by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
ANNIE HEMPSTEAD lived on a large family canvas, being the eldest of six
children. There was only one boy. The mother was long since dead. If one
can imagine the Hempstead family, the head of which was the Reverend
Silas, pastor of the Orthodox Church in Lynn Corners, as being the subject
of a mild study in village history, the high light would probably fall
upon Imogen, the youngest daughter. As for Annie, she would apparently
supply only a part of the background.
This afternoon in late July, Annie was out in the front yard of the
parsonage, assisting her brother Benny to rake hay. Benny had not cut it.
Annie had hired a man, although the Hempsteads could not afford to hire a
man, but she had said to Benny, "Benny, you can rake the hay and get it
into the barn if Jim Mullins cuts it, can't you?" And Benny had smiled and
nodded acquiescence. Benny Hempstead always smiled and nodded
acquiescence, but there was in him the strange persistency of a willow
bough, the persistency of pliability, which is the most unconquerable of
all. Benny swayed gracefully in response to all the wishes of others, but
always he remained in his own inadequate attitude toward life.
Now he was raking to as little purpose as he could and rake at all. The
clover-tops, the timothy grass, and the buttercups moved before his rake
in a faint foam of gold and green and rose, but his sister Annie raised
whirlwinds with hers. The Hempstead yard was large and deep, and had two
great squares given over to wild growths on either side of the gravel
walk, which was bordered with shrubs, flowering in their turn, like a
class of children at school saying their lessons. The spring shrubs had
all spelled out their floral recitations, of course, but great clumps of
peonies were spreading wide skirts of gigantic bloom, like dancers
courtesying low on the stage of summer, and shafts of green-white Yucca
lilies and Japan lilies and clove-pinks still remained in their school of
Benny often stood still, wiped his forehead, leaned on his rake, and
inhaled the bouquet of sweet scents, but Annie raked with never-ceasing
energy. Annie was small and slender and wiry, and moved with angular
grace, her thin, peaked elbows showing beneath the sleeves of her pink
gingham dress, her thin knees outlining beneath the scanty folds of the
skirt. Her neck was long, her shoulder-blades troubled the back of her
blouse at every movement. She was a creature full of ostentatious joints,
but the joints were delicate and rhythmical and charming. Annie had a
charming face, too. It was thin and sunburnt, but still charming, with a
sweet, eager, intent-to-please outlook upon life. This last was the real
attitude of Annie's mind; it was, in fact, Annie. She was intent to please
from her toes to the crown of her brown head. She radiated good will and
loving-kindness as fervently as a lily in the border radiated perfume.
It was very warm, and the northwest sky had a threatening mountain of
clouds. Occasionally Annie glanced at it and raked the faster, and thought
complacently of the water-proof covers in the little barn. This hay was
valuable for the Reverend Silas's horse.
Two of the front windows of the house were filled with girls' heads, and
the regular swaying movement of white-clad arms sewing. The girls sat in
the house because it was so sunny on the piazza in the afternoon. There
were four girls in the sittingroom, all making finery for themselves. On
the other side of the front door one of the two windows was blank; in the
other was visible a nodding gray head, that of Annie's father taking his
Everything was still except the girls' tongues, an occasional burst of
laughter, and the crackling shrill of locusts. Nothing had passed on the
dusty road since Benny and Annie had begun their work. Lynn Corners was
nothing more than a hamlet. It was even seldom that an automobile got
astray there, being diverted from the little city of Anderson, six miles
away, by turning to the left instead of the right.
Benny stopped again and wiped his forehead, all pink and beaded with
sweat. He was a pretty young man—as pretty as a girl, although
large. He glanced furtively at Annie, then he went with a soft, padding
glide, like a big cat, to the piazza and settled down. He leaned his head
against a post, closed his eyes, and inhaled the sweetness of flowers
alive and dying, of new-mown hay. Annie glanced at him and an angelic look
came over her face. At that moment the sweetness of her nature seemed
"He is tired, poor boy!" she thought. She also thought that probably Benny
felt the heat more because he was stout. Then she raked faster and faster.
She fairly flew over the yard, raking the severed grass and flowers into
heaps. The air grew more sultry. The sun was not yet clouded, but the
northwest was darker and rumbled ominously.
The girls in the sitting-room continued to chatter and sew. One of them
might have come out to help this little sister toiling alone, but Annie
did not think of that. She raked with the uncomplaining sweetness of an
angel until the storm burst. The rain came down in solid drops, and the
sky was a sheet of clamoring flame. Annie made one motion toward the barn,
but there was no use. The hay was not half cocked. There was no sense in
running for covers. Benny was up and lumbering into the house, and her
sisters were shutting windows and crying out to her. Annie deserted her
post and fled before the wind, her pink skirts lashing her heels, her hair
When she entered the sitting-room her sisters, Imogen, Eliza, Jane, and
Susan, were all there; also her father, Silas, tall and gaunt and gray. To
the Hempsteads a thunder-storm partook of the nature of a religious
ceremony. The family gathered together, and it was understood that they
were all offering prayer and recognizing God as present on the wings of
the tempest. In reality they were all very nervous in thunder-storms, with
the exception of Annie. She always sent up a little silent petition that
her sisters and brother and father, and the horse and dog and cat, might
escape danger, although she had never been quite sure that she was not
wicked in including the dog and cat. She was surer about the horse because
he was the means by which her father made pastoral calls upon his distant
sheep. Then afterward she just sat with the others and waited until the
storm was over and it was time to open windows and see if the roof had
leaked. Today, however, she was intent upon the hay. In a lull of the
tempest she spoke.
"It is a pity," she said, "that I was not able to get the hay cocked and
the covers on."
Then Imogen turned large, sarcastic blue eyes upon her. Imogen was
considered a beauty, pink and white, golden-haired, and dimpled, with a
curious calculating hardness of character and a sharp tongue, so at
variance with her appearance that people doubted the evidence of their
"If," said Imogen, "you had only made Benny work instead of encouraging
him to dawdle and finally to stop altogether, and if you had gone out
directly after dinner, the hay would have been all raked up and covered."
Nothing could have exceeded the calm and instructive superiority of
Imogen's tone. A mass of soft white fabric lay upon her lap, although she
had removed scissors and needle and thimble to a safe distance. She tilted
her chin with a royal air. When the storm lulled she had stopped praying.
Imogen's sisters echoed her and joined in the attack upon Annie.
"Yes," said Jane, "if you had only started earlier, Annie. I told Eliza
when you went out in the yard that it looked like a shower."
Eliza nodded energetically.
"It was foolish to start so late," said Susan, with a calm air of wisdom
only a shade less exasperating than Imogen's.
"And you always encourage Benny so in being lazy," said Eliza.
Then the Reverend Silas joined in. "You should have more sense of
responsibility toward your brother, your only brother, Annie," he said, in
his deep pulpit voice.
"It was after two o'clock when you went out," said Imogen.
"And all you had to do was the dinner-dishes, and there were very few
to-day," said Jane.
Then Annie turned with a quick, cat-like motion. Her eyes blazed under her
brown toss of hair. She gesticulated with her little, nervous hands. Her
voice was as sweet and intense as a reed, and withal piercing with anger.
"It was not half past one when I went out," said she, "and there was a
whole sinkful of dishes."
"It was after two. I looked at the clock," said Imogen.
"It was not."
"And there were very few dishes," said Jane.
"A whole sinkful," said Annie, tense with wrath.
"You always are rather late about starting," said Susan.
