On the north side of the old tavern was a great cherry orchard. In years back it had been a source of considerable revenue to Silas Berry, but for some seasons his returns from it had been very small. The cherries had rotted on the branches, or the robins had eaten them, for Silas would not give them away. Rose and her mother would smuggle a few small baskets of cherries to Sylvia Crane and Mrs. Barnard, but Silas's displeasure, had he found them out, would have been great. “I ain't a-goin' to give them cherries away to nobody,” he would proclaim. “If folks don't want 'em enough to pay for 'em they can go without.”
Many a great cherry picnic had been held in Silas Berry's orchard. Parties had come in great rattling wagons from all the towns about, and picked cherries and ate their fill at a most overreaching and exorbitant price.
There were no cherries like those in Silas Berry's orchard in all the country roundabout. There was no competition, and for many years he had had it all his own way. The young people's appetite for cherries and their zeal for pleasure had overcome their indignation at his usury. But at last Silas's greed got the better of his financial shrewdness; he increased his price for cherries every season, and the year after the tavern closed it became so preposterous that there was a rebellion. It was headed by Thomas Payne, who, as the squire's son and the richest and most freehanded young man in town, could incur no suspicion of parsimony. Going one night to the old tavern to make terms with Silas for the use of his cherry orchard, for a party which included some of his college friends from Boston and his fine young-lady cousin from New York, and hearing the preposterous sum which Silas stated as final, he had turned on his heel with a strong word under his breath. “You can eat your cherries yourself and be damned,” said Thomas Payne, and was out of the yard with the gay swagger which he had learned along with his Greek and Latin at college. The next day Silas saw the party in Squire Payne's big wagon, with Thomas driving, and the cousin's pink cheeks and white plumed hat conspicuous in the midst, pass merrily on their way to a cherryless picnic at a neighboring pond, and the young college men shouted out a doggerel couplet which the wit of the party had made and set to a rough tune.
“Who lives here?” the basses demanded in grim melody, and the tenors responded, “Old Silas Berry, who charges sixpence for a cherry.”
Silas heard the mocking refrain repeated over and over between shouts of laughter long after they were out of sight.
Rose, who had not been bidden to the picnic, heard it and wept as she peered around her curtain at the gay party. William, who had also not been bidden, stormed at his father, and his mother joined him.
“You're jest a-puttin' your own eyes out, Silas Berry,” said she; “you hadn't no business to ask such a price for them cherries; it's more than they are worth; folks won't stand it. You asked too much for 'em last year.”
“I know what I'm about,” returned Silas, sitting in his arm-chair at the window, with dogged chin on his breast.
“You wait an' see,” said Hannah. “You've jest put your own eyes out.”
And after-events proved that Hannah was right. Silas Berry's cherry orchard was subjected to a species of ostracism in the village. There were no more picnics held there, people would buy none of his cherries, and he lost all the little income which he had derived from them. Hannah often twitted him with it. “You can see now that what I told you was true,” said she; “you put your own eyes out.” Silas would say nothing in reply; he would simply make an animal sound of defiance like a grunt in his throat, and frown. If Hannah kept on, he would stump heavily out of the room, and swing the door back with a bang.
This season Hannah had taunted her husband more than usual with his ill-judged parsimony in the matter of the cherries. The trees were quite loaded with the small green fruit, and there promised to be a very large crop. One day Silas turned on her. “You wait,” said he; “mebbe I know what I'm about, more'n you think I do.”
Hannah scowled with sharp interrogation at her husband's shrewdly leering face. “What be you agoin' to do?” she demanded. But she got no more out of him.
One morning about two weeks before the cherries were ripe Silas went halting in a casual way across the south yard towards his daughter Rose, who was spreading out some linen to bleach. He picked up a few stray sticks on the way, ostentatiously, as if that were his errand.
