Edward Payson Roe.

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beautiful moss that is over there! It is just the kind I have been
wanting. Oh, dear! there isn't a bridge within half a mile."

Stanhope glanced around a moment, and then said gallantly, "I will get
you the moss, Miss Alford." They saw that in some inconceivable way he
intended crossing where they stood. The gorge was much too wide for the
most vigorous leap, so Elsie exclaimed eagerly:

"Oh, please don't take any risk! What is a little moss?"

"I say, Stanhope," remonstrated George, seriously, "it would be no
laughing matter if you should fall in there."

But Stanhope only smiled, threw off his overcoat, and buttoned his
undercoat closely around him. George groaned to himself, "This will be
worse than the kissing scrape," and was about to lay a restraining
grasp upon his friend. But he slipped away, and lightly went up
hand-over-hand a tall, slender sapling on the edge of the bank, the
whole party gathering round in breathless expectation. Having reached
its slender, swaying top, he threw himself out on the land side. The
tree bent at once to the ground with his weight, but without snapping,
showing that it was tough and fibrous. Holding firmly to the top, he
gave a strong spring, which, with the spring of the bent sapling, sent
him well over the gorge on the firm ground beyond.

There was a round of applause from the little group he had just left,
in which Elsie joined heartily. Her eyes were glowing with admiration,
for when was not power and daring captivating to a woman? Then, in
sudden alarm and forgetfulness of her former coolness, she exclaimed:

"But how will you get back?"

"This is my bridge," he replied, smiling brightly across to her, and
holding on to the slender young tree. "You perceive that I was brought
up in the country."

So saying, he tied the sapling down to a root with a handkerchief, and
then proceeded to fill another with moss.

As George saw Elsie's face while she watched Stanhope gather the
coveted trifle, he chuckled to himself -

"The ice is broken between them now."

But Stanhope had insecurely fastened the sapling down. The strain upon
the knot was too severe, and suddenly the young tree flew up and stood
erect but quivering, with his handkerchief fluttering in its top as a
symbol of defeat. There was an exclamation of dismay and Elsie again
asked with real anxiety in her tone:

"How will you get back now?"

Stanhope shrugged his shoulders.

"I confess I am defeated, for there is no like sapling on this side;
but I have the moss, and can join you at the bridge below, if nothing
better offers."

"George," said Elsie, indignantly, "don't go away and leave Mr.
Stanhope's handkerchief in that tree."

"Bless you, child," cried George, mischievously, and leading the way
down the path, "I can't climb anymore than a pumpkin. You will have to
go back with him after it, or let it wave as a memento of his gallantry
on your behalf."

"If I can only manage to throw them together without any embarrassing
third parties present, the ridiculous restraint they are under will
soon vanish," he thought; and so he hastened his steps. The rest
trooped after him, while Stanhope made his way with difficulty on the
opposite bank, where there was no path. His progress therefore was
slow; and Elsie saw that if she did not linger he would be left behind.
Common politeness forbade this, and so she soon found herself alone,
carrying his overcoat on one bank, and he keeping pace with her on the
other. She comforted herself at first with the thought that with the
brawling, deafening stream between them, there would be no chance for
embarrassing conversation. But soon her sympathies became aroused, as
she saw him toilsomely making his way over the rocks and through the
tangled thickets: and as she could not speak to him, she smiled her
encouragement so often that she felt it would be impossible to go back
to her old reserve.

Stanhope now came to a little opening in the brush. The cleared ground
sloped evenly down to the stream, and its current was divided by a
large rock. He hailed the opportunity here offered with delight, for he
was very anxious to speak to her before they should join the others. So
he startled Elsie by walking out into the clearing, away from the

"Well, I declare; that's cool, to go and leave me alone without a
word," she thought.

But she was almost terror-stricken to see him turn and dart to the
torrent like an arrow. With a long flying leap, he landed on the rock
in the midst of the stream, and then, without a second's hesitation,
with the impetus already acquired, sprang for the solid ground where
she stood, struck it, wavered, and would have fallen backward into the
water had not she, quick as thought, stepped forward and given him her

"You have saved me from a ducking, if not worse," he said, giving the
little rescuing hand a warm pressure.

