The Courtship of Susan Bell
This is a short story written by Anthony Trollope. Susan Bell, younger daughter of a widowed boarding-house keeper at Saratoga Springs, N.Y., was courted by Aaron Dunn, a rising young engineer. Susan’s dominating sister and her sanctimonious husband, the Rev. Phineas Beckard, professed to find Aaron unsuitable, as too worldly, but opposed the marriage unsuccessfully.
The Courtship of Susan Bell
by Anthony Trollope
John Munroe Bell had been a lawyer in Albany, State of New York, and had been successful. He had been successful as long as success on this earth had been allowed to him. But God had shortened his life.
In his youth he had married a gende, nervous, pretty, good little wife, whose whole heart and mind had been directed towards doing what he ordered and deserving his love. She had not only deserved it, but had possessed it, and as long as John Munroe Bell had lived, Henrietta Bell — Hetta as he called her — had been a woman who was rich in blessings. After 12 years of such blessings he had died, and had left her with two daughters, a second Hetta and the chief character of our little story, Susan Bell.
A lawyer in Albany may succeed quite well for eight or ten years and still not leave behind him any very large sum of money if he dies at the end of that time. John Bell had saved a few thousand dollars, so that his wife and daughters were left with something, though not a lot.
In those happy days when money had begun to flow in to the young father of the family, he had decided to build for himself, or rather for his young daughters, a small neat house near Saratoga Springs. He filled the house with nice furniture, and then during the summer weeks his wife lived there, and sometimes he rented it out.
I need not tell of the wife’s sorrow when the lord of her heart and master of her mind was laid in the grave. At the time of which I am about to speak, it had already been ten years since his death, and her children had grown to be young women beside her. Since that sad day on which they had left Albany, they had lived together at the small house at the Springs. In winter their life had been lonely enough; but as soon as the hot weather began to drive the fainting citizens out of New York, they had always received two or three paying guests — old ladies, usually, and occasionally an old gentleman — persons of steady habits, who liked the women’s charges better than they liked the charges of a hotel.
The world knows well enough that Saratoga is a good place to be in July, August and September. It is a very nice place for girls whose fathers’ pockets are full of money. Dancing and lovemaking come naturally, and marriage follows only too quickly. But the place was not very happy for Hetta or Susan Bell.
First, their mother was not a courageous woman, and among other anxieties she feared greatly that she would be thought guilty of trying to trap men into marriage. Poor mothers! How often people think they are doing this when they only want their children to be respected like all the others. She feared love too, though she wanted as well as feared it — for her girls, I mean; all such feelings for herself were long ago forgotten. And then she had other fears, and among them was a terror that those girls of hers would be left without husbands. But the result of so many fears and so little money was that Hetta and Susan Bell led dull lives.
I am limited in the number of my pages; if I were not, I would describe completely the qualities and beauties of Hetta and Susan Bell. Here I can say only a few words. At this time of their lives Hetta was nearly twenty-one and Susan was just nineteen. Hetta was a short, rather heavy young woman, with the softest smooth hair, and the brownest bright eyes. She was very useful in the house, good at making cakes; and she thought a great deal, especially in recent months, about her religious duties. Her sister sometimes laughed at the patience with which she listened to the long speeches of Mr Phineas Beckard, a minister of religion. Now, Mr Phineas Beckard was not married.
Susan was not so good a girl in the kitchen or in the house as her sister was, but she was bright in the sitting room. And if her greatest secret were known, it might have been found that Susan was loved a little more. She was taller than her sister; her eyes were blue, as were her mothers; her hair was brighter than Hetta’s, but not always so neat. And oh, such a mouth! There; I am allowed no more pages for this.
One very cold winter’s day there came a knocking at the door – a young man. In these days there was not often much to upset the calmness of Mrs Bell’s house; but on this day there came a knocking at the door — a young man.
Mrs Bell kept an old servant, who had lived with them in those happy Albany days. Her name was Kate O’Brien. She was a large, noisy, good-tempered old Irishwoman, who had joined the family when Mrs Bell first began housekeeping; and, recognizing when she was in a comfortable place, she had remained with them ever since. She had known Hetta as a baby and had been there when Susan was born.
‘And what do you want, sir?’ said Kate O’Brien, not very pleased as she opened the door and let in all the cold air.
‘I wish to see Mrs Bell. Is this not Mrs Bell’s house?’ said the young man, shaking the snow from his coat.
He did see Mrs Bell, and we will now tell who he was, and why he had come, and how his bag was brought to the house and one of the front bedrooms was prepared for him, and that he drank tea that night in the slitting room.
His name was Aaron Dunn, and by profession he was an engineer. I never quite understood what problem there was with the railway which runs from Schenectady to Lake Champlain in those days of cold and snow. Banks and bridges had in some way suffered, and it was Aaron Dunn’s duty to see that they were repaired. Saratoga Springs was at the centre of these misfortunes, and therefore it was necessary that he should stay at Saratoga Springs.
