Thursday, November 8, 2007


SUMMER by Edith Wharton

by Edith Wharton
A girl came out of lawyer Royall's house, at the end of
the one street of North Dormer, and stood on the
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 weepingwillows
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 railwaytravel,
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
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 greatuncle;
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.
"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
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.
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
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 shortsighted
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
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
Miss Hatchard blinked perplexedly behind her eyeglasses.
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
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
"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
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
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
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 takingoff,
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
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
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 lowdown
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
"Go where?" She heard the startled note in Mr. Royall's
"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
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
"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
He stopped and lifted his hat with a shy smile. "I beg
your pardon," he said. "I thought there was no one
Charity stood before him, barring his way. "You can't
come in. The library ain't open to the public
"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
"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
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 flatiron!
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
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
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
"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
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 sunwarmed
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 weatherbeaten
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
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
"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
He looked away at the blue mountains on the horizon;
then his gaze dropped to the chimney-top below the
"He's down there now?"
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
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
Her heart-beats slackened and she turned again to
examine his profile. It was innocent of all unfriendly
"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
"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
"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?"
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
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
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
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
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 beechwoods,
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
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
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
"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
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.
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
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 loverlike;
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 drawingboard.
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 drawingboard.
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.
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
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
She straightened herself with a laugh, all her reckless
insolence recovered. "I didn't look to see what time
it was."
"You lost, 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 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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
The envelope bore her name, and inside was a leaf torn
from a pocket-diary.
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.
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 cherrycoloured
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
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
"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
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
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
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 lowstoried
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 drugstores
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
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
"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-thevalley
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 slimwaisted
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
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
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.
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 heatveiled
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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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.
"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
The boat, laden to the taffrail, was puffing away on
her last trip.
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 pinetrunks
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
"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
"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
"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
"Where were you going?'
"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
"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,
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 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, 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 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
"Kiss me again--like last night," he said, pushing her
hair back as if to draw her whole face up into his
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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 bicyclebell
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.
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 pearlgrey
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 fingertips
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
"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
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 hatbrim,
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
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
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.
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 buckboards
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
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
"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 mapleleaves
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
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
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
She threw her head back proudly. "I ain't ever been
sorry--not a minute!"
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 windowframe
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.
That night, as usual, they said good-bye at the wood's
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 goodbye
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
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
"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
"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 weddingdresses,"
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
"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
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 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
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
she had felt on the day of the exercises in the Town
Hall. But the Town Hall had been crowded and
stiflingly hot, and the library was empty, and so
chilly that she had kept on her jacket. Five minutes
before she had felt perfectly well; and now it seemed
as if she were going to die. The bit of lace at which
she still languidly worked dropped from her fingers,
and the steel crochet hook clattered to the floor. She
pressed her temples hard between her damp hands,
steadying herself against the desk while the wave of
sickness swept over her. Little by little it subsided,
and after a few minutes she stood up, shaken and
terrified, groped for her hat, and stumbled out into
the air. But the whole sunlit autumn whirled, reeled
and roared around her as she dragged herself along the
interminable length of the road home.
As she approached the red house she saw a buggy
standing at the door, and her heart gave a leap. But
it was only Mr. Royall who got out, his travelling-bag
in hand. He saw her coming, and waited in the porch.
She was conscious that he was looking at her intently,
as if there was something strange in her appearance,
and she threw back her head with a desperate
effort at ease. Their eyes met, and she said: "You
back?" as if nothing had happened, and he answered:
"Yes, I'm back," and walked in ahead of her, pushing
open the door of his office. She climbed to her room,
every step of the stairs holding her fast as if her
feet were lined with glue.
Two days later, she descended from the train at
Nettleton, and walked out of the station into the dusty
square. The brief interval of cold weather was over,
and the day was as soft, and almost as hot, as when she
and Harney had emerged on the same scene on the Fourth
of July. In the square the same broken-down hacks and
carry-alls stood drawn up in a despondent line, and the
lank horses with fly-nets over their withers swayed
their heads drearily to and fro. She recognized the
staring signs over the eating-houses and billiard
saloons, and the long lines of wires on lofty poles
tapering down the main street to the park at its other
end. Taking the way the wires pointed, she went on
hastily, with bent head, till she reached a wide
transverse street with a brick building at the corner.
She crossed this street and glanced furtively up at the
front of the brick building; then she returned,
and entered a door opening on a flight of steep
brass-rimmed stairs. On the second landing she rang a
bell, and a mulatto girl with a bushy head and a
frilled apron let her into a hall where a stuffed fox
on his hind legs proffered a brass card-tray to
visitors. At the back of the hall was a glazed door
marked: "Office." After waiting a few minutes in a
handsomely furnished room, with plush sofas surmounted
by large gold-framed photographs of showy young women,
Charity was shown into the office....
When she came out of the glazed door Dr. Merkle
followed, and led her into another room, smaller, and
still more crowded with plush and gold frames. Dr.
Merkle was a plump woman with small bright eyes, an
immense mass of black hair coming down low on her
forehead, and unnaturally white and even teeth. She
wore a rich black dress, with gold chains and charms
hanging from her bosom. Her hands were large and
smooth, and quick in all their movements; and she smelt
of musk and carbolic acid.
She smiled on Charity with all her faultless teeth.
"Sit down, my dear. Wouldn't you like a little
drop of something to pick you up?...No....Well,
just lay back a minute then....There's nothing to be
done just yet; but in about a month, if you'll step
round again...I could take you right into my own house
for two or three days, and there wouldn't be a mite of
trouble. Mercy me! The next time you'll know better'n
to fret like this...."
Charity gazed at her with widening eyes. This woman
with the false hair, the false teeth, the false
murderous smile--what was she offering her but immunity
from some unthinkable crime? Charity, till then, had
been conscious only of a vague self-disgust and a
frightening physical distress; now, of a sudden, there
came to her the grave surprise of motherhood. She had
come to this dreadful place because she knew of no
other way of making sure that she was not mistaken
about her state; and the woman had taken her for a
miserable creature like Julia....The thought was so
horrible that she sprang up, white and shaking, one of
her great rushes of anger sweeping over her.
Dr. Merkle, still smiling, also rose. "Why do you run
off in such a hurry? You can stretch out right here on
my sofa...." She paused, and her smile grew more
motherly. "Afterwards--if there's been any talk at
home, and you want to get away for a while...I have a
lady friend in Boston who's looking for a're the very one to suit her, my
Charity had reached the door. "I don't want to stay. I
don't want to come back here," she stammered, her hand
on the knob; but with a swift movement, Dr. Merkle
edged her from the threshold.
"Oh, very well. Five dollars, please."
Charity looked helplessly at the doctor's tight lips
and rigid face. Her last savings had gone in repaying
Ally for the cost of Miss Balch's ruined blouse, and
she had had to borrow four dollars from her friend to
pay for her railway ticket and cover the doctor's fee.
It had never occurred to her that medical advice could
cost more than two dollars.
"I didn't know...I haven't got that much..." she
faltered, bursting into tears.
Dr. Merkle gave a short laugh which did not show her
teeth, and inquired with concision if Charity supposed
she ran the establishment for her own amusement? She
leaned her firm shoulders against the door as she
spoke, like a grim gaoler making terms with her
"You say you'll come round and settle later? I've heard
that pretty often too. Give me your address, and if
you can't pay me I'll send the bill to your
folks....What? I can't understand what you say....That
don't suit you either? My, you're pretty particular for
a girl that ain't got enough to settle her own
bills...." She paused, and fixed her eyes on the brooch
with a blue stone that Charity had pinned to her
"Ain't you ashamed to talk that way to a lady that's
got to earn her living, when you go about with
jewellery like that on you?...It ain't in my line, and
I do it only as a favour...but if you're a mind to
leave that brooch as a pledge, I don't say no....Yes,
of course, you can get it back when you bring me my
On the way home, she felt an immense and unexpected
quietude. It had been horrible to have to leave
Harney's gift in the woman's hands, but even at that
price the news she brought away had not been too dearly
bought. She sat with half-closed eyes as the train
rushed through the familiar landscape; and now the
memories of her former journey, instead of flying
before her like dead leaves, seemed to be ripening in
her blood like sleeping grain. She would never again
know what it was to feel herself alone. Everything
seemed to have grown suddenly clear and simple. She no
longer had any difficulty in picturing herself as
Harney's wife now that she was the mother of his child;
and compared to her sovereign right Annabel Balch's
claim seemed no more than a girl's sentimental fancy.
