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Frank Stockton R.

LOVE BEFORE BREAKFAST

   I was still a young man when I came into the possession ofan excellent estate. This consisted of a large country housesurrounded bylawnsgrovesand gardensand situated not far from the flourishing littletown of Boynton. Being an orphan with no brothers or sistersI set up here abachelor's hallin whichfor two yearsI lived with great satisfaction andcomfortimproving my grounds and furnishing my house. When I had made all theimprovements which were really neededand feeling that I now had a mostdelightful home to come back toI thought it would be an excellent thing totake a trip to Europegive my mind a run in fresh fieldsand pick up a lot ofbric-a-brac and ideas for the adornment and advantage of my house and mind.

    It was the custom of the residents in my neighborhood whoowned houses and travelled in the summer to let their houses during theirabsenceand my business agent and myself agreed that this would be an excellentthing for me to do. If the house were let to a suitable family it would yield mea considerable incomeand the place would not present on my return that air ofretrogression and desolation which I



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might expect if it were left unoccupied and in charge of a caretaker.

 

    My agent assured me that I would have no trouble whateverin letting my placefor it offered many advantages and I expected but areasonable rent. I desired to leave everything just as it stoodhousefurniturebookshorsescowsand poultrytaking with me only my clothes andpersonal requisitesand I desired tenants who would come in bringing only theirclothes and personal requisiteswhich they could quietly take away with themwhen their lease should expire and I should return home.

    In spitehoweverof the assurances of the agentit wasnot easy to let my place. The house was too large for some peopletoo small forothersand while some applicants had more horses than I had stalls in my stableothers did not want even the horses I would leave. I had engaged my steamerpassageand the day for my departure drew nearand yet no suitable tenants hadpresented themselves. I had almost come to the conclusion that the whole matterwould have to be left in the hands of my agentfor I had no intention whateverof giving up my projected travelswhen early one afternoon some people came tolook at the house. Fortunately I was at homeand I gave myself the pleasure ofpersonally conducting them about the premises. It was a pleasurebecause assoon as I comprehended the fact that these applicants desired to rent my house Iwished them to have it.

    The family consisted of an elderly gentleman and his wifewith a daughter of twenty or thereabout. This was a family that suited meexactly. Three in

I gave myself the pleasure of personally conducting them about the premises.






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numberno childrenpeople of intelligence and positionfond of the countryand anxious for just such a place as I offered them -- what could be better?

 

    The more I walked about and talked with these good peopleand showed them my possessionsthe more I desired that the young lady shouldtake my house. Of course her parents were included in this wishbut it was forher ears that all my remarks were intendedalthough sometimes addressed to theothersand she was the tenant I labored to obtain. I say "labored"advisedlybecause I racked my brain to think of inducements which might bringthem to a speedy and favorable decision.

    Apart from the obvious advantages of the arrangementitwould be a positive delight to me during my summer wanderings in Europe to thinkthat that beautiful girl would be strolling through my groundsenjoying myflowersand sitting with her book in the shady nooks I had made so pleasantlying in my hammocksspending her evening hours in my studyreading my bookswriting at my deskand perhaps musing in my easy-chair. Before these applicantsappeared it had sometimes pained me to imagine strangers in my home; but no suchthought crossed my mind in regard to this young ladywhoif charming in thehouse and on the lawngrew positively entrancing when she saw my Jersey cowsand my two horsesregarding them with an admiration which even surpassed my own.

    Long before we had completed the tour of inspection I hadmade up my mind that this young lady should come to live in my house. Ifobstacles should show themselves they should be removed. I would



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tear downI would buildI would paper and paintI would put in all sorts ofelectric bellsI would reduce the rent until it suited their notions exactlyIwould have my horses' tails banged if she liked that kind of tails better thanlong ones -- I would do anything to make them definitely decide to take theplace before they left me. I trembled to think of her going elsewhere and givingother householders a chance to tempt her. She had looked at a good many countryhousesbut it was quite plain that none of them had pleased her so well asmine.

 

    I left them in my library to talk the matter over bythemselvesand in less than ten minutes the young lady herself came out on thelawn to tell me that her father and mother had decided to take the place andwould like to speak with me.

    "I am so glad" she said as we went in. "Iam sure I shall enjoy every hour of our stay here. It is so different fromanything we have yet seen."

    When everything had been settled I wanted to take themagain over the place and point out a lot of things I had omitted. I particularlywanted to show them some lovely walks in the woods. But there was no timeforthey had to catch a train.

    Her name was Vincent -- Cora Vincentas I discovered fromher mother's remarks.

    As soon as they departed I had my mare saddled and rodeinto town to see my agent. I went into his office exultant.

    "I've let my house" I said"and I wantyou to make out the lease and have everything fixed and settled as soon aspossible. This is the address of my tenants."





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    The agent asked me a good many questionsbeingparticularly anxious to know what rent had been agreed upon.

    "Heavens!" he exclaimedwhen I mentioned thesum"that is ever so much less than I told you you could get. I am incommunication now with a party whom I know would pay you considerably more thanthese people. Have you definitely settled with them? Perhaps it is not too lateto withdraw."

