Queen of Spades by E. P. Roe
"Mother," remarked Farmer Banning, discontentedly, "Susie is making a
"She is coming home next week," said his cheery wife. She had drawn her
low chair close to the air-tight stove, for a late March snowstorm was
"It seems to me that I miss her more and more."
"Well, I'm not jealous."
"Oh, come, wife, you needn't be. The idea! But I'd be jealous if our
little girl was sorter weaned away from us by this visit in town."
"Now, see here, father, you beat all the men I ever heard of in
scolding about farmers borrowing, and here you are borrowing trouble."
"Well, I hope I won't have to pay soon. But I've been thinking that the
old farmhouse may look small and appear lonely after her gay winter.
When she is away, it's too big for me, and a suspicion lonely for us
both. I've seen that you've missed her more than I have."
"I guess you're right. Well, she's coming home, as I said, and we must
make home seem home to her. The child's growing up. Why, she'll be
eighteen week after next. You must give her something nice on her
"I will," said the farmer, his rugged, weather-beaten face softening
with memories. "Is our little girl as old as that? Why, only the other
day I was carrying her on my shoulder to the barn and tossing her into
the haymow. Sure enough, the 10th of April will be her birthday. Well,
she shall choose her own present."
On the afternoon of the 5th of April he went down the long bill to the
station, and was almost like a lover in his eagerness to see his child.
He had come long before the train's schedule time, but was rewarded at
last. When Susie appeared, she gave him a kiss before every one, and a
glad greeting which might have satisfied the most exacting of lovers.
He watched her furtively as they rode at a smart trot up the hill.
Farmer Banning kept no old nags for his driving, but strong, well-fed,
spirited horses that sometimes drew a light vehicle almost by the
reins. "Yes," he thought, "she has grown a little citified. She's
paler, and has a certain air or style that don't seem just natural to
the hill. Well, thank the Lord! she doesn't seem sorry to go up the
hill once more."
"There's the old place, Susie, waiting for you," he said. "It doesn't
look so very bleak, does it, after all the fine city houses you've
"Yes, father, it does. It never appeared so bleak before."
He looked at his home, and in the late gray afternoon, saw it in a
measure with her eyes—the long brown, bare slopes, a few gaunt old
trees about the house, and the top boughs of the apple-orchard behind a
sheltering hill in the rear of the dwelling.
"Father," resumed the girl, "we ought to call our place the Bleak
House. I never so realized before how bare and desolate it looks,
standing there right in the teeth of the north wind."
His countenance fell, but he had no time for comment. A moment later
Susie was in her mother's arms. The farmer lifted the trunk to the
horse-block and drove to the barn. "I guess it will be the old story,"
he muttered. "Home has become 'Bleak House.' I suppose it did look
bleak to her eyes, especially at this season. Well, well, some day
Susie will go to the city to stay, and then it will be Bleak House sure
"Oh, father," cried his daughter when, after doing his evening work, he
entered with the shadow of his thoughts still upon his face—"oh,
father, mother says I can choose my birthday present!"
"Yes, Sue; I've passed my word."
"And so I have your bond. My present will make you open your eyes."
"And pocket-book too, I suppose. I'll trust you, however, not to break
me. What is it to be?"
"I'll tell you the day before, and not till then."
After supper they drew around the stove. Mrs. Banning got out her
knitting, as usual, and prepared for city gossip. The farmer rubbed his
hands over the general aspect of comfort, and especially over the
regained presence of his child's bright face. "Well, Sue," he remarked,
"you'll own that this room IN the house doesn't look very bleak?"
"No, father, I'll own nothing of the kind. Your face and mother's are
not bleak, but the room is."
"Well," said the farmer, rather disconsolately, "I fear the old place
has been spoiled for you. I was saying to mother before you came home—"
"There now, father, no matter about what you were saying. Let Susie
tell us why the room is bleak."
The girl laughed softly, got up, and taking a billet of wood from the
box, put it into the air-tight. "The stove has swallowed it just as old
Trip did his supper. Shame! you greedy dog," she added, caressing a
great Newfoundland that would not leave her a moment. "Why can't you
learn to eat your meals like a gentleman?" Then to her father, "Suppose
we could sit here and see the flames curling all over and around that
stick. Even a camp in the woods is jolly when lighted up by a
"Oh—h!" said the farmer; "you think an open fire would take away the
"Certainly. The room would be changed instantly, and mother's face
would look young and rosy again. The blue-black of this sheet-iron
stove makes the room look blue-black."
"Open fires don't give near as much heat," said her father,
meditatively. "They take an awful lot of wood; and wood is getting
scarce in these parts."
"I should say so! Why don't you farmers get together, appoint a
committee to cut down every tree remaining, then make it a State-prison
offence ever to set out another? Why, father, you cut nearly all the
trees from your lot a few years ago and sold the wood. Now that the
trees are growing again, you are talking of clearing up the land for
pasture. Just think of the comfort we could get out of that wood-lot!
What crop would pay better? All the upholsterers in the world cannot
furnish a room as an open hardwood fire does; and all the produce of
the farm could not buy anything else half so nice."
