Edward Payson Roe.

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"And so I have your bond. My present will make you open your eyes."

"And pocket-book too, I suppose. I'll trust you, however, not to break
me. What is it to be?"

"I'll tell you the day before, and not till then."

After supper they drew around the stove. Mrs. Banning got out her
knitting, as usual, and prepared for city gossip. The farmer rubbed his
hands over the general aspect of comfort, and especially over the
regained presence of his child's bright face. "Well, Sue," he remarked,
"you'll own that this room IN the house doesn't look very bleak?"

"No, father, I'll own nothing of the kind. Your face and mother's are
not bleak, but the room is."

"Well," said the farmer, rather disconsolately, "I fear the old place
has been spoiled for you. I was saying to mother before you came home - "

"There now, father, no matter about what you were saying. Let Susie
tell us why the room is bleak."

The girl laughed softly, got up, and taking a billet of wood from the
box, put it into the air-tight. "The stove has swallowed it just as old
Trip did his supper. Shame! you greedy dog," she added, caressing a
great Newfoundland that would not leave her a moment. "Why can't you
learn to eat your meals like a gentleman?" Then to her father, "Suppose
we could sit here and see the flames curling all over and around that
stick. Even a camp in the woods is jolly when lighted up by a
flickering blaze."

"Oh - h!" said the farmer; "you think an open fire would take away the

"Certainly. The room would be changed instantly, and mother's face
would look young and rosy again. The blue-black of this sheet-iron
stove makes the room look blue-black."

"Open fires don't give near as much heat," said her father,
meditatively. "They take an awful lot of wood; and wood is getting
scarce in these parts."

"I should say so! Why don't you farmers get together, appoint a
committee to cut down every tree remaining, then make it a State-prison
offence ever to set out another? Why, father, you cut nearly all the
trees from your lot a few years ago and sold the wood. Now that the
trees are growing again, you are talking of clearing up the land for
pasture. Just think of the comfort we could get out of that wood-lot!
What crop would pay better? All the upholsterers in the world cannot
furnish a room as an open hardwood fire does; and all the produce of
the farm could not buy anything else half so nice."

"Say, mother," said her father, after a moment, "I guess I'll get down
that old Franklin from the garret to-morrow and see if it can't furnish
this room."

The next morning he called rather testily to the hired man, who was
starting up the lane with an axe, "Hiram, I've got other work for you.
Don't cut a stick in that wood-lot unless I tell you."

The evening of the 9th of April was cool but clear, and the farmer
said, genially, "Well, Sue, prospects good for fine weather on your
birthday. Glad of it; for I suppose you will want me to go to town with
you for your present, whatever it is to be."

"You'll own up a girl can keep a secret now, won't you?"

"He'll have to own more'n that," added his wife; "he must own that an
ole woman hasn't lost any sleep from curiosity."

"How much will be left me to own to-morrow night?" said the farmer,
dubiously. "I suppose Sue wants a watch studded with diamonds, or a new
house, or something else that she darsn't speak of till the last
minute, even to her mother."

"Nothing of the kind. I want only all your time tomorrow, and all
Hiram's time, after you have fed the stock."

"All our time!

"Yes, the entire day, in which you both are to do just what I wish. You
are not going gallivanting to the city, but will have to work hard."

"Well, I'm beat! I don't know what you want any more than I did at

"Yes, you do - your time and Hiram's."

"Give it up. It's hardly the season for a picnic. We might go fishing - "

"We must go to bed, so as to be up early, all hands."

"Oh, hold on, Sue; I do like this wood-fire. If it wouldn't make you
vain, I'd tell you how - "

"Pretty, father. Say it out."

"Oh, you know it, do you? Well, how pretty you look in the firelight.
Even mother, there, looks ten years younger. Keep your low seat, child,
and let me look at you. So you're eighteen? My! my! how the years roll
around! It WILL be Bleak House for mother and me, in spite of the
wood-fire, when you leave us."

"It won't be Bleak House much longer," she replied with a significant
little nod.

The next morning at an early hour the farmer said, "All ready, Sue. Our
time is yours till night; so queen it over us." And black Hiram grinned
acquiescence, thinking he was to have an easy time.

