When Richard Alger went home he wore an old brown shawl of Sylvia's over his shoulders. He had demurred a little. “I can't go down the street with your shawl on, Sylvia,” he had pleaded, but Sylvia insisted.
“You'll catch your death of cold, goin' home in your shirt-sleeves,” she said. “They won't know it's my shawl. Men wear shawls.”
“You've worn this ever since I've known you, Sylvia, an' I ain't given to catchin' cold easy,” said Richard almost pitifully. But he stood still and let Sylvia pin the shawl around his neck. Sylvia seemed to have suddenly acquired a curious maternal authority over him, and he submitted to it as if it were merely natural that he should.
Richard Alger went meekly down the road, wearing the old brown shawl that had often draped Sylvia Crane's slender feminine shoulders when she walked abroad, since she was a young girl. Sylvia had always worn it corner-wise, but she had folded it square for him as making it more of a masculine garment. Two corners waved out stiffly from his square shoulders. He tried to swing his arms unconcernedly under it; once the fringe hit his hand and he jumped.
He was shame-faced when he struck out into the main road, but he did not dream of taking off the shawl. A very passion of obedience and loyalty to Sylvia had taken possession of him. With every submission after long persistency, there is a strong reverse action, as from the sudden cessation of any motion. Richard now yielded in more marked measure than he had opposed. He had borne with his whimsical will against all his sweetheart's dearest wishes during the better part of her life; now he would wear any insignia of bondage if she bade him.
He had gone a short distance on the main road when he met Hannah Berry. She was hurrying along, her face was quite red, and he could hear her pant as she drew near. She looked at him sharply, she fairly narrowed her eyes over the shawl. “Good-mornin',” said she.
Richard said “Good-morning,” gruffly. The shawl blew out against Hannah's shoulder as she passed him. She turned about and stared after him, and he knew it. He went on with dogged chin in the folds of the shawl.
Hannah Berry hurried along to Sylvia Crane's. When she opened the door Sylvia was just coming out of the parlor, and the two sisters met in the entry with a kind of shock.
“Oh, it's you,” murmured Sylvia. Sylvia cast down her eyes before her sister. She tried not to smile. Her hair was tumbled and there were red spots on her cheeks.
“Has he been here all this time?” demanded Hannah.
“He's just gone.”
“I met him out here. What in creation did you rig him up in your old shawl for, Sylvy Crane?”
“He was in his shirt-sleeves, an' I wasn't goin' to have him catch his death of cold,” replied Sylvia with dignity.
“In his shirt-sleeves!”
“Yes, he run out just as he was.”
“Land sakes!” said Hannah. The two women looked at each other. Suddenly Hannah threw out her arms from under her shawl, and clasped Sylvia. “Oh, Sylvy,” she sobbed out, “to think you was settin' out for the poor-house this mornin', an' we havin' a weddin' last night, an' never knowin' it! Why didn't you say anythin' about it, why didn't you, Sylvy?”
“I knew you couldn't do anything, Hannah.”
“Knew I couldn't do anything! Do you suppose me or Sarah would have let all the sister we've got go to the poor-house whilst we had a roof over our heads? We'd took you right in, either one of us.”
“I was afraid Silas an' Cephas wouldn't be willin'.”
“I guess they'd had to be willin'. I told Silas just now that if Richard Alger didn't come forward like a man, you was comin' to my house, an' have the best we've got as long as you lived. Silas, he said he thought you'd ought to earn your own livin', an' I told him there wa'n't any chance for a woman like you to earn your livin' in Pembroke, that you could earn your livin' enough livin' at your own sister's. Oh, Sylvy, I can't stand it, when I think of your startin' out that way, an' never sayin' a word.” Hannah sobbed convulsively on her sister's shoulder. There were tears in Sylvia's eyes, but her face above her sister's head was radiant. “Don't, Hannah,” she said. “It's all over now, you know.”
