. Down she sat, and steadily she talked. She congratulated herself on her happy thought to light the hall lamp, or I might never have noticed the house in the darkness, and she would have been sorry enough if I had had to keep on the road for another half-hour in that dreadful rain.
On she talked in the most cheerful and communicative way, until suddenly she rose with a start. "He's coming himself, sir!" she said, "with Miss Putney."
"Who is 'he'?" I asked.
"It's the master, sir Mr. Putney, and his daughter. Just stay here where you are, sir, and make yourself comfortable. I'll go and speak to them."
Left to myself, I knocked out my pipe and sat wondering what would happen next. A thing happened which surprised me very much. Upon a path which ran in front of the little piazza there appeared two persons--one, an elderly gentleman, with gray side-whiskers and a pale face, attired in clothes with such an appearance of newness that it might well have been supposed this was the first time he had worn them; the other, a young lady, rather small in stature, but extremely pleasant to look upon. She had dark hair and large blue eyes; her complexion was rich, and her dress of light silk was wonderfully well shaped.
[Illustration: "The beauty of her teeth"]
All this I saw at a glance, and immediately afterwards I also perceived that she had most beautiful teeth; for when she beheld me as I rose from my chair and stood in my elevated position before her she could not restrain a laugh; but for this apparent impoliteness I did not blame her at all.
But not so much as a smile came upon the countenance of the elderly gentleman. He, too, was small, but he had a deep voice. "Good-evening, sir," said he. "I am told that you are the school-master at Walford, and that you were overtaken by the storm."
I assured him that these were the facts, and stood waiting to hear what he would say next.
"It was very proper indeed, sir, that my gardener and his wife should take you under the protection of this roof, but as I hear that it is proposed that you should spend the night here, I have come down to speak about it. I will tell you at once, sir, that I have given my man the most positive orders that he is not to allow any one to spend a night in this house. It is so conveniently near to the road that I should not know what sort of persons were being entertained here if I allowed him any such privilege."
As he spoke the young lady stood silently gazing at me. There was a remnant of a smile upon her face, but I could also see that she was a little annoyed. I was about to make some sort of an independent answer to the gentleman's remarks, but he anticipated me.
"I do not want you to think, sir, on account of what I have said, that I intend to drive you off my property at this hour of the evening, and in your inappropriate clothing. I have heard of you, sir, and you occupy a position of trust and, to a certain degree, of honor, in your village. Therefore, while I cannot depart from my rule--for I wish to make no precedent of that kind--I will ask you to spend the night at my house. You need not be annoyed by the peculiarity of your attire. If you desire to avoid observation you can remain here until it grows darker, and then you can walk up to the mansion. I shall have a bed-room prepared for you, and whenever you choose you can occupy it. I have been informed that you have had something to eat, and it is as well, for perhaps your dress would prevent you from accepting an invitation to our evening meal."
I still held my brier-wood pipe in my hand, and I felt inclined to hurl it at the dapper head of the consequential little gentleman, but with such a girl standing by it would have been impossible to treat him with any disrespect, and as I looked at him I felt sure that his apparent superciliousness was probably the result of too much money and too little breeding.
The young lady said nothing, but she turned and looked steadily at her father. Her countenance was probably in the habit of very promptly expressing the state of her mind, and it now seemed to say to her father, "I hope that what you have said will not make him decline what you offer!"
My irritation quickly disappeared. I had now entered into my Cathay, and I must take things as I found them there. As I could not stay where I was, and could not continue my journey, it would be a sensible thing to overlook the man's manner and accept his offer, and I accordingly did so. I think he was pleased more than he cared to express.
"Very good, sir!" said he. "As soon as it grows a little darker I shall be glad to have you walk up to my house. As I said before, I am sure you would not care to do so now, as you might provoke remarks even from the servants. Good-evening, sir, until I see you again."
During all this time the young lady had not spoken, but as the two disappeared around the corner of the house I heard her voice. She spoke very clearly and distinctly, and she said, "It would have been a great deal more gracious if you had asked him to come at once, without all that----" The rest of her remarks were lost to me.
The little man and his wife presently came out on the porch. Her countenance expressed a sort of resignation to thwarted hospitality.
