SUMMER

 

by Edith Wharton

 

1917

 

I

 

A girl came out of lawyer Royall's house, at the end of the one street

of North Dormer, and stood on the doorstep.

 

It was the beginning of a June afternoon. The springlike transparent sky

shed a rain of silver sunshine on the roofs of the village, and on the

pastures and larchwoods surrounding it. A little wind moved among the

round white clouds on the shoulders of the hills, driving their shadows

across the fields and down the grassy road that takes the name of street

when it passes through North Dormer. The place lies high and in the

open, and lacks the lavish shade of the more protected New England

villages. The clump of weeping-willows about the duck pond, and the

Norway spruces in front of the Hatchard gate, cast almost the only

roadside shadow between lawyer Royall's house and the point where, at

the other end of the village, the road rises above the church and skirts

the black hemlock wall enclosing the cemetery.

 

The little June wind, frisking down the street, shook the doleful

fringes of the Hatchard spruces, caught the straw hat of a young man

just passing under them, and spun it clean across the road into the

duck-pond.

 

As he ran to fish it out the girl on lawyer Royall's doorstep noticed

that he was a stranger, that he wore city clothes, and that he was

laughing with all his teeth, as the young and careless laugh at such

mishaps.

 

Her heart contracted a little, and the shrinking that sometimes came

over her when she saw people with holiday faces made her draw back into

the house and pretend to look for the key that she knew she had already

put into her pocket. A narrow greenish mirror with a gilt eagle over it

hung on the passage wall, and she looked critically at her reflection,

wished for the thousandth time that she had blue eyes like Annabel

Balch, the girl who sometimes came from Springfield to spend a week with

old Miss Hatchard, straightened the sunburnt hat over her small swarthy

face, and turned out again into the sunshine.

 

"How I hate everything!" she murmured.

 

The young man had passed through the Hatchard gate, and she had the

street to herself. North Dormer is at all times an empty place, and at

three o'clock on a June afternoon its few able-bodied men are off in

the fields or woods, and the women indoors, engaged in languid household

drudgery.

 

The girl walked along, swinging her key on a finger, and looking about

her with the heightened attention produced by the presence of a stranger

in a familiar place. What, she wondered, did North Dormer look like to

people from other parts of the world? She herself had lived there

since the age of five, and had long supposed it to be a place of some

importance. But about a year before, Mr. Miles, the new Episcopal

clergyman at Hepburn, who drove over every other Sunday--when the roads

were not ploughed up by hauling--to hold a service in the North Dormer

church, had proposed, in a fit of missionary zeal, to take the young

people down to Nettleton to hear an illustrated lecture on the Holy

Land; and the dozen girls and boys who represented the future of North

Dormer had been piled into a farm-waggon, driven over the hills to

Hepburn, put into a way-train and carried to Nettleton.

 

In the course of that incredible day Charity Royall had, for the first

and only time, experienced railway-travel, looked into shops with

plate-glass fronts, tasted cocoanut pie, sat in a theatre, and listened

to a gentleman saying unintelligible things before pictures that she

would have enjoyed looking at if his explanations had not prevented her

from understanding them. This initiation had shown her that North Dormer

was a small place, and developed in her a thirst for information that

her position as custodian of the village library had previously failed

to excite. For a month or two she dipped feverishly and disconnectedly

into the dusty volumes of the Hatchard Memorial Library; then the

impression of Nettleton began to fade, and she found it easier to take

North Dormer as the norm of the universe than to go on reading.

 

The sight of the stranger once more revived memories of Nettleton, and

North Dormer shrank to its real size. As she looked up and down it, from

lawyer Royall's faded red house at one end to the white church at the

other, she pitilessly took its measure. There it lay, a weather-beaten

sunburnt village of the hills, abandoned of men, left apart by railway,

trolley, telegraph, and all the forces that link life to life in modern

communities. It had no shops, no theatres, no lectures, no "business

block"; only a church that was opened every other Sunday if the state

of the roads permitted, and a library for which no new books had been

bought for twenty years, and where the old ones mouldered undisturbed on

the damp shelves. Yet Charity Royall had always been told that she ought

to consider it a privilege that her lot had been cast in North Dormer.

She knew that, compared to the place she had come from, North Dormer

represented all the blessings of the most refined civilization. Everyone

in the village had told her so ever since she had been brought there as

a child. Even old Miss Hatchard had said to her, on a terrible occasion

in her life: "My child, you must never cease to remember that it was Mr.

Royall who brought you down from the Mountain."

 

She had been "brought down from the Mountain"; from the scarred cliff

that lifted its sullen wall above the lesser slopes of Eagle Range,

making a perpetual background of gloom to the lonely valley. The

Mountain was a good fifteen miles away, but it rose so abruptly from the

lower hills that it seemed almost to cast its shadow over North Dormer.

And it was like a great magnet drawing the clouds and scattering them

in storm across the valley. If ever, in the purest summer sky, there

trailed a thread of vapour over North Dormer, it drifted to the Mountain

as a ship drifts to a whirlpool, and was caught among the rocks, torn up

and multiplied, to sweep back over the village in rain and darkness.

 

Charity was not very clear about the Mountain; but she knew it was a bad

place, and a shame to have come from, and that, whatever befell her

in North Dormer, she ought, as Miss Hatchard had once reminded her, to

remember that she had been brought down from there, and hold her tongue

and be thankful. She looked up at the Mountain, thinking of these

things, and tried as usual to be thankful. But the sight of the young

man turning in at Miss Hatchard's gate had brought back the vision of

the glittering streets of Nettleton, and she felt ashamed of her old

sun-hat, and sick of North Dormer, and jealously aware of Annabel Balch

of Springfield, opening her blue eyes somewhere far off on glories

greater than the glories of Nettleton.

 

"How I hate everything!" she said again.

 

Half way down the street she stopped at a weak-hinged gate. Passing

through it, she walked down a brick path to a queer little brick temple

with white wooden columns supporting a pediment on which was inscribed

in tarnished gold letters: "The Honorius Hatchard Memorial Library,

1832."

 

Honorius Hatchard had been old Miss Hatchard's great-uncle; though she

would undoubtedly have reversed the phrase, and put forward, as her

only claim to distinction, the fact that she was his great-niece. For

Honorius Hatchard, in the early years of the nineteenth century, had

enjoyed a modest celebrity. As the marble tablet in the interior of

the library informed its infrequent visitors, he had possessed marked

literary gifts, written a series of papers called "The Recluse of Eagle

Range," enjoyed the acquaintance of Washington Irving and Fitz-Greene

Halleck, and been cut off in his flower by a fever contracted in Italy.

Such had been the sole link between North Dormer and literature, a

link piously commemorated by the erection of the monument where Charity

Royall, every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, sat at her desk under a

freckled steel engraving of the deceased author, and wondered if he felt

any deader in his grave than she did in his library.

 

Entering her prison-house with a listless step she took off her hat,

hung it on a plaster bust of Minerva, opened the shutters, leaned out

to see if there were any eggs in the swallow's nest above one of the

windows, and finally, seating herself behind the desk, drew out a

roll of cotton lace and a steel crochet hook. She was not an expert

workwoman, and it had taken her many weeks to make the half-yard

of narrow lace which she kept wound about the buckram back of a

disintegrated copy of "The Lamplighter." But there was no other way of

getting any lace to trim her summer blouse, and since Ally Hawes, the

poorest girl in the village, had shown herself in church with enviable

transparencies about the shoulders, Charity's hook had travelled faster.

She unrolled the lace, dug the hook into a loop, and bent to the task

with furrowed brows.

 

Suddenly the door opened, and before she had raised her eyes she knew

that the young man she had seen going in at the Hatchard gate had

entered the library.

 

Without taking any notice of her he began to move slowly about the

long vault-like room, his hands behind his back, his short-sighted eyes

peering up and down the rows of rusty bindings. At length he reached the

desk and stood before her.

 

"Have you a card-catalogue?" he asked in a pleasant abrupt voice; and

the oddness of the question caused her to drop her work.

 

"A WHAT?"

 

"Why, you know----" He broke off, and she became conscious that he was

looking at her for the first time, having apparently, on his entrance,

included her in his general short-sighted survey as part of the

furniture of the library.

 

The fact that, in discovering her, he lost the thread of his remark,

did not escape her attention, and she looked down and smiled. He smiled

also.

 

"No, I don't suppose you do know," he corrected himself. "In fact, it

would be almost a pity----"

 

She thought she detected a slight condescension in his tone, and asked

sharply: "Why?"

 

"Because it's so much pleasanter, in a small library like this, to poke

about by one's self--with the help of the librarian."

 

He added the last phrase so respectfully that she was mollified, and

rejoined with a sigh: "I'm afraid I can't help you much."

 

"Why?" he questioned in his turn; and she replied that there weren't

many books anyhow, and that she'd hardly read any of them. "The worms

are getting at them," she added gloomily.

 

"Are they? That's a pity, for I see there are some good ones." He seemed

to have lost interest in their conversation, and strolled away again,

apparently forgetting her. His indifference nettled her, and she picked

up her work, resolved not to offer him the least assistance. Apparently

he did not need it, for he spent a long time with his back to her,

lifting down, one after another, the tall cob-webby volumes from a

distant shelf.

 

"Oh, I say!" he exclaimed; and looking up she saw that he had drawn out

his handkerchief and was carefully wiping the edges of the book in his

hand. The action struck her as an unwarranted criticism on her care of

the books, and she said irritably: "It's not my fault if they're dirty."

 

He turned around and looked at her with reviving interest. "Ah--then

you're not the librarian?"

 

"Of course I am; but I can't dust all these books. Besides, nobody ever

looks at them, now Miss Hatchard's too lame to come round."

 

"No, I suppose not." He laid down the book he had been wiping, and stood

considering her in silence. She wondered if Miss Hatchard had sent

him round to pry into the way the library was looked after, and the

suspicion increased her resentment. "I saw you going into her house just

now, didn't I?" she asked, with the New England avoidance of the proper

name. She was determined to find out why he was poking about among her

books.

 

"Miss Hatchard's house? Yes--she's my cousin and I'm staying there," the

young man answered; adding, as if to disarm a visible distrust: "My name

is Harney--Lucius Harney. She may have spoken of me."

 

"No, she hasn't," said Charity, wishing she could have said: "Yes, she

has."

 

"Oh, well----" said Miss Hatchard's cousin with a laugh; and after

another pause, during which it occurred to Charity that her answer

had not been encouraging, he remarked: "You don't seem strong on

architecture."

 

Her bewilderment was complete: the more she wished to appear to

understand him the more unintelligible his remarks became. He reminded

her of the gentleman who had "explained" the pictures at Nettleton, and

the weight of her ignorance settled down on her again like a pall.

 

"I mean, I can't see that you have any books on the old houses about

here. I suppose, for that matter, this part of the country hasn't been

much explored. They all go on doing Plymouth and Salem. So stupid. My

cousin's house, now, is remarkable. This place must have had a past--it

must have been more of a place once." He stopped short, with the blush

of a shy man who overhears himself, and fears he has been voluble. "I'm

an architect, you see, and I'm hunting up old houses in these parts."

 

She stared. "Old houses? Everything's old in North Dormer, isn't it? The

folks are, anyhow."

 

He laughed, and wandered away again.

 

"Haven't you any kind of a history of the place? I think there was one

written about 1840: a book or pamphlet about its first settlement," he

presently said from the farther end of the room.

 

She pressed her crochet hook against her lip and pondered. There was

such a work, she knew: "North Dormer and the Early Townships of Eagle

County." She had a special grudge against it because it was a limp

weakly book that was always either falling off the shelf or slipping

back and disappearing if one squeezed it in between sustaining volumes.

She remembered, the last time she had picked it up, wondering how anyone

could have taken the trouble to write a book about North Dormer and its

neighbours: Dormer, Hamblin, Creston and Creston River. She knew them

all, mere lost clusters of houses in the folds of the desolate ridges:

Dormer, where North Dormer went for its apples; Creston River, where

there used to be a paper-mill, and its grey walls stood decaying by the

stream; and Hamblin, where the first snow always fell. Such were their

titles to fame.

 

She got up and began to move about vaguely before the shelves. But she

had no idea where she had last put the book, and something told her that

it was going to play her its usual trick and remain invisible. It was

not one of her lucky days.

 

"I guess it's somewhere," she said, to prove her zeal; but she spoke

without conviction, and felt that her words conveyed none.

 

"Oh, well----" he said again. She knew he was going, and wished more

than ever to find the book.

 

"It will be for next time," he added; and picking up the volume he had

laid on the desk he handed it to her. "By the way, a little air and sun

would do this good; it's rather valuable."

 

He gave her a nod and smile, and passed out.

 

 

 

 

II

 

 

The hours of the Hatchard Memorial librarian were from three to five;

and Charity Royall's sense of duty usually kept her at her desk until

nearly half-past four.

 

But she had never perceived that any practical advantage thereby

accrued either to North Dormer or to herself; and she had no scruple

in decreeing, when it suited her, that the library should close an hour

earlier. A few minutes after Mr. Harney's departure she formed this

decision, put away her lace, fastened the shutters, and turned the key

in the door of the temple of knowledge.

 

The street upon which she emerged was still empty: and after glancing up

and down it she began to walk toward her house. But instead of entering

she passed on, turned into a field-path and mounted to a pasture on the

hillside. She let down the bars of the gate, followed a trail along the

crumbling wall of the pasture, and walked on till she reached a knoll

where a clump of larches shook out their fresh tassels to the wind.

There she lay down on the slope, tossed off her hat and hid her face in

the grass.

 

She was blind and insensible to many things, and dimly knew it; but to

all that was light and air, perfume and colour, every drop of blood in

her responded. She loved the roughness of the dry mountain grass under

her palms, the smell of the thyme into which she crushed her face, the

fingering of the wind in her hair and through her cotton blouse, and the

creak of the larches as they swayed to it.

 

She often climbed up the hill and lay there alone for the mere pleasure

of feeling the wind and of rubbing her cheeks in the grass. Generally

at such times she did not think of anything, but lay immersed in an

inarticulate well-being. Today the sense of well-being was intensified

by her joy at escaping from the library. She liked well enough to have a

friend drop in and talk to her when she was on duty, but she hated to be

bothered about books. How could she remember where they were, when they

were so seldom asked for? Orma Fry occasionally took out a novel, and

her brother Ben was fond of what he called "jography," and of books

relating to trade and bookkeeping; but no one else asked for anything

except, at intervals, "Uncle Tom's Cabin," or "Opening of a Chestnut

Burr," or Longfellow. She had these under her hand, and could have

found them in the dark; but unexpected demands came so rarely that they

exasperated her like an injustice....

 

She had liked the young man's looks, and his short-sighted eyes, and his

odd way of speaking, that was abrupt yet soft, just as his hands were

sun-burnt and sinewy, yet with smooth nails like a woman's. His hair was

sunburnt-looking too, or rather the colour of bracken after frost; his

eyes grey, with the appealing look of the shortsighted, his smile shy

yet confident, as if he knew lots of things she had never dreamed of,

and yet wouldn't for the world have had her feel his superiority. But

she did feel it, and liked the feeling; for it was new to her. Poor and

ignorant as she was, and knew herself to be--humblest of the humble

even in North Dormer, where to come from the Mountain was the worst

disgrace--yet in her narrow world she had always ruled. It was partly,

of course, owing to the fact that lawyer Royall was "the biggest man

in North Dormer"; so much too big for it, in fact, that outsiders,

who didn't know, always wondered how it held him. In spite of

everything--and in spite even of Miss Hatchard--lawyer Royall ruled in

North Dormer; and Charity ruled in lawyer Royall's house. She had never

put it to herself in those terms; but she knew her power, knew what it

was made of, and hated it. Confusedly, the young man in the library

had made her feel for the first time what might be the sweetness of

dependence.

 

She sat up, brushed the bits of grass from her hair, and looked down on

the house where she held sway. It stood just below her, cheerless and

untended, its faded red front divided from the road by a "yard" with

a path bordered by gooseberry bushes, a stone well overgrown with

traveller's joy, and a sickly Crimson Rambler tied to a fan-shaped

support, which Mr. Royall had once brought up from Hepburn to please

her. Behind the house a bit of uneven ground with clothes-lines strung

across it stretched up to a dry wall, and beyond the wall a patch of

corn and a few rows of potatoes strayed vaguely into the adjoining

wilderness of rock and fern.

 

Charity could not recall her first sight of the house. She had been told

that she was ill of a fever when she was brought down from the Mountain;

and she could only remember waking one day in a cot at the foot of Mrs.

Royall's bed, and opening her eyes on the cold neatness of the room that

was afterward to be hers.

 

Mrs. Royall died seven or eight years later; and by that time Charity

had taken the measure of most things about her. She knew that Mrs.

Royall was sad and timid and weak; she knew that lawyer Royall was harsh

and violent, and still weaker. She knew that she had been christened

Charity (in the white church at the other end of the village) to

commemorate Mr. Royall's disinterestedness in "bringing her down," and

to keep alive in her a becoming sense of her dependence; she knew that

Mr. Royall was her guardian, but that he had not legally adopted her,

though everybody spoke of her as Charity Royall; and she knew why he had

come back to live at North Dormer, instead of practising at Nettleton,

where he had begun his legal career.

 

After Mrs. Royall's death there was some talk of sending her to a

boarding-school. Miss Hatchard suggested it, and had a long conference

with Mr. Royall, who, in pursuance of her plan, departed one day for

Starkfield to visit the institution she recommended. He came back the

next night with a black face; worse, Charity observed, than she had ever

seen him; and by that time she had had some experience.

 

When she asked him how soon she was to start he answered shortly, "You

ain't going," and shut himself up in the room he called his office;

and the next day the lady who kept the school at Starkfield wrote that

"under the circumstances" she was afraid she could not make room just

then for another pupil.

 

Charity was disappointed; but she understood. It wasn't the temptations

of Starkfield that had been Mr. Royall's undoing; it was the thought of

losing her. He was a dreadfully "lonesome" man; she had made that out

because she was so "lonesome" herself. He and she, face to face in that

sad house, had sounded the depths of isolation; and though she felt

no particular affection for him, and not the slightest gratitude, she

pitied him because she was conscious that he was superior to the people

about him, and that she was the only being between him and solitude.

Therefore, when Miss Hatchard sent for her a day or two later, to talk

of a school at Nettleton, and to say that this time a friend of hers

would "make the necessary arrangements," Charity cut her short with the

announcement that she had decided not to leave North Dormer.

 

Miss Hatchard reasoned with her kindly, but to no purpose; she simply

repeated: "I guess Mr. Royall's too lonesome."

 

Miss Hatchard blinked perplexedly behind her eye-glasses. Her long frail

face was full of puzzled wrinkles, and she leant forward, resting her

hands on the arms of her mahogany armchair, with the evident desire to

say something that ought to be said.

 

"The feeling does you credit, my dear."

 

She looked about the pale walls of her sitting-room, seeking counsel of

ancestral daguerreotypes and didactic samplers; but they seemed to make

utterance more difficult.

 

"The fact is, it's not only--not only because of the advantages. There

are other reasons. You're too young to understand----"

 

"Oh, no, I ain't," said Charity harshly; and Miss Hatchard blushed to

the roots of her blonde cap. But she must have felt a vague relief at

having her explanation cut short, for she concluded, again invoking the

daguerreotypes: "Of course I shall always do what I can for you; and in

case... in case... you know you can always come to me...."

 

Lawyer Royall was waiting for Charity in the porch when she returned

from this visit. He had shaved, and brushed his black coat, and looked a

magnificent monument of a man; at such moments she really admired him.

 

"Well," he said, "is it settled?"

 

"Yes, it's settled. I ain't going."

 

"Not to the Nettleton school?"

 

"Not anywhere."

 

He cleared his throat and asked sternly: "Why?"

 

"I'd rather not," she said, swinging past him on her way to her room.

It was the following week that he brought her up the Crimson Rambler and

its fan from Hepburn. He had never given her anything before.

 

The next outstanding incident of her life had happened two years later,

when she was seventeen. Lawyer Royall, who hated to go to Nettleton,

had been called there in connection with a case. He still exercised

his profession, though litigation languished in North Dormer and its

outlying hamlets; and for once he had had an opportunity that he could

not afford to refuse. He spent three days in Nettleton, won his case,

and came back in high good-humour. It was a rare mood with him, and

manifested itself on this occasion by his talking impressively at the

supper-table of the "rousing welcome" his old friends had given him. He

wound up confidentially: "I was a damn fool ever to leave Nettleton. It

was Mrs. Royall that made me do it."

 

Charity immediately perceived that something bitter had happened to him,

and that he was trying to talk down the recollection. She went up to bed

early, leaving him seated in moody thought, his elbows propped on the

worn oilcloth of the supper table. On the way up she had extracted from

his overcoat pocket the key of the cupboard where the bottle of whiskey

was kept.

 

She was awakened by a rattling at her door and jumped out of bed. She

heard Mr. Royall's voice, low and peremptory, and opened the door,

fearing an accident. No other thought had occurred to her; but when

she saw him in the doorway, a ray from the autumn moon falling on his

discomposed face, she understood.

 

For a moment they looked at each other in silence; then, as he put his

foot across the threshold, she stretched out her arm and stopped him.

 

"You go right back from here," she said, in a shrill voice that startled

her; "you ain't going to have that key tonight."

 

"Charity, let me in. I don't want the key. I'm a lonesome man," he

began, in the deep voice that sometimes moved her.

 

Her heart gave a startled plunge, but she continued to hold him back

contemptuously. "Well, I guess you made a mistake, then. This ain't your

wife's room any longer."

 

She was not frightened, she simply felt a deep disgust; and perhaps he

divined it or read it in her face, for after staring at her a moment

he drew back and turned slowly away from the door. With her ear to her

keyhole she heard him feel his way down the dark stairs, and toward

the kitchen; and she listened for the crash of the cupboard panel, but

instead she heard him, after an interval, unlock the door of the house,

and his heavy steps came to her through the silence as he walked down

the path. She crept to the window and saw his bent figure striding up

the road in the moonlight. Then a belated sense of fear came to her

with the consciousness of victory, and she slipped into bed, cold to the

bone.

 

 

A day or two later poor Eudora Skeff, who for twenty years had been the

custodian of the Hatchard library, died suddenly of pneumonia; and the

day after the funeral Charity went to see Miss Hatchard, and asked to be

appointed librarian. The request seemed to surprise Miss Hatchard: she

evidently questioned the new candidate's qualifications.

 

"Why, I don't know, my dear. Aren't you rather too young?" she

hesitated.

 

"I want to earn some money," Charity merely answered.

 

"Doesn't Mr. Royall give you all you require? No one is rich in North

Dormer."

 

"I want to earn money enough to get away."

 

"To get away?" Miss Hatchard's puzzled wrinkles deepened, and there was

a distressful pause. "You want to leave Mr. Royall?"

 

"Yes: or I want another woman in the house with me," said Charity

resolutely.

 

Miss Hatchard clasped her nervous hands about the arms of her chair. Her

eyes invoked the faded countenances on the wall, and after a faint cough

of indecision she brought out: "The... the housework's too hard for you,

I suppose?"

 

Charity's heart grew cold. She understood that Miss Hatchard had no

help to give her and that she would have to fight her way out of her

difficulty alone. A deeper sense of isolation overcame her; she felt

incalculably old. "She's got to be talked to like a baby," she thought,

with a feeling of compassion for Miss Hatchard's long immaturity. "Yes,

that's it," she said aloud. "The housework's too hard for me: I've been

coughing a good deal this fall."

 

She noted the immediate effect of this suggestion. Miss Hatchard paled

at the memory of poor Eudora's taking-off, and promised to do what she

could. But of course there were people she must consult: the clergyman,

the selectmen of North Dormer, and a distant Hatchard relative at

Springfield. "If you'd only gone to school!" she sighed. She followed

Charity to the door, and there, in the security of the threshold, said

with a glance of evasive appeal: "I know Mr. Royall is... trying at

times; but his wife bore with him; and you must always remember,

Charity, that it was Mr. Royall who brought you down from the Mountain."

Charity went home and opened the door of Mr. Royall's "office." He was

sitting there by the stove reading Daniel Webster's speeches. They had

met at meals during the five days that had elapsed since he had come to

her door, and she had walked at his side at Eudora's funeral; but they

had not spoken a word to each other.

 

He glanced up in surprise as she entered, and she noticed that he

was unshaved, and that he looked unusually old; but as she had always

thought of him as an old man the change in his appearance did not move

her. She told him she had been to see Miss Hatchard, and with what

object. She saw that he was astonished; but he made no comment.

 

"I told her the housework was too hard for me, and I wanted to earn the

money to pay for a hired girl. But I ain't going to pay for her: you've

got to. I want to have some money of my own."