“Is he—goin' to have you now—Sylvy?”
“I guess so, maybe,” said Sylvia.
“I suppose you'll go to his house, this is so run down.”
“He's goin' to fix this one up.”
“You think you'd rather live here, then? Well, I s'pose I should. I s'pose he's goin' to buy it. The town hadn't ought to ask much. Sylvy Crane, I can't get it through my head, nohow.”
“What?” said Sylvia.
“How you run out this nice place so quick. I thought an' Sarah thought you'd got enough to last you jest as long as you lived, an' have some left to leave then.”
Hannah stood back and looked at her sister sharply.
“I've always been as savin' as I knew how,” said Sylvia.
“Well, I dunno but you have. You got that sofa, that cost considerable. I shouldn't have thought you'd got that, if you'd known how things were, Sylvy.”
“I kinder felt as if I needed it.”
“Well, I guess you might have got along without that, anyhow. Richard's got one, ain't he?”
“Yes, he says he has.”
“I thought I remembered his mother's buyin' one just before his father died. Well, you'll have his sofa, then; if I remember right, it's a better one than yours that you give Rose. Now, Sylvy Crane, you jest put on your hood an' shawl, an' come home with me, an' have some dinner. Have you got anything in the house to eat?”
“I've got a few things,” replied Sylvia, evasively.
“Some potatoes an' apples.”
“Potatoes an' apples!” Hannah began to sob again. “To think of your comin' to this,” she wailed. “My own sister not havin' anything in the house to eat, an' settin' out for the poor-house, an' everybody in town knowin' it.”
“Don't feel bad about it, Hannah; it's all over now,” said Sylvia.
“Don't feel bad about it! I guess you'd feel bad about it if you was in my place,” returned Hannah. “I s'pose you think now you've got Richard Alger that there's nothin' else makes any odds. I guess I've got some feelin's. Get your hood and shawl, now do; dinner was all ready when I come away.”
“I guess I'd better not, Hannah,” said Sylvia. It seemed to her that she never would want anything to eat again. She wanted to be alone in her old house, and hug her happiness to her heart, whose starvation had caused her more agony than any other. Now that was appeased she cared for nothing else.
“You come right along,” said Hannah. “I've got a nice roast spare-rib an' turnip an' squash, an' you're goin' to come an' have some of it.”
When Hannah and Sylvia got out on the main road, they heard Sarah Barnard's voice calling them. She was hurrying down the hill. Cephas had just come home with the news. Jonathan Leavitt had spread it over the village from the nucleus of the store where he had stopped on his way home.
Sarah Barnard sat down on the snowy stone-wall among the last year's blackberry vines, and cried as if her heart would break. Finally Hannah, after joining with her awhile, turned to and comforted her.
“Land sake, don't take on so, Sarah Barnard!” said she; “it's all over now. Sylvy's goin' to marry Richard Alger, an' there ain't a man in Pembroke any better off, unless it's Squire Payne. She's goin' to have him right off, an' he's goin' to buy the house an' fix it up, an' she's goin' to have all his mother's nice things, an' she's comin' home with me now, an' have some nice roast spare-rib an' turnip. There ain't nothin' to take on about.”
Hannah fairly pulled Sarah off the stone-wall. “Sylvy an' me have got to go,” said she. “You come down this afternoon, an' we'll all go over to her house, an' talk it over. I s'pose Richard will come to-night. I hope he'll shave first, an' put on his coat. I never see such a lookin' sight as he was when I met him jest now.”
“I didn't see as he looked very bad,” said Sylvia, with dignity.
“It seems as if it would kill me jest to think of it,” sobbed Sarah Barnard, turning tremulously away.
“Don't you feel bad about it any longer, Sarah,” Sylvia said, half absently. Her hair blew out wildly from under her hood over her flushed cheeks; she smiled as if at something visible, past her sister, and past everything around her.
