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The Copy-Cat & Other Stories by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

Part 6 out of 7

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in response to all the wishes of others, but always he
remained in his own inadequate attitude toward life.

Now he was raking to as little purpose as he could
and rake at all. The clover-tops, the timothy grass,
and the buttercups moved before his rake in a faint
foam of gold and green and rose, but his sister Annie
raised whirlwinds with hers. The Hempstead yard
was large and deep, and had two great squares given
over to wild growths on either side of the gravel walk,
which was bordered with shrubs, flowering in their
turn, like a class of children at school saying their
lessons. The spring shrubs had all spelled out their
floral recitations, of course, but great clumps of
peonies were spreading wide skirts of gigantic bloom,
like dancers courtesying low on the stage of summer,
and shafts of green-white Yucca lilies and Japan
lilies and clove-pinks still remained in their school
of bloom.

Benny often stood still, wiped his forehead, leaned
on his rake, and inhaled the bouquet of sweet scents,
but Annie raked with never-ceasing energy. Annie
was small and slender and wiry, and moved with
angular grace, her thin, peaked elbows showing be-
neath the sleeves of her pink gingham dress, her thin
knees outlining beneath the scanty folds of the skirt.
Her neck was long, her shoulder-blades troubled the
back of her blouse at every movement. She was a
creature full of ostentatious joints, but the joints
were delicate and rhythmical and charming. Annie
had a charming face, too. It was thin and sun-
burnt, but still charming, with a sweet, eager, intent-
to-please outlook upon life. This last was the real
attitude of Annie's mind; it was, in fact, Annie. She
was intent to please from her toes to the crown of
her brown head. She radiated good will and loving-
kindness as fervently as a lily in the border radiated
perfume.

It was very warm, and the northwest sky had a
threatening mountain of clouds. Occasionally An-
nie glanced at it and raked the faster, and thought
complacently of the water-proof covers in the little
barn. This hay was valuable for the Reverend Silas's
horse.

Two of the front windows of the house were filled
with girls' heads, and the regular swaying movement
of white-clad arms sewing. The girls sat in the
house because it was so sunny on the piazza in the
afternoon. There were four girls in the sitting-
room, all making finery for themselves. On the
other side of the front door one of the two windows
was blank; in the other was visible a nodding gray
head, that of Annie's father taking his afternoon nap.

Everything was still except the girls' tongues, an
occasional burst of laughter, and the crackling shrill
of locusts. Nothing had passed on the dusty road
since Benny and Annie had begun their work. Lynn
Corners was nothing more than a hamlet. It was
even seldom that an automobile got astray there,
being diverted from the little city of Anderson, six
miles away, by turning to the left instead of the right.

Benny stopped again and wiped his forehead, all
pink and beaded with sweat. He was a pretty
young man -- as pretty as a girl, although large. He
glanced furtively at Annie, then he went with a soft,
padding glide, like a big cat, to the piazza and settled
down. He leaned his head against a post, closed his
eyes, and inhaled the sweetness of flowers alive and
dying, of new-mown hay. Annie glanced at him
and an angelic look came over her face. At that
moment the sweetness of her nature seemed actually
visible.

"He is tired, poor boy!" she thought. She also
thought that probably Benny felt the heat more be-
cause he was stout. Then she raked faster and
faster. She fairly flew over the yard, raking the
severed grass and flowers into heaps. The air grew
more sultry. The sun was not yet clouded, but the
northwest was darker and rumbled ominously.

The girls in the sitting-room continued to chatter
and sew. One of them might have come out to help
this little sister toiling alone, but Annie did not think
of that. She raked with the uncomplaining sweet-
ness of an angel until the storm burst. The rain
came down in solid drops, and the sky was a sheet
of clamoring flame. Annie made one motion toward
the barn, but there was no use. The hay was not
half cocked. There was no sense in running for
covers. Benny was up and lumbering into the house,
and her sisters were shutting windows and crying
out to her. Annie deserted her post and fled before
the wind, her pink skirts lashing her heels, her hair
dripping.

When she entered the sitting-room her sisters,
Imogen, Eliza, Jane, and Susan, were all there; also
her father, Silas, tall and gaunt and gray. To the
Hempsteads a thunder-storm partook of the nature
of a religious ceremony. The family gathered to-
gether, and it was understood that they were all
offering prayer and recognizing God as present on
the wings of the tempest. In reality they were all
very nervous in thunder-storms, with the exception
of Annie. She always sent up a little silent petition
that her sisters and brother and father, and the horse
and dog and cat, might escape danger, although she
had never been quite sure that she was not wicked
in including the dog and cat. She was surer about
the horse because he was the means by which her
father made pastoral calls upon his distant sheep.
Then afterward she just sat with the others and
waited until the storm was over and it was time to
open windows and see if the roof had leaked. To-
day, however, she was intent upon the hay. In a
lull of the tempest she spoke.

"It is a pity," she said, "that I was not able to
get the hay cocked and the covers on."

Then Imogen turned large, sarcastic blue eyes
upon her. Imogen was considered a beauty, pink
and white, golden-haired, and dimpled, with a curi-
ous calculating hardness of character and a sharp
tongue, so at variance with her appearance that
people doubted the evidence of their senses.

"If," said Imogen, "you had only made Benny
work instead of encouraging him to dawdle and
finally to stop altogether, and if you had gone out
directly after dinner, the hay would have been all
raked up and covered."

Nothing could have exceeded the calm and in-
structive superiority of Imogen's tone. A mass of
soft white fabric lay upon her lap, although she had
removed scissors and needle and thimble to a safe
distance. She tilted her chin with a royal air. When
the storm lulled she had stopped praying.

Imogen's sisters echoed her and joined in the at-
tack upon Annie.

"Yes," said Jane, "if you had only started earlier,
Annie. I told Eliza when you went out in the yard
that it looked like a shower."

Eliza nodded energetically.

"It was foolish to start so late," said Susan, with
a calm air of wisdom only a shade less exasperating
than Imogen's.

"And you always encourage Benny so in being
lazy," said Eliza.

Then the Reverend Silas joined in. "You should
have more sense of responsibility toward your broth-
er, your only brother, Annie," he said, in his deep
pulpit voice.

"It was after two o'clock when you went out,"
said Imogen.

"And all you had to do was the dinner-dishes, and
there were very few to-day," said Jane.

Then Annie turned with a quick, cat-like motion.
Her eyes blazed under her brown toss of hair. She
gesticulated with her little, nervous hands. Her
voice was as sweet and intense as a reed, and withal
piercing with anger.

"It was not half past one when I went out," said
she, "and there was a whole sinkful of dishes."

"It was after two. I looked at the clock," said
Imogen.

"It was not."

"And there were very few dishes," said Jane.

"A whole sinkful," said Annie, tense with wrath.

"You always are rather late about starting," said
Susan.

"I am not! I was not! I washed the dishes, and
swept the kitchen, and blacked the stove, and cleaned
the silver."

"I swept the kitchen," said Imogen, severely.
"Annie, I am surprised at you."

"And you know I cleaned the silver yesterday,"
said Jane.

Annie gave a gasp and looked from one to the
other.

"You know you did not sweep the kitchen," said
Imogen.

Annie's father gazed at her severely. "My dear,"
he said, "how long must I try to correct you of this
habit of making false statements?"

"Dear Annie does not realize that they are false
statements, father," said Jane. Jane was not pretty,
but she gave the effect of a long, sweet stanza of
some fine poetess. She was very tall and slender and
large-eyed, and wore always a serious smile. She
was attired in a purple muslin gown, cut V-shaped
at the throat, and, as always, a black velvet ribbon
with a little gold locket attached. The locket con-
tained a coil of hair. Jane had been engaged to a
young minister, now dead three years, and he had
given her the locket.

Jane no doubt had mourned for her lover, but she
had a covert pleasure in the romance of her situation.
She was a year younger than Annie, and she had
loved and lost, and so had achieved a sentimental
distinction. Imogen always had admirers. Eliza
had been courted at intervals half-heartedly by a
widower, and Susan had had a few fleeting chances.
But Jane was the only one who had been really defi-
nite in her heart affairs. As for Annie, nobody ever
thought of her in such a connection. It was supposed
that Annie had no thought of marriage, that she was
foreordained to remain unwed and keep house for
her father and Benny.

