Read CHAPTER XXXVII - AMID FALLING LEAVES of Uncle Terry A Story of the Maine Coast , free online book, by Charles Clark Munn, on

The mountains around Sandgate were aflame with the scarlet and gold of autumn before life seemed quite as usual to Alice Page. The summer idyll had passed, and though it left a scar on her heart, she had resolutely determined to put the sweet illusion out of her mind. “I was very foolish to let him see that I cared,” she thought, “for it can never be, and by and by he will forget me, or if he does think of me, it will be to recall me as one of his summer girls who had a fit of silliness.”

But for all that her heart ached at times, and in spite of all resolution her fingers would once in a while stray to the chords of “Ben Bolt.” She tried, and fairly succeeded in answering his letters in a cool, matter-of-fact way. Occasionally when he referred to his heart hunger, and how hard he was studying in hopes that she might think better of him, she wished that he had no purse-proud and haughty mother to stand between him and a poor girl, and her next letter would be more chilly than ever. What perhaps was a bitter-sweet thought was the fact that the colder she answered him, the warmer his next letter would be. Unwisely, too, he happened to mention once that his mother had spoken of a certain young lady who belonged to the cream of Boston society as an eligible match, and advised him to show her a little attention. It was really of no moment, yet it hardened Alice against his mother, and did not help his cause.

Every Sunday she took her wonted place in the choir, and after church occasionally walked alone to the cemetery and visited her mother’s grave. Then, too, her brother’s letters grew less frequent, and that was a source of pain. With intuitive and feminine instinct she began to assume that some woman was winning his thoughts, and as it was but natural, she could not and did not mention her belief to him. How grateful she was all through those melancholy autumn days that she had a large school to absorb her thoughts, no one, not even Aunt Susan, guessed. She was having a long and hard fight with her own feelings and imagined she had conquered them, when Thanksgiving time drew near and her brother announced he would run up and spend the day with her. She almost cried for joy at the good news, for poor, pretty, and proud-spirited Alice Page was feeling very heart-hungry when the letter came. He was just a little surprised at her vehement welcome.

“Oh, I have been so lonesome, Bertie,” she said when they were alone together, “and the evenings drag by so slowly! Then you do not write me as often or such nice letters as formerly, and Aunt Susan never seems to notice that I am blue. If it were not for my school, I should go crazy, I think.”

His heart smote him as he thought of a certain other blue-eyed girl who was now occupying his thoughts to the partial exclusion of this loving sister, and of whom he had meant to tell Alice. In an instant it occurred to him that it would hurt her now to know it, and that he had best keep it to himself.

“I am very busy these days, sis,” he replied, “and my mind is all taken up with work. Mr. Nason’s business is increasing and I have a good many clients besides him.” Then as if to draw her out, he added: “How did you like Blanch Nason?”

“Oh, she was very nice,” replied Alice coolly, “and if she were a poor girl and lived here I could easily learn to love her. As it is, it is useless for me to think of her as a friend. It was good of her to pay me a visit, though, and I enjoyed every minute of it.”

“And what about Frank?” queried Albert, eyeing his sister with a smile; “did he not say a lot of sweet things to you?”

Alice colored.

“Oh, he is nice enough,” she answered, “and tried to make me believe he had fallen in love with me, but it won’t do any good. I am sure his managing mamma will marry him to some thin girl with a fat purse, or aristocratic family, which, I imagine, is of more consequence to her.”

Albert gave a low and prolonged whistle.

“So that is the way the wind blows, my sweet sister, is it?” he observed; “and yet my possible future law partner has been humming ’Ben Bolt’ nearly every day for the past two months! I made believe you must have smiled on him very sweetly when he was here.”

The thought of one day when she had done more than smile at this young man brought even a deeper color than before to her face.

“Please do not say any more about him, Bert,” she answered with a little pain in her voice; “he is all right, but I am too poor and too proud to satisfy his mother, so that is all there is or ever will be to it.” Then she added in self-protection, “Tell me about the island girl I heard you fell in love with on the yachting-trip, and for whom you deserted the crowd.” It was his turn to look confused, and he did, in a way that smote his keen-eyed sister with sudden dread. “It is true, Bertie,” she said quickly; “I can see it in your face. That explains your short letters.” A little quiver passed over her lips and down the round chin like a tiny ripple on still water, and she added pathetically, “I hated to believe it, but it cannot be helped, I suppose. I shall feel more desolate now than ever.” Then womanlike she said, “Is she very pretty, Bertie? She must be, or you would not have fallen in love with her so soon.”

There was no use in concealment or evasion, and it was not like him to resort to either. “Alice, my sweet little sister,” he replied, resolutely drawing his chair near and taking her hand, “it is true, and I intended to tell you all about it, only I hated to do it at first, and so put it off. She is more than pretty, she is beautiful, and the most unaffected and tender-hearted girl I ever met. But you need not worry. She is so devoted to the two old people who have brought her up as their own that she will not leave them for me as long as they live.” Then he added regretfully, “So you see I must be a patient waiter for a long time yet.” Then he frankly told Alice the entire story of his waif of the sea, and how even at the last moment she had refused to yield to his pleading.

“And now, sweet sister,” he said at last, “I have a plan to unfold, and I want you to consider it well. I am now earning enough to maintain a home, and I am sick and tired of boarding-house life. It is not likely I shall marry the girl I love for many years to come, and there is no need for us to be separated in this way. I think it is best that we close the house, or rent it for the present, and you and Aunt Susan come to Boston. I can hire a pretty flat, and we can take down such of the furniture as we need, and store the rest. What do you think of the plan?”

“Oh, I shall be so glad of the change, Bertie!” she answered, brightening; “it is so desolate here, and you do not know how I dread the long winter.” And then she added quickly, “But what can I do in Boston? I cannot be idle; I should not be contented if I were.”

