It was a peerless Thanksgiving eve and day—one of the sun-lighted heights of human happiness.
After dinner they all again took a walk up the brawling stream, and Stanhope and Elsie became separated from the rest, though not so innocently as on the former occasion.
“See!” cried Elsie, pointing to the well-remembered sapling, which she had often visited. “There fluttered our flag of truce last year.”
Stanhope seized her hand and said eagerly: “And here I again break the truce, and renew the theme we dropped at this place. Oh, Elsie, I have felt that kiss in the depths of my heart every hour since; and in that it led to my knowing and loving you, it has made every day from that time one of thanksgiving. If you could return my love, as I have dared to hope, it would be a happiness beyond words. If I could venture to take one more kiss, as a token that it is returned, I could keep Thanksgiving forever.”
Her hand trembled in his, but was not withdrawn. Her blushing face was turned away toward the brawling stream; but she saw not its foam, she heard not its hoarse murmurs. A sweeter music was in her ears. She seemed under a delicious spell, but soon became conscious that a pair of dark eyes were looking down eagerly, anxiously for her answer. Shyly raising hers, that now were like dewy violets, she said, with a little of her old witchery:
“I suppose you will have to kiss me this Thanksgiving, to make things even.”
Stanhope needed no broader hint.
“I owe you a heavy grudge,” said Mr. Alford, in the evening. “A year ago you robbed me of my child, for little, kittenish Elsie became a thoughtful woman from the day you were here; and now you are going to take away the daughter of my old age.”
“Yes, indeed, husband. Now you know how my father felt,” said Mrs. Alford, at the same time wiping something from the corner of her eye.
“Bless me, are you here?” said the old gentleman, wheeling round to his wife. “Mr. Stanhope, I have nothing more to say.”
“I declare,” exulted George, “that ‘horrid man’ will devour Elsie yet.”
“Haw! haw! haw!” laughed big-voiced, big-hearted James. “The idea of our little witch of an Elsie being a minister’s wife!”
* * * * * * *
It is again Thanksgiving Eve. The trees are gaunt, the fields bare and brown, with dead leaves whirling across them; but a sweeter than June sunshine seems filling the cosey parlor where Elsie, a radiant bride, is receiving her husband’s first kiss almost on the moment that she with her lips so unexpectedly kindled the sacred fire, three years before.
Picnicking in December would be a dreary experience even if one could command all the appliances of comfort which outdoor life permitted. This would be especially true in the latitude of Boston and on the bleak hills overlooking that city and its environing waters. Dreary business indeed Ezekiel Watkins regarded it as he shivered over the smoky camp-fire which he maintained with difficulty. The sun was sinking into the southwest so early in the day that he remarked irritably: “Durned if it was worth while for it to rise at all.”