Part 1 out of 4
by Edith Wharton
A girl came out of lawyer Royall's house, at the end of
the one street of North Dormer, and stood on the
It was the beginning of a June afternoon. The
springlike transparent sky shed a rain of silver
sunshine on the roofs of the village, and on the
pastures and larchwoods surrounding it. A little wind
moved among the round white clouds on the shoulders of
the hills, driving their shadows across the fields and
down the grassy road that takes the name of street when
it passes through North Dormer. The place lies high
and in the open, and lacks the lavish shade of the more
protected New England villages. The clump of weeping-
willows about the duck pond, and the Norway spruces in
front of the Hatchard gate, cast almost the only
roadside shadow between lawyer Royall's house and the
point where, at the other end of the village, the road
rises above the church and skirts the black hemlock
wall enclosing the cemetery.
The little June wind, frisking down the street, shook
the doleful fringes of the Hatchard spruces, caught the
straw hat of a young man just passing under them, and
spun it clean across the road into the duck-pond.
As he ran to fish it out the girl on lawyer Royall's
doorstep noticed that he was a stranger, that he wore
city clothes, and that he was laughing with all his
teeth, as the young and careless laugh at such mishaps.
Her heart contracted a little, and the shrinking that
sometimes came over her when she saw people with
holiday faces made her draw back into the house and
pretend to look for the key that she knew she had
already put into her pocket. A narrow greenish mirror
with a gilt eagle over it hung on the passage wall, and
she looked critically at her reflection, wished for the
thousandth time that she had blue eyes like Annabel
Balch, the girl who sometimes came from Springfield to
spend a week with old Miss Hatchard, straightened the
sunburnt hat over her small swarthy face, and turned
out again into the sunshine.
"How I hate everything!" she murmured.
The young man had passed through the Hatchard gate, and
she had the street to herself. North Dormer is at all
times an empty place, and at three o'clock on a June
afternoon its few able-bodied men are off in the fields
or woods, and the women indoors, engaged in languid
The girl walked along, swinging her key on a finger,
and looking about her with the heightened attention
produced by the presence of a stranger in a familiar
place. What, she wondered, did North Dormer look like
to people from other parts of the world? She herself
had lived there since the age of five, and had long
supposed it to be a place of some importance. But
about a year before, Mr. Miles, the new Episcopal
clergyman at Hepburn, who drove over every other
Sunday--when the roads were not ploughed up by hauling--
to hold a service in the North Dormer church, had
proposed, in a fit of missionary zeal, to take the
young people down to Nettleton to hear an illustrated
lecture on the Holy Land; and the dozen girls and boys
who represented the future of North Dormer had been
piled into a farm-waggon, driven over the hills to
Hepburn, put into a way-train and carried to Nettleton.
In the course of that incredible day Charity Royall
had, for the first and only time, experienced railway-
travel, looked into shops with plate-glass fronts,
tasted cocoanut pie, sat in a theatre, and listened to
a gentleman saying unintelligible things before
pictures that she would have enjoyed looking at if his
explanations had not prevented her from understanding
them. This initiation had shown her that North Dormer
was a small place, and developed in her a thirst for
information that her position as custodian of the
village library had previously failed to excite. For a
month or two she dipped feverishly and disconnectedly
into the dusty volumes of the Hatchard Memorial
Library; then the impression of Nettleton began to
fade, and she found it easier to take North Dormer as
the norm of the universe than to go on reading.
The sight of the stranger once more revived memories of
Nettleton, and North Dormer shrank to its real size. As
she looked up and down it, from lawyer Royall's faded
red house at one end to the white church at the other,
she pitilessly took its measure. There it lay, a
weather-beaten sunburnt village of the hills, abandoned
of men, left apart by railway, trolley, telegraph, and
all the forces that link life to life in modern
communities. It had no shops, no theatres, no
lectures, no "business block"; only a church that was
opened every other Sunday if the state of the roads
permitted, and a library for which no new books had
been bought for twenty years, and where the old ones
mouldered undisturbed on the damp shelves. Yet Charity
Royall had always been told that she ought to consider
it a privilege that her lot had been cast in North
Dormer. She knew that, compared to the place she had
come from, North Dormer represented all the blessings
of the most refined civilization. Everyone in the
village had told her so ever since she had been brought
there as a child. Even old Miss Hatchard had said to
her, on a terrible occasion in her life: "My child, you
must never cease to remember that it was Mr. Royall who
brought you down from the Mountain."
She had been "brought down from the Mountain"; from the
scarred cliff that lifted its sullen wall above the
lesser slopes of Eagle Range, making a perpetual
background of gloom to the lonely valley. The Mountain
was a good fifteen miles away, but it rose so abruptly
from the lower hills that it seemed almost to cast its
shadow over North Dormer. And it was like a great
magnet drawing the clouds and scattering them in storm
across the valley. If ever, in the purest summer sky,
there trailed a thread of vapour over North Dormer, it
drifted to the Mountain as a ship drifts to a
whirlpool, and was caught among the rocks, torn up and
multiplied, to sweep back over the village in rain and
Charity was not very clear about the Mountain; but she
knew it was a bad place, and a shame to have come from,
and that, whatever befell her in North Dormer, she
ought, as Miss Hatchard had once reminded her, to
remember that she had been brought down from there, and
hold her tongue and be thankful. She looked up at the
Mountain, thinking of these things, and tried as usual
to be thankful. But the sight of the young man turning
in at Miss Hatchard's gate had brought back the vision
of the glittering streets of Nettleton, and she felt
ashamed of her old sun-hat, and sick of North Dormer,
and jealously aware of Annabel Balch of Springfield,
opening her blue eyes somewhere far off on glories
greater than the glories of Nettleton.
"How I hate everything!" she said again.
Half way down the street she stopped at a weak-hinged
gate. Passing through it, she walked down a brick path
to a queer little brick temple with white wooden
columns supporting a pediment on which was inscribed in
tarnished gold letters: "The Honorius Hatchard Memorial
Honorius Hatchard had been old Miss Hatchard's great-
uncle; though she would undoubtedly have reversed the
phrase, and put forward, as her only claim to
distinction, the fact that she was his great-niece.
For Honorius Hatchard, in the early years of the
nineteenth century, had enjoyed a modest celebrity. As
the marble tablet in the interior of the library
informed its infrequent visitors, he had possessed
marked literary gifts, written a series of papers
called "The Recluse of Eagle Range," enjoyed the
acquaintance of Washington Irving and Fitz-Greene
Halleck, and been cut off in his flower by a fever
contracted in Italy. Such had been the sole link
between North Dormer and literature, a link piously
commemorated by the erection of the monument where
Charity Royall, every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon,
sat at her desk under a freckled steel engraving of the
deceased author, and wondered if he felt any deader in
his grave than she did in his library.
Entering her prison-house with a listless step she took
off her hat, hung it on a plaster bust of Minerva,
opened the shutters, leaned out to see if there were
any eggs in the swallow's nest above one of the
windows, and finally, seating herself behind the desk,
drew out a roll of cotton lace and a steel crochet
hook. She was not an expert workwoman, and it had taken
her many weeks to make the half-yard of narrow lace
which she kept wound about the buckram back of a
disintegrated copy of "The Lamplighter." But there was
no other way of getting any lace to trim her summer
blouse, and since Ally Hawes, the poorest girl in the
village, had shown herself in church with enviable
transparencies about the shoulders, Charity's hook had
travelled faster. She unrolled the lace, dug the hook
into a loop, and bent to the task with furrowed brows.
Suddenly the door opened, and before she had raised her
eyes she knew that the young man she had seen going in
at the Hatchard gate had entered the library.
Without taking any notice of her he began to move
slowly about the long vault-like room, his hands behind
his back, his short-sighted eyes peering up and down
the rows of rusty bindings. At length he reached the
desk and stood before her.
"Have you a card-catalogue?" he asked in a pleasant
abrupt voice; and the oddness of the question caused
her to drop her work.
"Why, you know----" He broke off, and she became
conscious that he was looking at her for the first
time, having apparently, on his entrance, included her
in his general short-sighted survey as part of the
furniture of the library.
The fact that, in discovering her, he lost the thread
of his remark, did not escape her attention, and she
looked down and smiled. He smiled also.
"No, I don't suppose you do know," he corrected
himself. "In fact, it would be almost a pity----"
She thought she detected a slight condescension in his
tone, and asked sharply: "Why?"
"Because it's so much pleasanter, in a small library
like this, to poke about by one's self--with the help
of the librarian."
He added the last phrase so respectfully that she was
mollified, and rejoined with a sigh: "I'm afraid I
can't help you much."
