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Title: Hooking Watermelons - 1898
Author: Bellamy, Edward
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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HOOKING WATERMELONS

By Edward Bellamy

1898


The train slackened, a brakeman thrust his head in at the door and
shouted “Bah,”--a mysterious formality observed on American trains as
they enter towns,--and an elderly lady, two drummers, and a young
man with a satchel got out, followed by the languid envy of the other
passengers, who had longer or shorter penances of heat and dust before
them. The train got under way again, while the knot of loafers about the
station proceeded to eye the arrivals as judicially as if they were a
committee of safety to protect the village from invasion by doubtful
characters. The old lady, apparently laboring under some such
impression, regarded them deferentially, as nervous travelers on
arriving in strange places generally do regard everybody who seems to
feel at home. The drummers briskly disappeared down the main street,
each anxious to anticipate the other at the stores. The young man with
the satchel, however, did not get away till he had shaken hands and
exchanged a few good-natured inquiries with one of the loungers.

“Who’s that, Bill?” asked one of the group, staring after the retreating
figure with lazy curiosity.

“Why, did n’t you know him? Thought everybody knew him. That’s Arthur
Steele,” replied the one who had shaken hands, in a tone of cordiality
indicating that his politeness had left a pleasant impression on his
mind, as Arthur Steele’s politeness generally did.

“Who is he, anyhow?” pursued the other.

“Why, he ‘s a Fairfield boy” (the brakeman pronounced it “Bah”), “born
and brought up here. His folks allers lived right next to mine, and now
he’s doin’ a rushin’ lawyer trade down New York, and I expect he’s just
rakin’ the stamps. Did yer see that diamond pin he wore?”

“S’pose it’s genooine?” asked a third loafer, with interest.

“Course it was. I tell you he’s on the make, and don’t you forgit it.
Some fellers allers has luck. Many ‘s the time he ‘n’ I ‘ve been in
swim-min’ and hookin’ apples together when we wuz little chaps,” pursued
Bill, in a tone implying a mild reproach at the deceitfulness of
an analogy that after such fair promise in early life had failed to
complete itself in their later fortunes.

“Why, darn it all, you know him, Jim,” he continued, dropping the tone
of pensive reminiscence into which he had momentarily allowed himself to
fall. “That pretty gal that sings in the Baptis’ choir is his sister.”

After a space of silent rumination and jerking of peanut shells upon
the track, the group broke up its session, and adjourned by tacit
understanding till the next train was due.

Arthur Steele was half an hour in getting to his father’s house, because
everybody he met on the street insisted on shaking hands with him.
Everybody in Fairfield had known him since he was a boy, and had seen
him grow up, and all were proud of him as a credit to the village and
one of its most successful representatives in the big outside world. The
young man had sense and sentiment enough to feel that the place he held
in the esteem of his native community was a thing to feel more just
pride in than any station he could win in the city, and as he walked
along hand-shaking with old friends on this side and that, it was about
his idea of a triumphal entry.

There was the dear old house, and as he saw it his memory of it started
out vividly in his mind as if to attest how faithfully it had kept each
detail. It never would come out so clearly at times when he was far away
and needed its comfort. He opened the door softly. The sitting-room was
empty, and darkened to keep out the heat and flies. The latched door
stood open, and, hearing voices, he tiptoed across the floor with a
guileful smile and, leaning through the doorway, saw his mother and
sister sitting by the cool, lilac-shaded window, picking over currants
for tea, and talking tranquilly. Being a provident young man, he paused
a minute to let the pretty, peaceful scene impress itself upon his mind,
to be remembered afterward for the cheer of bleak boarding-house
Sunday afternoons. Then there was a sudden glancing up, a cry of joyful
consternation, and the pan of currants rolled from Amy’s lap like a
broken necklace of rubies across the uncarpeted floor, while Arthur held
mother and sister in a double embrace. And when at length the kissing
had all been done, he established himself in his familiar boyish
attitude on the window-seat, kicking his heels against the mopboard,
with his elbows on his knees, and the three talked away steadily till
the shop-bell rang, and Mrs. Steele sprang up in a panic, exclaiming:
“Father will be here in five minutes, and the currants are on the floor.
Come, Amy, quick; we must pick some more, and you shall help, Arthur.”

But though he went out into the garden with them readily enough, it
was quite another thing to make him pick currants, for he insisted on
wandering all over the place and demanding what had become of everything
he missed, and the history of everything new. And pretty soon Mr.
Steele also appeared in the garden, having found no one in the house on
reaching home. He had learned on the street that Arthur had arrived, and
came out beaming. It was good to see the hearty affection with which the
two shook hands.

