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of that long word too late, and were scarcely longer about it than the
word itself. Now, I'm satisfied that I could cordially agree with you
on some points and lovingly disagree with you on others. Chief of all
it's your instinct to make a home. You appear better at your own
fireside than when in full dress at a reception. You - "

"See here, Hedley, you've got to give up this suit at last. I'm
engaged," and she looked away as if she could not meet his eyes.

"Engaged?" he said slowly, looking at her with startled eyes.

"Well, about the same as engaged. My heart has certainly gone from me
beyond recall." He drew a long breath. "I was foolish enough to begin
to hope," he faltered.

"You must dismiss hope to-night, then," she said, her face still
averted.

He was silent and she slowly turned toward him. He had sunk into a
chair and buried his face in his hands, the picture of dejected defeat.

There was a sudden flash of mirth through tear-gemmed eyes, a glance at
the clock, then noiseless steps, and she was on her knees beside him,
her arm about his neck, her blushing face near his wondering eyes as
she breathed:

"Happy Christmas, Hedley! How do you like your first gift; and what
room is there now for hope?"




THREE THANKSGIVING KISSES


It was the day before Thanksgiving. The brief cloudy November afternoon
was fast merging into early twilight. The trees, now gaunt and bare,
creaked and groaned in the passing gale, clashing their icy branches
together with sounds sadly unlike the slumberous rustle of their
foliage in June. And that same foliage was now flying before the wind,
swept hither and thither, like exiles driven by disaster from the
moorings of home, at times finding a brief abiding-place, and then
carried forward to parts unknown by circumstances beyond control. The
street leading into the village was almost deserted; and the few who
came and went hastened on with fluttering garments, head bent down, and
a shivering sense of discomfort. The fields were bare and brown; and
the landscape on the uplands rising in the distance would have been
utterly sombre had not green fields of grain, like childlike faith in
wintry age, relieved the gloomy outlook and prophesied of the sunshine
and golden harvest of a new year and life.

But bleak November found no admittance in Mrs. Alford's cosey parlor.
Though, as usual, it was kept as the room for state occasions, it was
not a stately room. It was furnished with elegance and good taste; but
what was better, the genial home atmosphere from the rest of the house
had invaded it, and one did not feel, on entering it from the
free-and-easy sitting-room, as if passing from a sunny climate to the
icebergs of the Pole. Therefore I am sure my reader will follow me
gladly out of the biting, boisterous wind into the homelike apartment,
and as we stand in fancy before the glowing grate, we will make the
acquaintance of the May-day creature who is its sole occupant.

Elsie Alford, just turning seventeen, appeared younger than her years
warranted. Some girls carry the child far into their teens, and Head
the mirthful innocence of infancy with the richer, fuller life of
budding womanhood. This was true of Elsie. Hers was not the forced
exotic bloom of fashionable life; but rather one of the native blossoms
of her New England home, having all the delicacy and at the same time
hardiness of the windflower. She was also as shy and easily agitated,
and yet, like the flower she resembled, well rooted among the rocks of
principle and truth. She was the youngest and the pet of the household,
and yet the "petting" was not of that kind that develops selfishness
and wilfulness, but rather a genial sunlight of love falling upon her
as a focus from the entire family. They always spoke of her as "little
Sis," or the "child." And a child it seemed she would ever be, with her
kittenish ways, quick impulses, and swiftly alternating moods. As she
developed into womanly proportions, her grave, businesslike father
began to have misgivings. After one of her wild sallies at the table,
where she kept every one on the qui vive by her unrestrained chatter,
Mr. Alford said:

"Elsie, will you ever learn to be a woman?"

Looking mischievously at him through her curls, she replied, "Yes; I
might if I became as old as Mrs. Methuselah."

They finally concluded to leave Elsie's cure to care and trouble - two
certain elements of earthly life; and yet her experience of either
would be slight indeed, could their love shield her.

But it would not be exactly care or trouble that would sober Elsie into
a thoughtful woman, as our story will show.

