Read CHAPTER XVIII - VILLAGE GOSSIP of Uncle Terry A Story of the Maine Coast , free online book, by Charles Clark Munn, on

“What care I what the world may say,
So long as I have my way to-day?-
For this dear old world,
This queer old world,
With tongue like sands of the sea,
Is never so gay
As when wagging away,
And talking of you and of me.”

That evening Frank begged for music, and Alice sung for two long hours. At least they might have seemed long to any but an enraptured young man who had for the entire day been kept from uttering one of the many love-lorn words that filled his heart. Albert, who had been informed by Alice that if he deserted her for a single moment that evening or the next he need never bring his friend there again, sat outside on the porch and close by the window, smoking incessantly and smiling to himself at the clever tactics of his charming but coy sister. When the concert was ended he observed, “If there’s one song in the house that you have not sung, Alice, I wish you would sing it. I hate to have you omit any.”

“I have only sung what I was asked to,” she replied; “is not that so, Mr. Nason?”

“That is true,” replied he boldly, “and you have not sung one that I wouldn’t enjoy hearing again to-night.”

“Oh, I have enjoyed them all,” said Albert, “only I thought you might have missed one, and as Frank remarked coming home that he was hungry for music, I wanted him satisfied.”

The next day, as usual, they attended church, only this time all three walked back together, although Albert felt that he was one too many, and all the afternoon and evening it was the same. But Alice was graciousness personified. All her jokes and smiles and all her conversation were lavished upon Frank. It may be that she wished to make amends for the opportunities she knew he was anxious to obtain but could not, for the most charming of women have a little of the feline instinct in their nature, and whether there is any response to a man’s wooing in their hearts or not, they love to enjoy their power. Several times Frank, who intuitively felt she did not wish to be left alone with him, started to ask her to take a walk that Sunday evening, but each time his discretion prevailed. “If she is willing to listen to any love-making, she has tact enough to give me a chance,” he thought, “and unless she is, I’d better keep still.” Which would show he had at least a faint inkling of woman’s ways. The evening was one to tempt Cupid, for the moonlight fell checkered through the half-naked elms along the roadway, and where here and there a group of maples stood was a bit of shadow. The whippoorwills had just returned to Sandgate, and over the meadows scattered fireflies twinkled. The houses along the way to the village were wide apart and the evening air just right for a loitering walk. To Frank, anxious to say a few words that would further his hopes in the direction of this bewitching girl, it seemed a waste of good time not to take advantage of the evening. It was almost past, and the lights in the houses across the valley had long since vanished when he obtained a little consolation.

The charm of the evening had stilled conversation and no one had spoken for a long time when he said, rather disconsolately, “My anticipated visit is almost over. May I ask you to go in and sing just one song for me, Miss Page?”

“With pleasure,” she responded in her sweetest tone, “what shall it be?”

“I will leave that to your selection,” he replied.

Without a word she led the way in and began searching among the pile of music on the piano, and finding what she wanted, opened and spread the music on the rack.

It was “Ben Bolt.”

She sang it in a minor key, and as the opening words,

“Oh, don’t you remember sweet Alice, Ben Bolt,”

floated out on the still evening air, they seemed to him fraught with a new meaning and that a veritable sweet Alice was bidding him, another Ben Bolt, not to forget her. When the last note had faded into the night air, she turned her now serious eyes toward him and said:

“Did I guess right?”

How much he longed to take that fair girl in his arms then and there and ask her to be his own sweet Alice need not be specified. For a moment her tender blue eyes met his brown ones, and then they fell.

“I am glad I did not make a mistake,” she said softly.

“I thank you,” he almost whispered, “and there won’t be many waking moments in my future when I shall not think of-sweet Alice!”

It was not much of a love scene, but to him it seemed a wide-open door of hope, and when many miles separated them, and for days, weeks, and months afterward, even when doing his best to crowd dull law reports into his brain, the one tender glance she gave him and the tones of her voice came back with unfailing accuracy.

There is no spot where every one knows everybody else’s business and discusses it that is quite equal in this way to a small country town, and Sandgate was no exception. The first visit of Frank Nason to the Page home, his sleigh-rides with Alice, and his appearance at church had caused no end of comment. It was known that he had been a classmate of Albert’s and came from Boston, and later Aunt Susan vouch-safed the information that she “guessed he came from one o’ the first families and that he appeared right well behaved.”