Rose was spreading out the lengths of linen in a wide sunny space just outside the shade of the cherry-trees. Her father paused, tilted his head back, and eyed the trees with a look of innocent reflection. Rose glanced at him, then she went on with her work.
“Guess there's goin' to be considerable many cherries this year,” remarked her father, in an affable and confidential tone.
“I guess so,” replied Rose, shortly, and she flapped out an end of the wet linen. The cherries were a sore subject with her.
“I guess there's goin' to be more than common,” said Silas, still gazing up at the green boughs full of green fruit clusters.
Rose made no reply; she was down on her knees in the grass stretching the linen straight.
“I've been thinkin',” her father continued, slowly, “that—mebbe you'd like to have a little—party, an' ask some of the young folks, an' eat some of 'em when they get ripe. You could have four trees to pick off of.”
“I should think we'd had enough of cherry parties,” Rose cried out, bitterly.
“I didn't say nothin' about havin' 'em pay anything,” said her father.
Rose straightened herself and looked at him incredulously. “Do you mean it, father?” said she.
“'Ain't I jest said you might, if you wanted to?”
“Do you mean to have them come here and not pay, father?”
“There ain't no use tryin' to sell any of 'em,” replied Silas. “You can talk it over with your mother, an' do jest as you're a mind to about it, that's all. If you want to have a few of the young folks over here when them cherries are ripe, you can have four of them trees to pick off of. I ain't got no more to say about it.”
Silas turned in a peremptory and conclusive manner. Rose fairly gasped as she watched his stiff one-sided progress across the yard. The vague horror of the unusual stole over her. A new phase of her father's character stood between her and all her old memories like a supernatural presence. She left the rest of the linen in the basket and sought her mother in the house. “Mother!” she called out, in a cautious voice, as soon as she entered the kitchen. Mrs. Berry's face looked inquiringly out of the pantry, and Rose motioned her back, went in herself, and shut the door.
“What be you a-shuttin' the door for?” asked her mother, wonderingly.
“I don't know what has come over father.”
“What do you mean, Rose Berry? He 'ain't had another shock?”
“I'm dreadful afraid he's going to! I'm dreadful afraid something's going to happen to him!”
“I'd like to know what you mean?” Mrs. Berry was quite pale.
“Father says I can have a cherry party, and they needn't pay anything.”
Her mother stared at her. “He didn't!”
“Yes, he did.”
They looked in each other's eyes, with silent renewals of doubt and affirmation. Finally Mrs. Berry laughed. “H'm! Don't you see what your father's up to?” she said.
“No, I don't. I'm scared.”
“You needn't be. You ain't very cute. He's an old head. He thinks if he has this cherry party for nothin' folks will overlook that other affair, an' next year they'll buy the cherries again. Mebbe he thinks they'll buy the other trees this year, after the party. How many trees did he say you could have?”
“Four. Maybe that is it.”
“Of course 'tis. Your father's an old head. Well, you'd better ask 'em. They won't see through it, and it'll make things pleasanter. I've felt bad enough about it. I guess Mis' Thayer won't look down on us quite so much if we ask a party here and let 'em eat cherries for nothin'. It's more'n she'd do, I'll warrant.”
“Maybe they won't any of them come,” said Rose.
“H'm! Don't you worry about that. They'll come fast enough. I never see any trouble yet about folks comin' to get anything good that they didn't have to pay for.”
Rose and her mother calculated how many to invite to the party. They decided to include all the available young people in Pembroke.
“We might jest as well while we're about it,” said Hannah, judiciously. “There are cherries enough, and the Lord only knows when your father 'll have another freak like this. I guess it's like an eclipse of the sun, an' won't come again very soon.”
Within a day or two all the young people had been bidden to the cherry party, and, as Mrs. Berry had foretold, accepted. Their indignation was not proof against the prospect of pleasure; and, moreover, they all liked Rose and William, and would not have refused on their account.