"It's the way of the world, sir!" she said. "The ups are always up and the downs are always down! I expect they will be glad to have company at the house, for it must be dreadfully lonely up there--which might be said of this house as well."
It soon became dark enough for me to walk through the grounds without hurting the sensibilities of their proprietor, and as I arose to go the good wife of the gardener brought me my cap.
"I dried that out for you, sir, for I knew you would want it, and to-morrow morning my man will take your clothes up to the house."
I thanked her for her thoughtful kindness, and was about to depart, but the little man was not quite ready for me to go.
"If you don't mind, sir," said he, "and would step back there in the light just for one minute, I would like to take another look at you. I don't suppose I'll ever see anybody again wearing the Duke's dressing-gown. By George, sir, you do look real royal!"
His wife looked at me admiringly. "Yes, sir," said she, "and I wish it was the fashion for gentlemen to dress something like that every day. But I will say, sir, that if you don't want people to be staring at you, and will just wrap that gown round you so that the lining won't be seen, you won't look so much out of the way."
As I walked along the smooth, hard driveway I adopted the suggestion of the gardener's wife; but as I approached the house, and saw that even the broad piazza was lighted by electric lamps, I was seized with the fancy to appear in all my glory, and I allowed my capacious robe to float out on each side of me in crimson brightness.
The gentleman stood at the top of the steps. "I have been waiting for you, sir," said he. He looked as if he were about to offer me his hand, but probably considered this an unnecessary ceremony under the circumstances. "Would you like to retire to your room, sir, or would you prefer--prefer sitting out here to enjoy the cool of the evening? Here are chairs and seats, sir, of all variety of comfort. My family and I frequently sit out here in the evenings, but to-night the air is a little damp."
I assured the gentleman that the air suited me very well, and that I would prefer not to retire so early; and so, not caring any longer to stand in front of the lighted doorway, I walked to one end of the piazza and took a seat.
"We haven't yet--that is to say, we are still at the table," he remarked, as he followed me; "but if there is anything that you would like to have, I should be--"
I interrupted him by declaring that I had supped heartily and did not want for anything in the world, and then, with some sort of an inarticulate excuse, he left me. I knew very well that this nervously correct personage had jumped up from his dinner in order that he might meet me at the door and thus prevent my unconventional attire from shocking any of the servants.
It was very quiet and pleasant on the piazza, but, although I could hear that a great deal of talking was going on inside, no words came to me. In a short time, however, a man-servant in livery came out upon the piazza and approached me with a tray on which were a cup of coffee and some cigars. I could not refrain from smiling as I saw the man.
"The old fellow has been forced to conquer his prejudices," I said to myself, "and to submit to the mortification of allowing me to be seen by his butler!"
I think, however, that even had the master been regarding us he would have seen no reason for mortification in the manner of his servant. The man was extremely polite and attentive, suggesting various refreshments, such as wine and biscuits, and I never was treated by a lackey with more respect.
Leaning back in a comfortable chair, I sipped my coffee and puffed away at a perfectly delightful Havana cigar. "Cathay is not a bad place," said I, to myself. "Its hospitality is a little queer, but as to gorgeousness, luxury, and----" I was about to add another quality when my mind was diverted by a light step on the piazza, and, turning my head, I beheld the young lady I had seen before. Instantly I rose and laid aside my cigar.
"Please do not disturb yourself," she said. "I simply came out to give a little message from my father. Sit down again, and I will take this seat for a moment. My father's health is delicate," she said, "and we do not like him to be out in the night air, especially after a rain. So I came in his stead to tell you that if you would like to come into the house you must do so without the slightest hesitation, because my mother and I do not mind that dressing-gown any more than if it were an ordinary coat. We are very glad to have the opportunity of entertaining you, for we know some people in Walford--not very many, but some--and we have heard you and your school spoken of very highly. So we want you to make yourself perfectly at home, and come in or sit out here, just as your own feelings in regard to extraordinary fine clothes shall prompt you."
At this she reassured me as to the beauty of her teeth. "As long as you will sit out here," said I, to myself, "there will be no in-doors for me."
She seemed to read my thoughts, and said: "If you will go on with your smoking, I will wait and ask you some things about Walford. I dearly love the smell of a good cigar, and father never smokes. He always keeps them, however, in case of gentlemen visitors."
