A Country Christmas
Louisa May Alcott
A Country Christmas
"A handful of good life is worth a bushel of learning."
"Dear Emily,--I have a brilliant idea, and at once hasten to share it with you.
Three weeks ago I came up here to the wilds of Vermont to visit my old aunt,
also to get a little quiet and distance in which to survey certain new
prospects which have opened before me, and to decide whether I will marry
a millionnaire and become a queen of society, or remain 'the charming Miss
Vaughan' and wait till the conquering hero comes.
"Aunt Plumy begs me to stay over Christmas, and I have consented, as I
always dread the formal dinner with which my guardian celebrates the day.
"My brilliant idea is this. I'm going to make it a real old-fashioned frolic, and
won't you come and help me? You will enjoy it immensely I am sure, for
Aunt is a character. Cousin Saul worth seeing, and Ruth a far prettier girl
than any of the city rose-buds coming out this season. Bring Leonard
Randal along with you to take notes for his new books; then it will be fresher
and truer than the last, clever as it was.
"The air is delicious up here, society amusing, this old farmhouse full of
treasures, and your bosom friend pining to embrace you. Just telegraph yes
or no, and we will expect you on Tuesday.
"They will both come, for they are as tired of city life and as fond of change
as I am," said the writer of the above, as she folded her letter and went to get
it posted without delay.
Aunt Plumy was in the great kitchen making pies; a jolly old soul, with a
face as ruddy as a winter apple, a cheery voice, and the kindest heart that
ever beat under a gingham gown. Pretty Ruth was chopping the mince, and
singing so gaily as she worked that the four-and-twenty immortal blackbirds
could not have put more music into a pie than she did. Saul was piling wood
into the big oven, and Sophie paused a moment on the threshold to look at
him, for she always enjoyed the sight of this stalwart cousin, whom she
likened to a Norse viking, with his fair hair and beard, keen blue eyes, and
six feet of manly height, with shoulders that looked broad and strong
enough to bear any burden.
His back was toward her, but he saw her first, and turned his flushed face
to meet her, with the sudden lighting up it always showed when she
"I've done it, Aunt; and now I want Saul to post the letter, so we can get a
"Just as soon as I can hitch up, cousin;" and Saul pitched in his last log,
looking ready to put a girdle round the earth in less than forty minutes.
"Well, dear, I ain't the least mite of objection, as long as it pleases you. I
guess we can stan' it ef your city folks can. I presume to say things will look
kind of sing'lar to 'em, but I s'pose that's what they come for. Idle folks do
dreadful queer things to amuse 'em;" and Aunt Plumy leaned on the rolling-
pin to smile and nod with a shrewd twinkle of her eye, as if she enjoyed the
prospect as much as Sophie did.
"I shall be afraid of 'em, but I'll try not to make you ashamed of me," said
Ruth, who loved her charming cousin even more than she admired her.
"No fear of that, dear. They will be the awkward ones, and you must set
them at ease by just being your simple selves, and treating them as if they
were every-day people. Nell is very nice and jolly when she drops her city
ways, as she must here. She will enter into the spirit of the fun at once, and
I know you'll all like her. Mr. Randal is rather the worse for too much praise
and petting, as successful people are apt to be, so a little plain talk and
rough work will do him good. He is a true gentleman in spite of his airs and
elegance, and he will take it all in good part, if you treat him like a man and
not a lion."
"I'll see to him," said Saul, who had listened with great interest to the latter
part of Sophie's speech, evidently suspecting a lover, and enjoying the idea
of supplying him with a liberal amount of "plain talk and rough work."
"I'll keep 'em busy if that's what they need, for there will be a sight to do,
and we can't get help easy up here. Our darters don't hire out much. Work
to home till they marry, and don't go gaddin' 'round gettin' their heads full of
foolish notions, and forgettin' all the useful things their mothers taught
Aunt Plumy glanced at Ruth as she spoke, and a sudden color in the girl's
cheeks proved that the words hit certain ambitious fancies of this pretty
daughter of the house of Basset.
"They shall do their parts and not be a trouble; I'll see to that, for you
certainly are the dearest aunt in the world to let me take possession of you
and yours in this way," cried Sophie, embracing the old lady with warmth.
Saul wished the embrace could be returned by proxy, as his mother's hands
were too floury to do more than hover affectionately round the delicate face
that looked so fresh and young beside her wrinkled one. As it could not be
done, he fled temptation and "hitched up" without delay.
The three women laid their heads together in his absence, and Sophie's plan
grew apace, for Ruth longed to see a real novelist and a fine lady, and Aunt
Plumy, having plans of her own to further, said "Yes, dear," to every
Great was the arranging and adorning that went on that day in the old
farmhouse, for Sophie wanted her friends to enjoy this taste of country
pleasures, and knew just what additions would be indispensable to their
comfort; what simple ornaments would be in keeping with the rustic stage
on which she meant to play the part of prima donna.
Next day a telegram arrived accepting the invitation, for both the lady and
the lion. They would arrive that afternoon, as little preparation was needed
for this impromptu journey, the novelty of which was its chief charm to
these blase people.
Saul wanted to get out the double sleigh and span, for he prided himself on
his horses, and a fall of snow came most opportunely to beautify the
landscape and add a new pleasure to Christmas festivities.
But Sophie declared that the old yellow sleigh, with Punch, the farm-horse,
must be used, as she wished everything to be in keeping; and Saul obeyed,
thinking he had never seen anything prettier than his cousin when she
appeared in his mother's old-fashioned camlet cloak and blue silk pumpkin
hood. He looked remarkably well himself in his fur coat, with hair and beard
brushed till they shone like spun gold, a fresh color in his cheek, and the
sparkle of amusement in his eyes, while excitement gave his usually grave
face the animation it needed to be handsome.
Away they jogged in the creaking old sleigh, leaving Ruth to make herself
pretty, with a fluttering heart, and Aunt Plumy to dish up a late dinner fit to
tempt the most fastidious appetite.
"She has not come for us, and there is not even a stage to take us up. There
must be some mistake," said Emily Herrick, as she looked about the shabby
little station where they were set down.
"That is the never-to-be-forgotten face of our fair friend, but the bonnet of
her grandmother, if my eyes do not deceive me," answered Randal, turning
to survey the couple approaching in the rear.
"Sophie Vaughan, what do you mean by making such a guy of yourself?"
exclaimed Emily, as she kissed the smiling face in the hood and stared at
the quaint cloak.