That evening, at the gate of the red house, she found
Ally waiting in the dusk. "I was down at the postoffice
just as they were closing up, and Will Targatt
said there was a letter for you, so I brought it."
Ally held out the letter, looking at Charity with
piercing sympathy. Since the scene of the torn blouse
there had been a new and fearful admiration in the eyes
she bent on her friend.
Charity snatched the letter with a laugh. "Oh, thank
you--good-night," she called out over her shoulder as
she ran up the path. If she had lingered a moment she
knew she would have had Ally at her heels.
She hurried upstairs and felt her way into her
dark room. Her hands trembled as she groped for the
matches and lit her candle, and the flap of the
envelope was so closely stuck that she had to find her
scissors and slit it open. At length she read:
I have your letter, and it touches me more than I can
say. Won't you trust me, in return, to do my best?
There are things it is hard to explain, much less to
justify; but your generosity makes everything easier.
All I can do now is to thank you from my soul for
understanding. Your telling me that you wanted me to
do right has helped me beyond expression. If ever
there is a hope of realizing what we dreamed of you
will see me back on the instant; and I haven't yet lost
that hope.
She read the letter with a rush; then she went over and
over it, each time more slowly and painstakingly. It
was so beautifully expressed that she found it almost
as difficult to understand as the gentleman's
explanation of the Bible pictures at Nettleton; but
gradually she became aware that the gist of its meaning
lay in the last few words. "If ever there is a hope of
realizing what we dreamed of..."
But then he wasn't even sure of that? She
understood now that every word and every reticence was
an avowal of Annabel Balch's prior claim. It was true
that he was engaged to her, and that he had not yet
found a way of breaking his engagement.
As she read the letter over Charity understood what it
must have cost him to write it. He was not trying to
evade an importunate claim; he was honestly and
contritely struggling between opposing duties. She did
not even reproach him in her thoughts for having
concealed from her that he was not free: she could not
see anything more reprehensible in his conduct than in
her own. From the first she had needed him more than
he had wanted her, and the power that had swept them
together had been as far beyond resistance as a great
gale loosening the leaves of the forest....Only, there
stood between them, fixed and upright in the general
upheaval, the indestructible figure of Annabel
Face to face with his admission of the fact, she sat
staring at the letter. A cold tremor ran over her, and
the hard sobs struggled up into her throat and shook
her from head to foot. For a while she was caught
and tossed on great waves of anguish that left her
hardly conscious of anything but the blind struggle
against their assaults. Then, little by little, she
began to relive, with a dreadful poignancy, each
separate stage of her poor romance. Foolish things she
had said came back to her, gay answers Harney had made,
his first kiss in the darkness between the fireworks,
their choosing the blue brooch together, the way he had
teased her about the letters she had dropped in her
flight from the evangelist. All these memories, and a
thousand others, hummed through her brain till his
nearness grew so vivid that she felt his fingers in her
hair, and his warm breath on her cheek as he bent her
head back like a flower. These things were hers; they
had passed into her blood, and become a part of her,
they were building the child in her womb; it was
impossible to tear asunder strands of life so
The conviction gradually strengthened her, and she
began to form in her mind the first words of the letter
she meant to write to Harney. She wanted to write it
at once, and with feverish hands she began to rummage
in her drawer for a sheet of letter paper. But there
was none left; she must go downstairs to get it.
She had a superstitious feeling that the letter must be
written on the instant, that setting down her secret in
words would bring her reassurance and safety; and
taking up her candle she went down to Mr. Royall's
At that hour she was not likely to find him there: he
had probably had his supper and walked over to Carrick
Fry's. She pushed open the door of the unlit room, and
the light of her lifted candle fell on his figure,
seated in the darkness in his high-backed chair. His
arms lay along the arms of the chair, and his head was
bent a little; but he lifted it quickly as Charity
entered. She started back as their eyes met,
remembering that her own were red with weeping, and
that her face was livid with the fatigue and emotion of
her journey. But it was too late to escape, and she
stood and looked at him in silence.
He had risen from his chair, and came toward her with
outstretched hands. The gesture was so unexpected that
she let him take her hands in his and they stood thus,
without speaking, till Mr. Royall said gravely:
"Charity--was you looking for me?"
She freed herself abruptly and fell back. "Me? No----"
She set down the candle on his desk. "I wanted
some letter-paper, that's all." His face contracted,
and the bushy brows jutted forward over his eyes.
Without answering he opened the drawer of the desk,
took out a sheet of paper and an envelope, and pushed
them toward her. "Do you want a stamp too?" he asked.
She nodded, and he gave her the stamp. As he did so
she felt that he was looking at her intently, and she
knew that the candle light flickering up on her white
face must be distorting her swollen features and
exaggerating the dark rings about her eyes. She
snatched up the paper, her reassurance dissolving under
his pitiless gaze, in which she seemed to read the grim
perception of her state, and the ironic recollection of
the day when, in that very room, he had offered to
compel Harney to marry her. His look seemed to say
that he knew she had taken the paper to write to her
lover, who had left her as he had warned her she would
be left. She remembered the scorn with which she had
turned from him that day, and knew, if he guessed the
truth, what a list of old scores it must settle. She
turned and fled upstairs; but when she got back to her
room all the words that had been waiting had
If she could have gone to Harney it would have
been different; she would only have had to show herself
to let his memories speak for her. But she had no
money left, and there was no one from whom she could
have borrowed enough for such a journey. There was
nothing to do but to write, and await his reply. For a
long time she sat bent above the blank page; but she
found nothing to say that really expressed what she was
Harney had written that she had made it easier for him,
and she was glad it was so; she did not want to make
things hard. She knew she had it in her power to do
that; she held his fate in her hands. All she had to
do was to tell him the truth; but that was the very
fact that held her back....Her five minutes face to
face with Mr. Royall had stripped her of her last
illusion, and brought her back to North Dormer's point
of view. Distinctly and pitilessly there rose before
her the fate of the girl who was married "to make
things right." She had seen too many village lovestories
end in that way. Poor Rose Coles's miserable
marriage was of the number; and what good had come of
it for her or for Halston Skeff? They had hated each
other from the day the minister married them; and
whenever old Mrs. Skeff had a fancy to humiliate her
daughter-in-law she had only to say: "Who'd ever think
the baby's only two? And for a seven months' child--
ain't it a wonder what a size he is?" North Dormer had
treasures of indulgence for brands in the burning, but
only derision for those who succeeded in getting
snatched from it; and Charity had always understood
Julia Hawes's refusal to be snatched....
Only--was there no alternative but Julia's? Her soul
recoiled from the vision of the white-faced woman among
the plush sofas and gilt frames. In the established
order of things as she knew them she saw no place for
her individual adventure....
She sat in her chair without undressing till faint grey
streaks began to divide the black slats of the
shutters. Then she stood up and pushed them open,
letting in the light. The coming of a new day brought
a sharper consciousness of ineluctable reality, and
with it a sense of the need of action. She looked at
herself in the glass, and saw her face, white in the
autumn dawn, with pinched cheeks and dark-ringed eyes,
and all the marks of her state that she herself would
never have noticed, but that Dr. Merkle's diagnosis had
made plain to her. She could not hope that those
signs would escape the watchful village; even before
her figure lost its shape she knew her face would
betray her.
Leaning from her window she looked out on the dark and
empty scene; the ashen houses with shuttered windows,
the grey road climbing the slope to the hemlock belt
above the cemetery, and the heavy mass of the Mountain
black against a rainy sky. To the east a space of
light was broadening above the forest; but over that
also the clouds hung. Slowly her gaze travelled across
the fields to the rugged curve of the hills. She had
looked out so often on that lifeless circle, and
wondered if anything could ever happen to anyone who
was enclosed in it....
Almost without conscious thought her decision had been
reached; as her eyes had followed the circle of the
hills her mind had also travelled the old round. She
supposed it was something in her blood that made the
Mountain the only answer to her questioning, the
inevitable escape from all that hemmed her in and beset
her. At any rate it began to loom against the rainy
dawn; and the longer she looked at it the more clearly
she understood that now at last she was really going
THE rain held off, and an hour later, when she started,
wild gleams of sunlight were blowing across the fields.
