After a while the village people ceased to have the affairs of Barney Thayer and Charlotte Barnard particularly upon their minds. As time went on, and nothing new developed in the case, they no longer dwelt upon it. Circumstances, like people, soon show familiar faces, and are no longer stared after and remarked. The people all became accustomed to Barney living alone in his half-furnished house season after season, and to Charlotte walking her solitary maiden path. They seldom spoke of it among themselves; sometimes, when a stranger came to town, they pointed out Barney and Charlotte as they would have any point of local interest.
“Do you see that house?” a woman bent on hospitable entertainment said as she drove a matronly cousin from another village down the street; “the one with the front windows boarded up, without any step to the front door? Well, Barney Thayer lives there all alone. He's old Caleb Thayer's son, all the son that's left; the other one died. There was some talk of his mother's whippin' him to death. She died right after, but they said afterwards that she didn't, that he run away one night, an' went slidin' downhill, an' that was what killed him; he'd always had heart trouble. I dunno; I always thought Deborah Thayer was a pretty good woman, but she was pretty set. I guess Barney takes after her. He was goin' with Charlotte Barnard years ago—I guess 'twas as much as nine or ten years ago, now—an' they were goin' to be married. She was all ready—weddin'-dress an' bonnet an' everything—an' this house was 'most done an' ready for them to move into; but one Sunday night Barney he went up to see Charlotte, an' he got into a dispute with her father about the 'lection, an' the old man he ordered Barney out of the house, an' Barney he went out, an' he never went in again—couldn't nobody make him. His mother she talked; it 'most killed her; an' I guess Charlotte said all she could, but he wouldn't stir a peg.
“He went right to livin' in his new house, an' he lives there now; he ain't married, an' Charlotte ain't. She's had chances, too. Squire Payne's son, he wanted her bad.”
The visiting cousin's mild, interrogative face peered out around the black panel of the covered wagon at Barney's poor house; her spectacles glittered at it in the sun. “I want to know!” said she, with the expression of strained, entertained amiability which she wore through her visit.
When they passed the Barnard house the Pembroke woman partly drew rein again; the old horse meandered in a zigzag curve, with his head lopping. “That's where Charlotte Barnard lives,” she said. Suddenly she lowered her voice. “There she is now, out in the yard,” she whispered.
Again the visiting cousin peered out. “She's good-lookin', ain't she?” she remarked, cautiously viewing Charlotte's straight figure and fair face as she came towards them out of the yard.
“She ain't so good-lookin' as she used to be,” rejoined the other woman. “I guess she's goin' down to her aunt Sylvy's—Sylvy Crane as was. She married Richard Alger a while ago, after she'd been goin' with him over twenty year. He's fixed up the old Crane place. It got dreadful run down, an' Sylvy she actually set out for the poor-house, an' Richard he stopped Jonathan Leavitt, he was carryin' of her over there, an' he brought her home, an' married her right off. That brought him to the point. Sylvy lives on the old road; we can drive round that way when we go home, an' I'll show you the place.”
When they presently drove down the green length of the old road, the visiting cousin spied interestedly at Sylvia's house and Sylvia's own delicate profile frilled about with lace, drooping like the raceme of some white flower in one of the windows.
“That's her at the window,” whispered the Pembroke woman, “an' there's Richard out there in the bean-poles.” Just then Richard peered out at them from the green ranks of the beans at the sound of their wheels, and the Pembroke woman nodded, with a cough.
They drove slowly out of the old road into the main-travelled one, and presently passed the old Thayer house. A woman's figure fled hurriedly up the yard into the house as they approached. There was a curious shrinking look about her as she fled, her very clothes, her muslin skirts, her light barège shawl, her green bonnet, seemed to slant away before the eyes of the two women who were watching her.
The Pembroke woman leaned close to her cousin's ear, and whispered with a sharp hiss of breath. The cousin started and colored red all over her matronly face and neck. She stared with a furtive shamed air at poor Rebecca hastening into her house. The door closed after her with a quick slam.