"Say, mother," said her father, after a moment, "I guess I'll get down
that old Franklin from the garret to-morrow and see if it can't furnish
The next morning he called rather testily to the hired man, who was
starting up the lane with an axe, "Hiram, I've got other work for you.
Don't cut a stick in that wood-lot unless I tell you."
The evening of the 9th of April was cool but clear, and the farmer
said, genially, "Well, Sue, prospects good for fine weather on your
birthday. Glad of it; for I suppose you will want me to go to town with
you for your present, whatever it is to be."
"You'll own up a girl can keep a secret now, won't you?"
"He'll have to own more'n that," added his wife; "he must own that an
ole woman hasn't lost any sleep from curiosity."
"How much will be left me to own to-morrow night?" said the farmer,
dubiously. "I suppose Sue wants a watch studded with diamonds, or a new
house, or something else that she darsn't speak of till the last
minute, even to her mother."
"Nothing of the kind. I want only all your time tomorrow, and all
Hiram's time, after you have fed the stock."
"All our time!
"Yes, the entire day, in which you both are to do just what I wish. You
are not going gallivanting to the city, but will have to work hard."
"Well, I'm beat! I don't know what you want any more than I did at
"Yes, you do—your time and Hiram's."
"Give it up. It's hardly the season for a picnic. We might go fishing—"
"We must go to bed, so as to be up early, all hands."
"Oh, hold on, Sue; I do like this wood-fire. If it wouldn't make you
vain, I'd tell you how—"
"Pretty, father. Say it out."
"Oh, you know it, do you? Well, how pretty you look in the firelight.
Even mother, there, looks ten years younger. Keep your low seat, child,
and let me look at you. So you're eighteen? My! my! how the years roll
around! It WILL be Bleak House for mother and me, in spite of the
wood-fire, when you leave us."
"It won't be Bleak House much longer," she replied with a significant
The next morning at an early hour the farmer said, "All ready, Sue. Our
time is yours till night; so queen it over us." And black Hiram grinned
acquiescence, thinking he was to have an easy time.
"Queen it, did you say?" cried Sue, in great spirits. "Well, then, I
shall be queen of spades. Get 'em, and come with me. Bring a pickaxe,
too." She led the way to a point not far from the dwelling, and
resumed: "A hole here, father, a hole there, Hiram, big enough for a
small hemlock, and holes all along the northeast side of the house.
Then lots more holes, all over the lawn, for oaks, maples, dogwood, and
all sorts to pretty trees, especially evergreens.'
"Oh, ho!" cried the farmer; "now I see the hole where the woodchuck
"But you don't see the hole where he's coming out. When that is dug,
even the road will be lined with trees. Foolish old father! you thought
I'd be carried away with city gewgaws, fine furniture, dresses, and all
that sort of thing. You thought I'd be pining for what you couldn't
afford, what wouldn't do you a particle of good, nor me either, in the
long run. I'm going to make you set out trees enough to double the
value of your place and take all the bleakness and bareness from this
hillside. To-day is only the beginning. I did get some new notions in
the city which made me discontented with my home, but they were not the
notions you were worrying about. In the suburbs I saw that the most
costly houses were made doubly attractive by trees and shrubbery, and I
knew that trees would grow for us as well as for millionaires—My
conscience! if there isn't—" and the girl frowned and bit her lips.
"Is that one of the city beaux you were telling us about?" asked her
father, sotto voce.
"Yes; but I don't want any beaux around to-day. I didn't think he'd be
so persistent." Then, conscious that she was not dressed for company,
but for work upon which she had set her heart, she advanced and gave
Mr. Minturn a rather cool greeting.
But the persistent beau was equal to the occasion. He had endured Sue's
absence as long as he could, then had resolved on a long day's siege,
with a grand storming-onset late in the afternoon.
"Please, Miss Banning," he began, "don't look askance at me for coming
at this unearthly hour. I claim the sacred rites of hospitality. I'm an
invalid. The doctor said I needed country air, or would have prescribed
it if given a chance. You said I might come to see you some day, and by
playing Paul Pry I found out, you remember, that this was your
"And this is my father, Mr. Minturn."
Mr. Minturn shook the farmer's hand with a cordiality calculated to
awaken suspicions of his designs in a pump, had its handle been thus
grasped. "Mr. Banning will forgive me for appearing with the lark," he
continued volubly, determining to break the ice. "One can't get the
full benefit of a day in the country if he starts in the afternoon."
The farmer was polite, but nothing more. If there was one thing beyond
all others with which he could dispense, it was a beau for Sue.
Sue gave her father a significant, disappointed glance, which meant, "I
won't get my present to day"; but he turned and said to Hiram, "Dig the
hole right there, two feet across, eighteen inches deep." Then he
started for the house. While not ready for suitors, his impulse to
bestow hospitality was prompt.
The alert Mr. Minturn had observed the girl's glance, and knew that the
farmer had gone to prepare his wife for a guest. He determined not to
remain unless assured of a welcome. "Come, Miss Banning," he said, "we
are at least friends, and should be frank. How much misunderstanding
and trouble would often be saved if people would just speak their
thought! This is your birthday—YOUR DAY. It should not be marred by
any one. It would distress me keenly if I were the one to spoil it. Why
not believe me literally and have your way absolutely about this day? I
could come another time. Now show that a country girl, at least, can
speak her mind."