The week before the party, when the cherries were beginning to turn red, and the robins had found them out, was an arduous one to little Ezra Ray, a young brother of Tommy Ray, who tended in Silas Berry's store. He was hired for twopence to sit all day in the cherry orchard and ring a cow-bell whenever the robins made excursions into the trees. From earliest dawn when the birds were first astir, until they sought their little nests, did Ezra sit uncomfortably upon a hard peaked rock in the midst of the orchard and jingle his bell.
He was white-headed, and large of his age like his brother. His pale blue eyes were gravely vacant under his thick white thatch; his chin dropped; his mouth gaped with stolid patience. There was no mitigation for his dull task; he was not allowed to keep his vigil on a comfortable branch of a tree with the mossy trunk for a support to his back, lest he might be tempted to eat of the cherries, and turn pal of the robins instead of enemy. He dared not pull down any low bough and have a surreptitious feast, for he understood well that there were likely to be sharp eyes at the rear windows of the house, that it was always probable that old Silas Berry, of whom he was in mortal fear, might be standing at his back, and, moreover, he should be questioned, and had not falsehood for refuge, for he was a good child, and would be constrained to speak the truth.
They would not let him have a gun instead of a bell, although he pleaded hard. Could he have sat there presenting a gun like a sentry on duty, the week, in spite of discomfort and deprivations, would have been full of glory and excitement. As it was, the dulness and monotony of the jingling of the cow-bell made even his stupid childish mind dismal. All the pleasant exhilaration of youth seemed to have deserted the boy, and life to him became as inane and bovine as to the original ringer of that bell grazing all the season in her own shadow over the same pasture-ground.
And more than all, that twopence for which Ezra toiled so miserably was to go towards the weaving of a rag carpet which his mother was making, and for which she was saving every penny. He could not lay it out in red-and-white sugar-sticks at the store. He sat there all the week, and every time there was a whir of little brown wings and the darting flash of a red breast among the cherry branches he rang in frantic haste the old cow-bell. All the solace he obtained was an occasional robin-pecked cherry which he found in the grass, and then Mr. Berry questioned him severely when he saw stains around his mouth and on his fingers.
He was on hand early in the morning on the day of the cherry picnic, trudging half awake, with the taste of breakfast in his mouth, through the acres of white dewy grass. He sat on his rock until the grass was dry, and patiently jingled his cow-bell. It was to young Ezra Ray, although all unwittingly, as if he himself were assisting in the operations of nature. He watched so assiduously that it was as if he dried the dewy grass and ripened the cherries.
When the cherry party began to arrive he still sat on his rock and jingled his bell; he did not know when to stop. But his eyes were upon the assembling people rather than upon the robins. He watched the brave young men whose ignominy of boyhood was past, bearing ladders and tossing up shining tin pails as they came. He watched the girls swinging their little straw baskets daintily; his stupidly wondering eyes followed especially Rebecca Thayer. Rebecca, in her black muslin, with her sweet throat fairly dazzling above the half-low bodice, and wound about twice with a slender gold chain, with her black silk apron embroidered with red roses, and beautiful face glowing with rich color between the black folds of her hair, held the instinctive attention of the boy. He stared at her as she stood talking to another girl with her back quite turned upon all the young men, until his own sister touched him upon the shoulder with a sharp nudge of a bony little hand.
Amelia Ray's face, blonde like her brother's, but sharp with the sharpness of the thin and dark, was thrust into his. “You must go right home now,” declared her high voice. “Mother said so.”
“I'm going to stay and help pick 'em,” said Ezra, in a voice which was not affirmative.
“No, you ain't.”
“I can climb trees.”
“You've got to go right straight home. Mother wants you to wind balls for the rag carpet.”
And then Ezra Ray, with disconsolate gaping face over his shoulder, retreated with awkward lopes across the field, the cow-bell accompanying his steps with doleful notes.