It was all she really did know, for both Alice and her brother were considerate of her failings and knew it was not safe to discuss their visitor in her presence. The tempest of gossip had not more than half quieted down when it received a regular boom from his second coming. The pupils of the north end district school spread the news of their teacher’s unexpected callers; that they heard her kiss one, and which one they did not know; and that she had dismissed school at once and gone on with the stranger. Old Amos Curtis, the miller, told of their visit, and, wonder upon wonder, how the next day “her beau” had given him a five-dollar bill “jest fer lettin’ ’em use a leaky old boat fer an hour.”

The buxom Abby Miles had the best and longest story to tell, and her praise of Mr. Nason, how polite he was, and “how he couldn’t keep his eyes off’n Alice all the afternoon,” was whispered to every girl she knew. The five-dollar incident created the most gossip, however. The miller had remarked that a “young feller who threw money ’round that way must be rich,” and that remark soon grew into a story that Alice Page’s beau was worth a million, and that she was engaged to him.

As might be expected, the subject of all this gossip heard none of it until the storm had reached alarming proportions. Some of the village swains who had tried to pay court to her and failed were inclined to sneer at the “smart young man from the city” who had cut them out; but the older people and the girls were disposed to congratulate her upon what they considered her good luck. It was this inclination that led Mrs. Mears to be the first one to tell the extent of the gossip.

“They tell me,” said that worthy matron to Alice one Sunday, after church, “that you ain’t likely to teach school after this summer.”

“And why not?” answered Alice, conscious that she was likely to hear a choice bit of gossip; “don’t I give satisfaction?”

“Oh, ’tain’t that,” was the answer; “I guess you can imagine the reason and I want to be the first to congratulate you. They tell me he’s worth a pile o’ money, an’ he’s sartinly well favored, so far as looks goes, but then, ‘handsome is as handsome does’ was allus my motto.”

Alice colored.

“Do you mean Mr. Nason, my brother’s friend?” she said nervously.

“Why, who else would I mean?” responded Mrs. Mears. “I’ve heard that you was to be married this fall, and that he is worth a million. They say he told Amos Curtis he was, though I don’t believe that, but anyway, Amos says he gave him five dollars ‘jest fer usin’ his old boat that wa’n’t worth splittin’ up for kindlin’s!’”

It was all out now, and in a moment Alice saw through the whole story and up to its source. For one instant she felt as if the entire town was staring at her, and grew correspondingly red. It was unfortunate, for several besides Mrs. Mears were observing her and drew their own conclusions. As for the worthy gossiper who had enlightened Alice, the blush she saw rise on her cheeks and spread until it glowed all over her face and throat was confirmation enough.

“It’s not true, not one word of it,” exclaimed Alice angrily, “and if you care for me one bit, I wish you would tell everybody I said so.”

She waited to hear no more, nor for Aunt Susan, who had lingered to chat with some one, but walked home alone and hurriedly, as if to hide herself. Once in the silent house, she began to cool off.

“I won’t believe he told Amos he was worth a million,” she said to herself,-“he isn’t so stupid as that; but I am afraid the silly boy did give him five dollars, which has started all this gossip.”

When Aunt Susan came in she fairly pounced upon her. “Why haven’t you told me, auntie, about all this gossip that’s going the rounds regarding Mr. Nason and myself? I know you have heard it.”

“It’s all nonsense, Alice,” answered that lady rather sharply, “and you are foolish to listen to ’em. I’ve heard it, of course, but so long as it’s no discredit to you, why, let it go into one ear and out t’other, same as I do! Folks must talk in this town, an’ what they’re sayin’ ’bout you ought to make you feel proud-that a young fellow like him, and worth money, wanted to come courtin’, an’ he certainly showed he did, or I’m no judge.”

It was homely advice, and from the standpoint of Aunt Susan, as well as most of the world-wise matrons of Sandgate, it was good advice.

“He’s got Aunt Susan on his side as well as Bert,” Alice thought, “and I am glad I kept him at a distance now, just to pay him for being so silly with his money.”

Late that afternoon Alice called upon Abby Miles, and talked about everything except the subject she most wanted to talk about, and then, as Abby usually had a Sunday evening caller, Alice came home at dusk. Never before had the house seemed so lonesome, and as she sat on the porch and tried to talk with Aunt Susan her thoughts were elsewhere.

When the lights across the valley, which served as curfew by saying bed-time when they went out, had disappeared, she came in, and seating herself in the dark at the piano softly played the chords and hummed the words of a song which need not be mentioned.

“It’ll come out all right,” said Aunt Susan to herself, and she waited till Alice called to her to come in and go to bed.