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Annie Kilburn by W. D. Howells

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ANNIE KILBURN

a Novel

BY

W. D. HOWELLS

Author of

"Indian Summer"
"The Rise of Silas Lapham"
"April Hopes" etc.

I.

After the death of Judge Kilburn his daughter came back to America. They
had been eleven winters in Rome, always meaning to return, but staying on
from year to year, as people do who have nothing definite to call them
home. Toward the last Miss Kilburn tacitly gave up the expectation of
getting her father away, though they both continued to say that they were
going to take passage as soon as the weather was settled in the spring.
At the date they had talked of for sailing he was lying in the Protestant
cemetery, and she was trying to gather herself together, and adjust her
life to his loss. This would have been easier with a younger person, for
she had been her father's pet so long, and then had taken care of his
helplessness with a devotion which was finally so motherly, that it was
like losing at once a parent and a child when he died, and she remained
with the habit of giving herself when there was no longer any one to
receive the sacrifice. He had married late, and in her thirty-first year he
was seventy-eight; but the disparity of their ages, increasing toward the
end through his infirmities, had not loosened for her the ties of custom
and affection that bound them; she had seen him grow more and more fitfully
cognisant of what they had been to each other since her mother's death,
while she grew the more tender and fond with him. People who came to
condole with her seemed not to understand this, or else they thought it
would help her to bear up if they treated her bereavement as a relief from
hopeless anxiety. They were all surprised when she told them she still
meant to go home.

"Why, my dear," said one old lady, who had been away from America twenty
years, "_this_ is home! You've lived in this apartment longer now
than the oldest inhabitant has lived in most American towns. What are you
talking about? Do you mean that you are going back to Washington?"

"Oh no. We were merely staying on in Washington from force of habit, after
father gave up practice. I think we shall go back to the old homestead,
where we used to spend our summers, ever since I can remember."

"And where is that?" the old lady asked, with the sharpness which people
believe must somehow be good for a broken spirit.

"It's in the interior of Massachusetts--you wouldn't know it: a place
called Hatboro'."

"No, I certainly shouldn't," said the old lady, with superiority. "Why
Hatboro', of all the ridiculous reasons?"

"It was one of the first places where they began to make straw hats; it was
a nickname at first, and then they adopted it. The old name was Dorchester
Farms. Father fought the change, but it was of no use; the people wouldn't
have it Farms after the place began to grow; and by that time they had got
used to Hatboro'. Besides, I don't see how it's any worse than Hatfield, in
England."

"It's very American."

"Oh, it's American. We have Boxboro' too, you know, in Massachusetts."

"And you are going from Rome to Hatboro', Mass.," said the old lady, trying
to present the idea in the strongest light by abbreviating the name of the
State.

"Yes," said Miss Kilburn. "It will be a change, but not so much of a change
as you would think. It was father's wish to go back."

"Ah, my _dear_!" cried the old lady. "You're letting that weigh with
you, I see. Don't do it! If it wasn't wise, don't you suppose that the last
thing he could wish you to do would be to sacrifice yourself to a sick whim
of his?"

The kindness expressed in the words touched Annie Kilburn. She had a
certain beauty of feature; she was near-sighted; but her eyes were brown
and soft, her lips red and full; her dark hair grew low, and played in
little wisps and rings on her temples, where her complexion was clearest;
the bold contour of her face, with its decided chin and the rather large
salient nose, was like her father's; it was this, probably, that gave an
impression of strength, with a wistful qualification. She was at that time
rather thin, and it could have been seen that she would be handsomer when
her frame had rounded out in fulfilment of its generous design. She opened
her lips to speak, but shut them again in an effort at self-control before
she said--

"But I really wish to do it. At this moment I would rather be in Hatboro'
than in Rome."

"Oh, very well," said the old lady, gathering herself up as one does from
throwing away one's sympathy upon an unworthy object; "if you really
_wish_ it--"

"I know that it must seem preposterous and--and almost ungrateful that I
should think of going back, when I might just as well stay. Why, I've a
great many more friends here than I have there; I suppose I shall be almost
a stranger when I get there, and there's no comparison in congeniality; and
yet I feel that I must go back. I can't tell you why. But I have a longing;
I feel that I must try to be of some use in the world--try to do some
good--and in Hatboro' I think I shall know how." She put on her glasses,
and looked at the old lady as if she might attempt an explanation, but, as
if a clearer vision of the veteran worldling discouraged her, she did not
make the effort.

"_Oh_!" said the old lady. "If you want to be of use, and do good--"
She stopped, as if then there were no more to be said by a sensible person.
"And shall you be going soon?" she asked. The idea seemed to suggest her
own departure, and she rose after speaking.

"Just as soon as possible," answered Miss Kilburn. Words take on a colour
of something more than their explicit meaning from the mood in which they
are spoken: Miss Kilburn had a sense of hurrying her visitor away, and the
old lady had a sense of being turned out-of-doors, that the preparations
for the homeward voyage might begin instantly.

II.

Many times after the preparations began, and many times after they were
ended, Miss Kilburn faltered in doubt of her decision; and if there had
been any will stronger than her own to oppose it, she might have reversed
it, and stayed in Rome. All the way home there was a strain of misgiving
in her satisfaction at doing what she believed to be for the best, and the
first sight of her native land gave her a shock of emotion which was not
unmixed joy. She felt forlorn among people who were coming home with all
sorts of high expectations, while she only had high intentions.

These dated back a good many years; in fact, they dated back to the time
when the first flush of her unthinking girlhood was over, and she began
to question herself as to the life she was living. It was a very pleasant
life, ostensibly. Her father had been elected from the bench to Congress,
and had kept his title and his repute as a lawyer through several terms
in the House before he settled down to the practice of his profession
in the courts at Washington, where he made a good deal of money. They
passed from boarding to house-keeping, in the easy Washington way, after
their impermanent Congressional years, and divided their time between
a comfortable little place in Nevada Circle and the old homestead in
Hatboro'. He was fond of Washington, and robustly content with the world
as he found it there and elsewhere. If his daughter's compunctions came to
her through him, it must have been from some remoter ancestry; he was not
apparently characterised by their transmission, and probably she derived
them from her mother, who died when she was a little girl, and of whom she
had no recollection. Till he began to break, after they went abroad, he
had his own way in everything; but as men grow old or infirm they fall
into subjection to their womenkind; their rude wills yield in the suppler
insistence of the feminine purpose; they take the colour of the feminine
moods and emotions; the cycle of life completes itself where it began, in
helpless dependence upon the sex; and Rufus Kilburn did not escape the
common lot. He was often complaining and unlovely, as aged and ailing men
must be; perhaps he was usually so; but he had moments when he recognised
the beauty of his daughter's aspiration with a spiritual sympathy, which
showed that he must always have had an intellectual perception of it.
He expressed with rhetorical largeness and looseness the longing which
was not very definite in her own heart, and mingled with it a strain of
homesickness poignantly simple and direct for the places, the scenes, the
persons, the things, of his early days. As he failed more and more, his
homesickness was for natural aspects which had wholly ceased to exist
through modern changes and improvements, and for people long since dead,
whom he could find only in an illusion of that environment in some other
world. In the pathos of this situation it was easy for his daughter to keep
him ignorant of the passionate rebellion against her own ideals in which
she sometimes surprised herself. When he died, all counter-currents were
lost in the tidal revulsion of feeling which swept her to the fulfilment
of what she hoped was deepest and strongest in her nature, with shame for
what she hoped was shallowest, till that moment of repulsion in which she
saw the thickly roofed and many towered hills of Boston grow up out of the
western waves.

She had always regarded her soul as the battlefield of two opposite
principles, the good and the bad, the high and the low. God made her, she
thought, and He alone; He made everything that she was; but she would not
have said that He made the evil in her. Yet her belief did not admit the
existence of Creative Evil; and so she said to herself that she herself
was that evil, and she must struggle against herself; she must question
whatever she strongly wished because she strongly wished it. It was not
logical; she did not push her postulates to their obvious conclusions; and
there was apt to be the same kind of break between her conclusions and her
actions as between her reasons and her conclusions. She acted impulsively,
and from a force which she could not analyse. She indulged reveries so
vivid that they seemed to weaken and exhaust her for the grapple with
realities; the recollection of them abashed her in the presence of facts.

With all this, it must not be supposed that she was morbidly introspective.
Her life had been apparently a life of cheerful acquiescence in worldly
conditions; it had been, in some measure, a life of fashion, or at least
of society. It had not been without the interests of other girls' lives,
by any means; she had sometimes had fancies, flirtations, but she did not
think she had been really in love, and she had refused some offers of
marriage for that reason.

III.

The industry of making straw hats began at Hatboro', as many other
industries have begun in New England, with no great local advantages, but
simply because its founder happened to live there, and to believe that it
would pay. There was a railroad, and labour of the sort he wanted was cheap
and abundant in the village and the outlying farms. In time the work came
to be done more and more by machinery, and to be gathered into large shops.
The buildings increased in size and number; the single line of the railroad
was multiplied into four, and in the region of the tracks several large,
ugly, windowy wooden bulks grew up for shoe shops; a stocking factory
followed; yet this business activity did not warp the old village from its
picturesqueness or quiet. The railroad tracks crossed its main street; but
the shops were all on one side of them, with the work-people's cottages
and boarding-houses, and on the other were the simple, square, roomy old
mansions, with their white paint and their green blinds, varied by the
modern colour and carpentry of French-roofed villas. The old houses stood
quite close to the street, with a strip of narrow door-yard before them;
the new ones affected a certain depth of lawn, over which their owners
personally pushed a clucking hand-mower in the summer evenings after tea.
The fences had been taken away from the new houses, in the taste of some
of the Boston suburbs; they generally remained before the old ones, whose
inmates resented the ragged effect that their absence gave the street. The
irregularity had hitherto been of an orderly and harmonious kind, such as
naturally follows the growth of a country road into a village thoroughfare.
The dwellings were placed nearer or further from the sidewalk as their
builders fancied, and the elms that met in a low arch above the street had
an illusive symmetry in the perspective; they were really set at uneven
intervals, and in a line that wavered capriciously in and out. The street
itself lounged and curved along, widening and contracting like a river,
and then suddenly lost itself over the brow of an upland which formed a
natural boundary of the village. Beyond this was South Hatboro', a group of
cottages built by city people who had lately come in--idlers and invalids,
the former for the cool summer, and the latter for the dry winter. At
chance intervals in the old village new side streets branched from the
thoroughfare to the right and the left, and here and there a Queen Anne
cottage showed its chimneys and gables on them. The roadway under the
elms that kept it dark and cool with their hovering shade, and swept the
wagon-tops with their pendulous boughs at places, was unpaved; but the
sidewalks were asphalted to the last dwelling in every direction, and they
were promptly broken out in winter by the public snow-plough.

