John Munroe Bell had been a lawyer in Albany, State of New York, and as
such had thriven well. He had thriven well as long as thrift and
thriving on this earth had been allowed to him. But the Almighty had
seen fit to shorten his span.
Early in life he had married a timid, anxious, pretty, good little wife,
whose whole heart and mind had been given up to do his bidding and
deserve his love. She had not only deserved it but had possessed it, and
as long as John Munroe Bell had lived, Henrietta Bell–Hetta as he
called her–had been a woman rich in blessings. After twelve years of
such blessings he had left her, and had left with her two daughters, a
second Hetta, and the heroine of our little story, Susan Bell.
A lawyer in Albany may thrive passing well for eight or ten years, and
yet not leave behind him any very large sum of money if he dies at the
end of that time. Some small modicum, some few thousand dollars, John
Bell had amassed, so that his widow and daughters were not absolutely
driven to look for work or bread.
In those happy days, when cash had begun to flow in plenteously to the
young father of the family, he had taken it into his head to build for
himself, or rather for his young female brood, a small neat house in the
outskirts of Saratoga Springs. In doing so he was instigated as much by
the excellence of the investment for his pocket as by the salubrity of
the place for his girls. He furnished the house well, and then during
some summer weeks his wife lived there, and sometimes he let it.
How the widow grieved when the lord of her heart and master of her mind
was laid in the grave, I need not tell. She had already counted ten
years of widowhood, and her children had grown to be young women beside
her at the time of which I am now about to speak. Since that sad day on
which they had left Albany they had lived together at the cottage at
the Springs. In winter their life had been lonely enough; but as soon as
the hot weather began to drive the fainting citizens out from New York,
they had always received two or three boarders–old ladies generally,
and occasionally an old gentleman–persons of very steady habits, with
whose pockets the widow’s moderate demands agreed better than the hotel
charges. And so the Bells lived for ten years.
That Saratoga is a gay place in July, August, and September, the world
knows well enough. To girls who go there with trunks full of muslin and
crinoline, for whom a carriage and pair of horses is always waiting
immediately after dinner, whose fathers’ pockets are bursting with
dollars, it is a very gay place. Dancing and flirtations come as a
matter of course, and matrimony follows after with only too great
rapidity. But the place was not very gay for Hetta or Susan Bell.
In the first place the widow was a timid woman, and among other fears
feared greatly that she should be thought guilty of setting traps for
husbands. Poor mothers! how often are they charged with this sin when
their honest desires go no further than that their bairns may be
“respectit like the lave.” And then she feared flirtations; flirtations
that should be that and nothing more, flirtations that are so
destructive of the heart’s sweetest essence. She feared love also,
though she longed for that as well as feared it;–for her girls, I mean;
all such feelings for herself were long laid under ground;–and then,
like a timid creature as she was, she had other indefinite fears, and
among them, a great fear that those girls of hers would be left
husbandless,–a phase of life which after her twelve years of bliss she
regarded as anything but desirable. But the upshot was,–the upshot of
so many fears and such small means,–that Hetta and Susan Bell had but a
dull life of it.
Were it not that I am somewhat closely restricted in the number of my
pages, I would describe at full the merits and beauties of Hetta and
Susan Bell. As it is I can but say a few words. At our period of their
lives Hetta was nearly one-and-twenty, and Susan was just nineteen.
Hetta was a short, plump, demure young woman, with the softest smoothed
hair, and the brownest brightest eyes. She was very useful in the house,
good at corn cakes, and thought much, particularly in these latter
months, of her religious duties. Her sister in the privacy of their own
little room would sometimes twit her with the admiring patience with
which she would listen to the lengthened eloquence of Mr. Phineas
Beckard, the Baptist minister. Now Mr. Phineas Beckard was a bachelor.
Susan was not so good a girl in the kitchen or about the house as was
her sister; but she was bright in the parlour, and if that motherly
heart could have been made to give out its inmost secret–which,
however, it could not have been made to give out in any way painful to
dear Hetta–perhaps it might have been found that Susan was loved with
the closest love. She was taller than her sister, and lighter; her eyes
were blue as were her mother’s; her hair was brighter than Hetta’s, but
not always so singularly neat. She had a dimple on her chin, whereas
Hetta had none; dimples on her cheeks too, when she smiled; and, oh,
such a mouth! There; my allowance of pages permits no more.
One piercing cold winter’s day there came knocking at the widow’s
door–a young man. Winter days, when the ice of January is refrozen by
the wind of February, are very cold at Saratoga Springs. In these days
there was not often much to disturb the serenity of Mrs. Bell’s house;
but on the day in question there came knocking at the door–a young man.
Mrs. Bell kept an old domestic, who had lived with them in those happy
Albany days. Her name was Kate O’Brien, but though picturesque in name
she was hardly so in person. She was a thick-set, noisy, good-natured
old Irishwoman, who had joined her lot to that of Mrs. Bell when the
latter first began housekeeping, and knowing when she was well off, had
remained in the same place from that day forth. She had known Hetta as a
baby, and, so to say, had seen Susan’s birth.
“And what might you be wanting, sir?” said Kate O’Brien, apparently not
quite pleased as she opened the door and let in all the cold air.
“I wish to see Mrs. Bell. Is not this Mrs. Bell’s house?” said the young
man, shaking the snow from out of the breast of his coat.
He did see Mrs. Bell, and we will now tell who he was, and why he had
come, and how it came to pass that his carpet-bag was brought down to
the widow’s house and one of the front bedrooms was prepared for him,
and that he drank tea that night in the widow’s parlour.
His name was Aaron Dunn, and by profession he was an engineer. What
peculiar misfortune in those days of frost and snow had befallen the
line of rails which runs from Schenectady to Lake Champlain, I never
quite understood. Banks and bridges had in some way come to grief, and
on Aaron Dunn’s shoulders was thrown the burden of seeing that they were
duly repaired. Saratoga Springs was the centre of these mishaps, and
therefore at Saratoga Springs it was necessary that he should take up
his temporary abode.
Now there was at that time in New York city a Mr. Bell, great in railway
matters–an uncle of the once thriving but now departed Albany lawyer.
He was a rich man, but he liked his riches himself; or at any rate had
not found himself called upon to share them with the widow and daughters
of his nephew. But when it chanced to come to pass that he had a hand in
despatching Aaron Dunn to Saratoga, he took the young man aside and
recommended him to lodge with the widow. “There,” said he, “show her my
card.” So much the rich uncle thought he might vouchsafe to do for the
Mrs. Bell and both her daughters were in the parlour when Aaron Dunn was
shown in, snow and all. He told his story in a rough, shaky voice, for
his teeth chattered; and he gave the card, almost wishing that he had
gone to the empty big hotel, for the widow’s welcome was not at first
The widow listened to him as he gave his message, and then she took the
card and looked at it. Hetta, who was sitting on the side of the
fireplace facing the door, went on demurely with her work. Susan gave
one glance round–her back was to the stranger–and then another; and
then she moved her chair a little nearer to the wall, so as to give the
young man room to come to the fire, if he would. He did not come, but
his eyes glanced upon Susan Bell; and he thought that the old man in New
York was right, and that the big hotel would be cold and dull. It was a
pretty face to look on that cold evening as she turned it up from the
stocking she was mending.