    "Withdraw!" I cried. "Never! They are theonly tenants I want. I was determined to get themand I think I must havelowered the rent four or five times in the course of the afternoon. I took a bigslice out of it before I mentioned the sum at all. You see" said Iveryimpressively"these Vincents exactly suit me." And then I went on tostate fully the advantages of the arrangementomittinghoweverany referencesto my visions of Miss Vincent swinging in my hammocks or musing in mystudy-chair.

    It was now May 15and my steamer would sail on thetwenty-first. The intervening days I employednot in preparing for my travelsbut in making every possible arrangement for the comfort and convenience of myincoming tenants. The Vincents did not wish to take possession until June 1andI was sorry they had not applied before I had engaged my passagefor in thatcase I would have selected a later date. A very good steamer sailed on June 3and it would have suited me just as well.

    Happening to be in New York one dayI went to theVincents' city residence to consult with them in regard to some awnings which Iproposed putting up at the back of the house. I found no one at home but



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the old gentlemanand it made no difference to him whether the awnings wereblack and brown or red and yellow. I cordially invited him to come out before Ileftand bring his familythat they might look about the place to see if therewas anything they would like to have done which had not already been attended to.It was so much betterI told himto talk over these matters personally withthe owner than with an agent in his absence. Agents were often very unwilling tomake changes. Mr. Vincent was a very quiet and exceedingly pleasant elderlygentlemanand thanked me very much for my invitationbut said he did not seehow he could find the time to get out to my house before I sailed. I did notlike to say that it was not at all necessary for him to neglect his affairs inorder to accompany his family to my placebut I assured him that if any of themwished to go out at any time before they took possession they must feel atperfect liberty to do so.

 

    I mentioned this matter to my agentsuggesting that if hehappened to be in New York he might call on the Vincents and repeat myinvitation. It was not likely that the old gentleman would remember to mentionit to his wife and daughterand it was really important that everything shouldbe made satisfactory before I left.

    "It seems to me" he saidsmiling a littlegrimly"that the Vincents had better be kept away from your house untilyou have gone. If you do anything more to it you may find out that it would havebeen more profitable to have shut it up while you are away."

    He did callhoweverpartly because I wished him to andpartly because he was curious to see the people



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I was so anxious to install in my homeand to whom he was to be my legalrepresentative. He reported the next day that he had found no one at home butMiss Vincentand that she had said that she and her mother would be very gladto come out the next week and go over the place before they took possession.

 

    "Next week!" I exclaimed. "I shall be gonethen!"

    "But I shall be here" said Mr. Barker"and I'll show them about and take their suggestions."

    This did not suit me at all. It annoyed me very much tothink of Barker showing Miss Vincent about my place. He was a good-looking youngman and not at all backward in his manners.

    "After all" said I"I suppose thateverything that ought to be done has been done. I hope you told her that."

    "Of course not" said he. "That would havebeen running dead against your orders. Besidesit's my business to show peopleabout places. I don't mind it."

    This gave me an unpleasant and uneasy feeling. I wonderedif Mr. Barker were the agent I ought to haveand if a middle-aged man with afamily and more experience might not be better able to manage my affairs.

    "Barker" said Ia little later"therewill be no use of your going every month to the Vincents to collect their rent.I shall write to Mr. Vincent to pay as he pleases. He can send a check monthlyor at the end of the seasonas it may be convenient. He is perfectlyresponsibleand I would much prefer to have the money in a lump when I comeback."





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    Barker grinned. "All right" said he"butthat's not the way to do businessyou know."

    I may have been mistakenbut I fancied that I saw in myagent's face an expression which indicated that he intended to call on the firstday of each monthon the pretext of telling Vincent that it was not necessaryto pay the rent at any particular timeand that he also proposed to make manyother intervening visits to inquire if repairs were needed. This might have beena good deal to get out of his expressionbut I think I could have got more if Ihad thought longer.

    On the day before that on which I was to sailmy mind wasin such a disturbed condition that I could not attend to my packing or anythingelse. It almost enraged me to think that I was deliberately leaving the countryten days before my tenants would come to my house. There was no reason why Ishould do this. There were many reasons why I should not. There was Barker. Iwas now of the opinion that he would personally superintend the removal of theVincents and their establishment to my home. I remembered that the onlysuggestion he had made about the improvement of the place had been theconstruction of a tennis-court. I knew that he was a champion player. Confoundit! What a dreadful mistake I had made in selecting such a man for myhouse-agent. With my mind's eye I could already see Miss Vincent and Barkerselecting a spot for tennis and planning the arrangements of the court.

    I took the first train to New York and went directly tothe steamboat office. It is astonishing how many obstacles can be removed from aman's path if he will



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make up his mind to give them a good kick. I found that my steamer was crowded.The applications for passage exceeded the accommodationsand the agent wasdelighted to transfer me to the steamer that sailed on June 3. I went homeexultant. Barker drove over in the evening to take his last instructionsand ablank look came over his face when I told him that business had delayed mydepartureand that I should not sail the next day. If I had told him that partof that business was the laying out of a tennis-court he might have lookedblanker.