Miss Kilburn saw them in the spring, when their usefulness was least
apparent, and she did not know whether to praise the spirit of progress
which showed itself in them as well as in other things at Hatboro'. She
had come prepared to have misgivings, but she had promised herself to be
just; she thought she could bear the old ugliness, if not the new. Some
of the new things, however, were not so ugly; the young station-master
was handsome in his railroad uniform, and pleasanter to the eye than the
veteran baggage-master, incongruous in his stiff silk cap and his shirt
sleeves and spectacles. The station itself, one of Richardson's, massive
and low, with red-tiled, spreading veranda roofs, impressed her with
its fitness, and strengthened her for her encounter with the business
architecture of Hatboro', which was of the florid, ambitious New York type,
prevalent with every American town in the early stages of its prosperity.
The buildings were of pink brick, faced with granite, and supported in the
first story by columns of painted iron; flat-roofed blocks looked down over
the low-wooden structures of earlier Hatboro', and a large hotel had pushed
back the old-time tavern, and planted itself flush upon the sidewalk. But
the stores seemed very good, as she glanced at them from her carriage,
and their show-windows were tastefully arranged; the apothecary's had an
interior of glittering neatness unsurpassed by an Italian apothecary's; and
the provision-man's, besides its symmetrical array of pendent sides and
quarters indoors, had banks of fruit and vegetables without, and a large
aquarium with a spraying fountain in its window.

Bolton, the farmer who had always taken care of the Kilburn place, came
to meet her at the station and drive her home. Miss Kilburn had bidden
him drive slowly, so that she could see all the changes, and she noticed
the new town-hall, with which she could find no fault; the Baptist and
Methodist churches were the same as of old; the Unitarian church seemed to
have shrunk as if the architecture had sympathised with its dwindling body
of worshippers; just beyond it was the village green, with the soldiers'
monument, and the tall white-painted flag-pole, and the four small brass
cannon threatening the points of the compass at its base.

"Stop a moment, Mr. Bolton," said Miss Kilburn; and she put her head quite
out of the carriage, and stared at the figure on the monument.

It was strange that the first misgiving she could really make sure of
concerning Hatboro' should relate to this figure, which she herself was
mainly responsible for placing there. When the money was subscribed and
voted for the statue, the committee wrote out to her at Rome as one who
would naturally feel an interest in getting something fit and economical
for them. She accepted the trust with zeal and pleasure; but she overruled
their simple notion of an American volunteer at rest, with his hands folded
on the muzzle of his gun, as intolerably hackneyed and commonplace. Her
conscience, she said, would not let her add another recruit to the regiment
of stone soldiers standing about in that posture on the tops of pedestals
all over the country; and so, instead of going to an Italian statuary with
her fellow-townsmen's letter, and getting him to make the figure they
wanted, she doubled the money and gave the commission to a young girl
from Kansas, who had come out to develop at Rome the genius recognised
at Topeka. They decided together that it would be best to have something
ideal, and the sculptor promptly imagined and rapidly executed a design
for a winged Victory, poising on the summit of a white marble shaft, and
clasping its hands under its chin, in expression of the grief that mingled
with the popular exultation. Miss Kilburn had her doubts while the work
went on, but she silenced them with the theory that when the figure was in
position it would be all right.

Now that she saw it in position she wished to ask Mr. Bolton what was
thought of it, but she could not nerve herself to the question. He remained
silent, and she felt that he was sorry for her. "Oh, may I be very humble;
may I be helped to be very humble!" she prayed under her breath. It
seemed as if she could not take her eyes from the figure; it was such a
modern, such an American shape, so youthfully inadequate, so simple, so
sophisticated, so like a young lady in society indecorously exposed for
a _tableau vivant_. She wondered if the people in Hatboro' felt all
this about it; if they realised how its involuntary frivolity insulted the
solemn memory of the slain.

"Drive on, please," she said gently.

Bolton pulled the reins, and as the horses started he pointed with his whip
to a church at the other side of the green. "That's the new Orthodox
church," he explained.

"Oh, is it?" asked Miss Kilburn. "It's very handsome, I'm sure." She was
not sensible of admiring the large Romanesque pile very much, though it
was certainly not bad, but she remembered that Bolton was a member of the
Orthodox church, and she was grateful to him for not saying anything about
the soldiers' monument.

"We sold the old buildin' to the Catholics, and they moved it down ont' the
side street."

Miss Kilburn caught the glimmer of a cross where he beckoned, through the
flutter of the foliage.

"They had to razee the steeple some to git their cross on," he added;
and then he showed her the high-school building as they passed, and the
Episcopal chapel, of blameless church-warden's Gothic, half hidden by its
Japanese ivy, under a branching elm, on another side street.

"Yes," she said, "that was built before we went abroad."

"I disremember," he said absently. He let the horses walk on the soft,
darkly shaded road, where the wheels made a pleasant grinding sound, and
set himself sidewise on his front seat, so as to talk to Miss Kilburn more
at his ease.

"I d'know," he began, after clearing his throat, with a conscious air, "as
you know we'd got a new minister to our church."

"No, I hadn't heard of it," said Miss Kilburn, with her mind full of the
monument still. "But I might have heard and forgotten it," she added. "I
was very much taken up toward the last before I left Rome."

"Well, come to think," said Bolton; "I don't know's you'd had time to
heard. He hain't been here a great while."

"Is he--satisfactory?" asked Miss Kilburn, feeling how far from
satisfactory the Victory was, and formulating an explanatory apology to the
committee in her mind.

"Oh yes, he's satisfactory enough, as far forth as that goes. He's
talented, and he's right up with the times. Yes, he's progressive. I guess
they got pretty tired of Mr. Rogers, even before he died; and they kept the
supply a-goin' till--all was blue, before they could settle on anybody. In
fact they couldn't seem to agree on anybody till Mr. Peck come."

Miss Kilburn had got as far, in her tacit interview with the committee, as
to have offered to replace at her own expense the Victory with a Volunteer,
and she seemed to be listening to Bolton with rapt attention.

"Well, it's like this," continued the farmer. "He's progressive in his
idees, 'n' at the same time he's spiritual-minded; and so I guess he suits
pretty well all round. Of course you can't suit everybody. There's always
got to be a dog in the manger, it don't matter where you go. But if anybody
was to ask me, I should say Mr. Peck suited. Yes, I don't know but what I
should."

Miss Kilburn instantaneously closed her transaction with the committee,
removed the Victory, and had the Volunteer unveiled with appropriate
ceremonies, opened with prayer by the Rev. Mr. Peck.

"Peck?" she said. "Did you tell me his name was Peck?"

"Yes, ma'am; Rev. Julius W. Peck. He's from down Penobscotport way, in
Maine. I guess he's all right."

Miss Kilburn did not reply. Her mind had been taken off the monument for
the moment by her dislike for the name of the new minister, and the Victory
had seized the opportunity to get back.

Bolton sighed deeply, and continued in a strain whose diffusiveness at last
became perceptible to Miss Kilburn through her own humiliation. "There's
some in every community that's bound to complain, I don't care what you do
to accommodate 'em; and what I done, I done as much to stop their clack as
anything, and give him the right sort of a start off, an' I guess I did.
But Mis' Bolton she didn't know but what you'd look at it in the light of a
libbutty, and I didn't know but what you _would_ think I no business
to done it."

He seemed to be addressing a question to her, but she only replied with a
dazed frown, and Bolton was obliged to go on.

"I didn't let him room in your part of the house; that is to say, not sleep
there; but I thought, as you was comin' home, and I better be airin' it up
some, anyway, I might as well let him set in the old Judge's room. If you
think it was more than I had a right to do, I'm willin' to pay for it. Git
up!" Bolton turned fully round toward his horses, to hide the workings of
emotion in his face, and shook the reins like a desperate man.

"What _are_ you talking about, Mr. Bolton?" cried Miss Kilburn.
"_Whom_ are you talking about?"

Bolton answered, with a kind of violence, "Mr. Peck; I took him to board,
first off."

"You took him to board?"

"Yes. I know it wa'n't just accordin' to the letter o' the law, and the old
Judge was always pootty p'tic'lah. But I've took care of the place goin'
on twenty years now, and I hain't never had a chick nor a child in it
before. The child," he continued, partly turning his face round again, and
beginning to look Miss Kilburn in the eye, "wa'n't one to touch anything,
anyway, and we kep' her in our part all the while; Mis' Bolton she couldn't
seem to let her out of her sight, she got so fond of her, and she used to
follow me round among the hosses like a kitten. I declare, I _miss_
her."

Bolton's face, the colour of one of the lean ploughed fields of Hatboro',
and deeply furrowed, lighted up with real feeling, which he tried to make
go as far in the work of reconciling Miss Kilburn as if it had been
factitious.

"But I don't understand," she said. "What child are you talking about?"

"Mr. Peck's."

"Was he married?" she asked, with displeasure, she did not know why.

"Well, yes, he _had_ been," answered Bolton. "But she'd be'n in the
asylum ever since the child was born."

"Oh," said Miss Kilburn, with relief; and she fell back upon the seat from
which she had started forward.

Bolton might easily have taken her tone for that of disgust. He faced round
upon her once more. "It was kind of queer, his havin' the child with him,
an' takin' most the care of her himself; and so, as I _say_, Mis'
Bolton and me we took him in, as much to stop folks' mouths as anything,
till they got kinder used to it. But we didn't take him into your part, as
I _say_; and as _I_ say, I'm willin' to pay you whatever you say
for the use of the old Judge's study. I presume that part of it _was_
a libbutty."

"It was all perfectly right, Mr. Bolton," said Miss Kilburn.

"His wife died anyway, more than a year ago," said Bolton, as if the fact
completed his atonement to Miss Kilburn, "_Git_ ep! I told him from,
the start that it had got to be a temporary thing, an' 't I only took him
till he could git settled somehow. I guess he means to go to house-keepin',
if he can git the right kind of a house-keeper; he wants an old one. If it
was a young one, I guess he wouldn't have any great trouble, if he went
about it the right way." Bolton's sarcasm was merely a race sarcasm. He was
a very mild man, and his thick-growing eyelashes softened and shadowed his
grey eyes, and gave his lean face pathos.

"You could have let him stay till he had found a suitable place," said Miss
Kilburn.

"Oh, I wa'n't goin' to do _that_," said Bolton. "But I'm 'bliged to
you just the same."

They came up in sight of the old square house, standing back a good
distance from the road, with a broad sweep of grass sloping down before it
into a little valley, and rising again to the wall fencing the grounds from
the street. The wall was overhung there by a company of magnificent elms,
which turned and formed one side of the avenue leading to the house. Their
tops met and mixed somewhat incongruously with those of the stiff dark
maples which more densely shaded the other side of the lane.

Bolton drove into their gloom, and then out into the wide sunny space at
the side of the house where Miss Kilburn had alighted so often with her
father. Bolton's dog, grown now so very old as to be weak-minded, barked
crazily at his master, and then, recognising him, broke into an imbecile
whimper, and went back and coiled his rheumatism up in the sun on a warm
stone before the door. Mrs. Bolton had to step over him as she came out,
formally supporting her right elbow with her left hand as she offered the
other in greeting to Miss Kilburn, with a look of question at her husband.

