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Annie Kilburn by W. D. Howells

Part 3 out of 5

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"Don't you think, Annie, we'd better refer him to Mr. Peck? I _should_
like to hear Mr. Brandreth and Mr. Peek discussing it. I must tell Jack
about it. I might get him to ask Sue Northwick, and get her ideas."

"Has Mr. Wilmington known the Northwicks long?" Annie asked.

"He used to go to their Boston house when he was at Harvard."

"Oh, then," said Annie, "perhaps _he_ accounts for her playing Juliet;
though, as Tybalt, I don't see exactly how he--"

"Oh, it's at the rehearsals, you know, that the fun is, and then it don't
matter what part you have."

Annie lay awake a long time that night. She was sure that she ought not to
like Lyra if she did not approve of her, and that she ought not to have
gone home to tea with her and spent the evening with her unless she fully
respected her. But she had to own to herself that she did like her, and
enjoyed hearing her soft drawl. She tried to think how Jack Wilmington's
having gone to Boston for the evening made it somehow less censurable for
her to spend it with Lyra, even if she did not approve of her. As she
drowsed, this became perfectly clear.

XIII.

In the process of that expansion from a New England village to an American
town of which Putney spoke, Hatboro' had suffered one kind of deterioration
which Annie could not help noticing. She remembered a distinctly
intellectual life, which might still exist in its elements, but which
certainly no longer had as definite expression. There used to be houses in
which people, maiden aunts and hale grandmothers, took a keen interest in
literature, and read the new books and discussed them, some time after they
had ceased to be new in the publishing centres, but whilst they were still
not old. But now the grandmothers had died out, and the maiden aunts had
faded in, and she could not find just such houses anywhere in Hatboro'.
The decay of the Unitarians as a sect perhaps had something to do with
the literary lapse of the place: their highly intellectualised belief had
favoured taste in a direction where the more ritualistic and emotional
religions did not promote it: and it is certain that they were no longer
the leading people.

It would have been hard to say just who these leading people were. The old
political and juristic pre-eminence which the lawyers had once enjoyed was
a tradition; the learned professions yielded in distinction to the growing
wealth and plutocratic influence of the prosperous manufacturers; the
situation might be summed up in the fact that Colonel Marvin of the shoe
interest and Mr. Wilmington now filled the place once held by Judge Kilburn
and Squire Putney. The social life in private houses had undoubtedly
shrunk; but it had expanded in the direction of church sociables, and it
had become much more ecclesiastical in every way, without becoming more
religious. As formerly, some people were acceptable, and some were not;
but it was, as everywhere else, more a question of money; there was an
aristocracy and a commonalty, but there was a confusion and a more ready
convertibility in the materials of each.

The social authority of such a person as Mrs. Gerrish was not the only
change that bewildered Annie, and the effort to extend her relations with
the village people was one from which she shrank till her consciousness had
more perfectly adjusted itself to the new conditions. Meanwhile Dr. Morrell
came to call the night after their tea at the Putneys', and he fell into
the habit of coming several nights in the week, and staying late. Sometimes
he was sent for at her house by sick people, and he must have left word at
his office where he was to be found.

He had spent part of his student life in Europe, and he looked back to his
travel there with a fondness that the Old World inspires less and less in
Americans. This, with his derivation from one of the unliterary Boston
suburbs, and his unambitious residence in a place like Hatboro', gave her
a sense of provinciality in him. On his part, he apparently found it droll
that a woman of her acquaintance with a larger life should be willing
to live in Hatboro' at all, and he seemed incredulous about her staying
after summer was over. She felt that she mystified him, and sometimes she
felt the pursuit of a curiosity which was a little too like a psychical
diagnosis. He had a way of sitting beside her table and playing with her
paper-cutter, while he submitted with a quizzical smile to her endeavours
to turn him to account. She did not mind his laughing at her eagerness (a
woman is willing enough to join a man in making fun of her femininity if
she believes that he respects her), and she tried to make him talk about
Hatboro', and tell her how she could be of use among the working people.
She would have liked very much to know whether he gave his medical service
gratis among them, and whether he found it a pleasure and a privilege to do
so. There was one moment when she would have liked to ask him to let her be
at the charges of his more indigent patients, but with the words behind her
lips she perceived that it would not do. At the best, it would be taking
his opportunity from him and making it hers. She began to see that one
ought to have a conscience about doing good.

She let the chance of proposing this impossibility go by; and after a
little silence Dr. Morrell seemed to revert, in her interest, to the
economical situation in Hatboro'.

"You know that most of the hands in the hat-shops are from the farms
around; and some of them own property here in the village. I know the owner
of three small houses who's always worked in the shops. You couldn't very
well offer help to a landed proprietor like that?"

"No," said Annie, abashed in view of him.

"I suppose you ought to go to a factory town like Fall River, if you really
wanted to deal with overwork and squalor."

"I'm beginning to think there's no such thing anywhere," she said
desperately.

The doctor's eyes twinkled sympathetically. "I don't know whether Benson
earned his three houses altogether in the hat-shops. He 'likes a good
horse,' as he says; and he likes to trade it for a better; I know that from
experience. But he's a great friend of mine. Well, then, there are more
women than men in the shops, and they earn more. I suppose that's rather
disappointing too."

"It is, rather."

"But, on the other hand, the work only lasts eight months of the year, and
that cuts wages down to an average of a dollar a day."

"Ah!" cried Annie. "There's some hope in _that_! What do they do when
the work stops?"

"Oh, they go back to their country-seats."

"All?"

"Perhaps not all."

"I _thought_ so!"

"Well, you'd better look round among those that stay."

Even among these she looked in vain for destitution; she could find that in
satisfactory degree only in straggling veterans of the great army of tramps
which once overran country places in the summer.

She would have preferred not to see or know the objects of her charity, and
because she preferred this she forced herself to face their distasteful
misery. Mrs. Bolton had orders to send no one from the door who asked for
food or work, but to call Annie and let her judge the case. She knew that
it was folly, and she was afraid it was worse, but she could not send the
homeless creatures away as hungry or poor as they came. They filled her
gentlewoman's soul with loathing; but if she kept beyond the range of the
powerful corporeal odour that enveloped them, she could experience the
luxury of pity for them. The filthy rags that caricatured them, their sick
or sodden faces, always frowsed with a week's beard, represented typical
poverty to her, and accused her comfortable state with a poignant contrast;
and she consoled herself as far as she could with the superstition that in
meeting them she was fulfilling a duty sacred in proportion to the disgust
she felt in the encounter.

The work at the hat-shops fell off after the spring orders, and did not
revive till the beginning of August. If there was less money among the
hands and their families who remained than there was in time of full work,
the weather made less demand upon their resources. The children lived
mostly out-of-doors, and seemed to have always what they wanted of the
season's fruit and vegetables. They got these too late from the decaying
lots at the provision stores, and too early from the nearest orchards; and
Dr. Morrell admitted that there was a good deal of sickness, especially
among the little ones, from this diet. Annie wondered whether she ought not
to offer herself as a nurse among them; she asked him whether she could not
be of use in that way, and had to confess that she knew nothing about the
prevailing disease.

"Then, I don't think you'd better undertake it," he said. "There are too
many nurses there already, such as they are. It's the dull time in most of
the shops, you know, and the women have plenty of leisure. There are about
five volunteer nurses for every patient, not counting the grandmothers on
both sides. I think they would resent any outside aid."

"Ah, I'm always on the outside! But can't I send--I mean carry--them
anything nourishing, any little dishes--"

"Arrowroot is about all the convalescents can manage." She made a note of
it. "But jelly and chicken broth are always relished by their friends."

"Dr. Morrell, I must ask you not to turn me into ridicule, if you please. I
cannot permit it."

"I beg your pardon--I do indeed, Miss Kilburn. I didn't mean to ridicule
you. I began seriously, but I was led astray by remembering what becomes of
most of the good things sent to sick people."

"I know," she said, breaking into a laugh. "I have eaten lots of them for
my father. And is arrowroot the only thing?"

The doctor reflected gravely. "Why, no. There's a poor little life now and
then that might be saved by the sea-air. Yes, if you care to send some of
my patients, with a mother and a grandmother apiece, to the seaside--"

"Don't say another word, doctor," cried Annie. "You make me _so_
happy! I will--I will send their whole families. And you won't, you
_won't_ let a case escape, will you, doctor?" It was a break in the
iron wall of uselessness which had closed her in; she behaved like a young
girl with an invitation to a ball.

When the first patient came back well from the seaside her rejoicing
overflowed in exultation before the friends to whom she confessed her
agency in the affair. Putney pretended that he could not see what pleasure
she could reasonably take in restoring the child to the sort of life it had
been born to; but that was a matter she would not consider, theoretically
or practically.

She began to go outside of Dr. Morrell's authority; she looked up two cases
herself, and, upon advising with their grandmothers, sent them to the
seaside, and she was at the station when the train came in with the young
mother and the still younger aunt of one of the sick children. She did
not see the baby, and the mother passed her with a stare of impassioned
reproach, and fell sobbing on the neck of her husband, waiting for her on
the platform. Annie felt the blood drop back upon her heart. She caught at
the girlish aunt, who was looking about her with a sense of the interest
which attached to herself as a party to the spectacle.

"Oh, Rebecca, where is the child?"

"Well, there, Miss Kilburn, I'm _ril_ sorry to tell you, but I guess
the sea-air didn't do it a great deal of good, if any. I tell Maria she'll
see it in the right light after a while, but of course she can't, first
off. Well, there! _Somebody's_ got to look after it. You'll excuse
_me_, Miss Kilburn."

Annie saw her run off to the baggage-car, from which the baggage-man was
handing out a narrow box. The ground reeled under her feet; she got the
public depot carriage and drove home.

She sent for Dr. Morrell, and poured out the confession of her error upon
him before he could speak. "I am a murderess," she ended hysterically.
"Don't deny it!"

"I think you can be got off on the ground of insanity, Miss Kilburn, if you
go on in this way," he answered.

Her desperation broke in tears. "Oh, what shall I do--what shall I do? I've
killed the child!"

"Oh no, you haven't," he retorted. "I know the case. The only hope for it
was the sea-air; I was going to ask you to send it--"

She took down her handkerchief and gave him a piercing look. "Dr. Morrell,
if you are lying to me--"

"I'm not lying, Miss Kilburn," he answered. "You've done a very
unwarrantable thing in both of the cases that you sent to the seaside on
your own responsibility. One of them I certainly shouldn't have advised
sending, but it's turned out well. You've no more credit for it, though,
than for this that died; and you won't think I'm lying, perhaps, when I say
you're equally to blame in both instances."