There was at that time in New York City a Mr Bell, great in railway matters — an uncle of the now dead Albany lawyer. He was a rich man, but he liked his riches himself; he did not feel he ought to share them with the wife and daughters of his brother’s son. But when Aaron Dunn was sent to Saratoga, he took the young man to one side and asked him to stay at the woman’s house. ‘There,’ said he,‘show her my card.’ The rich uncle thought he might help the family a little.
Mrs Bell and both daughters were in the sitting room when Aaron Dunn was brought in, covered with snow. He told his story in a rough, shaky voice; his teeth were shaking with cold. And he gave the card, almost wishing that he had gone to the big empty hotel, as the welcome here was not very warm at first.
Mrs Bell listened to him as he gave his message, and then she took the card and looked at it. Hetta, who was sitting on the side of the fireplace facing the door, went on quietly with her work. Susan gave one look round — her back was to the stranger — and then another; and then she moved her chair a little nearer to the wall, to give the young man room to come to the fire, if he wished. He did not come, but he looked at Susan Bell; and he thought that the old man in New York was right, and that the big hotel would be cold and dull. It was a pretty face to look on, that cold evening, as she turned it up from her sewing.
‘Perhaps you don’t wish to take visitors in the winter, madam?’ said Aaron Dunn.
‘We have never done so yet, sir,’ said Mrs Bell gently. Could she let this young man into the house among her daughters?
‘Mr Bell seemed to think that it would be suitable,’ said Aaron.
If he had not mentioned Mr Bell, it would all have been finished. But the woman did not like to go against the rich uncle; and so she said, ‘Perhaps it may, sir.’ ‘I think it will,’ said Aaron. And then he settled the weekly number of dollars — with very little difficulty, because he had seen Susan s face again — and went for his bag.
So Aaron Dunn entered Mrs Bell’s house; but she was a little anxious that night. What kind of man was he? But then what if he was a strong honest man with a clever eye and hand, a ready brain, a broad back, and a warm heart? In need of a wife, perhaps; a man that could earn his own bread and another’s bread. Would that not be a good sort of guest? Such a question as that did pass across the mother’s sleepless mind. But he might be a worse kind of man. The worse kind was more common.
‘I am surprised that Mother agreed to take him,’ said Hetta, when the girls were alone together.
‘And why shouldn’t she?’ said Susan. ‘It will help us.’
‘Yes, it will help us a little,’ said Hetta. ‘But we have done very well so far without winter guests.’
‘But Uncle Bell said she must take him.’
‘What is Uncle Bell to us?’ said Hetta, who had a courage of her own. And she began to wonder whether Aaron Dunn would join in her religious work. And whether Phineas Beckard would be glad or not.
‘He is a very well-behaved young man,’ said Susan, ‘and he draws beautifully. Did you see what he brought with him?’
‘He draws very well, perhaps,’ said Hetta, who thought this no proof of good behaviour. She had some fear for her sister.
Aaron Dunn’s work — the beginning of his work — lay at some distance from the Springs, and he left every morning with a lot of workmen by an early train – almost before daylight. And every morning, although the mornings were cold and wintry, Hetta got him his breakfast with her own hands. She took his dollars, so that he was not completely left in the power of Kate O’Brien.
In the evening, leaving his work when it was dark, Aaron returned, and then the evening was spent together. The women would make the tea, cut the bread and butter, and then sew; while Aaron Dunn, when the cups were taken away, would go to his plans and drawings.
On Sundays they were more together; but even on this day there was cause for separation, since they went to different churches. But in the afternoon they were all at home; and then Phineas Beckard came in to tea, and he and Aaron talked about religion. They disagreed a good deal, but the minister told the women that Aaron had good ideas in him.
Things went on in this way for more than a month. Aaron had told himself again and again that that face was sweet to look at, and had promised himself certain pleasures in talking and perhaps walking with the owner of it. But he had not yet succeeded in the walkings, or even the talkings. The truth was that Dunn was rather afraid of women.
And then he felt angry with himself because he had done nothing; and as he lay in his bed he decided that he would be a little braver. He had no idea of making love to Susan Bell; of course not. But why should he not amuse himself by talking to a pretty girl when she sat so near him, evening after evening?
‘What a very quiet young man he is,’ said Susan to her sister.
‘He has his bread to earn, and so he works hard,’ said Hetta. ‘Probably he has his amusement when he is in the city.’
They all had their settled places in the sitting room. Hetta sat on one side of the fire, close to the table. There she was always busy; she must have made every dress worn in the house. Sometimes, once a week perhaps, Phineas Beckard came in, and then a place was made for him between Hetta’s usual seat and the table. On the other side, close also to the table, sat the mother, busy, but not as busy as her daughter. Between Mrs Bell and the wall Susan would sit, doing a little work and talking sometimes to her mother. Opposite them all, at the other side of the table, far away from the fire, Aaron Dunn sat with his plans and drawings in front of him.
‘Do you know a good bridge when you see it, madam?’ said Aaron the evening after he had made his decision. This was how he began his lovemaking.
‘Bridge?’ cried Mrs Bell; ‘Oh, no, sir.’ But she put out her hand to take the little drawing which Aaron handed to her.
