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Edward Payson Roe.

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mams." The frosty air appeared to give keenness and piquancy to Miss
Lottie's wit, and the chime of the bells was not merrier or more
musical than her voice. But when a little later he saw blue-eyed Carrie
Mitchell in her furs and hood silhouetted in the window, his old
dilemma became as perplexing as ever. Nevertheless, it was the most
delightful uncertainty that he had ever experienced; and he had a
presentiment that he had better make the most of it, since it could not
last much longer. Meanwhile, he was hedged about with blessings clearly
not in disguise, and he gave utterance to this truth as they drove away.

"Surely there never was so lucky a fellow. Here I am kept warm and
happy by the two finest girls in town."

"Yes," said Lottie; "and it's a shame you can't sit on both sides of
us."

"I assure you I wish it were possible. It would double my pleasure."

"I'm very well content," remarked Carrie, quietly, "as long as I can
keep on the right side of people - "

"Well, you are not on the right side to-night," interrupted Lottie.

"Good gracious!" thought Marstern, "she's next to my heart. I wonder if
that will give her unfair advantage;" but Carrie explained:

"Of course I was speaking metaphorically."

"In that aspect of the case it would be a shame to me if any side I
have is not right toward those who have so honored me," he hastened to
say.

"Oh, Carrie has all the advantage - she is next to your heart."

"Would you like to exchange places?" was the query flashed back by
Carrie.

"Oh, no, I'm quite as content as you are."

"Why, then, since I am more than content - exultant, indeed - it appears
that we all start from excellent premises to reach a happy conclusion
of our Christmas Eve," cried Marstern.

"Now you are talking shop, Mr. Lawyer - Premises and Conclusions,
indeed!" said Lottie; "since you are such a happy sandwich, you must be
a tongue sandwich, and be very entertaining."

He did his best, the two girls seconding his efforts so genially that
he found himself, after driving five miles, psychologically just where
he was physically - between them, as near to one in his thoughts and
preferences as to the other.

"Let us take the river road home," suggested Lottie.

"As long as you agree," he answered, "you both are sovereign
potentates. If you should express conflicting wishes, I should have to
stop here in the road till one abdicated in favor of the other, or we
all froze."

"But you, sitting so snugly between us, would not freeze," said Lottie.
"If we were obstinate we should have to assume our pleasantest
expressions, and then you could eventually take us home as bits of
sculpture. In fact, I'm getting cold already."

"Are you also, Miss Carrie?"

"Oh, I'll thaw out before summer. Don't mind me."

"Well, then, mind me," resumed Lottie. "See how white and smooth the
river looks. Why can't we drive home on the ice? It will save miles - I
mean it looks so inviting."

"Oh, dear!" cried Carrie, "I feel like protesting now. The longest way
round may be both the shortest and safest way home."

"You ladies shall decide. This morning I drove over the route we would
take to-night, and I should not fear to take a ton of coal over it."

"A comparison suggesting warmth and a grate-fire. I vote for the
river," said Lottie, promptly.

"Oh, well, Mr. Marstern, if you've been over the ice so recently - I
only wish to feel reasonably safe."

"I declare!" thought Marstern, "Lottie is the braver and more brilliant
girl; and the fact that she is not inclined to forego the comfort of
the home-fire for the pleasure of my company, reveals the difficulty
of, and therefore incentive to, the suit I may decide to enter upon
before New Year's."

Meanwhile, his heart on Carrie's side began to grow warm and alert, as
if recognizing an affinity to some object not far off. Granting that
she had not been so brilliant as Lottie, she had been eminently
companionable in a more quiet way. If there had not been such bursts of
enthusiasm at the beginning of the drive, her enjoyment appeared to
have more staying powers. He liked her none the less that her eyes were
often turned toward the stars or the dark silhouettes of the leafless
trees against the snow. She did not keep saying, "Ah, how lovely! What
a fine bit that is!" but he had only to follow her eyes to see
something worth looking at.

"A proof that Miss Carrie also is not so preoccupied with the pleasure
of my company that she has no thoughts for other things," cogitated
Marstern. "It's rather in her favor that she prefers Nature to a grate
fire. They're about even yet."

