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Annie Kilburn by W. D. Howells

Part 4 out of 5

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"Should you like to live with me?" Annie asked.

The child seemed to reflect. Then she said, with the indirection of her age
and sex, pushing against Annie's knee, "I don't know what your name is."

"Have you never heard my name? It's Annie. How do you like it?"

"It's--it's too short," said the child, from her readiness always to answer
something that charmed Annie.

"Well, then you can make it longer. You can call me Aunt Annie. I think
that will be better for a little girl; don't you?"

"Mothers can whip, but aunts can't," said Idella, bringing a practical
knowledge, acquired from her observation of life Over the Track, to a
consideration of the proposed relation.

"I know _one_ aunt who won't," said Annie, touched by the reply.

Saturday evening Idella's father came for her; and with a preamble which
seemed to have been unnecessary when he understood it, Annie asked him to
let her keep the child, at least till he had settled himself in a house of
his own, or, she hinted, in some way more comfortable for Idella than he
was now living. In her anxiety to make him believe that she was not taking
too great a burden on her hands, she became slowly aware that no fear of
this had apparently troubled him, and that he was looking at the whole
matter from a point outside of questions of polite ceremonial, even of
personal feeling.

She was vexed a little with his insensibility to the favour she meant the
child, and she could not help trying to make him realise it. "I don't
promise always to be the best guide, philosopher, and friend that Idella
could have"--she took this light tone because she found herself afraid of
him--"but I think I shall be a little improvement on some of her friends
Over the Track. At least, if she wants my cat, she shall have it without
fighting for it."

Mr. Peck looked up with question, and she went on to tell him of a struggle
which she had seen one day between Idella and a small Irish boy for a
kitten; it really belonged to the boy, but Idella carried it off.

The minister listened attentively. At the end: "Yes," he said, "that lust
of possession is something all but impossible, even with constant care,
to root out of children. I have tried to teach Idella that nothing is
rightfully hers except while she can use it; but it is hard to make her
understand, and when she is with other children she forgets."

Annie could not believe at first that he was serious, and then she was
disposed to laugh. "Really, Mr. Peck," she began, "I can't think it's so
important that a little thing like Idella should be kept from coveting
a kitten as that she should be kept from using naughty words and from
scratching and biting."

"I know," Mr. Peck consented. "That is the usual way of looking at such
things."

"It seems to me," said Annie, "that it's the common-sense way."

"Perhaps. But upon the whole, I don't agree with you. It is bad for the
child to use naughty words and to scratch and bite; that's part of the
warfare in which we all live; but it's worse for her to covet, and to wish
to keep others from having."

"I don't wonder you find it hard to make her understand that."

"Yes, it's hard with all of us. But if it is ever to be easier we must
begin with the children."

He was silent, and Annie did not say anything. She was afraid that she had
not helped her cause. "At least," she finally ventured, "you can't object
to giving Idella a little rest from the fray. Perhaps if she finds that she
can get things without fighting for them, she'll not covet them so much."

"Yes," he said, with a dim smile that left him sad again, "there is some
truth in that. But I'm not sure that I have the right to give her
advantages of any kind, to lift her above the lot, the chance, of the least
fortunate--"

"Surely, we are bound to provide for those of our own household," said
Annie.

"Who are those of our own household?" asked the minister. "All mankind are
those of our own household. These are my mother and my brother and my
sister."

"Yes, I know," said Annie, somewhat eagerly quitting this difficult ground.
"But you can leave her with me at least till you get settled," she
faltered, "if you don't wish it to be for longer."

"Perhaps it may not be for long," he answered, "if you mean my settlement
in Hatboro'. I doubt," he continued, lifting his eyes to the question in
hers, "whether I shall remain here."

"Oh, I hope you will," cried Annie. She thought she must make a pretence of
misunderstanding him. "I supposed you were very much satisfied with your
work here."

"I am not satisfied with myself in my work," replied the minister; "and I
know that I am far from acceptable to many others in it."

"You are acceptable to those who are best able to appreciate you, Mr.
Peck," she protested, "and to people of every kind. I'm sure it's only a
question of time when you will be thoroughly acceptable to all. I want
you to understand, Mr. Peck," she added, "that I was shocked and ashamed
the other night at your being tricked into countenancing a part of the
entertainment you were promised should be dropped. I had nothing to do
with it."

"It was very unimportant, after all," the minister said, "as far as I was
concerned. In fact, I was interested to see the experiment of bringing the
different grades of society together."

"It seems to me it was an utter failure," suggested Annie.

"Quite. But it was what I expected."

There appeared an uncandour in this which Annie could not let pass even if
it imperilled her present object to bring up the matter of past contention.
"But when we first talked of the Social Union you opposed it because it
wouldn't bring the different classes together."

"Did you understand that? Then I failed to make myself clear. I wished
merely to argue that the well-meaning ladies who suggested it were not
intending a social union at all. In fact, such a union in our present
condition of things, with its division of classes, is impossible--as Mrs.
Munger's experiment showed--with the best will on both sides. But, as I
said, the experiment was interesting, though unimportant, except as it
resulted in heart-burning and offence."

They were on the same ground, but they had reached it from starting-points
so opposite that Annie felt it very unsafe. In her fear of getting into
some controversy with Mr. Peck that might interfere with her designs
regarding Idella, she had a little insincerity in saying: "Mrs. Munger's
bad faith in that was certainly unimportant compared with her part in poor
Mr. Putney's misfortune. That was the worst thing; that's what I
_can't_ forgive."

Mr. Peck said nothing to this, and Annie, somewhat daunted by his silence,
proceeded. "I've had the satisfaction of telling her what I thought on both
points. But Ralph--Mr. Putney--I hear, has escaped this time with less than
his usual--"

She did not know what lady-like word to use for spree, and so she stopped.

Mr. Peck merely said, "He has shown great self-control;" and she perceived
that he was not going to say more. He listened patiently to the reasons she
gave for not having offered Mrs. Putney anything more than passive sympathy
at a time when help could only have cumbered and kindness wounded her, but
he made no sign of thinking them either necessary or sufficient. In the
meantime he had not formally consented to Idella's remaining with her, and
Annie prepared to lead back to that affair as artfully as she could.

"I really want you to believe, Mr. Peck, that I think very differently on
_some_ points from what I did when we first talked about the Social
Union, and I have you to thank for seeing things in a new light. And you
needn't," she added lightly, "be afraid of my contaminating Idella's mind
with any wicked ideas. I'll do my best to keep her from coveting kittens
or property of any kind; though I've always heard my father say that
civilisation was founded upon the instinct of ownership, and that it was
the only thing that had advanced the world. And if you dread the danger
of giving her advantages, as you say, or bettering her worldly lot," she
continued, with a smile for his quixotic scruples, "why, I'll do my best to
reduce her blessings to a minimum; though I don't see why the poor little
thing shouldn't get some good from the inequalities that there always must
be in the world."

"I am not sure there always must be inequalities in the world," answered
the minister.

"There always have been," cried Annie.

"There always had been slavery, up to a certain time," he replied.

"Oh, but surely you don't compare the two!" Annie pleaded with what she
really regarded as a kind of lunacy in the good man. "In the freest
society, I've heard my father say, there is naturally an upward and
downward tendency; a perfect level is impossible. Some must rise, and some
must sink."

"But what do you mean by rising? If you mean in material things, in wealth
and the power over others that it gives--"

"I don't mean that altogether. But there are other ways--in cultivation,
refinement, higher tastes and aims than the great mass of people can have.
You have risen yourself, Mr. Peck."

"I have risen, as you call it," he said, with a meek sufferance of the
application of the point to himself. "Those who rise above the necessity of
work for daily bread are in great danger of losing their right relation to
other men, as I said when we talked of this before."

A point had remained in Annie's mind from her first talk with Dr. Morrell.
"Yes; and you said once that there could be no sympathy between the rich
and the poor--no real love--because they had not had the same experience of
life. But how is it about the poor who become rich? They have had the same
experience."

"Too often they make haste to forget that they were poor; they become hard
masters to those they have left behind them. They are eager to identify
themselves with those who have been rich longer than they. Some working-men
who now see this clearly have the courage to refuse to rise. Miss Kilburn,
why should I let you take my child out of the conditions of self-denial and
self-help to which she was born?"

"I don't know," said Annie rather blankly. Then she added impetuously:
"Because I love her and want her. I don't--I _won't_--pretend that
it's for her sake. It's for _my_ sake, though I can take better care
of her than you can. But I'm all alone in the world; I've neither kith nor
kin; nothing but my miserable money. I've set my heart on the child; I must
have her. At least let me keep her a while. I will be honest with you, Mr.
Peck. If I find I'm doing her harm and not good, I'll give her up. I should
wish you to feel that she is yours as much as ever, and if you _will_
feel so, and come often to see her--I--I shall--be very glad, and--" she
stopped, and Mr. Peck rose.

"Where is the child?" he asked, with a troubled air; and she silently led
the way to the kitchen, and left him at the door to Idella and the Boltons.
When she ventured back later he was gone, but the child remained.

Half exultant and half ashamed, she promised herself that she really would
be true as far as possible to the odd notions of the minister in her
treatment of his child. When she undressed Idella for bed she noticed again
the shabbiness of her poor little clothes. She went through the bureau that
held her own childish things once more, but found them all too large for
Idella, and too hopelessly antiquated. She said to herself that on this
point at least she must be a law to herself.

She went down to see Mrs. Bolton. "Isn't there some place in the village
where they have children's ready-made clothes for sale?" she asked.

"Mr. Gerrish's," said Mrs. Bolton briefly.

Annie shook her head, drawing in her breath. "I shouldn't want to go there.
Is there nowhere else?"

"There's a Jew place. They say he cheats."

"I dare say he doesn't cheat more than most Christians," said Annie,
jumping from her chair. "I'll try the Jew place. I want you to come with
me, Mrs. Bolton."

They went together, and found a dress that they both decided would fit
Idella, and a hat that matched it.

"I don't know as he'd like to have anything quite so nice," said Mrs.
Bolton coldly.

"I don't know as he has anything to say about it," said Annie, mimicking
Mrs. Bolton's accent and syntax.

They both meant Mr. Peck. Mrs. Bolton turned away to hide her pleasure in
Annie's audacity and extravagance.

"Want I should carry 'em?" she asked, when they were out of the store.

"No, I can carry them," said Annie.

She put them where Idella must see them as soon as she woke.

It was late before she slept, and Idella's voice broke upon her dreams. The
child was sitting up in her bed, gloating upon the dress and hat hung and
perched upon the chair-back in the middle of the room. "Oh, whose is it?
Whose is it? Whose is it?" she screamed; and as Annie lifted herself on her
elbow, and looked over at her: "Is it mine? Is it mine?"