 

Mr. Royall's bushy black eyebrows were drawn together in a frown, and he

sat drumming with ink-stained nails on the edge of his desk.

 

"What do you want to earn money for?" he asked.

 

"So's to get away when I want to."

 

"Why do you want to get away?"

 

Her contempt flashed out. "Do you suppose anybody'd stay at North Dormer

if they could help it? You wouldn't, folks say!"

 

With lowered head he asked: "Where'd you go to?"

 

"Anywhere where I can earn my living. I'll try here first, and if I

can't do it here I'll go somewhere else. I'll go up the Mountain if I

have to." She paused on this threat, and saw that it had taken effect.

"I want you should get Miss Hatchard and the selectmen to take me at the

library: and I want a woman here in the house with me," she repeated.

 

Mr. Royall had grown exceedingly pale. When she ended he stood up

ponderously, leaning against the desk; and for a second or two they

looked at each other.

 

"See here," he said at length as though utterance were difficult,

"there's something I've been wanting to say to you; I'd ought to have

said it before. I want you to marry me."

 

The girl still stared at him without moving. "I want you to marry me,"

he repeated, clearing his throat. "The minister'll be up here next

Sunday and we can fix it up then. Or I'll drive you down to Hepburn to

the Justice, and get it done there. I'll do whatever you say." His

eyes fell under the merciless stare she continued to fix on him, and

he shifted his weight uneasily from one foot to the other. As he

stood there before her, unwieldy, shabby, disordered, the purple veins

distorting the hands he pressed against the desk, and his long orator's

jaw trembling with the effort of his avowal, he seemed like a hideous

parody of the fatherly old man she had always known.

 

"Marry you? Me?" she burst out with a scornful laugh. "Was that what you

came to ask me the other night? What's come over you, I wonder? How long

is it since you've looked at yourself in the glass?" She straightened

herself, insolently conscious of her youth and strength. "I suppose

you think it would be cheaper to marry me than to keep a hired girl.

Everybody knows you're the closest man in Eagle County; but I guess

you're not going to get your mending done for you that way twice."

 

Mr. Royall did not move while she spoke. His face was ash-coloured and

his black eyebrows quivered as though the blaze of her scorn had blinded

him. When she ceased he held up his hand.

 

"That'll do--that'll about do," he said. He turned to the door and took

his hat from the hat-peg. On the threshold he paused. "People ain't been

fair to me--from the first they ain't been fair to me," he said. Then he

went out.

 

A few days later North Dormer learned with surprise that Charity had

been appointed librarian of the Hatchard Memorial at a salary of eight

dollars a month, and that old Verena Marsh, from the Creston Almshouse,

was coming to live at lawyer Royall's and do the cooking.

 

 

 

 

III

 

 

It was not in the room known at the red house as Mr. Royall's "office"

that he received his infrequent clients. Professional dignity and

masculine independence made it necessary that he should have a real

office, under a different roof; and his standing as the only lawyer of

North Dormer required that the roof should be the same as that which

sheltered the Town Hall and the post-office.

 

It was his habit to walk to this office twice a day, morning and

afternoon. It was on the ground floor of the building, with a separate

entrance, and a weathered name-plate on the door. Before going in

he stepped in to the post-office for his mail--usually an empty

ceremony--said a word or two to the town-clerk, who sat across the

passage in idle state, and then went over to the store on the opposite

corner, where Carrick Fry, the storekeeper, always kept a chair for him,

and where he was sure to find one or two selectmen leaning on the long

counter, in an atmosphere of rope, leather, tar and coffee-beans. Mr.

Royall, though monosyllabic at home, was not averse, in certain moods,

to imparting his views to his fellow-townsmen; perhaps, also, he was

unwilling that his rare clients should surprise him sitting, clerkless

and unoccupied, in his dusty office. At any rate, his hours there were

not much longer or more regular than Charity's at the library; the rest

of the time he spent either at the store or in driving about the country

on business connected with the insurance companies that he represented,

or in sitting at home reading Bancroft's History of the United States

and the speeches of Daniel Webster.

 

Since the day when Charity had told him that she wished to succeed

to Eudora Skeff's post their relations had undefinably but definitely

changed. Lawyer Royall had kept his word. He had obtained the place for

her at the cost of considerable maneuvering, as she guessed from the

number of rival candidates, and from the acerbity with which two of

them, Orma Fry and the eldest Targatt girl, treated her for nearly a

year afterward. And he had engaged Verena Marsh to come up from

Creston and do the cooking. Verena was a poor old widow, doddering and

shiftless: Charity suspected that she came for her keep. Mr. Royall was

too close a man to give a dollar a day to a smart girl when he could

get a deaf pauper for nothing. But at any rate, Verena was there, in the

attic just over Charity, and the fact that she was deaf did not greatly

trouble the young girl.

 

Charity knew that what had happened on that hateful night would not

happen again. She understood that, profoundly as she had despised Mr.

Royall ever since, he despised himself still more profoundly. If she had

asked for a woman in the house it was far less for her own defense than

for his humiliation. She needed no one to defend her: his humbled pride

was her surest protection. He had never spoken a word of excuse

or extenuation; the incident was as if it had never been. Yet its

consequences were latent in every word that he and she exchanged, in

every glance they instinctively turned from each other. Nothing now

would ever shake her rule in the red house.

 

On the night of her meeting with Miss Hatchard's cousin Charity lay in

bed, her bare arms clasped under her rough head, and continued to think

of him. She supposed that he meant to spend some time in North Dormer.

He had said he was looking up the old houses in the neighbourhood; and

though she was not very clear as to his purpose, or as to why anyone

should look for old houses, when they lay in wait for one on every

roadside, she understood that he needed the help of books, and resolved

to hunt up the next day the volume she had failed to find, and any

others that seemed related to the subject.

 

Never had her ignorance of life and literature so weighed on her as in

reliving the short scene of her discomfiture. "It's no use trying to be

anything in this place," she muttered to her pillow; and she shrivelled

at the vision of vague metropolises, shining super-Nettletons,

where girls in better clothes than Belle Balch's talked fluently of

architecture to young men with hands like Lucius Harney's. Then she

remembered his sudden pause when he had come close to the desk and had

his first look at her. The sight had made him forget what he was going

to say; she recalled the change in his face, and jumping up she ran over

the bare boards to her washstand, found the matches, lit a candle, and

lifted it to the square of looking-glass on the white-washed wall. Her

small face, usually so darkly pale, glowed like a rose in the faint orb

of light, and under her rumpled hair her eyes seemed deeper and larger

than by day. Perhaps after all it was a mistake to wish they were blue.

A clumsy band and button fastened her unbleached night-gown about the

throat. She undid it, freed her thin shoulders, and saw herself a bride

in low-necked satin, walking down an aisle with Lucius Harney. He would

kiss her as they left the church.... She put down the candle and covered

her face with her hands as if to imprison the kiss. At that moment she

heard Mr. Royall's step as he came up the stairs to bed, and a fierce

revulsion of feeling swept over her. Until then she had merely despised

him; now deep hatred of him filled her heart. He became to her a

horrible old man....

 

 

The next day, when Mr. Royall came back to dinner, they faced each other

in silence as usual. Verena's presence at the table was an excuse for

their not talking, though her deafness would have permitted the freest

interchange of confidences. But when the meal was over, and Mr. Royall

rose from the table, he looked back at Charity, who had stayed to help

the old woman clear away the dishes.

 

"I want to speak to you a minute," he said; and she followed him across

the passage, wondering.

 

He seated himself in his black horse-hair armchair, and she leaned

against the window, indifferently. She was impatient to be gone to the

library, to hunt for the book on North Dormer.

 

"See here," he said, "why ain't you at the library the days you're

supposed to be there?"

 

The question, breaking in on her mood of blissful abstraction, deprived

her of speech, and she stared at him for a moment without answering.

 

"Who says I ain't?"

 

"There's been some complaints made, it appears. Miss Hatchard sent for

me this morning----"

 

Charity's smouldering resentment broke into a blaze. "I know! Orma Fry,

and that toad of a Targatt girl and Ben Fry, like as not. He's going

round with her. The low-down sneaks--I always knew they'd try to have me

out! As if anybody ever came to the library, anyhow!"

 

"Somebody did yesterday, and you weren't there."

 

"Yesterday?" she laughed at her happy recollection. "At what time wasn't

I there yesterday, I'd like to know?"

 

"Round about four o'clock."

 

Charity was silent. She had been so steeped in the dreamy remembrance of

young Harney's visit that she had forgotten having deserted her post as

soon as he had left the library.

 

"Who came at four o'clock?"

 

"Miss Hatchard did."

 

"Miss Hatchard? Why, she ain't ever been near the place since she's been

lame. She couldn't get up the steps if she tried."

 

"She can be helped up, I guess. She was yesterday, anyhow, by the

young fellow that's staying with her. He found you there, I understand,

earlier in the afternoon; and he went back and told Miss Hatchard the

books were in bad shape and needed attending to. She got excited, and

had herself wheeled straight round; and when she got there the place was

locked. So she sent for me, and told me about that, and about the other

complaints. She claims you've neglected things, and that she's going to

get a trained librarian."

 

Charity had not moved while he spoke. She stood with her head thrown

back against the window-frame, her arms hanging against her sides, and

her hands so tightly clenched that she felt, without knowing what hurt

her, the sharp edge of her nails against her palms.

 

Of all Mr. Royall had said she had retained only the phrase: "He told

Miss Hatchard the books were in bad shape." What did she care for the

other charges against her? Malice or truth, she despised them as she

despised her detractors. But that the stranger to whom she had felt

herself so mysteriously drawn should have betrayed her! That at the

very moment when she had fled up the hillside to think of him more

deliciously he should have been hastening home to denounce her

short-comings! She remembered how, in the darkness of her room, she had

covered her face to press his imagined kiss closer; and her heart raged

against him for the liberty he had not taken.

 

"Well, I'll go," she said suddenly. "I'll go right off."

 

"Go where?" She heard the startled note in Mr. Royall's voice.

 

"Why, out of their old library: straight out, and never set foot in

it again. They needn't think I'm going to wait round and let them say

they've discharged me!"

 

"Charity--Charity Royall, you listen----" he began, getting heavily out

of his chair; but she waved him aside, and walked out of the room.

 

Upstairs she took the library key from the place where she always hid it

under her pincushion--who said she wasn't careful?--put on her hat, and

swept down again and out into the street. If Mr. Royall heard her go

he made no motion to detain her: his sudden rages probably made him

understand the uselessness of reasoning with hers.

 

She reached the brick temple, unlocked the door and entered into the

glacial twilight. "I'm glad I'll never have to sit in this old vault

again when other folks are out in the sun!" she said aloud as the

familiar chill took her. She looked with abhorrence at the long dingy

rows of books, the sheep-nosed Minerva on her black pedestal, and the

mild-faced young man in a high stock whose effigy pined above her desk.

She meant to take out of the drawer her roll of lace and the library

register, and go straight to Miss Hatchard to announce her resignation.

But suddenly a great desolation overcame her, and she sat down and laid

her face against the desk. Her heart was ravaged by life's cruelest

discovery: the first creature who had come toward her out of the

wilderness had brought her anguish instead of joy. She did not cry;

tears came hard to her, and the storms of her heart spent themselves

inwardly. But as she sat there in her dumb woe she felt her life to be

too desolate, too ugly and intolerable.

 

"What have I ever done to it, that it should hurt me so?" she groaned,

and pressed her fists against her lids, which were beginning to swell

with weeping.

 

"I won't--I won't go there looking like a horror!" she muttered,

springing up and pushing back her hair as if it stifled her. She opened

the drawer, dragged out the register, and turned toward the door. As

she did so it opened, and the young man from Miss Hatchard's came in

whistling.

 

 

 

 

IV

 

 

He stopped and lifted his hat with a shy smile. "I beg your pardon," he

said. "I thought there was no one here."

 

Charity stood before him, barring his way. "You can't come in. The

library ain't open to the public Wednesdays."

 

"I know it's not; but my cousin gave me her key."

 

"Miss Hatchard's got no right to give her key to other folks, any more'n

I have. I'm the librarian and I know the by-laws. This is my library."

 

The young man looked profoundly surprised.

 

"Why, I know it is; I'm so sorry if you mind my coming."

 

"I suppose you came to see what more you could say to set her against

me? But you needn't trouble: it's my library today, but it won't be

this time tomorrow. I'm on the way now to take her back the key and the

register."

 

Young Harney's face grew grave, but without betraying the consciousness

of guilt she had looked for.

 

"I don't understand," he said. "There must be some mistake. Why should I

say things against you to Miss Hatchard--or to anyone?"

 

The apparent evasiveness of the reply caused Charity's indignation to

overflow. "I don't know why you should. I could understand Orma Fry's

doing it, because she's always wanted to get me out of here ever since

the first day. I can't see why, when she's got her own home, and her

father to work for her; nor Ida Targatt, neither, when she got a legacy

from her step-brother on'y last year. But anyway we all live in the

same place, and when it's a place like North Dormer it's enough to make

people hate each other just to have to walk down the same street every

day. But you don't live here, and you don't know anything about any of

us, so what did you have to meddle for? Do you suppose the other girls'd

have kept the books any better'n I did? Why, Orma Fry don't hardly know

a book from a flat-iron! And what if I don't always sit round here

doing nothing till it strikes five up at the church? Who cares if the

library's open or shut? Do you suppose anybody ever comes here for

books? What they'd like to come for is to meet the fellows they're going

with if I'd let 'em. But I wouldn't let Bill Sollas from over the hill

hang round here waiting for the youngest Targatt girl, because I know

him... that's all... even if I don't know about books all I ought to...."

 

She stopped with a choking in her throat. Tremors of rage were running

through her, and she steadied herself against the edge of the desk lest

he should see her weakness.

 

What he saw seemed to affect him deeply, for he grew red under his

sunburn, and stammered out: "But, Miss Royall, I assure you... I assure

you...."

 

His distress inflamed her anger, and she regained her voice to fling

back: "If I was you I'd have the nerve to stick to what I said!"

 

The taunt seemed to restore his presence of mind. "I hope I should if I

knew; but I don't. Apparently something disagreeable has happened, for

which you think I'm to blame. But I don't know what it is, because I've

been up on Eagle Ridge ever since the early morning."

 

"I don't know where you've been this morning, but I know you were here

in this library yesterday; and it was you that went home and told your

cousin the books were in bad shape, and brought her round to see how I'd

neglected them."

 

Young Harney looked sincerely concerned. "Was that what you were told?

I don't wonder you're angry. The books are in bad shape, and as some are

interesting it's a pity. I told Miss Hatchard they were suffering from

dampness and lack of air; and I brought her here to show her how easily

the place could be ventilated. I also told her you ought to have some

one to help you do the dusting and airing. If you were given a wrong

version of what I said I'm sorry; but I'm so fond of old books that

I'd rather see them made into a bonfire than left to moulder away like

these."

 

Charity felt her sobs rising and tried to stifle them in words. "I don't

care what you say you told her. All I know is she thinks it's all my

fault, and I'm going to lose my job, and I wanted it more'n anyone in

the village, because I haven't got anybody belonging to me, the way

other folks have. All I wanted was to put aside money enough to get away

from here sometime. D'you suppose if it hadn't been for that I'd have

kept on sitting day after day in this old vault?"

 

Of this appeal her hearer took up only the last question. "It is an

old vault; but need it be? That's the point. And it's my putting the

question to my cousin that seems to have been the cause of the trouble."

His glance explored the melancholy penumbra of the long narrow room,

resting on the blotched walls, the discoloured rows of books, and the

stern rosewood desk surmounted by the portrait of the young Honorius.

"Of course it's a bad job to do anything with a building jammed against

a hill like this ridiculous mausoleum: you couldn't get a good draught

through it without blowing a hole in the mountain. But it can be

ventilated after a fashion, and the sun can be let in: I'll show you

how if you like...." The architect's passion for improvement had

already made him lose sight of her grievance, and he lifted his stick

instructively toward the cornice. But her silence seemed to tell him

that she took no interest in the ventilation of the library, and turning

back to her abruptly he held out both hands. "Look here--you don't mean

what you said? You don't really think I'd do anything to hurt you?"

 

A new note in his voice disarmed her: no one had ever spoken to her in

that tone.

 

"Oh, what DID you do it for then?" she wailed. He had her hands in

his, and she was feeling the smooth touch that she had imagined the day

before on the hillside.

 

He pressed her hands lightly and let them go. "Why, to make things

pleasanter for you here; and better for the books. I'm sorry if my

cousin twisted around what I said. She's excitable, and she lives on

trifles: I ought to have remembered that. Don't punish me by letting her

think you take her seriously."

 

It was wonderful to hear him speak of Miss Hatchard as if she were a

querulous baby: in spite of his shyness he had the air of power that the

experience of cities probably gave. It was the fact of having lived

in Nettleton that made lawyer Royall, in spite of his infirmities, the

strongest man in North Dormer; and Charity was sure that this young man

had lived in bigger places than Nettleton.

 

She felt that if she kept up her denunciatory tone he would secretly

class her with Miss Hatchard; and the thought made her suddenly simple.

 

"It don't matter to Miss Hatchard how I take her. Mr. Royall says she's

going to get a trained librarian; and I'd sooner resign than have the

village say she sent me away."

 

"Naturally you would. But I'm sure she doesn't mean to send you away.

At any rate, won't you give me the chance to find out first and let you

know? It will be time enough to resign if I'm mistaken."

 

Her pride flamed into her cheeks at the suggestion of his intervening.

"I don't want anybody should coax her to keep me if I don't suit."

 

He coloured too. "I give you my word I won't do that. Only wait till

tomorrow, will you?" He looked straight into her eyes with his shy grey

glance. "You can trust me, you know--you really can."

 

All the old frozen woes seemed to melt in her, and she murmured

awkwardly, looking away from him: "Oh, I'll wait."

 

 

 

 

V

 

 

There had never been such a June in Eagle County. Usually it was a month

of moods, with abrupt alternations of belated frost and mid-summer heat;

this year, day followed day in a sequence of temperate beauty. Every

morning a breeze blew steadily from the hills. Toward noon it built up

great canopies of white cloud that threw a cool shadow over fields and

woods; then before sunset the clouds dissolved again, and the western

light rained its unobstructed brightness on the valley.

 

On such an afternoon Charity Royall lay on a ridge above a sunlit

hollow, her face pressed to the earth and the warm currents of the grass

running through her. Directly in her line of vision a blackberry branch

laid its frail white flowers and blue-green leaves against the sky. Just

beyond, a tuft of sweet-fern uncurled between the beaded shoots of the

grass, and a small yellow butterfly vibrated over them like a fleck of

sunshine. This was all she saw; but she felt, above her and about her,

the strong growth of the beeches clothing the ridge, the rounding of

pale green cones on countless spruce-branches, the push of myriads of

sweet-fern fronds in the cracks of the stony slope below the wood,

and the crowding shoots of meadowsweet and yellow flags in the pasture

beyond. All this bubbling of sap and slipping of sheaths and bursting of

calyxes was carried to her on mingled currents of fragrance. Every leaf

and bud and blade seemed to contribute its exhalation to the pervading

sweetness in which the pungency of pine-sap prevailed over the spice

of thyme and the subtle perfume of fern, and all were merged in a moist

earth-smell that was like the breath of some huge sun-warmed animal.

 

Charity had lain there a long time, passive and sun-warmed as the slope

on which she lay, when there came between her eyes and the dancing

butterfly the sight of a man's foot in a large worn boot covered with

red mud.

 

"Oh, don't!" she exclaimed, raising herself on her elbow and stretching

out a warning hand.

 

"Don't what?" a hoarse voice asked above her head.

 

"Don't stamp on those bramble flowers, you dolt!" she retorted,

springing to her knees. The foot paused and then descended clumsily on

the frail branch, and raising her eyes she saw above her the bewildered

face of a slouching man with a thin sunburnt beard, and white arms

showing through his ragged shirt.

 

"Don't you ever SEE anything, Liff Hyatt?" she assailed him, as he stood

before her with the look of a man who has stirred up a wasp's nest.

 

He grinned. "I seen you! That's what I come down for."

 

"Down from where?" she questioned, stooping to gather up the petals his

foot had scattered.

 

He jerked his thumb toward the heights. "Been cutting down trees for Dan

Targatt."

 

Charity sank back on her heels and looked at him musingly. She was

not in the least afraid of poor Liff Hyatt, though he "came from the

Mountain," and some of the girls ran when they saw him. Among the more

reasonable he passed for a harmless creature, a sort of link between the

mountain and civilized folk, who occasionally came down and did a little

wood cutting for a farmer when hands were short. Besides, she knew the

Mountain people would never hurt her: Liff himself had told her so

once when she was a little girl, and had met him one day at the edge

of lawyer Royall's pasture. "They won't any of 'em touch you up there,

f'ever you was to come up.... But I don't s'pose you will," he had added

philosophically, looking at her new shoes, and at the red ribbon that

Mrs. Royall had tied in her hair.

 

Charity had, in truth, never felt any desire to visit her birthplace.

She did not care to have it known that she was of the Mountain, and was

shy of being seen in talk with Liff Hyatt. But today she was not sorry

to have him appear. A great many things had happened to her since the

day when young Lucius Harney had entered the doors of the Hatchard

Memorial, but none, perhaps, so unforeseen as the fact of her suddenly

finding it a convenience to be on good terms with Liff Hyatt. She

continued to look up curiously at his freckled weather-beaten face,

with feverish hollows below the cheekbones and the pale yellow eyes of

a harmless animal. "I wonder if he's related to me?" she thought, with a

shiver of disdain.

 

"Is there any folks living in the brown house by the swamp, up under

Porcupine?" she presently asked in an indifferent tone.

 

Liff Hyatt, for a while, considered her with surprise; then he scratched

his head and shifted his weight from one tattered sole to the other.

 

"There's always the same folks in the brown house," he said with his

vague grin.

 

"They're from up your way, ain't they?"

 

"Their name's the same as mine," he rejoined uncertainly.

 

Charity still held him with resolute eyes. "See here, I want to go there

some day and take a gentleman with me that's boarding with us. He's up

in these parts drawing pictures."

 

She did not offer to explain this statement. It was too far beyond Liff

Hyatt's limitations for the attempt to be worth making. "He wants to see

the brown house, and go all over it," she pursued.

 

Liff was still running his fingers perplexedly through his shock of

straw-colored hair. "Is it a fellow from the city?" he asked.

 

"Yes. He draws pictures of things. He's down there now drawing the

Bonner house." She pointed to a chimney just visible over the dip of the

pasture below the wood.

 

"The Bonner house?" Liff echoed incredulously.

 

"Yes. You won't understand--and it don't matter. All I say is: he's

going to the Hyatts' in a day or two."

 

Liff looked more and more perplexed. "Bash is ugly sometimes in the

afternoons."

 

She threw her head back, her eyes full on Hyatt's. "I'm coming too: you

tell him."

 

"They won't none of them trouble you, the Hyatts won't. What d'you want

a take a stranger with you though?"

 

"I've told you, haven't I? You've got to tell Bash Hyatt."

 

He looked away at the blue mountains on the horizon; then his gaze

dropped to the chimney-top below the pasture.

 

"He's down there now?"

 

"Yes."

 

He shifted his weight again, crossed his arms, and continued to survey

the distant landscape. "Well, so long," he said at last, inconclusively;

and turning away he shambled up the hillside. From the ledge above

her, he paused to call down: "I wouldn't go there a Sunday"; then he

clambered on till the trees closed in on him. Presently, from high

overhead, Charity heard the ring of his axe.

 

She lay on the warm ridge, thinking of many things that the woodsman's

appearance had stirred up in her. She knew nothing of her early life,

and had never felt any curiosity about it: only a sullen reluctance to

explore the corner of her memory where certain blurred images lingered.

But all that had happened to her within the last few weeks had stirred

her to the sleeping depths. She had become absorbingly interesting to

herself, and everything that had to do with her past was illuminated by

this sudden curiosity.

 

She hated more than ever the fact of coming from the Mountain; but it

was no longer indifferent to her. Everything that in any way affected

her was alive and vivid: even the hateful things had grown interesting

because they were a part of herself.

 

"I wonder if Liff Hyatt knows who my mother was?" she mused; and it

filled her with a tremor of surprise to think that some woman who was

once young and slight, with quick motions of the blood like hers, had

carried her in her breast, and watched her sleeping. She had always

thought of her mother as so long dead as to be no more than a nameless

pinch of earth; but now it occurred to her that the once-young woman

might be alive, and wrinkled and elf-locked like the woman she had

sometimes seen in the door of the brown house that Lucius Harney wanted

to draw.