Miss Kilburn intercepted the look, and began to laugh.

All was unchanged, and all so strange; it seemed as if her father must both
get down with her from the carriage and come to meet her from the house.
Her glance involuntarily took in the familiar masses and details; the
patches of short tough grass mixed with decaying chips and small weeds
underfoot, and the spacious June sky overhead; the fine network and
blisters of the cracking and warping white paint on the clapboarding, and
the hills beyond the bulks of the village houses and trees; the woodshed
stretching with its low board arches to the barn, and the milk-pans tilted
to sun against the underpinning of the L, and Mrs. Bolton's pot plants in
the kitchen window.

"Did you think I could be hard about such a thing as that? It was perfectly
right. O Mrs. Bolton!" She stopped laughing and began to cry; she put away
Mrs. Bolton's carefully offered hand, she threw herself upon the bony
structure of her bosom, and buried her face sobbing in the leathery folds
of her neck.

Mrs. Bolton suffered her embrace above the old dog, who fled with a cry of
rheumatic apprehension from the sweep of Miss Kilburn's skirts, and then
came back and snuffed at them in a vain effort to recall her.

"Well, go in and lay down by the stove," said Mrs. Bolton, with a divided
interest, while she beat Miss Kilburn's back with her bony palm in sign of
sympathy. But the dog went off up the lane, and stood there by the pasture
bars, barking abstractedly at intervals.

IV.

Miss Kilburn found that the house had been well aired for her coming, but
an old earthy and mouldy smell, which it took days and nights of open doors
and windows to drive out, stole back again with the first turn of rainy
weather. She had fires built on the hearths and in the stoves, and after
opening her trunks and scattering her dresses on beds and chairs, she spent
most of the first week outside of the house, wandering about the fields and
orchards to adjust herself anew to the estranged features of the place.
The house she found lower-ceiled and smaller than she remembered it. The
Boltons had kept it up very well, and in spite of the earthy and mouldy
smell, it was conscientiously clean. There was not a speck of dust
anywhere; the old yellowish-white paint was spotless; the windows shone.
But there was a sort of frigidity in the perfect order and repair which
repelled her, and she left her things tossed about, as if to break the ice
of this propriety. In several places, within and without, she found marks
of the faithful hand of Bolton in economical patches of the woodwork; but
she was not sure that they had not been there eleven years before; and
there were darnings in the carpets and curtains, which affected her with
the same mixture of novelty and familiarity. Certain stale smells about the
place (minor smells as compared with the prevalent odour) confused her; she
could not decide whether she remembered them of old, or was reminded of the
odours she used to catch in passing the pantry on the steamer.

Her father had never been sure that he would not return any next year or
month, and the house had always been ready to receive them. In his study
everything was as he left it. His daughter looked for signs of Mr. Peck's
occupation, but there were none; Mrs. Bolton explained that she had put
him in a table from her own sitting-room to write at. The Judge's desk was
untouched, and his heavy wooden arm-chair stood pulled up to it as if he
were in it. The ranks of law-books, in their yellow sheepskin, with their
red titles above and their black titles below, were in the order he had
taught Mrs. Bolton to replace them in after dusting; the stuffed owl on a
shelf above the mantel looked down with a clear solemnity in its gum-copal
eyes, and Mrs. Bolton took it from its perch to show Miss Kilburn that
there was not a moth on it, nor the sign of a moth.

Miss Kilburn experienced here that refusal of the old associations to take
the form of welcome which she had already felt in the earth and sky and air
outside; in everything there was a sense of impassable separation. Her dead
father was no nearer in his wonted place than the trees of the orchard, or
the outline of the well-known hills, or the pink of the familiar sunsets.
In her rummaging about the house she pulled open a chest of drawers which
used to stand in the room where she slept when a child. It was full of her
own childish clothing, a little girl's linen and muslin; and she thought
with a throe of despair that she could as well hope to get hack into these
outgrown garments, which the helpless piety of Mrs. Bolton had kept from
the rag-bag, as to think of re-entering the relations of the life so long
left off.

It surprised her to find how cold the Boltons were; she had remembered them
as always very kind and willing; but she was so used now to the ways of
the Italians and their showy affection, it was hard for her to realise
that people could be both kind and cold. The Boltons seemed ashamed of
their feelings, and hid them; it was the same in some degree with all the
villagers when she began to meet them, and the fact slowly worked back into
her consciousness, wounding its way in. People did not come to see her at
once. They waited, as they told her, till she got settled, before they
called, and then they did not appear very glad to have her back.

But this was not altogether the effect of their temperament. The Kilburns
had made a long summer always in Hatboro', and they had always talked of it
as home; but they had never passed a whole year there since Judge Kilburn
first went to Congress, and they were not regarded as full neighbours
or permanent citizens. Miss Kilburn, however, kept up her childhood
friendships, and she and some of the ladies called one another by their
Christian names, but they believed that she met people in Washington whom
she liked better; the winters she spent there certainly weakened the ties
between them, and when it came to those eleven years in Rome, the letters
they exchanged grew rarer and rarer, till they stopped altogether. Some of
the girls went away; some died; others became dead and absent to her in
their marriages and household cares.

After waiting for one another, three of them came together to see her one
day. They all kissed her, after a questioning glance at her face and dress,
as if they wanted to see whether she had grown proud or too fashionable.
But they were themselves apparently much better dressed, and certainly more
richly dressed. In a place like Hatboro', where there is no dinner-giving,
and evening parties are few, the best dress is a street costume, which
may be worn for calls and shopping, and for church and all public
entertainments. The well-to-do ladies make an effect of outdoor fashion, in
which the poorest shop hand has her part; and in their turn they share her
indoor simplicity. These old friends of Annie's wore bonnets and frocks of
the latest style and costly material.

They let her make the advances, receiving them with blank passivity,
or repelling them with irony, according to the several needs of their
self-respect, and talking to one another across her. One of them asked her
when her hair had begun to turn, and they each told her how thin she was,
but promised her that Hatboro' air would bring her up. At the same time
they feigned humility in regard to everything about Hatboro' but the air;
they laughed when she said she intended now to make it her home the whole
year round, and said they guessed she would be tired of it long before
fall; there were plenty of summer folks that passed the winter as long as
the June weather lasted. As they grew more secure of themselves, or less
afraid of one another in her presence, their voices rose; they laughed
loudly at nothing, and they yelled in a nervous chorus at times, each
trying to make herself heard above the others.

She asked them about the social life in the village, and they told her that
a good many new people had really settled there, but they did not know
whether she would like them; they were not the old Hatboro' style. Annie
showed them some of the things she had brought home, especially Roman
views, and they said now she ought to give an evening in the church parlour
with them.

"You'll have to come to our church, Annie," said Mrs. Putney. "The
Unitarian doesn't have preaching once in a month, and Mr. Peck is very
liberal."

"He's 'most _too_ liberal for some," said Emmeline Gerrish. Of the
three she had grown the stoutest, and from being a slight, light-minded
girl, she had become a heavy matron, habitually censorious in her speech.
She did not mean any more by it, however, than she did by her girlish
frivolity, and if she was not supported in her severity, she was apt to
break down and disown it with a giggle, as she now did.

"Well, I don't know about his being _too_ liberal," said Mrs.
Wilmington, a large red-haired blonde, with a lazy laugh. "He makes you
feel that you're a pretty miserable sinner." She made a grimace of humorous
disgust.

"Mr. Gerrish says that's just the trouble," Mrs. Gerrish broke in. "Mr.
Peck don't put stress enough on the promises. That's what Mr. Gerrish says.
You must have been surprised, Annie," she added, "to find that he'd been
staying in your house."

"I was glad Mrs. Bolton invited him," answered Annie sincerely, but not
instantly.

The ladies waited, with an exchange of glances, for her reply, as if they
had talked the matter over beforehand, and had agreed to find out just how
Annie Kilburn felt about it.

"Oh, I guess he paid his board," said Mrs. Wilmington, jocosely rejecting
the implication that he had been the guest of the Boltons.

"I don't see what he expects to do with that little girl of his, without
any mother, that way," said Mrs. Gerrish. "He ought to get married."

"Perhaps he will, when he's waited a proper time," suggested Mrs. Putney
demurely.

"Well, his wife's been the same as dead ever since the child was born. I
don't know what you call a proper time, Ellen," argued Mrs. Gerrish.

"I presume a minister feels differently about such things," Mrs. Wilmington
remarked indolently.

"I don't see why a minister should feel any different from anybody else,"
said Mrs. Gerrish. "It's his duty to do it on his child's account. I don't
see why he don't have the remains brought to Hatboro', anyway."

They debated this point at some length, and they seemed to forget Annie.
She listened with more interest than her concern in the last resting-place
of the minister's dead wife really inspired. These old friends of hers
seemed to have lost the sensitiveness of their girlhood without having
gained tenderness in its place. They treated the affair with a nakedness
that shocked her. In the country and in small towns people come face
to face with life, especially women. It means marrying, child-bearing,
household cares and burdens, neighbourhood gossip, sickness, death, burial,
and whether the corpse appeared natural. But ever so much kindness goes
with their disillusion; they are blunted, but not embittered.

They ended by recalling Annie to mind, and Mrs. Putney said: "I suppose you
haven't been to the cemetery yet? I They've got it all fixed up since you
went away--drives laid out, and paths cut through, and everything. A good
many have put up family tombs, and they've taken away the old iron fences
round the lots, and put granite curbing. They mow the grass all the time.
It's a perfect garden." Mrs. Putney was a small woman, already beginning
to wrinkle. She had married a man whom Annie remembered as a mischievous
little boy, with a sharp tongue and a nervous temperament; her father had
always liked him when he came about the house, but Annie had lost sight of
him in the years that make small boys and girls large ones, and he was at
college when she went abroad. She had an impression of something unhappy in
her friend's marriage.

"I think it's _too_ much fixed up myself," said Mrs. Gerrish. She
turned suddenly to Annie: "You going to have your father fetched home?"

The other ladies started a little at the question and looked at Annie; it
was not that they were shocked, but they wanted to see whether she would
not be so.

"No," she said briefly. She added, helplessly, "It wasn't his wish."

"I should have thought he would have liked to be buried alongside of your
mother," said Mrs. Gerrish. "But the Judge always _was_ a little
peculiar. I presume you can have the name and the date put on the monument
just the same."

Annie flushed at this intimate comment and suggestion from a woman whom as
a girl she had never admitted to familiarity with her, but had tolerated
her because she was such a harmless simpleton, and hung upon other girls
whom she liked better. The word monument cowed her, however. She was afraid
they might begin to talk about the soldiers' monument. She answered
hastily, and began to ask them about their families.