"I am not! I was not! I washed the dishes, and swept the kitchen, and
blacked the stove, and cleaned the silver."
"I swept the kitchen," said Imogen, severely. "Annie, I am surprised at
"And you know I cleaned the silver yesterday," said Jane.
Annie gave a gasp and looked from one to the other.
"You know you did not sweep the kitchen," said Imogen.
Annie's father gazed at her severely. "My dear," he said, "how long must I
try to correct you of this habit of making false statements?"
"Dear Annie does not realize that they are false statements, father," said
Jane. Jane was not pretty, but she gave the effect of a long, sweet stanza
of some fine poetess. She was very tall and slender and large-eyed, and
wore always a serious smile. She was attired in a purple muslin gown, cut
V-shaped at the throat, and, as always, a black velvet ribbon with a
little gold locket attached. The locket contained a coil of hair. Jane had
been engaged to a young minister, now dead three years, and he had given
her the locket.
Jane no doubt had mourned for her lover, but she had a covert pleasure in
the romance of her situation. She was a year younger than Annie, and she
had loved and lost, and so had achieved a sentimental distinction. Imogen
always had admirers. Eliza had been courted at intervals half-heartedly by
a widower, and Susan had had a few fleeting chances. But Jane was the only
one who had been really definite in her heart affairs. As for Annie,
nobody ever thought of her in such a connection. It was supposed that
Annie had no thought of marriage, that she was foreordained to remain
unwed and keep house for her father and Benny.
When Jane said that dear Annie did not realize that she made false
statements, she voiced an opinion of the family before which Annie was
always absolutely helpless. Defense meant counter-accusation. Annie could
not accuse her family. She glanced from one to the other. In her blue eyes
were still sparks of wrath, but she said nothing. She felt, as always,
speechless, when affairs reached such a juncture. She began, in spite of
her good sense, to feel guiltily responsible for everything—for the
spoiling of the hay, even for the thunder-storm. What was more, she even
wished to feel guiltily responsible. Anything was better than to be sure
her sisters were not speaking the truth, that her father was blaming her
Benny, who sat hunched upon himself with the effect of one set of bones
and muscles leaning upon others for support, was the only one who spoke
for her, and even he spoke to little purpose.
"One of you other girls," said he, in a thick, sweet voice, "might have
come out and helped Annie; then she could have got the hay in."
They all turned on him.
"It is all very well for you to talk," said Imogen. "I saw you myself quit
raking hay and sit down on the piazza."
"Yes," assented Jane, nodding violently, "I saw you, too."
"You have no sense of your responsibility, Benjamin, and your sister Annie
abets you in evading it," said Silas Hempstead with dignity.
"Benny feels the heat," said Annie.
"Father is entirely right," said Eliza. "Benjamin has no sense of
responsibility, and it is mainly owing to Annie."
"But dear Annie does not realize it," said Jane.
Benny got up lumberingly and left the room. He loved his sister Annie, but
he hated the mild simmer of feminine rancor to which even his father's
presence failed to add a masculine flavor. Benny was always leaving the
room and allowing his sisters "to fight it out."
Just after he left there was a tremendous peal of thunder and a blue
flash, and they all prayed again, except Annie; who was occupied with her
own perplexities of life, and not at all afraid. She wondered, as she had
wondered many times before, if she could possibly be in the wrong, if she
were spoiling Benny, if she said and did things without knowing that she
did so, or the contrary. Then suddenly she tightened her mouth. She knew.
This sweet-tempered, anxious-to-please Annie was entirely sane, she had
unusual self-poise. She KNEW that she knew what she did and said, and what
she did not do or say, and a strange comprehension of her family
overwhelmed her. Her sisters were truthful; she would not admit anything
else, even to herself; but they confused desires and impulses with
accomplishment. They had done so all their lives, some of them from
intense egotism, some possibly from slight twists in their mental
organisms. As for her father, he had simply rather a weak character, and
was swayed by the majority. Annie, as she sat there among the praying
group, made the same excuse for her sisters that they made for her. "They
don't realize it," she said to herself.
When the storm finally ceased she hurried upstairs and opened the windows,
letting in the rain-fresh air. Then she got supper, while her sisters
resumed their needlework. A curious conviction seized her, as she was
hurrying about the kitchen, that in all probability some, if not all, of
her sisters considered that they were getting the supper. Possibly Jane
had reflected that she ought to get supper, then she had taken another
stitch in her work and had not known fairly that her impulse of duty had
not been carried out. Imogen, presumably, was sewing with the serene
consciousness that, since she was herself, it followed as a matter of
course that she was performing all the tasks of the house.
While Annie was making an omelet Benny came out into the kitchen and stood
regarding her, hands in pockets, making, as usual, one set of muscles rest
upon another. His face was full of the utmost good nature, but it also
convicted him of too much sloth to obey its commands.
"Say, Annie, what on earth makes them all pick on you so?" he observed.
"Hush, Benny! They don't mean to. They don't know it."
"But say, Annie, you must know that they tell whoppers. You DID sweep the
"Hush, Benny! Imogen really thinks she swept it."
"Imogen always thinks she has done everything she ought to do, whether she
has done it or not," said Benny, with unusual astuteness. "Why don't you
up and tell her she lies, Annie?"
"She doesn't really lie," said Annie.
"She does lie, even if she doesn't know it," said Benny; "and what is
more, she ought to be made to know it. Say, Annie, it strikes me that you
are doing the same by the girls that they accuse you of doing by me.
Aren't you encouraging them in evil ways?"
Annie started, and turned and stared at him.
Benny nodded. "I can't see any difference," he said. "There isn't a day
but one of the girls thinks she has done something you have done, or
hasn't done something you ought to have done, and they blame you all the
time, when you don't deserve it, and you let them, and they don't know it,
and I don't think myself that they know they tell whoppers; but they ought
to know. Strikes me you are just spoiling the whole lot, father thrown in,
Annie. You are a dear, just as they say, but you are too much of a dear to
be good for them."
"You are letting that omelet burn," said Benny. "Say, Annie, I will go out
and turn that hay in the morning. I know I don't amount to much, but I
ain't a girl, anyhow, and I haven't got a cross-eyed soul. That's what
ails a lot of girls. They mean all right, but their souls have been
cross-eyed ever since they came into the world, and it's just such girls
as you who ought to get them straightened out. You know what has happened
to-day. Well, here's what happened yesterday. I don't tell tales, but you
ought to know this, for I believe Tom Reed has his eye on you, in spite of
Imogen's being such a beauty, and Susan's having manners like silk, and
Eliza's giving everybody the impression that she is too good for this
earth, and Jane's trying to make everybody think she is a sweet martyr,
without a thought for mortal man, when that is only her way of trying to
catch one. You know Tom Reed was here last evening?"
Annie nodded. Her face turned scarlet, then pathetically pale. She bent
over her omelet, carefully lifting it around the edges.
"Well," Benny went on, "I know he came to see you, and Imogen went to the
door and ushered him into the parlor, and I was out on the piazza, and she
didn't know it, but I heard her tell him that she thought you had gone
out. She hinted, too, that George Wells had taken you to the concert in
the town hall. He did ask you, didn't he?"