"Why?" he questioned in his turn; and she replied that
there weren't many books anyhow, and that she'd hardly
read any of them. "The worms are getting at them," she
"Are they? That's a pity, for I see there are some good
ones." He seemed to have lost interest in their
conversation, and strolled away again, apparently
forgetting her. His indifference nettled her, and she
picked up her work, resolved not to offer him the least
assistance. Apparently he did not need it, for he
spent a long time with his back to her, lifting down,
one after another, the tall cob-webby volumes from a
"Oh, I say!" he exclaimed; and looking up she saw that
he had drawn out his handkerchief and was carefully
wiping the edges of the book in his hand. The action
struck her as an unwarranted criticism on her care of
the books, and she said irritably: "It's not my fault
if they're dirty."
He turned around and looked at her with reviving
interest. "Ah--then you're not the librarian?"
"Of course I am; but I can't dust all these books.
Besides, nobody ever looks at them, now Miss Hatchard's
too lame to come round."
"No, I suppose not." He laid down the book he had been
wiping, and stood considering her in silence. She
wondered if Miss Hatchard had sent him round to pry
into the way the library was looked after, and the
suspicion increased her resentment. "I saw you going
into her house just now, didn't I?" she asked, with the
New England avoidance of the proper name. She was
determined to find out why he was poking about among
"Miss Hatchard's house? Yes--she's my cousin and I'm
staying there," the young man answered; adding, as if
to disarm a visible distrust: "My name is Harney--
Lucius Harney. She may have spoken of me."
"No, she hasn't," said Charity, wishing she could have
said: "Yes, she has."
"Oh, well----" said Miss Hatchard's cousin with a
laugh; and after another pause, during which it
occurred to Charity that her answer had not been
encouraging, he remarked: "You don't seem strong on
Her bewilderment was complete: the more she wished to
appear to understand him the more unintelligible his
remarks became. He reminded her of the gentleman who
had "explained" the pictures at Nettleton, and the
weight of her ignorance settled down on her again like
"I mean, I can't see that you have any books on the old
houses about here. I suppose, for that matter, this
part of the country hasn't been much explored. They
all go on doing Plymouth and Salem. So stupid. My
cousin's house, now, is remarkable. This place must
have had a past--it must have been more of a place
once." He stopped short, with the blush of a shy man
who overhears himself, and fears he has been voluble.
"I'm an architect, you see, and I'm hunting up old
houses in these parts."
She stared. "Old houses? Everything's old in North
Dormer, isn't it? The folks are, anyhow."
He laughed, and wandered away again.
"Haven't you any kind of a history of the place?
I think there was one written about 1840: a book or
pamphlet about its first settlement," he presently said
from the farther end of the room.
She pressed her crochet hook against her lip and
pondered. There was such a work, she knew: "North
Dormer and the Early Townships of Eagle County." She
had a special grudge against it because it was a limp
weakly book that was always either falling off the
shelf or slipping back and disappearing if one squeezed
it in between sustaining volumes. She remembered, the
last time she had picked it up, wondering how anyone
could have taken the trouble to write a book about
North Dormer and its neighbours: Dormer, Hamblin,
Creston and Creston River. She knew them all, mere lost
clusters of houses in the folds of the desolate ridges:
Dormer, where North Dormer went for its apples; Creston
River, where there used to be a paper-mill, and its
grey walls stood decaying by the stream; and Hamblin,
where the first snow always fell. Such were their
titles to fame.
She got up and began to move about vaguely before the
shelves. But she had no idea where she had last put
the book, and something told her that it was going to
play her its usual trick and remain invisible. It was
not one of her lucky days.
"I guess it's somewhere," she said, to prove her zeal;
but she spoke without conviction, and felt that her
words conveyed none.
"Oh, well----" he said again. She knew he was going,
and wished more than ever to find the book.
"It will be for next time," he added; and picking up
the volume he had laid on the desk he handed it to her.
"By the way, a little air and sun would do this good;
it's rather valuable."
He gave her a nod and smile, and passed out.
The hours of the Hatchard Memorial librarian were from
three to five; and Charity Royall's sense of duty
usually kept her at her desk until nearly half-past
But she had never perceived that any practical
advantage thereby accrued either to North Dormer or to
herself; and she had no scruple in decreeing, when it
suited her, that the library should close an hour
earlier. A few minutes after Mr. Harney's departure
she formed this decision, put away her lace, fastened
the shutters, and turned the key in the door of the
temple of knowledge.
The street upon which she emerged was still empty: and
after glancing up and down it she began to walk toward
her house. But instead of entering she passed on,
turned into a field-path and mounted to a pasture on
the hillside. She let down the bars of the gate,
followed a trail along the crumbling wall of the
pasture, and walked on till she reached a knoll where a
clump of larches shook out their fresh tassels to the
wind. There she lay down on the slope, tossed off her
hat and hid her face in the grass.
She was blind and insensible to many things, and dimly
knew it; but to all that was light and air, perfume and
colour, every drop of blood in her responded. She
loved the roughness of the dry mountain grass under her
palms, the smell of the thyme into which she crushed
her face, the fingering of the wind in her hair and
through her cotton blouse, and the creak of the larches
as they swayed to it.
She often climbed up the hill and lay there alone for
the mere pleasure of feeling the wind and of rubbing
her cheeks in the grass. Generally at such times she
did not think of anything, but lay immersed in an
inarticulate well-being. Today the sense of well-being
was intensified by her joy at escaping from the
library. She liked well enough to have a friend drop in
and talk to her when she was on duty, but she hated to
be bothered about books. How could she remember where
they were, when they were so seldom asked for? Orma Fry
occasionally took out a novel, and her brother Ben was
fond of what he called "jography," and of books
relating to trade and bookkeeping; but no one else
asked for anything except, at intervals, "Uncle Tom's
Cabin," or "Opening of a Chestnut Burr," or Longfellow.
She had these under her hand, and could have found them
in the dark; but unexpected demands came so rarely that
they exasperated her like an injustice....
She had liked the young man's looks, and his short-
sighted eyes, and his odd way of speaking, that was
abrupt yet soft, just as his hands were sun-burnt and
sinewy, yet with smooth nails like a woman's. His hair
was sunburnt-looking too, or rather the colour of
bracken after frost; his eyes grey, with the appealing
look of the shortsighted, his smile shy yet confident,
as if he knew lots of things she had never dreamed of,
and yet wouldn't for the world have had her feel his
superiority. But she did feel it, and liked the
feeling; for it was new to her. Poor and ignorant as
she was, and knew herself to be--humblest of the humble
even in North Dormer, where to come from the Mountain
was the worst disgrace--yet in her narrow world she had
always ruled. It was partly, of course, owing to the
fact that lawyer Royall was "the biggest man in North
Dormer"; so much too big for it, in fact, that
outsiders, who didn't know, always wondered how it held
him. In spite of everything--and in spite even of Miss
Hatchard--lawyer Royall ruled in North Dormer; and
Charity ruled in lawyer Royall's house. She had never
put it to herself in those terms; but she knew her
power, knew what it was made of, and hated it.
Confusedly, the young man in the library had made her
feel for the first time what might be the sweetness of
She sat up, brushed the bits of grass from her hair,
and looked down on the house where she held sway. It
stood just below her, cheerless and untended, its faded
red front divided from the road by a "yard" with a path
bordered by gooseberry bushes, a stone well overgrown
with traveller's joy, and a sickly Crimson Rambler tied
to a fan-shaped support, which Mr. Royall had once
brought up from Hepburn to please her. Behind the
house a bit of uneven ground with clothes-lines strung
across it stretched up to a dry wall, and beyond the
wall a patch of corn and a few rows of potatoes strayed
vaguely into the adjoining wilderness of rock and fern.
Charity could not recall her first sight of the house.
She had been told that she was ill of a fever when she
was brought down from the Mountain; and she could only
remember waking one day in a cot at the foot of Mrs.
Royall's bed, and opening her eyes on the cold neatness
of the room that was afterward to be hers.
Mrs. Royall died seven or eight years later; and by
that time Charity had taken the measure of most things
about her. She knew that Mrs. Royall was sad and timid
and weak; she knew that lawyer Royall was harsh and
violent, and still weaker. She knew that she had been
christened Charity (in the white church at the other
end of the village) to commemorate Mr. Royall's
disinterestedness in "bringing her down," and to keep
alive in her a becoming sense of her dependence; she
knew that Mr. Royall was her guardian, but that he had
not legally adopted her, though everybody spoke of her
as Charity Royall; and she knew why he had come back to
live at North Dormer, instead of practising at
Nettleton, where he had begun his legal career.
After Mrs. Royall's death there was some talk of
sending her to a boarding-school. Miss Hatchard
suggested it, and had a long conference with Mr.
Royall, who, in pursuance of her plan, departed one day
for Starkfield to visit the institution she
recommended. He came back the next night with a black
face; worse, Charity observed, than she had ever seen
him; and by that time she had had some experience.