There were about forty young people at the party when all were assembled. They came mostly in couples, although now and then a little group of girls advanced across the field, and young men came singly. Barnabas Thayer came alone, and rather late; Rebecca had come some time before with one of her girl mates who had stopped for her. Barnabas, slender and handsome in his best suit, advancing with a stern and almost martial air, tried not to see Charlotte Barnard; but it was as if her face were the natural focus for his eyes, which they could not escape. However, Charlotte was not talking to Thomas Payne; he was not even very near her. He was already in the top of a cherry-tree picking busily. Barney saw his trim dark head and his bright blue waistcoat among the branches, and his heart gave a guilty throb of relief. But soon he noted that Charlotte had not her basket, and the conviction seized him that Thomas had it and was filling it with the very choicest cherries from the topmost branches, as was indeed the case.
Charlotte never looked at Barney, although she knew well when he came. She stood smiling beside another girl, her smooth fair hair gleaming in the sun, her neck showing pink through her embroidered lace kerchief, and her gleaming head and her neck seemed to survey Barney as consciously as her face. Suddenly the fierceness of the instinct of possession seized him; he said to himself that it was his wife's neck; no one else should see it. He felt like tearing off his own coat and covering her with rude force. It made no difference to him that nearly every other girl there, his sister among the rest, wore her neck uncovered by even a kerchief; he felt that Charlotte should not have done so. The other young men were swarming up the trees with the girls' baskets, but he stood aloof with his forehead knitted; it was as if all his reason had deserted him. All at once there was a rustle at his side, and Rose Berry touched him on the arm; he started, and looked down into her softly glowing little face.
“Oh, here you are!” said she, and her voice had adoring cadences.
“I was afraid you weren't coming,” said she, and she panted softly through her red parted lips.
Rose's crisp pink muslin gown flared scalloping around her like the pink petals of a hollyhock; her slender white arms showed through the thin sleeves. Barney could not look away from her wide-open, unfaltering blue eyes, which suddenly displayed to him strange depths. Charlotte, during all his courtship, had never looked up in his face like that. He could not himself have told why; but Charlotte had never for one moment lost sight of the individual, and the respect due him, in her lover. Rose, in the heart of New England, bred after the precepts of orthodoxy, was a pagan, and she worshipped Love himself. Barney was simply the statue that represented the divinity; another might have done as well had the sculpture been as fine.
“I told you I was coming,” Barney said, slowly, and his voice sounded odd to himself.
“I know you did, but I was afraid you wouldn't.”
Rose still held her basket. Barney reached out for it. “Let me get some cherries for you,” he said.
“Oh, I guess you hadn't better,” Rose returned, holding the basket firmly.
“I'm—afraid Charlotte won't like it,” Rose said. Her face, upturned to Barney, was full of pitiful seriousness, like a child's.
“Give me the basket,” demanded Barney, and she yielded. She stood watching him as he climbed the nearest tree; then she turned and met Charlotte's stern eyes full upon her. Rose went under the tree herself, pulled down a low branch, and began to eat; several other girls were doing the same. Thomas Payne passed the tree, bearing carefully Charlotte's little basket heaped with the finest cherries. Rose tossed her head defiantly. “She needn't say anything,” she thought.
The morning advanced, the sun stood high, and there was a light wind, which now and then caused the cherry-leaves to smite the faces of the pickers. There were no robins in the trees that morning; there were only swift whirs of little wings in the distance, and sweet flurried calls which were scarcely noted in the merry clamor of the young men and girls.
Silas Berry stood a little aloof, leaning on a stout cane, looking on with an inscrutable expression on his dry old face. He noted everything; he saw Rose talking to Barney; he saw his son William eating cherries with Rebecca Thayer out of one basket; but his expression never changed. The predominant trait in his whole character had seemed to mould his face to itself unchangeably, as the face of a hunting-dog is moulded to his speed and watchfulness.