It was always to Rebecca, years beyond her transgression, admitted ostensibly to her old standing in the village, as if an odor of disgrace and isolation still clung to her, shaken out from her every motion from the very folds of her garments. It came in her own nostrils wherever she went, like a miserable emanation of her own personality. She always shrank back lest others noticed it, and she always would. She particularly shunned strangers. The sight of a strange woman clothed about with utter respectability and strictest virtue intimidated her beyond her power of self-control, for she always wondered if she had been told about her, and realized that, if she had, her old disgrace had assumed in this new mind a hideous freshness.
After the door had slammed behind Rebecca the two women drove home, and the guest was presently feasted on company-fare for supper, and all these strange tragedies and histories to which she had listened had less of a savor in her memory, than the fine green tea and the sweet cake on her tongue. The hostess, too, did not have them in mind any longer; she pressed the plum-cake and hot biscuits and honey on her cousin, in lieu of gossip, for entertainment. The stories were old to her, except as she found a new listener to them, and they had never had any vital interest for her. They had simply made her imagination twang pleasantly, and now they could hardly stir the old vibrations.
It seemed sometimes as if their hard story must finally grow old, and lose its bitter savor to Charlotte and Barney themselves. Sometimes Charlotte's mother looked at her inquiringly and said to herself, “I don't believe she ever thinks about it now.” She told Cephas so, and the old man nodded. “She's a fool if she does,” he returned, gruffly.
Cephas had never told anybody how he had gone once to Barney Thayer's door, and there stood long and delivered himself of a strange harangue, wherein the penitence and desire for peace had been thinly veiled by a half-wild and eccentric philosophy; but the gist of which had been the humble craving for pardon of an old man, and his beseeching that his daughter's lover, separated from her by his own fault, should forget it and come back to her.
“I haven't got anything to say about it,” Barney had replied, and the old man had seemed to experience a sudden shock and rebound, as from the unexpected face of a rock in his path.
However, he still hoped that Barney would relent and come. The next Sunday evening he had himself laid the parlor fire all ready for lighting, and hinted that Charlotte should change her dress. When nobody came he looked more crestfallen than his daughter; she suspected, although he never knew it.
Charlotte had never learned any trade, but she had a reputation for great natural skill with her needle. Gradually, as she grew older, she settled into the patient single-woman position as assister at feasts, instead of participator. When a village girl of a younger generation than herself was to be married, she was in great demand for the preparation of the bridal outfit and the finest needle-work. She would go day after day to the house of the bride-elect, and sew from early morning until late night upon the elaborate quilts, the dainty linen, and the fine new wedding-gowns.
She bore herself always with a steady cheerfulness; nobody dreamed that this preparing others for the happiness which she herself had lost was any trial to her. Nobody dreamed that every stitch which she set in wedding-garments took painfully in a piece of her own heart, and that not from envy. Her faithful needle, as she sewed, seemed to keep her old wounds open like a harrow, but she never shrank. She saw the sweet, foolish smiles and blushes of happy girls whose very wits were half astray under the dazzle of love; she felt them half tremble under her hands as she fitted the bridal-gowns to their white shoulders, as if under the touch of their lovers.
They walked before her and met her like doppelgängers, wearing the self-same old joy of her own face, but she looked at them unswervingly. It is harder to look at the likeness of one's joy than at one's old sorrow, for the one was dearer. If Charlotte's task whereby she earned her few shillings had been the consoling and strengthening of poor forsaken, jilted girls, instead of the arraying of brides, it would have been a happier and an easier one.
But she sat sewing fine, even stitches by the light of the evening candle, hearing the soft murmur of voices from the best rooms, where the fond couples sat, smiling like a soldier over her work. She pinned on bridal veils and flowers, and nobody knew that her own face instead of the bride's seemed to smile mockingly at her through the veil.
She was much happier, although she would have sternly denied it to herself, when she was watching with the sick and putting her wonderful needle-work into shrouds, for it was in request for that also.
Except for an increase in staidness and dignity, and a certain decorous change in her garments, Charlotte Barnard did not seem to grow old at all. Her girlish bloom never faded under her sober bonnet, although ten years had gone by since her own marriage had been broken off.
