Read CHAPTER XXXIV - FIRELIGHT FLASHES of Uncle Terry A Story of the Maine Coast , free online book, by Charles Clark Munn, on

The halcyon days of autumn, that seemed like the last sweet smiles of summer, had come, when one day Albert packed a valise and boarded the early morning train for Maine. An insidious longing to see the girl that had been in his thoughts for four months had come to him and week by week increased until it had overcome business demands. Then he had a little good news from Stockholm, which, as he said to himself, would serve as an excuse. He had told Frank what his errand was to Uncle Terry, and to say to any that called that he would return in two days. Of his possible reception by Telly he was a good deal in doubt. She had written to him in reply to his letters, but between each of the simple, unaffected lines all he could read was an undertone of sadness. That, with a vivid recollection of what Uncle Terry had disclosed, led him to believe there was some burden on her mind and that he had or was no part in it.

When he grasped Uncle Terry’s hand at the boat landing that old man’s face fairly beamed.

“I’m right glad ter see ye,” he said, “an’ so’ll the folks be. Thar ain’t much goin’ on at the Cape any time, an’ sence ye wur thar it seems wussen ever.”

“How are your good wife and Telly these days?” asked Albert, “and that odd old lady who asked me the first thing if I was a believer?”

“Wal, things go on ’bout as usual,” replied Uncle Terry, as the two drove away from the landing, which consisted of a narrow wharf and shed, with not a house in sight. “Bascom does most o’ the talkin’ out o’ meetin’s, an’ Oaks most on’t in, ‘ceptin’ the widder, an’ none on ’em say much that’s new.”

Albert smiled, glad to find Uncle Terry in such good spirits. “I thought I’d run down and stay a night or so with you,” he said, “and tell you what I’ve learned about the legacy.”

Uncle Terry’s face brightened. “Hev ye got good news?” he asked.

“In a way, yes,” replied Albert; “this firm of Thygeson & Company write expressing surprise that Frye should have given up the case after they had paid him over five hundred dollars, and ask that I file a bond with the Swedish consul in Washington before they submit a statement of the case and inventory of the estate to us. It is only a legal formality, and I have complied with it.”

“They must ‘a’ got skeery o’ lawyers frum dealing with that dum thief Frye,” put in Uncle Terry, “an’ I don’t blame ’em. Did ye larn the real cause o’ his suicidin’?”

“Wheat speculation,” answered Albert. “He dropped over sixty thousand dollars in three weeks and it broke his miserly heart. I never want to see such a sight again in my life as his face was that morning. It haunted me for a week after.”

When Uncle Terry’s home was reached Albert found a most cordial reception awaiting him from Aunt Lissy, and what pleased him far more, a warmly welcoming smile from Telly.

“I’m sorry we didn’t know ye were comin’,” said Aunt Lissy, “so’t we could be better prepared for company.”

“I wish you wouldn’t consider me company,” replied Albert; “just think I am one of the family, and let it go at that.”

The long ride in the crisp sea air, following the scanty railroad lunch, had given him a most amazing appetite, and the bountiful supper of stewed chicken and cold lobster, not to mention other good things of Aunt Lissy’s providing, received a hearty acceptance. To have these people unaffectedly glad to see him, and so solicitous of his personal comfort, carried him back to his own home and mother of years before in a way that touched him. He felt himself among friends, and friends that were glad to see him and meant to show it. Although it was dark when supper was over, he could not resist going out on the rocks and listening a few minutes to the waves as they beat upon them. There was no moon, but the lighthouse gleam over his head faintly outlined the swells, as one by one they tossed their spray up to where he stood; back of him the welcome glow of Uncle Terry’s home, and all around the wide ocean, dark and sombre. What a change from the busy hive of men he had left that morning! Only a brief space was he left to contemplate it, when he heard a voice just back of him saying:

“Here’s yer coat, Mr. Page; the night’s gittin’ chilly, and ye better put it on ’fore ye ketch cold.”

When the two returned to the house Albert found a bright fire burning in the sitting-room, and going to the entry way, where he had left his valise, to get a box of cigars for Uncle Terry, found that the valise had disappeared.

“I put yer things in yer room,” said the old man, and handing him a lamp he added, “ye know whar ’tis now, I hope, so make yerself tew hum.”

Later, when they were all gathered about the fire, both the “wimmin folks” with their sewing, and Uncle Terry enjoying one of the cigars Albert had brought him, the old man’s face gleamed as genial as the firelight. It was a genuine treat to him to have this young man for company, and he showed it. He told stories of the sea, of storm and shipwreck, and curious experiences that had come to him during the many years he had dwelt beside the ocean; and while Albert listened, stealing occasional glances at the sweet-faced but plainly clad girl whose eyes were bent upon her sewing, the neighboring waves kept up their monotone, and the fire sparkled and glowed with a ruddy light.

“Don’t you ever get tired of hearing the waves beat so near you?” asked Albert at last.