When Jane said that dear Annie did not realize
that she made false statements, she voiced an opinion
of the family before which Annie was always abso-
lutely helpless. Defense meant counter-accusation.
Annie could not accuse her family. She glanced
from one to the other. In her blue eyes were still
sparks of wrath, but she said nothing. She felt, as
always, speechless, when affairs reached such a junc-
ture. She began, in spite of her good sense, to feel
guiltily responsible for everything -- for the spoiling
of the hay, even for the thunder-storm. What was
more, she even wished to feel guiltily responsible.
Anything was better than to be sure her sisters were
not speaking the truth, that her father was blaming
her unjustly.

Benny, who sat hunched upon himself with the
effect of one set of bones and muscles leaning upon
others for support, was the only one who spoke for
her, and even he spoke to little purpose.

"One of you other girls," said he, in a thick, sweet
voice, "might have come out and helped Annie;
then she could have got the hay in."

They all turned on him.

"It is all very well for you to talk," said Imogen.
"I saw you myself quit raking hay and sit down on
the piazza."

"Yes," assented Jane, nodding violently, "I saw
you, too."

"You have no sense of your responsibility, Ben-
jamin, and your sister Annie abets you in evading
it," said Silas Hempstead with dignity.

"Benny feels the heat," said Annie.

"Father is entirely right," said Eliza. "Benja-
min has no sense of responsibility, and it is mainly
owing to Annie."

"But dear Annie does not realize it," said
Jane.

Benny got up lumberingly and left the room. He
loved his sister Annie, but he hated the mild simmer
of feminine rancor to which even his father's pres-
ence failed to add a masculine flavor. Benny was
always leaving the room and allowing his sisters
"to fight it out."

Just after he left there was a tremendous peal
of thunder and a blue flash, and they all prayed
again, except Annie; who was occupied with her own
perplexities of life, and not at all afraid. She won-
dered, as she had wondered many times before, if
she could possibly be in the wrong, if she were spoil-
ing Benny, if she said and did things without know-
ing that she did so, or the contrary. Then suddenly
she tightened her mouth. She knew. This sweet-
tempered, anxious-to-please Annie was entirely sane,
she had unusual self-poise. She KNEW that she knew
what she did and said, and what she did not do or
say, and a strange comprehension of her family over-
whelmed her. Her sisters were truthful; she would
not admit anything else, even to herself; but they
confused desires and impulses with accomplishment.
They had done so all their lives, some of them from
intense egotism, some possibly from slight twists in
their mental organisms. As for her father, he had
simply rather a weak character, and was swayed by
the majority. Annie, as she sat there among the
praying group, made the same excuse for her sisters
that they made for her. "They don't realize it,"
she said to herself.

When the storm finally ceased she hurried up-
stairs and opened the windows, letting in the rain-
fresh air. Then she got supper, while her sisters
resumed their needlework. A curious conviction
seized her, as she was hurrying about the kitchen,
that in all probability some, if not all, of her sisters
considered that they were getting the supper. Pos-
sibly Jane had reflected that she ought to get supper,
then she had taken another stitch in her work and
had not known fairly that her impulse of duty had
not been carried out. Imogen, presumably, was sew-
ing with the serene consciousness that, since she was
herself, it followed as a matter of course that she was
performing all the tasks of the house.

While Annie was making an omelet Benny came
out into the kitchen and stood regarding her, hands
in pockets, making, as usual, one set of muscles rest
upon another. His face was full of the utmost good
nature, but it also convicted him of too much sloth
to obey its commands.

"Say, Annie, what on earth makes them all pick
on you so?" he observed.

"Hush, Benny! They don't mean to. They don't
know it."

"But say, Annie, you must know that they tell
whoppers. You DID sweep the kitchen."

"Hush, Benny! Imogen really thinks she swept
it."

"Imogen always thinks she has done everything
she ought to do, whether she has done it or not,"
said Benny, with unusual astuteness. "Why don't
you up and tell her she lies, Annie?"

"She doesn't really lie," said Annie.

"She does lie, even if she doesn't know it," said
Benny; "and what is more, she ought to be made to
know it. Say, Annie, it strikes me that you are
doing the same by the girls that they accuse you of
doing by me. Aren't you encouraging them in evil
ways?"

Annie started, and turned and stared at him.

Benny nodded. "I can't see any difference," he
said. "There isn't a day but one of the girls thinks
she has done something you have done, or hasn't
done something you ought to have done, and they
blame you all the time, when you don't deserve it,
and you let them, and they don't know it, and I
don't think myself that they know they tell whop-
pers; but they ought to know. Strikes me you are
just spoiling the whole lot, father thrown in, Annie.
You are a dear, just as they say, but you are too
much of a dear to be good for them."

Annie stared.

"You are letting that omelet burn," said Benny.
"Say, Annie, I will go out and turn that hay in
the morning. I know I don't amount to much, but
I ain't a girl, anyhow, and I haven't got a cross-eyed
soul. That's what ails a lot of girls. They mean all
right, but their souls have been cross-eyed ever
since they came into the world, and it's just such
girls as you who ought to get them straightened
out. You know what has happened to-day. Well,
here's what happened yesterday. I don't tell tales,
but you ought to know this, for I believe Tom Reed
has his eye on you, in spite of Imogen's being such
a beauty, and Susan's having manners like silk,
and Eliza's giving everybody the impression that
she is too good for this earth, and Jane's trying to
make everybody think she is a sweet martyr, with-
out a thought for mortal man, when that is only
her way of trying to catch one. You know Tom
Reed was here last evening?"

Annie nodded. Her face turned scarlet, then
pathetically pale. She bent over her omelet, care-
fully lifting it around the edges.

"Well," Benny went on, "I know he came to see
you, and Imogen went to the door and ushered him
into the parlor, and I was out on the piazza, and
she didn't know it, but I heard her tell him that she
thought you had gone out. She hinted, too, that
George Wells had taken you to the concert in the
town hall. He did ask you, didn't he?"

"Yes."

"Well, Imogen spoke in this way." Benny
lowered his voice and imitated Imogen to the life.
"'Yes, we are all well, thank you. Father is busy,
of course; Jane has run over to Mrs. Jacobs's for
a pattern; Eliza is writing letters; and Susan is
somewhere about the house. Annie -- well, Annie --
George Wells asked her to go to the concert -- I
rather --' Then," said Benny, in his natural voice,
"Imogen stopped, and she could say truthfully
that she didn't lie, but anybody would have thought
from what she said that you had gone to the concert
with George Wells."

"Did Tom inquire for me?" asked Annie, in a
low voice.

"Didn't have a chance. Imogen got ahead of
him."

"Oh, well, then it doesn't matter. I dare say he
did come to see Imogen."

"He didn't," said Benny, stoutly. "And that
isn't all. Say, Annie --"

"What?"

"Are you going to marry George Wells? It is
none of my business, but are you?"

Annie laughed a little, although her face was still
pale. She had folded the omelet and was carefully
watching it.

"You need not worry about that, Benny dear,"
she said.

"Then what right have the girls to tell so many
people the nice things they hear you say about him?"

Annie removed the omelet skilfully from the pan
to a hot plate, which she set on the range shelf, and
turned to her brother.

"What nice things do they hear me say?"

"That he is so handsome; that he has such a
good position; that he is the very best young man
in the place; that you should think every girl
would be head over heels in love with him; that
every word he speaks is so bright and clever."

Annie looked at her brother.

"I don't believe you ever said one of those things,"
remarked Benny.

Annie continued to look at him.

"Did you?"

"Benny dear, I am not going to tell you."

"You won't say you never did, because that
would be putting your sisters in the wrong and
admitting that they tell lies. Annie, you are a dear,
but I do think you are doing wrong and spoiling
them as much as they say you are spoiling me."

"Perhaps I am," said Annie. There was a strange,
tragic expression on her keen, pretty little face.
She looked as if her mind was contemplating strenu-
ous action which was changing her very features.
She had covered the finished omelet and was now
cooking another.