"I--I beg your pardon," she faltered, with dawning comfort in his severity.
"I didn't mean--I didn't intend to say--"

"I know it," said Dr. Morrell, allowing himself to smile. "Just remember
that you blundered into doing the only thing left to be done for Mrs.
Savor's child; and--don't try it again. That's all."

He smiled once more, and at some permissive light in her face, he began
even to laugh.

"You--you're horrible!"

"Oh no, I'm not," he gasped. "All the tears in the world wouldn't help; and
my laughing hurts nobody. I'm sorry for you, and I'm sorry for the mother;
but I've told you the truth--I have indeed; and you _must_ believe
me."

The child's father came to see her the next night. "Rebecca she seemed to
think that you felt kind of bad, may be, because Maria wouldn't speak to
you when she first got off the cars yesterday, and I don't say she done
exactly right, myself. The way I look at it, and the way I tell Maria
_she'd_ ought to, is like this: You done what you done for the best,
and we wa'n't _obliged_ to take your advice anyway. But of course
Maria she'd kind of set her heart on savin' it, and she can't seem to get
over it right away." He talked on much longer to the same effect, tilted
back in his chair, and looking down, while he covered and uncovered one of
his knees with his straw hat. He had the usual rustic difficulty in getting
away, but Annie was glad to keep him, in her gratitude for his kindness.
Besides, she could not let him go without satisfying a suspicion she had.

"And Dr. Morrell--have you seen him for Mrs. Savor--have you--" She
stopped, for shame of her hypocrisy.

"No, 'm. We hain't seen him _sence_. I guess she'll get along."

It needed this stroke to complete her humiliation before the single-hearted
fellow.

"I--I suppose," she stammered out, "that you--your wife, wouldn't like me
to come to the--I can understand that; but oh! if there is anything I can
do for you--flowers--or my carriage--or helping anyway--"

Mr. Savor stood up. "I'm much obliged to _you_, Miss Kilburn; but we
thought we hadn't better wait, well not a great while, and--the funeral was
this afternoon. Well, I wish you good evening."

She met the mother, a few days after, in the street; with an impulse to
cross over to the other side she advanced straight upon her.

"Mrs. Savor! What can I say to you?"

"Oh, I don't presume but what you meant for the best, Miss Kilburn. But I
guess I shall know what to do next time. I kind of felt the whole while
that it was a resk. But it's all right now."

Annie realised, in her resentment of the poor thing's uncouth sorrow, that
she had spoken to her with the hope of getting, not giving, comfort.

"Yes, yes," she confessed. "I was to blame." The bereaved mother did not
gainsay her, and she felt that, whatever was the justice of the case, she
had met her present deserts.

She had to bear the discredit into which the seaside fell with the mothers
of all the other sick children. She tried to bring Dr. Morrell once to the
consideration of her culpability in the case of those who might have lived
if the case of Mrs. Savor's baby had not frightened their mothers from
sending them to the seaside; but he refused to grapple with the problem.
She was obliged to believe him when he said he should not have advised
sending any of the recent cases there; that the disease was changing its
character, and such a course could have done no good.

"Look here, Miss Kilburn," he said, after scanning her face sharply, "I'm
going to leave you a little tonic. I think you're rather run down."

"Well," she said passively.

XIV.

It was in her revulsion from the direct beneficence which had proved so
dangerous that Annie was able to give herself to the more general interests
of the Social Union. She had not the courage to test her influence for
it among the workpeople whom it was to entertain and elevate, and whose
co-operation Mr. Peck had thought important; but she went about among the
other classes, and found a degree of favour and deference which surprised
her, and an ignorance of what lay so heavy on her heart which was still
more comforting. She was nowhere treated as the guilty wretch she called
herself; some who knew of the facts had got them wrong; and she discovered
what must always astonish the inquirer below the pretentious surface of
our democracy--an indifference and an incredulity concerning the feelings
of people of lower station which could not be surpassed in another
civilisation. Her concern for Mrs. Savor was treated as a great trial for
Miss Kilburn; but the mother's bereavement was regarded as something those
people were used to, and got over more easily than one could imagine.

Annie's mission took her to the ministers of the various denominations, and
she was able to overcome any scruples they might have about the theatricals
by urging the excellence of their object. As a Unitarian, she was not
prepared for the liberality with which the matter was considered; the
Episcopalians of course were with her; but the Universalist minister
himself was not more friendly than the young Methodist preacher, who
volunteered to call with her on the pastor of the Baptist church, and
help present the affair in the right light; she had expected a degree of
narrow-mindedness, of bigotry, which her sect learned to attribute to
others in the militant period before they had imbibed so much of its own
tolerance.

But the recollection of what had passed with Mr. Peck remained a reproach
in her mind, and nothing that she accomplished for the Social Union with
the other ministers was important. In her vivid reveries she often met him,
and combated his peculiar ideas, while she admitted a wrong in her own
position, and made every expression of regret, and parted from him on the
best terms, esteemed and complimented in high degree; in reality she saw
him seldom, and still more rarely spoke to him, and then with a distance
and consciousness altogether different from the effects dramatised in her
fancy. Sometimes during the period of her interest in the sick children of
the hands, she saw him in their houses, or coming and going outside; but
she had no chance to speak with him, or else said to herself that she had
none, because she was ashamed before him. She thought he avoided her;
but this was probably only a phase of the impersonality which seemed
characteristic of him in everything. At these times she felt a strange
pathos in the lonely man whom she knew to be at odds with many of his own
people, and she longed to interpret herself more sympathetically to him,
but actually confronted with him she was sensible of something cold and
even hard in the nimbus her compassion cast about him. Yet even this added
to the mystery that piqued her, and that loosed her fancy to play, as soon
as they parted, in conjecture about his past life, his marriage, and the
mad wife who had left him with the child he seemed so ill-fitted to care
for. Then, the next time they met she was abashed with the recollection of
having unwarrantably romanced the plain, simple, homely little man, and she
added an embarrassment of her own to that shyness of his which kept them
apart.

Except for what she had heard Putney say, and what she learned casually
from the people themselves, she could not have believed he ever did
anything for them. He came and went so elusively, as far as Annie was
concerned, that she knew of his presence in the houses of sickness and
death usually by his little girl, whom she found playing about in the
street before the door with the children of the hands. She seemed to hold
her own among the others in their plays and their squabbles; if she tried
to make up to her, Idella smiled, but she would not be approached, and
Annie's heart went out to the little mischief in as helpless goodwill as
toward the minister himself.

She used to hear his voice through the summer-open windows when he called
upon the Boltons, and wondered if some accident would not bring them
together, but she had to send for Mrs. Bolton at last, and bid her tell Mr.
Peck that she would like to see him before he went away, one night. He
came, and then she began a parrying parley of preliminary nothings before
she could say that she supposed he knew the ladies were going on with their
scheme for the establishment of the Social Union; he admitted vaguely that
he had heard something to that effect, and she added that the invited dance
and supper had been given up.

He remained apparently indifferent to the fact, and she hurried on: "And I
ought to say, Mr. Peck, that nearly every one--every one whose opinion you
would value--agreed with you that it would have been extremely ill-advised,
and--and shocking. And I'm quite ashamed that I should not have seen it
from the beginning; and I hope--I hope you will forgive me if I said things
in my--my excitement that must have--I mean not only what I said to you,
but what I said to others; and I assure you that I regret them, and--"

She went on and repeated herself at length, and he listened patiently, but
as if the matter had not really concerned either of them personally. She
had to conclude that what she had said of him had not reached him, and she
ended by confessing that she had clung to the Social Union project because
it seemed the only thing in which her attempts to do good were not
mischievous.

Mr. Peck's thin face kindled with a friendlier interest than it had shown
while the question at all related to himself, and a light of something that
she took for humorous compassion came into his large, pale blue eyes. At
least it was intelligence; and perhaps the woman nature craves this as much
as it is supposed to crave sympathy; perhaps the two are finally one.

"I want to tell you something, Mr. Peck--an experience of mine," she said
abruptly, and without trying to connect it obviously with what had gone
before, she told him the story of her ill-fated beneficence to the Savors.
He listened intently, and at the end he said: "I understand. But that is
sorrow you have caused, not evil; and what we intend in goodwill must not
rest a burden on the conscience, no matter how it turns out. Otherwise the
moral world is no better than a crazy dream, without plan or sequence. You
might as well rejoice in an evil deed because good happened to come of it."

"Oh, I _thank_ you!" she gasped. "You don't know what a load you have
lifted from me!"

Her words feebly expressed the sense of deliverance which overflowed her
heart. Her strength failed her like that of a person suddenly relieved from
some great physical stress or peril; but she felt that he had given her the
truth, and she held fast by it while she went on.

"If you knew, or if any one knew, how difficult it, is, what a
responsibility, to do the least thing for others! And once it seemed so
simple! And it seems all the more difficult, the more means you have for
doing good. The poor people seem to help one another without doing any
harm, but if _I_ try it--"

"Yes," said the minister, "it is difficult to help others when we cease
to need help ourselves. A" man begins poor, or his father or grandfather
before him--it doesn't matter how far back he begins--and then he is in
accord and full understanding with all the other poor in the world; but as
he prospers he withdraws from them and loses their point of view. Then when
he offers help, it is not as a brother of those who need it, but a patron,
an agent of the false state of things in which want is possible; and his
help is not an impulse of the love that ought to bind us all together, but
a compromise proposed by iniquitous social conditions, a peace-offering to
his own guilty consciousness of his share in the wrong."

"Yes," said Annie, too grateful for the comfort he had given her to
question words whose full purport had not perhaps reached her. "And I
assure you, Mr. Peck, I feel very differently about these things since I
first talked with you. And I wish to tell you, in justice to myself, that
I had no idea then that--that--you were speaking from your own experience
when you--you said how working people looked at things. I didn't know that
you had been--that is, that--"

"Yes," said the minister, coming to her relief, "I once worked in a
cotton-mill. Then," he continued, dismissing the personal concern, "it
seems to me that I saw things in their right light, as I have never been
able to see them since--"

"And how brutal," she broke in, "how cruel and vulgar, what I said must
have seemed to you!"

