At half-past six o'clock on Sunday night Barnabas came out of his bedroom. The Thayer house was only one story high, and there were no chambers. A number of little bedrooms were clustered around the three square rooms—the north and south parlors, and the great kitchen.
Barnabas walked out of his bedroom straight into the kitchen where the other members of the family were. They sat before the hearth fire in a semi-circle—Caleb Thayer, his wife Deborah, his son Ephraim, and his daughter Rebecca. It was May, but it was quite cold; there had been talk of danger to the apple blossoms; there was a crisp coolness in the back of the great room in spite of the hearth fire.
Caleb Thayer held a great leather-bound Bible on his knees, and was reading aloud in a solemn voice. His wife sat straight in her chair, her large face tilted with a judicial and argumentative air, and Rebecca's red cheeks bloomed out more brilliantly in the heat of the fire. She sat next her mother, and her smooth dark head with its carven comb arose from her Sunday kerchief with a like carriage. She and her mother did not look alike, but their motions were curiously similar, and perhaps gave evidence to a subtler resemblance in character and motive power.
Ephraim, undersized for his age, in his hitching, home-made clothes, twisted himself about when Barnabas entered, and stared at him with slow regard. He eyed the smooth, scented hair, the black satin vest with a pattern of blue flowers on it, the blue coat with brass buttons, and the shining boots, then he whistled softly under his breath.
“Ephraim!” said his mother, sharply. She had a heavy voice and a slight lisp, which seemed to make it more impressive and more distinctively her own. Caleb read on ponderously.
“Where ye goin', Barney?” Ephraim inquired, with a chuckle and a grin, over the back of his chair.
“Ephraim!” repeated his mother. Her blue eyes frowned around his sister at him under their heavy sandy brows.
Ephraim twisted himself back into position. “Jest wanted to know where he was goin',” he muttered.
Barnabas stood by the window brushing his fine bell hat with a white duck's wing. He was a handsome youth; his profile showed clear and fine in the light, between the sharp points of his dicky bound about by his high stock. His cheeks were as red as his sister's.
When he put on his hat and opened the door, his mother herself interrupted Caleb's reading.
“Don't you stay later than nine o'clock, Barnabas,” said she.
The young man murmured something unintelligibly, but his tone was resentful.
“I ain't going to have you out as long as you were last Sabbath night,” said his mother, in quick return. She jerked her chin down heavily as if it were made of iron.
Barnabas went out quickly, and shut the door with a thud.
“If he was a few years younger, I'd make him come back an' shut that door over again,” said his mother.
Caleb read on; he was reading now one of the imprecatory psalms. Deborah's blue eyes gleamed with warlike energy as she listened: she confused King David's enemies with those people who crossed her own will.
Barnabas went out of the yard, which was wide and deep on the south side of the house. The bright young grass was all snowed over with cherry blossoms. Three great cherry-trees stood in a row through the centre of the yard; they had been white with blossoms, but now they were turning green; and the apple-trees were in flower.
There were many apple-trees behind the stone-walls that bordered the wood. The soft blooming branches looked strangely incongruous in the keen air. The western sky was clear and yellow, and there were a few reefs of violet cloud along it. Barnabas looked up at the apple blossoms over his head, and wondered if there would be a frost. From their apple orchard came a large share of the Thayer income, and Barnabas was vitally interested in such matters now, for he was to be married the last of June to Charlotte Barnard. He often sat down with a pencil and slate, and calculated, with intricate sums, the amounts of his income and their probable expenses. He had made up his mind that Charlotte should have one new silk gown every year, and two new bonnets—one for summer and one for winter. His mother had often noted, with scorn, that Charlotte Barnard wore her summer bonnet with another ribbon on it winters, and, moreover, had not had a new bonnet for three years.
“She looks handsomer in it than any girl in town, if she hasn't,” Barnabas had retorted with quick resentment, but he nevertheless felt sensitive on the subject of Charlotte's bonnet, and resolved that she should have a white one trimmed with gauze ribbons for summer, and one of drawn silk, like Rebecca's, for winter, only the silk should be blue instead of pink, because Charlotte was fair.
Barnabas had even pondered with tender concern, before he bought his fine flowered satin waistcoat, if he might not put the money it would cost into a bonnet for Charlotte, but he had not dared to propose it. Once he had bought a little blue-figured shawl for her, and her father had bade her return it.
“I ain't goin' to have any young sparks buyin' your clothes while you are under my roof,” he had said.