Barney used to watch furtively Charlotte going past. He knew quite well when she was helping such and such a girl get ready to be married. He saw her going home, a swift shadowy figure, after dark, with her few poor shillings in her pocket. That she should go out to work filled him with a fierce resentment. With a childish and masculine disregard for all except bare actualities, he could not see why she need to, why she could not let him help her. He knew that Cephas Barnard's income was very meagre, that Charlotte needed her little earnings for the barest necessaries; but why could she not let him give them to her?
Barney was laying up money. He had made his will, whereby he left everything to Charlotte, and to her children after her if she married. He worked very hard. In summer he tilled his great farm, in winter he cut wood.
The winter of the tenth year after his quarrel with Charlotte was a very severe one—full of snow-storms and fierce winds, and bitterly cold. All winter long the swamps were frozen up, and men could get into them to cut wood. Barney went day after day and cut the wood in a great swamp a mile behind his house. He stood from morning until night hewing down the trees, which had gotten their lusty growth from the graves of their own kind. Their roots were sunken deep among and twined about the very bones of their fathers which helped make up the rich frozen soil of the great swamp. The crusty snow was three feet deep; the tall blackberry vines were hooped with snow, set fast at either end like snares: it was hard work making one's way through them. The snow was over the heads of those dried weeds which did not blow away in the autumn, but stayed on their stalks with that persistency of life that outlives death; but all the sturdy bushes, which were almost trees, the swamp-pinks and the wild-roses, waxed gigantic, lost their own outlines, and stretched out farther under their loads of snow.
Barney hewed wood in the midst of this white tangle of trees and bushes and vines, which were like a wild, dumb multitude of death-things pressing ever against him, trying to crowd him away. When he hit them as he passed, they swung back in his face with a semblance of life. If a squirrel chattered and leaped between some white boughs, he started as if some dead thing had come to life, for it seemed like the voice and motion of death rather than of life.
Half a mile away at the right other wood-cutters were at work. When the wind was the right way he could now and then hear the strokes of their axes and a shout. Often as he worked alone, swinging his axe steadily with his breath in a white cloud before his face, he amused himself miserably—as one might with a bitter sweetmeat—with his old dreams.
He had no dreams in the present; they all belonged to the past, and he dreamed them over as one sings over old songs. Sometimes it seemed quite possible that they still belonged to his life, and might still come true.
Then he would hear a hoarse shout through the still air from the other side of the swamp, and he would know suddenly that Charlotte would never wait in his home yonder, while he worked, and welcome him home at night.
The other wood-cutters had families. They had to pass his lot on their way out to the open road. Barney would either retreat farther among the snowy thickets, or else work with such fury that he could seem not to see them as they filed past.
Often he did not go home at noon, and ate nothing from morn until night. He cut wood many days that winter when the other men thought the weather too severe and sat huddled over their fires in their homes, shoving their chairs this and that way at their wives' commands, or else formed chewing and gossiping rings within the glowing radius of the red-hot store stove.
“See Barney Thayer goin' cross lots with his axe as I come by,” one said to another, rolling the tobacco well back into his grizzled cheek.
“Works as if he was possessed,” was the reply, in a half-inarticulate, gruff murmur.
“Well, he can if he wants to,” said still another. “I ain't goin' to work out-doors in any such weather as this for nobody, not if I know it, an' I've got a wife an' eight children, an' he ain't got nobody.” And the man cast defiant eyes at the great store-windows, dim with thick blue sheaves of frost.
On a day like that Barney seemed to be hewing asunder not only the sturdy fibres of oak and hemlock, but the terrible sinews of frost and winter, and many a tree seemed to rear itself over him threatening stiffly like an old man of death. Only by fierce contest, as it were, could he keep himself alive, but he had a certain delight in working in the swamp during those awful arctic days. The sense that he could still fight and conquer something, were it only the simple destructive force of nature, aroused in him new self-respect.
Through snow-storms Barney plunged forth to the swamp, and worked all day in the thick white slant of the storm, with the snow heaping itself upon his bowed shoulders.
People prophesied that he would kill himself; but he kept on day after day, and had not even a cold until February. Then there came a south rain and a thaw, and Barney went to the swamp and worked two days knee-deep in melting snow. Then there was a morning when he awoke as if on a bed of sharp knives, and lay alone all day and all that night, and all the next day and that night, not being able to stir without making the knives cut into his vitals.