 

The thought brought him back to the central point in her mind, and

she strayed away from the conjectures roused by Liff Hyatt's presence.

Speculations concerning the past could not hold her long when the

present was so rich, the future so rosy, and when Lucius Harney,

a stone's throw away, was bending over his sketch-book, frowning,

calculating, measuring, and then throwing his head back with the sudden

smile that had shed its brightness over everything.

 

She scrambled to her feet, but as she did so she saw him coming up the

pasture and dropped down on the grass to wait. When he was drawing and

measuring one of "his houses," as she called them, she often strayed

away by herself into the woods or up the hillside. It was partly from

shyness that she did so: from a sense of inadequacy that came to her

most painfully when her companion, absorbed in his job, forgot her

ignorance and her inability to follow his least allusion, and plunged

into a monologue on art and life. To avoid the awkwardness of listening

with a blank face, and also to escape the surprised stare of the

inhabitants of the houses before which he would abruptly pull up their

horse and open his sketch-book, she slipped away to some spot from

which, without being seen, she could watch him at work, or at least look

down on the house he was drawing. She had not been displeased, at first,

to have it known to North Dormer and the neighborhood that she was

driving Miss Hatchard's cousin about the country in the buggy he had

hired of lawyer Royall. She had always kept to herself, contemptuously

aloof from village love-making, without exactly knowing whether her

fierce pride was due to the sense of her tainted origin, or whether she

was reserving herself for a more brilliant fate. Sometimes she envied

the other girls their sentimental preoccupations, their long hours of

inarticulate philandering with one of the few youths who still lingered

in the village; but when she pictured herself curling her hair or

putting a new ribbon on her hat for Ben Fry or one of the Sollas boys

the fever dropped and she relapsed into indifference.

 

Now she knew the meaning of her disdains and reluctances. She had

learned what she was worth when Lucius Harney, looking at her for the

first time, had lost the thread of his speech, and leaned reddening on

the edge of her desk. But another kind of shyness had been born in

her: a terror of exposing to vulgar perils the sacred treasure of her

happiness. She was not sorry to have the neighbors suspect her of "going

with" a young man from the city; but she did not want it known to all

the countryside how many hours of the long June days she spent with him.

What she most feared was that the inevitable comments should reach Mr.

Royall. Charity was instinctively aware that few things concerning her

escaped the eyes of the silent man under whose roof she lived; and in

spite of the latitude which North Dormer accorded to courting couples

she had always felt that, on the day when she showed too open a

preference, Mr. Royall might, as she phrased it, make her "pay for

it." How, she did not know; and her fear was the greater because it

was undefinable. If she had been accepting the attentions of one of the

village youths she would have been less apprehensive: Mr. Royall could

not prevent her marrying when she chose to. But everybody knew that

"going with a city fellow" was a different and less straightforward

affair: almost every village could show a victim of the perilous

venture. And her dread of Mr. Royall's intervention gave a sharpened

joy to the hours she spent with young Harney, and made her, at the same

time, shy of being too generally seen with him.

 

As he approached she rose to her knees, stretching her arms above her

head with the indolent gesture that was her way of expressing a profound

well-being.

 

"I'm going to take you to that house up under Porcupine," she announced.

 

"What house? Oh, yes; that ramshackle place near the swamp, with the

gipsy-looking people hanging about. It's curious that a house with

traces of real architecture should have been built in such a place. But

the people were a sulky-looking lot--do you suppose they'll let us in?"

 

"They'll do whatever I tell them," she said with assurance.

 

He threw himself down beside her. "Will they?" he rejoined with a smile.

"Well, I should like to see what's left inside the house. And I should

like to have a talk with the people. Who was it who was telling me the

other day that they had come down from the Mountain?"

 

Charity shot a sideward look at him. It was the first time he had spoken

of the Mountain except as a feature of the landscape. What else did he

know about it, and about her relation to it? Her heart began to beat

with the fierce impulse of resistance which she instinctively opposed to

every imagined slight.

 

"The Mountain? I ain't afraid of the Mountain!"

 

Her tone of defiance seemed to escape him. He lay breast-down on the

grass, breaking off sprigs of thyme and pressing them against his lips.

Far off, above the folds of the nearer hills, the Mountain thrust itself

up menacingly against a yellow sunset.

 

"I must go up there some day: I want to see it," he continued.

 

Her heart-beats slackened and she turned again to examine his profile.

It was innocent of all unfriendly intention.

 

"What'd you want to go up the Mountain for?"

 

"Why, it must be rather a curious place. There's a queer colony up

there, you know: sort of out-laws, a little independent kingdom. Of

course you've heard them spoken of; but I'm told they have nothing to

do with the people in the valleys--rather look down on them, in fact.

I suppose they're rough customers; but they must have a good deal of

character."

 

She did not quite know what he meant by having a good deal of character;

but his tone was expressive of admiration, and deepened her dawning

curiosity. It struck her now as strange that she knew so little about

the Mountain. She had never asked, and no one had ever offered to

enlighten her. North Dormer took the Mountain for granted, and implied

its disparagement by an intonation rather than by explicit criticism.

 

"It's queer, you know," he continued, "that, just over there, on top of

that hill, there should be a handful of people who don't give a damn for

anybody."

 

The words thrilled her. They seemed the clue to her own revolts and

defiances, and she longed to have him tell her more.

 

"I don't know much about them. Have they always been there?"

 

"Nobody seems to know exactly how long. Down at Creston they told me

that the first colonists are supposed to have been men who worked on the

railway that was built forty or fifty years ago between Springfield

and Nettleton. Some of them took to drink, or got into trouble with the

police, and went off--disappeared into the woods. A year or two later

there was a report that they were living up on the Mountain. Then I

suppose others joined them--and children were born. Now they say there

are over a hundred people up there. They seem to be quite outside the

jurisdiction of the valleys. No school, no church--and no sheriff ever

goes up to see what they're about. But don't people ever talk of them at

North Dormer?"

 

"I don't know. They say they're bad."

 

He laughed. "Do they? We'll go and see, shall we?"

 

She flushed at the suggestion, and turned her face to his. "You never

heard, I suppose--I come from there. They brought me down when I was

little."

 

"You?" He raised himself on his elbow, looking at her with sudden

interest. "You're from the Mountain? How curious! I suppose that's why

you're so different...."

 

Her happy blood bathed her to the forehead. He was praising her--and

praising her because she came from the Mountain!

 

"Am I... different?" she triumphed, with affected wonder.

 

"Oh, awfully!" He picked up her hand and laid a kiss on the sunburnt

knuckles.

 

"Come," he said, "let's be off." He stood up and shook the grass from

his loose grey clothes. "What a good day! Where are you going to take me

tomorrow?"

 

 

 

 

VI

 

 

That evening after supper Charity sat alone in the kitchen and listened

to Mr. Royall and young Harney talking in the porch.

 

She had remained indoors after the table had been cleared and old Verena

had hobbled up to bed. The kitchen window was open, and Charity seated

herself near it, her idle hands on her knee. The evening was cool and

still. Beyond the black hills an amber west passed into pale green,

and then to a deep blue in which a great star hung. The soft hoot of a

little owl came through the dusk, and between its calls the men's voices

rose and fell.

 

Mr. Royall's was full of a sonorous satisfaction. It was a long time

since he had had anyone of Lucius Harney's quality to talk to: Charity

divined that the young man symbolized all his ruined and unforgotten

past. When Miss Hatchard had been called to Springfield by the illness

of a widowed sister, and young Harney, by that time seriously embarked

on his task of drawing and measuring all the old houses between

Nettleton and the New Hampshire border, had suggested the possibility of

boarding at the red house in his cousin's absence, Charity had trembled

lest Mr. Royall should refuse. There had been no question of lodging

the young man: there was no room for him. But it appeared that he could

still live at Miss Hatchard's if Mr. Royall would let him take his meals

at the red house; and after a day's deliberation Mr. Royall consented.

 

Charity suspected him of being glad of the chance to make a little

money. He had the reputation of being an avaricious man; but she was

beginning to think he was probably poorer than people knew. His practice

had become little more than a vague legend, revived only at lengthening

intervals by a summons to Hepburn or Nettleton; and he appeared to

depend for his living mainly on the scant produce of his farm, and

on the commissions received from the few insurance agencies that he

represented in the neighbourhood. At any rate, he had been prompt in

accepting Harney's offer to hire the buggy at a dollar and a half a

day; and his satisfaction with the bargain had manifested itself,

unexpectedly enough, at the end of the first week, by his tossing a

ten-dollar bill into Charity's lap as she sat one day retrimming her old

hat.

 

"Here--go get yourself a Sunday bonnet that'll make all the other girls

mad," he said, looking at her with a sheepish twinkle in his deep-set

eyes; and she immediately guessed that the unwonted present--the only

gift of money she had ever received from him--represented Harney's first

payment.

 

But the young man's coming had brought Mr. Royall other than

pecuniary benefit. It gave him, for the first time in years, a man's

companionship. Charity had only a dim understanding of her guardian's

needs; but she knew he felt himself above the people among whom he

lived, and she saw that Lucius Harney thought him so. She was surprised

to find how well he seemed to talk now that he had a listener who

understood him; and she was equally struck by young Harney's friendly

deference.

 

Their conversation was mostly about politics, and beyond her range; but

tonight it had a peculiar interest for her, for they had begun to speak

of the Mountain. She drew back a little, lest they should see she was in

hearing.

 

"The Mountain? The Mountain?" she heard Mr. Royall say. "Why, the

Mountain's a blot--that's what it is, sir, a blot. That scum up there

ought to have been run in long ago--and would have, if the people down

here hadn't been clean scared of them. The Mountain belongs to this

township, and it's North Dormer's fault if there's a gang of thieves

and outlaws living over there, in sight of us, defying the laws of their

country. Why, there ain't a sheriff or a tax-collector or a coroner'd

durst go up there. When they hear of trouble on the Mountain the

selectmen look the other way, and pass an appropriation to beautify the

town pump. The only man that ever goes up is the minister, and he goes

because they send down and get him whenever there's any of them dies.

They think a lot of Christian burial on the Mountain--but I never heard

of their having the minister up to marry them. And they never trouble

the Justice of the Peace either. They just herd together like the

heathen."

 

He went on, explaining in somewhat technical language how the little

colony of squatters had contrived to keep the law at bay, and Charity,

with burning eagerness, awaited young Harney's comment; but the young

man seemed more concerned to hear Mr. Royall's views than to express his

own.

 

"I suppose you've never been up there yourself?" he presently asked.

 

"Yes, I have," said Mr. Royall with a contemptuous laugh. "The wiseacres

down here told me I'd be done for before I got back; but nobody lifted a

finger to hurt me. And I'd just had one of their gang sent up for seven

years too."

 

"You went up after that?"

 

"Yes, sir: right after it. The fellow came down to Nettleton and ran

amuck, the way they sometimes do. After they've done a wood-cutting

job they come down and blow the money in; and this man ended up with

manslaughter. I got him convicted, though they were scared of the

Mountain even at Nettleton; and then a queer thing happened. The fellow

sent for me to go and see him in gaol. I went, and this is what he says:

'The fool that defended me is a chicken-livered son of a--and all

the rest of it,' he says. 'I've got a job to be done for me up on the

Mountain, and you're the only man I seen in court that looks as if he'd

do it.' He told me he had a child up there--or thought he had--a little

girl; and he wanted her brought down and reared like a Christian. I was

sorry for the fellow, so I went up and got the child." He paused, and

Charity listened with a throbbing heart. "That's the only time I ever

went up the Mountain," he concluded.

 

There was a moment's silence; then Harney spoke. "And the child--had she

no mother?"

 

"Oh, yes: there was a mother. But she was glad enough to have her go.

She'd have given her to anybody. They ain't half human up there. I guess

the mother's dead by now, with the life she was leading. Anyhow, I've

never heard of her from that day to this."

 

"My God, how ghastly," Harney murmured; and Charity, choking with

humiliation, sprang to her feet and ran upstairs. She knew at last: knew

that she was the child of a drunken convict and of a mother who wasn't

"half human," and was glad to have her go; and she had heard this

history of her origin related to the one being in whose eyes she longed

to appear superior to the people about her! She had noticed that Mr.

Royall had not named her, had even avoided any allusion that might

identify her with the child he had brought down from the Mountain; and

she knew it was out of regard for her that he had kept silent. But

of what use was his discretion, since only that afternoon, misled by

Harney's interest in the out-law colony, she had boasted to him of

coming from the Mountain? Now every word that had been spoken showed her

how such an origin must widen the distance between them.

 

During his ten days' sojourn at North Dormer Lucius Harney had not

spoken a word of love to her. He had intervened in her behalf with his

cousin, and had convinced Miss Hatchard of her merits as a librarian;

but that was a simple act of justice, since it was by his own fault that

those merits had been questioned. He had asked her to drive him about

the country when he hired lawyer Royall's buggy to go on his sketching

expeditions; but that too was natural enough, since he was unfamiliar

with the region. Lastly, when his cousin was called to Springfield, he

had begged Mr. Royall to receive him as a boarder; but where else in

North Dormer could he have boarded? Not with Carrick Fry, whose wife was

paralysed, and whose large family crowded his table to over-flowing; not

with the Targatts, who lived a mile up the road, nor with poor old Mrs.

Hawes, who, since her eldest daughter had deserted her, barely had the

strength to cook her own meals while Ally picked up her living as a

seamstress. Mr. Royall's was the only house where the young man

could have been offered a decent hospitality. There had been nothing,

therefore, in the outward course of events to raise in Charity's breast

the hopes with which it trembled. But beneath the visible incidents

resulting from Lucius Harney's arrival there ran an undercurrent as

mysterious and potent as the influence that makes the forest break into

leaf before the ice is off the pools.

 

The business on which Harney had come was authentic; Charity had seen

the letter from a New York publisher commissioning him to make a study

of the eighteenth century houses in the less familiar districts of New

England. But incomprehensible as the whole affair was to her, and hard

as she found it to understand why he paused enchanted before certain

neglected and paintless houses, while others, refurbished and "improved"

by the local builder, did not arrest a glance, she could not but suspect

that Eagle County was less rich in architecture than he averred, and

that the duration of his stay (which he had fixed at a month) was not

unconnected with the look in his eyes when he had first paused before

her in the library. Everything that had followed seemed to have grown

out of that look: his way of speaking to her, his quickness in catching

her meaning, his evident eagerness to prolong their excursions and to

seize on every chance of being with her.

 

The signs of his liking were manifest enough; but it was hard to guess

how much they meant, because his manner was so different from anything

North Dormer had ever shown her. He was at once simpler and more

deferential than any one she had known; and sometimes it was just when

he was simplest that she most felt the distance between them. Education

and opportunity had divided them by a width that no effort of hers could

bridge, and even when his youth and his admiration brought him nearest,

some chance word, some unconscious allusion, seemed to thrust her back

across the gulf.

 

Never had it yawned so wide as when she fled up to her room carrying

with her the echo of Mr. Royall's tale. Her first confused thought

was the prayer that she might never see young Harney again. It was

too bitter to picture him as the detached impartial listener to such

a story. "I wish he'd go away: I wish he'd go tomorrow, and never come

back!" she moaned to her pillow; and far into the night she lay there,

in the disordered dress she had forgotten to take off, her whole soul

a tossing misery on which her hopes and dreams spun about like drowning

straws.

 

Of all this tumult only a vague heart-soreness was left when she opened

her eyes the next morning. Her first thought was of the weather, for

Harney had asked her to take him to the brown house under Porcupine,

and then around by Hamblin; and as the trip was a long one they were to

start at nine. The sun rose without a cloud, and earlier than usual she

was in the kitchen, making cheese sandwiches, decanting buttermilk into

a bottle, wrapping up slices of apple pie, and accusing Verena of having

given away a basket she needed, which had always hung on a hook in the

passage. When she came out into the porch, in her pink calico, which had

run a little in the washing, but was still bright enough to set off

her dark tints, she had such a triumphant sense of being a part of the

sunlight and the morning that the last trace of her misery vanished.

What did it matter where she came from, or whose child she was, when

love was dancing in her veins, and down the road she saw young Harney

coming toward her?

 

Mr. Royall was in the porch too. He had said nothing at breakfast, but

when she came out in her pink dress, the basket in her hand, he looked

at her with surprise. "Where you going to?" he asked.

 

"Why--Mr. Harney's starting earlier than usual today," she answered.

 

"Mr. Harney, Mr. Harney? Ain't Mr. Harney learned how to drive a horse

yet?"

 

She made no answer, and he sat tilted back in his chair, drumming on the

rail of the porch. It was the first time he had ever spoken of the young

man in that tone, and Charity felt a faint chill of apprehension. After

a moment he stood up and walked away toward the bit of ground behind the

house, where the hired man was hoeing.

 

The air was cool and clear, with the autumnal sparkle that a north wind

brings to the hills in early summer, and the night had been so still

that the dew hung on everything, not as a lingering moisture, but in

separate beads that glittered like diamonds on the ferns and grasses. It

was a long drive to the foot of Porcupine: first across the valley, with

blue hills bounding the open slopes; then down into the beech-woods,

following the course of the Creston, a brown brook leaping over velvet

ledges; then out again onto the farm-lands about Creston Lake, and

gradually up the ridges of the Eagle Range. At last they reached the

yoke of the hills, and before them opened another valley, green and

wild, and beyond it more blue heights eddying away to the sky like the

waves of a receding tide.

 

Harney tied the horse to a tree-stump, and they unpacked their basket

under an aged walnut with a riven trunk out of which bumblebees darted.

The sun had grown hot, and behind them was the noonday murmur of

the forest. Summer insects danced on the air, and a flock of white

butterflies fanned the mobile tips of the crimson fireweed. In the

valley below not a house was visible; it seemed as if Charity Royall and

young Harney were the only living beings in the great hollow of earth

and sky.

 

Charity's spirits flagged and disquieting thoughts stole back on her.

Young Harney had grown silent, and as he lay beside her, his arms under

his head, his eyes on the network of leaves above him, she wondered if

he were musing on what Mr. Royall had told him, and if it had really

debased her in his thoughts. She wished he had not asked her to take him

that day to the brown house; she did not want him to see the people she

came from while the story of her birth was fresh in his mind. More than

once she had been on the point of suggesting that they should follow the

ridge and drive straight to Hamblin, where there was a little deserted

house he wanted to see; but shyness and pride held her back. "He'd

better know what kind of folks I belong to," she said to herself, with

a somewhat forced defiance; for in reality it was shame that kept her

silent.

 

Suddenly she lifted her hand and pointed to the sky. "There's a storm

coming up."

 

He followed her glance and smiled. "Is it that scrap of cloud among the

pines that frightens you?"

 

"It's over the Mountain; and a cloud over the Mountain always means

trouble."

 

"Oh, I don't believe half the bad things you all say of the Mountain!

But anyhow, we'll get down to the brown house before the rain comes."

 

He was not far wrong, for only a few isolated drops had fallen when they

turned into the road under the shaggy flank of Porcupine, and came

upon the brown house. It stood alone beside a swamp bordered with alder

thickets and tall bulrushes. Not another dwelling was in sight, and it

was hard to guess what motive could have actuated the early settler who

had made his home in so unfriendly a spot.

 

Charity had picked up enough of her companion's erudition to understand

what had attracted him to the house. She noticed the fan-shaped tracery

of the broken light above the door, the flutings of the paintless

pilasters at the corners, and the round window set in the gable; and she

knew that, for reasons that still escaped her, these were things to

be admired and recorded. Still, they had seen other houses far more

"typical" (the word was Harney's); and as he threw the reins on the

horse's neck he said with a slight shiver of repugnance: "We won't stay

long."

 

Against the restless alders turning their white lining to the storm the

house looked singularly desolate. The paint was almost gone from the

clap-boards, the window-panes were broken and patched with rags, and the

garden was a poisonous tangle of nettles, burdocks and tall swamp-weeds

over which big blue-bottles hummed.

 

At the sound of wheels a child with a tow-head and pale eyes like Liff

Hyatt's peered over the fence and then slipped away behind an out-house.

Harney jumped down and helped Charity out; and as he did so the rain

broke on them. It came slant-wise, on a furious gale, laying shrubs and

young trees flat, tearing off their leaves like an autumn storm, turning

the road into a river, and making hissing pools of every hollow. Thunder

rolled incessantly through the roar of the rain, and a strange glitter

of light ran along the ground under the increasing blackness.

 

"Lucky we're here after all," Harney laughed. He fastened the horse

under a half-roofless shed, and wrapping Charity in his coat ran with

her to the house. The boy had not reappeared, and as there was no

response to their knocks Harney turned the door-handle and they went in.

 

There were three people in the kitchen to which the door admitted

them. An old woman with a handkerchief over her head was sitting by the

window. She held a sickly-looking kitten on her knees, and whenever

it jumped down and tried to limp away she stooped and lifted it back

without any change of her aged, unnoticing face. Another woman, the

unkempt creature that Charity had once noticed in driving by, stood

leaning against the window-frame and stared at them; and near the stove

an unshaved man in a tattered shirt sat on a barrel asleep.

 

The place was bare and miserable and the air heavy with the smell of

dirt and stale tobacco. Charity's heart sank. Old derided tales of

the Mountain people came back to her, and the woman's stare was so

disconcerting, and the face of the sleeping man so sodden and bestial,

that her disgust was tinged with a vague dread. She was not afraid for

herself; she knew the Hyatts would not be likely to trouble her; but she

was not sure how they would treat a "city fellow."

 

Lucius Harney would certainly have laughed at her fears. He glanced

about the room, uttered a general "How are you?" to which no one

responded, and then asked the younger woman if they might take shelter

till the storm was over.

 

She turned her eyes away from him and looked at Charity.

 

"You're the girl from Royall's, ain't you?"

 

The colour rose in Charity's face. "I'm Charity Royall," she said, as

if asserting her right to the name in the very place where it might have

been most open to question.

 

The woman did not seem to notice. "You kin stay," she merely said;

then she turned away and stooped over a dish in which she was stirring

something.

 

Harney and Charity sat down on a bench made of a board resting on two

starch boxes. They faced a door hanging on a broken hinge, and through

the crack they saw the eyes of the tow-headed boy and of a pale little

girl with a scar across her cheek. Charity smiled, and signed to the

children to come in; but as soon as they saw they were discovered they

slipped away on bare feet. It occurred to her that they were afraid of

rousing the sleeping man; and probably the woman shared their fear, for

she moved about as noiselessly and avoided going near the stove.

 

The rain continued to beat against the house, and in one or two places

it sent a stream through the patched panes and ran into pools on the

floor. Every now and then the kitten mewed and struggled down, and the

old woman stooped and caught it, holding it tight in her bony hands; and

once or twice the man on the barrel half woke, changed his position

and dozed again, his head falling forward on his hairy breast. As the

minutes passed, and the rain still streamed against the windows, a

loathing of the place and the people came over Charity. The sight of

the weak-minded old woman, of the cowed children, and the ragged man

sleeping off his liquor, made the setting of her own life seem a vision

of peace and plenty. She thought of the kitchen at Mr. Royall's, with

its scrubbed floor and dresser full of china, and the peculiar smell of

yeast and coffee and soft-soap that she had always hated, but that now

seemed the very symbol of household order. She saw Mr. Royall's room,

with the high-backed horsehair chair, the faded rag carpet, the row of

books on a shelf, the engraving of "The Surrender of Burgoyne" over

the stove, and the mat with a brown and white spaniel on a moss-green

border. And then her mind travelled to Miss Hatchard's house, where all

was freshness, purity and fragrance, and compared to which the red house

had always seemed so poor and plain.

 

"This is where I belong--this is where I belong," she kept repeating to

herself; but the words had no meaning for her. Every instinct and habit

made her a stranger among these poor swamp-people living like vermin in

their lair. With all her soul she wished she had not yielded to Harney's

curiosity, and brought him there.

 

The rain had drenched her, and she began to shiver under the thin folds

of her dress. The younger woman must have noticed it, for she went out

of the room and came back with a broken tea-cup which she offered to

Charity. It was half full of whiskey, and Charity shook her head; but

Harney took the cup and put his lips to it. When he had set it down

Charity saw him feel in his pocket and draw out a dollar; he hesitated

a moment, and then put it back, and she guessed that he did not wish her

to see him offering money to people she had spoken of as being her kin.

 

The sleeping man stirred, lifted his head and opened his eyes. They

rested vacantly for a moment on Charity and Harney, and then closed

again, and his head drooped; but a look of anxiety came into the woman's

face. She glanced out of the window and then came up to Harney. "I guess

you better go along now," she said. The young man understood and got to

his feet. "Thank you," he said, holding out his hand. She seemed not to

notice the gesture, and turned away as they opened the door.