The transition of the son from the pupilage of childhood and youth to
the independence of manhood is often trying to the filial relation.
Neither party fully realizes that the old relation is at an end, or just
what the new basis is, or when the change takes place. The absence
of the son for two or three years at this period has often the best
results. He goes a boy and returns a man; the old relation is forgotten
by both parties, and they readily fall into the new one. So it had fared
with Arthur and his father.

“You’ve got a splendid lot of watermelons,” said the former, as
they arrived at the upper end of the ample garden in their tour of
inspection.

“Yes,” replied Mr. Steele, with a shrug; “only thus far they’ve been
stolen a little faster than they ‘ve ripened.”

“What made you plant them so near the fence?”

“That was my blunder; but you see the soil is just the thing, better
than lower down.”

“Why don’t you buy a bulldog?”

“I think it’s more Christian to shoot a man outright than to set one of
those devils on him. The breed ought to be extirpated.”

“Put some ipecac in one or two. That ‘ll fetch ‘em. I know how sick it
made me once.”

“I did; but more were stolen next night. I can’t afford to medicate the
whole village. Last night I sat up to watch till twelve o’clock, when
mother made me go to bed.”

“I’ll watch to-night,” said Arthur, “and give ‘em a lesson with a good
load of beans from the old shotgun.”

“It would n’t pay,” replied his father. “I concluded last night that all
the melons in the world were n’t worth a night’s sleep. They ‘ll have to
go, and next year I ‘ll know more than to plant any.”

“You go and help Amy pick currants, and let me talk to the boy a
little,” said Mrs. Steele, coming up and taking Arthur off for a
promenade up the broad path.

“How pretty Amy has grown,” said he, glancing with a pleased smile at
the girl as she looked up at her father. “I suppose the young men are
making sheep’s eyes at her already.”

“It does n’t do them any good if they are,” said Mrs. Steele,
decisively. “She’s only sixteen and a little girl yet, and has sense
enough to know it.” “What had she been crying for when I arrived? I saw
her eyes were as red as the currants.”

“Oh, dear!” replied Mrs. Steele, with a sigh of vexation, “it was her
troubles at the Seminary. You know we let her go as a day scholar this
sum-mer. Some of the girls slight and snub her, and she is very unhappy
about it.”

“Why, what on earth can anybody have against Amy?” demanded Arthur, in
indignant surprise.

“I suppose it’s because some of the little hussies from the city have
taken the notion that they won’t associate with a mechanic’s daughter,
although Amy is very careful not to say it in so many words, for fear of
hurting my feelings. But I suspect that’s about where the shoe pinches.”

Arthur muttered something between an oath and a grunt, expressing the
emphasis of the one and the disgust of the other.

“I tell Amy it is foolish to mind their airs, but I ‘m really afraid it
spoils the poor girl’s happiness.”

“Why don’t you send her away to boarding-school, if it is so serious a
matter as that?”

“We can’t afford it,” said his mother, whereto Arthur promptly replied:
--

“I ‘ll pay her expenses. I ‘m making a good deal more money than I
know what to do with, and I ‘d really like the chance of doing a little
good.”

His mother glanced at him with affectionate pride.

“You ‘re always wanting to pay somebody’s expenses, or make somebody a
present. It’s really unsafe, when you ‘re around, to indicate that one
is n’t perfectly contented. But you caught me up too quickly. I was
going to say that we could n’t spare her from home, anyhow. She’s the
light of the house. Besides that, if it comes to objections, I ‘ve my
notions about boarding-schools, and I ‘d trust no girl of mine at one
that wasn’t within sight of her home. No, she’ll have to keep on here
and bear it as she can, though it’s pretty hard, I know. The trouble
to-night was, that Lina Maynard, who is one of the older girls, has
invited nearly everybody at the Seminary except Amy to a birthday party
to-morrow. Little minx, I could shake her. And the worst of it is, Amy
thinks there ‘s nobody like Lina Maynard.”

After tea it was still light, and Arthur and Amy went out to walk. In
spite of the ten years difference in their ages, he always enjoyed
her company as well as anybody’s in the world, because she was so
refreshingly childlike and natural. Every chord of feeling answered so
true and clear to the touch, that to talk with her was like playing on a
musical instrument, only far more delightful. Arthur had looked
forward to walks and talks with Amy as among the jolliest treats of his
vacation. She tried her best now to seem light-hearted, and to entertain
him with the local gossip, for which he always depended on her. But she
could n’t simulate the vivacious and eager air that had been the chief
charm of her talk. As he glanced down, he was grieved to see the sad
set of the pretty child face at his side, and how still had grown
the fountain of smiles in the hazel eyes that were wont to send their
ripples outward in constant succession. It is to be feared that under
his breath he applied some very ungentlemanly language to Lina Maynard
and her clique, whose nonsenical ill-nature had hurt this little
girl’s feelings so sorely, and incidentally spoiled half the fun of his
vacation.