"Oh!" exclaimed she, panting, "please don't do any more dreadful
things. I shall be careful how I make any wishes in your hearing again."

"I am sorry to hear you say that," he replied. And then there was an
awkward silence.

Elsie could think of nothing better than to refer to the handkerchief
they had left behind.

"Will you wait for me till I run and get it?" he asked.

"I will go back with you, if you will permit me," she said timidly.

"Indeed, I could not ask so much of you as that."

"And yet you could about the same as risk your neck to gratify a whim
of mine," she said more gratefully than she intended.

"Please do not think," he replied earnestly, "that I have been
practicing cheap heroics. As I said, I was a country boy, and in my
early home thought nothing of doing such things." But even the brief
reference to that vanished home caused him to sigh deeply, and Elsie
gave him a wistful look of sympathy.

For a few moments they walked on in silence. Then Mr. Stanhope turned,
and with some hesitation said:

"Miss Alford, I did very wrong to stay after - after last evening. But
my better judgment was borne down by invitations so cordial that I
hardly knew how to resist them. At the same time I now realize that I
should have done so. Indeed, I would go away at once, would not such a
course only make matters worse. And yet, after receiving so much
kindness from your family, more than has blessed me for many long
years - for since my dear mother died I have been quite alone in the
world - I feel I cannot go away without some assurance or proof that you
will forgive me for being such a kill-joy in your holiday."

Elsie's vexation with herself now knew no bounds. She stopped in the
path, determining that she would clear up matters, cost what it might.

"Mr. Stanhope," she said, "will you grant a request that will contain
such assurance, or rather, will show you that I am heartily ashamed of
my foolish course? Will you not spend next Thanksgiving with us, and
give me a chance to retrieve myself from first to last?"

His face brightened wonderfully as he replied, "I will only be too glad
to do so, if you truly wish it."

"I do wish it," she said earnestly. "What must you think of me?" (His
eyes then expressed much admiration; but hers were fixed on the ground
and half filled with tears of vexation.) Then, with a pretty humility
that was exquisite in its simplicity and artlessness, she added:

"You have noticed at home that they call me 'child' - and indeed, I am
little more than one - and now see that I have behaved like a very silly
and naughty one toward you. I have trampled on every principle of
hospitality, kindness, and good-breeding. I have no patience with
myself, and I wish another chance to show that I can do better. I - "

"Oh, Miss Alford, please do not judge yourself so harshly and
unjustly," interrupted Stanhope.

"Oh, dear!" sighed Elsie, "I'm so sorry for what happened last night.
We all might have had such a good time."

"Well, then," said Stanhope, demurely, "I suppose I ought to be also."

"And do you mean to say that you are not?" she asked, turning suddenly
upon him.

"Oh, well, certainly, for your sake," he said with rising color.

"But not for your own?" she asked with almost the naivete of a child.

He turned away with a perplexed laugh and replied: "Really, Miss
Alford, you are worse than the Catechism."

She looked at him with a half-amused, half-surprised expression, the
thought occurring to her for the first time that it might not have been
so disagreeable to him after all; and somehow this thought was quite a
relief to her. But she said: "I thought you would regard me as a hoyden
of the worst species."

"Because you kissed your brother? I have never for a moment forgotten
that it was only your misfortune that I was not he."

"I should have remembered that it was not your fault. But here is your
handkerchief, flying like a flag of truce; so let bygones be bygones.
My terms are that you come again another year, and give me a chance to
entertain my brother's friend as a sister ought."

"I am only too glad to submit to them," he eagerly replied, and then
added, so ardently as to deepen the roses already in her cheeks, "If
such are your punishments, Miss Alford, how delicious must be your

By common consent the subject was dropped; and with tongues released
from awkward restraint, they chatted freely together, till in the early
twilight they reached her home. The moment they entered George
exultingly saw that the skies were serene.

But Elsie would never be the frolicsome child of the past again. As she
surprised the family at dinner, so now at supper they could scarcely
believe that the elegant, graceful young lady was the witch of
yesterday. She had resolved with all her soul to try to win some place
in Mr. Stanhope's respect before he departed, and never did a little
maiden succeed better.

In the evening they had music; and Mr. Stanhope pleased them all with
his fine tenor, while Elsie delighted him by her clear, birdlike voice.
So the hours fled away.