When she asked him how soon she was to start he
answered shortly, "You ain't going," and shut himself
up in the room he called his office; and the next day
the lady who kept the school at Starkfield wrote that
"under the circumstances" she was afraid she could not
make room just then for another pupil.
Charity was disappointed; but she understood. It
wasn't the temptations of Starkfield that had been Mr.
Royall's undoing; it was the thought of losing her. He
was a dreadfully "lonesome" man; she had made that out
because she was so "lonesome" herself. He and she,
face to face in that sad house, had sounded the depths
of isolation; and though she felt no particular
affection for him, and not the slightest gratitude, she
pitied him because she was conscious that he was
superior to the people about him, and that she was the
only being between him and solitude. Therefore, when
Miss Hatchard sent for her a day or two later, to talk
of a school at Nettleton, and to say that this time a
friend of hers would "make the necessary arrangements,"
Charity cut her short with the announcement that she
had decided not to leave North Dormer.
Miss Hatchard reasoned with her kindly, but to no
purpose; she simply repeated: "I guess Mr. Royall's too
Miss Hatchard blinked perplexedly behind her eye-
glasses. Her long frail face was full of puzzled
wrinkles, and she leant forward, resting her hands on
the arms of her mahogany armchair, with the evident
desire to say something that ought to be said.
"The feeling does you credit, my dear."
She looked about the pale walls of her sitting-room,
seeking counsel of ancestral daguerreotypes and
didactic samplers; but they seemed to make utterance
"The fact is, it's not only--not only because of the
advantages. There are other reasons. You're too young
"Oh, no, I ain't," said Charity harshly; and Miss
Hatchard blushed to the roots of her blonde cap. But
she must have felt a vague relief at having her
explanation cut short, for she concluded, again
invoking the daguerreotypes: "Of course I shall always
do what I can for you; and in case....in case....you
know you can always come to me...."
Lawyer Royall was waiting for Charity in the porch when
she returned from this visit. He had shaved, and
brushed his black coat, and looked a magnificent
monument of a man; at such moments she really admired
"Well," he said, "is it settled?"
"Yes, it's settled. I ain't going."
"Not to the Nettleton school?"
He cleared his throat and asked sternly: "Why?"
"I'd rather not," she said, swinging past him on her
way to her room. It was the following week that he
brought her up the Crimson Rambler and its fan from
Hepburn. He had never given her anything before.
The next outstanding incident of her life had happened
two years later, when she was seventeen. Lawyer
Royall, who hated to go to Nettleton, had been called
there in connection with a case. He still exercised
his profession, though litigation languished in North
Dormer and its outlying hamlets; and for once he had
had an opportunity that he could not afford to refuse.
He spent three days in Nettleton, won his case, and
came back in high good-humour. It was a rare mood with
him, and manifested itself on this occasion by his
talking impressively at the supper-table of the
"rousing welcome" his old friends had given him. He
wound up confidentially: "I was a damn fool ever to
leave Nettleton. It was Mrs. Royall that made me do
Charity immediately perceived that something bitter had
happened to him, and that he was trying to talk down
the recollection. She went up to bed early, leaving
him seated in moody thought, his elbows propped on the
worn oilcloth of the supper table. On the way up she
had extracted from his overcoat pocket the key of the
cupboard where the bottle of whiskey was kept.
She was awakened by a rattling at her door and jumped
out of bed. She heard Mr. Royall's voice, low and
peremptory, and opened the door, fearing an accident.
No other thought had occurred to her; but when she saw
him in the doorway, a ray from the autumn moon falling
on his discomposed face, she understood.
For a moment they looked at each other in silence;
then, as he put his foot across the threshold, she
stretched out her arm and stopped him.
"You go right back from here," she said, in a shrill
voice that startled her; "you ain't going to have that
"Charity, let me in. I don't want the key. I'm a
lonesome man," he began, in the deep voice that
sometimes moved her.
Her heart gave a startled plunge, but she continued to
hold him back contemptuously. "Well, I guess you made
a mistake, then. This ain't your wife's room any
She was not frightened, she simply felt a deep disgust;
and perhaps he divined it or read it in her face, for
after staring at her a moment he drew back and turned
slowly away from the door. With her ear to her keyhole
she heard him feel his way down the dark stairs, and
toward the kitchen; and she listened for the crash of
the cupboard panel, but instead she heard him, after an
interval, unlock the door of the house, and his heavy
steps came to her through the silence as he walked down
the path. She crept to the window and saw his bent
figure striding up the road in the moonlight. Then a
belated sense of fear came to her with the
consciousness of victory, and she slipped into bed,
cold to the bone.
A day or two later poor Eudora Skeff, who for twenty
years had been the custodian of the Hatchard library,
died suddenly of pneumonia; and the day after the
funeral Charity went to see Miss Hatchard, and asked to
be appointed librarian. The request seemed to surprise
Miss Hatchard: she evidently questioned the new
"Why, I don't know, my dear. Aren't you rather too
young?" she hesitated.
"I want to earn some money," Charity merely answered.
"Doesn't Mr. Royall give you all you require? No one is
rich in North Dormer."
"I want to earn money enough to get away."
"To get away?" Miss Hatchard's puzzled wrinkles
deepened, and there was a distressful pause. "You want
to leave Mr. Royall?"
"Yes: or I want another woman in the house with me,"
said Charity resolutely.
Miss Hatchard clasped her nervous hands about the arms
of her chair. Her eyes invoked the faded countenances
on the wall, and after a faint cough of indecision she
brought out: "The...the housework's too hard for you, I
Charity's heart grew cold. She understood that Miss
Hatchard had no help to give her and that she would
have to fight her way out of her difficulty alone. A
deeper sense of isolation overcame her; she felt
incalculably old. "She's got to be talked to like a
baby," she thought, with a feeling of compassion for
Miss Hatchard's long immaturity. "Yes, that's it," she
said aloud. "The housework's too hard for me: I've
been coughing a good deal this fall."
She noted the immediate effect of this suggestion. Miss
Hatchard paled at the memory of poor Eudora's taking-
off, and promised to do what she could. But of course
there were people she must consult: the clergyman, the
selectmen of North Dormer, and a distant Hatchard
relative at Springfield. "If you'd only gone to
school!" she sighed. She followed Charity to the door,
and there, in the security of the threshold, said with
a glance of evasive appeal: "I know Mr. Royall
is...trying at times; but his wife bore with him; and
you must always remember, Charity, that it was Mr.
Royall who brought you down from the Mountain." Charity
went home and opened the door of Mr. Royall's "office."
He was sitting there by the stove reading Daniel
Webster's speeches. They had met at meals during the
five days that had elapsed since he had come to her
door, and she had walked at his side at Eudora's
funeral; but they had not spoken a word to each other.
He glanced up in surprise as she entered, and she
noticed that he was unshaved, and that he looked
unusually old; but as she had always thought of him as
an old man the change in his appearance did not move
her. She told him she had been to see Miss Hatchard,
and with what object. She saw that he was astonished;
but he made no comment.
"I told her the housework was too hard for me, and I
wanted to earn the money to pay for a hired girl. But
I ain't going to pay for her: you've got to. I want to
have some money of my own."
Mr. Royall's bushy black eyebrows were drawn together
in a frown, and he sat drumming with ink-stained nails
on the edge of his desk.
"What do you want to earn money for?" he asked.
"So's to get away when I want to."
"Why do you want to get away?"
Her contempt flashed out. "Do you suppose anybody'd
stay at North Dormer if they could help it? You
wouldn't, folks say!"
With lowered head he asked: "Where'd you go to?"
"Anywhere where I can earn my living. I'll try here
first, and if I can't do it here I'll go somewhere
else. I'll go up the Mountain if I have to." She
paused on this threat, and saw that it had taken
effect. "I want you should get Miss Hatchard and the
selectmen to take me at the library: and I want a woman
here in the house with me," she repeated.
Mr. Royall had grown exceedingly pale. When she ended
he stood up ponderously, leaning against the desk; and
for a second or two they looked at each other.
"See here," he said at length as though utterance were
difficult, "there's something I've been wanting to say
to you; I'd ought to have said it before. I want you
to marry me."
The girl still stared at him without moving. "I want
you to marry me," he repeated, clearing his throat.
"The minister'll be up here next Sunday and we can fix
it up then. Or I'll drive you down to Hepburn to the
Justice, and get it done there. I'll do whatever you
say." His eyes fell under the merciless stare she
continued to fix on him, and he shifted his weight
uneasily from one foot to the other. As he stood there
before her, unwieldy, shabby, disordered, the purple
veins distorting the hands he pressed against the desk,
and his long orator's jaw trembling with the effort of
his avowal, he seemed like a hideous parody of the
fatherly old man she had always known.
"Marry you? Me?" she burst out with a scornful laugh.
"Was that what you came to ask me the other night?