“I tell you there ain't nothin' to be killed about!” Hannah called after Sarah; she caught hold of Sylvia's arm. “Sarah always was kind of hystericky,” said she. “That spare-rib will be all dried up, an' I wouldn't give a cent for it, if you don't come along.”
Richard Alger and Sylvia Crane were married very soon. There was no wedding, and people were disappointed about that. Hannah Berry tried to persuade Sylvia to have one. “I'm willin' to make the cake,” said she. “I've jest been through one weddin', but I'll do it. If I'd been goin' with a feller as long as you have with him, I wouldn't get cheated out of a weddin', anyhow. I'd have a weddin' an' I'd have cake, an' I'd ask folks, especially after what's happened. I'd let 'em see I wa'n't quite so far gone, if I had set out for the poor-house once. I'd have a weddin'. Richard's got money enough. I had real good-luck with Rose's cake, an' I ain't afraid to try yours. I guess I should make it a little mite stiffer than I did hers.”
But Sylvia was obdurate. She did not say much, but she went her own way. She had gained a certain quiet decision and dignity which bewildered everybody. Her sisters had dimly realized that there was something about her out of plumb, as it were. Her nature had been warped to one side by one concentrated and unsatisfied desire. “Seems to me, sometimes, as if Sylvy was kind of queer,” Hannah Berry often said. “I dunno but she's kinder turned on Richard Alger,” Sarah would respond. Now she seemed suddenly to have regained her equilibrium, and no longer slanted doubtfully across her sisters' mental horizons.
She and Richard went to the minister's house early one Sabbath morning, and were married. Then they went to meeting, Sylvia on Richard's arm. They sat side by side in the Alger pew; it was on the opposite side of the meeting-house from Sylvia's old pew. It seemed to her as if she would see her old self sitting there alone, as of old, if she looked across. She fixed her eyes straight ahead, and never glanced at Richard by her side. She held her white-bonneted head up like some gentle flower which had sprung back to itself after a hard wind. She had a new white bridal bonnet, as Richard had wished; it was trimmed with white plumes and ribbons, and she wore a long white-worked veil over her face. The wrought net-work, as delicate as frost, softened all the hard lines and fixed tints, and gave to her face an illusion of girlhood. She wore the two curls over her cheeks. Richard had asked her why she didn't curl her hair as she used to do.
All the people saw Sylvia's white bonnet; it seemed to turn their eyes like a brilliant white spot, which reflected all the light in the meeting-house. But there were a few women who eyed more sharply Sylvia's wedding-gown and mantilla, for she wore the very ones which poor Charlotte Barnard had made ready for her own bridal. Sylvia was just about her niece's height; the gown had needed a little taking in to fit her thinner form, and that was all.
Charlotte's mother had brought them over to Sylvia's one night, all nicely folded in white linen towels.
“Charlotte wants you to have 'em; she says she won't ever need 'em, poor child!” she said, in response to Sylvia's remonstrances. Mrs. Barnard's eyes were red, as if she had been crying. It had apparently been harder for her to give up the poor slighted wedding-clothes than for her daughter. Charlotte had not shed a tear when she took them out of the chest and shook off the sprigs of lavender which she had laid over them; but it seemed to her that she could smell that faint elusive breath of lavender across the meeting-house when Sylvia came in, and the rustle of her bridal-gown was as loud in her ears as if she herself wore it.
“Somebody might just as well have them, and have some good of them,” she had told her mother, and she spoke as if they were the garments of some one who was dead.
“Seems to me, as much as they cost, you'd ought to wear 'em yourself,” said her mother.
“I never shall,” Charlotte said, firmly; “and they might just as well do somebody some good.” Charlotte's New England thrift and practical sense stretched her sentiment on the rack, and she never made a sound.