"I fancied," he continued evasively, "that I had authority to set myself
apart from my fellow-workmen, to be a teacher and guide to the true life.
But it was a great error. The true life was the life of work, and no one
ever had authority to turn from it. Christ Himself came as a labouring
man."

"That is true," said Annie; and his words transfigured the man who spoke
them, so that her heart turned reverently toward him. "But if you had been
meant to work in a mill all your life," she pursued, "would you have been
given the powers you have, and that you have just used to save me from
despair?"

The minister rose, and said, with a sigh: "No one was meant to work in a
mill all his life. Good night."

She would have liked to keep him longer, but she could not think how,
at once. As he turned to go out through the Boltons' part of the house,
"Won't you go out through my door?" she asked, with a helpless effort at
hospitality.

"Oh, if you wish," he answered submissively.

When she had closed the door upon him she went to speak with Mrs. Bolton.
She was in the kitchen mixing flour to make bread, and Annie traced
her by following the lamp-light through the open door. It discovered
Bolton sitting in the outer doorway, his back against one jamb and his
stocking-feet resting against the base of the other.

"Mrs. Bolton," Annie began at once, making herself free of one of the hard
kitchen chairs, "how is Mr. Peck getting on in Hatboro'?"

"I d'know as I know just what you mean, Miss Kilburn," said Mrs. Bolton, on
the defensive.

"I mean, is there a party against him in his church? Is he unpopular?"

Mrs. Bolton took some flour and sprinkled it on her bread-board; then she
lifted the mass of dough out of the trough before her, and let it sink
softly upon the board.

"I d'know as you can say he's unpoplah. He ain't poplah with some. Yes,
there's a party--the Gerrish party."

"Is it a strong one?"

"It's pretty strong."

"Do you think it will prevail?"

"Well, most o' folks don't know _what_ they want; and if there's some
folks that know what they _don't_ want, they can generally keep from
havin' it."

Bolton made a soft husky prefatory noise of protest in his throat, which
seemed to stimulate his wife to a more definite assertion, and she cut in
before he could speak--

"_I_ should say that unless them that stood Mr. Peck's friends first
off, and got him here, done something to keep him, his enemies wa'n't goin'
to take up his cause."

Annie divined a personal reproach for Bolton in the apparent abstraction.

"Oh, now, you'll see it'll all come out right in the end, Pauliny," he
mildly opposed. "There ain't any such great feelin' about Mr. Peck; nothin'
but what'll work itself off perfec'ly natural, give it time. It's goin' to
come out all right."

"Yes, at the day o' jedgment," Mrs. Bolton assented, plunging her fists
into the dough, and beginning to work a contempt for her husband's optimism
into it.

"Yes, an' a good deal before," he returned. "There's always somethin' to
objec' to every minister; we ain't any of us perfect, and Mr. Peck's got
his failin's; he hain't built up the church quite so much as some on 'em
expected but what he would; and there's some that don't like his prayers;
and some of 'em thinks he ain't doctrinal enough. But I guess, take it all
round, he suits pretty well. It'll come out all right, Pauliny. You'll
see."

A pause ensued, of which Annie felt the awfulness. It seemed to her that
Mrs. Bolton's impatience with this intolerable hopefulness must burst
violently. She hastened to interpose. "I think the trouble is that people
don't fully understand Mr. Peck at first. But they do finally."

"Yes; take time," said Bolton.

"Take eternity, I guess, for some," retorted his wife. "If you think
William B. Gerrish is goin' to work round with time--" She stopped for want
of some sufficiently rejectional phrase, and did not go on.

"The way I look at it," said Bolton, with incorrigible courage, "is like
this: When it comes to anything like askin' Mr. Peck to resign, it'll
develop his strength. You can't tell how strong he is without you try to
git red of him. I 'most wish it would come, once, fair and square."

"I'm sure you're right, Mr. Bolton," said Annie. "I don't believe that your
church would let such a man go when it really came to it. Don't they all
feel that he has great ability?"

"Oh, I guess they appreciate him as far forth as ability goes. Some on 'em
complains that he's a little _too_ intellectial, if anything. But I
tell 'em it's a good fault; it's a thing that can be got over in time."

Mrs. Bolton had ceased to take part in the discussion. She finished
kneading her dough, and having fitted it into two baking-pans and dusted it
with flour, she laid a clean towel over both. But when Annie rose she took
the lamp from the mantel-shelf, where it stood, and held it up for her to
find her way back to her own door.

Annie went to bed with a spirit lightened as well as chastened, and
kept saying over the words of Mr. Peck, so as to keep fast hold of the
consolation they had given her. They humbled her with, a sense of his
wisdom and insight; the thought of them kept her awake. She remembered the
tonic that Dr. Morrell had left with her, and after questioning whether she
really needed it now, she made sure by getting up and taking it.

XV.

The spring had filled and flushed into summer. Bolton had gone over the
grass on the slope before the house, and it was growing thick again, dark
green above the yellow of its stubble, and the young generation of robins
was foraging in it for the callow grasshoppers. Some boughs of the maples
were beginning to lose the elastic upward lift of their prime, and to hang
looser and limper with the burden of their foliage. The elms drooped lower
toward the grass, and swept the straggling tops left standing in their
shade.

The early part of September had been fixed for the theatricals. Annie
refused to have anything to do with them, and the preparations remained
altogether with Brandreth. "The minuet," he said to her one afternoon, when
he had come to report to her as a co-ordinate authority, "is going to be
something exquisite, I assure you. A good many of the ladies studied it in
the Continental times, you know, when we had all those Martha Washington
parties--or, I forgot you were out of the country--and it will be done
perfectly. We're going to have the ball-room scene on the tennis-court just
in front of the evergreens, don't you know, and then the balcony scene
in the same place. We have to cut some of the business between Romeo
and Juliet, because it's too long, you know, and some of it's too--too
passionate; we couldn't do it properly, and we've decided to leave it out.
But we sketch along through the play, and we have Friar Laurence coming
with Juliet out of his cell onto the tennis-court and meeting Romeo; so
that tells the story of the marriage. You can't imagine what a Mercutio Mr.
Putney makes; he throws himself into it heart and soul, especially where
he fights with Tybalt and gets killed. I give him lines there out of other
scenes too; the tennis-court sets that part admirably; they come out of a
street at the side. I think the scenery will surprise you, Miss Kilburn.
Well, and then we have the Nurse and Juliet, and the poison scene--we put
it into the garden, on the tennis-court, and we condense the different acts
so as to give an idea of all that's happened, with Romeo banished, and all
that. Then he comes back from Mantua, and we have the tomb scene set at
one side of the tennis-court just opposite the street scene; and he fights
with Paris; and then we have Juliet come to the door of the tomb--it's a
liberty, of course; but we couldn't arrange the light inside--and she stabs
herself and falls on Romeo's body, and that ends the play. You see, it
gives a notion of the whole action, and tells the story pretty well. I
think you'll be pleased."

"I've no doubt I shall," said Annie. "Did you make the adaptation yourself,
Mr. Brandreth?"

"Well, yes, I did," Mr. Brandreth modestly admitted. "It's been a good deal
of work, but it's been a pleasure too. You know how that is, Miss Kilburn,
in your charities."

"_Don't_ speak of my charities, Mr. Brandreth. I'm not a charitable
person."

"You won't get people to believe _that_" said Mr. Brandreth.
"Everybody knows how much good you do. But, as I was saying, my idea was to
give a notion of the whole play in a series of passages or tableaux. Some
of my friends think I've succeeded so well in telling the story, don't you
know, without a change of scene, that they're urging me to publish my
arrangement for the use of out-of-door theatricals."

"I should think it would be a very good idea," said Annie. "I suppose Mr.
Chapley would do it?"

"Well, I don't know--I don't know," Mr. Brandreth answered, with a note of
trouble in his voice. "I'm afraid not," he added sadly. "Miss Kilburn, I've
been put in a very unfair position by Miss Northwick's changing her mind
about Juliet, after the part had been offered to Miss Chapley. I've been
made the means of a seeming slight to Miss Chapley, when, if it hadn't been
for the cause, I'd rather have thrown up the whole affair. She gave up the
part instantly when she heard that Miss Northwick wished to change her
mind, but all the same I know--."

He stopped, and Annie said encouragingly: "Yes, I see. But perhaps she
doesn't really care."

"That's what she said," returned Mr. Brandreth ruefully. "But I don't know.
I have never spoken of it with her since I went to tell her about it, after
I got Miss Northwick's note."

"Well, Mr. Brandreth, I think you've really been victimised; and I don't
believe the Social Union will ever be worth what it's costing."

"I was sure you would appreciate--would understand;" and Mr. Brandreth
pressed her hand gratefully in leave-taking.

She heard him talking with some one at the gate, whose sharp, "All right,
my son!" identified Putney.

She ran to the door to welcome him.

"Oh, you're _both_ here!" she rejoiced, at sight of Mrs. Putney too.

"I can send Ellen home," suggested Putney.

"Oh _no_, indeed!" said Annie, with single-mindedness at which she
laughed with Mrs. Putney. "Only it seemed too good to have you both," she
explained, kissing Mrs. Putney. "I'm _so_ glad to see you!"

"Well, what's the reason?" Putney dropped into a chair and began to rock
nervously. "Don't be ashamed: we're _all_ selfish. Has Brandreth been
putting up any more jobs on you?"

"No, no! Only giving me a hint of his troubles and sorrows with those
wretched Social Union theatricals. Poor young fellow! I'm sorry for him. He
is really very sweet and unselfish. I like him."

"Yes, Brandreth is one of the most lady-like fellows I ever saw," said
Putney. "That Juliet business has pretty near been the death of him. I told
him to offer Miss Chapley some other part--Rosaline, the part of the young
lady who was dropped; but he couldn't seem to see it. Well, and how come on
the good works, Annie?"

"The good works! Ralph, tell me: _do_ people think me a charitable
person? Do they suppose I've done or can do any good whatever?" She looked
from Putney to his wife, and back again with comic entreaty.

"Why, aren't you a charitable person? Don't you do any good?" he asked.

"No!" she shouted. "Not the least in the world!"

"It is pretty rough," said Putney, taking out a cigar for a dry smoke; "and
nobody will believe me when I report what you say, Annie. Mrs. Munger is
telling round that she don't see how you can live through the summer at the
rate you're going. She's got it down pretty cold about your taking Brother
Peck's idea of the invited dance and supper, and joining hands with him to
save the vanity of the self-respecting poor. She says that your suppression
of that one unpopular feature has done more than anything else to promote
the success of the Social Union. You ought to be glad Brother Peck is
coming to the show."

