Part 3 out of 4
was no sign of him, and she had almost reached the
branch road when she saw the flanks of a large white
tent projecting through the trees by the roadside. She
supposed that it sheltered a travelling circus which
had come there for the Fourth; but as she drew nearer
she saw, over the folded-back flap, a large sign
bearing the inscription, "Gospel Tent." The interior
seemed to be empty; but a young man in a black alpaca
coat, his lank hair parted over a round white face,
stepped from under the flap and advanced toward her
with a smile.
"Sister, your Saviour knows everything. Won't you come
in and lay your guilt before Him?" he asked
insinuatingly, putting his hand on her arm.
Charity started back and flushed. For a moment she
thought the evangelist must have heard a report of the
scene at Nettleton; then she saw the absurdity of the
"I on'y wish't I had any to lay!" she retorted,
with one of her fierce flashes of self-derision;
and the young man murmured, aghast: "Oh, Sister, don't
But she had jerked her arm out of his hold, and was
running up the branch road, trembling with the fear of
meeting a familiar face. Presently she was out of
sight of the village, and climbing into the heart of
the forest. She could not hope to do the fifteen miles
to the Mountain that afternoon; but she knew of a place
half-way to Hamblin where she could sleep, and where no
one would think of looking for her. It was a little
deserted house on a slope in one of the lonely rifts of
the hills. She had seen it once, years before, when
she had gone on a nutting expedition to the grove of
walnuts below it. The party had taken refuge in the
house from a sudden mountain storm, and she remembered
that Ben Sollas, who liked frightening girls, had told
them that it was said to be haunted.
She was growing faint and tired, for she had eaten
nothing since morning, and was not used to walking so
far. Her head felt light and she sat down for a moment
by the roadside. As she sat there she heard the click
of a bicycle-bell, and started up to plunge back into
the forest; but before she could move the bicycle
had swept around the curve of the road, and Harney,
jumping off, was approaching her with outstretched
"Charity! What on earth are you doing here?"
She stared as if he were a vision, so startled by the
unexpectedness of his being there that no words came to
"Where were you going? Had you forgotten that I was
coming?" he continued, trying to draw her to him; but
she shrank from his embrace.
"I was going away--I don't want to see you--I want you
should leave me alone," she broke out wildly.
He looked at her and his face grew grave, as though the
shadow of a premonition brushed it.
"Going away--from me, Charity?"
"From everybody. I want you should leave me."
He stood glancing doubtfully up and down the lonely
forest road that stretched away into sun-flecked
"Where were you going?'
She threw her head back defiantly. "To my home--up
yonder: to the Mountain."
As she spoke she became aware of a change in his
face. He was no longer listening to her, he was only
looking at her, with the passionate absorbed expression
she had seen in his eyes after they had kissed on the
stand at Nettleton. He was the new Harney again, the
Harney abruptly revealed in that embrace, who seemed so
penetrated with the joy of her presence that he was
utterly careless of what she was thinking or feeling.
He caught her hands with a laugh. "How do you suppose
I found you?" he said gaily. He drew out the little
packet of his letters and flourished them before her
"You dropped them, you imprudent young person--dropped
them in the middle of the road, not far from here; and
the young man who is running the Gospel tent picked
them up just as I was riding by." He drew back, holding
her at arm's length, and scrutinizing her troubled face
with the minute searching gaze of his short-sighted
"Did you really think you could run away from me? You
see you weren't meant to," he said; and before she
could answer he had kissed her again, not vehemently,
but tenderly, almost fraternally, as if he had
guessed her confused pain, and wanted her to know he
understood it. He wound his fingers through hers.
"Come let's walk a little. I want to talk to you.
There's so much to say."
He spoke with a boy's gaiety, carelessly and
confidently, as if nothing had happened that could
shame or embarrass them; and for a moment, in the
sudden relief of her release from lonely pain, she felt
herself yielding to his mood. But he had turned, and
was drawing her back along the road by which she had
come. She stiffened herself and stopped short.
"I won't go back," she said.
They looked at each other a moment in silence; then he
answered gently: "Very well: let's go the other way,
She remained motionless, gazing silently at the ground,
and he went on: "Isn't there a house up here somewhere--
a little abandoned house--you meant to show me some
day?" Still she made no answer, and he continued, in
the same tone of tender reassurance: "Let us go there
now and sit down and talk quietly." He took one of the
hands that hung by her side and pressed his lips to the
palm. "Do you suppose I'm going to let you send
me away? Do you suppose I don't understand?"
The little old house--its wooden walls sun-bleached to
a ghostly gray--stood in an orchard above the road.
The garden palings had fallen, but the broken gate
dangled between its posts, and the path to the house
was marked by rose-bushes run wild and hanging their
small pale blossoms above the crowding grasses.
Slender pilasters and an intricate fan-light framed the
opening where the door had hung; and the door itself
lay rotting in the grass, with an old apple-tree fallen
Inside, also, wind and weather had blanched everything
to the same wan silvery tint; the house was as dry and
pure as the interior of a long-empty shell. But it
must have been exceptionally well built, for the little
rooms had kept something of their human aspect: the
wooden mantels with their neat classic ornaments were
in place, and the corners of one ceiling retained a
light film of plaster tracery.
Harney had found an old bench at the back door and
dragged it into the house. Charity sat on it,
leaning her head against the wall in a state of
drowsy lassitude. He had guessed that she was hungry
and thirsty, and had brought her some tablets of
chocolate from his bicycle-bag, and filled his
drinking-cup from a spring in the orchard; and now he
sat at her feet, smoking a cigarette, and looking up at
her without speaking. Outside, the afternoon shadows
were lengthening across the grass, and through the
empty window-frame that faced her she saw the Mountain
thrusting its dark mass against a sultry sunset. It
was time to go.
She stood up, and he sprang to his feet also, and
passed his arm through hers with an air of authority.
"Now, Charity, you're coming back with me."
She looked at him and shook her head. "I ain't ever
going back. You don't know."
"What don't I know?" She was silent, and he continued:
"What happened on the wharf was horrible--it's natural
you should feel as you do. But it doesn't make any
real difference: you can't be hurt by such things. You
must try to forget. And you must try to understand
that men...men sometimes..."
"I know about men. That's why."
He coloured a little at the retort, as though it
had touched him in a way she did not suspect.
"Well, then...you must know one has to make
allowances....He'd been drinking...."
"I know all that, too. I've seen him so before. But
he wouldn't have dared speak to me that way if he
"Hadn't what? What do you mean?"
"Hadn't wanted me to be like those other girls...." She
lowered her voice and looked away from him. "So's 't
he wouldn't have to go out...."
Harney stared at her. For a moment he did not seem to
seize her meaning; then his face grew dark. "The
damned hound! The villainous low hound!" His wrath
blazed up, crimsoning him to the temples. "I never
dreamed--good God, it's too vile," he broke off, as if
his thoughts recoiled from the discovery.
"I won't never go back there," she repeated doggedly.
"No----" he assented.
There was a long interval of silence, during which she
imagined that he was searching her face for more
light on what she had revealed to him; and a flush of
shame swept over her.
"I know the way you must feel about me," she broke out,
"...telling you such things...."
But once more, as she spoke, she became aware that he
was no longer listening. He came close and caught her
to him as if he were snatching her from some imminent
peril: his impetuous eyes were in hers, and she could
feel the hard beat of his heart as he held her against
"Kiss me again--like last night," he said, pushing her
hair back as if to draw her whole face up into his
ONE afternoon toward the end of August a group of girls
sat in a room at Miss Hatchard's in a gay confusion of
flags, turkey-red, blue and white paper muslin, harvest
sheaves and illuminated scrolls.
North Dormer was preparing for its Old Home Week. That
form of sentimental decentralization was still in its
early stages, and, precedents being few, and the desire
to set an example contagious, the matter had become a
subject of prolonged and passionate discussion under
Miss Hatchard's roof. The incentive to the celebration
had come rather from those who had left North Dormer
than from those who had been obliged to stay there, and
there was some difficulty in rousing the village to the
proper state of enthusiasm. But Miss Hatchard's pale
prim drawing-room was the centre of constant comings
and goings from Hepburn, Nettleton, Springfield and
even more distant cities; and whenever a visitor
arrived he was led across the hall, and treated to
a glimpse of the group of girls deep in their pretty
"All the old names...all the old names...." Miss
Hatchard would be heard, tapping across the hall on her
crutches. "Targatt...Sollas...Fry: this is Miss Orma
Fry sewing the stars on the drapery for the organ-loft.
Don't move, girls....and this is Miss Ally Hawes, our
cleverest needle-woman...and Miss Charity Royall making
our garlands of evergreen....I like the idea of its all
being homemade, don't you? We haven't had to call in
any foreign talent: my young cousin Lucius Harney, the
architect--you know he's up here preparing a book on
Colonial houses--he's taken the whole thing in hand so
cleverly; but you must come and see his sketch for the
stage we're going to put up in the Town Hall."