"Well, Imogen spoke in this way." Benny lowered his voice and imitated
Imogen to the life. "'Yes, we are all well, thank you. Father is busy, of
course; Jane has run over to Mrs. Jacobs's for a pattern; Eliza is writing
letters; and Susan is somewhere about the house. Annie—well,
Annie-George Wells asked her to go to the concert—I rather—'
Then," said Benny, in his natural voice, "Imogen stopped, and she could
say truthfully that she didn't lie, but anybody would have thought from
what she said that you had gone to the concert with George Wells."
"Did Tom inquire for me?" asked Annie, in a low voice.
"Didn't have a chance. Imogen got ahead of him."
"Oh, well, then it doesn't matter. I dare say he did come to see Imogen."
"He didn't," said Benny, stoutly. "And that isn't all. Say, Annie—"
"Are you going to marry George Wells? It is none of my business, but are
Annie laughed a little, although her face was still pale. She had folded
the omelet and was carefully watching it.
"You need not worry about that, Benny dear," she said.
"Then what right have the girls to tell so many people the nice things
they hear you say about him?"
Annie removed the omelet skilfully from the pan to a hot plate, which she
set on the range shelf, and turned to her brother.
"What nice things do they hear me say?"
"That he is so handsome; that he has such a good position; that he is the
very best young man in the place; that you should think every girl would
be head over heels in love with him; that every word he speaks is so
bright and clever."
Annie looked at her brother.
"I don't believe you ever said one of those things," remarked Benny.
Annie continued to look at him.
"Benny dear, I am not going to tell you."
"You won't say you never did, because that would be putting your sisters
in the wrong and admitting that they tell lies. Annie, you are a dear, but
I do think you are doing wrong and spoiling them as much as they say you
are spoiling me."
"Perhaps I am," said Annie. There was a strange, tragic expression on her
keen, pretty little face. She looked as if her mind was contemplating
strenuous action which was changing her very features. She had covered the
finished omelet and was now cooking another.
"I wish you would see if everybody is in the house and ready, Benny," said
she. "When this omelet is done they must come right away, or nothing will
be fit to eat. And, Benny dear, if you don't mind, please get the butter
and the cream-pitcher out of the ice-chest. I have everything else on the
"There is another thing," said Benny. "I don't go about telling tales, but
I do think it is time you knew. The girls tell everybody that you like to
do the housework so much that they don't dare interfere. And it isn't so.
They may have taught themselves to think it is so, but it isn't. You would
like a little time for fancy-work and reading as well as they do."
"Please get the cream and butter, and see if they are all in the house,"
said Annie. She spoke as usual, but the strange expression remained in her
face. It was still there when the family were all gathered at the table
and she was serving the puffy omelet. Jane noticed it first.
"What makes you look so odd, Annie?" said she.
"I don't know how I look odd," replied Annie.
They all gazed at her then, her father with some anxiety. "You don't look
yourself," he said. "You are feeling well, aren't you, Annie?"
"Quite well, thank you, father."
But after the omelet was served and the tea poured Annie rose.
"Where are you going, Annie?" asked Imogen, in her sarcastic voice.
"To my room, or perhaps out in the orchard."
"It will be sopping wet out there after the shower," said Eliza. "Are you
"I have on my black skirt, and I will wear rubbers," said Annie, quietly.
"I want some fresh air."
"I should think you had enough fresh air. You were outdoors all the
afternoon, while we were cooped up in the house," said Jane.
"Don't you feel well, Annie?" her father asked again, a golden bit of
omelet poised on his fork, as she was leaving the room.
"Quite well, father dear."
"But you are eating no supper."
"I have always heard that people who cook don't need so much to eat," said
Imogen. "They say the essence of the food soaks in through the pores."
"I am quite well," Annie repeated, and the door closed behind her.
"Dear Annie! She is always doing odd things like this," remarked Jane.
"Yes, she is, things that one cannot account for, but Annie is a dear,"
"I hope she is well," said Annie's father.
"Oh, she is well enough. Don't worry, father," said Imogen. "Dear Annie is
always doing the unexpected. She looks very well."
"Yes, dear Annie is quite stout, for her," said Jane.
"I think she is thinner than I have ever seen her, and the rest of you
look like stuffed geese," said Benny, rudely.
Imogen turned upon him in dignified wrath. "Benny, you insult your
sisters," said she. "Father, you should really tell Benny that he should
bridle his tongue a little."
"You ought to bridle yours, every one of you," retorted Benny. "You girls
nag poor Annie every single minute. You let her do all the work, then you
pick at her for it."
There was a chorus of treble voices. "We nag dear Annie! We pick at dear
Annie! We make her do everything! Father, you should remonstrate with
Benjamin. You know how we all love dear Annie!"
"Benjamin," began Silas Hempstead, but Benny, with a smothered
exclamation, was up and out of the room.
Benny quite frankly disliked his sisters, with the exception of Annie. For
his father he had a sort of respectful tolerance. He could not see why he
should have anything else. His father had never done anything for him
except to admonish him. His scanty revenue for his support and college
expenses came from his maternal grandmother, who had been a woman of parts
and who had openly scorned her son-in-law.
Grandmother Loomis had left a will which occasioned much comment. By its
terms she had provided sparsely but adequately for Benjamin's education
and living until he should graduate; and her house, with all her personal
property, and the bulk of the sum from which she had derived her own
income, fell to her granddaughter Annie. Annie had always been her
grandmother's favorite. There had been covert dismay when the contents of
the will were made known, then one and all had congratulated the
beneficiary, and said abroad that they were glad dear Annie was so well
provided for. It was intimated by Imogen and Eliza that probably dear
Annie would not marry, and in that case Grandmother Loomis's bequest was
so fortunate. She had probably taken that into consideration. Grandmother
Loomis had now been dead four years, and her deserted home had been for
rent, furnished, but it had remained vacant.
Annie soon came back from the orchard, and after she had cleared away the
supper-table and washed the dishes she went up to her room, carefully
rearranged her hair, and changed her dress. Then she sat down beside a
window and waited and watched, her pointed chin in a cup of one little
thin hand, her soft muslin skirts circling around her, and the scent of
queer old sachet emanating from a flowered ribbon of her grandmother's
which she had tied around her waist. The ancient scent always clung to the
ribbon, suggesting faintly as a dream the musk and roses and violets of
some old summer-time.
Annie sat there and gazed out on the front yard, which was silvered over
with moonlight. Annie's four sisters all sat out there. They had spread a
rug over the damp grass and brought out chairs. There were five chairs,
although there were only four girls. Annie gazed over the yard and down
the street. She heard the chatter of the girls, which was inconsequent and
absent, as if their minds were on other things than their conversation.
Then suddenly she saw a small red gleam far down the street, evidently
that of a cigar, and also a dark, moving figure. Then there ensued a
subdued wrangle in the yard. Imogen insisted that her sisters should go
into the house. They all resisted, Eliza the most vehemently. Imogen was
arrogant and compelling. Finally she drove them all into the house except
Eliza, who wavered upon the threshold of yielding. Imogen was obliged to
speak very softly lest the approaching man hear, but Annie, in the window
above her, heard every word.
"You know he is coming to see me," said Imogen, passionately. "You know—you
know, Eliza, and yet every single time he comes, here are you girls,
spying and listening."
"He comes to see Annie, I believe," said Eliza, in her stubborn voice,
which yet had indecision in it.
"He never asks for her."
"He never has a chance. We all tell him, the minute he comes in, that she
is out. But now I am going to stay, anyway."
"Stay if you want to. You are all a jealous lot. If you girls can't have a
beau yourselves, you begrudge one to me. I never saw such a house as this
for a man to come courting in."
