Rebecca, walking beside Rose, looked like a woman of another race. She was much taller, and her full, luxuriant young figure looked tropical beside Rose's slender one. Her body undulated as she walked, but Rose moved only with forward flings of delicate limbs.
“I've got to carry these eggs down to the store and get some sugar,” said Rebecca.
Rose assented, absently. She was full of the thought of her talk with Barney.
“It's a pleasant day, ain't it?” said Rebecca.
“Yes, it's real pleasant. Say, Rebecca, I'm awful afraid I made Barney mad just now.”
“Why, what did you do?”
“I stopped in the field when I was going by. I'd been up to see Charlotte, and I said something about it to him.”
“How much do you know about it?” Rebecca asked, abruptly.
“Charlotte told me this mornin', and last night when I was going to her house across lots I saw Barney going, and heard her calling him back. I thought I'd see if I couldn't coax him to make up with her, but I couldn't.”
“Oh, he'll come round,” said Rebecca.
“Then you think it'll be made up?” Rose asked, quickly.
“Of course it will. We're having a terrible time about poor Barney. He didn't come home last night, and it's much as ever he's spoken this morning. He wouldn't eat any breakfast. He just went into his room, and put on his other clothes, and then went out in the field to work. He wouldn't tell mother anything about it. I never saw her so worked up. She's terribly afraid he's done something wrong.”
“He hasn't done anything wrong,” returned Rose. “I think your mother is terrible hard on him. It's Uncle Cephas; he just picked the quarrel. He hasn't never more'n half liked Barney. So you think Barney will make up with Charlotte, and they'll get married, after all?”
“Of course they will,” Rebecca replied, promptly. “I guess they won't be such fools as not to for such a silly reason as that, when Barney's got his house 'most done, and Charlotte has got all her wedding-clothes ready.”
“Ain't Barney terrible set?”
“He's set enough, but I guess you'll find he won't be this time.”
“Well, I'm sure I hope he won't be,” Rose said, and she walked along silently, her face sober in the depths of her bonnet.
They came to Richard Alger's house on the right-hand side of the road, and Rebecca looked reflectively at the white cottage with its steep peak of Gothic roof set upon a ploughed hill. “It's queer how he's been going with your aunt Sylvy all these years,” she said.
“Yes, 'tis,” assented Rose, and she too glanced up at the house. As they looked, a man came around the corner with a basket. He was about to plant potatoes in his hilly yard.
“There he is now,” said Rose.
They watched Richard Alger coming towards them, past a great tree whose new leaves were as red as flowers.
“What do you suppose the reason is?” Rebecca said, in a low voice.
“I don't know. I suppose he's got used to living this way.”
“I shouldn't think they'd be very happy,” Rebecca said; and she blushed, and her voice had a shamefaced tone.
“I don't suppose it makes so much difference when folks get older,” Rose returned.
“Maybe it don't. Rose.”
“What is it?”
“I wish you'd go into the store with me.”
Rose laughed. “What for?”
“Nothing. Only I wish you would.”
“You afraid of William?” Rose peered around into Rebecca's bonnet.
Rebecca blushed until tears came to her eyes. “I'd like to know what I'd be afraid of William Berry for,” she replied.
“Then what do you want me to go into the store with you for?”
“You're a great ninny, Rebecca Thayer,” Rose said, laughing, “but I'll go if you want me to. I know William won't like it. You run away from him the whole time. There isn't another girl in Pembroke treats him as badly as you do.”
“I don't treat him badly.”
“Yes, you do. And I don't believe but what you like him, Rebecca Thayer; you wouldn't act so silly if you didn't.”
Rebecca was silent. Rose peered around in her face again. “I was only joking. I think a sight more of you for not running after him, and so does William. You haven't any idea how some of the girls act chasing to the store. Mother and I have counted 'em some days, and then we plague William about it, but he won't own up they come to see him. He acts more ashamed of it than the girls do.”
“That's one thing I never would do—run after any fellow,” said Rebecca.
“I wouldn't either.”