"Queen it, did you say?" cried Sue, in great spirits. "Well, then, I
shall be queen of spades. Get 'em, and come with me. Bring a pickaxe,
too." She led the way to a point not far from the dwelling, and
resumed: "A hole here, father, a hole there, Hiram, big enough for a
small hemlock, and holes all along the northeast side of the house.
Then lots more holes, all over the lawn, for oaks, maples, dogwood, and
all sorts to pretty trees, especially evergreens.'

"Oh, ho!" cried the farmer; "now I see the hole where the woodchuck
went in."

"But you don't see the hole where he's coming out. When that is dug,
even the road will be lined with trees. Foolish old father! you thought
I'd be carried away with city gewgaws, fine furniture, dresses, and all
that sort of thing. You thought I'd be pining for what you couldn't
afford, what wouldn't do you a particle of good, nor me either, in the
long run. I'm going to make you set out trees enough to double the
value of your place and take all the bleakness and bareness from this
hillside. To-day is only the beginning. I did get some new notions in
the city which made me discontented with my home, but they were not the
notions you were worrying about. In the suburbs I saw that the most
costly houses were made doubly attractive by trees and shrubbery, and I
knew that trees would grow for us as well as for millionaires - My
conscience! if there isn't - " and the girl frowned and bit her lips.

"Is that one of the city beaux you were telling us about?" asked her
father, sotto voce.

"Yes; but I don't want any beaux around to-day. I didn't think he'd be
so persistent." Then, conscious that she was not dressed for company,
but for work upon which she had set her heart, she advanced and gave
Mr. Minturn a rather cool greeting.

But the persistent beau was equal to the occasion. He had endured Sue's
absence as long as he could, then had resolved on a long day's siege,
with a grand storming-onset late in the afternoon.

"Please, Miss Banning," he began, "don't look askance at me for coming
at this unearthly hour. I claim the sacred rites of hospitality. I'm an
invalid. The doctor said I needed country air, or would have prescribed
it if given a chance. You said I might come to see you some day, and by
playing Paul Pry I found out, you remember, that this was your
birthday, and - "

"And this is my father, Mr. Minturn."

Mr. Minturn shook the farmer's hand with a cordiality calculated to
awaken suspicions of his designs in a pump, had its handle been thus
grasped. "Mr. Banning will forgive me for appearing with the lark," he
continued volubly, determining to break the ice. "One can't get the
full benefit of a day in the country if he starts in the afternoon."

The farmer was polite, but nothing more. If there was one thing beyond
all others with which he could dispense, it was a beau for Sue.

Sue gave her father a significant, disappointed glance, which meant, "I
won't get my present to day"; but he turned and said to Hiram, "Dig the
hole right there, two feet across, eighteen inches deep." Then he
started for the house. While not ready for suitors, his impulse to
bestow hospitality was prompt.

The alert Mr. Minturn had observed the girl's glance, and knew that the
farmer had gone to prepare his wife for a guest. He determined not to
remain unless assured of a welcome. "Come, Miss Banning," he said, "we
are at least friends, and should be frank. How much misunderstanding
and trouble would often be saved if people would just speak their
thought! This is your birthday - YOUR DAY. It should not be marred by
any one. It would distress me keenly if I were the one to spoil it. Why
not believe me literally and have your way absolutely about this day? I
could come another time. Now show that a country girl, at least, can
speak her mind."

With an embarrassed little laugh she answered, "I'm half inclined to
take you at your word; but it would look so inhospitable."

"Bah for looks! The truth, please. By the way, though, you never looked
better than in that trim blue walking-suit."

"Old outgrown working-suit, you mean. How sincere you are!"

"Indeed I am. Well, I'm de trop; that much is plain. You will let me
come another day, won't you?"

"Yes, and I'll be frank too and tell you about THIS day. Father's a
busy man, and his spring work is beginning, but as my birthday-present
he has given me all his time and all Hiram's yonder. Well, I learned in
the city how trees improved a home; and I had planned to spend this
long day in setting out trees - planned it ever since my return. So you
see - "

"Of course I see and approve," cried Minturn. "I know now why I had
such a wild impulse to come out here to-day. Why, certainly. Just fancy
me a city tramp looking for work, and not praying I won't find it,
either. I'll work for my board. I know how to set out trees. I can
prove it, for I planted those thrifty fellows growing about our house
in town. Think how much more you'll accomplish, with another man to
help - one that you can order around to your heart's content."

"The idea of my putting you to work!"