Some of the November wind seemed in her curling hair upon this fateful
day; but her fresh young April face was a pleasant contrast to the
scene presented from the window, to which she kept flitting with
increasing frequency. It certainly was not the dismal and darkening
landscape that so intensely interested her. The light of a great and
coming pleasure was in her face, and her manner was one of restless,
eager expectancy. Little wonder. Her pet brother, the one next older
than herself, a promising young theologue, was coming home to spend
Thanksgiving. It was time he appeared. The shriek of the locomotive had
announced the arrival of the train; and her ardent little spirit could
scarcely endure the moments intervening before she would almost
concentrate herself into a rapturous kiss and embrace of welcome, for
the favorite brother had been absent several long months.

Her mother called her away for a few moments, for the good old lady was
busy indeed, knowing well that merely full hearts would not answer for
a New England Thanksgiving. But the moment Elsie was free she darted
back to the window, just in time to catch a glimpse, as she supposed,
of her brother's well-remembered dark-gray overcoat, as he was
ascending the front steps.

A tall, grave-looking young man, an utter stranger to the place and
family, had his hand upon the doorbell; but before he could ring it,
the door flew open, and a lovely young creature precipitated herself on
his neck, like a missile fired from heavenly battlements, and a kiss
was pressed upon his lips that he afterward admitted to have felt even
to the "toes of his boots."

But his startled manner caused her to lift her face from under his
side-whiskers; and though the dusk was deepening, she could see that
her arms were around an utter stranger. She recoiled from him with a
bound, and trembling like a windflower indeed, her large blue eyes
dilating at the intruder with a dismay beyond words. How the awkward
scene would have ended it were hard to tell had not the hearty voice of
one coming up the path called out:

"Hi, there, you witch! who is that you are kissing, and then standing
off to see the effect?"

There was no mistake this time; so, impelled by love, shame, and fear
of "that horrid man," she fled, half sobbing, to his arms.

"No, he isn't a 'horrid man,' either," whispered her brother, laughing.
"He is a classmate of mine. Why, Stanhope, how are you? I did not know
that you and my sister were so well acquainted," he added, half
banteringly and half curiously, for as yet he did not fully understand
the scene.

The hall-lamp, shining through the open door, had revealed the features
of the young man (whom we must now call Mr. Stanhope), so that his
classmate had recognized him. His first impulse had been to slip away
in the darkness, and so escape from his awkward predicament; but George
Alford's prompt address prevented this and brought him to bay. He was
painfully embarrassed, but managed to stammer: "I was taken for you, I
think. I never had the pleasure - honor of meeting your sister."

"Oh, ho! I see now. My wild little sister kissed before she looked.
Well, that was your good-fortune. I could keep two Thanksgiving days on
the strength of such a kiss as that," cried the light-hearted student,
shaking the diffident, shrinking Mr. Stanhope warmly by the hand. "You
will hardly need a formal introduction now. But, bless me, where is
she? Has the November wind blown her away?"

"I think your sist - the lady passed around to the side entrance. I fear
I have annoyed her sadly."

"Nonsense! A good joke - something to tease the little witch about. But
come in. I'm forgetting the sacred rites."

And before the bewildered Mr. Stanhope could help himself, he was half
dragged into the lighted hall, and the door shut between him and escape.

In the meantime, Elsie, like a whirlwind, had burst into the kitchen,
where Mrs. Alford was superintending some savory dishes.

"Oh, mother, George has come and has a horrid man with him, who nearly
devoured me."

And, with this rather feminine mode of stating the case, she darted
into the dusky, fire-lighted parlor, from whence, unseen, she could
reconnoitre the hall. Mr. Stanhope was just saying:

"Please let me go. I have stood between you and your welcome long
enough. I shall only be an intruder; and besides, as an utter stranger,
I have no right to stay." To all of which Elsie devoutly whispered to
herself, "Amen."

But Mrs. Alford now appeared, and after a warm, motherly greeting to
her son, turned in genial courtesy to welcome his friend, as she
supposed.

George was so happy that he wished every one else to be the same. The
comical episode attending Mr. Stanhope's unexpected appearance just hit
his frolicsome mood, and promised to be a source of endless merriment
if he could only keep his classmate over the coming holiday. Moreover,
he long had wished to become better acquainted with this young man,
whose manner at the seminary had deeply interested him. So he said:

"Mother, this is Mr. Stanhope, a classmate of mine. I wish you would
help me persuade him to stay."

"Why, certainly, I supposed you expected to stay with us, of course,"
said Mrs. Alford, heartily.