“Wal, there’s suthin’ curious ’bout that,” answered Uncle Terry; “I’ve got so uster ’em they seem sorter necessary ter livin’, an’ when I go ‘way it’s hard fer me ter sleep fer missin’ em. Why, don’t yer like ter hear ’em?” he added curiously.

“Oh, yes,” replied Albert; “I enjoy them always, and they are a lullaby that puts me to sleep at once.”

It was but little past nine when Uncle Terry arose, and bringing in a basket of wood observed, “I guess I’ll turn in middlin’ arly so’s to git up arly’n pull my traps ‘fore breakfast, an’ then I’ll take ye out fishin’. The mackerel’s bitin’ good these days, an’ mebbe ye’ll enjoy it.”

Aunt Lissy soon followed and Albert was left alone with Telly. It looked intentional, but he was no less grateful for it. For a few moments he watched her, still intent on her work, and wondered what was in her mind.

“Have you finished my sketches?” he said finally, feeling that was the most direct avenue to her thoughts.

“Not quite,” she replied, “I had to go up to the cove to work on one in order to satisfy myself, and a good many days it was too rough to row up there, so that hindered me. I have that one finished, though, and the other almost.”

The thought that this girl had rowed four miles every day in order to paint from the original scene of his sketch struck him forcibly.

“May I see the finished one?” he asked.

She brought it, and once more he was surprised. Not only was the picture of herself sitting in the shade of a low spruce reproduced, but the fern-decorated boat near by, the quiet little cove in front, and a view of ocean beyond.

It was a charming picture, and vividly recalled his visit there with her.

“There is only one thing lacking,” she said shyly, as he held it at an angle so the firelight would shine upon it, “and I didn’t dare put that in without your consent.”

“I do not notice anything left out, as I recall the spot,” he answered.

“But there is,” she replied, “and one that should be there to make the picture correct. Can’t you guess?”

He looked at Telly’s face, upon which a roguish smile had come, but it did not dawn on him what she meant.

“No, I can’t guess,” he said; “tell me what is lacking?”

“Yourself,” she replied.

It was a pretty compliment, and coming from any one except Telly he would have doubted its sincerity.

“But I do not want the picture to remind me of myself,” he answered, “I wanted it so I could see you and recall the day we were there.” She made no reply, and he laid it on the table and asked for the other one. It was all done except the finishing touches, but it did not seem to be a reproduction of his original sketch at the cove.

“I took the liberty of changing it a little,” she said as he was looking at it, “and put in the background where you said you first saw me.”

“It was nice of you to think of making the change,” he replied quickly, “and I am very glad you did. I wanted it to portray you as I first saw you.”

A faint flush came into her face at this, that did not escape him, and as she was watching the fire he for a moment studied the sweet face turned half away. And what a charming profile it was, with rounded chin, delicate patrician nose, and long eyelashes just touching the cheek that bore a tell-tale flush! Was that faint color due to the fire or to his words? He could not tell. Then they dropped into a pleasant chat about trifles, and the ocean’s voice kept up its rhythm, the fire sparkled, and the small cottage clock ticked the happy moments away.

“How is Mrs. Leach?” he asked at last; “does she pray as fervently at every meeting?”

“Just the same,” replied Telly, “and always will as long as she has breath. It is, as father says, her only consolation.”

“I have thought of that evening many times since,” he continued, “and the impression that poor old lady made on me with her piteous supplication. It was unlike anything of the kind that I ever listened to. I wonder,” he added musingly, “how it would affect a Boston church congregation some evening to have such an appearing figure, clad as she was, rise and utter the prayer she did. It would startle them, I think.”

“I do not think Mrs. Leach would enter one of your city churches,” responded Telly, “and certainly not clad as she has to be. She has a little pride left, even if she is poor.”

“Oh, I meant no reflection,” explained Albert, feeling that Telly thought the old lady needed defending, “only the scene was so impressive, I wondered how it would affect a fashionable church gathering. I think it would do them good,” he added candidly, “to listen to a real sincere prayer that came from some one’s heart and was not manufactured for the occasion. Those who wear fine silks and broadcloth and sit in cushioned pews seldom hear such a prayer as she uttered that night.”

Then as Telly made no response he sat in silence a few moments, mentally contrasting the girl he had really come to woo with those he had met in Boston.

And what a contrast!

This girl clad in a gray dress, severe in its simplicity, and so ill-fitting that it really detracted from the beautiful outlines of her form, though not entirely hiding them, for that was impossible. Her luxuriant tresses were braided and coiled low down on the back of her head, and at her throat a tiny bow of blue. Not an ornament of any name or nature did she wear, not even a single ring. Only the crown of her sunny hair, two little rose leaves in her cheeks, and the queen-like majesty of throat and shoulders and bust, so classic that not one woman in a hundred but would envy her their possession.

