Read CHAPTER XII - A COUNTRY SCHOOLMA’AM of Uncle Terry A Story of the Maine Coast , free online book, by Charles Clark Munn, on

“I have directed our liveryman to send over his best nag and a cutter this morning,” said Albert at breakfast the next day to his friend, “and you and Alice can take a sleigh-ride and see Sandgate snow-clad. I have some business matters to attend to.”

Later, when he was alone with Alice, he added with a smile: “You need not feel obliged to wear your new sacque, sis; it’s not very cold.”

“Oh, you tease!” she replied, but the light in her eyes betrayed her feelings.

It was a delightful day for a sleigh-ride, for every bush and tree was covered with a white fleece of snow, and the morning sun added a tiny sparkle to every crystal. A thicket of spruce was changed to a grove of towering white cones and an alder swamp to a fantastic fairyland. It was all new to Frank, and as he drove away with that bright and vivacious girl for a companion it is needless to say he enjoyed it to the utmost.

“I had no idea your town was so hemmed in by mountains,” he said after they started and he had a chance to look around; “why, you are completely shut in, and such grand ones, too! They are more beautiful than the White Mountains and more graceful in shape.”

“They are all of that,” answered Alice, “and yet at times they make me feel as if I was shut in, away from all the world. We who see them every day forget their beauty and only feel their desolation, for a great tree-clad mountain is desolate in winter, I think. At least it is apt to reflect one’s mood. I suppose you have travelled a great deal, Mr. Nason?”

“Not nearly as much as I ought to,” he answered, “for the reason that I can’t find any one I like to go with me. My mother and sisters go away to some watering-place every summer and stay there, and father sticks to business. I either dawdle around where the folks are summers, or stay in town and hate myself, if I can’t find some one to go off on my yacht with me. The fact is, Miss Page,” he added mournfully, “I have hard work to kill time. I can get a little party to run to Newport or Bar Harbor in the summer, and that is all. I should like to go to Florida or the West Indies in the winter, or to Labrador or Greenland summers, but I can’t find company.”

Alice was silent for a moment, for the picture of a young man complaining because he had nothing to do but spend his time and money was new to her.

“You are to be pitied,” she said at last, with a tinge of sarcasm, “but still, there are just a few who would envy you.”

He made no reply, for he did not quite understand whether she meant to be sarcastic or not. They rode along in silence for a time, and then Alice pointed to a small square brown building just ahead, almost hid in bushes, and said:

“Do you see that magnificent structure we are coming to, and do you notice its grand columns and lofty dome? If you had been a country boy you would recollect seeing a picture of it in the spelling-book. Take a good look at it, for that is a temple of knowledge, and it is there I teach school!”

Frank was silent, for this time the sarcastic tone in her voice was more pronounced. When they reached it he stopped and said quietly, “Please hold the reins. I want to look into the room where you spend your days.”

He took a good long look, and when he returned he said, “So that is what you call a temple, is it? And it was in there the little girl wanted to kiss you because you looked happy?” And then as they drove on he added, “Do you know, I’ve thought of that pretty little touch of feeling a dozen times since you told about it, and when I go home I shall send a box of candy to you and ask you to do me the favor of giving it to that little girl.”

It was not what she expected he would say, and it rather pleased her.

Conversation is but an exchange of moods, and in spite of their inspiring surroundings, the moods of those two young people did not seem to appeal to each other. To Alice, whose constant life of self-denial had made her feel that the world was cold and selfish, his complaints seemed little short of sacrilege; and he felt he had made a mess of it somehow in his really honest desire to be sincere. But two people so placed must talk, whether they feel like it or not, and so these two tried hard to be sociable. He wisely allowed her to do the most talking, and was really interested in her humorous descriptions of school-teaching. When they were nearly home he said:

“You are not a bit like what I imagined a schoolma’am was like.”

“Did you think I wore blue glasses and petted a black cat?” she asked laughingly.

“The glasses might be a protection to susceptible young men,” he answered, “and for that reason I would advise you to wear them.”