Mr. Stanhope looked ready to sink through the floor, his face crimson
with vexation.

"I do assure you, madam," he urged, "it is all a mistake. I am not an
invited guest. I was merely calling on a little matter of business,
when - " and there he stopped. George exploded into a hearty,
uncontrollable laugh; while Elsie, in the darkness, shook her little
fist at the stranger, who hastened to add, "Please let me bid you
good-evening, I have not the slightest claim on your hospitality."

"Where are you staying?" asked Mrs. Alford, a little mystified. "We
would like you to spend at least part of the time with us."

"I do not expect to be here very long. I have a room at the hotel."

"Now, look here, Stanhope," cried George, barring all egress by
planting his back against the door, "do you take me, a half-fledged
theologue, for a heathen? Do you suppose that I could be such a churl
as to let a classmate stay at our dingy, forlorn little tavern and eat
hash on Thanksgiving Day? I could never look you in the face at
recitation again. Have some consideration for my peace of mind, and I
am sure you will find our home quite as endurable as anything Mr.
Starks can provide."

"Oh! as to that, from even the slight glimpse that I have had, this
seems more like a home than anything I have known for many years; but I
cannot feel it right that I, an unexpected stranger - "

"Come, come! No more of that! You know what is written about
'entertaining strangers;' so that is your strongest claim. Moreover,
that text works both ways sometimes, and the stranger angel finds
himself among angels. My old mother here, if she does weigh well on
toward two hundred, is more like one than anything I have yet seen, and
Elsie, if not an angel, is at least part witch and part fairy. But you
need not fear ghostly entertainment from mother's larder. As you are a
Christian, and not a Pagan, no more of this reluctance. Indeed, nolens
volens, I shall not permit you to go out into this November storm
to-night;" and Elsie, to her dismay, saw the new-comer led up to the
"spare room" with a sort of hospitable violence.

With flaming cheeks and eyes half full of indignant tears, she now made
onslaught on her mother, who had returned to the kitchen, where she was
making preparations for a supper that might almost answer for the
dinner the next day.

"Mother, mother," she exclaimed, "how could you keep that disagreeable
stranger! He will spoil our Thanksgiving."

"Why, child, what is the matter?" said Mrs. Alford, raising her eyes in
surprise to her daughter's face, that looked like a red moon through
the mist of savory vapors rising from the ample cooking-stove. "I don't
understand you. Why should not your brother's classmate add to the
pleasure of our Thanksgiving?"

"Well, perhaps if we had expected him, if he had come in some other
way, and we knew more about him - "

"Bless you, child, what a formalist you have become. You stand on a
fine point of etiquette, as if it were the broad foundation of
hospitality; while only last week you wanted a ragged tramp, who had
every appearance of being a thief, to stay all night. Your brother
thinks it a special providence that his friend should have turned up so
unexpectedly."

"Oh, dear!" sighed Elsie. "If that is what the doctrine of special
providence means, I shall need a new confession of faith." Then, a
sudden thought occurring to her, she vanished, while her mother smiled,
saying:

"What a queer child she is, to be sure!"

A moment later Elsie gave a sharp knock at the spare room door, and in
a second was in the further end of the dark hall. George put his head
out.

"Come here," she whispered. "Are you sure it's you?" she added, holding
him off at arm's-length.

His response was such a tempest of kisses and embraces that in her
nervous state she was quite panic-stricken.

"George," she gasped, "have mercy on me!"

"I only wished to show you how he felt, so you would have some sympathy
for him."

"If you don't stop," said the almost desperate girl, "I will shut
myself up and not appear till he is gone. I will any way, if you don't
make me a solemn promise."

"Leave out the 'solemn.'"

"No, I won't. Upon your word and honor, promise never to tell what has
happened - my mistake, I mean."

"Oh, Elsie, it's too good to keep," laughed George.

"Now, George, if you tell," sobbed Elsie, "you'll spoil my holiday,
your visit, and everything."

"If you feel that way, you foolish child, of course I won't tell.
Indeed, I suppose I should not, for Stanhope seems half frightened out
of his wits also."

"Serves him right, though I doubt whether he has many to lose," said
Elsie, spitefully.