"I'm dressed for my part, and I intend to keep it up. This is our host, my
cousin, Saul Basset. Come to the sleigh at once, he will see to your luggage,"
said Sophie, painfully conscious of the antiquity of her array as her eyes
rested on Emily's pretty hat and mantle, and the masculine elegance of
They were hardly tucked in when Saul appeared with a valise in one hand
and a large trunk on his shoulder, swinging both on to a wood-sled that
stood near by as easily as if they had been hand-bags.
"That is your hero, is it? Well, he looks it, calm and comely, taciturn and
tall," said Emily, in a tone of approbation.
"He should have been named Samson or Goliath; though I believe it was the
small man who slung things about and turned out the hero in the end,"
added Randal, surveying the performance with interest and a touch of envy,
for much pen work had made his own hands as delicate as a woman's.
"Saul doesn't live in a glass house, so stones won't hurt him. Remember
sarcasm is forbidden and sincerity the order of the day. You are country
folks now, and it will do you good to try their simple, honest ways for a few
Sophie had no time to say more, for Saul came up and drove off with the
brief remark that the baggage would "be along right away."
Being hungry, cold and tired, the guests were rather silent during the short
drive, but Aunt Plumy's hospitable welcome, and the savory fumes of the
dinner awaiting them, thawed the ice and won their hearts at once.
"Isn't it nice? Aren't you glad you came?" asked Sophie, as she led her
friends into the parlor, which she had redeemed from its primness by
putting bright chintz curtains to the windows, hemlock boughs over the old
portraits, a china bowl of flowers on the table, and a splendid fire on the
"It is perfectly jolly, and this is the way I begin to enjoy myself," answered
Emily, sitting down upon the home-made rug, whose red flannel roses
bloomed in a blue list basket.
"If I may add a little smoke to your glorious fire, it will be quite perfect.
Won't Samson join me?" asked Randal, waiting for permission, cigar-case in
"He has no small vices, but you may indulge yours," answered Sophie, from
the depths of a grandmotherly chair.
Emily glanced up at her friend as if she caught a new tone in her voice, then
turned to the fire again with a wise little nod, as if confiding some secret to
the reflection of herself in the bright brass andiron.
"His Delilah does not take this form. I wait with interest to discover if he has
one. What a daisy the sister is. Does she ever speak?" asked Randal, trying
to lounge on the haircloth sofa, where he was slipping uncomfortably about.
"Oh yes, and sings like a bird. You shall hear her when she gets over her
shyness. But no trifling, mind you, for it is a jealously guarded daisy and
not to be picked by any idle hand," said Sophie warningly, as she recalled
Ruth's blushes and Randal's compliments at dinner.
"I should expect to be annihilated by the big brother if I attempted any but
the 'sincerest' admiration and respect. Have no fears on that score, but tell
us what is to follow this superb dinner. An apple bee, spinning match,
husking party, or primitive pastime of some sort, I have no doubt."
"As you are new to our ways I am going to let you rest this evening. We will
sit about the fire and tell stories. Aunt is a master hand at that, and Saul
has reminiscences of the war that are well worth hearing if we can only get
him to tell them."
"Ah, he was there, was he?"
"Yes, all through it, and is Major Basset, though he likes his plain name
best. He fought splendidly and had several wounds, though only a mere boy
when he earned his scars and bars. I'm very proud of him for that," and
Sophie looked so as she glanced at the photograph of a stripling in uniform
set in the place of honor on the high mantel-piece.
"We must stir him up and hear these martial memories. I want some new
incidents, and shall book all I can get, if I may."
Here Randal was interrupted by Saul himself, who came in with an armful
of wood for the fire.
"Anything more I can do for you, cousin?" he asked, surveying the scene
with a rather wistful look.
"Only come and sit with us and talk over war times with Mr. Randal."
"When I've foddered the cattle and done my chores I'd be pleased to. What
regiment were you in?" asked Saul, looking down from his lofty height upon
the slender gentleman, who answered briefly,--
"In none. I was abroad at the time."
"No, busy with a novel."
"Took four years to write it?"
"I was obliged to travel and study before I could finish it. These things take
more time to work up than outsiders would believe."
"Seems to me our war was a finer story than any you could find in Europe,
and the best way to study it would be to fight it out. If you want heroes and
heroines you'd have found plenty of 'em there."
"I have no doubt of it, and shall be glad to atone for my seeming neglect of
them by hearing about your own exploits. Major."
Randal hoped to turn the conversation gracefully, but Saul was not to be
caught, and left the room, saying, with a gleam of fun in his eye,--
"I can't stop now; heroes can wait, pigs can't."
The girls laughed at this sudden descent from the sublime to the ridiculous,
and Randal joined them, feeling his condescension had not been
As if drawn by the merry sound Aunt Plumy appeared, and being
established in the rocking-chair fell to talking as easily as if she had known
her guests for years.
"Laugh away, young folks, that's better for digestion than any of the messes
people use. Are you troubled with dyspepsy, dear? You didn't seem to take
your vittles very hearty, so I mistrusted you was delicate," she said, looking
at Emily, whose pale cheeks and weary eyes told the story of late hours and
a gay life.
"I haven't eaten so much for years, I assure you, Mrs. Basset; but it was
impossible to taste all your good things. I am not dyspeptic, thank you, but
a little seedy and tired, for I've been working rather hard lately."
"Be you a teacher? or have you a 'perfessun,' as they call a trade
nowadays?" asked the old lady in a tone of kindly interest, which prevented
a laugh at the idea of Emily's being anything but a beauty and a belle. The
others kept their countenances with difficulty, and she answered demurely,-
"I have no trade as yet, but I dare say I should be happier if I had."
"Not a doubt on't, my dear."
"What would you recommend, ma'am?"
"I should say dressmakin' was rather in your line, ain't it? Your clothes is
dreadful tasty, and do you credit if you made 'em yourself." and Aunt Plumy
surveyed with feminine interest the simple elegance of the travelling dress
which was the masterpiece of a French modiste.
"No, ma'am, I don't make my own things, I'm too lazy. It takes so much time
and trouble to select them that I have only strength left to wear them."
"Housekeepin' used to be the favorite perfessun in my day. It ain't
fashionable now, but it needs a sight of trainin' to be perfect in all that's
required, and I've an idee it would be a sight healthier and usefuller than
the paintin' and music and fancy work young women do nowadays."
"But every one wants some beauty in their lives, and each one has a
different sphere to fill, if one can only find it."