“Perhaps you don’t wish to take winter boarders, ma’am?” said Aaron
“We never have done so yet, sir,” said Mrs. Bell timidly. Could she let
this young wolf in among her lamb-fold? He might be a wolf;–who could
“Mr. Bell seemed to think it would suit,” said Aaron.
Had he acquiesced in her timidity and not pressed the point, it would
have been all up with him. But the widow did not like to go against the
big uncle; and so she said, “Perhaps it may, sir.”
“I guess it will, finely,” said Aaron. And then the widow seeing that
the matter was so far settled, put down her work and came round into
the passage. Hetta followed her, for there would be housework to do.
Aaron gave himself another shake, settled the weekly number of
dollars–with very little difficulty on his part, for he had caught
another glance at Susan’s face; and then went after his bag. ’Twas thus
that Aaron Dunn obtained an entrance into Mrs. Bell’s house. “But what
if he be a wolf?” she said to herself over and over again that night,
though not exactly in those words. Ay, but there is another side to that
question. What if he be a stalwart man, honest-minded, with clever eye,
cunning hand, ready brain, broad back, and warm heart; in want of a wife
mayhap; a man that can earn his own bread and another’s;–half a dozen
others’ when the half dozen come? Would not that be a good sort of
lodger? Such a question as that too did flit, just flit, across the
widow’s sleepless mind. But then she thought so much more of the wolf!
Wolves, she had taught herself to think, were more common than stalwart,
honest-minded, wife-desirous men.
“I wonder mother consented to take him,” said Hetta, when they were in
the little room together.
“And why shouldn’t she?” said Susan. “It will be a help.”
“Yes, it will be a little help,” said Hetta. “But we have done very well
hitherto without winter lodgers.”
“But uncle Bell said she was to.”
“What is uncle Bell to us?” said Hetta, who had a spirit of her own. And
she began to surmise within herself whether Aaron Dunn would join the
Baptist congregation, and whether Phineas Beckard would approve of this
“He is a very well-behaved young man at any rate,” said Susan, “and he
draws beautifully. Did you see those things he was doing?”
“He draws very well, I dare say,” said Hetta, who regarded this as but a
poor warranty for good behaviour. Hetta also had some fear of
wolves–not for herself, perhaps; but for her sister.
Aaron Dunn’s work–the commencement of his work–lay at some distance
from the Springs, and he left every morning with a lot of workmen by an
early train–almost before daylight. And every morning, cold and wintry
as the mornings were, the widow got him his breakfast with her own
hands. She took his dollars and would not leave him altogether to the
awkward mercies of Kate O’Brien; nor would she trust her girls to attend
upon the young man. Hetta she might have trusted; but then Susan would
have asked why she was spared her share of such hardship.
In the evening, leaving his work when it was dark, Aaron always
returned, and then the evening was passed together. But they were passed
with the most demure propriety. These women would make the tea, cut the
bread and butter, and then sew; while Aaron Dunn, when the cups were
removed, would always go to his plans and drawings.
On Sundays they were more together; but even on this day there was cause
of separation, for Aaron went to the Episcopalian church, rather to the
disgust of Hetta. In the afternoon, however, they were together; and
then Phineas Beckard came in to tea on Sundays, and he and Aaron got to
talking on religion; and though they disagreed pretty much, and would
not give an inch either one or the other, nevertheless the minister told
the widow, and Hetta too probably, that the lad had good stuff in him,
though he was so stiff-necked.
“But he should be more modest in talking on such matters with a
minister,” said Hetta.
The Rev. Phineas acknowledged that perhaps he should; but he was honest
enough to repeat that the lad had stuff in him. “Perhaps after all he is
not a wolf,” said the widow to herself.
Things went on in this way for above a month. Aaron had declared to
himself over and over again that that face was sweet to look upon, and
had unconsciously promised to himself certain delights in talking and
perhaps walking with the owner of it. But the walkings had not been
achieved–nor even the talkings as yet. The truth was that Dunn was
bashful with young women, though he could be so stiff-necked with the
And then he felt angry with himself, inasmuch as he had advanced no
further; and as he lay in his bed–which perhaps those pretty hands had
helped to make–he resolved that he would be a thought bolder in his
bearing. He had no idea of making love to Susan Bell; of course not. But
why should he not amuse himself by talking to a pretty girl when she sat
so near him, evening after evening?
“What a very quiet young man he is,” said Susan to her sister.
“He has his bread to earn, and sticks to his work,” said Hetta. “No
doubt he has his amusement when he is in the city,” added the elder
sister, not wishing to leave too strong an impression of the young man’s
They had all now their settled places in the parlour. Hetta sat on one
side of the fire, close to the table, having that side to herself. There
she sat always busy. She must have made every dress and bit of linen
worn in the house, and hemmed every sheet and towel, so busy was she
always. Sometimes, once in a week or so, Phineas Beckard would come in,
and then place was made for him between Hetta’s usual seat and the
table. For when there he would read out loud. On the other side, close
also to the table, sat the widow, busy, but not savagely busy as her
elder daughter. Between Mrs. Bell and the wall, with her feet ever on
the fender, Susan used to sit; not absolutely idle, but doing work of
some slender pretty sort, and talking ever and anon to her mother.
Opposite to them all, at the other side of the table, far away from the
fire, would Aaron Dunn place himself with his plans and drawings before
“Are you a judge of bridges, ma’am?” said Aaron, the evening after he
had made his resolution. ’Twas thus he began his courtship.
“Of bridges?” said Mrs. Bell–“oh dear no, sir.” But she put out her
hand to take the little drawing which Aaron handed to her.
“Because that’s one I’ve planned for our bit of a new branch from Moreau
up to Lake George. I guess Miss Susan knows something about bridges.”
“I guess I don’t,” said Susan–“only that they oughtn’t to tumble down
when the frost comes.”
“Ha, ha, ha; no more they ought. I’ll tell McEvoy that.” McEvoy had been
a former engineer on the line. “Well, that won’t burst with any frost, I
“Oh my! how pretty!” said the widow, and then Susan of course jumped up
to look over her mother’s shoulder.
The artful dodger! He had drawn and coloured a beautiful little sketch
of a bridge; not an engineer’s plan with sections and measurements,
vexatious to a woman’s eye, but a graceful little bridge with a string
of cars running under it. You could almost hear the bell going.
“Well; that is a pretty bridge,” said Susan. “Isn’t it, Hetta?”