"I wish you would see if everybody is in the
house and ready, Benny," said she. "When this
omelet is done they must come right away, or nothing
will be fit to eat. And, Benny dear, if you don't
mind, please get the butter and the cream-pitcher
out of the ice-chest. I have everything else on the
table."

"There is another thing," said Benny. "I don't
go about telling tales, but I do think it is time you
knew. The girls tell everybody that you like to do
the housework so much that they don't dare inter-
fere. And it isn't so. They may have taught them-
selves to think it is so, but it isn't. You would like
a little time for fancy-work and reading as well as
they do."

"Please get the cream and butter, and see if
they are all in the house," said Annie. She spoke
as usual, but the strange expression remained in her
face. It was still there when the family were all
gathered at the table and she was serving the puffy
omelet. Jane noticed it first.

"What makes you look so odd, Annie?" said she.

"I don't know how I look odd," replied Annie.

They all gazed at her then, her father with some
anxiety. "You don't look yourself," he said. "You
are feeling well, aren't you, Annie?"

"Quite well, thank you, father."

But after the omelet was served and the tea
poured Annie rose.

"Where are you going, Annie?" asked Imogen,
in her sarcastic voice.

"To my room, or perhaps out in the orchard."

"It will be sopping wet out there after the shower,"
said Eliza. "Are you crazy, Annie?"

"I have on my black skirt, and I will wear rub-
bers," said Annie, quietly. "I want some fresh air."

"I should think you had enough fresh air. You
were outdoors all the afternoon, while we were
cooped up in the house," said Jane.

"Don't you feel well, Annie?" her father asked
again, a golden bit of omelet poised on his fork, as
she was leaving the room.

"Quite well, father dear."

"But you are eating no supper."

"I have always heard that people who cook don't
need so much to eat," said Imogen. "They say
the essence of the food soaks in through the pores."

"I am quite well," Annie repeated, and the door
closed behind her.

"Dear Annie! She is always doing odd things
like this," remarked Jane.

"Yes, she is, things that one cannot account for,
but Annie is a dear," said Susan.

"I hope she is well," said Annie's father.

"Oh, she is well enough. Don't worry, father,"
said Imogen. "Dear Annie is always doing the
unexpected. She looks very well."

"Yes, dear Annie is quite stout, for her," said Jane.

"I think she is thinner than I have ever seen her,
and the rest of you look like stuffed geese," said
Benny, rudely.

Imogen turned upon him in dignified wrath.
"Benny, you insult your sisters," said she. "Father,
you should really tell Benny that he should bridle
his tongue a little."

"You ought to bridle yours, every one of you,"
retorted Benny. "You girls nag poor Annie every
single minute. You let her do all the work, then
you pick at her for it."

There was a chorus of treble voices. "We nag
dear Annie! We pick at dear Annie! We make
her do everything! Father, you should remonstrate
with Benjamin. You know how we all love dear
Annie!"

"Benjamin," began Silas Hempstead, but Benny,
with a smothered exclamation, was up and out of
the room.

Benny quite frankly disliked his sisters, with the
exception of Annie. For his father he had a sort of
respectful tolerance. He could not see why he should
have anything else. His father had never done
anything for him except to admonish him. His
scanty revenue for his support and college expenses
came from his maternal grandmother, who had been
a woman of parts and who had openly scorned her
son-in-law.

Grandmother Loomis had left a will which occa-
sioned much comment. By its terms she had pro-
vided sparsely but adequately for Benjamin's edu-
cation and living until he should graduate; and her
house, with all her personal property, and the bulk of
the sum from which she had derived her own income,
fell to her granddaughter Annie. Annie had always
been her grandmother's favorite. There had been
covert dismay when the contents of the will were
made known, then one and all had congratulated
the beneficiary, and said abroad that they were glad
dear Annie was so well provided for. It was inti-
mated by Imogen and Eliza that probably dear
Annie would not marry, and in that case Grand-
mother Loomis's bequest was so fortunate. She had
probably taken that into consideration. Grand-
mother Loomis had now been dead four years, and
her deserted home had been for rent, furnished, but
it had remained vacant.

Annie soon came back from the orchard, and after
she had cleared away the supper-table and washed
the dishes she went up to her room, carefully re-
arranged her hair, and changed her dress. Then she
sat down beside a window and waited and watched,
her pointed chin in a cup of one little thin hand, her
soft muslin skirts circling around her, and the scent
of queer old sachet emanating from a flowered ribbon
of her grandmother's which she had tied around her
waist. The ancient scent always clung to the rib-
bon, suggesting faintly as a dream the musk and
roses and violets of some old summer-time.

Annie sat there and gazed out on the front yard,
which was silvered over with moonlight. Annie's
four sisters all sat out there. They had spread a
rug over the damp grass and brought out chairs.
There were five chairs, although there were only
four girls. Annie gazed over the yard and down the
street. She heard the chatter of the girls, which
was inconsequent and absent, as if their minds were
on other things than their conversation. Then sud-
denly she saw a small red gleam far down the street,
evidently that of a cigar, and also a dark, moving
figure. Then there ensued a subdued wrangle in
the yard. Imogen insisted that her sisters should
go into the house. They all resisted, Eliza the most
vehemently. Imogen was arrogant and compelling.
Finally she drove them all into the house except
Eliza, who wavered upon the threshold of yielding.
Imogen was obliged to speak very softly lest the ap-
proaching man hear, but Annie, in the window above
her, heard every word.

"You know he is coming to see me," said Imogen,
passionately. "You know -- you know, Eliza, and
yet every single time he comes, here are you girls,
spying and listening."

"He comes to see Annie, I believe," said Eliza,
in her stubborn voice, which yet had indecision in it.

"He never asks for her."

"He never has a chance. We all tell him, the
minute he comes in, that she is out. But now I am
going to stay, anyway."

"Stay if you want to. You are all a jealous lot.
If you girls can't have a beau yourselves, you be-
grudge one to me. I never saw such a house as this
for a man to come courting in."

"I will stay," said Eliza, and this time her voice
was wholly firm. "There is no use in my going,
anyway, for the others are coming back."

It was true. Back flitted Jane and Susan, and by
that time Tom Reed had reached the gate, and his cigar
was going out in a shower of sparks on the gravel
walk, and all four sisters were greeting him and
urging upon his acceptance the fifth chair. Annie,
watching, saw that the young man seemed to hesi-
tate. Then her heart leaped and she heard him
speak quite plainly, with a note of defiance and irri-
tation, albeit with embarrassment.

"Is Miss Annie in?" asked Tom Reed.

Imogen answered first, and her harsh voice was
honey-sweet.

"I fear dear Annie is out," she said. "She will
be so sorry to miss you."

Annie, at her window, made a sudden passionate
motion, then she sat still and listened. She argued
fiercely that she was right in so doing. She felt that
the time had come when she must know, for the sake
of her own individuality, just what she had to deal
with in the natures of her own kith and kin. Dear
Annie had turned in her groove of sweetness and
gentle yielding, as all must turn who have any
strength of character underneath the sweetness and
gentleness. Therefore Annie, at her window above,
listened.

At first she heard little that bore upon herself,
for the conversation was desultory, about the weather
and general village topics. Then Annie heard her
own name. She was "dear Annie," as usual. She
listened, fairly faint with amazement. What she
heard from that quartette of treble voices down there
in the moonlight seemed almost like a fairy-tale.
The sisters did not violently incriminate her. They
were too astute for that. They told half-truths.
They told truths which were as shadows of the real
facts, and yet not to be contradicted. They built
up between them a story marvelously consist-
ent, unless prearranged, and that Annie did not
think possible. George Wells figured in the tale,
and there were various hints and pauses concerning
herself and her own character in daily life, and not
one item could be flatly denied, even if the girl could
have gone down there and, standing in the midst
of that moonlit group, given her sisters the lie.

Everything which they told, the whole structure
of falsehood, had beams and rafters of truth. Annie
felt helpless before it all. To her fancy, her sisters
and Tom Reed seemed actually sitting in a fairy
building whose substance was utter falsehood, and
yet which could not be utterly denied. An awful
sense of isolation possessed her. So these were her
own sisters, the sisters whom she had loved as a
matter of the simplest nature, whom she had ad-
mired, whom she had served.