Mrs. Wilmington, who had no children, and Mrs. Putney, who had one, spoke
of Mrs. Gerrish's large family. She had four children, and she refused the
praises of her friends for them, though she celebrated them herself. "You
ought to have seen the two little girls that Ellen lost, Annie," she said.
"Ellen Putney, I don't see how you ever got over that. Those two lovely,
healthy children gone, and poor little Winthrop left! I always did say it
was too hard."

She had married a clerk in the principal dry-goods store, who had prospered
rapidly, and was now one of the first business men of the place, and had an
ambition to be a leading citizen. She believed in his fitness to deal with
the questions of religion and education which he took part in, and was
always quoting Mr. Gerrish. She called him Mr. Gerrish so much that other
people began to call him so too. But Mrs. Putney's husband held out against
it, and had the habit of returning the little man's ceremonious salutations
with an easy, "Hello, Billy," "Good morning, Billy." It was his theory that
this was good for Gerrish, who might otherwise have forgotten when
everybody called him Billy. He was one of the old Putneys; and he was a
lawyer by profession.

Mrs. Wilmington's husband had come to Hatboro' since Annie's long absence
began; he had capital, and he had started a stocking-mill in Hatboro'.
He was much older than his wife, whom he had married after a protracted
widowerhood. She had one of the best houses and the most richly furnished
in Hatboro'. She and Mrs. Putney saw Mrs. Gerrish at rare intervals, and in
observance of some notable fact of their girlish friendship like the
present.

In pursuance of the subject of children, Mrs. Gerrish said that she
sometimes had a notion to offer to take Mr. Peck's little girl herself till
he could get fixed somehow, but Mr. Gerrish would not let her. Mr. Gerrish
said Mr. Peck had better get married himself if he wanted a step-mother for
his little girl. Mr. Gerrish was peculiar about keeping a family to itself.

"Well, you'll think _we've_ come to board with you _too_," said
Mrs. Putney, in reference to Mr. Peck.

The ladies all rose, and having got upon their feet, began to shout and
laugh again--like girls, they implied.

They stayed and talked a long time after rising, with the same note of
unsparing personality in their talk. Where there are few public interests
and few events, as in such places, there can be no small-talk, nothing of
the careless touch-and-go of larger societies. Every one knows all the
others, and knows the worst of them. People are not unkind; they are
mutually and freely helpful; but they have only themselves to occupy their
minds. Annie's friends had also to distinguish themselves to her from the
rest of the villagers, and it was easiest to do this by an attitude of
criticism mingled with large allowance. They ended a dissection of the
community by saying that they believed there was no place like Hatboro',
after all.

In the contagion of their perfunctory gaiety Annie began to scream and
laugh too, as she followed them to the door, and stood talking to them
while they got into Mrs. Wilmington's extension-top carry-all. She answered
with deafening promises, when they put their bonnets out of the carry-all
and called back to her to be sure to come soon to see them soon.

V.

Mrs. Bolton made no advances with Annie toward the discussion of her
friends; but when Annie asked about their families, she answered with the
incisive directness of a country-bred woman. She delivered her judgments as
she went about her work, the morning after the ladies' visit, while Annie
sat before the breakfast-table, which she had given her leave to clear. As
she passed in and out from the dining-room to the kitchen she kept talking;
she raised her voice in the further room, and lowered it when she drew near
again. She wore a dismal calico wrapper, which made no compromise with the
gauntness of her figure; her reddish-brown hair, which grew in a fringe
below her crown, was plaited into small tags or tails, pulled up and tied
across the top of her head, the bare surfaces of which were curiously
mottled with the dye which she sometimes put on her hair. Behind, this
was gathered up into a small knob pierced with a single hair-pin; the
arrangement left Mrs. Bolton's visage to the unrestricted expression of
character. She did not let it express toward Annie any expectation of the
confidential relations that are supposed to exist between people who have
been a long time master and servant. She had never recognised her relations
with the Kilburns in these terms. She was a mature Yankee single woman,
of confirmed self-respect, when she first came as house-keeper to Judge
Kilburn, twenty years ago, and she had not changed her nature in changing
her condition by her marriage with Oliver Bolton; she was childless, unless
his comparative youth conferred a sort of adoptive maternity upon her.

Annie went into her father's study, where she had lit the fire in the
Franklin-stove on her way to breakfast. It had come on to rain during the
night, after the fine yesterday which Mrs. Gerrish had denounced to its
face as a weather-breeder. At first it rained silently, stealthily; but
toward morning Annie heard the wind rising, and when she looked out of her
window after daylight she found a fierce north-easterly storm drenching
and chilling the landscape. Now across the flattened and tangled grass of
the lawn the elms were writhing in the gale, and swinging their long lean
boughs to and fro; from another window she saw the cuffed and hustled
maples ruffling their stiff masses of foliage, and shuddering in the
storm. She turned away, with a sigh of the luxurious melancholy which a
northeaster inspires in people safely sheltered from it, and sat down
before her fire. She recalled the three women who had visited her the day
before, in the better-remembered figures of their childhood and young
girlhood; and their present character did not seem a broken promise.
Nothing was really disappointed in it but the animal joy, the hopeful riot
of their young blood, which must fade and die with the happiest fate. She
perceived that what they had come to was not unjust to what they had been;
and as our own fate always appears to us unaccomplished, a thing for the
distant future to fulfil, she began to ask herself what was to be the
natural sequence of such a temperament, such mental and moral traits, as
hers. Had her life been so noble in anything but vague aspirations that she
could ever reasonably expect the destiny of grand usefulness which she had
always unreasonably expected? The question came home to her with such pain,
in the light of what her old playmates had become, that she suddenly ceased
to enjoy the misery of the storm out-of-doors, or the purring content of
the fire on the hearth of the stove at her feet; the book she had taken
down to read fell unopened into her lap, and she gave herself up to a
half-hour of such piercing self-question as only a high-minded woman can
endure when the flattering promises of youth have grown vague and few.

There is no condition of life that is wholly acceptable, but none that is
not tolerable when once it establishes itself; and while Annie Kilburn
had never consented to be an old maid, she had become one without great
suffering. At thirty-one she could not call herself anything else; she
often called herself an old maid, with the mental reservation that she was
not one. She was merely unmarried; she might marry any time. Now, when she
assured herself of this, as she had done many times before, she suddenly
wondered if she should ever marry; she wondered if she had seemed to her
friends yesterday like a person who would never marry. Did one carry such
a thing in one's looks? Perhaps they, idealised her; they had not seen her
since she was twenty, and perhaps they still thought of her as a young
girl. It now seemed to her as if she had left her youth in Rome, as in Rome
it had seemed to her that she should find it again in Hatboro'. A pang of
aimless, unlocalised homesickness passed through her; she realised that she
was alone in the world. She rose to escape the pang, and went to the window
of the parlour which looked toward the street, where she saw the figure of
a young man draped in a long indiarubber gossamer coat fluttering in the
wind that pushed him along as he tacked on a southerly course; he bowed
and twisted his head to escape the lash of the rain. She watched him till
he turned into the lane leading to the house, and then, at a discreeter
distance, she watched him through the window at the other corner, making
his way up to the front door in the teeth of the gale. He seemed to have a
bundle under his arm, and as he stepped into the shelter of the portico,
and freed his arm to ring, she discovered that it was a bundle of books.
Whether Mrs. Bolton did not hear the bell, or whether she heard it and
decided that it would be absurd to leave her work for it, when Miss
Kilburn, who was so much nearer, could answer it, she did not come, even at
a second ring, and Annie was forced to go to the door herself, or leave the
poor man dripping in the cold wind outside.

She had made up her mind, at sight of the books, that he was a canvasser
for some subscription book, such as used to come in her father's time, but
when she opened to him he took off his hat with a great deal of manner, and
said "Miss Kilburn?" with so much insinuation of gentle disinterestedness,
that it flashed upon her that it might be Mr. Peck.

"Yes," she said, with confusion, while the flash of conjecture faded away.

"Mr. Brandreth," said her visitor, whom she now saw to be much younger than
Mr. Peck could be. He looked not much more than twenty-two or twenty-three;
his damp hair waved and curled upon his temples and forehead, and his blue
eyes lightened from a beardless and freshly shaven face. "I called this
morning because I felt sure of finding you at home."

He smiled at his reference to the weather, and Annie smiled too as she
again answered, "Yes?" She did not want his books, but she liked something
that was cheerful and enthusiastic in him; she added, "Won't you step into
the study?"

"Thanks, yes," said the young man, flinging off his gossamer, and hanging
it up to drip into the pan of the hat rack. He gathered up his books from
the chair where he had laid them, and held them at his waist with both
hands, while he bowed her precedence beside the study door.

"I don't know," he began, "but I ought to apologise for coming on a day
like this, when you were not expecting to be interrupted."

"Oh no; I'm not at all busy. But you must have had courage to brave a storm
like this."

"No. The truth is, Miss Kilburn, I was very anxious to see you about a
matter I have at heart--that I desire your help with."

"He wants me," Annie thought, "to give him the use of my name as a
subscriber to his book"--there seemed really to be a half-dozen books in
his bundle--"and he's come to me first."

"I had expected to come with Mrs. Munger--she's a great friend of mine;
you haven't met her yet, but you'll like her; she's the leading spirit
in South Hatboro'--and we were coming together this morning; but she was
unexpectedly called away yesterday, and so I ventured to call alone."

"I'm very glad to see you, Mr. Brandreth," Annie said. "Then Mrs. Munger
has subscribed already, and I'm only second fiddle, after all," she
thought.

"The truth is," said Mr. Brandreth, "I'm the factotum, or teetotum, of the
South Hatboro' ladies' book club, and I've been deputed to come and see if
you wouldn't like to join it."

"Oh!" said Annie, and with a thrill of dismay she asked herself how much
she had let her manner betray that she had supposed he was a book agent. "I
shall be very glad indeed, Mr. Brandreth."

"Mrs. Munger was sure you would," said Mr. Brandreth joyously. "I've
brought some of the books with me--the last," he said; and Annie had time
to get into a new social attitude toward him during their discussion of the
books. She chose one, and Mr. Brandreth took her subscription, and wrote
her name in the club book.

"One of the reasons," he said, "why I would have preferred to come with
Mrs. Munger is that she is so heart and soul with mo in my little scheme.
She could have put it before you in so much better light than I can. But
she was called away so suddenly."

"I hope for no serious cause," said Annie.

"Oh no! It's just to Cambridge. Her son is one of the Freshman Nine, and
he's been hit by a ball."

"Oh!" said Annie.

"Yes; it's a great pity for Mrs. Munger. But I come to you for advice as
well as co-operation, Miss Kilburn. You must have met a great many English
people in Rome, and heard some of them talk about it. We're thinking, some
of the young people here, about getting up some outdoor theatricals, like
Lady Archibald Campbell's, don't you know. You know about them?" he added,
at the blankness in her face.

"I read accounts of them in the English papers. They must have been
very--original. But do you think that in a community like Hatboro'--Are
there enough who could--enter into the spirit?"