Barney lay there all that time, and his soul became fairly bound into passiveness with awful fetters of fiery bone and muscle; sometimes he groaned, but nobody heard him. The last night he felt as if his whole physical nature was knitting about him and stifling him with awful coils of pain. The tears rolled over his cheeks. He prayed with hoarse gasps, and he could not tell if anybody heard him. A dim light from a window in the Barnard house on the hill lay into the kitchen opposite his bedroom door. He thought of Charlotte, as if he had been a child and she his mother. The maternal and protecting element in her love was all that appealed to him then, and all that he missed or wanted. “Charlotte, Charlotte,” he mumbled to himself with his parched, quivering lips.
At noon the next day Cephas Barnard came home from the store; he had been down to buy some molasses. When he entered his kitchen he set the jug down on the table with a hard clap, then stood still in his wet boots.
Sarah and Charlotte were getting dinner, both standing over the stove. Sarah glanced at Cephas furtively, then at Charlotte; Cephas never stirred. A pool of water collected around his boots, his brows bent moodily under his cap.
“Why don't you set down, Cephas, an' take off your boots?” Sarah ventured at length, timidly.
“Folks are fools,” grunted Cephas.
“I dunno what you mean, Cephas.”
Cephas got the boot-jack out of the corner, sat down, and began jerking off the wet boots with sympathetic screws of his face.
Sarah stood with a wooden spoon uplifted, eying him anxiously. Charlotte went into the pantry.
“There 'ain't anythin' happened, has there, Cephas?” said Sarah, presently.
Cephas pulled off the second boot, and sat holding his blue yarn stocking-feet well up from the wet floor. “There ain't no need of havin' the rheumatiz, accordin' to my way of thinkin',” said he.
“Who's got the rheumatiz, Cephas?”
“If folks lived right they wouldn't have it.”
“You 'ain't got it, have you, Cephas?”
“I 'ain't never had a tech of it in my life except once, an' then 'twas due to my not drinkin' enough.”
“Not drinkin' enough?”
“Yes, I didn't drink enough water. Folks with rheumatiz had ought to drink all the water they can swaller. They had ought to drink more'n they eat.”
“I dunno what you mean, Cephas.”
“It stands to reason. I've worked it all out in my mind. Rheumatiz comes on in wet weather, because there's too much water an' damp 'round. Now, if there's too much water outside, you can kind of even it up by takin' more water inside. The reason for any sickness is—the balance ain't right. The weight gets shifted, an' folks begin to topple, then they're sick. If it goes clean over, they die. The balance has got to be kept even if you want to be well. When the swamps are fillin' up with water, an' there's too much moisture in the outside air, an' too much pressure of it on your bones an' joints, if you swallow enough water inside it keeps things even. If Barney Thayer had drunk a gallon of water a day, he might have worked in the wet swamp till doomsday an' he wouldn't have got the rheumatiz.”
“Has Barney Thayer got the rheumatiz, Cephas?”
Charlotte's pale face appeared in the pantry door.
“Yes, he has got it bad. 'Ain't stirred out of his bed since night before last; been all alone; nobody knew it till William Berry went in this forenoon. Guess he'd died there if he'd been left much longer.”
“Who's with him now?” asked Charlotte, in a quick, strained voice.
“The Ray boy is sittin' with him, whilst William is gone to the North Village to see if he can get somebody to come. There's a widow woman over there that goes out nussin', Silas said, an' they hope they can get her. The doctor says he's got to have somebody.”
“Rebecca can't do anything, of course,” said Sarah, meditatively; “he 'ain't got any of his own folks to come, poor feller.”
Charlotte crossed the kitchen floor with a resolute air.
“What are you goin' to do, Charlotte?” her mother asked in a trembling voice.
Charlotte turned around and faced her father and mother. “I shouldn't think you'd ask me,” said she.
“Of course I am going over there. Do you suppose I am going to let him lie there and suffer all alone, with nobody to take care of him?”
“She can't come. I know who the woman is. They tried to get her when Squire Payne's sister died last week. Aunt Sylvy told me about it. She was engaged 'way ahead.”