Charlotte had given the shawl back to her lover. “Father don't feel as if I ought to take it, and I guess you'd better keep it now, Barney,” she said, with regretful tears in her eyes.
Barnabas had the blue shawl nicely folded in the bottom of his little hair-cloth trunk, which he always kept locked.
After a quarter of a mile the stone-walls and the spray of apple blossoms ended; there was a short stretch of new fence, and a new cottage-house only partly done. The yard was full of lumber, and a ladder slanted to the roof, which gleamed out with the fresh pinky yellow of unpainted pine.
Barnabas stood before the house a few minutes, staring at it. Then he walked around it slowly, his face upturned. Then he went in the front door, swinging himself up over the sill, for there were no steps, and brushing the sawdust carefully from his clothes when he was inside. He went all over the house, climbing a ladder to the second story, and viewing with pride the two chambers under the slant of the new roof. He had repelled with scorn his father's suggestion that he have a one-story instead of a story-and-a-half house. Caleb had an inordinate horror and fear of wind, and his father, who had built the house in which he lived, had it before him. Deborah often descanted indignantly upon the folly of sleeping in little tucked-up bedrooms instead of good chambers, because folks' fathers had been scared to death of wind, and Barnabas agreed with her. If he had inherited any of his father's and grandfather's terror of wind, he made no manifestation of it.
In the lower story of the new cottage were two square front rooms like those in his father's house, and behind them the great kitchen with a bedroom out of it, and a roof of its own.
Barnabas paused at last in the kitchen, and stood quite still, leaning against a window casement. The windows were not in, and the spaces let in the cool air and low light. Outside was a long reach of field sloping gently upward. In the distance, at the top of the hill, sharply outlined against the sky, was a black angle of roof and a great chimney. A thin column of smoke rose out of it, straight and dark. That was where Charlotte Barnard lived.
Barnabas looked out and saw the smoke rising from the chimney of the Barnard house. There was a little hollow in the field that was quite blue with violets, and he noted that absently. A team passed on the road outside; it was as if he saw and heard everything from the innermost recesses of his own life, and everything seemed strange and far off.
He turned to go, but suddenly stood still in the middle of the kitchen, as if some one had stopped him. He looked at the new fireless hearth, through the open door into the bedroom which he would occupy after he was married to Charlotte, and through others into the front rooms, which would be apartments of simple state, not so closely connected with every-day life. The kitchen windows would be sunny. Charlotte would think it a pleasant room.
“Her rocking-chair can set there,” said Barnabas aloud. The tears came into his eyes; he stepped forward, laid his smooth boyish cheek against a partition wall of this new house, and kissed it. It was a fervent demonstration, not towards Charlotte alone, nor the joy to come to him within those walls, but to all life and love and nature, although he did not comprehend it. He half sobbed as he turned away; his thoughts seemed to dazzle his brain, and he could not feel his feet. He passed through the north front room, which would be the little-used parlor, to the door, and suddenly started at a long black shadow on the floor. It vanished as he went on, and might have been due to his excited fancy, which seemed substantial enough to cast shadows.
“I shall marry Charlotte, we shall live here together all our lives, and die here,” thought Barnabas, as he went up the hill. “I shall lie in my coffin in the north room, and it will all be over,” but his heart leaped with joy. He stepped out proudly like a soldier in a battalion, he threw back his shoulders in his Sunday coat.
The yellow glow was paling in the west, the evening air was like a cold breath in his face. He could see the firelight flickering upon the kitchen wall of the Barnard house as he drew near. He came up into the yard and caught a glimpse of a fair head in the ruddy glow. There was a knocker on the door; he raised it gingerly and let it fall. It made but a slight clatter, but a woman's shadow moved immediately across the yard outside, and Barnabas heard the inner door open. He threw open the outer one himself, and Charlotte stood there smiling, and softly decorous. Neither of them spoke. Barnabas glanced at the inner door to see if it were closed, then he caught Charlotte's hands and kissed her.
“You shouldn't do so, Barnabas,” whispered Charlotte, turning her face away. She was as tall as Barnabas, and as handsome.
“Yes, I should,” persisted Barnabas, all radiant, and his face pursued hers around her shoulder.
“It's pretty cold out, ain't it?” said Charlotte, in a chiding voice which she could scarcely control.
“I've been in to see our house. Give me one more kiss. Oh, Charlotte!”
“Charlotte!” cried a deep voice, and the lovers started apart.