"Oh yes, indeed!" cried Mr. Brandreth ardently. "You've no idea what a
place Hatboro' has got to be. You've not been about much yet, Miss
Kilburn?"

"No," said Annie; "I haven't really been off our own place since I came.
I've seen nobody but two or three old friends, and we naturally talked more
about old times than anything else. But I hear that there are great
changes."

"Yes," said Mr. Brandreth. "The social growth has been even greater than
the business growth. You've no idea! People have come in for the winter
as well as the summer. South Hatboro', where we live--you must see South
Hatboro', Miss Kilburn!--is quite a famous health resort. A great many
Boston doctors send their patients to us now, instead of Colorado or the
Adirondacks. In fact, that's what brought _us_ to Hatboro'. My mother
couldn't have lived, if she had tried to stay in Melrose. One lung all
gone, and the other seriously affected. And people have found out what
a charming place it is for the summer. It's cool; and it's so near, you
know; the gentlemen can run out every night--only an hour and a quarter
from town, and expresses both ways. All very agreeable people, too; and
cultivated. Mr. Fellows, the painter, makes a long summer; he bought an old
farm-house, and built a studio; Miss Jennings, the flower-painter, has a
little box there, too; Mr. Chapley, the publisher, of New York, has built;
the Misses Clevinger, and Mrs. Valence, are all near us. There's one family
from Chicago--quite nice--New England by birth, you know; and Mrs. Munger,
of course; so that there's a very pleasant variety."

"I certainly had no idea of it," said Annie.

"I knew you couldn't have," said Mr. Brandreth, "or you wouldn't have felt
any doubt about our having the material for the theatricals. You see,
I want to interest all the nice people in it, and make it a whole-town
affair. I think it's a great pity for some of the old village families and
the summer folks, as they call us, not to mingle more than they do, and
Mrs. Munger thinks so too; and we've been talking you over, Miss Kilburn,
and we've decided that you could do more than anybody else to help on a
scheme that's meant to bring them together."

"Because I'm neither summer folks nor old village families?" asked Annie.

"Because you're both," retorted Mr. Brandreth.

"I don't see that," said Annie; "but we'll suppose the case, for the sake
of argument. What do you expect me to do in theatricals, in-doors or out?
I never took part in anything of the kind; I can't see an inch beyond the
end of my nose without glasses; I never could learn the simplest thing by
heart; I'm clumsy and awkward; I get confused."

"Oh, my dear Miss Kilburn, spare yourself! We don't expect you to take part
in the play. I don't admit that you're what you say at all; but we only
want you to lend us your countenance."

"Oh, is that all? And what do you expect to do with my countenance?" Annie
said, with a laugh of misgiving.

"Everything. We know how much influence your name has--one of the old
Hatboro' names--in the community, and all that; and we do want to interest
the whole community in our scheme. We want to establish a Social Union for
the work-people, don't you know, and we think it would be much nicer if it
seemed to originate with the old village people."

Annie could not resist an impression in favour of the scheme. It gave
definition to the vague intentions with which she had returned to Hatboro';
it might afford her a chance to make reparation for the figure on the
soldiers' monument.

"I'm not sure," she began. "If I knew just what a Social Union is--"

"Well, at first," Mr. Brandreth interposed, "it will only be a
reading-room, supplied with the magazines and papers, and well lighted and
heated, where the work-people--those who have no families especially--could
spend their evenings. Afterward we should hope to have a kitchen, and
supply tea and coffee--and oysters, perhaps--at a nominal cost; and
ice-cream in the summer."

"But what have your outdoor theatricals to do--But of course. You intend
to give the proceeds--"

"Exactly. And we want the proceeds to be as large as possible. We propose
to give our time and money to getting the thing up in the best shape, and
then we want all the villagers to give their half-dollars and make it a
success every way."

"I see," said Annie.

"We want it to be successful, and we want it to be distinguished; we
want to make it unique. Mrs. Munger is going to give her grounds and the
decorations, and there will be a supper afterward, and a little dance."

"Such things are a great deal of trouble," said Annie, with a smile, from
the vantage-ground of her larger experience. "What do you propose to
do--what play?"

"Well, we've about decided upon some scenes from _Romeo and Juliet_.
They would be very easy to set, outdoors, don't you know, and everybody
knows them, and they wouldn't be hard to do. The ballroom in the house of
the Capulets could be made to open on a kind of garden terrace--Mrs. Munger
has a lovely terrace in her grounds for lawn-tennis--and then we could have
a minuet on the grass. You know Miss Mather introduces a minuet in that
scene, and makes a great deal of it. Or, I forgot. She's come up since you
went away."

"Yes; I hadn't heard of her. Isn't a minuet at Verona in the time of the
Scaligeri rather--"

"Well, yes, it is, rather. But you've no idea how pretty it is. And then,
you know, we could have the whole of the balcony scene, and other bits
that we choose to work in--perhaps parts of other acts that would suit the
scene."

"Yes, it would be charming; I can see how very charming it could be made."

"Then we may count upon you?" he asked.

"Yes, yes," she said; "but I don't really know what I'm to do."

Mr. Brandreth had risen; but he sat down again, as if glad to afford her
any light he could throw upon the subject.

"How am I to 'influence people,' as you say?" she continued. "I'm quite a
stranger in Hatboro'; I hardly know anybody."

"But a great many people know _you_, Miss Kilburn. Your name is
associated with the history of the place, and you could do everything for
us. You _won't_ refuse!" cried Mr. Brandreth winningly. "For instance,
you know Mrs. Wilmington."

"Oh yes; she's an old girl-friend of mine."

"Then you know how enormously clever she is. She can do anything. We want
her to take an active part--the part of the Nurse. She's delightfully
funny. But you know her peculiar temperament--how she hates initiative of
all kinds; and we want somebody to bring Mr. Wilmington round. If we could
get them committed to the scheme, and a man like Mr. Putney--he'd make
a capital Mercutio--it would go like wildfire. We want to interest the
churches, too. The object is so worthy, and the theatricals will be so
entirely unobjectionable in every respect. We have the Unitarians and
Universalists, of course. The Baptists and Methodists will be hard to
manage; but the Orthodox are of so many different shades; and I understand
the new minister, Mr. Peck, is very liberal. He was here in your house, I
believe."

"Yes; but I never saw him," said Annie. "He boarded with the farmer. I'm a
Unitarian myself."

"Of course. It would be a great point gained if we could interest him.
Every care will be taken to have the affair unobjectionable. You see, the
design is to let everybody come to the theatricals, and only those remain
to the supper and dance whom we invite. That will keep out the socially
objectionable element--the shoe-shop hands and the straw-shop girls."

"Oh," said Annie. "But isn't the--the Social Union for just that class?"

"Yes, it's _expressly_ for them, and we intend to organise a system of
entertainments--lectures, concerts, readings--for the winter, and keep them
interested the whole year round in it. The object is to show them that the
best people in the community have their interests at heart, and wish to get
on common ground with them."

"Yes," said Annie, "the object is certainly very good."

Mr. Brandreth rose again, and put out his hand. "Then you will help us?"

"Oh, I don't know about that yet."

"At least you won't hinder us?"

"Certainly not."

"Then I consider you in a very hopeful condition, Miss Kilburn, and I feel
that I can safely leave you to Mrs. Munger. She is coming to see you as
soon as she gets back."

Annie found herself sadder when he was gone, and she threw herself upon the
old feather-cushioned lounge to enjoy a reverie in keeping with the dreary
storm outside. Was it for this that she had left Rome? She had felt, as
every American of conscience feels abroad, the drawings of a duty, obscure
and indefinable, toward her country, the duty to come home and do something
for it, be something in it. This is the impulse of no common patriotism; it
is perhaps a sense of the opportunity which America supremely affords for
the race to help itself, and for each member of it to help all the rest.

But from the moment Annie arrived in Hatboro' the difficulty of being
helpful to anything or any one had increased upon her with every new fact
that she had learned about it and the people in it. To her they seemed
terribly self-sufficing. They seemed occupied and prosperous, from her
front parlour window; she did not see anybody going by who appeared to be
in need of her; and she shrank from a more thorough exploration of the
place. She found she had fancied necessity coming to her and taking away
her good works, as it were, in a basket; but till Mr. Brandreth appeared
with his scheme, nothing had applied for her help She had always hated
theatricals; they bored her; and yet the Social Union was a good object,
and if this scheme would bring her acquainted in Hatboro' it might be
the stepping-stone to something better, something really or more ideally
useful. She wondered what South Hatboro' was like; she would get Mrs.
Bolton's opinion, which, if severe, would be just. She would ask Mrs.
Bolton about Mrs. Munger, too. She would tell Mrs. Bolton to tell Mr. Peck
to call to dine. Would it be thought patronising to Mr. Peck?

The fire from the Franklin-stove diffused a drowsy comfort through the
room, the rain lashed the window-panes, and the wind shrilled in the gable.
Annie fell off to sleep. When she woke up she heard Mrs. Bolton laying the
table for her one o'clock dinner, and she knew it was half-past twelve,
because Mrs. Bolton always laid the table just half an hour beforehand. She
went out to speak to Mrs. Bolton.

There was no want of distinctness in Mrs. Bolton's opinion, but Annie felt
that there was a want of perspective and proportion in it, arising from the
narrowness of Mrs. Bolton's experience and her ignorance of the world; she
was farm-bred, and she had always lived upon the outskirts of Hatboro',
even when it was a much smaller place than now. But Mrs. Bolton had her
criterions, and she believed in them firmly; in a time when agnosticism
extends among cultivated people to every region of conjecture, the social
convictions of Mrs. Bolton were untainted by misgiving. In the first place,
she despised laziness, and as South Hatboro' was the summer home of open
and avowed disoccupation, of an idleness so entire that it had to seek
refuge from itself in all manner of pastimes, she held its population in
a contempt to which her meagre phrase did imperfect justice. From time to
time she had to stop altogether, and vent it in "Wells!" of varying accents
and inflections, but all expressive of aversion, and in snorts and sniffs
still more intense in purport.

Then she held that people who had nothing else to do ought at least to be
exemplary in their lives, and she was merciless to the goings-on in South
Hatboro', which had penetrated on the breath of scandal to the elder
village. When Annie came to find out what these were, she did not think
them dreadful; they were small flirtations and harmless intimacies between
the members of the summer community, which in the imagination of the
village blackened into guilty intrigue. On the tongues of some, South
Hatboro' was another Gomorrah; Mrs. Bolton believed the worst, especially
of the women.

"I hear," said Mrs. Bolton, "that them women come up here for _rest_.
I don't know what they want to rest _from_; but if it's from doin'
nothin' all winter long, I guess they go back to the city poot' near's
tired's they come."

