Read CHAPTER XI - BY THE FIRESIDE of Uncle Terry A Story of the Maine Coast , free online book, by Charles Clark Munn, on

“You must not expect much excitement up in Sandgate,” Albert said to his friend the day they started for that quiet village. “It is a small place, and all the people do in the winter is to chop wood, shovel snow, eat, and go to meeting. We shall go sleighing and I shall take you to church to be stared at, and for the rest Alice and Aunt Susan will give us plenty to eat.”

It must be admitted that this same Alice, whose picture had so interested him, was the attraction which made young Nason glad to accept his friend’s cordial invitation, and then he really felt a very warm friendship for that friend. It is likely that the perfect sincerity and wholesome ideas of Albert attracted and held his rather more pliable and easy-going nature. The strong attract the weak, among men, and Frank Nason, never having been hardened by adversity, looked up to and admired the man who had courage and perseverance. He wondered if Alice was like him, and rather hoped not. It was nearly dark and snowing when they reached Sandgate, and when he saw a plump girlish figure with slightly whitened garments rush forward, almost jump into his friend’s arms, and kiss him vehemently, it occurred to him that a welcome home by such a sister was worth coming many miles for.

Then he heard his name mumbled in a hurried introduction and, as he raised his hat, saw this girl withdraw a small hand from a mitten and offer it to him.

“I am very glad to meet you, Mr. Nason,” she said with a bright smile; “my brother has told me so much about you I feel almost acquainted.” And then, turning to that brother, she added: “I have the horse hitched outside, Bert, so we will go right home.”

She led the way, and when they had stowed their belongings in the sleigh she said, “You can hold me in your lap, Bert, and I’ll drive. I’m used to it now.” She chirruped to the rather docile horse, and as the bells began to jingle she added: “What have you got in that box, Bertie?”

“Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no fibs, Miss Curious,” he answered. “Wait until to-morrow and then I’ll show you.”

When they drove into the yard he said: “Take Frank right in, sis, and I’ll unharness.”

It was quite dark now, but Frank noticed, as he gathered up the bags and bundles and followed his hostess, that the rather stately house was aglow with light.

“Leave your hat and coat here in the hall, Mr. Nason,” she said cordially, “and go right into the parlor and get warm. You will kindly excuse me now. I’m first and second girl, housemaid and cook, and I must go and help Aunt Susan to get supper ready. You two gentlemen are hungry, I’m sure.”

It was not a formal reception, but it was a cordial one, which was better, and when Frank entered the parlor he was surprised at the cheerful sight, for the room was festooned all around with ropes of evergreen. The long mantel over the fireplace, bright with flames, was banked with a mass of green, and against each white lace curtain hung a wreath. In one corner stood an upright piano, in sharp contrast with the rather antique hair-cloth chairs and sofa. He had just drawn a chair to the fire, when Albert came in and gave a low whistle at the sight of the decorations. “That’s one of the perquisites of a country schoolma’am,” he observed, “and I’ll bet the boys that gathered all this green for Alice enjoyed getting it. I used to when I was a boy. Well, old fellow,” he added, addressing Frank, “here we are, and you must make yourself at home.”

Then Alice came in and announced supper, and after Aunt Susan had been introduced, they all sat down. It was an old-fashioned meal, for while the brother helped to the ham and eggs and fried potatoes, Aunt Susan served the quince preserves and passed the hot biscuit, and Alice poured the tea. The table too had a Christmas touch, for around the mat where the lamp stood was a green wreath brightened with clusters of red berries. It was all a charming picture, and not the least of it was the fair girl who so graciously played the hostess. When the meal was over she said:

“Now you two gentlemen must go into the parlor and smoke, and I’ll join you later. I command you to smoke,” she added imperiously, “for I want the house to smell as if there was a man around.”

When she came in later, wearing her new house-dress, she drew her chair close to her brother’s and resting her elbows on his knee and her chin in her open palms she looked up and said with a witching smile:

“Now, Bertie, I’ve fed you nicely, haven’t I? and I’ve done all I could for your comfort, so now please tell me what is in that long flat box you brought.”

It was charmingly done, but the big brother was proof against her wiles. “You are a bewitching coaxer, sis,” he answered, “but I am hard-hearted. I’ll make a trade with you, though. First tell us all about your school-teaching and sing us all the songs I ask for, and then I’ll open the box.”

“You are very modest in your wants,” she replied archly, “but like all men you must be humored to keep you good-natured, I presume.”

“I wish you would tell us about your school, Miss Page,” put in Frank; “you are not a bit like the schoolma’am of my boyhood, and I would like to know how you manage children.”

