Though his rival’s declaration, which he had every reason to suppose would be accepted, was the death blow to his hopes, yet he unselfishly stepped out into the snow, waited five minutes by his watch—a liberal allowance for an acceptance, he considered—and then rapped loud and theatrically before entering a second time. Could unselfishness go further?
Kate and Sanderson had no other opportunity for confidential talk that evening.
They were barely seated about the supper table, when there came a tremendous rapping at the door, and Marthy Perkins came in, half frozen. For once her voluble tongue was silenced. She retailed no gossip while submitting to the friendly ministrations of Mrs. Bartlett and Anna, who chafed her hands, gave her hot tea and thawed her back to life—and gossip.
“Is the Squire back yet?” asked Marthy with returning warmth. “Land sakes, what can be keeping him? Heard him say last night that he intended going away this morning, and thought he might have come back.”
“With news?” naively asked Sanderson.
“Why, yes. I did think it was likely that he might have gathered up something interesting, away a whole day.” Every one laughed but Mrs. Bartlett. She alone knew the object of her husband’s quest.
“Your father’s not likely to be back to-night—do you think so, Dave?” she asked her son, more by way of drawing him out than in the hope of getting any real information.
“No, I do not think it is likely, mother,” he answered.
“Good land! and I nearly froze to death getting here!” Marthy said in an aside to Mrs. Bartlett. “I tell you, Looizy, there is nothing like suspense for wearing you out. I couldn’t get a lick of sewing done to-day, waiting for Amasy to get in with the news.”
“Hallo! hallo! Let us in quick—here we are, me and the Squire—most froze! Hallo, hallo”—The rest of Hi’s remarks were a series of whoops.
Every one rose from the table, Mrs. Bartlett pale with apprehension. Marthy flushed with delight. She was not to be balked of her prey. The Squire was here with the news.
ALONE IN THE SNOW.
“The cold winds swept the mountain-height,
And pathless was the dreary wild,
And mid the cheerless hours of night
A mother wandered with her child:
As through the drifting snows she pressed,
The babe was sleeping on her breast.”—Seba Smith.
The head of the house was home from his mysterious errand, the real object of which was unknown to all but Marthy and his wife.
Kate unwound his muffler and took his cap; his wife assured him that she had been worried to death about him all day; the men inquired solicitously about his journey—how had he stood the cold—and Anna made ready his place at the table. But neither this domestic adulation nor the atmosphere of warmth and affection awaiting him at his own fireside served for a moment to turn him from the wanton brutality that he was pleased to dignify by the name of duty.