“Shall I get some to-morrow to wear while you are here?” she queried with a smile. “I will if you feel in danger.”

“Would you do it if I admitted I was?” he replied, resolving to stand his ground, and looking squarely at her.

But that elusive young lady was not to be cornered.

“You remind me of a story Bert told once,” she said, “about an Irishman who was called upon to plead guilty or not guilty to the charge of drunkenness. When asked afterwards how he pleaded he said: ’Bedad, I give the judge an equivocal answer.’ ‘And what was that?’ said his friend. ’Begorra, whin the judge axed me was I guilty or not guilty, I answered, “Was yer grandfather a monkey?” And then he gave me sixty days.’”

“Well,” replied Frank, “that is a good story, but it doesn’t answer my question.”

That afternoon when Alice was alone with her brother, he said: “Well, sis, how do you like my friend?”

“Oh, he means to be nice,” she replied, “but he is a little thoughtless, and it would do him good to have to work for his living a year or two.”

Albert looked at his sister, while an amused smile spread over his face, and then said:

“If you weren’t so abominably pretty you wouldn’t be so fussy. Most young ladies would consider the good-looking and only son of a millionaire absolutely perfect at sight.”

“But I don’t,” she replied, “and if you weren’t the best brother in the world I’d box your ears! ‘Abominably pretty!’ The idea!”

The two days intervening before Sunday passed all too quickly for the three young people. One day they drove to a distant country town and had dinner, and that evening Alice, true to her sex, invited Frank to go with her to call upon her dearest girl friend. Just why she did this we will leave to any young lady to answer, if she will. The next day Albert invited a little party, and that evening they all met at the old mill pond and had a skating frolic. Secluded as it was, between wooded banks, it was just the place for that kind of fun, and the young men added romance to the scene by lighting a bonfire! When Sunday morning came they of course attended church, and Frank, as promised, found himself slyly stared at by all the people of Sandgate. He did not pay much attention to the sermon, but a good deal to a certain sweet soprano voice in the choir, and when after service Alice joined them, he boldly walked right away with her and left Albert chatting with a neighbor. It is certain that this proceeding did not displease her, for no wise young lady is averse to the assumed protectorship of a good-looking and well-dressed young man, especially when other girls are looking on.

On the way home she, of course, asked the usual question as to how he liked the sermon.

“I don’t think I heard ten words of it,” he replied; “I was kept busy counting how many I caught looking at me, and whenever the choir sang I forgot to count. Why was it they stared at me so much? Is a stranger here a walking curiosity?”

“In a way, yes,” answered Alice; “they don’t mean to be rude, but a new face at church is a curio. I’ll wager that nine out of ten who were there this morning are at this moment discussing your looks and wondering who and what you are.”

But all visits come to an end, and Frank, already more than half in love with the girl who had treated him in a rather cool though perfectly courteous way, realized that he would soon be not only out of sight, but out of mind, so far as Alice was concerned. In a way he had been spoiled by being sought after by managing mammas and over-anxious daughters, and was unprepared for the slightly indifferent reception he had met with from Alice. He had been attracted by her face the first time he saw her picture, and five days’ association had not lessened the attraction.

A realization of her cool indifference tinged his feelings that evening just at dusk, where he had been left alone beside the freshly started parlor fire, and when the object of his thought happened in, he sat staring moodily at the flames. She drew a chair opposite, and seating herself, said pleasantly:

“Why so pensive, Mr. Nason? Has going to church made you feel repentant?”

“I don’t feel the need of repentance except in one way,” he answered, “and that you would not be interested in. If I am looking pensive,” he continued, turning towards her, “it’s because I’m going away to-morrow.”

It was a step towards dangerous ground, and she realized it, but a little spice of daring coquetry impelled her to say:

“Tell me what you feel to repent of; I may be able to offer you some good advice.”