What's come over you, I wonder? How long is it since
you've looked at yourself in the glass?" She
straightened herself, insolently conscious of her youth
and strength. "I suppose you think it would be cheaper
to marry me than to keep a hired girl. Everybody knows
you're the closest man in Eagle County; but I guess
you're not going to get your mending done for you that
Mr. Royall did not move while she spoke. His face was
ash-coloured and his black eyebrows quivered as though
the blaze of her scorn had blinded him. When she
ceased he held up his hand.
"That'll do--that'll about do," he said. He turned to
the door and took his hat from the hat-peg. On the
threshold he paused. "People ain't been fair to me--
from the first they ain't been fair to me," he said.
Then he went out.
A few days later North Dormer learned with surprise
that Charity had been appointed librarian of the
Hatchard Memorial at a salary of eight dollars a month,
and that old Verena Marsh, from the Creston Almshouse,
was coming to live at lawyer Royall's and do the
It was not in the room known at the red house as Mr.
Royall's "office" that he received his infrequent
clients. Professional dignity and masculine
independence made it necessary that he should have a
real office, under a different roof; and his standing
as the only lawyer of North Dormer required that the
roof should be the same as that which sheltered the
Town Hall and the post-office.
It was his habit to walk to this office twice a day,
morning and afternoon. It was on the ground floor of
the building, with a separate entrance, and a weathered
name-plate on the door. Before going in he stepped in
to the post-office for his mail--usually an empty
ceremony--said a word or two to the town-clerk, who sat
across the passage in idle state, and then went over to
the store on the opposite corner, where Carrick Fry,
the storekeeper, always kept a chair for him, and where
he was sure to find one or two selectmen leaning on the
long counter, in an atmosphere of rope, leather, tar
and coffee-beans. Mr. Royall, though monosyllabic at
home, was not averse, in certain moods, to imparting
his views to his fellow-townsmen; perhaps, also, he was
unwilling that his rare clients should surprise him
sitting, clerkless and unoccupied, in his dusty office.
At any rate, his hours there were not much longer or
more regular than Charity's at the library; the rest of
the time he spent either at the store or in driving
about the country on business connected with the
insurance companies that he represented, or in sitting
at home reading Bancroft's History of the United States
and the speeches of Daniel Webster.
Since the day when Charity had told him that she wished
to succeed to Eudora Skeff's post their relations had
undefinably but definitely changed. Lawyer Royall had
kept his word. He had obtained the place for her at
the cost of considerable maneuvering, as she guessed
from the number of rival candidates, and from the
acerbity with which two of them, Orma Fry and the
eldest Targatt girl, treated her for nearly a year
afterward. And he had engaged Verena Marsh to come up
from Creston and do the cooking. Verena was a poor old
widow, doddering and shiftless: Charity suspected that
she came for her keep. Mr. Royall was too close a man
to give a dollar a day to a smart girl when he could
get a deaf pauper for nothing. But at any rate, Verena
was there, in the attic just over Charity, and the fact
that she was deaf did not greatly trouble the young
Charity knew that what had happened on that hateful
night would not happen again. She understood that,
profoundly as she had despised Mr. Royall ever since,
he despised himself still more profoundly. If she had
asked for a woman in the house it was far less for her
own defense than for his humiliation. She needed no
one to defend her: his humbled pride was her surest
protection. He had never spoken a word of excuse or
extenuation; the incident was as if it had never been.
Yet its consequences were latent in every word that he
and she exchanged, in every glance they instinctively
turned from each other. Nothing now would ever shake
her rule in the red house.
On the night of her meeting with Miss Hatchard's cousin
Charity lay in bed, her bare arms clasped under her
rough head, and continued to think of him. She
supposed that he meant to spend some time in North
Dormer. He had said he was looking up the old houses in
the neighbourhood; and though she was not very clear as
to his purpose, or as to why anyone should look for old
houses, when they lay in wait for one on every
roadside, she understood that he needed the help of
books, and resolved to hunt up the next day the volume
she had failed to find, and any others that seemed
related to the subject.
Never had her ignorance of life and literature so
weighed on her as in reliving the short scene of her
discomfiture. "It's no use trying to be anything in
this place," she muttered to her pillow; and she
shrivelled at the vision of vague metropolises, shining
super-Nettletons, where girls in better clothes than
Belle Balch's talked fluently of architecture to young
men with hands like Lucius Harney's. Then she
remembered his sudden pause when he had come close to
the desk and had his first look at her. The sight had
made him forget what he was going to say; she recalled
the change in his face, and jumping up she ran over the
bare boards to her washstand, found the matches, lit a
candle, and lifted it to the square of looking-glass on
the white-washed wall. Her small face, usually so
darkly pale, glowed like a rose in the faint orb of
light, and under her rumpled hair her eyes seemed
deeper and larger than by day. Perhaps after all it
was a mistake to wish they were blue. A clumsy band
and button fastened her unbleached night-gown about the
throat. She undid it, freed her thin shoulders, and saw
herself a bride in low-necked satin, walking down an
aisle with Lucius Harney. He would kiss her as they
left the church....She put down the candle and covered
her face with her hands as if to imprison the kiss. At
that moment she heard Mr. Royall's step as he came up
the stairs to bed, and a fierce revulsion of feeling
swept over her. Until then she had merely despised
him; now deep hatred of him filled her heart. He became
to her a horrible old man....
The next day, when Mr. Royall came back to dinner, they
faced each other in silence as usual. Verena's
presence at the table was an excuse for their not
talking, though her deafness would have permitted the
freest interchange of confidences. But when the meal
was over, and Mr. Royall rose from the table, he looked
back at Charity, who had stayed to help the old woman
clear away the dishes.
"I want to speak to you a minute," he said; and she
followed him across the passage, wondering.
He seated himself in his black horse-hair armchair, and
she leaned against the window, indifferently. She was
impatient to be gone to the library, to hunt for the
book on North Dormer.
"See here," he said, "why ain't you at the library the
days you're supposed to be there?"
The question, breaking in on her mood of blissful
abstraction, deprived her of speech, and she stared at
him for a moment without answering.
"Who says I ain't?"
"There's been some complaints made, it appears. Miss
Hatchard sent for me this morning----"
Charity's smouldering resentment broke into a blaze. "I
know! Orma Fry, and that toad of a Targatt girl and Ben
Fry, like as not. He's going round with her. The low-
down sneaks--I always knew they'd try to have me out!
As if anybody ever came to the library, anyhow!"
"Somebody did yesterday, and you weren't there."
"Yesterday?" she laughed at her happy recollection. "At
what time wasn't I there yesterday, I'd like to know?"
"Round about four o'clock."
Charity was silent. She had been so steeped in the
dreamy remembrance of young Harney's visit that she had
forgotten having deserted her post as soon as he had
left the library.
"Who came at four o'clock?"
"Miss Hatchard did."
"Miss Hatchard? Why, she ain't ever been near the place
since she's been lame. She couldn't get up the steps
if she tried."
"She can be helped up, I guess. She was yesterday,
anyhow, by the young fellow that's staying with her. He
found you there, I understand, earlier in the
afternoon; and he went back and told Miss Hatchard the
books were in bad shape and needed attending to. She
got excited, and had herself wheeled straight round;
and when she got there the place was locked. So she
sent for me, and told me about that, and about the
other complaints. She claims you've neglected things,
and that she's going to get a trained librarian."
Charity had not moved while he spoke. She stood with
her head thrown back against the window-frame, her arms
hanging against her sides, and her hands so tightly
clenched that she felt, without knowing what hurt her,
the sharp edge of her nails against her palms.
Of all Mr. Royall had said she had retained only the
phrase: "He told Miss Hatchard the books were in bad
shape." What did she care for the other charges against
her? Malice or truth, she despised them as she despised
her detractors. But that the stranger to whom she had
felt herself so mysteriously drawn should have betrayed
her! That at the very moment when she had fled up the
hillside to think of him more deliciously he should
have been hastening home to denounce her short-comings!
She remembered how, in the darkness of her room, she
had covered her face to press his imagined kiss closer;
and her heart raged against him for the liberty he had
"Well, I'll go," she said suddenly. "I'll go right
"Go where?" She heard the startled note in Mr. Royall's
"Why, out of their old library: straight out, and never
set foot in it again. They needn't think I'm going to
wait round and let them say they've discharged me!"
"Charity--Charity Royall, you listen----" he began,
getting heavily out of his chair; but she waved him
aside, and walked out of the room.