With an embarrassed little laugh she answered, "I'm half inclined to
take you at your word; but it would look so inhospitable."
"Bah for looks! The truth, please. By the way, though, you never looked
better than in that trim blue walking-suit."
"Old outgrown working-suit, you mean. How sincere you are!"
"Indeed I am. Well, I'm de trop; that much is plain. You will let me
come another day, won't you?"
"Yes, and I'll be frank too and tell you about THIS day. Father's a
busy man, and his spring work is beginning, but as my birthday-present
he has given me all his time and all Hiram's yonder. Well, I learned in
the city how trees improved a home; and I had planned to spend this
long day in setting out trees—planned it ever since my return. So you
"Of course I see and approve," cried Minturn. "I know now why I had
such a wild impulse to come out here to-day. Why, certainly. Just fancy
me a city tramp looking for work, and not praying I won't find it,
either. I'll work for my board. I know how to set out trees. I can
prove it, for I planted those thrifty fellows growing about our house
in town. Think how much more you'll accomplish, with another man to
help—one that you can order around to your heart's content."
"The idea of my putting you to work!"
"A capital idea! and if a man doesn't work when a woman puts him at it
he isn't worth the powder—I won't waste time even in original remarks.
I'll promise you there will be double the number of trees out by night.
Let me take your father's spade and show you how I can dig. Is this the
place? If I don't catch up with Hiram, you may send the tramp back to
the city." And before she could remonstrate, his coat was off and he at
Laughing, yet half in doubt, she watched him. The way he made the earth
fly was surprising. "Oh, come," she said after a few moments, "you have
shown your goodwill. A steam-engine could not keep it up at that rate."
"Perhaps not; but I can. Before you engage me, I wish you to know that
I am equal to old Adam, and can dig."
"Engage you!" she thought with a little flutter of dismay. "I could
manage him with the help of town conventionalities; but how will it be
here? I suppose I can keep father and Hiram within earshot, and if he
is so bent on—well, call it a lark, since he has referred to that
previous bird, perhaps I might as well have a lark too, seeing it's my
birthday." Then she spoke. "Mr. Minturn!"
"And truly tell me, am I catching up with Hiram?"
"You'll get down so deep that you'll drop through if you're not
"There's nothing like having a man who is steady working for you. Now,
most fellows would stop and giggle at such little amusing remarks."
"You are soiling your trousers."
"Yes, you're right. They ARE mine. There; isn't that a regulation hole?
'Two feet across and eighteen deep.'"
"Yah! yah!" cackled Hiram; "eighteen foot deep! Dat ud be a well."
"Of course it would, and truth would lie at its bottom. Can I stay,
"Did you ever see the like?" cried the farmer, who had appeared,
"Look here, father," said the now merry girl, "perhaps I was mistaken.
"Tramp—" interjected Minturn.
"Says he's looking for work and knows how to set out trees."
"And will work all day for a dinner," the tramp promptly added.
"If he can dig holes at that rate, Sue," said her father, catching
their spirit, "he's worth a dinner. But you're boss to-day; I'm only
one of the hands."
"I'm only another," said Minturn, touching his hat.
"Boss, am I? I'll soon find out. Mr. Minturn, come with me and don a
pair of overalls. You shan't put me to shame, wearing that
spick-and-span suit, neither shall you spoil it. Oh, you're in for it
now! You might have escaped, and come another day, when I could have
received you in state and driven you out behind father's frisky bays.
When you return to town with blistered hands and aching bones, you will
at least know better another time."
"I don't know any better this time, and just yearn for those overalls."
"To the house, then, and see mother before you become a wreck."
Farmer Banning looked after him and shook his head. Hiram spoke his
employer's thought, "Dar ar gem'lin act like he gwine ter set hisself
out on dis farm."
Sue had often said, "I can never be remarkable for anything; but I
won't be commonplace." So she did not leave her guest in the parlor
while she rushed off for a whispered conference with her mother. The
well-bred simplicity of her manner, which often stopped just short of
brusqueness, was never more apparent than now. "Mother!" she called
from the parlor door.
The old lady gave a few final directions to her maid-of-all-work, and
"Mother, this is Mr. Minturn, one of my city friends, of whom I have
spoken to you. He is bent on helping me set out trees."
"Yes, Mrs. Banning, so bent that your daughter found that she would
have to employ her dog to get me off the place."
Now, it had so happened that in discussing with her mother the young
men whom she had met, Sue had said little about Mr. Minturn; but that
little was significant to the experienced matron. Words had slipped out
now and then which suggested that the girl did more thinking than
talking concerning him; and she always referred to him in some light
which she chose to regard as ridiculous, but which had not seemed in
the least absurd to the attentive listener. When her husband,
therefore, said that Mr. Minturn had appeared on the scene, she felt
that an era of portentous events had begun. The trees to be set out
would change the old place greatly, but a primeval forest shading the
door would be as nothing compared with the vicissitude which a favored
"beau" might produce. But mothers are more unselfish than fathers, and
are their daughters' natural allies unless the suitor is objectionable.