“There, there, you need n’t talk any more,” he finally said, rather
rudely, half vexed with her, as helpful people are wont to be with those
they can do nothing to help.

She looked up in grieved surprise, but before he could speak again, they
came face to face with a party of girls coming from the direction of the
Seminary.

There were six or seven of them, perhaps, but Arthur only got the
impression of one and a lot of others. The one was a rather tall girl
of lithe figure and unusually fine carriage. Her olive complexion
was lighted with great black eyes that rested on you with an air of
imperturbable assurance, as penetrating as it was negligent. She was
talking, and her companions were listening and laughing. As they came
face to face with Arthur and Amy, he saw that they barely noticed her,
while glancing at him rather curiously, with the boldness of girls in a
crowd of their own sex. They evidently observed that he was a stranger
to the village, and of quite a different style from that of the country
bumpkins and rural exquisites they were accustomed to meeting. There
was in the big black eyes, as they had met his a moment, a suggestion
of interest that was strangely flattering, and left a trace of not
unpleasant agitation.

“Who was that?” he asked, as they passed out of hearing.

He only thought of asking for one, although there were six, nor she
apparently of answering differently.

“Lina Maynard. They are ‘Sem.’ girls.”

It was a dulled voice she spoke in, quite unlike her usual eager way of
giving information. She, poor thing, was terribly afraid he would ask
her why they did not seem acquainted with her, and it would have been a
painful humiliation to have explained. Arthur was conscious that he no
longer had exactly the same feeling of merely contemptuous annoyance
toward Lina Maynard, on account of her treatment of Amy. He sympathized
as much with his sister, of course, but somehow felt that to be
recognized by Lina Maynard was not such a childish ambition as he had
taken for granted.

It was dusk when they reached home and found Mr. and Mrs. Steele on the
piazza, which served as an out-door parlor in summer, with a neighbor
who had dropped in to see Arthur. So he got out his cigar-case and told
stories of city life and interesting law cases to an intent audience
till the nine o’clock bell rang, and the neighbor “guessed he ‘d go
home,” and forthwith proved that his guess was right by going.

“‘Gad, I’d forgotten all about the watermelons! Perhaps they ‘re at ‘em
already!” cried Arthur, jumping up and running around the end of the
piazza to the garden.

When he returned, it was to meet a combined volley of protestations
against his foolish project of keeping watch all night, from his father,
his mother, and Amy. But he declared it was no use talking; and where
were the gun and the beans? So they adjourned from the piazza, a lamp
was lit, the articles were hunted up, and the gun duly loaded with a
good charge of powder and a pint of hard beans. It was about ten o’clock
when Arthur, with a parting protest from his mother, went out into
the garden, lugging his gun and a big easy-chair, while Amy followed,
bringing one or two wraps, and a shocking old overcoat hunted up in the
garret, for the chill hours after midnight.

The front of Mr. Steele’s lot abutted on one of the pleasantest and most
thickly housed streets of the village; but the lot was deep, and the
rear end rested on a road bordered by few houses, and separated from
the garden by a rail fence easy to climb over or through. The watermelon
patch was located close to this fence, and thus in full view and
temptingly accessible from the road.

Undoubtedly the human conscience, and especially the boyish article,
recognizes a broad difference between the theft of growing crops--of
apples on the trees, for instance, or corn on the stalk, or melons in
the field--and that of other species of property. The surreptitious
appropriation of the former class of chattels is known in common
parlance as “hooking,” while the graver term “stealing” describes the
same process in other cases. The distinction may arise from a feeling
that, so long as crops remain rooted to the ground, they are nature’s,
not man’s, and that nature can’t be regarded as forming business
contracts with some individuals to the exclusion of others, or in fact
as acceding to any of our human distinctions of _meum_ and _tuum_,
however useful we find them. Ethical philosophers may refuse to
concede the sanction of the popular distinction here alluded to between
“hooking” and stealing; but, after all, ethics is not a deductive but an
empirical science, and what are morals but a collection of usages, like
orthography and orthoepy? However that may be, it is the duty of the
writer in this instance merely to call attention to the prevalent
popular sentiment on the subject, without any attempt to justify it,
and to state that Arthur Steele had been too recently a boy not to
sympathize with it. And accordingly he laid his plans to capture the
expected depredators to-night from practical considerations wholly, and
quite without any sense of moral reprobation toward them.