“I don’t know anything about bridges,” said Hetta, to whose clever eyes
the dodge was quite apparent. But in spite of her cleverness Mrs. Bell
and Susan had soon moved their chairs round to the table, and were
looking through the contents of Aaron’s portfolio. “But yet he maybe a
wolf,” thought the poor widow, just as she was kneeling down to say her
That evening certainly made a commencement. Though Hetta went on
pertinaciously with the body of a new dress, the other two ladies did
not put in another stitch that night. From his drawings Aaron got to his
instruments, and before bedtime was teaching Susan how to draw parallel
lines. Susan found that she had quite an aptitude for parallel lines,
and altogether had a good time of it that evening. It is dull to go on
week after week, and month after month, talking only to one’s mother and
sister. It is dull though one does not oneself recognise it to be so. A
little change in such matters is so very pleasant. Susan had not the
slightest idea of regarding Aaron as even a possible lover. But young
ladies do like the conversation of young gentlemen. Oh, my exceedingly
proper prim old lady, you who are so shocked at this as a general
doctrine, has it never occurred to you that the Creator has so intended
Susan understanding little of the how and why, knew that she had had a
good time, and was rather in spirits as she went to bed. But Hetta had
been frightened by the dodge.
“Oh, Hetta, you should have looked at those drawings. He is so clever!”
“I don’t know that they would have done me much good,” replied Hetta.
“Good! Well, they’d do me more good than a long sermon, I know,” said
Susan; “except on a Sunday, of course,” she added apologetically. This
was an ill-tempered attack both on Hetta and Hetta’s admirer. But then
why had Hetta been so snappish?
“I’m sure he’s a wolf,” thought Hetta as she went to bed.
“What a very clever young man he is!” thought Susan to herself as she
pulled the warm clothes round about her shoulders and ears.
“Well that certainly was an improvement,” thought Aaron as he went
through the same operation, with a stronger feeling of self-approbation
than he had enjoyed for some time past.
In the course of the next fortnight the family arrangements all altered
themselves. Unless when Beckard was there Aaron would sit in the widow’s
place, the widow would take Susan’s chair, and the two girls would be
opposite. And then Dunn would read to them; not sermons, but passages
from Shakspeare, and Byron, and Longfellow. “He reads much better than
Mr. Beckard,” Susan had said one night. “Of course you’re a competent
judge!” had been Hetta’s retort. “I mean that I like it better,” said
Susan. “It’s well that all people don’t think alike,” replied Hetta.
And then there was a deal of talking. The widow herself, as unconscious
in this respect as her youngest daughter, certainly did find that a
little variety was agreeable on those long winter nights; and talked
herself with unaccustomed freedom. And Beckard came there oftener and
talked very much. When he was there the two young men did all the
talking, and they pounded each other immensely. But still there grew up
a sort of friendship between them.
“Mr. Beckard seems quite to take to him,” said Mrs. Bell to her eldest
“It is his great good nature, mother,” replied Hetta.
It was at the end of the second month when Aaron took another step in
advance–a perilous step. Sometimes on evenings he still went on with
his drawing for an hour or so; but during three or four evenings he
never asked any one to look at what he was doing. On one Friday he sat
over his work till late, without any reading or talking at all; so late
that at last Mrs. Bell said, “If you’re going to sit much longer, Mr.
Dunn, I’ll get you to put out the candles.” Thereby showing, had he
known it or had she, that the mother’s confidence in the young man was
growing fast. Hetta knew all about it, and dreaded that the growth was
“I’ve finished now,” said Aaron; and he looked carefully at the
card-board on which he had been washing in his water-colours. “I’ve
finished now.” He then hesitated a moment; but ultimately he put the
card into his portfolio and carried it up to his bed-room. Who does not
perceive that it was intended as a present to Susan Bell?
The question which Aaron asked himself that night, and which he hardly
knew how to answer, was this. Should he offer the drawing to Susan in
the presence of her mother and sister, or on some occasion when they two
might be alone together? No such occasion had ever yet occurred, but
Aaron thought that it might probably be brought about. But then he
wanted to make no fuss about it. His first intention had been to chuck
the drawing lightly across the table when it was completed, and so make
nothing of it. But he had finished it with more care than he had at
first intended; and then he had hesitated when he had finished it. It
was too late now for that plan of chucking it over the table.
On the Saturday evening when he came down from his room, Mr. Beckard was
there, and there was no opportunity that night. On the Sunday, in
conformity with a previous engagement, he went to hear Mr. Beckard
preach, and walked to and from meeting with the family. This pleased
Mrs. Bell, and they were all very gracious that afternoon. But Sunday
was no day for the picture.
On Monday the thing had become of importance to him. Things always do
when they are kept over. Before tea that evening when he came down Mrs.
Bell and Susan only were in the room. He knew Hetta for his foe, and
therefore determined to use this occasion.
“Miss Susan,” he said, stammering somewhat, and blushing too, poor fool!
“I have done a little drawing which I want you to accept,” and he put
his portfolio down on the table.
“Oh! I don’t know,” said Susan, who had seen the blush.
Mrs. Bell had seen the blush also, and pursed her mouth up, and looked
grave. Had there been no stammering and no blush, she might have thought
nothing of it.
Aaron saw at once that his little gift was not to go down smoothly. He
was, however, in for it now, so he picked it out from among the other
papers in the case and brought it over to Susan. He endeavoured to hand
it to her with an air of indifference, but I cannot say that he
It was a very pretty, well-finished, water-coloured drawing,
representing still the same bridge, but with more adjuncts. In Susan’s
eyes it was a work of high art. Of pictures probably she had seen but
little, and her liking for the artist no doubt added to her admiration.
But the more she admired it and wished for it, the stronger was her
feeling that she ought not to take it.
Poor Susan! she stood for a minute looking at the drawing, but she said
nothing; not even a word of praise. She felt that she was red in the
face, and uncourteous to their lodger; but her mother was looking at her
and she did not know how to behave herself.
Mrs. Bell put out her hand for the sketch, trying to bethink herself as
she did so in what least uncivil way she could refuse the present. She
took a moment to look at it collecting her thoughts, and as she did so
her woman’s wit came to her aid.
“Oh dear, Mr. Dunn, it is very pretty; quite a beautiful picture. I
cannot let Susan rob you of that. You must keep that for some of your
own particular friends.”
“But I did it for her,” said Aaron innocently.
Susan looked down at the ground, half pleased at the declaration. The
drawing would look very pretty in a small gilt frame put over her
dressing-table. But the matter now was altogether in her mother’s hands.
“I am afraid it is too valuable, sir, for Susan to accept.”
“It is not valuable at all,” said Aaron, declining to take it back from
the widow’s hand.
“Oh, I am quite sure it is. It is worth ten dollars at least–or
twenty,” said poor Mrs. Bell, not in the very best taste. But she was
perplexed, and did not know how to get out of the scrape. The article in
question now lay upon the table-cloth, appropriated by no one, and at
this moment Hetta came into the room.
“It is not worth ten cents,” said Aaron, with something like a frown on
his brow. “But as we had been talking about the bridge, I thought Miss
Susan would accept it.”
“Accept what?” said Hetta. And then her eye fell upon the drawing and
she took it up.
“It is beautifully done,” said Mrs. Bell, wishing much to soften the
matter; perhaps the more so that Hetta the demure was now present. “I am
telling Mr. Dunn that we can’t take a present of anything so valuable.”
“Oh dear no,” said Hetta. “It wouldn’t be right.”