Mrs. Banning was inclined to be hospitable on general principles,
meantime eager on her own account to see something of this man, about
whom she had presentiments. So she said affably, "My daughter can keep
her eye on the work which she is so interested in, and yet give you
most of her time.—Susan, I will entertain Mr. Minturn while you change
She glanced at her guest dubiously, receiving for the moment the
impression that the course indicated by her mother was the correct one.
The resolute admirer knew well what a fiasco the day would be should
the conventionalities prevail, and so said promptly: "Mrs. Banning, I
appreciate your kind intentions, and I hope some day you may have the
chance to carry them out. To-day, as your husband understands, I am a
tramp from the city looking for work. I have found it, and have been
engaged.—Miss Banning, I shall hold you inflexibly to our agreement—a
pair of overalls and dinner."
Sue said a few words of explanation. Her mother laughed, but urged, "Do
go and change your dress."
"I protest!" cried Mr. Minturn. "The walking-suit and overalls go
"Walking-suit, indeed!" repeated Sue, disdainfully. "But I shall not
change it. I will not soften one feature of the scrape you have
persisted in getting yourself into."
"Mr. Minturn," said the matron, with smiling positiveness, "Susie is
boss only out of doors; I am, in the house. There is a fresh-made cup
of coffee and some eggs on toast in the dining-room. Having taken such
an early start, you ought to have a lunch before being put to work."
"Yes," added Sue, "and the out-door boss says you can't go to work
until at least the coffee is sipped."
"She's shrewd, isn't she, Mrs. Banning? She knows she will get twice as
much work out of me on the strength of that coffee. Please get the
overalls. I will not sip, but swallow the coffee, unless it's scalding,
so that no time may be lost. Miss Banning must see all she had set her
heart upon accomplished to-day, and a great deal more."
The matron departed on her quest, and as she pulled out the overalls,
nodded her head significantly. "Things will be serious sure enough if
he accomplishes all he has set his heart on," she muttered. "Well, he
doesn't seem afraid to give us a chance to see him. He certainly will
look ridiculous in these overalls, but not much more so than Sue in
that old dress. I do wish she would change it."
The girl had considered this point, but with characteristic decision
had thought: "No; he shall see us all on the plainest side of our life.
He always seemed a good deal of an exquisite in town, and he lives in a
handsome house. If to-day's experience at the old farm disgusts him, so
be it. My dress is clean and tidy, if it is outgrown and darned; and
mother is always neat, no matter what she wears. I'm going through the
day just as I planned; and if he's too fine for us, now is the time to
find it out. He may have come just for a lark, and will laugh with his
folks to-night over the guy of a girl I appear; but I won't yield even
to the putting of a ribbon in my hair."
Mrs. Banning never permitted the serving of cold slops for coffee, and
Mr. Minturn had to sip the generous and fragrant beverage slowly.
Meanwhile, his thoughts were busy. "Bah! for the old saying, 'Take the
goods the gods send,'" he mused. "Go after your goods and take your
pick. I knew my head was level in coming out. All is just as genuine as
I supposed it would be—simple, honest, homely. The girl isn't homely,
though, but she's just as genuine as all the rest, in that old dress
which fits her like a glove. No shams and disguises on this field-day
of my life. And her mother! A glance at her comfortable amplitude
banished my one fear. There's not a sharp angle about her. I was
satisfied about Miss Sue, but the term 'mother-in-law' suggests vague
terrors to any man until reassured.—Ah, Miss Banning," he said, "this
coffee would warm the heart of an anchorite. No wonder you are inspired
to fine things after drinking such nectar."
"Yes, mother is famous for her coffee. I know that's fine, and you can
praise it; but I'll not permit any ironical remarks concerning myself."
"I wouldn't, if I were you, especially when you are mistress of the
situation. Still, I can't help having my opinion of you. Why in the
world didn't you choose as your present something stylish from the
"Something, I suppose you mean, in harmony with my very stylish
surroundings and present appearance."
"I didn't mean anything of the kind, and fancy you know it. Ah! here
are the overalls. Now deeds, not words. I'll leave my coat, watch,
cuffs, and all impedimenta with you, Mrs. Banning. Am I not a spectacle
to men and gods?" he added, drawing up the garment, which ceased to be
nether in that it reached almost to his shoulders.
"Indeed you are," cried Sue, holding her side from laughing. Mrs.
Banning also vainly tried to repress her hilarity over the absurd guy
into which the nattily-dressed city man had transformed himself.
"Come," he cried, "no frivolity! You shall at least say I kept my word
about the trees to-day." And they started at once for the scene of
action, Minturn obtaining on the way a shovel from the tool-room.
"To think she's eighteen years old and got a beau!" muttered the
farmer, as he and Hiram started two new holes. They were dug and others
begun, yet the young people had not returned. "That's the way with
young men nowadays—'big cry, little wool.' I thought I was going to
have Sue around with me all day. Might as well get used to it, I
suppose. Eighteen! Her mother's wasn't much older when—yes, hang it,
there's always a WHEN with these likely girls. I'd just like to start
in again on that day when I tossed her into the haymow."