 

    Of course the date of my departure did not concern theVincentsprovided the house was vacated by June 1and I did not inform them ofthe change in my plansbut when the mother and daughter came out the next weekthey were much surprised to find me waiting to receive them instead of Barker. Ihope that they were also pleasedand I am sure that they had every reason to beso. Mrs. Vincenthaving discovered that I was a most complacent landlordaccommodated herself easily to my disposition and made a number of minorrequirementsall of which I granted without the slightest hesitation. I wasdelighted at last to put her into the charge of my housekeeperand when the twohad betaken themselves to the bedrooms I invited Miss Vincent to come out withme to select a spot for a tennis-court. The invitation was accepted withalacrityfor tennisshe declaredwas a passion with her.

    The selection of that tennis-court took nearly an hourfor there were several good places for one and it was hard to make a selection;besidesI could not lose the opportunity of taking Miss Vincent into the



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woods and showing her the walks I had made and the rustic seats I had placed inpleasant nooks. Of course she would have discovered thesebut it was a greatdeal better for her to know all about them before she came. At last Mrs. Vincentsent a maid to tell her daughter that it was time to go for the trainand thecourt had not been definitely planned.

 

    The next day I went to Miss Vincent's house with a plan ofthe groundsand she and I talked it over until the matter was settled. It wasnecessary to be prompt about thisI explainedas there would be a great dealof levelling and rolling to be done.

    I also had a talk with the old gentleman about books.There were several large boxes of my books in New York which I had never sentout to my country house. Many of these I thought might be interesting to himand I offered to have them taken out and left at his disposal. When he heard thetitles of some of the books in the collection he was much interestedbutinsisted that before he made use of them they should be cataloguedas were therest of my effects. I hesitated a momentwondering if I could induce Barker tocome to New York and catalogue four big boxes of bookswhento my surpriseMiss Vincent incidentally remarked that if they were in any place where shecould get at them she would be pleased to help catalogue them; that sort ofthing was a great pleasure to her. Instantly I proposed that I should send thebooks to the Vincent housethat they should there be taken out so that Mr.Vincent could select those he might care to read during the summerthat I wouldmake a list of theseand if Vincent would assist me I would be grateful for



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the kindnessand those that were not desired could be returned to thestorehouse.

 

    What a grand idea was this! I had been internally groaningbecause I could think of no possible pretencefor further interviews with MissVincentand here was something better than I could have imagined. Her fatherdeclared that he could not put me to so much troublebut I would listen to noneof his wordsand the next morning my books were spread over his library floor.

    The selection and cataloguing of the volumes desiredoccupied the mornings of three days. The old gentleman's part was soon donebutthere were many things in the books which were far more interesting to me thantheir titlesand to which I desired to draw Miss Vincent's attention. All thisgreatly protracted our labors. She was not only a beautiful girlbut herintelligence and intellectual grasp were wonderful. I could not help telling herwhat a great pleasure it would be to me to thinkwhile wandering in foreignlandsthat such an appreciative family would be enjoying my books and my place.

    "You are so fond of your house and everything youhave" said she"that we shall almost feel as if we were deprivingyou of your rights. But I suppose that Italian lakes and the Alps will make youforget for a time even your beautiful home."

    "Not if you are in it" I longed to saybut Irestrained myself. I did not believe that it was possible for me to be more inlove with this girl than I was at that momentbutof courseit would be therankest stupidity to tell her so. To her I was simply her father's landlord.





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    I went to that house the next day to see that the boxeswere properly repackedand I actually went the next day to see if the rightboxes had gone into the countryand the others back to the storehouse. Thefirst day I saw only the father. The second day it was the mother who assured methat everything had been properly attended to. I began to feel that if I did notwish a decided rebuff I would better not make any more pretences of business atthe Vincent house.

    There were affairs of my own which should have beenattended toand I ought to have gone home and attended to thembut I could notbear to do so. There was no reason to suppose she would go out there before thefirst of June.

    Thinking over the matter many timesI came to theconclusion that if I could see her once more I would be satisfied. Then I wouldgo awayand carry her image with me into every art-galleryover every glacierand under every lovely sky that I should enjoy abroadhoping all the time thattaking my placeas it werein my homeand making my possessionsin a measureher ownshe would indirectly become so well acquainted with me that when Ireturned I might speak to her without shocking her.

    To obtain this final interview there was but one way. Ihad left my house on Saturdaythe Vincents would come on the following Mondayand I would sail on Wednesday. I would go on Tuesday to inquire if they foundeverything to their satisfaction. This would be a very proper attention from alandlord about to leave the country.

    When I reached Boynton I determined to walk to



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my housefor I did not wish to encumber myself with a hired vehicle. I might beasked to stay to luncheon. A very strange feeling came over me as I entered mygrounds. They were not mine. For the time being they belonged to somebody else.I was merely a visitor or a trespasser if the Vincents thought proper so toconsider me. If they did not like people to walk on the grass I had no right todo it.