 

The rain was still coming down, but they hardly noticed it: the pure air

was like balm in their faces. The clouds were rising and breaking, and

between their edges the light streamed down from remote blue hollows.

Harney untied the horse, and they drove off through the diminishing

rain, which was already beaded with sunlight.

 

For a while Charity was silent, and her companion did not speak. She

looked timidly at his profile: it was graver than usual, as though he

too were oppressed by what they had seen. Then she broke out abruptly:

"Those people back there are the kind of folks I come from. They may be

my relations, for all I know." She did not want him to think that she

regretted having told him her story.

 

"Poor creatures," he rejoined. "I wonder why they came down to that

fever-hole."

 

She laughed ironically. "To better themselves! It's worse up on the

Mountain. Bash Hyatt married the daughter of the farmer that used to own

the brown house. That was him by the stove, I suppose."

 

Harney seemed to find nothing to say and she went on: "I saw you take

out a dollar to give to that poor woman. Why did you put it back?"

 

He reddened, and leaned forward to flick a swamp-fly from the horse's

neck. "I wasn't sure----"

 

"Was it because you knew they were my folks, and thought I'd be ashamed

to see you give them money?"

 

He turned to her with eyes full of reproach. "Oh, Charity----" It was

the first time he had ever called her by her name. Her misery welled

over.

 

"I ain't--I ain't ashamed. They're my people, and I ain't ashamed of

them," she sobbed.

 

"My dear..." he murmured, putting his arm about her; and she leaned

against him and wept out her pain.

 

It was too late to go around to Hamblin, and all the stars were out in a

clear sky when they reached the North Dormer valley and drove up to the

red house.

 

 

 

 

VII

 

 

SINCE her reinstatement in Miss Hatchard's favour Charity had not dared

to curtail by a moment her hours of attendance at the library. She

even made a point of arriving before the time, and showed a laudable

indignation when the youngest Targatt girl, who had been engaged to help

in the cleaning and rearranging of the books, came trailing in late

and neglected her task to peer through the window at the Sollas boy.

Nevertheless, "library days" seemed more than ever irksome to Charity

after her vivid hours of liberty; and she would have found it hard to

set a good example to her subordinate if Lucius Harney had not been

commissioned, before Miss Hatchard's departure, to examine with the

local carpenter the best means of ventilating the "Memorial."

 

He was careful to prosecute this inquiry on the days when the library

was open to the public; and Charity was therefore sure of spending part

of the afternoon in his company. The Targatt girl's presence, and the

risk of being interrupted by some passer-by suddenly smitten with a

thirst for letters, restricted their intercourse to the exchange of

commonplaces; but there was a fascination to Charity in the contrast

between these public civilities and their secret intimacy.

 

The day after their drive to the brown house was "library day," and

she sat at her desk working at the revised catalogue, while the Targatt

girl, one eye on the window, chanted out the titles of a pile of books.

Charity's thoughts were far away, in the dismal house by the swamp, and

under the twilight sky during the long drive home, when Lucius Harney

had consoled her with endearing words. That day, for the first time

since he had been boarding with them, he had failed to appear as usual

at the midday meal. No message had come to explain his absence, and Mr.

Royall, who was more than usually taciturn, had betrayed no surprise,

and made no comment. In itself this indifference was not particularly

significant, for Mr. Royall, in common with most of his fellow-citizens,

had a way of accepting events passively, as if he had long since come

to the conclusion that no one who lived in North Dormer could hope to

modify them. But to Charity, in the reaction from her mood of passionate

exaltation, there was something disquieting in his silence. It was

almost as if Lucius Harney had never had a part in their lives: Mr.

Royall's imperturbable indifference seemed to relegate him to the domain

of unreality.

 

As she sat at work, she tried to shake off her disappointment at

Harney's non-appearing. Some trifling incident had probably kept him

from joining them at midday; but she was sure he must be eager to see

her again, and that he would not want to wait till they met at supper,

between Mr. Royall and Verena. She was wondering what his first words

would be, and trying to devise a way of getting rid of the Targatt girl

before he came, when she heard steps outside, and he walked up the path

with Mr. Miles.

 

The clergyman from Hepburn seldom came to North Dormer except when he

drove over to officiate at the old white church which, by an unusual

chance, happened to belong to the Episcopal communion. He was a brisk

affable man, eager to make the most of the fact that a little nucleus of

"church-people" had survived in the sectarian wilderness, and resolved

to undermine the influence of the ginger-bread-coloured Baptist chapel

at the other end of the village; but he was kept busy by parochial work

at Hepburn, where there were paper-mills and saloons, and it was not

often that he could spare time for North Dormer.

 

Charity, who went to the white church (like all the best people in North

Dormer), admired Mr. Miles, and had even, during the memorable trip to

Nettleton, imagined herself married to a man who had such a straight

nose and such a beautiful way of speaking, and who lived in a

brown-stone rectory covered with Virginia creeper. It had been a shock

to discover that the privilege was already enjoyed by a lady with

crimped hair and a large baby; but the arrival of Lucius Harney had long

since banished Mr. Miles from Charity's dreams, and as he walked up the

path at Harney's side she saw him as he really was: a fat middle-aged

man with a baldness showing under his clerical hat, and spectacles on

his Grecian nose. She wondered what had called him to North Dormer on a

weekday, and felt a little hurt that Harney should have brought him to

the library.

 

It presently appeared that his presence there was due to Miss Hatchard.

He had been spending a few days at Springfield, to fill a friend's

pulpit, and had been consulted by Miss Hatchard as to young Harney's

plan for ventilating the "Memorial." To lay hands on the Hatchard ark

was a grave matter, and Miss Hatchard, always full of scruples about her

scruples (it was Harney's phrase), wished to have Mr. Miles's opinion

before deciding.

 

"I couldn't," Mr. Miles explained, "quite make out from your cousin what

changes you wanted to make, and as the other trustees did not understand

either I thought I had better drive over and take a look--though I'm

sure," he added, turning his friendly spectacles on the young man, "that

no one could be more competent--but of course this spot has its peculiar

sanctity!"

 

"I hope a little fresh air won't desecrate it," Harney laughingly

rejoined; and they walked to the other end of the library while he set

forth his idea to the Rector.

 

Mr. Miles had greeted the two girls with his usual friendliness, but

Charity saw that he was occupied with other things, and she presently

became aware, by the scraps of conversation drifting over to her, that

he was still under the charm of his visit to Springfield, which appeared

to have been full of agreeable incidents.

 

"Ah, the Coopersons... yes, you know them, of course," she heard. "That's

a fine old house! And Ned Cooperson has collected some really remarkable

impressionist pictures...." The names he cited were unknown to Charity.

"Yes; yes; the Schaefer quartette played at Lyric Hall on Saturday

evening; and on Monday I had the privilege of hearing them again at the

Towers. Beautifully done... Bach and Beethoven... a lawn-party

first... I saw Miss Balch several times, by the way... looking extremely

handsome...."

 

Charity dropped her pencil and forgot to listen to the Targatt girl's

sing-song. Why had Mr. Miles suddenly brought up Annabel Balch's name?

 

"Oh, really?" she heard Harney rejoin; and, raising his stick, he

pursued: "You see, my plan is to move these shelves away, and open a

round window in this wall, on the axis of the one under the pediment."

 

"I suppose she'll be coming up here later to stay with Miss Hatchard?"

Mr. Miles went on, following on his train of thought; then, spinning

about and tilting his head back: "Yes, yes, I see--I understand: that

will give a draught without materially altering the look of things. I

can see no objection."

 

The discussion went on for some minutes, and gradually the two men moved

back toward the desk. Mr. Miles stopped again and looked thoughtfully at

Charity. "Aren't you a little pale, my dear? Not overworking? Mr. Harney

tells me you and Mamie are giving the library a thorough overhauling."

He was always careful to remember his parishioners' Christian names,

and at the right moment he bent his benignant spectacles on the Targatt

girl.

 

Then he turned to Charity. "Don't take things hard, my dear; don't take

things hard. Come down and see Mrs. Miles and me some day at Hepburn,"

he said, pressing her hand and waving a farewell to Mamie Targatt. He

went out of the library, and Harney followed him.

 

Charity thought she detected a look of constraint in Harney's eyes. She

fancied he did not want to be alone with her; and with a sudden pang she

wondered if he repented the tender things he had said to her the night

before. His words had been more fraternal than lover-like; but she had

lost their exact sense in the caressing warmth of his voice. He had made

her feel that the fact of her being a waif from the Mountain was only

another reason for holding her close and soothing her with consolatory

murmurs; and when the drive was over, and she got out of the buggy,

tired, cold, and aching with emotion, she stepped as if the ground were

a sunlit wave and she the spray on its crest.

 

Why, then, had his manner suddenly changed, and why did he leave the

library with Mr. Miles? Her restless imagination fastened on the name

of Annabel Balch: from the moment it had been mentioned she fancied

that Harney's expression had altered. Annabel Balch at a garden-party at

Springfield, looking "extremely handsome"... perhaps Mr. Miles had seen

her there at the very moment when Charity and Harney were sitting in the

Hyatts' hovel, between a drunkard and a half-witted old woman! Charity

did not know exactly what a garden-party was, but her glimpse of the

flower-edged lawns of Nettleton helped her to visualize the scene, and

envious recollections of the "old things" which Miss Balch avowedly

"wore out" when she came to North Dormer made it only too easy to

picture her in her splendour. Charity understood what associations the

name must have called up, and felt the uselessness of struggling against

the unseen influences in Harney's life.

 

When she came down from her room for supper he was not there; and while

she waited in the porch she recalled the tone in which Mr. Royall had

commented the day before on their early start. Mr. Royall sat at her

side, his chair tilted back, his broad black boots with side-elastics

resting against the lower bar of the railings. His rumpled grey hair

stood up above his forehead like the crest of an angry bird, and the

leather-brown of his veined cheeks was blotched with red. Charity knew

that those red spots were the signs of a coming explosion.

 

Suddenly he said: "Where's supper? Has Verena Marsh slipped up again on

her soda-biscuits?"

 

Charity threw a startled glance at him. "I presume she's waiting for Mr.

Harney."

 

"Mr. Harney, is she? She'd better dish up, then. He ain't coming." He

stood up, walked to the door, and called out, in the pitch necessary to

penetrate the old woman's tympanum: "Get along with the supper, Verena."

 

Charity was trembling with apprehension. Something had happened--she was

sure of it now--and Mr. Royall knew what it was. But not for the world

would she have gratified him by showing her anxiety. She took her usual

place, and he seated himself opposite, and poured out a strong cup of

tea before passing her the tea-pot. Verena brought some scrambled eggs,

and he piled his plate with them. "Ain't you going to take any?" he

asked. Charity roused herself and began to eat.

 

The tone with which Mr. Royall had said "He's not coming" seemed to her

full of an ominous satisfaction. She saw that he had suddenly begun to

hate Lucius Harney, and guessed herself to be the cause of this change

of feeling. But she had no means of finding out whether some act of

hostility on his part had made the young man stay away, or whether he

simply wished to avoid seeing her again after their drive back from the

brown house. She ate her supper with a studied show of indifference, but

she knew that Mr. Royall was watching her and that her agitation did not

escape him.

 

After supper she went up to her room. She heard Mr. Royall cross the

passage, and presently the sounds below her window showed that he

had returned to the porch. She seated herself on her bed and began to

struggle against the desire to go down and ask him what had happened.

"I'd rather die than do it," she muttered to herself. With a word he

could have relieved her uncertainty: but never would she gratify him by

saying it.

 

She rose and leaned out of the window. The twilight had deepened into

night, and she watched the frail curve of the young moon dropping to

the edge of the hills. Through the darkness she saw one or two figures

moving down the road; but the evening was too cold for loitering, and

presently the strollers disappeared. Lamps were beginning to show here

and there in the windows. A bar of light brought out the whiteness of a

clump of lilies in the Hawes's yard: and farther down the street Carrick

Fry's Rochester lamp cast its bold illumination on the rustic flower-tub

in the middle of his grass-plot.

 

For a long time she continued to lean in the window. But a fever of

unrest consumed her, and finally she went downstairs, took her hat

from its hook, and swung out of the house. Mr. Royall sat in the porch,

Verena beside him, her old hands crossed on her patched skirt. As

Charity went down the steps Mr. Royall called after her: "Where you

going?" She could easily have answered: "To Orma's," or "Down to the

Targatts'"; and either answer might have been true, for she had no

purpose. But she swept on in silence, determined not to recognize his

right to question her.

 

At the gate she paused and looked up and down the road. The darkness

drew her, and she thought of climbing the hill and plunging into

the depths of the larch-wood above the pasture. Then she glanced

irresolutely along the street, and as she did so a gleam appeared

through the spruces at Miss Hatchard's gate. Lucius Harney was there,

then--he had not gone down to Hepburn with Mr. Miles, as she had at

first imagined. But where had he taken his evening meal, and what had

caused him to stay away from Mr. Royall's? The light was positive proof

of his presence, for Miss Hatchard's servants were away on a holiday,

and her farmer's wife came only in the mornings, to make the young man's

bed and prepare his coffee. Beside that lamp he was doubtless sitting at

this moment. To know the truth Charity had only to walk half the length

of the village, and knock at the lighted window. She hesitated a minute

or two longer, and then turned toward Miss Hatchard's.

 

She walked quickly, straining her eyes to detect anyone who might be

coming along the street; and before reaching the Frys' she crossed over

to avoid the light from their window. Whenever she was unhappy she

felt herself at bay against a pitiless world, and a kind of animal

secretiveness possessed her. But the street was empty, and she passed

unnoticed through the gate and up the path to the house. Its white front

glimmered indistinctly through the trees, showing only one oblong of

light on the lower floor. She had supposed that the lamp was in Miss

Hatchard's sitting-room; but she now saw that it shone through a window

at the farther corner of the house. She did not know the room to which

this window belonged, and she paused under the trees, checked by a sense

of strangeness. Then she moved on, treading softly on the short grass,

and keeping so close to the house that whoever was in the room, even if

roused by her approach, would not be able to see her.

 

The window opened on a narrow verandah with a trellised arch. She leaned

close to the trellis, and parting the sprays of clematis that covered it

looked into a corner of the room. She saw the foot of a mahogany bed,

an engraving on the wall, a wash-stand on which a towel had been tossed,

and one end of the green-covered table which held the lamp. Half of

the lampshade projected into her field of vision, and just under it two

smooth sunburnt hands, one holding a pencil and the other a ruler, were

moving to and fro over a drawing-board.

 

Her heart jumped and then stood still. He was there, a few feet away;

and while her soul was tossing on seas of woe he had been quietly

sitting at his drawing-board. The sight of those two hands, moving with

their usual skill and precision, woke her out of her dream. Her eyes

were opened to the disproportion between what she had felt and the cause

of her agitation; and she was turning away from the window when one hand

abruptly pushed aside the drawing-board and the other flung down the

pencil.

 

Charity had often noticed Harney's loving care of his drawings, and the

neatness and method with which he carried on and concluded each task.

The impatient sweeping aside of the drawing-board seemed to reveal a new

mood. The gesture suggested sudden discouragement, or distaste for his

work and she wondered if he too were agitated by secret perplexities.

Her impulse of flight was checked; she stepped up on the verandah and

looked into the room.

 

Harney had put his elbows on the table and was resting his chin on his

locked hands. He had taken off his coat and waistcoat, and unbuttoned

the low collar of his flannel shirt; she saw the vigorous lines of his

young throat, and the root of the muscles where they joined the

chest. He sat staring straight ahead of him, a look of weariness and

self-disgust on his face: it was almost as if he had been gazing at a

distorted reflection of his own features. For a moment Charity looked at

him with a kind of terror, as if he had been a stranger under familiar

lineaments; then she glanced past him and saw on the floor an open

portmanteau half full of clothes. She understood that he was preparing

to leave, and that he had probably decided to go without seeing her. She

saw that the decision, from whatever cause it was taken, had disturbed

him deeply; and she immediately concluded that his change of plan was

due to some surreptitious interference of Mr. Royall's. All her old

resentments and rebellions flamed up, confusedly mingled with the

yearning roused by Harney's nearness. Only a few hours earlier she

had felt secure in his comprehending pity; now she was flung back on

herself, doubly alone after that moment of communion.

 

Harney was still unaware of her presence. He sat without moving, moodily

staring before him at the same spot in the wall-paper. He had not even

had the energy to finish his packing, and his clothes and papers lay on

the floor about the portmanteau. Presently he unlocked his clasped hands

and stood up; and Charity, drawing back hastily, sank down on the step

of the verandah. The night was so dark that there was not much chance

of his seeing her unless he opened the window and before that she would

have time to slip away and be lost in the shadow of the trees. He stood

for a minute or two looking around the room with the same expression of

self-disgust, as if he hated himself and everything about him; then

he sat down again at the table, drew a few more strokes, and threw

his pencil aside. Finally he walked across the floor, kicking the

portmanteau out of his way, and lay down on the bed, folding his arms

under his head, and staring up morosely at the ceiling. Just so, Charity

had seen him at her side on the grass or the pine-needles, his eyes

fixed on the sky, and pleasure flashing over his face like the flickers

of sun the branches shed on it. But now the face was so changed that she

hardly knew it; and grief at his grief gathered in her throat, rose to

her eyes and ran over.

 

She continued to crouch on the steps, holding her breath and stiffening

herself into complete immobility. One motion of her hand, one tap on

the pane, and she could picture the sudden change in his face. In every

pulse of her rigid body she was aware of the welcome his eyes and lips

would give her; but something kept her from moving. It was not the

fear of any sanction, human or heavenly; she had never in her life been

afraid. It was simply that she had suddenly understood what would happen

if she went in. It was the thing that did happen between young men and

girls, and that North Dormer ignored in public and snickered over on the

sly. It was what Miss Hatchard was still ignorant of, but every girl

of Charity's class knew about before she left school. It was what had

happened to Ally Hawes's sister Julia, and had ended in her going to

Nettleton, and in people's never mentioning her name.

 

It did not, of course, always end so sensationally; nor, perhaps, on the

whole, so untragically. Charity had always suspected that the shunned

Julia's fate might have its compensations. There were others, worse

endings that the village knew of, mean, miserable, unconfessed; other

lives that went on drearily, without visible change, in the same cramped

setting of hypocrisy. But these were not the reasons that held her

back. Since the day before, she had known exactly what she would feel

if Harney should take her in his arms: the melting of palm into palm and

mouth on mouth, and the long flame burning her from head to foot. But

mixed with this feeling was another: the wondering pride in his liking

for her, the startled softness that his sympathy had put into her heart.

Sometimes, when her youth flushed up in her, she had imagined yielding

like other girls to furtive caresses in the twilight; but she could not

so cheapen herself to Harney. She did not know why he was going; but

since he was going she felt she must do nothing to deface the image of

her that he carried away. If he wanted her he must seek her: he must not

be surprised into taking her as girls like Julia Hawes were taken....

 

No sound came from the sleeping village, and in the deep darkness of

the garden she heard now and then a secret rustle of branches, as though

some night-bird brushed them. Once a footfall passed the gate, and

she shrank back into her corner; but the steps died away and left a

profounder quiet. Her eyes were still on Harney's tormented face: she

felt she could not move till he moved. But she was beginning to grow

numb from her constrained position, and at times her thoughts were so

indistinct that she seemed to be held there only by a vague weight of

weariness.

 

A long time passed in this strange vigil. Harney still lay on the bed,

motionless and with fixed eyes, as though following his vision to its

bitter end. At last he stirred and changed his attitude slightly, and

Charity's heart began to tremble. But he only flung out his arms and

sank back into his former position. With a deep sigh he tossed the hair

from his forehead; then his whole body relaxed, his head turned

sideways on the pillow, and she saw that he had fallen asleep. The sweet

expression came back to his lips, and the haggardness faded from his

face, leaving it as fresh as a boy's.

 

She rose and crept away.

 

 

 

 

VIII

 

 

SHE had lost the sense of time, and did not know how late it was till

she came out into the street and saw that all the windows were dark

between Miss Hatchard's and the Royall house.

 

As she passed from under the black pall of the Norway spruces she

fancied she saw two figures in the shade about the duck-pond. She drew

back and watched; but nothing moved, and she had stared so long into the

lamp-lit room that the darkness confused her, and she thought she must

have been mistaken.

 

She walked on, wondering whether Mr. Royall was still in the porch. In

her exalted mood she did not greatly care whether he was waiting for her

or not: she seemed to be floating high over life, on a great cloud of

misery beneath which every-day realities had dwindled to mere specks in

space. But the porch was empty, Mr. Royall's hat hung on its peg in the

passage, and the kitchen lamp had been left to light her to bed. She

took it and went up.

 

The morning hours of the next day dragged by without incident. Charity

had imagined that, in some way or other, she would learn whether Harney

had already left; but Verena's deafness prevented her being a source of

news, and no one came to the house who could bring enlightenment.

 

Mr. Royall went out early, and did not return till Verena had set the

table for the midday meal. When he came in he went straight to the

kitchen and shouted to the old woman: "Ready for dinner----" then he

turned into the dining-room, where Charity was already seated. Harney's

plate was in its usual place, but Mr. Royall offered no explanation

of his absence, and Charity asked none. The feverish exaltation of the

night before had dropped, and she said to herself that he had gone away,

indifferently, almost callously, and that now her life would lapse again

into the narrow rut out of which he had lifted it. For a moment she was

inclined to sneer at herself for not having used the arts that might

have kept him.

 

She sat at table till the meal was over, lest Mr. Royall should remark

on her leaving; but when he stood up she rose also, without waiting to

help Verena. She had her foot on the stairs when he called to her to

come back.

 

"I've got a headache. I'm going up to lie down."

 

"I want you should come in here first; I've got something to say to

you."

 

She was sure from his tone that in a moment she would learn what every

nerve in her ached to know; but as she turned back she made a last

effort of indifference.

 

Mr. Royall stood in the middle of the office, his thick eyebrows

beetling, his lower jaw trembling a little. At first she thought he had

been drinking; then she saw that he was sober, but stirred by a deep and

stern emotion totally unlike his usual transient angers. And suddenly

she understood that, until then, she had never really noticed him or

thought about him. Except on the occasion of his one offense he had been

to her merely the person who is always there, the unquestioned central

fact of life, as inevitable but as uninteresting as North Dormer itself,

or any of the other conditions fate had laid on her. Even then she had

regarded him only in relation to herself, and had never speculated as

to his own feelings, beyond instinctively concluding that he would not

trouble her again in the same way. But now she began to wonder what he

was really like.

 

He had grasped the back of his chair with both hands, and stood looking

hard at her. At length he said: "Charity, for once let's you and me talk

together like friends."

 

Instantly she felt that something had happened, and that he held her in

his hand.

 

"Where is Mr. Harney? Why hasn't he come back? Have you sent him away?"

she broke out, without knowing what she was saying.

 

The change in Mr. Royall frightened her. All the blood seemed to leave

his veins and against his swarthy pallor the deep lines in his face

looked black.

 

"Didn't he have time to answer some of those questions last night? You

was with him long enough!" he said.

 

Charity stood speechless. The taunt was so unrelated to what had been

happening in her soul that she hardly understood it. But the instinct of

self-defense awoke in her.

 

"Who says I was with him last night?"

 

"The whole place is saying it by now."

 

"Then it was you that put the lie into their mouths.--Oh, how I've

always hated you!" she cried.

 

She had expected a retort in kind, and it startled her to hear her

exclamation sounding on through silence.

 

"Yes, I know," Mr. Royall said slowly. "But that ain't going to help us

much now."

 

"It helps me not to care a straw what lies you tell about me!"

 

"If they're lies, they're not my lies: my Bible oath on that, Charity. I

didn't know where you were: I wasn't out of this house last night."

 

She made no answer and he went on: "Is it a lie that you were seen

coming out of Miss Hatchard's nigh onto midnight?"

 

She straightened herself with a laugh, all her reckless insolence

recovered. "I didn't look to see what time it was."

 

"You lost girl... you... you.... Oh, my God, why did you tell me?" he

broke out, dropping into his chair, his head bowed down like an old

man's.

 

Charity's self-possession had returned with the sense of her danger. "Do

you suppose I'd take the trouble to lie to YOU? Who are you, anyhow, to

ask me where I go to when I go out at night?"

 

Mr. Royall lifted his head and looked at her. His face had grown quiet

and almost gentle, as she remembered seeing it sometimes when she was a

little girl, before Mrs. Royall died.

 

"Don't let's go on like this, Charity. It can't do any good to either of

us. You were seen going into that fellow's house... you were seen coming

out of it.... I've watched this thing coming, and I've tried to stop it.

As God sees me, I have...."

 

"Ah, it WAS you, then? I knew it was you that sent him away!"