"To the theatricals?"

Putney nodded his head. "That's what he says. I believe Brother Peck is
coming to see how the upper classes amuse themselves when they really try
to benefit the lower classes."

Annie would not laugh at his joke. "Ralph," she asked, "is it true that Mr.
Peck is so unpopular in his church? Is he really going to be turned
out--dismissed?"

"Oh, I don't know about that. But they'll bounce him if they can."

"And can nothing be done? Can't his friends unite?"

"Oh, they're united enough now; what they're afraid of is that they're not
numerous enough. Why don't you buy in, Annie, and help control the stock?
That old Unitarian concern of yours isn't ever going to get into running
order again, and if you owned a pew in Ellen's church you could have a vote
in church meeting, after a while, and you could lend Brother Peck your
moral support now."

"I never liked that sort of thing, Ralph. I shouldn't believe with your
people."

"Ellen's people, please. _I_ don't believe with them either. But I
always vote right. Now you think it over."

"No, I shall not think it over. I don't approve of it. If I should take
a pew in your church it would be simply to hear Mr. Peck preach, and
contribute toward his--"

"Salary? Yes, that's the way to look at it in the beginning. I knew you'd
work round. Why, Annie, in a year's time you'll be trying to _buy_
votes for Brother Peck."

"I should _never_ vote," she retorted. "And I shall keep myself out of
all temptation by not going to your church."

"Ellen's church," Putney corrected.

She went the next Sunday to hear Mr. Peck preach, and Putney, who seemed to
see her the moment she entered the church, rose, as the sexton was showing
her up the aisle, and opened the door of his pew for her with ironical
welcome.

"You can always have a seat with us, Annie," he mocked, on their way out of
the church together.

"Thank you, Ralph," she answered boldly. "I'm going to speak to the sexton
for a pew."

XVI.

A wire had been carried from the village to the scene of the play at South
Hatboro', and electric globes fizzed and hissed overhead, flooding the open
tennis-court with the radiance of sharper moonlight, and stamping the thick
velvety shadows of the shrubbery and tree-tops deep into the raw green of
the grass along its borders.

The spectators were seated on the verandas and terraced turf at the rear of
the house, and they crowded the sides of the court up to a certain point,
where a cord stretched across it kept them from encroaching upon the space
intended for the action. Another rope enclosed an area all round them,
where chairs and benches were placed for those who had tickets. After the
rejection of the exclusive feature of the original plan, Mrs. Munger had
liberalised more and more: she caused it to be known that all who could get
into her grounds would be welcome on the outside of that rope, even though
they did not pay anything; but a large number of tickets had been sold to
the hands, as well as to the other villagers, and the area within the rope
was closely packed. Some of the boys climbed the neighbouring trees, where
from time to time the town authorities threatened them, but did not really
dislodge them.

Annie, with other friends of Mrs. Munger, gained a reserved seat on the
veranda through the drawing-room windows; but once there, she found herself
in the midst of a sufficiently mixed company.

"How do, Miss Kilburn? That you? Well, I declare!" said a voice that she
seemed to know, in a key of nervous excitement. Mrs. Savor's husband
leaned across his wife's lap and shook hands with Annie. "William thought
I better come," Mrs. Savor seemed called upon to explain. "I got to do
_something_. Ain't it just too cute for anything the way they got them
screens worked into the shrubbery down they-ar? It's like the cycloraymy to
Boston; you can't tell where the ground ends and the paintin' commences.
Oh, I do want 'em to _begin_!"

Mr. Savor laughed at his wife's impatience, and she said playfully: "What
you laughin' at? I guess you're full as excited as what I be, when all's
said and done."

There were other acquaintances of Annie's from Over the Track, in the group
about her, and upon the example of the Savors they all greeted her. The
wives and sweethearts tittered with self-derisive expectation; the men were
gravely jocose, like all Americans in unwonted circumstances, but they were
respectful to the coming performance, perhaps as a tribute to Annie. She
wondered how some of them came to have those seats, which were reserved at
an extra price; she did not allow for that self-respect which causes the
American workman to supply himself with the best his money can buy while
his money lasts.

She turned to see who was on her other hand. A row of three small children
stretched from her to Mrs. Gerrish, whom she did not recognise at first.
"Oh, Emmeline!" she said; and then, for want of something else, she added,
"Where is Mr. Gerrish? Isn't he coming?"

"He was detained at the store," said Mrs. Gerrish, with cold importance;
"but he will be here. May I ask, Annie," she pursued solemnly, "how you got
here?"

"How did I get here? Why, through the windows. Didn't you?"

"May I ask who had charge of the arrangements?"

"I don't know, I'm sure," said Annie. "I suppose Mrs. Munger."

A burst of music came from the dense shadow into which the group of
evergreens at the bottom of the tennis-court deepened away from the glister
of the electrics. There was a deeper hush; then a slight jarring and
scraping of a chair beyond Mrs. Gerrish, who leaned across her children and
said, "He's come, Annie--right through the parlour window!" Her voice was
lifted to carry above the music, and all the people near were able to share
the fact that righted Mrs. Gerrish in her own esteem.

From the covert of the low pines in the middle of the scene Miss Northwick
and Mr. Brandreth appeared hand in hand, and then the place filled with
figures from other apertures of the little grove and through the artificial
wings at the sides, and walked the minuet. Mr. Fellows, the painter, had
helped with the costumes, supplying some from his own artistic properties,
and mediavalising others; the Boston costumers had been drawn upon by the
men; and they all moved through the stately figures with a security which
discipline had given them. The broad solid colours which they wore took the
light and shadow with picturesque effectiveness; the masks contributed a
sense of mystery novel in Hatboro', and kept the friends of the dancers
in exciting doubt of their identity; the strangeness of the audience to
all spectacles of the sort held its judgment in suspense. The minuet
was encored, and had to be given again, and it was some time before the
applause of the repetition allowed the characters to be heard when the
partners of the minuet began to move about arm in arm, and the drama
properly began. When the applause died away it was still not easy to hear;
a boy in one of the trees called, "Louder!" and made some of the people
laugh, but for the rest they were very orderly throughout.

Toward the end of the fourth act Annie was startled by a child dashing
itself against her knees, and breaking into a gurgle of shy laughter as
children do.

"Why, you little witch!" she said to the uplifted face of Idella Peck.
"Where is your father?"

"Oh, somewhere," said the child, with entire ease of mind.

"And your hat?" said Annie, putting her hand on the curly bare
head--"where's your hat?"

"On the ground."

"On the ground--where?"

"Oh, I don't know," said Idella lightly, as if the pursuit bored her.

Annie pulled her up on her lap. "Well, now, you stay here with me, if you
please, till your papa or your hat comes after you."

"My--hat--can't--come--after--me!" said the child, turning back her head,
so as to laugh her sense of the joke in Annie's face.

"No matter; your papa can, and I'm going to keep you."

Idella let her head fall back against Annie's breast, and began to finger
the rings on the hand which Annie laid across her lap to keep her.

"For goodness gracious!" said Mrs. Savor, "who you got there, Miss
Kilburn?"

"Mr. Peck's little girl."

"Where'd she spring from?"

Mrs. Gerrish leaned forward and spoke across the six legs of her children,
who were all three standing up in their chairs: "You don't mean to say
that's Idella Peck? Where's her father?"

"Somewhere, she says," said Annie, willing to answer Mrs. Gerrish with the
child's nonchalance.

"Well, that's great!" said Mrs. Gerrish. "I should think he better be
looking after her--or some one."

The music ceased, and the last act of the play began. Before it ended,
Idella had fallen asleep, and Annie sat still with her after the crowd
around her began to break up. Mrs. Savor kept her seat beside Annie. She
said, "Don't you want I should spell you a little while, Miss Kilburn?" She
leaned over the face of the sleeping child. "Why, she ain't much more than
a baby! William, you go and see if you can't find Mr. Peck. I'm goin' to
stay here with Miss Kilburn." Her husband humoured her whim, and made his
way through the knots and clumps of people toward the rope enclosing the
tennis-court. "Won't you let me hold her, Miss Kilburn?" she pleaded again.

"No, no; she isn't heavy; I like to hold her," replied Annie. Then
something occurred to her, and she started in amazement at herself.

"Or yes, Mrs. Savor, you _may_ take her a while;" and she put the
child into the arms of the bereaved creature, who had fallen desolately
back in her chair. She hugged Idella up to her breast, and hungrily mumbled
her with kisses, and moaned out over her, "Oh dear! Oh my! Oh my!"

XVII.

The people beyond the rope had nearly all gone away, and Mr. Savor was
coming back across the court with Mr. Peck. The players appeared from the
grove at the other end of the court in their vivid costumes, chatting and
laughing with their friends, who went down from the piazzas and terraces to
congratulate them. Mrs. Munger hurried about among them, saying something
to each group. She caught sight of Mr. Peck and Mr. Savor, and she ran
after them, arriving with them where Annie sat.

"I hope you were not anxious about Idella," Annie said, laughing.

"No; I didn't miss her at once," said the minister simply; "and then I
thought she had merely gone off with some of the other children who were
playing about."

"You shall talk all that over later," said Mrs. Munger. "Now, Miss Kilburn,
I want you and Mr. Peck and Mr. and Mrs. Savor to stay for a cup of coffee
that I'm going to give our friends out there. Don't you think they deserve
it? Wasn't it a wonderful success? They must be frightfully exhausted. Just
go right out to them. I'll be with you in one moment. Oh yes, the child!
Well, bring her into the house, Mrs. Savor; I'll find a place for her, and
then you can go out with me."

"I guess you won't get Maria away from her very easy," said Mr. Savor,
laughing. His wife stood with the child's cheek pressed tight against hers.

"Oh, I'll manage that," said Mrs. Munger. "I'm counting on Mrs. Savor."
She added in a hurried undertone to Annie: "I've asked a number of the
workpeople to stay--representative workpeople, the foremen in the different
shops and their families--and you'll find your friends of all classes
together. It's a great day for the Social Union!" she said aloud. "I'm sure
_you_ must feel that, Mr. Peck. Miss Kilburn and I have to thank you
for saving us from a great mistake at the outset, and now your staying,"
she continued, "will give it just the appearance we want. I'm going to keep
your little girl as a hostage, and you shall not go till I let you. Come,
Mrs. Savor!" She bustled away with Mrs. Savor, and Mr. Peck reluctantly
accompanied Annie down over the lawn.