One of the first results of the Old Home Week agitation
had, in fact, been the reappearance of Lucius Harney in
the village street. He had been vaguely spoken of as
being not far off, but for some weeks past no one had
seen him at North Dormer, and there was a recent report
of his having left Creston River, where he was said to
have been staying, and gone away from the neighbourhood
for good. Soon after Miss Hatchard's return,
however, he came back to his old quarters in her house,
and began to take a leading part in the planning of the
festivities. He threw himself into the idea with
extraordinary good-humour, and was so prodigal of
sketches, and so inexhaustible in devices, that he gave
an immediate impetus to the rather languid movement,
and infected the whole village with his enthusiasm.
"Lucius has such a feeling for the past that he has
roused us all to a sense of our privileges," Miss
Hatchard would say, lingering on the last word, which
was a favourite one. And before leading her visitor
back to the drawing-room she would repeat, for the
hundredth time, that she supposed he thought it very
bold of little North Dormer to start up and have a Home
Week of its own, when so many bigger places hadn't
thought of it yet; but that, after all, Associations
counted more than the size of the population, didn't
they? And of course North Dormer was so full of
Associations...historic, literary (here a filial sigh
for Honorius) and ecclesiastical...he knew about the
old pewter communion service imported from England in
1769, she supposed? And it was so important, in a
wealthy materialistic age, to set the example of
reverting to the old ideals, the family and the
homestead, and so on. This peroration usually carried
her half-way back across the hall, leaving the girls to
return to their interrupted activities.
The day on which Charity Royall was weaving hemlock
garlands for the procession was the last before the
celebration. When Miss Hatchard called upon the North
Dormer maidenhood to collaborate in the festal
preparations Charity had at first held aloof; but it
had been made clear to her that her non-appearance
might excite conjecture, and, reluctantly, she had
joined the other workers. The girls, at first shy and
embarrassed, and puzzled as to the exact nature of the
projected commemoration, had soon become interested in
the amusing details of their task, and excited by the
notice they received. They would not for the world
have missed their afternoons at Miss Hatchard's, and,
while they cut out and sewed and draped and pasted,
their tongues kept up such an accompaniment to the
sewing-machine that Charity's silence sheltered itself
unperceived under their chatter.
In spirit she was still almost unconscious of the
pleasant stir about her. Since her return to the
red house, on the evening of the day when Harney had
overtaken her on her way to the Mountain, she had lived
at North Dormer as if she were suspended in the void.
She had come back there because Harney, after appearing
to agree to the impossibility of her doing so, had
ended by persuading her that any other course would be
madness. She had nothing further to fear from Mr.
Royall. Of this she had declared herself sure, though
she had failed to add, in his exoneration, that he had
twice offered to make her his wife. Her hatred of him
made it impossible, at the moment, for her to say
anything that might partly excuse him in Harney's eyes.
Harney, however, once satisfied of her security, had
found plenty of reasons for urging her to return. The
first, and the most unanswerable, was that she had
nowhere else to go. But the one on which he laid the
greatest stress was that flight would be equivalent to
avowal. If--as was almost inevitable--rumours of the
scandalous scene at Nettleton should reach North
Dormer, how else would her disappearance be
interpreted? Her guardian had publicly taken away her
character, and she immediately vanished from his
house. Seekers after motives could hardly fail to
draw an unkind conclusion. But if she came back at
once, and was seen leading her usual life, the incident
was reduced to its true proportions, as the outbreak of
a drunken old man furious at being surprised in
disreputable company. People would say that Mr. Royall
had insulted his ward to justify himself, and the
sordid tale would fall into its place in the chronicle
of his obscure debaucheries.
Charity saw the force of the argument; but if she
acquiesced it was not so much because of that as
because it was Harney's wish. Since that evening in
the deserted house she could imagine no reason for
doing or not doing anything except the fact that Harney
wished or did not wish it. All her tossing
contradictory impulses were merged in a fatalistic
acceptance of his will. It was not that she felt in
him any ascendancy of character--there were moments
already when she knew she was the stronger--but that
all the rest of life had become a mere cloudy rim about
the central glory of their passion. Whenever she
stopped thinking about that for a moment she felt as
she sometimes did after lying on the grass and staring
up too long at the sky; her eyes were so full of
light that everything about her was a blur.
Each time that Miss Hatchard, in the course of her
periodical incursions into the work-room, dropped an
allusion to her young cousin, the architect, the effect
was the same on Charity. The hemlock garland she was
wearing fell to her knees and she sat in a kind of
trance. It was so manifestly absurd that Miss Hatchard
should talk of Harney in that familiar possessive way,
as if she had any claim on him, or knew anything about
him. She, Charity Royall, was the only being on earth
who really knew him, knew him from the soles of his
feet to the rumpled crest of his hair, knew the
shifting lights in his eyes, and the inflexions of his
voice, and the things he liked and disliked, and
everything there was to know about him, as minutely and
yet unconsciously as a child knows the walls of the
room it wakes up in every morning. It was this fact,
which nobody about her guessed, or would have
understood, that made her life something apart and
inviolable, as if nothing had any power to hurt or
disturb her as long as her secret was safe.
The room in which the girls sat was the one which had
been Harney's bedroom. He had been sent upstairs,
to make room for the Home Week workers; but the
furniture had not been moved, and as Charity sat there
she had perpetually before her the vision she had
looked in on from the midnight garden. The table at
which Harney had sat was the one about which the girls
were gathered; and her own seat was near the bed on
which she had seen him lying. Sometimes, when the
others were not looking, she bent over as if to pick up
something, and laid her cheek for a moment against the
Toward sunset the girls disbanded. Their work was
done, and the next morning at daylight the draperies
and garlands were to be nailed up, and the illuminated
scrolls put in place in the Town Hall. The first
guests were to drive over from Hepburn in time for the
midday banquet under a tent in Miss Hatchard's field;
and after that the ceremonies were to begin. Miss
Hatchard, pale with fatigue and excitement, thanked her
young assistants, and stood in the porch, leaning on
her crutches and waving a farewell as she watched them
troop away down the street.
Charity had slipped off among the first; but at the
gate she heard Ally Hawes calling after her, and
"Will you come over now and try on your dress?"
Ally asked, looking at her with wistful admiration. "I
want to be sure the sleeves don't ruck up the same as
they did yesterday."
Charity gazed at her with dazzled eyes. "Oh, it's
lovely," she said, and hastened away without listening
to Ally's protest. She wanted her dress to be as
pretty as the other girls'--wanted it, in fact, to
outshine the rest, since she was to take part in the
"exercises"--but she had no time just then to fix her
mind on such matters....
She sped up the street to the library, of which she had
the key about her neck. From the passage at the back
she dragged forth a bicycle, and guided it to the edge
of the street. She looked about to see if any of the
girls were approaching; but they had drifted away
together toward the Town Hall, and she sprang into the
saddle and turned toward the Creston road. There was
an almost continual descent to Creston, and with her
feet against the pedals she floated through the still
evening air like one of the hawks she had often watched
slanting downward on motionless wings. Twenty minutes
from the time when she had left Miss Hatchard's door
she was turning up the wood-road on which Harney
had overtaken her on the day of her flight; and a few
minutes afterward she had jumped from her bicycle at
the gate of the deserted house.
In the gold-powdered sunset it looked more than ever
like some frail shell dried and washed by many seasons;
but at the back, whither Charity advanced, drawing her
bicycle after her, there were signs of recent
habitation. A rough door made of boards hung in the
kitchen doorway, and pushing it open she entered a room
furnished in primitive camping fashion. In the window
was a table, also made of boards, with an earthenware
jar holding a big bunch of wild asters, two canvas
chairs stood near by, and in one corner was a mattress
with a Mexican blanket over it.
The room was empty, and leaning her bicycle against the
house Charity clambered up the slope and sat down on a
rock under an old apple-tree. The air was perfectly
still, and from where she sat she would be able to hear
the tinkle of a bicycle-bell a long way down the
She was always glad when she got to the little house
before Harney. She liked to have time to take in every
detail of its secret sweetness--the shadows of the
apple-trees swaying on the grass, the old walnuts
rounding their domes below the road, the meadows
sloping westward in the afternoon light--before his
first kiss blotted it all out. Everything unrelated to
the hours spent in that tranquil place was as faint as
the remembrance of a dream. The only reality was the
wondrous unfolding of her new self, the reaching out to
the light of all her contracted tendrils. She had
lived all her life among people whose sensibilities
seemed to have withered for lack of use; and more
wonderful, at first, than Harney's endearments were the
words that were a part of them. She had always thought
of love as something confused and furtive, and he made
it as bright and open as the summer air.