Perhaps Annie felt that it was useless to try to enlighten her in regard
to the fatigues from which the summer sojourner in the country escapes
so eagerly; the cares of giving and going to lunches and dinners; the
labour of afternoon teas; the late hours and the heavy suppers of evening
receptions; the drain of charity-doing and play-going; the slavery of
amateur art study, and parlour readings, and musicales; the writing of
invitations and acceptances and refusals; the trying on of dresses; the
calls made and received. She let her talk on, and tried to figure, as well
as she could from her talk, the form and magnitude of the task laid upon
her by Mr. Brandreth, of reconciling Old Hatboro' to South Hatboro', and
uniting them in a common enterprise.

"Mrs. Bolton," she said, abruptly leaving the subject at last, "I've been
thinking whether I oughtn't to do something about Mr. Peck. I don't want
him to feel that he was unwelcome to me in my house; I should like him to
feel that I approved of his having been here."

As this was not a question, Mrs. Bolton, after the fashion of country
people, held her peace, and Annie went on--

"Does he never come to see you?"

"Well, he was here last night," said Mrs. Bolton.

"Last _night_!" cried Annie. "Why in the world didn't you let me
know?"

"I didn't know as you wanted to know," began Mrs. Bolton, with a sullen
defiance mixed with pleasure in Annie's reproach. "He was out there in my
settin'-room with his little girl."

"But don't you see that if you didn't let me know he was here it would look
to him as if I didn't wish to meet him--as if I had told you that you were
not to introduce him?"

Probably Mrs. Bolton believed too that a man's mind was agile enough for
these conjectures; but she said she did not suppose he would take it in
that way; she added that he stayed longer than she expected, because the
little girl seemed to like it so much; she always cried when she had to go
away.

"Do you mean that she's attached to the place?" demanded Annie.

"Well, yes, she is," Mrs. Bolton admitted. "And the cat."

Annie had a great desire to tell Mrs. Bolton that she had behaved very
stupidly. But she knew Mrs. Bolton would not stand that, and she had to
content herself with saying, severely, "The next time he comes, let me know
without fail, please. What is the child like?" she asked.

"Well, I guess it must favour the mother, if anything. It don't seem to
take after him any."

"Why don't you have it here often, then," asked Annie, "if it's so much
attached to the place?"

"Well I didn't know as you wanted to have it round," replied Mrs. Bolton
bluntly.

Annie made a "Tchk!" of impatience with her obtuseness, and asked, "Where
is Mr. Peck staying?"

"Well, he's staying at Mis' Warner's till he can get settled."

"Is it far from here?"

"It's down in the north part of the village--Over the Track."

"Is Mr. Bolton at home?"

"Yes, he is," said Mrs. Bolton, with the effect of not intending to deny
it.

"Then I want him to hitch up--now--at once--right away--and go and get the
child and bring her here to dinner with me." Annie got so far with her
severity, feeling that it was needed to mask a proceeding so romantic,
perhaps so silly. She added timidly, "Can he do it?"

"I d'know but what he can," said Mrs. Bolton, dryly, and whatever her
feeling really was in regard to the matter, her manner gave no hint of it.
Annie did not know whether Bolton was going on her errand or not, from Mrs.
Bolton, but in ten or twelve minutes she saw him emerge from the avenue
into the street, in the carry-all, tightly curtained against the storm.
Half an hour later he returned, and his wife set down in the library a
shabbily dressed little girl, with her cheeks bright and her hair curling
from the weather, and staring at Annie, and rather disposed to cry. She
said hastily, "Bring in the cat, Mrs. Bolton; we're going to have the cat
to dinner with us."

This inspiration seemed to decide the little girl against crying. The cat
was equipped with a doily, and actually provided with dinner at a small
table apart; the child did not look at it as Annie had expected she would,
but remained with her eyes fastened on Annie herself: She did not stir from
the spot where Mrs. Bolton had put her down, but she let Annie take her
up and arrange her in a chair, with large books graduated to the desired
height under her, and made no sign of satisfaction or disapproval. Once she
looked round, when Mrs. Bolton finally went out after bringing in the last
dish for dinner, and then fastened her eyes on Annie again, twisting her
head shyly round to follow her in every gesture and expression as Annie
fitted on a napkin under her chin, cut up her meat, poured her milk, and
buttered her bread. She answered nothing to the chatter which Annie tried
to make lively and entertaining, and made no sound but that of a broken and
suppressed breathing. Annie had forgotten to ask her name of Mrs. Bolton,
and she asked it in vain of the child herself, with a great variety of
circumlocution; she was so unused to children that she was ashamed to
invent any pet name for her; she called her, in what she felt to be a stiff
and school-mistressly fashion, "Little Girl," and talked on at her, growing
more and more nervous herself without perceiving that the child's condition
was approaching a climax. She had taken off her glasses, from the notion
that they embarrassed her guest, and she did not see the pretty lips
beginning to curl, nor the searching eyes clouding with tears; the storm of
sobs that suddenly burst upon her astounded her.

"Mrs. Bolton! Mrs. Bolton!" she screamed, in hysterical helplessness. Mrs.
Bolton rushed in, and with an instant perception of the situation, caught
the child to her bony breast, and fled with it to her own room, where Annie
heard its wails die gradually away amid murmurs of comfort and reassurance
from Mrs. Bolton.

She felt like a great criminal and a great fool; at the same time she was
vexed with the stupid child which she had meant so well by, and indignant
with Mrs. Bolton, whose flight with it had somehow implied a reproach of
her behaviour. When she could govern herself, she went out to Mrs. Bolton's
room, where she found the little one quiet enough, and Mrs. Bolton tying on
the long apron in which she cleared up the dinner and washed the dishes.

"I guess she'll get along now," she said, without the critical tone which
Annie was prepared to resent. "She was scared some, and she felt kind of
strange, I presume."

"Yes, and I behaved like a simpleton, dressing up the cat, I suppose,"
answered Annie. "But I thought it would amuse her."

"You can't tell how children will take a thing. I don't believe they like
anything that's out of the common--well, not a great deal."

There was a leniency in Mrs. Bolton's manner which encouraged Annie to go
on and accuse herself more and more, and then an unresponsive blankness
that silenced her. She went back to her own rooms; and to get away from her
shame, she began to write a letter.

It was to a friend in Rome, and from the sense we all have that a letter
which is to go such a great distance ought to be a long letter, and from
finding that she had really a good deal to say, she let it grow so that
she began apologising for its length half a dozen pages before the end.
It took her nearly the whole afternoon, and she regained a little of her
self-respect by ridiculing the people she had met.

VI.

Toward five o'clock Annie was interrupted by a knock at her door, which
ought to have prepared her for something unusual, for it was Mrs. Bolton's
habit to come and go without knocking. But she called "Come in!" without
rising from her letter, and Mrs. Bolton entered with a stranger. The little
girl clung to his forefinger, pressing her head against his leg, and
glancing shyly up at Annie. She sprang up, and, "This is Mr. Peck, Miss
Kilburn," said Mrs. Bolton.

"How do you do?" said Mr. Peck, taking the hand she gave him.

He was gaunt, without being tall, and his clothes hung loosely about him,
as if he had fallen away in them since they were made. His face was almost
the face of the caricature American: deep, slightly curved vertical lines
enclosed his mouth in their parenthesis; a thin, dust-coloured beard fell
from his cheeks and chin; his upper lip was shaven. But instead of the
slight frown of challenge and self-assertion which marks this face in the
type, his large blue eyes, set near together, gazed sadly from under a
smooth forehead, extending itself well up toward the crown, where his dry
hair dropped over it.

"I am very glad to see you, Mr. Peck," said Annie; "I've wanted to tell you
how pleased I am that you found shelter in my old home when you first came
to Hatboro'."

Mr. Peck's trousers were short and badly kneed, and his long coat hung
formlessly from his shoulders; she involuntarily took a patronising tone
toward him which was not habitual with her.

"Thank you," he said, with the dry, serious voice which seemed the fit
vocal expression of his presence; "I have been afraid that it seemed like
an intrusion to you."

"Oh, not the least," retorted Annie. "You were very welcome. I hope you're
comfortably placed where you are now?"

"Quite so," said the minister.

"I'd heard so much of your little girl from Mrs. Bolton, and her attachment
to the house, that I ventured to send for her to-day. But I believe I gave
her rather a bad quarter of an hour, and that she liked the place better
under Mrs. Bolton's _regime_."

She expected some deprecatory expression of gratitude from him, which would
relieve her of the lingering shame she felt for having managed so badly,
but he made none.

"It was my fault. I'm not used to children, and I hadn't taken the
precaution to ask her name--"

"Her name is Idella," said the minister.

Annie thought it very ugly, but, with the intention of saying something
kind, she said, "What a quaint name!"

"It was her mother's choice," returned the minister. "Her own name was
Ella, and my mother's name was Ida; she combined the two."

"Oh!" said Annie. She abhorred those made-up names in which the New England
country people sometimes indulge their fancy, and Idella struck her as a
particularly repulsive invention; but she felt that she must not visit the
fault upon the little creature. "Don't you think you could give me another
trial some time, Idella?" She stooped down and took the child's unoccupied
hand, which she let her keep, only twisting her face away to hide it in her
father's pantaloon leg. "Come now, won't you give me a forgiving little
kiss?" Idella looked round, and Annie made bold to gather her up.

Idella broke into a laugh, and took Annie's cheeks between her hands.

"Well, I declare!" said Mrs. Bolton. "You never can tell what that child
will do next."

"I never can tell what I will do next myself," said Annie. She liked the
feeling of the little, warm, soft body in her arms, against her breast,
and it was flattering to have triumphed where she had seemed to fail so
desperately. They had all been standing, and she now said, "Won't you sit
down, Mr. Peck?" She added, by an impulse which she instantly thought
ill-advised, "There is something I would like to speak to you about."

"Thank you," said Mr. Peck, seating himself beyond the stove. "We must be
getting home before a great while. It is nearly tea-time."

"I won't detain you unduly," said Annie.

Mrs. Bolton left them at her hint of something special to say to the
minister. Annie could not have had the face to speak of Mr. Brandreth's
theatricals in that grim presence; and as it was, she resolved to put
forward their serious object. She began abruptly: "Mr. Peck, I've been
asked to interest myself for a Social Union which the ladies of South
Hatboro' are trying to establish for the operatives. I suppose you haven't
heard anything of the scheme?"

"No, I hadn't," said Mr. Peck.

He was one of those people who sit very high, and he now seemed taller and
more impressive than when he stood.

"It is certainly a-very good object," Annie resumed; and she went on to
explain it at second-hand from Mr. Brandreth as well as she could. The
little girl was standing in her lap, and got between her and Mr. Peck, so
that she had to look first around one side of her and then another to see
how he was taking it.

He nodded his head, and said gravely, "Yes," and "Yes," and "Yes," at each
significant point of her statement. At the end he asked: "And are the means
forthcoming? Have they raised the money for renting and furnishing the
rooms?"

"Well, no, they haven't yet, or not quite, as I understand."

"Have they tried to interest the working people themselves in it? If they
are to value its benefits, it ought to cost them something--self-denial,
privation even."

