Read CHAPTER XL - “YES OR NO” of Uncle Terry A Story of the Maine Coast , free online book, by Charles Clark Munn, on

A woman’s heart, as transitory as the wind, as evanescent as the rainbow, and as tender as spring violets, is hard to portray with pen, and for that reason the summer-day nature of Alice Page is but faintly outlined. When on the morning of her departure from Boston she stood beside the train exchanging the usual good-by words with her brother, she was surprised at being joined by Blanch and Frank. The former brought her a tasty basket of lunch, sent with her mother’s compliments, and the latter an elaborate bouquet of flowers.

“I want to kiss you good-by,” said Blanch, and when the two had embraced and Frank had uttered a suitable speech, Alice kissed her brother and took her seat. No one apparently noticed that Frank was not on the platform when the train started, and when it was well under way Alice was astonished to see him enter the car. She was, as may be expected, feeling rather blue, and the sight of his cheerful face was a pleasant surprise.

“You will not object to my company home, will you?” he asked at once; “I thought you might be lonesome, and as I have not had a chance to talk to you since you came to Boston, I decided to go up with you. I can come back on the night train,” he added rather apologetically, “or if you prefer to ride alone, I can get off at the next station.”

“Oh, no, I am very glad of your company,” she replied sincerely, “and it was good of you to think of it. It is a long ride and I have had such a nice time I should have been disconsolate. You did not know,” she added archly, “that one reason I came to Boston was to look at rents. Bert wants us to come here and keep house for him, Aunt Susan and me.”

“And are you going to do it?” put in Frank, with sudden interest; “I hope so, for that would give me a chance to take you to the theatres.”

“No, the plan is off for the present,” she answered; “not but that I would like to, but for many reasons, one of which is Aunt Susan, we think it is not best.”

Frank was a little ill at ease, and in a way did not feel certain he was welcome. Even without his sister’s advice he would not have considered it good taste to press his suit while Alice was their guest. But now it occurred to him that to escort her home would be a wise move. “By all means go back with her,” Blanch had replied when he broached his idea, “and by the time you have reached Sandgate you will know where you stand in your schoolma’am’s feelings. She knows, too, how mamma feels towards her, so that obstacle is removed. And if there is any hope for you, you will know it soon; only as I told you once before, wait until the right moment comes, and then woo her quickly and courageously.”

For an hour they trundled along through the snow-clad country chatting commonplaces, and then Alice said: “Did you meet the island girl last summer that you told me Bert had fallen in love with?”

“Only once,” he replied. “Bert invited her and the old lady on board the ‘Gypsy’ and introduced them. They remained only long enough to look the yacht over. I left that day for Bethlehem, and as you know, came to Sandgate.” His eyes were on her as he said this, and he noticed that an added color came to her face.

“What did you think of this girl?” asked Alice hastily; “tell me what she looks like-is she handsome?”

It is a woman’s usual question, and a hard one for a man to answer, especially if the one who asks it is the girl he adores.

“She has a beautiful figure,” he answered, “and eyes like yours, which you know are what I admire; only they are not so full of mischief. They have a far-away look that makes you think her thoughts are a thousand miles away.”

“How was she dressed?” was the next query.

“Oh, I haven’t the least idea,” was the answer; “she might have worn calico for all I could tell. The only thing I can remember is that her dress was tight-fitting and very plain.”

Alice smiled.

“Those far-away eyes must have entranced you, your description is so lucid,” she replied sarcastically. Then she added: “How long did Bert stay there after you came away?”

“Only a few days,” replied Frank; “I never asked him. I told him to keep and use the ‘Gypsy’ as long as he wanted and then I cut stick for Blanch and-Sandgate.”

He seemed to dwell upon the little outing, and Alice, noticing it, and evasive ever, fought shy of the subject. She saw also that he was not aware of her brother’s infatuation and from motives of delicacy forbore further questioning.

“Well, how do you like my haughty mother now?” he asked, “if that is a fair question.”

It was not exactly a fair question, but conscious of the fact that she had tried to quiz him, Alice answered it frankly.

“I think she is the most gracefully charming hostess I ever met,” she replied, “and you ought to be proud of her. In a way, I think you conveyed a wrong impression of her to me the first time I met you, and it has lasted ever since.”