On the morrow of the day when she had shown him the way
to the deserted house he had packed up and left Creston
River for Boston; but at the first station he had
jumped on the train with a hand-bag and scrambled up
into the hills. For two golden rainless August weeks
he had camped in the house, getting eggs and milk from
the solitary farm in the valley, where no one knew him,
and doing his cooking over a spirit-lamp. He got up
every day with the sun, took a plunge in a brown pool
he knew of, and spent long hours lying in the
scented hemlock-woods above the house, or wandering
along the yoke of the Eagle Ridge, far above the misty
blue valleys that swept away east and west between the
endless hills. And in the afternoon Charity came to
With part of what was left of her savings she had hired
a bicycle for a month, and every day after dinner, as
soon as her guardian started to his office, she hurried
to the library, got out her bicycle, and flew down the
Creston road. She knew that Mr. Royall, like everyone
else in North Dormer, was perfectly aware of her
acquisition: possibly he, as well as the rest of the
village, knew what use she made of it. She did not
care: she felt him to be so powerless that if he had
questioned her she would probably have told him the
truth. But they had never spoken to each other since
the night on the wharf at Nettleton. He had returned
to North Dormer only on the third day after that
encounter, arriving just as Charity and Verena were
sitting down to supper. He had drawn up his chair,
taken his napkin from the side-board drawer, pulled it
out of its ring, and seated himself as unconcernedly as
if he had come in from his usual afternoon session
at Carrick Fry's; and the long habit of the household
made it seem almost natural that Charity should not so
much as raise her eyes when he entered. She had simply
let him understand that her silence was not accidental
by leaving the table while he was still eating, and
going up without a word to shut herself into her room.
After that he formed the habit of talking loudly and
genially to Verena whenever Charity was in the room;
but otherwise there was no apparent change in their
She did not think connectedly of these things while she
sat waiting for Harney, but they remained in her mind
as a sullen background against which her short hours
with him flamed out like forest fires. Nothing else
mattered, neither the good nor the bad, or what might
have seemed so before she knew him. He had caught her
up and carried her away into a new world, from which,
at stated hours, the ghost of her came back to perform
certain customary acts, but all so thinly and
insubstantially that she sometimes wondered that the
people she went about among could see her....
Behind the swarthy Mountain the sun had gone down in
waveless gold. From a pasture up the slope a
tinkle of cow-bells sounded; a puff of smoke hung over
the farm in the valley, trailed on the pure air and was
gone. For a few minutes, in the clear light that is
all shadow, fields and woods were outlined with an
unreal precision; then the twilight blotted them out,
and the little house turned gray and spectral under its
Charity's heart contracted. The first fall of night
after a day of radiance often gave her a sense of
hidden menace: it was like looking out over the world
as it would be when love had gone from it. She
wondered if some day she would sit in that same place
and watch in vain for her lover....
His bicycle-bell sounded down the lane, and in a minute
she was at the gate and his eyes were laughing in hers.
They walked back through the long grass, and pushed
open the door behind the house. The room at first
seemed quite dark and they had to grope their way in
hand in hand. Through the window-frame the sky looked
light by contrast, and above the black mass of asters
in the earthen jar one white star glimmered like a
"There was such a lot to do at the last minute," Harney
was explaining, "and I had to drive down to
Creston to meet someone who has come to stay with my
cousin for the show."
He had his arms about her, and his kisses were in her
hair and on her lips. Under his touch things deep down
in her struggled to the light and sprang up like
flowers in sunshine. She twisted her fingers into his,
and they sat down side by side on the improvised couch.
She hardly heard his excuses for being late: in his
absence a thousand doubts tormented her, but as soon as
he appeared she ceased to wonder where he had come
from, what had delayed him, who had kept him from her.
It seemed as if the places he had been in, and the
people he had been with, must cease to exist when he
left them, just as her own life was suspended in his
He continued, now, to talk to her volubly and gaily,
deploring his lateness, grumbling at the demands on his
time, and good-humouredly mimicking Miss Hatchard's
benevolent agitation. "She hurried off Miles to ask
Mr. Royall to speak at the Town Hall tomorrow: I didn't
know till it was done." Charity was silent, and he
added: "After all, perhaps it's just as well. No one
else could have done it."
Charity made no answer: She did not care what part
her guardian played in the morrow's ceremonies. Like
all the other figures peopling her meagre world he had
grown non-existent to her. She had even put off hating
"Tomorrow I shall only see you from far off," Harney
continued. "But in the evening there'll be the dance
in the Town Hall. Do you want me to promise not to
dance with any other girl?"
Any other girl? Were there any others? She had
forgotten even that peril, so enclosed did he and she
seem in their secret world. Her heart gave a
He laughed and took her in his arms. "You goose--not
even if they're hideous?"
He pushed the hair from her forehead, bending her face
back, as his way was, and leaning over so that his head
loomed black between her eyes and the paleness of the
sky, in which the white star floated...
Side by side they sped back along the dark wood-road to
the village. A late moon was rising, full orbed and
fiery, turning the mountain ranges from fluid gray
to a massive blackness, and making the upper sky so
light that the stars looked as faint as their own
reflections in water. At the edge of the wood, half a
mile from North Dormer, Harney jumped from his bicycle,
took Charity in his arms for a last kiss, and then
waited while she went on alone.
They were later than usual, and instead of taking the
bicycle to the library she propped it against the back
of the wood-shed and entered the kitchen of the red
house. Verena sat there alone; when Charity came in
she looked at her with mild impenetrable eyes and then
took a plate and a glass of milk from the shelf and set
them silently on the table. Charity nodded her thanks,
and sitting down, fell hungrily upon her piece of pie
and emptied the glass. Her face burned with her quick
flight through the night, and her eyes were dazzled by
the twinkle of the kitchen lamp. She felt like a
night-bird suddenly caught and caged.
"He ain't come back since supper," Verena said. "He's
down to the Hall."
Charity took no notice. Her soul was still winging
through the forest. She washed her plate and tumbler,
and then felt her way up the dark stairs. When she
opened her door a wonder arrested her. Before going
out she had closed her shutters against the afternoon
heat, but they had swung partly open, and a bar of
moonlight, crossing the room, rested on her bed and
showed a dress of China silk laid out on it in virgin
whiteness. Charity had spent more than she could
afford on the dress, which was to surpass those of all
the other girls; she had wanted to let North Dormer see
that she was worthy of Harney's admiration. Above the
dress, folded on the pillow, was the white veil which
the young women who took part in the exercises were to
wear under a wreath of asters; and beside the veil a
pair of slim white satin shoes that Ally had produced
from an old trunk in which she stored mysterious
Charity stood gazing at all the outspread whiteness. It
recalled a vision that had come to her in the night
after her first meeting with Harney. She no longer had
such visions...warmer splendours had displaced
them...but it was stupid of Ally to have paraded all
those white things on her bed, exactly as Hattie
Targatt's wedding dress from Springfield had been
spread out for the neighbours to see when she married
Charity took up the satin shoes and looked at them
curiously. By day, no doubt, they would appear a
little worn, but in the moonlight they seemed carved of
ivory. She sat down on the floor to try them on, and
they fitted her perfectly, though when she stood up she
lurched a little on the high heels. She looked down at
her feet, which the graceful mould of the slippers had
marvellously arched and narrowed. She had never seen
such shoes before, even in the shop-windows at
Nettleton...never, except...yes, once, she had noticed
a pair of the same shape on Annabel Balch.
A blush of mortification swept over her. Ally
sometimes sewed for Miss Balch when that brilliant
being descended on North Dormer, and no doubt she
picked up presents of cast-off clothing: the treasures
in the mysterious trunk all came from the people she
worked for; there could be no doubt that the white
slippers were Annabel Balch's....
As she stood there, staring down moodily at her feet,
she heard the triple click-click-click of a bicycle-
bell under her window. It was Harney's secret signal
as he passed on his way home. She stumbled to the
window on her high heels, flung open the shutters and
leaned out. He waved to her and sped by, his
black shadow dancing merrily ahead of him down the
empty moonlit road; and she leaned there watching him
till he vanished under the Hatchard spruces.
THE Town Hall was crowded and exceedingly hot. As
Charity marched into it third in the white muslin file
headed by Orma Fry, she was conscious mainly of the
brilliant effect of the wreathed columns framing the
green-carpeted stage toward which she was moving; and
of the unfamiliar faces turning from the front rows to
watch the advance of the procession.
But it was all a bewildering blur of eyes and colours
till she found herself standing at the back of the
stage, her great bunch of asters and goldenrod held
well in front of her, and answering the nervous glance
of Lambert Sollas, the organist from Mr. Miles's
church, who had come up from Nettleton to play the
harmonium and sat behind it, his conductor's eye
running over the fluttered girls.