"I will stay," said Eliza, and this time her voice was wholly firm. "There
is no use in my going, anyway, for the others are coming back."
It was true. Back flitted Jane and Susan, and by that time Tom Reed had
reached the gate, and his cigar was going out in a shower of sparks on the
gravel walk, and all four sisters were greeting him and urging upon his
acceptance the fifth chair. Annie, watching, saw that the young man seemed
to hesitate. Then her heart leaped and she heard him speak quite plainly,
with a note of defiance and irritation, albeit with embarrassment.
"Is Miss Annie in?" asked Tom Reed.
Imogen answered first, and her harsh voice was honey-sweet.
"I fear dear Annie is out," she said. "She will be so sorry to miss you."
Annie, at her window, made a sudden passionate motion, then she sat still
and listened. She argued fiercely that she was right in so doing. She felt
that the time had come when she must know, for the sake of her own
individuality, just what she had to deal with in the natures of her own
kith and kin. Dear Annie had turned in her groove of sweetness and gentle
yielding, as all must turn who have any strength of character underneath
the sweetness and gentleness. Therefore Annie, at her window above,
At first she heard little that bore upon herself, for the conversation was
desultory, about the weather and general village topics. Then Annie heard
her own name. She was "dear Annie," as usual. She listened, fairly faint
with amazement. What she heard from that quartette of treble voices down
there in the moonlight seemed almost like a fairy-tale. The sisters did
not violently incriminate her. They were too astute for that. They told
half-truths. They told truths which were as shadows of the real facts, and
yet not to be contradicted. They built up between them a story marvelously
consistent, unless prearranged, and that Annie did not think possible.
George Wells figured in the tale, and there were various hints and pauses
concerning herself and her own character in daily life, and not one item
could be flatly denied, even if the girl could have gone down there and,
standing in the midst of that moonlit group, given her sisters the lie.
Everything which they told, the whole structure of falsehood, had beams
and rafters of truth. Annie felt helpless before it all. To her fancy, her
sisters and Tom Reed seemed actually sitting in a fairy building whose
substance was utter falsehood, and yet which could not be utterly denied.
An awful sense of isolation possessed her. So these were her own sisters,
the sisters whom she had loved as a matter of the simplest nature, whom
she had admired, whom she had served.
She made no allowance, since she herself was perfectly normal, for the
motive which underlay it all. She could not comprehend the strife of the
women over the one man. Tom Reed was in reality the one desirable match in
the village. Annie knew, or thought she knew, that Tom Reed had it in mind
to love her, and she innocently had it in mind to love him. She thought of
a home of her own and his with delight. She thought of it as she thought
of the roses coming into bloom in June, and she thought of it as she
thought of the every-day happenings of life—cooking, setting rooms
in order, washing dishes. However, there was something else to reckon
with, and that Annie instinctively knew. She had been long-suffering, and
her long-suffering was now regarded as endless. She had cast her pearls,
and they had been trampled. She had turned her other cheek, and it had
been promptly slapped. It was entirely true that Annie's sisters were not
quite worthy of her, that they had taken advantage of her kindness and
gentleness, and had mistaken them for weakness, to be despised. She did
not understand them, nor they her. They were, on the whole, better than
she thought, but with her there was a stern limit of endurance. Something
whiter and hotter than mere wrath was in the girl's soul as she sat there
and listened to the building of that structure of essential falsehood
She waited until Tom Reed had gone. He did not stay long. Then she went
down-stairs with flying feet, and stood among them in the moonlight. Her
father had come out of the study, and Benny had just been entering the
gate as Tom Reed left. Then dear Annie spoke. She really spoke for the
first time in her life, and there was something dreadful about it all. A
sweet nature is always rather dreadful when it turns and strikes, and
Annie struck with the whole force of a nature with a foundation of steel.
She left nothing unsaid. She defended herself and she accused her sisters
as if before a judge. Then came her ultimatum.
"To-morrow morning I am going over to Grandmother Loomis's house, and I am
going to live there a whole year," she declared, in a slow, steady voice.
"As you know, I have enough to live on, and—in order that no word of
mine can be garbled and twisted as it has been to-night, I speak not at
all. Everything which I have to communicate shall be written in black and
white, and signed with my own name, and black and white cannot lie."
It was Jane who spoke first. "What will people say?" she whimpered,
"From what I have heard you all say to-night, whatever you make them,"
retorted Annie—the Annie who had turned.
Jane gasped. Silas Hempstead stood staring, quite dumb before the sudden
problem. Imogen alone seemed to have any command whatever of the
"May I inquire what the butcher and grocer are going to think, no matter
what your own sisters think and say, when you give your orders in
writing?" she inquired, achieving a jolt from tragedy to the commonplace.
"That is my concern," replied Annie, yet she recognized the difficulty of
that phase of the situation. It is just such trifling matters which
detract from the dignity of extreme attitudes toward existence. Annie had
taken an extreme attitude, yet here were the butcher and the grocer to
reckon with. How could she communicate with them in writing without
appearing absurd to the verge of insanity? Yet even that difficulty had a
Annie thought it out after she had gone to bed that night. She had been
imperturbable with her sisters, who had finally come in a body to make
entreaties, although not apologies or retractions. There was a
stiff-necked strain in the Hempstead family, and apologies and retractions
were bitterer cuds for them to chew than for most. She had been
imperturbable with her father, who had quoted Scripture and prayed at her
during family worship. She had been imperturbable even with Benny, who had
whispered to her: "Say, Annie, I don't blame you, but it will be a hell of
a time without you. Can't you stick it out?"
But she had had a struggle before her own vision of the butcher and the
grocer, and their amazement when she ceased to speak to them. Then she
settled that with a sudden leap of inspiration. It sounded too apropos to
be life, but there was a little deaf-anddumb girl, a far-away relative of
the Hempsteads, who lived with her aunt Felicia in Anderson. She was a
great trial to her aunt Felicia, who was a widow and well-to-do, and liked
the elegancies and normalities of life. This unfortunate little Effie
Hempstead could not be placed in a charitable institution on account of
the name she bore. Aunt Felicia considered it her worldly duty to care for
her, but it was a trial.
Annie would take Effie off Aunt Felicia's hands, and no comment would be
excited by a deaf-anddumb girl carrying written messages to the tradesmen,
since she obviously could not give them orally. The only comment would be
on Annie's conduct in holding herself aloof from her family and the
village people generally.
The next morning, when Annie went away, there was an excited conclave
among the sisters.
"She means to do it," said Susan, and she wept.
Imogen's handsome face looked hard and set. "Let her, if she wants to,"
"Only think what people will say!" wailed Jane.
Imogen tossed her head. "I shall have something to say myself," she
returned. "I shall say how much we all regret that dear Annie has such a
difficult disposition that she felt she could not live with her own family
and must be alone."
"But," said Jane, blunt in her distress, "will they believe it?"
"Why will they not believe it, pray?"
"Why, I am afraid people have the impression that dear Annie has—"
"What?" asked Imogen, coldly. She looked very handsome that morning. Not a
waved golden hair was out of place on her carefully brushed head. She wore
the neatest of blue linen skirts and blouses, with a linen collar and
white tie. There was something hard but compelling about her blond beauty.
"I am afraid," said Jane, "that people have a sort of general impression
that dear Annie has perhaps as sweet a disposition as any of us, perhaps
"Nobody says that dear Annie has not a sweet disposition," said Imogen,
taking a careful stitch in her embroidery. "But a sweet disposition is
very often extremely difficult for other people. It constantly puts them
in the wrong. I am well aware of the fact that dear Annie does a great
deal for all of us, but it is sometimes irritating. Of course it is quite
certain that she must have a feeling of superiority because of it, and she
should not have it."
