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 yonder!”
“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 widow.”
“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 her eyes.
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 my witness.”
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.