A moment later Mr. Miles, pink and twinkling, emerged
from the background, as if buoyed up on his broad white
gown, and briskly dominated the bowed heads in the
front rows. He prayed energetically and briefly
and then retired, and a fierce nod from Lambert Sollas
warned the girls that they were to follow at once with
"Home, Sweet Home." It was a joy to Charity to sing: it
seemed as though, for the first time, her secret
rapture might burst from her and flash its defiance at
the world. All the glow in her blood, the breath of
the summer earth, the rustle of the forest, the fresh
call of birds at sunrise, and the brooding midday
languors, seemed to pass into her untrained voice,
lifted and led by the sustaining chorus.
And then suddenly the song was over, and after an
uncertain pause, during which Miss Hatchard's pearl-
grey gloves started a furtive signalling down the hall,
Mr. Royall, emerging in turn, ascended the steps of the
stage and appeared behind the flower-wreathed desk. He
passed close to Charity, and she noticed that his
gravely set face wore the look of majesty that used to
awe and fascinate her childhood. His frock-coat had
been carefully brushed and ironed, and the ends of his
narrow black tie were so nearly even that the tying
must have cost him a protracted struggle. His
appearance struck her all the more because it was the
first time she had looked him full in the face since
the night at Nettleton, and nothing in his grave
and impressive demeanour revealed a trace of the
lamentable figure on the wharf.
He stood a moment behind the desk, resting his finger-
tips against it, and bending slightly toward his
audience; then he straightened himself and began.
At first she paid no heed to what he was saying: only
fragments of sentences, sonorous quotations, allusions
to illustrious men, including the obligatory tribute to
Honorius Hatchard, drifted past her inattentive ears.
She was trying to discover Harney among the notable
people in the front row; but he was nowhere near Miss
Hatchard, who, crowned by a pearl-grey hat that matched
her gloves, sat just below the desk, supported by Mrs.
Miles and an important-looking unknown lady. Charity
was near one end of the stage, and from where she sat
the other end of the first row of seats was cut off by
the screen of foliage masking the harmonium. The
effort to see Harney around the corner of the screen,
or through its interstices, made her unconscious of
everything else; but the effort was unsuccessful, and
gradually she found her attention arrested by her
She had never heard him speak in public before,
but she was familiar with the rolling music of his
voice when he read aloud, or held forth to the
selectmen about the stove at Carrick Fry's. Today his
inflections were richer and graver than she had ever
known them: he spoke slowly, with pauses that seemed to
invite his hearers to silent participation in his
thought; and Charity perceived a light of response in
He was nearing the end of his address..."Most of you,"
he said, "most of you who have returned here today, to
take contact with this little place for a brief hour,
have come only on a pious pilgrimage, and will go back
presently to busy cities and lives full of larger
duties. But that is not the only way of coming back to
North Dormer. Some of us, who went out from here in
our youth...went out, like you, to busy cities and
larger duties...have come back in another way--come
back for good. I am one of those, as many of you
know...." He paused, and there was a sense of suspense
in the listening hall. "My history is without
interest, but it has its lesson: not so much for those
of you who have already made your lives in other
places, as for the young men who are perhaps
planning even now to leave these quiet hills and go
down into the struggle. Things they cannot foresee may
send some of those young men back some day to the
little township and the old homestead: they may come
back for good...." He looked about him, and repeated
gravely: "For GOOD. There's the point I want to
make...North Dormer is a poor little place, almost lost
in a mighty landscape: perhaps, by this time, it might
have been a bigger place, and more in scale with the
landscape, if those who had to come back had come with
that feeling in their minds--that they wanted to come
back for GOOD...and not for bad...or just for
"Gentlemen, let us look at things as they are. Some of
us have come back to our native town because we'd
failed to get on elsewhere. One way or other, things
had gone wrong with us...what we'd dreamed of hadn't
come true. But the fact that we had failed elsewhere
is no reason why we should fail here. Our very
experiments in larger places, even if they were
unsuccessful, ought to have helped us to make North
Dormer a larger place...and you young men who are
preparing even now to follow the call of ambition, and
turn your back on the old homes--well, let me say
this to you, that if ever you do come back to them it's
worth while to come back to them for their good....And
to do that, you must keep on loving them while you're
away from them; and even if you come back against your
will--and thinking it's all a bitter mistake of Fate or
Providence--you must try to make the best of it, and to
make the best of your old town; and after a while--
well, ladies and gentlemen, I give you my recipe for
what it's worth; after a while, I believe you'll be
able to say, as I can say today: 'I'm glad I'm here.'
Believe me, all of you, the best way to help the places
we live in is to be glad we live there."
He stopped, and a murmur of emotion and surprise ran
through the audience. It was not in the least what
they had expected, but it moved them more than what
they had expected would have moved them. "Hear, hear!"
a voice cried out in the middle of the hall. An
outburst of cheers caught up the cry, and as they
subsided Charity heard Mr. Miles saying to someone near
him: "That was a MAN talking----" He wiped his
Mr. Royall had stepped back from the desk, and
taken his seat in the row of chairs in front of
the harmonium. A dapper white-haired gentleman--a
distant Hatchard--succeeded him behind the goldenrod,
and began to say beautiful things about the old oaken
bucket, patient white-haired mothers, and where the
boys used to go nutting...and Charity began again to
search for Harney....
Suddenly Mr. Royall pushed back his seat, and one of
the maple branches in front of the harmonium collapsed
with a crash. It uncovered the end of the first row
and in one of the seats Charity saw Harney, and in the
next a lady whose face was turned toward him, and
almost hidden by the brim of her drooping hat. Charity
did not need to see the face. She knew at a glance the
slim figure, the fair hair heaped up under the hat-
brim, the long pale wrinkled gloves with bracelets
slipping over them. At the fall of the branch Miss
Balch turned her head toward the stage, and in her
pretty thin-lipped smile there lingered the reflection
of something her neighbour had been whispering to
Someone came forward to replace the fallen branch, and
Miss Balch and Harney were once more hidden. But to
Charity the vision of their two faces had blotted
out everything. In a flash they had shown her the bare
reality of her situation. Behind the frail screen of
her lover's caresses was the whole inscrutable mystery
of his life: his relations with other people--with
other women--his opinions, his prejudices, his
principles, the net of influences and interests and
ambitions in which every man's life is entangled. Of
all these she knew nothing, except what he had told her
of his architectural aspirations. She had always dimly
guessed him to be in touch with important people,
involved in complicated relations--but she felt it all
to be so far beyond her understanding that the whole
subject hung like a luminous mist on the farthest verge
of her thoughts. In the foreground, hiding all else,
there was the glow of his presence, the light and
shadow of his face, the way his short-sighted eyes, at
her approach, widened and deepened as if to draw her
down into them; and, above all, the flush of youth and
tenderness in which his words enclosed her.
Now she saw him detached from her, drawn back into the
unknown, and whispering to another girl things that
provoked the same smile of mischievous complicity he
had so often called to her own lips. The feeling
possessing her was not one of jealousy: she was too
sure of his love. It was rather a terror of the
unknown, of all the mysterious attractions that must
even now be dragging him away from her, and of her own
powerlessness to contend with them.
She had given him all she had--but what was it compared
to the other gifts life held for him? She understood
now the case of girls like herself to whom this kind of
thing happened. They gave all they had, but their all
was not enough: it could not buy more than a few
The heat had grown suffocating--she felt it descend on
her in smothering waves, and the faces in the crowded
hall began to dance like the pictures flashed on the
screen at Nettleton. For an instant Mr. Royall's
countenance detached itself from the general blur. He
had resumed his place in front of the harmonium, and
sat close to her, his eyes on her face; and his look
seemed to pierce to the very centre of her confused
sensations....A feeling of physical sickness rushed
over her--and then deadly apprehension. The light of
the fiery hours in the little house swept back on her
in a glare of fear....
She forced herself to look away from her guardian,
and became aware that the oratory of the Hatchard
cousin had ceased, and that Mr. Miles was again
flapping his wings. Fragments of his peroration
floated through her bewildered brain...."A rich harvest
of hallowed memories....A sanctified hour to which, in
moments of trial, your thoughts will prayerfully
return....And now, O Lord, let us humbly and fervently
give thanks for this blessed day of reunion, here in
the old home to which we have come back from so far.
Preserve it to us, O Lord, in times to come, in all its
homely sweetness--in the kindliness and wisdom of its
old people, in the courage and industry of its young
men, in the piety and purity of this group of innocent
girls----" He flapped a white wing in their direction,
and at the same moment Lambert Sollas, with his fierce
nod, struck the opening bars of "Auld Lang
Syne."...Charity stared straight ahead of her and then,
dropping her flowers, fell face downward at Mr.
