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- Elder Conklin and Other Stories - 1/33 -





New York



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As soon as the Elder left the supper-table his daughter and the new schoolmaster went out on the stoop or verandah which ran round the frame-house. The day had been warm, but the chilliness of the evening air betokened the near approach of the Indian summer. The house stood upon the crest of what had been a roll in the prairie, and as the two leant together on the railing of the stoop, they looked out over a small orchard of peach-trees to where, a couple of hundred yards away, at the foot of the bluff, Cottonwood Creek ran, fringed on either bank by the trees which had suggested its name. On the horizon to their right, away beyond the spears of yellow maize, the sun was sinking, a ball of orange fire against the rose mist of the sky. When the girl turned towards him, perhaps to avoid the level rays, Bancroft expressed the hope that she would go with him to the house-warming. A little stiffly Miss Conklin replied that she'd be pleased, but--

"What have I done, Miss Loo, to offend you?" the young man spoke deprecatingly.

"Nothin', I guess," she answered, with assumed indifference.

"When I first came you were so kind and helped me in everything. Now for the last two or three days you seem cold and sarcastic, as if you were angry with me. I'd be sorry if that were so--very sorry."

"Why did you ask Jessie Stevens to go with you to the house-warmin'?" was the girl's retort.

"I certainly didn't ask her," he replied hotly. "You must know I didn't."

"Then Seth lied!" exclaimed Miss Conklin. "But I guess he'll not try that again with me--Seth Stevens I mean. He wanted me to go with him to- night, and I didn't give him the mitten, as I should if I'd thought you were goin' to ask me."

"What does 'giving the mitten' mean?" he questioned, with a puzzled air.

"Why, jest the plainest kind of refusal, I guess; but I only told him I was afraid I'd have to go with you, seein' you were a stranger. 'Afraid,'" she repeated, as if the word stung her. "But he'll lose nothin' by waitin', nothin'. You hear me talk." And her eyes flashed.

As she drew herself up in indignation, Bancroft thought he had never seen any one so lovely. "A perfect Hebe," he said to himself, and started as if he had said the words aloud. The comparison was apt. Though Miss Loo Conklin was only seventeen, her figure had all the ripeness of womanhood, and her height--a couple of inches above the average--helped to make her look older than she was. Her face was more than pretty; it was, in fact, as beautiful as youth, good features, and healthy colouring could make it. A knotted mass of chestnut hair set off the shapely head: the large blue eyes were deepened by dark lashes. The underlip, however, was a little full, and the oval of the face through short curve of jaw a trifle too round. Her companion tried in vain to control the admiration of his gaze. Unelated by what she felt to be merely her due, Miss Conklin was silent for a time. At length she observed:

"I guess I'll have to go and fix up."

Just then the Elder appeared on the stoop. "Ef you're goin'," he said in the air, as his daughter swept past him into the house, "you'd better hitch Jack up to the light buggy."

"Thank you," said the schoolmaster; and for the sake of saying something, he added, "What a fine view." The Elder paused but did not answer; he saw nothing remarkable in the landscape except the Indian corn and the fruit, and the words "fine view" conveyed no definite meaning to him; he went on towards the stables.

The taciturnity of the Elder annoyed Bancroft excessively. He had now passed a couple of weeks as a boarder with the Conklins, and the Elder's unconscious rudeness was only one of many peculiarities that had brought him to regard these Western folk as belonging almost to a distinct species. George Bancroft was an ordinary middle-class Bostonian. He had gone through the University course with rather more than average success, and had the cant of unbounded intellectual sympathies. His self-esteem, however, was not based chiefly on his intelligence, but on the ease with which he reached a conventional standard of conduct. Not a little of his character showed itself in his appearance. In figure he was about the middle height, and strongly though sparely built. The head was well-proportioned; the face a lean oval; the complexion sallow; the hair and small moustache very dark; the brown eyes inexpressive and close-set, revealing a tendency to suspiciousness--Bancroft prided himself on his prudence. A certain smartness of dress and a conscious carriage discovered a vanity which, in an older man, would have been fatuous. A large or a sensitive nature would in youth, at least, have sought unconsciously to bring itself into sympathy with strange surroundings, but Bancroft looked upon those who differed from him in manners or conduct as inferior, and this presumption in regard to the Conklins was strengthened by his superiority in book-learning, the importance of which he had been trained to over-estimate.

During their drive Miss Conklin made her companion talk of Eastern life; she wanted to know what Chicago was like, and what people did in New York. Stirred by her eager curiosity, Bancroft sketched both cities in hasty outline, and proceeded to tell what he had read and heard of Paris, and Rome, and London. But evidently the girl was not interested by his praise of the art-life of European capitals or their historical associations; she cut short his disquisition:

"See here! When I first seed you an' knew you was raised in Boston, an' had lived in New York, I jest thought you no account for comin' to this jumpin'-off place. Why did you come to Kansas, anyway, and what did you reckon upon doin'? I guess you ain't goin' to teach school always."

The young man flushed under the frankness of the girl's gaze and question, and what appeared like contempt in her opinion of him. Again he became painfully conscious that there was a wide social difference between Miss Conklin and himself. He had been accustomed to more reticence, and such direct questioning seemed impertinent. But he was so completely under the spell of her beauty, that he answered with scarcely visible hesitation:

"I came out here because I wanted to study law, and wasn't rich enough to do it in the East. This school was the first position offered to me. I had to take it, but I intend, after a term or two, to find a place in a lawyer's office in some town, and get admitted to practice. If I'd had fifteen hundred dollars I could have done that in Boston or New York, but I suppose it will all come right in time."

"If I'd been you I'd have stayed in New York," and then, clasping her hands on her knee, and looking intently before her, she added, "When I get to New York--an' that won't be long--I'll stay there, you bet! I guess New York's good enough for me. There's style there," and she nodded her head decisively as she spoke.

Miss Loo and Bancroft were among the latest arrivals at the Morrises'. She stood beside him while he hitched Jack to a post of the fence amidst a crowd of other horses, and they entered the house together. In due form she presented the schoolmaster to Mr. and Mrs. Morris, and smilingly produced three linen tablecloths as her contribution to the warming. After accepting the present with profuse thanks and unmeasured praise of it and of the giver, Mrs. Morris conducted the newcomers across the passage into the best sitting-room, which the young folk had already appropriated, leaving the second-best room to their elders.

In the small square apartment were some twenty boys and girls, ranging between sixteen and twenty-two years of age. The boys stood about at one end of the room, while the girls sat at the other end chattering and enjoying themselves. Bancroft did not go among those of his own sex, none of whom he knew, and whom he set down as mere uncouth lads. He found it more amusing to stand near the girls and talk with them. By so doing he unconsciously offended the young men.

Presently a tall youth came towards them:

"I guess we'd better play somethin'?"

"Forfeits! Mr. Stevens," was a girl's quick reply, and it was arranged to play forfeits in a queer educational fashion. First of all Mr. Stevens left the room, presumably to think. When he came in again he went over to Miss Conklin and asked her to spell "forgive." After a moment's pause she spelt it correctly. He retired slowly, and on his return stopped again in front of Miss Conklin with the word "reconciliation." She withstood the test triumphantly. Annoyed apparently with the pains she took, Mr. Stevens, on his next entrance, turned to a pretty, quiet girl named Miss Black, and gave her "stranger," with a glance at Bancroft, which spread a laugh among the boys. Miss Black began with "strai," and was not allowed to go on, for

Elder Conklin and Other Stories - 1/33

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