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Annie Kilburn by W. D. Howells

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Putney amused himself in speculating on these lines with more or less
reference to Mr. Peck, and did not notice that the doctor and Annie gave
him only a silent assent. "As to misleading any one else, Mr. Peck's
following in his new religion seems to be confined to the Savors, as
I understand. They are going with him to help him set up a sort of
cooperative boarding-house. Well, I don't know where we shall get a hotter
gospeller than Brother Peck. Poor old fellow! I hope he'll get along better
in Fall River. It is something to be out of reach of Gerrish."

The doctor asked, "When is he going?"

"Why, he's gone by this time, I suppose," said Putney. "I tried to get him
to think about it overnight, but he wouldn't. He's anxious to go and get
back, so as to preach his last sermon here Sunday, and he's taken the 9.10,
if he hasn't changed his mind." Putney looked at his watch.

"Let's hope he hasn't," said Dr. Morrell.

"Which?" asked Putney.

"Changed his mind. I'm sorry he's coming back."

Annie knew that he was talking at her, though he spoke to Putney; but she
was powerless to protest.

XXVIII.

They went away together, leaving her to her despair, which had passed into
a sort of torpor by the following night, when Dr. Morrell came again, out
of what she knew must be mere humanity; he could not respect her any
longer. He told her, as if for her comfort, that Putney had gone to the
depot to meet Mr. Peck, who was expected back in the eight-o'clock train,
and was to labour with him all night long if necessary to get him to
change, or at least postpone, his purpose. The feeling in his favour was
growing. Putney hoped to put it so strongly to him as a proof of duty that
he could not resist it.

Annie listened comfortlessly. Whatever happened, nothing could take away
the shame of her weakness now. She even wished, feebly, vaguely, that she
might be forced to keep her word.

A sound of running on the gravel-walk outside and a sharp pull at the
door-bell seemed to jerk them both to their feet.

Some one stepped into the hall panting, and the face of William Savor
showed itself at the door of the room where they stood. "Doc--Doctor
Morrell, come--come quick! There's been an accident--at--the depot.
Mr.--Peck--" He panted out the story, and Annie saw rather than heard how
the minister tried to cross the track from his train, where it had halted
short of the station, and the flying express from the other quarter caught
him from his feet, and dropped the bleeding fragment that still held his
life beside the rail a hundred yards away, and then kept on in brute
ignorance into the night.

"Where is he? Where have you got him?" the doctor demanded of Savor.

"At my house."

The doctor ran out of the house, and she heard his buggy whirl away,
followed by the fainter sound of Savor's feet as he followed running, after
he had stopped to repeat his story to the Boltons. Annie turned to the
farmer. "Mr. Bolton, get the carry-all. I must go."

"And me too," said his wife.

"Why, no, Pauliny; I guess you better stay. I guess it'll come out all
right in the end," Bolton began. "_I_ guess William has exaggerated
some may be. Anyrate, who's goin' to look after the little girl if you
come?"

"_I_ am," Mrs. Bolton snapped back. "She's goin' with me."

"Of course she is. Be quick, Mr. Bolton!" Annie called from the stairs,
which she had already mounted half-way.

She caught up the child, limp with sleep, from its crib, and began to dress
it. Idella cried, and fought away the hands that tormented her, and made
herself now very stiff and now very lax; but Annie and Mrs. Bolton together
prevailed against her, and she was dressed, and had fallen asleep again
in her clothes while the women were putting on their hats and sacks, and
Bolton was driving up to the door with the carry-all.

"Why, I can see," he said, when he got out to help them in, "just how
William's got his idee about it. His wife's an excitable kind of a woman,
and she's sent him off lickety-split after the doctor without looking to
see what the matter was. There hain't never been anybody hurt at our depot,
and it don't stand to reason--"

"Oliver Bolton, _will_ you hush that noise?" shrieked his wife. "If
the world was burnin' up you'd say it was nothing but a chimbley on fire
som'er's."

"Well, well, Pauliny, have it your own way, have it your own way," said
Bolton. "I ain't sayin' but what there's _some_thin' in William's
story; but you'll see't he's exaggerated. Git up!"

"Well, do hurry, and _do_ be still!" said his wife.