"What are you talking to yourself about, father?"
"Oh! I thought I had seen the last of you to-day."
"Perhaps you will wish you had before night."
"Well, now, Sue! the idea of letting Mr. Minturn rig himself out like
that! There's no use of scaring the crows so long before
corn-planting." And the farmer's guffaw was quickly joined by Hiram's
broad "Yah! yah!"
She frowned a little as she said, "He doesn't look any worse than I do."
"Come, Mr. Banning, Solomon in all his glory could not so take your
daughter's eye to-day as a goodly number of trees standing where she
wants them. I suggest that you loosen the soil with the pickaxe, then I
can throw it out rapidly. Try it."
The farmer did so, not only for Minturn, but for Hiram also. The
lightest part of the work thus fell to him. "We'll change about," he
said, "when you get tired."
But Minturn did not get weary apparently, and under this new division
of the toil the number of holes grew apace.
"Sakes alive, Mr. Minturn!" ejaculated Mr. Banning, "one would think
you had been brought up on a farm."
"Or at ditch-digging," added the young man. "No; my profession is to
get people into hot water and then make them pay roundly to get out.
I'm a lawyer. Times have changed in cities. It's there you'll find
young men with muscle, if anywhere. Put your hand here, sir, and you'll
know whether Miss Banning made a bad bargain in hiring me for the day."
"Why!" exclaimed the astonished farmer, "you have the muscle of a
"Yes, sir; I could learn that trade in about a month."
"You don't grow muscle like that in a law-office?"
"No, indeed; nothing but bills grow there. A good fashion, if not
abused, has come in vogue, and young men develop their bodies as well
as brains. I belong to an athletic club in town, and could take to
pugilism should everything else fail."
"Is there any prospect of your coming to that?" Sue asked mischievously.
"If we were out walking, and two or three rough fellows gave you
impudence—" He nodded significantly.
"What could you do against two or three? They'd close on you."
"A fellow taught to use his hands doesn't let men close on him."
"Yah, yah! reckon not," chuckled Hiram. One of the farm household had
evidently been won.
"It seems to me," remarked smiling Sue, "that I saw several young men
in town who appeared scarcely equal to carrying their canes."
"That's what they are called, I believe."
"They are not men. They are neither fish, flesh, nor fowl, but the
beginning of the great downward curve of evolution. Men came up from
monkeys, it's said, you know, but science is in despair over the final
down-comes of dudes. They may evolute into grasshoppers."
The farmer was shaken with mirth, and Sue could not help seeing that he
was having a good time. She, however, felt that no tranquilly exciting
day was before her, as she had anticipated. What wouldn't that muscular
fellow attempt before night? He possessed a sort of vim and cheerful
audacity which made her tremble, "He is too confident," she thought,
"and needs a lesson. All this digging is like that of soldiers who soon
mean to drop their shovels. I don't propose to be carried by storm just
when he gets ready. He can have his lark, and that's all to-day. I want
a good deal of time to think before I surrender to him or any one else."
During the remainder of the forenoon these musings prevented the
slightest trace of sentimentality from appearing in her face or words.
She had to admit mentally that Minturn gave her no occasion for
defensive tactics. He attended as strictly to business as did Hiram,
and she was allowed to come and go at will. At first she merely
ventured to the house, to "help mother," as she said. Then, with
growing confidence, she went here and there to select sites for trees;
but Minturn dug on no longer "like a steam-engine," yet in an easy,
steady, effective way that was a continual surprise to the farmer.
"Well, Sue," said her father at last, "you and mother ought to have an
extra dinner; for Mr. Minturn certainly has earned one."
"I promised him only a dinner," she replied; "nothing was said about
its being extra."
"Quantity is all I'm thinking of," said Minturn. "I have the sauce
which will make it a feast."
"Beckon it's gwine on twelve," said Hiram, cocking his eye at the sun.
"Hadn't I better feed de critters?"
"Ah, old man! own up, now; you've got a backache," said Minturn.
"Dere is kin' ob a crik comin'—"
"Drop work, all hands," cried Sue. "Mr. Minturn has a 'crik' also, but
he's too proud to own it. How you'll groan for this to-morrow, sir!"
"If you take that view of the case, I may be under the necessity of
giving proof positive to the contrary by coming out to-morrow."
"You're not half through yet. The hardest part is to come."
"Oh, I know that," he replied; and he gave her such a humorously
appealing glance that she turned quickly toward the house to hide a
The farmer showed him to the spare-room, in which he found his
belongings. Left to make his toilet, he muttered, "Ah, better and
better! This is not the regulation refrigerator into which guests are
put at farmhouses. All needed for solid comfort is here, even to a
slight fire in the air-tight. Now, isn't that rosy old lady a jewel of
a mother-in-law? She knows that a warm man shouldn't get chilled just
as well as if she had studied athletics. Miss Sue, however, is a little
chilly. She's on the fence yet. Jupiter! I AM tired. Oh, well, I don't
believe I'll have seven years of this kind of thing. You were right,
though, old man, if your Rachel was like mine. What's that rustle in
the other room? She's dressing for dinner. So must I; and I'm ready for
it. If she has romantic ideas about love and lost appetites, I'm a
When he descended to the parlor, his old stylish self again, Sue was
there, robed in a gown which he had admired before, revealing the fact
to her by approving glances. But now he said, "You don't look half so
well as you did before."