He was silent, but Mr. Savor was hilarious. "Well, Mr. Putney," he said,
when he joined the group of which Putney was the centre, "you done that in
apple-pie order. I never see anything much better than the way you carried
on with Mrs. Wilmington."

"Thank you, Mr. Savor," said Putney; "I'm glad you liked it. You couldn't
say I was trying to flatter her up much, anyway."

"No, no!" Mr. Savor assented, with delight in the joke.

"Well, Annie," said Putney. He shook hands with her, and Mrs. Putney, who
was there with Dr. Morrell, asked her where she had sat.

"We kept looking all round for you."

"Yes," said Putney, with his hand on his boy's shoulder, "we wanted to know
how you liked the Mercutio."

"Ralph, it was incomparable!"

"Well, that will do for a beginning. It's a little cold, but it's in the
right spirit. You mean that the Mercutio wasn't comparable to the Nurse."

"Oh, Lyra was wonderful!" said Annie. "Don't you think so, Ellen?"

"She was Lyra," said Mrs. Putney definitely.

"No; she wasn't Lyra at all!" retorted Annie. "That was the marvel of it.
She was Juliet's nurse."

"Perhaps she was a little of both," suggested Putney. "What did you think
of the performance, Mr. Peck? I don't want a personal tribute, but if you
offer it, I shall not be ungrateful."

"I have been very much interested," said the minister. "It was all very new
to me. I realised for the first time in my life the great power that the
theatre must be. I felt how much the drama could do--how much good."

"Well, that's what we're after," said Putney. "We had no personal motive;
good, right straight along, was our motto. Nobody wanted to outshine
anybody else. I kept my Mercutio down all through, so's not to get ahead
of Romeo or Tybalt in the public esteem. Did our friends outside the rope
catch on to my idea?" Mr. Peck smiled at the banter, but he seemed not to
know just what to say, and Putney went on: "That's why I made it so bad. I
didn't want anybody to go home feeling sorry that Mercutio was killed. I
don't suppose Winthrop could have slept."

"You won't sleep yourself to-night, I'm afraid," said his wife.

"Oh, Mrs. Munger has promised me a particularly weak cup of coffee. She has
got us all in, it seems, for a sort of supper, in spite of everything. I
understand it includes representatives of all the stations and conditions
present except the outcasts beyond the rope. I don't see what you're doing
here, Mr. Peck."

"Was Mr. Peck really outside the rope?" Annie asked Dr. Morrell, as they
dropped apart from the others a little.

"I believe he gave his chair to one of the women from the outside," said
the doctor.

Annie moved with him toward Lyra, who was joking with some of the hands.

With all her good-nature, she had the effect of patronising them, as she
stood talking about the play with them in her drawl, which she had got
back to again. They were admiring her, in her dress of the querulous old
nurse, and told her how they never would have known her. But there was an
insincerity in the effusion of some of the more nervous women, and in the
reticence of the others, who were holding back out of self-respect.

She met Annie and Morrell with eager relief. "Well, Annie?"

"Perfect!"

"Well, now, that's very nice; you can't go beyond perfect, you know. I
_did_ do it pretty well, didn't I? Poor Mr. Brandreth! Have you seen
him? You must say something comforting to him. He's really been sacrificed
in this business. You know he wanted Miss Chapley. She would have made a
lovely Juliet. Of course she blames him for it. She thinks he wanted to
make up to Miss Northwick, when Miss Northwick was just flinging herself at
Jack. Look at her!"

Jack Wilmington and Miss Sue Northwick were standing together near her
father and a party of her friends, and she was smiling and talking at
him. Eyes, lips, gestures, attitude expressed in the proud girl a fawning
eagerness to please the man, who received her homage rather as if it bored
him. His indifferent manner may have been one secret of his power over her,
and perhaps she was not capable of all the suffering she was capable of
inflicting.

Lyra turned to walk toward the house, deflecting a little in the direction
of her nephew and Miss Northwick. "Jack!" she drawled over the shoulder
next them as she passed, "I wish you'd bring your aunty's wrap to her on
the piazza."

"Why, stay here!" Putney called after her. "They're going to fetch the
refreshments out here."

"Yes, but I'm tired, Ralph, and I can't sit on the grass, at my age."

She moved on, with her sweeping, lounging pace, and Jack Wilmington, after
a moment's hesitation, bowed to Miss Northwick and went after her.

The girl remained apart from her friends, as if expecting his return.

Silhouetted against the bright windows, Lyra waited till Jack Wilmington
reappeared with a shawl and laid it on her shoulders. Then she sank into
a chair. The young man stood beside her talking down upon her. Something
restive and insistent expressed itself in their respective attitudes. He
sat down at her side.

Miss Northwick joined her friends carelessly.

"Ah, Miss Kilburn," said Mr. Brandreth's voice at Annie's ear, "I'm glad
to find you. I've just run home with mother--she feels the night air--and
I was afraid you would slip through our fingers before I got back. This
little business of the refreshments was an afterthought of Mrs. Munger's,
and we meant it for a surprise--we knew you'd approve of it in the form it
took." He looked round at the straggling workpeople, who represented the
harmonisation of classes, keeping to themselves as if they had been there
alone.

"Yes," Annie was obliged to say; "it's very pleasant." She added: "You must
all be rather hungry, Mr. Brandreth. If the Social Union ever gets on its
feet, it will have _you_ to thank more than any one."

"Oh, don't speak of me, Miss Kilburn! Do you know, we've netted about two
hundred dollars. Isn't that pretty good, doctor?"

"Very," said the doctor. "Hadn't we better follow Mrs. Wilmington's
example, and get up under the piazza roof? I'm afraid you'll be the worse
for the night air, Miss Kilburn. Putney," he called to his friend, "we're
going up to the house."

"All right. I guess that's a good idea."

The doctor called to the different knots and groups, telling them to come
up to the house. Some of the workpeople slipped away through the grounds
and did not come. The Northwicks and their friends moved toward the house.

Mrs. Munger came down the lawn to meet her guests. "Ah, that's right. It's
much better indoors. I was just coming for you." She addressed herself more
particularly to the Northwicks. "Coffee will be ready in a few moments.
We've met with a little delay."

"I'm afraid we must say good night at once," said Mr. Northwick. "We had
arranged to have our friends and some other guests with us at home. And
we're quite late now."

Mrs. Munger protested. "Take our Juliet from us! Oh, Miss Northwick, how
can I thank you enough? The whole play turned upon you!"

"It's just as well," she said to Annie, as the Northwicks and their friends
walked across the lawn to the gate, where they had carriages waiting.
"They'd have been difficult to manage, and everybody else will feel a
little more at home without them. Poor Mr. Brandreth, I'm sure _you_
will! I did pity you so, with such a Juliet on your hands!"

In-doors the representatives of the lower classes were less at ease than
they were without. Some of the ministers mingled with them, and tried to
form a bond between them and the other villagers. Mr. Peck took no part in
this work; he stood holding his elbows with his hands, and talking with a
perfunctory air to an old lady of his congregation.

The young ladies of South Hatboro', as Mrs. Munger's assistants, went about
impartially to high and low with trays of refreshments. Annie saw Putney,
where he stood with his wife and boy, refuse coffee, and she watched him
anxiously when the claret-cup came. He waved his hand over it, and said,
"No; I'll take some of the lemonade." As he lifted a glass of it toward his
lips he stopped and made as if to put it down again, and his hand shook so
that he spilled some of it. Then he dashed it off, and reached for another
glass. "I want some more," he said, with a laugh; "I'm thirsty." He drank a
second glass, and when he saw a tray coming toward Annie, where Dr. Morrell
had joined her, he came over and exchanged his empty glass for a full one.

"Not much to brag of as lemonade," he said, "but first-rate rum punch."

"Look here, Putney," whispered the doctor, laying his hand on his arm,
"don't you take any more of that. Give me that glass!"

"Oh, all right!" laughed Putney, dashing it off. "You're welcome to the
tumbler, if you want it, Doc."

XVIII.

Mrs. Munger's guests kept on talking and laughing. With the coffee and the
punch there began to be a little more freedom. Some prohibitionists among
the working people went away when they found that the lemonade was punch;
but Mrs. Munger did not know it, and she saw the ideal of a Social Union
figuratively accomplished in her own house. She stirred about among her
guests till she produced a fleeting, empty good-fellowship among them. One
of the shoe-shop hands, with an inextinguishable scent of leather and the
character of a droll, seconded her efforts with noisy jokes. He proposed
games, and would not be snubbed by the refusal of his boss to countenance
him, he had the applause of so many others. Mrs. Munger approved of the
idea.

"Don't you think it would be great fun, Mrs. Gerrish?" she asked.

"Well, now, if Squire Putney would lead off," said the joker, looking
round.

Putney could not be found, nor Dr. Morrell.

"They're off somewhere for a smoke," said Mrs. Munger. "Well, that's right.
I want everybody to feel that my house is their own to-night, and to come
and go just as they like. Do you suppose Mr. Peck is offended?" she asked,
under her breath, as she passed Annie. "He _couldn't_ feel that this
is the same thing; but I can't see him anywhere. He wouldn't go without
taking leave, you don't suppose?"

Annie joined Mrs. Putney. They talked at first with those who came to ask
where Putney and the doctor were; but finally they withdrew into a little
alcove from the parlour, where Mrs. Munger approved of their being when she
discovered them; they must be very tired, and ought to rest on the lounge
there. Her theory of the exhaustion of those who had taken part in the play
embraced their families.

The time wore on toward midnight, and her guests got themselves away with
more or less difficulty as they attempted the formality of leave-taking
or not. Some of the hands who thought this necessary found it a serious
affair; but most of them slipped off without saying good night to Mrs.
Munger or expressing that rapture with the whole evening from beginning
to end which the ladies of South Hatboro' professed. The ladies of South
Hatboro' and Old Hatboro' had met in a general intimacy not approached
before, and they parted with a flow of mutual esteem. The Gerrish children
had dropped asleep in nooks and corners, from which Mr. Gerrish hunted them
up and put them together for departure, while his wife remained with Mrs.
Munger, unable to stop talking, and no longer amenable to the looks with
which he governed her in public.