Then the two girls had reached the tavern and the store. Rose's father, Silas Berry, had kept the tavern, but now it was closed, except to occasional special guests. He had gained a competency, and his wife Hannah had rebelled against further toil. Then, too, the railroad had been built through East Pembroke instead of Pembroke, the old stage line had become a thing of the past, and the tavern was scantily patronized. Still, Silas Berry had given it up with great reluctance; he cherished a grudge against his wife because she had insisted upon it, and would never admit that business policy had aught to do with it.
The store adjoining the tavern, which he had owned for years, he still retained, but his son William had charge of it. Silas Berry was growing old, and the year before had had a slight shock of paralysis, which had made him halt and feeble, although his mind was as clear as ever. However, although he took no active part in the duties of the store, he was still there, and sharply watchful for his interests, the greater part of every day.
The two girls went up the steps to the store piazza. Rose stepped forward and looked in the door. “Father's in there, and Tommy Ray,” she whispered. “You needn't be afraid to go in.” But she entered as she spoke, and Rebecca followed her.
There was one customer in the great country store, a stout old man, on the grocery side. His broad red face turned towards them a second, then squinted again at some packages on the counter. He was haggling for garden seeds. William Berry, who was waiting upon him, did not apparently look at his sister and Rebecca Thayer, but Rebecca had entered his heart as well as the store, and he saw her face deep in his own consciousness.
Tommy Ray, the great white-headed boy who helped William in the store, shuffled along behind the counter indeterminately, but the girls did not seem to see him. Rose was talking fast to Rebecca. He lounged back against the shelves, stared out the door, and whistled.
Out of the obscurity in the back of the store an old man's narrow bristling face peered, watchful as a cat, his body hunched up in a round-backed arm-chair.
“Mr. Nims will go in a minute,” Rose whispered, and presently the old farmer clamped past them out the door, counting his change from one hand to the other, his lips moving.
William Berry replaced the seed packages which the customer had rejected on the shelves as the girls approached him.
“Rebecca's got some eggs to sell,” Rose announced.
William Berry's thin, wide-shouldered figure towered up behind the counter; he smiled, and the smile was only a deepening of the pleasant intensity of his beardless face, with its high pale forehead and smooth crest of fair hair. The lines in his face scarcely changed.
“How d'ye do?” said he.
“How d'ye do?” returned Rebecca, with fluttered dignity. Her face bloomed deeply pink in the green tunnel of her sun-bonnet, her black eyes were as soft and wary as a baby's, her full red lips had a grave, innocent expression.
“How many dozen eggs have you got, Rebecca?” Rose inquired, peering into the basket.
“Two; mother couldn't spare any more to-day,” Rebecca replied, in a trembling voice.
“How much sugar do you give for two dozen eggs, William?” asked Rose.
William hesitated; he gave a scarcely perceptible glance towards the watchful old man, whose eyes seemed to gleam out of the gloom in the back of the store. “Well, about two pounds and a half,” he replied, in a low voice.
Rebecca set her basket of eggs on the counter.
“How many pound did you tell her, William?” called the old man's hoarse voice.
William compressed his lips. “About two and a half, father.”
“Two and a half.”
“How many dozen of eggs?”
“You ain't offerin' of her two pound of sugar for two dozen eggs?”
“I said two pounds and a half of sugar, father,” said William. He began counting the eggs.
“Be you gone crazy?”
“Never mind,” whispered Rebecca. “That's too much sugar for the eggs. Mother didn't expect so much. Don't say any more about it, William.” Her face was quite steady and self-possessed now, as she looked at William, frowning heavily over the eggs.
“Give Rebecca two pounds of sugar for the eggs, father, and call it square,” Rose called out.
Silas Berry pulled himself up a joint at a time; then he came forward at a stiff halt, his face pointing out in advance of his body. He entered at the gap in the counter, and pressed close to his son's side. Then he looked sharply across at Rebecca. “Sugar is fourteen cents a pound now,” said he, “an' eggs ain't fetchin' more'n ten cents a dozen. You tell your mother.”
“Father, I told her I'd giver her two and a half pounds for two dozen,” said William; he was quite pale. He began counting the eggs over again, and his hands trembled.
“I'll take just what you're willing to give,” Rebecca said to Silas.
“Sugar is fourteen cents a pound, an' eggs is fetchin' ten cents a dozen,” said the old man; “you can have a pound and a half of sugar for them eggs if you can give me a cent to boot.”