After Harney's departure she had returned her bicycle
to its owner at Creston, and she was not sure of being
able to walk all the way to the Mountain. The deserted
house was on the road; but the idea of spending the
night there was unendurable, and she meant to try to
push on to Hamblin, where she could sleep under a woodshed
if her strength should fail her. Her preparations
had been made with quiet forethought. Before starting
she had forced herself to swallow a glass of milk and
eat a piece of bread; and she had put in her canvas
satchel a little packet of the chocolate that Harney
always carried in his bicycle bag. She wanted above
all to keep up her strength, and reach her destination
without attracting notice....
Mile by mile she retraced the road over which she had
so often flown to her lover. When she reached the
turn where the wood-road branched off from the Creston
highway she remembered the Gospel tent--long since
folded up and transplanted--and her start of
involuntary terror when the fat evangelist had said:
"Your Saviour knows everything. Come and confess your
guilt." There was no sense of guilt in her now, but
only a desperate desire to defend her secret from
irreverent eyes, and begin life again among people to
whom the harsh code of the village was unknown. The
impulse did not shape itself in thought: she only knew
she must save her baby, and hide herself with it
somewhere where no one would ever come to trouble them.
She walked on and on, growing more heavy-footed as the
day advanced. It seemed a cruel chance that compelled
her to retrace every step of the way to the deserted
house; and when she came in sight of the orchard, and
the silver-gray roof slanting crookedly through the
laden branches, her strength failed her and she sat
down by the road-side. She sat there a long time,
trying to gather the courage to start again, and walk
past the broken gate and the untrimmed rose-bushes
strung with scarlet hips. A few drops of rain were
falling, and she thought of the warm evenings when
she and Harney had sat embraced in the shadowy room,
and the noise of summer showers on the roof had rustled
through their kisses. At length she understood that if
she stayed any longer the rain might compel her to take
shelter in the house overnight, and she got up and
walked on, averting her eyes as she came abreast of the
white gate and the tangled garden.
The hours wore on, and she walked more and more slowly,
pausing now and then to rest, and to eat a little bread
and an apple picked up from the roadside. Her body
seemed to grow heavier with every yard of the way, and
she wondered how she would be able to carry her child
later, if already he laid such a burden on her....A
fresh wind had sprung up, scattering the rain and
blowing down keenly from the mountain. Presently the
clouds lowered again, and a few white darts struck her
in the face: it was the first snow falling over
Hamblin. The roofs of the lonely village were only
half a mile ahead, and she was resolved to push beyond
it, and try to reach the Mountain that night. She had
no clear plan of action, except that, once in the
settlement, she meant to look for Liff Hyatt, and get
him to take her to her mother. She herself had
been born as her own baby was going to be born; and
whatever her mother's subsequent life had been, she
could hardly help remembering the past, and receiving a
daughter who was facing the trouble she had known.
Suddenly the deadly faintness came over her once more
and she sat down on the bank and leaned her head
against a tree-trunk. The long road and the cloudy
landscape vanished from her eyes, and for a time she
seemed to be circling about in some terrible wheeling
darkness. Then that too faded.
She opened her eyes, and saw a buggy drawn up beside
her, and a man who had jumped down from it and was
gazing at her with a puzzled face. Slowly
consciousness came back, and she saw that the man was
Liff Hyatt.
She was dimly aware that he was asking her something,
and she looked at him in silence, trying to find
strength to speak. At length her voice stirred in her
throat, and she said in a whisper: "I'm going up the
"Up the Mountain?" he repeated, drawing aside a little;
and as he moved she saw behind him, in the buggy, a
heavily coated figure with a familiar pink face
and gold spectacles on the bridge of a Grecian nose.
"Charity! What on earth are you doing here?" Mr. Miles
exclaimed, throwing the reins on the horse's back and
scrambling down from the buggy.
She lifted her heavy eyes to his. "I'm going to see my
The two men glanced at each other, and for a moment
neither of them spoke.
Then Mr. Miles said: "You look ill, my dear, and it's a
long way. Do you think it's wise?"
Charity stood up. "I've got to go to her."
A vague mirthless grin contracted Liff Hyatt's face,
and Mr. Miles again spoke uncertainly. "You know,
then--you'd been told?"
She stared at him. "I don't know what you mean. I
want to go to her."
Mr. Miles was examining her thoughtfully. She fancied
she saw a change in his expression, and the blood
rushed to her forehead. "I just want to go to her,"
she repeated.
He laid his hand on her arm. "My child, your mother is
dying. Liff Hyatt came down to fetch me....Get in and
come with us."
He helped her up to the seat at his side, Liff
Hyatt clambered in at the back, and they drove off
toward Hamblin. At first Charity had hardly grasped
what Mr. Miles was saying; the physical relief of
finding herself seated in the buggy, and securely on
her road to the Mountain, effaced the impression of his
words. But as her head cleared she began to
understand. She knew the Mountain had but the most
infrequent intercourse with the valleys; she had often
enough heard it said that no one ever went up there
except the minister, when someone was dying. And now
it was her mother who was dying...and she would find
herself as much alone on the Mountain as anywhere else
in the world. The sense of unescapable isolation was
all she could feel for the moment; then she began to
wonder at the strangeness of its being Mr. Miles who
had undertaken to perform this grim errand. He did not
seem in the least like the kind of man who would care
to go up the Mountain. But here he was at her side,
guiding the horse with a firm hand, and bending on her
the kindly gleam of his spectacles, as if there were
nothing unusual in their being together in such
For a while she found it impossible to speak, and he
seemed to understand this, and made no attempt to
question her. But presently she felt her tears rise
and flow down over her drawn cheeks; and he must have
seen them too, for he laid his hand on hers, and said
in a low voice: "Won't you tell me what is troubling
She shook her head, and he did not insist: but after a
while he said, in the same low tone, so that they
should not be overheard: "Charity, what do you know of
your childhood, before you came down to North Dormer?"
She controlled herself, and answered: "Nothing only
what I heard Mr. Royall say one day. He said he
brought me down because my father went to prison."
"And you've never been up there since?"
Mr. Miles was silent again, then he said: "I'm glad
you're coming with me now. Perhaps we may find your
mother alive, and she may know that you have come."
They had reached Hamblin, where the snow-flurry had
left white patches in the rough grass on the roadside,
and in the angles of the roofs facing north. It was a
poor bleak village under the granite flank of the
Mountain, and as soon as they left it they began
to climb. The road was steep and full of ruts, and
the horse settled down to a walk while they mounted and
mounted, the world dropping away below them in great
mottled stretches of forest and field, and stormy dark
blue distances.
Charity had often had visions of this ascent of the
Mountain but she had not known it would reveal so wide
a country, and the sight of those strange lands
reaching away on every side gave her a new sense of
Harney's remoteness. She knew he must be miles and
miles beyond the last range of hills that seemed to be
the outmost verge of things, and she wondered how she
had ever dreamed of going to New York to find him....
As the road mounted the country grew bleaker, and they
drove across fields of faded mountain grass bleached by
long months beneath the snow. In the hollows a few
white birches trembled, or a mountain ash lit its
scarlet clusters; but only a scant growth of pines
darkened the granite ledges. The wind was blowing
fiercely across the open slopes; the horse faced it
with bent head and straining flanks, and now and then
the buggy swayed so that Charity had to clutch its
Mr. Miles had not spoken again; he seemed to
understand that she wanted to be left alone.
After a while the track they were following forked, and
he pulled up the horse, as if uncertain of the way.
Liff Hyatt craned his head around from the back, and
shouted against the wind: "Left----" and they turned
into a stunted pine-wood and began to drive down the
other side of the Mountain.
A mile or two farther on they came out on a clearing
where two or three low houses lay in stony fields,
crouching among the rocks as if to brace themselves
against the wind. They were hardly more than sheds,
built of logs and rough boards, with tin stove-pipes
sticking out of their roofs. The sun was setting, and
dusk had already fallen on the lower world, but a
yellow glare still lay on the lonely hillside and the
crouching houses. The next moment it faded and left
the landscape in dark autumn twilight.
"Over there," Liff called out, stretching his long arm
over Mr. Miles's shoulder. The clergyman turned to the
left, across a bit of bare ground overgrown with docks
and nettles, and stopped before the most ruinous of the
sheds. A stove-pipe reached its crooked arm out of one
window, and the broken panes of the other were stuffed
with rags and paper.
In contrast to such a dwelling the brown house in
the swamp might have stood for the home of plenty.