 

He looked at her in surprise. "Didn't he tell you so? I thought he

understood." He spoke slowly, with difficult pauses, "I didn't name

you to him: I'd have cut my hand off sooner. I just told him I couldn't

spare the horse any longer; and that the cooking was getting too heavy

for Verena. I guess he's the kind that's heard the same thing before.

Anyhow, he took it quietly enough. He said his job here was about done,

anyhow; and there didn't another word pass between us.... If he told you

otherwise he told you an untruth."

 

Charity listened in a cold trance of anger. It was nothing to her what

the village said... but all this fingering of her dreams!

 

"I've told you he didn't tell me anything. I didn't speak with him last

night."

 

"You didn't speak with him?"

 

"No.... It's not that I care what any of you say... but you may as well

know. Things ain't between us the way you think... and the other people

in this place. He was kind to me; he was my friend; and all of a sudden

he stopped coming, and I knew it was you that done it--YOU!" All her

unreconciled memory of the past flamed out at him. "So I went there last

night to find out what you'd said to him: that's all."

 

Mr. Royall drew a heavy breath. "But, then--if he wasn't there, what

were you doing there all that time?--Charity, for pity's sake, tell me.

I've got to know, to stop their talking."

 

This pathetic abdication of all authority over her did not move her: she

could feel only the outrage of his interference.

 

"Can't you see that I don't care what anybody says? It's true I went

there to see him; and he was in his room, and I stood outside for ever

so long and watched him; but I dursn't go in for fear he'd think I'd

come after him...." She felt her voice breaking, and gathered it up in a

last defiance. "As long as I live I'll never forgive you!" she cried.

 

Mr. Royall made no answer. He sat and pondered with sunken head, his

veined hands clasped about the arms of his chair. Age seemed to have

come down on him as winter comes on the hills after a storm. At length

he looked up.

 

"Charity, you say you don't care; but you're the proudest girl I know,

and the last to want people to talk against you. You know there's always

eyes watching you: you're handsomer and smarter than the rest, and

that's enough. But till lately you've never given them a chance. Now

they've got it, and they're going to use it. I believe what you say, but

they won't.... It was Mrs. Tom Fry seen you going in... and two or three

of them watched for you to come out again.... You've been with the fellow

all day long every day since he come here... and I'm a lawyer, and I know

how hard slander dies." He paused, but she stood motionless, without

giving him any sign of acquiescence or even of attention. "He's a

pleasant fellow to talk to--I liked having him here myself. The young

men up here ain't had his chances. But there's one thing as old as the

hills and as plain as daylight: if he'd wanted you the right way he'd

have said so."

 

Charity did not speak. It seemed to her that nothing could exceed the

bitterness of hearing such words from such lips.

 

Mr. Royall rose from his seat. "See here, Charity Royall: I had a

shameful thought once, and you've made me pay for it. Isn't that score

pretty near wiped out?... There's a streak in me I ain't always master

of; but I've always acted straight to you but that once. And you've

known I would--you've trusted me. For all your sneers and your mockery

you've always known I loved you the way a man loves a decent woman. I'm

a good many years older than you, but I'm head and shoulders above this

place and everybody in it, and you know that too. I slipped up once, but

that's no reason for not starting again. If you'll come with me I'll

do it. If you'll marry me we'll leave here and settle in some big town,

where there's men, and business, and things doing. It's not too late for

me to find an opening.... I can see it by the way folks treat me when I

go down to Hepburn or Nettleton...."

 

Charity made no movement. Nothing in his appeal reached her heart, and

she thought only of words to wound and wither. But a growing lassitude

restrained her. What did anything matter that he was saying? She saw the

old life closing in on her, and hardly heeded his fanciful picture of

renewal.

 

"Charity--Charity--say you'll do it," she heard him urge, all his lost

years and wasted passion in his voice.

 

"Oh, what's the use of all this? When I leave here it won't be with

you."

 

She moved toward the door as she spoke, and he stood up and placed

himself between her and the threshold. He seemed suddenly tall and

strong, as though the extremity of his humiliation had given him new

vigour.

 

"That's all, is it? It's not much." He leaned against the door, so

towering and powerful that he seemed to fill the narrow room. "Well,

then look here.... You're right: I've no claim on you--why should you

look at a broken man like me? You want the other fellow... and I don't

blame you. You picked out the best when you seen it... well, that was

always my way." He fixed his stern eyes on her, and she had the sense

that the struggle within him was at its highest. "Do you want him to

marry you?" he asked.

 

They stood and looked at each other for a long moment, eye to eye, with

the terrible equality of courage that sometimes made her feel as if she

had his blood in her veins.

 

"Do you want him to--say? I'll have him here in an hour if you do. I

ain't been in the law thirty years for nothing. He's hired Carrick Fry's

team to take him to Hepburn, but he ain't going to start for another

hour. And I can put things to him so he won't be long deciding.... He's

soft: I could see that. I don't say you won't be sorry afterward--but,

by God, I'll give you the chance to be, if you say so."

 

She heard him out in silence, too remote from all he was feeling and

saying for any sally of scorn to relieve her. As she listened, there

flitted through her mind the vision of Liff Hyatt's muddy boot coming

down on the white bramble-flowers. The same thing had happened now;

something transient and exquisite had flowered in her, and she had stood

by and seen it trampled to earth. While the thought passed through

her she was aware of Mr. Royall, still leaning against the door, but

crestfallen, diminished, as though her silence were the answer he most

dreaded.

 

"I don't want any chance you can give me: I'm glad he's going away," she

said.

 

He kept his place a moment longer, his hand on the door-knob. "Charity!"

he pleaded. She made no answer, and he turned the knob and went out. She

heard him fumble with the latch of the front door, and saw him walk

down the steps. He passed out of the gate, and his figure, stooping and

heavy, receded slowly up the street.

 

For a while she remained where he had left her. She was still trembling

with the humiliation of his last words, which rang so loud in her ears

that it seemed as though they must echo through the village, proclaiming

her a creature to lend herself to such vile suggestions. Her shame

weighed on her like a physical oppression: the roof and walls seemed

to be closing in on her, and she was seized by the impulse to get away,

under the open sky, where there would be room to breathe. She went to

the front door, and as she did so Lucius Harney opened it.

 

He looked graver and less confident than usual, and for a moment or two

neither of them spoke. Then he held out his hand. "Are you going out?"

he asked. "May I come in?"

 

Her heart was beating so violently that she was afraid to speak, and

stood looking at him with tear-dilated eyes; then she became aware of

what her silence must betray, and said quickly: "Yes: come in."

 

She led the way into the dining-room, and they sat down on opposite

sides of the table, the cruet-stand and japanned bread-basket between

them. Harney had laid his straw hat on the table, and as he sat there,

in his easy-looking summer clothes, a brown tie knotted under his

flannel collar, and his smooth brown hair brushed back from his

forehead, she pictured him, as she had seen him the night before, lying

on his bed, with the tossed locks falling into his eyes, and his bare

throat rising out of his unbuttoned shirt. He had never seemed so remote

as at the moment when that vision flashed through her mind.

 

"I'm so sorry it's good-bye: I suppose you know I'm leaving," he began,

abruptly and awkwardly; she guessed that he was wondering how much she

knew of his reasons for going.

 

"I presume you found your work was over quicker than what you expected,"

she said.

 

"Well, yes--that is, no: there are plenty of things I should have liked

to do. But my holiday's limited; and now that Mr. Royall needs the horse

for himself it's rather difficult to find means of getting about."

 

"There ain't any too many teams for hire around here," she acquiesced;

and there was another silence.

 

"These days here have been--awfully pleasant: I wanted to thank you for

making them so," he continued, his colour rising.

 

She could not think of any reply, and he went on: "You've been

wonderfully kind to me, and I wanted to tell you.... I wish I could think

of you as happier, less lonely.... Things are sure to change for you by

and by...."

 

"Things don't change at North Dormer: people just get used to them."

 

The answer seemed to break up the order of his prearranged consolations,

and he sat looking at her uncertainly. Then he said, with his sweet

smile: "That's not true of you. It can't be."

 

The smile was like a knife-thrust through her heart: everything in her

began to tremble and break loose. She felt her tears run over, and stood

up.

 

"Well, good-bye," she said.

 

She was aware of his taking her hand, and of feeling that his touch was

lifeless.

 

"Good-bye." He turned away, and stopped on the threshold. "You'll say

good-bye for me to Verena?"

 

She heard the closing of the outer door and the sound of his quick tread

along the path. The latch of the gate clicked after him.

 

The next morning when she arose in the cold dawn and opened her shutters

she saw a freckled boy standing on the other side of the road and

looking up at her. He was a boy from a farm three or four miles down the

Creston road, and she wondered what he was doing there at that hour, and

why he looked so hard at her window. When he saw her he crossed over and

leaned against the gate unconcernedly. There was no one stirring in the

house, and she threw a shawl over her night-gown and ran down and let

herself out. By the time she reached the gate the boy was sauntering

down the road, whistling carelessly; but she saw that a letter had been

thrust between the slats and the crossbar of the gate. She took it out

and hastened back to her room.

 

The envelope bore her name, and inside was a leaf torn from a

pocket-diary.

 

 

DEAR CHARITY:

 

I can't go away like this. I am staying for a few days at Creston River.

Will you come down and meet me at Creston pool? I will wait for you till

evening.

 

 

 

 

IX

 

 

CHARITY sat before the mirror trying on a hat which Ally Hawes, with

much secrecy, had trimmed for her. It was of white straw, with a

drooping brim and cherry-coloured lining that made her face glow like

the inside of the shell on the parlour mantelpiece.

 

She propped the square of looking-glass against Mr. Royall's black

leather Bible, steadying it in front with a white stone on which a view

of the Brooklyn Bridge was painted; and she sat before her reflection,

bending the brim this way and that, while Ally Hawes's pale face looked

over her shoulder like the ghost of wasted opportunities.

 

"I look awful, don't I?" she said at last with a happy sigh.

 

Ally smiled and took back the hat. "I'll stitch the roses on right here,

so's you can put it away at once."

 

Charity laughed, and ran her fingers through her rough dark hair.

She knew that Harney liked to see its reddish edges ruffled about her

forehead and breaking into little rings at the nape. She sat down on her

bed and watched Ally stoop over the hat with a careful frown.

 

"Don't you ever feel like going down to Nettleton for a day?" she asked.

 

Ally shook her head without looking up. "No, I always remember that

awful time I went down with Julia--to that doctor's."

 

"Oh, Ally----"

 

"I can't help it. The house is on the corner of Wing Street and Lake

Avenue. The trolley from the station goes right by it, and the day the

minister took us down to see those pictures I recognized it right off,

and couldn't seem to see anything else. There's a big black sign with

gold letters all across the front--'Private Consultations.' She came as

near as anything to dying...."

 

"Poor Julia!" Charity sighed from the height of her purity and her

security. She had a friend whom she trusted and who respected her.

She was going with him to spend the next day--the Fourth of July--at

Nettleton. Whose business was it but hers, and what was the harm? The

pity of it was that girls like Julia did not know how to choose, and to

keep bad fellows at a distance.... Charity slipped down from the bed, and

stretched out her hands.

 

"Is it sewed? Let me try it on again." She put the hat on, and smiled at

her image. The thought of Julia had vanished....

 

The next morning she was up before dawn, and saw the yellow sunrise

broaden behind the hills, and the silvery luster preceding a hot day

tremble across the sleeping fields.

 

Her plans had been made with great care. She had announced that she was

going down to the Band of Hope picnic at Hepburn, and as no one else

from North Dormer intended to venture so far it was not likely that her

absence from the festivity would be reported. Besides, if it were she

would not greatly care. She was determined to assert her independence,

and if she stooped to fib about the Hepburn picnic it was chiefly

from the secretive instinct that made her dread the profanation of her

happiness. Whenever she was with Lucius Harney she would have liked some

impenetrable mountain mist to hide her.

 

It was arranged that she should walk to a point of the Creston road

where Harney was to pick her up and drive her across the hills to

Hepburn in time for the nine-thirty train to Nettleton. Harney at first

had been rather lukewarm about the trip. He declared himself ready to

take her to Nettleton, but urged her not to go on the Fourth of July,

on account of the crowds, the probable lateness of the trains,

the difficulty of her getting back before night; but her evident

disappointment caused him to give way, and even to affect a faint

enthusiasm for the adventure. She understood why he was not more eager:

he must have seen sights beside which even a Fourth of July at Nettleton

would seem tame. But she had never seen anything; and a great longing

possessed her to walk the streets of a big town on a holiday, clinging

to his arm and jostled by idle crowds in their best clothes. The only

cloud on the prospect was the fact that the shops would be closed; but

she hoped he would take her back another day, when they were open.

 

She started out unnoticed in the early sunlight, slipping through the

kitchen while Verena bent above the stove. To avoid attracting notice,

she carried her new hat carefully wrapped up, and had thrown a long

grey veil of Mrs. Royall's over the new white muslin dress which Ally's

clever fingers had made for her. All of the ten dollars Mr. Royall had

given her, and a part of her own savings as well, had been spent on

renewing her wardrobe; and when Harney jumped out of the buggy to meet

her she read her reward in his eyes.

 

The freckled boy who had brought her the note two weeks earlier was

to wait with the buggy at Hepburn till their return. He perched at

Charity's feet, his legs dangling between the wheels, and they could

not say much because of his presence. But it did not greatly matter, for

their past was now rich enough to have given them a private language;

and with the long day stretching before them like the blue distance

beyond the hills there was a delicate pleasure in postponement.

 

When Charity, in response to Harney's message, had gone to meet him at

the Creston pool her heart had been so full of mortification and anger

that his first words might easily have estranged her. But it happened

that he had found the right word, which was one of simple friendship.

His tone had instantly justified her, and put her guardian in the

wrong. He had made no allusion to what had passed between Mr. Royall and

himself, but had simply let it appear that he had left because means of

conveyance were hard to find at North Dormer, and because Creston River

was a more convenient centre. He told her that he had hired by the week

the buggy of the freckled boy's father, who served as livery-stable

keeper to one or two melancholy summer boarding-houses on Creston Lake,

and had discovered, within driving distance, a number of houses worthy

of his pencil; and he said that he could not, while he was in the

neighbourhood, give up the pleasure of seeing her as often as possible.

 

When they took leave of each other she promised to continue to be his

guide; and during the fortnight which followed they roamed the hills in

happy comradeship. In most of the village friendships between youths and

maidens lack of conversation was made up for by tentative fondling; but

Harney, except when he had tried to comfort her in her trouble on their

way back from the Hyatts', had never put his arm about her, or sought

to betray her into any sudden caress. It seemed to be enough for him to

breathe her nearness like a flower's; and since his pleasure at being

with her, and his sense of her youth and her grace, perpetually shone in

his eyes and softened the inflection of his voice, his reserve did not

suggest coldness, but the deference due to a girl of his own class.

 

The buggy was drawn by an old trotter who whirled them along so briskly

that the pace created a little breeze; but when they reached Hepburn

the full heat of the airless morning descended on them. At the railway

station the platform was packed with a sweltering throng, and they took

refuge in the waiting-room, where there was another throng, already

dejected by the heat and the long waiting for retarded trains. Pale

mothers were struggling with fretful babies, or trying to keep their

older offspring from the fascination of the track; girls and their

"fellows" were giggling and shoving, and passing about candy in sticky

bags, and older men, collarless and perspiring, were shifting heavy

children from one arm to the other, and keeping a haggard eye on the

scattered members of their families.

 

At last the train rumbled in, and engulfed the waiting multitude. Harney

swept Charity up on to the first car and they captured a bench for

two, and sat in happy isolation while the train swayed and roared along

through rich fields and languid tree-clumps. The haze of the morning

had become a sort of clear tremor over everything, like the colourless

vibration about a flame; and the opulent landscape seemed to droop under

it. But to Charity the heat was a stimulant: it enveloped the whole

world in the same glow that burned at her heart. Now and then a lurch of

the train flung her against Harney, and through her thin muslin she felt

the touch of his sleeve. She steadied herself, their eyes met, and the

flaming breath of the day seemed to enclose them.

 

The train roared into the Nettleton station, the descending mob caught

them on its tide, and they were swept out into a vague dusty square

thronged with seedy "hacks" and long curtained omnibuses drawn by horses

with tasselled fly-nets over their withers, who stood swinging their

depressed heads drearily from side to side.

 

A mob of 'bus and hack drivers were shouting "To the Eagle House,"

"To the Washington House," "This way to the Lake," "Just starting for

Greytop;" and through their yells came the popping of fire-crackers,

the explosion of torpedoes, the banging of toy-guns, and the crash of

a firemen's band trying to play the Merry Widow while they were being

packed into a waggonette streaming with bunting.

 

The ramshackle wooden hotels about the square were all hung with flags

and paper lanterns, and as Harney and Charity turned into the main

street, with its brick and granite business blocks crowding out the old

low-storied shops, and its towering poles strung with innumerable wires

that seemed to tremble and buzz in the heat, they saw the double line of

flags and lanterns tapering away gaily to the park at the other end of

the perspective. The noise and colour of this holiday vision seemed to

transform Nettleton into a metropolis. Charity could not believe

that Springfield or even Boston had anything grander to show, and

she wondered if, at this very moment, Annabel Balch, on the arm of

as brilliant a young man, were threading her way through scenes as

resplendent.

 

"Where shall we go first?" Harney asked; but as she turned her happy

eyes on him he guessed the answer and said: "We'll take a look round,

shall we?"

 

The street swarmed with their fellow-travellers, with other

excursionists arriving from other directions, with Nettleton's own

population, and with the mill-hands trooping in from the factories on

the Creston. The shops were closed, but one would scarcely have noticed

it, so numerous were the glass doors swinging open on saloons, on

restaurants, on drug-stores gushing from every soda-water tap, on fruit

and confectionery shops stacked with strawberry-cake, cocoanut drops,

trays of glistening molasses candy, boxes of caramels and chewing-gum,

baskets of sodden strawberries, and dangling branches of bananas.

Outside of some of the doors were trestles with banked-up oranges and

apples, spotted pears and dusty raspberries; and the air reeked with

the smell of fruit and stale coffee, beer and sarsaparilla and fried

potatoes.

 

Even the shops that were closed offered, through wide expanses of

plate-glass, hints of hidden riches. In some, waves of silk and ribbon

broke over shores of imitation moss from which ravishing hats rose like

tropical orchids. In others, the pink throats of gramophones opened

their giant convolutions in a soundless chorus; or bicycles shining in

neat ranks seemed to await the signal of an invisible starter; or tiers

of fancy-goods in leatherette and paste and celluloid dangled their

insidious graces; and, in one vast bay that seemed to project them into

exciting contact with the public, wax ladies in daring dresses chatted

elegantly, or, with gestures intimate yet blameless, pointed to their

pink corsets and transparent hosiery.

 

Presently Harney found that his watch had stopped, and turned in at a

small jeweller's shop which chanced to still be open. While the watch

was being examined Charity leaned over the glass counter where, on a

background of dark blue velvet, pins, rings, and brooches glittered

like the moon and stars. She had never seen jewellry so near by, and

she longed to lift the glass lid and plunge her hand among the shining

treasures. But already Harney's watch was repaired, and he laid his hand

on her arm and drew her from her dream.

 

"Which do you like best?" he asked leaning over the counter at her side.

 

"I don't know...." She pointed to a gold lily-of-the-valley with white

flowers.

 

"Don't you think the blue pin's better?" he suggested, and immediately

she saw that the lily of the valley was mere trumpery compared to the

small round stone, blue as a mountain lake, with little sparks of light

all round it. She coloured at her want of discrimination.

 

"It's so lovely I guess I was afraid to look at it," she said.

 

He laughed, and they went out of the shop; but a few steps away he

exclaimed: "Oh, by Jove, I forgot something," and turned back and

left her in the crowd. She stood staring down a row of pink gramophone

throats till he rejoined her and slipped his arm through hers.

 

"You mustn't be afraid of looking at the blue pin any longer, because it

belongs to you," he said; and she felt a little box being pressed into

her hand. Her heart gave a leap of joy, but it reached her lips only in

a shy stammer. She remembered other girls whom she had heard planning to

extract presents from their fellows, and was seized with a sudden dread

lest Harney should have imagined that she had leaned over the pretty

things in the glass case in the hope of having one given to her....

 

A little farther down the street they turned in at a glass doorway

opening on a shining hall with a mahogany staircase, and brass cages in

its corners. "We must have something to eat," Harney said; and the next

moment Charity found herself in a dressing-room all looking-glass and

lustrous surfaces, where a party of showy-looking girls were dabbing

on powder and straightening immense plumed hats. When they had gone she

took courage to bathe her hot face in one of the marble basins, and

to straighten her own hat-brim, which the parasols of the crowd had

indented. The dresses in the shops had so impressed her that she

scarcely dared look at her reflection; but when she did so, the glow

of her face under her cherry-coloured hat, and the curve of her young

shoulders through the transparent muslin, restored her courage; and when

she had taken the blue brooch from its box and pinned it on her bosom

she walked toward the restaurant with her head high, as if she had

always strolled through tessellated halls beside young men in flannels.

 

Her spirit sank a little at the sight of the slim-waisted waitresses in

black, with bewitching mob-caps on their haughty heads, who were moving

disdainfully between the tables. "Not f'r another hour," one of them

dropped to Harney in passing; and he stood doubtfully glancing about

him.

 

"Oh, well, we can't stay sweltering here," he decided; "let's try

somewhere else--" and with a sense of relief Charity followed him from

that scene of inhospitable splendour.

 

That "somewhere else" turned out--after more hot tramping, and several

failures--to be, of all things, a little open-air place in a back street

that called itself a French restaurant, and consisted in two or three

rickety tables under a scarlet-runner, between a patch of zinnias

and petunias and a big elm bending over from the next yard. Here they

lunched on queerly flavoured things, while Harney, leaning back in a

crippled rocking-chair, smoked cigarettes between the courses and poured

into Charity's glass a pale yellow wine which he said was the very same

one drank in just such jolly places in France.

 

Charity did not think the wine as good as sarsaparilla, but she sipped a

mouthful for the pleasure of doing what he did, and of fancying herself

alone with him in foreign countries. The illusion was increased by their

being served by a deep-bosomed woman with smooth hair and a pleasant

laugh, who talked to Harney in unintelligible words, and seemed amazed

and overjoyed at his answering her in kind. At the other tables other

people sat, mill-hands probably, homely but pleasant looking, who spoke

the same shrill jargon, and looked at Harney and Charity with friendly

eyes; and between the table-legs a poodle with bald patches and pink

eyes nosed about for scraps, and sat up on his hind legs absurdly.

 

Harney showed no inclination to move, for hot as their corner was, it

was at least shaded and quiet; and, from the main thoroughfares came the

clanging of trolleys, the incessant popping of torpedoes, the jingle

of street-organs, the bawling of megaphone men and the loud murmur of

increasing crowds. He leaned back, smoking his cigar, patting the dog,

and stirring the coffee that steamed in their chipped cups. "It's the

real thing, you know," he explained; and Charity hastily revised her

previous conception of the beverage.

 

They had made no plans for the rest of the day, and when Harney

asked her what she wanted to do next she was too bewildered by rich

possibilities to find an answer. Finally she confessed that she longed

to go to the Lake, where she had not been taken on her former visit,

and when he answered, "Oh, there's time for that--it will be pleasanter

later," she suggested seeing some pictures like the ones Mr. Miles had

taken her to. She thought Harney looked a little disconcerted; but

he passed his fine handkerchief over his warm brow, said gaily, "Come

along, then," and rose with a last pat for the pink-eyed dog.

 

Mr. Miles's pictures had been shown in an austere Y.M.C.A. hall,

with white walls and an organ; but Harney led Charity to a glittering

place--everything she saw seemed to glitter--where they passed, between

immense pictures of yellow-haired beauties stabbing villains in evening

dress, into a velvet-curtained auditorium packed with spectators to

the last limit of compression. After that, for a while, everything

was merged in her brain in swimming circles of heat and blinding

alternations of light and darkness. All the world has to show seemed

to pass before her in a chaos of palms and minarets, charging cavalry

regiments, roaring lions, comic policemen and scowling murderers; and

the crowd around her, the hundreds of hot sallow candy-munching faces,

young, old, middle-aged, but all kindled with the same contagious

excitement, became part of the spectacle, and danced on the screen with

the rest.

 

Presently the thought of the cool trolley-run to the Lake grew

irresistible, and they struggled out of the theatre. As they stood

on the pavement, Harney pale with the heat, and even Charity a little

confused by it, a young man drove by in an electric run-about with a

calico band bearing the words: "Ten dollars to take you round the Lake."