She then went on to talk about some Walford people, and asked me if I knew Mary Talbot. I replied in the affirmative, for Miss Talbot was a member of our literary society, and the young lady informed me that Mary Talbot had a brother in my school--a fact of which I was aware to my sorrow--and it was on account of this brother that she had first happened to see me.
"See me!" I exclaimed, with surprise.
"Yes," said she. "I drove over to the village one day this spring, and Mary and I were walking past your school-house, and the door was wide open, for it was so warm, and we stopped so that Mary might point out her brother to me; and so, as we were looking in, of course I saw you."
"And you recognized me," I said, "when you saw me at the gardener's house?"
"We call that the lodge," said she. "Not that I care in the least what name you give it. And while we are on a personal subject, I want to ask you to excuse me for laughing at you when I first saw you in that astounding garb. It was very improper, I know, but the apparition was so sudden I could not help it."
I had never met a young lady so thoroughly self-contained as this one. None of the formalities of society had been observed in regard to our acquaintance with each other, but she talked with me with such an easy grace and with such a gentle assurance that there was no need of introduction or presentation; I felt acquainted with her on the spot. I had no doubt that her exceptionally gracious demeanor was due to the fact that nobody else in the house seemed inclined to be gracious, and she felt hospitality demanded that something of the kind should be offered me by some one of the family.
We talked together for some minutes longer, and then, apparently hearing something in the house which I did not notice, she rose rather abruptly.
"I must go in," she said; "but don't you stay out here a second longer than you want to."
She had left me but a very short time when her father came out on the piazza, his coat buttoned up nearly to his chin. "I have been detained, sir," he said, "by a man who came to see me on business. I cannot remain with you out here, for the air affects me; but if you will come in, sir, I shall be glad to have you do so, without regard to your appearance. My wife is not strong and she has retired, and if it pleases you I shall be very glad to have you tell me something of your duties and success in Walford. Or, if you are fatigued, your room is ready for you, and my man will show you to it."
I snatched at the relief held out to me. To sit in the company of that condescending prig, to bore him and to be bored by him, was a doleful grievance I did not wish to inflict upon myself, and I eagerly answered that the day had been a long and hard one, and that I would be glad to go to bed.
This was an assertion which was doubly false, for I was not in the least tired or sleepy; and just as I had made the statement and was entering the hall I saw that the young lady was standing at the parlor door; but it was too late now for me to change my mind.
"Brownster," said Mr. Putney to his butler, "will you give this gentleman a candle and show him to his room?"
Brownster quietly bowed, and stepping to a table in the corner, on which stood some brass bed-room candlesticks, he lighted one of the candles and stood waiting.
The gentleman moved towards his daughter, and then he stopped and turned to me. "We have breakfast," he said, "at half-past eight But if that is too late for you," he added, with a certain hesitation, "you can have--"
At this moment I distinctly saw his daughter punch him with her elbow, and as I had no desire to make an early start, and wished very much to enjoy a good breakfast in Cathay, I quickly declared that I was in no hurry, and that the family breakfast hour would suit me perfectly.
The young lady disappeared into the parlor, and I moved towards the butler; but my host, probably thinking that he had not been quite as attentive to me as his station demanded, or wishing to let me see what a fine house he possessed, stepped up to me and asked me to look into the billiard-room, the door of which I was about to pass. After some remarks of deprecatory ostentation, in which he informed me that in building his house he thought only of comfort and convenience, and nothing of show, he carelessly invited my attention to the drawing-room, the library, the music-room, and the little sitting-room, all of which were furnished with as much stiffness and hardness and inharmonious coloring as money could command.
When we had finished the round of these rooms he made me a bow as stiff as one of his white and gold chairs, and I followed the butler up the staircase. The man with the light preceded me into a room on the second floor, and just as I was about to enter after him I saw the young lady come around a corner of the hall with a lighted candle in her hand.
[Illustration: "I kicked off my embroidered slippers"]
"Good-night," she said, with a smile so charming that I wanted to stop and tell her something about Mary Talbot's brother; but she passed on, and I went into my room.
It seemed perfectly ridiculous to me that people should carry around bed-room candles in a house lighted from top to bottom by electricity, but I had no doubt that this was one of the ultra-conventional customs from which the dapper gentleman would not allow his family to depart. I did not believe for a moment that his daughter would conform to such nonsense except to please her parent.