"You think better of the 'horrid man,' little Sis," said George, as he
kissed her good-night.

"I was the horrid one," said Elsie, penitently. "I can never forgive
myself my absurd conduct. But he has promised to come again next
Thanksgiving, and give me a chance to do better; so don't you fail to
bring him."

George gave a long, low whistle, and then said: "Oh! ah! Seems to me
you are coming on, for an innocent. Are we to get mixed up again in the

"Nonsense!" said Elsie, with a peony face, and she slammed her door
upon him.

The next morning the young man took his leave, and Elsie's last words

"Mr. Stanhope, remember your promise."

And he did remember more than that, for this brief visit had enshrined
a sweet, girlish face within his heart of hearts, and he no longer felt
lonely and orphaned. He and George became the closest friends, and
messages from the New England home came to him with increasing
frequency, which he returned with prodigal interest. It also transpired
that he occasionally wrote for the papers, and Elsie insisted that
these should be sent to her; while he of course wrote much better with
the certainty that she would be his critic. Thus, though separated,
they daily became better acquainted, and during the year George found
it not very difficult to induce his friend to make several visits.

But it was with joy that seemed almost too rich for earthly experience
that he found himself walking up the village street with George the
ensuing Thanksgiving Eve. Elsie was at the door; and he pretended to be
disconsolate that his reception was not the same as on the previous
year. Indeed she had to endure not a little chaffing, for her mistake
was a family joke now.

It was a peerless Thanksgiving eve and day - one of the sun-lighted
heights of human happiness.

After dinner they all again took a walk up the brawling stream, and
Stanhope and Elsie became separated from the rest, though not so
innocently as on the former occasion.

"See!" cried Elsie, pointing to the well-remembered sapling, which she
had often visited. "There fluttered our flag of truce last year."

Stanhope seized her hand and said eagerly: "And here I again break the
truce, and renew the theme we dropped at this place. Oh, Elsie, I have
felt that kiss in the depths of my heart every hour since; and in that
it led to my knowing and loving you, it has made every day from that
time one of thanksgiving. If you could return my love, as I have dared
to hope, it would be a happiness beyond words. If I could venture to
take one more kiss, as a token that it is returned, I could keep
Thanksgiving forever."

Her hand trembled in his, but was not withdrawn. Her blushing face was
turned away toward the brawling stream; but she saw not its foam, she
heard not its hoarse murmurs. A sweeter music was in her ears. She
seemed under a delicious spell, but soon became conscious that a pair
of dark eyes were looking down eagerly, anxiously for her answer. Shyly
raising hers, that now were like dewy violets, she said, with a little
of her old witchery:

"I suppose you will have to kiss me this Thanksgiving, to make things

Stanhope needed no broader hint.

"I owe you a heavy grudge," said Mr. Alford, in the evening. "A year
ago you robbed me of my child, for little, kittenish Elsie became a
thoughtful woman from the day you were here; and now you are going to
take away the daughter of my old age."

"Yes, indeed, husband. Now you know how my father felt," said Mrs.
Alford, at the same time wiping something from the corner of her eye.

"Bless me, are you here?" said the old gentleman, wheeling round to his
wife. "Mr. Stanhope, I have nothing more to say."

"I declare," exulted George, "that 'horrid man' will devour Elsie yet."

"Haw! haw! haw!" laughed big-voiced, big-hearted James. "The idea of
our little witch of an Elsie being a minister's wife!"

* * * * * * *

It is again Thanksgiving Eve. The trees are gaunt, the fields bare and
brown, with dead leaves whirling across them; but a sweeter than June
sunshine seems filling the cosey parlor where Elsie, a radiant bride,
is receiving her husband's first kiss almost on the moment that she
with her lips so unexpectedly kindled the sacred fire, three years


Picnicking in December would be a dreary experience even if one could
command all the appliances of comfort which outdoor life permitted.
This would be especially true in the latitude of Boston and on the
bleak hills overlooking that city and its environing waters. Dreary
business indeed Ezekiel Watkins regarded it as he shivered over the
smoky camp-fire which he maintained with difficulty. The sun was
sinking into the southwest so early in the day that he remarked
irritably: "Durned if it was worth while for it to rise at all."