“Well, it was a little hard at first,” she answered, “for boys and girls of ten and twelve have surprisingly keen intuitions, and it seemed to me they made a study of my face from the first and concluded I was soft-hearted. I had one little boy that was a born mischief-maker, but he had such winsome ways I had to love him in spite of it. But he had to be punished some way, and so one day I kept him after school and then told him I must whip him hard, but not at that time. I explained to him what I was going to punish him for, ‘but,’ I said, ’I shall not do it to-night. I may do it to-morrow or the day after, but I will not tell you when the whipping is to come until I am ready to do it.’ My little plan was a success, for the next night he waited till all the rest had gone, and then came to me with tears in his eyes, and begged me to whip him then. I didn’t, though, and told him I wouldn’t until he disobeyed again. He has been the most obedient boy in the school ever since. There is one little girl who has won my heart, though, in the oddest way you can imagine. The day I received your letter, Bert, I was so happy that the school ran riot, and I never knew it. They must have seen it in my face, I think. Well, when school was out, this girl, a shy little body of ten, sidled up to my desk and said, ’Pleath may I kith you, teacher, ‘fore I go home?’ It was such an odd and pretty bit of feeling, it nearly brought tears to my eyes.”

“I should like to give that little girl a box of candy, Miss Page,” observed Frank, “and then ask her for a kiss myself.”

For an hour Alice kept both the young men interested in her anecdotes of school-teaching, and then her brother said:

“Come, sis, you must sing some, or no box to-night!”

“Well,” she replied, smiling, “what shall it be? a few gems from Moody and Sankey, or from ’Laurel Leaves’?” And then turning to Frank she added: “My brother just dotes on church music!”

“Alice,” said her brother with mock sternness, “if you fib like that you know the penalty!”

“Do you play or sing, Mr. Nason?” she inquired, not heeding her brother.

“I do not know one note from another,” he answered.

“Well, that is fortunate for me,” she said; “I only sing a few old-fashioned ballads, and help out at church.”

Then without further apology she went to the piano. “Come, Bertie,” she said, “you must help me, and we will go through the College Songs.” And go through them they did, beginning with “Clementine” and ending with “The Quilting Party.”

“Now, sis,” said her brother, “I want ‘Old Folks at Home,’ ’Annie Laurie,’ ‘Rock-a-bye,’ and ‘Ben Bolt,’ and then I’ll open the box.”

It was a simple, old-fashioned home parlor entertainment, and no doubt most musical artists would have sneered at the programme, but Alice had a wonderfully sweet and sympathetic soprano voice, and as Frank sat watching the fitful flames play hide-and-seek in the open fire, and listened to those time-worn ballads, it seemed to him he had never heard singing quite so sweet. Much depends upon the time and place, and perhaps the romance of the open fire sparkling beneath the bank of evergreen, and making the roses come into the fair singer’s cheeks, and warming the golden sheen of her hair, had much to do with it. When she came to “Ben Bolt,” that old ditty that has all the pathos of our lost youth in it, there was a tiny quiver in her voice; and when she finished, had he been near he would have seen the glint of two unshed tears in her eyes, for the song carried her thoughts to where her mother was at rest.

It was the first time he had ever heard that song, and he never afterwards forgot it.

“Now, Bertie,” said Alice coaxingly, after she had finished singing, “haven’t I earned the box?”

It was an appeal that few men could resist, and certainly not Albert Page, and, true to his promise, he gave her the mysterious box. With excited fingers she untied the cords, tore off the wrapper, and as she lifted the cover she saw-a beautiful seal-skin sacque!

We will leave to the reader’s imagination any and all the expressions that followed, for no pen can give them with all their girlish fervor, and when the exciting incident was over, it was time for retiring.

That evening, with its simple home enjoyments, sincere and wholesome, its bright open fire, the unaffected cordiality of brother and sister, and beyond all, the feeling that he was a welcome guest, made those few hours ones long to be remembered by Frank. To begin with, the cheerful fire was a novelty to him, and perhaps that added a touch of romance. Then Alice herself was a surprise. He had been captivated by her picture, but had half expected to find her a timid country girl, too shy to do aught but answer “yes” and “no,” and look pleasant. Then her voice was also a surprise, and when he reached the seclusion of his room it haunted him. And more than that, so intently had its bird-like sweetness charmed him that it usurped all his thoughts. He had thanked her for the entertainment, of course, but now that he was alone, it seemed to him that his formal thanks had been too feeble an expression. “I don’t wonder Bert adores her,” he thought; “she is the most winsome, unaffected, and sweet little lady I ever met. If I were to remain in this house a week I should be madly in love with her myself.”

He was a good deal so, as it was.