NORTH DORMER'S celebration naturally included the
villages attached to its township, and the festivities
were to radiate over the whole group, from Dormer and
the two Crestons to Hamblin, the lonely hamlet on the
north slope of the Mountain where the first snow always
fell. On the third day there were speeches and
ceremonies at Creston and Creston River; on the fourth
the principal performers were to be driven in buck-
boards to Dormer and Hamblin.
It was on the fourth day that Charity returned for the
first time to the little house. She had not seen
Harney alone since they had parted at the wood's edge
the night before the celebrations began. In the
interval she had passed through many moods, but for the
moment the terror which had seized her in the Town Hall
had faded to the edge of consciousness. She had
fainted because the hall was stiflingly hot, and
because the speakers had gone on and on....Several
other people had been affected by the heat, and
had had to leave before the exercises were over. There
had been thunder in the air all the afternoon, and
everyone said afterward that something ought to have
been done to ventilate the hall....
At the dance that evening--where she had gone
reluctantly, and only because she feared to stay away,
she had sprung back into instant reassurance. As soon
as she entered she had seen Harney waiting for her, and
he had come up with kind gay eyes, and swept her off in
a waltz. Her feet were full of music, and though her
only training had been with the village youths she had
no difficulty in tuning her steps to his. As they
circled about the floor all her vain fears dropped from
her, and she even forgot that she was probably dancing
in Annabel Balch's slippers.
When the waltz was over Harney, with a last hand-clasp,
left her to meet Miss Hatchard and Miss Balch, who were
just entering. Charity had a moment of anguish as Miss
Balch appeared; but it did not last. The triumphant
fact of her own greater beauty, and of Harney's sense
of it, swept her apprehensions aside. Miss Balch, in
an unbecoming dress, looked sallow and pinched, and
Charity fancied there was a worried expression in
her pale-lashed eyes. She took a seat near Miss
Hatchard and it was presently apparent that she did not
mean to dance. Charity did not dance often either.
Harney explained to her that Miss Hatchard had begged
him to give each of the other girls a turn; but he went
through the form of asking Charity's permission each
time he led one out, and that gave her a sense of
secret triumph even completer than when she was
whirling about the room with him.
She was thinking of all this as she waited for him in
the deserted house. The late afternoon was sultry, and
she had tossed aside her hat and stretched herself at
full length on the Mexican blanket because it was
cooler indoors than under the trees. She lay with her
arms folded beneath her head, gazing out at the shaggy
shoulder of the Mountain. The sky behind it was full
of the splintered glories of the descending sun, and
before long she expected to hear Harney's bicycle-bell
in the lane. He had bicycled to Hamblin, instead of
driving there with his cousin and her friends, so that
he might be able to make his escape earlier and stop on
the way back at the deserted house, which was on
the road to Hamblin. They had smiled together at the
joke of hearing the crowded buck-boards roll by on the
return, while they lay close in their hiding above the
road. Such childish triumphs still gave her a sense of
Nevertheless she had not wholly forgotten the vision of
fear that had opened before her in the Town Hall. The
sense of lastingness was gone from her and every moment
with Harney would now be ringed with doubt.
The Mountain was turning purple against a fiery sunset
from which it seemed to be divided by a knife-edge of
quivering light; and above this wall of flame the whole
sky was a pure pale green, like some cold mountain lake
in shadow. Charity lay gazing up at it, and watching
for the first white star....
Her eyes were still fixed on the upper reaches of the
sky when she became aware that a shadow had flitted
across the glory-flooded room: it must have been Harney
passing the window against the sunset....She half
raised herself, and then dropped back on her folded
arms. The combs had slipped from her hair, and it
trailed in a rough dark rope across her breast. She
lay quite still, a sleepy smile on her lips, her
indolent lids half shut. There was a fumbling at the
padlock and she called out: "Have you slipped the
chain?" The door opened, and Mr. Royall walked into the
She started up, sitting back against the cushions, and
they looked at each other without speaking. Then Mr.
Royall closed the door-latch and advanced a few steps.
Charity jumped to her feet. "What have you come for?"
The last glare of the sunset was on her guardian's
face, which looked ash-coloured in the yellow radiance.
"Because I knew you were here," he answered simply.
She had become conscious of the hair hanging loose
across her breast, and it seemed as though she could
not speak to him till she had set herself in order. She
groped for her comb, and tried to fasten up the coil.
Mr. Royall silently watched her.
"Charity," he said, "he'll be here in a minute. Let me
talk to you first."
"You've got no right to talk to me. I can do what I
"Yes. What is it you mean to do?"
"I needn't answer that, or anything else."
He had glanced away, and stood looking curiously about
the illuminated room. Purple asters and red maple-
leaves filled the jar on the table; on a shelf against
the wall stood a lamp, the kettle, a little pile of
cups and saucers. The canvas chairs were grouped
about the table.
"So this is where you meet," he said.
His tone was quiet and controlled, and the fact
disconcerted her. She had been ready to give him
violence for violence, but this calm acceptance of
things as they were left her without a weapon.
"See here, Charity--you're always telling me I've got
no rights over you. There might be two ways of looking
at that--but I ain't going to argue it. All I know is
I raised you as good as I could, and meant fairly by
you always except once, for a bad half-hour. There's
no justice in weighing that half-hour against the rest,
and you know it. If you hadn't, you wouldn't have gone
on living under my roof. Seems to me the fact of your
doing that gives me some sort of a right; the right to
try and keep you out of trouble. I'm not asking you to
consider any other."
She listened in silence, and then gave a slight
laugh. "Better wait till I'm in trouble," she
said. He paused a moment, as if weighing her words.
"Is that all your answer?"
"Yes, that's all."
He turned away slowly, but as he did so the thing she
had been waiting for happened; the door opened again
and Harney entered.
He stopped short with a face of astonishment, and then,
quickly controlling himself, went up to Mr. Royall with
a frank look.
"Have you come to see me, sir?" he said coolly,
throwing his cap on the table with an air of
Mr. Royall again looked slowly about the room; then his
eyes turned to the young man.
"Is this your house?" he inquired.
Harney laughed: "Well--as much as it's anybody's. I
come here to sketch occasionally."
"And to receive Miss Royall's visits?"
"When she does me the honour----"
"Is this the home you propose to bring her to when you
There was an immense and oppressive silence. Charity,
quivering with anger, started forward, and then
stood silent, too humbled for speech. Harney's eyes
had dropped under the old man's gaze; but he raised
them presently, and looking steadily at Mr. Royall,
said: "Miss Royall is not a child. Isn't it rather
absurd to talk of her as if she were? I believe she
considers herself free to come and go as she pleases,
without any questions from anyone." He paused and
added: "I'm ready to answer any she wishes to ask me."
Mr. Royall turned to her. "Ask him when he's going to
marry you, then----" There was another silence, and he
laughed in his turn--a broken laugh, with a scraping
sound in it. "You darsn't!" he shouted out with sudden
passion. He went close up to Charity, his right arm
lifted, not in menace but in tragic exhortation.
"You darsn't, and you know it--and you know why!" He
swung back again upon the young man. "And you know why
you ain't asked her to marry you, and why you don't
mean to. It's because you hadn't need to; nor any
other man either. I'm the only one that was fool
enough not to know that; and I guess nobody'll repeat
my mistake--not in Eagle County, anyhow. They all know
what she is, and what she came from. They all know her
mother was a woman of the town from Nettleton,
that followed one of those Mountain fellows up to his
place and lived there with him like a heathen. I saw
her there sixteen years ago, when I went to bring this
child down. I went to save her from the kind of life
her mother was leading--but I'd better have left her in
the kennel she came from...." He paused and stared
darkly at the two young people, and out beyond them, at
the menacing Mountain with its rim of fire; then he sat
down beside the table on which they had so often spread
their rustic supper, and covered his face with his
hands. Harney leaned in the window, a frown on his
face: he was twirling between his fingers a small
package that dangled from a loop of string....Charity
heard Mr. Royall draw a hard breath or two, and his
shoulders shook a little. Presently he stood up and
walked across the room. He did not look again at the
young people: they saw him feel his way to the door and
fumble for the latch; and then he went out into the
After he had gone there was a long silence. Charity
waited for Harney to speak; but he seemed at first not
to find anything to say. At length he broke out
irrelevantly: "I wonder how he found out?"
She made no answer and he tossed down the package he
had been holding, and went up to her.
"I'm so sorry, dear...that this should have
She threw her head back proudly. "I ain't ever been
sorry--not a minute!"