Meanwhile the horse was speeding along on the white, hard expanse of
the river, skirting the west shore. They now had only about a mile to
drive before striking land again; and the scene was so beautiful with
the great dim outlines of the mountains before them that both the girls
suggested that they should go leisurely for a time.

"We shouldn't hastily and carelessly pass such a picture as that, any
more than one would if a fine copy of it were hung in a gallery," said
Carrie. "The stars are so brilliant along the brow of that highland
yonder that they form a dia - oh, oh! what IS the matter?" and she clung
to Marstern's arm.

The horse was breaking through the ice.

"Whoa!" said Marstern, firmly. Even as he spoke, Lottie was out of the
sleigh and running back on the ice, crying and wringing her hands.

"We shall be drowned," she almost screamed hysterically.

"Mr. Marstern, what SHALL we do? Can't we turn around and go back the
way we came?"

"Miss Carrie, will you do what I ask? Will you believe me when I say
that I do not think you are in any danger?"

"Yes, I'll do my best," she replied, catching her breath. She grew calm
rapidly as he tried to reassure Lottie, telling her that water from the
rising of the tide had overflowed the main ice and that thin ice had
formed over it, also that the river at the most was only two or three
feet deep at that point. But all was of no avail; Lottie stood out upon
the ice in a panic, declaring that he never should have brought them
into such danger, and that he must turn around at once and go back as
they came.

"But, Miss Waldo, the tide is rising, and we may find wet places
returning. Besides, it would bring us home very late. Now, Miss Carrie
and I will drive slowly across this place and then return for you.
After we have been across it twice you surely won't fear."

"I won't be left alone; suppose you two should break through and
disappear, what would become of ME?"

"You would be better off than we," he replied, laughing.

"I think it's horrid of you to laugh. Oh, I'm so cold and frightened! I
feel as if the ice were giving way under my feet."

"Why, Miss Lottie, we just drove over that spot where you stand. Here,
Miss Carrie shall stay with you while I drive back and forth alone."

"Then if you were drowned we'd both be left alone to freeze to death."

"I pledge you my word you shall be by that grate-fire within less than
an hour if you will trust me five minutes."

"Oh, well, if you will risk your life and ours too; but Carrie must
stay with me."

"Will YOU trust me, Miss Carrie, and help me out of this scrape?"

Carrie was recovering from her panic, and replied, "I have given you my
promise."

He was out of the sleigh instantly, and the thin ice broke with him
also. "I must carry you a short distance," he said. "I cannot allow you
to get your feet wet. Put one arm around my neck, so; now please obey
as you promised."

She did so without a word, and he bore her beyond the water, inwardly
exulting and blessing that thin ice. His decision was coming with the
passing seconds; indeed, it had come. Returning to the sleigh he drove
slowly forward, his horse making a terrible crunching and splashing,
Lottie meanwhile keeping up a staccato accompaniment of little shrieks.

"Ah, my charming creature," he thought, "with you it was only, 'What
will become of ME?' I might not have found out until it was too late
the relative importance of 'me' in the universe had we not struck this
bad crossing; and one comes to plenty of bad places to cross in a
lifetime."

The area of thin ice was not very narrow, and he was becoming but a dim
and shadowy outline to the girls. Lottie was now screaming for his
return. Having crossed the overflowed space and absolutely assured
himself that there was no danger, he returned more rapidly and found
Carrie trying to calm her companion.

"Oh," sobbed Lottie, "my feet are wet and almost frozen. The ice
underneath may have borne you, but it won't bear all three of us. Oh,
dear, I wish I hadn't - I wish I was home; and I feel as if I'd never
get there."

"Miss Lottie, I assure you that the ice will hold a ton, but I'll tell
you what I'll do. I shall put you in the sleigh, and Miss Carrie will
drive you over. You two together do not weigh much more than I do. I'll
walk just behind you with my hands on the back of the sleigh, and if I
see the slightest danger I'll lift you out of the sleigh first and
carry you to safety."

This proposition promised so well that she hesitated, and he lifted her
in instantly before she could change her mind, then helped Carrie in
with a quiet pressure of the hand, as much as to say, "I shall depend
on you."

"But, Mr. Marstern, you'll get your feet wet," protested Carrie.

"That doesn't matter," he replied good-naturedly. "I shall be no worse
off than Miss Lottie, and I'm determined to convince her of safety. Now
go straight ahead as I direct."