Lyra came downstairs, hooded and wrapped for departure, with Jack
Wilmington by her side. "Why, _Ellen_!" she said, looking into the
little alcove from the hall. "Are you here yet? And Annie! Where in the
world is Ralph?" At the pleading look with which Mrs. Putney replied, she
exclaimed: "Oh, it's what I was afraid of! I don't see what the woman could
have been about! But of course she didn't think of poor Ralph. Ellen, let
me take you and Winthrop home! Dr. Morrell will be sure to bring Ralph."

"Well," said Mrs. Putney passively, but without rising.

"Annie can come too. There's plenty of room. Jack can walk."

Jack Wilmington joined Lyra in urging Annie to take his place. He said to
her, apart, "Young Munger has been telling me that Putney got at the
sideboard and carried off the rum. I'll stay and help look after him."

A crazy laugh came into the parlour from the piazza outside, and the group
in the alcove started forward. Putney stood at a window, resting one arm
on the bar of the long lower sash, which was raised to its full height,
and looking ironically in upon Mrs. Munger and her remaining guests. He
was still in his Mercutio dress, but he had lost his plumed cap, and was
bareheaded. A pace or two behind him stood Mr. Peck, regarding the effect
of this apparition upon the company with the same dreamy, indrawn presence
he had in the pulpit.

"Well, Mrs. Munger, I'm glad I got back in time to tell you how much I've
enjoyed it. Brother Peck wanted me to go home, but I told him, Not till
I've thanked Mrs. Munger, Brother Peck; not till I've drunk her health in
her own old particular Jamaica." He put to his lips the black bottle which
he had been holding in his right hand behind him; then he took it away,
looked at it, and flung it rolling-along the piazza floor. "Didn't get hold
of the inexhaustible bottle that time; never do. But it's a good article;
a better article than you used to sell on the sly, Bill Gerrish. You'll
excuse my helping myself, Mrs. Munger; I knew you'd want me to. Well, it's
been a great occasion, Mrs. Munger." He winked at the hostess. "You've
had your little invited supper, after all. You're a manager, Mrs. Munger.
You've made even the wrath of Brother Peck to praise you."

The ladies involuntarily shrank backward as Putney suddenly entered through
the window and gained the corner of the piano at a dash. He stayed himself
against it, slightly swaying, and turned his flaming eyes from one to
another, as if questioning whom he should attack next.

Except for the wild look in them, which was not so much wilder than they
wore in all times of excitement, and an occasional halt at a difficult
word, he gave no sign of being drunk. The liquor had as yet merely
intensified him.

Mrs. Munger had the inspiration to treat him as one caresses a dangerous
lunatic. "I'm sure you're very kind, Mr. Putney, to come back. Do sit
down!"

"Why?" demanded Putney. "Everybody else standing."

"That's true," said Mrs. Munger. "I'm sure I don't know why--"

"Oh yes, you do, Mrs. Munger. It's because they want to have a good view of
a man who's made a fool of himself--"

"Oh, now, Mr. _Putney_!" said Mrs. Munger, with hospitable
deprecation. "I'm sure no one wants to do anything of the kind." She looked
round at the company for corroboration, but no one cared to attract
Putney's attention by any sound or sign.

"But I'll tell you what," said Putney, with a savage burst, "that a woman
who puts hell-fire before a poor devil who can't keep out of it when he
sees it, is better worth looking at."

"Mr. Putney, I assure you," said Mrs. Munger, "that it was the
_mildest_ punch! And I really didn't think--I didn't remember--"

She turned toward Mrs. Putney with her explanation, but Putney seemed to
have forgotten her, and he turned upon Mr. Gerrish, "How's that drunkard's
grave getting along that you've dug for your porter?" Gerrish remained
prudently silent. "I know you, Billy. You're all right. You've got the pull
on your conscience; we all have, one way or another. Here's Annie Kilburn,
come back from Rome, where she couldn't seem to fix it up with hers to suit
her, and she's trying to get round it in Hatboro' with good works. Why,
there isn't any occasion for good works in Hatboro'. I could have told you
that before you came," he said, addressing Annie directly. "What we want is
faith, and lots of it. The church is going to pieces because we haven't got
any faith."

His hand slipped from the piano, and he dropped heavily back upon a chair
that stood near. The concussion seemed to complete in his brain the
transition from his normal dispositions to their opposite, which had
already begun. "Bill Gerrish has done more for Hatboro' than any other man
in the place. He's the only man that holds the church together, because he
knows the value of _faith_." He said this without a trace of irony,
glaring at Annie with fierce defiance. "You come back here, and try to set
up for a saint in a town where William B. Gerrish has done--has done more
to establish the dry-goods business on a metro-me-tro-politan basis than
any other man out of New York or Boston."

He stopped and looked round, mystified, as if this were not the point which
he had been aiming at.

Lyra broke into a spluttering laugh, and suddenly checked herself. Putney
smiled slightly. "Pretty good, eh? Say, where was I?" he asked slyly. Lyra
hid her face behind Annie's shoulder. "What's that dress you got on? What's
all this about, anyway? Oh yes, I know. _Romeo and Juliet_--Social
Union. Well," he resumed, with a frown, "there's too much _Romeo and
Juliet_, too much Social Union, in this town already." He stopped, and
seemed preparing to launch some deadly phrase at Mrs. Wilmington, but he
only said, "You're all right, Lyra."

"Mrs. Munger," said Mr. Gerrish, "we must be going. Good night, ma'am. Mrs.
Gerrish, it's time the children were at home."

"Of course it is," said Putney, watching the Gerrishes getting their
children together. He waved his hand after them, and called out, "William
Gerrish, you're a man; I honour you."

He laid hold of the piano and pulled himself to his feet, and seemed to
become aware, for the first time, of his wife, where she stood with their
boy beside her.

"What you doing here with that child at this time of night?" he shouted at
her, all that was left of the man in his eyes changing into the glare of a
pitiless brute. "Why don't you go home? You want to show people what I did
to him? You want to publish my shame, do you? Is that it? Look here!"

He began to work himself along toward her by help of the piano. A step was
heard on the piazza without, and Dr. Morrell entered through the open
window.

"Come now, Putney," he said gently. The other men closed round them.

Putney stopped. "What's this? Interfering in family matters? You better
go home and look after your own wives, if you got any. Get out the way,
'n' you mind your own business, Doc. Morrell. You meddle too much."
His speech was thickening and breaking. "You think science going do
everything--evolution! Talk me about evolution! What's evolution done
for Hatboro'? 'Volved Gerrish's store. One day of Christianity--real
Christianity--Where's that boy? If I get hold of him--"

He lunged forward, and Jack Wilmington and young Munger stepped before him.

Mrs. Putney had not moved, nor lost the look of sad, passive vigilance
which she had worn since her husband reappeared.

She pushed the men aside.

"Ralph, behave yourself! _Here's_ Winthrop, and we want you to take us
home. Come now!" She passed her arm through his, and the boy took his other
hand. The action, so full of fearless custom and wonted affection from them
both, seemed with her words to operate another total change in his mood.

"All right; I'm going, Ellen. Got to say good night Mrs. Munger, that's
all." He managed to get to her, with his wife on his arm and his boy at his
side. "Want to thank you for a pleasant evening, Mrs. Munger--want to thank
you--"

"And _I_ want to thank you _too_, Mrs. Munger," said Mrs. Putney,
with an intensity of bitterness no repetition of the words could give,
"It's been a pleasant evening for _me_!"

Putney wished to stop and explain, but his wife pulled him away.

Dr. Morrell and Annie followed to get them safely into the carriage; he
went with them, and when she came back Mrs. Munger was saying: "I will
leave it to Mr. Wilmington, or any one, if I'm to blame. It had quite gone
out of my head about Mr. Putney. There was plenty of coffee, besides, and
if everything that could harm particular persons had to be kept out of the
way, society couldn't go on. We ought to consider the greatest good of the
greatest number." She looked round from one to another for support. No one
said anything, and Mrs. Munger, trembling on the verge of a collapse, made
a direct appeal: "Don't you think so, Mr. Peck?"

The minister broke his silence with reluctance. "It's sometimes best to
have the effect of error unmistakable. Then we are sure it's error."

Mrs. Munger gave a sob of relief into her handkerchief. "Yes, that's just
what I say."

Lyra bent her face on her arm, and Jack Wilmington put his head out of the
window where he stood.

Mr. Peck remained staring at Mrs. Munger, as if doubtful what to do. Then
he said: "You seem not to have understood me, ma'am. I should be to blame
if I left you in doubt. You have been guilty of forgetting your brother's
weakness, and if the consequence has promptly followed in his shame, it is
for you to realise it. I wish you a good evening."

He went out with a dignity that thrilled Annie. Lyra leaned toward her and
said, choking with laughter, "He's left Idella asleep upstairs. We haven't
_any_ of us got _perfect_ memories, have we?"

"Run after him!" Annie said to Jack Wilmington, in undertone, "and get him
into my carriage. I'll get the little girl. Lyra, _don't_ speak of
it."

"Never!" said Mrs. Wilmington, with delight. "I'm solid for Mr. Peck every
time."

XIX.

Annie made up a bed for Idella on a wide, old-fashioned lounge in her room,
and put her away in it, swathed in a night-gown which she found among
the survivals of her own childish clothing in that old chest of drawers.
When she woke in the morning she looked across at the little creature,
with a tender sense of possession and protection suffusing her troubled
recollections of the night before. Idella stirred, stretched herself with
a long sigh, and then sat up and stared round the strange place as if she
were still in a dream.

"Would you like to come in here with me?" Annie suggested from her bed.

The child pushed back her hair with her little hands, and after waiting to
realise the situation to the limit of her small experience, she said, with
a smile that showed her pretty teeth, "Yes."

"Then come."

Idella tumbled out of bed, pulling up the nightgown, which was too long for
her, and softly thumped across the carpet. Annie leaned over and lifted her
up, and pressed the little face to her own, and felt the play of the quick,
light breath over her cheek.

"Would you like to stay with me--live with me--Idella?" she asked.

The child turned her face away, and hid a roguish smile in the pillow. "I
don't know."

"Would you like to be my little girl?"

"No."

"No? Why not?"

"Because--because"--she seemed to search her mind--"because your
night-gowns are too long."

"Oh, is that all? That's no reason. Think of something else."

Idella rubbed her face hard on the pillow. "You dress up cats."