She waited to be caught into his arms, but he turned
away from her irresolutely. The last glow was gone
from behind the Mountain. Everything in the room had
turned grey and indistinct, and an autumnal dampness
crept up from the hollow below the orchard, laying its
cold touch on their flushed faces. Harney walked the
length of the room, and then turned back and sat down
at the table.
"Come," he said imperiously.
She sat down beside him, and he untied the string about
the package and spread out a pile of sandwiches.
"I stole them from the love-feast at Hamblin," he said
with a laugh, pushing them over to her. She laughed
too, and took one, and began to eat
"Didn't you make the tea?"
"No," she said. "I forgot----"
"Oh, well--it's too late to boil the water now." He
said nothing more, and sitting opposite to each other
they went on silently eating the sandwiches. Darkness
had descended in the little room, and Harney's face was
a dim blur to Charity. Suddenly he leaned across the
table and laid his hand on hers.
"I shall have to go off for a while--a month or two,
perhaps--to arrange some things; and then I'll come
back...and we'll get married."
His voice seemed like a stranger's: nothing was left in
it of the vibrations she knew. Her hand lay inertly
under his, and she left it there, and raised her head,
trying to answer him. But the words died in her
throat. They sat motionless, in their attitude of
confident endearment, as if some strange death had
surprised them. At length Harney sprang to his feet
with a slight shiver. "God! it's damp--we couldn't
have come here much longer." He went to the shelf, took
down a tin candle-stick and lit the candle; then he
propped an unhinged shutter against the empty window-
frame and put the candle on the table. It threw a
queer shadow on his frowning forehead, and made the
smile on his lips a grimace.
"But it's been good, though, hasn't it,
Charity?...What's the matter--why do you stand there
staring at me? Haven't the days here been good?" He
went up to her and caught her to his breast. "And
there'll be others--lots of others...jollier...even
jollier...won't there, darling?"
He turned her head back, feeling for the curve of her
throat below the ear, and kissing here there, and on
the hair and eyes and lips. She clung to him
desperately, and as he drew her to his knees on the
couch she felt as if they were being sucked down
together into some bottomless abyss.
That night, as usual, they said good-bye at the wood's
Harney was to leave the next morning early. He asked
Charity to say nothing of their plans till his return,
and, strangely even to herself, she was glad of the
postponement. A leaden weight of shame hung on her,
benumbing every other sensation, and she bade him good-
bye with hardly a sign of emotion. His reiterated
promises to return seemed almost wounding. She had no
doubt that he intended to come back; her doubts were
far deeper and less definable.
Since the fanciful vision of the future that had
flitted through her imagination at their first meeting
she had hardly ever thought of his marrying her. She
had not had to put the thought from her mind; it had
not been there. If ever she looked ahead she felt
instinctively that the gulf between them was too deep,
and that the bridge their passion had flung across it
was as insubstantial as a rainbow. But she seldom
looked ahead; each day was so rich that it absorbed
her....Now her first feeling was that everything would
be different, and that she herself would be a different
being to Harney. Instead of remaining separate and
absolute, she would be compared with other people, and
unknown things would be expected of her. She was too
proud to be afraid, but the freedom of her spirit
Harney had not fixed any date for his return; he had
said he would have to look about first, and settle
things. He had promised to write as soon as there was
anything definite to say, and had left her his address,
and asked her to write also. But the address
frightened her. It was in New York, at a club with a
long name in Fifth Avenue: it seemed to raise an
insurmountable barrier between them. Once or twice, in
the first days, she got out a sheet of paper, and sat
looking at it, and trying to think what to say; but she
had the feeling that her letter would never reach its
destination. She had never written to anyone farther
away than Hepburn.
Harney's first letter came after he had been gone about
ten days. It was tender but grave, and bore no
resemblance to the gay little notes he had sent her by
the freckled boy from Creston River. He spoke
positively of his intention of coming back, but named
no date, and reminded Charity of their agreement that
their plans should not be divulged till he had had time
to "settle things." When that would be he could not yet
foresee; but she could count on his returning as soon
as the way was clear.
She read the letter with a strange sense of its coming
from immeasurable distances and having lost most of its
meaning on the way; and in reply she sent him a
coloured postcard of Creston Falls, on which she wrote:
"With love from Charity." She felt the pitiful
inadequacy of this, and understood, with a sense of
despair, that in her inability to express herself she
must give him an impression of coldness and reluctance;
but she could not help it. She could not forget that
he had never spoken to her of marriage till Mr. Royall
had forced the word from his lips; though she had not
had the strength to shake off the spell that bound her
to him she had lost all spontaneity of feeling, and
seemed to herself to be passively awaiting a fate she
could not avert.
She had not seen Mr. Royall on her return to the
red house. The morning after her parting from Harney,
when she came down from her room, Verena told her that
her guardian had gone off to Worcester and Portland.
It was the time of year when he usually reported to the
insurance agencies he represented, and there was
nothing unusual in his departure except its suddenness.
She thought little about him, except to be glad he was
She kept to herself for the first days, while North
Dormer was recovering from its brief plunge into
publicity, and the subsiding agitation left her
unnoticed. But the faithful Ally could not be long
avoided. For the first few days after the close of the
Old Home Week festivities Charity escaped her by
roaming the hills all day when she was not at her post
in the library; but after that a period of rain set in,
and one pouring afternoon, Ally, sure that she would
find her friend indoors, came around to the red house
with her sewing.
The two girls sat upstairs in Charity's room. Charity,
her idle hands in her lap, was sunk in a kind of leaden
dream, through which she was only half-conscious of
Ally, who sat opposite her in a low rush-bottomed
chair, her work pinned to her knee, and her thin lips
pursed up as she bent above it.
"It was my idea running a ribbon through the gauging,"
she said proudly, drawing back to contemplate the
blouse she was trimming. "It's for Miss Balch: she was
awfully pleased." She paused and then added, with a
queer tremor in her piping voice: "I darsn't have told
her I got the idea from one I saw on Julia."
Charity raised her eyes listlessly. "Do you still see
Ally reddened, as if the allusion had escaped her
unintentionally. "Oh, it was a long time ago I seen
her with those gaugings...."
Silence fell again, and Ally presently continued: "Miss
Balch left me a whole lot of things to do over this
"Why--has she gone?" Charity inquired with an inner
start of apprehension.
"Didn't you know? She went off the morning after they
had the celebration at Hamblin. I seen her drive by
early with Mr. Harney."
There was another silence, measured by the steady tick
of the rain against the window, and, at intervals, by
the snipping sound of Ally's scissors.
Ally gave a meditative laugh. "Do you know what
she told me before she went away? She told me she was
going to send for me to come over to Springfield and
make some things for her wedding."
Charity again lifted her heavy lids and stared at
Ally's pale pointed face, which moved to and fro above
her moving fingers.
"Is she going to get married?"
Ally let the blouse sink to her knee, and sat gazing at
it. Her lips seemed suddenly dry, and she moistened
them a little with her tongue.
"Why, I presume so...from what she said....Didn't you
"Why should I know?"
Ally did not answer. She bent above the blouse, and
began picking out a basting thread with the point of
"Why should I know?" Charity repeated harshly.
"I didn't know but what...folks here say she's engaged
to Mr. Harney."
Charity stood up with a laugh, and stretched her arms
lazily above her head.
"If all the people got married that folks say are
going to you'd have your time full making wedding-
dresses," she said ironically.
"Why--don't you believe it?" Ally ventured.
"It would not make it true if I did--nor prevent it if
"That's so....I only know I seen her crying the night
of the party because her dress didn't set right. That
was why she wouldn't dance any...."
Charity stood absently gazing down at the lacy garment
on Ally's knee. Abruptly she stooped and snatched it
"Well, I guess she won't dance in this either," she
said with sudden violence; and grasping the blouse in
her strong young hands she tore it in two and flung the
tattered bits to the floor.
"Oh, Charity----" Ally cried, springing up. For a long
interval the two girls faced each other across the
ruined garment. Ally burst into tears.
"Oh, what'll I say to her? What'll I do? It was real
lace!" she wailed between her piping sobs.
Charity glared at her unrelentingly. "You'd oughtn't
to have brought it here," she said, breathing quickly.
"I hate other people's clothes--it's just as if they
was there themselves." The two stared at each other
again over this avowal, till Charity brought out,
in a gasp of anguish: "Oh, go--go--go--or I'll hate you
When Ally left her, she fell sobbing across her bed.
The long storm was followed by a north-west gale, and
when it was over, the hills took on their first umber
tints, the sky grew more densely blue, and the big
white clouds lay against the hills like snow-banks. The
first crisp maple-leaves began to spin across Miss
Hatchard's lawn, and the Virginia creeper on the
Memorial splashed the white porch with scarlet. It was
a golden triumphant September. Day by day the flame of
the Virginia creeper spread to the hillsides in wider
waves of carmine and crimson, the larches glowed like
the thin yellow halo about a fire, the maples blazed
and smouldered, and the black hemlocks turned to indigo
against the incandescence of the forest.