"'Pears to me there's no call for so much art when nater is full of beauty for
them that can see and love it. As for 'spears' and so on, I've a notion if each
of us did up our own little chores smart and thorough we needn't go
wanderin' round to set the world to rights. That's the Lord's job, and I
presume to say He can do it without any advice of ourn."
Something in the homely but true words seemed to rebuke the three
listeners for wasted lives, and for a moment there was no sound but the
crackle of the fire, the brisk click of the old lady's knitting needles, and
Ruth's voice singing overhead as she made ready to join the party below.
"To judge by that sweet sound you have done one of your 'chores' very
beautifully, Mrs. Basset, and in spite of the follies of our day, succeeded in
keeping one girl healthy, happy and unspoiled," said Emily, looking up into
the peaceful old face with her own lovely one full of respect and envy.
"I do hope so, for she's my ewe lamb, the last of four dear little girls; all the
rest are in the burying ground 'side of father. I don't expect to keep her long,
and don't ought to regret when I lose her, for Saul is the best of sons; but
daughters is more to mothers somehow, and I always yearn over girls that is
left without a broodin' wing to keep 'em safe and warm in this world of
Aunt Plumy laid her hand on Sophie's head as she spoke, with such a
motherly look that both girls drew nearer, and Randal resolved to put her in
a book without delay.
Presently Saul returned with little Ruth hanging on his arm and shyly
nestling near him as he took the three-cornered leathern chair in the
chimney nook, while she sat on a stool close by.
"Now the circle is complete and the picture perfect. Don't light the lamps yet,
please, but talk away and let me make a mental study of you. I seldom find
so charming a scene to paint," said Randal, beginning to enjoy himself
immensely, with a true artist's taste for novelty and effect.
"Tell us about your book, for we have been reading it as it comes out in the
magazine, and are much exercised about how it's going to end," began Saul,
gallantly throwing himself into the breach, for a momentary embarrassment
fell upon the women at the idea of sitting for their portraits before they were
"Do you really read my poor serial up here, and do me the honor to like it?"
asked the novelist, both flattered and amused, for his work was of the
aesthetic sort, microscopic studies of character, and careful pictures of
"Sakes alive, why shouldn't we?" cried Aunt Plumy. "We have some
eddication, though we ain't very genteel. We've got a town libry, kep up by
the women mostly, with fairs and tea parties and so on. We have all the
magazines reg'lar, and Saul reads out the pieces while Ruth sews and I knit,
my eyes bein' poor. Our winter is long and evenins would be kinder
lonesome if we didn't have novils and newspapers to cheer 'em up."
"I am very glad I can help to beguile them for you. Now tell me what you
honestly think of my work? Criticism is always valuable, and I should really
like yours, Mrs. Basset," said Randal, wondering what the good woman
would make of the delicate analysis and worldly wisdom on which he prided
Short work, as Aunt Plumy soon showed him, for she rather enjoyed freeing
her mind at all times, and decidedly resented the insinuation that country
folk could not appreciate light literature as well as city people.
"I ain't no great of a jedge about anything but nat'ralness of books, and it
really does seem as if some of your men and women was dreadful
uncomfortable creaters. 'Pears to me it ain't wise to be always pickin'
ourselves to pieces and pryin' into things that ought to come gradual by way
of experience and the visitations of Providence. Flowers won't blow worth a
cent ef you pull 'em open. Better wait and see what they can do alone. I do
relish the smart sayins, the odd ways of furrin parts, and the sarcastic slaps
at folkses weak spots. But massy knows, we can't live on spice-cake and
Charlotte Ruche, and I do feel as if books was more sustainin' ef they was
full of every-day people and things, like good bread and butter. Them that
goes to the heart and ain't soon forgotten is the kind I hanker for. Mis
Terry's books now, and Mis Stowe's, and Dickens's Christmas pieces,--them
is real sweet and cheerin', to my mind."
As the blunt old lady paused it was evident she had produced a sensation,
for Saul smiled at the fire, Ruth looked dismayed at this assault upon one of
her idols, and the young ladies were both astonished and amused at the
keenness of the new critic who dared express what they had often felt.
Randal, however, was quite composed and laughed good-naturedly, though
secretly feeling as if a pail of cold water had been poured over him.
"Many thanks, madam; you have discovered my weak point with surprising
accuracy. But you see I cannot help 'picking folks to pieces,' as you have
expressed it; that is my gift, and it has its attractions, as the sale of my
books will testify. People like the 'spice-bread,' and as that is the only sort
my oven will bake, I must keep on in order to make my living."
"So rumsellers say, but it ain't a good trade to foller, and I'd chop wood 'fore
I'd earn my livin' harmin' my feller man. 'Pears to me I'd let my oven cool a
spell, and hunt up some homely, happy folks to write about; folks that don't
borrer trouble and go lookin' for holes in their neighbors' coats, but take
their lives brave and cheerful; and rememberin' we are all human, have pity
on the weak, and try to be as full of mercy, patience and lovin' kindness as
Him who made us. That sort of a book would do a heap of good; be real
warmin' and strengthening and make them that read it love the man that
wrote it, and remember him when he was dead and gone."
"I wish I could!" and Randal meant what he said, for he was as tired of his
own style as a watch-maker might be of the magnifying glass through which
he strains his eyes all day. He knew that the heart was left out of his work,
and that both mind and soul were growing morbid with dwelling on the
faulty, absurd and metaphysical phases of life and character. He often threw
down his pen and vowed he would write no more; but he loved ease and the
books brought money readily; he was accustomed to the stimulant of praise
and missed it as the toper misses his wine, so that which had once been a
pleasure to himself and others was fast becoming a burden and a
The brief pause which followed his involuntary betrayal of discontent was
broken by Ruth, who exclaimed, with a girlish enthusiasm that overpowered
"I think all the novels are splendid! I hope you will write hundreds more, and
I shall live to read 'em."
"Bravo, my gentle champion! I promise that I will write one more at least,
and have a heroine in it whom your mother will both admire and love,"
answered Randal, surprised to find how grateful he was for the girl's
approval, and how rapidly his trained fancy began to paint the background
on which he hoped to copy this fresh, human daisy.
Abashed by her involuntary outburst, Ruth tried to efface herself behind
Saul's broad shoulder, and he brought the conversation back to its starting-
point by saying in a tone of the most sincere interest,--
"Speaking of the serial, I am very anxious to know how your hero comes out.
He is a fine fellow, and I can't decide whether he is going to spoil his life
marrying that silly woman, or do something grand and generous, and not be
made a fool of."
"Upon my soul, I don't know myself. It is very hard to find new finales. Can't
you suggest something, Major? then I shall not be obliged to leave my story
without an end, as people complain I am rather fond of doing."