She lifted her face, and looked with eyes of laughing malice into Annie's,
and Annie pushed her face against Idella's neck and cried, "You're a
rogue!"

The little one screamed with laughter and gurgled: "Oh, you tickle! You
tickle!"

They had a childish romp, prolonged through the details of Idella's washing
and dressing, and Annie tried to lose, in her frolic with the child, the
anxieties that had beset her waking; she succeeded in confusing them with
one another in one dull, indefinite pain.

She wondered when Mr. Peck would come for Idella, but they were still at
their belated breakfast when Mrs. Bolton came in to say that Bolton had met
the minister on his way up, and had asked him if Idella might not stay the
week out with them.

"I don' know but he done more'n he'd ought.

"But she can be with us the rest part, when you've got done with her."

"I haven't begun to get done with her," said Annie. "I'm glad Mr. Bolton
asked."

After breakfast Bolton himself appeared, to ask if Idella might go up to
the orchard with him. Idella ran out of the room and came back with her hat
on, and tugging to get into her shabby little sack. Annie helped her with
it, and Idella tucked her hand into Bolton's loose, hard fist, and gave it
a pull toward the door.

"Well, I don't see but what she's goin'," he said.

"Yes; you'd better ask her the next time if _I_ can go," said Annie.

"Well, why don't you?" asked Bolton, humouring the joke. "I guess you'd
enjoy it about as well as any. We're just goin' for a basket of wind-falls
for pies. I guess we ain't a-goin' to be gone a great while."

Annie watched them up the lane from the library window with a queer grudge
at heart; Bolton stiffly lumbering forward at an angle of forty-five
degrees, the child whirling and dancing at his side, and now before and now
after him.

At the sound of wheels on the gravel before the front door, Annie turned
away with such an imperative need of its being Dr. Morrell's buggy that it
was almost an intolerable disappointment to find it Mrs. Munger's phaeton.

Mrs. Munger burst in upon her in an excitement which somehow had an effect
of premeditation.

"Miss Kilburn, I wish to know what you think of Mr. and Mrs. Putney's
behaviour to me, and Mr. Peck's, in my own house, last night. They are
friends of yours, and I wish to know if you approve of it. I come to
you _as_ their friend, and I am sure you will feel as I do that my
hospitality has been abused. It was an outrage for Mr. Putney to get
intoxicated in my house; and for Mr. Peck to attack me as he did before
everybody, because Mr. Putney had taken advantage of his privileges, was
abominable. I am not a member of his church; and even if I were, he would
have had no right to speak so to me."

Annie felt the blood fly to her head, and she waited a moment to regain her
coolness. "I wonder you came to ask me, Mrs. Munger, if you were so sure
that I agreed with you. I'm certainly Mr. and Mrs. Putney's friend, and
so far as admiring Mr. Peck's sincerity and goodness is concerned, I'm
_his_ friend. But I'm obliged to say that you're mistaken about the
rest."

She folded her hands at her waist, and stood up very straight, looking
firmly at Mrs. Munger, who made a show of taking a new grip of her senses
as she sank unbidden into a chair.

"Why, what do you mean, Miss Kilburn?"

"It seems to me that I needn't say."

"Why, but you must! You _must_, you know. I can't be _left_ so! I
must know where I _stand_! I must be sure of my _ground_! I can't
go on without understanding just how much you mean by my being mistaken."

She looked Annie in the face with eyes superficially expressive of
indignant surprise, and Annie perceived that she wished to restore herself
in her own esteem by browbeating some one else into the affirmation of her
innocence.

"Well, if you must know, Mrs. Munger, I mean that you ought to have
remembered Mr. Putney's infirmity, and that it was cruel to put temptation
in his way. Everybody knows that he can't resist it, and that he is making
such a hard fight to keep out of it. And then, if you press me for an
opinion, I must say that you were not justifiable in asking Mr. Peck to
take part in a social entertainment when we had explicitly dropped that
part of the affair."

Mrs. Munger had not pressed Annie for an opinion on this point at all; but
in their interest in it they both ignored the fact. Mrs. Munger tacitly
admitted her position in retorting, "He needn't have stayed."

"You made him stay--you remember how--and he couldn't have got away without
being rude."

"And you think he wasn't rude to scold me before my guests?"

"He told you the truth. He didn't wish to say anything, but you forced him
to speak, just as you have forced me."

"Forced _you_? Miss Kilburn!"

"Yes. I don't at all agree with Mr. Peck in many things, but he is a good
man, and last night he spoke the truth. I shouldn't be speaking it if I
didn't tell you I thought so."

"Very well, then," said Mrs. Munger, rising.

"After this you can't expect me to have anything to do with the Social
Union; you couldn't _wish_ me to, if that's your opinion of my
character."

"I haven't expressed any opinion of your character, Mrs. Munger, if you'll
remember, please; and as for the Social Union, I shall have nothing further
to do with it myself."

Annie drew herself up a little higher, and silently waited for her visitor
to go.

But Mrs. Munger remained.

"I don't believe Mrs. Putney herself would say what you have said," she
remarked, after an embarrassing moment. "If it were really so I should be
willing to make any reparation--to acknowledge it. Will you go with me to
Mrs. Putney's? I have my phaeton here, and--"

"I shouldn't dream of going to Mrs. Putney's with you."

Mrs. Munger urged, with the effect of invincible argument: "I've been down
in the village, and I've talked to a good many about it--some of them
hadn't heard of it before--and I must say, Miss Kilburn, that people
generally take a very different view of it from what you do. They think
that my hospitality has been shamefully abused. Mr. Gates said he should
think I would have Mr. Putney arrested. But I don't care for all that. What
I wish is to prove to you that I am right; and if I can go with you to call
on Mrs. Putney, I shall not care what any one else says. Will you come?"

"Certainly not," cried Annie.

They both stood a moment, and in this moment Dr. Morrell drove up, and
dropped his hitching-weight beyond Mrs. Munger's phaeton.

As he entered she said: "We will let Dr. Morrell decide. I've been asking
Miss Kilburn to go with me to Mrs. Putney's. I think it would be a graceful
and proper thing for me to do, to express my sympathy and interest, and to
hear what Mrs. Putney really has to say. Don't _you_ think I ought to
go to see her, doctor?"

The doctor laughed. "I can't prescribe in matters of social duty. But what
do you want to see Mrs. Putney for?"

"What for? Why, doctor, on account of Mr. Putney--what took place last
night."

"Yes? What was that?"

"What was _that_? Why, his strange behaviour--his--his intoxication."

"Was he intoxicated? Did you think so?"

"Why, you were there, doctor. Didn't you think so?"

Annie looked at him with as much astonishment as Mrs. Munger.

The doctor laughed again. "You can't always tell when Putney's joking; he's
a great joker. Perhaps he was hoaxing."

"Oh doctor, do you think he _could_ have been?" said Mrs. Munger, with
clasped hands. "It would make me the happiest woman in the world! I'd
forgive him all he's made me suffer. But _you're_ joking _now_,
doctor?"

"You can't tell when people are joking. If I'm not, does it follow that I'm
really intoxicated?"

"Oh, but that's nonsense, Dr. Morrell. That's mere--what do you call
it?--chop logic. But I don't mind it. I grasp at a straw." Mrs. Munger
grasped at a straw of the mind, to show how. "But what _do_ you mean?"

"Well, Mrs. Putney wasn't intoxicated last night, but she's not well this
morning. I'm afraid she couldn't see you."

"Just as you _say_, doctor," cried Mrs. Munger, with mounting
cheerfulness. "I _wish_ I knew just how much you meant, and how
little." She moved closer to the doctor, and bent a look of candid fondness
upon him. "But I know you're trying to mystify me."

She pursued him with questions which he easily parried, smiling and
laughing. At the end she left him to Annie, with adieux that were almost
radiant. "Anyhow, I shall take the benefit of the doubt, and if Mr. Putney
was hoaxing, I shall not give myself away. _Do_ find out what he
means, Miss Kilburn, won't you?" She took hold of Annie's unoffered hand,
and pressed it in a double leathern grasp, and ran out of the room with a
lightness of spirit which her physical bulk imperfectly expressed.

XX.

"Well?" said Annie, to the change which came over Morrell's face when Mrs.
Munger was gone.

"Oh, it's a miserable business! He must go on now to the end of his
debauch. He's got past doing any mischief, I'm thankful to say. But I had
hoped to tide him over a while longer, and now that fool has spoiled
everything. Well!"

Annie's heart warmed to his vexation, and she postponed another emotion.
"Yes, she _is_ a fool. I wish you had qualified the term, doctor."

They looked at each other solemnly, and then laughed. "It won't do for a
physician to swear," said Morrell. "I wish you'd give me a cup of coffee.
I've been up all night."

"With Ralph?"

"With Putney."

"You shall have it instantly; that is, as instantly as Mrs. Bolton can
kindle up a fire and make it." She went out to the kitchen, and gave the
order with an imperiousness which she softened in Dr. Morrell's interest by
explaining rather fully to Mrs. Bolton.

When she came back she wanted to talk seriously, tragically, about Putney.
But the doctor would not. He said that it paid to sit up with Putney, drunk
or sober, and hear him go on. He repeated some things Putney said about Mr.
Peck, about Gerrish, about Mrs. Munger.

"But why did you try to put her off in that way--to make her believe he
wasn't intoxicated?" asked Annie, venting her postponed emotion, which was
of disapproval.

"I don't know. It came into my head. But she knows better."

"It was rather cruel; not that she deserves any mercy. She caught so at the
idea."

"Oh yes, I saw that. She'll humbug herself with it, and you'll see that
before night there'll be two theories of Putney's escapade. I think the
last will be the popular one. It will jump with the general opinion of
Putney's ability to carry anything out. And Mrs. Munger will do all she can
to support it."

Mrs. Bolton brought in the coffee-pot, and Annie hesitated a moment, with
her hand on it, before pouring out a cup.

"I don't like it," she said.

"I know you don't. But you can say that it wasn't Putney who hoaxed Mrs.
Munger, but Dr. Morrell."

"Oh, you didn't either of you hoax her."

"Well, then, there's no harm done."

"I'm not so sure."

"And you won't give me any coffee?"

"Oh yes, I'll give you some _coffee_," said Annie, with a sigh of
baffled scrupulosity that made them both laugh.

He broke out again after he had begun to drink his coffee.

"Well?" she demanded, from her own lapse into silence.

