They were standing in the door now, and the covered sleigh was drawn up just in front.
“Auntie first,” she said, as they reached the carriage steps, and so the doctor was fain to help auntie in, whispering gallantly in an aside:
“Age before beauty always!”
“Thank you,” and Alice’s ringing laugh cut the winter air as she followed Densie Densmore, the doctor carefully wrapping her cloak about her, and asking if her fur was pulled up sufficiently around her neck.
“It’s very cold,” he said, glancing up at the glittering stars, scarcely brighter than the blue eyes flashing on him. “At least I found it so on my walk to church,” and with a slight shiver the scheming doctor was bowing himself away, when Alice exclaimed:
“Did you walk this wintry night? Pray, gratify me then by accepting a seat in our sleigh. There’s plenty of room without crowding auntie.”
Happy Dr. Richards! How he exerted himself to be agreeable, talking about the singing, asking if she often honored the people as she had to-night.
“I take Miss Fisher’s place when she is absent,” Alice replied, whereupon, the doctor said he must have her up at Terrace Hill some day, to try Anna’s long-neglected instrument. “It was once a most superb affair, but I believe it is sadly out of tune. Anna is very fond of you, Miss Johnson, and your visits would benefit her greatly. I assure you there’s a duty of charity to be discharged at Terrace Hill as well as elsewhere. Anna suffers from too close confinement indoors, but, with a little skill, I think we can manage to get her out once more. Shall we try?”
Selfish Dr. Richards! It was all the same to him whether Anna went out once a day or once a year, but Alice did not suspect him and she answered frankly that she should have visited Terrace Hill more frequently, had she supposed his mothers and sisters cared particularly for society, but she had always fancied they preferred being alone.
Mrs. Johnson did not like Dr. Richards, and yet he became an almost daily visitor at Riverside Cottage, where one face at least grew brighter when he came, and one pair of eyes beamed on him a welcome. His new code of morality worked admirably. Mr. Howard himself was not more regular at church, or Alice more devout, than Dr. Richards. The children, whom he had denominated “ragged brats,” were no longer spurned with contempt, but fed with peanuts and molasses candy. He was popular with the children, but the parents, clear-sighted, treated him most shabbily at his back, accusing him of caring only for Miss Alice’s good opinion.
This was what the poor said, and what many others thought. Even Anna, who took everything for what it seemed, roused herself and more than once remonstrated with her brother upon the course he was pursuing, if he were not in earnest, as something he once said to her made her half suspect.