"Well, no, I don't think I've anything to offer. Seems to me it isn't the
sensational exploits that show the hero best, but some great sacrifice quietly
made by a common sort of man who is noble without knowing it. I saw a
good many such during the war, and often wish I could write them down, for
it is surprising how much courage, goodness and real piety is stowed away
in common folks ready to show when the right time comes."
"Tell us one of them, and I'll bless you for a hint. No one knows the anguish
of an author's spirit when he can't ring down the curtain on an effective
tableau," said Randal, with a glance at his friends to ask their aid in eliciting
an anecdote or reminiscence.
"Tell about the splendid fellow who held the bridge, like Horatius, till help
came up. That was a thrilling story, I assure you," answered Sophie, with an
But Saul would not be his own hero, and said briefly:
"Any man can be brave when the battle-fever is on him, and it only takes a
little physical courage to dash ahead." He paused a moment, with his eyes
on the snowy landscape without, where twilight was deepening; then, as if
constrained by the memory that winter scene evoked, he slowly continued,--
"One of the bravest things I ever knew was done by a poor fellow who has
been a hero to me ever since, though I only met him that night. It was after
one of the big battles of that last winter, and I was knocked over with a
broken leg and two or three bullets here and there. Night was coming on,
snow falling, and a sharp wind blew over the field where a lot of us lay, dead
and alive, waiting for the ambulance to come and pick us up. There was
skirmishing going on not far off, and our prospects were rather poor
between frost and fire. I was calculating how I'd manage, when I found two
poor chaps close by who were worse off, so I braced up and did what I could
for them. One had an arm blown away, and kept up a dreadful groaning.
The other was shot bad, and bleeding to death for want of help, but never
complained. He was nearest, and I liked his pluck, for he spoke cheerful and
made me ashamed to growl. Such times make dreadful brutes of men if they
haven't something to hold on to, and all three of us were most wild with pain
and cold and hunger, for we'd fought all day fasting, when we heard a
rumble in the road below, and saw lanterns bobbing round. That meant life
to us, and we all tried to holler; two of us were pretty faint, but I managed a
good yell, and they heard it.
"'Room for one more. Hard luck, old boys, but we are full and must save the
worst wounded first. Take a drink, and hold on till we come back,' says one
of them with the stretcher.
"'Here's the one to go,' I says, pointin' out my man, for I saw by the light that
he was hard hit.
"'No, that one. He's got more chances than I, or this one; he's young and got
a mother; I'll wait,' said the good feller, touchin' my arm, for he 'd heard me
mutterin' to myself about this dear old lady. We always want mother when
we are down, you know."
Saul's eyes turned to the beloved face with a glance of tenderest affection,
and Aunt Plumy answered with a dismal groan at the recollection of his
need that night, and her absence.
"Well, to be short, the groaning chap was taken, and my man left. I was
mad, but there was no time for talk, and the selfish one went off and left
that poor feller to run his one chance. I had my rifle, and guessed I could
hobble up to use it if need be; so we settled back to wait without much hope
of help, everything being in a muddle. And wait we did till morning, for that
ambulance did not come back till next day, when most of us were past
"I'll never forget that night. I dream it all over again as plain as if it was real.
Snow, cold, darkness, hunger, thirst, pain, and all round us cries and
cursing growing less and less, till at last only the wind went moaning over
that meadow. It was awful! so lonesome, helpless, and seemingly God-
forsaken. Hour after hour we lay there side by side under one coat, waiting
to be saved or die, for the wind grew strong and we grew weak."
Saul drew a long breath, and held his hands to the fire as if he felt again the
sharp suffering of that night.
"And the man?" asked Emily, softly, as if reluctant to break the silence.
"He was a man! In times like that men talk like brothers and show what they
are. Lying there, slowly freezing, Joe Cummings told me about his wife and
babies, his old folks waiting for him, all depending on him, yet all ready to
give him up when he was needed. A plain man, but honest and true, and
loving as a woman; I soon saw that as he went on talking, half to me and
half to himself, for sometimes he wandered a little toward the end. I've read
books, heard sermons, and seen good folks, but nothing ever came so close
or did me so much good as seeing this man die. He had one chance and
gave it cheerfully. He longed for those he loved, and let 'em go with a good-
by they couldn't hear. He suffered all the pains we most shrink from without
a murmur, and kept my heart warm while his own was growing cold. It's no
use trying to tell that part of it; but I heard prayers that night that meant
something, and I saw how faith could hold a soul up when everything was
gone but God."
Saul stopped there with a sudden huskiness in his deep voice, and when he
went on it was in the tone of one who speaks of a dear friend.
"Joe grew still by and by, and I thought he was asleep, for I felt his breath
when I tucked him up, and his hand held on to mine. The cold sort of
numbed me, and I dropped off, too weak and stupid to think or feel. I never
should have waked up if it hadn't been for Joe. When I came to, it was
morning, and I thought I was dead, for all I could see was that great field of
white mounds, like graves, and a splendid sky above. Then I looked for Joe,
remembering; but he had put my coat back over me, and lay stiff and still
under the snow that covered him like a shroud, all except his face. A bit of
my cape had blown over it, and when I took it off and the sun shone on his
dead face, I declare to you it was so full of heavenly peace I felt as if that
common man had been glorified by God's light, and rewarded by God's 'Well
done.' That's all."
No one spoke for a moment, while the women wiped their eyes, and Saul
dropped his as if to hide something softer than tears.
"It was very noble, very touching. And you? how did you get off at last?"
asked Randal, with real admiration and respect in his usually languid face.
"Crawled off," answered Saul, relapsing into his former brevity of speech.
"Why not before, and save yourself all that misery?"
"Couldn't leave Joe."
"Ah, I see; there were two heroes that night."
"Dozens, I've no doubt. Those were times that made heroes of men, and
"Tell us more;" begged Emily, looking up with an expression none of her
admirers ever brought to her face by their softest compliments or wiliest
"I've done my part. It's Mr. Randal's turn now;" and Saul drew himself out of
the ruddy circle of firelight, as if ashamed of the prominent part he was
Sophie and her friend had often heard Randal talk, for he was an
accomplished raconteur, but that night he exerted himself, and was
unusually brilliant and entertaining, as if upon his mettle. The Bassets were
charmed. They sat late and were very merry, for Aunt Plumy got up a little
supper for them, and her cider was as exhilarating as champagne. When
they parted for the night and Sophie kissed her aunt, Emily did the same,
"It seems as if I'd known you all my life, and this is certainly the most
enchanting old place that ever was."