Closely adjoining the edge of the melon-patch was a patch of green corn,
standing ten feet high, and at the fullest perfection of foliage. This
Arthur selected for his ambush, its position being such that he could
cut off the retreat to the fence of any person who had once got among
the melons. Hewing down a hill of corn in the second row from the front,
he made a comfortable place for his easy-chair. Amy lingered for a
while, enjoying the excitement of the occasion, and they talked in
whispers; but finally Arthur sent her in, and as her dress glimmered
away down the garden path, he settled himself comfortably for his watch.

In the faint moonlight he could just descry the dark shapes of the
melons on the ground in front of him. The crickets were having a high
time in the stubble around, and the night air drew sweet autumnal
exhalations from the ground; for autumn begins by night a long time
before it does by day. The night wind rustled in the corn with a crisp
articulateness he had never noticed in daytime, and he felt like
an eavesdropper. Then for a while he heard the music of some roving
serenaders, down in the village, and grew pensive with the vague
reminiscences of golden youth, romance, and the sweet past that nightly
music suggests,--vague because apparently they are not reminiscences
of the individual but of the race, a part of the consciousness and ideal
of humanity. At last the music was succeeded by the baying of a dog in
some distant farmyard, and then, ere the ocean of silence had fairly
smoothed its surface over that, a horse began to kick violently in a
neighboring barn. Some time after, a man chopped some kindlings in a
shed a couple of lots off. Gradually, however, the noises ceased like
the oft-returning yet steadily falling ebb of the tide, and Arthur
experienced how many degrees there are of silence, each more utter than
the last, so that the final and absolute degree must be something to
which the utmost quiet obtainable on earth is uproar. One by one the
lights went out in the houses, till the only ones left were in the
windows of the Seminary, visible over the tree-tops a quarter of a mile
away.

“The girls keep late hours,” thought Arthur. And from that he fell to
thinking of Lina Maynard and the careless, almost insolent, grace of her
manner, and that indifferent yet penetrating glance of hers. Where did
she come from? Probably from California, or the far West; he had heard
that the girls out there were of a bolder, more unconventional type than
at the East. What a pity she did not fancy Amy!

What was that moving across the melon-patch? He reached for his gun. It
was only a cat, though, after all. The slight noise in the corn-patch
attracted the animal’s attention, and it came across and poked its head
into the opening where Arthur sat. As the creature saw him, its start of
surprise would have shattered the nervous system of anything but a cat.
It stood half thrown back on its haunches, its ears flattened, its eyes
glaring in a petrifaction of amazement. Arthur sat motionless as marble,
laughing inwardly. For full two minutes the two stared at each other
without moving a muscle, and then, without relaxing its tense attitude,
the cat by almost imperceptible degrees withdrew one paw and then
another, and, thus backing out of the corn-patch, turned around when at
a safe distance and slunk away.

A few minutes later a dog, that enthusiast in perfumes, jumped through
the fence and trotted across the melon-patch, his nose to the ground,
making a collection of evening smells. Arthur expected nothing but that
he would scent his neighborhood, find him out, and set up a barking.
But, chancing to strike the cat’s trail, off went the dog on a full run
with nose to the ground.

Such were the varying humors of the night. After the episode of the dog,
feeling a little chilly, Arthur enveloped himself in the tattered old
overcoat and must have dropped into a nap. Suddenly he awoke. Within
ten feet of him, just in the act of stooping over a huge melon, was a
woman’s figure. He saw the face clearly as she rose. Immortal gods! it
was--But I am anticipating.

The discipline at Westville Seminary had been shockingly lax since the
long illness of the principal had left the easy-going first assistant
teacher at the head of affairs. The girls ran all over the rules,--had
private theatricals, suppers, and games of all sorts in their rooms at
all hours of day or night. In the course of the evening whose events in
another sphere of life have been narrated, several girls called at Lina
Maynard’s room to notify her of the “spread” at Nell Barber’s, No. 49,
at eleven o’clock. They found her sitting in a low rocking-chair, with
an open letter in her hand and a very pensive, discontented expression
of countenance.

“Does he press for an answer, Lina? We ‘re just in time to advise you,”
 cried Nell Barber.

“Don’t say Yes unless his eyes are blue,” drawled a brunette.

“Unless they ‘re black, you mean,” sharply amended a bright blonde.

“Make him elope with you,” suggested Nell, “It will be such fun to have a
real rope-ladder elopement at the Seminary, and we’ll all sit up and see
it.”

“Oh, do, do, Lina!” chorused the others.