Annie had thought of playing some joke; of pretending not to understand; of
delaying the child's pleasure; playing with it; teasing. But in the face of
this rapturous longing, she could only answer, "Yes."

"Mine? My very own? To have? To keep always?"

"Yes."

Idella sprang from her bed, and flew upon the things with a primitive,
greedy transport in their possession. She could scarcely be held long
enough to be washed before the dress could be put on.

"Be careful--be careful not to get it soiled now," said Annie.

"No; I won't spoil it." She went quietly downstairs, and when Annie
followed, she found her posing before the long pier-glass in the parlour,
and twisting and turning for this effect and that. All the morning she
moved about prim and anxious; the wild-wood flower was like a hot-house
blossom wired for a bouquet. At the church door she asked Idella, "Would
you rather sit with Mrs. Bolton?"

"No, no," gasped the child intensely; "with _you_!" and she pushed her
hand into Annie's, and held fast to it.

Annie's question had been suggested by a belated reluctance to appear
before so much of Hatboro' in charge of the minister's child. But now she
could not retreat, and with Idella's hand in hers she advanced blushing up
the aisle to her pew.

XXII.

The farmers' carry-alls filled the long shed beside the church, and their
leathern faces looked up, with their wives' and children's, at Mr. Peck
where he sat high behind the pulpit; a patient expectance suggested itself
in the men's bald or grizzled crowns, and in the fantastic hats and bonnets
of their women folks. The village ladies were all in the perfection of
their street costumes, and they compared well with three or four of the
ladies from South Hatboro', but the men with them spoiled all by the
inadequacy of their fashion. Mrs. Gates, the second of her name, was very
stylish, but the provision-man had honestly the effect of having got for
the day only into the black coat which he had bought ready-made for his
first wife's funeral. Mr. Wilmington, who appeared much shorter than his
wife as he sat beside her, was as much inferior to her in dress; he wore,
with the carelessness of a rich man who could afford simplicity, a loose
alpaca coat and a cambric neckcloth, over which he twisted his shrivelled
neck to catch sight of Annie, as she rustled up the aisle. Mrs. Gerrish--so
much as could be seen of her--was a mound of bugled velvet, topped by a
small bonnet, which seemed to have gone much to a fat black pompon; she sat
far within her pew, and their children stretched in a row from her side to
that of Mr. Gerrish, next the door. He did not look round at Annie, but
kept an attitude of fixed self-concentration, in harmony with the severe
old-school respectability of his dress; his wife leaned well forward to
see, and let all her censure appear in her eyes.

Colonel Marvin, of the largest shoe-shop, showed the side of his large
florid face, with the kindly smile that seemed to hang loosely upon it; and
there was a good number of the hat-shop and shoe-shop hands of different
ages and sexes scattered about. The gallery, commonly empty or almost so,
showed groups and single figures dropped about here and there on its seats.

The Putneys were in their pew, the little lame boy between the father and
mother, as their custom was. They each looked up at her as she passed, and
smiled in the slight measure of recognition which people permit themselves
in church. Putney was sitting with his head hanging forward in pathetic
dejection; his face, when he first lifted it to look at Annie in passing,
was haggard, but otherwise there was no consciousness in it of what had
passed since they had sat there the Sunday before. When his glance took in
Idella too, in her sudden finery, a light of friendly mocking came into it,
and seemed to comment the relation Annie had assumed to the child.

Annie's pew was just in front of Lyra's, and Lyra pursed her mouth in
burlesque surprise as Annie got into it with Idella and turned round to
lift the child to the seat. While Mr. Peck was giving out the hymn, Lyra
leaned forward and whispered--

"Don't imagine that this turnout is _all_ on your account, Annie. He's
going to preach against the Social Union and the social glass."

The banter echoed a mechanical expectation in Annie's heart, which was
probably present in many others there. It was some time before she could
cast it out, even after he had taken his text, "I am the Resurrection and
the Life," and she followed him with a mechanical disappointment at his
failure to meet it.

He began by saying that he wished to dissociate his text in his hearers'
minds from the scent of the upturned earth, and the fall of clods upon
the coffin lid, and he asked them to join him in attempting to find in it
another meaning beside that which it usually carried. He believed that
those words of Christ ought to speak to us of this world as well as the
next, and enjoin upon us the example which we might all find in Him, as
well as promise us immortality with Him. As the minister went on, Annie
followed him with the interest which her belief that she heard between the
words inspired, and occasionally in a discontent with what seemed a
mystical, almost a fantastical, quality of his thought.

"There is an evolution," he continued, "in the moral as well as in the
material world, and good unfolds in greater good; that which was once
best ceases to be in that which is better. In the political world we have
striven forward to liberty as to the final good, but with this achieved we
find that liberty is only a means and not an end, and that we shall abuse
it as a means if we do not use it, even sacrifice it, to promote equality;
or in other words, equality is the perfect work, the evolution of liberty.
Patriotism has been the virtue which has secured an image of brotherhood,
rude and imperfect, to large numbers of men within certain limits, but
nationality must perish before the universal ideal of fraternity is
realised. Charity is the holiest of the agencies which have hitherto
wrought to redeem the race from savagery and despair; but there is
something holier yet than charity, something higher, something purer and
further from selfishness, something into which charity shall willingly grow
and cease, and that is _justice_. Not the justice of our Christless
codes, with their penalties, but the instinct of righteous shame which,
however dumbly, however obscurely, stirs in every honest man's heart when
his superfluity is confronted with another's destitution, and which is
destined to increase in power till it becomes the social as well as the
individual conscience. Then, in the truly Christian state, there shall be
no more asking and no more giving, no more gratitude and no more merit, no
more charity, but only and evermore justice; all shall share alike, and
want and luxury and killing toil and heartless indolence shall all cease
together.

"It is in the spirit of this justice that I believe Christ shall come to
judge the world; not to condemn and punish so much as to reconcile and to
right. We live in an age of seeming preparation for indefinite war. The
lines are drawn harder and faster between the rich and the poor, and on
either side the forces are embattled. The working-men are combined in vast
organisations to withstand the strength of the capitalists, and these are
taking the lesson and uniting in trusts. The smaller industries are gone,
and the smaller commerce is being devoured by the larger. Where many little
shops existed one huge factory assembles manufacture; one large store, in
which many different branches of trade are united, swallows up the small
dealers. Yet in the labour organisations, which have their bad side, their
weak side, through which the forces of hell enter, I see evidence of the
fact that the poor have at last had pity on the poor, and will no more
betray and underbid and desert one another, but will stand and fall
together as brothers; and the monopolies, though they are founded upon
ruin, though they know no pity and no relenting, have a final significance
which we must not lose sight of. They prophesy the end of competition;
_they eliminate_ one element of strife, of rivalry, of warfare. But
woe to them through whose evil this good comes, to any man who prospers on
to ease and fortune, forgetful or ignorant of the ruin on which his success
is built. For that death the resurrection and the life seem not to be.
Whatever his creed or his religious profession, his state is more pitiable
than that of the sceptic, whose words perhaps deny Christ, but whose works
affirm Him. There has been much anxiety in the Church for the future of
the world abandoned to the godlessness of science, but I cannot share it.
If God is, nothing exists but from Him. He directs the very reason that
questions Him, and Christ rises anew in the doubt of him that the sins of
Christendom inspire. So far from dreading such misgiving as comes from
contemplating the disparity between the Church's profession and her
performance, I welcome it as another resurrection and a new life."

The minister paused and seemed about to resume, when a scuffling and
knocking noise drew all eyes toward the pew of the Gerrish family. Mr.
Gerrish had risen and flung open the door so sharply that it struck against
the frame-work of the pew, and he stood pulling his children, whom Mrs.
Gerrish urged from behind, one after another, into the aisle beside him.
One of them had been asleep, and he now gave way to the alarm which seizes
a small boy suddenly awakened. His mother tried to still him, stooping over
him and twitching him by the hand, with repeated "Sh! 'sh's!" as mothers
do, till her husband got her before him, and marched his family down the
aisle and out of the door. The noise of their feet over the floor of the
vestibule died away upon the stone steps outside. The minister allowed the
pause he had made to prolong itself painfully. He wavered, after clearing
his throat, as if to go on with his sermon, and then he said sadly, "Let us
pray!"

XXIII.

Putney stopped with his wife and boy and waited for Annie at the corner
of the street where their ways parted. She had eluded Lyra Wilmington in
coming down the aisle, and she had hurried to escape the sensation which
broke into eager talk among the people before they got out of church, and
which began with question whether one of the Gerrish children was sick, and
ended in the more satisfactory conviction that Mr. Gerrish was offended at
something in the sermon.

"Well, Annie," said Putney, with a satirical smile.

"Oh, Ralph--Ellen--what does it mean?"

"It means that Brother Gerrish thought Mr. Peck was hitting at him in
that talk about the large commerce, and it means business," said Putney.
"Brother Gerrish has made a beginning, and I guess it's the beginning of
the end, unless we're all ready to take hold against him. What are you
going to do?"

"Do? Anything! Everything! It was abominable! It was atrocious!" she
shuddered out with disgust. "How could he imagine that Mr. Peck would do
such a thing?"

"Well, he's imagined it. But he doesn't mean to stay out of church; he
means to put Brother Peck out."

"We mustn't let him. That would be outrageous."

"That's the way Ellen and I feel about it," said Putney; "but we don't know
how much of a party there is with us."

"But everybody--everybody must feel the same way about Mr. Gerrish's
behaviour? I don't see how you can be so quiet about it--you and Ellen!"

Annie looked from one to another indignantly, and Putney laughed.

"We're not _feeling_ quietly about it," said Mrs. Putney.

Putney took out a piece of tobacco, and bit off a large corner, and began
to chew vehemently upon it. "Hello, Idella!" he said to the little girl,
holding by Annie's hand and looking up intently at him, with childish
interest in what he was eating. "What a pretty dress you've got on!"

"It's mine," said the child. To keep."

"Is that so? Well, it's a beauty."

"I'm going to wear it all the time."

"Is that so? Well, now, you and Winthrop step on ahead a little; I want to
see how you look in it. Splendid!" he said, as she took the boy's hand and
looked back over her shoulder for Putney's applause. "Lyra tells us you've
adopted her for the time being, Annie. I guess you'll have your hands full.
But, as I was going to say, about feeling differently, my experience is
that there's always a good-sized party for the perverse, simply because
it seems to answer a need in human nature. There's a fascination in it;
a man feels as if there must be something in it besides the perversity,
and because it's so obviously wrong it must be right. Don't you believe
but what a good half of the people in church to-day are pretty sure that
Gerrish had a good reason for behaving indecently. The very fact that he
did so carries conviction to some minds, and those are the minds we have
got to deal with. When he gets up in the next Society meeting there's a
mighty great danger that he'll have a strong party to back him."

"I can't believe it," Annie broke out, but she was greatly troubled. "What
do you think, Ellen; that there's any danger of his carrying the day
against Mr. Peck?"