The nights were cold, with a dry glitter of stars so
high up that they seemed smaller and more vivid.
Sometimes, as Charity lay sleepless on her bed through
the long hours, she felt as though she were bound to
those wheeling fires and swinging with them around the
great black vault. At night she planned many
things...it was then she wrote to Harney. But the
letters were never put on paper, for she did not know
how to express what she wanted to tell him. So she
waited. Since her talk with Ally she had felt sure
that Harney was engaged to Annabel Balch, and that the
process of "settling things" would involve the breaking
of this tie. Her first rage of jealousy over, she felt
no fear on this score. She was still sure that Harney
would come back, and she was equally sure that, for the
moment at least, it was she whom he loved and not Miss
Balch. Yet the girl, no less, remained a rival, since
she represented all the things that Charity felt
herself most incapable of understanding or achieving.
Annabel Balch was, if not the girl Harney ought to
marry, at least the kind of girl it would be natural
for him to marry. Charity had never been able to
picture herself as his wife; had never been able to
arrest the vision and follow it out in its daily
consequences; but she could perfectly imagine Annabel
Balch in that relation to him.
The more she thought of these things the more the sense
of fatality weighed on her: she felt the uselessness of
struggling against the circumstances. She had never
known how to adapt herself; she could only break
and tear and destroy. The scene with Ally had left her
stricken with shame at her own childish savagery. What
would Harney have thought if he had witnessed it? But
when she turned the incident over in her puzzled mind
she could not imagine what a civilized person would
have done in her place. She felt herself too unequally
pitted against unknown forces....
At length this feeling moved her to sudden action. She
took a sheet of letter paper from Mr. Royall's office,
and sitting by the kitchen lamp, one night after Verena
had gone to bed, began her first letter to Harney. It
was very short:
I want you should marry Annabel Balch if you promised
to. I think maybe you were afraid I'd feel too bad
about it. I feel I'd rather you acted right.
She posted the letter early the next morning, and for a
few days her heart felt strangely light. Then she
began to wonder why she received no answer.
One day as she sat alone in the library pondering these
things the walls of books began to spin around her, and
the rosewood desk to rock under her elbows. The
dizziness was followed by a wave of nausea like that
she had felt on the day of the exercises in the Town
Hall. But the Town Hall had been crowded and
stiflingly hot, and the library was empty, and so
chilly that she had kept on her jacket. Five minutes
before she had felt perfectly well; and now it seemed
as if she were going to die. The bit of lace at which
she still languidly worked dropped from her fingers,
and the steel crochet hook clattered to the floor. She
pressed her temples hard between her damp hands,
steadying herself against the desk while the wave of
sickness swept over her. Little by little it subsided,
and after a few minutes she stood up, shaken and
terrified, groped for her hat, and stumbled out into
the air. But the whole sunlit autumn whirled, reeled
and roared around her as she dragged herself along the
interminable length of the road home.
As she approached the red house she saw a buggy
standing at the door, and her heart gave a leap. But
it was only Mr. Royall who got out, his travelling-bag
in hand. He saw her coming, and waited in the porch.
She was conscious that he was looking at her intently,
as if there was something strange in her appearance,
and she threw back her head with a desperate
effort at ease. Their eyes met, and she said: "You
back?" as if nothing had happened, and he answered:
"Yes, I'm back," and walked in ahead of her, pushing
open the door of his office. She climbed to her room,
every step of the stairs holding her fast as if her
feet were lined with glue.
Two days later, she descended from the train at
Nettleton, and walked out of the station into the dusty
square. The brief interval of cold weather was over,
and the day was as soft, and almost as hot, as when she
and Harney had emerged on the same scene on the Fourth
of July. In the square the same broken-down hacks and
carry-alls stood drawn up in a despondent line, and the
lank horses with fly-nets over their withers swayed
their heads drearily to and fro. She recognized the
staring signs over the eating-houses and billiard
saloons, and the long lines of wires on lofty poles
tapering down the main street to the park at its other
end. Taking the way the wires pointed, she went on
hastily, with bent head, till she reached a wide
transverse street with a brick building at the corner.
She crossed this street and glanced furtively up at the
front of the brick building; then she returned,
and entered a door opening on a flight of steep
brass-rimmed stairs. On the second landing she rang a
bell, and a mulatto girl with a bushy head and a
frilled apron let her into a hall where a stuffed fox
on his hind legs proffered a brass card-tray to
visitors. At the back of the hall was a glazed door
marked: "Office." After waiting a few minutes in a
handsomely furnished room, with plush sofas surmounted
by large gold-framed photographs of showy young women,
Charity was shown into the office....
When she came out of the glazed door Dr. Merkle
followed, and led her into another room, smaller, and
still more crowded with plush and gold frames. Dr.
Merkle was a plump woman with small bright eyes, an
immense mass of black hair coming down low on her
forehead, and unnaturally white and even teeth. She
wore a rich black dress, with gold chains and charms
hanging from her bosom. Her hands were large and
smooth, and quick in all their movements; and she smelt
of musk and carbolic acid.
She smiled on Charity with all her faultless teeth.
"Sit down, my dear. Wouldn't you like a little
drop of something to pick you up?...No....Well,
just lay back a minute then....There's nothing to be
done just yet; but in about a month, if you'll step
round again...I could take you right into my own house
for two or three days, and there wouldn't be a mite of
trouble. Mercy me! The next time you'll know better'n
to fret like this...."
Charity gazed at her with widening eyes. This woman
with the false hair, the false teeth, the false
murderous smile--what was she offering her but immunity
from some unthinkable crime? Charity, till then, had
been conscious only of a vague self-disgust and a
frightening physical distress; now, of a sudden, there
came to her the grave surprise of motherhood. She had
come to this dreadful place because she knew of no
other way of making sure that she was not mistaken
about her state; and the woman had taken her for a
miserable creature like Julia....The thought was so
horrible that she sprang up, white and shaking, one of
her great rushes of anger sweeping over her.
Dr. Merkle, still smiling, also rose. "Why do you run
off in such a hurry? You can stretch out right here on
my sofa...." She paused, and her smile grew more
motherly. "Afterwards--if there's been any talk at
home, and you want to get away for a while...I have a
lady friend in Boston who's looking for a
companion...you're the very one to suit her, my
Charity had reached the door. "I don't want to stay. I
don't want to come back here," she stammered, her hand
on the knob; but with a swift movement, Dr. Merkle
edged her from the threshold.
"Oh, very well. Five dollars, please."
Charity looked helplessly at the doctor's tight lips
and rigid face. Her last savings had gone in repaying
Ally for the cost of Miss Balch's ruined blouse, and
she had had to borrow four dollars from her friend to
pay for her railway ticket and cover the doctor's fee.
It had never occurred to her that medical advice could
cost more than two dollars.
"I didn't know...I haven't got that much..." she
faltered, bursting into tears.
Dr. Merkle gave a short laugh which did not show her
teeth, and inquired with concision if Charity supposed
she ran the establishment for her own amusement? She
leaned her firm shoulders against the door as she
spoke, like a grim gaoler making terms with her
"You say you'll come round and settle later? I've heard
that pretty often too. Give me your address, and if
you can't pay me I'll send the bill to your
folks....What? I can't understand what you say....That
don't suit you either? My, you're pretty particular for
a girl that ain't got enough to settle her own
bills...." She paused, and fixed her eyes on the brooch
with a blue stone that Charity had pinned to her
"Ain't you ashamed to talk that way to a lady that's
got to earn her living, when you go about with
jewellery like that on you?...It ain't in my line, and
I do it only as a favour...but if you're a mind to
leave that brooch as a pledge, I don't say no....Yes,
of course, you can get it back when you bring me my
On the way home, she felt an immense and unexpected
quietude. It had been horrible to have to leave
Harney's gift in the woman's hands, but even at that
price the news she brought away had not been too dearly
bought. She sat with half-closed eyes as the train
rushed through the familiar landscape; and now the
memories of her former journey, instead of flying
before her like dead leaves, seemed to be ripening in
her blood like sleeping grain. She would never again
know what it was to feel herself alone. Everything
seemed to have grown suddenly clear and simple. She no
longer had any difficulty in picturing herself as
Harney's wife now that she was the mother of his child;
and compared to her sovereign right Annabel Balch's
claim seemed no more than a girl's sentimental fancy.
That evening, at the gate of the red house, she found
Ally waiting in the dusk. "I was down at the post-
office just as they were closing up, and Will Targatt
said there was a letter for you, so I brought it."
Ally held out the letter, looking at Charity with
piercing sympathy. Since the scene of the torn blouse
there had been a new and fearful admiration in the eyes
she bent on her friend.
