BY CHAS. W. CHESNUTT.
(Copyrighted 1887, by the Author.)
Colonel Brierson was very angry. He had received a letter from his son Tom, who was away at college. To make a long story short, the letter will explain itself. It ran as follows, written in a bold, round hand, not yet completely formed, but revealing in every line a frank and manly nature:
"My dear Father-I write to you upon a subject which I have not mentioned before, not from any want of filial respect, but because I feared, though I trust my fears were without foundation, that your views on the subject would not agree with mine, and I hated to incur your displeasure. But things have reached that point where an explanation must be made. In brief, I am in love, and moreover, I am engaged to be married.
"The young lady is not of just our standing in society, but she is prettier and more intelligent than any other young lady I know. She has been well educated, having attended the seminary here, and would make any man a good wife."
"I would not have spoken to her so soon or without consulting you; but her mother-a widow-died a few weeks ago and left her alone in the world, and I tried to comfort her in her distress-with the result that I asked her to marry me and she consented.
"I write to ask your consent to our speedy union. I am sorry to interrupt my college career, but I am willing to do what duty requires, and I go to work without further preparation.
Hoping, dear sir, that you will approve of my course, and consent to our marriage, I am, as ever, your affectionate son, THOMAS."
"Nonsense!" the colonel had exclaimed as he read this letter. "Calf love! Some boarding-housekeeper's brat! Married, indeed! Why, he couldn't earn money enough to support himself! I wouldn't think of allowing him to commit such a folly!"
The colonel fretted and frowned and finally poured a glass of wine from the bottle before him and drank it. Then he leaned back in his easy chair and began to think.
He had fallen into a reverie, when he heard a slight cough, and looking up saw a young man standing on the other side of the hearth, hat in hand. It was a fresh-looking young fellow, with a respectful air, and a slight flush on his face as he addressed the colonel.
"Good morning-sir," he said hesitatingly.
There was something strangely familiar about this young man, and the colonel looked at him curiously without rising from his chair.
"Good evening," he replied, "sit down."
The young man drew a chair up to the other side of the grate and sat down.
"It's a pretty cold night," he said, rubbing his hands and speaking modestly, as was becoming in the presence of an older person. The colonel still looked at his visitor curiously. He had seen that face somewhere, but couldn't exactly place it. The young man was dressed in a style in vogue twenty-five years before-very tight trousers, a very short coat and an embroidered silk waistcoat. The colonel remembered having had a similar waistcoat when he was young.
"By your leave, colonel, I will try a glass of your wine. It will take off the chill of the night air. I came a long distance tonight to see you." And he poured out a glass of the rich wine and tossed it off.
"Aha!" he resumed, mellowing under the influence of the rare liquor. "That reminds me of the vintage of '27 we had at the wine supper on Scribbins' birthday. Wasn't that a jolly time, though! I remember you got drunk-pardon me-I mean you became very jolly, and finally got so sleepy that you fell under the table and had to be carried off to your room. Ah! you were a sad fellow in those days."
"You seem to know a great deal about those old days," said the colonel, somewhat stiffly, and not relishing the familiar allusions to his college life, at least from the lips of a stranger.
"Well, I should say so," said the young fellow, "and then what fine times we used to have in your room when Jones and Brown and the other boys would come up to play poker. Ah, the glorious game! Do you ever try a hand nowadays?"
The colonel could not help feeling some of the enthusiasm of this voluble young man, who kept on, a little more seriously:
"And the girls! The pretty girls, the darling creatures! Oh, but how you loved the girls! The stolen dances up in old Ritter's barn, and the cosy evenings when we played checkers with pretty Rose. Poor Rose! Do you know, I hope you'll excuse me for mentioning it. I never did think you treated Rose just right."
"Who are you?" asked the colonel, "and what do you know about Rose?"
"Ah, well, I know all about it. Your parents didn't approve of your marrying the janitor's daughter, and you broke your promise to her. They said she died of consumption, but I know better-she died of a broken heart."
It must not be supposed that Col. Brierson could sit unmoved and hear this impudent young intruder call up these scenes of his vanished youth. He remembered Rose-sweet Rose! He remembered the pretty frilled apron she used to wear; the charming dressing cap her French mother had made for her; her timid face, bold only in the consciousness of her lover's fidelity. He remembered the note he had written, bidding her farewell, and he remembered, too, with a bitter pang, the last glimpse he had caught of her, as the train which bore him out of the college town flashed by her mother's house. She had been standing at the door and her white face and sunken cheeks had haunted him all through the foreign tour on which he had accompanied his father.
"Who are you?" he inquired, angrily, as the visitor rose to go, "and where did you get your information about my private affairs? I must say that your manners--"
"Why didn't I introduce myself?" said the young man, laughing softly. "You ought to have remembered me. Don't you recollect this coat? Baker made it. Why I am the ghost of your youth! I came a distance of thirty years to-night to see you, and I'm glad to find you looking so well. Good night!" And with a familiar gesture of farewell, the young man opened the door and went out.
As he opened the door, the strong draft from the outside blew down the tongs, which fell on the hearth with a noisy clatter. The colonel started and rubbed his eyes.
"Bless my soul!" he said, "it's ten o'clock, and I haven't written that letter to Tom."
So saying he poured out another glass of wine, of which he took a sip, and then indited the following epistle, which brought joy to two young hearts:
"My dear Tom--I won't say that I am pleased at the contents of your letter, though I was at first very much surprised. I will be down at the college next week, and will look into the matter you write about. If I find the young woman what you represent her to be, I do not know that I shall be inclined to oppose your wishes. In the meantime, do not neglect your studies
Your affectionate father,
J. H. Brierson."