“Don't Mr. Berry look just like an old miser?” a girl whispered to Rebecca Thayer; then she started and blushed confusedly, for she remembered suddenly that William Berry was said to be waiting upon Rebecca, and she also remembered that Charlotte Barnard, who was within hearing distance, was his niece.
Rebecca blushed, too. “I never thought of it,” she said, in a constrained voice.
“Well, I don't know as he does,” apologized the girl. “I suppose I thought of it because he's thin. I always had an idea that a miser was thin.” Then she slipped away, and presently whispered to another girl what a mistaken speech she had made, and they put their heads together with soft, averted giggles.
The girls had brought packages of luncheon in their baskets, which they had removed to make space for the cherries, and left with Mrs. Berry in the tavern. At noon they sent the young men for them, and prepared to have dinner at a little distance from the trees where they had been picking, where the ground was clean. William and Rose also went up to the tavern, and Rose beckoned to Barney as she passed him. “Don't you want to come?” she whispered, as he followed hesitatingly; “there's something to carry.”
When the party returned, Mrs. Berry was with them, and she and Rose bore between them a small tub of freshly-fried hot doughnuts. Mrs. Berry had utterly refused to trust it to the young men. “I know better than to let you have it,” she said, laughing. “You'd eat all the way there, and there wouldn't be enough left to go round. Me and Rose will carry it; it ain't very heavy.” William and Barney each bore two great jugs of molasses-and-water spiced with ginger.
Silas pulled himself up stiffly when he saw them coming; he had been sitting upon the peaked rock whereon Ezra Ray had kept vigil with the cow-bell. Full of anxiety had he been all day lest they should pick from any except the four trees which he had set apart for them, and his anxiety was greater since he knew that the best cherries were not on those four trees. Silas sidled painfully towards his wife and daughter; he peered over into the tub, but they swung it remorselessly past him, even knocking his shin with its iron-bound side.
“What you got there?” he demanded, huskily.
“Don't you say one word,” returned his wife, with a fierce shake of her head at him.
“What's in them jugs?”
“It's nothing but sweetened water. Don't, father,” pleaded Rose under her breath, her pretty face flaming.
Her mother scowled indomitably at Silas tagging threateningly at her elbow. “Don't you say one word,” she whispered again.
“You ain't goin' to—give 'em—”
“Don't you speak,” she returned, hissing out the “s.”
Silas said no more. He followed on, and watched the doughnuts being distributed to the merry party seated in a great ring like a very garland of youth under his trees; he saw them drink his sweetened water.
“Don't you want some?” asked his wife's defiantly pleasant voice in his ear.
“No, I don't want none,” he returned.
Finally, long before they had finished eating, he went home to the tavern. There was no one in the house. He stole cautiously into the pantry, and there was a reserve of doughnuts in a large milk-pan sitting before the window. Silas crooked his old arm around the pan, carried it painfully across the great kitchen and the entry into the best room, and pushed it far under the bureau. Then he returned, and concealed the molasses-jug in the brick oven. He stood for a minute in the middle of the kitchen floor, chuckling and nodding as if to the familiar and confidential spirit of his own greed; then he went out, and a short way down the road to the cottage house where old Hiram Baxter lived and kept a little shoemaker's shop in the L. He entered, and sat down in the little leather-reeking place with Hiram, and was safe and removed from inquiry when Mrs. Berry returned to the tavern for the remaining doughnuts and to mix more sweetened water. The doughnuts could not be found, but she carried a pail across to the store, got more molasses from the barrel, and so in one point outwitted her husband.
Mrs. Berry was famous for her rich doughnuts, and the first supply had been quite exhausted. William went up to her at once when she returned to the party. “Where's the rest of the doughnuts?” he whispered.
“Your father's hid 'em,” she whispered back. “Hush, don't say anything.”
William scowled and made an exclamation. “The old—”
“Hush!” whispered his mother again; “go up to the house and get the sweetened water. I've mixed another jug.”
“Where is he?” demanded William.
“I dunno. He ain't to the store.”