But Lina, apparently too much chagrined at something to be in a mood for
jests, sat with her eyebrows petulantly contracted, her feet thrust out,
and the hand holding the letter hanging by her side, her whole attitude
indicating despondence.

“Still pensive! It can’t be he’s faithless!” exclaimed Nell.

“Faithless to those eyes! I should say not,” cried the blonde, whom Lina
called her sweetheart, and who claimed to be “engaged” to her according
to boarding-school fashion.

“Don’t mind him, dear,” she went on, throwing herself on the floor,
clasping her hands about Lina’s knee, and leaning her cheek on it. “You
make me so jealous. Have n’t you got me, and ain’t I enough?”

“Plenty enough, dear,” said Lina, stroking her cheek. “This is only from
my brother Charley.”

“The one at Watertown ‘Sem.’?”

“Yes,” said Lina; “and oh, girls,” she went on, with gloomy energy,
“we don’t have any good times at all compared with those boys. They
do really wicked things, hook apples, and carry off people’s gates and
signs, and screw up tutors’ doors in the night, and have fights with
what he calls ‘townies,’--I don’t know exactly what they are,--and
everything. I thought before that we were doing some things too, but
we ‘re not, compared with all that, and I shall be so ashamed when I meet
him at home not to have anything to tell except little bits of things.”

A depressing pause followed. Lina’s disparaging view of achievements in
the way of defying the proprieties, of which all the girls had been very
proud, cast a profound gloom over the circle. The blonde seemed to voice
the common sentiment when she said, resting her chin on Lina’s knee, and
gazing pensively at the wall:--

“Oh, dear! that comes of being girls. We might as well be good and done
with it. We can’t be bad so as to amount to anything.”

“Good or bad, we must eat,” said Nell Barber. “I must go and get the
spread ready. I forgot all about it, Lina; but we came in just to invite
you. Eleven sharp, remember. Three knocks, a pause, and another, you
know. Come, girls.”

The brunette followed her, but Lina’s little sweetheart remained.

“What have they got?” demanded the former listlessly.

“Oh, Nell has a jar of preserves from home, and I smuggled up a plate of
dried beef from tea, and cook let us have some crackers and plates. We
tried hard to get a watermelon there was in the pantry, but cook said
she did n’t dare let us have it. It’s for dinner to-morrow.”

Lina’s eyes suddenly became introspective; then after a moment she
rose slowly and stood in her tracks with an expression of deep thought,
absent-mindedly took one step, then another, and after a pause a third,
finally pulling up before the mirror, into which she stared vacantly for
a moment, and then muttered defiantly as she turned away:--

“We ‘ll see, Master Charley.”

“Lina Maynard, what’s the matter with you?” cried the blonde, who had
watched the pantomime with open mouth and growing eyes.

Lina turned and looked at her thoughtfully a moment, and then said with
decisiveness:--

“You just go to Nell’s, my dear, and say I ‘m coming pretty soon; and if
you say anything else, I ‘ll--I ‘ll never marry you.”

The girls were in the habit of doing as Lina wanted them to, and the
blonde went, pouting with unappeased curiosity.

To gain exit from the Seminary was a simple matter in these lax days,
and five minutes later Lina was walking rapidly along the highway, her
lips firm set, but her eyes apprehensively reconnoitring the road ahead,
with frequent glances to each side and behind. Once she got over the
stone wall at the roadside in a considerable panic and crouched in the
dewy grass while a belated villager passed, but it was without further
adventure that she finally turned into the road leading behind Mr.
Steele’s lot, and after a brief search identified the garden where she
remembered seeing some particularly fine melons, when out walking a day
or two previous. There they lay, just the other side the fence, faintly
visible in the dim light She could not help congratulating herself,
by the way, on the excellent behavior of her nerves, whose tense,
fine-strung condition was a positive luxury, and she then and there
understood how men might delight in desperate risks for the mere sake
of the exalted and supreme sense of perfect self-possession that danger
brings to some natures. Not, indeed, that she stopped to indulge any
psychological speculations. The coast was clear; not a footfall or
hoof-stroke sounded from the road, and without delay she began to look
about for a wide place between the rails where she might get through.
Just as she found it, she was startled by an unmistakable human snore,
which seemed to come from a patch of high corn close to the melons, and
she was fairly puzzled until she observed, about ten rods distant in the
same line, an open attic window. That explained its origin, and with a
passing self-congratulation that she had made up her mind not to marry
a man that snored, she began to crawl through the fence. When halfway
through the thought struck her,--wasn’t it like any other stealing,
after all? This crawling between rails seemed dreadfully so. Her
attitude, squeezed between two rails and half across the lower one, was
neither graceful nor comfortable, and perhaps that fact shortened her
scruples.