“Oh, Charlotte! I'm afraid you hadn't ought to go,” her mother said, half crying.
“I've got to go, mother,” Charlotte said, quietly. She opened the door.
“You come back here!” Cephas called after her in a great voice.
Charlotte turned around. “I am going, father,” said she.
“You ain't goin' a step.”
“Yes, I am.”
“Oh, Charlotte! I'll go over,” sobbed her mother.
“You haven't gone a step out-doors for a month with your own lame knee. I am the one to go, and I am going.”
“You ain't goin' a step.”
“Oh, Charlotte! I'm afraid you hadn't better,” wailed Sarah.
Charlotte stood before them both. “Look here, father and mother,” said she. “I've never gone against your wishes in my life, but now I'm going to. It's my duty to. I was going to marry him once.”
“You didn't marry him,” said Cephas.
“I was willing to marry him, and that amounts to the same thing for any woman,” said Charlotte. “It is just as much my duty to go to him when he's sick; I am going. There's no use talking, I am going.”
“You needn't come home again, then,” said her father.
“Oh, Cephas!” Sarah cried out. “Charlotte, don't go against your father's wishes! Charlotte!”
But Charlotte shut the door and hurried up-stairs to her room. Her mother followed her, trembling. Cephas sat still, dangling his stocking-feet clear of the floor. He had an ugly look on his face. Presently he heard the two women coming down-stairs, and his wife's sobbing, pleading voice; then he heard the parlor door shut; Charlotte had gone through the house, and out the front door.
Sarah came in, sniffing piteously. “Oh, Cephas! don't you be hard on the poor child; she felt as if she had got to go,” she said, chokingly.
Cephas got up, went padding softly and cautiously in his stocking-feet across the floor to the sink, and took a long drink with loud gulps out of the gourd in the water-pail.
“I don't want to have no more talk about it; I've said my say,” said he, with a hard breath, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
Charlotte, with a little bundle under her arm, hastened down the hill. When she reached Barney's house she went around and knocked at the side door. As she went into the yard she could see dimly a white-capped woman's head in a south window of the Thayer house farther down the road, and she knew that Rebecca's nurse was watching her. Rebecca's second baby was a week old, so she could do nothing for her brother.
Charlotte knocked softly and waited. She heard a loud clamping step across the floor inside, and a whistle. A boy opened the door and stood staring at her, half abashed, half impudently important, his mouth still puckered with the whistle.
“Is there anybody here but you, Ezra?” asked Charlotte.
The boy shook his head.
“I have come to take care of Mr. Thayer now,” said Charlotte.
She entered, and Ezra Ray stood aside, rolling his eyes after her as she went through the kitchen. He whistled again half involuntarily, a sudden jocular pipe on the brink of motion, like a bird. Charlotte turned and shook her head at him, and he stopped short. He sat down on a chair near the door, and dangled his feet irresolutely.
Charlotte went into the bedroom where Barney lay, a rigidly twisted, groaning heap under a mass of bed-clothing, which Ezra Ray had kept over him with energy. She bent over him. “I've come to take care of you, Barney,” said she. His eyes, half dazed in his burning face, looked up at her with scarcely any surprise.
Charlotte laid back some of the bedclothes whose weight was a torture, and straightened the others. She worked about the house noiselessly and swiftly. She was skilful in the care of the sick; she had had considerable experience. Soon everything was clean and in order; there was a pleasant smell of steeping herbs through the house. Charlotte had set an old remedy of her mother's steeping over the fire—a harmless old-wives' decoction, with which to supplement the doctor's remedies, and give new courage to the patient's mind.