"I can't say that of you," she replied.
"A man's looks are of no consequence."
"Few men think so."
"Oh, they try to please such critical eyes as I now am meeting."
"And throw dust in them too sometimes."
"Yes; gold dust, often. I haven't much of that."
"It would be a pity to throw it away if you had."
"No matter how much was thrown, I don't think it would blind you, Miss
The dining-room door across the hall opened, and the host and hostess
appeared. "Why, father and mother, how fine you look!"
"It would be strange indeed if we did not honor this day," said Mrs.
Banning. "I hope you have not so tired yourself, sir, that you cannot
enjoy your dinner. I could scarcely believe my eyes as I watched you
from the window."
"I am afraid I shall astonish you still more at the table. I am simply
"This is your chance," cried Sue. "You are now to be paid in the coin
you asked for."
Sue did remark to herself by the time they reached dessert and coffee,
"I need have no scruples in refusing a man with such an appetite; he
won't pine. He is a lawyer, sure enough. He is just winning father and
mother hand over hand."
Indeed, the bosom of good Mrs. Banning must have been environed with
steel not to have had throbs of goodwill toward one who showed such
hearty appreciation of her capital dinner. But Sue became only the more
resolved that she was not going to yield so readily to this muscular
suitor who was digging and eating his way straight into the hearts of
her ancestors, and she proposed to be unusually elusive and alert
during the afternoon. She was a little surprised when he resumed his
After drinking a second cup of coffee, he rose, and said, "As an honest
man, I have still a great deal to do after such a dinner."
"Well, it has just done me good to see you," said Mrs. Banning, smiling
genially over her old-fashioned coffee-pot. "I feel highly
"I doubt whether I shall be equal to another such compliment before the
next birthday. I hope, Miss Susie, you have observed my efforts to do
honor to the occasion?"
"Oh," cried the girl, "I naturally supposed you were trying to get even
in your bargain."
"I hope to be about sundown. I'll get into those overalls at once, and
I trust you will put on your walking-suit."
"Yes, it will be a walking-suit for a short time. We must walk to the
wood-lot for the trees, unless you prefer to ride.—Father, please tell
Hiram to get the two-horse wagon ready."
When the old people were left alone, the farmer said, "Well, mother,
Sue HAS got a suitor, and if he don't suit her—" And then his wit gave
"There, father, I never thought you'd come to that. It's well she has,
for you will soon have to be taken care of."
"He's got the muscle to do it. He shall have my law-business, anyway."
"Thank the Lord, it isn't much; but that's not saying he shall have
"Why, what have you against him?"
"Nothing so far. I was only finding out if you had anything against
"Lawyers, indeed! What would become of the men if women turned lawyers.
Do you think Sue—"
They all laughed till the tears came when Minturn again appeared
dressed for work; but he nonchalantly lighted a cigar and was entirely
at his ease.
Sue was armed with thick gloves and a pair of pruning-nippers. Minturn
threw a spade and pickaxe on his shoulder, and Mr. Banning, whom Sue
had warned threateningly "never to be far away," tramped at their side
as they went up the lane. Apparently there was no need of such
precaution, for the young man seemed wholly bent on getting up the
trees, most of which she had selected and marked during recent rambles.
She helped now vigorously, pulling on the young saplings as they
loosened the roots, then trimming them into shape. More than once,
however, she detected glances, and his thoughts were more flattering
than she imagined. "What vigor she has in that supple, rounded form!
Her very touch ought to put life into these trees; I know it would into
me. How young she looks in that comical old dress which barely reaches
her ankles! Yes, Hal Minturn; and remember, that trim little ankle can
put a firm foot down for or against you—so no blundering."
He began to be doubtful whether he would make his grand attack that
day, and finally decided against it, unless a very favorable
opportunity occurred, until her plan of birthday-work had been carried
out and he had fulfilled the obligation into which he had entered in
the morning. He labored on manfully, seconding all her wishes, and
taking much pains to get the young trees up with an abundance of
fibrous roots. At last his assiduity induced her to relent a little,
and she smiled sympathetically as she remarked, "I hope you are
enjoying yourself. Well, never mind; some other day you will fare
"Why should I not enjoy myself?" he asked in well-feigned surprise.
"What condition of a good time is absent? Even an April day has
forgotten to be moody, and we are having unclouded, genial sunshine.
The air is delicious with springtime fragrance. Were ever hemlocks so
aromatic as these young fellows? They come out of the ground so readily
that one would think them aware of their proud destiny. Of course I'm
enjoying myself. Even the robins and sparrows know it, and are singing
as if possessed."
"Hadn't you better give up your law-office and turn farmer?"
"This isn't farming. This is embroidery-work."
"Well, if all these trees grow they will embroider the old place, won't
"They'll grow, every mother's son of 'em."