Once the horse stumbled, and Lottie thought he was going down head
first. "Oh, lift me out, quick, quick!" she cried.

"Yes, indeed I will, Miss Lottie, as soon as we are opposite that grate
fire of yours."

They were soon safely over, and within a half-hour reached Lottie's
home. It was evident she was a little ashamed of her behavior, and she
made some effort to retrieve herself. But she was cold and miserable,
vexed with herself and still more vexed with Marstern. That a latent
sense of justice forbade the latter feeling only irritated her the
more. Individuals as well as communities must have scapegoats; and it
is not an unusual impulse on the part of some to blame and dislike
those before whom they have humiliated themselves.

She gave her companions a rather formal invitation to come in and get
warm before proceeding further; but Marstern said very politely that he
thought it was too late, unless Miss Carrie was cold. Carrie protested
that she was not so cold but that she could easily wait till she
reached her own fireside.

"Well, good-night, then," and the door was shut a trifle emphatically.

"Mr. Marstern," said Carrie, sympathetically, "your feet must be very
cold and wet after splashing through all that ice-water."

"They are," he replied; "but I don't mind it. Well, if I had tried for
years I could not have found such a test of character as we had
to-night."

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, well, you two girls did not behave exactly alike. I liked the way
you behaved. You helped me out of a confounded scrape."

"Would you have tried for years to find a test?" she asked, concealing
the keenness of her query under a laugh.

"I should have been well rewarded if I had, by such a fine contrast,"
he replied.

Carrie's faculties had not so congealed but that his words set her
thinking. She had entertained at times the impression that she and
Lottie were his favorites. Had he taken them out that night together in
the hope of contrasts, of finding tests that would help his halting
decision? He had ventured where the intuitions of a girl like Carrie
Mitchell were almost equal to second-sight; and she was alert for what
would come next.

He accepted her invitation to come in and warm his feet at the glowing
fire in the grate, which Carrie's father had made before retiring. Mrs.
Mitchell, feeling that her daughter was with an old friend and
playmate, did not think the presence of a chaperon essential, and left
the young people alone. Carrie bustled about, brought cake, and made
hot lemonade, while Marstern stretched his feet to the grate with a
luxurious sense of comfort and complacency, thinking how homelike it
all was and how paradisiacal life would become if such a charming
little Hebe presided over his home. His lemonade became nectar offered
by such hands.

She saw the different expression in his eyes. It was now homage,
decided preference for one and not mere gallantry to two. Outwardly she
was demurely oblivious and maintained simply her wonted friendliness.
Marstern, however, was thawing in more senses than one, and he was
possessed by a strong impulse to begin an open siege at once.

"I haven't had a single suit of any kind yet, Carrie," he said,
dropping the prefix of "Miss," which had gradually been adopted as they
had grown up.

"Oh, well, that was the position of all the great lawyers once," she
replied, laughing. Marstern's father was wealthy, and all knew that he
could afford to be briefless for a time.

"I may never be great; but I shall work as hard as any of them," he
continued. "To tell you the honest truth, however, this would be the
happiest Christmas Eve of my life if I had a downright suit on my
hands. Why can't I be frank with you and say I'd like to begin the
chief suit of my life now and here - a suit for this little hand? I'd
plead for it as no lawyer ever pleaded before. I settled that much down
on the ice."

"And if I hadn't happened to behave on the ice in a manner agreeable to
your lordship, you would have pleaded with the other girl?" she
remarked, withdrawing her hand and looking him directly in the eyes.

"What makes you think so?" he asked somewhat confusedly.

"You do."

He sprang up and paced the room a few moments, then confronted her with
the words, "You shall have the whole truth. Any woman that I would ask
to be my wife is entitled to that," and he told her just what the
attitude of his mind had been from the first.

She laughed outright, then gave him her hand as she said, "Your honesty
insures that we can be very good friends; but I don't wish to hear
anything more about suits which are close of kin to lawsuits."

He looked very dejected, feeling that he had blundered fatally in his
precipitation.