It was a cold frosty evening in March, and the fire was burning brightly
on the hearth. Aaron Dunn took up the drawing quietly–very quietly–and
rolling it up, as such drawings are rolled, put it between the blazing
logs. It was the work of four evenings, and his chef-d’œuvre in the
way of art.
Susan, when she saw what he had done, burst out into tears. The widow
could very readily have done so also, but she was able to refrain
herself, and merely exclaimed–“Oh, Mr. Dunn!”
“If Mr. Dunn chooses to burn his own picture, he has certainly a right
to do so,” said Hetta.
Aaron immediately felt ashamed of what he had done; and he also could
have cried, but for his manliness. He walked away to one of the
parlour-windows, and looked out upon the frosty night. It was dark, but
the stars were bright, and he thought that he should like to be walking
fast by himself along the line of rails towards Balston. There he stood,
perhaps for three minutes. He thought it would be proper to give Susan
time to recover from her tears.
“Will you please to come to your tea, sir?” said the soft voice of Mrs.
He turned round to do so, and found that Susan was gone. It was not
quite in her power to recover from her tears in three minutes. And then
the drawing had been so beautiful! It had been done expressly for her
too! And there had been something, she knew not what, in his eye as he
had so declared. She had watched him intently over those four evenings’
work, wondering why he did not show it, till her feminine curiosity had
become rather strong. It was something very particular, she was sure,
and she had learned that all that precious work had been for her. Now
all that precious work was destroyed. How was it possible that she
should not cry for more than three minutes?
The others took their meal in perfect silence, and when it was over the
two women sat down to their work. Aaron had a book which he pretended to
read, but instead of reading he was bethinking himself that he had
behaved badly. What right had he to throw them all into such confusion
by indulging in his passion? He was ashamed of what he had done, and
fancied that Susan would hate him. Fancying that, he began to find at
the same time that he by no means hated her.
At last Hetta got up and left the room. She knew that her sister was
sitting alone in the cold, and Hetta was affectionate. Susan had not
been in fault, and therefore Hetta went up to console her.
“Mrs. Bell,” said Aaron, as soon as the door was closed, “I beg your
pardon for what I did just now.”
“Oh, sir, I’m so sorry that the picture is burnt,” said poor Mrs. Bell.
“The picture does not matter a straw,” said Aaron. “But I see that I
have disturbed you all,–and I am afraid I have made Miss Susan
“She was grieved because your picture was burnt,” said Mrs. Bell,
putting some emphasis on the “your,” intending to show that her daughter
had not regarded the drawing as her own. But the emphasis bore another
meaning; and so the widow perceived as soon as she had spoken.
“Oh, I can do twenty more of the same if anybody wanted them,” said
Aaron. “If I do another like it, will you let her take it, Mrs.
Bell?–just to show that you have forgiven me, and that we are friends
as we were before?”
Was he, or was he not a wolf? That was the question which Mrs. Bell
scarcely knew how to answer. Hetta had given her voice, saying he was
lupine. Mr. Beckard’s opinion she had not liked to ask directly. Mr.
Beckard she thought would probably propose to Hetta; but as yet he had
not done so. And, as he was still a stranger in the family, she did not
like in any way to compromise Susan’s name. Indirectly she had asked the
question, and, indirectly also, Mr. Beckard’s answer had been
“But it mustn’t mean anything, sir,” was the widow’s weak answer, when
she had paused on the question for a moment.
“Oh no, of course not,” said Aaron, joyously, and his face became
radiant and happy. “And I do beg your pardon for burning it; and the
young ladies’ pardon too.” And then, he rapidly got out his cardboard,
and set himself to work about another bridge. The widow, meditating many
things in her heart, commenced the hemming of a handkerchief.
In about an hour the two girls came back to the room and silently took
their accustomed places. Aaron hardly looked up, but went on diligently
with his drawing. This bridge should be a better bridge than that other.
Its acceptance was now assured. Of course it was to mean nothing. That
was a matter of course. So he worked away diligently, and said nothing
When they went off to bed the two girls went into the mother’s room.
“Oh, mother, I hope he is not very angry,” said Susan.
“Angry!” said Hetta, “if anybody should be angry, it is mother. He ought
to have known that Susan could not accept it. He should never have
“But he’s doing another,” said Mrs. Bell.
“Not for her,” said Hetta.
“Yes he is,” said Mrs. Bell, “and I have promised that she shall take
it.” Susan as she heard this sank gently into the chair behind her, and
her eyes became full of tears. The intimation was almost too much for
“Oh, mother!” said Hetta.
“But I particularly said that it was to mean nothing.”
“Oh, mother, that makes it worse.”
Why should Hetta interfere in this way, thought Susan to herself. Had
she interfered when Mr. Beckard gave Hetta a testament bound in Morocco?
Had not she smiled, and looked gratified, and kissed her sister, and
declared that Phineas Beckard was a nice dear man, and by far the most
elegant preacher at the Springs? Why should Hetta be so cruel?
“I don’t see that, my dear,” said the mother. Hetta would not explain
before her sister, so they all went to bed.
On the Thursday evening the drawing was finished. Not a word had been
said about it, at any rate in his presence, and he had gone on working
in silence. “There,” said he, late on the Thursday evening, “I don’t
know that it will be any better if I go on daubing for another hour.
There, Miss Susan; there’s another bridge. I hope that will neither
burst with the frost, nor yet be destroyed by fire,” and he gave it a
light flip with his fingers and sent it skimming over the table.
Susan blushed and smiled, and took it up. “Oh, it is beautiful,” she
said. “Isn’t it beautifully done, mother?” and then all the three got up
to look at it, and all confessed that it was excellently done.
“And I am sure we are very much obliged to you,” said Susan after a
pause, remembering that she had not yet thanked him.
“Oh, it’s nothing,” said he, not quite liking the word “we.”
On the following day he returned from his work to Saratoga about noon.
This he had never done before, and therefore no one expected that he
would be seen in the house before the evening. On this occasion,
however, he went straight thither, and as chance would have it, both the
widow and her elder daughter were out. Susan was there alone in charge
of the house.
He walked in and opened the parlour door. There she sat, with her feet
on the fender, with her work unheeded on the table behind her, and the
picture, Aaron’s drawing, lying on her knees. She was gazing at it
intently as he entered, thinking in her young heart that it possessed
all the beauties which a picture could possess.
“Oh, Mr. Dunn,” she said, getting up and holding the tell-tale sketch
behind the skirt of her dress.
“Miss Susan, I have come here to tell your mother that I must start for
New York this afternoon and be there for six weeks, or perhaps longer.”
“Mother is out,” said she; “I’m so sorry.”
“Is she?” said Aaron.
“And Hetta too. Dear me. And you’ll be wanting dinner. I’ll go and see
Aaron began to swear that he could not possibly eat any dinner. He had
dined once, and was going to dine again;–anything to keep her from
“But you must have something, Mr. Dunn,” and she walked towards the
But he put his back to it. “Miss Susan,” said he, “I guess I’ve been
here nearly two months.”
“Yes, sir, I believe you have,” she replied, shaking in her shoes, and
not knowing which way to look.
“And I hope we have been good friends.”