She made no allowance, since she herself was per-
fectly normal, for the motive which underlay it all.
She could not comprehend the strife of the women
over the one man. Tom Reed was in reality the one
desirable match in the village. Annie knew, or
thought she knew, that Tom Reed had it in mind
to love her, and she innocently had it in mind to
love him. She thought of a home of her own and
his with delight. She thought of it as she thought
of the roses coming into bloom in June, and she
thought of it as she thought of the every-day hap-
penings of life -- cooking, setting rooms in order,
washing dishes. However, there was something
else to reckon with, and that Annie instinctively
knew. She had been long-suffering, and her long-
suffering was now regarded as endless. She had
cast her pearls, and they had been trampled. She
had turned her other cheek, and it had been promptly
slapped. It was entirely true that Annie's sisters
were not quite worthy of her, that they had taken
advantage of her kindness and gentleness, and had
mistaken them for weakness, to be despised. She
did not understand them, nor they her. They
were, on the whole, better than she thought, but
with her there was a stern limit of endurance. Some-
thing whiter and hotter than mere wrath was in the
girl's soul as she sat there and listened to the build-
ing of that structure of essential falsehood about
herself.

She waited until Tom Reed had gone. He did
not stay long. Then she went down-stairs with
flying feet, and stood among them in the moonlight.
Her father had come out of the study, and Benny
had just been entering the gate as Tom Reed left.
Then dear Annie spoke. She really spoke for the
first time in her life, and there was something dread-
ful about it all. A sweet nature is always rather
dreadful when it turns and strikes, and Annie struck
with the whole force of a nature with a foundation
of steel. She left nothing unsaid. She defended
herself and she accused her sisters as if before a
judge. Then came her ultimatum.

"To-morrow morning I am going over to Grand-
mother Loomis's house, and I am going to live there
a whole year," she declared, in a slow, steady voice.
"As you know, I have enough to live on, and -- in
order that no word of mine can be garbled and twisted
as it has been to-night, I speak not at all. Every-
thing which I have to communicate shall be written
in black and white, and signed with my own name,
and black and white cannot lie."

It was Jane who spoke first. "What will people
say?" she whimpered, feebly.

"From what I have heard you all say to-night,
whatever you make them," retorted Annie -- the
Annie who had turned.

Jane gasped. Silas Hempstead stood staring,
quite dumb before the sudden problem. Imogen
alone seemed to have any command whatever of
the situation.

"May I inquire what the butcher and grocer are
going to think, no matter what your own sisters
think and say, when you give your orders in writ-
ing?" she inquired, achieving a jolt from tragedy
to the commonplace.

"That is my concern," replied Annie, yet she
recognized the difficulty of that phase of the situa-
tion. It is just such trifling matters which detract
from the dignity of extreme attitudes toward ex-
istence. Annie had taken an extreme attitude,
yet here were the butcher and the grocer to reckon
with. How could she communicate with them in
writing without appearing absurd to the verge of
insanity? Yet even that difficulty had a solution.

Annie thought it out after she had gone to bed
that night. She had been imperturbable with her
sisters, who had finally come in a body to make
entreaties, although not apologies or retractions.
There was a stiff-necked strain in the Hempstead
family, and apologies and retractions were bitterer
cuds for them to chew than for most. She had been
imperturbable with her father, who had quoted
Scripture and prayed at her during family worship.
She had been imperturbable even with Benny, who
had whispered to her: "Say, Annie, I don't blame
you, but it will be a hell of a time without you.
Can't you stick it out?"

But she had had a struggle before her own vision
of the butcher and the grocer, and their amazement
when she ceased to speak to them. Then she settled
that with a sudden leap of inspiration. It sounded
too apropos to be life, but there was a little deaf-and-
dumb girl, a far-away relative of the Hempsteads,
who lived with her aunt Felicia in Anderson. She
was a great trial to her aunt Felicia, who was a
widow and well-to-do, and liked the elegancies and
normalities of life. This unfortunate little Effie
Hempstead could not be placed in a charitable insti-
tution on account of the name she bore. Aunt
Felicia considered it her worldly duty to care for
her, but it was a trial.

Annie would take Effie off Aunt Felicia's hands,
and no comment would be excited by a deaf-and-
dumb girl carrying written messages to the trades-
men, since she obviously could not give them orally.
The only comment would be on Annie's conduct
in holding herself aloof from her family and the
village people generally.

The next morning, when Annie went away, there
was an excited conclave among the sisters.

"She means to do it," said Susan, and she wept.

Imogen's handsome face looked hard and set.
"Let her, if she wants to," said she.

"Only think what people will say!" wailed Jane.

Imogen tossed her head. "I shall have some-
thing to say myself," she returned. "I shall say how
much we all regret that dear Annie has such a
difficult disposition that she felt she could not live
with her own family and must be alone."

"But," said Jane, blunt in her distress, "will they
believe it?"

"Why will they not believe it, pray?"

"Why, I am afraid people have the impression
that dear Annie has --" Jane hesitated.

"What?" asked Imogen, coldly. She looked very
handsome that morning. Not a waved golden hair
was out of place on her carefully brushed head.
She wore the neatest of blue linen skirts and blouses,
with a linen collar and white tie. There was some-
thing hard but compelling about her blond beauty.

"I am afraid," said Jane, "that people have a
sort of general impression that dear Annie has per-
haps as sweet a disposition as any of us, perhaps
sweeter."

"Nobody says that dear Annie has not a sweet
disposition," said Imogen, taking a careful stitch in
her embroidery. "But a sweet disposition is very
often extremely difficult for other people. It con-
stantly puts them in the wrong. I am well aware of
the fact that dear Annie does a great deal for all
of us, but it is sometimes irritating. Of course
it is quite certain that she must have a feeling
of superiority because of it, and she should not
have it."

Sometimes Eliza made illuminating speeches. "I
suppose it follows, then," said she, with slight irony,
"that only an angel can have a very sweet disposi-
tion without offending others."

But Imogen was not in the least nonplussed.
She finished her line of thought. "And with all her
sweet disposition," said she, "nobody can deny
that dear Annie is peculiar, and peculiarity always
makes people difficult for other people. Of course
it is horribly peculiar what she is proposing to do
now. That in itself will be enough to convince
people that dear Annie must be difficult. Only a
difficult person could do such a strange thing."

"Who is going to get up and get breakfast in the
morning, and wash the dishes?" inquired Jane,
irrelevantly.

"All I ever want for breakfast is a bit of fruit, a
roll, and an egg, besides my coffee," said Imogen,
with her imperious air.

"Somebody has to prepare it."

"That is a mere nothing," said Imogen, and she
took another stitch.

After a little, Jane and Eliza went by themselves
and discussed the problem.

"It is quite evident that Imogen means to do
nothing," said Jane.

"And also that she will justify herself by the
theory that there is nothing to be done," said Eliza.

"Oh, well," said Jane, "I will get up and get
breakfast, of course. I once contemplated the pros-
pect of doing it the rest of my life."

Eliza assented. "I can understand that it will
not be so hard for you," she said, "and although I
myself always aspired to higher things than preparing
breakfasts, still, you did not, and it is true that you
would probably have had it to do if poor Henry
had lived, for he was not one to ever have a very
large salary."

"There are better things than large salaries,"
said Jane, and her face looked sadly reminiscent.
After all, the distinction of being the only one who
had been on the brink of preparing matrimonial
breakfasts was much. She felt that it would make
early rising and early work endurable to her, although
she was not an active young woman.

"I will get a dish-mop and wash the dishes," said
Eliza. "I can manage to have an instructive book
propped open on the kitchen table, and keep my
mind upon higher things as I do such menial tasks."

Then Susan stood in the doorway, a tall figure
gracefully swaying sidewise, long-throated and promi-
nent-eyed. She was the least attractive-looking of
any of the sisters, but her manners were so charming,
and she was so perfectly the lady, that it made up
for any lack of beauty.

"I will dust," said Susan, in a lovely voice, and
as she spoke she involuntarily bent and swirled her
limp muslins in such a way that she fairly suggested
a moral duster. There was the making of an actress
in Susan. Nobody had ever been able to decide what
her true individual self was. Quite unconsciously,
like a chameleon, she took upon herself the charac-
teristics of even inanimate things. Just now she
was a duster, and a wonderfully creditable duster.