"Glad you like it, dear. But it ain't all fun, as you'll find out to-morrow when
you go to work, for Sophie says you must," answered Mrs. Basset, as her
guests trooped away, rashly promising to like everything.
They found it difficult to keep their word when they were called at half past
six next morning. Their rooms were warm, however, and they managed to
scramble down in time for breakfast, guided by the fragrance of coffee and
Aunt Plumy's shrill voice singing the good old hymn--
"Lord, in the morning Thou shalt hear
My voice ascending high."An open fire blazed on the hearth, for the cooking
was done in the lean-to, and the spacious, sunny kitchen was kept in all its
old-fashioned perfection, with the wooden settle in a warm nook, the tall
clock behind the door, copper and pewter utensils shining on the dresser,
old china in the corner closet and a little spinning wheel rescued from the
garret by Sophie to adorn the deep window, full of scarlet geraniums,
Christmas roses, and white chrysanthemums.
The young lady, in a checked apron and mob-cap, greeted her friends with a
dish of buckwheats in one hand, and a pair of cheeks that proved she had
been learning to fry these delectable cakes.
"You do 'keep it up' in earnest, upon my word; and very becoming it is, dear.
But won't you ruin your complexion and roughen your hands if you do so
much of this new fancy-work?" asked Emily, much amazed at this novel
"I like it, and really believe I've found my proper sphere at last. Domestic life
seems so pleasant to me that I feel as if I'd better keep it up for the rest of
my life," answered Sophie, making a pretty picture of herself as she cut
great slices of brown bread, with the early sunshine touching her happy
"The charming Miss Vaughan in the role of a farmer's wife. I find it difficult
to imagine, and shrink from the thought of the wide-spread dismay such a
fate will produce among her adorers," added Randal, as he basked in the
glow of the hospitable fire.
"She might do worse; but come to breakfast and do honor to my handiwork,"
said Sophie, thinking of her worn-out millionnaire, and rather nettled by the
satiric smile on Randal's lips.
"What an appetite early rising gives one. I feel equal to almost anything, so
let me help wash cups," said Emily, with unusual energy, when the hearty
meal was over and Sophie began to pick up the dishes as if it was her usual
Ruth went to the window to water the flowers, and Randal followed to make
himself agreeable, remembering her defence of him last night. He was used
to admiration from feminine eyes, and flattery from soft lips, but found
something new and charming in the innocent delight which showed itself at
his approach in blushes more eloquent than words, and shy glances from
eyes full of hero-worship.
"I hope you are going to spare me a posy for to-morrow night, since I can be
fine in no other way to do honor to the dance Miss Sophie proposes for us,"
he said, leaning in the bay window to look down on the little girl, with the
devoted air he usually wore for pretty women.
"Anything you like! I should be so glad to have you wear my flowers. There
will be enough for all, and I've nothing else to give to people who have made
me as happy as cousin Sophie and you," answered Ruth, half drowning her
great calla as she spoke with grateful warmth.
"You must make her happy by accepting the invitation to go home with her
which I heard given last night. A peep at the world would do you good, and
be a pleasant change, I think."
"Oh, very pleasant! but would it do me good?" and Ruth looked up with
sudden seriousness in her blue eyes, as a child questions an elder, eager,
"Why not?" asked Randal, wondering at the hesitation.
"I might grow discontented with things here if I saw splendid houses and
fine people. I am very happy now, and it would break my heart to lose that
happiness, or ever learn to be ashamed of home."
"But don't you long for more pleasure, new scenes and other friends than
these?" asked the man, touched by the little creature's loyalty to the things
she knew and loved.
"Very often, but mother says when I'm ready they will come, so I wait and
try not to be impatient." But Ruth's eyes looked out over the green leaves as
if the longing was very strong within her to see more of the unknown world
lying beyond the mountains that hemmed her in.
"It is natural for birds to hop out of the nest, so I shall expect to see you over
there before long, and ask you how you enjoy your first flight," said Randal,
in a paternal tone that had a curious effect on Ruth.
To his surprise, she laughed, then blushed like one of her own roses, and
answered with a demure dignity that was very pretty to see.
"I intend to hop soon, but it won't be a very long flight or very far from
mother. She can't spare me, and nobody in the world can fill her place to
"Bless the child, does she think I'm going to make love to her," thought
Randal, much amused, but quite mistaken. Wiser women had thought so
when he assumed the caressing air with which he beguiled them into the
little revelations of character he liked to use, as the south wind makes
flowers open their hearts to give up their odor, then leaves them to carry it
elsewhere, the more welcome for the stolen sweetness.
"Perhaps you are right. The maternal wing is a safe shelter for confiding little
souls like you, Miss Ruth. You will be as comfortable here as your flowers in
this sunny window," he said, carelessly pinching geranium leaves, and
ruffling the roses till the pink petals of the largest fluttered to the floor.
As if she instinctively felt and resented something in the man which his act
symbolized, the girl answered quietly, as she went on with her work, "Yes, if
the frost does not touch me, or careless people spoil me too soon."
Before Randal could reply Aunt Plumy approached like a maternal hen who
sees her chicken in danger.
"Saul is goin' to haul wood after he's done his chores, mebbe you'd like to go
along? The view is good, the roads well broke, and the day uncommon fine."
"Thanks; it will be delightful, I dare say," politely responded the lion, with a
secret shudder at the idea of a rural promenade at 8 A.M. in the winter.
"Come on, then; we'll feed the stock, and then I'll show you how to yoke
oxen," said Saul, with a twinkle in his eye as he led the way, when his new
aide had muffled himself up as if for a polar voyage.
"Now, that's too bad of Saul! He did it on purpose, just to please you,
Sophie," cried Ruth presently, and the girls ran to the window to behold
Randal bravely following his host with a pail of pigs' food in each hand, and
an expression of resigned disgust upon his aristocratic face.
"To what base uses may we come," quoted Emily, as they all nodded and
smiled upon the victim as he looked back from the barn-yard, where he was
clamorously welcomed by his new charges.
"It is rather a shock at first, but it will do him good, and Saul won't be too
hard upon him, I'm sure," said Sophie, going back to her work, while Ruth
turned her best buds to the sun that they might be ready for a peace-
There was a merry clatter in the big kitchen for an hour; then Aunt Plumy
and her daughter shut themselves up in the pantry to perform some
culinary rites, and the young ladies went to inspect certain antique
costumes laid forth in Sophie's room.