"There's a great deal of dissatisfaction with Mr. Peck already, you know,
and I guess Ralph's right about the rest of it."

"Well, I'm glad I've taken a pew. I'm with you for Mr. Peck, Ralph, heart
and soul."

"As Brother Brandreth says about the Social Union. Well, that's right. I
shall count upon you. And speaking of the Social Union, I haven't seen you,
Annie, since that night at Mrs. Munger's. I suppose you don't expect me to
say anything in self-defence?"

"No, Ralph, and you needn't; _I've_ defended you
sufficiently--justified you."

"That won't do," said Putney. "Ellen and I have thought that all out, and
we find that I--or something that stood for me--was to blame, whoever else
was to blame, too; we won't mention the hospitable Mrs. Munger. When Dr.
Morrell had to go away Brother Peck took hold with me, and he suggested
good resolutions. I told him I'd tried 'em, and they never did me the least
good; but his sort really seemed to work. I don't know whether they would
work again; Ellen thinks they would. _I_think we sha'n't ever need
anything again; but that's what I always think when I come out of it--like
a man with chills and fever."

"It was Dr. Morrell who asked Mr. Peck to come," said Mrs. Putney; "and it
turned out for the best. Ralph got well quicker than he ever did before. Of
course, Annie," she explained, "it must seem strange to you hearing us talk
of it as if it were a disease; but that's just like what it is--a raging
disease; and I can't feel differently about anything that happens in it,
though I do blame people for it." Annie followed with tender interest the
loving pride that exonerated and idealised Putney in the words of the
woman who had suffered so much with him, and must suffer. "I couldn't help
speaking as I did to Mrs. Munger."

"She deserved it every word," said Annie. "I wonder you didn't say more."

"Oh, hold on!" Putney interposed. "We'll allow that the local influences
were malarial, but I guess we can't excuse the invalid altogether. That's
Brother Peck's view; and I must say I found it decidedly tonic; it helped
to brace me up."

"I think he was too severe with you altogether," said his wife.

Putney laughed. "It was all I could do to keep Ellen from getting up and
going out of church too, when Brother Gerrish set the example. She's a
Gerrishite at heart."

"Well, remember, Ralph," said Annie, "that I'm with you in whatever you
do to defeat that man. It's a good cause--a righteous cause--the cause of
justice; and we must do everything for it," she said fervently.

"Yes, any enormity is justifiable against injustice," he suggested, "or the
unjust; it's the same thing."

"You know I don't mean that. I can trust you."

"I shall keep within the law, at any rate," said Putney.

"Well, Mrs. Bolton!" Annie called out, when she entered her house, and she
pushed on into the kitchen; she had not the patience to wait for her to
bring in the dinner before speaking about the exciting event at church. But
Mrs. Bolton would not be led up to the subject by a tacit invitation, and
after a suspense in which her zeal for Mr. Peck began to take a colour of
resentment toward Mrs. Bolton, Annie demanded, "What do you think of Mr.
Gerrish's scandalous behaviour?"

Mrs. Bolton gave herself time to put a stick of wood into the stove, and to
punch it with the stove-lid handle before answering. "I don't know as it's
anything more than I expected."

Annie went on: "It was shameful! Do you suppose he really thought Mr. Peck
was referring to him in his sermon?"

"I presume he felt the cap fit. But if it hadn't b'en one thing, 'twould
b'en another. Mr. Peck was bound to roil the brook for Mr. Gerrish's
drinkin', wherever he stood, up stream or down."

"Yes. He _is_ a wolf! A wolf in sheep's clothing," said Annie
excitedly.

"I d'know as you can call him a _wolf_, exactly," returned Mrs. Bolton
dryly. "He's got his good points, I presume."

Annie was astounded. "Why, Mrs. Bolton, you're surely not going to justify
him?"

Mrs. Bolton erected herself from cutting a loaf of her best bread into
slices, and stood with the knife in her hand, like a figure of Justice.
"Well, I _guess_ you no need to ask me a question like that, Miss
Kilburn. I hain't obliged to make up to Mr. Peck, though, for what I done
in the beginnin' by condemnin' everybuddy else without mercy now." Mrs.
Bolton's eyes did not flash fire, but they sent out an icy gleam that went
as sharply to Annie's heart.

Bolton came in from feeding the horse and cow in the barn, with a mealy tin
pan in his hand, from which came a mild, subdued radiance like that of his
countenance. He was not sensible of arriving upon a dramatic moment, and he
said, without noticing the attitude of either lady: "I see you walkin' home
with Mr. Putney, Miss Kilburn. What'd _he_ say?"

"You mean about Mr. Gerrish? He thinks as we all do; that it was a
challenge to Mr. Peck's friends, and that we must take it up."

A light of melancholy satisfaction shone from Bolton's deeply shaded eyes.
"Well, he ain't one to lose time, not a great deal. I presume he's goin' to
work?"

"At once," said Annie. "He says Mr. Gerrish will be sure to bring his
grievance up at the next Society meeting, and we must be ready to meet
him, and out-talk him and out-vote him." She reported these phrases from
Putney's lips.

"Well, I guess if it was out-talkin', Mr. Putney wouldn't have much trouble
about it. And as far forth as votin' goes, I don't believe but what we can
carry the day."

"We couldn't," said Mrs. Bolton from the pantry, where she had gone to
put the bread away in its stone jar, "if it was left to the church."
She accented the last word with the click of the jar lid, and came out.

"Well, it ain't a church question. It's a Society question."

Mrs. Bolton replied, on her passage to the dining-room with the plate of
sliced bread: "I can't make it seem right to have the minister a Society
question. Seems to me that the church members'd ought have the say."

"Well, you can't make the discipline over to suit everybody," said Bolton.
"I presume it was ordered for a wise purpose."

"Why, land alive, Oliver Bolton," his wife shouted back from the remoteness
to which his words had followed her, "the statute provisions and rules of
the Society wa'n't ordered by Providence."

"Well, not directly, as you may say," said Bolton, beginning high, and
lowering his voice as she rejoined them, "but I presume the hearts of them
that made them was moved."

Mrs. Bolton could not combat a position of such unimpregnable piety in
words, but she permitted herself a contemptuous sniff, and went on getting
the things into the dining-room.

"And I guess it's all goin' to work together for good. I ain't afraid
any but what it's goin' to come out all right. But we got to be up and
doin', as they say about 'lection times. The Lord helps them that helps
themselves," said Bolton, and then, as if he felt the weakness of this
position as compared with that of entire trust in Providence, he winked his
mild eyes, and added, "if they're on the right side, and put their faith in
His promises."

"Well, your dinner's ready now," Mrs. Bolton said to Annie.

Idella had clung fast to Annie's hand; as Annie started toward the
dining-room she got before her, and whispered vehemently.

"What?" asked Annie, bending down; she laughed, in lifting her head, "I
promised Idella you'd let us have some preserves to-day, Mrs. Bolton."

Mrs. Bolton smiled with grim pleasure. "I see all the while her mind was
set on something. She ain't one to let you forget _your_ promises.
Well, I guess if Mr. Peck had a little more of _her_ disposition there
wouldn't be much doubt about the way it would all come out."

"Well, you don't often see pairents take after their children," said
Bolton, venturing a small joke.

"No, nor husbands after their wives, either," said Mrs. Bolton sharply.
"The more's the pity."

XXIV.

Dr. Morrell came to see Annie late the next Wednesday evening.

"I didn't know you'd come back," she said. She returned to the
rocking-chair, from which she came forward to greet him, and he dropped
into an easy seat near the table piled with books and sewing.

"I didn't know it myself half an hour ago."

"Really? And is this your first visit? I must be a very interesting case."

"You are--always. How have you been?"

"I? I hardly know whether I've been at all," she answered, in mechanical
parody of his own reply. "So many other things have been of so much more
importance."

She let her eyes rest full upon his, with a sense of returning comfort and
safety in his presence, and after a deep breath of satisfaction, she asked,
"How did you leave your mother?"

"Very much better--entirely out of danger."

"It's so odd to think of any one's having a family. To me it seems the
normal condition not to have any relatives."

"Well, we can't very well dispense with mothers," said the doctor. "We have
to begin with them, at any rate."

"Oh, I don't object to them. I only wonder at them."

They fell into a cosy and mutually interesting talk about their separate
past, and he gave her glimpses of the life, simple and studious, he had
led before he went abroad. She confessed to two mistakes in which she had
mechanically persisted concerning him; one that he came from Charlestown
instead of Chelsea, and the other that his first name was Joseph instead
of James. She did not own that she had always thought it odd he should
be willing to remain in a place like Hatboro', and that it must argue a
strangely unambitious temperament in a man of his ability. She diverted the
impulse to a general satire of village life, and ended by saying that she
was getting to be a perfect villager herself.

He laughed, and then, "How has Hatboro' been getting along?" he asked.

"Simply seething with excitement," she answered. "But I should hardly know
where to begin if I tried to tell you," she added. "It seems such an age
since I saw you."

"Thank you," said the doctor.

"I didn't mean to be _quite_ so flattering; but you have certainly
marked an epoch. Really, I _don't_ know where to begin. I wish you'd
seen somebody else first--Ralph and Ellen, or Mrs. Wilmington."

"I might go and see them now."

"No; stay, now you're here, though I know I shall not do justice to the
situation." But she was able to possess him of it with impartiality, even
with a little humour, all the more because she was at heart intensely
partisan and serious. "No one knows what Mr. Gerrish intends to do next.
He has kept quietly about his business; and he told some of the ladies who
tried to interview him that he was not prepared to talk about the course
he had taken. He doesn't seem to be ashamed of his behaviour; and Ralph
thinks that he's either satisfied with it, and intends to let it stand as
a protest, or else he's going to strike another blow on the next business
meeting. But he's even kept Mrs. Gerrish quiet, and all we can do is to
unite Mr. Peck's friends provisionally. Ralph's devoted himself to that,
and he says he has talked forty-eight hours to the day ever since."

Is he--"

"Yes; perfectly! I could hardly believe it when I saw him at church on
Sunday. It was like seeing one risen from the dead. What he must have
gone through, and Ellen! She told me how Mr. Peck had helped him in the
struggle. She attributes everything to him. But of course you think he had
nothing to do with it."

"What makes you think that?" he asked.

"Oh, I don't know. Wouldn't that naturally be the attitude of Science?"

"Toward religion? Perhaps. But I'm not Science--with a large S. May be
that's the reason why I left the case with Mr. Peck," said the doctor,
smiling. "Putney didn't leave off my medicine, did he?"

"He never got well so soon before. They both say that. I didn't think you
could be so narrow-minded, Dr. Morrell. But of course your scientific
bigotry couldn't admit the effect of the moral influence. It would be too
much like a miracle; you would have to allow for a mystery."