"Yes, yes. It's all right, Pauliny; all right. Soon's I'm out the lane,
you'll see't I'll drive _fast_ enough."

Mrs. Bolton kept a grim silence, against which her husband's babble of
optimism played like heat-lightning on a night sky.

Idella woke with the rush of cold air, and in the dark and strangeness
began to cry, and wailed heart-breakingly between her fits of louder
sobbing, and then fell asleep again before they reached the house where
her father lay dying.

They had put him in the best bed in Mrs. Savor's little guest-room, and
when Annie entered, the minister was apologising to her for spoiling it.

"Now don't you say one word, Mr. Peck," she answered him. "It's all right.
I ruthah see you layin' there just's you be than plenty of folks that--"
She stopped for want of an apt comparison, and at sight of Annie she said,
as if he were a child whose mind was wandering: "Well, I declare, if here
ain't Miss Kilburn come to see you, Mr. Peck! And Mis' Bolton! Well, the
land!"

Mrs. Savor came and shook hands with them, and in her character of hostess
urged them forward from the door, where they had halted. "Want to see Mr.
Peck? Well, he's real comf'table now; ain't he, Dr. Morrell? We got him all
fixed up nicely, and he ain't in a bit o' pain. It's his spine that's hurt,
so't he don't feel nothin'; but he's just as clear in his mind as what you
or I be. _Ain't_ he, doctor?"

"He's not suffering," said Dr. Morrell, to whom Annie's eye wandered from
Mrs. Savor, and there was something in his manner that made her think the
minister was not badly hurt. She went forward with Mr. and Mrs. Bolton, and
after they had both taken the limp hand that lay outside the covering, she
touched it too. It returned no pressure, but his large, wan eyes looked at
her with such gentle dignity and intelligence that she began to frame in
her mind an excuse for what seemed almost an intrusion.

"We were afraid you were hurt badly, and we thought--we thought you might
like to see Idella--and so--we came. She is in the next room."

"Thank you," said the minister. "I presume that I am dying; the doctor
tells me that I have but a few hours to live."

Mrs. Savor protested, "Oh, I guess you ain't a-goin' to die _this_
time, Mr. Peck." Annie looked from Dr. Morrell to Putney, who stood with
him on the other side of the bed, and experienced a shock from their
gravity without yet being able to accept the fact it implied. "There's
plenty of folks," continued Mrs. Savor, "hurt worse'n what you be that's
alive to-day and as well as ever they was."

Bolton seized his chance. "It's just what I said to Pauliny, comin' along.
'You'll see,' said I, 'Mr. Peck'll be out as spry as any of us before a
great while.' That's the way I felt about it from the start."

"All you got to do is to keep up courage," said Mrs. Savor.

"That's so; that's half the battle," said Bolton.

There were numbers of people in the room and at the door of the next. Annie
saw Colonel Marvin and Jack Wilmington. She heard afterward that he was
going to take the same train to Boston with Mr. Peck, and had helped to
bring him to the Savors' house. The stationmaster was there, and some other
railroad employes.

The doctor leaned across the bed and lifted slightly the arm that lay
there, taking the wrist between his thumb and finger. "I think we had
better let Mr. Peck rest a while," he said to the company generally, "We're
doing him no good."

The people began to go; some of them said, "Well, good night!" as if they
would meet again in the morning. They all made the pretence that it was a
slight matter, and treated the wounded man as if he were a child. He did
not humour the pretence, but said "Good-bye" in return for their "Good
night" with a quiet patience.

Mrs. Savor hastened after her retreating guests. "I ain't a-goin' to let
you go without a sup of coffee," she said. "I want you should all stay and
git some, and I don't believe but what a little of it would do Mr. Peck
good."

The surface of her lugubrious nature was broken up, and whatever was kindly
and cheerful in its depths floated to the top; she was almost gay in the
demand which the calamity made upon her. Annie knew that she must have seen
and helped to soothe the horror of mutilation which she could not even let
her fancy figure, and she followed her foolish bustle and chatter with
respectful awe.

"Rebecca'll have it right off the stove in half a minute now," Mrs. Savor
concluded; and from a further room came the cheerful click of cups, and
then a wandering whiff of the coffee; life in its vulgar kindliness touched
and made friends with death, claiming it a part of nature too.