"Who," said Jane, "is going to sweep? Dear
Annie has always done that."

"I am not strong enough to sweep. I am very
sorry," said Susan, who remained a duster, and did
not become a broom.

"If we have system," said Eliza, vaguely, "the
work ought not to be so very hard."

"Of course not," said Imogen. She had come in
and seated herself. Her three sisters eyed her, but
she embroidered imperturbably. The same thought
was in the minds of all. Obviously Imogen was the
very one to take the task of sweeping upon herself.
That hard, compact, young body of hers suggested
strenuous household work. Embroidery did not
seem to be her role at all.

But Imogen had no intention of sweeping. Indeed,
the very imagining of such tasks in connection with
herself was beyond her. She did not even dream
that her sisters expected it of her.

"I suppose," said Jane, "that we might be able
to engage Mrs. Moss to come in once a week and
do the sweeping."

"It would cost considerable," said Susan.

"But it has to be done."

"I should think it might be managed, with sys-
tem, if you did not hire anybody," said Imogen,
calmly.

"You talk of system as if it were a suction cleaner,"
said Eliza, with a dash of asperity. Sometimes she
reflected how she would have hated Imogen had
she not been her sister.

"System is invaluable," said Imogen. She looked
away from her embroidery to the white stretch of
country road, arched over with elms, and her beau-
tiful eyes had an expression as if they sighted sys-
tem, the justified settler of all problems.

Meantime, Annie Hempstead was traveling to
Anderson in the jolting trolley-car, and trying to
settle her emotions and her outlook upon life, which
jolted worse than the car upon a strange new track.
She had not the slightest intention of giving up her
plan, but she realized within herself the sensations
of a revolutionist. Who in her family, for generations
and generations, had ever taken the course which
she was taking? She was not exactly frightened
-- Annie had splendid courage when once her blood
was up -- but she was conscious of a tumult and grind
of adjustment to a new level which made her nervous.

She reached the end of the car line, then walked
about half a mile to her Aunt Felicia Hempstead's
house. It was a handsome house, after the standard
of nearly half a century ago. It had an opulent air,
with its swelling breasts of bay windows, through
which showed fine lace curtains; its dormer-windows,
each with its carefully draped curtains; its black-
walnut front door, whose side-lights were screened
with medallioned lace. The house sat high on three
terraces of velvet-like grass, and was surmounted by
stone steps in three instalments, each of which was
flanked by stone lions.

Annie mounted the three tiers of steps between the
stone lions and rang the front-door bell, which was
polished so brightly that it winked at her like a
brazen eye. Almost directly the door was opened
by an immaculate, white-capped and white-aproned
maid, and Annie was ushered into the parlor. When
Annie had been a little thing she had been enamoured
of and impressed by the splendor of this parlor. Now
she had doubts of it, in spite of the long, magnificent
sweep of lace curtains, the sheen of carefully kept
upholstery, the gleam of alabaster statuettes, and
the even piles of gilt-edged books upon the polished
tables.

Soon Mrs. Felicia Hempstead entered, a tall, well-
set-up woman, with a handsome face and keen eyes.
She wore her usual morning costume -- a breakfast
sacque of black silk profusely trimmed with lace,
and a black silk skirt. She kissed Annie, with a
slight peck of closely set lips, for she liked her. Then
she sat down opposite her and regarded her with
as much of a smile as her sternly set mouth could
manage, and inquired politely regarding her health
and that of the family. When Annie broached the
subject of her call, the set calm of her face relaxed,
and she nodded.

"I know what your sisters are. You need not
explain to me," she said.

"But," returned Annie, "I do not think they
realize. It is only because I --"

"Of course," said Felicia Hempstead. "It is be-
cause they need a dose of bitter medicine, and you
hope they will be the better for it. I understand you,
my dear. You have spirit enough, but you don't
get it up often. That is where they make their mis-
take. Often the meek are meek from choice, and
they are the ones to beware of. I don't blame you
for trying it. And you can have Effie and welcome.
I warn you that she is a little wearing. Of course
she can't help her affliction, poor child, but it is
dreadful. I have had her taught. She can read
and write very well now, poor child, and she is not
lacking, and I have kept her well dressed. I take
her out to drive with me every day, and am not
ashamed to have her seen with me. If she had all
her faculties she would not be a bad-looking little
girl. Now, of course, she has something of a vacant
expression. That comes, I suppose, from her not
being able to hear. She has learned to speak a few
words, but I don't encourage her doing that before
people. It is too evident that there is something
wrong. She never gets off one tone. But I will let
her speak to you. She will be glad to go with you.
She likes you, and I dare say you can put up with
her. A woman when she is alone will make a com-
panion of a brazen image. You can manage all right
for everything except her clothes and lessons. I
will pay for them."

"Can't I give her lessons?"

"Well, you can try, but I am afraid you will need
to have Mr. Freer come over once a week. It seems
to me to be quite a knack to teach the deaf and
dumb. You can see. I will have Effie come in and
tell her about the plan. I wanted to go to Europe
this summer, and did not know how to manage
about Effie. It will be a godsend to me, this ar-
rangement, and of course after the year is up she
can come back."

With that Felicia touched a bell, the maid ap-
peared with automatic readiness, and presently a
tall little girl entered. She was very well dressed.
Her linen frock was hand-embroidered, and her shoes
were ultra. Her pretty shock of fair hair was tied
with French ribbon in a fetching bow, and she made
a courtesy which would have befitted a little prin-
cess. Poor Effie's courtesy was the one feature in
which Felicia Hempstead took pride. After making
it the child always glanced at her for approval, and
her face lighted up with pleasure at the faint smile
which her little performance evoked. Effie would
have been a pretty little girl had it not been for that
vacant, bewildered expression of which Felicia had
spoken. It was the expression of one shut up with
the darkest silence of life, that of her own self, and
beauty was incompatible with it.

Felicia placed her stiff forefinger upon her own
lips and nodded, and the child's face became trans-
figured. She spoke in a level, awful voice, utterly
devoid of inflection, and full of fright. Her voice
was as the first attempt of a skater upon ice. How-
ever, it was intelligible.

"Good morning," said she. "I hope you are well."
Then she courtesied again. That little speech and
one other, "Thank you, I am very well," were all
she had mastered. Effie's instruction had begun
rather late, and her teacher was not remarkably
skilful.

When Annie's lips moved in response, Effie's face
fairly glowed with delight and affection. The little
girl loved Annie. Then her questioning eyes sought
Felicia, who beckoned, and drew from the pocket
of her rustling silk skirt a tiny pad and pencil. Effie
crossed the room and stood at attention while Felicia
wrote. When she had read the words on the pad she
gave one look at Annie, then another at Felicia, who
nodded.

Effie courtesied before Annie like a fairy dancer.
"Good morning. I hope you are well," she said.
Then she courtesied again and said, "Thank you,
I am very well." Her pretty little face was quite
eager with love and pleasure, and yet there was an
effect as of a veil before the happy emotion in it.
The contrast between the awful, level voice and the
grace of motion and evident delight at once shocked
and compelled pity. Annie put her arms around
Effie and kissed her.

"You dear little thing," she said, quite forgetting
that Effie could not hear.

Felicia Hempstead got speedily to work, and soon
Effie's effects were packed and ready for transporta-
tion upon the first express to Lynn Corners, and
Annie and the little girl had boarded the trolley
thither.

Annie Hempstead had the sensation of one who
takes a cold plunge -- half pain and fright, half exhil-
aration and triumph -- when she had fairly taken pos-
session of her grandmother's house. There was gen-
uine girlish pleasure in looking over the stock of
old china and linen and ancient mahoganies, in
starting a fire in the kitchen stove, and preparing
a meal, the written order for which Effie had taken
to the grocer and butcher. There was genuine de-
light in sitting down with Effie at her very own table,
spread with her grandmother's old damask and
pretty dishes, and eating, without hearing a word of
unfavorable comment upon the cookery. But there
was a certain pain and terror in trampling upon that
which it was difficult to define, either her conscience
or sense of the divine right of the conventional.