Upstairs she took the library key from the place where
she always hid it under her pincushion--who said she
wasn't careful?--put on her hat, and swept down again
and out into the street. If Mr. Royall heard her go he
made no motion to detain her: his sudden rages probably
made him understand the uselessness of reasoning with
She reached the brick temple, unlocked the door and
entered into the glacial twilight. "I'm glad I'll
never have to sit in this old vault again when other
folks are out in the sun!" she said aloud as the
familiar chill took her. She looked with abhorrence at
the long dingy rows of books, the sheep-nosed Minerva
on her black pedestal, and the mild-faced young man in
a high stock whose effigy pined above her desk. She
meant to take out of the drawer her roll of lace and
the library register, and go straight to Miss Hatchard
to announce her resignation. But suddenly a great
desolation overcame her, and she sat down and laid her
face against the desk. Her heart was ravaged by life's
cruelest discovery: the first creature who had come
toward her out of the wilderness had brought her
anguish instead of joy. She did not cry; tears came
hard to her, and the storms of her heart spent
themselves inwardly. But as she sat there in her dumb
woe she felt her life to be too desolate, too ugly and
"What have I ever done to it, that it should hurt me
so?" she groaned, and pressed her fists against her
lids, which were beginning to swell with weeping.
"I won't--I won't go there looking like a horror!" she
muttered, springing up and pushing back her hair as if
it stifled her. She opened the drawer, dragged out the
register, and turned toward the door. As she did so it
opened, and the young man from Miss Hatchard's came in
He stopped and lifted his hat with a shy smile. "I beg
your pardon," he said. "I thought there was no one
Charity stood before him, barring his way. "You can't
come in. The library ain't open to the public
"I know it's not; but my cousin gave me her key."
"Miss Hatchard's got no right to give her key to other
folks, any more'n I have. I'm the librarian and I know
the by-laws. This is my library."
The young man looked profoundly surprised.
"Why, I know it is; I'm so sorry if you mind my
"I suppose you came to see what more you could say to
set her against me? But you needn't trouble: it's my
library today, but it won't be this time tomorrow. I'm
on the way now to take her back the key and the
Young Harney's face grew grave, but without betraying
the consciousness of guilt she had looked for.
"I don't understand," he said. "There must be some
mistake. Why should I say things against you to Miss
Hatchard--or to anyone?"
The apparent evasiveness of the reply caused Charity's
indignation to overflow. "I don't know why you should.
I could understand Orma Fry's doing it, because she's
always wanted to get me out of here ever since the
first day. I can't see why, when she's got her own
home, and her father to work for her; nor Ida Targatt,
neither, when she got a legacy from her step-brother
on'y last year. But anyway we all live in the same
place, and when it's a place like North Dormer it's
enough to make people hate each other just to have to
walk down the same street every day. But you don't
live here, and you don't know anything about any of us,
so what did you have to meddle for? Do you suppose the
other girls'd have kept the books any better'n I did?
Why, Orma Fry don't hardly know a book from a flat-
iron! And what if I don't always sit round here doing
nothing till it strikes five up at the church? Who
cares if the library's open or shut? Do you suppose
anybody ever comes here for books? What they'd like to
come for is to meet the fellows they're going with if
I'd let 'em. But I wouldn't let Bill Sollas from over
the hill hang round here waiting for the youngest
Targatt girl, because I know him...that's all...even if
I don't know about books all I ought to...."
She stopped with a choking in her throat. Tremors of
rage were running through her, and she steadied herself
against the edge of the desk lest he should see her
What he saw seemed to affect him deeply, for he grew
red under his sunburn, and stammered out: "But, Miss
Royall, I assure you...I assure you..."
His distress inflamed her anger, and she regained her
voice to fling back: "If I was you I'd have the nerve
to stick to what I said!"
The taunt seemed to restore his presence of mind. "I
hope I should if I knew; but I don't. Apparently
something disagreeable has happened, for which you
think I'm to blame. But I don't know what it is,
because I've been up on Eagle Ridge ever since the
"I don't know where you've been this morning, but I
know you were here in this library yesterday; and it
was you that went home and told your cousin the books
were in bad shape, and brought her round to see how I'd
Young Harney looked sincerely concerned. "Was that
what you were told? I don't wonder you're angry. The
books are in bad shape, and as some are interesting
it's a pity. I told Miss Hatchard they were suffering
from dampness and lack of air; and I brought her here
to show her how easily the place could be ventilated. I
also told her you ought to have some one to help you do
the dusting and airing. If you were given a wrong
version of what I said I'm sorry; but I'm so fond of
old books that I'd rather see them made into a bonfire
than left to moulder away like these."
Charity felt her sobs rising and tried to stifle them
in words. "I don't care what you say you told her. All
I know is she thinks it's all my fault, and I'm going
to lose my job, and I wanted it more'n anyone in the
village, because I haven't got anybody belonging to me,
the way other folks have. All I wanted was to put
aside money enough to get away from here sometime.
D'you suppose if it hadn't been for that I'd have kept
on sitting day after day in this old vault?"
Of this appeal her hearer took up only the last
question. "It is an old vault; but need it be? That's
the point. And it's my putting the question to my
cousin that seems to have been the cause of the
trouble." His glance explored the melancholy penumbra
of the long narrow room, resting on the blotched walls,
the discoloured rows of books, and the stern rosewood
desk surmounted by the portrait of the young Honorius.
"Of course it's a bad job to do anything with a
building jammed against a hill like this ridiculous
mausoleum: you couldn't get a good draught through it
without blowing a hole in the mountain. But it can be
ventilated after a fashion, and the sun can be let in:
I'll show you how if you like...." The architect's
passion for improvement had already made him lose sight
of her grievance, and he lifted his stick instructively
toward the cornice. But her silence seemed to tell him
that she took no interest in the ventilation of the
library, and turning back to her abruptly he held out
both hands. "Look here--you don't mean what you said?
You don't really think I'd do anything to hurt you?"
A new note in his voice disarmed her: no one had ever
spoken to her in that tone.
"Oh, what DID you do it for then?" she wailed. He
had her hands in his, and she was feeling the smooth
touch that she had imagined the day before on the
He pressed her hands lightly and let them go. "Why, to
make things pleasanter for you here; and better for the
books. I'm sorry if my cousin twisted around what I
said. She's excitable, and she lives on trifles: I
ought to have remembered that. Don't punish me by
letting her think you take her seriously."
It was wonderful to hear him speak of Miss Hatchard as
if she were a querulous baby: in spite of his shyness
he had the air of power that the experience of cities
probably gave. It was the fact of having lived in
Nettleton that made lawyer Royall, in spite of his
infirmities, the strongest man in North Dormer; and
Charity was sure that this young man had lived in
bigger places than Nettleton.
She felt that if she kept up her denunciatory tone he
would secretly class her with Miss Hatchard; and the
thought made her suddenly simple.
"It don't matter to Miss Hatchard how I take her. Mr.
Royall says she's going to get a trained librarian; and
I'd sooner resign than have the village say she sent me
"Naturally you would. But I'm sure she doesn't mean to
send you away. At any rate, won't you give me the
chance to find out first and let you know? It will be
time enough to resign if I'm mistaken."
Her pride flamed into her cheeks at the suggestion of
his intervening. "I don't want anybody should coax her
to keep me if I don't suit."
He coloured too. "I give you my word I won't do that.
Only wait till tomorrow, will you?" He looked straight
into her eyes with his shy grey glance. "You can trust
me, you know--you really can."
All the old frozen woes seemed to melt in her, and she
murmured awkwardly, looking away from him: "Oh, I'll
There had never been such a June in Eagle County.
Usually it was a month of moods, with abrupt
alternations of belated frost and mid-summer heat; this
year, day followed day in a sequence of temperate
beauty. Every morning a breeze blew steadily from the
hills. Toward noon it built up great canopies of
white cloud that threw a cool shadow over fields and
woods; then before sunset the clouds dissolved again,
and the western light rained its unobstructed
brightness on the valley.
On such an afternoon Charity Royall lay on a ridge
above a sunlit hollow, her face pressed to the earth
and the warm currents of the grass running through her.
Directly in her line of vision a blackberry branch laid
its frail white flowers and blue-green leaves against
the sky. Just beyond, a tuft of sweet-fern uncurled
between the beaded shoots of the grass, and a small
yellow butterfly vibrated over them like a fleck of
sunshine. This was all she saw; but she felt, above
her and about her, the strong growth of the beeches
clothing the ridge, the rounding of pale green cones on
countless spruce-branches, the push of myriads of
sweet-fern fronds in the cracks of the stony slope
below the wood, and the crowding shoots of meadowsweet
and yellow flags in the pasture beyond. All this
bubbling of sap and slipping of sheaths and bursting of
calyxes was carried to her on mingled currents of
fragrance. Every leaf and bud and blade seemed to
contribute its exhalation to the pervading sweetness in
which the pungency of pine-sap prevailed over the spice
of thyme and the subtle perfume of fern, and all were
merged in a moist earth-smell that was like the breath
of some huge sun-warmed animal.
Charity had lain there a long time, passive and sun-
warmed as the slope on which she lay, when there came
between her eyes and the dancing butterfly the sight of
a man's foot in a large worn boot covered with red mud.