The night at Mrs. Munger's came back to Annie from the immeasurable
remoteness into which all the past had lapsed. She looked up at Dr. Morrell
across the bed.

"Would you like to speak with Mr. Peck?" he asked officially. "Better do it
now," he said, with one of his short nods.

Putney came and set her a chair. She would have liked to fall on her knees
beside the bed; but she took the chair, and drew the minister's hand into
hers, stretching her arm above his head on the pillow. He lay like some
poor little wounded boy, like Putney's Winthrop; the mother that is in
every woman's heart gushed out of hers in pity upon him, mixed with filial
reverence. She had thought that she should confess her baseness to him, and
ask his forgiveness, and offer to fulfil with the people he had chosen for
the guardians of his child that interrupted purpose of his. But in the
presence of death, so august, so simple, all the concerns of life seemed
trivial, and she found herself without words. She sobbed over the poor hand
she held. He turned his eyes upon her and tried to speak, but his lips only
let out a moaning, shuddering sound, inarticulate of all that she hoped or
feared he might prophesy to shape her future.

Life alone has any message for life, but from the beginning of time it has
put its ear to the cold lips that must for ever remain dumb.

XXIX.

The evening after the funeral Annie took Idella, with the child's clothes
and toys in a bundle, and Bolton drove them down Over the Track to the
Savors'. She had thought it all out, and she perceived that whatever the
minister's final intention might have been, she was bound by the purpose
he had expressed to her, and must give up the child. For fear she might be
acting from the false conscientiousness of which she was beginning to have
some notion in herself, she put the case to Mrs. Bolton. She knew what she
must do in any event, but it was a comfort to be stayed so firmly in her
duty by Mrs. Bolton, who did not spare some doubts of Mrs. Savor's fitness
for the charge, and reflected a subdued censure even upon the judgment of
Mr. Peck himself, as she bustled about and helped Annie get Idella and her
belongings ready. The child watched the preparations with suspicion. At the
end, when she was dressed, and Annie tried to lift her into the carriage,
she broke out in sudden rebellion; she cried, she shrieked, she fought; the
two good women who were obeying the dead minister's behest were obliged to
descend to the foolish lies of the nursery; they told her she was going on
a visit to the Savors, who would take her on the cars with them, and then
bring her back to Aunt Annie's house. Before they could reconcile her to
this fabled prospect they had to give it verisimilitude by taking off her
everyday clothes and putting on her best dress.

She did not like Mrs. Savor's house when she came to it, nor Mrs. Savor,
who stopped, all blowzed and work-deranged from trying to put it in order
after the death in it, and gave Idella a motherly welcome. Annie fancied a
certain surprise in her manner, and her own ideal of duty was put to proof
by Mrs. Savor's owning that she had not expected Annie to bring Idella to
her right away.

"If I had not done it at once, I never could have done it," Annie
explained.

"Well, I presume it's a cross," said Mrs. Savor, "and I don't feel right to
take her. If it wa'n't for what her father--"

"'Sh!" Annie said, with a significant glance.

"It's an ugly house!" screamed the child. "I want to go back to my Aunt
Annie's house. I want to go on the cars."

"Yes, yes," answered Mrs. Savor, blindly groping to share in whatever cheat
had been practised on the child, "just as soon as the cars starts. Here,
William, you take her out and show her the pretty coop you be'n makin' the
pigeons, to keep the cats out."

They got rid of her with Savor's connivance for the moment, and Annie
hastened to escape.

"We had to tell her she was going a journey, or we never could have got her
into the carriage," she explained, feeling like a thief.

"Yes, yes. It's all right," said Mrs. Savor. "I see you'd be'n putting up
some kind of job on her the minute she mentioned the cars. Don't you fret
any, Miss Kilburn. Rebecca and me'll get along with her, you needn't be
afraid."