"Come now, Hedley, be sensible," she resumed, half laughing, half
serious. "As you say, we can be frank with each other. Why, only the
other day we were boy and girl together coasting downhill on the same
sled. You are applying your legal jargon to a deep experience, to
something sacred - the result, to my mind, of a divine instinct. Neither
you nor I have ever felt for each other this instinctive preference,
this subtle gravitation of the heart. Don't you see? Your head has been
concerned about me, and only your head. By a kindred process you would
select one bale of merchandise in preference to another. Good gracious!
I've faults enough. You'll meet some other girl that will stand some
other test far better than I. I want a little of what you call silly
romance in my courtship. See; I can talk about this suit as coolly and
fluently as you can. We'd make a nice pair of lovers, about as frigid
as the ice-water you waded through so good-naturedly;" and the girl's
laugh rang out merrily, awakening echoes in the old house. Mr. and Mrs.
Mitchell might rest securely when their daughter could laugh like that.
It was the mirth of a genuine American girl whose self-protection was
better than the care of a thousand duennas.

He looked at her with honest admiration in his eyes, then rose quietly
and said, "That's fine, Carrie. Your head's worth two of mine, and
you'd make the better lawyer. You see through a case from top to
bottom. You were right - I wasn't in love with you; I don't know whether
I'm in love with you now, and you haven't an infinitesimal spark for
me. Nevertheless, I begin my suit here and now, and I shall never
withdraw it till you are engaged to another fellow. So there!"

Carrie looked rather blank at this result of her reductio ad absurdum
process; and he did not help her by adding, "A fellow isn't always in
love. There must be a beginning; and when I arrive at this beginning
under the guidance of reason, judgment, and observation, I don't see as
I'm any more absurd than the fellow who tumbles helplessly in love, he
doesn't know why. What becomes of all these people who have divine
gravitations? You and I both know of some who had satanic repulsions
afterward. They used their eyes and critical faculties after marriage
instead of before. The romance exhaled like a morning mist; and the
facts came out distinctly. They learned what kind of man and woman they
actually were, and two idealized creatures were sent to limbo. Because
I don't blunder upon the woman I wish to marry, but pick her out,
that's no reason I can't and won't love her. Your analysis and judgment
were correct only up to date. You have now to meet a suit honestly,
openly announced. This may be bad policy on my part; yet I have so much
faith in you and respect for you that I don't believe you will let my
precipitation create a prejudice. Give me a fair hearing; that's all I
ask."

"Well, well, I'll promise not to frown, even though some finer paragon
should throw me completely in the shade."

"You don't believe in my yet," he resumed, after a moment of thought.
"I felt that I had blundered awfully a while ago; but I doubt it. A
girl of your perceptions would soon have seen it all. I've not lost
anything by being frank from the start. Be just to me, however. It
wasn't policy that led me to speak, but this homelike scene, and you
appearing like the good genius of a home."

He pulled out his watch, and gave a low whistle as he held it toward
her. Then his manner suddenly became grave and gentle. "Carrie," he
said, "I wish you, not a merry Christmas, but a happy one, and many of
them. It seems to me it would be a great privilege for a man to make a
woman like you happy."

"Is this the beginning of the suit?" she asked with a laugh that was a
little forced.

"I don't know. Perhaps it is; but I spoke just as I felt. Good-night."

She would not admit of a trace of sentiment on her part. "Good-night,"
she said. "Merry Christmas! Go home and hang up your stocking."

"Bless me!" she thought, as she went slowly up the stairs, "I thought I
was going to be through with him for good and all, except as a friend;
but if he goes on this way - "

The next morning a basket of superb roses was left at her home. There
was no card, and mamma queried and surmised; but the girl knew. They
were not displeasing to her, and somehow, before the day was over, they
found their way to her room; but she shook her head decidedly as she
said, "He must be careful not to send me other gifts, for I will return
them instantly. Flowers, in moderation, never commit a girl."

But then came another gift - a book with pencillings here and there, not
against sentimental passages, but words that made her think. It was his
manner in society, however, that at once annoyed, perplexed, and
pleased her. On the first occasion they met in company with others, he
made it clear to every one that he was her suitor; yet he was not a
burr which she could not shake off. He rather seconded all her efforts
to have a good time with any and every one she chose. Nor did he,
wallflower fashion, mope in the meanwhile and look unutterable things.
He added to the pleasure of a score of others, and even conciliated
Lottie, yet at the same time surrounded the girl of his choice with an
atmosphere of unobtrusive devotion. She was congratulated on her
conquest - rather maliciously so by Lottie. Her air of courteous
indifference was well maintained; yet she was a woman, and could not
help being flattered. Certain generous traits in her nature were
touched also by a homage which yielded everything and exacted nothing.