“Yes, sir,” said Susan, almost beside herself as to what she was saying.
“I’m going away now, and it seems to be such a time before I’ll be
“Will it, sir?”
“Six weeks, Miss Susan!” and then he paused, looking into her eyes, to
see what he could read there. She leant against the table, pulling to
pieces a morsel of half-ravelled muslin which she held in her hand; but
her eyes were turned to the ground, and he could hardly see them.
“Miss Susan,” he continued, “I may as well speak out now as at another
time.” He too was looking towards the ground, and clearly did not know
what to do with his hands. “The truth is just this. I–I love you
dearly, with all my heart. I never saw any one I ever thought so
beautiful, so nice and so good;–and what’s more, I never shall. I’m not
very good at this sort of thing, I know; but I couldn’t go away from
Saratoga for six weeks and not tell you.” And then he ceased. He did not
ask for any love in return. His presumption had not got so far as that
yet. He merely declared his passion, leaning against the door, and there
he stood twiddling his thumbs.
Susan had not the slightest conception of the way in which she ought to
receive such a declaration. She had never had a lover before; nor had
she ever thought of Aaron absolutely as a lover, though something very
like love for him had been crossing over her spirit. Now, at this
moment, she felt that he was the beau-idéal of manhood, though his boots
were covered with the railway mud, and though his pantaloons were tucked
up in rolls round his ankles. He was a fine, well-grown, open-faced
fellow, whose eye was bold and yet tender, whose brow was full and
broad, and all his bearing manly. Love him! Of course she loved him. Why
else had her heart melted with pleasure when her mother said that that
second picture was to be accepted?
But what was she to say? Anything but the open truth; she well knew
that. The open truth would not do at all. What would her mother say and
Hetta if she were rashly to say that? Hetta, she knew, would be dead
against such a lover, and of her mother’s approbation she had hardly
more hope. Why they should disapprove of Aaron as a lover she had never
asked herself. There are many nice things that seem to be wrong only
because they are so nice. Maybe that Susan regarded a lover as one of
them. “Oh, Mr. Dunn, you shouldn’t.” That in fact was all that she could
“Should not I?” said he. “Well, perhaps not; but there’s the truth, and
no harm ever comes of that. Perhaps I’d better not ask you for an answer
now, but I thought it better you should know it all. And remember
this–I only care for one thing now in the world, and that is for your
love.” And then he paused, thinking possibly that in spite of what he
had said he might perhaps get some sort of an answer, some inkling of
the state of her heart’s disposition towards him.
But Susan had at once resolved to take him at his word when he suggested
that an immediate reply was not necessary. To say that she loved him was
of course impossible, and to say that she did not was equally so. She
determined therefore to close at once with the offer of silence.
When he ceased speaking there was a moment’s pause, during which he
strove hard to read what might be written on her down-turned face. But
he was not good at such reading. “Well, I guess I’ll go and get my
things ready now,” he said, and then turned round to open the door.
“Mother will be in before you are gone, I suppose,” said Susan.
“I have only got twenty minutes,” said he, looking at his watch. “But,
Susan, tell her what I have said to you. Good-bye.” And he put out his
hand. He knew he should see her again, but this had been his plan to get
her hand in his.
“Good-bye, Mr. Dunn,” and she gave him her hand.
He held it tight for a moment, so that she could not draw it
away,–could not if she would. “Will you tell your mother?” he asked.
“Yes,” she answered, quite in a whisper. “I guess I’d better tell her.”
And then she gave a long sigh. He pressed her hand again and got it up
to his lips.
“Mr. Dunn, don’t,” she said. But he did kiss it. “God bless you, my own
dearest, dearest girl! I’ll just open the door as I come down. Perhaps
Mrs. Bell will be here.” And then he rushed up stairs.
But Mrs. Bell did not come in. She and Hetta were at a weekly service at
Mr. Beckard’s meeting-house, and Mr. Beckard it seemed had much to say.
Susan, when left alone, sat down and tried to think. But she could not
think; she could only love. She could use her mind only in recounting to
herself the perfections of that demigod whose heavy steps were so
audible overhead, as he walked to and fro collecting his things and
putting them into his bag.
And then, just when he had finished, she bethought herself that he must
be hungry. She flew to the kitchen, but she was too late. Before she
could even reach at the loaf of bread he descended the stairs, with a
clattering noise, and heard her voice as she spoke quickly to Kate
“Miss Susan,” he said, “don’t get anything for me, for I’m off.”
“Oh, Mr. Dunn, I am so sorry. You’ll be so hungry on your journey,” and
she came out to him in the passage.
“I shall want nothing on the journey, dearest, if you’ll say one kind
word to me.”
Again her eyes went to the ground. “What do you want me to say, Mr.
“Say, God bless you, Aaron.”
“God bless you, Aaron,” said she; and yet she was sure that she had not
declared her love. He however thought otherwise, and went up to New York
with a happy heart.
Things happened in the next fortnight rather quickly. Susan at once
resolved to tell her mother, but she resolved also not to tell Hetta.
That afternoon she got her mother to herself in Mrs. Bell’s own room,
and then she made a clean breast of it.
“And what did you say to him, Susan?”
“I said nothing, mother.”
“No, mother; not a word. He told me he didn’t want it.”
She forgot how she had used his Christian name in bidding God bless him.
“Oh dear!” said the widow.
“Was it very wrong?” asked Susan.
“But what do you think yourself, my child?” asked Mrs. Bell after a
while. “What are your own feelings.”
Mrs. Bell was sitting on a chair and Susan was standing opposite to her
against the post of the bed. She made no answer, but moving from her
place, she threw herself into her mother’s arms, and hid her face on her
mother’s shoulder. It was easy enough to guess what were her feelings.
“But, my darling,” said her mother, “you must not think that it is an
“No,” said Susan, sorrowfully.
“Young men say those things to amuse themselves.” Wolves, she would have
said, had she spoken out her mind freely.
“Oh, mother, he is not like that.”
The daughter contrived to extract a promise from the mother that Hetta
should not be told just at present. Mrs. Bell calculated that she had
six weeks before her; as yet Mr. Beckard had not spoken out, but there
was reason to suppose that he would do so before those six weeks would
be over, and then she would be able to seek counsel from him.
Mr. Beckard spoke out at the end of six days, and Hetta frankly accepted
him. “I hope you’ll love your brother-in-law,” said she to Susan.
“Oh, I will indeed,” said Susan; and in the softness of her heart at the
moment she almost made up her mind to tell; but Hetta was full of her
own affairs, and thus it passed off.
It was then arranged that Hetta should go and spend a week with Mr.
Beckard’s parents. Old Mr. Beckard was a farmer living near Utica, and
now that the match was declared and approved, it was thought well that
Hetta should know her future husband’s family. So she went for a week,
and Mr. Beckard went with her. “He will be back in plenty of time for me
to speak to him before Aaron Dunn’s six weeks are over,” said Mrs. Bell
But things did not go exactly as she expected. On the very morning after
the departure of the engaged couple, there came a letter from Aaron,
saying that he would be at Saratoga that very evening. The railway
people had ordered him down again for some days’ special work; then he
was to go elsewhere, and not to return to Saratoga till June. “But he
hoped,” so said the letter, “that Mrs. Bell would not turn him into the
street even then, though the summer might have come, and her regular
lodgers might be expected.”