Barney came to think that this remedy which Charlotte prepared was of more efficacy than any which the doctor mixed in his gallipots. That is, when he could think at all, and his mind and soul was able to reassert itself over his body. He had a hard illness, and after he was out of bed he could only sit bent miserably over in a quilt-covered rocking-chair beside the fire. He could not straighten himself up without agonizing pain. People thought that he never would, and he thought so himself. His grandfather, his mother's father, had been in a similar condition for years before his death. People called that to mind, and so did Barney. “He's goin' to be the way his grandfather Emmons was,” the men said in the store. Barney could dimly remember that old figure bent over almost on all-fours like a dog; its wretched, grizzled face turned towards the earth with a brooding sternness of contemplation. He wondered miserably where his grandfather's old cane was, when he should be strong enough in his pain-locked muscles to leave his rocking-chair and crawl about in the spring sunshine. It used to be in the garret of the old house. He thought that he would ask Rebecca or William to look for it some day. He hesitated to speak about it. He half dreaded to think that the time was coming when he would be strong enough to move about, for then he was afraid Charlotte would leave him and go home. He had been afraid that she would when he left his bed. He had a childishly guilty feeling that he had perhaps stayed there a little longer than was necessary on that account. One Sunday the doctor had said quite decisively to Charlotte, “It won't hurt him any to be got up a little while to-morrow. It will be better for him. You can get William to come in and help.” Charlotte had come back from the door and reported to Barney, and he had turned his face away with a quivering sigh.
“Why, what is the matter? Don't you want to be got up?” asked Charlotte.
“Yes,” said Barney, miserably.
“What is the matter?” Charlotte said, bending over him. “Don't you feel well enough?”
Barney gave her a pitiful, shamed look like a child. “You'll go, then,” he half sobbed.
Charlotte turned away quickly. “I shall not go as long as you need me, Barney,” she said, with a patient dignity.
Barney did not dream against what odds Charlotte had stayed with him. Her mother had come repeatedly, and expostulated with her out in the entry when she went away.
“It ain't fit for you to stay here, as if you was married to him, when you ain't, and ain't ever goin' to be, as near as I can make out,” she said. “William can get that woman over to the North Village now, or I can come, or your aunt Hannah would come for a while, till Rebecca gets well enough to see to him a little. She was sayin' yesterday that it wa'n't fit for you to stay here.”
“I'm here, and I'm going to stay here till he's better than he is now,” said Charlotte.
“Folks will talk.”
“I can't help it if they do. I'm doing what I think is right.”
“It ain't fit for an unmarried woman like you to be takin' care of him,” said her mother, and a sudden blush flamed over her old face.
Charlotte did not blush at all. “William comes in every day,” she said, simply.
“I think he could get along a while now with what William does an' what we could cook an' bring in,” pleaded her mother. “I'd come over every day an' set a while; I'd jest as lieves as not. If you'd only come home, Charlotte. Your father didn't mean anythin' when he said you shouldn't. He asked me jest this mornin' when you was comin'.”
“I ain't coming till he's well enough so he don't need me,” said Charlotte. “There's no use talking, mother. I must go back now; he'll wonder what we're talking about;” and she shut the door gently upon her mother, still talking.
Her aunt Hannah came, and her aunt Sylvia, quaking with gentle fears. She even had to listen to remonstrances from William Berry, honestly grateful as he was for her care of his brother-in-law.
“I ain't quite sure that it's right for you to stay here, Charlotte,” he said, looking away from her uncomfortably. “Rebecca says—‘Hadn't you better let me go for that woman again?’”
“I think I had better stay for the present,” Charlotte replied.
“Of course—I know you do better for him—than anybody else could, but—”
“How is Rebecca?” asked Charlotte.
“She is getting along pretty well, but it's slow. She's kind of worried about you, you know. She's had considerable herself to bear. It's hard to have folks—” William stopped short, his face burning.
“I am not afraid, if I know I am doing what is right,” said Charlotte. “You tell Rebecca I am coming in to see her as soon as I can get a chance.”
One contingency had never occurred to Barney in his helpless clinging to Charlotte. He had never once dreamed that people might talk disparagingly about her in consequence. He had, partly from his isolated life, partly from natural bent, a curious innocence and ignorance in his conception of human estimates of conduct. He had not the same vantage-points with many other people, and indeed in many cases seemed to hold the identical ones which he had chosen when a child and first observed anything.
If now and then he overheard a word of expostulation, he never interpreted it rightly. He thought that people considered it wrong for Charlotte to do so much for him, and weary herself, when he had treated her so badly. And he agreed with them.
He thought that he should never stand upright again. He went always before his own mental vision bent over like his grandfather, his face inclined ever downward towards his miserable future.