Barney, watching out from his window that Sunday, caught a flash of green and purple from Sylvia's silken skirt as she turned the corner of the old road with Richard. “She's got on Charlotte's wedding-dress. She's—given it to her,” he said, with a gasp. He had never forgotten it since the day Charlotte had shown it to him. He had pictured her in it, hundreds of times, to his own delight and torment. He had a fierce impulse to rush out and strip his Charlotte's wedding-clothes from this other bride's back.
“She's gone and given it away, and she hasn't got a good silk dress herself; she's wearing her old cloak to meeting,” he half sobbed to himself. He wondered piteously, thinking of his savings and of his property since his father's death, if he might not, at least, buy Charlotte a new silk dress and a mantilla. “I don't believe she'd be mad,” he said; “but I'm afraid her father wouldn't let her wear it.”
The more he thought of it the more it seemed as if he could not bear it, unless he could buy Charlotte the silk dress. “Her clothes ain't as good as mine,” he said, and he thought of his best blue broadcloth suit, and his flowered vest and silk hat. It seemed to him that with all the terrible injury he was doing Charlotte, he also injured her by having better clothes than she, and that that was something which might be set right.
As Barney sat by his window that Sunday afternoon he saw a man coming down the hill. He watched him idly, then his heart leaped and he leaned forward. The man advanced with a careless, stately swing, his head was thrown back, his mulberry-colored coat had a sheen like a leaf in the sun. The man was Thomas Payne. Barney turned white as he watched him. He had not known he was in town, and his jealous heart at once whispered that he had come to see Charlotte. Thomas Payne came opposite the house, then passed out of sight. Barney sat with staring eyes full of miserable questioning upon the road. Had he been to see Charlotte? he speculated. He had come from that direction; but Barney remembered, with a sigh of hope, that Squire Payne had a sister, an old maiden lady, who lived a half-mile beyond Charlotte. Perhaps Thomas Payne had been to see his aunt.
All the rest of the day Barney was in an agony of doubt and unrest over the unsettled question. He had been living lately in a sort of wretched peace of remorse and misery; now it was rudely shaken. He walked the floor; at night he could not sleep. He seemed to be in a very torture-chamber of his own making, and the tortures were worse than any enemies could have devised. Suppose Thomas Payne was sitting up with Charlotte this Sunday night. Once he thought, wildly, of going up the hill to see if there was a light in her parlor, but it seemed to him as if the doubt was more endurable than the certainty might be. Suppose Thomas Payne was sitting up with Charlotte; he called to mind all her sweet ways. Suppose she was looking and speaking to Thomas Payne in this way or that way; his imagination threw out pictures before him upon which he could not close his eyes. He saw Thomas Payne's face all glowing with triumph, he saw Charlotte's with the old look that she had worn for him. Charlotte's caresses had been few and maidenly; they all came into his mind like stings. He knew just how she would put her tender arm around this other man's neck, how she would lift grave, willing lips to his. He wished that they had never been for him, for all they seemed worth to him now was this bitter knowledge. His fancy led him on and on to his own torment. There was a bridal mist around Charlotte. He followed the old courses of his own dreams, after his memories were passed, and they caused him worse agony.
The next morning Barney went to the store. It was absolutely necessary for him to go, but he shunned everybody. He had a horrible fear lest somebody should say, “Hallo, Barney, know Thomas Payne's goin' to marry your old girl?” He had planned the very words, and the leer of sly exultation that would accompany it.
But he made his purchase and went out, and nobody spoke to him. He had not seen Thomas Payne in the back part of the store behind the stove. Presently Thomas got up and lounged leisurely out through the store, exchanging a word with one and another on his way. When he got out Barney was going down the road quite a way ahead of him. Thomas Payne kept on in his tracks. There was another man coming towards him, and presently he stood aside to let him pass. “Good-day, Royal,” said Thomas Payne.
“Good-day, Thomas,” returned the other. “When d'ye get home?”
“Day before yesterday. How are you this winter, Royal?”