"Yes, I know," Annie began.

"I'm not satisfied," the minister pursued, "that it is wise to provide
people with even harmless amusements that take them much away from
their homes. These things are invented by well-to-do people who have no
occupation, and think that others want pastimes as much as themselves.
But what working people want is rest, and what they need are decent homes
where they can take it. Besides, unless they help to support this union out
of their own means, the better sort among them will feel wounded by its
existence, as a sort of superfluous charity."

"Yes, I see," said Annie. She saw this side of the affair with surprise.
The minister seemed to have thought more about such matters than she had,
and she insensibly receded from her first hasty generalisation of him,
and paused to reapproach him on another level. The little girl began to
play with her glasses, and accidentally knocked them from her nose. The
minister's face and figure became a blur, and in the purblindness to which
she was reduced she had a moment of clouded volition in which she was
tempted to renounce, and even oppose, the scheme for a Social Union, in
spite of her promise to Mr. Brandreth. But she remembered that she was
a consistent and faithful person, and she said: "The ladies have a plan
for raising the money, and they've applied to me to second it--to use my
influence somehow among the villagers to get them interested; and the
working people can help too if they choose. But I'm quite a stranger
amongst those I'm expected to influence, and I don't at all know how they
will take it." The minister listened, neither prompting nor interrupting.
"The ladies' plan is to have an entertainment at one of the cottages, and
charge an admission, and devote the proceeds to the union." She paused.
Mr. Peck still remained silent, but she knew he was attentive. She pushed
on. "They intend to have a--a representation, in the open air, of one of
Shakespeare's plays, or scenes from one--"

"Do you wish me," interrupted the minister, "to promote the establishment
of this union? Is that why you speak to me of it?"

"Why, I don't know _why_ I speak to you of it," she replied with a
laugh of embarrassment, to which he was cold, apparently. "I certainly
couldn't ask you to take part in an affair that you didn't approve."

"I don't know that I disapprove of it. Properly managed, it might be a good
thing."

"Yes, of course. But I understand why you might not sympathise with that
part of it, and that is why I told you of it," said Annie.

"What part?"

"The--the--theatricals."

"Why not?" asked the minister.

"I know--Mrs. Bolton told me you were very liberal," Annie faltered on;
"but I didn't expect you as a--But of course--"

"I read Shakespeare a great deal," said Mr. Peck. "I have never been in the
theatre; but I should like to see one of his plays represented where it
could cause no one to offend."

"Yes," said Annie, "and this would be by amateurs, and there could be no
_possible_ 'offence in it.' I wished to know how the general idea
would strike you. Of course the ladies would be only too glad of your
advice and co-operation. Their plan is to sell tickets to every one for the
theatricals, and to a certain number of invited persons for a supper, and a
little dance afterward on the lawn."

"I don't know if I understand exactly," said the minister.

Annie repeated her statement more definitely, and explained, from Mr.
Brandreth, as before, that the invitations were to be given so as to
eliminate the shop-hand element from the supper and dance.

Mr. Peck listened quietly. "That would prevent my taking part in the
affair," he said, as quietly as he had listened.

"Of course--dancing," Annie began.

"It is not that. Many people who hold strictly to the old opinions now
allow their children to learn dancing. But I could not join at all with
those who were willing to lay the foundations of a Social Union in a social
disunion--in the exclusion of its beneficiaries from the society of their
benefactors."

He was not sarcastic, but the grotesqueness of the situation as he had
sketched it was apparent. She remembered now that she had felt something
incongruous in it when Mr. Brandreth exposed it, but not deeply.

The minister continued gently: "The ladies who are trying to get up this
Social Union proceed upon the assumption that working people can neither
see nor feel a slight; but it is a great mistake to do so."

Annie had the obtuseness about those she fancied below her which is one of
the consequences of being brought up in a superior station. She believed
that there was something to say on the other side, and she attempted to say
it.

"I don't know that you could call it a slight exactly. People can ask those
they prefer to a social entertainment."

"Yes--if it is for their own pleasure."

"But even in a public affair like this the work-people would feel
uncomfortable and out of place, wouldn't they, if they stayed to the supper
and the dance? They might be exposed to greater suffering among those whose
manners and breeding were different, and it might be very embarrassing all
round. Isn't there that side to be regarded?"

"You beg the question," said the minister, as unsparingly as if she were
a man. "The point is whether a Social Union beginning in social exclusion
could ever do any good. What part do these ladies expect to take in
maintaining it? Do they intend to spend their evenings there, to associate
on equal terms with the shoe-shop and straw-shop hands?"

"I don't suppose they do, but I don't know," said Annie dryly; and she
replied by helplessly quoting Mr. Brandreth: "They intend to organise a
system of lectures, concerts, and readings. They wish to get on common
ground with them."

"They can never get on common ground with them in that way," said the
minister. "No doubt they think they want to do them good; but good is from
the heart, and there is no heart in what they propose. The working people
would know that at once."

"Then you mean to say," Annie asked, half alarmed and half amused, "that
there can be no friendly intercourse with the poor and the well-to-do
unless it is based upon social equality?"

"I will answer your question by asking another. Suppose you were one of the
poor, and the well-to-do offered to be friendly with you on such terms as
you have mentioned, how should you feel toward them?"

"If you make it a personal question--"

"It makes itself a personal question," said the minister dispassionately.

"Well, then, I trust I should have the good sense to see that social
equality between people who were better dressed, better taught, and better
bred than myself was impossible, and that for me to force myself into their
company was not only bad taste, but it was foolish, I have often heard my
father say that the great superiority of the American practice of democracy
over the French ideal was that it didn't involve any assumption of social
equality. He said that equality before the law and in politics was sacred,
but that the principle could never govern society, and that Americans all
instinctively recognised it. And I believe that to try to mix the different
classes would be un-American."

Mr. Peck smiled, and this was the first break in his seriousness. "We don't
know what is or will be American yet. But we will suppose you are quite
right. The question is, how would you feel toward the people whose company
you wouldn't force yourself into?"

"Why, of course," Annie was surprised into saying, "I suppose I shouldn't
feel very kindly toward them."

"Even if you knew that they felt kindly toward you?"

"I'm afraid that would only make the matter worse," she said, with an
uneasy laugh.

The minister was silent on his side of the stove.

"But do I understand you to say," she demanded, "that there can be no love
at all, no kindness, between the rich and the poor? God tells us all to
love one another."

"Surely," said the minister. "Would you suffer such a slight as your
friends propose, to be offered to any one you loved?"

She did not answer, and he continued, thoughtfully: "I suppose that if
a poor person could do a rich person a kindness which cost him some
sacrifice, he might love him. In that case there could be love between
the rich and the poor."

"And there could be no love if a rich man did the same?"

"Oh yes," the minister said--"upon the same ground. Only, the rich man
would have to make a sacrifice first that he would really feel."

"Then you mean to say that people can't do any good at all with their
money?" Annie asked.

"Money is a palliative, but it can't cure. It can sometimes create a bond
of gratitude perhaps, but it can't create sympathy between rich and poor."

"But _why_ can't it?"

"Because sympathy--common feeling--the sense of fraternity--can spring only
from like experiences, like hopes, like fears. And money cannot buy these."

He rose, and looked a moment about him, as if trying to recall something.
Then, with a stiff obeisance, he said, "Good evening," and went out,
while she remained daunted and bewildered, with the child in her arms, as
unconscious of having kept it as he of having left it with her.

Mrs. Bolton must have reminded him of his oversight, for after being gone
so long as it would have taken him to walk to her parlour and back, he
returned, and said simply, "I forgot Idella."

He put out his hands to take her, but she turned perversely from him, and
hid her face in Annie's neck, pushing his hands away with a backward reach
of her little arm.

"Come, Idella!" he said. Idella only snuggled the closer.

Mrs. Bolton came in with the little girl's wraps; they were very common
and poor, and the thought of getting her something prettier went through
Annie's mind.

At sight of Mrs. Bolton the child turned from Annie to her older friend.

"I'm afraid you have a woman-child for your daughter, Mr. Peck," said
Annie, remotely hurt at the little one's fickleness.

Neither Mr. Peck nor Mrs. Bolton smiled, and with some vague intention
of showing him that she could meet the poor on common ground by sharing
their labours, she knelt down and helped Mrs. Bolton tie on and button on
Idella's things.

VII.

Next morning the day broke clear after the long storm, and Annie woke in
revolt against the sort of subjection in which she had parted from Mr.
Peck. She felt the need of showing Mrs. Bolton that, although she had been
civil to him, she had no sympathy with his ideas; but she could not think
of any way to formulate her opposition, and all she could say in offence
was, "Does Mr. Peck usually forget his child when he starts home?"

"I don't know as he does," answered Mrs. Bolton simply. "He's rather of an
absent-minded man, and I suppose he's like other men when he gets talking."

"The child's clothes were disgracefully shabby!" said Annie, vexed that her
attack could come to no more than this.

"I presume," said Mrs. Bolton, "that if he kept more of his money for
himself, he could dress her better."

"Oh, that's the way with these philanthropists," said Annie, thinking of
Hollingsworth, in _The Blithedale Romance_, the only philanthropist
whom she had really ever known, "They are always ready to sacrifice the
happiness and comfort of any one to the general good."

Mrs. Bolton stood a moment, and then went out without replying; but she
looked as offended as Annie could have wished. About ten o'clock the bell
rang, and she came gloomily into the study, and announced that Mrs. Munger
was in the parlour.

Annie had already heard an authoritative rustling of skirts, and she was
instinctively prepared for the large, vigorous woman who turned upon her
from the picture she had been looking at on the wall, and came toward her
with the confident air of one sure they must be friends. Mrs. Munger was
dressed in a dark, firm woollen stuff, which communicated its colour,
if not its material, to the matter-of-fact bonnet which she wore on her
plainly dressed hair. In one of her hands, which were cased in driving
gloves of somewhat insistent evidence, she carried a robust black silk
sun-umbrella, and the effect of her dress otherwise might be summarised in
the statement that where other women would have worn lace, she seemed to
wear leather. She had not only leather gloves, and a broad leather belt at
her waist, but a leather collar; her watch was secured by a leather cord,
passing round her neck, and the stubby tassel of her umbrella stick was
leather: she might be said to be in harness. She had a large, handsome
face, no longer fresh, but with an effect of exemplary cleanness, and a
pair of large grey eyes that suggested the notion of being newly washed,
and that now looked at Annie with the assumption of fully understanding
her.

"Ah, Miss Kilburn!" she said, without any of the wonted preliminaries of
introduction and greeting. "I should have come long ago to see you, but
I've been dispersed over the four quarters of the globe ever since you
came, my dear. I got home last night on the nine o'clock train, in the last
agonies of that howling tempest. Did you ever know anything like it? I see
your trees have escaped. I wonder they weren't torn to shreds."