“It can’t be really stealing, for I don’t feel like a thief,” was the
logic that settled it, and the next moment she had the novel sensation
of having both feet surreptitiously and feloniously on another person’s
land. She decidedly did n’t relish it, but she would go ahead now and
think of it afterward. She was pretty sure she never would do it again,
anyhow, experiencing that common sort of repentance beforehand for the
thing she was about to do, the precise moral value of which it would be
interesting to inquire. It ought to count for something, for, if it does
n’t hinder the act, at least it spoils the fun of it. Here was a melon
at her feet; should she take it? That was a bigger one further on, and
her imperious conscientiousness compelled her to go ten steps further
into the enemy’s country to get it, for now that she was committed to
the undertaking, she was bound to do the best she could.

To stoop, to break the vine, and to secure the melon were an instant’s
work; but as she bent, the high corn before her waved violently and a
big farmer-looking man in a slouch hat and shocking old coat sprang out
and seized her by the arm, with a grip not painful but sickeningly firm,
exclaiming as he did so:--

“Wal, I swan ter gosh, if ‘t ain’t a gal!”

Lina dropped the melon, and, barely recalling the peculiar circumstances
in time to suppress a scream, made a silent, desperate effort to break
away. But her captor’s hold was not even shaken, and he laughed at the
impotence of her attempt. In all her petted life she had never been held
a moment against her will, and it needed not the added considerations
that this man was a coarse, unknown boor, the place retired, the time
midnight, and herself in the position of a criminal, to give her a
feeling of abject terror so great as to amount to positive nausea, as
she realized her utter powerlessness in his hands.

“So you’ve been a-stealin’ my melons, hey?” he demanded gruffly.

The slight shake with which the question was enforced deprived her of
the last vestige of dignity and self-assertion. She relapsed into the
mental condition of a juvenile culprit undergoing correction. Now that
she was caught, she no longer thought of her offense as venial. The
grasp of her captor seemed to put an end to all possible hairsplitting
on that point, and prove that it was nothing more nor less than
stealing, and a sense of guilt left her without any moral support
against her fright. She was only conscious of utter humiliation, and an
abject desire to beg off on any terms.

“What do you go round stealin’ folks’s melons for, young woman? Don’t
yer folks bring yer up better ‘n that? It’s a dodrotted shame to ‘em, ef
they don’t. What did ye want with the melons? Don’t they give yer enough
to eat ter home, hey?”

“We were going to have some supper, sir,” she replied, in a scared,
breathless tone, with a little hope of propitiating him by being
extremely civil and explicit in her replies.

“Who was havin’ supper to this time er night?” he snorted incredulously.

“We girls,” was the faint reply.

“What gals?”

Had she got to tell where she came from and be identified? She couldn’t,
she wouldn’t. But again came that dreadful shake, and the words faltered
out:--

“Over at the Seminary, sir.”

“Whew! so ye ‘re one er them, are ye? What’s yer name?”

Cold dew stood on the poor girl’s forehead. She was silent. He might
kill her, but she would n’t disgrace her father’s name.

“What’s yer name?” he repeated, with another shake.

She was still silent, though limp as a rag in his grasp.

“Wal,” said he sharply, after waiting a half minute to see if she would
answer, “I guess ye’ll be more confidin’ like to the jedge when he
inquiries in the mornin’. A night in the lock-up makes folks wonderful
civil. Now I’ll jest trouble ye to come along to the police office,” and
he walked her along by the arm toward the house.

As the horrible degradation to which she was exposed flashed upon Lina,
the last remnant of her self-control gave way, and, hanging back with
all her might against his hand, she burst into sobs.

“Oh, don’t, don’t! It will kill me. I’ll tell you my name. It’s Lina
Maynard. My father is a rich merchant in New York, Broadway, No. 743. He
will give you anything, if you let me go. Anything you want. Oh, please
don’t! Oh, don’t! I could n’t! I could n’t!”

In this terror-stricken, wild-eyed girl, her face streaming with tears,
and every lineament convulsed with abject dread, there was little enough
to remind Arthur Steele of the queenly maiden who had favored him with
a glance of negligent curiosity that afternoon. He stopped marching her
along and said reflectively:--

“Lina Maynard, hey! Then you must be the gal that’s down on Amy Steele
and would n’t ask her to the party to-morrow. Say, ain’t yer the one?”