“Well, I'm pretty fair to middlin'.” The man's face, sunken in his feeble chest far below the level of Thomas's eyes, looked up at him with a sort of whimsical patience. His back was bent like a bow; he had had curvature of the spine for years, from a fall when a young man.
“Glad to hear that,” returned Thomas. The man passed him, walking as if he were vainly trying to straighten himself at every step. He held his knees stiff and threw his elbows back, but his back still curved pitifully, although it seemed as if he were half cheating himself into the belief that he was walking as straight as other men.
Thomas walked on rapidly, lessening the distance between himself and Barney. As he went on he began to have a curious fancy, which he could hardly persuade himself was a fancy. It seemed to him that Barney Thayer was walking like the man whom he had just met, that his back had that same terrible curve.
Thomas Payne stared in strange bewilderment at Barney's back. “It can't be that he has spine disease, that he has got hurt in any way,” he thought to himself. The purpose with which he had started out rather paled in his mind. He walked more rapidly. It certainly seemed to him that Barney's back was bent. He got within hailing distance and called out.
“Hallo!” cried Thomas Payne.
Barney turned around, and it seemed as if he turned with the feeble, crooked motion of the other man. He saw Thomas Payne, and his face was ghastly white, but he stood still and waited.
“How are you?” Thomas said, gruffly, as he came up.
“How are you, Thomas?” returned Barney. He looked at Thomas with a dogged expectancy. He thought he was going to tell him that he was to marry Charlotte.
But Thomas was surveying him still in that strange bewilderment. “Look here, Barney,” said he, bluntly, “have you been sick? I haven't heard of it.”
“No, I haven't,” replied Barney, wonderingly.
Thomas's eyes were fixed upon his back. “I didn't know but you had got hurt or something,” said he.
Barney shook his head. Thomas thought to himself that his back was certainly curved. “I guess I'll walk along with you a little way,” said he; “I've got something I wanted to say. For God's sake, Barney, you are sick!”
“No, I ain't sick.”
“You are white as death.”
“There's nothing the matter with me,” Barney half gasped. He turned and walked on, and his back still bent like a bow to Thomas Payne's eyes.
Thomas went on silently until they had passed a house just beyond. Then he stopped again. “Look here, Barney,” said he.
“Well,” said Barney. He stopped, but he did not turn or face Thomas. He only presented to him that curved, or semblance of a curved, back.
“I want to speak to you about Charlotte Barnard,” said Thomas Payne, abruptly. Barney waited without a word.
“I suppose you'll think it's none of my business, and in one way it isn't,” said Thomas, “but I am going to say it for her sake; I have made up my mind to. It seems to me it's time, if anybody cares anything about her. What are you treating Charlotte Barnard so for, Barnabas Thayer? It's time you gave an account to somebody, and you can give it to me.”
Barney did not answer.
“Speak, you miserable coward!” shouted Thomas Payne, with a sudden threatening motion of his right arm.
Then Barney turned, and Thomas started back at the sight of his face. “I can't help it,” he said.
“Can't help it, you—”
“I can't, before God, Thomas.”
Barney raised his right hand and pointed past Thomas. “You—met—Royal Bennet just—now,” he gasped, hoarsely.
“Well, something like that ails me. I—can't help it—before God.”
“You don't mean—” Thomas said, and stopped, looking at Barney's back.
“I mean that's why I can't—help it.”
“Have you hurt your back?” Thomas asked, in a subdued tone.
“I've hurt my soul,” said Barney. “It happened that Sunday night years ago. I—can't get over it. I am bent like his back.”
“I should think you'd better get over it, then, if that's all,” Thomas Payne said, roughly.
“I—can't, any more than he can.”
“Do you mean your back's hurt? For God's sake talk sense, Barney!” Thomas cried out, in bewilderment.
“It's more than my back; it's me.”
Thomas stared at Barney; a horror as of something uncanny and abnormal stole over him. Was the man's back curved, or had he by some subtle vision a perception of some terrible spiritual deformity, only symbolized by a curved spine? In a minute he gave an impatient stamp, and tried to shake himself free from the vague pity and horror which the other had aroused.