"You see, Em, I thought it would be appropriate to the house and season to
have an old-fashioned dance. Aunt has quantities of ancient finery stowed
away, for great-grandfather Basset was a fine old gentleman and his family
lived in state. Take your choice of the crimson, blue or silver-gray damask.
Ruth is to wear the worked muslin and quilted white satin skirt, with that
"Being dark, I'll take the red and trim it up with this fine lace. You must
wear the blue and primrose, with the distracting high-heeled shoes. Have
you any suits for the men?" asked Emily, throwing herself at once into the
all-absorbing matter of costume.
"A claret velvet coat and vest, silk stockings, cocked hat and snuff-box for
Randal. Nothing large enough for Saul, so he must wear his uniform. Won't
Aunt Plumy be superb in this plum-colored satin and immense cap?"
A delightful morning was spent in adapting the faded finery of the past to
the blooming beauty of the present, and time and tongues flew till the toot of
a horn called them down to dinner.
The girls were amazed to see Randal come whistling up the road with his
trousers tucked into his boots, blue mittens on his hands, and an unusual
amount of energy in his whole figure, as he drove the oxen, while Saul
laughed at his vain attempts to guide the bewildered beasts.
"It's immense! The view from the hill is well worth seeing, for the snow
glorifies the landscape and reminds one of Switzerland. I'm going to make a
sketch of it this afternoon; better come and enjoy the delicious freshness,
Randal was eating with such an appetite that he did not see the glances the
girls exchanged as they promised to go.
"Bring home some more winter-green, I want things to be real nice, and we
haven't enough for the kitchen," said Ruth, dimpling with girlish delight as
she imagined herself dancing under the green garlands in her grandmother's
It was very lovely on the hill, for far as the eye could reach lay the wintry
landscape sparkling with the brief beauty of sunshine on virgin snow. Pines
sighed overhead, hardy birds flitted to and fro, and in all the trodden spots
rose the little spires of evergreen ready for its Christmas duty. Deeper in the
wood sounded the measured ring of axes, the crash of falling trees, while the
red shirts of the men added color to the scene, and a fresh wind brought the
aromatic breath of newly cloven hemlock and pine.
"How beautiful it is! I never knew before what winter woods were like. Did
you, Sophie?" asked Emily, sitting on a stump to enjoy the novel pleasure at
"I've found out lately; Saul lets me come as often as I like, and this fine air
seems to make a new creature of me," answered Sophie, looking about her
with sparkling eyes, as if this was a kingdom where she reigned supreme.
"Something is making a new creature of you, that is very evident. I haven't
yet discovered whether it is the air or some magic herb among that green
stuff you are gathering so diligently;" and Emily laughed to see the color
deepen beautifully in her friend's half-averted face.
"Scarlet is the only wear just now, I find. If we are lost like babes in the
woods there are plenty of redbreasts to cover us with leaves," and Randal
joined Emily's laugh, with a glance at Saul, who had just pulled his coat off.
"You wanted to see this tree go down, so stand from under and I'll show you
how it's done," said the farmer, taking up his axe, not unwilling to gratify his
guests and display his manly accomplishments at the same time.
It was a fine sight, the stalwart man swinging his axe with magnificent
strength and skill, each blow sending a thrill through the stately tree, till its
heart was reached and it tottered to its fall. Never pausing for breath Saul
shook his yellow mane out of his eyes, and hewed away, while the drops
stood on his forehead and his arm ached, as bent on distinguishing himself
as if he had been a knight tilting against his rival for his lady's favor.
"I don't know which to admire most, the man or his muscle. One doesn't
often see such vigor, size and comeliness in these degenerate days," said
Randal, mentally booking the fine figure in the red shirt.
"I think we have discovered a rough diamond. I only wonder if Sophie is
going to try and polish it," answered Emily, glancing at her friend, who stood
a little apart, watching the rise and fall of the axe as intently as if her fate
depended on it.
Down rushed the tree at last, and, leaving them to examine a crow's nest in
its branches, Saul went off to his men, as if he found the praises of his
prowess rather too much for him.
Randal fell to sketching, the girls to their garland-making, and for a little
while the sunny woodland nook was full of lively chat and pleasant laughter,
for the air exhilarated them all like wine. Suddenly a man came running
from the wood, pale and anxious, saying, as he hastened by for help,
"Blasted tree fell on him! Bleed to death before the doctor comes!"
"Who? who?" cried the startled trio.
But the man ran on, with some breathless reply, in which only a name was
"The deuce it is!" and Randal dropped his pencil, while the girls sprang up in
dismay. Then, with one impulse, they hastened to the distant group, half
visible behind the fallen trees and corded wood.
Sophie was there first, and forcing her way through the little crowd of men,
saw a red-shirted figure on the ground, crushed and bleeding, and threw
herself down beside it with a cry that pierced the hearts of those who heard
In the act she saw it was not Saul, and covered her bewildered face as if to
hide its joy. A strong arm lifted her, and the familiar voice said cheeringly,--
"I'm all right, dear. Poor Bruce is hurt, but we've sent for help. Better go
right home and forget all about it."
"Yes, I will, if I can do nothing;" and Sophie meekly returned to her friends
who stood outside the circle over which Saul's head towered, assuring them
of his safety.
Hoping they had not seen her agitation, she led Emily away, leaving Randal
to give what aid he could and bring them news of the poor wood-chopper's
Aunt Plumy produced the "camphire" the moment she saw Sophie's pale
face, and made her lie down, while the brave old lady trudged briskly off
with bandages and brandy to the scene of action. On her return she brought
comfortable news of the man, so the little flurry blew over and was forgotten
by all but Sophie, who remained pale and quiet all the evening, tying
evergreen as if her life depended on it.
"A good night's sleep will set her up. She ain't used to such things, dear
child, and needs cossetin'," said Aunt Plumy, purring over her until she was
in her bed, with a hot stone at her feet and a bowl of herb tea to quiet her
An hour later when Emily went up, she peeped in to see if Sophie was
sleeping nicely, and was surprised to find the invalid wrapped in a dressing-
gown writing busily.
"Last will and testament, or sudden inspiration, dear? How are you? faint or
feverish, delirious or in the dumps! Saul looks so anxious, and Mrs. Basset
hushes us all up so, I came to bed, leaving Randal to entertain Ruth."
As she spoke Emily saw the papers disappear in a portfolio, and Sophie rose
with a yawn.