‘Because that’s one I’ve planned for one part of the railway line. I think Miss Susan knows something about bridges.’
‘I don’t think so,’ said Susan; ‘only that they shouldn’t fall down when the cold weather comes.’
‘Ha, ha, ha! Quite right.’
‘Oh, how pretty!’ said the woman, and then Susan of course jumped up to look over her mother’s shoulder.
The clever man! He had drawn and coloured a beautiful little picture of a bridge.
‘Well, that is a pretty bridge,’ said Susan. ‘Isn’t it, Hetta?’
‘I don’t know anything about bridges,’ said Hetta. The trick was quite clear to her clever eyes. But Mrs Bell and Susan had soon moved their chairs round the table and were looking at Aaron’s drawings.
‘But he may be a bad man,’ thought the poor mother, as she was kneeling down to say her prayers that night.
That evening Aaron had certainly made a start. Before bedtime he was teaching Susan how to use his drawing instruments. Susan liked it and had an enjoyable time that evening. It is dull to go on week after week, and month after month, talking only to one’s mother and one’s sister. Susan did not think of Aaron as a possible lover at all. But young ladies do like the conversations of young gentlemen.
Susan was happy when she went to bed; but Hetta was frightened at the trick.
‘Oh, Hetta, you ought to have looked at those drawings. He is so clever!’ said Susan.
‘I don’t think they would have done me much good,’ replied Hetta.
‘Good! They do me more good than going to church; except on Sunday, of course.’ This was a bad-tempered attack on Hetta and Iletta’s admirer, Phineas.
‘I’m sure he’s bad,’ thought Hetta as she went to bed.
‘What a very clever young man he is!’ thought Susan to herself as she pulled the warm bedclothes round her shoulders and ears.
‘Well, that was certainly better,’ thought Aaron, as he did the same.
In the next two weeks Aaron sometimes read poetry to the others in the evenings. ‘He reads much better than Mr Beckard,’ Susan said one night. ‘Of course, you’re a good judge,’ had been Hetta’s reply. ‘I mean that I like it better,’ said Susan.
And then there was a great deal of talking. The mother herself talked freely and enjoyed it. And Beckard came there more often and talked a lot. There grew up a sort of friendship between the young men.
It was at the end of the second month when Aaron took another step – a dangerous step. In the evenings he still went on with his drawing for an hour or two; but for three or four evenings he did not ask anyone to look at what he was doing. One Friday he sat over his work until late, without any reading or talking at all; so late that at last Mrs Bell said, ‘If you’re going to sit much longer, Mr Dunn . . ’
‘I’ve finished now,’ said Aaron; and he looked carefully at the paper on which he had put his colours. ‘I’ve finished now.’ He paused for a moment, but then he carried the paper up to his bedroom with the rest. It was clear that it was intended as a present for Susan Bell.
The question which Aaron asked himself that night was this: should he offer the drawing to Susan in the presence of her mother and sister, or on some other occasion when they might be alone together? They had never been alone together yet, but Aaron thought they might be.
But he did not want to make it seem important. His first intention had been to throw the drawing carelessly across the table when it was completed, and to treat it as nothing. But he had finished it with more care than he had at first intended, and then he had paused when he had finished it. It was too late now to be careless about it.
On the Saturday evening when he came down from his room, Mr Beckard was there, and there was no opportunity that night. On the Sunday he went to church and walked with the family. This pleased Mrs Bell; but Sunday was not a suitable day for the picture.
On Monday the matter had become important to him. Things always do when they are delayed. Before tea that evening, when he came down, only Mrs Bell and Susan were in the room. He knew Hetta was his enemy, and therefore he decided to take this opportunity.
‘Miss Susan,’ he said slowly, his face a fiery red. ‘I have done a little drawing which I want you to accept.’
‘Oh! I’m not sure,’ said Susan, who had seen the red face.
Mrs Bell had seen it too, and pressed her lips together and looked serious. If he had not paused, and if he had not gone red in the face, she might have thought it quite unimportant.
Aaron saw immediately that his little gift would not be accepted easily. But he picked it out of his other papers and brought it to Susan. He tried to hand it to her carelessly’, but I cannot say that he succeeded.
It was a very pretty coloured drawing of the same bridge, but with more details. In Susan’s eyes it was a work of high art. She had seen few pictures, and her liking for the artist no doubt added to her admiration. But the more she admired it and wished for it, the stronger was her feeling that she ought not to take it.
Poor Susan! She stood for a minute looking at the drawing, but she said nothing; not even a word of praise. She felt that she was red in the face, and impolite to their guest; but her mother was looking at her and she did not know how to behave.
Mrs Bell put out her hand for the drawing, trying to think how to refuse the present politely. She took a moment to look at it.
‘Oh, dear, Mr Dunn, it is very pretty; quite a beautiful picture. I cannot let Susan take that from you. You must keep it for some of your own special friends.’
‘But I did it for her,’ said Aaron.
Susan looked down at the ground, half pleased with the words. The drawing would look pretty in a small frame over her dressing table. But the matter was now in her mother’s hands.