“I'm coming, father,” Charlotte cried out. She opened the door and went soberly into the kitchen, with Barnabas at her heels. Her father, mother, and Aunt Sylvia Crane sat there in the red gleam of the firelight and gathering twilight. Sylvia sat a little behind the others, and her face in her white cap had the shadowy delicacy of one of the flowering apple sprays outside.
“How d'ye do?” said Barnabas in a brave tone which was slightly aggressive. Charlotte's mother and aunt responded rather nervously.
“How's your mother, Barnabas?” inquired Mrs. Barnard.
“She's pretty well, thank you.”
Charlotte pulled forward a chair for her lover; he had just seated himself, when Cephas Barnard spoke in a voice as sudden and gruff as a dog's bark. Barnabas started, and his chair grated on the sanded floor.
“Light the candle, Charlotte,” said Cephas, and Charlotte obeyed. She lighted the candle on the high shelf, then she sat down next Barnabas. Cephas glanced around at them. He was a small man, with a thin face in a pale film of white locks and beard, but his black eyes gleamed out of it with sharp fixedness. Barnabas looked back at him unflinchingly, and there was a curious likeness between the two pairs of black eyes. Indeed, there had been years ago a somewhat close relationship between the Thayers and the Barnards, and it was not strange if one common note was repeated generations hence.
Cephas had been afraid lest Barnabas should, all unperceived in the dusk, hold his daughter's hand, or venture upon other loverlike familiarity. That was the reason why he had ordered the candle lighted when it was scarcely dark enough to warrant it.
But Barnabas seemed scarcely to glance at his sweetheart as he sat there beside her, although in some subtle fashion, perhaps by some finer spiritual vision, not a turn of her head, nor a fleeting expression on her face, like a wind of the soul, escaped him. He saw always Charlotte's beloved features high and pure, almost severe, but softened with youthful bloom, her head with fair hair plaited in a smooth circle, with one long curl behind each ear. Charlotte would scarcely have said he had noticed, but he knew well she had on a new gown of delaine in a mottled purple pattern, her worked-muslin collar, and her mother's gold beads which she had given her.
Barnabas kept listening anxiously for the crackle of the hearth fire in the best room; he hoped Charlotte had lighted the fire, and they should soon go in there by themselves. They usually did of a Sunday night, but sometimes Cephas forbade his daughter to light the fire and prohibited any solitary communion between the lovers.
“If Barnabas Thayer can't set here with the rest of us, he can go home,” he proclaimed at times, and he had done so to-night. Charlotte had acquiesced forlornly; there was nothing else for her to do. Early in her childhood she had learned along with her primer her father's character, and the obligations it imposed upon her.
“You must be a good girl, and mind; it's your father's way,” her mother used to tell her. Mrs. Barnard herself had spelt out her husband like a hard and seemingly cruel text in the Bible. She marvelled at its darkness in her light, but she believed in it reverently, and even pugnaciously.
The large, loosely built woman, with her heavy, sliding step, waxed fairly decisive, and her soft, meek-lidded eyes gleamed hard and prominent when her elder sister, Hannah, dared inveigh against Cephas.
“I tell you it is his way,” said Sarah Barnard. And she said it as if “his way” was the way of the King.
“His way!” Hannah would sniff back. “His way! Keepin' you all on rye meal one spell, an' not lettin' you eat a mite of Injun, an' then keepin' you on Injun without a mite of rye! Makin' you eat nothin' but greens an' garden stuff, an' jest turnin' you out to graze an' chew your cuds like horned animals one spell, an' then makin' you live on meat! Lettin' you go abroad when he takes a notion, an' then keepin' you an' Charlotte in the house a year!”
“It's his way, an' I ain't goin' to have anything said against it,” Sarah Barnard would retort stanchly, and her sister would sniff back again. Charlotte was as loyal as her mother; she did not like it if even her lover intimated anything in disfavor of her father.
No matter how miserable she was in consequence of her acquiescence with her father's will, she sternly persisted.
To-night she knew that Barnabas was waiting impatiently for her signal to leave the rest of the company and go with her into the front room; there was also a tender involuntary impatience and longing in every nerve of her body, but nobody would have suspected it; she sat there as calmly as if Barnabas were old Squire Payne, who sometimes came in of a Sabbath evening, and seemed to be listening intently to her mother and her Aunt Sylvia talking about the spring cleaning.
Cephas and Barnabas were grimly silent. The young man suspected that Cephas had prohibited the front room; he was indignant about that, and the way in which Charlotte had been summoned in from the entry, and he had no diplomacy.