"Oh, don't!" she exclaimed, raising herself on her
elbow and stretching out a warning hand.
"Don't what?" a hoarse voice asked above her head.
"Don't stamp on those bramble flowers, you dolt!" she
retorted, springing to her knees. The foot paused and
then descended clumsily on the frail branch, and
raising her eyes she saw above her the bewildered face
of a slouching man with a thin sunburnt beard, and
white arms showing through his ragged shirt.
"Don't you ever SEE anything, Liff Hyatt?" she
assailed him, as he stood before her with the look of a
man who has stirred up a wasp's nest.
He grinned. "I seen you! That's what I come down for."
"Down from where?" she questioned, stooping to gather
up the petals his foot had scattered.
He jerked his thumb toward the heights. "Been cutting
down trees for Dan Targatt."
Charity sank back on her heels and looked at him
musingly. She was not in the least afraid of poor Liff
Hyatt, though he "came from the Mountain," and some of
the girls ran when they saw him. Among the more
reasonable he passed for a harmless creature, a sort of
link between the mountain and civilized folk, who
occasionally came down and did a little wood cutting
for a farmer when hands were short. Besides, she knew
the Mountain people would never hurt her: Liff himself
had told her so once when she was a little girl, and
had met him one day at the edge of lawyer Royall's
pasture. "They won't any of 'em touch you up there,
f'ever you was to come up....But I don't s'pose you
will," he had added philosophically, looking at her new
shoes, and at the red ribbon that Mrs. Royall had tied
in her hair.
Charity had, in truth, never felt any desire to visit
her birthplace. She did not care to have it known that
she was of the Mountain, and was shy of being seen in
talk with Liff Hyatt. But today she was not sorry to
have him appear. A great many things had happened to
her since the day when young Lucius Harney had entered
the doors of the Hatchard Memorial, but none, perhaps,
so unforeseen as the fact of her suddenly finding it a
convenience to be on good terms with Liff Hyatt. She
continued to look up curiously at his freckled weather-
beaten face, with feverish hollows below the cheekbones
and the pale yellow eyes of a harmless animal. "I
wonder if he's related to me?" she thought, with a
shiver of disdain.
"Is there any folks living in the brown house by the
swamp, up under Porcupine?" she presently asked in an
Liff Hyatt, for a while, considered her with surprise;
then he scratched his head and shifted his weight from
one tattered sole to the other.
"There's always the same folks in the brown house," he
said with his vague grin.
"They're from up your way, ain't they?"
"Their name's the same as mine," he rejoined
Charity still held him with resolute eyes. "See here,
I want to go there some day and take a gentleman with
me that's boarding with us. He's up in these parts
She did not offer to explain this statement. It was
too far beyond Liff Hyatt's limitations for the attempt
to be worth making. "He wants to see the brown house,
and go all over it," she pursued.
Liff was still running his fingers perplexedly through
his shock of straw-colored hair. "Is it a fellow from
the city?" he asked.
"Yes. He draws pictures of things. He's down there
now drawing the Bonner house." She pointed to a chimney
just visible over the dip of the pasture below the
"The Bonner house?" Liff echoed incredulously.
"Yes. You won't understand--and it don't matter. All
I say is: he's going to the Hyatts' in a day or two."
Liff looked more and more perplexed. "Bash is ugly
sometimes in the afternoons."
She threw her head back, her eyes full on Hyatt's. "I'm
coming too: you tell him."
"They won't none of them trouble you, the Hyatts won't.
What d'you want a take a stranger with you though?"
I've told you, haven't I? You've got to tell Bash
He looked away at the blue mountains on the horizon;
then his gaze dropped to the chimney-top below the
"He's down there now?"
He shifted his weight again, crossed his arms, and
continued to survey the distant landscape. "Well, so
long," he said at last, inconclusively; and turning
away he shambled up the hillside. From the ledge above
her, he paused to call down: "I wouldn't go there a
Sunday"; then he clambered on till the trees closed in
on him. Presently, from high overhead, Charity heard
the ring of his axe.
She lay on the warm ridge, thinking of many things that
the woodsman's appearance had stirred up in her. She
knew nothing of her early life, and had never felt any
curiosity about it: only a sullen reluctance to explore
the corner of her memory where certain blurred images
lingered. But all that had happened to her within the
last few weeks had stirred her to the sleeping depths.
She had become absorbingly interesting to herself, and
everything that had to do with her past was illuminated
by this sudden curiosity.
She hated more than ever the fact of coming from the
Mountain; but it was no longer indifferent to her.
Everything that in any way affected her was alive and
vivid: even the hateful things had grown interesting
because they were a part of herself.
"I wonder if Liff Hyatt knows who my mother was?" she
mused; and it filled her with a tremor of surprise to
think that some woman who was once young and slight,
with quick motions of the blood like hers, had carried
her in her breast, and watched her sleeping. She had
always thought of her mother as so long dead as to be
no more than a nameless pinch of earth; but now it
occurred to her that the once-young woman might be
alive, and wrinkled and elf-locked like the woman she
had sometimes seen in the door of the brown house that
Lucius Harney wanted to draw.
The thought brought him back to the central point in
her mind, and she strayed away from the conjectures
roused by Liff Hyatt's presence. Speculations
concerning the past could not hold her long when the
present was so rich, the future so rosy, and when
Lucius Harney, a stone's throw away, was bending over
his sketch-book, frowning, calculating, measuring, and
then throwing his head back with the sudden smile that
had shed its brightness over everything.
She scrambled to her feet, but as she did so she saw
him coming up the pasture and dropped down on the grass
to wait. When he was drawing and measuring one of "his
houses," as she called them, she often strayed away by
herself into the woods or up the hillside. It was
partly from shyness that she did so: from a sense of
inadequacy that came to her most painfully when her
companion, absorbed in his job, forgot her ignorance
and her inability to follow his least allusion, and
plunged into a monologue on art and life. To avoid the
awkwardness of listening with a blank face, and also to
escape the surprised stare of the inhabitants of the
houses before which he would abruptly pull up their
horse and open his sketch-book, she slipped away to
some spot from which, without being seen, she could
watch him at work, or at least look down on the house
he was drawing. She had not been displeased, at first,
to have it known to North Dormer and the neighborhood
that she was driving Miss Hatchard's cousin about the
country in the buggy he had hired of lawyer Royall.
She had always kept to herself, contemptuously aloof
from village love-making, without exactly knowing
whether her fierce pride was due to the sense of her
tainted origin, or whether she was reserving herself
for a more brilliant fate. Sometimes she envied the
other girls their sentimental preoccupations, their
long hours of inarticulate philandering with one of the
few youths who still lingered in the village; but when
she pictured herself curling her hair or putting a new
ribbon on her hat for Ben Fry or one of the Sollas boys
the fever dropped and she relapsed into indifference.
Now she knew the meaning of her disdains and
reluctances. She had learned what she was worth when
Lucius Harney, looking at her for the first time, had
lost the thread of his speech, and leaned reddening on
the edge of her desk. But another kind of shyness had
been born in her: a terror of exposing to vulgar perils
the sacred treasure of her happiness. She was not
sorry to have the neighbors suspect her of "going with"
a young man from the city; but she did not want it
known to all the countryside how many hours of the long
June days she spent with him. What she most feared was
that the inevitable comments should reach Mr. Royall.
Charity was instinctively aware that few things
concerning her escaped the eyes of the silent man under
whose roof she lived; and in spite of the latitude
which North Dormer accorded to courting couples she had
always felt that, on the day when she showed too open a
preference, Mr. Royall might, as she phrased it, make
her "pay for it." How, she did not know; and her fear
was the greater because it was undefinable. If she had
been accepting the attentions of one of the village
youths she would have been less apprehensive: Mr.
Royall could not prevent her marrying when she chose
to. But everybody knew that "going with a city fellow"
was a different and less straightforward affair: almost
every village could show a victim of the perilous
venture. And her dread of Mr. Royall's intervention
gave a sharpened joy to the hours she spent with young
Harney, and made her, at the same time, shy of being
too generally seen with him.
As he approached she rose to her knees, stretching her
arms above her head with the indolent gesture that was
her way of expressing a profound well-being.
"I'm going to take you to that house up under
Porcupine," she announced.
"What house? Oh, yes; that ramshackle place near the
swamp, with the gipsy-looking people hanging about.
It's curious that a house with traces of real
architecture should have been built in such a place.
But the people were a sulky-looking lot--do you suppose
they'll let us in?"
"They'll do whatever I tell them," she said with
He threw himself down beside her. "Will they?" he
rejoined with a smile. "Well, I should like to see
what's left inside the house. And I should like to
have a talk with the people. Who was it who was
telling me the other day that they had come down from
Charity shot a sideward look at him. It was the first
time he had spoken of the Mountain except as a feature
of the landscape. What else did he know about it, and
about her relation to it? Her heart began to beat with
the fierce impulse of resistance which she
instinctively opposed to every imagined slight.