Annie took her on her own ground of ignoring their past non-acquaintance.
"Yes, it was awful. And your son--how did you leave him? Mr. Brandreth--"

"Oh yes, poor little man! I found him waiting for me at home last night,
and he told me he had been here. He was blowing about in the storm all day.
Such a spirit! There was nothing serious the matter; the bridge of the nose
was all right; merely the cartilage pushed aside by the ball."

She had passed so lightly from Mr. Brandreth's heroic spirit to her son's
nose that Annie, woman as she was, and born to these bold bounds over
sequence, was not sure where they had arrived, till Mrs. Munger added:
"Jim's used to these things. I'm thankful it wasn't a finger, or an eye.
What is _that_?" She jumped from her chair, and swooped upon the
Spanish-Roman water-colour Annie had stood against some books on the table,
pending its final disposition.

"It's only a Guerra," said Annie. "My things are all scattered about still;
I have scarcely tried to get into shape yet."

Mrs. Munger would not let her interpose any idea of there being a past
between them. She merely said: "You knew the Herricks at Rome, of course.
I'm in hopes I shall get them here when they come back. I want you to help
me colonise Hatboro' with the right sort of people: it's so easy to get the
wrong sort! But, so far, I think we've succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.
It's easy enough to get nice people together at the seaside; but inland!
No; it's only a very few nice people who will come into the country for the
summer; and we propose to make Hatboro' a winter colony too; that gives us
agreeable invalids, you know; it gave us the Brandreths. He told you of our
projected theatricals, I suppose?"

"Yes," said Annie non-committally, "he did."

"I know just how you feel about it, my dear," said Mrs. Munger. "'Been
there myself,' as Jim says. But it grows upon you. I'm glad you didn't
refuse outright;" and Mrs. Munger looked at her with eyes of large
expectance.

"No, I didn't," said Annie, obliged by this expectance to say something.
"But to tell you the truth, Mrs. Munger, I don't see how I'm to be of any
use to you or to Mr. Brandreth."

"Oh, take a cab and go about, like Boots and Brewer, you know, for the
Veneerings." She said this as if she knew about the humour rather than felt
it. "We are placing all our hopes of bringing round the Old Hatborians in
you."

"I'm afraid you're mistaken about my influence," said Annie. "Mr. Brandreth
spoke of it, and I had an opportunity of trying it last night, and seeing
just what it amounted to."

"Yes?" Mrs. Munger prompted, with an increase of expectance in her large
clear eyes, and of impartiality in her whole face.

"Mr. Peck was here," said Annie reluctantly, "and I tried it on him."

"Yes?" repeated Mrs. Munger, as immutably as if she were sitting for her
photograph and keeping the expression.

Annie broke from her reluctance with a sort of violence which carried
her further than she would have gone otherwise. She ridiculed Mr. Peck's
appearance and manner, and laughed at his ideas to Mrs. Munger. She had not
a good conscience in it, but the perverse impulse persisted in her. There
seemed no other way in which she could assert herself against him.

Mrs. Munger listened judicially, but she seemed to take in only what Mr.
Peck had thought of the dance and supper; at the end she said, rather
vacantly, "What nonsense!"

"Yes; but I'm afraid he thinks it's wisdom, and for all practical purposes
it amounts to that. You see what my 'influence' has done at the outset,
Mrs. Munger. He'll never give way on such a point."

"Oh, very well, then," said Mrs. Munger, with the utmost lightness and
indifference, "we'll drop the idea of the invited supper and dance."

"Do you think that would be well?" asked Annie.

"Yes; why not? It's only an idea. I don't think you've made at all a bad
beginning. It was very well to try the idea on some one who would be frank
about it, and wouldn't go away and talk against it," said Mrs. Munger,
rising. "I want you to come with me, my dear."

"To see Mr. Peck? Excuse me. I don't think I could," said Annie.

"No; to see some of his parishioners," said Mrs. Munger. "His deacons, to
begin with, or his deacons' wives."

This seemed so much less than calling on Mr. Peck that Annie looked out at
Mrs. Munger's basket-phaeton at her gate, and knew that she would go with
very little more urgence.

"After all, you know, you're not one of his congregation; he may yield to
them," said Mrs. Munger. "We must _have_ him--if only because he's
hard to get. It'll give us an idea of what we've got to contend with."

It had a very practical sound; it was really like meeting the difficulties
on their own ground, and it overcame the question of taste which was
rising in Annie's mind. She demurred a little more upon the theory of her
uselessness; but Mrs. Munger insisted, and carried her off down the village
street.

The air sparkled full of sun, and a breeze from the south-west frolicked
with the twinkling leaves of the overarching elms, and made their shadows
dance on the crisp roadway, packed hard by the rain, and faced with clean
sand, which crackled pleasantly under Mrs. Munger's phaeton wheels. She
talked incessantly. "I think we'll go first to Mrs. Gerrish's, and then to
Mrs. Wilmington's. You know them?"

"Oh yes; they were old girl friends."

"Then you know why I go to Mrs. Gerrish's first. She'll care a great deal,
and Mrs. Wilmington won't care at all. She's a delicious creature, Mrs.
Wilmington--don't you think? That large, indolent nature; Mr. Brandreth
says she makes him think of 'the land in which it seemed always
afternoon.'"

Annie remembered Lyra Goodman as a long, lazy, red-haired girl who laughed
easily; and she could not readily realise her in the character of a
Titian-esque beauty with a gift for humorous dramatics, which she had
filled out into during the years of her absence from Hatboro'; but she said
"Oh yes," in the necessity of polite acquiescence, and Mrs. Munger went on
talking--

"She's the only one of the Old Hatboro' people, so far as I know them, who
has any breadth of view. Whoa!" She pulled up suddenly beside a stout,
short lady in a fashionable walking dress, who was pushing an elegant
perambulator with one hand, and shielding her complexion with a crimson
sun-umbrella in the other.

"Mrs. Gerrish!" Mrs. Munger called; and Mrs. Gerrish, who had already
looked around at the approaching phaeton, and then looked away, so as not
to have seemed to look, stopped abruptly, and after some exploration of the
vicinity, discovered where the voice came from.

"Oh, Mrs. Munger!" she called back, bridling with pleasure at being greeted
in that way by the chief lady of South Hatboro', and struggling to keep up
a dignified indifference at the same time. "Why, Annie!" she added.

"Good morning, Emmeline," said Annie; she annexed some irrelevancies about
the weather, which Mrs. Munger swept away with business-like robustness.

"We were driving down to your house to find you. I want to see the
principal ladies of your church, and talk with them about our Social Union.
You've heard about it?"

"Well, nothing very particular," said Mrs. Gerrish; she had probably heard
nothing at all. After a moment she asked, "Have you seen Mrs. Wilmington
yet?"

"No, I haven't," cried Mrs. Munger. "The fact is, I wanted to talk it over
with you and Mr. Gerrish first."

"Oh!" said Mrs. Gerrish, brightening. "Well, I was just going right there.
I guess he's in."

"Well, we shall meet there, then. Sorry I can't offer you a _seat_.
But there's nothing but the rumble, and that wouldn't hold you _all_."

Mrs. Munger called this back after starting her pony. Mrs. Gerrish did not
understand, and screamed, "_What_?"

Mrs. Munger repeated her joke at the top of her voice.

"Oh, I can walk!" Mrs. Gerrish yelled at the top of hers. Both the ladies
laughed at their repartee.

"She's as jealous of Mrs. Wilmington as a cat," Mrs. Munger confided to
Annie as they drove away; "and she's just as pleased as Punch that I've
spoken to her first. Mrs. Wilmington won't mind. She's so delightfully
indifferent, it really renders her almost superior; you might forget that
she was a village person. But this has been an immense stroke. I don't
know," she mused, "whether I'd better let her get there first and prepare
her husband, or do it myself. No; I'll let _her_. I'll stop here at
Gates's."

She stopped at the pavement in front of a provision store, and a pale,
stout man, in the long over-shirt of his business, came out to receive her
orders. He stood, passing his hand through the top of a barrel of beans,
and listened to Mrs. Munger with a humorous, patient smile.

"Mr. Gates, I want you to send me up a leg of lamb for dinner--a large
one."

"Last year's, then," suggested Gates.

"No; _this_ year's," insisted Mrs. Munger; and Gates gave way with the
air of pacifying a wilful child, which would get, after all, only what he
chose to allow it.

"All right, ma'am; a large leg of this year's lamb--grown to order. Any
peas, spinnage, cucumbers, sparrowgrass?"

"Southern, I suppose?" said Mrs. Munger.

"Well, not if you want to call 'em native," said Gates.

"Yes, I'll take two bunches of asparagus, and some peas."

"Any strawberries?--natives?" suggested Gates.

"Nonsense!"

"Same thing; natives of Norfolk."

"You had better be honest with _me_, Mr. Gates," said Mrs. Munger.
"Yes, I'll take a couple of boxes."

"All right! Want 'em nice, and the biggest ones at the bottom of the box?"

"Yes, I do."

"That's what I thought. Some customers wants the big ones on top; but I
tell 'em it's all foolishness; just vanity." Gates laughed a dry, hacking
little laugh at his drollery, and kept his eyes on Annie. She smiled at
last, with permissive recognition, and Gates came forward. "Used to know
your father pretty well; but I can't keep up with the young folks any
more." He was really not many years older than Annie; he rubbed his right
hand on the inside of his long shirt, and gave it her to shake. "Well, you
haven't been about much for the last nine or ten years, that's a fact."

"Eleven," said Annie, trying to be gay with the hand-shaking, and wondering
if this were meeting the lower classes on common ground, and what Mr. Peck
would think of it.

"That so?" queried Gates. "Well, I declare! No wonder you've grown!" He
hacked out another laugh, and stood on the curb-stone looking at Annie a
moment. Then he asked, "Anything else, Mrs. Munger?"

"No; that's all. Tell me, Mr. Gates, how _do_ Mr. Peck and Mr. Gerrish
get on?" asked Mrs. Munger in a lower tone.

"Well," said Gates, "he's workin' round--the deacon's workin' round
gradually, I guess. I guess if Mr. Peck was to put in a little more
brimstone, the deacon'd be all right. He's a great hand for brimstone,
you know, the deacon is."

Mrs. Munger laughed again, and then she said, with a proselyting sigh,
"It's a pity you couldn't all find your way into the Church."

"Well, may be it _would_ be a good thing," said Gates, as Mrs. Munger
gathered up her reins and chirped to her pony.

"He isn't a member of Mr. Peck's church," she explained to Annie; "but
he's one of the society, and his wife's very devout Orthodox. He's a great
character, we think, and he'll treat you very well, if you keep on the
right side of him. They say he cheats awfully in the weight, though."

VIII.

Mrs. Munger drove across the street, and drew up before a large, handsomely
ugly brick dry-goods store, whose showy windows had caught Annie's eye the
day she arrived in Hatboro'.

"I see Mrs. Gerrish has got here first," Mrs. Munger said, indicating the

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