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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 Hillsborough - 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 peril 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 awkwardly.

'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 it to 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 beautiful - 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, turning 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 sitting down to
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 drinking of
this day be done, as in Thy sight, for our eternal happiness - and
for Thy glory. Amen.'

Irving Bacheller