"I have to allow for a good many," said the doctor. "The world is full of
mysteries for me, if you mean things that science hasn't explored yet. But
I hope that they'll all yield to the light, and that somewhere there'll be
light enough to clear up even the spiritual mysteries."

"Do you really?" she demanded eagerly. "Then you believe in a life
hereafter? You believe in a moral government of the--"

He retreated, laughing, from her ardent pursuit. "Oh, I'm not going to
commit myself. But I'll go so far as to say that I like to hear Mr. Peck
preach, and that I want him to stay. I don't say he had nothing to do with
Putney's straightening up. Putney had a great deal to do with it himself.
What does he think Mr. Peck's chances are?"

"If Mr. Gerrish tries to get him dismissed? He doesn't know; he's quite
in the dark. He says the party of the perverse--the people who think Mr.
Gerrish must have had some good reason for his behaviour, simply because
they can't see any--is unexpectedly large; and it doesn't help matters with
the more respectable people that the most respectable, like Mr. Wilmington
and Colonel Marvin, are Mr. Peck's friends. They think there must be
something wrong if such good men are opposed to Mr. Gerrish."

"And I suspect," said Dr. Morrell soberly, "that Putney's championship
isn't altogether an advantage. The people all concede his brilliancy, and
they are prouder of him on account of his infirmity; but I guess they like
to feel their superiority to him in practical matters. They admire him, but
they don't want to follow him."

"Oh, I suppose so," said Annie disconsolately. "And I imagine that Mr.
Wilmington's course is attributed to Lyra, and that doesn't help Mr. Peck
much with the husbands of the ladies who don't approve of her."

The doctor tacitly declined to touch this delicate point. He asked, after a
pause, "You'll be at the meeting?"

"I couldn't keep away. But I've no vote, that's the worst. I can only
suffer in the cause." The doctor smiled. "You must go, too," she added
eagerly.

"Oh, I shall go; I couldn't keep away either. Besides, I can vote. How are
you getting on with your little _protegee_?

"Idella? Well, it isn't such a simple matter as I supposed, quite. Did you
ever hear anything about her mother?"

"Nothing more than what every one has. Why?" asked the doctor, with
scientific curiosity. "Do you find traits that the father doesn't account
for?"

"Yes. She is very vain and greedy and quick-tempered."

"Are those traits uncommon in children?"

"In such a degree I should think they were. But she's very affectionate,
too, and you can do anything with her through her love of praise. She
puzzles me a good deal. I wish I knew something about her mother. But Mr.
Peck himself is a puzzle. With all my respect for him and regard and
admiration, I can't help seeing that he's a very imperfect character."

Doctor Morrell laughed. "There's a great deal of human nature in man."

"There isn't enough in Mr. Peck," Annie retorted. "From the very first
he has said things that have stirred me up and put me in a fever; but he
always seems to be cold and passive himself."

"Perhaps he _is_ cold," said the doctor.

"But has he any _right_ to be so?" retorted Annie, with certainly no
coldness of her own.

"Well, I don't know. I never thought of the right or wrong of a man's being
what he was born. Perhaps we might justly blame his ancestors."

Annie broke into a laugh at herself: "Of course. But don't you think that
a man who is able to put things as he does--who can make you see, for
example, the stupidity and cruelty of things that always seemed right and
proper before--don't you think that he's guilty of a kind of hypocrisy if
he doesn't _feel_ as well as see?"

"No, I can't say that I do," said the doctor, with pleasure in the feminine
excess of her demand. "And there are so many ways of feeling. We're apt to
think that our own way is the only way, of course; but I suppose that most
philanthropists--men who have done the most to better conditions--have been
people of cold temperaments; and yet you can't say they are unfeeling."

"No, certainly. Do you think Mr. Peck is a real philanthropist?"

"How you do get back to the personal always!" said Dr. Morrell. "What makes
you ask?"

"Because I can't understand his indifference to his child. It seems to me
that real philanthropy would begin at home. But twice he has distinctly
forgotten her existence, and he always seems bored with it. Or not that
quite; but she seems no more to him than any other child."

"There's something very curious about all that," said the doctor. "In most
things the greater includes the less, but in philanthropy it seems to
exclude it. If a man's heart is open to the whole world, to all men, it's
shut sometimes against the individual, even the nearest and dearest. You
see I'm willing to admit all you can say against a rival practitioner."

"Oh, I understand," said Annie. "But I'm not going to gratify your spite."
At the same time she tacitly consented to the slight for Mr. Peck which
their joking about him involved. In such cases we excuse our disloyalty as
merely temporary, and intend to turn serious again and make full amends for
it. "He made very short work," she continued, "of that notion of yours that
there could be any good feeling between the poor and the rich who had once
been poor themselves."

"Did I have any such notion as that?"

She recalled the time and place of its expression to him, and he said, "Oh
yes! Well?"

"He says that rich people like that are apt to be the hardest masters, and
are eager to forget they ever were poor, and are only anxious to identify
themselves with the rich."

Dr. Morrell seemed to enjoy this immensely. "That does rather settle it,"
he said recreantly.

She tried to be severe with him, but she only kept on laughing and joking;
she was aware that he was luring her away from her seriousness.

Mrs. Bolton brought in the lamp, and set it on the library table, showing
her gaunt outline a moment against it before she left it to throw its
softened light into the parlour where they sat. The autumn moonshine,
almost as mellow, fell in through the open windows, which let in the
shrilling of the crickets and grasshoppers, and wafts of the warm night
wind.

"Does life," Annie was asking, at the end of half an hour, "seem more
simple or more complicated as you live on? That sounds awfully abstruse,
doesn't it? And I don't know why I'm always asking you abstruse things, but
I am."

"Oh, I don't mind it," said the doctor. "Perhaps I haven't lived on long
enough to answer this particular question; I'm only thirty-six, you know."

"_Only_? I'm thirty-one, and I feel a hundred!" she broke in.

"You don't look it. But I believe I rather like abstruse questions. You
know Putney and I have discussed a great many. But just what do you mean by
this particular abstraction?"

He took from the table a large ivory paper-knife which he was in the habit
of playing with in his visits, and laid first one side and then the other
side of its smooth cool blade in the palm of his left hand, as he leaned
forward, with his elbows on his knees, and bent his smiling eyes keenly
upon her.

She stopped rocking herself, and said imperatively, "Will you please put
that back, Dr. Morrell?"

"This paper-knife?"

"Yes. And not look at me just in that way? When you get that knife and that
look, I feel a little too much as if you were diagnosing me."

"Diagnosticating," suggested the doctor.

"Is it? I always supposed it was diagnosing. But it doesn't matter. It
wasn't the name I was objecting to."

He put the knife back and changed his posture, with a smile that left
nothing of professional scrutiny in his look. "Very well, then; you shall
diagnose yourself."

"Diagnosticate, please."

"Oh, I thought you preferred the other."

"No, it sounds undignified, now that I know there's a larger word. Where
was I?"

"The personal bearing of the question whether life isn't more and more
complicated?"

"How did you know it had a personal bearing?"

"I suspected as much."

"Yes, it has. I mean that within the last four or five months--since I've
been in Hatboro'--I seem to have lost my old point of view; or, rather, I
don't find it satisfactory any more. I'm ashamed to think of the simple
plans, or dreams, that I came home with. I hardly remember what they were;
but I must have expected to be a sort of Lady Bountiful here; and now I
think a Lady Bountiful one of the most mischievous persons that could
infest any community."

"You don't mean that charity is played out?" asked the doctor.

"In the old-fashioned way, yes."

"But they say poverty is on the increase. What is to be done?"

"Justice," said Annie. "Those who do most of the work in the world ought to
share in its comforts as a right, and not be put off with what we idlers
have a mind to give them from our superfluity as a grace."

"Yes, that's all very true. But what till justice _is_ done?"

"Oh, we must continue to do charity," cried Annie, with self-contempt that
amused him. "But don't you see how much more complicated it is? That's what
I meant by life not being simple any more. It was easy enough to do charity
when it used to seem the right and proper remedy for suffering; but now,
when I can't make it appear a finality, but only something provisional,
temporary--Don't you see?"

"Yes, I see. But I don't see how you're going to help it At the same time,
I'll allow that it makes life more difficult."

For a moment they were both serious and silent. Then she said: "Sometimes I
think the fault is all in myself, and that if I were not so sophisticated
and--and--selfish, I should find the old way of doing good just as
effective and natural as ever. Then again, I think the conditions are all
wrong, and that we ought to be fairer to people, and then we needn't be so
good to them. I should prefer that. I hate being good to people I don't
like, and I can't like people who don't interest me. I think I must be very
hard-hearted."

The doctor laughed at this.

"Oh, I know," said Annie, "I know the fraudulent reputation I've got for
good works."

"Your charity to tramps is the opprobrium of Hatboro'," the doctor
consented.

"Oh, I don't mind that. It's easy when people ask you for food or money,
but the horrible thing is when they ask you for work. Think of me, who
never did anything to earn a cent in my life, being humbly asked by a
fellow-creature to let him work for something to eat and drink! It's
hideous! It's abominable! At first I used to be flattered by it, and try
to conjure up something for them to do, and to believe that I was helping
the deserving poor. Now I give all of them money, and tell them that they
needn't even pretend to work for it. _I_ don't work for my money, and
I don't see why they should."

"They'd find that an unanswerable argument if you put it to them," said the
doctor. He reached out his hand for the paper-cutter, and then withdrew it
in a way that made her laugh.

"But the worst of it is," she resumed, "that I don't love any of the people
that I help, or hurt, whichever it is. I did feel remorseful toward Mrs.
Savor for a while, but I didn't love her, and I knew that I only pitied
myself through her. Don't you see?"

"No, I don't," said the doctor.

"You don't, because you're too polite. The only kind of creature that I can
have any sympathy with is some little wretch like Idella, who is perfectly
selfish and naughty every way, but seems to want me to like her, and a
reprobate like Lyra, or some broken creature like poor Ralph. I think
there's something in the air, the atmosphere, that won't allow you to live
in the old way if you've got a grain of conscience or humanity. I don't
mean that _I_ have. But it seems to me as if the world couldn't go on
as it has been doing. Even here in America, where I used to think we had
the millennium because slavery was abolished, people have more liberty, but
they seem just as far off as ever from justice. That is what paralyses me
and mocks me and laughs in my face when I remember how I used to dream of
doing good after I came home. I had better stayed at Rome."

The doctor said vaguely, "I'm glad you didn't," and he let his eyes dwell
on her with a return of the professional interest which she was too lost in
her self reproach to be able to resent.

"I blame myself for trying to excuse my own failure on the plea that things
generally have gone wrong. At times it seems to me that I'm responsible for
having lost my faith in what I used to think was the right thing to do; and
then again it seems as if the world were all so bad that no real good could
be done in the old way, and that my faith is gone because there's nothing
for it to rest on any longer. I feel that something must be done; but I
don't know what."