"A capital idea! and if a man doesn't work when a woman puts him at it
he isn't worth the powder - I won't waste time even in original remarks.
I'll promise you there will be double the number of trees out by night.
Let me take your father's spade and show you how I can dig. Is this the
place? If I don't catch up with Hiram, you may send the tramp back to
the city." And before she could remonstrate, his coat was off and he at

Laughing, yet half in doubt, she watched him. The way he made the earth
fly was surprising. "Oh, come," she said after a few moments, "you have
shown your goodwill. A steam-engine could not keep it up at that rate."

"Perhaps not; but I can. Before you engage me, I wish you to know that
I am equal to old Adam, and can dig."

"Engage you!" she thought with a little flutter of dismay. "I could
manage him with the help of town conventionalities; but how will it be
here? I suppose I can keep father and Hiram within earshot, and if he
is so bent on - well, call it a lark, since he has referred to that
previous bird, perhaps I might as well have a lark too, seeing it's my
birthday." Then she spoke. "Mr. Minturn!"

"I'm busy."

"But really - "

"And truly tell me, am I catching up with Hiram?"

"You'll get down so deep that you'll drop through if you're not

"There's nothing like having a man who is steady working for you. Now,
most fellows would stop and giggle at such little amusing remarks."

"You are soiling your trousers."

"Yes, you're right. They ARE mine. There; isn't that a regulation hole?
'Two feet across and eighteen deep.'"

"Yah! yah!" cackled Hiram; "eighteen foot deep! Dat ud be a well."

"Of course it would, and truth would lie at its bottom. Can I stay,
Miss Banning?"

"Did you ever see the like?" cried the farmer, who had appeared,

"Look here, father," said the now merry girl, "perhaps I was mistaken.
This - "

"Tramp - " interjected Minturn.

"Says he's looking for work and knows how to set out trees."

"And will work all day for a dinner," the tramp promptly added.

"If he can dig holes at that rate, Sue," said her father, catching
their spirit, "he's worth a dinner. But you're boss to-day; I'm only
one of the hands."

"I'm only another," said Minturn, touching his hat.

"Boss, am I? I'll soon find out. Mr. Minturn, come with me and don a
pair of overalls. You shan't put me to shame, wearing that
spick-and-span suit, neither shall you spoil it. Oh, you're in for it
now! You might have escaped, and come another day, when I could have
received you in state and driven you out behind father's frisky bays.
When you return to town with blistered hands and aching bones, you will
at least know better another time."

"I don't know any better this time, and just yearn for those overalls."

"To the house, then, and see mother before you become a wreck."

Farmer Banning looked after him and shook his head. Hiram spoke his
employer's thought, "Dar ar gem'lin act like he gwine ter set hisself
out on dis farm."

Sue had often said, "I can never be remarkable for anything; but I
won't be commonplace." So she did not leave her guest in the parlor
while she rushed off for a whispered conference with her mother. The
well-bred simplicity of her manner, which often stopped just short of
brusqueness, was never more apparent than now. "Mother!" she called
from the parlor door.

The old lady gave a few final directions to her maid-of-all-work, and
then appeared.

"Mother, this is Mr. Minturn, one of my city friends, of whom I have
spoken to you. He is bent on helping me set out trees."

"Yes, Mrs. Banning, so bent that your daughter found that she would
have to employ her dog to get me off the place."

Now, it had so happened that in discussing with her mother the young
men whom she had met, Sue had said little about Mr. Minturn; but that
little was significant to the experienced matron. Words had slipped out
now and then which suggested that the girl did more thinking than
talking concerning him; and she always referred to him in some light
which she chose to regard as ridiculous, but which had not seemed in
the least absurd to the attentive listener. When her husband,
therefore, said that Mr. Minturn had appeared on the scene, she felt
that an era of portentous events had begun. The trees to be set out
would change the old place greatly, but a primeval forest shading the
door would be as nothing compared with the vicissitude which a favored
"beau" might produce. But mothers are more unselfish than fathers, and
are their daughters' natural allies unless the suitor is objectionable.
Mrs. Banning was inclined to be hospitable on general principles,
meantime eager on her own account to see something of this man, about
whom she had presentiments. So she said affably, "My daughter can keep
her eye on the work which she is so interested in, and yet give you
most of her time. - Susan, I will entertain Mr. Minturn while you change
your dress."

