Read CHAPTER XXVII - IN SHADY WOODS of Uncle Terry A Story of the Maine Coast , free online book, by Charles Clark Munn, on

Blanch Nason, Frank’s younger sister, was his good friend and sympathizer, and in all the family discussions had usually taken his part. His elder sister, Edith, was like her mother, rather arrogant and supercilious, and considered her brother as lacking in family pride, and liable to disgrace them by some unfortunate alliance. It was to Blanch he always turned when he needed sympathy and help, and to her at Bethlehem he appeared the day after he had left the “Gypsy.” His coming surprised her not a little.

“Why, what has brought you here, Frank?” she asked. “I thought you were having high jinks down in Maine on the yacht, and playing cards every night with your cronies!”

“Oh, that is played out,” he answered. “The boys are at Bar Harbor, having a good time. Bert is at a little unheard-of place saying sweet things to a pretty girl he found there, and I got lonesome, so I came up here to see you and get you to help me,” he added slyly.

“I thought so,” answered Blanch, laughing; “you never did come to me unless you wanted help. Well, who is the girl now, and what do you want?”

Frank looked surprised.

“How do you know it is a girl?” he asked.

“It usually is with you,” she answered, eyeing him curiously. “So out with it. What’s her name?”

“Alice Page,” he replied.

“What, the girl you wanted us to invite to go on the yacht?” asked Blanch.

“That’s the one,” he replied, “and, as you know, she wouldn’t come.”

“Which shows her good sense,” interrupted Blanch. “Well, what can I do in the matter?”

“Much, if you want to, and nothing, if you don’t,” he answered. “The fact is, sis, I want you to pack a trunk, and go with me to call on her. She is mighty proud, and I imagine that is why she turned the cold shoulder on my efforts to get her to come to Boston and meet you all. Now, if you go there, if only for one night, the ice will be broken, and of course you will invite her to visit you, and all will go well.”

“A nice little scheme,” responded Blanch, “but what will mamma and Ede say, do you think?”

“Oh, never mind them,” answered the plotter; “they need never know it. Just tell them you are going to Saratoga with me for a few days. We will go there, if you like, only we will stop off at Sandgate on the way. Now do this for me, sis, and I’ll buy you the earth when Christmas comes!”

“Well, you will have to stay here until Monday,” said Blanch, “and be real nice to mamma and Ede all the time, or I can’t fix it. Lucky for you, Master Frank, that they are out driving now!”

“But why must we wait four days?” asked Frank petulantly.

“Because, my love-lorn brother,” she replied, “in the first place I don’t want to miss the Saturday-night hop, and then we are booked for a buck-board ride to the Flume to-morrow. Another reason is, I mean to pay you for turning your back on us and going off on the ‘Gypsy.’”

That afternoon our eager suitor wrote Alice the longest letter she had ever received, for it consisted of nine full pages. As most of it can easily be imagined, there is no need to quote it; suffice it to say that it was received with some pleasure and a little vexation by Alice.

“Mr. Nason and his sister are coming here Monday,” said she to Aunt Susan, “and we must put on our best bib and tucker, I suppose. But how we can contrive to entertain his sister is beyond me.” Nevertheless, she was rather pleased at the prospective visitation, for in a measure it was a vindication of her own position. Then again as her school had been closed for over a month, her daily life was becoming decidedly monotonous. When Albert had written regarding the invitation the Nasons had extended, she believed it was due solely to Frank’s influence, and when that young man tried to obtain her consent to join a yachting-party, providing his mother and sister decided to go, she was morally sure of it. But it made no difference, for if the supposedly aristocratic Mrs. Nason had sent her a written invitation she was the last person in the world to accept it. To so go out of her way for the possible opportunity of allowing the only son of a rich family to pay court to her was not characteristic of Alice Page. Rather a thousand times would she teach school in single blessedness all her life than be considered as putting herself in the way of a probable suitor. Of her own feelings toward Frank she was not at all sure. He was a good-looking young fellow and no doubt stood well socially. At first she had felt a little contempt for him, due to his complaints that he had hard work to kill time. When she received the letter announcing his determination to study law and become a useful man in the world she thought better of him. When he came up in June it became clear that he was decidedly in love with her, for none of Mother Eve’s daughters are ever long in doubt on that point. So self-evident were his feelings that she at that time felt compelled to avoid giving him a chance to express them. Her heart was and always had been entirely free from the pangs of love, and while his devotion was in a way quite flattering, the one insurmountable barrier was his family. Had he been more diplomatic he would never have told her his mother frowned at him when he danced twice with a poor girl; but unwisely he had; and to a girl of Alice’s pride and penetration, that was enough. “I am a poor girl,” she thought, when he made the admission, “but I’ll wear old clothes all my life before his haughty mother shall read him a lecture for dancing twice with me.”