Lina was too much bewildered by the sudden change of tack to do more
than stammer inarticulately. I am afraid that in her terror she would
have been capable of denying it, if she had thought that would help
her. Her captor reflected more deeply, scratched his head, and finally,
assuming a diplomatic attitude by thrusting his hands in his pocket,
remarked:--

“I s’pose ye ‘d like it dummed well ef I was to let yer go and say
nothin’ more about it. I reelly don’t s’pose I ‘d orter do it; but it
riles me to see Amy comin’ home cryin’ every day, and I ‘ll tell ye what
I ‘ll do. Ef you ‘ll ask her to yer fandango to-morrer, and be friends
with her arterward so she ‘ll come home happy and cheerful like, I ‘ll
let ye go, and if ye don’t, I ‘ll put ye in jug overnight, sure’s taxes.
Say Yes or No now, quick!”

“Yes, yes!” Lina cried, with frantic eagerness.

There was scarcely any possible ransom he could have asked that she
would not have instantly given. She dared not credit her ears, and stood
gazing at him in intense, appealing suspense, as if he might be about to
revoke his offer. But instead of that, he turned down the huge collar of
the old overcoat, took it off, threw it on the ground, and, turning
up the slouch of his hat, stood before her a very good-looking and
well-dressed young gentleman, whom she at once recognized and at length
identified in her mind as the one walking with Amy that afternoon, which
now seemed weeks ago. He bowed very low, and said earnestly enough,
though smiling:--

“I humbly beg your pardon.”

Lina stared at him with dumb amazement, and he went on:--

“I am Arthur Steele. I came home on a vacation to-day, and was sitting
up to watch father’s melon-patch for the pure fun of it, expecting to
catch some small boys, and when I caught you, I couldn’t resist the
temptation of a little farce. As for Amy, that only occurred to me at
the last; and if you think it unfair, you may have your promise back.”

Lina had now measurably recovered her equannimity, and, ignoring his
explanation, demanded, as she looked around:--

“How am I to get out of this dreadful place?” mentally contemplating
meanwhile the impossibility of clambering through that fence with a
young gentleman looking on.

“I will let down the bars,” he said, and they turned toward the fence.

“Let’s see, this is your melon, is it not?” he observed, stooping to
pick up the booty Lina had dropped in her first panic. “You must keep
that anyhow. You ‘ve earned it.”

Since the tables turned so unexpectedly in her favor, Lina had recovered
her dignity in some degree, and had become very freezing toward this
young man, by whom she began to feel she had been very badly treated.
In this reaction of indignation she had really almost forgotten how she
came in the garden at all. But this reference to the melon quite upset
her new equanimity, and as Arthur grinned broadly she blushed and stood
there in awful confusion. Finally she blurted out:--

“I didn’t want your stupid melon. I only wanted some fun. I can’t
explain, and I don’t care whether you understand it or not.”

Tears of vexation glittered in her eyes. He sobered instantly, and said,
with an air of the utmost deference:--

“Pardon me for laughing, and do me the justice to believe that I ‘m
in no sort of danger of misunderstanding you. I hooked too many melons
myself as a boy not to sympathize perfectly. But you must really let me
carry the melon home for you. What would the girls say, if you returned
empty-handed?”

“Well, I will take the melon,” she said, half defiantly; “but I should
prefer not to have your company.”

He did not reply till he had let down the bars, and then said:--

“The streets are not safe at this hour, and you ‘ve had frights enough
for one night.”

She made no further objections, and with the watermelon poised on his
shoulder he walked by her side, neither speaking a word, till they
reached the gate of the Seminary grounds. There she stopped, and,
turning, extended her hands for the melon. As he gave it to her their
eyes met a moment, and their mutual appreciation of the humor of
the situation expressed itself in an irrepressible smile that seemed
instantly to make them acquainted, and she responded almost kindly to
his low “Good-evening.”

Amy came home jubilant next day. Lina May-nard had invited her to her
party, and had been ever so good to her, and there was nobody in the
world like Lina. Arthur listened and said nothing. All the next week
it was the same story of Lina’s beauty, good-nature, cleverness, and
perfections generally, and, above all, her goodness to herself,
Amy Steele. Lina was indeed fulfilling her promise with generous
over-measure. And after once taking up with Amy, the sweet simplicity
and enthusiastic loyalty of the child to herself won her heart
completely. The other girls wondered, but Lina Maynard’s freaks always
set the fashion, and Amy, to her astonishment and boundless delight,
found herself the pet of the Seminary. The little blonde, Lina’s
sweetheart, alone rebelled against the new order of things and was
furiously jealous, for which she was promptly snubbed by Lina, and Amy
taken into her place. And meanwhile Lina caught herself several times
wondering whether Arthur Steele was satisfied with the way she was
keeping her pledge.