Charity snatched the letter with a laugh. "Oh, thank
you--good-night," she called out over her shoulder as
she ran up the path. If she had lingered a moment she
knew she would have had Ally at her heels.
She hurried upstairs and felt her way into her
dark room. Her hands trembled as she groped for the
matches and lit her candle, and the flap of the
envelope was so closely stuck that she had to find her
scissors and slit it open. At length she read:
I have your letter, and it touches me more than I can
say. Won't you trust me, in return, to do my best?
There are things it is hard to explain, much less to
justify; but your generosity makes everything easier.
All I can do now is to thank you from my soul for
understanding. Your telling me that you wanted me to
do right has helped me beyond expression. If ever
there is a hope of realizing what we dreamed of you
will see me back on the instant; and I haven't yet lost
She read the letter with a rush; then she went over and
over it, each time more slowly and painstakingly. It
was so beautifully expressed that she found it almost
as difficult to understand as the gentleman's
explanation of the Bible pictures at Nettleton; but
gradually she became aware that the gist of its meaning
lay in the last few words. "If ever there is a hope of
realizing what we dreamed of..."
But then he wasn't even sure of that? She
understood now that every word and every reticence was
an avowal of Annabel Balch's prior claim. It was true
that he was engaged to her, and that he had not yet
found a way of breaking his engagement.
As she read the letter over Charity understood what it
must have cost him to write it. He was not trying to
evade an importunate claim; he was honestly and
contritely struggling between opposing duties. She did
not even reproach him in her thoughts for having
concealed from her that he was not free: she could not
see anything more reprehensible in his conduct than in
her own. From the first she had needed him more than
he had wanted her, and the power that had swept them
together had been as far beyond resistance as a great
gale loosening the leaves of the forest....Only, there
stood between them, fixed and upright in the general
upheaval, the indestructible figure of Annabel
Face to face with his admission of the fact, she sat
staring at the letter. A cold tremor ran over her, and
the hard sobs struggled up into her throat and shook
her from head to foot. For a while she was caught
and tossed on great waves of anguish that left her
hardly conscious of anything but the blind struggle
against their assaults. Then, little by little, she
began to relive, with a dreadful poignancy, each
separate stage of her poor romance. Foolish things she
had said came back to her, gay answers Harney had made,
his first kiss in the darkness between the fireworks,
their choosing the blue brooch together, the way he had
teased her about the letters she had dropped in her
flight from the evangelist. All these memories, and a
thousand others, hummed through her brain till his
nearness grew so vivid that she felt his fingers in her
hair, and his warm breath on her cheek as he bent her
head back like a flower. These things were hers; they
had passed into her blood, and become a part of her,
they were building the child in her womb; it was
impossible to tear asunder strands of life so
The conviction gradually strengthened her, and she
began to form in her mind the first words of the letter
she meant to write to Harney. She wanted to write it
at once, and with feverish hands she began to rummage
in her drawer for a sheet of letter paper. But there
was none left; she must go downstairs to get it.
She had a superstitious feeling that the letter must be
written on the instant, that setting down her secret in
words would bring her reassurance and safety; and
taking up her candle she went down to Mr. Royall's
At that hour she was not likely to find him there: he
had probably had his supper and walked over to Carrick
Fry's. She pushed open the door of the unlit room, and
the light of her lifted candle fell on his figure,
seated in the darkness in his high-backed chair. His
arms lay along the arms of the chair, and his head was
bent a little; but he lifted it quickly as Charity
entered. She started back as their eyes met,
remembering that her own were red with weeping, and
that her face was livid with the fatigue and emotion of
her journey. But it was too late to escape, and she
stood and looked at him in silence.
He had risen from his chair, and came toward her with
outstretched hands. The gesture was so unexpected that
she let him take her hands in his and they stood thus,
without speaking, till Mr. Royall said gravely:
"Charity--was you looking for me?"
She freed herself abruptly and fell back. "Me? No----"
She set down the candle on his desk. "I wanted
some letter-paper, that's all." His face contracted,
and the bushy brows jutted forward over his eyes.
Without answering he opened the drawer of the desk,
took out a sheet of paper and an envelope, and pushed
them toward her. "Do you want a stamp too?" he asked.
She nodded, and he gave her the stamp. As he did so
she felt that he was looking at her intently, and she
knew that the candle light flickering up on her white
face must be distorting her swollen features and
exaggerating the dark rings about her eyes. She
snatched up the paper, her reassurance dissolving under
his pitiless gaze, in which she seemed to read the grim
perception of her state, and the ironic recollection of
the day when, in that very room, he had offered to
compel Harney to marry her. His look seemed to say
that he knew she had taken the paper to write to her
lover, who had left her as he had warned her she would
be left. She remembered the scorn with which she had
turned from him that day, and knew, if he guessed the
truth, what a list of old scores it must settle. She
turned and fled upstairs; but when she got back to her
room all the words that had been waiting had
If she could have gone to Harney it would have
been different; she would only have had to show herself
to let his memories speak for her. But she had no
money left, and there was no one from whom she could
have borrowed enough for such a journey. There was
nothing to do but to write, and await his reply. For a
long time she sat bent above the blank page; but she
found nothing to say that really expressed what she was
Harney had written that she had made it easier for him,
and she was glad it was so; she did not want to make
things hard. She knew she had it in her power to do
that; she held his fate in her hands. All she had to
do was to tell him the truth; but that was the very
fact that held her back....Her five minutes face to
face with Mr. Royall had stripped her of her last
illusion, and brought her back to North Dormer's point
of view. Distinctly and pitilessly there rose before
her the fate of the girl who was married "to make
things right." She had seen too many village love-
stories end in that way. Poor Rose Coles's miserable
marriage was of the number; and what good had come of
it for her or for Halston Skeff? They had hated each
other from the day the minister married them; and
whenever old Mrs. Skeff had a fancy to humiliate her
daughter-in-law she had only to say: "Who'd ever think
the baby's only two? And for a seven months' child--
ain't it a wonder what a size he is?" North Dormer had
treasures of indulgence for brands in the burning, but
only derision for those who succeeded in getting
snatched from it; and Charity had always understood
Julia Hawes's refusal to be snatched....
Only--was there no alternative but Julia's? Her soul
recoiled from the vision of the white-faced woman among
the plush sofas and gilt frames. In the established
order of things as she knew them she saw no place for
her individual adventure....
She sat in her chair without undressing till faint grey
streaks began to divide the black slats of the
shutters. Then she stood up and pushed them open,
letting in the light. The coming of a new day brought
a sharper consciousness of ineluctable reality, and
with it a sense of the need of action. She looked at
herself in the glass, and saw her face, white in the
autumn dawn, with pinched cheeks and dark-ringed eyes,
and all the marks of her state that she herself would
never have noticed, but that Dr. Merkle's diagnosis had
made plain to her. She could not hope that those
signs would escape the watchful village; even before
her figure lost its shape she knew her face would
Leaning from her window she looked out on the dark and
empty scene; the ashen houses with shuttered windows,
the grey road climbing the slope to the hemlock belt
above the cemetery, and the heavy mass of the Mountain
black against a rainy sky. To the east a space of
light was broadening above the forest; but over that
also the clouds hung. Slowly her gaze travelled across
the fields to the rugged curve of the hills. She had
looked out so often on that lifeless circle, and
wondered if anything could ever happen to anyone who
was enclosed in it....
Almost without conscious thought her decision had been
reached; as her eyes had followed the circle of the
hills her mind had also travelled the old round. She
supposed it was something in her blood that made the
Mountain the only answer to her questioning, the
inevitable escape from all that hemmed her in and beset
her. At any rate it began to loom against the rainy
dawn; and the longer she looked at it the more clearly
she understood that now at last she was really going
THE rain held off, and an hour later, when she started,
wild gleams of sunlight were blowing across the fields.
After Harney's departure she had returned her bicycle
to its owner at Creston, and she was not sure of being
able to walk all the way to the Mountain. The deserted
house was on the road; but the idea of spending the
night there was unendurable, and she meant to try to
push on to Hamblin, where she could sleep under a wood-
shed if her strength should fail her. Her preparations
had been made with quiet forethought. Before starting
she had forced herself to swallow a glass of milk and
eat a piece of bread; and she had put in her canvas
satchel a little packet of the chocolate that Harney
always carried in his bicycle bag. She wanted above
all to keep up her strength, and reach her destination
without attracting notice....
Mile by mile she retraced the road over which she had
so often flown to her lover. When she reached the
turn where the wood-road branched off from the Creston
highway she remembered the Gospel tent--long since
folded up and transplanted--and her start of
involuntary terror when the fat evangelist had said:
"Your Saviour knows everything. Come and confess your