List Of Contents | Contents of The Courtship of Susan Bell, by Trollope
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from the 1864 Chapman & Hall "Tales of all Countries" edition.


by Anthony Trollope

John Munroe Bell had been a lawyer in Albany, State of New York, and
as such had thriven well.  He had thriven well as long as thrift and
thriving on this earth had been allowed to him.  But the Almighty
had seen fit to shorten his span.

Early in life he had married a timid, anxious, pretty, good little
wife, whose whole heart and mind had been given up to do his bidding
and deserve 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 rich in blessings.
After twelve years of such blessings he had left her, and had left
with her two daughters, a second Hetta, and the heroine of our
little story, Susan Bell.

A lawyer in Albany may thrive passing well for eight or ten years,
and yet not leave behind him any very large sum of money if he dies
at the end of that time.  Some small modicum, some few thousand
dollars, John Bell had amassed, so that his widow and daughters were
not absolutely driven to look for work or bread.

In those happy days when cash had begun to flow in plenteously to
the young father of the family, he had taken it into his head to
build for himself, or rather for his young female brood, a small
neat house in the outskirts of Saratoga Springs.  In doing so he was
instigated as much by the excellence of the investment for his
pocket as by the salubrity of the place for his girls.  He furnished
the house well, and then during some summer weeks his wife lived
there, and sometimes he let it.

How the widow grieved when the lord of her heart and master of her
mind was laid in the grave, I need not tell.  She had already
counted ten years of widowhood, and her children had grown to be
young women beside her at the time of which I am now about to speak.
Since that sad day on which they had left Albany they had lived
together at the cottage 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 from New York, they had always received
two or three boarders--old ladies generally, and occasionally an old
gentleman--persons of very steady habits, with whose pockets the
widow's moderate demands agreed better than the hotel charges.  And
so the Bells lived for ten years.

That Saratoga is a gay place in July, August, and September, the
world knows well enough.  To girls who go there with trunks full of
muslin and crinoline, for whom a carriage and pair of horses is
always waiting immediately after dinner, whose fathers' pockets are
bursting with dollars, it is a very gay place.  Dancing and
flirtations come as a matter of course, and matrimony follows after
with only too great rapidity.  But the place was not very gay for
Hetta or Susan Bell.

In the first place the widow was a timid woman, and among other
fears feared greatly that she should be thought guilty of setting
traps for husbands.  Poor mothers! how often are they charged with
this sin when their honest desires go no further than that their
bairns may be "respectit like the lave."  And then she feared
flirtations; flirtations that should be that and nothing more,
flirtations that are so destructive of the heart's sweetest essence.
She feared love also, though she longed for that as well as feared
it;--for her girls, I mean; all such feelings for herself were long
laid under ground;--and then, like a timid creature as she was, she
had other indefinite fears, and among them a great fear that those
girls of hers would be left husbandless,--a phase of life which
after her twelve years of bliss she regarded as anything but
desirable.  But the upshot was,--the upshot of so many fears and
such small means,--that Hetta and Susan Bell had but a dull life of

Were it not that I am somewhat closely restricted in the number of
my pages, I would describe at full the merits and beauties of Hetta
and Susan Bell.  As it is I can but say a few words.  At our period
of their lives Hetta was nearly one-and-twenty, and Susan was just
nineteen.  Hetta was a short, plump, demure young woman, with the
softest smoothed hair, and the brownest brightest eyes.  She was
very useful in the house, good at corn cakes, and thought much,
particularly in these latter months, of her religious duties.  Her
sister in the privacy of their own little room would sometimes twit
her with the admiring patience with which she would listen to the
lengthened eloquence of Mr. Phineas Beckard, the Baptist minister.
Now Mr. Phineas Beckard was a bachelor.

Susan was not so good a girl in the kitchen or about the house as
was her sister; but she was bright in the parlour, and if that
motherly heart could have been made to give out its inmost secret--
which however, it could not have been made to give out in any way
painful to dear Hetta--perhaps it might have been found that Susan
was loved with the closest love.  She was taller than her sister,
and lighter; her eyes were blue as were her mother's; her hair was
brighter than Hetta's, but not always so singularly neat.  She had a
dimple on her chin, whereas Hetta had none; dimples on her cheeks
too, when she smiled; and, oh, such a mouth!  There; my allowance of
pages permits no more.