Annie could not look at the empty crib where it stood in its alcove when
she went to bed; and she cried upon her own pillow with heart-sickness for
the child, and with a humiliating doubt of her own part in hurrying to
give it up without thought of Mrs. Savor's convenience. What had seemed so
noble, so exemplary, began to wear another colour; and she drowsed, worn
out at last by the swarming fears, shames, and despairs, which resolved
themselves into a fantastic medley of dream images. There was a cat
trying to get at the pigeons in the coop which Mr. Savor had carried
Idella to see. It clawed and miauled at the lattice-work of lath, and its
caterwauling became like the cry of a child, so like that it woke Annie
from her sleep, and still kept on. She lay shuddering a moment; it seemed
as if the dead minister's ghost flitted from the room, while the crying
defined and located itself more and more, till she knew it a child's wail
at the door of her house. Then she heard, "Aunt Annie! Aunt Annie!" and
soft, faint thumps as of a little fist upon the door panels.

She had no experience of more than one motion from her bed to the door,
which the same impulse flung open and let her crush to her breast the
little tumult of sobs and moans from the threshold.

"Oh, wicked, selfish, heartless wretch!" she stormed out over the child.
"But now I will never, never, never give you up! Oh, my poor little baby!
my darling! God has sent you back to me, and I will keep you, I don't care
what happens! What a cruel wretch I have been--oh, what a cruel wretch, my
pretty!--to tear you from your home! But now you shall never leave it; no
one shall take you away." She gripped it in a succession of fierce hugs,
and mumbled it--face and neck, and little cold wet hands and feet--with her
kisses; and all the time she did not know the child was in its night-dress
like herself, or that her own feet were bare, and her drapery as scanty as
Idella's.

A sense of the fact evanescently gleamed upon her with the appearance
of Mrs. Bolton, lamp in hand, and the instantaneous appearance and
disappearance of her husband at the back door through which she emerged.
The two women spent the first moments of the lamp-light in making certain
that Idella was sound and whole in every part, and then in making uncertain
for ever how she came to be there. Whether she had wandered out in her
sleep, and found her way home with dream-led feet, or whether she had
watched till the house was quiet, and then stolen away, was what she could
not tell them, and must always remain a mystery.

"I don't believe but what Mr. Bolton had better go and wake up the Savors.
You got to keep her for the night, I presume, but they'd ought to know
where she is, and you can take her over there agin, come daylight."

"_Mrs_. Bolton!" shouted Annie, in a voice so deep and hoarse that
it shook the heart of a woman who had never known fear of man. "If you
say such a thing to me--if you ever say such a thing again--I--I--I will
_hit_ you! Send Mr. Bolton for Idella's things--right away!"

* * * * *

"Land!" said Mrs. Savor, when Bolton, after a long conciliatory preamble,
explained that he did not believe Miss Kilburn felt a great deal like
giving the child up again. "_I_ don't want it without it's satisfied
to stay. I see last night it was just breakin' its heart for her, and I
told William when we first missed her this mornin', and he was in such a
pucker about her, I bet anything he was a mind to that the child had gone
back to Miss Kilburn's. That's just the words I used; didn't I, Rebecca?
I couldn't stand it to have no child _grievin'_ around."

Beyond this sentimental reluctance, Mrs. Savor later confessed to Annie
herself that she was really accepting the charge of Idella in the same
spirit of self-sacrifice as that in which Annie was surrendering it, and
that she felt, when Mr. Peck first suggested it, that the child was better
off with Miss Kilburn; only she hated to say so. Her husband seemed to
think it would make up to her for the one they lost, but nothing could
really do that.

XXX.

In a reverie of rare vividness following her recovery of the minister's
child, Annie Kilburn dramatised an escape from all the failures and
humiliations of her life in Hatboro'. She took Idella with her and went
back to Rome, accomplishing the whole affair so smoothly and rapidly that
she wondered at herself for not having thought of such a simple solution of
her difficulties before. She even began to put some little things together
for her flight, while she explained to old friends in the American colony
that Idella was the orphan child of a country minister, which she had
adopted. That old lady who had found her motives in returning to Hatboro'
insufficient questioned her sharply _why_ she had adopted the
minister's child, and did not find her answers satisfactory. They were such
as also failed to pacify inquiry in Hatboro', where Annie remained, in
spite of her reverie; but people accepted the fact, and accounted for it in
their own way, and approved it, even though they could not quite approve
her.