"Well, I will do my best to keep in," said George, soothingly, and
stroking her curls. "But you will let it all out; you see. The idea of
your keeping anything with your April face!"

Elsie acted upon the hint, and went to her room in order to remove all
traces of agitation before the supper-bell should summon her to meet
the dreaded stranger.

In the meantime, Mr. Alford and James, the second son, had come up from
the village, where they had a thriving business. They greeted George's
friend so cordially that it went some way toward putting the diffident
youth at his ease; but he dreaded meeting Elsie again quite as much as
she dreaded meeting him.

"Who is this Mr. Stanhope?" his parents asked, as they drew George
aside for a little private talk after his long absence.

"Well, he is a classmate with whom I have long wished to get better
acquainted; but he is so shy and retiring that I have made little
progress. He came from another seminary, and entered our class in this
the middle year. No one seems to know much about him; and indeed he has
shunned all intimacies and devotes himself wholly to his books. The
recitation-room is the one place where he appears well - for there he
speaks out, as if forgetting himself, or rather, losing himself in some
truth under contemplation. Sometimes he will ask a question that wakes
up both class and professor; but at other times it seems difficult to
pierce the shell of his reserve or diffidence. And yet, from little
things I have seen, I know that he has a good warm heart; and the
working of his mind in the recitation-room fascinates me. Further than
this I know little about him, but have just learned, from his
explanation as to his unexpected appearance at our door, that he is
very poor, and purposed to spend his holiday vacation as agent for a
new magazine that is offering liberal premiums. I think his poverty is
one of the reasons why he has so shrunk from companionship with the
other students. He thinks he ought to go out and continue his efforts
tonight."

"This stormy night!" ejaculated kind Mrs. Alford. "It would be
barbarous."

"Certainly it would, mother. We must not let him. But you must all be
considerate, for he seems excessively diffident and sensitive; and
besides - but no matter."

"No fear but that we will soon make him at home. And it's a pleasure to
entertain people who are not surfeited with attention. I don't
understand Elsie, however, for she seems to have formed a violent
prejudice against him. From the nature of her announcement of his
presence I gathered that he was a rather forward young man."

There was a twinkle in George's eye; but he merely said:

"Elsie is full of moods and tenses; but her kind little heart is always
the same, and that will bring her around all right."

They were soon after marshalled to the supper-room. Elsie slipped in
among the others, but was so stately and demure, and with her curls
brushed down so straight that you would scarcely have known her. Her
father caught his pet around the waist, and was about to introduce her,
when George hastened to say with the solemnity of an undertaker that
Elsie and Mr. Stanhope had met before.

Elsie repented the promise she had wrung from her brother, for any
amount of badinage would be better than this depressing formality. She
took her seat, not daring to look at the obnoxious guest; and the
family noticed with surprise that they had never seen the little maiden
so quenched and abashed before. But George good-naturedly tried to make
the conversation general, so as to give them time to recover themselves.

Elsie soon ventured to steal shy looks at Mr. Stanhope, and with her
usual quickness discovered that he was more in terror of her than she
of him, and she exulted in the fact.

"I'll punish him well, if I get a chance," she thought with a certain
phase of the feminine sense of justice. But the sadness of his face
quite disarmed her when her mother, in well-meant kindness, asked:

"Where is your home located, Mr. Stanhope?"

"In the seminary," he answered in rather a low tone.

"You don't mean to say that you have no better one than a forlorn cell
in Dogma Hall?" exclaimed George, earnestly.

Mr. Stanhope crimsoned, and then grew pale, but tried to say lightly,
"An orphan of my size and years is not a very moving object of
sympathy; but one might well find it difficult not to break the Tenth
Commandment while seeing how you are surrounded."

Elsie was vexed at her disposition to relent toward him; she so
hardened her face, however, that James rallied her:

"Why, Puss, what is the matter? Yours is the most unpromising
Thanksgiving phiz I have seen today. 'Count your marcies.'"

Elsie blushed so violently, and Mr. Stanhope looked so distressed that
James finished his supper in puzzled silence, thinking, however, "What
has come over the little witch? For a wonder, she seems to have met a
man that she is afraid of: but the joke is, he seems even more afraid
of her."

