List Of Contents | Contents of The Courtship of Susan Bell, by Trollope
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

"Oh, mother, that makes it worse."

Why should Hetta interfere in this way, thought Susan to herself.
Had she interfered when Mr. Beckard gave Hetta a testament bound in
Morocco? had not she smiled, and looked gratified, and kissed her
sister, and declared that Phineas Beckard was a nice dear man, and
by far the most elegant preacher at the Springs?  Why should Hetta
be so cruel?

"I don't see that, my dear," said the mother.  Hetta would not
explain before her sister, so they all went to bed.

On the Thursday evening the drawing was finished.  Not a word had
been said about it, at any rate in his presence, and he had gone on
working in silence.  "There," said he, late on the Thursday evening,
"I don't know that it will be any better if I go on daubing for
another hour.  There, Miss Susan; there's another bridge.  I hope
that will neither burst with the frost, nor yet be destroyed by
fire," and he gave it a light flip with his fingers and sent it
skimming over the table.

Susan blushed and smiled, and took it up.  "Oh, it is beautiful,"
she said.  "Isn't it beautifully done, mother?" and then all the
three got up to look at it, and all confessed that it was
excellently done.

"And I am sure we are very much obliged to you," said Susan after a
pause, remembering that she had not yet thanked him.

"Oh, it's nothing," said he, not quite liking the word "we."  On the
following day he returned from his work to Saratoga about noon.
This he had never done before, and therefore no one expected that he
would be seen in the house before the evening.  On this occasion,
however, he went straight thither, and as chance would have it, both
the widow and her elder daughter were out.  Susan was there alone in
charge of the house.

He walked in and opened the parlour door.  There she sat, with her
feet on the fender, with her work unheeded on the table behind her,
and the picture, Aaron's drawing, lying on her knees.  She was
gazing at it intently as he entered, thinking in her young heart
that it possessed all the beauties which a picture could possess.

"Oh, Mr. Dunn," she said, getting up and holding the telltale sketch
behind the skirt of 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

"Mother is out," said she; "I'm so sorry."

"Is she?" said Aaron.

"And Hetta too.  Dear me.  And you'll be wanting dinner.  I'll go
and see about it."

Aaron began to swear that he could not possibly eat any dinner.  He
had dined once, and was going to dine again;--anything to keep her
from going.

"But you must have something, Mr. Dunn," and she walked towards the

But he put his back to it.  "Miss Susan," said he, "I guess I've
been here 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, almost beside herself as to what she was

"I'm going away now, and it seems to be such a time before I'll be

"Will it, Sir?"

"Six weeks, Miss Susan!" and then he paused, looking into her eyes,
to see what he could read there.  She leant against the table,
pulling to pieces a morsel of half-ravelled muslin which she held in
her hand; but her eyes were turned to the ground, and he could
hardly see them.

"Miss Susan," he continued, "I may as well speak out now as at
another time."  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 any one I ever
thought so beautiful, so nice, and so good;--and what's more, I
never shall.  I'm not very good at this sort of thing, I know; but I
couldn't go away from Saratoga for six weeks and not tell you."  And
then he ceased.  He did not ask for any love in return.  His
presumption had not got so far as that yet.  He merely declared his
passion, leaning against the door, and there he stood twiddling his

Susan had not the slightest conception of the way in which she ought
to receive such a declaration.  She had never had a lover before;
nor had she ever thought of Aaron absolutely as a lover, though
something very like love for him had been crossing over her spirit.
Now, at this moment, she felt that he was the beau-ideal of manhood,
though his boots were covered with the railway mud, and though his
pantaloons were tucked up in rolls round his ankles.  He was a fine,
well-grown, open-faced fellow, whose eye was bold and yet tender,
whose brow was full and broad, and all his bearing manly.  Love him!
Of course she loved him.  Why else had her heart melted with
pleasure when her mother said that that second picture was to be

But what was she to say?  Anything but the open truth; she well knew
that.  The open truth would not do at all.  What would her mother
say and Hetta if she were rashly to say that?  Hetta, she knew,
would be dead against such a lover, and of her mother's approbation
she had hardly more hope.  Why they should disapprove of Aaron as a
lover she had never asked herself.  There are many nice things that
seem to be wrong only because they are so nice.  Maybe that Susan
regarded a lover as one of them.  "Oh, Mr. Dunn, you shouldn't."
That in fact was all that she could say.