‘I am afraid it is too valuable, sir, for Susan to accept.’
‘It is not valuable at all,’ said Aaron, refusing to take it back from the woman’s hand.
‘Oh, I am quite sure it is. It is worth ten dollars at least — or twenty,’ said poor Mrs Bell. The picture now lay on the tablecloth.
‘It is not worth ten cents,’ said Aaron. ‘But as we had been talking about the bridge, I thought Miss Susan would accept it.’
‘Accept what?’ said Hetta, who had just come in. And then her eyes fell on the drawing and she picked it up.
‘It is beautifully done,’ said Mrs Bell gently. ‘I am telling Mr Dunn that we can’t take a present of anything so valuable.’
‘Oh, no,’ said Hetta. ‘It wouldn’t be right.’
It was a cold evening in March, and the fire was burning brightly. Aaron Dunn took up the drawing quietly — very quietly – and, rolling it up, put it between the burning pieces of wood. It was the work of four evenings, and the best picture he had ever done.
Susan, when she saw what he had done, burst into tears. Her mother could easily have done the same, but she was able to control herself and only cried,‘Oh, Mr Dunn!’
‘If Mr Dunn wants to burn his own picture, he certainly has a right to do so,’ said Hetta.
Aaron immediately felt ashamed of what he had done; and he also could have cried if he had not been a man. He walked away to one of the windows and looked out at the night. The stars were bright, and he thought that he would like to be walking fast by himself along the railway towards Balston. There he stood, perhaps for three minutes. He thought it would be proper to give Susan time to stop her tears.
‘Will you please come to your tea, sir?’ said Mrs Bell.
He turned round to do so, and found that Susan was gone. She could not stop her tears in three minutes. And the drawing had been so beautiful! It had been done especially for her too! And there had been something — she did not know what — in his eyes as he had said so. She had watched him closely during those four evenings’ work; it was something very particular, she was sure, and she had learned that all the careful work had been for her. Now all that work was destroyed. How was it possible that she should not cry for more than three minutes?
The others had their meal in perfect silence, and when it was over the two women sat down to their work. Aaron had a book which he pretended to read, but instead of reading he was thinking that he had behaved badly. He was ashamed of what he had done, and he thought that Susan would hate him. He began to find at the same time that he by no means hated her.
At last Hetta got up and left the room. She knew that her sister was sitting alone in the cold. Susan had not been at fault and therefore Hetta went up to comfort her.
‘Mrs Bell,’ said Aaron as soon as the door was closed, ‘I beg your pardon for what I did just now.’
‘Oh, sir, I’m so sorry that the picture is burnt,’ said poor Mrs Bell.
‘The picture does not matter at all,’ said Aaron. ‘But I see that I have upset you all — and I am afraid I have made Miss Susan unhappy.’
‘She was sorry because your picture was burnt,’ said Mrs Bell.
‘Oh, I can do 20 more of the same if anybody wants them,’ said Aaron. ‘If I do another like it, will you let her take it, Mrs Bell? Just to show that you have forgiven me.’
‘But it mustn’t have any meaning, sir,’ was the woman’s weak answer, when she had considered the question for a moment.
‘No, no, of course not,’ said Aaron joyfully, and his face became happy. ‘And I do beg your pardon for burning it; and the young ladies’ pardon too.’ And then he rapidly got out his pencils, and set himself to work on another bridge. The woman, thinking of many things in her heart, began sewing a handkerchief.
In about an hour the two girls came back to the room and took their usual places silently. Aaron hardly looked up, but went on with his drawing. This bridge would be a better bridge than the other. He knew that it would be accepted. Of course it must mean nothing. So he said nothing to anybody.
When they went off to bed, the two girls went into their mother’s room. ‘Oh, Mother, I hope he is not very angry,’ said Susan.
‘Angry!’ said Hetta. ‘If anybody ought to be angry, it should be Mother. He ought to have known that Susan could not accept it. He should never have offered it.’
‘But he’s doing another,’ said Mrs Bell.
‘Not for her,’ said Hetta.
‘Yes, he is,’ said Mrs Bell, ‘and I have promised that she will take it.’ As she heard this, Susan’s eyes filled with tears. The meaning was almost more than she could bear.
‘Oh, Mother!’ said Hetta.
‘But I particularly said that it must mean nothing.’
‘Oh, Mother, that makes it worse.’
Susan wondered why Hetta wanted to get involved in this way. Had Susan said anything when Mr Beckard gave Hetta something? Had she not smiled and looked pleased, and kissed her sister, and declared that Phineas Beckard was a nice, dear man? Why was Hetta being so cruel?
‘I don’t understand that, my dear,’ said the mother. Hetta refused to explain before her sister, and they all went to bed.
On the Thursday evening the drawing was finished. Not a word had been said about it in Aaron’s presence, and he had gone on working in silence. ‘There,’ said he, late on Thursday evening, ‘I don’t think that it will be any better if I go on for another hour. There, Miss Susan; there’s another bridge. I hope that it will neither burst with the cold nor be destroyed by fire,’ and he passed it across the table.