It was Wednesday night, and Arthur was to return to New York Thursday
morning. Although he had walked the street every afternoon and had met
nearly all the other girls at the Seminary, he had not seen Lina again.
His mother, whom he took about a good deal on pleasure drives, seriously
wondered if the eagerness of city life was really spoiling his faculty
for leisurely pleasures. He always seemed to be looking out ahead for
something, instead of quietly enjoying the passing sights and scenery.
He had consented to accompany Amy to a little church sociable on the
evening before his departure. It was a species of entertainment which he
detested, but he thought he might possibly meet Lina there, as Amy had
said some of the Seminary girls would be present.

At once, on entering the vestry, he caught sight of her at the other end
of the room among a group of girls. At the sound of the closing door
she glanced up with an involuntary gesture of expectancy, and their
eyes met. She looked confused, and instantly averted her face. There was
plenty of recognition in her expression, but she did not bow, the real
reason being that she was too much embarrassed to think of it. But
during the week he had so many times canvassed the chances of her
recognizing him when they should meet that he had become quite morbid
about it, and manifested the usual alacrity of persons in that state of
mind in jumping at conclusions they wish to avoid. He had been a fool to
think that she would recognize him as an acquaintance. What had he done
but to insult her, and what associations save distressing ones could she
have with him? He would exchange a few greetings with old friends, and
then quietly slink off home and go to packing up. He was rather sorry
for his mother; she would feel so badly to have him moody and cross on
the last evening at home. Just then some one touched his sleeve, and
looking around he saw Amy. She put her flushed little face close to his
ear and whispered:--

“Lina said I might introduce you. Is n’t she beautiful, though,
to-night? Of course you ‘ll fall in love with her, but you must n’t try
to cut me out.”

Arthur was Amy’s ideal of gentlemanly ease and polish, and she had been
very proud of having so fine a city brother to introduce to the girls.
Imagine her astonishment and chagrin when she saw him standing before
Lina with an exaggeration of the agitated, sheepish air the girls made
such fun of in their rural admirers! But if that surprised her, what
was her amazement to see Lina looking equally confused, and blushing to
where her neck curved beneath the lace, although the brave eyes met
his fairly! A wise instinct told Amy that here was something she didn’t
understand, and she had better go away, and she did.

“The melon was very good, Mr. Steele,” said Lina demurely, with a
glimmer of fun in her black eyes.

“Miss Maynard, I don’t know how I shall beg pardon, or humble myself
enough for my outrageous treatment of you,” burst forth Arthur. “I
don’t know what I should have done if I had n’t had an opportunity for
apologizing pretty soon, and now I scarcely dare look you in the face.”

His chagrin and self-reproach were genuine enough, but he might have
left off that last, for he had n’t been looking anywhere else since he
came into the room.

“You did shake me rather hard,” she said, with a smiling contraction of
the black eyebrows.

Good heavens! had he actually shaken this divine creature,--this
Cleopatra of a girl, whose queenly brow gave her hair the look of
a coronet! He groaned in spirit, and looked so self-reproachful and
chagrined that she laughed.

“I don’t know about forgiving you for that, but I ‘m so grateful you
did n’t take me to the lock-up that I suppose I ought not to mind the
shaking.”

“But, Miss Maynard, you surely don’t think I was in earnest about that?”
 he exclaimed, in strenuous deprecation.

“I don’t know, I ‘m sure,” she said doubtfully. “You looked as if you
were capable of it.”

He was going on to protest still farther when she interrupted him, and
said laughingly:--

“You take to apologizing so naturally that I ‘d nearly forgotten that
it was not you but I who was the real culprit. I must really make a few
excuses myself before I hear any more from you.”

And then she told him all about her brother Charley’s letter, and the
spirit of emulation that had got her into trouble. It was easy enough to
joke about certain aspects of the matter; but when she came to talk in
plain language about her performances that night, she became so much
embarrassed and stumbled so badly that Arthur felt very ill at ease.

“And when I think what _would_ have happened if I ‘d fallen into
anybody’s hands but yours, you seem almost like a deliverer.” At which
Arthur had another access of humiliation to think how un-chivalrously
he had treated this princess in disguise. How he would like to catch
somebody else abusing her that way! And then he told her all that he had
thought and felt about her during the stealing scene, and she gave her
side of the drama, to their intense mutual interest.

“Is n’t it about time we were going home, Arthur?” said Amy’s voice.

He glanced up. The room was nearly empty, and the party from the
Seminary were waiting for Lina.

“Miss Maynard, may I call upon you in New York during vacation?”

“I should be happy to see you.”

“_Au revoir_, then!”

“_Au revoir!_”





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