The softly moving and attentive Brownster put the candle on the table, blew it out, and touched a button, thereby lighting up a very handsomely furnished room. Then, after performing every possible service for me, with a bow he left me. Throwing myself into a great easy chair, I kicked off my embroidered slippers and put my feet upon another chair gay with satin stripes. Raising my eyes, I saw in front of me a handsome mirror extending from the floor nearly to the ceiling, and at the magnificent personage which therein met my gaze I could not help laughing aloud.
I rose, stood before the mirror, folded my gorgeous gown around me, spread it out, contrasting the crimson glory of its lining with the golden yellow of my trousers, and wondered in my soul how that exceedingly handsome girl with the bright eyes could have controlled her risibilities as she sat with me on the piazza. I could see that she had a wonderful command of herself, but this exercise of it seemed superhuman.
I walked around the sumptuously furnished chamber, looking at the pictures and bric-à-brac; I wondered that the master of the house was willing to put me in a room like this--I had expected a hall bed-room, at the best; I sat down by an open window, for it was very early yet and I did not want to go to bed, but I had scarcely seated myself when I heard a tap at the door. I could not have explained it, but this tap made me jump, and I went to the door and opened it instead of calling out. There stood the butler, with a tray in his hand on which was a decanter of wine, biscuits, cheese, and some cigars.
"It's so early, sir," said Brownster, "that she said--I mean, sir, I thought that you might like something to eat, and if you want to enjoy a cigar before retiring, as many gentlemen do, you need not mind smoking here. These rooms are so well ventilated, sir, that every particle of odor will be out in no time." Placing the tray upon a table, he retired.
[Illustration: "IT WOULD BE WELL FOR ME TO SWALLOW A CAPSULE"]
For an hour or more I sat sipping my wine, puffing smoke into rings, and allowing my mind to dwell pleasingly upon the situation, the most prominent feature of which seemed to me to be a young lady with bright eyes and white teeth, and dressed in a perfectly-fitting gown.
When at last I thought I ought to go to bed, I stood and gazed at my little valise. I had left it on the porch and had totally forgotten it, but here it was upon a table, where it had been placed, no doubt, by the thoughtful Brownster. I opened it and took out the box of capsules. I did not feel that I had taken cold in the night air; this was not a time to protect myself against morning mists; but still I thought it would be well for me to swallow a capsule, and I did so.
A BIT OF ADVICE
The next morning I awoke about seven o'clock. My clothes, neatly brushed and folded, were on a chair near the bed, with my brightly-blackened shoes near by. I rose, quickly dressed myself, and went forth into the morning air. I met no one in the house, and the hall door was open. For an hour or more I walked about the beautiful grounds. Sometimes I wandered near the house, among the flower-beds and shrubs; sometimes I followed the winding path to a considerable distance; occasionally I sat down in a covered arbor; and then I sought the shade of a little grove, in which there were hammocks and rustic chairs. But I met no one, and I saw no one except some men working near the stables. I would have been glad to go down to the lodge and say "Good-morning" to my kind entertainers there, but for some reason or other it struck me that that neat little house was too much out of the way.
When I had had enough walking I retired to the piazza and sat there, until Brownster, with a bow, came and informed me that breakfast was served.
The young lady, in the freshest of summer costumes, met me at the door and bade me "Good-morning," but the greeting of her father was not by any means cordial, although his manner had lost some of the stiff condescension which had sat so badly upon him the evening before. The mother was a very pleasant little lady of few words and a general air which indicated an intimate acquaintance with back seats.
The breakfast was a remarkably good one. When the meal was over, Mr. Putney walked with me into the hall. "I must now ask you to excuse me, sir," said he, "as this is the hour when I receive my manager and arrange with him for the varied business of the day. Good-morning, sir. I wish you a very pleasant journey." And, barely giving me a chance to thank him for his entertainment, he disappeared into the back part of the house.
Tysiące ebooków i audiobooków
Ich liczba ciągle rośnie, a Ty masz gwarancję niezmiennej ceny.
Napisali o nas:
Nowy sposób na e-księgarnię
Czytelnicy nie wierzą
Legimi idzie na całość
Projekt Legimi wielkim wydarzeniem
Spotify for ebooks