She glanced at her guest dubiously, receiving for the moment the
impression that the course indicated by her mother was the correct one.
The resolute admirer knew well what a fiasco the day would be should
the conventionalities prevail, and so said promptly: "Mrs. Banning, I
appreciate your kind intentions, and I hope some day you may have the
chance to carry them out. To-day, as your husband understands, I am a
tramp from the city looking for work. I have found it, and have been
engaged. - Miss Banning, I shall hold you inflexibly to our agreement - a
pair of overalls and dinner."

Sue said a few words of explanation. Her mother laughed, but urged, "Do
go and change your dress."

"I protest!" cried Mr. Minturn. "The walking-suit and overalls go

"Walking-suit, indeed!" repeated Sue, disdainfully. "But I shall not
change it. I will not soften one feature of the scrape you have
persisted in getting yourself into."

"Please don't."

"Mr. Minturn," said the matron, with smiling positiveness, "Susie is
boss only out of doors; I am, in the house. There is a fresh-made cup
of coffee and some eggs on toast in the dining-room. Having taken such
an early start, you ought to have a lunch before being put to work."

"Yes," added Sue, "and the out-door boss says you can't go to work
until at least the coffee is sipped."

"She's shrewd, isn't she, Mrs. Banning? She knows she will get twice as
much work out of me on the strength of that coffee. Please get the
overalls. I will not sip, but swallow the coffee, unless it's scalding,
so that no time may be lost. Miss Banning must see all she had set her
heart upon accomplished to-day, and a great deal more."

The matron departed on her quest, and as she pulled out the overalls,
nodded her head significantly. "Things will be serious sure enough if
he accomplishes all he has set his heart on," she muttered. "Well, he
doesn't seem afraid to give us a chance to see him. He certainly will
look ridiculous in these overalls, but not much more so than Sue in
that old dress. I do wish she would change it."

The girl had considered this point, but with characteristic decision
had thought: "No; he shall see us all on the plainest side of our life.
He always seemed a good deal of an exquisite in town, and he lives in a
handsome house. If to-day's experience at the old farm disgusts him, so
be it. My dress is clean and tidy, if it is outgrown and darned; and
mother is always neat, no matter what she wears. I'm going through the
day just as I planned; and if he's too fine for us, now is the time to
find it out. He may have come just for a lark, and will laugh with his
folks to-night over the guy of a girl I appear; but I won't yield even
to the putting of a ribbon in my hair."

Mrs. Banning never permitted the serving of cold slops for coffee, and
Mr. Minturn had to sip the generous and fragrant beverage slowly.
Meanwhile, his thoughts were busy. "Bah! for the old saying, 'Take the
goods the gods send,'" he mused. "Go after your goods and take your
pick. I knew my head was level in coming out. All is just as genuine as
I supposed it would be - simple, honest, homely. The girl isn't homely,
though, but she's just as genuine as all the rest, in that old dress
which fits her like a glove. No shams and disguises on this field-day
of my life. And her mother! A glance at her comfortable amplitude
banished my one fear. There's not a sharp angle about her. I was
satisfied about Miss Sue, but the term 'mother-in-law' suggests vague
terrors to any man until reassured. - Ah, Miss Banning," he said, "this
coffee would warm the heart of an anchorite. No wonder you are inspired
to fine things after drinking such nectar."

"Yes, mother is famous for her coffee. I know that's fine, and you can
praise it; but I'll not permit any ironical remarks concerning myself."

"I wouldn't, if I were you, especially when you are mistress of the
situation. Still, I can't help having my opinion of you. Why in the
world didn't you choose as your present something stylish from the

"Something, I suppose you mean, in harmony with my very stylish
surroundings and present appearance."

"I didn't mean anything of the kind, and fancy you know it. Ah! here
are the overalls. Now deeds, not words. I'll leave my coat, watch,
cuffs, and all impedimenta with you, Mrs. Banning. Am I not a spectacle
to men and gods?" he added, drawing up the garment, which ceased to be
nether in that it reached almost to his shoulders.

"Indeed you are," cried Sue, holding her side from laughing. Mrs.
Banning also vainly tried to repress her hilarity over the absurd guy
into which the nattily-dressed city man had transformed himself.

"Come," he cried, "no frivolity! You shall at least say I kept my word
about the trees to-day." And they started at once for the scene of
action, Minturn obtaining on the way a shovel from the tool-room.