“Oh dear, oh dear!” said Mrs. Bell to herself, reflecting that she had
no one of whom she could ask advice, and that she must decide that very
day. Why had she let Mr. Beckard go without telling him? Then she told
Susan, and Susan spent the day trembling. Perhaps, thought Mrs. Bell, he
will say nothing about it. In such case, however, would it not be her
duty to say something? Poor mother! She trembled nearly as much as
It was dark when the fatal knock came at the door. The tea-things were
already laid, and the tea-cake was already baked; for it would at any
rate be necessary to give Mr. Dunn his tea. Susan, when she heard the
knock, rushed from her chair and took refuge up stairs. The widow gave a
long sigh and settled her dress. Kate O’Brien with willing step opened
the door, and bade her old friend welcome.
“How are the ladies?” asked Aaron, trying to gather something from the
face and voice of the domestic.
“Miss Hetta and Mr. Beckard be gone off to Utica, just man-and-wife
like! and so they are, more power to them.”
“Oh indeed; I’m very glad,” said Aaron–and so he was; very glad to
have Hetta the demure out of the way. And then he made his way into the
parlour, doubting much, and hoping much.
Mrs. Bell rose from her chair, and tried to look grave. Aaron glancing
round the room saw that Susan was not there. He walked straight up to
the widow, and offered her his hand, which she took. It might be that
Susan had not thought fit to tell, and in such case it would not be
right for him to compromise her; so he said never a word.
But the subject was too important to the mother to allow of her being
silent when the young man stood before her. “Oh, Mr. Dunn,” said she,
“what is this you have been saying to Susan?”
“I have asked her to be my wife,” said he, drawing himself up and
looking her full in the face. Mrs. Bell’s heart was almost as soft as
her daughter’s, and it was nearly gone; but at the moment she had
nothing to say but, “Oh dear, oh dear!”
“May I not call you mother?” said he, taking both her hands in his.
“Oh dear–oh dear! But will you be good to her? Oh, Aaron Dunn, if you
deceive my child!”
In another quarter of an hour, Susan was kneeling at her mother’s knee,
with her face on her mother’s lap; the mother was wiping tears out of
her eyes; and Aaron was standing by holding one of the widow’s hands.
“You are my mother too, now,” said he. What would Hetta and Mr. Beckard
say, when they came back? But then he surely was not a wolf!
There were four or five days left for courtship before Hetta and Mr.
Beckard would return; four or five days during which Susan might be
happy, Aaron triumphant, and Mrs. Bell nervous. Days I have said, but
after all it was only the evenings that were so left. Every morning
Susan got up to give Aaron his breakfast, but Mrs. Bell got up also.
Susan boldly declared her right to do so, and Mrs. Bell found no
objection which she could urge.
But after that Aaron was always absent till seven or eight in the
evening, when he would return to his tea. Then came the hour or two of
But they were very tame, those hours. The widow still felt an undefined
fear that she was wrong, and though her heart yearned to know that her
daughter was happy in the sweet happiness of accepted love, yet she
dreaded to be too confident. Not a word had been said about money
matters; not a word of Aaron Dunn’s relatives. So she did not leave
them by themselves, but waited with what patience she could for the
return of her wise counsellors.
And then Susan hardly knew how to behave herself with her accepted
suitor. She felt that she was very happy; but perhaps she was most happy
when she was thinking about him through the long day, assisting in
fixing little things for his comfort, and waiting for his evening
return. And as he sat there in the parlour, she could be happy then too,
if she were but allowed to sit still and look at him,–not stare at him,
but raise her eyes every now and again to his face for the shortest
possible glance, as she had been used to do ever since he came there.
But he, unconscionable lover, wanted to hear her speak, was desirous of
being talked to, and perhaps thought that he should by rights be allowed
to sit by her, and hold her hand. No such privileges were accorded to
him. If they had been alone together, walking side by side on the green
turf, as lovers should walk, she would soon have found the use of her
tongue,–have talked fast enough no doubt. Under such circumstances,
when a girl’s shyness has given way to real intimacy, there is in
general no end to her power of chatting. But though there was much love
between Aaron and Susan, there was as yet but little intimacy. And then,
let a mother be ever so motherly–and no mother could have more of a
mother’s tenderness than Mrs. Bell–still her presence must be a
restraint. Aaron was very fond of Mrs. Bell; but nevertheless he did
sometimes wish that some domestic duty would take her out of the parlour
for a few happy minutes. Susan went out very often, but Mrs. Bell seemed
to be a fixture.
Once for a moment he did find his love alone, immediately as he came
into the house. “My own Susan, you do love me? do say so to me once.”
And he contrived to slip his arm round her waist. “Yes,” she whispered;
but she slipped like an eel from his hands, and left him only preparing
himself for a kiss. And then when she got to her room, half frightened,
she clasped her hands together, and bethought herself that she did
really love him with a strength and depth of love which filled her whole
existence. Why could she not have told him something of all this?
And so the few days of his second sojourn at Saratoga passed away, not
altogether satisfactorily. It was settled that he should return to New
York on Saturday night, leaving Saratoga on that evening; and as the
Beckards–Hetta was already regarded quite as a Beckard–were to be
back to dinner on that day, Mrs. Bell would have an opportunity of
telling her wondrous tale. It might be well that Mr. Beckard should see
Aaron before his departure.
On that Saturday the Beckards did arrive just in time for dinner. It may
be imagined that Susan’s appetite was not very keen, nor her manner very
collected. But all this passed by unobserved in the importance attached
to the various Beckard arrangements which came under discussion. Ladies
and gentlemen circumstanced as were Hetta and Mr. Beckard are perhaps a
little too apt to think that their own affairs are paramount. But after
dinner Susan vanished at once, and when Hetta prepared to follow her,
desirous of further talk about matrimonial arrangements, her mother
stopped her, and the disclosure was made.
“Proposed to her!” said Hetta, who perhaps thought that one marriage in
a family was enough at a time.
“Yes, my love–and he did it, I must say, in a very honourable way,
telling her not to make any answer till she had spoken to me;–now that
was very nice; was it not, Phineas?” Mrs. Bell had become very anxious
that Aaron should not be voted a wolf.
“And what has been said to him since?” asked the discreet Phineas.
“Why–nothing absolutely decisive.” Oh, Mrs. Bell! “You see I know
nothing as to his means.”
“Nothing at all,” said Hetta.
“He is a man that will always earn his bread,” said Mr. Beckard; and
Mrs. Bell blessed him in her heart for saying it.
“But has he been encouraged?” asked Hetta.
“Well; yes, he has,” said the widow.
“Then Susan I suppose likes him?” asked Phineas.
