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Queen of Spades
by [?]

“Mother,” remarked Farmer Banning, discontentedly, “Susie is making a long visit.”

“She is coming home next week,” said his cheery wife. She had drawn her low chair close to the air-tight stove, for a late March snowstorm was raging without.

“It seems to me that I miss her more and more.”

“Well, I’m not jealous.”

“Oh, come, wife, you needn’t be. The idea! But I’d be jealous if our little girl was sorter weaned away from us by this visit in town.”

“Now, see here, father, you beat all the men I ever heard of in scolding about farmers borrowing, and here you are borrowing trouble.”

“Well, I hope I won’t have to pay soon. But I’ve been thinking that the old farmhouse may look small and appear lonely after her gay winter. When she is away, it’s too big for me, and a suspicion lonely for us both. I’ve seen that you’ve missed her more than I have.”

“I guess you’re right. Well, she’s coming home, as I said, and we must make home seem home to her. The child’s growing up. Why, she’ll be eighteen week after next. You must give her something nice on her birthday.”

“I will,” said the farmer, his rugged, weather-beaten face softening with memories. “Is our little girl as old as that? Why, only the other day I was carrying her on my shoulder to the barn and tossing her into the haymow. Sure enough, the 10th of April will be her birthday. Well, she shall choose her own present.”

On the afternoon of the 5th of April he went down the long bill to the station, and was almost like a lover in his eagerness to see his child. He had come long before the train’s schedule time, but was rewarded at last. When Susie appeared, she gave him a kiss before every one, and a glad greeting which might have satisfied the most exacting of lovers. He watched her furtively as they rode at a smart trot up the hill. Farmer Banning kept no old nags for his driving, but strong, well-fed, spirited horses that sometimes drew a light vehicle almost by the reins. “Yes,” he thought, “she has grown a little citified. She’s paler, and has a certain air or style that don’t seem just natural to the hill. Well, thank the Lord! she doesn’t seem sorry to go up the hill once more.”

“There’s the old place, Susie, waiting for you,” he said. “It doesn’t look so very bleak, does it, after all the fine city houses you’ve seen?”

“Yes, father, it does. It never appeared so bleak before.”

He looked at his home, and in the late gray afternoon, saw it in a measure with her eyes–the long brown, bare slopes, a few gaunt old trees about the house, and the top boughs of the apple-orchard behind a sheltering hill in the rear of the dwelling.

“Father,” resumed the girl, “we ought to call our place the Bleak House. I never so realized before how bare and desolate it looks, standing there right in the teeth of the north wind.”

His countenance fell, but he had no time for comment. A moment later Susie was in her mother’s arms. The farmer lifted the trunk to the horse-block and drove to the barn. “I guess it will be the old story,” he muttered. “Home has become ‘Bleak House.’ I suppose it did look bleak to her eyes, especially at this season. Well, well, some day Susie will go to the city to stay, and then it will be Bleak House sure enough.”

“Oh, father,” cried his daughter when, after doing his evening work, he entered with the shadow of his thoughts still upon his face–“oh, father, mother says I can choose my birthday present!”

“Yes, Sue; I’ve passed my word.”

“And so I have your bond. My present will make you open your eyes.”

“And pocket-book too, I suppose. I’ll trust you, however, not to break me. What is it to be?”