"Oh, nothing! Only Putney. He wants Brother Peck, as he calls him, to unite
all the religious elements of Hatboro' in a church of his own, and send
out missionaries to the heathen of South Hatboro' to preach a practical
Christianity. He makes South Hatboro' stand for all that's worldly and
depraved."

"Poor Ralph! Is that the way he talks?"

"Oh, not all the time. He talks a great many other ways."

"I wonder you can laugh."

"He's been very severe on Brother Peck for neglecting the discipline of
his child. He says he ought to remember his duty to others, and save the
community from having the child grow up into a capricious, wilful woman.
Putney was very hard upon your sex, Miss Kilburn. He attributed nearly all
the trouble in the world to women's wilfulness and caprice."

He looked across the table at her with his merry eyes, whose sweetness
she felt even in her sudden preoccupation with the notion which she now
launched upon him, leaning forward and pushing some books and magazines
aside, as if she wished to have nothing between her need and his response.

"Dr. Morrell, what should you think of my asking Mr. Peck to give me his
little girl?"

"To give you his--"

"Yes. Let me take Idella--keep her--adopt her! I've nothing to do, as you
know very well, and she'd be an occupation; and it would be far better
for her. What Ralph says is true. She's growing up without any sort of
training; and I think if she keeps on she will be mischievous to herself
and every one else."

"Really?" asked the doctor. "Is it so bad as that?"

"Of course not. And of course I don't want Mr. Peck to renounce all claim
to his child; but to let me have her for the present, or indefinitely, and
get her some decent clothes, and trim her hair properly, and give her some
sort of instruction--"

"May I come in?" drawled Mrs. Wilmington's mellow voice, and Annie turned
and saw Lyra peering round the edge of the half-opened library door. "I've
been discreetly hemming and scraping and hammering on the wood-work so as
not to overhear, and I'd have gone away if I hadn't been afraid of being
overheard."

"Oh, come in, Lyra," said Annie; and she hoped that she had kept the spirit
of resignation with which she spoke out of her voice.

Dr. Morrell jumped up with an apparent desire to escape that wounded and
exasperated her. She put out her hand quite haughtily to him and asked,
"Oh, must you go?"

"Yes. How do you do, Mrs. Wilmington? You'd better get Miss Kilburn to give
you a cup of her coffee."

"Oh, I will," said Lyra. She forbore any reference, even by a look, to the
intimate little situation she had disturbed.

Morrell added to Annie: "I like your plan. It 'a the best thing you could
do."

She found she had been keeping his hand, and in the revulsion from wrath to
joy she violently wrung it.

"I'm _so_ glad!" She could not help following him to the door, in the
hope that he would say something more, but he did not, and she could only
repeat her rapturous gratitude in several forms of incoherency.

She ran back to Mrs. Wilmington. "Lyra, what do you think of my taking Mr.
Peck's little girl?"

Mrs. Wilmington never allowed herself to seem surprised at anything; she
was, in fact, surprised at very few things. She had got into the easiest
chair in the room, and she answered from it, with a luxurious interest in
the affair, "Well, you know what people will say, Annie."

"No, I don't. _What_ will they say?"

"That you're after Mr. Peck pretty openly."

Annie turned scarlet. "And when they find I'm _not_?" she demanded
with severity, that had no effect upon Lyra.

"Then they'll say you couldn't get him."

"They may say what they please. What do you think of the plan?"

"I think it would be the greatest blessing for the poor little thing," said
Lyra, with a nearer approach to seriousness than she usually made. "And the
greatest care for you," she added, after a moment.

"I shall not care for the care. I shall be glad of it--thankful for it,"
cried Annie fervidly.

"If you can get it," Lyra suggested.

"I believe I can get it. I believe I can make Mr. Peck see that it's a
duty. I shall ask him to regard it as a charity to me--as a mercy."

"Well, that's a good way to work upon Mr. Peck's feelings," said Lyra
demurely. "Was that the plan that Dr. Morrell approved of so highly?"

"Yes."

"I didn't know but it was some course of treatment. You pressed his hand
so affectionately. I said to myself, Well, Annie's either an enthusiastic
patient, or else--"

"What?" demanded Annie, at the little stop Lyra made.

"Well, you know what people do _say_, Annie."

"What?"

"Why, that you're very much out of health, or--" Lyra made another of her
tantalising stops.

"Or what?"

"Or Dr. Morrell is very much in love."

"Lyra, I can't allow you to say such things to me."

"No; that's what I've kept saying to myself all the time. But you would
have it _out_ of me. _I_ didn't want to say it."

It was impossible to resist Lyra's pretended deprecation. Annie laughed. "I
suppose I can't help people's talking, and I ought to be too old to care."

"You ought, but you're not," said Lyra flatteringly. "Well, Annie, what do
you think of our little evening at Mrs. Munger's in the dim retrospect?
Poor Ralph! What did the doctor say about him?" She listened with so keen
a relish for the report of Putney's sayings that Annie felt as if she had
been turning the affair into comedy for Lyra's amusement. "Oh dear, I wish
I could hear him! I thought I should have died last night when he came
back, and began to scare everybody blue with his highly personal remarks.
I wish he'd had time to get round to the Northwicks."

"Lyra," said Annie, nerving herself to the office; "don't you think it was
wicked to treat that poor girl as you did?"

"Well, I suppose that's the way some people might look at it," said Lyra
dispassionately.

"Then how--_how_ could you do it?"

"Oh, it's easy enough to behave wickedly, Annie, when you feel like it,"
said Lyra, much amused by Annie's fervour, apparently. "Besides, I don't
know that it was so _very_ wicked. What makes you think it was?"

"Oh, it wasn't that merely. Lyra, may I--_may_ I speak to you plainly,
frankly--like a sister?" Annie's heart filled with tenderness for Lyra,
with the wish to help her, to save a person who charmed her so much.

"Well, like a _step_-sister, you may," said Lyra demurely.

"It wasn't for her sake alone that I hated to see it. It was for your
sake--for _his_ sake."

"Well, that's very kind of you, Annie," said Lyra, without the least
resentment. "And I know what you mean. But it really doesn't hurt
either Jack or me. I'm not very goody-goody, Annie; I don't pretend to
be; but I'm not very baddy-baddy either. I assure you"--Lyra laughed
mischievously--"I'm one of the very few persons in Hatboro' who are better
than they should be."

"I know it, Lyra--I know it. But you have no right to keep him from taking
a fancy to some young girl--and marrying her; to keep him to yourself; to
make people talk."

"There's something in that," Lyra assented, with impartiality. "But I don't
think it would be well for Jack to marry yet; and if I see him taking a
fancy to any real nice girl, I sha'n't interfere with him. But I shall be
very _particular_, Annie."

She looked at Annie with such a droll mock earnest, and shook her head with
such a burlesque of grandmotherly solicitude, that Annie laughed in spite
of herself. "Oh, Lyra, Lyra!"

"And as for me," Lyra went on, "I assure you I don't care for the little
bit of harm it does me."

"But you ought--you ought!" cried Annie. "You ought to respect yourself
enough to care. You ought to respect other women enough."

"Oh, I guess I'd let the balance of the sex slide, Annie," said Lyra.

"No, you mustn't; you can't. We are all bound together; we owe everything
to each other."

"Isn't that rather Peckish?" Lyra suggested.

"I don't know. But it's true, Lyra. And I shouldn't be ashamed of getting
it from Mr. Peck."

"Oh, I didn't say you would be."

"And I hope you won't be hurt with me. I know that it's a most
unwarrantable thing to speak to you about such a matter; but you know why
I do it."

"Yes, I suppose it's because you like me; and I appreciate that, I assure
you, Annie."

Lyra was soberer than she had yet been, and Annie felt that she was really
gaining ground. "And your husband; you ought to respect _him_--"

Lyra laughed out with great relish. "Oh, now, Annie, you _are_ joking!
Why in the _world_ should I respect Mr. Wilmington? An old man like
him marrying a young girl like me!" She jumped up and laughed at the look
in Annie's face. "Will you go round with me to the Putneys? thought Ellen
might like to see us."

"No, no. I can't go," said Annie, finding it impossible to recover at once
from the quite unanswerable blow her sense of decorum--she thought it her
moral sense--had received.

"Well, you'll be glad to have _me_ go, anyway," said Lyra. She saw
Annie shrinking from her, and she took hold of her, and pulled her up and
kissed her. "You dear old thing! I wouldn't hurt your feelings for the
world. And whichever it is, Annie, the parson or the doctor, I wish him
joy."

That afternoon, as Annie was walking to the village, the doctor drove up to
the sidewalk, and stopped near her. "Miss Kilburn, I've got a letter from
home. They write me about my mother in a way that makes me rather anxious,
and I shall run down to Chelsea this evening."

"Oh, I'm sorry for your bad news. I hope it's nothing serious."

"She's old; that's the only cause for anxiety. But of course I must go."

"Oh yes, indeed. I do hope you'll find all right with her."

"Thank you very much. I'm sorry that I must leave Putney at such a time.
But I leave him with Mr. Peck, who's promised to be with him. I thought
you'd like to know."

"Yes, I do; it's very kind of you--very kind indeed."

"Thank you," said the doctor. It was not the phrase exactly, but it served
the purpose of the cordial interest in which they parted as well as
another.

XXI.

During the days that Mr. Peck had consented to leave Idella with her Annie
took the whole charge of the child, and grew into an intimacy with her
that was very sweet. It was not necessary to this that Idella should be
always tractable and docile, which she was not, but only that she should
be affectionate and dependent; Annie found that she even liked her to be
a little baddish; it gave her something to forgive; and she experienced a
perverse pleasure in discovering that the child of a man so self-forgetful
as Mr. Peck was rather more covetous than most children. It also amused her
that when some of Idella's shabby playmates from Over the Track casually
found their way to the woods past Annie's house, and tried to tempt Idella
to go with them, the child disowned them, and ran into the house from
them; so soon was she alienated from her former life by her present social
advantages. She apparently distinguished between Annie and the Boltons, or
if not quite this, she showed a distinct preference for her company, and
for her part of the house. She hung about Annie with a flattering curiosity
and interest in all she did. She lost every trace of shyness with her, but
developed an intense admiration for her in every way--for her dresses, her
rings, her laces, for the elegancies that marked her a gentlewoman. She
pronounced them prettier than Mrs. Warner's things, and the house prettier
and larger.

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