"To think she's eighteen years old and got a beau!" muttered the
farmer, as he and Hiram started two new holes. They were dug and others
begun, yet the young people had not returned. "That's the way with
young men nowadays - 'big cry, little wool.' I thought I was going to
have Sue around with me all day. Might as well get used to it, I
suppose. Eighteen! Her mother's wasn't much older when - yes, hang it,
there's always a WHEN with these likely girls. I'd just like to start
in again on that day when I tossed her into the haymow."

"What are you talking to yourself about, father?"

"Oh! I thought I had seen the last of you to-day."

"Perhaps you will wish you had before night."

"Well, now, Sue! the idea of letting Mr. Minturn rig himself out like
that! There's no use of scaring the crows so long before
corn-planting." And the farmer's guffaw was quickly joined by Hiram's
broad "Yah! yah!"

She frowned a little as she said, "He doesn't look any worse than I do."

"Come, Mr. Banning, Solomon in all his glory could not so take your
daughter's eye to-day as a goodly number of trees standing where she
wants them. I suggest that you loosen the soil with the pickaxe, then I
can throw it out rapidly. Try it."

The farmer did so, not only for Minturn, but for Hiram also. The
lightest part of the work thus fell to him. "We'll change about," he
said, "when you get tired."

But Minturn did not get weary apparently, and under this new division
of the toil the number of holes grew apace.

"Sakes alive, Mr. Minturn!" ejaculated Mr. Banning, "one would think
you had been brought up on a farm."

"Or at ditch-digging," added the young man. "No; my profession is to
get people into hot water and then make them pay roundly to get out.
I'm a lawyer. Times have changed in cities. It's there you'll find
young men with muscle, if anywhere. Put your hand here, sir, and you'll
know whether Miss Banning made a bad bargain in hiring me for the day."

"Why!" exclaimed the astonished farmer, "you have the muscle of a

"Yes, sir; I could learn that trade in about a month."

"You don't grow muscle like that in a law-office?"

"No, indeed; nothing but bills grow there. A good fashion, if not
abused, has come in vogue, and young men develop their bodies as well
as brains. I belong to an athletic club in town, and could take to
pugilism should everything else fail."

"Is there any prospect of your coming to that?" Sue asked mischievously.

"If we were out walking, and two or three rough fellows gave you
impudence - " He nodded significantly.

"What could you do against two or three? They'd close on you."

"A fellow taught to use his hands doesn't let men close on him."

"Yah, yah! reckon not," chuckled Hiram. One of the farm household had
evidently been won.

"It seems to me," remarked smiling Sue, "that I saw several young men
in town who appeared scarcely equal to carrying their canes."


"That's what they are called, I believe."

"They are not men. They are neither fish, flesh, nor fowl, but the
beginning of the great downward curve of evolution. Men came up from
monkeys, it's said, you know, but science is in despair over the final
down-comes of dudes. They may evolute into grasshoppers."

The farmer was shaken with mirth, and Sue could not help seeing that he
was having a good time. She, however, felt that no tranquilly exciting
day was before her, as she had anticipated. What wouldn't that muscular
fellow attempt before night? He possessed a sort of vim and cheerful
audacity which made her tremble, "He is too confident," she thought,
"and needs a lesson. All this digging is like that of soldiers who soon
mean to drop their shovels. I don't propose to be carried by storm just
when he gets ready. He can have his lark, and that's all to-day. I want
a good deal of time to think before I surrender to him or any one else."

During the remainder of the forenoon these musings prevented the
slightest trace of sentimentality from appearing in her face or words.
She had to admit mentally that Minturn gave her no occasion for
defensive tactics. He attended as strictly to business as did Hiram,
and she was allowed to come and go at will. At first she merely
ventured to the house, to "help mother," as she said. Then, with
growing confidence, she went here and there to select sites for trees;
but Minturn dug on no longer "like a steam-engine," yet in an easy,
steady, effective way that was a continual surprise to the farmer.

"Well, Sue," said her father at last, "you and mother ought to have an
extra dinner; for Mr. Minturn certainly has earned one."

"I promised him only a dinner," she replied; "nothing was said about
its being extra."

"Quantity is all I'm thinking of," said Minturn. "I have the sauce
which will make it a feast."

"Beckon it's gwine on twelve," said Hiram, cocking his eye at the sun.

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Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeTaken Alive → online text (page 13 of 26)