William strode off across the field, and he searched through the house with an angry stamping and banging of doors, but he could not find his father or the doughnuts. “Father!” he called, in an angry shout, standing in the doorway, “Father!” But there was no reply, and he went back to the others with the jug of sweetened water. Rebecca watched him with furtive, anxious eyes, but he avoided looking at her. When he passed her a tumbler of sweetened water she took it and thanked him fervently, but he did not seem to heed her at all.
After dinner they played romping games under the trees—hunt the slipper, and button, and Copenhagen. Mrs. Barnard and two other women had come over to see the festivity, and they sat at a little distance with Mrs. Berry, awkwardly disposed against the trunks of trees, with their feet tucked under their skirts to keep them from the damp ground.
Copenhagen was the favorite game of the young people, and they played on and on while the afternoon deepened. Clinging to the rope they formed a struggling ring, looping this way and that way as the pursuers neared them. Their laughter and gay cries formed charming discords; their radiant faces had the likeness of one family of flowers, through their one expression. The wind blew harder; the girls' muslin skirts clung to their limbs as they moved against it, and flew out around their heels in fluttering ruffles. The cherry boughs tossed over their heads full of crisp whispers among their dark leaves and red fruit clusters. Over across the field, under the low-swaying boughs, showed the old red wall of the tavern, and against it a great mass of blooming phlox, all vague with distance like purple smoke. Over on the left, fence rails glistened purple in the sun and wind—a bluebird sat on a crumbling post and sang. But the young men and girls playing Copenhagen saw and heard nothing of these things.
They heard only that one note of love which all unwittingly, and whether they would or not, they sang to each other through all the merry game. Charlotte heard it whether she would or not, and so did Barney, and it produced in them as in the others a reckless exhilaration in spite of their sadness. William Berry forgot all his mortification and annoyance as he caught Rebecca's warm fingers on the rope and bent over her red, averted cheek. Barney, when he had grasped Rose's hands, which had fairly swung the rope his way, kissed her with an ardor which had in it a curious, fierce joy, because at that moment he caught a glimpse of Thomas Payne's handsome, audacious face meeting Charlotte's.
Barney had not wished to play, but he played with zeal, only he never seemed to see Charlotte's fingers on the rope, and Charlotte never saw his. The girls' cheeks flushed deeper, their smooth locks became roughened. The laughter waxed louder and longer; the matrons looking on doubled their broad backs with responsive merriment. It became like a little bacchanalian rout in a New England field on a summer afternoon, but they did not know it in their simple hearts.
At six o'clock the mist began to rise, the sunlight streamed through the trees in slanting golden shafts, long drawn out like organ chords. The young people gathered up their pails and baskets and went home, flocking down the road together, calling back farewells to Rose and William and their mother, who stood in front of the tavern watching them out of sight.
They were not quite out of sight when they came to Hiram Baxter's little house, and Silas Berry emerged from the shop door. “Hullo!” he cried out, and they all stopped, smiling at him with a cordiality which had in it a savor of apology. Indeed, Thomas Payne had just remarked, with a hearty chorus of assents, that he guessed the old man wasn't so bad after all.
Silas advanced towards them; he also was smiling. He fumbled in his waistcoat pocket, and drew out a roll of paper which he shook out with trembling fingers. He stepped close to Thomas Payne and extended it.
“What is it?” asked the young man.
Silas smiled up in his face with the ingenuous smile of a child.
“What is it?” Thomas Payne asked again.
The others crowded around.
“It's nothin' but the bill,” replied Silas, in a wheedling whisper. His dry old face turned red, his smile deepened.
“The bill for what?” demanded Thomas Payne, and he seized the paper.
“For the cherries you eat,” replied Silas. “I've always been in the habit of chargin' more, but I've took off a leetle this time.” His voice had a ring of challenge, his eyes were sharp, while his mouth smiled.