But that night after Effie had gone to bed, and
the house was set to rights, and she in her cool muslin
was sitting on the front-door step, under the hooded
trellis covered with wistaria, she was conscious of
entire emancipation. She fairly gloated over her
new estate.

"To-night one of the others will really have to
get the supper, and wash the dishes, and not be able
to say she did it and I didn't, when I did," Annie
thought with unholy joy. She knew perfectly well
that her viewpoint was not sanctified, but she felt
that she must allow her soul to have its little witch-
caper or she could not answer for the consequences.
There might result spiritual atrophy, which would
be much more disastrous than sin and repentance.
It was either the continuance of her old life in her
father's house, which was the ignominious and harm-
ful one of the scapegoat, or this. She at last reveled
in this. Here she was mistress. Here what she did,
she did, and what she did not do remained undone.
Here her silence was her invincible weapon. Here
she was free.

The soft summer night enveloped her. The air
was sweet with flowers and the grass which lay still
unraked in her father's yard. A momentary feeling
of impatience seized her; then she dismissed it, and
peace came. What had she to do with that hay?
Her father would be obliged to buy hay if it were not
raked over and dried, but what of that? She had
nothing to do with it.

She heard voices and soft laughter. A dark
shadow passed along the street. Her heart quick-
ened its beat. The shadow turned in at her father's
gate. There was a babel of welcoming voices, of
which Annie could not distinguish one articulate
word. She sat leaning forward, her eyes intent upon
the road. Then she heard the click of her father's gate
and the dark, shadowy figure reappeared in the road.
Annie knew who it was; she knew that Tom Reed
was coming to see her. For a second, rapture seized
her, then dismay. How well she knew her sisters --
how very well! Not one of them would have given
him the slightest inkling of the true situation. They
would have told him, by the sweetest of insinuations,
rather than by straight statements, that she had left
her father's roof and come over here, but not one
word would have been told him concerning her vow
of silence. They would leave that for him to dis-
cover, to his amazement and anger.

Annie rose and fled. She closed the door, turned
the key softly, and ran up-stairs in the dark. Kneel-
ing before a window on the farther side from her old
home, she watched with eager eyes the young man
open the gate and come up the path between the
old-fashioned shrubs. The clove-like fragrance of
the pinks in the border came in her face. Annie
watched Tom Reed disappear beneath the trellised
hood of the door; then the bell tinkled through the
house. It seemed to Annie that she heard it as she
had never heard anything before. Every nerve in her
body seemed urging her to rise and go down-stairs
and admit this young man whom she loved. But
her will, turned upon itself, kept her back. She
could not rise and go down; something stronger
than her own wish restrained her. She suffered
horribly, but she remained. The bell tinkled again.
There was a pause, then it sounded for the third
time.

Annie leaned against the window, faint and trem-
bling. It was rather horrible to continue such a fight
between will and inclination, but she held out. She
would not have been herself had she not done so.
Then she saw Tom Reed's figure emerge from under
the shadow of the door, pass down the path between
the sweet-flowering shrubs, seeming to stir up the
odor of the pinks as he did so. He started to go
down the road; then Annie heard a loud, silvery call,
with a harsh inflection, from her father's house.
"Imogen is calling him back," she thought.

Annie was out of the room, and, slipping softly
down-stairs and out into the yard, crouched close
to the fence overgrown with sweetbrier, its founda-
tion hidden in the mallow, and there she listened.
She wanted to know what Imogen and her other
sisters were about to say to Tom Reed, and she
meant to know. She heard every word. The dis-
tance was not great, and her sisters' voices carried
far, in spite of their honeyed tones and efforts tow-
ard secrecy. By the time Tom had reached the
gate of the parsonage they had all crowded down
there, a fluttering assembly in their snowy summer
muslins, like white doves. Annie heard Imogen first.
Imogen was always the ringleader.

"Couldn't you find her?" asked Imogen.

"No. Rang three times," replied Tom. He had
a boyish voice, and his chagrin showed plainly in it.
Annie knew just how he looked, how dear and big
and foolish, with his handsome, bewildered face,
blurting out to her sisters his disappointment, with
innocent faith in their sympathy.

Then Annie heard Eliza speak in a small, sweet
voice, which yet, to one who understood her, carried in
it a sting of malice. "How very strange!" said Eliza.

Jane spoke next. She echoed Eliza, but her voice
was more emphatic and seemed multiple, as echoes
do. "Yes, very strange indeed," said Jane.

"Dear Annie is really very singular lately. It
has distressed us all, especially father," said Susan,
but deprecatingly.

Then Imogen spoke, and to the point. "Annie
must be in that house," said she. "She went in
there, and she could not have gone out without our
seeing her."

Annie could fairly see the toss of Imogen's head
as she spoke.

"What in thunder do you all mean?" asked Tom
Reed, and there was a bluntness, almost a brutality,
in his voice which was refreshing.

"I do not think such forcible language is becoming,
especially at the parsonage," said Jane.

Annie distinctly heard Tom Reed snort. "Hang
it if I care whether it is becoming or not," said he.

"You seem to forget that you are addressing
ladies, sir," said Jane.

"Don't forget it for a blessed minute," returned
Tom Reed. "Wish I could. You make it too evi-
dent that you are -- ladies, with every word you
speak, and all your beating about the bush. A man
would blurt it out, and then I would know where
I am at. Hang it if I know now. You all say that
your sister is singular and that she distresses your
father, and you" -- addressing Imogen -- "say that
she must be in that house. You are the only one
who does make a dab at speaking out; I will say
that much for you. Now, if she is in that house,
what in thunder is the matter?"

"I really cannot stay here and listen to such pro-
fane language," said Jane, and she flitted up the path
to the house like an enraged white moth. She had
a fleecy white shawl over her head, and her pale
outline was triangular.

"If she calls that profane, I pity her," said Tom
Reed. He had known the girls since they were
children, and had never liked Jane. He continued,
still addressing Imogen. "For Heaven's sake, if she
is in that house, what is the matter?" said he.
"Doesn't the bell ring? Yes, it does ring, though
it is as cracked as the devil. I heard it. Has Annie
gone deaf? Is she sick? Is she asleep? It is only
eight o'clock. I don't believe she is asleep. Doesn't
she want to see me? Is that the trouble? What
have I done? Is she angry with me?"

Eliza spoke, smoothly and sweetly. "Dear Annie
is singular," said she.

"What the dickens do you mean by singular?
I have known Annie ever since she was that high.
It never struck me that she was any more singular
than other girls, except she stood an awful lot of
nagging without making a kick. Here you all say
she is singular, as if you meant she was" -- Tom
hesitated a second -- "crazy," said he. "Now, I
know that Annie is saner than any girl around here,
and that simply does not go down. What do you
all mean by singular?"

"Dear Annie may not be singular, but her actions
are sometimes singular," said Susan. "We all feel
badly about this."

"You mean her going over to her grandmother's
house to live? I don't know whether I think that
is anything but horse-sense. I have eyes in my
head, and I have used them. Annie has worked
like a dog here; I suppose she needed a rest."

"We all do our share of the work," said Eliza,
calmly, "but we do it in a different way from dear
Annie. She makes very hard work of work. She
has not as much system as we could wish. She tires
herself unnecessarily."

"Yes, that is quite true," assented Imogen.
"Dear Annie gets very tired over the slightest tasks,
whereas if she went a little more slowly and used
more system the work would be accomplished well
and with no fatigue. There are five of us to do the
work here, and the house is very convenient."

There was a silence. Tom Reed was bewildered.
"But -- doesn't she want to see me?" he asked,
finally.

"Dear Annie takes very singular notions some-
times," said Eliza, softly.

"If she took a notion not to go to the door when
she heard the bell ring, she simply wouldn't," said
Imogen, whose bluntness of speech was, after all,
a relief.

"Then you mean that you think she took a notion
not to go to the door?" asked Tom, in a desperate
tone.

"Dear Annie is very singular," said Eliza, with
such softness and deliberation that it was like a
minor chord of music.

"Do you know of anything she has against me?"
asked Tom of Imogen; but Eliza answered for her.