"I was writing letters, but I'm sleepy now. Quite over my foolish fright, thank
you. Go and get your beauty sleep that you may dazzle the natives to-
"So glad, good night;" and Emily went away, saying to herself, "Something is
going on, and I must find out what it is before I leave. Sophie can't blind
But Sophie did all the next day, being delightfully gay at the dinner, and
devoting herself to the young minister who was invited to meet the
distinguished novelist, and evidently being afraid of him, gladly basked in
the smiles of his charming neighbor. A dashing sleigh-ride occupied the
afternoon, and then great was the fun and excitement over the costumes.
Aunt Plumy laughed till the tears rolled down her cheeks as the girls
compressed her into the plum-colored gown with its short waist, leg-of-
mutton sleeves, and narrow skirt. But a worked scarf hid all deficiencies,
and the towering cap struck awe into the soul of the most frivolous observer.
"Keep an eye on me, girls, for I shall certainly split somewheres or lose my
head-piece off when I'm trottin' round. What would my blessed mother say if
she could see me rigged out in her best things?" and with a smile and a sigh
the old lady departed to look after "the boys," and see that the supper was
Three prettier damsels never tripped down the wide staircase than the
brilliant brunette in crimson brocade, the pensive blonde in blue, or the rosy
little bride in old muslin and white satin.
A gallant court gentleman met them in the hall with a superb bow, and
escorted them to the parlor, where Grandma Basset's ghost was discovered
dancing with a modern major in full uniform.
Mutual admiration and many compliments followed, till other ancient ladies
and gentlemen arrived in all manner of queer costumes, and the old house
seemed to wake from its humdrum quietude to sudden music and
merriment, as if a past generation had returned to keep its Christmas there.
The village fiddler soon struck up the good old tunes, and then the strangers
saw dancing that filled them with mingled mirth and envy; it was so droll,
yet so hearty. The young men, unusually awkward in their grandfathers'
knee-breeches, flapping vests, and swallow-tail coats, footed it bravely with
the buxom girls who were the prettier for their quaintness, and danced with
such vigor that their high combs stood awry, their furbelows waved wildly,
and their cheeks were as red as their breast-knots, or hose.
It was impossible to stand still, and one after the other the city folk yielded
to the spell, Randal leading off with Ruth, Sophie swept away by Saul, and
Emily being taken possession of by a young giant of eighteen, who spun her
around with a boyish impetuosity that took her breath away. Even Aunt
Plumy was discovered jigging it alone in the pantry, as if the music was too
much for her, and the plates and glasses jingled gaily on the shelves in time
to Money Musk and Fishers' Hornpipe.
A pause came at last, however, and fans fluttered, heated brows were wiped,
jokes were made, lovers exchanged confidences, and every nook and corner
held a man and maid carrying on the sweet game which is never out of
fashion. There was a glitter of gold lace in the back entry, and a train of blue
and primrose shone in the dim light. There was a richer crimson than that
of the geraniums in the deep window, and a dainty shoe tapped the bare
floor impatiently as the brilliant black eyes looked everywhere for the court
gentleman, while their owner listened to the gruff prattle of an enamored
boy. But in the upper hall walked a little white ghost as if waiting for some
shadowy companion, and when a dark form appeared ran to take its arm,
saying, in a tone of soft satisfaction,--
"I was so afraid you wouldn't come!"
"Why did you leave me, Ruth?" answered a manly voice in a tone of surprise,
though the small hand slipping from the velvet coat-sleeve was replaced as if
it was pleasant to feel it there.
A pause, and then the other voice answered demurely,--
"Because I was afraid my head would be turned by the fine things you were
"It is impossible to help saying what one feels to such an artless little
creature as you are. It does me good to admire anything so fresh and sweet,
and won't harm you."
"It might if--"
"If what, my daisy?"
"I believed it," and a laugh seemed to finish the broken sentence better than
"You may, Ruth, for I do sincerely admire the most genuine girl I have seen
for a long time. And walking here with you in your bridal white I was just
asking myself if I should not be a happier man with a home of my own and a
little wife hanging on my arm than drifting about the world as I do now with
only myself to care for."
"I know you would!" and Ruth spoke so earnestly that Randal was both
touched and startled, fearing he had ventured too far in a mood of unwonted
sentiment, born of the romance of the hour and the sweet frankness of his
"Then you don't think it would be rash for some sweet woman to take me in
hand and make me happy, since fame is a failure?"
"Oh, no; it would be easy work if she loved you. I know some one--if I only
dared to tell her name."
"Upon my soul, this is cool," and Randal looked down, wondering if the
audacious lady on his arm could be shy Ruth.
If he had seen the malicious merriment in her eyes he would have been
more humiliated still, but they were modestly averted, and the face under
the little hat was full of a soft agitation rather dangerous even to a man of
"She is a captivating little creature, but it is too soon for anything but a mild
flirtation. I must delay further innocent revelations or I shall do something
While making this excellent resolution Randal had been pressing the hand
upon his arm and gently pacing down the dimly lighted hall with the sound
of music in his ears, Ruth's sweetest roses in his button-hole, and a loving
little girl beside him, as he thought.
"You shall tell me by and by when we are in town. I am sure you will come,
and meanwhile don't forget me."
"I am going in the spring, but I shall not be with Sophie," answered Ruth, in
"With whom then? I shall long to see you."
"With my husband. I am to be married in May."
"The deuce you are!" escaped Randal, as he stopped short to stare at his
companion, sure she was not in earnest.
But she was, for as he looked the sound of steps coming up the back stairs
made her whole face flush and brighten with the unmistakable glow of
happy love, and she completed Randal's astonishment by running into the
arms of the young minister, saying with an irrepressible laugh, "Oh, John,
why didn't you come before?"
The court gentleman was all right in a moment, and the coolest of the three
as he offered his congratulations and gracefully retired, leaving the lovers to
enjoy the tryst he had delayed. But as he went down stairs his brows were
knit, and he slapped the broad railing smartly with his cocked hat as if
some irritation must find vent in a more energetic way than merely saying,
"Confound the little baggage!" under his breath.
Such an amazing supper came from Aunt Plumy's big pantry that the city
guests could not eat for laughing at the queer dishes circulating through the
rooms, and copiously partaken of by the hearty young folks.
Doughnuts and cheese, pie and pickles, cider and tea, baked beans and
custards, cake and cold turkey, bread and butter, plum pudding and French
bonbons, Sophie's contribution.
"May I offer you the native delicacies, and share your plate? Both are very
good, but the china has run short, and after such vigorous exercise as you
have had you must need refreshment. I'm sure I do!" said Randal, bowing
before Emily with a great blue platter laden with two doughnuts, two wedges
of pumpkin pie and two spoons.