Sometimes Eliza made illuminating speeches. "I suppose it follows, then,"
said she, with slight irony, "that only an angel can have a very sweet
disposition without offending others."
But Imogen was not in the least nonplussed. She finished her line of
thought. "And with all her sweet disposition," said she, "nobody can deny
that dear Annie is peculiar, and peculiarity always makes people difficult
for other people. Of course it is horribly peculiar what she is proposing
to do now. That in itself will be enough to convince people that dear
Annie must be difficult. Only a difficult person could do such a strange
"Who is going to get up and get breakfast in the morning, and wash the
dishes?" inquired Jane, irrelevantly.
"All I ever want for breakfast is a bit of fruit, a roll, and an egg,
besides my coffee," said Imogen, with her imperious air.
"Somebody has to prepare it."
"That is a mere nothing," said Imogen, and she took another stitch.
After a little, Jane and Eliza went by themselves and discussed the
"It is quite evident that Imogen means to do nothing," said Jane.
"And also that she will justify herself by the theory that there is
nothing to be done," said Eliza.
"Oh, well," said Jane, "I will get up and get breakfast, of course. I once
contemplated the prospect of doing it the rest of my life."
Eliza assented. "I can understand that it will not be so hard for you,"
she said, "and although I myself always aspired to higher things than
preparing breakfasts, still, you did not, and it is true that you would
probably have had it to do if poor Henry had lived, for he was not one to
ever have a very large salary."
"There are better things than large salaries," said Jane, and her face
looked sadly reminiscent. After all, the distinction of being the only one
who had been on the brink of preparing matrimonial breakfasts was much.
She felt that it would make early rising and early work endurable to her,
although she was not an active young woman.
"I will get a dish-mop and wash the dishes," said Eliza. "I can manage to
have an instructive book propped open on the kitchen table, and keep my
mind upon higher things as I do such menial tasks."
Then Susan stood in the doorway, a tall figure gracefully swaying
sidewise, long-throated and prominent-eyed. She was the least
attractive-looking of any of the sisters, but her manners were so
charming, and she was so perfectly the lady, that it made up for any lack
"I will dust," said Susan, in a lovely voice, and as she spoke she
involuntarily bent and swirled her limp muslins in such a way that she
fairly suggested a moral duster. There was the making of an actress in
Susan. Nobody had ever been able to decide what her true individual self
was. Quite unconsciously, like a chameleon, she took upon herself the
characteristics of even inanimate things. Just now she was a duster, and a
wonderfully creditable duster.
"Who," said Jane, "is going to sweep? Dear Annie has always done that."
"I am not strong enough to sweep. I am very sorry," said Susan, who
remained a duster, and did not become a broom.
"If we have system," said Eliza, vaguely, "the work ought not to be so
"Of course not," said Imogen. She had come in and seated herself. Her
three sisters eyed her, but she embroidered imperturbably. The same
thought was in the minds of all. Obviously Imogen was the very one to take
the task of sweeping upon herself. That hard, compact, young body of hers
suggested strenuous household work. Embroidery did not seem to be her role
But Imogen had no intention of sweeping. Indeed, the very imagining of
such tasks in connection with herself was beyond her. She did not even
dream that her sisters expected it of her.
"I suppose," said Jane, "that we might be able to engage Mrs. Moss to come
in once a week and do the sweeping."
"It would cost considerable," said Susan.
"But it has to be done."
"I should think it might be managed, with system, if you did not hire
anybody," said Imogen, calmly.
"You talk of system as if it were a suction cleaner," said Eliza, with a
dash of asperity. Sometimes she reflected how she would have hated Imogen
had she not been her sister.
"System is invaluable," said Imogen. She looked away from her embroidery
to the white stretch of country road, arched over with elms, and her
beautiful eyes had an expression as if they sighted system, the justified
settler of all problems.
Meantime, Annie Hempstead was traveling to Anderson in the jolting
trolley-car, and trying to settle her emotions and her outlook upon life,
which jolted worse than the car upon a strange new track. She had not the
slightest intention of giving up her plan, but she realized within herself
the sensations of a revolutionist. Who in her family, for generations and
generations, had ever taken the course which she was taking? She was not
exactly frightened—Annie had splendid courage when once her blood
was up—but she was conscious of a tumult and grind of adjustment to
a new level which made her nervous.
She reached the end of the car line, then walked about half a mile to her
Aunt Felicia Hempstead's house. It was a handsome house, after the
standard of nearly half a century ago. It had an opulent air, with its
swelling breasts of bay windows, through which showed fine lace curtains;
its dormer-windows, each with its carefully draped curtains; its
black-walnut front door, whose side-lights were screened with medallioned
lace. The house sat high on three terraces of velvet-like grass, and was
surmounted by stone steps in three instalments, each of which was flanked
by stone lions.
Annie mounted the three tiers of steps between the stone lions and rang
the front-door bell, which was polished so brightly that it winked at her
like a brazen eye. Almost directly the door was opened by an immaculate,
white-capped and white-aproned maid, and Annie was ushered into the
parlor. When Annie had been a little thing she had been enamoured of and
impressed by the splendor of this parlor. Now she had doubts of it, in
spite of the long, magnificent sweep of lace curtains, the sheen of
carefully kept upholstery, the gleam of alabaster statuettes, and the even
piles of gilt-edged books upon the polished tables.
Soon Mrs. Felicia Hempstead entered, a tall, well-set-up woman, with a
handsome face and keen eyes. She wore her usual morning costume—a
breakfast sacque of black silk profusely trimmed with lace, and a black
silk skirt. She kissed Annie, with a slight peck of closely set lips, for
she liked her. Then she sat down opposite her and regarded her with as
much of a smile as her sternly set mouth could manage, and inquired
politely regarding her health and that of the family. When Annie broached
the subject of her call, the set calm of her face relaxed, and she nodded.
"I know what your sisters are. You need not explain to me," she said.
"But," returned Annie, "I do not think they realize. It is only because I—"
"Of course," said Felicia Hempstead. "It is because they need a dose of
bitter medicine, and you hope they will be the better for it. I understand
you, my dear. You have spirit enough, but you don't get it up often. That
is where they make their mistake. Often the meek are meek from choice, and
they are the ones to beware of. I don't blame you for trying it. And you
can have Effie and welcome. I warn you that she is a little wearing. Of
course she can't help her affliction, poor child, but it is dreadful. I
have had her taught. She can read and write very well now, poor child, and
she is not lacking, and I have kept her well dressed. I take her out to
drive with me every day, and am not ashamed to have her seen with me. If
she had all her faculties she would not be a bad-looking little girl. Now,
of course, she has something of a vacant expression. That comes, I
suppose, from her not being able to hear. She has learned to speak a few
words, but I don't encourage her doing that before people. It is too
evident that there is something wrong. She never gets off one tone. But I
will let her speak to you. She will be glad to go with you. She likes you,
and I dare say you can put up with her. A woman when she is alone will
make a companion of a brazen image. You can manage all right for
everything except her clothes and lessons. I will pay for them."
"Can't I give her lessons?"
"Well, you can try, but I am afraid you will need to have Mr. Freer come
over once a week. It seems to me to be quite a knack to teach the deaf and
dumb. You can see. I will have Effie come in and tell her about the plan.