"Dear Annie is not in the habit of making confi-
dantes of her sisters," said she, "but we do know
that she sometimes takes unwarranted dislikes."

"Which time generally cures," said Susan.

"Oh yes," assented Eliza, "which time generally
cures. She can have no reason whatever for avoid-
ing you. You have always treated her well."

"I have always meant to," said Tom, so miserably
and helplessly that Annie, listening, felt her heart
go out to this young man, badgered by females,
and she formed a sudden resolution.

"You have not seen very much of her, anyway,"
said Imogen.

"I have always asked for her, but I understood
she was busy," said Tom, "and that was the reason
why I saw her so seldom."

"Oh," said Eliza, "busy!" She said it with an
indescribable tone.

"If," supplemented Imogen, "there was system,
there would be no need of any one of us being too
busy to see our friends."

"Then she has not been busy? She has not wanted
to see me?" said Tom. "I think I understand at
last. I have been a fool not to before. You girls
have broken it to me as well as you could. Much
obliged, I am sure. Good night."

"Won't you come in?" asked Imogen.

"We might have some music," said Eliza.

"And there is an orange cake, and I will make
coffee," said Susan.

Annie reflected rapidly how she herself had made
that orange cake, and what queer coffee Susan
would be apt to concoct.

"No, thank you," said Tom Reed, briskly. "I
will drop in another evening. Think I must go
home now. I have some important letters. Good
night, all."

Annie made a soft rush to the gate, crouching
low that her sisters might not see her. They flocked
into the house with irascible murmurings, like scold-
ing birds, while Annie stole across the grass, which
had begun to glisten with silver wheels of dew. She
held her skirts closely wrapped around her, and
stepped through a gap in the shrubs beside the walk,
then sped swiftly to the gate. She reached it just
as Tom Reed was passing with a quick stride.

"Tom," said Annie, and the young man stopped
short.

He looked in her direction, but she stood close
to a great snowball-bush, and her dress was green
muslin, and he did not see her. Thinking that he
had been mistaken, he started on, when she called
again, and this time she stepped apart from the bush
and her voice sounded clear as a flute.

"Tom," she said. "Stop a minute, please."

Tom stopped and came close to her. In the dim
light she could see that his face was all aglow, like
a child's, with delight and surprise.

"Is that you, Annie?" he said.

"Yes. I want to speak to you, please."

"I have been here before, and I rang the bell three
times. Then you were out, although your sisters
thought not."

"No, I was in the house."

"You did not hear the bell?"

"Yes, I heard it every time."

"Then why --?"

"Come into the house with me and I will tell you;
at least I will tell you all I can."

Annie led the way and the young man followed.
He stood in the dark entry while Annie lit the parlor
lamp. The room was on the farther side of the
house from the parsonage.

"Come in and sit down," said Annie. Then the
young man stepped into a room which was pretty in
spite of itself. There was an old Brussels carpet
with an enormous rose pattern. The haircloth fur-
niture gave out gleams like black diamonds under
the light of the lamp. In a corner stood a what-not
piled with branches of white coral and shells. Annie's
grandfather had been a sea-captain, and many of
his spoils were in the house. Possibly Annie's own
occupation of it was due to an adventurous strain
inherited from him. Perhaps the same impulse
which led him to voyage to foreign shores had led
her to voyage across a green yard to the next house.

Tom Reed sat down on the sofa. Annie sat in a
rocking-chair near by. At her side was a Chinese
teapoy, a nest of lacquer tables, and on it stood a
small, squat idol. Annie's grandmother had been
taken to task by her son-in-law, the Reverend Silas,
for harboring a heathen idol, but she had only laughed,

"Guess as long as I don't keep heathen to bow
down before him, he can't do much harm," she had
said.

Now the grotesque face of the thing seemed to
stare at the two Occidental lovers with the strange,
calm sarcasm of the Orient, but they had no eyes
or thought for it.

"Why didn't you come to the door if you heard
the bell ring?" asked Tom Reed, gazing at Annie,
slender as a blade of grass in her clinging green
gown.

"Because I was not able to break my will then.
I had to break it to go out in the yard and ask you
to come in, but when the bell rang I hadn't got to
the point where I could break it."

"What on earth do you mean, Annie?"

Annie laughed. "I don't wonder you ask," she
said, "and the worst of it is I can't half answer you.
I wonder how much, or rather how little explanation
will content you?"

Tom Reed gazed at her with the eyes of a man
who might love a woman and have infinite patience
with her, relegating his lack of understanding of
her woman's nature to the background, as a thing
of no consequence.

"Mighty little will do for me," he said, "mighty
little, Annie dear, if you will only tell a fellow you
love him."

Annie looked at him, and her thin, sweet face
seemed to have a luminous quality, like a crescent
moon. Her look was enough.

"Then you do?" said Tom Reed.

"You have never needed to ask," said Annie.
"You knew."

"I haven't been so sure as you think," said Tom.
"Suppose you come over here and sit beside me.
You look miles away."

Annie laughed and blushed, but she obeyed. She
sat beside Tom and let him put his arm around her.
She sat up straight, by force of her instinctive
maidenliness, but she kissed him back when he
kissed her.

"I haven't been so sure," repeated Tom. "Annie
darling, why have I been unable to see more of you?
I have fairly haunted your house, and seen the whole
lot of your sisters, especially Imogen, but somehow
or other you have been as slippery as an eel. I have
always asked for you, but you were always out or
busy."

"I have been very busy," said Annie, evasively.
She loved this young man with all her heart, but she
had an enduring loyalty to her own flesh and blood.

Tom was very literal. "Say, Annie," he blurted
out, "I begin to think you have had to do most of
the work over there. Now, haven't you? Own up."

Annie laughed sweetly. She was so happy that
no sense of injury could possibly rankle within her.
"Oh, well," she said, lightly. "Perhaps. I don't
know. I guess housekeeping comes rather easier
to me than to the others. I like it, you know, and
work is always easier when one likes it. The other
girls don't take to it so naturally, and they get very
tired, and it has seemed often that I was the one
who could hurry the work through and not mind."

"I wonder if you will stick up for me the way you
do for your sisters when you are my wife?" said
Tom, with a burst of love and admiration. Then
he added: "Of course you are going to be my wife,
Annie? You know what this means?"

"If you think I will make you as good a wife as
you can find," said Annie.

"As good a wife! Annie, do you really know
what you are?"

"Just an ordinary girl, with no special talent for
anything."

"You are the most wonderful girl that ever walked
the earth," exclaimed Tom. "And as for talent,
you have the best talent in the whole world; you
can love people who are not worthy to tie your shoe-
strings, and think you are looking up when in
reality you are looking down. That is what I call
the best talent in the whole world for a woman."
Tom Reed was becoming almost subtle.

Annie only laughed happily again. "Well, you
will have to wait and find out," said she.

"I suppose," said Tom, "that you came over
here because you were tired out, this hot weather.
I think you were sensible, but I don't think you
ought to be here alone."

"I am not alone," replied Annie. "I have poor
little Effie Hempstead with me."

"That deaf-and-dumb child? I should think this
heathen god would be about as much company."

"Why, Tom, she is human, if she is deaf and
dumb."

Tom eyed her shrewdly. "What did you mean
when you said you had broken your will?" he in-
quired.

"My will not to speak for a while," said Annie,
faintly.

"Not to speak -- to any one?"

Annie nodded.

"Then you have broken your resolution by speak-
ing to me?"

Annie nodded again.

"But why shouldn't you speak? I don't under-
stand."

"I wondered how little I could say, and have
you satisfied," Annie replied, sadly.

Tom tightened his arm around her. "You pre-
cious little soul," he said. "I am satisfied. I know
you have some good reason for not wanting to speak,
but I am plaguey glad you spoke to me, for I should
have been pretty well cast down if you hadn't, and
to-morrow I have to go away."

Annie leaned toward him. "Go away!"

"Yes; I have to go to California about that con-
founded Ames will case. And I don't know exactly
where, on the Pacific coast, the parties I have to
interview may be, and I may have to be away weeks,
possibly months. Annie darling, it did seem to me
a cruel state of things to have to go so far, and leave
you here, living in such a queer fashion, and not
know how you felt. Lord! but I'm glad you had
sense enough to call me, Annie."