"It would be hard to say," said the doctor.

She perceived that her exaltation amused him, but she was too much in
earnest to care. "Then we are guilty--all guilty--till we find out and
begin to do it. If the world has come to such a pass that you can't do
anything but harm in it--"

"Oh, is it so bad as that?" he protested.

"It's _quite_ as bad," she insisted. "Just see what mischief I've done
since I came back to Hatboro'. I took hold of that miserable Social Union
because I was outside of all the life about me, and it seemed my only
chance of getting into it; and I've done more harm by it in one summer than
I could undo in a lifetime. Just think of poor Mr. Brandreth's love affair
with Miss Chapley broken off, and Lyra's lamentable triumph over Miss
Northwick, and Mrs. Munger's duplicity, and Ralph's escapade--all because I
wanted to do good!"

A note of exaggeration had begun to prevail in her self-upbraiding, which
was real enough, and the time came for him to suggest, "I think you're a
little morbid, Miss Kilburn."

"Morbid! Of course I am! But that doesn't alter the fact that everything is
wrong, does it?"

"Everything!"

"Why, you don't pretend yourself, do you, that everything is right?"

"A true American ought to do so, oughtn't he?" teased the doctor. "One
mustn't be a bad citizen."

"But if you _were_ a bad citizen?" she persisted.

"Oh, then I might agree with you on some points. But I shouldn't say such
things to my patients, Miss Kilburn."

"It would be a great comfort to them if you did," she sighed.

The doctor broke out in a laugh of delight at her perfervid concentration.
"Oh, no, no! They're mostly nervous women, and it would be the death of
them--if they understood me. In fact, what's the use of brooding upon such
ideas? We can't hurry any change, but we can make ourselves uncomfortable."

"Why should I be comfortable?" she asked, with a solemnity that made him
laugh again.

"Why shouldn't you be?"

"Yes, that's what I often ask myself. But I can't be," she said sadly.

They had risen, and he looked at her with his professional interest now
openly dominant, as he stood holding her hand. "I'm going to send you a
little more of that tonic, Miss Kilburn."

She pulled her hand away. "No, I shall not take any more medicine. You
think everything is physical. Why don't you ask at once to see my tongue?"

He went out laughing, and she stood looking wistfully at the door he had
passed through.

XXV.

The bell on the orthodox church called the members of Mr. Peck's society
together for the business meeting with the same plangent, lacerant note
that summoned them to worship on Sundays. Among those who crowded the house
were many who had not been there before, and seldom in any place of the
kind. There were admirers of Putney: workmen of rebellious repute and of
advanced opinions on social and religious questions; nonsuited plaintiffs
and defendants of shady record, for whom he had at one time or another done
what he could. A good number of the summer folk from South Hatboro' were
present, with the expectation of something dramatic, which every one felt,
and every one hid with the discipline that subdues the outside of life in a
New England town to a decorous passivity.

At the appointed time Mr. Peck rose to open the meeting with prayer; then,
as if nothing unusual were likely to come before it, he declared it ready
to proceed to business. Some people who had been gathering in the vestibule
during his prayer came in; and the electric globes, which had been recently
hung above the pulpit and on the front of the gallery in substitution of
the old gas chandelier, shed their moony glare upon a house in which few
places were vacant. Mr. Gerrish, sitting erect and solemn beside his wife
in their pew, shared with the minister and Putney the tacit interest of the
audience.

He permitted the transaction of several minor affairs, and Mr. Peck, as
Moderator, conducted the business with his habitual exactness and effect
of far-off impersonality. The people waited with exemplary patience,
and Putney, who lounged in one corner of his pew, gave no more sign of
excitement, with his chin sunk in his rumpled shirt-front, than his
sad-faced wife at the other end of the seat.

Mr. Gerrish rose, with the air of rising in his own good time, and said,
with dry pomp, "Mr. Moderator, I have prepared a resolution, which I will
ask you to read to this meeting."

He held up a paper as he spoke, and then passed it to the minister, who
opened and read it--

"_Whereas_, It is indispensable to the prosperity and well-being of
any and every organisation, and especially of a Christian church, that the
teachings of its minister be in accord with the convictions of a majority
of its members upon vital questions of eternal interest, with the end and
aim of securing the greatest efficiency of that body in the community, as
an example and a shining light before men to guide their steps in the
strait and narrow path; therefore

"_Resolved_, That a committee of this society be appointed to inquire
if such is the case in the instance of the Rev. Julius W. Peck, and be
instructed to report upon the same."

A satisfied expectation expressed itself in the silence that followed
the reading of the paper, whatever pain and shame were mixed with the
satisfaction. If the contempt of kindly usage shown in offering such a
resolution without warning or private notice to the minister shocked many
by its brutality, still it was satisfactory to find that Mr. Gerrish had
intended to seize the first chance of airing his grievance, as everybody
had said he would do.

Mr. Peck looked up from the paper and across the intervening pews at Mr.
Gerrish. "Do I understand that you move the adoption of this resolution?"

"Why, certainly, sir," said Mr. Gerrish, with an accent of supercilious
surprise.

"You did not say so," said the minister gently. "Does any one second
Brother Gerrish's motion?"

A murmur of amusement followed Mr. Peck's reminder to Mr. Gerrish, and an
ironical voice called out--

"Mr. Moderator!"

"Mr. Putney."

"I think it important that the sense of the meeting should be taken on
the question the resolution raises. I therefore second the motion for its
adoption."

Putney sat down, and the murmur now broadened into something like a general
laugh, hushed as with a sudden sense of the impropriety.

Mr. Gerrish had gradually sunk into his seat, but now he rose again, and
when the minister formally announced the motion before the meeting, he
called, sharply, "Mr. Moderator!"

"Brother Gerrish," responded the minister, in recognition.

"I wish to offer a few remarks in support of the resolution which I have
had the honour--the duty, I _would_ say--of laying before this
meeting." He jerked his head forward at the last word, and slid the fingers
of his right hand into the breast of his coat like an orator, and stood
very straight. "I have no desire, sir, to make this the occasion of a
personal question between myself and my pastor. But, sir, the question has
been forced upon me against my will and my--my consent; and I was obliged
on the last ensuing Sabbath, when I sat in this place, to enter my public
protest against it.

"Sir, I came into this community a poor boy, without a penny in my pocket,
and unaided and alone and by my own exertions I have built up one of the
business interests of the place. I will not stoop to boast of the part I
have taken in the prosperity of this place; but I will say that no public
object has been wanting--that my support has not been wanting--from
the first proposition to concrete the sidewalks of this village to the
introduction of city waterworks and an improved system of drainage,
and--er--electric lighting. So much for my standing in a public capacity!
As for my business capacity, I would gladly let that speak for itself,
if that capacity had not been turned in the sanctuary itself against the
personal reputation which every man holds dearer than life itself, and
which has had a deadly blow aimed at it through that--that very capacity.
Sir, I have established in this town a business which I may humbly say that
in no other place of the same numerical size throughout the commonwealth
will you find another establishment so nearly corresponding to the wants
and the--er--facilities of a great city. In no other establishment in a
place of the same importance will you find the interests and the demands
and the necessities of the whole community so carefully considered. In no
other--"

Putney got upon his feet and called out, "Mr. Moderator, will Brother
Gerrish allow me to ask him a single question?"

Mr. Peck put the request, and Mr. Gerrish involuntarily made a pause, in
which Putney pursued--

"My question is simply this: doesn't Brother Gerrish think it would help
us to get at the business in hand sooner if he would print the rest of his
advertisement in the Hatboro' _Register_?"

A laugh broke out all over the house as Putney dropped back into his seat.
Mr. Gerrish stood apparently undaunted.

"I will attend to you presently, sir," he said, with a schoolmasterly
authority which made an impression in his favour with some. "And I thank
the gentleman," he continued, turning again to address the minister, "for
recalling me from a side issue. As he acknowledges in the suggestion which
he intended to wound my feelings, but I can assure him that my self-respect
is beyond the reach of slurs and innuendoes; I care little for them; I
care not what quarter they originate from, or have their--their origin;
and still less when they spring from a source notoriously incompetent and
unworthy to command the respect of this community, which has abused all its
privileges and trampled the forbearance of its fellow-citizens under foot,
until it has become a--a byword in this place, sir."

Putney sprang up again with, "Mr. Moderator--" "No, sir! no, sir!" pursued
Gerrish; "I will not submit to your interruptions. I have the floor, and I
intend to keep it. I intend to challenge a full and fearless scrutiny of
my motives in this matter, and I intend to probe those motives in others.
Why do we find, sir, on the one side of this question as its most active
exponent a man outside of the church in organising a force within this
society to antagonise the most cherished convictions of that church? We
do not asperse his motives; but we ask if these motives coincide with
the relations which a Christian minister should sustain to his flock as
expressed in the resolution which I have had the privilege to offer, more
in sorrow than in anger."

Putney made some starts to rise, but quelled himself, and finally sank back
with an air of ironical patience. Gerrish's personalities had turned public
sentiment in his favour. Colonel Marvin came over to Putney's pew and shook
hands with him before sitting down by his side. He began to talk with him
in whisper while Gerrish went on--

"But on the other hand, sir, what do we see? I will not allude to myself
in this connection, but I am well aware, sir, that I represent a large and
growing majority of this church in the stand I have taken. We are tired,
sir--and I say it to you openly, sir, what has been bruited about in secret
long enough--of having what I may call a one-sided gospel preached in this
church and from this pulpit. We enter our protest against the neglect of
very essential elements of Christianity--not to say the essential--the
representation of Christ as--a--a spirit as well as a life. Understand me,
sir, we do not object, neither I nor any of those who agree with me, to the
preaching of Christ as a life. That is all very well in its place, and it
is the wish of every true Christian to conform and adapt his own life as
far as--as circumstances will permit of. But when I come to this sanctuary,
and _they_ come, Sabbath after Sabbath, and hear nothing said of my
Redeemer as a--means of salvation, and nothing of Him crucified; and when I
find the precious promises of the gospel ignored and neglected continually
and--and all the time, and each discourse from yonder pulpit filled up with
generalities--glittering generalities, as has been well said by another--in
relation to and connection with mere conduct, I am disappointed, sir, and
dissatisfied, and I feel to protest against that line of--of preaching.
During the last six months, Sabbath after Sabbath, I have listened in
vain for the ministrations of the plain gospel and the tenets under
which we have been blessed as a church and as--a--people. Instead of
this I have heard, as I have said--and I repeat it without fear of
contradiction--nothing but one-idea appeals and mere moralisings upon duty
to others, which a child and the veriest tyro could not fail therein; and I
have culminated--or rather it has been culminated to me--in a covert attack
upon my private affairs and my way of conducting my private business in a
manner which I could not overlook. For that reason, and for the reasons
which I have recapitulated--and I challenge the closest scrutiny--I felt
it my duty to enter my public protest and to leave this sanctuary, where I
have worshipped ever since it was erected, with my family. And I now urge
the adoption of the foregoing resolution because I believe that your
usefulness has come to an end to the vast majority of the constituent
members of this church; and--and that is all."