I wanted to go to Europe this summer, and did not know how to manage about
Effie. It will be a godsend to me, this arrangement, and of course after
the year is up she can come back."
With that Felicia touched a bell, the maid appeared with automatic
readiness, and presently a tall little girl entered. She was very well
dressed. Her linen frock was hand-embroidered, and her shoes were ultra.
Her pretty shock of fair hair was tied with French ribbon in a fetching
bow, and she made a courtesy which would have befitted a little princess.
Poor Effie's courtesy was the one feature in which Felicia Hempstead took
pride. After making it the child always glanced at her for approval, and
her face lighted up with pleasure at the faint smile which her little
performance evoked. Effie would have been a pretty little girl had it not
been for that vacant, bewildered expression of which Felicia had spoken.
It was the expression of one shut up with the darkest silence of life,
that of her own self, and beauty was incompatible with it.
Felicia placed her stiff forefinger upon her own lips and nodded, and the
child's face became transfigured. She spoke in a level, awful voice,
utterly devoid of inflection, and full of fright. Her voice was as the
first attempt of a skater upon ice. However, it was intelligible.
"Good morning," said she. "I hope you are well." Then she courtesied
again. That little speech and one other, "Thank you, I am very well," were
all she had mastered. Effie's instruction had begun rather late, and her
teacher was not remarkably skilful.
When Annie's lips moved in response, Effie's face fairly glowed with
delight and affection. The little girl loved Annie. Then her questioning
eyes sought Felicia, who beckoned, and drew from the pocket of her
rustling silk skirt a tiny pad and pencil. Effie crossed the room and
stood at attention while Felicia wrote. When she had read the words on the
pad she gave one look at Annie, then another at Felicia, who nodded.
Effie courtesied before Annie like a fairy dancer. "Good morning. I hope
you are well," she said. Then she courtesied again and said, "Thank you, I
am very well." Her pretty little face was quite eager with love and
pleasure, and yet there was an effect as of a veil before the happy
emotion in it. The contrast between the awful, level voice and the grace
of motion and evident delight at once shocked and compelled pity. Annie
put her arms around Effie and kissed her.
"You dear little thing," she said, quite forgetting that Effie could not
Felicia Hempstead got speedily to work, and soon Effie's effects were
packed and ready for transportation upon the first express to Lynn
Corners, and Annie and the little girl had boarded the trolley thither.
Annie Hempstead had the sensation of one who takes a cold plunge—half
pain and fright, half exhilaration and triumph—when she had fairly
taken possession of her grandmother's house. There was genuine girlish
pleasure in looking over the stock of old china and linen and ancient
mahoganies, in starting a fire in the kitchen stove, and preparing a meal,
the written order for which Effie had taken to the grocer and butcher.
There was genuine delight in sitting down with Effie at her very own
table, spread with her grandmother's old damask and pretty dishes, and
eating, without hearing a word of unfavorable comment upon the cookery.
But there was a certain pain and terror in trampling upon that which it
was difficult to define, either her conscience or sense of the divine
right of the conventional.
But that night after Effie had gone to bed, and the house was set to
rights, and she in her cool muslin was sitting on the front-door step,
under the hooded trellis covered with wistaria, she was conscious of
entire emancipation. She fairly gloated over her new estate.
"To-night one of the others will really have to get the supper, and wash
the dishes, and not be able to say she did it and I didn't, when I did,"
Annie thought with unholy joy. She knew perfectly well that her viewpoint
was not sanctified, but she felt that she must allow her soul to have its
little witch-caper or she could not answer for the consequences. There
might result spiritual atrophy, which would be much more disastrous than
sin and repentance. It was either the continuance of her old life in her
father's house, which was the ignominious and harmful one of the
scapegoat, or this. She at last reveled in this. Here she was mistress.
Here what she did, she did, and what she did not do remained undone. Here
her silence was her invincible weapon. Here she was free.
The soft summer night enveloped her. The air was sweet with flowers and
the grass which lay still unraked in her father's yard. A momentary
feeling of impatience seized her; then she dismissed it, and peace came.
What had she to do with that hay? Her father would be obliged to buy hay
if it were not raked over and dried, but what of that? She had nothing to
do with it.
She heard voices and soft laughter. A dark shadow passed along the street.
Her heart quickened its beat. The shadow turned in at her father's gate.
There was a babel of welcoming voices, of which Annie could not
distinguish one articulate word. She sat leaning forward, her eyes intent
upon the road. Then she heard the click of her father's gate and the dark,
shadowy figure reappeared in the road. Annie knew who it was; she knew
that Tom Reed was coming to see her. For a second, rapture seized her,
then dismay. How well she knew her sisters-how very well! Not one of them
would have given him the slightest inkling of the true situation. They
would have told him, by the sweetest of insinuations, rather than by
straight statements, that she had left her father's roof and come over
here, but not one word would have been told him concerning her vow of
silence. They would leave that for him to discover, to his amazement and
Annie rose and fled. She closed the door, turned the key softly, and ran
up-stairs in the dark. Kneeling before a window on the farther side from
her old home, she watched with eager eyes the young man open the gate and
come up the path between the old-fashioned shrubs. The clove-like
fragrance of the pinks in the border came in her face. Annie watched Tom
Reed disappear beneath the trellised hood of the door; then the bell
tinkled through the house. It seemed to Annie that she heard it as she had
never heard anything before. Every nerve in her body seemed urging her to
rise and go down-stairs and admit this young man whom she loved. But her
will, turned upon itself, kept her back. She could not rise and go down;
something stronger than her own wish restrained her. She suffered
horribly, but she remained. The bell tinkled again. There was a pause,
then it sounded for the third time.
Annie leaned against the window, faint and trembling. It was rather
horrible to continue such a fight between will and inclination, but she
held out. She would not have been herself had she not done so. Then she
saw Tom Reed's figure emerge from under the shadow of the door, pass down
the path between the sweet-flowering shrubs, seeming to stir up the odor
of the pinks as he did so. He started to go down the road; then Annie
heard a loud, silvery call, with a harsh inflection, from her father's
house. "Imogen is calling him back," she thought.
Annie was out of the room, and, slipping softly down-stairs and out into
the yard, crouched close to the fence overgrown with sweetbrier, its
foundation hidden in the mallow, and there she listened. She wanted to
know what Imogen and her other sisters were about to say to Tom Reed, and
she meant to know. She heard every word. The distance was not great, and
her sisters' voices carried far, in spite of their honeyed tones and
efforts toward secrecy. By the time Tom had reached the gate of the
parsonage they had all crowded down there, a fluttering assembly in their
snowy summer muslins, like white doves. Annie heard Imogen first. Imogen
was always the ringleader.
"Couldn't you find her?" asked Imogen.
"No. Rang three times," replied Tom. He had a boyish voice, and his
chagrin showed plainly in it. Annie knew just how he looked, how dear and
big and foolish, with his handsome, bewildered face, blurting out to her
sisters his disappointment, with innocent faith in their sympathy.
Then Annie heard Eliza speak in a small, sweet voice, which yet, to one
who understood her, carried in it a sting of malice. "How very strange!"
Jane spoke next. She echoed Eliza, but her voice was more emphatic and
seemed multiple, as echoes do. "Yes, very strange indeed," said Jane.
"Dear Annie is really very singular lately. It has distressed us all,
especially father," said Susan, but deprecatingly.