Charlotte, under her calm exterior, grew uneasy; she glanced at her mother, who glanced back. It was to both women as if they felt by some subtle sense the brewing of a tempest. Charlotte unobtrusively moved her chair a little nearer her lover's; her purple delaine skirt swept his knee; both of them blushed and trembled with Cephas's black eyes upon them.
Charlotte never knew quite how it began, but her father suddenly flung out a dangerous topic like a long-argued bone of contention, and he and Barnabas were upon it. Barnabas was a Democrat, and Cephas was a Whig, and neither ever forgot it of the other. None of the women fairly understood the point at issue; it was as if they drew back their feminine skirts and listened amazed and trembling to this male hubbub over something outside their province. Charlotte grew paler and paler. She looked piteously at her mother.
“Now, father, don't,” Sarah ventured once or twice, but it was like a sparrow piping against the north wind.
Charlotte laid her hand on her lover's arm and kept it there, but he did not seem to heed her. “Don't,” she said; “don't, Barnabas. I think there's going to be a frost to-night; don't you?” But nobody heard her. Sylvia Crane, in the background, clutched the arms of her rocking-chair with her thin hands.
Suddenly both men began hurling insulting epithets at each other. Cephas sprang up, waving his right arm fiercely, and Barnabas shook off Charlotte's hand and was on his feet.
“Get out of here!” shouted Cephas, in a hoarse voice—“get out of here! Get out of this house, an' don't you ever darse darken these doors again while the Lord Almighty reigns!” The old man was almost inarticulate; he waved his arms, wagged his head, and stamped; he looked like a white blur with rage.
“I never will, by the Lord Almighty!” returned Barnabas, in an awful voice; then the door slammed after him. Charlotte sprang up.
“Set down!” shouted Cephas. Charlotte rushed forward. “You set down!” her father repeated; her mother caught hold of her dress.
“Charlotte, do set down,” she whispered, glancing at her husband in terror. But Charlotte pulled her dress away.
“Don't you stop me, mother. I am not going to have him turned out this way,” she said. Her father advanced threateningly, but she set her young, strong shoulders against him and pushed past out of the door. The door was slammed to after her and the bolt shot, but she did not heed that. She ran across the yard, calling: “Barney! Barney! Barney! Come back!” Barnabas was already out in the road; he never turned his head, and kept on. Charlotte hurried after him. “Barney,” she cried, her voice breaking with sobs—“Barney, do come back. You aren't mad at me, are you?” Barney never turned his head; the distance between them widened as Charlotte followed, calling. She stopped suddenly, and stood watching her lover's dim retreating back, straining with his rapid strides.
“Barney Thayer,” she called out, in an angry, imperious tone, “if you're ever coming back, you come now!”
But Barney kept on as if he did not hear. Charlotte gasped for breath as she watched him; she could scarcely help her feet running after him, but she would not follow him any farther. She did not call him again; in a minute she turned around and went back to the house, holding her head high in the dim light.
She did not try to open the door; she was sure it was locked, and she was too proud. She sat down on the flat, cool door-stone, and remained there as dusky and motionless against the old gray panel of the door as the shadow of some inanimate object that had never moved.
The wind began to rise, and at the same time the full moon, impelled softly upward by force as unseen as thought. Charlotte's fair head gleamed out abruptly in the moonlight like a pale flower, but the folds of her mottled purple skirt were as vaguely dark as the foliage on the lilac-bush beside her. All at once the flowering branches on a wide-spreading apple-tree cut the gloom like great silvery wings of a brooding bird. The grass in the yard was like a shaggy silver fleece. Charlotte paid no more attention to it all than to her own breath, or a clock tick which she would have to withdraw from herself to hear.
A low voice, which was scarcely more than a whisper, called her, a slender figure twisted itself around the front corner of the house like a vine. “Charlotte, you there?” Charlotte did not hear. Then the whisper came again. “Charlotte!”
Charlotte looked around then.
A slender white hand reached out in the gloom around the corner and beckoned. “Charlotte, come; come quick.”
Charlotte did not stir.
“Charlotte, do come. Your mother's dreadful afraid you'll catch cold. The front door is open.”
Charlotte sat quite rigid. The slender figure began moving towards her stealthily, keeping close to the house, advancing with frequent pauses like a wary bird. When she got close to Charlotte she reached down and touched her shoulder timidly. “Oh, Charlotte, don't you feel bad? He'd ought to know your father by this time; he'll get over it and come back,” she whispered.
“I don't want him to come back,” Charlotte whispered fiercely in return.