Mr. Gerrish stopped so abruptly that Putney, who was engaged in talk with
Colonel Marvin, looked up with a startled air, too late to secure the
floor. Mr. Peck recognised Mr. Gates, who stood with his wrists caught in
either hand across his middle, and looked round with a quizzical glance
before he began to speak. Putney lifted his hand in playful threatening
toward Colonel Marvin, who got away from him with a face of noiseless
laughter, and went and joined Mr. Wilmington where he sat with his wife,
who entered into the talk between the men.

"Mr. Moderator," said Gates, "I don't know as I expected to take part in
this debate; but you can't always tell what's going to happen to you, even
if you're only a member of the church by marriage, as you might say. I
presume, though, that I have a right to speak in a meeting like this,
because I _am_ a member of the society in my own right, and I've got
its interests at heart as much as any one. I don't know but what I got the
interests of Hatboro' at heart too, but I can't be certain; sometimes you
can't; sometimes you think you've got the common good in view, and you
come to look a little closer and you find it's the uncommon good; that is
to say, it's not so much the public weal you're after as what it is the
private weal. But that's neither here nor there. I haven't got anything to
say against identifying yourself with things in general; I don't know but
what it's a good way; all is, it's apt to make you think you're personally
attacked when nobody is meant in particular. _I_ think that's what's
partly the matter with Brother Gerrish here. I heard that sermon, and I
didn't suppose there was anything in it to hurt any one especially; and I
was consid'ably surprised to see that Mr. Gerrish seemed to take it to
himself, somehow, and worry over it; but I didn't really know just what the
trouble was till he explained here tonight. All I was thinking was when it
come to that about large commerce devouring the small--sort of lean and fat
kine--I wished Jordan and Marsh could hear that, or Stewart's in New York,
or Wanamaker's in Philadelphia. I never _thought_ of Brother Gerrish
once; and I don't presume one out of a hundred did either. I--" The
electric light immediately over Gates's head began to hiss and sputter,
and to suffer the sort of syncope which overtakes electric lights at such
times, and to leave the house in darkness. Gates waited, standing, till it
revived, and then added: "I guess I hain't got anything more to say, Mr.
Moderator. If I had it's gone from me now. I'm more used to speaking by
kerosene, and I always lose my breath when an electric light begins that
way."

Putney was on his legs in good time now, and secured recognition before Mr.
Wilmington, who made an effort to catch the moderator's eye. Gates had put
the meeting in good-humoured expectation of what they might now have from
Putney. They liked Gates's points very well, but they hoped from Putney
something more cruel and unsparing, and the greater part of those present
must have shared his impatience with Mr. Wilmington's request that he would
give way to him for a moment. Yet they all probably felt the same curiosity
about what was going forward, for it was plain that Mr. Wilmington and
Colonel Marvin were conniving at the same point. Marvin had now gone to
Mr. Gerrish, and had slipped into the pew beside him with the same sort of
hand-shake he had given Putney.

"Will my friend Mr. Putney give way to me for a moment?" asked Mr.
Wilmington.

"I don't see why I should do that," said Putney.

"I assure him that I will not abuse his courtesy, and that I will yield the
floor to him at any moment."

Putney hesitated a moment, and then, with the contented laugh of one who
securely bides his time, said, "Go ahead."

"It is simply this," said Mr. Wilmington, with a certain formal neatness of
speech: "The point has been touched by the last speaker, which I think
suggested itself to all who heard the remarks of Brother Gerrish in support
of his resolution, and the point is simply this--whether he has not
misapplied the words of the discourse by which he felt himself aggrieved,
and whether he has not given them a particular bearing foreign to the
intention of their author. If, as I believe, this is the case, the whole
matter can be easily settled by a private conference between the parties,
and we can be saved the public appearance of disagreement in our society.
And I would now ask Brother Gerrish, in behalf of many who take this view
with me, whether he will not consent to reconsider the matter, and whether,
in order to arrive at the end proposed, he will not, for the present at
least, withdraw the resolution he has offered?"

Mr. Wilmington sat down amidst a general sensation, which was heightened
by Putney's failure to anticipate any action on Gerrish's part. Gerrish
rapidly finished something he was saying to Colonel Marvin, and then half
rose, and said, "Mr. Moderator, I withdraw my resolution--for the time
being, and--for the present, sir," and sat down again.

"Mr. Moderator," Putney called sharply, from his place, "this is altogether
unparliamentary. That resolution is properly before the meeting. Its
adoption has been moved and seconded, and it cannot be withdrawn without
leave granted by a vote of the meeting. I wish to discuss the resolution
in all its bearings, and I think there are a great many present who share
with me a desire to know how far it represents the sense of this society.
I don't mean as to the supposed personal reflections which it was intended
to punish; that is a very small matter, and as compared with the other
questions involved, of no consequence whatever." Putney tossed his head
with insolent pleasure in his contempt of Gerrish. His nostrils swelled,
and he closed his little jaws with a firmness that made his heavy black
moustache hang down below the corners of his chin. He went on with a wicked
twinkle in his eye, and a look all round to see that people were waiting to
take his next point. "I judge my old friend Brother Gerrish by myself. My
old friend Gerrish cares no more really about personal allusions than I do.
What he really had at heart in offering his resolution was not any supposed
attack upon himself or his shop from the pulpit of this church. He cared no
more for that than I should care for a reference to my notorious habits.
These are things that we feel may be safely left to the judgment, the
charitable judgment, of the community, which will be equally merciful to
the man who devours widows' houses and to the man who 'puts an enemy in his
mouth to steal away his brains.'"

"Mr. Moderator," said Colonel Marvin, getting upon his feet.

"No, sir!" shouted Putney fiercely; "I can't allow you to speak. Wait till
I get done!" He stopped, and then said gently "Excuse me, Colonel; I really
must go on. I'm speaking now in behalf of Brother Gerrish, and he doesn't
like to have the speaking on his side interrupted."

"Oh, all right," said Colonel Marvin amiably; "go on."

"What my old friend William Gerrish really designed in offering that
resolution was to bring into question the kind of Christianity which has
been preached in this place by our pastor--the one-sided gospel, as he
aptly called it--and what he and I want to get at is the opinion of the
society on that question. Has the gospel preached to us here been one-sided
or hasn't it? Brother Gerrish says it has, and Brother Gerrish, as I
understand, doesn't change his mind on that point, if he does on any, in
asking to withdraw his resolution. He doesn't expect Mr. Peck to convince
him in a private conference that he has been preaching an all-round gospel.
I don't contend that he has; but I suppose I'm not a very competent judge.
I don't propose to give you the opinion of one very fallible and erring
man, and I don't set myself up in judgment of others; but I think it's
important for all parties concerned to know what the majority of this
society think on a question involving its future. That importance must
excuse--if anything can excuse--the apparent want of taste, of humanity,
of decency, in proposing the inquiry at a meeting over which the person
chiefly concerned would naturally preside, unless he were warned to absent
himself. Nobody cares for the contemptible point, the wholly insignificant
question, whether allusion to Mr. Gerrish's variety store was intended
or not. What we are all anxious to know is whether he represents any
considerable portion of this society in his general attack upon its pastor.
I want a vote on that, and I move the previous question."

No one stopped to inquire whether this was parliamentary or not. Putney sat
down, and Colonel Marvin rose to say that if a vote was to be taken, it
was only right and just that Mr. Peck should somehow be heard in his own
behalf, and half a dozen voices from all parts of the church supported him
Mr. Peck, after a moment, said, "I think I have nothing to say;" and he
added, "Shall I put the question?"

"Question!" "Question!" came from different quarters.

"It is moved and seconded that the resolution before the meeting be
adopted," said the minister formally. "All those in favour will say ay." He
waited for a distinct space, but there was no response; Mr. Gerrish himself
did not vote. The minister proceeded, "Those opposed will say no."

The word burst forth everywhere, and it was followed by laughter and
inarticulate expressions of triumph and mocking. "Order! order!" called the
minister gravely, and he announced, "The noes have it."

The electric light began to suffer another syncope. When it recovered, with
the usual fizzing and sputtering, Mr. Peck was on his feet, asking to be
relieved from his duties as moderator, so that he might make a statement to
the meeting. Colonel Marvin was voted into the chair, but refused formally
to take possession of it. He stood up and said, "There is no place where we
would rather hear you than in that pulpit, Mr. Peck."

"I thank you," said the minister, making himself heard through the
approving murmur; "but I stand in this place only to ask to be allowed to
leave it. The friendly feeling which has been expressed toward me in the
vote upon the resolution you have just rejected is all that reconciles
me to its defeat. Its adoption might have spared me a duty which I find
painful. But perhaps it is best that I should discharge it. As to the
sermon which called forth that resolution it is only just to say that I
intended no personalities in it, and I humbly entreat any one who felt
himself aggrieved to believe me." Every one looked at Gerrish to see how
he took this; he must have felt it the part of self-respect not to change
countenance. "My desire in that discourse was, as always, to present the
truth as I had seen it, and try to make it a help to all. But I am by
no means sure that the author of the resolution was wrong in arraigning
me before you for neglecting a very vital part of Christianity in my
ministrations here. I think with him, that those who have made an open
profession of Christ have a claim to the consolation of His promises,
and to the support which good men have found in the mysteries of faith;
and I ask his patience and that of others who feel that I have not laid
sufficient stress upon these. My shortcoming is something that I would not
have you overlook in any survey of my ministry among you; and I am not here
now to defend that ministry in any point of view. As I look back over it,
by the light of the one ineffable ideal, it seems only a record of failure
and defeat." He stopped, and a sympathetic dissent ran through the meeting.
"There have been times when I was ready to think that the fault was not in
me, but in my office, in the church, in religion. We all have these moments
of clouded vision, in which we ourselves loom up in illusory grandeur above
the work we have failed to do. But it is in no such error that I stand
before you now. Day after day it has been borne in upon me that I had
mistaken my work here, and that I ought, if there was any truth in me, to
turn from it for reasons which I will give at length should I be spared
to preach in this place next Sabbath. I should have willingly acquiesced
if our parting had come in the form of my dismissal at your hands. Yet I
cannot wholly regret that it has not taken that form, and that in offering
my resignation, as I shall formally do to those empowered by the rules of
our society to receive it, I can make it a means of restoring concord among
you. It would be affectation in me to pretend that I did not know of the
dissension which has had my ministry for its object if not its cause; and I
earnestly hope that with my withdrawal that dissension may cease, and that
this church may become a symbol before the world of the peace of Christ. I
conjure such of my friends as have been active in my behalf to unite with
their brethren in a cause which can alone merit their devotion. Above all
things I beseech you to be at peace one with another. Forbear, forgive,
submit, remembering that strife for the better part can only make it the
worse, and that for Christians there can be no rivalry but in concession
and self-sacrifice."