The dramatic impressiveness of the minister's death won him undisputed
favour, yet it failed to establish unity in his society. Supply after
supply filled his pulpit, but the people found them all unsatisfactory when
they remembered his preaching, and could not make up their minds to any
one of them. They were more divided than ever, except upon the point of
regretting Mr. Peck. But they distinguished, in honouring his memory. They
revered his goodness and his wisdom, but they regarded his conduct of life
as unpractical. They said there never was a more inspired teacher, but it
was impossible to follow him, and he could not himself have kept the course
he had marked out. They said, now that he was beyond recall, no one else
could have built up the church in Hatboro' as he could, if he could only
have let impracticable theories alone. Mr. Gerrish called many people to
witness that this was what he had always said. He contended that it was the
spirit of the gospel which you were to follow. He said that if Mr. Peck had
gone to teaching among the mill hands, he would have been sick of it inside
of six weeks; but he was a good Christian man, and no one wished less than
Mr. Gerrish to reproach him for what was, after all, more an error of the
head than the heart. His critics had it their own way in this, for he had
not lived to offer that full exposition of his theory and justification of
his purpose which he had been expected to give on the Sunday after he was
killed; and his death was in no wise exegetic. It said no more to his
people than it had said to Annie; it was a mere casualty; and his past
life, broken and unfulfilled, with only its intimations and intentions of
performance, alone remained.

When people learned, as they could hardly help doing from Mrs. Savor's
volubility, what his plan with regard to Idella had been, they instanced
that in proof of the injuriousness of his idealism as applied to real
life; and they held that she had been remanded in that strange way to Miss
Kilburn's charge for some purpose which she must not attempt to cross. As
the minister had been thwarted in another intent by death, it was a sign
that he was wrong in this too, and that she could do better by the child
than he had proposed.

This was the sum of popular opinion; and it was further the opinion of Mrs.
Gerrish, who gave more attention to the case than many others, that Annie
had first taken the child because she hoped to get Mr. Peck, when she found
she could not get Dr. Morrell; and that she would have been very glad to be
rid of it if she had known how, but that she would have to keep it now for
shame's sake.

For shame's sake certainly, Annie would have done several other things, and
chief of these would have been never to see Dr. Morrell again. She believed
that he not only knew the folly she had confessed to him, but that he had
divined the cowardice and meanness in which she had repented it, and she
felt intolerably disgraced before the thought of him. She had imagined
mainly because of him that escape to Rome which never has yet been
effected, though it might have been attempted if Idella had not wakened
ill from the sleep she sobbed herself into when she found herself safe in
Annie's crib again.

She had taken a heavy cold, and she moped lifelessly about during the day,
and drowsed early again in the troubled cough-broken slumber.

"That child ought to have the doctor," said Mrs. Bolton, with the grim
impartiality in which she masked her interference.

"Well," said Annie helplessly.

At the end of the lung fever which followed, "It was a narrow chance," said
the doctor one morning; "but now I needn't come any more unless you send
for me."

Annie stood at the door, where he spoke with his hand on the dash-board of
his buggy before getting into it.

She answered with one of those impulses that come from something deeper
than intention. "I will send for you, then--to tell you how generous you
are," and in the look with which she spoke she uttered the full meaning
that her words withheld.

He flushed for pleasure of conscious desert, but he had to laugh and turn
it off lightly. "I don't think I could come for that. But I'll look in to
see Idella unprofessionally."

He drove away, and she remained at her door looking up at the summer blue
sky that held a few soft white clouds, such as might have overhung the same
place at the same hour thousands of years before, and such as would lazily
drift over it in a thousand years to come. The morning had an immeasurable
vastness, through which some crows flying across the pasture above the
house sent their voices on the spacious stillness. A perception of the
unity of all things under the sun flashed and faded upon her, as such
glimpses do. Of her high intentions, nothing had resulted. An inexorable
centrifugality had thrown her off at every point where she tried to cling.
Nothing of what was established and regulated had desired her intervention;
a few accidents and irregularities had alone accepted it. But now she felt
that nothing withal had been lost; a magnitude, a serenity, a tolerance,
intimated itself in the universal frame of things, where her failure, her
recreancy, her folly, seemed for the moment to come into true perspective,
and to show venial and unimportant, to be limited to itself, and to be even
good in its effect of humbling her to patience with all imperfection and
shortcoming, even her own. She was aware of the cessation of a struggle
that has never since renewed itself with the old intensity; her wishes, her
propensities, ceased in that degree to represent evil in conflict with the
portion of good in her; they seemed so mixed and interwoven with the good
that they could no longer be antagonised; for the moment they seemed in
their way even wiser and better, and ever after to be the nature out of
which good as well as evil might come.