Susan’s face was red when she smiled and picked it up. ‘Oh, it is beautiful,’ she said. ‘Isn’t it beautifully done, Mother?’ and then all three got up to look at it, and all admitted that it was excellently done.
‘And I am sure we thank you very much,’ said Susan after a pause.
‘Oh, it’s nothing,’ said he, not quite liking the word ‘we’.
On the following day he returned from his work to Saratoga at about midday. He had never done this before, and therefore no one expected that he would be seen in the house before the evening. Susan was there alone in charge of the house.
He walked in and opened the sitting room door. There she sat, with her work forgotten on the table behind her, and the picture, Aaron’s drawing, on her knees. She was looking at it closely as he entered, thinking in her young heart that it possessed all the beauties that a picture could possess.
‘Oh, Mr Dunn,’ she said, getting up and holding the picture behind her dress.
‘Miss Susan, I have come here to tell your mother that I must start for New York this afternoon and be there for six weeks, or perhaps longer.’
‘Mother is out,’ said she; ‘I’m so sorry.’
‘Is she?’ said Aaron.
‘And Hetta too. Dear me! And you will want dinner. I’ll go and see about it.’
Aaron began to swear that he could not possibly eat any dinner. He had had one dinner, and he was going to have another
anything to keep her from going.
‘But you must have something, Mr Dunn,’ and she walked towards the door.
But he put his back to it. ‘Miss Susan,’ said he, ‘I’ve been here for nearly two months.’
‘Yes, sir, I believe you have,’ she replied, shaking in her shoes and not knowing which way to look.
‘And I hope we have been good friends.’
‘Yes, sir,’ said Susan, hardly knowing what she was saying.
‘I’m going away now, and it will be a long time before I’m back.’
‘Will it, sir?’
‘Six weeks, Miss Susan!’ And there he paused, looking into her eyes, to see what he could read there. She leant against the table, pulling to pieces a handkerchief which she held in her hand; but her eyes were turned to the ground, and he could hardly see them.
‘Miss Susan,’ he continued, ‘this is as good a time to speak as any other.’ He too was looking towards the ground, and clearly did not know what to do with his hands. ‘The truth is just this. I
I love you dearly, with all my heart. I never saw anyone I thought so beautiful, so nice, so good; and what’s more, I never shall. I’m not very good at saying things like this, I know; but I couldn’t go away from Saratoga for six weeks and not tell you.’ And then he stopped. He did not ask for any love in return. He simply declared his feelings, leaning against the door.
Susan had not the slightest idea of the way in which she ought to reply to such words. She had never had a lover before; nor had she thought of Aaron exactly as a lover, though it is true she had been feeling something very like love for him. Now, at this moment, she thought that he was the best possible man, though his shoes were covered with railway mud, and his clothes were rough. He was a fine, well-built, honest man, whose eye was brave but gentle. Love him! Of course she loved him.
But what must she say? Not the whole truth; she well knew that. What would her mother and Hetta say if she told the truth? Hetta, she knew, would be against such a lover, and she had hardly more hope of her mother’s agreement. She never asked herself why they disliked Aaron as a lover for her. There are many nice things that seem to be wrong only because they are nice. Perhaps Susan thought of a lover as one of them. ‘Oh, Mr Dunn, you shouldn’t.’ That in fact was all that she could say.
‘Shouldn’t I?’ said he. ‘Well, perhaps not; but there’s the truth, and no harm ever comes of that. Perhaps it’s better for me not to ask for an answer now, but I thought it better that you should know it all. And remember this — I only care for one thing now in the world, and that is for your love.’ And then he paused, hoping that perhaps he might get some sort of an answer, some idea of her heart’s feelings towards him.
But Susan had immediately decided to agree when he suggested that an immediate reply was not necessary. To say that she loved him was of course impossible, and to say that she did not was equally so. She therefore decided to be silent.
He tried hard to read what might be written on her down- turned face, but he was not good at such reading. ‘Well, I’ll go and get my things ready now,’ he said, and then turned to open the door.
‘Mother will come home before you are gone, I suppose,’ said Susan.
‘I have only got 20 minutes,’ said he, looking at his watch. ‘But, Susan, tell her what I have said to you. Goodbye.’ And he put out his hand. He knew he would see her again, but this had been his plan to get her hand into his.
‘Goodbye, Mr Dunn,’ and she gave him her hand.
He held it tight for a moment, so that she could not pull it away. ‘Will you tell your mother?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ she answered, quite in a whisper. ‘I think it’s better to tell her.’ He pressed her hand again and got it to his lips.
‘Mr Dunn, don’t,’ she said. But he did kiss it. ‘God keep you, my own dearest, dearest girl! I’ll just open the door as I come down. Perhaps Mrs Bell will be here.’
But Mrs Bell did not come in. Susan, when left alone, sat down and tried to think. But she could not think; she could only love. She thought of the young god whose heavy steps could be heard upstairs as he walked around collecting things and putting them into his bag.
And then, just when he had finished, she remembered that he must be hungry. She ran to the kitchen, but she was too late. Before she could even reach the bread he came down the stairs.