Rebecca colored. “I'm afraid I haven't got a cent with me,” said she; “I didn't fetch my purse. You'll have to give me a cent's worth less sugar, Mr. Berry.”
“It's kinder hard to calkilate so close as that,” returned Silas, gravely; “you had better tell your mother about it, an' you come back with the cent by-an'-by.”
“Why, father!” cried Rose.
William shouldered his father aside with a sudden motion. “I'm tending to this, father,” he said, in a stern whisper; “you leave it alone.”
“I ain't goin' to stan' by an' see you givin' twice as much for eggs as they're worth 'cause it's a gal you're tradin' with. That wa'n't never my way of doin' business, an' I ain't goin' to have it done in my store. I shouldn't have laid up a cent if I'd managed any such ways, an' I ain't goin' to see my hard earnin's wasted by you. You give her a pound and a half of sugar for them eggs and a cent to boot.”
“You sha'n't lose anything by it, father,” said William, fiercely. “You leave me alone.”
The sugar-barrel stood quite near. William strode over to it, and plunged in the great scoop with a grating noise. He heaped it recklessly on some paper, and laid it on the steelyards.
“Don't give me more'n a pound and a half,” Rebecca said, softly.
“Keep still,” Rose whispered in her ear.
Silas pushed forward, and bent over the steelyards. “You've weighed out nigh three,” he began. Then his son's face suddenly confronted his, and he stopped talking and stood back.
Almost involuntarily at times Silas Berry yielded to the combination of mental and superior physical force in his son. While his own mind had lost nothing of its vigor, his bodily weakness made him distrustful of it sometimes, when his son towered over him in what seemed the might of his own lost strength and youth, brandishing his own old weapons.
William tied up the sugar neatly; then he took the eggs from Rebecca's basket, and put the parcel in their place. Silas began lifting the eggs from the box in which William had put them, and counted them eagerly.
“There ain't but twenty-three eggs here,” he called out, as Rebecca and Rose turned away, and William was edging after them from behind the counter.
“I thought there were two dozen,” Rebecca responded, in a distressed voice.
“Of course there are two dozen,” said Rose, promptly. “You 'ain't counted 'em right, father. Go along, Rebecca; it's all right.”
“I tell ye it ain't,” said Silas. “There ain't but twenty-three. It's bad enough to be payin' twice what they're wuth for eggs, without havin' of 'em come short.”
“I tell you I counted 'em twice over, and they're all right. You keep still, father,” said William's voice at his ear, in a fierce whisper, and Silas subsided into sullen mutterings.
William had meditated following Rebecca to the door; he had even meditated going farther; but now he stood back behind the counter, and began packing up some boxes with a busy air.
“Ain't you going a piece with Rebecca, and carry her basket, William?” Rose called back, when the two girls reached the door.
Rebecca clutched her arm. “Oh, don't,” she gasped, and Rose giggled.
“Ain't you, William?” she said again.
Rebecca hurried out the door, but she heard William reply coldly that he couldn't, he was too busy. She was half crying when Rose caught up with her.
“William wanted to go bad enough, but he was too upset by what father said. You mustn't mind father,” Rose said, peering around into Rebecca's bonnet. “Why, Rebecca, what is the matter?”
“I didn't go into that store a step to see William Berry. You know I didn't,” Rebecca cried out, with sudden passion. Her voice was hoarse with tears; her face was all hot and quivering with shame and anger.
“Why, of course you didn't,” Rose returned, in a bewildered way. “Who said you did, Rebecca?”
“You know I didn't. I hated to go to the store this morning. I told mother I didn't want to, but she didn't have a mite of sugar in the house, and there wasn't anybody else to send. Ephraim ain't very well, and Doctor Whiting says he ought not to walk very far. I had to come, but I didn't come to see William Berry, and nobody has any call to think I did.”
“I don't know who said you did. I don't know what you mean, Rebecca.”
“You acted as if you thought so. I don't want William Berry seeing me home in broad daylight, when I've been to the store to trade, and you needn't think that's what I came for, and he needn't.”
