Eben Holden a Tale of the North Country, Chapter 20

Chapter 20

We went back to our work again shortly, the sweetness and the bitterness of life fresh in our remembrance. When we came back, 'hook an' line', for another vacation, the fields were aglow with colour, and the roads where Dr Bigsby had felt the sting of death that winter day were now over drifted with meadow-music and the smell of clover. I had creditably taken examination for college, where I was to begin my course in the fall, with a scholarship. Hope had made remarkable progress in music and was soon going to Ogdensburg for instruction.

A year had gone, nearly, since Jed Feary had cautioned me about falling in love. I had kept enough of my heart about me 'to do business with', but I had continued to feel an uncomfortable absence in the region of it. Young men at HilIsborough - many of whom, I felt sure, had a smarter look than I - had bid stubbornly for her favour. I wondered, often, it did not turn her head - this tribute of rustic admiration. But she seemed to be all unconscious of its cause and went about her work with small conceit of herself. Many a time they had tried to take her from my arm at the church door - a good-natured phase of youthful rivalry there in those days - but she had always said, laughingly, 'No, thank you,' and clung all the closer to me. Now Jed Feary had no knowledge of the worry it gave me, or of the penl it suggested. I knew that, if I felt free to tell him all, he would give me other counsel. I was now seventeen and she a bit older, and had I not heard of many young men and women who had been engaged - aye, even married - at that age? Well, as it happened, a day before she left us, to go to her work in Ogdensburg, where she was to live with her uncle, I made an end of delay. I considered carefully what a man ought to say in the circumstances, and I thought I had near an accurate notion. We were in the garden - together - the playground of our childhood.

'Hope, I have a secret to tell you,' I said.

'A secret,' she exclaimed eagerly. 'I love secrets.'

'A great secret,' I repeated, as I felt my face burning.

'Why - it must be something awful!'

'Not very,' I stammered. Having missed my cue from the beginning, I was now utterly confused.

'William!' she exclaimed, 'what is the matter of you.'

'I - I am in love,' said I, very awkwardiy.

'Is that all?' she answered, a trace of humour in her tone. 'I thought it was bad news.'

I stooped to pick a rose and handed itto her.

'Well,' she remarked soberly, but smiling a little, as she lifted the rose to her lips, 'is it anyone I know.'

I felt it was going badly with me, but caught a sudden inspiration.

'You have never seen her,' I said.

If she had suspected the truth I had turned the tables on her, and now she was guessing. A quick change came into her face, and, for a moment, it gave me confidence.

'Is she pretty?' she asked very seriously as she dropped the flower and looked down crushing it beneath her foot.

'She is very beautifial - it is you I love, Hope.'

A flood of colour came into her cheeks then, as she stood a moment looking down at the flower in silence.

'I shall keep your secret,' she said tenderly, and hesitating as she spoke, 'and when you are through college - and you are older - and I am older - and you love me as you do now - I hope - I shall love you, too - as - I do now.'

Her lips were trembling as she gave me that sweet assurance - dearer to me - far dearer than all else I remember of that golden time - and tears were coursing down her cheeks. For myself I was in a worse plight of emotion. I dare say she remembered also the look of my face in that moment.

'Do not speak of it again,' she said, as we walked away together on the shorn sod of the orchard meadow, now sown with apple blossoms, 'until we are older, and, if you never speak again, I shall know you - you do not love me any longer.'

The dinner horn sounded. We turned and walked slowly back

'Do I look all right?' she asked, turing her face to me and smiling sweetly.

'All right,' I said. 'Nobody would know that anyone loved you - except for your beauty and that one tear track on your cheek.'

She wiped it away as she laughed.

'Mother knows anyway,' she said, 'and she has given me good advice. Wait!' she added, stopping and turning to me. 'Your eyes are wet!'

I felt for my handkerchief.

'Take mine,' she said.

Elder Whitmarsh was at the house and they were all suring downto dinner as we came in.

'Hello!' said Uncle Eb. 'Here's a good-lookin' couple. We've got a chicken pie an' a Baptis' minister fer dinner an' both good. Take yer pew nex' t' the minister,' he added as he held the chair for me.

Then we all bowed our heads and I felt a hearty amen for the elder's words:

'O Lord, may all our doing and saying and eating and driniiing of this day be done, as in Thy sight, for our eternal happiness - and for Thy glory. Amen.'