‘Miss Susan,’ he said, ‘don’t get anything for me; I’m going now.’
‘Oh, Mr Dunn, I am sorry. You’ll be hungry on your journey,’ and she came out to him in the passage.
‘I shall want nothing on the journey, dearest, if you’ll say one kind word to me.’
Again her eyes fell to the ground. ‘What do you want me to say, Mr Dunn?’
‘Say, God keep you, Aaron.’
‘God keep you, Aaron,’ said she; but she was sure that she had not stated her love. He thought differently, though, and went to New York with a happy heart.
Things happened rather quickly in the next two weeks. Susan decided to tell her mother, but not Hetta. She spoke to her mother that afternoon.
‘And what did you say to him, Susan?’
‘Nothing, Mother; not a word. He told me he didn’t want it.’ She forgot how she had used his first name in asking God to keep him.
‘Oh dear!’ said her mother.
‘Was it very wrong?’ asked Susan.
‘But what do you think yourself, my child?’ asked Mrs Bell after a time. ‘What are your own feelings?’
Mrs Bell was sitting on a chair, and Susan was standing opposite her. She made no answer but, moving from her place, she threw herself into her mother’s arms and hid her face on her mother’s shoulder. It was easy enough to guess what her feelings were.
‘But, my dear,’ said her mother, ‘you must not think that you are promised in marriage.’
‘No,’ said Susan sorrowfully.
‘Young men say these things to amuse themselves.’
‘Oh, Mother, he is not like that.’
The daughter managed to get a promise that Hetta should not be told just at present. Mrs Bell calculated that she had six weeks before her; Mr Beckard had not asked Hetta to marry him yet, but there was reason to think that he would do so before those six weeks were over, and then she would be able to ask him for advice.
Mr Beckard spoke out at the end of six days, and Hetta immediately accepted him. ‘I hope you’ll love him,’ she said to Susan.
‘Oh, I will, I will,’ said Susan; and she nearly told her secret. But Hetta was thinking of her own affairs.
It was then arranged that Hetta should go and spend a week with Mr Beckard’s parents. Old Mr Beckard was a farmer living near Utah, and it was thought a good idea that Hetta should know her future husband’s family. So she went for a week, and Mr Beckard went with her.‘He will be back in plenty of time for me to speak to him before Aaron Dunn’s six weeks are over,’ said Mrs Bell to herself.
But things did not go exactly as she had expected. On the morning after the two went away, there came a letter from Aaron saying that he would be at Saratoga that evening. The railway people had ordered him to come back for some days’ special work; then he would go away again, and not come back to Saratoga until June.
‘Oh dear, oh dear!’ said Mrs Bell to herself, thinking that she had no one to advise her. Why had she let Mr Beckard go without telling him? Then she told Susan, and Susan spent the day trembling. Perhaps, thought Mrs Bell, he will say nothing about it. But then would it not be her duty to say something;? Poor mother! She trembled nearly as much as Susan.
It was dark when the knock came at the door. The tea things were laid, and the tea cake was ready; since it would be necessary in any case to give Mr Dunn his tea. Susan, when she heard the knock, rushed upstairs. Kate O’Brien opened the door, and welcomed her old friend.
‘How are the ladies?’ asked Aaron, trying to learn something from the servant’s face and voice.
‘Miss Hetta and Mr Beckard have gone off to Utah, just like man and wife.’
‘Oh, really; I’m very glad,’ said Aaron — and so he was; very glad to have Hetta away. And then he went to the sitting room, doubting much and hoping much.
Mrs Bell rose from her chair, and tried to look serious. Aaron saw that Susan was not in the room. He walked straight up to the woman and offered her his hand, which she took. Perhaps Susan had not told; so he said nothing.
But the subject was too important to the mother to allow her to be silent when the young man stood before her. ‘Oh, Mr Dunn,’ she said,‘what is this that you have been saying to Susan?’
‘I have asked her to be my wife,’ said he, standing up straight and looking her full in the face. Mrs Bell’s heart was almost as soft as her daughter’s; but at the time she said only ‘Oh dear, oh dear!’
‘May I not call you Mother?’ said he, taking both her hands in his.
‘Oh dear, oh dear; but will you be good to her? Oh, Aaron Dunn, if you deceive my child!’
In another quarter of an hour, Susan was kneeling at her mother’s knee with tears in her eyes, and Aaron was holding one of her mother’s hands.
‘You are my mother too, now,’ said he. What would Hetta and Mr Beckard say when they came back?
There were four or five days left before they would come back; four or five days during which Susan might be happy, Aaron glad, and Mrs Bell nervous. But it was really only the evenings that were left of the days. Every morning Susan got up to give Aaron his breakfast, but Mrs Bell got up too. After that Aaron was always out until seven or eight in the evening, when he came home for his tea. Then came the hour or two of lovers’ meeting.
But they were very dull, those hours. The mother was still afraid that she was wrong, and although she wanted her daughter to be happy, she feared to be too sure. Not a word had been said about money matters, not a word of Aaron Dunn’s relations. So she did not leave the young people by themselves, but waited patiently for her wise advisers to come back.
