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

Part 7 out of 7

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There came a peal of the cracked door-bell, and
Silas started with a curious, guilty look. Annie
regarded him sharply. "Who is it, father?"

"Well, I heard Imogen say to Eliza that she
thought it was very foolish for them all to stay over
there and have the extra care and expense, when
you were here."

"You mean that the girls --?"

"I think they did have a little idea that they
might come here and make you a little visit --"

Annie was at the front door with a bound. The
key turned in the lock and a bolt shot into place.
Then she returned to her father, and her face was
very white.

"You did not lock your door against your own
sisters?" he gasped.

"God forgive me, I did."

The bell pealed again. Annie stood still, her
mouth quivering in a strange, rigid fashion. The
curtains in the dining-room windows were not drawn.
Suddenly one window showed full of her sisters'
faces. It was Susan who spoke.

"Annie, you can't mean to lock us out?" Susan's
face looked strange and wild, peering in out of the
dark. Imogen's handsome face towered over her
shoulder.

"We think it advisable to close our house and
make you a visit," she said, quite distinctly through
the glass.

Then Jane said, with an inaudible sob, "Dear
Annie, you can't mean to keep us out!"

Annie looked at them and said not a word. Their
half-commanding, half-imploring voices continued
a while. Then the faces disappeared.

Annie turned to her father. "God knows if I
have done right," she said, "but I am doing what
you have taken me to account for not doing."

"Yes, I know," said Silas. He sat for a while
silent. Then he rose, kissed Annie -- something he
had seldom done -- and went home. After he had
gone Annie sat down and cried. She did not go to
bed that night. The cat jumped up in her lap, and
she was glad of that soft, purring comfort. It
seemed to her as if she had committed a great crime,
and as if she had suffered martyrdom. She loved
her father and her sisters with such intensity that
her heart groaned with the weight of pure love. For
the time it seemed to her that she loved them more
than the man whom she was to marry. She sat there
and held herself, as with chains of agony, from rush-
ing out into the night, home to them all, and break-
ing her vow.

It was never quite so bad after that night, for
Annie compromised. She baked bread and cake
and pies, and carried them over after nightfall and
left them at her father's door. She even, later on,
made a pot of coffee, and hurried over with it in the
dawn-light, always watching behind a corner of a
curtain until she saw an arm reached out for it. All
this comforted Annie, and, moreover, the time was
drawing near when she could go home.

Tom Reed had been delayed much longer than
he expected. He would not be home before early
fall. They would not be married until November,
and she would have several months at home first.

At last the day came. Out in Silas Hempstead's
front yard the grass waved tall, dotted with disks
of clover. Benny was home, and he had been over
to see Annie every day since his return. That morn-
ing when Annie looked out of her window the first
thing she saw was Benny waving a scythe in awkward
sweep among the grass and clover. An immense
pity seized her at the sight. She realized that he
was doing this for her, conquering his indolence.
She almost sobbed.

"Dear, dear boy, he will cut himself," she thought.
Then she conquered her own love and pity, even as
her brother was conquering his sloth. She under-
stood clearly that it was better for Benny to go on
with his task even if he did cut himself.

The grass was laid low when she went home, and
Benny stood, a conqueror in a battle-field of summer,
leaning on his scythe.

"Only look, Annie," he cried out, like a child.
"I have cut all the grass."

Annie wanted to hug him. Instead she laughed.
"It was time to cut it," she said. Her tone was cool,
but her eyes were adoring.

Benny laid down his scythe, took her by the arm,
and led her into the house. Silas and his other daugh-
ters were in the sitting-room, and the room was so
orderly it was painful. The ornaments on the man-
tel-shelf stood as regularly as soldiers on parade,
and it was the same with the chairs. Even the cush-
ions on the sofa were arranged with one corner over-
lapping another. The curtains were drawn at ex-
actly the same height from the sill. The carpet
looked as if swept threadbare.

Annie's first feeling was of worried astonishment;
then her eye caught a glimpse of Susan's kitchen
apron tucked under a sofa pillow, and of layers of
dust on the table, and she felt relieved. After all,
what she had done had not completely changed the
sisters, whom she loved, faults and all. Annie
realized how horrible it would have been to find her
loved ones completely changed, even for the better.
They would have seemed like strange, aloof angels
to her.

They all welcomed her with a slight stiffness, yet
with cordiality. Then Silas made a little speech.

"Your father and your sisters are glad to welcome
you home, dear Annie," he said, "and your sisters
wish me to say for them that they realize that pos-
sibly they may have underestimated your tasks and
overestimated their own. In short, they may not
have been --"

Silas hesitated, and Benny finished. "What the
girls want you to know, Annie, is that they have
found out they have been a parcel of pigs."

"We fear we have been selfish without realizing
it," said Jane, and she kissed Annie, as did Susan
and Eliza. Imogen, looking very handsome in her
blue linen, with her embroidery in her hands, did
not kiss her sister. She was not given to demon-
strations, but she smiled complacently at her.

"We are all very glad to have dear Annie back,
I am sure," said she, "and now that it is all over,
we all feel that it has been for the best, although it
has seemed very singular, and made, I fear, con-
siderable talk. But, of course, when one person in
a family insists upon taking everything upon her-
self, it must result in making the others selfish."

Annie did not hear one word that Imogen said.
She was crying on Susan's shoulder.

"Oh, I am so glad to be home," she sobbed.

And they all stood gathered about her, rejoicing
and fond of her, but she was the one lover among
them all who had been capable of hurting them and
hurting herself for love's sake.

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