And then, what was equally as striking, what a contrast in speech, expression, and ways! Timid to the verge of bashfulness, utterly unaffected, and yet sincere, tender, and thoughtful in each and every utterance; a beautiful flower grown to perfection among the rocks of this seldom visited island, untrained by conventionality and unsullied by the world. “I wonder how she would act if suddenly dropped into the Nasons’ home, or what would Alice think of her!” Then as he noted the sad little droop of her exquisite lips, and as she, wondering at his silence, turned her pleading eyes toward him, there came into his heart in an instant a feeling that, despite all her timidity and all her lack of worldly wisdom, he would value her love and confidence far above any woman’s he had ever met!

Then, recalling the hint as to her nature disclosed by Uncle Terry, he resolved to probe it there and then, or at least to draw her out a little.

“Miss Terry,” he said gently, “do you know I fancy that living here as you have all your life, within sound of the sad sea waves, has woven a little of their melancholy into your nature and a little of their pathos into your eyes. I thought so the first time I saw you, and the more I see of you the more I think it is so.”

Telly was looking at him curiously when he began this rather pointed observation, and at its close her eyes fell and the two rose leaves in her cheeks increased in size. For a moment she hesitated, and then as she answered he detected a note of pain in her voice.

“The ocean does sound sad to me,” she said, “and at times it makes me very blue. Then I am so much alone and have no one in whom to confide my feelings. Mother would not understand me, and if father thought I wasn’t happy it would make him miserable.” Then turning her pathetic eyes full upon her questioner she added: “Did you ever think, Mr. Page, that the sound of the waves might be the voices of drowned people trying to be heard? I believe every human being has a soul, and for all we know, if they have gone down into the ocean, their souls may be in the water and possibly are trying to speak to us.”

“Oh, no, no, Miss Terry,” responded Albert hastily, “that is all imagination on your part and due to your being too much alone with your own thoughts. The ocean of course has a sad sound to us all, if we stop and think about it, but it’s best not to. What you need is the companionship of some cheerful girl about your own age and fewer hours with only yourself for company.” Then he added thoughtfully, “I wish you could visit Alice for a few months. She would drive the megrims out of your mind.”

“I should be glad to have her come and visit me,” replied Telly eagerly, and in her simple sincerity adding, “I am sure I should love her.”

Albert had hard work to restrain a smile, but he was none the less charmed by her frankness. “I wish she could,” he answered, “but she is a school-teacher and that duty keeps her occupied most of the time. I shall bring her down here next summer,” he added earnestly. Then feeling it unfair to conceal the fact that he knew her history any longer, he said, “I beg your pardon, Miss Terry, but I know what is at the bottom of your melancholy moods and I knew it the second night I was here last summer. Your father told me your history then.”

“He did?” she replied, turning her pleading eyes upon him in surprise; “you knew my unfortunate history that night?”

“I did, every word of it,” he answered tenderly, “and I should have told you I did if I had not been afraid it would hurt you to know I knew it then.”

Her eyes fell and a look of pain came into her face.

Then perhaps the quick sympathy she had shown regarding the pictures, or the pathos of that look, or both, made him a trifle reckless. Such things are apt to have that effect upon a young man rapidly entering the illusion of love.

“Please banish this mood from now on and never let it return,” he said hastily; “I have come to tell you that in the near future the mystery of your life may be solved, and what is better, that a legacy awaits your claiming. The matter has been in the hands of an unprincipled lawyer for some months, as no doubt Mr. Terry has told you, but now he is dead and I have taken hold of it, and shall not rest until you have your rights. We shall know what your heritage is and all about your ancestors in a few months.” Then he added tenderly, “Would it pain you to hear more about it, or would you rather not?”

“Father has told me a little of it,” she answered, “but I know he has kept most of the trouble to himself. It’s his way. Since he came back from Boston he has acted like his old self, and no words can tell how glad I am. As for the money, it must and shall go to him, every penny of it, and all the comfort I can give him as long as he lives as well.”

She spoke vehemently, and a look of pride came into her face.

“I thank you for what you have said,” came from Albert quickly, “for now I shall dare to tell you another story before I go back. Not to-night,” he added smiling, as she looked at him curiously, “but you shall hear it in due time. Up at the cove, maybe, if to-morrow afternoon is pleasant. I too am superstitious in some ways.”

An unusual elation came to him after this, and perhaps to keep Telly from guessing what his story was he talked upon every subject that might interest her, avoiding the one nearest his heart. It came with a surprise when the little clock chimed eleven, and he at once arose and begged her pardon for the possible trespass upon conventional hours. “You will go up to the cove with me?” he asked as he paused a moment at the foot of the stairs.

“I shall enjoy it very much,” she answered simply, “and I have a favor I want to ask of you, which is, to let me make a sketch of you just where you sat the time your boat drifted away.”

When he retired it was long after he heard the clock downstairs strike the midnight hour before he failed to note the ocean’s voice beneath his window, and in his dreams he saw Telly’s face smiling in the firelight.