Colonel Marvin forgot his office and all parliamentary proprieties in the
tide of emotion that swept over the meeting when the minister sat down. "I
am glad," he said, "that no sort of action need be taken now upon Mr.
Peck's proposed resignation, which I for one cannot believe this society
will ever agree to accept."

Others echoed his sentiment; they spoke out, sitting and standing, and
addressed themselves to no one, till Putney moved an adjournment, which
Colonel Marvin sufficiently recollected himself to put to a vote, and
declare carried.

Annie walked home with the Putneys and Dr. Morrell. She was aware of
something unwholesome in the excitement which ran so wholly in Mr. Peck's
favour, but abandoned herself to it with feverish helplessness.

"Ah-h-h!" cried Putney, when they were free of the crowd which pressed
upon him with questions and conjectures and comments. "What a slump!--what
a slump! That blessed, short-legged little seraph has spoilt the best
sport that ever was. Why, he's sent that fool of a Gerrish home with the
conviction that he was right in the part of his attack that was the most
vilely hypocritical, and he's given that heartless scoundrel the pleasure
of feeling like an honest man. I should like to rap Mr. Peck's head up
against the back of his pulpit, and I should like to knock the skulls of
Colonel Marvin and Mr. Wilmington together and see which was the thickest.
Why, I had Gerrish fairly by the throat at last, and I was just reaching
for the balm of Gilead with my other hand to give him a dose that would
have done him for one while! Ah, it's too bad, too bad! Well! well!
But--haw! haw! haw!--didn't Gerrish tangle himself up beautifully in his
rhetoric? I guess we shall fix Brother Gerrish yet, and I don't think we
shall let Brother Peck off without a tussle. I'm going to try print on
Brother Gerrish. I'm going to ask him in the Hatboro' _Register_--he
doesn't advertise, and the editor's as independent as a lion where a man
don't advertise--"

"Indeed he's not going to do anything of the kind, Annie," said Mrs.
Putney. "I shall not let him. I shall make him drop the whole affair now,
and let it die out, and let us be at peace again, as Mr. Peck says."

"There seemed to be a good deal of sense in that part of it," said Dr.
Morrell. "I don't know but he was right to propose himself as a
peace-offering; perhaps there's no other way out."

"Well," said Mrs. Putney, "whether he goes or stays, I think we owe him
that much. Don't you, Annie?"

"Oh yes!" sighed Annie, from the exaltation to which the events of the
evening had borne her. "And we mustn't let him go. It would be a loss that
every one would feel; that--"

"I'm tired of this fighting," Mrs. Putney broke in, "and I think it's
ruining Ralph every way. He hasn't slept the last two nights, and he's
been all in a quiver for the last fortnight. For my part I don't care what
happens now, I'm not going to have Ralph mixed up in it any more. I think
we ought all to forgive and forget. I'm willing to overlook everything, and
I believe others are the same."

"You'd better ask Mrs. Gerrish the next time she calls," Putney interposed.

Mrs. Putney stopped, and took her hand from her husband's arm. "Well, after
what Mr. Gerrish said to-night about you, I _don't_ think Emmeline had
better call _very_ soon!"

"Ha, ha, ha! Ha, ha, ha!" shrieked Putney, and his laugh flapped back at
them in derisive echo from the house-front they were passing. "I guess
Brother Peck had better stay and help fight it out. It won't be _all_
brotherly love after he goes--or sisterly either."

XXVI.

Annie knew from the light in the kitchen window that Mrs. Bolton, who had
not gone to the meeting, was there, and she inferred from the silence of
the house that Bolton had not yet come home. She went up to her room, and
after a glance at Idella asleep in her crib, she began to lay off her
things. Then she sat down provisionally by the open window, and looked out
into the still autumnal night. The air was soft and humid, with a scent of
smoke in it from remote forest fires. The village lights showed themselves
dimmed by the haze that thickened the moonless dark.

She heard steps on the gravel of the lane, and then two men talking, one
of whom she knew to be Bolton. In a little while the back entry door was
opened and shut, and after a brief murmur of voices in the library Mrs.
Bolton knocked on the door-jamb of the room where Annie sat.

"What is it, Mrs. Bolton?"

"You in bed yet?"

"No; I'm here by the window. What is it?"

"Well, I don't know but what you'll think it's pretty late for callers, but
Mr. Peck is down in the library. I guess he wants to speak with you about
Idella. I told him he better see _you_."

"I will come right down."

She followed Mrs. Bolton to the foot of the stairs, where she kept on to
the kitchen, while Annie turned into the library. Mr. Peck stood beside her
father's desk, resting one hand on it and holding his hat in the other.

"Won't you be seated, Mr. Peck?"

"I thank you. It's only for a moment. I am going away to-morrow, and I wish
to speak with you about Idella."

"Yes, certainly. But surely you are not going to leave Hatboro', Mr. Peck!
I hoped--we all did--that after what you had seen of the strong feeling in
your favour to-night you would reconsider your determination and stay with
us!" She went on impetuously. "You must know--you must understand now--how
much good you can do here--more than any one else--more than you could do
anywhere else. I don't believe that you realise how much depends upon your
staying here. You can't stop the dissensions by going away; it will only
make them worse. You saw how Colonel Marvin and Mr. Wilmington were with
you; and Mr. Gates--all classes. I oughtn't to speak--to attempt to teach
you your duty; I'm not of your church; and I can only tell you how it seems
to me: that you never can find another place where your principles--your
views--"

He waited for her to go on; but she really had nothing more to say, and he
began: "I am not hoping for another charge elsewhere, at least not for the
present; but I am satisfied that my usefulness here is at an end, and I do
not think that my going away will make matters worse. Whether I go or stay,
the dissensions will continue. At any rate, I believe that there are those
who need help more, and whom I can help more, in another field--"

"Yes," she broke in, with a woman's relevancy to the immediate point,
"there is nothing to do here."

He went on as if she had not spoken: "I am going to Fall River to-morrow,
where I have heard that there is work for me--"

"In the mills!" she exclaimed, recurring in thought to what he had once
said of his work in them. "Surely you don't mean that!" The sight, the
smell, the tumult of the work she had seen that day in the mill with Lyra
came upon her with all their offence. "To throw away all that you have
learnt, all that you have become to others!"

"I am less and less confident that I have become anything useful to others
in turning aside from the life of toil and presuming to attempt the
guidance of those who remained in it. But I don't mean work in the mills,"
he continued, "or not at first, or not unless it seems necessary to my work
with those who work in them. I have a plan--or if it hardly deserves that
name, a design--of being useful to them in such ways as my own experience
of their life in the past shall show me in the light of what I shall see
among them now. I needn't trouble you with it."

"Oh yes!" she interposed.

"I do not expect to preach at once, but only to teach in one of the public
schools, where I have heard of a vacancy, and--and--perhaps otherwise. With
those whose lives are made up of hard work there must be room for willing
and peaceful service. And if it should be necessary that I should work in
the mills in order to render this, then I will do so; but at present I
have another way in view--a social way that shall bring me into immediate
relations with the people." She still tried to argue with him, to prove him
wrong in going away, but they both ended where they began. He would not or
could not explain himself further. At last he said: "But I did not come to
urge this matter. I have no wish to impose my will, my theory, upon any
one, even my own child."

"Oh yes--Idella!" Annie broke in anxiously. "You will leave her with me,
Mr. Peck, won't you? You don't know how much I'm attached to her. I see her
faults, and I shall not spoil her. Leave her with me at least till you see
your way clear to having her with you, and then I will send her to you."

A trouble showed itself in his face, ordinarily so impassive, and he seemed
at a loss how to answer her; but he said: "I--appreciate your kindness to
her, but I shall not ask you to be at the inconvenience longer than till
to-morrow. I have arranged with another to take her until I am settled, and
then bring her to me."

Annie sat intensely searching his face, with her lips parted to speak.
"_Another!_" she said, and the wounded feeling, the resentment of his
insensibility to her good-will, that mingled in her heart, must have made
itself felt in her voice, for he went on reluctantly--

"It is a family in which she will be brought up to work and to be helpful
to herself. They will join me with her. You know the mother--she has lost
her own child--Mrs. Savor."

At the name, Annie's spirit fell; the tears started from her eyes. "Yes,
she must have her. It is just--it is the only expiation. Don't you remember
that it was I who sent Mrs. Savor's baby to the sea-shore, where it died?"

"No; I had forgotten," said the minister, aghast. "I am sorry--"

"It doesn't matter," said Annie lifelessly; "it had to be." After a pause,
she asked quietly, "If Mrs. Savor is going to work in the mills, how can
she make a home for the child?"

"She is not going into the mills," he answered. "She will keep house for
us all, and we hope to have others who are without homes of their own join
us in paying the expenses and doing the work, so that all may share its
comfort without gain to any one upon their necessity of food and shelter."

She did not heed his explanation, but suddenly entreated: "Let me go with
you. I will not be a trouble to you, and I will help as well as I can. I
can't give the child up! Why--why"--the thought, crazy as it would have
once seemed, was now such a happy solution of the trouble that she smiled
hopefully--"why shouldn't I go with Mr. and Mrs. Savor, and help to make a
home for Idella there? You will need money to begin your work; I will give
you mine. I will give it up--I will give it all up. I will give it to any
good object that you approve; or you may have it, to do what you think best
with; and I will go with Idella and I will work in the mills there--or
anything."

He shook his head, and for the first time in their acquaintance he seemed
to feel compassion for her. "It isn't possible. I couldn't take your money;
I shouldn't know what to do with it."

"You know what to do with your own," she broke in. "You do good with that!"

"I'm afraid I do harm with it too," he returned. "It's only a little, but
little as it has been, I can no longer meet the responsibility it brings."

"But if you took my money," she urged, "you could devote your life to
preaching the truth, to writing and publishing books, and all that; and so
could others: don't you see?"

He shook his head. "Perhaps others; but I have done with preaching for the
present. Later I may have something to say. Now I feel sure of nothing, not
even of what I've been saying here."

"Will you send for Idella? When she goes with the Savors I will come too!"

He looked at her sorrowfully. "I think you are a good woman, and you mean
what you say. But I am sorry you say it, if any words of mine have caused
you to say it, for I know you cannot do it. Even for me it is hard to go
back to those associations, and for you they would be impossible."

"You will see," she returned, with exaltation. "I will take Idella to the
Savors' to-morrow--or no; I'll have them come here!"

He stood looking at her in perplexity. At last he asked, "Could I see the
child?"