 

    None of my servants had been left on the placeand themaid who came to the door informed me that Mr. Vincent had gone to New York thatmorningand that Mrs. Vincent and her daughter were out driving. I ventured toask if she thought they would soon returnand she answered that she did notthink they wouldas they had gone to Rock Lakewhichfrom the way they talkedabout itmust be a long way off.

    Rock Lake! When I had driven over there with my friendswe had taken luncheon at the inn and returned in the afternoon. And what didthey know of Rock Lake? Who had told them of it? That officious Barkerofcourse.

    "Will you leave a messagesir?" said the maidwhoof coursedid not know me.

    "No" said Iand as I still stood gazing at thepiazza floorshe remarked that if I wished to call again she would go out andspeak to the coachman and ask him if anything had been said to him about thetime of the party's return.

    Worse and worse! Their coachman had not driven them! Someone who knew the country had been their companion. They were not acquainted inthe neighborhoodand there could not be a shadow of a doubt that it was thatobtrusive Barker who had in



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decently thrust himself upon them on the very next day after their arrivalandhad thus snatched from me this last interview upon which I had counted soearnestly.

 

    I had no right to ask any more questions. I left nomessage nor any nameand I had no excuse for saying I would call again.

    I got back to my hotel without having met any one whom Iknewand that night I received a note from Barkerstating that he had fullyintended coming to the steamer to see me offbut that an engagement wouldprevent him. He senthoweverhis best good wishes for my safe passageandassured me that he would keep me fully informed of the state of my affairs onthis side.

    "Engagement!" I exclaimed. "Is he going todrive with her again to-morrow?"

    My steamer sailed at two o'clock the next dayand afteran early breakfast I went to the company's office to see if I could dispose ofmy ticket. It had become impossibleI told the agentfor me to leave Americaat present. He said it was a very late hour to sell my ticketbut that he woulddo what he couldand if an applicant turned up he would give him my room andrefund the money. He wanted me to change to another datebut I declined to dothis. I was not able to say when I should sail.

    I now had no plan of action. All I knew was that I couldnot leave America without finding out something definite about this Barkerbusiness. That is to sayif it should be made known to me that instead ofattending to my businesssending a carpenter to make repairsif such werenecessaryor going personally to

At the Steamship Office.






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the plumber to make sure that that erratic personage would give his attention toany pipes in regard to which Mr. Vincent might have writtenBarker shouldmingle in sociable relations with my tenantsand drive or play tennis with theyoung lady of the housethen would I immediately have done with him. I wouldwithdraw my business from his hands and place it in those of old Mr. Poindexter.More than thatit might be my duty to warn Miss Vincent's parents againstBarker. I did not doubt that he was a very good house and land-agentbut inselecting him as such I had no idea of introducing him to the Vincents in asocial way. In factthe more I thought about it the more I became convincedthat if ever I mentioned Barker to my tenants it would be to warn them againsthim. From certain points of view he was actually a dangerous man.

 

    ThishoweverI would not do until I found my agent wasreally culpable. To discover what Barker had donewhat he was doingand whathe intended to dowas now my only business in life. Until I had satisfiedmyself on these points I could not think of starting out upon my travels.

    Now that I had determined I would not start for Europeuntil I had satisfied myself that Mr. Barker was contenting himself withattending to my businessand not endeavoring to force himself into socialrelations with my tenantsI was anxious that the postponement of my journeyshould be unknown to my friends and acquaintancesand I wasthereforeveryglad to see in a newspaperpublished on the afternoon of the day of my intendeddeparturemy name among the list of passengers who had sailed upon the Mnemonic.



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For the first time I commended the super-enterprise of a reporter who gave moreattention to the timeliness of his news than to its accuracy.

 

    I was stopping at a New York hotelbut I did not wish tostay there. Until I felt myself ready to start on my travels the neighborhood ofBoynton would suit me better than anywhere else. I did not wish to go to thetown itselffor Barker lived thereand I knew many of the townspeople; butthere were farmhouses not far away where I might spend a week. After consideringthe matterI thought of something that might suit me. About three miles from myhouseon an unfrequented roadwas a mill which stood at the end of anextensive sheet of waterin reality a mill-pondbut commonly called a lake.The milleran old manhad recently diedand his house near by was occupied bya newcomer whom I had never seen. If I could get accommodations there it wouldsuit me exactly. I left the train two stations below Boynton and walked over tothe mill.

    The country-folk in my neighborhood are always pleased totake summer boarders if they can get themand the miller and his wife were gladto give me a roomnot imagining that I was the owner of a good house not faraway. The place suited my requirements very well. It was near herand I mightlive here for a time unnoticedbut what I was going to do with my opportunity Idid not know. Several times the conviction forced itself upon me that I shouldget up at once and go to Europe by the first steamerand so show myself that Iwas a man of sense.