“I am sorry if I did,” replied Frank honestly, “I did not mean to. Mother knows how to be very nice to any one she likes and very freezing to any one she doesn’t. She fell in love with you the night you sang, and I knew she would. That is why I almost begged you on my knees to sing,” he added earnestly, “so please do not scold me for, as you say, giving a wrong impression.”

“I did not mean to scold you, Frank,” she replied, “and if I hurt you, please forgive me.” It was the first time she had ever used his first name and it made his heart beat high with hope. He would have there and then whispered of that hope, had it not been for his sister’s advice to wait for the right moment, and it was wise that he heeded that advice. When noon came he bought a pitcher of coffee all prepared, at a railroad lunch counter, and a cup and saucer, then spread a newspaper between them, and over it a napkin, and while she ate he held the cup and shared the edibles. It was not a gracefully eaten lunch, and yet it served to brush away much of the restraint that lay between them. When the hills of Sandgate were visible he said, “I have an hour before the returning train, and just time enough to see you safely home.”

Alice looked at him with surprise.

“And that is your idea of my hospitality,” she exclaimed, “to let you go away like that? The morning train is the earliest one you can escape on, and if I am not good enough company for you this evening, you can go and call on Abby Miles.”

And what a surprised and glad old lady Aunt Susan was when the two stepped off the train, and how vividly Frank recalled one year ago when he and Albert met Alice at this same cheerless depot with its one small waiting-room and adjoining shed! The same staid horse was hitched outside, and as he bundled his two charges into the sleigh and officiously took the reins, while Aunt Susan lamented because she had not known he was coming, “so’s to hev suthin’ fit to eat in the house,” he felt he was master of the situation.

“Don’t mind me, Aunt Susan,” he said with easy familiarity; “I am not a visitor, I am a big brother escorting a lone sister home.”

And how kindly that wrinkled face beamed on him behind her spectacles while he insisted that she stand by and let him unharness and see to the horse as she directed! And how willingly he carried baskets of wood in and started the parlor fire, and joked and jested with her regarding his ability as an assistant!

It warmed her old heart in a wonderful way, for her husband and only son had long years ago been laid at rest in the village “God’s acre,” and it seemed so nice to her to be noticed at all.

Then the best blue china was none too good for this event, and the hot biscuits must be made and a jar of peach preserves opened, some cold tongue sliced, and by the time Alice had changed her garb and appeared in a house-dress, he and Aunt Susan were the best of friends. It was all an odd and new experience to him, and so anxious was he to win the favor of those two people that he did not even stop to think what any of his club friends would say could they have peeped into the old-fashioned country home and seen him helping Aunt Susan. Even Alice had to laugh when she saw what he was doing.

“I did not know you could make yourself so useful,” she observed, “for even my beloved brother was never known to help aunty set the table.”

But she knew well enough what inspired him, and when supper was over he began asking her all manner of questions about her school, and when she meant to open it again, how the old miller was, and what had become of the boat, and how the mill-pond looked in winter, and had she been there since the day she gathered lilies. “Always back to that spot,” she thought, and colored a little.

Then later when she opened the piano she knew just what songs he expected, but, disposed now to tease him, sang just their opposites, and all the while the clock ticked the happy hours away.

It was ten ere he could coax her to favor him with one that suited his mood, and when he asked her for “The Last Rose of Summer” she exclaimed with a pretty pout:

“I do not want to sing that, Frank; it reminds me how scared I was when I sang it last.”

“But you brought tears into most of our eyes that night,” he answered, “so you may well feel proud of your effort.”

“Do you want to weep again?” she asked archly, looking up at him and smiling; “if you say you do, I will sing it.”

“No,” he answered, and then hesitating a moment added, “I do not feel that way to-night. I may when train-time comes to-morrow.”

Her eyes fell, for she saw what was in his thoughts, and rising quickly, like a scared bird anxious to escape, turned away.

But a strong hand clasped one of hers, and then she heard him say, “Am I to go away to-morrow happy or miserable? You know what I came up here to ask. You know what I have worked and studied and waited for all the long year since first I saw you, and for whom I have tried to become a useful man in the world instead of an idler. It was to win you and to ask this that I came here to-day.”

Then she felt an arm clasp her waist, and a voice that trembled a little say:

“Answer me, sweet Alice, is it yes or no?”

And then he felt her supple form yield a trifle, and as he gathered her close in his arms her proud head touched his shoulder.

He had won his sweet Alice.