LOVE AT HOME
Long years before the war, happy children were growing in the village of Alton. They studied the history of wars much as they conned their lessons in geography. Scenes of strife belonged to the past, or were enacted among people wholly unlike any who dwelt in their peaceful community. That Americans should ever fight each other was as undreamed of as that the minister should have a pitched battle in the street with his Sunday-school superintendent. They rejoiced mildly when in their progress through the United States history they came to pages descriptive of Indian wars and the Revolutionary struggle, since they found their lessons then more easily remembered than the wordy disputes and little understood decisions of statesmen. The first skating on the pond was an event which far transcended in importance anything related between the green covers of the old history book, while to Albert Nichol the privilege of strapping skates on the feet of little Helen Kemble, and gliding away with her over the smooth ice, was a triumph unknown by any general. He was the son of a plain farmer, and she the daughter of the village banker. Thus, even in childhood, there was thrown around her the glamour of position and reputed wealth—advantages which have their value among the most democratic folk, although slight outward deference may be paid to their possessors. It was the charming little face itself, with its piquant smiles and still more piquant pouts, which won Albert’s boyish admiration. The fact that she was the banker’s daughter only fired his ambition to be and to do something to make her proud of him.
Hobart Martine, another boy of the village, shared all his schoolmate’s admiration for pretty Nellie, as she was usually called. He had been lame from birth, and could not skate. He could only shiver on the bank or stamp around to keep himself warm, while the athletic Al and the graceful little girl passed and repassed, quite forgetting him. There was one thing he could do; and this pleasure he waited for till often numb with cold. He could draw the child on his sled to her home, which adjoined his own.
When it came his turn to do this, and he limped patiently through the snow, tugging at the rope, his heart grew warm as well as his chilled body. She was a rather imperious little belle with the other boys, but was usually gentle with him because he was lame and quiet. When she thanked him kindly and pleasantly at her gate, he was so happy that he could scarcely eat his supper. Then his mother would laugh and say, “You’ve been with your little sweetheart.” He would flush and make no reply.