Then Imogen spoke, and to the point. "Annie must be in that house," said
she. "She went in there, and she could not have gone out without our
Annie could fairly see the toss of Imogen's head as she spoke.
"What in thunder do you all mean?" asked Tom Reed, and there was a
bluntness, almost a brutality, in his voice which was refreshing.
"I do not think such forcible language is becoming, especially at the
parsonage," said Jane.
Annie distinctly heard Tom Reed snort. "Hang it if I care whether it is
becoming or not," said he.
"You seem to forget that you are addressing ladies, sir," said Jane.
"Don't forget it for a blessed minute," returned Tom Reed. "Wish I could.
You make it too evident that you are—ladies, with every word you
speak, and all your beating about the bush. A man would blurt it out, and
then I would know where I am at. Hang it if I know now. You all say that
your sister is singular and that she distresses your father, and you"—addressing
Imogen—"say that she must be in that house. You are the only one who
does make a dab at speaking out; I will say that much for you. Now, if she
is in that house, what in thunder is the matter?"
"I really cannot stay here and listen to such profane language," said
Jane, and she flitted up the path to the house like an enraged white moth.
She had a fleecy white shawl over her head, and her pale outline was
"If she calls that profane, I pity her," said Tom Reed. He had known the
girls since they were children, and had never liked Jane. He continued,
still addressing Imogen. "For Heaven's sake, if she is in that house, what
is the matter?" said he. "Doesn't the bell ring? Yes, it does ring, though
it is as cracked as the devil. I heard it. Has Annie gone deaf? Is she
sick? Is she asleep? It is only eight o'clock. I don't believe she is
asleep. Doesn't she want to see me? Is that the trouble? What have I done?
Is she angry with me?"
Eliza spoke, smoothly and sweetly. "Dear Annie is singular," said she.
"What the dickens do you mean by singular? I have known Annie ever since
she was that high. It never struck me that she was any more singular than
other girls, except she stood an awful lot of nagging without making a
kick. Here you all say she is singular, as if you meant she was"—Tom
hesitated a second—"crazy," said he. "Now, I know that Annie is
saner than any girl around here, and that simply does not go down. What do
you all mean by singular?"
"Dear Annie may not be singular, but her actions are sometimes singular,"
said Susan. "We all feel badly about this."
"You mean her going over to her grandmother's house to live? I don't know
whether I think that is anything but horse-sense. I have eyes in my head,
and I have used them. Annie has worked like a dog here; I suppose she
needed a rest."
"We all do our share of the work," said Eliza, calmly, "but we do it in a
different way from dear Annie. She makes very hard work of work. She has
not as much system as we could wish. She tires herself unnecessarily."
"Yes, that is quite true," assented Imogen. "Dear Annie gets very tired
over the slightest tasks, whereas if she went a little more slowly and
used more system the work would be accomplished well and with no fatigue.
There are five of us to do the work here, and the house is very
There was a silence. Tom Reed was bewildered. "But—doesn't she want
to see me?" he asked, finally.
"Dear Annie takes very singular notions sometimes," said Eliza, softly.
"If she took a notion not to go to the door when she heard the bell ring,
she simply wouldn't," said Imogen, whose bluntness of speech was, after
all, a relief.
"Then you mean that you think she took a notion not to go to the door?"
asked Tom, in a desperate tone.
"Dear Annie is very singular," said Eliza, with such softness and
deliberation that it was like a minor chord of music.
"Do you know of anything she has against me?" asked Tom of Imogen; but
Eliza answered for her.
"Dear Annie is not in the habit of making confidantes of her sisters,"
said she, "but we do know that she sometimes takes unwarranted dislikes."
"Which time generally cures," said Susan.
"Oh yes," assented Eliza, "which time generally cures. She can have no
reason whatever for avoiding you. You have always treated her well."
"I have always meant to," said Tom, so miserably and helplessly that
Annie, listening, felt her heart go out to this young man, badgered by
females, and she formed a sudden resolution.
"You have not seen very much of her, anyway," said Imogen.
"I have always asked for her, but I understood she was busy," said Tom,
"and that was the reason why I saw her so seldom."
"Oh," said Eliza, "busy!" She said it with an indescribable tone.
"If," supplemented Imogen, "there was system, there would be no need of
any one of us being too busy to see our friends."
"Then she has not been busy? She has not wanted to see me?" said Tom. "I
think I understand at last. I have been a fool not to before. You girls
have broken it to me as well as you could. Much obliged, I am sure. Good
"Won't you come in?" asked Imogen.
"We might have some music," said Eliza.
"And there is an orange cake, and I will make coffee," said Susan.
Annie reflected rapidly how she herself had made that orange cake, and
what queer coffee Susan would be apt to concoct.
"No, thank you," said Tom Reed, briskly. "I will drop in another evening.
Think I must go home now. I have some important letters. Good night, all."
Annie made a soft rush to the gate, crouching low that her sisters might
not see her. They flocked into the house with irascible murmurings, like
scolding birds, while Annie stole across the grass, which had begun to
glisten with silver wheels of dew. She held her skirts closely wrapped
around her, and stepped through a gap in the shrubs beside the walk, then
sped swiftly to the gate. She reached it just as Tom Reed was passing with
a quick stride.
"Tom," said Annie, and the young man stopped short.
He looked in her direction, but she stood close to a great snowball-bush,
and her dress was green muslin, and he did not see her. Thinking that he
had been mistaken, he started on, when she called again, and this time she
stepped apart from the bush and her voice sounded clear as a flute.
"Tom," she said. "Stop a minute, please."
Tom stopped and came close to her. In the dim light she could see that his
face was all aglow, like a child's, with delight and surprise.
"Is that you, Annie?" he said.
"Yes. I want to speak to you, please."
"I have been here before, and I rang the bell three times. Then you were
out, although your sisters thought not."
"No, I was in the house."
"You did not hear the bell?"
"Yes, I heard it every time."
"Come into the house with me and I will tell you; at least I will tell you
all I can."
Annie led the way and the young man followed. He stood in the dark entry
while Annie lit the parlor lamp. The room was on the farther side of the
house from the parsonage.
"Come in and sit down," said Annie. Then the young man stepped into a room
which was pretty in spite of itself. There was an old Brussels carpet with
an enormous rose pattern. The haircloth furniture gave out gleams like
black diamonds under the light of the lamp. In a corner stood a what-not
piled with branches of white coral and shells. Annie's grandfather had
been a sea-captain, and many of his spoils were in the house. Possibly
Annie's own occupation of it was due to an adventurous strain inherited
from him. Perhaps the same impulse which led him to voyage to foreign
shores had led her to voyage across a green yard to the next house.
Tom Reed sat down on the sofa. Annie sat in a rocking-chair near by. At
her side was a Chinese teapoy, a nest of lacquer tables, and on it stood a
small, squat idol. Annie's grandmother had been taken to task by her
son-in-law, the Reverend Silas, for harboring a heathen idol, but she had
"Guess as long as I don't keep heathen to bow down before him, he can't do
much harm," she had said.
Now the grotesque face of the thing seemed to stare at the two Occidental
lovers with the strange, calm sarcasm of the Orient, but they had no eyes
or thought for it.
"Why didn't you come to the door if you heard the bell ring?" asked Tom
Reed, gazing at Annie, slender as a blade of grass in her clinging green
"Because I was not able to break my will then. I had to break it to go out
in the yard and ask you to come in, but when the bell rang I hadn't got to
the point where I could break it."
