Eben Holden a Tale of the North Country, Chapter 24

Chapter 24

Hope returned for a few days late in August. Invitations were just issued for the harvest dance at Rickard's.

'You mus' take 'er,' said Uncle Eb, the day she came. 'She's a purty dancer as a man ever see. Prance right up an' tell 'er she mus' go. Don' want 'O let anyone git ahead O' ye.'

'Of course I will go,' she said in answer to my invitation, 'I shouldn't think you were a beau worth having if you did not ask me.'

The yellow moon was peering over Woody Ledge when we went away that evening. I knew it was our last pleasure seeking in Faraway, and the crickets in the stubble filled the silence with a kind of mourning.

She looked so fine in her big hat and new gown with its many dainty accessories of lace and ribbon, adjusted with so much patting and pulling, that as she sat beside me, I hardly dared touch her for fear of spoiling something. When she shivered a little and said it was growing cool I put my arm about her, and, as I drew her closer to my side, she turned her hat, obligingly, and said it was a great nuisance.

I tried to kiss her then, but she put her hand over my mouth and said, sweetly, that I would spoil everything if I did that

'I must not let you kiss me, William,' she said, 'not - not for all in the world. I'm sure you wouldn't have me do what I think is wrong -would you?'

There was but one answer to such an appeal, and I made myself as happy as possible feeling her head upon my shoulder and her soft hair touching my cheek. As I think of it now the trust she put in me was something sublime and holy.

'Then I shall talk about - about our love,' I said, 'I must do something.'

'Promised I wouldn't let you,' she said. Then she added after a moment of silence, 'I'll tell you what you may do - tell me what is your ideal in a woman - the one you would love best of all. I don't think that would be wicked - do you?'

'I think God would forgive that,' I said. 'She must be tall and slim, with dainty feet and hands, and a pair of big eyes, blue as a violet, shaded with long dark lashes. And her hair must be wavy and light with a little tinge of gold in it. And her cheek must have the pink of the rose and dimples that show in laughter. And her voice - that must have music in it and the ring of kindness and good-natare. And her lips - let them show the crimson of her blood and be ready to give and receive a kiss when I meet her.'

She sighed and nestled closer to me.

'If I let you kiss me just once,' she whispered, 'you will not ask me again - will you?'

'No, sweetheart, I will not,' I answered. Then we gave each other such a kiss as may be known once and only once in a lifetime.

'What would you do for the love of a girl like that?' she whispered.

I thought a moment, sounding depths of undiscovered woe to see if there were anything I should hesitate to suffer and there was nothing.

'I'd lay me doun an' dee,' I said.

And I well remember how, when I lay dying, as I believed, in rain and darkness on the bloody field of Bull Run, I thought of that moment and of those words.

'I cannot say such beautiful things as you,' she answered, when I asked her to describe her ideal. 'He must be good and he must be tall and handsome and strong and brave.'

Then she sang a tender love ballad. I have often shared the pleasure of thousands under the spell of her voice, but I have never heard her sing as to that small audience on Faraway turnpike.

As we came near Rickard's Hall we could hear the fiddles and the calling off.

The windows on the long sides of the big house were open. Long shafts of light shot out upon the gloom. It had always reminded me of a picture of Noah's ark that hung in my bedroom and now it seemed to be floating, with resting oars of gold, in a deluge of darkness. We were greeted with a noisy welcome, at the door. Many of the boys and girls came, from all sides of the big hall, and shook hands with us. Enos Brown, whose long forelocks had been oiled for the occasion and combed down so they touched his right eyebrow, was panting in a jig that jarred the house. His trouser legs were caught on the tops of his fine boots. He nodded to me as I came in, snapped his fingers and doubled his energy. It was an exhibition both of power and endurance. He was damp and apologetic when, at length, he stopped with a mighty bang of his foot and sat down beside me. He said he was badly out of practice when I offered congratulations. The first fiddler was a small man, with a short leg, and a character that was minus one dimension. It had length and breadth but no thickness. He sat with his fellow player on a little platform at one end of the room. He was an odd man who wandered all over the township with his fiddle. He played by ear, and I have seen babies smile and old men dance when his bow was swaying. I remember that when I heard it for the first time, I determined that I should be a fiddler if I ever grew to be a man. But David told me that fiddlers were a worthless lot, and that no wise man should ever fool with a fiddle. One is lucky, I have since leamed, if any dream of yesterday shall stand the better light of today or the more searching rays of tomorrow.

'Choose yer partners fer Money Musk!' the caller shouted.

Hope and I got into line, the music started, the circles began to sway. Darwin Powers, an old but frisky man, stood up beside the fiddlers, whistling, with sobriety and vigour, as they played. It was a pleasure to see some of the older men of the neighbourhood join the dizzy riot by skipping playfully in the corners. They tried to rally their unwilling wives, and generally a number of them were dancing before the night was over. The life and colour of the scene, the fresh, young faces of the girls some of them models of rustic beauty - the playful antics of the young men, the merrymaking of their fathers, the laughter, the airs of gallantry, the glances of affection - there is a magic in the thought of it all that makes me young again.

There were teams before and behind us when we came home, late at night, so sleepy that the stars went reeling as we looked at them.

'This night is the end of many things,' I remarked.

'And the beginning of better ones, I hope,' was her answer.

'Yes, but they are so far away,' I said, 'you leave home to study and I am to be four years in college-possibly I can finish in three.'

'Perfectly terrible!' she said, and then she added the favourite phrase and tone of her mother: 'We must be patient.'

'I am very sorry of one thing,' I said. 'What's that?'

'I promised not to ask you for one more kiss.'

'Well then,' said she, 'you - you - needn't ask me.' And in a moment I helped her out at the door.