    This conviction was banished on the second afternoon of mystay at the mill. I was sitting under a



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tree in the orchard near the housethinking and smoking my pipewhen along theroad which ran by the side of the lake came Mr. Vincent on my black horseGeneral and his daughter on my mare Sappho. Instinctively I pulled my straw hatover my eyesbut this precaution was not necessary. They were looking at thebeautiful lakewith its hills and overhanging treesand saw me not!

 

    When the very tip of Sappho's tail had melted into thefoliage of the roadI arose to my feet and took a deep breath of the happy air.I had seen herand it was with her father she was riding.

    I do not believe I slept a minute that night throughthinking of herand feeling glad that I was near herand that she had beenriding with her father.

    When the early dawn began to break an idea brighter thanthe dawn broke upon me: I would get up and go nearer to her. It is amazing howmuch we lose by not getting up early on the long summer days. How beautiful themorning might be on this earth I never knew until I found myself wandering bythe edge of my woods and over my lawn with the tender gray-blue sky above me andall the freshness of the grass and flowers and trees about methe birds singingamong the branchesand she sleeping sweetly somewhere within that house withits softly defined lights and shadows. How I wished I knew what room sheoccupied!

    The beauties and joys of that hour were lost to everyperson on the placewho were allno doubtin their soundest sleep. I did noteven see a dog. Quietly and stealthily stepping from bush to hedgeI wentaround the houseand as I drew near the barn I fancied



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I could hear from a little room adjoining it the snores of the coachman. Thelazy rascal would probably not awaken for two or three hours yetbut I wouldran no risksand in half an hour I had sped away.

 

    Now I knew exactly why I was staying at the house of themiller. I was doing so in order that I might go early in the mornings to my ownhomein which the girl I loved lay dreamingand that for the rest of the dayand much of the night I might think of her.

    "What place in Europe" I said to myself"couldbe so beautifulso charmingand so helpful to reflection as this sequesteredlakethese noble treesthese stretches of undulating meadow?"

    Even if I should care to go abroada month or two laterwould answer all my purposes. Why had I ever thought of spending five monthsaway?

    There was a pretty stream which ran from the lake andwended its way through a green and shaded valleyand herewith a rodIwandered and fished and thought. The miller had boatsand in one of these Irowed far up the lake where it narrowed into a creekand between the high hillswhich shut me out from the world I would float and think.

    Every morningsoon after break of dayI went to my homeand wandered about my grounds. If it rained I did not mind that. I like a summerrain.

    Day by day I grew bolder. Nobody in that household thoughtof getting up until seven o'clock. For two hoursat leastI could rambleundisturbed through my groundsand much as I had once enjoyed these groundsthey never afforded me the pleasure they gave me now. In these happy mornings Ifelt all the



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life and spirits of a boy. I went into my little field and stroked the sleeksides of my cows as they nibbled the dewy grass. I even peeped through thebarred window of Sappho's box and fed heras I had been used to doingwithbunches of clover. I saw that the young chickens were flourishing. I went intothe garden and noted the growth of the vegetablesfeeling glad that she wouldhave so many fine strawberries and tender peas.

 

    I had not the slightest doubt that she was fond of flowersand for her sake nowas I used to do for my own sakeI visited the flower bedsand borders. Not far from the house there was a cluster of old-fashioned pinkswhich I was sure were not doing very well. They had been there too longperhapsand they looked stunted and weak. In the miller's garden I had noticed greatbeds of these pinksand I asked his wife if I might have someand sheconsidering them as mere wild flowerssaid I might have as many as I liked. Shemight have thought I wanted simply the blossomsbut the next morning I wentover to my house with a basket filled with great matted masses of the plantstaken up with the roots and plenty of earth around themand after twentyminutes' work in my own bed of pinksI had taken out all the old plants andfilled their places with freshluxuriant masses of buds and leaves and blossoms.How glad she would be when she saw the fresh life that had come to thatflower-bed! With light footsteps I went awaynot feeling the weight of thebasket filled with the old plants and roots.

    The summer grew and strengthenedand the sun rose earlierbut as that had no effect upon the rising



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of the present inhabitants of my placeit gave me more time for my morningpursuits. Gradually I constituted myself the regular flower-gardener of thepremises. How delightful the work wasand how foolish I thought I had beennever to think of doing this thing for myself! but no doubt it was because I wasdoing it for her that I found it so pleasant.

 

    Once again I had seen Miss Vincent. It was in theafternoonand I had rowed myself to the upper part of the lakewherewith thehigh hills and the trees on each side of meI felt as if I were alone in theworld. Floatingidly alongwith my thoughts about three miles awayI heardthe sound of oarsand looking out on the open part of the lakeI saw a boatapproaching. The miller was rowingand in the stern sat an elderly gentlemanand a young lady. I knew them in an instant: they were Mr. and Miss Vincent.

    With a few vigorous strokes I shot myself into the shadowsand rowed up the stream into the narrow stretches among the lily-padsunder abridgeand around a little wooded pointwhere I ran the boat ashore and sprangupon the grassy bank. Although I did not believe the miller would bring them asfar as thisI went up to a higher spot and watched for half an hour; but I didnot see them again. How relieved I was! It would have been terribly embarrassinghad they discovered me. And how disappointed I was that the miller turned backso soon!