"The Mountain? I ain't afraid of the Mountain!"
Her tone of defiance seemed to escape him. He lay
breast-down on the grass, breaking off sprigs of thyme
and pressing them against his lips. Far off, above the
folds of the nearer hills, the Mountain thrust itself
up menacingly against a yellow sunset.
"I must go up there some day: I want to see it," he
Her heart-beats slackened and she turned again to
examine his profile. It was innocent of all unfriendly
"What'd you want to go up the Mountain for?"
"Why, it must be rather a curious place. There's a
queer colony up there, you know: sort of out-laws, a
little independent kingdom. Of course you've heard
them spoken of; but I'm told they have nothing to do
with the people in the valleys--rather look down on
them, in fact. I suppose they're rough customers; but
they must have a good deal of character."
She did not quite know what he meant by having a good
deal of character; but his tone was expressive of
admiration, and deepened her dawning curiosity. It
struck her now as strange that she knew so little about
the Mountain. She had never asked, and no one had ever
offered to enlighten her. North Dormer took the
Mountain for granted, and implied its disparagement by
an intonation rather than by explicit criticism.
"It's queer, you know," he continued, "that, just over
there, on top of that hill, there should be a handful
of people who don't give a damn for anybody."
The words thrilled her. They seemed the clue to her
own revolts and defiances, and she longed to have him
tell her more.
"I don't know much about them. Have they always been
"Nobody seems to know exactly how long. Down at
Creston they told me that the first colonists are
supposed to have been men who worked on the railway
that was built forty or fifty years ago between
Springfield and Nettleton. Some of them took to drink,
or got into trouble with the police, and went off--
disappeared into the woods. A year or two later there
was a report that they were living up on the Mountain.
Then I suppose others joined them--and children were
born. Now they say there are over a hundred people up
there. They seem to be quite outside the jurisdiction
of the valleys. No school, no church--and no sheriff
ever goes up to see what they're about. But don't
people ever talk of them at North Dormer?"
"I don't know. They say they're bad."
He laughed. "Do they? We'll go and see, shall we?"
She flushed at the suggestion, and turned her face to
his. "You never heard, I suppose--I come from there.
They brought me down when I was little."
"You?" He raised himself on his elbow, looking at her
with sudden interest. "You're from the Mountain? How
curious! I suppose that's why you're so different...."
Her happy blood bathed her to the forehead. He was
praising her--and praising her because she came from
"Am I...different?" she triumphed, with affected
"Oh, awfully!" He picked up her hand and laid a kiss on
the sunburnt knuckles.
"Come," he said, "let's be off." He stood up and shook
the grass from his loose grey clothes. "What a good
day! Where are you going to take me tomorrow?"
That evening after supper Charity sat alone in the
kitchen and listened to Mr. Royall and young Harney
talking in the porch.
She had remained indoors after the table had been
cleared and old Verena had hobbled up to bed. The
kitchen window was open, and Charity seated herself
near it, her idle hands on her knee. The evening was
cool and still. Beyond the black hills an amber west
passed into pale green, and then to a deep blue in
which a great star hung. The soft hoot of a little owl
came through the dusk, and between its calls the men's
voices rose and fell.
Mr. Royall's was full of a sonorous satisfaction. It
was a long time since he had had anyone of Lucius
Harney's quality to talk to: Charity divined that the
young man symbolized all his ruined and unforgotten
past. When Miss Hatchard had been called to
Springfield by the illness of a widowed sister, and
young Harney, by that time seriously embarked on his
task of drawing and measuring all the old houses
between Nettleton and the New Hampshire border, had
suggested the possibility of boarding at the red house
in his cousin's absence, Charity had trembled lest Mr.
Royall should refuse. There had been no question of
lodging the young man: there was no room for him. But
it appeared that he could still live at Miss Hatchard's
if Mr. Royall would let him take his meals at the red
house; and after a day's deliberation Mr. Royall
Charity suspected him of being glad of the chance to
make a little money. He had the reputation of being an
avaricious man; but she was beginning to think he was
probably poorer than people knew. His practice had
become little more than a vague legend, revived only at
lengthening intervals by a summons to Hepburn or
Nettleton; and he appeared to depend for his living
mainly on the scant produce of his farm, and on the
commissions received from the few insurance agencies
that he represented in the neighbourhood. At any rate,
he had been prompt in accepting Harney's offer to hire
the buggy at a dollar and a half a day; and his
satisfaction with the bargain had manifested itself,
unexpectedly enough, at the end of the first week, by
his tossing a ten-dollar bill into Charity's lap as she
sat one day retrimming her old hat.
"Here--go get yourself a Sunday bonnet that'll make all
the other girls mad," he said, looking at her with a
sheepish twinkle in his deep-set eyes; and she
immediately guessed that the unwonted present--the only
gift of money she had ever received from him--
represented Harney's first payment.
But the young man's coming had brought Mr. Royall other
than pecuniary benefit. It gave him, for the first
time in years, a man's companionship. Charity had only
a dim understanding of her guardian's needs; but she
knew he felt himself above the people among whom he
lived, and she saw that Lucius Harney thought him so.
She was surprised to find how well he seemed to talk
now that he had a listener who understood him; and she
was equally struck by young Harney's friendly
Their conversation was mostly about politics, and
beyond her range; but tonight it had a peculiar
interest for her, for they had begun to speak of the
Mountain. She drew back a little, lest they should see
she was in hearing.
"The Mountain? The Mountain?" she heard Mr. Royall say.
"Why, the Mountain's a blot--that's what it is, sir, a
blot. That scum up there ought to have been run in
long ago--and would have, if the people down here
hadn't been clean scared of them. The Mountain belongs
to this township, and it's North Dormer's fault if
there's a gang of thieves and outlaws living over
there, in sight of us, defying the laws of their
country. Why, there ain't a sheriff or a tax-collector
or a coroner'd durst go up there. When they hear of
trouble on the Mountain the selectmen look the other
way, and pass an appropriation to beautify the town
pump. The only man that ever goes up is the minister,
and he goes because they send down and get him whenever
there's any of them dies. They think a lot of
Christian burial on the Mountain--but I never heard of
their having the minister up to marry them. And they
never trouble the Justice of the Peace either. They
just herd together like the heathen."
He went on, explaining in somewhat technical language
how the little colony of squatters had contrived to
keep the law at bay, and Charity, with burning
eagerness, awaited young Harney's comment; but the
young man seemed more concerned to hear Mr. Royall's
views than to express his own.
"I suppose you've never been up there yourself?" he
"Yes, I have," said Mr. Royall with a contemptuous
laugh. "The wiseacres down here told me I'd be done
for before I got back; but nobody lifted a finger to
hurt me. And I'd just had one of their gang sent up
for seven years too."
"You went up after that?"
"Yes, sir: right after it. The fellow came down to
Nettleton and ran amuck, the way they sometimes do.
After they've done a wood-cutting job they come down
and blow the money in; and this man ended up with
manslaughter. I got him convicted, though they were
scared of the Mountain even at Nettleton; and then a
queer thing happened. The fellow sent for me to go and
see him in gaol. I went, and this is what he says:
'The fool that defended me is a chicken-livered son of
a--and all the rest of it,' he says. 'I've got a job
to be done for me up on the Mountain, and you're the
only man I seen in court that looks as if he'd do it.'
He told me he had a child up there--or thought he had--
a little girl; and he wanted her brought down and
reared like a Christian. I was sorry for the fellow,
so I went up and got the child." He paused, and Charity
listened with a throbbing heart. "That's the only time
I ever went up the Mountain," he concluded.
There was a moment's silence; then Harney spoke. "And
the child--had she no mother?"
"Oh, yes: there was a mother. But she was glad enough
to have her go. She'd have given her to anybody. They
ain't half human up there. I guess the mother's dead
by now, with the life she was leading. Anyhow, I've
never heard of her from that day to this."
"My God, how ghastly," Harney murmured; and Charity,
choking with humiliation, sprang to her feet and ran
upstairs. She knew at last: knew that she was the
child of a drunken convict and of a mother who wasn't
"half human," and was glad to have her go; and she had
heard this history of her origin related to the one
being in whose eyes she longed to appear superior to
the people about her! She had noticed that Mr. Royall
had not named her, had even avoided any allusion that
might identify her with the child he had brought down
from the Mountain; and she knew it was out of regard
for her that he had kept silent. But of what use was
his discretion, since only that afternoon, misled by
Harney's interest in the out-law colony, she had
boasted to him of coming from the Mountain? Now every
word that had been spoken showed her how such an origin
must widen the distance between them.