"Should not I?" said he.  "Well, perhaps not; but there's the truth,
and no harm ever comes of that.  Perhaps I'd better not ask you for
an answer now, but I thought it better 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, thinking possibly that in
spite of what he had said he might perhaps get some sort of an
answer, some inkling of the state of her heart's disposition towards

But Susan had at once resolved to take him at his word 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 determined therefore to close at once with the
offer of silence.

When he ceased speaking there was a moment's pause, during which he
strove hard to read what might be written on her down-turned face.
But he was not good at such reading.  "Well, I guess I'll go and get
my things ready now," he said, and then turned round to open the

"Mother will be in before you are gone, I suppose," said Susan.

"I have only got twenty 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 should see her again, but this had
been his plan to get her hand in his.

"Good-bye, Mr. Dunn," and she gave him her hand.

He held it tight for a moment, so that she could not draw it away,--
could not if she would.  "Will you tell your mother?" he asked.

"Yes," she answered, quite in a whisper.  "I guess I'd better tell
her."  And then she gave a long sigh.  He pressed her hand again and
got it up to his lips.

"Mr. Dunn, don't," she said.  But he did kiss it.  "God bless you,
my own dearest, dearest girl!  I'll just open the door as I come
down.  Perhaps Mrs. Bell will be here."  And then he rushed up

But Mrs. Bell did not come in.  She and Hetta were at a weekly
service at Mr. Beckard's meeting-house, and Mr. Beckard it seemed
had much to say.  Susan, when left alone, sat down and tried to
think.  But she could not think; she could only love.  She could use
her mind only in recounting to herself the perfections of that
demigod whose heavy steps were so audible overhead, as he walked to
and fro collecting his things and putting them into his bag.

And then, just when he had finished, she bethought herself that he
must be hungry.  She flew to the kitchen, but she was too late.
Before she could even reach at the loaf of bread he descended the
stairs, with a clattering noise, and heard her voice as she spoke
quickly to Kate O'Brien.

"Miss Susan," he said, "don't get anything for me, for I'm off."

"Oh, Mr. Dunn, I am so sorry.  You'll be so 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 went to the ground.  "What do you want me to say, Mr.

"Say, God bless you, Aaron."

"God bless you, Aaron," said she; and yet she was sure that she had
not declared her love.  He however thought otherwise, and went up to
New York with a happy heart.

Things happened in the next fortnight rather quickly.  Susan at once
resolved to tell her mother, but she resolved also not to tell
Hetta.  That afternoon she got her mother to herself in Mrs. Bell's
own room, and then she made a clean breast of it.

"And what did you say to him, Susan?"

"I said nothing, mother."

"Nothing, dear!"

"No, mother; not a word.  He told me he didn't want it."  She forgot
how she had used his Christian name in bidding God bless him.

"Oh dear!" said the widow.

"Was it very wrong?" asked Susan.

"But what do you think yourself, my child?" asked Mrs. Bell after a
while.  "What are your own feelings."

Mrs. Bell was sitting on a chair and Susan was standing opposite to
her against the post of the bed.  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
were her feelings.

"But, my darling," said her mother, "you must not think that it is
an engagement."

"No," said Susan, sorrowfully.

"Young men say those things to amuse themselves."  Wolves, she would
have said, had she spoken out her mind freely.

"Oh, mother, he is not like that."