One piercing cold winter's day there came knocking at the widow's
door--a young man.  Winter days, when the ice of January is refrozen
by the wind of February, are very cold at Saratoga Springs.  In
these days there was not often much to disturb the serenity of Mrs.
Bell's house; but on the day in question there came knocking at the
door--a young man.

Mrs. Bell kept an old domestic, who had lived with them in those
happy Albany days.  Her name was Kate O'Brien, but though
picturesque in name she was hardly so in person.  She was a thick-
set, noisy, good-natured old Irishwoman, who had joined her lot to
that of Mrs. Bell when the latter first began housekeeping, and
knowing when she was well off; had remained in the same place from
that day forth.  She had known Hetta as a baby, and, so to say, had
seen Susan's birth.

"And what might you be wanting, sir?" said Kate O'Brien, apparently
not quite pleased as she opened the door and let in all the cold

"I wish to see Mrs. Bell.  Is not this Mrs. Bell's house?" said the
young man, shaking the snow from out of the breast of his coat.

He did see Mrs. Bell, and we will now tell who he was, and why he
had come, and how it came to pass that his carpet-bag was brought
down to the widow's house and one of the front bedrooms was prepared
for him, and that he drank tea that night in the widow's parlour.

His name was Aaron Dunn, and by profession he was an engineer.  What
peculiar misfortune in those days of frost and snow had befallen the
line of rails which runs from Schenectady to Lake Champlain, I never
quite understood.  Banks and bridges had in some way come to grief,
and on Aaron Dunn's shoulders was thrown the burden of seeing that
they were duly repaired.  Saratoga Springs was the centre of these
mishaps, and therefore at Saratoga Springs it was necessary that he
should take up his temporary abode.

Now there was at that time in New York city a Mr. Bell, great in
railway matters--an uncle of the once thriving but now departed
Albany lawyer.  He was a rich man, but he liked his riches himself;
or at any rate had not found himself called upon to share them with
the widow and daughters of his nephew.  But when it chanced to come
to pass that he had a hand in despatching Aaron Dunn to Saratoga, he
took the young man aside and recommended him to lodge with the
widow.  "There," said he, "show her my card."  So much the rich
uncle thought he might vouchsafe to do for the nephew's widow.

Mrs. Bell and both her daughters were in the parlour when Aaron Dunn
was shown in, snow and all.  He told his story in a rough, shaky
voice, for his teeth chattered; and he gave the card, almost wishing
that he had gone to the empty big hotel, for the widow's welcome was
not at first quite warm.

The widow 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 demurely with her work.
Susan gave one glance round--her back was to the stranger--and then
another; and then she moved her chair a little nearer to the wall,
so as to give the young man room to come to the fire, if he would.
He did not come, but his eyes glanced upon 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 the stocking she was mending.

"Perhaps you don't wish to take winter boarders, ma'am?" said Aaron

"We never have done so yet, sir," said Mrs. Bell timidly.  Could she
let this young wolf in among her lamb-fold?  He might be a wolf;--
who could tell?

"Mr. Bell seemed to think it would suit," said Aaron.

Had he acquiesced in her timidity and not pressed the point, it
would have been all up with him.  But the widow did not like to go
against the big uncle; and so she said, "Perhaps it may, sir."

"I guess it will, finely," said Aaron.  And then the widow seeing
that the matter was so far settled, put down her work and came round
into the passage.  Hetta followed her, for there would be housework
to do.  Aaron gave himself another shake, settled the weekly number
of dollars--with very little difficulty on his part, for he had
caught another glance at Susan's face; and then went after his bag.
'Twas thus that Aaron Dunn obtained an entrance into Mrs. Bell's
house.  "But what if he be a wolf?" she said to herself over and
over again that night, though not exactly in those words.  Ay, but
there is another side to that question.  What if he be a stalwart
man, honest-minded, with clever eye, cunning hand, ready brain,
broad back, and warm heart; in want of a wife mayhap; a man that can
earn his own bread and another's;--half a dozen others' when the
half dozen come?  Would not that be a good sort of lodger?  Such a
question as that too did flit, just flit, across the widow's
sleepless mind.  But then she thought so much more of the wolf!
Wolves, she had taught herself to think, were more common than
stalwart, honest-minded, wife-desirous men.