As she remained standing there, Mr. Brandreth came round the corner of the
house, looking very bright and happy.

"Miss Kilburn," he said abruptly, "I want you to congratulate me. I'm
engaged to Miss Chapley."

"Are you indeed, Mr. Brandreth? I do congratulate you with all my heart.
She is a lovely girl."

"Yes, it's all right now," said Mr. Brandreth. "I've come to tell you the
first one, because you seemed to take an interest in it when I told you of
the trouble about the Juliet. We hadn't come to any understanding before
that, but that seemed to bring us both to the point, and--and we're
engaged. Mother and I are going to New York for the winter; we think she
can risk it; and at any rate she won't be separated from me; and we shall
be back in our little home next May. You know that I'm to be with Mr.
Chapley in his business?"

"Why, no! This is _great_ news, Mr. Brandreth! I don't know what to
say."

"You're very kind," said the young man, and for the third or fourth time he
wrung her hand. "It isn't a partnership, of course; but he thinks I can be
of use to him."

"I know you can!" Annie adventured.

"We are very busy getting ready--nearly everybody else is gone--and mother
sent her kindest regards--you know she don't make calls--and I just ran up
to tell you. Well, _good_-bye!"

"_Good_-bye! Give my love to your mother, and to your-to Miss
Chapley."

"I will." He hurried off, and then came running back. "Oh, I forgot! About
the Social Union fund. You know we've got about two hundred dollars from
the theatricals, but the matter seems to have stopped there, and some of us
think there'd better be some other disposition of the money. Have you any
suggestion to make?"

"No, none."

"Then I'll tell you. It's proposed to devote the money to beautifying the
grounds around the soldiers' monument. They ought to be fenced and planted
with flowers--turned into a little public garden. Everybody appreciates the
interest you took in the Union, and we hoped you'd be pleased with that
disposition of the money."

"It is very kind," said Annie, with a meek submission that must have made
him believe she was deeply touched.

"As I'm not to be here this winter," he continued, "we thought we had
better leave the whole matter in your hands, and the money has been
deposited in the bank subject to your order. It was Mrs. Munger's idea. I
don't think she's ever felt just right about that evening of the dramatics,
don't you know. _Good_-bye!"

He ran off to escape her thanks for this proof of confidence in her taste
and judgment, and he was gone beyond her protest before she emerged from
her daze into a full sense of the absurdity of the situation.

"Well, it's a very simple matter to let the money lie in the bank," said
Dr. Morrell, who came that evening to make his first unprofessional visit,
and received with pure amusement the account of the affair, which she gave
him with a strong infusion of vexation.

"The way I was involved in this odious Social Union business from the
first, and now have it left on my hands in the end, is maddening. Why, I
can't get rid of it!" she replied.

"Then, perhaps," he comfortably suggested, "it's a sign you're not intended
to get rid of it."

"What _do_ you mean?"

"Why don't you go on," he irresponsibly adventured further, "and establish
a Social Union?"

"Do you _mean_ it?"

"What was that notion of his"--they usually spoke of the minister
pronominally--"about getting the Savors going in a co-operative
boarding-house at Fall River? Putney said something about it."

Annie explained, as she had heard it from him, and from the Savors since
his death, the minister's scheme for a club, in which the members should
contribute the labour and the provisions, and should live cheaply and
wholesomely under the management of the Savors at first, and afterward
should continue them in charge, or not, as they chose. "He seemed to
have thought it out very carefully. But I supposed, of course, it was
unpractical."

"Was that why you were going in for it?" asked the doctor; and then he
spared her confusion in adding: "I don't see why it was unpractical. It
seems to me a very good notion for a Social Union. Why not try it here?
There isn't the same pressing necessity that there is in a big factory
town; but you have the money, and you have the Savors to make a beginning."

His tone was still half bantering; but it had become more and more serious,
so that she could say in earnest: "But the money is one of the drawbacks.
It was Mr. Peck's idea that the working people ought to do it all
themselves."