“Well; yes, she does,” said the widow. And the conference ended in a
resolution that Phineas Beckard should have a conversation with Aaron
Dunn, as to his worldly means and position; and that he, Phineas, should
decide whether Aaron might, or might not be at once accepted as a lover,
according to the tenor of that conversation. Poor Susan was not told
anything of all this. “Better not,” said Hetta the demure. “It will only
flurry her the more.” How would she have liked it, if without consulting
her, they had left it to Aaron to decide whether or no she might marry
They knew where on the works Aaron was to be found, and thither Mr.
Beckard rode after dinner. We need not narrate at length, the
conference between, the young men. Aaron at once declared that he had
nothing but what he made as an engineer, and explained that he held no
permanent situation on the line. He was well paid at that present
moment, but at the end of summer he would have to look for employment.
“Then you can hardly marry quite at present,” said the discreet
“Perhaps not quite immediately.”
“And long engagements are never wise,” said the other.
“Three or four months,” suggested Aaron. But Mr. Beckard shook his head.
The afternoon at Mrs. Bell’s house was melancholy. The final decision of
the three judges was as follows. There was to be no engagement; of
course no correspondence. Aaron was to be told that it would be better
that he should get lodgings elsewhere when he returned; but that he
would be allowed to visit at Mrs. Bell’s house,–and at Mrs. Beckard’s,
which was very considerate. If he should succeed in getting a permanent
appointment, and if he and Susan still held the same mind, why then—-
&c. &c. Such was Susan’s fate, as communicated to her by Mrs. Bell and
Hetta. She sat still and wept when she heard it; but she did not
complain. She had always felt that Hetta would be against her.
“Mayn’t I see him, then?” she said through, her tears.
Hetta thought she had better not. Mrs. Bell thought she might. Phineas
decided that they might shake hands, but only in full conclave. There
was to be no lovers’ farewell. Aaron was to leave the house at half-past
five; but before he went Susan should be called down. Poor Susan! She
sat down and bemoaned herself; uncomplaining, but very sad.
Susan was soft, feminine, and manageable. But Aaron Dunn was not very
soft, was especially masculine, and in some matters not easily
manageable. When Mr. Beckard in the widow’s presence–Hetta had retired
in obedience to her lover–informed him of the court’s decision, there
came over his face the look which he had worn when he burned the
picture. “Mrs. Bell,” he said, “had encouraged his engagement; and he
did not understand why other people should now come and disturb it.”
“Not an engagement, Aaron,” said Mrs. Bell piteously.
“He was able and willing to work,” he said, “and knew his profession.
What young man of his age had done better than he had?” and he glanced
round at them with perhaps more pride than was quite becoming.
Then Mr. Beckard spoke out, very wisely no doubt, but perhaps a little
too much at length. Sons and daughters, as well as fathers and mothers,
will know very well what he said; so I need not repeat his words. I
cannot say that Aaron listened with much attention, but he understood
perfectly what the upshot of it was. Many a man understands the purport
of many a sermon without listening to one word in ten. Mr. Beckard meant
to be kind in his manner; indeed was so, only that Aaron could not
accept as kindness any interference on his part.
“I’ll tell you what, Mrs. Bell,” said he. “I look upon myself as engaged
to her. And I look on her as engaged to me. I tell you so fairly; and I
believe that’s her mind as well as mine.”
“But, Aaron, you won’t try to see her–or to write to her,–not in
secret; will you?”
“When I try to see her, I’ll come and knock at this door; and if I write
to her, I’ll write to her full address by the post. I never did and
never will do anything in secret.”
“I know you’re good and honest,” said the widow with her handkerchief to
“Then why do you separate us?” asked he, almost roughly. “I suppose I
may see her at any rate before I go. My time’s nearly up now, I guess.”
And then Susan was called for, and she and Hetta came down together.
Susan crept in behind her sister. Her eyes were red with weeping, and
her appearance was altogether disconsolate. She had had a lover for a
week, and now she was to be robbed of him.
“Good-bye, Susan,” said Aaron, and he walked up to her without
bashfulness or embarrassment. Had they all been compliant and gracious
to him he would have been as bashful as his love; but now his temper was
hot. “Good-bye, Susan,” and she took his hand, and he held hers till he
had finished. “And remember this, I look upon you as my promised wife,
and I don’t fear that you’ll deceive me. At any rate I shan’t deceive
“Good-bye, Aaron,” she sobbed.
“Good-bye, and God bless you, my own darling!” And then without saying a
word to any one else, he turned his back upon them and went his way.
There had been something very consolatory, very sweet, to the poor girl
in her lover’s last words. And yet they had almost made her tremble. He
had been so bold, and stern, and confident. He had seemed so utterly to
defy the impregnable discretion of Mr. Beckard, so to despise the
demure propriety of Hetta. But of this she felt sure, when she came to
question her heart, that she could never, never, never cease to love him
better than all the world beside. She would wait–patiently if she could
find patience–and then, if he deserted her, she would die.
In another month Hetta became Mrs. Beckard. Susan brisked up a little
for the occasion, and looked very pretty as bridesmaid. She was
serviceable too in arranging household matters, hemming linen and sewing
table-cloths; though of course in these matters she did not do a tenth
of what Hetta did.
Then the summer came, the Saratoga summer of July, August, and
September, during which the widow’s house was full; and Susan’s hands
saved the pain of her heart, for she was forced into occupation. Now
that Hetta was gone to her own duties, it was necessary that Susan’s
part in the household should be more prominent.
Aaron did not come back to his work at Saratoga. Why he did not they
could not then learn. During the whole long summer they heard not a word
of him nor from him; and then when the cold winter months came and their
boarders had left them, Mrs. Beckard congratulated her sister in that
she had given no further encouragement to a lover who cared so little
for her. This was very hard to bear. But Susan did bear it.
That winter was very sad. They learned nothing of Aaron Dunn till about
January; and then they heard that he was doing very well. He was engaged
on the Erie trunk line, was paid highly, and was much esteemed. And yet
he neither came nor sent! “He has an excellent situation,” their
informant told them. “And a permanent one?” asked the widow. “Oh, yes,
no doubt,” said the gentleman, “for I happen to know that they count
greatly on him.” And yet he sent no word of love.
After that the winter became very sad indeed. Mrs. Bell thought it to be
her duty now to teach her daughter that in all probability she would see
Aaron Dunn no more. It was open to him to leave her without being
absolutely a wolf. He had been driven from the house when he was poor,
and they had no right to expect that he would return, now that he had
made some rise in the world. “Men do amuse themselves in that way,” the
widow tried to teach her.
“He is not like that, mother,” she said again.
“But they do not think so much of these things as we do,” urged the
“Don’t they?” said Susan, oh, so sorrowfully; and so through the whole
long winter months she became paler and paler, and thinner and thinner.
And then Hetta tried to console her with religion, and that perhaps did
not make things any better. Religious consolation is the best cure for
all griefs; but it must not be looked for specially with regard to any
individual sorrow. A religious man, should he become bankrupt through
the misfortunes of the world, will find true consolation in his religion
even for that sorrow. But a bankrupt, who has not thought much of such
things, will hardly find solace by taking up religion for that special
And Hetta perhaps was hardly prudent in her attempts. She thought that
it was wicked in Susan to grow thin and pale for love of Aaron Dunn, and
she hardly hid her thoughts. Susan was not sure but that it might be
wicked, but this doubt in no way tended to make her plump or rosy. So
that in those days she found no comfort in her sister.