Before Charity knew what was happening, Harney had waved a hand, and

they were climbing in. "Say, for twenny-five I'll run you out to see the

ball-game and back," the driver proposed with an insinuating grin; but

Charity said quickly: "Oh, I'd rather go rowing on the Lake." The street

was so thronged that progress was slow; but the glory of sitting in the

little carriage while it wriggled its way between laden omnibuses and

trolleys made the moments seem too short. "Next turn is Lake Avenue,"

the young man called out over his shoulder; and as they paused in the

wake of a big omnibus groaning with Knights of Pythias in cocked hats

and swords, Charity looked up and saw on the corner a brick house with

a conspicuous black and gold sign across its front. "Dr. Merkle; Private

Consultations at all hours. Lady Attendants," she read; and suddenly

she remembered Ally Hawes's words: "The house was at the corner of Wing

Street and Lake Avenue... there's a big black sign across the front...."

Through all the heat and the rapture a shiver of cold ran over her.

 

 

 

 

X

 

 

THE Lake at last--a sheet of shining metal brooded over by drooping

trees. Charity and Harney had secured a boat and, getting away from the

wharves and the refreshment-booths, they drifted idly along, hugging the

shadow of the shore. Where the sun struck the water its shafts flamed

back blindingly at the heat-veiled sky; and the least shade was black by

contrast. The Lake was so smooth that the reflection of the trees on

its edge seemed enamelled on a solid surface; but gradually, as the sun

declined, the water grew transparent, and Charity, leaning over, plunged

her fascinated gaze into depths so clear that she saw the inverted

tree-tops interwoven with the green growths of the bottom.

 

They rounded a point at the farther end of the Lake, and entering an

inlet pushed their bow against a protruding tree-trunk. A green veil of

willows overhung them. Beyond the trees, wheat-fields sparkled in the

sun; and all along the horizon the clear hills throbbed with light.

Charity leaned back in the stern, and Harney unshipped the oars and lay

in the bottom of the boat without speaking.

 

Ever since their meeting at the Creston pool he had been subject to

these brooding silences, which were as different as possible from the

pauses when they ceased to speak because words were needless. At such

times his face wore the expression she had seen on it when she had

looked in at him from the darkness and again there came over her a

sense of the mysterious distance between them; but usually his fits

of abstraction were followed by bursts of gaiety that chased away the

shadow before it chilled her.

 

She was still thinking of the ten dollars he had handed to the driver

of the run-about. It had given them twenty minutes of pleasure, and it

seemed unimaginable that anyone should be able to buy amusement at that

rate. With ten dollars he might have bought her an engagement ring; she

knew that Mrs. Tom Fry's, which came from Springfield, and had a diamond

in it, had cost only eight seventy-five. But she did not know why the

thought had occurred to her. Harney would never buy her an engagement

ring: they were friends and comrades, but no more. He had been perfectly

fair to her: he had never said a word to mislead her. She wondered what

the girl was like whose hand was waiting for his ring....

 

Boats were beginning to thicken on the Lake and the clang of incessantly

arriving trolleys announced the return of the crowds from the

ball-field. The shadows lengthened across the pearl-grey water and two

white clouds near the sun were turning golden. On the opposite shore men

were hammering hastily at a wooden scaffolding in a field. Charity asked

what it was for.

 

"Why, the fireworks. I suppose there'll be a big show." Harney looked at

her and a smile crept into his moody eyes. "Have you never seen any good

fireworks?"

 

"Miss Hatchard always sends up lovely rockets on the Fourth," she

answered doubtfully.

 

"Oh----" his contempt was unbounded. "I mean a big performance like

this, illuminated boats, and all the rest."

 

She flushed at the picture. "Do they send them up from the Lake, too?"

 

"Rather. Didn't you notice that big raft we passed? It's wonderful to

see the rockets completing their orbits down under one's feet." She said

nothing, and he put the oars into the rowlocks. "If we stay we'd better

go and pick up something to eat."

 

"But how can we get back afterwards?" she ventured, feeling it would

break her heart if she missed it.

 

He consulted a time-table, found a ten o'clock train and reassured her.

"The moon rises so late that it will be dark by eight, and we'll have

over an hour of it."

 

Twilight fell, and lights began to show along the shore. The trolleys

roaring out from Nettleton became great luminous serpents coiling in and

out among the trees. The wooden eating-houses at the Lake's edge danced

with lanterns, and the dusk echoed with laughter and shouts and the

clumsy splashing of oars.

 

Harney and Charity had found a table in the corner of a balcony built

over the Lake, and were patiently awaiting an unattainable chowder.

Close under them the water lapped the piles, agitated by the evolutions

of a little white steamboat trellised with coloured globes which was to

run passengers up and down the Lake. It was already black with them as

it sheered off on its first trip.

 

Suddenly Charity heard a woman's laugh behind her. The sound was

familiar, and she turned to look. A band of showily dressed girls and

dapper young men wearing badges of secret societies, with new straw hats

tilted far back on their square-clipped hair, had invaded the balcony

and were loudly clamouring for a table. The girl in the lead was the

one who had laughed. She wore a large hat with a long white feather,

and from under its brim her painted eyes looked at Charity with amused

recognition.

 

"Say! if this ain't like Old Home Week," she remarked to the girl at her

elbow; and giggles and glances passed between them. Charity knew at once

that the girl with the white feather was Julia Hawes. She had lost her

freshness, and the paint under her eyes made her face seem thinner; but

her lips had the same lovely curve, and the same cold mocking smile, as

if there were some secret absurdity in the person she was looking at,

and she had instantly detected it.

 

Charity flushed to the forehead and looked away. She felt herself

humiliated by Julia's sneer, and vexed that the mockery of such a

creature should affect her. She trembled lest Harney should notice that

the noisy troop had recognized her; but they found no table free, and

passed on tumultuously.

 

Presently there was a soft rush through the air and a shower of silver

fell from the blue evening sky. In another direction, pale Roman candles

shot up singly through the trees, and a fire-haired rocket swept the

horizon like a portent. Between these intermittent flashes the velvet

curtains of the darkness were descending, and in the intervals of

eclipse the voices of the crowds seemed to sink to smothered murmurs.

 

Charity and Harney, dispossessed by newcomers, were at length obliged

to give up their table and struggle through the throng about the

boat-landings. For a while there seemed no escape from the tide of late

arrivals; but finally Harney secured the last two places on the stand

from which the more privileged were to see the fireworks. The seats were

at the end of a row, one above the other. Charity had taken off her hat

to have an uninterrupted view; and whenever she leaned back to follow

the curve of some dishevelled rocket she could feel Harney's knees

against her head.

 

After a while the scattered fireworks ceased. A longer interval of

darkness followed, and then the whole night broke into flower. From

every point of the horizon, gold and silver arches sprang up and crossed

each other, sky-orchards broke into blossom, shed their flaming petals

and hung their branches with golden fruit; and all the while the air was

filled with a soft supernatural hum, as though great birds were building

their nests in those invisible tree-tops.

 

Now and then there came a lull, and a wave of moonlight swept the Lake.

In a flash it revealed hundreds of boats, steel-dark against lustrous

ripples; then it withdrew as if with a furling of vast translucent

wings. Charity's heart throbbed with delight. It was as if all the

latent beauty of things had been unveiled to her. She could not imagine

that the world held anything more wonderful; but near her she heard

someone say, "You wait till you see the set piece," and instantly her

hopes took a fresh flight. At last, just as it was beginning to seem as

though the whole arch of the sky were one great lid pressed against her

dazzled eye-balls, and striking out of them continuous jets of

jewelled light, the velvet darkness settled down again, and a murmur of

expectation ran through the crowd.

 

"Now--now!" the same voice said excitedly; and Charity, grasping the hat

on her knee, crushed it tight in the effort to restrain her rapture.

 

For a moment the night seemed to grow more impenetrably black; then

a great picture stood out against it like a constellation. It was

surmounted by a golden scroll bearing the inscription, "Washington

crossing the Delaware," and across a flood of motionless golden ripples

the National Hero passed, erect, solemn and gigantic, standing with

folded arms in the stern of a slowly moving golden boat.

 

A long "Oh-h-h" burst from the spectators: the stand creaked and shook

with their blissful trepidations. "Oh-h-h," Charity gasped: she had

forgotten where she was, had at last forgotten even Harney's nearness.

She seemed to have been caught up into the stars....

 

The picture vanished and darkness came down. In the obscurity she felt

her head clasped by two hands: her face was drawn backward, and Harney's

lips were pressed on hers. With sudden vehemence he wound his arms about

her, holding her head against his breast while she gave him back his

kisses. An unknown Harney had revealed himself, a Harney who dominated

her and yet over whom she felt herself possessed of a new mysterious

power.

 

But the crowd was beginning to move, and he had to release her. "Come,"

he said in a confused voice. He scrambled over the side of the stand,

and holding up his arm caught her as she sprang to the ground. He passed

his arm about her waist, steadying her against the descending rush

of people; and she clung to him, speechless, exultant, as if all the

crowding and confusion about them were a mere vain stirring of the air.

 

"Come," he repeated, "we must try to make the trolley." He drew her

along, and she followed, still in her dream. They walked as if they were

one, so isolated in ecstasy that the people jostling them on every side

seemed impalpable. But when they reached the terminus the illuminated

trolley was already clanging on its way, its platforms black with

passengers. The cars waiting behind it were as thickly packed; and

the throng about the terminus was so dense that it seemed hopeless to

struggle for a place.

 

"Last trip up the Lake," a megaphone bellowed from the wharf; and the

lights of the little steam-boat came dancing out of the darkness.

 

"No use waiting here; shall we run up the Lake?" Harney suggested.

 

They pushed their way back to the edge of the water just as the

gang-plank lowered from the white side of the boat. The electric light

at the end of the wharf flashed full on the descending passengers, and

among them Charity caught sight of Julia Hawes, her white feather askew,

and the face under it flushed with coarse laughter. As she stepped from

the gang-plank she stopped short, her dark-ringed eyes darting malice.

 

"Hullo, Charity Royall!" she called out; and then, looking back over

her shoulder: "Didn't I tell you it was a family party? Here's grandpa's

little daughter come to take him home!"

 

A snigger ran through the group; and then, towering above them, and

steadying himself by the hand-rail in a desperate effort at erectness,

Mr. Royall stepped stiffly ashore. Like the young men of the party, he

wore a secret society emblem in the buttonhole of his black frock-coat.

His head was covered by a new Panama hat, and his narrow black tie,

half undone, dangled down on his rumpled shirt-front. His face, a livid

brown, with red blotches of anger and lips sunken in like an old man's,

was a lamentable ruin in the searching glare.

 

He was just behind Julia Hawes, and had one hand on her arm; but as he

left the gang-plank he freed himself, and moved a step or two away

from his companions. He had seen Charity at once, and his glance passed

slowly from her to Harney, whose arm was still about her. He stood

staring at them, and trying to master the senile quiver of his lips;

then he drew himself up with the tremulous majesty of drunkenness, and

stretched out his arm.

 

"You whore--you damn--bare-headed whore, you!" he enunciated slowly.

 

There was a scream of tipsy laughter from the party, and Charity

involuntarily put her hands to her head. She remembered that her hat had

fallen from her lap when she jumped up to leave the stand; and suddenly

she had a vision of herself, hatless, dishevelled, with a man's arm

about her, confronting that drunken crew, headed by her guardian's

pitiable figure. The picture filled her with shame. She had known since

childhood about Mr. Royall's "habits": had seen him, as she went up to

bed, sitting morosely in his office, a bottle at his elbow; or coming

home, heavy and quarrelsome, from his business expeditions to Hepburn

or Springfield; but the idea of his associating himself publicly with a

band of disreputable girls and bar-room loafers was new and dreadful to

her.

 

"Oh----" she said in a gasp of misery; and releasing herself from

Harney's arm she went straight up to Mr. Royall.

 

"You come home with me--you come right home with me," she said in a

low stern voice, as if she had not heard his apostrophe; and one of the

girls called out: "Say, how many fellers does she want?"

 

There was another laugh, followed by a pause of curiosity, during which

Mr. Royall continued to glare at Charity. At length his twitching

lips parted. "I said, 'You--damn--whore!'" he repeated with precision,

steadying himself on Julia's shoulder.

 

Laughs and jeers were beginning to spring up from the circle of people

beyond their group; and a voice called out from the gangway: "Now,

then, step lively there--all ABOARD!" The pressure of approaching and

departing passengers forced the actors in the rapid scene apart, and

pushed them back into the throng. Charity found herself clinging to

Harney's arm and sobbing desperately. Mr. Royall had disappeared, and in

the distance she heard the receding sound of Julia's laugh.

 

The boat, laden to the taffrail, was puffing away on her last trip.

 

 

 

 

XI

 

 

AT two o'clock in the morning the freckled boy from Creston stopped his

sleepy horse at the door of the red house, and Charity got out. Harney

had taken leave of her at Creston River, charging the boy to drive her

home. Her mind was still in a fog of misery, and she did not remember

very clearly what had happened, or what they said to each other, during

the interminable interval since their departure from Nettleton; but the

secretive instinct of the animal in pain was so strong in her that she

had a sense of relief when Harney got out and she drove on alone.

 

The full moon hung over North Dormer, whitening the mist that filled the

hollows between the hills and floated transparently above the fields.

Charity stood a moment at the gate, looking out into the waning night.

She watched the boy drive off, his horse's head wagging heavily to and

fro; then she went around to the kitchen door and felt under the mat for

the key. She found it, unlocked the door and went in. The kitchen

was dark, but she discovered a box of matches, lit a candle and went

upstairs. Mr. Royall's door, opposite hers, stood open on his unlit

room; evidently he had not come back. She went into her room, bolted her

door and began slowly to untie the ribbon about her waist, and to take

off her dress. Under the bed she saw the paper bag in which she had

hidden her new hat from inquisitive eyes....

 

She lay for a long time sleepless on her bed, staring up at the

moonlight on the low ceiling; dawn was in the sky when she fell asleep,

and when she woke the sun was on her face.

 

She dressed and went down to the kitchen. Verena was there alone: she

glanced at Charity tranquilly, with her old deaf-looking eyes. There was

no sign of Mr. Royall about the house and the hours passed without his

reappearing. Charity had gone up to her room, and sat there listlessly,

her hands on her lap. Puffs of sultry air fanned her dimity window

curtains and flies buzzed stiflingly against the bluish panes.

 

At one o'clock Verena hobbled up to see if she were not coming down to

dinner; but she shook her head, and the old woman went away, saying:

"I'll cover up, then."

 

The sun turned and left her room, and Charity seated herself in the

window, gazing down the village street through the half-opened shutters.

Not a thought was in her mind; it was just a dark whirlpool of crowding

images; and she watched the people passing along the street, Dan

Targatt's team hauling a load of pine-trunks down to Hepburn, the

sexton's old white horse grazing on the bank across the way, as if she

looked at these familiar sights from the other side of the grave.

 

She was roused from her apathy by seeing Ally Hawes come out of the

Frys' gate and walk slowly toward the red house with her uneven limping

step. At the sight Charity recovered her severed contact with reality.

She divined that Ally was coming to hear about her day: no one else

was in the secret of the trip to Nettleton, and it had flattered Ally

profoundly to be allowed to know of it.

 

At the thought of having to see her, of having to meet her eyes and

answer or evade her questions, the whole horror of the previous night's

adventure rushed back upon Charity. What had been a feverish nightmare

became a cold and unescapable fact. Poor Ally, at that moment,

represented North Dormer, with all its mean curiosities, its furtive

malice, its sham unconsciousness of evil. Charity knew that, although

all relations with Julia were supposed to be severed, the tender-hearted

Ally still secretly communicated with her; and no doubt Julia would

exult in the chance of retailing the scandal of the wharf. The story,

exaggerated and distorted, was probably already on its way to North

Dormer.

 

Ally's dragging pace had not carried her far from the Frys' gate when

she was stopped by old Mrs. Sollas, who was a great talker, and spoke

very slowly because she had never been able to get used to her new teeth

from Hepburn. Still, even this respite would not last long; in another

ten minutes Ally would be at the door, and Charity would hear her

greeting Verena in the kitchen, and then calling up from the foot of the

stairs.

 

Suddenly it became clear that flight, and instant flight, was the only

thing conceivable. The longing to escape, to get away from familiar

faces, from places where she was known, had always been strong in her in

moments of distress. She had a childish belief in the miraculous power

of strange scenes and new faces to transform her life and wipe out

bitter memories. But such impulses were mere fleeting whims compared to

the cold resolve which now possessed her. She felt she could not remain

an hour longer under the roof of the man who had publicly dishonoured

her, and face to face with the people who would presently be gloating

over all the details of her humiliation.

 

Her passing pity for Mr. Royall had been swallowed up in loathing:

everything in her recoiled from the disgraceful spectacle of the drunken

old man apostrophizing her in the presence of a band of loafers and

street-walkers. Suddenly, vividly, she relived again the horrible moment

when he had tried to force himself into her room, and what she had

before supposed to be a mad aberration now appeared to her as a vulgar

incident in a debauched and degraded life.

 

While these thoughts were hurrying through her she had dragged out

her old canvas school-bag, and was thrusting into it a few articles of

clothing and the little packet of letters she had received from Harney.

From under her pincushion she took the library key, and laid it in full

view; then she felt at the back of a drawer for the blue brooch that

Harney had given her. She would not have dared to wear it openly at

North Dormer, but now she fastened it on her bosom as if it were a

talisman to protect her in her flight. These preparations had taken but

a few minutes, and when they were finished Ally Hawes was still at the

Frys' corner talking to old Mrs. Sollas....

 

She had said to herself, as she always said in moments of revolt: "I'll

go to the Mountain--I'll go back to my own folks." She had never really

meant it before; but now, as she considered her case, no other course

seemed open. She had never learned any trade that would have given her

independence in a strange place, and she knew no one in the big towns of

the valley, where she might have hoped to find employment. Miss Hatchard

was still away; but even had she been at North Dormer she was the last

person to whom Charity would have turned, since one of the motives

urging her to flight was the wish not to see Lucius Harney. Travelling

back from Nettleton, in the crowded brightly-lit train, all exchange of

confidence between them had been impossible; but during their drive

from Hepburn to Creston River she had gathered from Harney's snatches of

consolatory talk--again hampered by the freckled boy's presence--that

he intended to see her the next day. At the moment she had found a vague

comfort in the assurance; but in the desolate lucidity of the hours that

followed she had come to see the impossibility of meeting him again.

Her dream of comradeship was over; and the scene on the wharf--vile and

disgraceful as it had been--had after all shed the light of truth on her

minute of madness. It was as if her guardian's words had stripped her

bare in the face of the grinning crowd and proclaimed to the world the

secret admonitions of her conscience.

 

She did not think these things out clearly; she simply followed the

blind propulsion of her wretchedness. She did not want, ever again, to

see anyone she had known; above all, she did not want to see Harney....

 

She climbed the hill-path behind the house and struck through the woods

by a short-cut leading to the Creston road. A lead-coloured sky hung

heavily over the fields, and in the forest the motionless air was

stifling; but she pushed on, impatient to reach the road which was the

shortest way to the Mountain.

 

To do so, she had to follow the Creston road for a mile or two, and go

within half a mile of the village; and she walked quickly, fearing to

meet Harney. But there was no sign of him, and she had almost reached

the branch road when she saw the flanks of a large white tent projecting

through the trees by the roadside. She supposed that it sheltered a

travelling circus which had come there for the Fourth; but as she drew

nearer she saw, over the folded-back flap, a large sign bearing the

inscription, "Gospel Tent." The interior seemed to be empty; but a young

man in a black alpaca coat, his lank hair parted over a round white

face, stepped from under the flap and advanced toward her with a smile.

 

"Sister, your Saviour knows everything. Won't you come in and lay your

guilt before Him?" he asked insinuatingly, putting his hand on her arm.

 

Charity started back and flushed. For a moment she thought the

evangelist must have heard a report of the scene at Nettleton; then she

saw the absurdity of the supposition.

 

"I on'y wish't I had any to lay!" she retorted, with one of her fierce

flashes of self-derision; and the young man murmured, aghast: "Oh,

Sister, don't speak blasphemy...."

 

But she had jerked her arm out of his hold, and was running up the

branch road, trembling with the fear of meeting a familiar face.

Presently she was out of sight of the village, and climbing into the

heart of the forest. She could not hope to do the fifteen miles to the

Mountain that afternoon; but she knew of a place half-way to Hamblin

where she could sleep, and where no one would think of looking for her.

It was a little deserted house on a slope in one of the lonely rifts of

the hills. She had seen it once, years before, when she had gone on a

nutting expedition to the grove of walnuts below it. The party had taken

refuge in the house from a sudden mountain storm, and she remembered

that Ben Sollas, who liked frightening girls, had told them that it was

said to be haunted.

 

She was growing faint and tired, for she had eaten nothing since

morning, and was not used to walking so far. Her head felt light and she

sat down for a moment by the roadside. As she sat there she heard the

click of a bicycle-bell, and started up to plunge back into the forest;

but before she could move the bicycle had swept around the curve of the

road, and Harney, jumping off, was approaching her with outstretched

arms.

 

"Charity! What on earth are you doing here?"

 

She stared as if he were a vision, so startled by the unexpectedness of

his being there that no words came to her.

 

"Where were you going? Had you forgotten that I was coming?" he

continued, trying to draw her to him; but she shrank from his embrace.

 

"I was going away--I don't want to see you--I want you should leave me

alone," she broke out wildly.

 

He looked at her and his face grew grave, as though the shadow of a

premonition brushed it.

 

"Going away--from me, Charity?"

 

"From everybody. I want you should leave me."

 

He stood glancing doubtfully up and down the lonely forest road that

stretched away into sun-flecked distances.

 

"Where were you going?'

 

"Home."

 

"Home--this way?"

 

She threw her head back defiantly. "To my home--up yonder: to the

Mountain."

 

As she spoke she became aware of a change in his face. He was no longer

listening to her, he was only looking at her, with the passionate

absorbed expression she had seen in his eyes after they had kissed on

the stand at Nettleton. He was the new Harney again, the Harney abruptly

revealed in that embrace, who seemed so penetrated with the joy of

her presence that he was utterly careless of what she was thinking or

feeling.

 

He caught her hands with a laugh. "How do you suppose I found you?" he

said gaily. He drew out the little packet of his letters and flourished

them before her bewildered eyes.

 

"You dropped them, you imprudent young person--dropped them in the

middle of the road, not far from here; and the young man who is running

the Gospel tent picked them up just as I was riding by." He drew back,

holding her at arm's length, and scrutinizing her troubled face with the

minute searching gaze of his short-sighted eyes.

 

"Did you really think you could run away from me? You see you weren't

meant to," he said; and before she could answer he had kissed her again,

not vehemently, but tenderly, almost fraternally, as if he had guessed

her confused pain, and wanted her to know he understood it. He wound his

fingers through hers.

 

"Come let's walk a little. I want to talk to you. There's so much to

say."

 

He spoke with a boy's gaiety, carelessly and confidently, as if nothing

had happened that could shame or embarrass them; and for a moment, in

the sudden relief of her release from lonely pain, she felt herself

yielding to his mood. But he had turned, and was drawing her back along

the road by which she had come. She stiffened herself and stopped short.

 

"I won't go back," she said.

 

They looked at each other a moment in silence; then he answered gently:

"Very well: let's go the other way, then."

 

She remained motionless, gazing silently at the ground, and he went on:

"Isn't there a house up here somewhere--a little abandoned house--you

meant to show me some day?" Still she made no answer, and he continued,

in the same tone of tender reassurance: "Let us go there now and sit

down and talk quietly." He took one of the hands that hung by her side

and pressed his lips to the palm. "Do you suppose I'm going to let you

send me away? Do you suppose I don't understand?"

 

The little old house--its wooden walls sun-bleached to a ghostly

gray--stood in an orchard above the road. The garden palings had fallen,

but the broken gate dangled between its posts, and the path to the house

was marked by rose-bushes run wild and hanging their small pale blossoms

above the crowding grasses. Slender pilasters and an intricate fan-light

framed the opening where the door had hung; and the door itself lay

rotting in the grass, with an old apple-tree fallen across it.

 

Inside, also, wind and weather had blanched everything to the same

wan silvery tint; the house was as dry and pure as the interior of a

long-empty shell. But it must have been exceptionally well built, for

the little rooms had kept something of their human aspect: the wooden

mantels with their neat classic ornaments were in place, and the corners

of one ceiling retained a light film of plaster tracery.

 

Harney had found an old bench at the back door and dragged it into the

house. Charity sat on it, leaning her head against the wall in a state

of drowsy lassitude. He had guessed that she was hungry and thirsty,

and had brought her some tablets of chocolate from his bicycle-bag, and

filled his drinking-cup from a spring in the orchard; and now he sat at

her feet, smoking a cigarette, and looking up at her without speaking.