"What makes you so confident?"
"I'm not confident. That's where you are mistaken." And he gave her
such a direct, keen look that she suddenly found something to do
"I declare!" she exclaimed mentally, "he seems to read my very
At last the wagon was loaded with trees enough to occupy the holes
which had been dug, and they started for the vicinity of the farmhouse
again. Mr. Banning had no match-making proclivities where Sue was
concerned, as may be well understood, and had never been far off.
Minturn, however, had appeared so single-minded in his work, so
innocent of all designs upon his daughter, that the old man began to
think that this day's performance was only a tentative and preliminary
skirmish, and that if there were danger it lurked in the unknown
future. He was therefore inclined to be less vigilant, reasoning
philosophically, "I suppose it's got to come some time or other. It
looks as if Sue might go a good deal further than this young man and
fare worse. But then she's only eighteen, and he knows it. I guess he's
got sense enough not to plant his corn till the sun's higher. He can
see with half an eye that my little girl isn't ready to drop, like an
over-ripe apple." Thus mixing metaphors and many thoughts, he hurried
ahead to open the gate for Hiram.
"I'm in for it now," thought Sue, and she instinctively assumed an
indifferent expression and talked volubly of trees.
"Yes, Miss Banning," he said formally, "by the time your hair is tinged
with gray the results of this day's labor will be seen far and wide. No
passenger in the cars, no traveller in the valley, but will turn his
eyes admiringly in this direction."
"I wasn't thinking of travellers," she answered, "but of making an
attractive home in which I can grow old contentedly. Some day when you
have become a gray-haired and very dignified judge you may come out and
dine with us again. You can then smoke your cigar under a tree which
you helped to plant."
"Certainly, Miss Banning. With such a prospect, how could you doubt
that I was enjoying myself? What suggested the judge? My present
The incongruity of the idea with his absurd aspect and a certain degree
of nervousness set her off again, and she startled the robins by a
laugh as loud and clear as their wild notes.
"I don't care," she cried. "I've had a jolly birthday, and am
accomplishing all on which I had set my heart."
"Yes, and a great deal more, Miss Banning," he replied with a formal
bow. "In all your scheming you hadn't set your heart on my coming out
and—does modesty permit me to say it?—helping a little."
"Now, you HAVE helped wonderfully, and you must not think I don't
"Ah, how richly I am rewarded!"
She looked at him with a laughing and perplexed little frown, but only
said, "No irony, sir."
By this time they had joined her father and begun to set out the row of
hemlocks. To her surprise, Sue had found herself a little disappointed
that he had not availed himself of his one opportunity to be at least
"a bit friendly" as she phrased it. It was mortifying to a girl to be
expecting "something awkward to meet" and nothing of the kind take
place. "After all," she thought, "perhaps he came out just for a lark,
or, worse still, is amusing himself at my expense; or he may have come
on an exploring expedition and plain old father and mother, and the
plain little farmhouse, have satisfied him. Well, the dinner wasn't
very plain, but he may have been laughing in his sleeve at our lack of
style in serving it. Then this old dress! I probably appear to him a
perfect guy." And she began to hate it, and devoted it to the rag-bag
the moment she could get it off.
This line of thought, once begun, seemed so rational that she wondered
it had not occurred to her before. "The idea of my being so
ridiculously on the defensive!" she thought. "No, it wasn't ridiculous
either, as far as my action went, for he can never say I ACTED as if I
wanted him to speak. My conceit in expecting him to speak the moment he
got a chance WAS absurd. He has begun to be very polite and formal.
That's always the way with men when they want to back out of anything.
He came out to look us over, and me in particular; he made himself into
a scarecrow just because I looked like one, and now will go home and
laugh it all over with his city friends. Oh, why did he come and spoil
my day? Even he said it WAS my day, and he has done a mean thing in
spoiling it. Well, he may not carry as much self-complacency back to
town as he thinks he will. Such a cold-blooded spirit, too!—to come
upon us unawares in order to spy out everything, for fear he might get
taken in! You were very attentive and flattering in the city, sir, but
now you are disenchanted. Well, so am I."
Under the influence of this train of thought she grew more and more
silent. The sun was sinking westward in undimmed splendor, but her face
was clouded. The air was sweet, balmy, well adapted to sentiment and
the setting out of trees, but she was growing frosty.
"Hiram," she said shortly, "you've got that oak crooked; let me hold
it." And thereafter she held the trees for the old colored man as he
filled in the earth around them.
Minturn appeared as oblivious as he was keenly observant. At first the
change in Sue puzzled and discouraged him; then, as his acute mind
sought her motives, a rosy light began to dawn upon him. "I may be
wrong," he thought, "but I'll take my chances in acting as if I were
right before I go home."
At last Hiram said: "Reckon I'll have to feed de critters again;" and
he slouched off.
Sue nipped at the young trees further and further away from the young
man who must "play spy before being lover." The spy helped Mr. Banning
set out the last tree. Meantime, the complacent farmer had mused: "The
little girl's safe for another while, anyhow. Never saw her more
offish; but things looked squally about dinner-time. Then, she's only
eighteen; time enough years hence." At last he said affably, "I'll go
in and hasten supper, for you've earned it if ever a man did, Mr.