“Will not housekeeping for me be occupation enough?” he answered, smiling, “or you might give music lessons and study shorthand. I need a typewriter even now, and in a few months must have one.”

She was silent, considering the matter in its various bearings for a few moments, and then said: “But what will Aunt Susan think of the change, and it will be such a change for her; like going into a new world!”

“Well, she will have to get used to it,” he answered; “at any rate, it is not wise for us to go on in this way solely for her comfort.”

Then, as Alice began to realize what it meant to bid good-by to the scenes of her childhood, the old home, the great trees in front, the broad meadows, the brook that rippled through them, the little church where every one greeted her with a smile, and the grand old hills that surrounded Sandgate’s peaceful valley, her heart began to sink. Then she thought of the pleasant woods where she had so often gone nutting in autumn, the old mill-pond where every summer since babyhood she had gathered lilies, and even those barefooted school-children of hers, every one of whom had come to love the pretty teacher, came into her thoughts. Life in Sandgate did not seem so desolate to her as it had, and the thought of going away grew less attractive.

“I shall dislike to go, after all,” she said at last, “but perhaps it is best. I shall cry when I leave here, I know, and be very homesick for a spell, but then I shall have you, and that is a good deal.” Then this mingled clouds and sunshine of a girl deliberately rose, and like a big baby, crept into her brother’s lap, and tucking her sunny head under his chin, whispered, “Oh, if you were never going to be married, Bertie, I would leave it all and try to be contented. I could come up here every summer, and go the rounds, could I not?” Then she added disconsolately, “But you will get married, and in less than a year, too. I know it. Your beautiful island girl cannot and will not keep you waiting so long. I could not if I were she, I know.”

Then that big brother, blessed with such an adorable sister, raised her face so he could look into her blue eyes and said, “No sweetheart and no wife shall ever lessen my love for you, Alice, who have been my playmate, my companion, and my confidant all my life. And if you are likely to be homesick and unhappy in Boston, we will abandon the plan at once.”

“Let me think about it a few weeks first,” she replied. “I could not go away until this term of school is over, and that will not be till Christmas.”

Then after those two good friends had discussed the proposed step in all its bearings for a half hour Albert said, “Come, now, sis, sing a little for me; I am hungry to hear you once more.”

She complied willingly, and as the mischievous heartbreaker never forgot to pay an old score, the moment she was seated at the piano she began with “Hold the Fort,” and singing every verse of that, followed it with “Pull for the Shore.”

Her brother never winced, and after she had inflicted two more of those well-worn gospel hymns upon him he quietly remarked, “My dear sis, you are not punishing me for what I once said half as much as you think you are. Sing some more of them; they sound like old times.” And it was true, too.

The latest and most classic compositions are all very well for highly cultured ears afflicted with Wagnerian delirium; but for plain, ordinary country-born people, such as Albert was, there is a sweet association in the old songs first heard in childhood that no classic productions can usurp. The “Quilting Party” will surely recall some moonlight walk home with a boyhood sweetheart along a maple-shaded lane, when “on your arm a soft hand rested,” and “Money Musk” will carry you back to a lantern-lit barn floor with one fiddler perched on a pile of meal bags; and how delightful it was to clasp that same sweet girl’s waist when “balance and swing” came echoing from the rafters.

And so that evening, as the piquant voice of Alice Page trilled the list from “Lily Dale” to “Suwanee River” and back to “Bonny Eloise” and “Patter of the Rain,” Albert lazily puffed his cigar and lived over his boyhood days.

When the concert was ended he exclaimed:

“Do you know, sis, that an evening like this in Boston would seem like a little taste of heaven to me, after I came back from the all-day grind among hard-hearted, selfish men who think only of the mighty dollar! And now you see why I want you to come to Boston to live.”

It pleased that loving sister of his wonderfully, for as yet her brother was far dearer than any other living person. No lover had so far usurped his place or seemed to her as likely to. She gave him a grateful look and smile that prompted him to say:

“Now I will look around before Christmas and see what kind of a flat can be found, and then when your school closes you must come down and visit me and see how you like Boston.”

“Oh, that will be just delightful,” was the rejoinder, “only you must promise not to tell the Nasons that I am coming.”

“But if they find it out, Blanch and Frank would feel bitterly hurt,” he replied; “remember, they did you the honor of coming up here to visit you, and Blanch has said to me several times that she hoped you would visit her this winter.”

“I should love to,” replied Alice, hesitating, “but-well, I will tell you what we can do: we will wait until the day before I am to return, and then we can call there one evening. They need not know how long I have been in Boston.”

Albert looked curiously at his sister. “I think I understand you, sis,” he observed, “and that is right; but is it not a little rough on Frank? He has settled down to hard study and sticks to it, and really is an exemplary young man and a good fellow. I am growing very fond of him, and should dislike to have you actually offend him.”

“I do not want to offend him, by any means,” said Alice soberly, “and neither do I want him or his haughty mother to think I am disposed to put myself in his way. If he wants to see me, let him come here.”

The next day Albert and Alice felt obliged to attend church, as all the good people of Sandgate usually so observed Thanksgiving day, and he was gladdened by many a cordial handshake and kindly inquiry from old friends. Alice as usual sang in the choir, and when the services were over they returned, to find that Aunt Susan had the honored emblem of the day well browned and ready for the table. In a way the meal was a trifle saddened, for in spite of the good cheer, it brought back to all three recollections of those who would never more be present. And that evening both brother and sister called on Abby Miles, more to escape the home mood than to enjoy her society.

When morning and departure came Albert said: “I will do as you wish, sweet sister, and unless some of the Nasons should meet us at a theatre, I imagine it will work all right. Only it is a little rough on Frank, after all.”