“Do you know that you are ruining the life of the best woman that ever lived?” he demanded, fiercely.
Barney looked at him, and suddenly there was a flash as of something noble in his face.
“Look here, Thomas,” he said, brokenly, in hoarse gasps. “Last night I—went mad, almost, because—I thought—maybe you'd been to see—her. I—saw you coming down the hill. I thought—I'd die thinking of—you—with her. I can't tell you—what I've been through, what I've suffered, and—what I suffer right along. I know I ain't to be pitied. I know—there ain't any pity—anywhere for anything—like this. I don't pity—myself. But it's awful. If you could get a sight of it, you'd know.”
Again to Thomas Payne, looking at the other, it was as if he saw a pale agonized face staring up at him from the midst of a curved mass of deformity. He shuddered.
“I don't know what to make of you, Barney Thayer,” he said, looking away.
“There's one thing—I want to say,” Barney went on. “I think there's enough of a man left in me—I—think I've got strength enough to say it. She—ought to be happy. I don't want her—wasting her whole life—God knows—I don't—no matter what it does—to me. I—wish— See here, Thomas. I know you—like her. Maybe she'll—turn to you. It seems as if she must. I hope you will—oh, for God's sake, be—good to her, Thomas!”
Thomas Payne's face was as white as Barney's. He turned to go. “There's no use talking this way. You know Charlotte Barnard as well as I do,” he said. “You know she's one of the women that never love any man but one. I don't want another man's wife, if she'd have me.” Suddenly he faced Barney again. “For God's sake, Barney,” he cried out, “be a man and go back to her, and marry her!”
Barney shook his head; with a kind of a sob he turned around and went his way without another word. Thomas Payne said no more; he stared after Barney's retreating figure, and again the look of bewilderment and horror was in his face.
That afternoon he asked his father, with a casual air, if he had heard anything about Barney Thayer getting his back injured in any way.
“Why, no, I can't say as I have,” returned the squire.
“I saw him this morning, and I thought his back looked as if it was growing like Royal Bennet's. I dare say I imagined it,” said Thomas. Then he went out of the room whistling.
But, during his few weeks' stay in Pembroke, he put the same question to one and another, with varying results. Some said at once, with a sudden look of vague horror, that it was so. That Barney Thayer was indeed growing deformed; that they had noticed it. Others scouted the idea. “Saw him this morning, and he's as straight as he ever was,” they said.
Whether Barney Thayer's back was, indeed, bowed into that terrible spinal curve or not, Thomas Payne could not tell by any agreement of witnesses. If some, gifted with acute spiritual insight, really perceived that dreadful warping of a diseased will, and clothed it with a material image for their own grosser senses; or if Barney, through dwelling upon his own real but hidden infirmity, had actually come unconsciously to give it a physical expression, and walked at times through the village with his back bent like his spirit, although not diseased, Thomas Payne could only speculate. He finally began to adopt the latter belief, as he himself, sometimes on meeting Barney, thought that he walked as erect as he ever had.
Thomas Payne stayed several weeks in Pembroke, and he did not go to see Charlotte. Once he met her in the street, and stopped and shook hands with gay heartiness.
“He's got over caring about me,” Charlotte thought to herself with a strange pang, which shocked and shamed her. “Most likely he's got somebody out West, where he is,” she said to herself firmly; that she ought to be glad if he had, and that she was; and yet she was not, although she never owned it to herself, and was stanchly loyal to her old love.
Charlotte herself often fancied uneasily that Barney's back was growing like Royal Bennet's. She watched him furtively when she could. Then she would say to herself, another time, that she must have imagined it.
Thomas Payne went away the first of May. That evening Charlotte sat on the door-step in the soft spring twilight. Her mother had just come home from her sister Hannah Berry's. “Thomas Payne went this afternoon,” her mother said, standing before her.