    I now extended the supervision of my grounds. I walkedthrough the woodsand saw how beautiful they were in the early dawn. I threwaside the fallen twigs and cut away encroaching saplingswhich were beginningto encumber the paths I had madeand if I



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found a bough which hung too low I cut it off. There was a great beech-treebetween which and a dogwood I had the year before suspended a hammock. Inpassing thisone morningI was amazed to see a hammock swinging from the hooksI had put in the two trees. This was a retreat which I had supposed no one elsewould fancy or even think of! In the hammock was a fan -- a common Japanese fan.For fifteen minutes I stood looking at that hammockevery nerve a-tingle. ThenI glanced around. The spot had been almost unfrequented since last summer.Little bushesweedsand vines had sprung up here and there between the twotrees. There were dead twigs and limbs lying aboutand the short path to themain walk was much overgrown.

 

    I looked at my watch. It was a quarter to six. I had yet agood hour for workand with nothing but my pocket-knife and my hands I began toclear away the space about that hammock. When I left itit looked as it used tolook when it was my pleasure to lie there and swing and read and reflect.

    To approach this spot it was not necessary to go throughmy groundsfor my bit of woods adjoined a considerable stretch of forest-landand in my morning walks from the mill I often used a path through these woods.The next morning when I took this path I was late because I had unfortunatelyoverslept myself. When I reached the hammock it wanted fifteen minutes to seveno'clock. It was too late for me to do anythingbut I was glad to be able tostay there even for a few minutesto breathe that airto stand on that groundto touch that hammock. I did more than that. Why shouldn't I? I got into it. Itwas a better one



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than that I had hung there. It was delightfully comfortable. At this momentgently swinging in that woodland solitudewith the sweet odors of the morningall about meI felt myself nearer to her than I had ever been before.

 

    But I knew I must not revel in this place too long. I wason the point of rising to leave when I heard approaching footsteps. My breathstopped. Was I at last to be discovered? This was what came of my recklesssecurity. But perhaps the personsome workman most likelywould pass withoutnoticing me. To remain quiet seemed the best courseand I lay motionless.

    But the person approaching turned into the little pathway.The footsteps came nearer. I sprang from the hammock. Before me was Miss Vincent!

    What was my aspect I know notbut I have no doubt Iturned fiery red. She stopped suddenlybut she did not turn red.

    "OhMr. Ripley" she exclaimed"goodmorning! You must excuse me. I did not know -- "

    That she should have had sufficient self-possession to saygood morning amazed me. Her whole appearancein factamazed me. There seemedto be something wanting in her manner. I endeavored to get myself into condition.

    "You must be surprised" I said"to see mehere. You supposed I was in Europebut -- "

    As I spoke I made a couple of steps toward herbutsuddenly stopped. One of my coat buttons had caught in the meshes of the hammock.It was confoundedly awkward. I tried to loosen the button



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but it was badly entangled. Then I desperately pulled at it to tear it off.

 

    "Ohdon't do that" she said. "Let meunfasten it for you." And taking the threads of the hammock in one of herlittle hands and the button in the othershe quickly separated them. "Ishould think buttons would be very inconvenient things -- at leastin hammocksshe said smiling. "You seegirls don't have any such trouble."

    I could not understand her manner. She seemed to take mybeing there as a matter of course.

    "I must beg a thousand pardons for this -- thistrespass" I said.

    "Trespass!" said shewith a smile. "Peopledon't trespass on their own land -- "

    "But it is not my land" said I. "It isyour father's for the time being. I have no right here whatever. I do not knowhow to explainbut you must think it very strange to find me here when yousupposed I had started for Europe."

    "Oh! I knew you had not started for Europe"said she"because I have seen you working in the grounds -- "

    "Seen me!" I interrupted. "Is it possible?"

    "Ohyes" said she. "I don't know how longyou had been coming when I first saw youbut when I found that fresh bed ofpinks all transplanted from somewhereand just as lovely as they could beinstead of the old onesI spoke to the man; but he did not know anything aboutitand said he had not had time to do anything to the flowerswhereas I hadbeen giving him credit for ever so much weeding and cleaning up. Then I supposedthat Mr. Barkerwho



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is just as kind and attentive as he can behad done it; but I could hardlybelieve he was the sort of man to come early in the morning and work out ofdoors" -- ("Ohhow I wish he had come!" I thought. "If Ihad caught him here working among the flowers!")-- "and when he camethat afternoon to play tennis I found that he had been away for two daysandcould not have planted the pinks. So I simply got up early one morning andlooked outand there I saw youwith your coat offworking just as hard asever you could."

 

    I stepped backmy mind for a moment a perfect blank.

    "What could you have thought of me?" I exclaimedpresently.