Outside, the afternoon shadows were lengthening across the grass, and

through the empty window-frame that faced her she saw the Mountain

thrusting its dark mass against a sultry sunset. It was time to go.

 

She stood up, and he sprang to his feet also, and passed his arm through

hers with an air of authority. "Now, Charity, you're coming back with

me."

 

She looked at him and shook her head. "I ain't ever going back. You

don't know."

 

"What don't I know?" She was silent, and he continued: "What happened on

the wharf was horrible--it's natural you should feel as you do. But it

doesn't make any real difference: you can't be hurt by such things.

You must try to forget. And you must try to understand that men... men

sometimes..."

 

"I know about men. That's why."

 

He coloured a little at the retort, as though it had touched him in a

way she did not suspect.

 

"Well, then... you must know one has to make allowances.... He'd been

drinking...."

 

"I know all that, too. I've seen him so before. But he wouldn't have

dared speak to me that way if he hadn't..."

 

"Hadn't what? What do you mean?"

 

"Hadn't wanted me to be like those other girls...." She lowered her

voice and looked away from him. "So's 't he wouldn't have to go out...."

 

Harney stared at her. For a moment he did not seem to seize her meaning;

then his face grew dark. "The damned hound! The villainous low

hound!" His wrath blazed up, crimsoning him to the temples. "I never

dreamed--good God, it's too vile," he broke off, as if his thoughts

recoiled from the discovery.

 

"I won't never go back there," she repeated doggedly.

 

"No----" he assented.

 

There was a long interval of silence, during which she imagined that he

was searching her face for more light on what she had revealed to him;

and a flush of shame swept over her.

 

"I know the way you must feel about me," she broke out, "...telling you

such things...."

 

But once more, as she spoke, she became aware that he was no longer

listening. He came close and caught her to him as if he were snatching

her from some imminent peril: his impetuous eyes were in hers, and she

could feel the hard beat of his heart as he held her against it.

 

"Kiss me again--like last night," he said, pushing her hair back as if

to draw her whole face up into his kiss.

 

 

 

 

 

XII

 

 

ONE afternoon toward the end of August a group of girls sat in a room at

Miss Hatchard's in a gay confusion of flags, turkey-red, blue and white

paper muslin, harvest sheaves and illuminated scrolls.

 

North Dormer was preparing for its Old Home Week. That form of

sentimental decentralization was still in its early stages, and,

precedents being few, and the desire to set an example contagious, the

matter had become a subject of prolonged and passionate discussion under

Miss Hatchard's roof. The incentive to the celebration had come rather

from those who had left North Dormer than from those who had been

obliged to stay there, and there was some difficulty in rousing the

village to the proper state of enthusiasm. But Miss Hatchard's pale prim

drawing-room was the centre of constant comings and goings from Hepburn,

Nettleton, Springfield and even more distant cities; and whenever a

visitor arrived he was led across the hall, and treated to a glimpse of

the group of girls deep in their pretty preparations.

 

"All the old names... all the old names...." Miss Hatchard would be

heard, tapping across the hall on her crutches. "Targatt... Sollas...

Fry: this is Miss Orma Fry sewing the stars on the drapery for the

organ-loft. Don't move, girls... and this is Miss Ally Hawes, our

cleverest needle-woman... and Miss Charity Royall making our garlands of

evergreen.... I like the idea of its all being homemade, don't you? We

haven't had to call in any foreign talent: my young cousin Lucius

Harney, the architect--you know he's up here preparing a book on

Colonial houses--he's taken the whole thing in hand so cleverly; but you

must come and see his sketch for the stage we're going to put up in the

Town Hall."

 

One of the first results of the Old Home Week agitation had, in fact,

been the reappearance of Lucius Harney in the village street. He had

been vaguely spoken of as being not far off, but for some weeks past no

one had seen him at North Dormer, and there was a recent report of his

having left Creston River, where he was said to have been staying, and

gone away from the neighbourhood for good. Soon after Miss Hatchard's

return, however, he came back to his old quarters in her house, and

began to take a leading part in the planning of the festivities. He

threw himself into the idea with extraordinary good-humour, and was so

prodigal of sketches, and so inexhaustible in devices, that he gave an

immediate impetus to the rather languid movement, and infected the whole

village with his enthusiasm.

 

"Lucius has such a feeling for the past that he has roused us all to a

sense of our privileges," Miss Hatchard would say, lingering on the last

word, which was a favourite one. And before leading her visitor back

to the drawing-room she would repeat, for the hundredth time, that she

supposed he thought it very bold of little North Dormer to start up and

have a Home Week of its own, when so many bigger places hadn't thought

of it yet; but that, after all, Associations counted more than the size

of the population, didn't they? And of course North Dormer was so full

of Associations... historic, literary (here a filial sigh for Honorius)

and ecclesiastical... he knew about the old pewter communion service

imported from England in 1769, she supposed? And it was so important, in

a wealthy materialistic age, to set the example of reverting to the old

ideals, the family and the homestead, and so on. This peroration usually

carried her half-way back across the hall, leaving the girls to return

to their interrupted activities.

 

The day on which Charity Royall was weaving hemlock garlands for the

procession was the last before the celebration. When Miss Hatchard

called upon the North Dormer maidenhood to collaborate in the festal

preparations Charity had at first held aloof; but it had been made

clear to her that her non-appearance might excite conjecture, and,

reluctantly, she had joined the other workers. The girls, at first shy

and embarrassed, and puzzled as to the exact nature of the projected

commemoration, had soon become interested in the amusing details of

their task, and excited by the notice they received. They would not for

the world have missed their afternoons at Miss Hatchard's, and, while

they cut out and sewed and draped and pasted, their tongues kept up such

an accompaniment to the sewing-machine that Charity's silence sheltered

itself unperceived under their chatter.

 

In spirit she was still almost unconscious of the pleasant stir about

her. Since her return to the red house, on the evening of the day when

Harney had overtaken her on her way to the Mountain, she had lived at

North Dormer as if she were suspended in the void. She had come back

there because Harney, after appearing to agree to the impossibility of

her doing so, had ended by persuading her that any other course would

be madness. She had nothing further to fear from Mr. Royall. Of this

she had declared herself sure, though she had failed to add, in his

exoneration, that he had twice offered to make her his wife. Her hatred

of him made it impossible, at the moment, for her to say anything that

might partly excuse him in Harney's eyes.

 

Harney, however, once satisfied of her security, had found plenty of

reasons for urging her to return. The first, and the most unanswerable,

was that she had nowhere else to go. But the one on which he laid the

greatest stress was that flight would be equivalent to avowal. If--as

was almost inevitable--rumours of the scandalous scene at Nettleton

should reach North Dormer, how else would her disappearance be

interpreted? Her guardian had publicly taken away her character, and she

immediately vanished from his house. Seekers after motives could hardly

fail to draw an unkind conclusion. But if she came back at once, and

was seen leading her usual life, the incident was reduced to its true

proportions, as the outbreak of a drunken old man furious at being

surprised in disreputable company. People would say that Mr. Royall had

insulted his ward to justify himself, and the sordid tale would fall

into its place in the chronicle of his obscure debaucheries.

 

Charity saw the force of the argument; but if she acquiesced it was

not so much because of that as because it was Harney's wish. Since that

evening in the deserted house she could imagine no reason for doing or

not doing anything except the fact that Harney wished or did not wish

it. All her tossing contradictory impulses were merged in a fatalistic

acceptance of his will. It was not that she felt in him any ascendancy

of character--there were moments already when she knew she was the

stronger--but that all the rest of life had become a mere cloudy rim

about the central glory of their passion. Whenever she stopped thinking

about that for a moment she felt as she sometimes did after lying on the

grass and staring up too long at the sky; her eyes were so full of light

that everything about her was a blur.

 

Each time that Miss Hatchard, in the course of her periodical incursions

into the work-room, dropped an allusion to her young cousin, the

architect, the effect was the same on Charity. The hemlock garland she

was wearing fell to her knees and she sat in a kind of trance. It was

so manifestly absurd that Miss Hatchard should talk of Harney in

that familiar possessive way, as if she had any claim on him, or knew

anything about him. She, Charity Royall, was the only being on earth

who really knew him, knew him from the soles of his feet to the rumpled

crest of his hair, knew the shifting lights in his eyes, and the

inflexions of his voice, and the things he liked and disliked,

and everything there was to know about him, as minutely and yet

unconsciously as a child knows the walls of the room it wakes up in

every morning. It was this fact, which nobody about her guessed,

or would have understood, that made her life something apart and

inviolable, as if nothing had any power to hurt or disturb her as long

as her secret was safe.

 

The room in which the girls sat was the one which had been Harney's

bedroom. He had been sent upstairs, to make room for the Home Week

workers; but the furniture had not been moved, and as Charity sat there

she had perpetually before her the vision she had looked in on from the

midnight garden. The table at which Harney had sat was the one about

which the girls were gathered; and her own seat was near the bed on

which she had seen him lying. Sometimes, when the others were not

looking, she bent over as if to pick up something, and laid her cheek

for a moment against the pillow.

 

Toward sunset the girls disbanded. Their work was done, and the next

morning at daylight the draperies and garlands were to be nailed up, and

the illuminated scrolls put in place in the Town Hall. The first guests

were to drive over from Hepburn in time for the midday banquet under

a tent in Miss Hatchard's field; and after that the ceremonies were

to begin. Miss Hatchard, pale with fatigue and excitement, thanked her

young assistants, and stood in the porch, leaning on her crutches and

waving a farewell as she watched them troop away down the street.

 

Charity had slipped off among the first; but at the gate she heard Ally

Hawes calling after her, and reluctantly turned.

 

"Will you come over now and try on your dress?" Ally asked, looking at

her with wistful admiration. "I want to be sure the sleeves don't ruck

up the same as they did yesterday."

 

Charity gazed at her with dazzled eyes. "Oh, it's lovely," she said, and

hastened away without listening to Ally's protest. She wanted her dress

to be as pretty as the other girls'--wanted it, in fact, to outshine the

rest, since she was to take part in the "exercises"--but she had no time

just then to fix her mind on such matters....

 

She sped up the street to the library, of which she had the key about

her neck. From the passage at the back she dragged forth a bicycle, and

guided it to the edge of the street. She looked about to see if any of

the girls were approaching; but they had drifted away together toward

the Town Hall, and she sprang into the saddle and turned toward the

Creston road. There was an almost continual descent to Creston, and with

her feet against the pedals she floated through the still evening

air like one of the hawks she had often watched slanting downward on

motionless wings. Twenty minutes from the time when she had left Miss

Hatchard's door she was turning up the wood-road on which Harney had

overtaken her on the day of her flight; and a few minutes afterward she

had jumped from her bicycle at the gate of the deserted house.

 

In the gold-powdered sunset it looked more than ever like some frail

shell dried and washed by many seasons; but at the back, whither Charity

advanced, drawing her bicycle after her, there were signs of recent

habitation. A rough door made of boards hung in the kitchen doorway,

and pushing it open she entered a room furnished in primitive camping

fashion. In the window was a table, also made of boards, with an

earthenware jar holding a big bunch of wild asters, two canvas chairs

stood near by, and in one corner was a mattress with a Mexican blanket

over it.

 

The room was empty, and leaning her bicycle against the house Charity

clambered up the slope and sat down on a rock under an old apple-tree.

The air was perfectly still, and from where she sat she would be able to

hear the tinkle of a bicycle-bell a long way down the road....

 

She was always glad when she got to the little house before Harney. She

liked to have time to take in every detail of its secret sweetness--the

shadows of the apple-trees swaying on the grass, the old walnuts

rounding their domes below the road, the meadows sloping westward in the

afternoon light--before his first kiss blotted it all out. Everything

unrelated to the hours spent in that tranquil place was as faint as the

remembrance of a dream. The only reality was the wondrous unfolding

of her new self, the reaching out to the light of all her contracted

tendrils. She had lived all her life among people whose sensibilities

seemed to have withered for lack of use; and more wonderful, at first,

than Harney's endearments were the words that were a part of them. She

had always thought of love as something confused and furtive, and he

made it as bright and open as the summer air.

 

On the morrow of the day when she had shown him the way to the deserted

house he had packed up and left Creston River for Boston; but at the

first station he had jumped on the train with a hand-bag and scrambled

up into the hills. For two golden rainless August weeks he had camped in

the house, getting eggs and milk from the solitary farm in the valley,

where no one knew him, and doing his cooking over a spirit-lamp. He got

up every day with the sun, took a plunge in a brown pool he knew of, and

spent long hours lying in the scented hemlock-woods above the house, or

wandering along the yoke of the Eagle Ridge, far above the misty blue

valleys that swept away east and west between the endless hills. And in

the afternoon Charity came to him.

 

With part of what was left of her savings she had hired a bicycle for

a month, and every day after dinner, as soon as her guardian started to

his office, she hurried to the library, got out her bicycle, and flew

down the Creston road. She knew that Mr. Royall, like everyone else in

North Dormer, was perfectly aware of her acquisition: possibly he, as

well as the rest of the village, knew what use she made of it. She did

not care: she felt him to be so powerless that if he had questioned her

she would probably have told him the truth. But they had never spoken to

each other since the night on the wharf at Nettleton. He had returned to

North Dormer only on the third day after that encounter, arriving just

as Charity and Verena were sitting down to supper. He had drawn up his

chair, taken his napkin from the side-board drawer, pulled it out of its

ring, and seated himself as unconcernedly as if he had come in from

his usual afternoon session at Carrick Fry's; and the long habit of the

household made it seem almost natural that Charity should not so much as

raise her eyes when he entered. She had simply let him understand that

her silence was not accidental by leaving the table while he was still

eating, and going up without a word to shut herself into her room.

After that he formed the habit of talking loudly and genially to Verena

whenever Charity was in the room; but otherwise there was no apparent

change in their relations.

 

She did not think connectedly of these things while she sat waiting for

Harney, but they remained in her mind as a sullen background against

which her short hours with him flamed out like forest fires. Nothing

else mattered, neither the good nor the bad, or what might have seemed

so before she knew him. He had caught her up and carried her away into

a new world, from which, at stated hours, the ghost of her came back to

perform certain customary acts, but all so thinly and insubstantially

that she sometimes wondered that the people she went about among could

see her....

 

Behind the swarthy Mountain the sun had gone down in waveless gold. From

a pasture up the slope a tinkle of cow-bells sounded; a puff of smoke

hung over the farm in the valley, trailed on the pure air and was gone.

For a few minutes, in the clear light that is all shadow, fields and

woods were outlined with an unreal precision; then the twilight blotted

them out, and the little house turned gray and spectral under its

wizened apple-branches.

 

Charity's heart contracted. The first fall of night after a day of

radiance often gave her a sense of hidden menace: it was like looking

out over the world as it would be when love had gone from it. She

wondered if some day she would sit in that same place and watch in vain

for her lover....

 

His bicycle-bell sounded down the lane, and in a minute she was at the

gate and his eyes were laughing in hers. They walked back through the

long grass, and pushed open the door behind the house. The room at

first seemed quite dark and they had to grope their way in hand in hand.

Through the window-frame the sky looked light by contrast, and above the

black mass of asters in the earthen jar one white star glimmered like a

moth.

 

"There was such a lot to do at the last minute," Harney was explaining,

"and I had to drive down to Creston to meet someone who has come to stay

with my cousin for the show."

 

He had his arms about her, and his kisses were in her hair and on her

lips. Under his touch things deep down in her struggled to the light and

sprang up like flowers in sunshine. She twisted her fingers into his,

and they sat down side by side on the improvised couch. She hardly heard

his excuses for being late: in his absence a thousand doubts tormented

her, but as soon as he appeared she ceased to wonder where he had come

from, what had delayed him, who had kept him from her. It seemed as if

the places he had been in, and the people he had been with, must cease

to exist when he left them, just as her own life was suspended in his

absence.

 

He continued, now, to talk to her volubly and gaily, deploring his

lateness, grumbling at the demands on his time, and good-humouredly

mimicking Miss Hatchard's benevolent agitation. "She hurried off Miles

to ask Mr. Royall to speak at the Town Hall tomorrow: I didn't know till

it was done." Charity was silent, and he added: "After all, perhaps it's

just as well. No one else could have done it."

 

Charity made no answer: She did not care what part her guardian played

in the morrow's ceremonies. Like all the other figures peopling her

meagre world he had grown non-existent to her. She had even put off

hating him.

 

"Tomorrow I shall only see you from far off," Harney continued. "But in

the evening there'll be the dance in the Town Hall. Do you want me to

promise not to dance with any other girl?"

 

Any other girl? Were there any others? She had forgotten even that

peril, so enclosed did he and she seem in their secret world. Her heart

gave a frightened jerk.

 

"Yes, promise."

 

He laughed and took her in his arms. "You goose--not even if they're

hideous?"

 

He pushed the hair from her forehead, bending her face back, as his way

was, and leaning over so that his head loomed black between her eyes and

the paleness of the sky, in which the white star floated...

 

Side by side they sped back along the dark wood-road to the village. A

late moon was rising, full orbed and fiery, turning the mountain ranges

from fluid gray to a massive blackness, and making the upper sky so

light that the stars looked as faint as their own reflections in water.

At the edge of the wood, half a mile from North Dormer, Harney jumped

from his bicycle, took Charity in his arms for a last kiss, and then

waited while she went on alone.

 

They were later than usual, and instead of taking the bicycle to the

library she propped it against the back of the wood-shed and entered the

kitchen of the red house. Verena sat there alone; when Charity came in

she looked at her with mild impenetrable eyes and then took a plate

and a glass of milk from the shelf and set them silently on the table.

Charity nodded her thanks, and sitting down, fell hungrily upon her

piece of pie and emptied the glass. Her face burned with her quick

flight through the night, and her eyes were dazzled by the twinkle of

the kitchen lamp. She felt like a night-bird suddenly caught and caged.

 

"He ain't come back since supper," Verena said. "He's down to the Hall."

 

Charity took no notice. Her soul was still winging through the forest.

She washed her plate and tumbler, and then felt her way up the dark

stairs. When she opened her door a wonder arrested her. Before going

out she had closed her shutters against the afternoon heat, but they had

swung partly open, and a bar of moonlight, crossing the room, rested

on her bed and showed a dress of China silk laid out on it in virgin

whiteness. Charity had spent more than she could afford on the dress,

which was to surpass those of all the other girls; she had wanted to let

North Dormer see that she was worthy of Harney's admiration. Above the

dress, folded on the pillow, was the white veil which the young women

who took part in the exercises were to wear under a wreath of asters;

and beside the veil a pair of slim white satin shoes that Ally had

produced from an old trunk in which she stored mysterious treasures.

 

Charity stood gazing at all the outspread whiteness. It recalled a

vision that had come to her in the night after her first meeting with

Harney. She no longer had such visions... warmer splendours had displaced

them... but it was stupid of Ally to have paraded all those white things

on her bed, exactly as Hattie Targatt's wedding dress from Springfield

had been spread out for the neighbours to see when she married Tom

Fry....

 

Charity took up the satin shoes and looked at them curiously. By day, no

doubt, they would appear a little worn, but in the moonlight they seemed

carved of ivory. She sat down on the floor to try them on, and they

fitted her perfectly, though when she stood up she lurched a little on

the high heels. She looked down at her feet, which the graceful mould

of the slippers had marvellously arched and narrowed. She had never

seen such shoes before, even in the shop-windows at Nettleton... never,

except... yes, once, she had noticed a pair of the same shape on Annabel

Balch.

 

A blush of mortification swept over her. Ally sometimes sewed for Miss

Balch when that brilliant being descended on North Dormer, and no

doubt she picked up presents of cast-off clothing: the treasures in the

mysterious trunk all came from the people she worked for; there could be

no doubt that the white slippers were Annabel Balch's....

 

As she stood there, staring down moodily at her feet, she heard the

triple click-click-click of a bicycle-bell under her window. It was

Harney's secret signal as he passed on his way home. She stumbled to

the window on her high heels, flung open the shutters and leaned out. He

waved to her and sped by, his black shadow dancing merrily ahead of him

down the empty moonlit road; and she leaned there watching him till he

vanished under the Hatchard spruces.

 

 

 

 

XIII

 

 

THE Town Hall was crowded and exceedingly hot. As Charity marched into

it third in the white muslin file headed by Orma Fry, she was conscious

mainly of the brilliant effect of the wreathed columns framing the

green-carpeted stage toward which she was moving; and of the unfamiliar

faces turning from the front rows to watch the advance of the

procession.

 

But it was all a bewildering blur of eyes and colours till she found

herself standing at the back of the stage, her great bunch of asters and

goldenrod held well in front of her, and answering the nervous glance

of Lambert Sollas, the organist from Mr. Miles's church, who had come up

from Nettleton to play the harmonium and sat behind it, his conductor's

eye running over the fluttered girls.

 

A moment later Mr. Miles, pink and twinkling, emerged from the

background, as if buoyed up on his broad white gown, and briskly

dominated the bowed heads in the front rows. He prayed energetically and

briefly and then retired, and a fierce nod from Lambert Sollas warned

the girls that they were to follow at once with "Home, Sweet Home." It

was a joy to Charity to sing: it seemed as though, for the first time,

her secret rapture might burst from her and flash its defiance at the

world. All the glow in her blood, the breath of the summer earth,

the rustle of the forest, the fresh call of birds at sunrise, and the

brooding midday languors, seemed to pass into her untrained voice,

lifted and led by the sustaining chorus.

 

And then suddenly the song was over, and after an uncertain pause,

during which Miss Hatchard's pearl-grey gloves started a furtive

signalling down the hall, Mr. Royall, emerging in turn, ascended the

steps of the stage and appeared behind the flower-wreathed desk. He

passed close to Charity, and she noticed that his gravely set face wore

the look of majesty that used to awe and fascinate her childhood. His

frock-coat had been carefully brushed and ironed, and the ends of his

narrow black tie were so nearly even that the tying must have cost him

a protracted struggle. His appearance struck her all the more because it

was the first time she had looked him full in the face since the night

at Nettleton, and nothing in his grave and impressive demeanour revealed

a trace of the lamentable figure on the wharf.

 

He stood a moment behind the desk, resting his finger-tips against it,

and bending slightly toward his audience; then he straightened himself

and began.

 

At first she paid no heed to what he was saying: only fragments of

sentences, sonorous quotations, allusions to illustrious men,

including the obligatory tribute to Honorius Hatchard, drifted past her

inattentive ears. She was trying to discover Harney among the notable

people in the front row; but he was nowhere near Miss Hatchard, who,

crowned by a pearl-grey hat that matched her gloves, sat just below the

desk, supported by Mrs. Miles and an important-looking unknown lady.

Charity was near one end of the stage, and from where she sat the other

end of the first row of seats was cut off by the screen of foliage

masking the harmonium. The effort to see Harney around the corner of the

screen, or through its interstices, made her unconscious of everything

else; but the effort was unsuccessful, and gradually she found her

attention arrested by her guardian's discourse.

 

She had never heard him speak in public before, but she was familiar

with the rolling music of his voice when he read aloud, or held forth

to the selectmen about the stove at Carrick Fry's. Today his inflections

were richer and graver than she had ever known them: he spoke slowly,

with pauses that seemed to invite his hearers to silent participation in

his thought; and Charity perceived a light of response in their faces.

 

He was nearing the end of his address... "Most of you," he said, "most of

you who have returned here today, to take contact with this little place

for a brief hour, have come only on a pious pilgrimage, and will go back

presently to busy cities and lives full of larger duties. But that is

not the only way of coming back to North Dormer. Some of us, who went

out from here in our youth... went out, like you, to busy cities and

larger duties... have come back in another way--come back for good. I am

one of those, as many of you know...." He paused, and there was a sense

of suspense in the listening hall. "My history is without interest, but

it has its lesson: not so much for those of you who have already

made your lives in other places, as for the young men who are perhaps

planning even now to leave these quiet hills and go down into the

struggle. Things they cannot foresee may send some of those young men

back some day to the little township and the old homestead: they may

come back for good...." He looked about him, and repeated gravely: "For

GOOD. There's the point I want to make... North Dormer is a poor little

place, almost lost in a mighty landscape: perhaps, by this time, it

might have been a bigger place, and more in scale with the landscape,

if those who had to come back had come with that feeling in their

minds--that they wanted to come back for GOOD... and not for bad... or

just for indifference....