“Did he?” said Charlotte.
“You might have had him if you hadn't stuck to a poor stick that ain't fit to tie your shoes up!” Sarah cried out, with sudden bitterness. Her voice sounded like Hannah Berry's. Charlotte knew that was just what her aunt Hannah had said about it.
“I don't ask him to tie my shoes up,” returned Charlotte.
“You can stan' up for him all you want to,” said her mother. “You know he's a poor tool, an' he's treatin' you mean. You know he can't begin to come up to a young man like Thomas Payne.”
“Thomas Payne don't want me, and I don't want him; don't talk any more about it, mother.”
“I think somebody ought to talk about it,” said her mother, and she pushed roughly past Charlotte into the house.
Charlotte sat on the door-step a long while. “If Thomas Payne has got anybody out West, I guess she'll be glad to see him,” she thought. The fancy pained her, and yet she seemed to see Thomas Payne and Barney side by side, the one like a young prince—handsome and stately, full of generous bravery—the other vaguely crouching beneath some awful deformity, pitiful yet despicable in the eyes of men, and her whole soul cleaved to her old lover. “What we've got is ours,” she said to herself.
As she sat there a band of children went past, with a shrill, sweet clamor of voices. They were out hanging May-baskets and bunches of anemones. That was the favorite sport of the village children during the month of May. The woods were full of soft, innocent, seeking faces, bending over the delicate bells nodding in the midst of whorls of dark leaves. Every evening, after sundown, there were mysterious bursts of laughter and tiny scamperings around doors, and great balls of bloom swinging from the latchets when they were opened; but no person in sight, only soft gurgles of mirth and delight sounded around a corner of darkness.
After Charlotte went to bed that night she thought she heard somebody at the south door. “It is the children with some may-flowers,” she thought. But presently she reflected that it was very late for the children to be out.
After a little while she got up, and stole down-stairs to the door, feeling her way through the dark house.
She opened the south door cautiously, and put her hand out. There were no flowers swinging from the latch as she half expected. Her bare feet touched something on the door-step; she stooped, and there was a great package.
Charlotte took it up, and went noiselessly back to her room with it. She lighted a candle, and unfastened the paper wrappings. She gave a little cry. There were yards of beautiful silk shimmering with lilac and silver and rose-color, and there was also a fine lace mantle.
Charlotte looked at them; she was quite pale and trembling. She folded the silk and lace again carefully, and put them in a chest out of sight. Then she went back to bed, and lay there crying wildly.
“Poor Barney! poor Barney!” she sobbed to herself.
The next evening, after Cephas and Sarah had gone to bed, Charlotte crept out of the house with the package under her shawl. It was still early. She ran nearly all the way to Barney Thayer's house; she was afraid of meeting somebody, but she did not.
She knocked softly on Barney's door, and heard him coming to open it at once. When he saw her standing there he gave a great start, and did not say anything. Charlotte thought he did not recognize her in the dusk.
“It's me, Barney,” she said.
“I know you,” said Barney. She held out the package to him. “I've brought this back,” said she.
Barney made no motion to take it from her.
“I can't take it,” she said, firmly.
Suddenly Barney threw up his hands over his face. “Can't you take just that much from me, Charlotte? Can't you let me do as much as that for you?” he groaned out.
“No, I can't,” said Charlotte. “You must take it back, Barney.”
“Oh, Charlotte, can't you—take that much from me?”
“I can take nothing from you as things are,” Charlotte replied.
“I wanted you to have a dress. I saw you had given the other away. I didn't think—there was any harm in buying it for you, Charlotte.”
“It isn't your place to buy dresses for me as things are,” said Charlotte. She extended the package, and he took it, as if by force. She heard him sob.
“You must never try to do anything like this again,” she said. “I want you to understand it, Barney.”
Then she went away, and left him standing there holding his discarded gift.