"Well, I should say that two-thirds of that money in the bank had come from
them. They turned out in great force to Mr. Brandreth's theatricals. And
wouldn't it be rather high-handed to use their money for anything but the
Union?"

"You don't suppose," said Annie hotly, "that I would spend a cent of it
on the grounds of that idiotic monument? I would pay for having it blown
up with dynamite! No, I can't have anything more to do with the wretched
affair. My touch is fatal." The doctor laughed, and she added: "Besides, I
believe most heartily with Mr. Peck that no person of means and leisure can
meet working people except in the odious character of a patron, and if I
didn't respect them, I respect myself too much for that. If I were ready to
go in with them and start the Social Union on his basis, by helping do
house-work--_scullion_-work--for it, and eating and living with them,
I might try; but I know from experience I'm not. I haven't the need, and to
pretend that I have, to forego my comforts and luxuries in a make-believe
that I haven't them, would be too ghastly a farce, and I won't."

"Well, then, don't," said the doctor, bent more perhaps on carrying his
point in argument than on promoting the actual establishment of the Social
Union. "But my idea is this: Take two-thirds or one-half of that money,
and go to Savor, and say: 'Here! This is what Mr. Brandreth's theatricals
swindled the shop-hands out of. It's honestly theirs, at least to control;
and if you want to try that experiment of Mr. Peck's here in Hatboro', it's
yours. We people of leisure, or comparative leisure, have really nothing
in common with you people who work with your hands for a living; and as we
really can't be friends with you, we won't patronise you. We won't advise
you, and we won't help you; but here's the money. If you fail, you fail;
and if you succeed, you won't succeed by our aid and comfort.'"

The plan that Annie and Doctor Morrell talked over half in joke took a more
and more serious character in her sense of duty to the minister's memory
and the wish to be of use, which was not extinct in her, however she mocked
and defied it. It was part of the irony of her fate that the people who
were best able to counsel with her in regard to it were Lyra, whom she
could not approve, and Jack Wilmington, whom she had always disliked. He
was able to contribute some facts about the working of the Thayer Club
at the Harvard Memorial Hall in Cambridge, and Lyra because she had been
herself a hand, and would not forget it, was of use in bringing the scheme
into favour with the hands. They felt easy with her, as they did with
Putney, and for much the same reason: it is one of the pleasing facts of
our conditions that people who are socially inferior like best those above
them who are morally anomalous. It was really through Lyra that Annie got
at the working people, and when it came to a formal conference, there
was no one who could command their confidence like Putney, whom they saw
mad-drunk two or three times a year, but always pulling up and fighting
back to sanity against the enemy whose power some of them had felt too.

No theory is so perfect as not to be subject to exceptions in the
experiment, and in spite of her conviction of the truth of Mr. Peck's
social philosophy, Annie is aware, through her simple and frank relations
with the hands in a business matter, of mutual kindness which it does
not account for. But perhaps the philosophy and the experiment were not
contradictory; perhaps it was intended to cover only the cases in which
they had no common interest. At anyrate, when the Peck Social Union, as its
members voted to call it, at the suggestion of one of their own number, got
in working order, she was as cordially welcomed to the charge of its funds
and accounts as if she had been a hat-shop hand or a shoe-binder. She is
really of use, for its working is by no means ideal, and with her wider
knowledge she has suggested improvements and expedients for making both
ends meet which were sometimes so reluctant to meet. She has kept a
conscience against subsidising the Union from her own means; and she even
accepts for her services a small salary, which its members think they
ought to pay her. She owns this ridiculous, like all the make-believe work
of rich people; a travesty which has no reality except the little sum it
added to the greater sum of her superabundance. She is aware that she is
a pensioner upon the real members of the Social Union for a chance to be
useful, and that the work they let her do is the right of some one who
needs it. She has thought of doing the work and giving the pay to another;
but she sees that this would be pauperising and degrading another. So she
dwells in a vicious circle, and waits, and mostly forgets, and is mostly
happy.

The Social Union itself, though not a brilliant success in all points, is
still not a failure; and the promise of its future is in the fact that it
continues to have a present. The people of Hatboro' are rather proud of
it, and strangers visit it as one of the possible solutions of one of the
social problems. It is predicted that it cannot go on; that it must either
do better or do worse; but it goes on the same.