“Good land, Rebecca Thayer, he didn't, and I was just in fun. He'd have come with you, but he was so mad at what father said that he backed out. William's just about as easy upset as you are. I didn't mean any harm. Say, Rebecca, come into the house a little while, can't you? I don't believe your mother is in any great hurry for the sugar.” Rose took hold of Rebecca's arm, but Rebecca jerked herself away with a sob, and went down the road almost on a run.
“Well, I hope you're touchy enough, Rebecca Thayer,” Rose called out, as she stood looking after her. “Folks will begin to think you did come to see William if you make such a fuss when nobody accuses you of it, if you don't look out.”
Rebecca hastened trembling down the road. She made no reply, but she knew that Rose was quite right, and that she had attacked her with futile reproaches in order to save herself from shame in her own eyes. Rebecca knew quite well that in spite of her hesitation and remonstrances, in spite of her maiden shrinking on the threshold of the store, she had come to see William Berry. She had been glad, although she had turned a hypocritical face towards her own consciousness, that Ephraim was not well enough and she was obliged to go. Her heart had leaped with joy when Rose had proposed William's walking home with her, but when he refused she was crushed with shame. “He thought I came to see him,” she kept saying to herself as she hurried along, and there was no falsehood that she would not have sworn to to shield her modesty from such a thought on his part.
When she got home and entered the kitchen, she kept her face turned away from her mother. “Here's the sugar,” she said, and she took it out of the basket and placed it on the table.
“How much did he give you?” asked Deborah Thayer; she was standing beside the window beating eggs. Over in the field she could catch a glimpse of Barnabas now and then between the trees as he passed with his plough.
“About two pounds.”
“That was doin' pretty well.”
Rebecca said nothing. She turned to go out of the room.
“Where are you going?” her mother asked, sharply. “Take off your bonnet. I want you to beat up the butter and sugar; this cake ought to be in the oven.”
Deborah's face, as she beat the eggs and made cake, looked as full of stern desperation as a soldier's on the battle-field. Deborah never yielded to any of the vicissitudes of life; she met them in fair fight like enemies, and vanquished them, not with trumpet and spear, but with daily duties. It was a village story how Deborah Thayer cleaned all the windows in the house one afternoon when her first child had died in the morning. To-day she was in a tumult of wrath and misery over her son; her mouth was so full of the gall of bitterness that no sweet on earth could overcome it; but she made sweet cake.
Rebecca took off her sun-bonnet and hung it on a peg; she got a box from the pantry, and emptied the sugar into in, still keeping her face turned away as best she could from her mother's eyes.
Deborah looked approvingly at the sugar. “It's nigher three pounds than anything else. I guess you were kind of favored, Rebecca. Did William wait on you?”
“Yes, he did.”
“I guess you were kind of favored,” Deborah repeated, and a half-smile came over her grim face.
Rebecca said nothing. She got some butter, and fell to work with a wooden spoon, creaming the butter and sugar in a brown wooden bowl with swift turns of her strong white wrist. Ephraim watched her sharply; he sat by a window stoning raisins. His mother had forbidden him to eat any, as she thought them injurious to him; but he carefully calculated his chances, and deposited many in his mouth when she watched Barney; but his jaws were always gravely set when she turned his way.
Ephraim's face had a curious bluish cast, as if his blood were the color of the juice of a grape. His chest heaved shortly and heavily. The village doctor had told is mother that he had heart-disease, which might prove fatal, although there was a chance of his outgrowing it, and Deborah had set her face against that.
Ephraim's face, in spite of its sickly hue, had a perfect healthiness and naturalness of expression, which insensibly gave confidence to his friends, although it aroused their irritation. A spirit of boyish rebellion and importance looked out of Ephraim's black eyes; his mouth was demure with mischief, his gawky figure perpetually uneasy and twisting, as if to find entrance into small forbidden places. There was something in Ephraim's face, when she looked suddenly at him, which continually led his mother to infer that he had been transgressing. “What have you been doin', Ephraim?” she would call out, sharply, many a time, with no just grounds for suspicion, and be utterly routed by Ephraim's innocent, wondering grin in response.
The boy was set about with restrictions which made his life miserable, but the labor of picking over plums for a cake was quite to his taste. He dearly loved plums, although they were especially prohibited. He rolled one quietly under his tongue, and watched Rebecca with sharp eyes. She could scarcely keep her face turned away from him and her mother too.