The holidays soon passed, and he returned to his work. She learned
incidentally that he toiled faithfully, instead of mooning around. At
every coigne of vantage she found him, or some token of his ceaseless
effort. She was compelled to think of him, and to think well of him.
Though mamma and papa judiciously said little, it was evident that they
liked the style of lover into which he was developing.

Once during the summer she said: "I don't think it's right to let you
go on in this way any longer."

"Are my attentions so very annoying?"

"No, indeed. A girl never had a more agreeable or useful friend."

"Are you engaged to some other fellow?"

"Of course not. You know better."

"There is no 'of course not' about it. I couldn't and wouldn't lay a
straw in the way. You are not bound, but I."

"You bound?"

"Certainly. You remember what I said."

"Then I must accept the first man that asks me - "

"I ask you."

"No; some one else, so as to unloose your conscience and give you a
happy deliverance."

"You would leave me still bound and hopeless in that case. I love you
now, Carrie Mitchell."

"Oh, dear! you are incorrigible. It's just a lawyer's persistence in
winning a suit."

"You can still swear on the dictionary that you don't love me at all?"

"I might - on the dictionary. There, I won't talk about such things any
more," and she resolutely changed the subject.

But she couldn't swear, even on the dictionary. She didn't know where
she stood or how it would all end; but with increasing frequency the
words, "I love you now," haunted her waking and dreaming hours.

The holidays were near again, and then came a letter from Marstern,
asking her to take another sleigh-ride with him on Christmas Eve. His
concluding words were: "There is no other woman in the world that I
want on the other side of me." She kissed these words, then looked
around in a startled, shamefaced manner, blushing even in the solitude
of her room.

Christmas Eve came, but with it a wild storm of wind and sleet. She was
surprised at the depth of her disappointment. Would he even come to
call through such a tempest?

He did come, and come early; and she said demurely: "I did not expect
you on such a night as this."

He looked at her for a moment, half humorously, half seriously, and her
eyes drooped before his. "You will know better what to expect next
time," was his comment.

"When is next time?"

"Any and every time which gives me a chance to see you. Who should know
that better than you?"

"Are you never going to give up?" she asked with averted face.

"Not till you become engaged."

"Hush! They are all in the parlor."

"Well, they ought to know as much, by this time, also."

She thought it was astonishing how he made himself at home in the
family circle. In half an hour there was scarcely any restraint left
because a visitor was present. Yet, as if impelled by some mysterious
influence, one after another slipped out; and Carrie saw with strange
little thrills of dismay that she would soon be alone with that
indomitable lawyer. She signalled to her mother, but the old lady's
eyes were glued to her knitting.

At last they were alone, and she expected a prompt and powerful appeal
from the plaintiff; but Marstern drew his chair to the opposite side of
the hearth and chatted so easily, naturally, and kindly that her
trepidation passed utterly. It began to grow late, and a heavier gust
than usual shook the house. It appeared to waken him to the dire
necessity of breasting the gale, and he rose and said:

"I feel as if I could sit here forever, Carrie. It's just the
impression I had a year ago to-night. You, sitting there by the fire,
gave then, and give now to this place the irresistible charm of home. I
think I had then the decided beginning of the divine
gravitation - wasn't that what you called it? - which has been growing so
strong ever since. You thought then that the ice-water I waded was in
my veins. Do you think so now? If you do I shall have to take another
year to prove the contrary. Neither am I convinced of the absurdity of
my course, as you put it then. I studied you coolly and deliberately
before I began to love you, and reason and judgment have had no chance
to jeer at my love."

"But, Hedley," she began with a slight tremor in her tones, "you are
idealizing me as certainly as the blindest. I've plenty of faults."

"I haven't denied that; so have I plenty of faults. What right have I
to demand a perfection I can't offer? I have known people to marry who
imagined each other perfect, and then come to court for a separation on
the ground of incompatibility of temperament. They learned the meaning


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Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeTaken Alive → online text (page 17 of 26)