Sylvia stared at her helplessly. Charlotte's face looked strange and hard in the moonlight. “Your mother's dreadful worried,” she whispered again, presently. “She thinks you'll catch cold. I come out of the front door on purpose so you can go in that way. Your father's asleep in his chair. He told your mother not to unbolt this door to-night, and she didn't darse to. But we went past him real still to the front one, an' you can slip in there and get up to your chamber without his seeing you. Oh, Charlotte, do come!”
Charlotte arose, and she and Sylvia went around to the front door. Sylvia crept close to the house as before, but Charlotte walked boldly along in the moonlight. “Charlotte, I'm dreadful afraid he'll see you,” Sylvia pleaded, but Charlotte would not change her course.
Just as they reached the front door it was slammed with a quick puff of wind in their faces. They heard Mrs. Barnard's voice calling piteously. “Oh, father, do let her in!” it implored.
“Don't you worry, mother,” Charlotte called out. “I'll go home with Aunt Sylvia.”
“Oh, Charlotte!” her mother's voice broke in sobs.
“Don't you worry, mother,” Charlotte repeated, with an unrelenting tone in the comforting words. “I'll go right home with Aunt Sylvia. Come,” she said, imperatively to her aunt, “I am not going to stand here any longer,” and she went out into the road, and hastened down it, as Barnabas had done.
“I'll take her right home with me,” Sylvia called to her sister in a trembling voice (nobody knew how afraid she was of Cephas); and she followed Charlotte.
Sylvia lived on an old road that led from the main one a short distance beyond the new house, so the way led past it. Charlotte went on at such a pace that Sylvia could scarcely keep up with her. She slid along in her wake, panting softly, and lifting her skirts out of the evening dew. She was trembling with sympathy for Charlotte, and she had also a worry of her own. When they reached the new house she fairly sobbed outright, but Charlotte went past in her stately haste without a murmur.
“Oh, Charlotte, don't feel so bad,” mourned her aunt. “I know it will all come right.” But Charlotte made no reply. Her dusky skirts swept around the bushes at the corner of the road, and Sylvia hurried tremulously after her.
Neither of them dreamed that Barnabas watched them, standing in one of the front rooms of his new house. He had gone in there when he fled from Cephas Barnard's, and had not yet been home. He recognized Charlotte's motions as quickly as her face, and knew Sylvia's voice, although he could not distinguish what she said. He watched them turn the corner of the other road, and thought that Charlotte was going to spend the night with her aunt—he did not dream why. He had resolved to stay where he was in his desolate new house, and not go home himself.
A great grief and resentment against the whole world and life itself swelled high within him. It was as if he lost sight of individual antagonists, and burned to dash life itself in the face because he existed. The state of happiness so exalted that it became almost holiness, in which he had been that very night, flung him to lower depths when it was retroverted. He had gone back to first causes in the one and he did the same in the other; his joy had reached out into eternity, and so did his misery. His natural religious bent, inherited from generations of Puritans, and kept in its channel by his training from infancy, made it impossible for him to conceive of sympathy or antagonism in its fullest sense apart from God.
Sitting on a pile of shavings in a corner of the north room, he fairly hugged himself with fierce partisanship. “What have I done to be treated in this way?” he demanded, setting his face ahead in the darkness; and he did not see Cephas Barnard's threatening countenance, but another, gigantic with its vague outlines, which his fancy could not limit, confronting him with terrible negative power like a stone image. He struck out against it, and the blows fell back on his own heart.
“What have I done?” he demanded over and over of this great immovable and silent consciousness which he realized before him. “Have I not kept all thy commandments from childhood? Have I ever failed to praise thee as the giver of my happiness, and ask thy blessing upon it? What have I done that it should be taken away? It was given to me only to be taken away. Why was it given to me, then?—that I might be mocked? Oh, I am mocked, I am mocked!” he cried out, in a great rage, and he struck out in the darkness, and his heart leaped with futile pain. The possibility that his misery might not be final never occurred to him. It never occurred to him that he could enter Cephas Barnard's house again, ask his pardon, and marry Charlotte. It seemed to him settled and inevitable; he could not grasp any choice in the matter.
Barnabas finally threw himself back on the pile of shavings, and lay there sullenly. Great gusts of cold wind came in at the windows at intervals, a loose board somewhere in the house rattled, the trees outside murmured heavily.
“There won't be a frost,” Barnabas thought, his mind going apace on its old routine in spite of its turmoil. Then he thought with the force of an oath that he did not care if there was a frost. All the trees this spring had blossomed only for him and Charlotte; now there was no longer any use in that; let the blossoms blast and fall!