 

"Gentlemen, let us look at things as they are. Some of us have come back

to our native town because we'd failed to get on elsewhere. One way or

other, things had gone wrong with us... what we'd dreamed of hadn't come

true. But the fact that we had failed elsewhere is no reason why we

should fail here. Our very experiments in larger places, even if they

were unsuccessful, ought to have helped us to make North Dormer a larger

place... and you young men who are preparing even now to follow the call

of ambition, and turn your back on the old homes--well, let me say this

to you, that if ever you do come back to them it's worth while to come

back to them for their good.... And to do that, you must keep on loving

them while you're away from them; and even if you come back against your

will--and thinking it's all a bitter mistake of Fate or Providence--you

must try to make the best of it, and to make the best of your old town;

and after a while--well, ladies and gentlemen, I give you my recipe for

what it's worth; after a while, I believe you'll be able to say, as I

can say today: 'I'm glad I'm here.' Believe me, all of you, the best way

to help the places we live in is to be glad we live there."

 

He stopped, and a murmur of emotion and surprise ran through the

audience. It was not in the least what they had expected, but it moved

them more than what they had expected would have moved them. "Hear,

hear!" a voice cried out in the middle of the hall. An outburst of

cheers caught up the cry, and as they subsided Charity heard Mr. Miles

saying to someone near him: "That was a MAN talking----" He wiped his

spectacles.

 

Mr. Royall had stepped back from the desk, and taken his seat in the row

of chairs in front of the harmonium. A dapper white-haired gentleman--a

distant Hatchard--succeeded him behind the goldenrod, and began to

say beautiful things about the old oaken bucket, patient white-haired

mothers, and where the boys used to go nutting... and Charity began again

to search for Harney....

 

Suddenly Mr. Royall pushed back his seat, and one of the maple branches

in front of the harmonium collapsed with a crash. It uncovered the end

of the first row and in one of the seats Charity saw Harney, and in the

next a lady whose face was turned toward him, and almost hidden by the

brim of her drooping hat. Charity did not need to see the face. She knew

at a glance the slim figure, the fair hair heaped up under the hat-brim,

the long pale wrinkled gloves with bracelets slipping over them. At the

fall of the branch Miss Balch turned her head toward the stage, and in

her pretty thin-lipped smile there lingered the reflection of something

her neighbour had been whispering to her....

 

Someone came forward to replace the fallen branch, and Miss Balch and

Harney were once more hidden. But to Charity the vision of their two

faces had blotted out everything. In a flash they had shown her the

bare reality of her situation. Behind the frail screen of her lover's

caresses was the whole inscrutable mystery of his life: his relations

with other people--with other women--his opinions, his prejudices, his

principles, the net of influences and interests and ambitions in which

every man's life is entangled. Of all these she knew nothing, except

what he had told her of his architectural aspirations. She had always

dimly guessed him to be in touch with important people, involved in

complicated relations--but she felt it all to be so far beyond her

understanding that the whole subject hung like a luminous mist on the

farthest verge of her thoughts. In the foreground, hiding all else,

there was the glow of his presence, the light and shadow of his face,

the way his short-sighted eyes, at her approach, widened and deepened

as if to draw her down into them; and, above all, the flush of youth and

tenderness in which his words enclosed her.

 

Now she saw him detached from her, drawn back into the unknown, and

whispering to another girl things that provoked the same smile of

mischievous complicity he had so often called to her own lips. The

feeling possessing her was not one of jealousy: she was too sure of

his love. It was rather a terror of the unknown, of all the mysterious

attractions that must even now be dragging him away from her, and of her

own powerlessness to contend with them.

 

She had given him all she had--but what was it compared to the other

gifts life held for him? She understood now the case of girls like

herself to whom this kind of thing happened. They gave all they had, but

their all was not enough: it could not buy more than a few moments....

 

The heat had grown suffocating--she felt it descend on her in smothering

waves, and the faces in the crowded hall began to dance like the

pictures flashed on the screen at Nettleton. For an instant Mr. Royall's

countenance detached itself from the general blur. He had resumed his

place in front of the harmonium, and sat close to her, his eyes on her

face; and his look seemed to pierce to the very centre of her confused

sensations.... A feeling of physical sickness rushed over her--and then

deadly apprehension. The light of the fiery hours in the little house

swept back on her in a glare of fear....

 

She forced herself to look away from her guardian, and became aware that

the oratory of the Hatchard cousin had ceased, and that Mr. Miles was

again flapping his wings. Fragments of his peroration floated through

her bewildered brain.... "A rich harvest of hallowed memories.... A

sanctified hour to which, in moments of trial, your thoughts will

prayerfully return.... And now, O Lord, let us humbly and fervently give

thanks for this blessed day of reunion, here in the old home to which we

have come back from so far. Preserve it to us, O Lord, in times to come,

in all its homely sweetness--in the kindliness and wisdom of its old

people, in the courage and industry of its young men, in the piety and

purity of this group of innocent girls----" He flapped a white wing in

their direction, and at the same moment Lambert Sollas, with his fierce

nod, struck the opening bars of "Auld Lang Syne." ...Charity stared

straight ahead of her and then, dropping her flowers, fell face downward

at Mr. Royall's feet.

 

 

 

 

XIV

 

 

NORTH DORMER'S celebration naturally included the villages attached to

its township, and the festivities were to radiate over the whole group,

from Dormer and the two Crestons to Hamblin, the lonely hamlet on the

north slope of the Mountain where the first snow always fell. On the

third day there were speeches and ceremonies at Creston and Creston

River; on the fourth the principal performers were to be driven in

buck-boards to Dormer and Hamblin.

 

It was on the fourth day that Charity returned for the first time to the

little house. She had not seen Harney alone since they had parted at the

wood's edge the night before the celebrations began. In the interval she

had passed through many moods, but for the moment the terror which had

seized her in the Town Hall had faded to the edge of consciousness.

She had fainted because the hall was stiflingly hot, and because the

speakers had gone on and on.... Several other people had been affected by

the heat, and had had to leave before the exercises were over. There had

been thunder in the air all the afternoon, and everyone said afterward

that something ought to have been done to ventilate the hall....

 

At the dance that evening--where she had gone reluctantly, and only

because she feared to stay away, she had sprung back into instant

reassurance. As soon as she entered she had seen Harney waiting for her,

and he had come up with kind gay eyes, and swept her off in a waltz. Her

feet were full of music, and though her only training had been with the

village youths she had no difficulty in tuning her steps to his. As they

circled about the floor all her vain fears dropped from her, and she

even forgot that she was probably dancing in Annabel Balch's slippers.

 

When the waltz was over Harney, with a last hand-clasp, left her to

meet Miss Hatchard and Miss Balch, who were just entering. Charity had

a moment of anguish as Miss Balch appeared; but it did not last. The

triumphant fact of her own greater beauty, and of Harney's sense of

it, swept her apprehensions aside. Miss Balch, in an unbecoming dress,

looked sallow and pinched, and Charity fancied there was a worried

expression in her pale-lashed eyes. She took a seat near Miss Hatchard

and it was presently apparent that she did not mean to dance. Charity

did not dance often either. Harney explained to her that Miss Hatchard

had begged him to give each of the other girls a turn; but he went

through the form of asking Charity's permission each time he led one

out, and that gave her a sense of secret triumph even completer than

when she was whirling about the room with him.

 

She was thinking of all this as she waited for him in the deserted

house. The late afternoon was sultry, and she had tossed aside her hat

and stretched herself at full length on the Mexican blanket because it

was cooler indoors than under the trees. She lay with her arms folded

beneath her head, gazing out at the shaggy shoulder of the Mountain. The

sky behind it was full of the splintered glories of the descending sun,

and before long she expected to hear Harney's bicycle-bell in the lane.

He had bicycled to Hamblin, instead of driving there with his cousin

and her friends, so that he might be able to make his escape earlier

and stop on the way back at the deserted house, which was on the road

to Hamblin. They had smiled together at the joke of hearing the crowded

buck-boards roll by on the return, while they lay close in their

hiding above the road. Such childish triumphs still gave her a sense of

reckless security.

 

Nevertheless she had not wholly forgotten the vision of fear that had

opened before her in the Town Hall. The sense of lastingness was gone

from her and every moment with Harney would now be ringed with doubt.

 

The Mountain was turning purple against a fiery sunset from which it

seemed to be divided by a knife-edge of quivering light; and above

this wall of flame the whole sky was a pure pale green, like some cold

mountain lake in shadow. Charity lay gazing up at it, and watching for

the first white star....

 

Her eyes were still fixed on the upper reaches of the sky when she

became aware that a shadow had flitted across the glory-flooded room: it

must have been Harney passing the window against the sunset.... She half

raised herself, and then dropped back on her folded arms. The combs had

slipped from her hair, and it trailed in a rough dark rope across her

breast. She lay quite still, a sleepy smile on her lips, her indolent

lids half shut. There was a fumbling at the padlock and she called out:

"Have you slipped the chain?" The door opened, and Mr. Royall walked

into the room.

 

She started up, sitting back against the cushions, and they looked at

each other without speaking. Then Mr. Royall closed the door-latch and

advanced a few steps.

 

Charity jumped to her feet. "What have you come for?" she stammered.

 

The last glare of the sunset was on her guardian's face, which looked

ash-coloured in the yellow radiance.

 

"Because I knew you were here," he answered simply.

 

She had become conscious of the hair hanging loose across her breast,

and it seemed as though she could not speak to him till she had set

herself in order. She groped for her comb, and tried to fasten up the

coil. Mr. Royall silently watched her.

 

"Charity," he said, "he'll be here in a minute. Let me talk to you

first."

 

"You've got no right to talk to me. I can do what I please."

 

"Yes. What is it you mean to do?"

 

"I needn't answer that, or anything else."

 

He had glanced away, and stood looking curiously about the illuminated

room. Purple asters and red maple-leaves filled the jar on the table; on

a shelf against the wall stood a lamp, the kettle, a little pile of cups

and saucers. The canvas chairs were grouped about the table.

 

"So this is where you meet," he said.

 

His tone was quiet and controlled, and the fact disconcerted her.

She had been ready to give him violence for violence, but this calm

acceptance of things as they were left her without a weapon.

 

"See here, Charity--you're always telling me I've got no rights over

you. There might be two ways of looking at that--but I ain't going

to argue it. All I know is I raised you as good as I could, and meant

fairly by you always except once, for a bad half-hour. There's no

justice in weighing that half-hour against the rest, and you know it. If

you hadn't, you wouldn't have gone on living under my roof. Seems to me

the fact of your doing that gives me some sort of a right; the right

to try and keep you out of trouble. I'm not asking you to consider any

other."

 

She listened in silence, and then gave a slight laugh. "Better wait till

I'm in trouble," she said. He paused a moment, as if weighing her words.

"Is that all your answer?"

 

"Yes, that's all."

 

"Well--I'll wait."

 

He turned away slowly, but as he did so the thing she had been waiting

for happened; the door opened again and Harney entered.

 

He stopped short with a face of astonishment, and then, quickly

controlling himself, went up to Mr. Royall with a frank look.

 

"Have you come to see me, sir?" he said coolly, throwing his cap on the

table with an air of proprietorship.

 

Mr. Royall again looked slowly about the room; then his eyes turned to

the young man.

 

"Is this your house?" he inquired.

 

Harney laughed: "Well--as much as it's anybody's. I come here to sketch

occasionally."

 

"And to receive Miss Royall's visits?"

 

"When she does me the honour----"

 

"Is this the home you propose to bring her to when you get married?"

 

There was an immense and oppressive silence. Charity, quivering with

anger, started forward, and then stood silent, too humbled for speech.

Harney's eyes had dropped under the old man's gaze; but he raised them

presently, and looking steadily at Mr. Royall, said: "Miss Royall is not

a child. Isn't it rather absurd to talk of her as if she were? I believe

she considers herself free to come and go as she pleases, without any

questions from anyone." He paused and added: "I'm ready to answer any

she wishes to ask me."

 

Mr. Royall turned to her. "Ask him when he's going to marry you,

then----" There was another silence, and he laughed in his turn--a

broken laugh, with a scraping sound in it. "You darsn't!" he shouted out

with sudden passion. He went close up to Charity, his right arm lifted,

not in menace but in tragic exhortation.

 

"You darsn't, and you know it--and you know why!" He swung back again

upon the young man. "And you know why you ain't asked her to marry you,

and why you don't mean to. It's because you hadn't need to; nor any

other man either. I'm the only one that was fool enough not to know

that; and I guess nobody'll repeat my mistake--not in Eagle County,

anyhow. They all know what she is, and what she came from. They all know

her mother was a woman of the town from Nettleton, that followed one of

those Mountain fellows up to his place and lived there with him like a

heathen. I saw her there sixteen years ago, when I went to bring this

child down. I went to save her from the kind of life her mother was

leading--but I'd better have left her in the kennel she came from...."

He paused and stared darkly at the two young people, and out beyond

them, at the menacing Mountain with its rim of fire; then he sat down

beside the table on which they had so often spread their rustic supper,

and covered his face with his hands. Harney leaned in the window, a

frown on his face: he was twirling between his fingers a small package

that dangled from a loop of string.... Charity heard Mr. Royall draw a

hard breath or two, and his shoulders shook a little. Presently he

stood up and walked across the room. He did not look again at the young

people: they saw him feel his way to the door and fumble for the latch;

and then he went out into the darkness.

 

After he had gone there was a long silence. Charity waited for Harney to

speak; but he seemed at first not to find anything to say. At length he

broke out irrelevantly: "I wonder how he found out?"

 

She made no answer and he tossed down the package he had been holding,

and went up to her.

 

"I'm so sorry, dear... that this should have happened...."

 

She threw her head back proudly. "I ain't ever been sorry--not a

minute!"

 

"No."

 

She waited to be caught into his arms, but he turned away from

her irresolutely. The last glow was gone from behind the Mountain.

Everything in the room had turned grey and indistinct, and an autumnal

dampness crept up from the hollow below the orchard, laying its cold

touch on their flushed faces. Harney walked the length of the room, and

then turned back and sat down at the table.

 

"Come," he said imperiously.

 

She sat down beside him, and he untied the string about the package and

spread out a pile of sandwiches.

 

"I stole them from the love-feast at Hamblin," he said with a laugh,

pushing them over to her. She laughed too, and took one, and began to

eat.

 

"Didn't you make the tea?"

 

"No," she said. "I forgot----"

 

"Oh, well--it's too late to boil the water now." He said nothing more,

and sitting opposite to each other they went on silently eating the

sandwiches. Darkness had descended in the little room, and Harney's face

was a dim blur to Charity. Suddenly he leaned across the table and laid

his hand on hers.

 

"I shall have to go off for a while--a month or two, perhaps--to arrange

some things; and then I'll come back... and we'll get married."

 

His voice seemed like a stranger's: nothing was left in it of the

vibrations she knew. Her hand lay inertly under his, and she left it

there, and raised her head, trying to answer him. But the words died

in her throat. They sat motionless, in their attitude of confident

endearment, as if some strange death had surprised them. At length

Harney sprang to his feet with a slight shiver. "God! it's damp--we

couldn't have come here much longer." He went to the shelf, took down a

tin candle-stick and lit the candle; then he propped an unhinged shutter

against the empty window-frame and put the candle on the table. It threw

a queer shadow on his frowning forehead, and made the smile on his lips

a grimace.

 

"But it's been good, though, hasn't it, Charity?... What's the

matter--why do you stand there staring at me? Haven't the days here been

good?" He went up to her and caught her to his breast. "And there'll be

others--lots of others... jollier... even jollier... won't there,

darling?"

 

He turned her head back, feeling for the curve of her throat below the

ear, and kissing here there, and on the hair and eyes and lips. She

clung to him desperately, and as he drew her to his knees on the couch

she felt as if they were being sucked down together into some bottomless

abyss.

 

 

 

 

XV

 

 

That night, as usual, they said good-bye at the wood's edge.

 

Harney was to leave the next morning early. He asked Charity to say

nothing of their plans till his return, and, strangely even to herself,

she was glad of the postponement. A leaden weight of shame hung on her,

benumbing every other sensation, and she bade him good-bye with hardly

a sign of emotion. His reiterated promises to return seemed almost

wounding. She had no doubt that he intended to come back; her doubts

were far deeper and less definable.

 

Since the fanciful vision of the future that had flitted through her

imagination at their first meeting she had hardly ever thought of his

marrying her. She had not had to put the thought from her mind; it had

not been there. If ever she looked ahead she felt instinctively that the

gulf between them was too deep, and that the bridge their passion had

flung across it was as insubstantial as a rainbow. But she seldom

looked ahead; each day was so rich that it absorbed her.... Now her first

feeling was that everything would be different, and that she herself

would be a different being to Harney. Instead of remaining separate and

absolute, she would be compared with other people, and unknown things

would be expected of her. She was too proud to be afraid, but the

freedom of her spirit drooped....

 

Harney had not fixed any date for his return; he had said he would have

to look about first, and settle things. He had promised to write as soon

as there was anything definite to say, and had left her his address, and

asked her to write also. But the address frightened her. It was in New

York, at a club with a long name in Fifth Avenue: it seemed to raise an

insurmountable barrier between them. Once or twice, in the first days,

she got out a sheet of paper, and sat looking at it, and trying to think

what to say; but she had the feeling that her letter would never reach

its destination. She had never written to anyone farther away than

Hepburn.

 

Harney's first letter came after he had been gone about ten days. It was

tender but grave, and bore no resemblance to the gay little notes he had

sent her by the freckled boy from Creston River. He spoke positively of

his intention of coming back, but named no date, and reminded Charity of

their agreement that their plans should not be divulged till he had had

time to "settle things." When that would be he could not yet foresee;

but she could count on his returning as soon as the way was clear.

 

She read the letter with a strange sense of its coming from immeasurable

distances and having lost most of its meaning on the way; and in reply

she sent him a coloured postcard of Creston Falls, on which she wrote:

"With love from Charity." She felt the pitiful inadequacy of this, and

understood, with a sense of despair, that in her inability to express

herself she must give him an impression of coldness and reluctance; but

she could not help it. She could not forget that he had never spoken

to her of marriage till Mr. Royall had forced the word from his lips;

though she had not had the strength to shake off the spell that bound

her to him she had lost all spontaneity of feeling, and seemed to

herself to be passively awaiting a fate she could not avert.

 

She had not seen Mr. Royall on her return to the red house. The morning

after her parting from Harney, when she came down from her room, Verena

told her that her guardian had gone off to Worcester and Portland. It

was the time of year when he usually reported to the insurance agencies

he represented, and there was nothing unusual in his departure except

its suddenness. She thought little about him, except to be glad he was

not there....

 

She kept to herself for the first days, while North Dormer was

recovering from its brief plunge into publicity, and the subsiding

agitation left her unnoticed. But the faithful Ally could not be long

avoided. For the first few days after the close of the Old Home Week

festivities Charity escaped her by roaming the hills all day when she

was not at her post in the library; but after that a period of rain set

in, and one pouring afternoon, Ally, sure that she would find her friend

indoors, came around to the red house with her sewing.

 

The two girls sat upstairs in Charity's room. Charity, her idle hands in

her lap, was sunk in a kind of leaden dream, through which she was only

half-conscious of Ally, who sat opposite her in a low rush-bottomed

chair, her work pinned to her knee, and her thin lips pursed up as she

bent above it.

 

"It was my idea running a ribbon through the gauging," she said proudly,

drawing back to contemplate the blouse she was trimming. "It's for Miss

Balch: she was awfully pleased." She paused and then added, with a queer

tremor in her piping voice: "I darsn't have told her I got the idea from

one I saw on Julia."

 

Charity raised her eyes listlessly. "Do you still see Julia sometimes?"

 

Ally reddened, as if the allusion had escaped her unintentionally. "Oh,

it was a long time ago I seen her with those gaugings...."

 

Silence fell again, and Ally presently continued: "Miss Balch left me a

whole lot of things to do over this time."

 

"Why--has she gone?" Charity inquired with an inner start of

apprehension.

 

"Didn't you know? She went off the morning after they had the

celebration at Hamblin. I seen her drive by early with Mr. Harney."

 

There was another silence, measured by the steady tick of the rain

against the window, and, at intervals, by the snipping sound of Ally's

scissors.

 

Ally gave a meditative laugh. "Do you know what she told me before she

went away? She told me she was going to send for me to come over to

Springfield and make some things for her wedding."

 

Charity again lifted her heavy lids and stared at Ally's pale pointed

face, which moved to and fro above her moving fingers.

 

"Is she going to get married?"

 

Ally let the blouse sink to her knee, and sat gazing at it. Her lips

seemed suddenly dry, and she moistened them a little with her tongue.

 

"Why, I presume so... from what she said.... Didn't you know?"

 

"Why should I know?"

 

Ally did not answer. She bent above the blouse, and began picking out a

basting thread with the point of the scissors.

 

"Why should I know?" Charity repeated harshly.

 

"I didn't know but what... folks here say she's engaged to Mr. Harney."

 

Charity stood up with a laugh, and stretched her arms lazily above her

head.

 

"If all the people got married that folks say are going to you'd have

your time full making wedding-dresses," she said ironically.

 

"Why--don't you believe it?" Ally ventured.

 

"It would not make it true if I did--nor prevent it if I didn't."

 

"That's so.... I only know I seen her crying the night of the party

because her dress didn't set right. That was why she wouldn't dance

any...."

 

Charity stood absently gazing down at the lacy garment on Ally's knee.

Abruptly she stooped and snatched it up.

 

"Well, I guess she won't dance in this either," she said with sudden

violence; and grasping the blouse in her strong young hands she tore it

in two and flung the tattered bits to the floor.

 

"Oh, Charity----" Ally cried, springing up. For a long interval the two

girls faced each other across the ruined garment. Ally burst into tears.

 

"Oh, what'll I say to her? What'll I do? It was real lace!" she wailed

between her piping sobs.

 

Charity glared at her unrelentingly. "You'd oughtn't to have brought it

here," she said, breathing quickly. "I hate other people's clothes--it's

just as if they was there themselves." The two stared at each other

again over this avowal, till Charity brought out, in a gasp of anguish:

"Oh, go--go--go--or I'll hate you too...."

 

When Ally left her, she fell sobbing across her bed.

 

The long storm was followed by a north-west gale, and when it was over,

the hills took on their first umber tints, the sky grew more densely

blue, and the big white clouds lay against the hills like snow-banks.

The first crisp maple-leaves began to spin across Miss Hatchard's lawn,

and the Virginia creeper on the Memorial splashed the white porch with

scarlet. It was a golden triumphant September. Day by day the flame of

the Virginia creeper spread to the hillsides in wider waves of carmine

and crimson, the larches glowed like the thin yellow halo about a fire,

the maples blazed and smouldered, and the black hemlocks turned to

indigo against the incandescence of the forest.

 

The nights were cold, with a dry glitter of stars so high up that they

seemed smaller and more vivid. Sometimes, as Charity lay sleepless on

her bed through the long hours, she felt as though she were bound to

those wheeling fires and swinging with them around the great black

vault. At night she planned many things... it was then she wrote to

Harney. But the letters were never put on paper, for she did not know

how to express what she wanted to tell him. So she waited. Since her

talk with Ally she had felt sure that Harney was engaged to Annabel

Balch, and that the process of "settling things" would involve the

breaking of this tie. Her first rage of jealousy over, she felt no fear

on this score. She was still sure that Harney would come back, and she

was equally sure that, for the moment at least, it was she whom he loved

and not Miss Balch. Yet the girl, no less, remained a rival, since she

represented all the things that Charity felt herself most incapable of

understanding or achieving. Annabel Balch was, if not the girl Harney

ought to marry, at least the kind of girl it would be natural for him to

marry. Charity had never been able to picture herself as his wife; had

never been able to arrest the vision and follow it out in its daily

consequences; but she could perfectly imagine Annabel Balch in that

relation to him.

 

The more she thought of these things the more the sense of fatality

weighed on her: she felt the uselessness of struggling against the

circumstances. She had never known how to adapt herself; she could only

break and tear and destroy. The scene with Ally had left her stricken

with shame at her own childish savagery. What would Harney have thought

if he had witnessed it? But when she turned the incident over in her

puzzled mind she could not imagine what a civilized person would have

done in her place. She felt herself too unequally pitted against unknown

forces....

 

At length this feeling moved her to sudden action. She took a sheet of

letter paper from Mr. Royall's office, and sitting by the kitchen

lamp, one night after Verena had gone to bed, began her first letter to

Harney. It was very short:

 

 

I want you should marry Annabel Balch if you promised to. I think maybe

you were afraid I'd feel too bad about it. I feel I'd rather you acted

right. Your loving CHARITY.

 

 

She posted the letter early the next morning, and for a few days her

heart felt strangely light. Then she began to wonder why she received no

answer.

 

One day as she sat alone in the library pondering these things the walls

of books began to spin around her, and the rosewood desk to rock under

her elbows. The dizziness was followed by a wave of nausea like that sh