    "Reallyat first I did not know what to think"said she. "Of course I did not know what had detained you in this countrybut I remembered that I had heard that you were a very particular person aboutyour flowers and shrubs and groundsand that most likely you thought they wouldbe better taken care of if you kept an eye on themand that when you foundthere was so much to do you just went to work and did it. I did not speak ofthis to anybodybecause if you did not wish it to be known that you were takingcare of the grounds it was not my business to tell people about it. Butyesterdaywhen I found this place where I had hung my hammock so beautifullycleared up and made so nice and clean and pleasant in every wayI thought Imust come down to tell you how much obliged I amand also that you ought not totake so much trouble for us. If you think the grounds need more attentionIwill persuade my father to hire another mannow and thento work



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about the place. ReallyMr. Ripleyyou ought not to have to -- "

 

    I was humbledabashed. She had seen me at my morningdevotionsand this was the way she interpreted them. She considered me anovernice fellow who was so desperately afraid his place would be injured that hecame sneaking around every morning to see if any damage had been done and to putthings to rights.

    She stood for a moment as if expecting me to speakbrushed a buzzing fly from her sleeveand thenlooking at me with a gentlesmileshe turned a little as if she were about to leave.

    I could not let her go without telling her something. Herpresent opinion of me must not rest in her mind another minute. And yetwhatstory could I devise? Howindeedcould I devise anything with which to deceivea girl who spoke and looked at me as this girl did? I could not do it. I mustrush away speechless and never see her againor I must tell her all. I came alittle nearer to her.

    "Miss Vincent" said I"you do notunderstand at all why I am here -- why I have been here so much -- why I did notgo to Europe. The truth isI could not leave. I do not wish to be away; I wantto come here and live here always -- "

    "Ohdear! " she interrupted"of course itis natural that you should not want to tear yourself away from your lovely home.It would be very hard for us to go away nowespecially for father and meforwe have grown to love this place so much. But if you want us to leaveI daresay -- "

    "I want you to leave!" I exclaimed. "Never!



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When I say that I want to live here myselfthat my heart will not let me goanywhere elseI mean that I want you to live here too -- youyour mother andfather -- that I want -- "

 

    "Ohthat would be perfectly splendid! " shesaid. "I have ever so often thought that it was a shame that you should bedeprived of the pleasures you so much enjoywhich I see you can find here andnowhere else. NowI have a plan which I think will work splendidly. We are avery small family. Why shouldn't you come here and live with us? There is plentyof roomand I know father and mother would be very gladand you can pay yourboardif that would please you better. You can have the room at the top of thetower for your study and your smoking denand the room under it can be yourbedroomso you can be just as independent as you please of the rest of usandyou can be living on your own place without interfering with us in the least. Infactit would be ever so niceespecially as I am in the habit of going away tothe sea-shore with my aunt every summer for six weeksand I was thinking howlonely it would be this year for father and mother to stay here all bythemselves." The tower and the room under it! For me! What a contemptiblylittle-minded and insignificant person she must think me. The words with which Istrove to tell her that I wished to live here as lordwith her as my queenwould not come. She looked at me for a moment as I stood on the brink of sayingsomething but not saying itand then she turned suddenly toward the hammock.

    "Did you see anything of a fan I left here?" shesaid. "I know I left it herebut when I came yesterday



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it was gone. Perhaps you may have noticed it somewhere -- "

 

    Nowthe morning beforeI had taken that fan home withme. It was an awkward thing to carrybut I had concealed it under my coat. Itwas a contemptible trickbut the fan had her initials on itand as it was theonly thing belonging to her of which I could possess myselfthe temptation hadbeen too great to resist. As she stood waiting for my answer there was a lightin her eye which illuminated my perceptions.

    "Did you see me take that fan?" I asked.

    "I did" said she.

    "Then you know" I exclaimedstepping nearer toher"why it is I did not leave this country as I intendedwhy it wasimpossible for me to tear myself away from this housewhy it is that I havebeen here every morninghovering around and doing the things I have been doing?"

    She looked up at meand with her eyes she said"Howcould I help knowing?" She might have intended to say something with herlipsbut I took my answer from her eyesand with the quick impulse of a loverI stopped her speech.

    "You have strange ways" she said presentlyblushing and gently pressing back my arm. "I haven't told you a thing."

    "Let us tell each other everything now" I criedand we seated ourselves in the hammock.

    It was a quarter of an hour later and we were stillsitting together in the hammock.

    "You may think" said she"thatknowingwhat I didit was very queer for me to come out to you this



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morningbut I could not help it. You were getting dreadfully carelessand werestaying so late and doing things which people would have been bound to noticeespecially as father is always talking about our enjoying the fresh hours of themorningthat I felt I could not let you go on any longer. And when it came tothat fan business I saw plainly that you must either immediately start forEurope or -- "

 

    "Or what?" I interrupted.

    "Or go to my father and regularly engage yourself asa -- "

    I do not know whether she was going to say "gardener"or notbut it did not matter. I stopped her.

    It was perhaps twenty minutes laterand we were standingtogether at the edge of the woods. She wanted me to come to the house to takebreakfast with them.

    "OhI could not do that!" I said. "Theywould be so surprised. I should have so much to explain before I could evenbegin to state my case."

    "Wellthenexplain" said she. "You willfind father on the front piazza. He is always there before breakfastand thereis plenty of time. After all that has been said hereI cannot go to breakfastand look commonplace while you run away."