Ezekiel Watkins, or Zeke, as he was generally known among his comrades,
had ceased to be a resident on that rocky hillside from pleasure. His
heart was in a Connecticut valley in more senses than one; and there
was not a more homesick soldier in the army. It will be readily guessed
that the events of our story occurred more than a century ago. The
shots fired at Bunker Hill had echoed in every nook and corner of the
New England colonies, and the heart of Zeke Watkins, among thousands of
others, had been fired with military ardor. With companions in like
frame of mind he had trudged to Boston, breathing slaughter and
extermination against the red-coated instruments of English tyranny. To
Zeke the expedition had many of the elements of an extended bear-hunt,
much exalted. There was a spice of danger and a rich promise of novelty
and excitement. The march to the lines about Boston had been a
continuous ovation; grandsires came out from the wayside dwellings and
blessed the rustic soldiers; they were dined profusely by the
housewives, and if not wined, there had been slight stint in New
England rum and cider; the apple-cheeked daughters of the land gave
them the meed of heroes in advance, and abated somewhat of their ruddy
hues at the thought of the dangers to be incurred. Zeke was visibly
dilated by all this attention, incense, and military glory; and he
stepped forth from each village and hamlet as if the world were
scarcely large enough for the prowess of himself and companions. Even
on parade he was as stiff as his long-barrelled flintlock, looking as
if England could hope for no quarter at his hands; yet he permitted no
admiring glances from bright eyes to escape him. He had not traversed
half the distance between his native hamlet and Boston before he was
abundantly satisfied that pretty Susie Rolliffe had made no mistake in
honoring him among the recruits by marks of especial favor. He wore in
his squirrel-skin cap the bit of blue ribbon she had given him, and
with the mien of a Homeric hero had intimated darkly that it might be
crimson before she saw it again. She had clasped her hands, stifled a
little sob, and looked at him admiringly. He needed no stronger
assurance than her eyes conveyed at that moment. She had been shy and
rather unapproachable before, sought by others than himself, yet very
chary of her smiles and favors to all. Her ancestors had fought the
Indians, and had bequeathed to the demure little maiden much of their
own indomitable spirit. She had never worn her heart on her sleeve, and
was shy of her rustic admirers chiefly because none of them had
realized her ideals of manhood created by fireside stories of the past.

Zeke's chief competitor for Susie's favor had been Zebulon Jarvis; and
while he had received little encouragement, he laid his unostentatious
devotion at her feet unstintedly, and she knew it. Indeed, she was much
inclined to laugh at him, for he was singularly bashful, and a frown
from her overwhelmed him. Unsophisticated Susie reasoned that any one
who could be so afraid of HER could not be much of a man. She had never
heard of his doing anything bold and spirited. It might be said,
indeed, that the attempt to wring a livelihood for his widowed mother
and for his younger brothers and sisters from the stumpy, rocky farm
required courage of the highest order; but it was not of a kind that
appealed to the fancy of a romantic young girl. Nothing finer or
grander had Zebulon attempted before the recruiting officer came to
Opinquake, and when he came, poor Zeb appeared to hang back so
timorously that he lost what little place he had in Susie's thoughts.
She was ignorant of the struggle taking place in his loyal heart. More
intense even than his love for her was the patriotic fire which
smouldered in his breast; yet when other young men were giving in their
names and drilling on the village green, he was absent. To the war
appeals of those who sought him, he replied briefly. "Can't leave till

"But the fighting will be over long before that," it was urged.

"So much the better for others, then, if not for me."

Zeke Watkins made it his business that Susie should hear this reply in
the abbreviated form of, "So much the better, then."

She had smiled scornfully, and it must be added, a little bitterly. In
his devotion Zeb had been so helpless, so diffidently unable to take
his own part and make advances that she, from odd little spasms of
sympathy, had taken his part for him, and laughingly repeated to
herself in solitude all the fine speeches which she perceived he would
be glad to make. But, as has been intimated, it seemed to her droll
indeed that such a great stalwart fellow should appear panic-stricken
in her diminutive presence. In brief, he had been timidity embodied
under her demurely mischievous blue eyes; and now that the recruiting
officer had come and marched away with his squad without him, she felt
incensed that such a chicken-hearted fellow had dared to lift his eyes
to her.

