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The Courtship of Susan Bell
by [?]

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 Dunn.

“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.