As the buggy drew up two or three mongrel dogs jumped
out of the twilight with a great barking, and a young
man slouched to the door and stood there staring. In
the twilight Charity saw that his face had the same
sodden look as Bash Hyatt's, the day she had seen him
sleeping by the stove. He made no effort to silence
the dogs, but leaned in the door, as if roused from a
drunken lethargy, while Mr. Miles got out of the buggy.
"Is it here?" the clergyman asked Liff in a low voice;
and Liff nodded.
Mr. Miles turned to Charity. "Just hold the horse a
minute, my dear: I'll go in first," he said, putting
the reins in her hands. She took them passively, and
sat staring straight ahead of her at the darkening
scene while Mr. Miles and Liff Hyatt went up to the
house. They stood a few minutes talking with the man
in the door, and then Mr. Miles came back. As he came
close, Charity saw that his smooth pink face wore a
frightened solemn look.
"Your mother is dead, Charity; you'd better come with
me," he said.
She got down and followed him while Liff led the
horse away. As she approached the door she said
to herself: "This is where I was born...this is where I
belong...." She had said it to herself often enough as
she looked across the sunlit valleys at the Mountain;
but it had meant nothing then, and now it had become a
reality. Mr. Miles took her gently by the arm, and
they entered what appeared to be the only room in the
house. It was so dark that she could just discern a
group of a dozen people sitting or sprawling about a
table made of boards laid across two barrels. They
looked up listlessly as Mr. Miles and Charity came in,
and a woman's thick voice said: "Here's the preacher."
But no one moved.
Mr. Miles paused and looked about him; then he turned
to the young man who had met them at the door.
"Is the body here?" he asked.
The young man, instead of answering, turned his head
toward the group. "Where's the candle? I tole yer to
bring a candle," he said with sudden harshness to a
girl who was lolling against the table. She did not
answer, but another man got up and took from some
corner a candle stuck into a bottle.
"How'll I light it? The stove's out," the girl
Mr. Miles fumbled under his heavy wrappings and drew
out a match-box. He held a match to the candle, and in
a moment or two a faint circle of light fell on the
pale aguish heads that started out of the shadow like
the heads of nocturnal animals.
"Mary's over there," someone said; and Mr. Miles,
taking the bottle in his hand, passed behind the table.
Charity followed him, and they stood before a mattress
on the floor in a corner of the room. A woman lay on
it, but she did not look like a dead woman; she seemed
to have fallen across her squalid bed in a drunken
sleep, and to have been left lying where she fell, in
her ragged disordered clothes. One arm was flung above
her head, one leg drawn up under a torn skirt that left
the other bare to the knee: a swollen glistening leg
with a ragged stocking rolled down about the ankle. The
woman lay on her back, her eyes staring up unblinkingly
at the candle that trembled in Mr. Miles's hand.
"She jus' dropped off," a woman said, over the shoulder
of the others; and the young man added: "I jus' come in
and found her."
An elderly man with lank hair and a feeble grin
pushed between them. "It was like this: I says to her
on'y the night before: if you don't take and quit, I
says to her..."
Someone pulled him back and sent him reeling against a
bench along the wall, where he dropped down muttering
his unheeded narrative.
There was a silence; then the young woman who had been
lolling against the table suddenly parted the group,
and stood in front of Charity. She was healthier and
robuster looking than the others, and her weatherbeaten
face had a certain sullen beauty.
"Who's the girl? Who brought her here?" she said,
fixing her eyes mistrustfully on the young man who had
rebuked her for not having a candle ready.
Mr. Miles spoke. "I brought her; she is Mary Hyatt's
"What? Her too?" the girl sneered; and the young man
turned on her with an oath. "Shut your mouth, damn
you, or get out of here," he said; then he relapsed
into his former apathy, and dropped down on the bench,
leaning his head against the wall.
Mr. Miles had set the candle on the floor and taken off
his heavy coat. He turned to Charity. "Come and help
me," he said.
He knelt down by the mattress, and pressed the
lids over the dead woman's eyes. Charity, trembling
and sick, knelt beside him, and tried to compose her
mother's body. She drew the stocking over the dreadful
glistening leg, and pulled the skirt down to the
battered upturned boots. As she did so, she looked at
her mother's face, thin yet swollen, with lips parted
in a frozen gasp above the broken teeth. There was no
sign in it of anything human: she lay there like a
dead dog in a ditch Charity's hands grew cold as they
touched her.
Mr. Miles drew the woman's arms across her breast and
laid his coat over her. Then he covered her face with
his handkerchief, and placed the bottle with the candle
in it at her head. Having done this he stood up.
"Is there no coffin?" he asked, turning to the group
behind him.
There was a moment of bewildered silence; then the
fierce girl spoke up. "You'd oughter brought it with
you. Where'd we get one here, I'd like ter know?"
Mr. Miles, looking at the others, repeated: "Is it
possible you have no coffin ready?"
"That's what I say: them that has it sleeps
better," an old woman murmured. "But then she
never had no bed...."
"And the stove warn't hers," said the lank-haired man,
on the defensive.
Mr. Miles turned away from them and moved a few steps
apart. He had drawn a book from his pocket, and after
a pause he opened it and began to read, holding the
book at arm's length and low down, so that the pages
caught the feeble light. Charity had remained on her
knees by the mattress: now that her mother's face was
covered it was easier to stay near her, and avoid the
sight of the living faces which too horribly showed by
what stages hers had lapsed into death.
"I am the Resurrection and the Life," Mr. Miles began;
"he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet
shall he live....Though after my skin worms destroy my
body, yet in my flesh shall I see God...."
IN MY FLESH SHALL I SEE GOD! Charity thought of the
gaping mouth and stony eyes under the handkerchief, and
of the glistening leg over which she had drawn the
"We brought nothing into this world and we shall take
nothing out of it----"
There was a sudden muttering and a scuffle at the
back of the group. "I brought the stove," said the
elderly man with lank hair, pushing his way between the
others. "I wen' down to Creston'n bought it...n' I got
a right to take it outer here...n' I'll lick any feller
says I ain't...."
"Sit down, damn you!" shouted the tall youth who had
been drowsing on the bench against the wall.
"For man walketh in a vain shadow, and disquieteth
himself in vain; he heapeth up riches and cannot tell
who shall gather them...."
"Well, it ARE his," a woman in the background
interjected in a frightened whine.
The tall youth staggered to his feet. "If you don't
hold your mouths I'll turn you all out o' here, the
whole lot of you," he cried with many oaths. "G'wan,
minister...don't let 'em faze you...."
"Now is Christ risen from the dead and become the
first-fruits of them that slept....Behold, I show you a
mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be
changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at
the last trump....For this corruptible must put on
incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality.
So when this corruption shall have put on
incorruption, and when this mortal shall have put on
immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying
that is written, Death is swallowed up in Victory...."
One by one the mighty words fell on Charity's bowed
head, soothing the horror, subduing the tumult,
mastering her as they mastered the drink-dazed
creatures at her back. Mr. Miles read to the last
word, and then closed the book.
"Is the grave ready?" he asked.
Liff Hyatt, who had come in while he was reading,
nodded a "Yes," and pushed forward to the side of the
mattress. The young man on the bench who seemed to
assert some sort of right of kinship with the dead
woman, got to his feet again, and the proprietor of the
stove joined him. Between them they raised up the
mattress; but their movements were unsteady, and the
coat slipped to the floor, revealing the poor body in
its helpless misery. Charity, picking up the coat,
covered her mother once more. Liff had brought a
lantern, and the old woman who had already spoken took
it up, and opened the door to let the little procession
pass out. The wind had dropped, and the night was very
dark and bitterly cold. The old woman walked
ahead, the lantern shaking in her hand and
spreading out before her a pale patch of dead grass and
coarse-leaved weeds enclosed in an immensity of
Mr. Miles took Charity by the arm, and side by side
they walked behind the mattress. At length the old
woman with the lantern stopped, and Charity saw the
light fall on the stooping shoulders of the bearers and
on a ridge of upheaved earth over which they were
bending. Mr. Miles released her arm and approached the
hollow on the other side of the ridge; and while the
men stooped down, lowering the mattress into the grave,
he began to speak again.
"Man that is born of woman hath but a short time to
live and is full of misery....He cometh up and is cut
down...he fleeth as it were a shadow....Yet, O Lord God
most holy, O Lord most mighty, O holy and merciful
Saviour, deliver us not into the bitter pains of
eternal death...."
"Easy she down?" piped the claimant to the
stove; and the young man called over his shoulder:
"Lift the light there, can't you?"
There was a pause, during which the light floated
uncertainly over the open grave. Someone bent
over and pulled out Mr. Miles's coat----("No, no--
leave the handkerchief," he interposed)--and then Liff
Hyatt, coming forward with a spade, began to shovel in
the earth.
"Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of His great
mercy to take unto Himself the soul of our dear sister
here departed, we therefore commit her body to the
ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to
dust..." Liff's gaunt shoulders rose and bent in the
lantern light as he dashed the clods of earth into the
grave. "God--it's froze a'ready," he muttered,
spitting into his palm and passing his ragged shirtsleeve
across his perspiring face.
"Through our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our
vile body that it may be like unto His glorious body,
according to the mighty working, whereby He is able to
subdue all things unto Himself..." The last spadeful of
earth fell on the vile body of Mary Hyatt, and Liff
rested on his spade, his shoulder blades still heaving
with the effort.
"Lord, have mercy upon us, Christ have mercy upon us,
Lord have mercy upon us..."
Mr. Miles took the lantern from the old woman's
hand and swept its light across the circle of
bleared faces. "Now kneel down, all of you," he
commanded, in a voice of authority that Charity had
never heard. She knelt down at the edge of the grave,
and the others, stiffly and hesitatingly, got to their
knees beside her. Mr. Miles knelt, too. "And now pray
with me--you know this prayer," he said, and he began:
"Our Father which art in Heaven..." One or two of the
women falteringly took the words up, and when he ended,
the lank-haired man flung himself on the neck of the
tall youth. "It was this way," he said. "I tole her
the night before, I says to her..." The reminiscence
ended in a sob.
Mr. Miles had been getting into his coat again. He
came up to Charity, who had remained passively kneeling
by the rough mound of earth.
"My child, you must come. It's very late."
She lifted her eyes to his face: he seemed to speak out
of another world.
"I ain't coming: I'm going to stay here."
"Here? Where? What do you mean?"
"These are my folks. I'm going to stay with them."
Mr. Miles lowered his voice. "But it's not
possible--you don't know what you are doing. You
can't stay among these people: you must come with me."
She shook her head and rose from her knees. The group
about the grave had scattered in the darkness, but the
old woman with the lantern stood waiting. Her mournful
withered face was not unkind, and Charity went up to
"Have you got a place where I can lie down for the
night?" she asked. Liff came up, leading the buggy out
of the night. He looked from one to the other with his
feeble smile. "She's my mother. She'll take you
home," he said; and he added, raising his voice to
speak to the old woman: "It's the girl from lawyer
Royall's--Mary's remember...."
The woman nodded and raised her sad old eyes to
Charity's. When Mr. Miles and Liff clambered into the
buggy she went ahead with the lantern to show them the
track they were to follow; then she turned back, and in
silence she and Charity walked away together through
the night.
CHARITY lay on the floor on a mattress, as her dead
mother's body had lain. The room in which she lay was
cold and dark and low-ceilinged, and even poorer and
barer than the scene of Mary Hyatt's earthly
pilgrimage. On the other side of the fireless stove
Liff Hyatt's mother slept on a blanket, with two
children--her grandchildren, she said--rolled up
against her like sleeping puppies. They had their thin
clothes spread over them, having given the only other
blanket to their guest.
Through the small square of glass in the opposite wall
Charity saw a deep funnel of sky, so black, so remote,
so palpitating with frosty stars that her very soul
seemed to be sucked into it. Up there somewhere, she
supposed, the God whom Mr. Miles had invoked was
waiting for Mary Hyatt to appear. What a long flight
it was! And what would she have to say when she reached
Charity's bewildered brain laboured with the attempt to
picture her mother's past, and to relate it in any
way to the designs of a just but merciful God; but it
was impossible to imagine any link between them. She
herself felt as remote from the poor creature she had
seen lowered into her hastily dug grave as if the
height of the heavens divided them. She had seen
poverty and misfortune in her life; but in a community
where poor thrifty Mrs. Hawes and the industrious Ally
represented the nearest approach to destitution there
was nothing to suggest the savage misery of the
Mountain farmers.
As she lay there, half-stunned by her tragic
initiation, Charity vainly tried to think herself into
the life about her. But she could not even make out
what relationship these people bore to each other, or
to her dead mother; they seemed to be herded together
in a sort of passive promiscuity in which their common
misery was the strongest link. She tried to picture to
herself what her life would have been if she had grown
up on the Mountain, running wild in rags, sleeping on
the floor curled up against her mother, like the palefaced
children huddled against old Mrs. Hyatt, and
turning into a fierce bewildered creature like the girl
who had apostrophized her in such strange words. She
was frightened by the secret affinity she had felt
with this girl, and by the light it threw on her own
beginnings. Then she remembered what Mr. Royall had
said in telling her story to Lucius Harney: "Yes, there
was a mother; but she was glad to have the child go.
She'd have given her to anybody...."
Well! after all, was her mother so much to blame?
Charity, since that day, had always thought of her as
destitute of all human feeling; now she seemed merely
pitiful. What mother would not want to save her child
from such a life? Charity thought of the future of her
own child, and tears welled into her aching eyes, and
ran down over her face. If she had been less
exhausted, less burdened with his weight, she would
have sprung up then and there and fled away....
The grim hours of the night dragged themselves slowly
by, and at last the sky paled and dawn threw a cold
blue beam into the room. She lay in her corner staring
at the dirty floor, the clothes-line hung with decaying
rags, the old woman huddled against the cold stove, and
the light gradually spreading across the wintry world,
and bringing with it a new day in which she would have
to live, to choose, to act, to make herself a
place among these people--or to go back to the life she
had left. A mortal lassitude weighed on her. There
were moments when she felt that all she asked was to go
on lying there unnoticed; then her mind revolted at the
thought of becoming one of the miserable herd from
which she sprang, and it seemed as though, to save her
child from such a fate, she would find strength to
travel any distance, and bear any burden life might put
on her.
Vague thoughts of Nettleton flitted through her mind.
She said to herself that she would find some quiet
place where she could bear her child, and give it to
decent people to keep; and then she would go out like
Julia Hawes and earn its living and hers. She knew
that girls of that kind sometimes made enough to have
their children nicely cared for; and every other
consideration disappeared in the vision of her baby,
cleaned and combed and rosy, and hidden away somewhere
where she could run in and kiss it, and bring it pretty
things to wear. Anything, anything was better than to
add another life to the nest of misery on the
The old woman and the children were still sleeping
when Charity rose from her mattress. Her body was
stiff with cold and fatigue, and she moved slowly lest
her heavy steps should rouse them. She was faint with
hunger, and had nothing left in her satchel; but on the
table she saw the half of a stale loaf. No doubt it
was to serve as the breakfast of old Mrs. Hyatt and the
children; but Charity did not care; she had her own
baby to think of. She broke off a piece of the bread
and ate it greedily; then her glance fell on the thin
faces of the sleeping children, and filled with
compunction she rummaged in her satchel for something
with which to pay for what she had taken. She found
one of the pretty chemises that Ally had made for her,
with a blue ribbon run through its edging. It was one
of the dainty things on which she had squandered her
savings, and as she looked at it the blood rushed to
her forehead. She laid the chemise on the table, and
stealing across the floor lifted the latch and went
The morning was icy cold and a pale sun was just rising
above the eastern shoulder of the Mountain. The houses
scattered on the hillside lay cold and smokeless under
the sun-flecked clouds, and not a human being was in
sight. Charity paused on the threshold and tried
to discover the road by which she had come the night
before. Across the field surrounding Mrs. Hyatt's
shanty she saw the tumble-down house in which she
supposed the funeral service had taken place. The
trail ran across the ground between the two houses and
disappeared in the pine-wood on the flank of the
Mountain; and a little way to the right, under a windbeaten
thorn, a mound of fresh earth made a dark spot
on the fawn-coloured stubble. Charity walked across
the field to the ground. As she approached it she
heard a bird's note in the still air, and looking up
she saw a brown song-sparrow perched in an upper branch
of the thorn above the grave. She stood a minute
listening to his small solitary song; then she rejoined
the trail and began to mount the hill to the pine-wood.
Thus far she had been impelled by the blind instinct of
flight; but each step seemed to bring her nearer to the
realities of which her feverish vigil had given only a
shadowy image. Now that she walked again in a daylight
world, on the way back to familiar things, her
imagination moved more soberly. On one point she was
still decided: she could not remain at North Dormer,
and the sooner she got away from it the better.
But everything beyond was darkness.
As she continued to climb the air grew keener, and when
she passed from the shelter of the pines to the open
grassy roof of the Mountain the cold wind of the night
before sprang out on her. She bent her shoulders and
struggled on against it for a while; but presently her
breath failed, and she sat down under a ledge of rock
overhung by shivering birches. From where she sat she
saw the trail wandering across the bleached grass in
the direction of Hamblin, and the granite wall of the
Mountain falling away to infinite distances. On that
side of the ridge the valleys still lay in wintry
shadow; but in the plain beyond the sun was touching
village roofs and steeples, and gilding the haze of
smoke over far-off invisible towns.
Charity felt herself a mere speck in the lonely circle
of the sky. The events of the last two days seemed to
have divided her forever from her short dream of bliss.
Even Harney's image had been blurred by that crushing
experience: she thought of him as so remote from her
that he seemed hardly more than a memory. In her
fagged and floating mind only one sensation had the
weight of reality; it was the bodily burden of her
child. But for it she would have felt as rootless as
the whiffs of thistledown the wind blew past her. Her
child was like a load that held her down, and yet like
a hand that pulled her to her feet. She said to
herself that she must get up and struggle on....
Her eyes turned back to the trail across the top of the
Mountain, and in the distance she saw a buggy against
the sky. She knew its antique outline, and the gaunt
build of the old horse pressing forward with lowered
head; and after a moment she recognized the heavy bulk
of the man who held the reins. The buggy was following
the trail and making straight for the pine-wood through
which she had climbed; and she knew at once that the
driver was in search of her. Her first impulse was to
crouch down under the ledge till he had passed; but the
instinct of concealment was overruled by the relief of
feeling that someone was near her in the awful
emptiness. She stood up and walked toward the buggy.
Mr. Royall saw her, and touched the horse with the
whip. A minute or two later he was abreast of Charity;
their eyes met, and without speaking he leaned over and
helped her up into the buggy.
She tried to speak, to stammer out some
explanation, but no words came to her; and as he drew
the cover over her knees he simply said: "The minister
told me he'd left you up here, so I come up for you."
He turned the horse's head, and they began to jog back
toward Hamblin. Charity sat speechless, staring
straight ahead of her, and Mr. Royall occasionally
uttered a word of encouragement to the horse: "Get
along there, Dan....I gave him a rest at Hamblin; but I
brought him along pretty quick, and it's a stiff pull
up here against the wind."
As he spoke it occurred to her for the first time that
to reach the top of the Mountain so early he must have
left North Dormer at the coldest hour of the night, and
have travelled steadily but for the halt at Hamblin;
and she felt a softness at her heart which no act of
his had ever produced since he had brought her the
Crimson Rambler because she had given up boardingschool
to stay with him.
After an interval he began again: "It was a day just
like this, only spitting snow, when I come up here for
you the first time." Then, as if fearing that she
might take his remark as a reminder of past benefits,
he added quickly: "I dunno's you think it was such a
good job, either."
"Yes, I do," she murmured, looking straight ahead of
"Well," he said, "I tried----"
He did not finish the sentence, and she could think of
nothing more to say.
"Ho, there, Dan, step out," he muttered, jerking the
bridle. "We ain't home yet.--You cold?" he asked
She shook her head, but he drew the cover higher up,
and stooped to tuck it in about the ankles. She
continued to look straight ahead. Tears of weariness
and weakness were dimming her eyes and beginning to run
over, but she dared not wipe them away lest he should
observe the gesture.
They drove in silence, following the long loops of the
descent upon Hamblin, and Mr. Royall did not speak
again till they reached the outskirts of the village.
Then he let the reins droop on the dashboard and drew
out his watch.
"Charity," he said, "you look fair done up, and North
Dormer's a goodish way off. I've figured out that we'd
do better to stop here long enough for you to get
a mouthful of breakfast and then drive down to Creston
and take the train."
She roused herself from her apathetic musing. "The
train--what train?"
Mr. Royall, without answering, let the horse jog on
till they reached the door of the first house in the
village. "This is old Mrs. Hobart's place," he said.
"She'll give us something hot to drink."
Charity, half unconsciously, found herself getting out
of the buggy and following him in at the open door.
They entered a decent kitchen with a fire crackling in
the stove. An old woman with a kindly face was setting
out cups and saucers on the table. She looked up and
nodded as they came in, and Mr. Royall advanced to the
stove, clapping his numb hands together.
"Well, Mrs. Hobart, you got any breakfast for this
young lady? You can see she's cold and hungry."
Mrs. Hobart smiled on Charity and took a tin coffee-pot
from the fire. "My, you do look pretty mean," she said
Charity reddened, and sat down at the table. A feeling
of complete passiveness had once more come over
her, and she was conscious only of the pleasant animal
sensations of warmth and rest.
Mrs. Hobart put bread and milk on the table, and then
went out of the house: Charity saw her leading the
horse away to the barn across the yard. She did not
come back, and Mr. Royall and Charity sat alone at the
table with the smoking coffee between them. He poured
out a cup for her, and put a piece of bread in the
saucer, and she began to eat.
As the warmth of the coffee flowed through her veins
her thoughts cleared and she began to feel like a
living being again; but the return to life was so
painful that the food choked in her throat and she sat
staring down at the table in silent anguish.
After a while Mr. Royall pushed back his chair. "Now,
then," he said, "if you're a mind to go along----" She
did not move, and he continued: "We can pick up the
noon train for Nettleton if you say so."
The words sent the blood rushing to her face, and she
raised her startled eyes to his. He was standing on
the other side of the table looking at her kindly and
gravely; and suddenly she understood what he was
going to say. She continued to sit motionless, a
leaden weight upon her lips.
"You and me have spoke some hard things to each other
in our time, Charity; and there's no good that I can
see in any more talking now. But I'll never feel any
way but one about you; and if you say so we'll drive
down in time to catch that train, and go straight to
the minister's house; and when you come back home
you'll come as Mrs. Royall."
His voice had the grave persuasive accent that had
moved his hearers at the Home Week festival; she had a
sense of depths of mournful tolerance under that easy
tone. Her whole body began to tremble with the dread
of her own weakness.
"Oh, I can't----" she burst out desperately.
"Can't what?"
She herself did not know: she was not sure if she was
rejecting what he offered, or already struggling
against the temptation of taking what she no longer had
a right to. She stood up, shaking and bewildered, and
began to speak:
"I know I ain't been fair to you always; but I want to
be now....I want you to know...I want..." Her voice
failed her and she stopped.
Mr. Royall leaned against the wall. He was paler
than usual, but his face was composed and kindly
and her agitation did not appear to perturb him.
"What's all this about wanting?" he said as she paused.
"Do you know what you really want? I'll tell you. You
want to be took home and took care of. And I guess
that's all there is to say."
"'s not all...."
"Ain't it?" He looked at his watch. "Well, I'll tell
you another thing. All I want is to know if you'll
marry me. If there was anything else, I'd tell you so;
but there ain't. Come to my age, a man knows the
things that matter and the things that don't; that's
about the only good turn life does us."
His tone was so strong and resolute that it was like a
supporting arm about her. She felt her resistance
melting, her strength slipping away from her as he
"Don't cry, Charity," he exclaimed in a shaken voice.
She looked up, startled at his emotion, and their eyes
"See here," he said gently, "old Dan's come a long
distance, and we've got to let him take it easy the
rest of the way...."
He picked up the cloak that had slipped to her
chair and laid it about her shoulders. She
followed him out of the house, and then walked across
the yard to the shed, where the horse was tied. Mr.
Royall unblanketed him and led him out into the road.
Charity got into the buggy and he drew the cover about
her and shook out the reins with a cluck. When they
reached the end of the village he turned the horse's
head toward Creston.
They began to jog down the winding road to the valley
at old Dan's languid pace. Charity felt herself
sinking into deeper depths of weariness, and as they
descended through the bare woods there were moments
when she lost the exact sense of things, and seemed to
be sitting beside her lover with the leafy arch of
summer bending over them. But this illusion was faint
and transitory. For the most part she had only a
confused sensation of slipping down a smooth
irresistible current; and she abandoned herself to the
feeling as a refuge from the torment of thought.
Mr. Royall seldom spoke, but his silent presence gave
her, for the first time, a sense of peace and security.
She knew that where he was there would be warmth, rest,
silence; and for the moment they were all she wanted.
She shut her eyes, and even these things grew dim to
In the train, during the short run from Creston to
Nettleton, the warmth aroused her, and the
consciousness of being under strange eyes gave her
a momentary energy. She sat upright, facing Mr.
Royall, and stared out of the window at the denuded
country. Forty-eight hours earlier, when she had last
traversed it, many of the trees still held their
leaves; but the high wind of the last two nights had
stripped them, and the lines of the landscape' were as
finely pencilled as in December. A few days of autumn
cold had wiped out all trace of the rich fields and
languid groves through which she had passed on the
Fourth of July; and with the fading of the landscape
those fervid hours had faded, too. She could no longer
believe that she was the being who had lived them; she
was someone to whom something irreparable and
overwhelming had happened, but the traces of the steps
leading up to it had almost vanished.
When the train reached Nettleton and she walked out
into the square at Mr. Royall's side the sense of
unreality grew more overpowering. The physical strain
of the night and day had left no room in her mind for
new sensations and she followed Mr. Royall as passively
as a tired child. As in a confused dream she presently
found herself sitting with him in a pleasant room, at a
table with a red and white table-cloth on which
hot food and tea were placed. He filled her cup and
plate and whenever she lifted her eyes from them she
found his resting on her with the same steady tranquil
gaze that had reassured and strengthened her when they
had faced each other in old Mrs. Hobart's kitchen. As
everything else in her consciousness grew more and more
confused and immaterial, became more and more like the
universal shimmer that dissolves the world to failing
eyes, Mr. Royall's presence began to detach itself with
rocky firmness from this elusive background. She had
always thought of him--when she thought of him at all--
as of someone hateful and obstructive, but whom she
could outwit and dominate when she chose to make the
effort. Only once, on the day of the Old Home Week
celebration, while the stray fragments of his address
drifted across her troubled mind, had she caught a
glimpse of another being, a being so different from the
dull-witted enemy with whom she had supposed herself to
be living that even through the burning mist of her own
dreams he had stood out with startling distinctness.
For a moment, then, what he said--and something in his
way of saying it--had made her see why he had always
struck her as such a lonely man. But the mist of
her dreams had hidden him again, and she had forgotten
that fugitive impression.
It came back to her now, as they sat at the table, and
gave her, through her own immeasurable desolation, a
sudden sense of their nearness to each other. But all
these feelings were only brief streaks of light in the
grey blur of her physical weakness. Through it she was
aware that Mr. Royall presently left her sitting by the
table in the warm room, and came back after an interval
with a carriage from the station--a closed "hack" with
sun-burnt blue silk blinds--in which they drove
together to a house covered with creepers and standing
next to a church with a carpet of turf before it. They
got out at this house, and the carriage waited while
they walked up the path and entered a wainscoted hall
and then a room full of books. In this room a
clergyman whom Charity had never seen received them
pleasantly, and asked them to be seated for a few
minutes while witnesses were being summoned.
Charity sat down obediently, and Mr. Royall, his hands
behind his back, paced slowly up and down the room. As
he turned and faced Charity, she noticed that his
lips were twitching a little; but the look in his eyes
was grave and calm. Once he paused before her and said
timidly: "Your hair's got kinder loose with the wind,"
and she lifted her hands and tried to smooth back the
locks that had escaped from her braid. There was a
looking-glass in a carved frame on the wall, but she
was ashamed to look at herself in it, and she sat with
her hands folded on her knee till the clergyman
returned. Then they went out again, along a sort of
arcaded passage, and into a low vaulted room with a
cross on an altar, and rows of benches. The clergyman,
who had left them at the door, presently reappeared
before the altar in a surplice, and a lady who was
probably his wife, and a man in a blue shirt who had
been raking dead leaves on the lawn, came in and sat on
one of the benches.
The clergyman opened a book and signed to Charity and
Mr. Royall to approach. Mr. Royall advanced a few
steps, and Charity followed him as she had followed him
to the buggy when they went out of Mrs. Hobart's
kitchen; she had the feeling that if she ceased to keep
close to him, and do what he told her to do, the world
would slip away from beneath her feet.
The clergyman began to read, and on her dazed mind
there rose the memory of Mr. Miles, standing the night
before in the desolate house of the Mountain, and
reading out of the same book words that had the same
dread sound of finality:
"I require and charge you both, as ye will answer at
the dreadful day of judgment when the secrets of all
hearts shall be disclosed, that if either of you know
any impediment whereby ye may not be lawfully joined
Charity raised her eyes and met Mr. Royall's. They
were still looking at her kindly and steadily. "I
will!" she heard him say a moment later, after another
interval of words that she had failed to catch. She
was so busy trying to understand the gestures that the
clergyman was signalling to her to make that she no
longer heard what was being said. After another
interval the lady on the bench stood up, and taking her
hand put it in Mr. Royall's. It lay enclosed in his
strong palm and she felt a ring that was too big for
her being slipped on her thin finger. She understood
then that she was married....
Late that afternoon Charity sat alone in a bedroom of
the fashionable hotel where she and Harney had
vainly sought a table on the Fourth of July. She had
never before been in so handsomely furnished a room.
The mirror above the dressing-table reflected the high
head-board and fluted pillow-slips of the double bed,
and a bedspread so spotlessly white that she had
hesitated to lay her hat and jacket on it. The humming
radiator diffused an atmosphere of drowsy warmth, and
through a half-open door she saw the glitter of the
nickel taps above twin marble basins.
For a while the long turmoil of the night and day had
slipped away from her and she sat with closed eyes,
surrendering herself to the spell of warmth and
silence. But presently this merciful apathy was
succeeded by the sudden acuteness of vision with which
sick people sometimes wake out of a heavy sleep. As
she opened her eyes they rested on the picture that
hung above the bed. It was a large engraving with a
dazzling white margin enclosed in a wide frame of
bird's-eye maple with an inner scroll of gold. The
engraving represented a young man in a boat on a lake
over-hung with trees. He was leaning over to gather
water-lilies for the girl in a light dress who lay
among the cushions in the stern. The scene was
full of a drowsy midsummer radiance, and Charity
averted her eyes from it and, rising from her chair,
began to wander restlessly about the room.
It was on the fifth floor, and its broad window of
plate glass looked over the roofs of the town. Beyond
them stretched a wooded landscape in which the last
fires of sunset were picking out a steely gleam.
Charity gazed at the gleam with startled eyes. Even
through the gathering twilight she recognized the
contour of the soft hills encircling it, and the way
the meadows sloped to its edge. It was Nettleton Lake
that she was looking at.
She stood a long time in the window staring out at the
fading water. The sight of it had roused her for the
first time to a realization of what she had done. Even
the feeling of the ring on her hand had not brought her
this sharp sense of the irretrievable. For an instant
the old impulse of flight swept through her; but it was
only the lift of a broken wing. She heard the door
open behind her, and Mr. Royall came in.
He had gone to the barber's to be shaved, and his
shaggy grey hair had been trimmed and smoothed. He
moved strongly and quickly, squaring his shoulders
and carrying his head high, as if he did not want to
pass unnoticed.
"What are you doing in the dark?" he called out in a
cheerful voice. Charity made no answer. He went up to
the window to draw the blind, and putting his finger on
the wall flooded the room with a blaze of light from
the central chandelier. In this unfamiliar
illumination husband and wife faced each other
awkwardly for a moment; then Mr. Royall said: "We'll
step down and have some supper, if you say so."
The thought of food filled her with repugnance; but not
daring to confess it she smoothed her hair and followed
him to the lift.
An hour later, coming out of the glare of the diningroom,
she waited in the marble-panelled hall while Mr.
Royall, before the brass lattice of one of the corner
counters, selected a cigar and bought an evening paper.
Men were lounging in rocking chairs under the blazing
chandeliers, travellers coming and going, bells
ringing, porters shuffling by with luggage. Over Mr.
Royall's shoulder, as he leaned against the counter, a
girl with her hair puffed high smirked and nodded at a
dapper drummer who was getting his key at the desk
across the hall.
Charity stood among these cross-currents of life as
motionless and inert as if she had been one of the
tables screwed to the marble floor. All her soul was
gathered up into one sick sense of coming doom, and she
watched Mr. Royall in fascinated terror while he
pinched the cigars in successive boxes and unfolded his
evening paper with a steady hand.