Minturn. Then I'll drive you down to the evening train." And he hurried
Sue's back was toward them, and she did not hear Minturn's step until
he was close beside her. "All through," he said; "every tree out. I
congratulate you; for rarely in this vale of tears are plans and hopes
crowned with better success."
"Oh, yes," she hastened to reply; "I am more than satisfied. I hope
that you are too."
"I have no reason to complain," he said. "You have stood by your
morning's bargain, as I have tried to."
"It was your own fault, Mr. Minturn, that it was so one-sided. But I've
no doubt you enjoy spicing your city life with a little lark in the
"It WAS a one-sided bargain, and I have had the best of it."
"Perhaps you have," she admitted. "I think supper will be ready by the
time we are ready for it." And she turned toward the house. Then she
added, "You must be weary and anxious to get away."
"You were right; my bones DO ache. And look at my hands. I know you'll
say they need washing; but count the blisters."
"I also said, Mr. Minturn, that you would know better next time. So you
see I was right then and am right now."
"Are you perfectly sure?"
"I see no reason to think otherwise." In turning, she had faced a young
sugar-maple which he had aided her in planting early in the afternoon.
Now she snipped at it nervously with her pruning-shears, for he would
not budge, and she felt it scarcely polite to leave him.
"Well," he resumed, after an instant, "it has a good look, hasn't it,
for a man to fulfil an obligation literally?"
"Certainly, Mr. Minturn," and there was a tremor in her tone; "but you
have done a hundred-fold more than I expected, and never were under any
"Then I am free to begin again?"
"You are as free now as you have been all day to do what you please."
And her shears were closing on the main stem of the maple. He caught
and stayed her hand. "I don't care!" she cried almost passionately.
"Come, let us go in and end this foolish talk."
"But I do care," he replied, taking the shears from her, yet retaining
her hand in his strong grasp. "I helped you plant this tree, and
whenever you see it, whenever you care for it, when, in time, you sit
under its shade or wonder at its autumn hues, I wish you to remember
that I told you of my love beside it. Dear little girl, do you think I
am such a blind fool that I could spend this long day with you at your
home and not feel sorry that I must ever go away? If I could, my very
touch should turn the sap of this maple into vinegar. To-day I've only
tried to show how I can work for you. I am eager to begin again, and
At first Sue had tried to withdraw her hand, but its tenseness relaxed.
As he spoke, she turned her averted face slowly toward him, and the
rays of the setting sun flashed a deeper crimson into her cheeks. Her
honest eyes looked into his and were satisfied. Then she suddenly
gathered the young tree against her heart and kissed the stem she had
so nearly severed. "This maple is witness to what you've said," she
faltered. "Ah! but it will be a sugar-maple in truth; and if petting
will make it live—there, now! behave! The idea! right out on this bare
lawn! You must wait till the screening evergreens grow before—Oh, you
audacious—I haven't promised anything."
"I promise everything. I'm engaged, and only taking my retaining-fees."
"Mother," cried Farmer Banning at the dining-room window, "just look
"And do you mean to say, John Banning, that you didn't expect it?"
"Why, Sue was growing more and more offish."
"Of course! Don't you remember?"
"Oh, this unlucky birthday! As if trees could take Sue's place!"
"Yah!" chuckled Hiram from the barn door, "I knowed dat ar gem'lin was
a-diggin' a hole fer hisself on dis farm."
"Mr. Minturn—" Sue began as they came toward the house arm in arm.
"Hal—" he interrupted.
"Well, then, Mr. Hal, you must promise me one thing in dead earnest.
I'm the only chick father and mother have. You must be very considerate
of them, and let me give them as much of my time as I can. This is all
that I stipulate; but this I do."
"Sue," he said in mock solemnity, "the prospects are that you'll be a
"Why do you make such an absurd remark?"
"Because you have struck amidships the commandment with the promise,
and your days will be long in the land. You'll outlive everybody."
"This will be no joke for father and mother."
So it would appear. They sat in the parlor as if waiting for the world
to come to an end—as indeed it had, one phase of it, to them. Their
little girl, in a sense, was theirs no longer.
"Father, mother," said Sue, demurely, "I must break some news to you."
"It's broken already," began Mrs. Banning, putting her handkerchief to
Sue's glance renewed her reproaches for the scene on the lawn; but
Minturn went promptly forward, and throwing his arm around the matron's
plump shoulders, gave his first filial kiss.
"Come, mother," he said, "Sue has thought of you both; and I've given
her a big promise that I won't take any more of her away than I can
help. And you, sir," wringing the farmer's hand, "will often see a city
tramp here who will be glad to work for his dinner. These overalls are
Then they became conscious of his absurd figure, and the scene ended in
laughter that was near akin to tears.
The maple lived, you may rest assured; and Sue's children said there
never was such sugar as the sap of that tree yielded.
All the hemlocks, oaks, and dogwood thrived as if conscious that theirs
had been no ordinary transplanting; while Minturn's half-jesting
prophecy concerning the travellers in the valley was amply fulfilled.