"I wonder mother consented to take him," said Hetta, when they were
in the little room together.

"And why shouldn't she?" said Susan.  "It will be a help."

"Yes, it will be a little help," said Hetta.  "But we have done very
well hitherto without winter lodgers."

"But uncle Bell said she was to."

"What is uncle Bell to us?" said Hetta, who had a spirit of her own.
And she began to surmise within herself whether Aaron Dunn would
join the Baptist congregation, and whether Phineas Beckard would
approve of this new move.

"He is a very well-behaved young man at any rate," said Susan, "and
he draws beautifully.  Did you see those things he was doing?"

"He draws very well, I dare say," said Hetta, who regarded this as
but a poor warranty for good behaviour.  Hetta also had some fear of
wolves--not for herself perhaps; but for her sister.

Aaron Dunn's work--the commencement 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, cold and wintry as the mornings were, the widow got him his
breakfast with her own hands.  She took his dollars and would not
leave him altogether to the awkward mercies of Kate O'Brien; nor
would she trust her girls to attend upon the young man.  Hetta she
might have trusted; but then Susan would have asked why she was
spared her share of such hardship.

In the evening, leaving his work when it was dark, Aaron always
returned, and then the evening was passed together.  But they were
passed with the most demure propriety.  These women would make the
tea, cut the bread and butter, and then sew; while Aaron Dunn, when
the cups were removed, would always go to his plans and drawings.

On Sundays they were more together; but even on this day there was
cause of separation, for Aaron went to the Episcopalian church,
rather to the disgust of Hetta.  In the afternoon, however, they
were together; and then Phineas Beckard came in to tea on Sundays,
and he and Aaron got to talking on religion; and though they
disagreed pretty much, and would not give an inch either one or the
other, nevertheless the minister told the widow, and Hetta too
probably, that the lad had good stuff in him, though he was so

"But he should be more modest in talking on such matters with a
minister," said Hetta.

The Rev. Phineas acknowledged that perhaps he should; but he was
honest enough to repeat that the lad had stuff in him.  "Perhaps
after all he is not a wolf," said the widow to herself.

Things went on in this way for above a month.  Aaron had declared to
himself over and over again that that face was sweet to look upon,
and had unconsciously promised to himself certain delights in
talking and perhaps walking with the owner of it.  But the walkings
had not been achieved--nor even the talkings as yet.  The truth was
that Dunn was bashful with young women, though he could be so stiff-
necked with the minister.

And then he felt angry with himself, inasmuch as he had advanced no
further; and as he lay in his bed--which perhaps those pretty hands
had helped to make--he resolved that he would be a thought bolder in
his bearing.  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 sticks to his work," said Hetta.  "No
doubt he has his amusement when he is in the city," added the elder
sister, not wishing to leave too strong an impression of the young
man's virtue.

They had all now their settled places in the parlour.  Hetta sat on
one side of the fire, close to the table, having that side to
herself.  There she sat always busy.  She must have made every dress
and bit of linen worn in the house, and hemmed every sheet and
towel, so busy was she always.  Sometimes, once in a week or so,
Phineas Beckard would come in, and then place was made for him
between Hetta's usual seat and the table.  For when there he would
read out loud.  On the other side, close also to the table, sat the
widow, busy, but not savagely busy as her elder daughter.  Between
Mrs. Bell and the wall, with her feet ever on the fender, Susan used
to sit; not absolutely idle, but doing work of some slender pretty
sort, and talking ever and anon to her mother.  Opposite to them
all, at the other side of the table, far away from the fire, would
Aaron Dunn place himself with his plans and drawings before him.

"Are you a judge of bridges, ma'am?" said Aaron, the evening after

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