The daughter contrived to extract a promise from the mother that
Hetta should not be told just at present.  Mrs. Bell calculated that
she had six weeks before her; as yet Mr. Beckard had not spoken out,
but there was reason to suppose that he would do so before those six
weeks would be over, and then she would be able to seek counsel from

Mr. Beckard spoke out at the end of six days, and Hetta frankly
accepted him.  "I hope you'll love your brother-in-law," said she to

"Oh, I will indeed," said Susan; and in the softness of her heart at
the moment she almost made up her mind to tell; but Hetta was full
of her own affairs, and thus it passed off.

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 Utica,
and now that the match was declared and approved, it was thought
well 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 expected.  On the very morning
after the departure of the engaged couple, there came a letter from
Aaron, saying that he would be at Saratoga that very evening.  The
railway people had ordered him down again for some days' special
work; then he was to go elsewhere, and not to return to Saratoga
till June.  "But he hoped," so said the letter, "that Mrs. Bell
would not turn him into the street even then, though the summer
might have come, and her regular lodgers might be expected."

"Oh dear, oh dear!" said Mrs. Bell to herself, reflecting that she
had no one of whom she could ask advice, and that she must decide
that very day.  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.  In such case,
however, would it not be her duty to say something?  Poor mother!
She trembled nearly as much as Susan.

It was dark when the fatal knock came at the door.  The tea-things
were already laid, and the tea-cake was already baked; for it would
at any rate be necessary to give Mr. Dunn his tea.  Susan, when she
heard the knock, rushed from her chair and took refuge up stairs.
The widow gave a long sigh and settled her dress.  Kate O'Brien with
willing step opened the door, and bade her old friend welcome.

"How are the ladies?" asked Aaron, trying to gather something from
the face and voice of the domestic.

"Miss Hetta and Mr. Beckard be gone off to Utica, just man-and-wife
like! and so they are, more power to them."

"Oh indeed; I'm very glad," said Aaron--and so he was; very glad to
have Hetta the demure out of the way.  And then he made his way into
the parlour, doubting much, and hoping much.

Mrs. Bell rose from her chair, and tried to look grave.  Aaron
glancing round the room saw that Susan was not there.  He walked
straight up to the widow, and offered her his hand, which she took.
It might be that Susan had not thought fit to tell, and in such case
it would not be right for him to compromise her; so he said never a

But the subject was too important to the mother to allow of her
being silent when the young man stood before her.  "Oh, Mr. Dunn,"
said she, "what is this you have been saying to Susan?"

"I have asked her to be my wife," said he, drawing himself up and
looking her full in the face.  Mrs. Bell's heart was almost as soft
as her daughter's, and it was nearly gone; but at the moment she had
nothing to say but, "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 her face on her mother's lap; the mother was wiping tears
out of her eyes; and Aaron was standing by holding one of the
widow's hands.

"You are my mother too, now," said he.  What would Hetta and Mr.
Beckard say, when they came back?  But then he surely was not a

There were four or five days left for courtship before Hetta and Mr.
Beckard would return; four or five days during which Susan might be
happy, Aaron triumphant, and Mrs. Bell nervous.  Days I have said,
but after all it was only the evenings that were so left.  Every
morning Susan got up to give Aaron his breakfast, but Mrs. Bell got
up also.  Susan boldly declared her right to do so, and Mrs. Bell
found no objection which she could urge.

But after that Aaron was always absent till seven or eight in the
evening, when he would return to his tea.  Then came the hour or two
of lovers' intercourse.

But they were very tame, those hours.  The widow still felt an
undefined fear that she was wrong, and though her heart yearned to
know that her daughter was happy in the sweet happiness of accepted
love, yet she dreaded to be too confident.  Not a word had been said
about money matters; not a word of Aaron Dunn's relatives.  So she
did not leave them by themselves, but waited with what patience she
could for the return of her wise counsellors.

And then Susan hardly knew how to behave herself with her accepted
suitor.  She felt that she was very happy; but perhaps she was most

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: