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,
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,
"I'll cover up,
The sun turned and left her room,
and Charity seated herself in the window,
gazing down the village street through the half-opened shutters.
Not a thought was in her mind;
it was just a dark whirlpool of crowding images;
and she watched the people passing along the street,
Dan Targatt's team hauling a load of pine-trunks down to Hepburn,
the sexton's old white horse grazing on the bank across the way,
as if she looked at these familiar sights from the other side of the grave.
She was roused from her apathy by seeing Ally Hawes come out of the Frys' gate and walk slowly toward the red house with her uneven limping step.
At the sight Charity recovered her severed contact with reality.
She divined that Ally was coming to hear about her day: no one else was in the secret of the trip to Nettleton,
and it had flattered Ally profoundly to be allowed to know of it.
At the thought of having to see her,
of having to meet her eyes and answer or evade her questions,
the whole horror of the previous night's adventure rushed back upon Charity.
What had been a feverish nightmare became a cold and unescapable fact.
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.
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.
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.
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;
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,
to see anyone she had known;
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,
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.
your Saviour knows everything.
Won't you come in and lay your guilt before Him?"
he asked insinuatingly,
putting his hand on her arm.
Charity started back and flushed.
For a moment she thought the evangelist must have heard a report of the scene at Nettleton;
then she saw the absurdity of the supposition.
"I on'y wish't I had any to lay!"
with one of her fierce flashes of self-derision;
and the young man murmured,
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,
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,
was approaching her with outstretched arms.
What on earth are you doing here?"
She stared as if he were a vision,
so startled by the unexpectedness of his being there that no words came to her.
"Where were you going?
Had you forgotten that I was coming?"
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,
I want you should leave me."
He stood glancing doubtfully up and down the lonely forest road that stretched away into sun-flecked distances.
"Where were you going?'
"Home --this way?"
She threw her head back defiantly.
"To my home --up yonder: to the Mountain."
As she spoke she became aware of a change in his face.
He was no longer listening to her,
he was only looking at her,
with the passionate absorbed expression she had seen in his eyes after they had kissed on the stand at Nettleton.
He was the new Harney again,
the Harney abruptly revealed in that embrace,
who seemed so penetrated with the joy of her presence that he was utterly careless of what she was thinking or feeling.
He caught her hands with a laugh.
"How do you suppose I found you?"
he said gaily.
He drew out the little packet of his letters and flourished them before her bewildered eyes.
"You dropped them,
you imprudent young person --dropped them in the middle of the road,
not far from here;
and the young man who is running the Gospel tent picked them up just as I was riding by."
He drew back,
holding her at arm's length,
and scrutinizing her troubled face with the minute searching gaze of his short-sighted eyes.
"Did you really think you could run away from me?
You see you weren't meant to,"
and before she could answer he had kissed her again,
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,"
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.
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.
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.
you're coming back with me."
She looked at him and shook her head.
"I ain't ever going back.
You don't know."
"What don't I know?"
She was silent,
and he continued:
"What happened on the wharf was horrible --it's natural you should feel as you do.
But it doesn't make any real difference: you can't be hurt by such things.
You must try to forget.
And you must try to understand that men ...
men sometimes ..."
"I know about men.
He coloured a little at the retort,
as though it had touched him in a way she did not suspect.
you must know one has to make allowances ....
He'd been drinking ...."
"I know all that,
I've seen him so before.
But he wouldn't have dared speak to me that way if he hadn't ..."
What do you mean?"
"Hadn't wanted me to be like those other girls ...."
She lowered her voice and looked away from him.
't he wouldn't have to go out ...."
Harney stared at her.
For a moment he did not seem to seize her meaning;
then his face grew dark.
"The damned hound!
The villainous low hound!"
His wrath blazed up,
crimsoning him to the temples.
"I never dreamed --good God,
it's too vile,"
he broke off,
as if his thoughts recoiled from the discovery.
"I won't never go back there,"
she repeated doggedly.
"No -- --" he assented.
There was a long interval of silence,
during which she imagined that he was searching her face for more light on what she had revealed to him;
and a flush of shame swept over her.
"I know the way you must feel about me,"
she broke out,
" ...telling you such things ...."
But once more,
as she spoke,
she became aware that he was no longer listening.
He came close and caught her to him as if he were snatching her from some imminent peril: his impetuous eyes were in hers,
and she could feel the hard beat of his heart as he held her against it.
"Kiss me again --like last night,"
pushing her hair back as if to draw her whole face up into his kiss.
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,
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,
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,
Springfield and even more distant cities;
and whenever a visitor arrived he was led across the hall,
and treated to a glimpse of the group of girls deep in their pretty preparations.
"All the old names ...
all the old names ...."
Miss Hatchard would be heard,
tapping across the hall on her crutches.
Fry: this is Miss Orma Fry sewing the stars on the drapery for the organ-loft.
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,
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,
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,
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;
Associations counted more than the size of the population,
And of course North Dormer was so full of Associations ...
literary (here a filial sigh for Honorius) and ecclesiastical ...
he knew about the old pewter communion service imported from England in 1769,
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,
she had joined the other workers.
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,
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.
once satisfied of her security,
had found plenty of reasons for urging her to return.
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 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.
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.
when the others were not looking,
she bent over as if to pick up something,
and laid her cheek for a moment against the pillow.
Toward sunset the girls disbanded.
Their work was done,
and the next morning at daylight the draperies and garlands were to be nailed up,
and the illuminated scrolls put in place in the Town Hall.
The first guests were to drive over from Hepburn in time for the midday banquet under a tent in Miss Hatchard's field;
and after that the ceremonies were to begin.
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?"
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.
and hastened away without listening to Ally's protest.
She wanted her dress to be as pretty as the other girls' --wanted it,
to outshine the rest,
since she was to take part in the "exercises" --but she had no time just then to fix her mind on such matters ....
She sped up the street to the library,
of which she had the key about her neck.
From the passage at the back she dragged forth a bicycle,
and guided it to the edge of the street.
She looked about to see if any of the girls were approaching;
but they had drifted away together toward the Town Hall,
and she sprang into the saddle and turned toward the Creston road.
There was an almost continual descent to Creston,
and with her feet against the pedals she floated through the still evening air like one of the hawks she had often watched slanting downward on motionless wings.
Twenty minutes from the time when she had left Miss Hatchard's door she was turning up the wood-road on which Harney had overtaken her on the day of her flight;
and a few minutes afterward she had jumped from her bicycle at the gate of the deserted house.
In the gold-powdered sunset it looked more than ever like some frail shell dried and washed by many seasons;
but at the back,
whither Charity advanced,
drawing her bicycle after her,
there were signs of recent habitation.
A rough door made of boards hung in the kitchen doorway,
and pushing it open she entered a room furnished in primitive camping fashion.
In the window was a table,
also made of boards,
with an earthenware jar holding a big bunch of wild asters,
two canvas chairs stood near by,
and in one corner was a mattress with a Mexican blanket over it.
The room was empty,
and leaning her bicycle against the house Charity clambered up the slope and sat down on a rock under an old apple-tree.
The air was perfectly still,
and from where she sat she would be able to hear the tinkle of a bicycle-bell a long way down the road ....
She was always glad when she got to the little house before Harney.
She liked to have time to take in every detail of its secret sweetness --the shadows of the apple-trees swaying on the grass,
the old walnuts rounding their domes below the road,
the meadows sloping westward in the afternoon light --before his first kiss blotted it all out.
Everything unrelated to the hours spent in that tranquil place was as faint as the remembrance of a dream.
The only reality was the wondrous unfolding of her new self,
the reaching out to the light of all her contracted tendrils.
She had lived all her life among people whose sensibilities seemed to have withered for lack of use;
and more wonderful,
than Harney's endearments were the words that were a part of them.
She had always thought of love as something confused and furtive,
and he made it as bright and open as the summer air.
On the morrow of the day when she had shown him the way to the deserted house he had packed up and left Creston River for Boston;
but at the first station he had jumped on the train with a hand-bag and scrambled up into the hills.
For two golden rainless August weeks he had camped in the house,
getting eggs and milk from the solitary farm in the valley,
where no one knew him,
and doing his cooking over a spirit-lamp.
He got up every day with the sun,
took a plunge in a brown pool he knew of,
and spent long hours lying in the scented hemlock-woods above the house,
or wandering along the yoke of the Eagle Ridge,
far above the misty blue valleys that swept away east and west between the endless hills.
And in the afternoon Charity came to him.
With part of what was left of her savings she had hired a bicycle for a month,
and every day after dinner,
as soon as her guardian started to his office,
she hurried to the library,
got out her bicycle,
and flew down the Creston road.
She knew that Mr. Royall,
like everyone else in North Dormer,
was perfectly aware of her acquisition: possibly he,
as well as the rest of the village,
knew what use she made of it.
She did not care: she felt him to be so powerless that if he had questioned her she would probably have told him the truth.
But they had never spoken to each other since the night on the wharf at Nettleton.
He had returned to North Dormer only on the third day after that encounter,
arriving just as Charity and Verena were sitting down to supper.
He had drawn up his chair,
taken his napkin from the side-board drawer,
pulled it out of its ring,
and seated himself as unconcernedly as if he had come in from his usual afternoon session at Carrick Fry's;
and the long habit of the household made it seem almost natural that Charity should not so much as raise her eyes when he entered.
She had simply let him understand that her silence was not accidental by leaving the table while he was still eating,
and going up without a word to shut herself into her room.
After that he formed the habit of talking loudly and genially to Verena whenever Charity was in the room;
but otherwise there was no apparent change in their relations.
She did not think connectedly of these things while she sat waiting for Harney,
but they remained in her mind as a sullen background against which her short hours with him flamed out like forest fires.
Nothing else mattered,
neither the good nor the bad,
or what might have seemed so before she knew him.
He had caught her up and carried her away into a new world,
at stated hours,
the ghost of her came back to perform certain customary acts,
but all so thinly and insubstantially that she sometimes wondered that the people she went about among could see her ....
Behind the swarthy Mountain the sun had gone down in waveless gold.
From a pasture up the slope a tinkle of cow-bells sounded;
a puff of smoke hung over the farm in the valley,
trailed on the pure air and was gone.
For a few minutes,
in the clear light that is all shadow,
fields and woods were outlined with an unreal precision;
then the twilight blotted them out,
and the little house turned gray and spectral under its wizened apple-branches.
Charity's heart contracted.
The first fall of night after a day of radiance often gave her a sense of hidden menace: it was like looking out over the world as it would be when love had gone from it.
She wondered if some day she would sit in that same place and watch in vain for her lover ....
His bicycle-bell sounded down the lane,
and in a minute she was at the gate and his eyes were laughing in hers.
They walked back through the long grass,
and pushed open the door behind the house.
The room at first seemed quite dark and they had to grope their way in hand in hand.
Through the window-frame the sky looked light by contrast,
and above the black mass of asters in the earthen jar one white star glimmered like a moth.
"There was such a lot to do at the last minute,"
Harney was explaining,
"and I had to drive down to Creston to meet someone who has come to stay with my cousin for the show."
He had his arms about her,
and his kisses were in her hair and on her lips.
Under his touch things deep down in her struggled to the light and sprang up like flowers in sunshine.
She twisted her fingers into his,
and they sat down side by side on the improvised couch.
She hardly heard his excuses for being late: in his absence a thousand doubts tormented her,
but as soon as he appeared she ceased to wonder where he had come from,
what had delayed him,
who had kept him from her.
It seemed as if the places he had been in,
and the people he had been with,
must cease to exist when he left them,
just as her own life was suspended in his absence.
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:
perhaps it's just as well.
No one else could have done it."
Charity made no answer: She did not care what part her guardian played in the morrow's ceremonies.
Like all the other figures peopling her meagre world he had grown non-existent to her.
She had even put off hating him.
"Tomorrow I shall only see you from far off,"
"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.
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,"
"He's down to the Hall."
Charity took no notice.
Her soul was still winging through the forest.
She washed her plate and tumbler,
and then felt her way up the dark stairs.
When she opened her door a wonder arrested her.
Before going out she had closed her shutters against the afternoon heat,
but they had swung partly open,
and a bar of moonlight,
crossing the room,
rested on her bed and showed a dress of China silk laid out on it in virgin whiteness.
Charity had spent more than she could afford on the dress,
which was to surpass those of all the other girls;
she had wanted to let North Dormer see that she was worthy of Harney's admiration.
Above the dress,
folded on the pillow,
was the white veil which the young women who took part in the exercises were to wear under a wreath of asters;
and beside the veil a pair of slim white satin shoes that Ally had produced from an old trunk in which she stored mysterious treasures.
Charity stood gazing at all the outspread whiteness.
It recalled a vision that had come to her in the night after her first meeting with Harney.
She no longer had such visions ...
warmer splendours had displaced them ...
but it was stupid of Ally to have paraded all those white things on her bed,
exactly as Hattie Targatt's wedding dress from Springfield had been spread out for the neighbours to see when she married Tom Fry ....
Charity took up the satin shoes and looked at them curiously.
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 ...
she had noticed a pair of the same shape on Annabel Balch.
A blush of mortification swept over her.
Ally sometimes sewed for Miss Balch when that brilliant being descended on North Dormer,
and no doubt she picked up presents of cast-off clothing: the treasures in the mysterious trunk all came from the people she worked for;
there could be no doubt that the white slippers were Annabel Balch's ....
As she stood there,
staring down moodily at her feet,
she heard the triple click-click-click of a bicycle-bell under her window.
It was Harney's secret signal as he passed on his way home.
She stumbled to the window on her high heels,
flung open the shutters and leaned out.
He waved to her and sped by,
his black shadow dancing merrily ahead of him down the empty moonlit road;
and she leaned there watching him till he vanished under the Hatchard spruces.
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,
It was a joy to Charity to sing: it seemed as though,
for the first time,
her secret rapture might burst from her and flash its defiance at the world.
All the glow in her blood,
the breath of the summer earth,
the rustle of the forest,
the fresh call of birds at sunrise,
and the brooding midday languors,
seemed to pass into her untrained voice,
lifted and led by the sustaining chorus.
And then suddenly the song was over,
and after an uncertain pause,
during which Miss Hatchard's pearl-grey gloves started a furtive signalling down the hall,
emerging in turn,
ascended the steps of the stage and appeared behind the flower-wreathed desk.
He passed close to Charity,
and she noticed that his gravely set face wore the look of majesty that used to awe and fascinate her childhood.
His frock-coat had been carefully brushed and ironed,
and the ends of his narrow black tie were so nearly even that the tying must have cost him a protracted struggle.
His appearance struck her all the more because it was the first time she had looked him full in the face since the night at Nettleton,
and nothing in his grave and impressive demeanour revealed a trace of the lamentable figure on the wharf.
He stood a moment behind the desk,
resting his finger-tips against it,
and bending slightly toward his audience;
then he straightened himself and began.
At first she paid no heed to what he was saying: only fragments of sentences,
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,
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,"
"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 ...
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 ...."
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:
There's the point I want to make ...
North Dormer is a poor little place,
almost lost in a mighty landscape: perhaps,
by this time,
it might have been a bigger place,
and more in scale with the landscape,
if those who had to come back had come with that feeling in their minds --that they wanted to come back for GOOD ...
and not for bad ...
or just for indifference ....
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.'
all of you,
the best way to help the places we live in is to be glad we live there."
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.
a voice cried out in the middle of the hall.
An outburst of cheers caught up the cry,
and as they subsided Charity heard Mr. Miles saying to someone near him:
"That was a MAN talking -- --" He wiped his spectacles.
Mr. Royall had stepped back from the desk,
and taken his seat in the row of chairs in front of the harmonium.
A dapper white-haired gentleman --a distant Hatchard --succeeded him behind the goldenrod,
and began to say beautiful things about the old oaken bucket,
patient white-haired mothers,
and where the boys used to go nutting ...
and Charity began again to search for Harney ....
Suddenly Mr. Royall pushed back his seat,
and one of the maple branches in front of the harmonium collapsed with a crash.
It uncovered the end of the first row and in one of the seats Charity saw Harney,
and in the next a lady whose face was turned toward him,
and almost hidden by the brim of her drooping hat.
Charity did not need to see the face.
She knew at a glance the slim figure,
the fair hair heaped up under the hat-brim,
the long pale wrinkled gloves with bracelets slipping over them.
At the fall of the branch Miss Balch turned her head toward the stage,
and in her pretty thin-lipped smile there lingered the reflection of something her neighbour had been whispering to her ....
Someone came forward to replace the fallen branch,
and Miss Balch and Harney were once more hidden.
But to Charity the vision of their two faces had blotted out everything.
In a flash they had shown her the bare reality of her situation.
Behind the frail screen of her lover's caresses was the whole inscrutable mystery of his life: his relations with other people --with other women --his opinions,
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;
the flush of youth and tenderness in which his words enclosed her.
Now she saw him detached from her,
drawn back into the unknown,
and whispering to another girl things that provoked the same smile of mischievous complicity he had so often called to her own lips.
The feeling possessing her was not one of jealousy: she was too sure of his love.
It was rather a terror of the unknown,
of all the mysterious attractions that must even now be dragging him away from her,
and of her own powerlessness to contend with them.
She had given him all she had --but what was it compared to the other gifts life held for him?
She understood now the case of girls like herself to whom this kind of thing happened.
They gave all they had,
but their all was not enough: it could not buy more than a few moments ....
The heat had grown suffocating --she felt it descend on her in smothering waves,
and the faces in the crowded hall began to dance like the pictures flashed on the screen at Nettleton.
For an instant Mr. Royall's countenance detached itself from the general blur.
He had resumed his place in front of the harmonium,
and sat close to her,
his eyes on her face;
and his look seemed to pierce to the very centre of her confused sensations ....
A feeling of physical sickness rushed over her --and then deadly apprehension.
The light of the fiery hours in the little house swept back on her in a glare of fear ....
She forced herself to look away from her guardian,
and became aware that the oratory of the Hatchard cousin had ceased,
and that Mr. Miles was again flapping his wings.
Fragments of his peroration floated through her bewildered brain ....
"A rich harvest of hallowed memories ....
A sanctified hour to which,
in moments of trial,
your thoughts will prayerfully return ....
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,
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 buck-boards to Dormer and Hamblin.
It was on the fourth day that Charity returned for the first time to the little house.
She had not seen Harney alone since they had parted at the wood's edge the night before the celebrations began.
In the interval she had passed through many moods,
but for the moment the terror which had seized her in the Town Hall had faded to the edge of consciousness.
She had fainted because the hall was stiflingly hot,
and because the speakers had gone on and on ....
Several other people had been affected by the heat,
and had had to leave before the exercises were over.
There had been thunder in the air all the afternoon,
and everyone said afterward that something ought to have been done to ventilate the hall ....
At the dance that evening --where she had gone reluctantly,
and only because she feared to stay away,
she had sprung back into instant reassurance.
As soon as she entered she had seen Harney waiting for her,
and he had come up with kind gay eyes,
and swept her off in a waltz.
Her feet were full of music,
and though her only training had been with the village youths she had no difficulty in tuning her steps to his.
As they circled about the floor all her vain fears dropped from her,
and she even forgot that she was probably dancing in Annabel Balch's slippers.
When the waltz was over Harney,
with a last hand-clasp,
left her to meet Miss Hatchard and Miss Balch,
who were just entering.
Charity had a moment of anguish as Miss Balch appeared;
but it did not last.
The triumphant fact of her own greater beauty,
and of Harney's sense of it,
swept her apprehensions aside.
in an unbecoming dress,
looked sallow and pinched,
and Charity fancied there was a worried expression in her pale-lashed eyes.
She took a seat near Miss Hatchard and it was presently apparent that she did not mean to dance.
Charity did not dance often either.
Harney explained to her that Miss Hatchard had begged him to give each of the other girls a turn;
but he went through the form of asking Charity's permission each time he led one out,
and that gave her a sense of secret triumph even completer than when she was whirling about the room with him.
She was thinking of all this as she waited for him in the deserted house.
The late afternoon was sultry,
and she had tossed aside her hat and stretched herself at full length on the Mexican blanket because it was cooler indoors than under the trees.
She lay with her arms folded beneath her head,
gazing out at the shaggy shoulder of the Mountain.
The sky behind it was full of the splintered glories of the descending sun,
and before long she expected to hear Harney's bicycle-bell in the lane.
He had bicycled to Hamblin,
instead of driving there with his cousin and her friends,
so that he might be able to make his escape earlier and stop on the way back at the deserted house,
which was on the road to Hamblin.
They had smiled together at the joke of hearing the crowded buck-boards roll by on the return,
while they lay close in their hiding above the road.
Such childish triumphs still gave her a sense of reckless security.
Nevertheless she had not wholly forgotten the vision of fear that had opened before her in the Town Hall.
The sense of lastingness was gone from her and every moment with Harney would now be ringed with doubt.
The Mountain was turning purple against a fiery sunset from which it seemed to be divided by a knife-edge of quivering light;
and above this wall of flame the whole sky was a pure pale green,
like some cold mountain lake in shadow.
Charity lay gazing up at it,
and watching for the first white star ....
Her eyes were still fixed on the upper reaches of the sky when she became aware that a shadow had flitted across the glory-flooded room: it must have been Harney passing the window against the sunset ....
She half raised herself,
and then dropped back on her folded arms.
The combs had slipped from her hair,
and it trailed in a rough dark rope across her breast.
She lay quite still,
a sleepy smile on her lips,
her indolent lids half shut.
There was a fumbling at the padlock and she called out:
"Have you slipped the chain?"
The door opened,
and Mr. Royall walked into the room.
She started up,
sitting back against the cushions,
and they looked at each other without speaking.
Then Mr. Royall closed the door-latch and advanced a few steps.
Charity jumped to her feet.
"What have you come for?"
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.
"he'll be here in a minute.
Let me talk to you first."
"You've got no right to talk to me.
I can do what I please."
What is it you mean to do?"
"I needn't answer that,
or anything else."
He had glanced away,
and stood looking curiously about the illuminated room.
Purple asters and red maple-leaves filled the jar on the table;
on a shelf against the wall stood a lamp,
a little pile of cups and saucers.
The canvas chairs were grouped about the table.
"So this is where you meet,"
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.
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,"
He paused a moment,
as if weighing her words.
"Is that all your answer?"
"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,
quickly controlling himself,
went up to Mr. Royall with a frank look.
"Have you come to see me,
he said coolly,
throwing his cap on the table with an air of proprietorship.
Mr. Royall again looked slowly about the room;
then his eyes turned to the young man.
"Is this your house?"
"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.
quivering with anger,
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,
"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.
he shouted out with sudden passion.
He went close up to Charity,
his right arm lifted,
not in menace but in tragic exhortation.
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,
They all know what she is,
and what she came from.
They all know her mother was a woman of the town from Nettleton,
that followed one of those Mountain fellows up to his place and lived there with him like a heathen.
I saw her there sixteen years ago,
when I went to bring this child down.
I went to save her from the kind of life her mother was leading --but I'd better have left her in the kennel she came from ...."
He paused and stared darkly at the two young people,
and out beyond them,
at the menacing Mountain with its rim of fire;
then he sat down beside the table on which they had so often spread their rustic supper,
and covered his face with his hands.
Harney leaned in the window,
a frown on his face: he was twirling between his fingers a small package that dangled from a loop of string ....
Charity heard Mr. Royall draw a hard breath or two,
and his shoulders shook a little.
Presently he stood up and walked across the room.
He did not look again at the young people: they saw him feel his way to the door and fumble for the latch;
and then he went out into the darkness.
After he had gone there was a long silence.
Charity waited for Harney to speak;
but he seemed at first not to find anything to say.
At length he broke out irrelevantly:
"I wonder how he found out?"
She made no answer and he tossed down the package he had been holding,
and went up to her.
"I'm so sorry,
that this should have happened ...."
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.
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?"
"I forgot -- --"
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.
it's damp --we couldn't have come here much longer."
He went to the shelf,
took down a tin candle-stick and lit the candle;
then he propped an unhinged shutter against the empty window-frame and put the candle on the table.
It threw a queer shadow on his frowning forehead,
and made the smile on his lips a grimace.
"But it's been good,
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 ...
even jollier ...
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.
they said good-bye at the wood's edge.
Harney was to leave the next morning early.
He asked Charity to say nothing of their plans till his return,
strangely even to herself,
she was glad of the postponement.
A leaden weight of shame hung on her,
benumbing every other sensation,
and she bade him good-bye with hardly a sign of emotion.
His reiterated promises to return seemed almost wounding.
She had no doubt that he intended to come back;
her doubts were far deeper and less definable.
Since the fanciful vision of the future that had flitted through her imagination at their first meeting she had hardly ever thought of his marrying her.
She had not had to put the thought from her mind;
it had not been there.
If ever she looked ahead she felt instinctively that the gulf between them was too deep,
and that the bridge their passion had flung across it was as insubstantial as a rainbow.
But she seldom looked ahead;
each day was so rich that it absorbed her ....
Now her first feeling was that everything would be different,
and that she herself would be a different being to Harney.
Instead of remaining separate and absolute,
she would be compared with other people,
and unknown things would be expected of her.
She was too proud to be afraid,
but the freedom of her spirit drooped ....
Harney had not fixed any date for his return;
he had said he would have to look about first,
and settle things.
He had promised to write as soon as there was anything definite to say,
and had left her his address,
and asked her to write also.
But the address frightened her.
It was in New York,
at a club with a long name in Fifth Avenue: it seemed to raise an insurmountable barrier between them.
Once or twice,
in the first days,
she got out a sheet of paper,
and sat looking at it,
and trying to think what to say;
but she had the feeling that her letter would never reach its destination.
She had never written to anyone farther away than Hepburn.
Harney's first letter came after he had been gone about ten days.
It was tender but grave,
and bore no resemblance to the gay little notes he had sent her by the freckled boy from Creston River.
He spoke positively of his intention of coming back,
but named no date,
and reminded Charity of their agreement that their plans should not be divulged till he had had time to "settle things."
When that would be he could not yet foresee;
but she could count on his returning as soon as the way was clear.
She read the letter with a strange sense of its coming from immeasurable distances and having lost most of its meaning on the way;
and in reply she sent him a coloured postcard of Creston Falls,
on which she wrote:
"With love from Charity."
She felt the pitiful inadequacy of this,
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,
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.
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?"
as if the allusion had escaped her unintentionally.
it was a long time ago I seen her with those gaugings ...."
Silence fell again,
and Ally presently continued:
"Miss Balch left me a whole lot of things to do over this time."
"Why --has she gone?"
Charity inquired with an inner start of apprehension.
"Didn't you know?
She went off the morning after they had the celebration at Hamblin.
I seen her drive by early with Mr. Harney."
There was another silence,
measured by the steady tick of the rain against the window,
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.
I presume so ...
from what she said ....
Didn't you know?"
"Why should I know?"
Ally did not answer.
She bent above the blouse,
and began picking out a basting thread with the point of the scissors.
"Why should I know?"
Charity repeated harshly.
"I didn't know but what ...
folks here say she's engaged to Mr. Harney."
Charity stood up with a laugh,
and stretched her arms lazily above her head.
"If all the people got married that folks say are going to you'd have your time full making wedding-dresses,"
she said ironically.
"Why --don't you believe it?"
"It would not make it true if I did --nor prevent it if I didn't."
"That's so ....
I only know I seen her crying the night of the party because her dress didn't set right.
That was why she wouldn't dance any ...."
Charity stood absently gazing down at the lacy garment on Ally's knee.
Abruptly she stooped and snatched it up.
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.
Charity -- --" Ally cried,
For a long interval the two girls faced each other across the ruined garment.
Ally burst into tears.
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,"
"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:
go --go --go --or I'll hate you too ...."
When Ally left her,
she fell sobbing across her bed.
The long storm was followed by a north-west gale,
and when it was over,
the hills took on their first umber tints,
the sky grew more densely blue,
and the big white clouds lay against the hills like snow-banks.
The first crisp maple-leaves began to spin across Miss Hatchard's lawn,
and the Virginia creeper on the Memorial splashed the white porch with scarlet.
It was a golden triumphant September.
Day by day the flame of the Virginia creeper spread to the hillsides in wider waves of carmine and crimson,
the larches glowed like the thin yellow halo about a fire,
the maples blazed and smouldered,
and the black hemlocks turned to indigo against the incandescence of the forest.
The nights were cold,
with a dry glitter of stars so high up that they seemed smaller and more vivid.
as Charity lay sleepless on her bed through the long hours,
she felt as though she were bound to those wheeling fires and swinging with them around the great black vault.
At night she planned many things ...
it was then she wrote to Harney.
But the letters were never put on paper,
for she did not know how to express what she wanted to tell him.
So she waited.
Since her talk with Ally she had felt sure that Harney was engaged to Annabel Balch,
and that the process of "settling things" would involve the breaking of this tie.
Her first rage of jealousy over,
she felt no fear on this score.
She was still sure that Harney would come back,
and she was equally sure that,
for the moment at least,
it was she whom he loved and not Miss Balch.
Yet the girl,
remained a rival,
since she represented all the things that Charity felt herself most incapable of understanding or achieving.
Annabel Balch was,
if not the girl Harney ought to marry,
at least the kind of girl it would be natural for him to marry.
Charity had never been able to picture herself as his wife;
had never been able to arrest the vision and follow it out in its daily consequences;
but she could perfectly imagine Annabel Balch in that relation to him.
The more she thought of these things the more the sense of fatality weighed on her: she felt the uselessness of struggling against the circumstances.
She had never known how to adapt herself;
she could only break and tear and destroy.
The scene with Ally had left her stricken with shame at her own childish savagery.
What would Harney have thought if he had witnessed it?
But when she turned the incident over in her puzzled mind she could not imagine what a civilized person would have done in her place.
She felt herself too unequally pitted against unknown forces ....
At length this feeling moved her to sudden action.
She took a sheet of letter paper from Mr. Royall's office,
and sitting by the kitchen lamp,
one night after Verena had gone to bed,
began her first letter to Harney.
It was very short:
I want you should marry Annabel Balch if you promised to.
I think maybe you were afraid I'd feel too bad about it.
I feel I'd rather you acted right.
Your loving CHARITY.
She posted the letter early the next morning,
and for a few days her heart felt strangely light.
Then she began to wonder why she received no answer.
One day as she sat alone in the library pondering these things the walls of books began to spin around her,
and the rosewood desk to rock under her elbows.
The dizziness was followed by a wave of nausea like that 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:
as if nothing had happened,
and he answered:
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:
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,
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.
Wouldn't you like a little drop of something to pick you up? ...
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.
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?
had been conscious only of a vague self-disgust and a frightening physical distress;
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.
"Why do you run off in such a hurry?
You can stretch out right here on my sofa ...."
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 companion ...
you're the very one to suit her,
my dear ...."
Charity had reached the door.
"I don't want to stay.
I don't want to come back here,"
her hand on the knob;
but with a swift movement,
Dr. Merkle edged her from the threshold.
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 ..."
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 captive.
"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 ....
I can't understand what you say ....
That don't suit you either?
you're pretty particular for a girl that ain't got enough to settle her own bills ...."
and fixed her eyes on the brooch with a blue stone that Charity had pinned to her blouse.
"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 ....
you can get it back when you bring me my money ...."
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.
at the gate of the red house,
she found Ally waiting in the dusk.
"I was down at the post-office 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.
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,
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 ....
there stood between them,
fixed and upright in the general upheaval,
the indestructible figure of Annabel Balch ....
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.
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 interwoven.
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 office.
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,
till Mr. Royall said gravely:
"Charity --was you looking for me?"
She freed herself abruptly and fell back.
No -- --" She set down the candle on his desk.
"I wanted some letter-paper,
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?"
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,
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 vanished ....
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 feeling ....
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 love-stories 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 there.
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 wood-shed 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,
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 Mountain."
"Up the Mountain?"
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.
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 mother."
The two men glanced at each other,
and for a moment neither of them spoke.
Then Mr. Miles said:
"You look ill,
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.
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,"
He laid his hand on her arm.
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 circumstances.
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 you?"
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:
what do you know of your childhood,
before you came down to North Dormer?"
She controlled herself,
"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 side.
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.
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,"
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,
you'd better come with me,"
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?"
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 grumbled.
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,"
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 weather-beaten face had a certain sullen beauty.
"Who's the girl?
Who brought her here?"
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 daughter."
the girl sneered;
and the young man turned on her with an oath.
"Shut your mouth,
or get out of here,"
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 knelt down by the mattress,
and pressed the lids over the dead woman's eyes.
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?"
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?"
looking at the others,
"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 stocking ....
"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 ...."
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 ...."
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.
'em faze you ...."
"Now is Christ risen from the dead and become the first-fruits of them that slept ....
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?"
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.
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 blackness.
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 ....
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 there ...
is she down?"
piped the claimant to the stove;
and the young man called over his shoulder:
"Lift the light there,
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,"
spitting into his palm and passing his ragged shirt-sleeve 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.
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,"
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,
"And now pray with me --you know this prayer,"
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,"
"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.
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."
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 her.
"Have you got a place where I can lie down for the night?"
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,"
and he added,
raising his voice to speak to the old woman:
"It's the girl from lawyer Royall's --Mary's girl ...
you 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 palpitating with frosty stars that her very soul seemed to be sucked into it.
Up there somewhere,
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 Him?
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 pale-faced 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:
there was a mother;
but she was glad to have the child go.
She'd have given her to anybody ...."
was her mother so much to blame?
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 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 was better than to add another life to the nest of misery on the Mountain ....
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 out ....
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 wind-beaten 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,
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 boarding-school 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."
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,
looking straight ahead of her.
"I tried -- --"
He did not finish the sentence,
and she could think of nothing more to say.
jerking the bridle.
"We ain't home yet.
he asked abruptly.
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.
"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?"
let the horse jog on till they reached the door of the first house in the village.
"This is old Mrs. Hobart's place,"
"She'll give us something hot to drink."
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.
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.
you do look pretty mean,"
she said compassionately.
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.
"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,
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.
I can't -- --" she burst out desperately.
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."
it's not all ...."
He looked at his watch.
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 spoke.
he exclaimed in a shaken voice.
She looked up,
startled at his emotion,
and their eyes met.
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,
and for the moment they were all she wanted.
She shut her eyes,
and even these things grew dim to her ....
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,
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.
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,
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.
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 together ..."
Charity raised her eyes and met Mr. Royall's.
They were still looking at her kindly and steadily.
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 dining-room,
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,
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 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?
what have I done?"
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 ...
it 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,
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."
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,"
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,
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,"
after a pause of penetrating scrutiny.
Charity drew the money from her breast.
"I've come to get my blue brooch,"
Dr. Merkle appeared not to remember.
yes --I get so many things of that kind.
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 brooch.
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.
What'd I want to have change for?
I only see two twenties there,"
Dr. Merkle answered brightly.
"I thought ...
you said it was five dollars a visit ...."
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,
I'd a good deal ruther folks paid me my regular charge than have
'em put me to all this trouble."
seized with a desperate longing to escape,
rose to her feet and held out one of the bills.
"Will you take that?"
I won't take that,
but I'll take it with its mate,
and hand you over a signed receipt if you don't trust me."
but I can't --it's all I've got,"
Dr. Merkle looked up at her pleasantly from the plush sofa.
"It seems you got married yesterday,
up to the
I heard all about the wedding from the minister's chore-man.
It would be a pity,
to let Mr. Royall know you had an account running here?
I just put it to you as your own mother might."
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,
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;
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.
did you rig yourself out handsomely?
I haven't seen any bundles round,"
he said jocosely.
I'd rather let Ally Hawes make the few things I want,"
He looked at her thoughtfully for a moment and his eye-brows projected in a scowl.
Then his face grew friendly again.
I wanted you to go back looking stylisher than any of them;
but I guess you're right.
You're a good girl,
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,
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.