And Susan hardly knew how to behave with Aaron. She felt that she was very happy; but perhaps she was happiest when she was thinking about him through the long day, arranging little things for his comfort, and waiting for the evening. And as he sat there in the sitting room she could be happy too, if she were only allowed to sit still and look at him.
But he wanted to hear her speak, and perhaps thought he had the right to sit by her and hold her hand. No such rights were given to him. If they had been alone together, walking side by side as lovers ought to walk, she could have spoken to him. But though there was much love between Aaron and Susan, they were not close friends yet. And her mother’s presence prevented easy conversation. Aaron was very fond of Mrs Bell, but he did sometimes wish that her housework would take her out of the sitting room for a few happy minutes.
Once for a moment he did find his love alone, when he returned to the house. ‘My own Susan, do you love me? Do say so to me once.’ And he managed to put his arm round her. ‘Yes,’ she whispered; but then she slipped away from him. And when she reached her room she felt that she really did love him deeply with a love that filled her whole life. Why could she not have told him something of all this?
And so the few days of his second stay at Saratoga passed away not very satisfactorily. It was arranged that he should return to New York on Saturday night, leaving Saratoga on that evening. And as Hetta and Mr Beckard were arriving back to dinner on that day, Mrs Bell would have an opportunity of telling her wonderful news. It might be a good thing for Mr Beckard to see Aaron before he left.
They came in time for dinner, and talked about all their arrangements. After dinner Susan disappeared immediately, and her mother told Hetta.
‘Asked her to marry him!’ said Hetta, who perhaps thought that one marriage in a family was enough at one time.
‘Yes, my dear — and he did it, I must say, in a very honourable way, telling her not to make any answer until she had spoken to me. That was very nice; was it not, Phineas?’
‘And what has been said to him since then?’ asked Phineas.
‘Nothing definite,’ said Mrs Bell. ‘I know nothing about his financial affairs.’
‘He is a man who will always earn his bread,’ said Mr Beckard; and Mrs Bell blessed him in her heart for saying it.
‘But has he been encouraged?’ asked Hetta.
‘Well, yes, he has,’ said her mother.
‘Then Susan, I suppose, likes him?’ asked Phineas.
‘Well, yes, she does,’ said the woman.
It was decided that Phineas should have a talk with Aaron about his worldly position, and decide whether Aaron could be accepted as a lover.
When Beckard spoke to Aaron, the latter declared that he had nothing except what he made as an engineer. He said that he was well paid just then, but would have to look for other work at the end of the summer.
‘Then you can hardly marry at present,’ said the minister.
‘Perhaps not quite immediately. In three or four months, perhaps.’ But Mr Beckard shook his head.
The afternoon at Mrs Bell’s house was sad. The decision was as follows. There could be no promise, and of course no letters. Aaron would be told that it would be better for him to stay somewhere else when he returned; but that he would be allowed to visit Mrs Bell’s house. If he got better and more permanent work, of course, and if Susan still felt the same … This was what Mrs Bell and Hetta told Susan. She sat still and cried when she heard it, but she was not surprised. She had always felt that Hetta would be against her.
‘Am I not allowed to see him then?’ she said through her tears.
Hetta thought she had better not. Mrs Bell thought perhaps she could. Phineas decided that they could shake hands when all the others were present. There should be no lovers’ goodbye. Poor Susan!
Susan was gentle and womanly. But Aaron was not very gentle and he was a man. When Mr Beckard told him of the decision, there came over his face the look which he had worn when he burned the picture. He said that Mrs Bell had encouraged him, and he did not understand why other people should now come and change things.
‘It was not a promise,’ said Mrs Bell sorrowfully.
He said that he was ready and able to work and knew his profession and asked what young man of his age had done better than he had.
Then Mr Beckard spoke out, very wisely no doubt, but for too long a time. Sons and daughters, as well as fathers and mothers, will know what he said; so I need not repeat the words. I cannot say that Aaron listened with much attention.
‘Mrs Bell,’ said Aaron. ‘I think of myself as promised to Susan. And I think of Susan as promised to me. And I think she wishes to be.’
‘But, Aaron, you won’t try to see her or write to her in secret, will you?’
‘When I try to see her, I’ll come and knock at this door; and if I write to her, I’ll write to the full address by the post. I never did and never will do anything in secret.’
‘I know you’re good and honest,’ said the woman, with her handkerchief to her eyes.
‘Then why do you separate us?’ he asked, almost roughly. ‘I suppose I may see her before I go? It’s nearly time now’.’
And then Susan was called for. She came with Hetta, and her eyes were red with crying.
‘Goodbye, Susan,’ said Aaron, and he walked up to her quite openly; his temper was hot. She took his hand and he held it until he had finished speaking. ‘Remember this: I think of you as my promised wife.’
‘Goodbye, Aaron,’ she said through her tears.
‘Goodbye, and God bless you, my dearest!’And then, without saying a word to anyone else, he turned his back on them and left.