“Say, mother, Rebecca's been cryin'!” Ephraim announced, suddenly.
Deborah turned and looked at Rebecca's face bending lower over the wooden bowl; her black lashes rested on red circles, and her lips were swollen.
“I'd like to know what you've been cryin' about,” said Deborah. It was odd that she did not think that Rebecca's grief might be due to the worry over Barney; but she did not for a minute. She directly attributed it to some personal and strictly selfish consideration which should arouse her animosity.
“Nothing,” said Rebecca, with sulky misery.
“Yes, you've been cryin' about something, too. I want to know what 'tis.”
“Nothing. I wish you wouldn't, mother.”
“Did you see William Berry over to the store?”
“I told you I did once.”
“Well, you needn't bite my head off. Did he say anything to you?”
“He weighed out the sugar. I know one thing: I'll never set my foot inside that store again as long as I live!”
“I'd like to know what you mean, Rebecca Thayer.”
“I ain't going to have folks think I'm running after William Berry.”
“I'd like to know who thinks you are. If it's Hannah Berry, she needn't talk, after the way her daughter has chased over here. Mebbe it's all you Rose Berry has been to see, but I've had my doubts. What did Hannah Berry say to you?”
“She didn't say anything. I haven't seen her.”
“What was it, then?”
But Rebecca would not tell her mother what the trouble had been; she could not bring herself to reveal how William had been urged to walk home with her and how coldly he had refused, and finally Deborah, in spite of baffled interest, turned upon her. “Well, I hope you didn't do anything unbecoming,” said she.
“Mother, you know better.”
“Well, I hope you didn't.”
“Mother, I won't stand being talked to so!”
“I rather think I shall talk to you all I think I ought to for your own good,” said Deborah, with fierce persistency. “I ain't goin' to have any daughter of mine doin' anything bold and forward, if I know it.”
Rebecca was weeping quite openly now. “Mother, you know you sent me down to the store yourself; there wasn't anybody else to go,” she sobbed out.
“Your goin' to the store wa'n't anything. I guess you can go to the store to trade off some eggs for sugar when I'm makin' cake without William Berry thinkin' you're runnin' after him, or Hannah Berry thinkin' so either. But there wa'n't any need of your makin' any special talk with him, or lookin' as if you was tickled to death to see him.”
“I didn't. I wouldn't go across the room to see William Berry. You haven't any right to say such things to me, mother.”
“I guess I've got a right to talk to my own daughter. I should think things had come to a pretty pass if I can't speak when I see you doin' out of the way. I know one thing, you won't go to that store again. I'll go myself next time. Have you got that butter an' sugar mixed up?”
“I hope you will go, I'm sure. I don't want to,” returned Rebecca. She had stopped crying, but her face was burning; she hit the spoon with dull thuds against the wooden bowl.
“Don't you be saucy. That's done enough; give it here.”
Deborah finished the cake with a master hand. When she measured the raisins which Ephraim had stoned she cast a sharp glance at him, but he was ready for it with beseechingly upturned sickly face. “Can't I have just one raisin, mother?” he pleaded.
“Yes, you may, if you 'ain't eat any while you was pickin' of 'em over,” she answered. And he reached over a thumb and finger and selected a large fat plum, which he ate with ostentatious relish. Ephraim's stomach oppressed him, his breath came harder, but he had a sense of triumph in his soul. This depriving him of the little creature comforts which he loved, and of the natural enjoyments of boyhood, aroused in him a blind spirit of revolution which he felt virtuous in exercising. Ephraim was absolutely conscienceless with respect to all his stolen pleasures.
Deborah had a cooking-stove. She had a progressive spirit, and when stoves were first introduced had promptly done away with the brick oven, except on occasions when much baking-room was needed. After her new stove was set up in her back kitchen, she often alluded to Hannah Berry's conservative principles with scorn. Hannah's sister, Mrs. Barnard, had told her how a stove could be set up in the tavern any minute; but Hannah despised new notions. “Hannah won't have one, nohow,” said Mrs. Barnard. “I dunno but I would, if Cephas could afford it, and wa'n't set against it. It seems to me it might save a sight of work.”
“Some folks are rooted so deep in old notions that they can't see their own ideas over them,” declared Deborah. Often when she cooked in her new stove she inveighed against Hannah Berry's foolishness.