The smile with which she welcomed him, the alacrity with which she made
room beside her and seemed to enjoy the supper he brought, was so
soothing to his ruffled spirit that he soon began to feel that there is no friend
like an old friend, that it would not be difficult to name a sweet woman who
would take him in hand and would make him happy if he cared to ask her,
and he began to think he would by and by, it was so pleasant to sit in that
green corner with waves of crimson brocade flowing over his feet, and a fine
face softening beautifully under his eyes.
The supper was not romantic, but the situation was, and Emily found that
pie ambrosial food eaten with the man she loved, whose eyes talked more
eloquently than the tongue just then busy with a doughnut. Ruth kept
away, but glanced at them as she served her company, and her own happy
experience helped her to see that all was going well in that quarter. Saul and
Sophie emerged from the back entry with shining countenances, but
carefully avoided each other for the rest of the evening. No one observed this
but Aunt Plumy from the recesses of her pantry, and she folded her hands
as if well content, as she murmured fervently over a pan full of crullers,
"Bless the dears! Now I can die happy."
Every one thought Sophie's old-fashioned dress immensely becoming, and
several of his former men said to Saul with blunt admiration, "Major, you
look to-night as you used to after we'd gained a big battle."
"I feel as if I had," answered the splendid Major, with eyes much brighter
than his buttons, and a heart under them infinitely prouder than when he
was promoted on the field of honor, for his Waterloo was won.
There was more dancing, followed by games, in which Aunt Plumy shone
pre-eminent, for the supper was off her mind and she could enjoy herself.
There were shouts of merriment as the blithe old lady twirled the platter,
hunted the squirrel, and went to Jerusalem like a girl of sixteen; her cap in
a ruinous condition, and every seam of the purple dress straining like sails
in a gale. It was great fun, but at midnight it came to an end, and the young
folks, still bubbling over with innocent jollity, went jingling away along the
snowy hills, unanimously pronouncing Mrs. Basset's party the best of the
"Never had such a good time in my life!" exclaimed Sophie, as the family
stood together in the kitchen where the candles among the wreaths were
going out, and the floor was strewn with wrecks of past joy.
"I'm proper glad, dear. Now you all go to bed and lay as late as you like to-
morrow. I'm so kinder worked up I couldn't sleep, so Saul and me will put
things to rights without a mite of noise to disturb you;" and Aunt Plumy
sent them off with a smile that was a benediction, Sophie thought.
"The dear old soul speaks as if midnight was an unheard-of hour for
Christians to be up. What would she say if she knew how we seldom go to
bed till dawn in the ball season? I'm so wide awake I've half a mind to pack
a little. Randal must go at two, he says, and we shall want his escort," said
Emily, as the girls laid away their brocades in the press in Sophie's room.
"I'm not going. Aunt can't spare me, and there is nothing to go for yet,"
answered Sophie, beginning to take the white chrysanthemums out of her
"My dear child, you will die of ennui up here. Very nice for a week or so, but
frightful for a winter. We are going to be very gay, and cannot get on without
you," cried Emily dismayed at the suggestion.
"You will have to, for I'm not coming. I am very happy here, and so tired of
the frivolous life I lead in town, that I have decided to try a better one," and
Sophie's mirror reflected a face full of the sweetest content.
"Have you lost your mind? experienced religion? or any other dreadful thing?
You always were odd, but this last freak is the strangest of all. What will
your guardian say, and the world?" added Emily in the awe-stricken tone of
one who stood in fear of the omnipotent Mrs. Grundy.
"Guardy will be glad to be rid of me, and I don't care that for the world,"
cried Sophie, snapping her fingers with a joyful sort of recklessness which
completed Emily's bewilderment.
"But Mr. Hammond? Are you going to throw away millions, lose your chance
of making the best match in the city, and driving the girls of our set out of
their wits with envy?"
Sophie laughed at her friend's despairing cry, and turning round said
"I wrote to Mr. Hammond last night, and this evening received my reward for
being an honest girl. Saul and I are to be married in the spring when Ruth
Emily fell prone upon the bed as if the announcement was too much for her,
but was up again in an instant to declare with prophetic solemnity,--
"I knew something was going on, but hoped to get you away before you were
lost. Sophie, you will repent. Be warned, and forget this sad delusion."
"Too late for that. The pang I suffered yesterday when I thought Saul was
dead showed me how well I loved him. To-night he asked me to stay, and no
power in the world can part us. Oh! Emily, it is all so sweet, so beautiful,
that everything is possible, and I know I shall be happy in this dear old
home, full of love and peace and honest hearts. I only hope you may find as
true and tender a man to live for as my Saul."
Sophie's face was more eloquent than her fervent words, and Emily
beautifully illustrated the inconsistency of her sex by suddenly embracing
her friend, with the incoherent exclamation, "I think I have, dear! Your brave
Saul is worth a dozen old Hammonds, and I do believe you are right."
It is unnecessary to tell how, as if drawn by the irresistible magic of
sympathy, Ruth and her mother crept in one by one to join the midnight
conference and add their smiles and tears, tender hopes and proud delight
to the joys of that memorable hour. Nor how Saul, unable to sleep, mounted
guard below, and meeting Randal prowling down to soothe his nerves with a
surreptitious cigar found it impossible to help confiding to his attentive ear
the happiness that would break bounds and overflow in unusual eloquence.
Peace fell upon the old house at last, and all slept as if some magic herb had
touched their eyelids, bringing blissful dreams and a glad awakening.
"Can't we persuade you to come with us, Miss Sophie?" asked Randal next
day, as they made their adieux.
"I'm under orders now, and dare not disobey my superior officer," answered
Sophie, handing her Major his driving gloves, with a look which plainly
showed that she had joined the great army of devoted women who enlist for
life and ask no pay but love.
"I shall depend on being invited to your wedding, then, and yours, too, Miss
Ruth," added Randal, shaking hands with "the little baggage," as if he had
quite forgiven her mockery and forgotten his own brief lapse into sentiment.
Before she could reply Aunt Plumy said, in a tone of calm conviction, that
made them all laugh, and some of them look conscious,--
"Spring is a good time for weddin's, and I shouldn't wonder ef there was
quite a number."
"Nor I;" and Saul and Sophie smiled at one another as they saw how
carefully Randal arranged Emily's wraps.
Then with kisses, thanks and all the good wishes that happy hearts could
imagine, the guests drove away, to remember long and gratefully that
pleasant country Christmas.