    "But suppose your father objects?" said I.

    "Wellthen you will have to go back and takebreakfast with your miller" said she.

    I never saw a family so little affected by surprises asthose Vincents. When I appeared on the front piazza the old gentleman did notjump. He shook hands with me and asked me to sit downand when I told himeverything he did not even ejaculatebut



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simply folded his hands together and looked out over the railing.

 

    "It seemed strange to Mrs. Vincent and myself"he said"when we first noticed your extraordinary attachment for ourdaughterbutafter allit was natural enough."

    "Noticed it!" I exclaimed. "When did you dothat?"

    "Very soon" he said. "When you and Corawere cataloguing the books at my house in town I noticed it and spoke to Mrs.Vincentbut she said it was nothing new to herfor it was plain enough on theday when we first met you here that you were letting the house to Coraand thatshe had not spoken of it to me because she was afraid I might think it wrong toaccept the favorable and unusual arrangements you were making with us if Isuspected the reason for them. We talked over the matterbutof coursewecould do nothingbecause there was nothing to doand Mrs. Vincent was quitesure you would write to us from Europe. But when my man Ambrose told me he hadseen some one working about the place in the very early morningand thatas itwas a gentlemanhe supposed it must be the landlordfor nobody else would bedoing such thingsMrs. Vincent and I looked out of the window the next dayandwhen we found it was indeed you who were coming here every daywe felt that thematter was serious and were a good deal troubled. We foundhoweverthat youwere conducting affairs in a very honorable way-- that you were notendeavoring to see Coraand that you did not try to have any secretcorrespondence with her-- and as we had no right to prevent you from coming



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on your groundswe concluded to remain quiet until you should take some stepwhich we would be authorized to notice. Laterwhen Mr. Barker came and told methat you had not gone to Europeand were living with a miller not far from here-- "

 

    "Barker!" I cried. "The scoundrel!"

    "You are mistakensir" said Mr. Vincent."He spoke with the greatest kindness of youand said that as it wasevident you had your own reasons for wishing to stay in the neighborhoodanddid not wish the fact to be knownhe had spoken of it to no one but meand hewould not have done this had he not thought it would prevent embarrassment incase we should meet."

    Would that everlasting Barker ever cease meddling in myaffairs?

    "Do you suppose" I asked"that heimagined the reason for my staying here?"

    "I do not know" said the old gentleman"but after the questions I put to him I have no doubt he suspected it. Imade many inquiries of him regarding youyour familyhabitsand dispositionfor this was a very vital matter to mesirand I am happy to inform you thathe said nothing of you that was not goodso I urged him to keep the matter tohimself. I determinedhoweverthat if you continued your morning visits Ishould take an early opportunity of acosting you and asking anexplanation."

    "And you never mentioned anything of this to yourdaughter?" said I.

    "Ohno" he answered. "We carefully kepteverything from her."

    "Butmy dear sir" said Irising"youhave given

"Are you going to stay to breakfast?" she asked.






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me no answer. You have not told me whether or not you will accept me as ason-in-law."

 

    He smiled. "Truly" he said"I have notanswered you; but the fact isMrs. Vincent and I have considered the matter solongand having come to the conclusion that if you made an honorable andstraightforward propositionand if Cora were willing to accept youwe couldsee no reason to object to -- "

    At this moment the front door opened and Cora appeared.

    "Are you going to stay to breakfast?" she asked."Becauseif you areit is ready."

    I stayed to breakfast.

    I am now living in my own housenot in the two towerroomsbut in the whole mansionof which my former tenantCorais nowmistress supreme. Mr. and Mrs. Vincent expect to spend the next summer here andtake care of the house while we are travelling.

    Mr. Barkeran excellent fellow and a most thoroughbusiness manstill manages my affairsand there is nothing on the place thatflourishes so vigorously as the bed of pinks which I got from the miller's wife.

    By the waywhen I went back to my lodging on thateventful daythe miller's wife met me at the door.

    "I kept your breakfast waitin' for you for a goodwhile" said she"but as you didn't comeI supposed you were takin'breakfast in your own houseand I cleared it away."

    "Do you know who I am?" I exclaimed.

    "Ohyessir" she said. "We did not atfirstbut when everybody began to talk about it we couldn't help knowin'it."





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    "Everybody!" I gasped. "And may I ask whatyou and everybody said about me?"

    "I think it was the general opinionsir" saidshe"that you were suspicious of them tenants of yoursand nobodywondered at itfor when city people gets into the country and on other people'spropertythere's no trustin' them out of your sight for a minute."

    I could not let the good woman hold this opinion of mytenantsand I briefly told her the truth. She looked at me with moistadmiration in her eyes.

    "I am glad to hear thatsir" said she. "Ilike it very much. But if I was you I wouldn't be in a hurry to tell my husbandand the people in the neighborhood about it. They might be a little disappointedat firstfor they had a mighty high opinion of you when they thought that youwas layin' low here to keep an eye on them tenants of yours."