“If Hannah Berry wants to heat up a whole brick oven and work the whole forenoon to bake a loaf of cake, she can,” said she, as she put the pan of cake in the oven. “Now, you watch this, Rebecca Thayer, and don't you let it burn, and you get the potatoes ready for dinner.”
“Where are you going, mother?” asked Ephraim.
“I'm just goin' to step out a little way.”
“Can't I go too?”
“No; you set still. You ain't fit to walk this mornin'. You know what the doctor told you.”
“It won't hurt me any,” whined Ephraim. There were times when the spirit of rebellion in him made illness and even his final demise flash before his eyes like sweet overhanging fruit, since they were so strenuously forbidden.
“You set still,” repeated his mother. She tied on her own green sun-bonnet, stiffened with pasteboard, and went with it rattling against her ears across the fields to the one where her son was ploughing. The grass was not wet, but she held her dress up high, showing her thick shoes and her blue yarn stockings, and took long strides. Barney was guiding the plough past her when she came up.
“You stop a minute,” she said, authoritatively. “I want to speak to you.”
“Whoa!” said Barney, and pulled up the horse. “Well, what is it?” he said, gruffly, with his eyes upon the plough.
“You go this minute and set the men to work on your house again. You leave the horse here—I'll watch him—and go and tell Sam Plummer to come and get the other men.”
“G'lang!” said Barney, and the horse pulled the plough forward with a jerk.
Mrs. Thayer seized Barney's arm. “You stop!” said she. “Whoa, whoa! Now you look here, Barnabas Thayer. I don't know what you did to make Cephas Barnard order you out of the house, but I know it was something. I ain't goin' to believe it was all about the election. There was something back of that. I ain't goin' to shield you because you're my son. I know jest how set you can be in your own ways, and how you can hang on to your temper. I've known you ever since you was a baby; you can't teach me anything new about yourself. I don't know what you did to make Cephas mad, but I know what you've got to do now. You go and set the men to work on that house again, and then you go over to Cephas Barnard's, and you tell him you're sorry for what you've done. I don't care anything about Cephas Barnard, and if I'd had my way in the first place I wouldn't have had anything to do with him or his folks either; but now you've got to do what's right if you've gone as far as this, and Charlotte's all ready to be married. You go right along, Barnabas Thayer!”
Barnabas stood immovable, his face set past his mother, as irresponsively unyielding as a rock.
“Be you goin'?”
Barnabas did not reply. His mother moved, and brought her eyes on a range with his, and the two faces confronted each other in silence, while it was as if two wills clashed swords in advance of them.
Then Mrs. Thayer moved away. “I ain't never goin' to say anything more to you about it,” she said; “but there's one thing—you needn't come home to dinner. You sha'n't ever sit down to a meal in your father's and mother's house whilst this goes on.”
“G'lang!” said Barnabas. The horse started, and he bent to the plough. His mother stepped homeward over the plough-ridges with stern unyielding steps, as if they were her enemies slain in battle.
Just as she reached her own yard her husband drove in on a rattling farm cart. She beckoned to him, and he pulled the horse up short.
“I've told him he needn't come home to dinner,” she said, standing close to the wheel.
Caleb looked down at her with a scared expression. “Well, I s'pose you know what's best, Deborah,” he said.
“If he can't do what's right he's got to suffer for it,” returned Deborah.
She went into the house, and Caleb drove clanking into the barn.
Before dinner the old man stole off across lots, keeping well out of sight of the kitchen windows lest his wife should see him, and pleaded with Barnabas, but all in vain. The young man was more outspoken with his father, but he was just as firm.
“Your mother's terrible set about it, Barney. You'd better go over to Charlotte's and make up.”
“I can't; it's all over,” Barney said, in reply; and Caleb at length plodded soberly and clumsily home.
After dinner he went out behind the barn, and Rebecca, going to feed the hens, found him sitting under the wild-cherry tree, fairly sobbing in his old red handkerchief.
She went near him, and stood looking at him with restrained sympathy.
“Don't feel bad, father,” she said, finally. “Barney'll get over it, and come to supper.”
“No, he won't,” groaned the old man—“no, he won't. He's jest like your mother.”