He had turned toward the fire again, and sat shading his face with one hand, and slowly passing his fingers across his forehead. For a moment he waited, and then answered:

“To be candid, Miss Page, I’m growing ashamed of the useless life I lead, and it’s that I feel to repent of. A few things your brother said to me three months ago were the beginning, and a remark you made the day we first went sleighing has served to increase that feeling. Ever since I left college I have led an aimless life, bored to death by ennui, and conscious that no one was made any happier by my existence. What Bert said to me, and your remark, have only served to make me realize it more fully.”

They were both on risky ground now, and no one knew it better than Alice, but she did not lose her head.

“I am very sorry, Mr. Nason,” she said pleasantly, “if any words of mine hurt you even a little. I have forgotten what they were, and wish you would. The visit which you and Bert are making me is a most delightful break in the monotony of my life, and I shall be very glad to see you again.” And then rising she added, “If I hurt you, please say you forgive me, for I must go out and see to getting tea.”

It was an adroit escape from a predicament, and she felt relieved. It must also be stated that her visitor had taken a long step upward in her estimation.

The last evening was passed much like the first, except that now the elusive Alice seemed to be transformed into a far more gracious hostess, and all her smiles and interest seemed to be lavished upon Frank instead of her brother. It was as if this occult little lady had come to feel a new and surprising curiosity in all that concerned the life and amusements of her visitor. With true feminine skill she plied him with all manner of questions, and affected the deepest interest in all he had to say. What were his sisters’ amusements? Did they entertain much, play tennis, golf, or ride? Where did they usually go summers, and did he generally go with them? His own comings and goings, and where he had been and what he saw there, were also made a part of the grist he was encouraged to grind. She even professed a keen interest in his yacht, and listened patiently to a most elaborate description of that craft, although as a row-boat was the largest vessel she had ever set foot on, it is likely she did not gain a very clear idea of the “Gypsy.”

“Your yacht has a very suggestive name,” she said; “it makes one think of green woods and camp-fires. I should dearly love to take a sail in her. I have read so much about yachts and yachting that the idea of sailing along the shores in one’s own floating house, as it were, has a fascination for me.”

This expression of taste was so much in line with Frank’s, and the idea of having this charming girl for a yachting companion so tempting, that his face glowed.

“Nothing would give me greater pleasure,” he responded, “than to have you for a guest on my boat, Miss Page. I think it could be managed if I could only coax my mother and sisters to go, and you and your brother would join us. We would visit the Maine coast resorts and have no end of a good time.”

“It’s a delightful outing you suggest,” she answered, “and I thank you very much; but I wouldn’t think of coming if your family had to be coaxed to go, and then, it’s not likely that Bert could find the time.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean it that way,” he said, looking serious, “only mother and the girls are afraid of the water, that is all.”

When conversation lagged Frank begged that she would sing for him, and suggested selections from Moody and Sankey; and despite her brother’s sarcastic remark that it wasn’t a revival meeting they were holding, she not only played and sang all those time-worn melodies, but a lot of others from older collections. When retiring-time came, Frank asked that she conclude with “Ben Bolt.”

“I shall not need to recall that song to remind me of you,” he said in a low voice as he spread it on the music rack in front of her, “but I shall always feel its mood when I think of you.”

“Does that mean that you will think of me as sleeping ’in a corner obscure and alone’ in some churchyard?” she responded archly.

“By no means,” he said, “only I may perhaps have a little of the same mood at times that Ben Bolt had when he heard of the fate of his sweet Alice.”

It was a pretty speech and Frank imagined she threw a little more than usual pathos into the song after it; but then, no doubt his imagination was biased by his feelings.

When they stood on the platform the next morning awaiting the train, he said quietly:

“May I send you a few books and some new songs when I get home, Miss Page? I want to show you how much I have enjoyed this visit.”

“It is very nice of you to say so,” she replied, “and I shall be glad to be remembered, and hope you will visit us again.”

When the train came in he rather hurriedly offered his hand and with a “Permit me to thank you again,” as he raised his hat, turned away to gather up the satchels and so as not to be witness to her leave-taking from her brother.

It was a tactful act that was not lost upon her.