Presently he turned and joined her. "You go right
along up to bed--I'm going to sit down here and have my
smoke," he said. He spoke as easily and naturally as
if they had been an old couple, long used to each
other's ways, and her contracted heart gave a flutter
of relief. She followed him to the lift, and he put
her in and enjoined the buttoned and braided boy to
show her to her room.
She groped her way in through the darkness, forgetting
where the electric button was, and not knowing how to
manipulate it. But a white autumn moon had risen, and
the illuminated sky put a pale light in the room. By
it she undressed, and after folding up the ruffled
pillow-slips crept timidly under the spotless
counterpane. She had never felt such smooth sheets or
such light warm blankets; but the softness of the bed
did not soothe her. She lay there trembling with a
fear that ran through her veins like ice. "What have I
done? Oh, what have I done?" she whispered, shuddering
to her pillow; and pressing her face against it to shut
out the pale landscape beyond the window she lay in the
darkness straining her ears, and shaking at every
footstep that approached....
Suddenly she sat up and pressed her hands against her
frightened heart. A faint sound had told her that
someone was in the room; but she must have slept in the
interval, for she had heard no one enter. The moon was
setting beyond the opposite roofs, and in the darkness
outlined against the grey square of the window, she saw
a figure seated in the rocking-chair. The figure did
not move: it was sunk deep in the chair, with bowed
head and folded arms, and she saw that it was Mr.
Royall who sat there. He had not undressed, but had
taken the blanket from the foot of the bed and laid it
across his knees. Trembling and holding her breath she
watched him, fearing that he had been roused by her
movement; but he did not stir, and she concluded
that he wished her to think he was asleep.
As she continued to watch him ineffable relief stole
slowly over her, relaxing her strained nerves and
exhausted body. He knew, then...he was
because he knew that he had married her, and that he
sat there in the darkness to show her she was safe with
him. A stir of something deeper than she had ever
felt in thinking of him flitted through her tired
brain, and cautiously, noiselessly, she let her head
sink on the pillow....
When she woke the room was full of morning light, and
her first glance showed her that she was alone in it.
She got up and dressed, and as she was fastening her
dress the door opened, and Mr. Royall came in. He
looked old and tired in the bright daylight, but his
face wore the same expression of grave friendliness
that had reassured her on the Mountain. It was as if
all the dark spirits had gone out of him.
They went downstairs to the dining-room for breakfast,
and after breakfast he told her he had some insurance
business to attend to. "I guess while I'm doing it
you'd better step out and buy yourself whatever you
need." He smiled, and added with an embarrassed
laugh: "You know I always wanted you to beat all the
other girls." He drew something from his pocket, and
pushed it across the table to her; and she saw that he
had given her two twenty-dollar bills. "If it ain't
enough there's more where that come from--I want you to
beat 'em all hollow," he repeated.
She flushed and tried to stammer out her thanks, but he
had pushed back his chair and was leading the way out
of the dining-room. In the hall he paused a minute to
say that if it suited her they would take the three
o'clock train back to North Dormer; then he took his
hat and coat from the rack and went out.
A few minutes later Charity went out, too. She had
watched to see in what direction he was going, and she
took the opposite way and walked quickly down the main
street to the brick building on the corner of Lake
Avenue. There she paused to look cautiously up and
down the thoroughfare, and then climbed the brass-bound
stairs to Dr. Merkle's door. The same bushy-headed
mulatto girl admitted her, and after the same interval
of waiting in the red plush parlor she was once more
summoned to Dr. Merkle's office. The doctor
received her without surprise, and led her into the
inner plush sanctuary.
"I thought you'd be back, but you've come a mite too
soon: I told you to be patient and not fret," she
observed, after a pause of penetrating scrutiny.
Charity drew the money from her breast. "I've come to
get my blue brooch," she said, flushing.
"Your brooch?" Dr. Merkle appeared not to remember.
"My, yes--I get so many things of that kind. Well, my
dear, you'll have to wait while I get it out of the
safe. I don't leave valuables like that laying round
like the noospaper."
She disappeared for a moment, and returned with a bit
of twisted-up tissue paper from which she unwrapped the
Charity, as she looked at it, felt a stir of warmth at
her heart. She held out an eager hand.
"Have you got the change?" she asked a little
breathlessly, laying one of the twenty-dollar bills on
the table.
"Change? What'd I want to have change for? I only see
two twenties there," Dr. Merkle answered brightly.
Charity paused, disconcerted. "I said it
was five dollars a visit...."
"For YOU, as a favour--I did. But how about
the responsibility and the insurance? I don't s'pose
you ever thought of that? This pin's worth a hundred
dollars easy. If it had got lost or stole, where'd I
been when you come to claim it?"
Charity remained silent, puzzled and half-convinced by
the argument, and Dr. Merkle promptly followed up her
advantage. "I didn't ask you for your brooch, my dear.
I'd a good deal ruther folks paid me my regular charge
than have 'em put me to all this trouble."
She paused, and Charity, seized with a desperate
longing to escape, rose to her feet and held out one of
the bills.
"Will you take that?" she asked.
"No, I won't take that, my dear; but I'll take it with
its mate, and hand you over a signed receipt if you
don't trust me."
"Oh, but I can't--it's all I've got," Charity
Dr. Merkle looked up at her pleasantly from the plush
sofa. "It seems you got married yesterday, up to the
'Piscopal church; I heard all about the wedding from
the minister's chore-man. It would be a pity, wouldn't
it, to let Mr. Royall know you had an account
running here? I just put it to you as your own mother
Anger flamed up in Charity, and for an instant she
thought of abandoning the brooch and letting Dr. Merkle
do her worst. But how could she leave her only
treasure with that evil woman? She wanted it for her
baby: she meant it, in some mysterious way, to be a
link between Harney's child and its unknown father.
Trembling and hating herself while she did it, she laid
Mr. Royall's money on the table, and catching up the
brooch fled out of the room and the house....
In the street she stood still, dazed by this last
adventure. But the brooch lay in her bosom like a
talisman, and she felt a secret lightness of heart. It
gave her strength, after a moment, to walk on slowly in
the direction of the post office, and go in through the
swinging doors. At one of the windows she bought a
sheet of letter-paper, an envelope and a stamp; then
she sat down at a table and dipped the rusty post
office pen in ink. She had come there possessed with a
fear which had haunted her ever since she had felt Mr.
Royall's ring on her finger: the fear that Harney
might, after all, free himself and come back to her. It
was a possibility which had never occurred to her
during the dreadful hours after she had received his
letter; only when the decisive step she had taken made
longing turn to apprehension did such a contingency
seem conceivable. She addressed the envelope, and on
the sheet of paper she wrote:
I'm married to Mr. Royall. I'll always remember you.
The last words were not in the least what she had meant
to write; they had flowed from her pen irresistibly.
She had not had the strength to complete her sacrifice;
but, after all, what did it matter? Now that there was
no chance of ever seeing Harney again, why should she
not tell him the truth?
When she had put the letter in the box she went out
into the busy sunlit street and began to walk to the
hotel. Behind the plateglass windows of the department
stores she noticed the tempting display of dresses and
dress-materials that had fired her imagination on the
day when she and Harney had looked in at them together.
They reminded her of Mr. Royall's injunction to go out
and buy all she needed. She looked down at her shabby
dress, and wondered what she should say when he
saw her coming back empty-handed. As she drew near
the hotel she saw him waiting on the doorstep, and her
heart began to beat with apprehension.
He nodded and waved his hand at her approach, and they
walked through the hall and went upstairs to collect
their possessions, so that Mr. Royall might give up the
key of the room when they went down again for their
midday dinner. In the bedroom, while she was thrusting
back into the satchel the few things she had brought
away with her, she suddenly felt that his eyes were on
her and that he was going to speak. She stood still,
her half-folded night-gown in her hand, while the blood
rushed up to her drawn cheeks.
"Well, did you rig yourself out handsomely? I haven't
seen any bundles round," he said jocosely.
"Oh, I'd rather let Ally Hawes make the few things I
want," she answered.
"That so?" He looked at her thoughtfully for a moment
and his eye-brows projected in a scowl. Then his face
grew friendly again. "Well, I wanted you to go back
looking stylisher than any of them; but I guess you're
right. You're a good girl, Charity."
Their eyes met, and something rose in his that she
had never seen there: a look that made her feel ashamed
and yet secure.
"I guess you're good, too," she said, shyly and
quickly. He smiled without answering, and they went
out of the room together and dropped down to the hall
in the glittering lift.
Late that evening, in the cold autumn moonlight, they
drove up to the door of the red house.

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