"I couldn't let you go by, when it came to it,
and Tom --"

"What, dear?"

"I did an awful mean thing: something I never
was guilty of before. I -- listened."

"Well, I don't see what harm it did. You didn't
hear much to your or your sisters' disadvantage,
that I can remember. They kept calling you 'dear.'"

"Yes," said Annie, quickly. Again, such was her
love and thankfulness that a great wave of love and
forgiveness for her sisters swept over her. Annie had
a nature compounded of depths of sweetness; nobody
could be mistaken with regard to that. What they
did mistake was the possibility of even sweetness be-
ing at bay at times, and remaining there.

"You don't mean to speak to anybody else?"
asked Tom.

"Not for a year, if I can avoid it without making
comment which might hurt father."

"Why, dear?"

"That is what I cannot tell you," replied Annie,
looking into his face with a troubled smile.

Tom looked at her in a puzzled way, then he
kissed her.

"Oh, well, dear," he said, "it is all right. I know
perfectly well you would do nothing in which you
were not justified, and you have spoken to me,
anyway, and that is the main thing. I think if I
had been obliged to start to-morrow without a word
from you I shouldn't have cared a hang whether
I ever came back or not. You are the only soul to
hold me here; you know that, darling."

"Yes," replied Annie.

"You are the only one," repeated Tom, "but it
seems to me this minute as if you were a whole host,
you dear little soul. But I don't quite like to leave
you here living alone, except for Effie."

"Oh, I am within a stone's-throw of father's,"
said Annie, lightly.

"I admit that. Still, you are alone. Annie, when
are you going to marry me?"

Annie regarded him with a clear, innocent look.
She had lived such a busy life that her mind was
unfilmed by dreams. "Whenever you like, after you
come home," said she.

"It can't be too soon for me. I want my wife and
I want my home. What will you do while I am
gone, dear?"

Annie laughed. "Oh, I shall do what I have seen
other girls do -- get ready to be married."

"That means sewing, lots of hemming and tucking
and stitching, doesn't it?"

"Of course."

"Girls are so funny," said Tom. "Now imagine a
man sitting right down and sewing like mad on his
collars and neckties and shirts the minute a girl
said she'd marry him!"

"Girls like it."

"Well, I suppose they do," said Tom, and he
looked down at Annie from a tender height of mascu-
linity, and at the same time seemed to look up from
the valley of one who cannot understand the subtle
and poetical details in a woman's soul.

He did not stay long after that, for it was late.
As he passed through the gate, after a tender fare-
well, Annie watched him with shining eyes. She
was now to be all alone, but two things she
had, her freedom and her love, and they would
suffice.

The next morning Silas Hempstead, urged by his
daughters, walked solemnly over to the next house,
but he derived little satisfaction. Annie did not
absolutely refuse to speak. She had begun to realize
that carrying out her resolution to the extreme letter
was impossible. But she said as little as she could.

"I have come over here to live for the present.
I am of age, and have a right to consult my own
wishes. My decision is unalterable." Having said
this much, Annie closed her mouth and said no
more. Silas argued and pleaded. Annie sat placidly
sewing beside one front window of the sunny sitting-
room. Effie, with a bit of fancy-work, sat at another.
Finally Silas went home defeated, with a last word,
half condemnatory, half placative. Silas was not the
sort to stand firm against such feminine strength as
his daughter Annie's. However, he secretly held
her dearer than all his other children.

After her father had gone, Annie sat taking even
stitch after even stitch, but a few tears ran over her
cheeks and fell upon the soft mass of muslin. Effie
watched with shrewd, speculative silence, like a pet
cat. Then suddenly she rose and went close to Annie,
with her little arms around her neck, and the poor
dumb mouth repeating her little speeches: "Thank
you, I am very well, thank you, I am very well,"
over and over.

Annie kissed her fondly, and was aware of a sense
of comfort and of love for this poor little Effie.
Still, after being nearly two months with the child,
she was relieved when Felicia Hempstead came, the
first of September, and wished to take Effie home
with her. She had not gone to Europe, after all, but
to the mountains, and upon her return had missed
the little girl.

Effie went willingly enough, but Annie discovered
that she too missed her. Now loneliness had her
fairly in its grip. She had a telephone installed,
and gave her orders over that. Sometimes the sound
of a human voice made her emotional to tears.
Besides the voices over the telephone, Annie had
nobody, for Benny returned to college soon after
Effie left. Benny had been in the habit of coming in
to see Annie, and she had not had the heart to
check him. She talked to him very little, and knew
that he was no telltale as far as she was concerned,
although he waxed most communicative with regard
to the others. A few days before he left he came
over and begged her to return.

"I know the girls have nagged you till you are
fairly worn out," he said. "I know they don't tell
things straight, but I don't believe they know it,
and I don't see why you can't come home, and insist
upon your rights, and not work so hard."

"If I come home now it will be as it was before,"
said Annie.

"Can't you stand up for yourself and not have
it the same?"

Annie shook her head.

"Seems as if you could," said Benny. "I always
thought a girl knew how to manage other girls. It
is rather awful the way things go now over there.
Father must be uncomfortable enough trying to
eat the stuff they set before him and living in such
a dirty house."

Annie winced. "Is it so very dirty?"

Benny whistled.

"Is the food so bad?"

Benny whistled again.

"You advised me -- or it amounted to the same
thing -- to take this stand," said Annie.

"I know I did, but I didn't know how bad it
would be. Guess I didn't half appreciate you myself,
Annie. Well, you must do as you think best, but
if you could look in over there your heart would
ache."

"My heart aches as it is," said Annie, sadly.

Benny put an arm around her. "Poor girl!" he
said. "It is a shame, but you are going to marry
Tom. You ought not to have the heartache."

"Marriage isn't everything," said Annie, "and
my heart does ache, but -- I can't go back there,
unless -- I can't make it clear to you, Benny, but it
seems to me as if I couldn't go back there until the
year is up, or I shouldn't be myself, and it seems, too,
as if I should not be doing right by the girls. There
are things more important even than doing work for
others. I have got it through my head that I can
be dreadfully selfish being unselfish."

"Well, I suppose you are right," admitted Benny
with a sigh.

Then he kissed Annie and went away, and the
blackness of loneliness settled down upon her. She
had wondered at first that none of the village people
came to see her, although she did not wish to talk to
them; then she no longer wondered. She heard, with-
out hearing, just what her sisters had said about her.

That was a long winter for Annie Hempstead.
Letters did not come very regularly from Tom Reed,
for it was a season of heavy snowfalls and the mails
were often delayed. The letters were all that she
had for comfort and company. She had bought a
canary-bird, adopted a stray kitten, and filled her
sunny windows with plants. She sat beside them
and sewed, and tried to be happy and content, but
all the time there was a frightful uncertainty deep
down within her heart as to whether or not she was
doing right. She knew that her sisters were un-
worthy, and yet her love and longing for them
waxed greater and greater. As for her father, she
loved him as she had never loved him before. The
struggle grew terrible. Many a time she dressed
herself in outdoor array and started to go home,
but something always held her back. It was a
strange conflict that endured through the winter
months, the conflict of a loving, self-effacing heart
with its own instincts.

Toward the last of February her father came over
at dusk. Annie ran to the door, and he entered.
He looked unkempt and dejected. He did not say
much, but sat down and looked about him with a
half-angry, half-discouraged air. Annie went out
into the kitchen and broiled some beefsteak, and
creamed some potatoes, and made tea and toast.
Then she called him into the sitting-room, and he
ate like one famished.

"Your sister Susan does the best she can," he said,
when he had finished, "and lately Jane has been try-
ing, but they don't seem to have the knack. I
don't want to urge you, Annie, but --"

"You know when I am married you will have to
get on without me," Annie said, in a low voice.

"Yes, but in the mean time you might, if you
were home, show Susan and Jane."

"Father," said Annie, "you know if I came home
now it would be just the same as it was before.
You know if I give in and break my word with my-
self to stay away a year what they will think
and do."

"I suppose they might take advantage," admitted
Silas, heavily. "I fear you have always given in
to them too much for their own good."

"Then I shall not give in now," said Annie, and
she shut her mouth tightly.

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