In the social parlor some of the stiffness wore off; but Elsie and Mr.
Stanhope kept on opposite sides of the room and had very little to say
to each other. Motherly Mrs. Alford drew the young man out
sufficiently, however, to become deeply interested in him.

By the next morning time for thought had led him to feel that he must
trespass on their hospitality no longer. Moreover, he plainly
recognized that his presence was an oppression and restraint upon
Elsie; and he was very sorry that he had stayed at all. But when he
made known his purpose the family would not listen to it.

"I should feel dreadfully hurt if you left us now," said Mrs. Alford,
so decidedly that he was in a dilemma, and stole a timid look toward
Elsie, who at once guessed his motive in going away. Her kind heart got
the better of her; and her face relented in a sudden reassuring smile.
Then she turned hastily away. Only George saw and understood the little
side scene and the reason Mr. Stanhope was induced to remain. Then
Elsie, in her quickly varying moods, was vexed at herself, and became
more cold and distant than ever. "He will regard me as only a pert,
forward miss, but I will teach him better," she thought; and she
astonished the family more and more by a stateliness utterly unlike
herself. Mr. Stanhope sincerely regretted that he had not broken away,
in spite of the others; but in order not to seem vacillating he
resolved to stay till the following morning, even though he departed
burdened with the thought that he had spoiled the day for one of the
family. Things had now gone so far that leaving might only lead to
explanations and more general annoyances, for George had intimated that
the little mistake of the previous evening should remain a secret.

And yet he sincerely wished she would relent toward him, for she could
not make her sweet little face repellent. The kiss she had given him
still seemed to tingle in his very soul, while her last smile was like
a ray of warmest sunshine. But her face, never designed to be severe,
was averted.

After having heard the affairs of the nation discussed in a sound,
scriptural manner, they all sat down to a dinner such as had never
blessed poor Mr. Stanhope's vision before. A married son and daughter
returned after church, and half a dozen grandchildren enlivened the
gathering. There was need of them, for Elsie, usually in a state of
wild effervescence upon such occasions, was now demure and
comparatively silent. The children, with whom she was accustomed to
romp like one of them, were perplexed indeed; and only the intense
excitement of a Thanksgiving dinner diverted their minds from Aunt
Elsie, so sadly changed. She was conscious that all were noting her
absent manner, and this embarrassed and vexed her more; and yet she
seemed under a miserable paralysis that she could neither explain nor
escape.

"If we had only laughed it off at first," she groaned to herself; "but
now the whole thing grows more absurd and disagreeable every moment."

"Why, Elsie," said her father, banteringly, "you doubted the other day
whether Mrs. Methuselah's age would ever sober you; and yet I think
that good old lady would have looked more genial on Thanksgiving Day.
What is the matter?"

"I was thinking of the sermon," she said.

Amid the comic elevation of eyebrows, George said slyly:

"Tell us the text."

Overwhelmed with confusion, she darted a reproachful glance at him and
muttered:

"I did not say anything about the text."

"Well, tell us about the sermon then," laughed James.

"No," said Elsie, sharply. "I'll quote you a text: 'Eat, drink, and be
merry,' and let me alone."

They saw that for some reason she could not bear teasing, and that such
badinage troubled Mr. Stanhope also. George came gallantly to the
rescue, and the dinner-party grew so merry that Elsie thawed
perceptibly and Stanhope was beguiled into several witty speeches. At
each one Elsie opened her eyes in wider and growing appreciation. At
last, when they rose from their coffee, she come to the surprising
conclusion -

"Why, he is not stupid and bad-looking after all."

George was bent on breaking the ice between them, and so proposed that
the younger members of the family party should go up a swollen stream
and see the fall. But Elsie flanked herself with a sister-in-law on one
side and a niece on the other, while Stanhope was so diffident that
nothing but downright encouragement would bring him to her side. So
George was almost in despair. Elsie's eyes had been conveying favorable
impressions to her reluctant mind throughout the walk. She sincerely
regretted that such an absurd barrier had grown up between her and
Stanhope, but could not for the life of her, especially before others,
do anything to break the awkward spell.

At last they were on their return, and were all grouped together on a
little bluff, watching the water pour foamingly through a narrow gorge.

"Oh, see," cried Elsie, suddenly pointing to the opposite bank, "what


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Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeTaken Alive → online text (page 18 of 26)