"It would go hard with the Widow Jarvis and all those children if Zeb
'listed," Susie's mother had ventured in half-hearted defence, for did
she not look upon him as a promising suitor.

"The people of Opinquake wouldn't let the widow or the children
starve," replied Susie, indignantly. "If I was a big fellow like him,
my country would not call me twice. Think how grandfather left grandma
and all the children!"

"Well, I guess Zeb thinks he has his hands full wrastling with that
stony farm."

"He needn't come to see me any more, or steal glances at me 'tween
meetings on Sunday," said the girl, decisively. "He cuts a sorry figure
beside Zeke Watkins, who was the first to give in his name, and who
began to march like a soldier even before he left us."

"Yes," said Mrs. Rolliffe; "Zeke was very forward. If he holds out as
he began - Well, well, Zeke allus was a little forward, and able to
speak for himself. You are young yet, Susan, and may learn before you
reach my years that the race isn't allus to the swift. Don't be in
haste to promise yourself to any of the young men."

"Little danger of my promising myself to a man who is afraid even of
me! I want a husband like grandfather. He wasn't afraid to face
anything, and he honored his wife by acting as if she wasn't afraid

Zeb gave Susie no chance to bestow the rebuffs she had premeditated. He
had been down to witness the departure of the Opinquake quota, and had
seen Susie's farewell to Zeke Watkins. How much it had meant he was not
sure - enough to leave no hope or chance for him, he had believed; but
he had already fought his first battle, and it had been a harder one
than Zeke Watkins or any of his comrades would ever engage in. He had
returned and worked on the stony farm until dark. From dawn until dark
he continued to work every secular day till September.

His bronzed face grew as stern as it was thin; and since he would no
longer look at her, Susie Rolliffe began to steal an occasional and
wondering glance at him "'tween meetings."

No one understood the young man or knew his plans except his patient,
sad-eyed mother, and she learned more by her intuitions than from his
spoken words. She idolized him, and he loved and revered her: but the
terrible Puritan restraint paralyzed manifestations of affection. She
was not taken by surprise when one evening he said quietly, "Mother, I
guess I'll start in a day or two."

She could not repress a sort of gasping sob however, but after a few
moments was able to say steadily, "I supposed you were preparing to
leave us."

"Yes, mother, I've been a-preparing. I've done my best to gather in
everything that would help keep you and the children and the stock
through the winter. The corn is all shocked, and the older children can
help you husk it, and gather in the pumpkins, the beans, and the rest.
As soon as I finish digging the potatoes I think I'll feel better to be
in the lines around Boston. I'd have liked to have gone at first, but
in order to fight as I ought I'd want to remember there was plenty to
keep you and the children."

"I'm afraid, Zebulon, you've been fighting as well as working so hard
all summer long. For my sake and the children's, you've been letting
Susan Rolliffe think meanly of you."

"I can't help what she thinks, mother; I've tried not to act meanly."

"Perhaps the God of the widow and the fatherless will shield and bless
you, my son. Be that as it may," she added with a heavy sigh,
"conscience and His will must guide in everything. If He says go forth
to battle, what am I that I should stay you?" Although she did not
dream of the truth, the Widow Jarvis was a disciplined soldier herself.
To her, faith meant unquestioning submission and obedience; she had
been taught to revere a jealous and an exacting God rather than a
loving one. The heroism with which she pursued her toilsome, narrow,
shadowed pathway was as sublime as it was unrecognized on her part.
After she had retired she wept sorely, not only because her eldest
child was going to danger, and perhaps death, but also for the reason
that her heart clung to him so weakly and selfishly, as she believed.
With a tenderness of which she was half-ashamed she filled his wallet
with provisions which would add to his comfort, then, both to his
surprise and her own, kissed him good-by. He left her and the younger
brood with an aching heart of which there was little outward sign, and
with no loftier ambition than to do his duty; she followed him with
deep, wistful eyes till he, and next the long barrel of his rifle,
disappeared in an angle of the road, and then her interrupted work was

Susie Rolliffe was returning from an errand to a neighbor's when she

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Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeTaken Alive → online text (page 19 of 26)