"Certainly!" said Annie, with the lofty passion that possessed her, and she
led him up into the chamber where Idella lay sleeping in Annie's own crib.

He stood beside it, gazing long at the little one, from whose eyes he
shaded the lamp. Then he said, "I thank you," and turned away.

She followed him down-stairs, and at the door she said: "You think I will
not come; but I will come. Don't you believe that?"

He turned sadly from her. "You might come, but you couldn't stay. You don't
know what it is; you can't imagine it, and you couldn't bear it."

"I will come, and I will stay," she answered; and when he was gone she
fell into one of those intense reveries of hers--a rapture in which she
prefigured what should happen in that new life before her. At its end
Mr. Peck stood beside her grave, reading the lesson of her work to the
multitude of grateful and loving poor who thronged to pay the last tribute
to her memory. Putney was there with his wife, and Lyra regretful of her
lightness, and Mrs. Munger repentant of her mendacities. They talked
together in awe-stricken murmurs of the noble career just ended. She heard
their voices, and then she began to ask herself what they would really say
of her proposing to go to Fall River with the Savors and be a mill-hand.

XXVII.

Annie did not sleep. After lying a long time awake she took some of the
tonic that Dr. Morrell had left her, upon the chance that it might quiet
her; but it did no good. She dressed herself, and sat by the window till
morning.

The breaking day showed her purposes grotesque and monstrous. The revulsion
that must come, came with a tide that swept before it all prepossessions,
all affections. It seemed as if the child, still asleep in her crib, had
heard what she said, and would help to hold her to her word.

She choked down a crust of bread with the coffee she drank at breakfast,
and instead of romping with Idella at her bath, she dressed the little one
silently, and sent her out to Mrs. Bolton. Then she sat down again in the
sort of daze in which she had spent the night, and as the day passed, her
revolt from what she had pledged herself to do mounted and mounted. It was
like the sort of woman she was, not to think of any withdrawal from her
pledges; they were all the more sacred with her because they had been
purely voluntary, insistent; the fact that they had been refused made them
the more obligatory.

She thought some one would come to break in upon the heavy monotony of the
time; she expected Ralph or Ellen, or at least Lyra; but she only saw Mrs.
Bolton, and heard her about her work. Sometimes the child stole back from
the kitchen or the barn, and peeped in upon her with a roguish expectance
which her gloomy stare defeated, and then it ran off again.

She lay down in the afternoon and tried to sleep; but her brain was
inexorably alert, and she lay making inventory of all the pleasant things
she was to leave for that ugly fate she had insisted on. A swarm of fancies
gave every detail of the parting dramatic intensity. Amidst the poignancy
of her regrets, her shame for her recreancy was sharper still.

By night she could bear it no longer. It was Dr. Morrell's custom to come
nearly every night; but she was afraid, because he had walked home with her
from the meeting the night before, he might not come now, and she sent for
him. It was in quality of medicine-man, as well as physician, that she
wished to see him; she meant to tell him all that had passed with Mr. Peck;
and this was perfectly easy in the interview she forecast; but at the sound
of his buggy wheels in the lane a thought came that seemed to forbid her
even to speak of Mr. Peck to him. For the first time it occurred to her
that the minister might have inferred a meaning from her eagerness and
persistence infinitely more preposterous than even the preposterous letter
of her words. A number of little proofs of the conjecture flashed upon her:
his anxiety to get away from her, his refusal to let her believe in her own
constancy of purpose, his moments of bewilderment and dismay. It needed
nothing but this to add the touch of intolerable absurdity to the horror
of the whole affair, and to snatch the last hope of help from her.

She let Mrs. Bolton go to the door, and she did not rise to meet the
doctor; she saw from his smile that he knew he had a moral rather than a
physical trouble to deal with, but she did not relax the severity of her
glare in sympathy, as she was tempted from some infinite remoteness to do.

When he said, "You're not well," she whispered solemnly back, "Not at all."

He did not pursue his inquiry into her condition, but said, with an
irrelevant cheerfulness that piqued her, "I was coming here this evening
at any rate, and I got your message on the way up from my office."

"You are very kind," she said, a little more audibly.

"I wanted to tell you," he went on, "of what a time Putney and I have had
to-day working up public sentiment for Mr. Peck, so as to keep him here."

Annie did not change her position, but the expression of her glance
changed.

"We've been round in the enemy's camp, everywhere; and I've committed
Gerrish himself to an armed neutrality. That wasn't difficult. The
difficulty was in another quarter--with Mr. Peck himself. He's more opposed
than any one else to his stay in Hatboro'. You know he intended going away
this morning?"

"Did he?" Annie asked dishonestly. The question obliged her to say
something.

"Yes. He came to Putney before breakfast to thank him and take leave of
him, and to tell him of the plan he had for--Imagine what!"

"I don't know," said Annie, hoarsely, after an effort, as if the untruth
would not come easily. "I am worse than Mrs. Munger," she thought.

"For going to Fall River to teach school among the mill-hands' children!
And to open a night-school for the hands themselves."

The doctor waited for her sensation, and in its absence he looked so
disappointed that she was forced to say, "To teach school?"

Then he went on briskly again. "Yes. Putney laboured with him on his knees,
so to speak, and got him to postpone his going till to-morrow morning; and
then he came to me for help. We enlisted Mrs. Wilmington in the cause, and
we've spent the day working up the Peck sentiment to a fever-heat. It's
been a very queer campaign; three Gentiles toiling for a saint against
the elect, and bringing them all over at last. We've got a paper, signed
by a large majority of the members of the church--the church, not the
society--asking Mr. Peck to remain; and Putney's gone to him with the
paper, and he's coming round here to report Mr. Peck's decision. We all
agreed that it wouldn't do to say anything about his plan for the future,
and I fancy some of his people signed our petition under the impression
that they were keeping a valuable man out of another pulpit."

Annie accompanied the doctor's words, which she took in to the last
syllable, with a symphony of conjecture as to how the change in Mr. Peck's
plans, if they prevailed with him, would affect her, and the doctor had
not ceased to speak before she perceived that it would be deliverance
perfect and complete, however inglorious. But the tacit drama so vividly
preoccupied her with its minor questions of how to descend to this escape
with dignity that still she did not speak, and he took up the word again.

"I confess I've had my misgivings about Mr. Peck, and about his final
usefulness in a community like this. In spite of all that Putney can say of
his hard-headedness, I'm afraid that he's a good deal of a dreamer. But I
gave way to Putney, and I hope you'll appreciate what I've done for your
favourite."

"You are very good," she said, in mechanical acknowledgment: her mind was
set so strenuously to break from her dishonest reticence that she did not
know really what she was saying. "Why--why do you call him a dreamer?" She
cast about in that direction at random.

"Why? Well, for one thing, the reason he gave Putney for giving up his
luxuries here: that as long as there was hardship and overwork for underpay
in the world, he must share them. It seems to me that I might as well
say that as long as there were dyspepsia and rheumatism in the world, I
must share them. Then he has a queer notion that he can go back and find
instruction in the working-men--that they alone have the light and the
truth, and know the meaning of life. I don't say anything against them. My
observation and my experience is that if others were as good as they are in
the ratio of their advantages, Mr. Peck needn't go to them for his ideal.
But their conditions warp and dull them; they see things askew, and they
don't see them clearly. I might as well expose myself to the small-pox in
hopes of treating my fellow-sufferers more intelligently."

She could not perceive where his analogies rang false; they only
overwhelmed her with a deeper sense of her own folly.

"But I don't know," he went on, "that a dreamer is such a desperate
character, if you can only keep him from trying to realise his dreams; and
if Mr. Peck consents to stay in Hatboro', perhaps we can manage it." He
drew his chair a little toward the lounge where she reclined, and asked,
with the kindliness that was both personal and professional, "What seems to
be the matter?"

She started up. "There is nothing--nothing that medicine can help. Why do
you call him my favourite?" she demanded violently. "But you have wasted
your time. If he had made up his mind to what you say, he would never give
it up--never in the world!" she added hysterically. "If you've interfered
between any one and his duty in this world, where it seems as if hardly
any one had any duty, you've done a very unwarrantable thing." She was
aware from his stare that her words were incoherent, if not from the words
themselves, but she hurried on: "I am going with him. He was here last
night, and I told him I would. I will go with the Savors, and we will keep
the child together; and if they will take me, I shall go to work in the
mills; and I shall not care what people think, if it's right--"

She stopped and weakly dropped back on the lounge, and hid her face in the
pillow.

"I really don't understand." The doctor began, with a physician's
carefulness, to unwind the coil she had flung down to him. "Are the Savors
going, and the child?"

"He will give her the child for the one they lost--you know how! And they
will take it with them."

"But you--what have you--"

"I must have the child too! I can't give it up, and I shall go with them.
There's no other way. You don't know. I've given him my word, and there is
no hope!"

"He asked you," said the doctor, to make sure he had heard aright--"he
asked you--advised you--to go to work in a cotton-mill?"

"No;" she lifted her face to confront him. "He told me _not_ to go;
but I said I would."

They sat staring at each other in a silence which neither of them broke,
and which promised to last indefinitely. They were still in their daze when
Putney's voice came through the open hall door.

"Hello! hello! hello! Hello, Central! _Can't_ I make you hear, any
one?" His steps advanced into the hall, and he put his head in at the
library doorway. "Thought you'd be here," he said, nodding at the doctor.
"Well, doctor, Brother Peck's beaten us again. He's going."

"Going?" the doctor echoed.

"Yes. It's no use. I put the whole case before him, and I argued it with a
force of logic that would have fetched the twelfth man with eleven stubborn
fellows against him on a jury; but it didn't fetch Brother Peck. He was
very appreciative and grateful, but he believes he's got a call to give up
the ministry, for the present at least. Well, there's some consolation in
supposing he may know best, after all. It seemed to us that he had a great
opportunity in Hatboro', but if he turns his back on it, perhaps it's a
sign he wasn't equal to it. The doctor told you what we've been up to,
Annie?"

"Yes," she answered faintly, from the depths of the labyrinth in which she
was plunged again.

"I'm sorry for your news about him," said the doctor. "I hoped he was
going to stay. It's always a pity when such a man lets his sympathies use
him instead of using them. But we must always judge that kind of crank
leniently, if he doesn't involve other people in his erase."

She knew that he was shielding and trying to spare her, and she felt
inexpressibly degraded by the terms of his forbearance. She could not
accept, and she had not the strength to refuse it; and Putney said: "I've
not seen anything to make me doubt his sanity; but I must say the present
racket shakes my faith in his common-sense, and I rather held by that, you
know. But I suppose no man, except the kind of a man that a woman would be
if she were a man--excuse me, Annie--is ever absolutely right. I suppose
the truth is a constitutional thing, and you can't separate it from
the personal consciousness, and so you get it coloured and heated by
personality when you get it fresh. That is, we can see what the absolute
truth was, but never what it is."

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