Putney studies its existence in the light of his own infirmity, to which he
still yields from time to time, as he has always done. He professes to find
there a law which would account for a great many facts of human experience
otherwise inexplicable. He does not attempt to define this occult
preservative principle, but he offers himself and the Social Union as
proofs of its existence; and he argues that if they can only last long
enough they will finally be established in a virtue and prosperity as great
as those of Mr. Gerrish and his store.

Annie sometimes feels that nothing else can explain the maintenance of Lyra
Wilmington's peculiar domestic relations at the point which perpetually
invites comment and never justifies scandal. The situation seems to her as
lamentable as ever. She grieves over Lyra, and likes her, and laughs with
her; she no longer detests Jack Wilmington so much since he showed himself
so willing and helpful about the Social Union; she thinks there must be a
great deal of good in him, and sometimes she is sorry for him, and longs to
speak again to Lyra about the wrong she is doing him. One of the dangers
of having a very definite point of view is the temptation of abusing it to
read the whole riddle of the painful earth. Annie has permitted herself to
think of Lyra's position as one which would be impossible in a state of
things where there was neither poverty nor riches, and there was neither
luxury on one hand to allure, nor the fear of want to constrain on the
other.

When her recoil from the fulfilment of her volunteer pledge to Mr. Peck
brought her face to face with her own weakness, there were two ways back
to self-respect, either of which she might take. She might revert to her
first opinion of him, and fortify herself in that contempt and rejection of
his ideas, or she might abandon herself to them, with a vague intention of
reparation to him, and accept them to the last insinuation of their logic.
This was what she did, and while her life remained the same outwardly, it
was inwardly all changed. She never could tell by what steps she reached
her agreement with the minister's philosophy; perhaps, as a woman, it
was not possible she should; but she had a faith concerning it to which
she bore unswerving allegiance, and it was Putney's delight to witness
its revolutionary effect on an old Hatboro' Kilburn, the daughter of a
shrewd lawyer and canny politician like her father, and the heir of an
aristocratic tradition, a gentlewoman born and bred. He declared himself
a reactionary in comparison with her, and had the habit of taking the
conservative side against her. She was in the joke of this; but it was a
real trouble to her for a time that Dr. Morrell, after admitting the force
of her reasons, should be content to rest in a comfortable inconclusion
as to his conduct, till one day she reflected that this was what she was
herself doing, and that she differed from him only in the openness with
which she proclaimed her opinions. Being a woman, her opinions were treated
by the magnates of Hatboro' as a good joke, the harmless fantasies of an
old maid, which she would get rid of if she could get anybody to marry her;
being a lady, and very well off, they were received with deference, and
she was left to their uninterrupted enjoyment. Putney amused himself by
saying that she was the fiercest apostle of labour that never did a stroke
of work; but no one cared half so much for all that as for the question
whether her affair with Dr. Morrell was a friendship or a courtship. They
saw an activity of attention on his part which would justify the most
devout belief in the latter, and yet they were confronted with the fact
that it so long remained eventless. The two theories, one that she was
amusing herself with him, and the other that he was just playing with her,
divided public opinion, but they did not molest either of the parties to
the mystery; and the village, after a season of acute conjecture, quiesced
into that sarcastic sufferance of the anomaly into which it may have been
noticed that small communities are apt to subside from such occasions.
Except for some such irreconcilable as Mrs. Gerrish, it was a good joke
that if you could not find Dr. Morrell in his office after tea, you could
always find him at Miss Kilburn's. Perhaps it might have helped solve the
mystery if it had been known that she could not accept the situation,
whatever it really was, without satisfying herself upon two points, which
resolved themselves into one in the process of the inquiry.

She asked, apparently as preliminary to answering a question of his, "Have
you heard that gossip about my--being in--caring for the poor man?"

"Yes."

"And did you--what did you think?"

"That it wasn't true. I knew if there were anything in it, you couldn't
have talked him over with me."

She was silent. Then she said, in a low voice: "No, there couldn't have
been. But not for that reason alone, though it's very delicate and generous
of you to think of it, very large-minded; but because it _couldn't_
have been. I could have worshipped him, but I couldn't have loved him--any
more," she added, with an implication that entirely satisfied him, "than I
could have worshipped _you_."

THE END.

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