But her mother’s pity and soft love did ease her sufferings, though it
could not make them cease. Her mother did not tell her that she was
wicked, or bid her read long sermons, or force her to go oftener to the
“He will never come again, I think,” she said one day, as with a shawl
wrapped around her shoulders, she leant with her head upon her mother’s
“My own darling,” said the mother, pressing her child closely to her
“You think he never will, eh, mother?” What could Mrs. Bell say? In her
heart of hearts she did not think he ever would come again.
“No, my child. I do not think he will.” And then the hot tears ran down,
and the sobs came thick and frequent.
“My darling, my darling!” exclaimed the mother; and they wept together.
“Was I wicked to love him at the first,” she asked that night.
“No, my child; you were not wicked at all. At least I think not.”
“Then why—-” Why was he sent away? It was on her tongue to ask that
question; but she paused and spared her mother. This was as they were
going to bed. The next morning Susan did not get up. She was not ill,
she said; but weak and weary. Would her mother let her lie that day? And
then Mrs. Bell went down alone to her room, and sorrowed with all her
heart for the sorrow of her child. Why, oh why, had she driven away from
her door-sill the love of an honest man?
On the next morning Susan again did not get up;–nor did she hear, or if
she heard she did not recognise, the step of the postman who brought a
letter to the door. Early, before the widow’s breakfast, the postman
came, and the letter which he brought was as follows:–
“MY DEAR MRS. BELL,
“I have now got a permanent situation on the Erie line, and the
salary is enough for myself and a wife. At least I think so, and I
hope you will too. I shall be down at Saratoga to-morrow evening,
and I hope neither Susan, nor you will refuse to receive me.
That was all. It was very short, and did not contain one word of love;
but it made the widow’s heart leap for joy. She was rather afraid that
Aaron was angry, he wrote so curtly and with such a brusque
business-like attention to mere facts; but surely he could have but one
object in coming there. And then he alluded specially to a wife. So the
widow’s heart leapt with joy.
But how was she to tell Susan? She ran up stairs almost breathless with
haste, to the bedroom door; but then she stopped; too much joy she had
heard was as dangerous as too much sorrow; she must think it over for a
while, and so she crept back again.
But after breakfast–that is, when she had sat for a while over her
teacup–she returned to the room, and this time she entered it. The
letter was in her hand, but held so as to be hidden;–in her left hand
as she sat down with her right arm towards the invalid.
“Susan dear,” she said, and smiled at her child, “you’ll be able to get
up this morning? eh, dear?”
“Yes, mother,” said Susan, thinking that her mother objected to this
idleness of her lying in bed. And so she began to bestir herself.
“I don’t mean this very moment, love. Indeed, I want to sit with you for
a little while,” and she put her right arm affectionately round her
“Dearest mother,” said Susan.
“Ah! there’s one dearer than me, I guess,” and Mrs. Bell smiled sweetly,
as she made the maternal charge against her daughter.
Susan raised herself quickly in the bed, and looked straight into her
mother’s face. “Mother, mother,” she said, “what is it? You’ve something
to tell. Oh, mother!” And stretching herself over, she struck her hand
against the corner of Aaron’s letter. “Mother, you’ve a letter. Is he
coming, mother?” and with eager eyes and open lips, she sat up, holding
tight to her mother’s arm.
“Yes, love. I have got a letter.”
“Is he–is he coming?”
How the mother answered, I can hardly tell; but she did answer, and they
were soon lying in each other’s arms, warm with each other’s tears. It
was almost hard to say which was the happier.
Aaron was to be there that evening–that very evening. “Oh, mother, let
me get up,” said Susan.
But Mrs. Bell said no, not yet; her darling was pale and thin, and she
almost wished that Aaron was not coming for another week. What if he
should come and look at her, and finding her beauty gone, vanish again
and seek a wife elsewhere!
So Susan lay in bed, thinking of her happiness, dozing now and again,
and fearing as she waked that it was a dream, looking constantly at that
drawing of his, which she kept outside upon the bed, nursing her love
and thinking of it, and endeavouring, vainly endeavouring, to arrange
what she would say to him.
“Mother,” she said, when Mrs. Bell once went up to her, “you won’t tell
Hetta and Phineas, will you? Not to-day, I mean?” Mrs. Bell agreed that
it would be better not to tell them. Perhaps she thought that she had
already depended too much on Hetta and Phineas in the matter.
Susan’s finery in the way of dress had never been extensive, and now
lately, in these last sad winter days, she had thought but little of the
fashion of her clothes. But when she began to dress herself for the
evening, she did ask her mother with some anxiety what she had better
wear. “If he loves you he will hardly see what you have on,” said the
mother. But not the less was she careful to smooth her daughter’s hair,
and make the most that might be made of those faded roses.
How Susan’s heart beat,–how both their hearts beat as the hands of the
clock came round to seven! And then, sharp at seven, came the knock;
that same short bold ringing knock which Susan had so soon learned to
know as belonging to Aaron Dunn. “Oh mother, I had better go up stairs,”
she cried, starting from her chair.
“No dear; you would only be more nervous.”
“I will, mother.”
“No, no, dear; you have not time;” and then Aaron Dunn was in the room.
She had thought much what she would say to him, but had not yet quite
made up her mind. It mattered however but very little. On whatever she
might have resolved, her resolution would have vanished to the wind.
Aaron Dunn came into the room, and in one second she found herself in
the centre of a whirlwind, and his arms were the storms that enveloped
her on every side.
“My own, own darling girl,” he said over and over again, as he pressed
her to his heart, quite regardless of Mrs. Bell, who stood by, sobbing
with joy. “My own Susan.”
“Aaron, dear Aaron,” she whispered. But she had already recognised the
fact that for the present meeting a passive part would become her well,
and save her a deal of trouble. She had her lover there quite safe, safe
beyond anything that Mr. or Mrs. Beckard might have to say to the
contrary. She was quite happy; only that there were symptoms now and
again that the whirlwind was about to engulf her yet once more.
“Dear Aaron, I am so glad you are come,” said the innocent-minded widow,
as she went up stairs with him, to show him his room; and then he
embraced her also. “Dear, dear mother,” he said.
On the next day there was, as a matter of course, a family conclave.
Hetta and Phineas came down, and discussed the whole subject of the
coming marriage with Mrs. Bell. Hetta at first was not quite
certain;–ought they not to inquire whether the situation was permanent?
“I won’t inquire at all,” said Mrs. Bell, with an energy that startled
both the daughter and son-in-law. “I would not part them now; no, not
if—-” and the widow shuddered as she thought of her daughter’s sunken
eyes, and pale cheeks.
“He is a good lad,” said Phineas, “and I trust she will make him a sober
steady wife;” and so the matter was settled.
During this time, Susan and Aaron were walking along the Balston road;
and they also had settled the matter–quite as satisfactorily.
Such was the courtship of Susan Dunn.