During his ten days' sojourn at North Dormer Lucius
Harney had not spoken a word of love to her. He had
intervened in her behalf with his cousin, and had
convinced Miss Hatchard of her merits as a librarian;
but that was a simple act of justice, since it was by
his own fault that those merits had been questioned. He
had asked her to drive him about the country when he
hired lawyer Royall's buggy to go on his sketching
expeditions; but that too was natural enough, since he
was unfamiliar with the region. Lastly, when his
cousin was called to Springfield, he had begged Mr.
Royall to receive him as a boarder; but where else in
North Dormer could he have boarded? Not with Carrick
Fry, whose wife was paralysed, and whose large family
crowded his table to over-flowing; not with the
Targatts, who lived a mile up the road, nor with poor
old Mrs. Hawes, who, since her eldest daughter had
deserted her, barely had the strength to cook her own
meals while Ally picked up her living as a seamstress.
Mr. Royall's was the only house where the young man
could have been offered a decent hospitality. There
had been nothing, therefore, in the outward course of
events to raise in Charity's breast the hopes with
which it trembled. But beneath the visible incidents
resulting from Lucius Harney's arrival there ran an
undercurrent as mysterious and potent as the influence
that makes the forest break into leaf before the ice is
off the pools.
The business on which Harney had come was authentic;
Charity had seen the letter from a New York publisher
commissioning him to make a study of the eighteenth
century houses in the less familiar districts of New
England. But incomprehensible as the whole affair was
to her, and hard as she found it to understand why he
paused enchanted before certain neglected and paintless
houses, while others, refurbished and "improved" by the
local builder, did not arrest a glance, she could not
but suspect that Eagle County was less rich in
architecture than he averred, and that the duration of
his stay (which he had fixed at a month) was not
unconnected with the look in his eyes when he had first
paused before her in the library. Everything that had
followed seemed to have grown out of that look: his way
of speaking to her, his quickness in catching her
meaning, his evident eagerness to prolong their
excursions and to seize on every chance of being with
The signs of his liking were manifest enough; but it
was hard to guess how much they meant, because his
manner was so different from anything North Dormer had
ever shown her. He was at once simpler and more
deferential than any one she had known; and sometimes
it was just when he was simplest that she most felt the
distance between them. Education and opportunity had
divided them by a width that no effort of hers could
bridge, and even when his youth and his admiration
brought him nearest, some chance word, some unconscious
allusion, seemed to thrust her back across the gulf.
Never had it yawned so wide as when she fled up to her
room carrying with her the echo of Mr. Royall's tale.
Her first confused thought was the prayer that she
might never see young Harney again. It was too
bitter to picture him as the detached impartial
listener to such a story. "I wish he'd go away: I
wish he'd go tomorrow, and never come back!" she moaned
to her pillow; and far into the night she lay there, in
the disordered dress she had forgotten to take off, her
whole soul a tossing misery on which her hopes and
dreams spun about like drowning straws.
Of all this tumult only a vague heart-soreness was left
when she opened her eyes the next morning. Her first
thought was of the weather, for Harney had asked her to
take him to the brown house under Porcupine, and then
around by Hamblin; and as the trip was a long one they
were to start at nine. The sun rose without a cloud,
and earlier than usual she was in the kitchen, making
cheese sandwiches, decanting buttermilk into a bottle,
wrapping up slices of apple pie, and accusing Verena of
having given away a basket she needed, which had always
hung on a hook in the passage. When she came out into
the porch, in her pink calico, which had run a little
in the washing, but was still bright enough to set off
her dark tints, she had such a triumphant sense of
being a part of the sunlight and the morning that
the last trace of her misery vanished. What did it
matter where she came from, or whose child she was,
when love was dancing in her veins, and down the road
she saw young Harney coming toward her?
Mr. Royall was in the porch too. He had said nothing
at breakfast, but when she came out in her pink dress,
the basket in her hand, he looked at her with surprise.
"Where you going to?" he asked.
"Why--Mr. Harney's starting earlier than usual today,"
"Mr. Harney, Mr. Harney? Ain't Mr. Harney learned how
to drive a horse yet?"
She made no answer, and he sat tilted back in his
chair, drumming on the rail of the porch. It was the
first time he had ever spoken of the young man in that
tone, and Charity felt a faint chill of apprehension.
After a moment he stood up and walked away toward the
bit of ground behind the house, where the hired man was
The air was cool and clear, with the autumnal sparkle
that a north wind brings to the hills in early summer,
and the night had been so still that the dew hung on
everything, not as a lingering moisture, but in
separate beads that glittered like diamonds on the
ferns and grasses. It was a long drive to the foot of
Porcupine: first across the valley, with blue hills
bounding the open slopes; then down into the beech-
woods, following the course of the Creston, a brown
brook leaping over velvet ledges; then out again onto
the farm-lands about Creston Lake, and gradually up the
ridges of the Eagle Range. At last they reached the
yoke of the hills, and before them opened another
valley, green and wild, and beyond it more blue heights
eddying away to the sky like the waves of a receding
Harney tied the horse to a tree-stump, and they
unpacked their basket under an aged walnut with a riven
trunk out of which bumblebees darted. The sun had
grown hot, and behind them was the noonday murmur of
the forest. Summer insects danced on the air, and a
flock of white butterflies fanned the mobile tips of
the crimson fireweed. In the valley below not a house
was visible; it seemed as if Charity Royall and young
Harney were the only living beings in the great hollow
of earth and sky.
Charity's spirits flagged and disquieting thoughts
stole back on her. Young Harney had grown silent,
and as he lay beside her, his arms under his head, his
eyes on the network of leaves above him, she wondered
if he were musing on what Mr. Royall had told him, and
if it had really debased her in his thoughts. She
wished he had not asked her to take him that day to the
brown house; she did not want him to see the people she
came from while the story of her birth was fresh in his
mind. More than once she had been on the point of
suggesting that they should follow the ridge and drive
straight to Hamblin, where there was a little deserted
house he wanted to see; but shyness and pride held her
back. "He'd better know what kind of folks I belong
to," she said to herself, with a somewhat forced
defiance; for in reality it was shame that kept her
Suddenly she lifted her hand and pointed to the sky.
"There's a storm coming up."
He followed her glance and smiled. "Is it that scrap
of cloud among the pines that frightens you?"
"It's over the Mountain; and a cloud over the Mountain
always means trouble."
"Oh, I don't believe half the bad things you all
say of the Mountain! But anyhow, we'll get down to
the brown house before the rain comes."
He was not far wrong, for only a few isolated drops had
fallen when they turned into the road under the shaggy
flank of Porcupine, and came upon the brown house. It
stood alone beside a swamp bordered with alder thickets
and tall bulrushes. Not another dwelling was in sight,
and it was hard to guess what motive could have
actuated the early settler who had made his home in so
unfriendly a spot.
Charity had picked up enough of her companion's
erudition to understand what had attracted him to the
house. She noticed the fan-shaped tracery of the
broken light above the door, the flutings of the
paintless pilasters at the corners, and the round
window set in the gable; and she knew that, for reasons
that still escaped her, these were things to be admired
and recorded. Still, they had seen other houses far
more "typical" (the word was Harney's); and as he threw
the reins on the horse's neck he said with a slight
shiver of repugnance: "We won't stay long."
Against the restless alders turning their white lining
to the storm the house looked singularly desolate.
The paint was almost gone from the clap-boards, the
window-panes were broken and patched with rags, and the
garden was a poisonous tangle of nettles, burdocks and
tall swamp-weeds over which big blue-bottles hummed.
At the sound of wheels a child with a tow-head and pale
eyes like Liff Hyatt's peered over the fence and then
slipped away behind an out-house. Harney jumped down
and helped Charity out; and as he did so the rain broke
on them. It came slant-wise, on a furious gale, laying
shrubs and young trees flat, tearing off their leaves
like an autumn storm, turning the road into a river,
and making hissing pools of every hollow. Thunder
rolled incessantly through the roar of the rain, and a
strange glitter of light ran along the ground under the
"Lucky we're here after all," Harney laughed. He
fastened the horse under a half-roofless shed, and
wrapping Charity in his coat ran with her to the house.
The boy had not reappeared, and as there was no
response to their knocks Harney turned the door-handle
and they went in.
There were three people in the kitchen to which the
door admitted them. An old woman with a
handkerchief over her head was sitting by the
window. She held a sickly-looking kitten on her knees,
and whenever it jumped down and tried to limp away she
stooped and lifted it back without any change of her
aged, unnoticing face. Another woman, the unkempt
creature that Charity had once noticed in driving by,
stood leaning against the window-frame and stared at
them; and near the stove an unshaved man in a tattered
shirt sat on a barrel asleep.
The place was bare and miserable and the air heavy with
the smell of dirt and stale tobacco. Charity's heart
sank. Old derided tales of the Mountain people came
back to her, and the woman's stare was so