There had been something very sweet to the poor girl in her lover’s last words, but he seemed to feel nothing but anger for the others. She knew that she could never, never stop loving him better than all the world. She would wait patiently, and then, if he did not come back, she would die.
In another month Hetta became Mrs Beckard. The summer came and the house was full of guests. Susan was busy Aaron did not come back to Saratoga: during the whole long summer they heard not a word from him. And then the cold winter months came, and the guests left. It was a sad winter.
They learned nothing of Aaron Dunn until about January; and then they heard that he was doing well. He had work on a railway, was highly paid, and was much respected. But still he neither came nor wrote!
After that Mrs Bell thought it her duty to teach her daughter that she would see Aaron Dunn no more. He had the right to leave her. He had been driven from the house when he was poor, and they had no right to expect that he would return. ‘Men do amuse themselves in that way,’ said the woman.
‘He is not like that,’ the daughter replied.
And so, through the long winter months, Susan became paler and paler, and thinner and thinner.
Hetta tried to comfort her sister with religion; but it was of little use. She thought that Susan was wrong to grow thin and pale through love of Aaron; so Susan in those days found no comfort in her sister. But her mother’s soft pity and love did make her suffering easy to bear.
‘He will never come again,’ said Susan one day.
‘My dear,’ said her mother, pressing her child closely to her side. ‘I do not think he will.’
Then the hot tears ran down Susan’s face. ‘Was I wrong to love him?’ she asked.
‘No, my child; you were not wrong at all.’
The next morning Susan did not get up. She was not ill, she said, but very tired. Her mother’s heart was full of sorrow for her child. Oh, why had she driven away the love of an honest man?
On the next morning Susan again did not get up — so she did not hear the step of the postman, who brought a letter to the door.The letter which he brought was as follows:
My dear Mrs Bell,
I have now got a permanent post on the railway line, and the salary is enough for myself and a wife. That is what I think, and I hope you will too. I shall be at Saratoga tomorrow evening, and I hope neither Susan nor you will refuse to receive me.
It was very short, and did not contain one word of love. But it made the woman’s heart jump for joy? She was afraid that Aaron was angry, because the letter was so short; but surely he had only one aim in coming.
How could she tell Susan? She ran upstairs almost breathless with speed; but then she stopped: too much joy was as dangerous as too much sorrow; she must think for a time.
After breakfast she went into Susan’s room.
‘Susan dear,’ she said, and smiled, ‘you’ll be able to get up this morning, perhaps?’
‘I don’t mean at this moment, my love. I want to sit with you for a short time.’
‘Dearest Mother,’ said Susan.
‘Ah! there’s someone dearer than I am,’ and Mrs Bell smiled sweetly.
Susan raised herself quickly in the bed. ‘Mother, what is it? You’ve something to tell. Oh Mother! You’ve got a letter. Is he coming?’ She sat up with eager eyes.
‘Yes, dear. I have got a letter.’
‘Is he — is he coming?’
How the mother answered I can hardly tell; but she did answer. It was hard to say who was the happier.
Aaron was coming that evening. ‘Oh, Mother, let me get up.’
But Mrs Bell said no, not yet. Her dear daughter was pale and thin. Suppose he came and saw her and, finding her beauty gone, disappeared again and looked for a wife somewhere else. So Susan lay in bed, sleeping sometimes and fearing as she woke that it was a dream. She often looked at the drawing, which she kept on the bed, and tried to think what she should say to him.
‘Mother,’ she said when Mrs Bell once went up to her, ‘you won’t tell Hetta and Phineas, will you?’ Mrs Bell agreed.
When Susan got up, she asked her mother what to wear.‘If he loves you,’ said her mother, ‘he will hardly see what you are wearing.’ But she was careful to brush her daughter’s hair.
How Susan’s heart beat – how both their hearts beat as the hands of the clock came round to seven! And then, exactly at seven, that same sharp knock came. ‘Oh, Mother, I must go upstairs,’ cried Susan, jumping from her chair.
‘I will, Mother.’
‘No, dear; you have not time.’ And then Aaron Dunn was in the room.
She had thought a lot about what to say to him; but it mattered very little. Aaron Dunn came into the room, and in one second she found herself in the centre of a storm, and his arms were the storm that surrounded her on every side.
‘My own, my dearest girl,’ he said again and again.
‘Aaron, dear Aaron,’ she whispered. She knew that she had her lover there safe, whatever Mr and Mrs Beckard might say. She was quite happy.
‘Dear Aaron, I am so glad that you have come,’ said Mrs Bell, as she went upstairs with him to show him his room.
‘Dear, dear Mother,’ he said.
On the next day Hetta and Phineas came and talked about the marriage with Mrs Bell. Hetta at first was not quite certain. ‘Shouldn’t we find out if the post is really permanent?’ she said.
‘I won’t ask at all,’ said Mrs Bell in a decisive voice that made Hetta and Phineas jump.‘I shall not separate them now.’
‘He is a good man,’ said Phineas. ‘And I hope she will make him a good, steady wife.’ And so the matter was settled.
During this time Susan and Aaron were walking along the road; and they had also settled the matter quite satisfactorily.