Thomas Payne scowled over the bill. The other young men peered at it over his shoulder, and repeated the amount with whistles and half-laughs of scorn and anger. The girls ejaculated to each other in whispers. Silas stood impervious, waiting.
The young men whipped out their purses without a word, but Thomas motioned them back. “I'll pay, and we'll settle afterwards. We can't divide up here,” he said, and he crammed some money hard in Silas's eagerly outstretched hand. “Thank you for your hospitality, Mr. Berry,” said Thomas Payne, his face all flaming and his eyes flashing, but his voice quite steady. “I hope you'll have as good luck selling your cherries next year.”
There was a little exulting titter over the sarcasm among the girls, in which Rebecca did not join; then the party kept on. The indignant clamor waxed loud in a moment; they scarcely waited for the old man's back to be turned on his return to the tavern.
But the young people, crying out all together against this last unparalleled meanness, had not reached the foot of the hill, where some of them separated, when they heard the quick pound of running feet behind them and a hoarse voice calling on Thomas Payne to stop. They all turned, and William came up, pale and breathing hard. “What did you pay him?” he asked of Thomas Payne.
“See here, William, we all know you had nothing to do with it,” Thomas cried out.
“What did you pay him?” William repeated, in a stern gasp.
“It's all right.”
“You tell me what you paid him.”
Thomas Payne blushed all over his handsome boyish face. He half whispered the amount to William, although the others knew it as well as he.
William pulled out his purse, and counted out some money with trembling fingers. “Take it, for God's sake!” said he, and Thomas Payne took it. “We all know that you knew nothing about it,” he said again. The others chimed in with eager assent, but William gave his head a shake, as if he shook off water, and broke away from them all, and pelted up the hill with his heart so bitterly sore that it seemed as if he trod on it at every step.
A voice was crying out behind him, but he never heeded. There were light, hurrying steps after him, and a soft flutter of girlish skirts, but he never looked away from his own self until Rebecca touched his arm. Then he looked around with a start and a great blush, and jerked his arm away.
But Rebecca followed him up quite boldly, and caught his arm again, and looked up in his face. “Don't you feel bad,” said she; “don't you feel bad. You aren't to blame.”
“Isn't he my father?”
“You aren't to blame for that.”
“Disgrace comes without blame,” said William, and he moved on.
Rebecca kept close to his side, clinging to his arm. “It's your father's way,” said she. “He's honest, anyway. Nobody can say he isn't honest.”
“It depends upon what you call honest,” William said, bitterly. “You'd better run back, Rebecca. You don't want them to think you're going with me, and they will. I'm disgraced, and so is Rose. You'd better run back.”
Rebecca stopped, and he did also. She looked up in his face; her mouth was quivering with a kind of helpless shame, but her eyes were full of womanly courage and steadfastness. “William,” said she, “I ran away in the face and eyes of them all to comfort you. They saw me, and they can see me now, but I don't care. And I don't care if you see me; I always have cared, but I don't now. I have always been terribly afraid lest you should think I was running after you, but I ain't afraid now. Don't you feel bad, William. That's all I care about. Don't you feel bad; nobody is going to think any less of you. I don't; I think more.”
William looked down at her; there was a hesitating appeal in his face, as in that of a hurt child. Suddenly Rebecca raised both her arms and put them around his neck; he leaned his cheek down against her soft hair. “Poor William,” she whispered, as if he had been her child instead of her lover.
A girl in the merry party speeding along at the foot of the hill glanced around just then; she turned again, blushing hotly, and touched a girl near her, who also glanced around. Then their two blushing faces confronted each other with significant half-shamed smiles of innocent young girlhood.
They locked arms, and whispered as they went on. “Did you see?” “Yes.” “His head?” “Yes.” “Her arms?” “Yes.” Neither had ever had a lover.
But the two lovers at the top of the hill paid no heed. The party were all out of sight when they went slowly down in the gathering twilight. William left Rebecca when they came opposite her house.