Still, as he sat after William had gotten him up in the morning, bowed over pitifully in his chair, there was at times a strange look in his eyes as he watched Charlotte moving about, which seemed somehow to give the lie to his bent back. Often Charlotte would start as she met this look, and think involuntarily that he was quite straight; then she would come to her old vision with a shock, and see him sitting there as he was.
At last there came a day when the minister and one of the deacons of the church called and asked to see Charlotte privately. Barney looked at them, startled and quite white. They sat with him quite a long while, when, after many coercive glances between the deacon and the minister, the latter had finally arisen and made the request, in a trembling, embarrassed voice.
Charlotte led them at once into the unfinished front parlor, with its boarded-up windows. Barney heard her open the front door to give them light and air. He sat still and waited, breathing hard. A terrible dread and curiosity came over him. It seemed as if his soul overreached his body into that other room. Without overhearing a word, suddenly a knowledge quite foreign to his own imagination seemed to come to him.
Presently he heard the front door shut, then Charlotte came in alone. She was very pale, but she had a sweet, exalted look as her eyes met Barney's.
“Have they gone?” he asked, hoarsely.
“What—did they want?”
“Never mind,” said Charlotte.
“I want to know.”
“It is nothing for you to worry about.”
“I know,” said Barney.
“You didn't hear anything?” Charlotte cried out in a startled voice.
“No, I didn't hear, but I know. The church—don't—think you ought to—stay here. They are—going to—take it—up. I never—thought of that, Charlotte. I never thought of that.”
“Don't you worry anything about it.” Charlotte had never touched him, except to minister to his illness, since she had been there. Now she went close, and smoothed his hair with her tender hands. “Don't you worry,” she said again.
Barney looked up in her face. “Charlotte.”
“What is it?”
“I—want you—to go—home.”
Charlotte started. “I shall not go home as long as you need me,” she said. “You need not think I mind what they say.”
“I—want you to go home.”
“I mean what—I say. I—want you to go—now.”
Charlotte drew back; her lips wore a white line. She went out into the front south room, where she had slept. She did not come back. Barney listened until he heard the front door shut after her. Then he waited fifteen minutes, with his eyes upon the clock. Then he got up out of his chair. He moved his body as if it were some piece of machinery outside himself, as if his will were full of dominant muscles. He got his hat off the peg, where it had hung for weeks; he went out of the house and out of the yard.
His sister Rebecca was moving feebly up the road with her little baby in her arms. She was taking her first walk out in the spring sunshine. The nurse had gone away the week before. Her face was clear and pale. All her sweet color was gone, but her eyes were radiant, and she held up her head in the old way. This new love was lifting her above her old memories.
She stared wonderingly over the baby's little downy head at her brother. “It can't be Barney,” she said out loud to herself. She stood still in the road, staring after him with parted lips. The baby wailed softly, and she hushed it mechanically, her great, happy, startled eyes fixed upon her brother.
Barnabas went on up the hill to Charlotte Barnard's. The spring was advancing. All the trees were full of that green nebula of life which comes before the blossom. Little wings, bearing birds and songs, cut the air. A bluebird shone on a glistening fence-rail, like a jewel on a turned hand. Over across the fields red oxen were moving down plough-ridges, the green grass was springing, the air was full of that strange fragrance which is more than fragrance, since it strikes the thoughts, which comes in the spring alone, being the very odor thrown off by the growing motion of life and the resurrection.
Barney Thayer went slowly up the hill with a curious gait and strange gestures, as if his own angel were wrestling with himself, casting him off with strong motions as of wings.
He fought, as it were, his way step by step. He reached the top of the hill, and went into the yard of the Barnard house. Sarah Barnard saw him coming, and shrieked out, “There's Barney, there's Barney Thayer comin'! He's walkin', he's walkin' straight as anybody!”
When Barney reached the door, they all stood there—Cephas and Sarah and Charlotte. Barney stood before them all with that noble bearing which comes from humility itself when it has fairly triumphed.
Charlotte came forward, and he put his arm around her. Then he looked over her head at her father. “I've come back,” said he.
“Come in,” said Cephas.
And Barney entered the house with his old sweetheart and his old self.