Ever since the day Mrs. Mears had related the village gossip to her, she had thought a good many times about the cause of it, but to no one had she ever mentioned the matter since. Her only associate, good-natured Abby Miles, had never dared to speak of it, and Aunt Susan was wise enough not to, for which Frank ought to have been grateful, and no doubt would have been, had he known it. Now that he and his fashionable sister were coming to Sandgate Alice felt a good deal worried. Firstly, she knew her own stock of gowns was inadequate-no young woman, especially if she be pretty, enjoys being overshadowed by another in the matter of dress, and Alice was no exception. While not vain of her looks,-and she had ample reason to be,-she yet felt his sister would consider her countrified in dress, or else realize the truth that she was painfully poor. She had made the money her brother gave her go as far as possible-that was not far. Her own small salary was not more than enough to pay current expenses, and had he known how hard she had contrived to make one dollar do the work of two he would have pitied her. When the day and train arrived, and she had ushered her two guests into their rooms, her worry began. A trunk had come, and as she busied herself to help Aunt Susan get supper under way before she changed her dress, she was morally sure Miss Nason would appear in a gown fit for a state dinner. But when she was dressed and went out on the porch where her guests were, she found Miss Blanch attired in a white muslin, severe in its simplicity. It was a pleasant surprise, and then the matter of dress no longer troubled her, for at no time during their stay did Alice feel any reason to consider herself poorly clad in comparison. Of the conversation that evening, so little was said that is pertinent to this narrative that only a few utterances deserve space. Alice had the happy faculty of finding out what subjects her guests were most interested in and kept them talking upon them. Blanch gave an interesting description of her life at the Maplewood; who were there, what gowns the ladies wore; the hops, drives, tennis, croquet, and whist games; and when that topic was exhausted Alice turned to Frank and said, “Now tell us about your trip.”

“There is not much to tell,” he answered in a disappointed tone. “The fact is my yachting-trip was a failure from start to finish. I hoped to induce mother and the girls to go, and to coax you to join us, but that plan failed. Then I made up a party of fellows and started. Two of them played banjos, and that, with singing, fishing, and cards, I thought would make a good time. I had a two weeks’ trip all mapped out, no end of stores on board, and anticipated lots of fun; but it didn’t materialize. The second day Bert got left on the island, and we didn’t find him until the next day. In the meantime he had found a pretty girl and acted as if he had become smitten with her. Then we ran to Bar Harbor, and the rest of the boys found some girls they knew, and decided at once that a gander cruise had lost its charms; so I threw up my hands, and you know the rest. I turned the ‘Gypsy’ over to Bert, and for all I know or care he is using her to entertain his island fairy. I hope so, anyhow. But I’ve got the merry ha-ha on him all right, and if he ever rings the changes on a certain subject, he’ll hear it, too.” What that certain subject was Alice did not see fit to ask, but joined with Blanch in a good laugh at Frank’s dolorous description of his trip and its Waterloo at the hands of a few girls.

“It seems you can’t get along without us much despised creatures,” observed Blanch, “and if you had come to Bethlehem in the first place you would have had a good time. There were no end of pretty girls at the Maplewood, and eligible Romeos were scarce as white crows.”

“I never said I could get along without girls,” replied Frank, a little piqued, “only I wanted girls to go on my yacht, that was all.”

“And as the mountain wouldn’t come to Mahomet,” put in Blanch, “why, Mahomet came to Bethlehem.”

When the chit-chat slowed down Alice said, “I don’t know how to entertain you two good people in this dull place, though I want to very much. There are mountains and woods galore and lots of pretty drives. And,” looking at Frank, “I know where there is a nice mill-pond full of lilies, and an old moss-covered mill, and a miller that looks like a picture in story books. There is also a drive to the top of the mountain, where the view is simply grand. I have a steady-going and faithful old horse, and we will go wherever you like.”

“Do not worry about me, Miss Page,” replied Blanch, “if I can see mountain, and woods, I am perfectly happy.”

When the evening was nearing its close Frank begged Alice to sing, but she at first declined.

“Do you play or sing, Miss Nason?” she asked cautiously.

“Oh, please don’t be afraid of me,” was the answer, “I never touched a piano in my life. Once in a while I join in the chorus, as they say, for my own amusement and the amazement of others, but that is all.”

It wasn’t all, for she played the guitar and sang sweetly, but kept that talent to herself on this occasion. Finally Alice was persuaded to open the piano, and then out upon the still night air there floated many an old-time ballad. After that she played selections from a few of the latest light operas that Frank had sent her, and then turned away. “Oh, don’t stop now,” exclaimed both her guests at once, “sing a few more songs.” Then with almost an air of proprietorship Frank arose, and going to the piano searched for and found a well-worn song. Without a word he opened and placed it on the music rack. It was “Ben Bolt”! A faint color rose in Alice’s face, but she turned and played the prelude without a word. When she had sung the first verse, to her surprise Blanch was standing beside her, and joined her voice in the next one. When it was finished, Frank insisted on a repetition, and after that all three sang a dozen more of the sweet old-time songs, so familiar to all. Then Alice left the room to bring in a light lunch, and Frank seized the opportunity to say, “Well, sis, what do you think?”

“I think,” she replied, “that you were foolish to go yachting at all. If I had been you I should have come up here in the first place, stayed at the hotel, and courted her every chance I could. I am in love with her myself, and we haven’t been here six hours.”

To her surprise Frank stepped up to her quickly and, taking her face in his hands, kissed her.