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XIII JOHN'S FIRST PARTY
It turned out that John did not go after all to Cynthia Rudd's party, having broken through the ice on the river when he was skating that day, and, as the boy who pulled him out said, "come within an inch of his life." But he took care not to tumble into anything that should keep him from the next party, which was given with due formality by Melinda Mayhew.

John had been many a time to the house of Deacon Mayhew, and never with any hesitation, even if he knew that both the deacon's daughters—Melinda and Sophronia—were at home. The only fear he had felt was of the deacon's big dog, who always surlily watched him as he came up the tanbark walk, and made a rush at him if he showed the least sign of wavering. But upon the night of the party his courage [Pg 102] vanished, and he thought he would rather face all the dogs in town than knock at the front door.

The parlor was lighted up, and as John stood on the broad flagging before the front door, by the lilac-bush, he could hear the sound of voices—girls' voices—which set his heart in a flutter. He could face the whole district school of girls without flinching,—he didn't mind 'em in the meeting-house in their Sunday best; but he began to be conscious that now he was passing to a new sphere, where the girls are supreme and superior, and he began to feel for the first time that he was an awkward boy. The girl takes to society as naturally as a duckling does to the placid pond, but with a semblance of sly timidity; the boy plunges in with a great splash, and hides his shy awkwardness in noise and commotion.

When John entered, the company had nearly all come. He knew them every one, and yet there was something about them strange and unfamiliar. They were all a little afraid of each other, as people are apt [Pg 103] to be when they are well dressed and met together for social purposes in the country. To be at a real party was a novel thing for most of them, and put a constraint upon them which they could not at once overcome. Perhaps it was because they were in the awful parlor, that carpeted room of haircloth furniture, which was so seldom opened. Upon the wall hung two certificates framed in black,—one certifying that, by the payment of fifty dollars, Deacon Mayhew was a life member of the American Tract Society; and the other that, by a like outlay of bread cast upon the waters, his wife was a life member of the A. B. C. F. M., a portion of the alphabet which has an awful significance to all New England childhood. These certificates are a sort of receipt in full for charity, and are a constant and consoling reminder to the farmer that he has discharged his religious duties.

There was a fire on the broad hearth, and that, with the tallow candles on the mantelpiece, made quite an illumination in the room, and enabled the boys, who were [Pg 104] mostly on one side of the room, to see the girls, who were on the other, quite plainly. How sweet and demure the girls looked, to be sure! Every boy was thinking if his hair was slick, and feeling the full embarrassment of his entrance into fashionable life. It was queer that these children, who were so free everywhere else, should be so constrained now, and not know what to do with themselves. The shooting of a spark out upon the carpet was a great relief, and was accompanied by a deal of scrambling to throw it back into the fire, and caused much giggling. It was only gradually that the formality was at all broken, and the young people got together and found their tongues.

John at length found himself with Cynthia Rudd, to his great delight and considerable embarrassment, for Cynthia, who was older than John, never looked so pretty. To his surprise he had nothing to say to her. They had always found plenty to talk about before, but now nothing that he could think of seemed worth saying at a party.

[Pg 105]

"It is a pleasant evening," said John.

"It is quite so," replied Cynthia.

"Did you come in a cutter?" asked John, anxiously.

"No; I walked on the crust, and it was perfectly lovely walking," said Cynthia, in a burst of confidence.

"Was it slippery?" continued John.

"Not very."

John hoped it would be slippery—very—when he walked home with Cynthia, as he determined to do, but he did not dare to say so, and the conversation ran aground again. John thought about his dog and his sled and his yoke of steers, but he didn't see any way to bring them into conversation. Had she read the "Swiss Family Robinson"? Only a little ways. John said it was splendid, and he would lend it to her, for which she thanked him, and said, with such a sweet expression, she should be so glad to have it from him. That was encouraging.

And then John asked Cynthia if she had seen Sally Hawkes since the husking at their house, when Sally found so many red [Pg 106] ears; and didn't she think she was a real pretty girl?

"Yes, she was right pretty;" and Cynthia guessed that Sally knew it pretty well. But did John like the color of her eyes?

No; John didn't like the color of her eyes exactly.

"Her mouth would be well enough if she didn't laugh so much and show her teeth."

John said her mouth was her worst feature.

"Oh no," said Cynthia, warmly; "her mouth is better than her nose."

John didn't know but it was better than her nose, and he should like her looks better if her hair wasn't so dreadful black.

But Cynthia, who could afford to be generous now, said she liked black hair, and she wished hers was dark. Whereupon John protested that he liked light hair—auburn hair—of all things.

And Cynthia said tha............
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