"What on earth do you mean, Annie?"
Annie laughed. "I don't wonder you ask," she said, "and the worst of it is
I can't half answer you. I wonder how much, or rather how little
explanation will content you?"
Tom Reed gazed at her with the eyes of a man who might love a woman and
have infinite patience with her, relegating his lack of understanding of
her woman's nature to the background, as a thing of no consequence.
"Mighty little will do for me," he said, "mighty little, Annie dear, if
you will only tell a fellow you love him."
Annie looked at him, and her thin, sweet face seemed to have a luminous
quality, like a crescent moon. Her look was enough.
"Then you do?" said Tom Reed.
"You have never needed to ask," said Annie. "You knew."
"I haven't been so sure as you think," said Tom. "Suppose you come over
here and sit beside me. You look miles away."
Annie laughed and blushed, but she obeyed. She sat beside Tom and let him
put his arm around her. She sat up straight, by force of her instinctive
maidenliness, but she kissed him back when he kissed her.
"I haven't been so sure," repeated Tom. "Annie darling, why have I been
unable to see more of you? I have fairly haunted your house, and seen the
whole lot of your sisters, especially Imogen, but somehow or other you
have been as slippery as an eel. I have always asked for you, but you were
always out or busy."
"I have been very busy," said Annie, evasively. She loved this young man
with all her heart, but she had an enduring loyalty to her own flesh and
Tom was very literal. "Say, Annie," he blurted out, "I begin to think you
have had to do most of the work over there. Now, haven't you? Own up."
Annie laughed sweetly. She was so happy that no sense of injury could
possibly rankle within her. "Oh, well," she said, lightly. "Perhaps. I
don't know. I guess housekeeping comes rather easier to me than to the
others. I like it, you know, and work is always easier when one likes it.
The other girls don't take to it so naturally, and they get very tired,
and it has seemed often that I was the one who could hurry the work
through and not mind."
"I wonder if you will stick up for me the way you do for your sisters when
you are my wife?" said Tom, with a burst of love and admiration. Then he
added: "Of course you are going to be my wife, Annie? You know what this
"If you think I will make you as good a wife as you can find," said Annie.
"As good a wife! Annie, do you really know what you are?"
"Just an ordinary girl, with no special talent for anything."
"You are the most wonderful girl that ever walked the earth," exclaimed
Tom. "And as for talent, you have the best talent in the whole world; you
can love people who are not worthy to tie your shoestrings, and think you
are looking up when in reality you are looking down. That is what I call
the best talent in the whole world for a woman." Tom Reed was becoming
Annie only laughed happily again. "Well, you will have to wait and find
out," said she.
"I suppose," said Tom, "that you came over here because you were tired
out, this hot weather. I think you were sensible, but I don't think you
ought to be here alone."
"I am not alone," replied Annie. "I have poor little Effie Hempstead with
"That deaf-and-dumb child? I should think this heathen god would be about
as much company."
"Why, Tom, she is human, if she is deaf and dumb."
Tom eyed her shrewdly. "What did you mean when you said you had broken
your will?" he inquired.
"My will not to speak for a while," said Annie, faintly.
"Not to speak—to any one?"
"Then you have broken your resolution by speaking to me?"
Annie nodded again.
"But why shouldn't you speak? I don't understand."
"I wondered how little I could say, and have you satisfied," Annie
Tom tightened his arm around her. "You precious little soul," he said. "I
am satisfied. I know you have some good reason for not wanting to speak,
but I am plaguey glad you spoke to me, for I should have been pretty well
cast down if you hadn't, and to-morrow I have to go away."
Annie leaned toward him. "Go away!"
"Yes; I have to go to California about that confounded Ames will case. And
I don't know exactly where, on the Pacific coast, the parties I have to
interview may be, and I may have to be away weeks, possibly months. Annie
darling, it did seem to me a cruel state of things to have to go so far,
and leave you here, living in such a queer fashion, and not know how you
felt. Lord! but I'm glad you had sense enough to call me, Annie."
"I couldn't let you go by, when it came to it, and Tom—"
"I did an awful mean thing: something I never was guilty of before. I—listened."
"Well, I don't see what harm it did. You didn't hear much to your or your
sisters' disadvantage, that I can remember. They kept calling you 'dear.'"
"Yes," said Annie, quickly. Again, such was her love and thankfulness that
a great wave of love and forgiveness for her sisters swept over her. Annie
had a nature compounded of depths of sweetness; nobody could be mistaken
with regard to that. What they did mistake was the possibility of even
sweetness being at bay at times, and remaining there.
"You don't mean to speak to anybody else?" asked Tom.
"Not for a year, if I can avoid it without making comment which might hurt
"That is what I cannot tell you," replied Annie, looking into his face
with a troubled smile.
Tom looked at her in a puzzled way, then he kissed her.
"Oh, well, dear," he said, "it is all right. I know perfectly well you
would do nothing in which you were not justified, and you have spoken to
me, anyway, and that is the main thing. I think if I had been obliged to
start to-morrow without a word from you I shouldn't have cared a hang
whether I ever came back or not. You are the only soul to hold me here;
you know that, darling."
"Yes," replied Annie.
"You are the only one," repeated Tom, "but it seems to me this minute as
if you were a whole host, you dear little soul. But I don't quite like to
leave you here living alone, except for Effie."
"Oh, I am within a stone's-throw of father's," said Annie, lightly.
"I admit that. Still, you are alone. Annie, when are you going to marry
Annie regarded him with a clear, innocent look. She had lived such a busy
life that her mind was unfilmed by dreams. "Whenever you like, after you
come home," said she.
"It can't be too soon for me. I want my wife and I want my home. What will
you do while I am gone, dear?"
Annie laughed. "Oh, I shall do what I have seen other girls do—get
ready to be married."
"That means sewing, lots of hemming and tucking and stitching, doesn't
"Girls are so funny," said Tom. "Now imagine a man sitting right down and
sewing like mad on his collars and neckties and shirts the minute a girl
said she'd marry him!"
"Girls like it."
"Well, I suppose they do," said Tom, and he looked down at Annie from a
tender height of masculinity, and at the same time seemed to look up from
the valley of one who cannot understand the subtle and poetical details in
a woman's soul.
He did not stay long after that, for it was late. As he passed through the
gate, after a tender farewell, Annie watched him with shining eyes. She
was now to be all alone, but two things she had, her freedom and her love,
and they would suffice.
The next morning Silas Hempstead, urged by his daughters, walked solemnly
over to the next house, but he derived little satisfaction. Annie did not
absolutely refuse to speak. She had begun to realize that carrying out her
resolution to the extreme letter was impossible. But she said as little as
"I have come over here to live for the present. I am of age, and have a
right to consult my own wishes. My decision is unalterable." Having said
this much, Annie closed her mouth and said no more. Silas argued and
pleaded. Annie sat placidly sewing beside one front window of the sunny
sittingroom. Effie, with a bit of fancy-work, sat at another. Finally
Silas went home defeated, with a last word, half condemnatory, half
placative. Silas was not the sort to stand firm against such feminine
strength as his daughter Annie's. However, he secretly held her dearer
than all his other children.
After her father had gone, Annie sat taking even stitch after even stitch,
but a few tears ran over her cheeks and fell upon the soft mass of muslin.
Effie watched with shrewd, speculative silence, like a pet cat. Then
suddenly she rose and went close to Annie, with her little arms around her
neck, and the poor dumb mouth repeating her little speeches: "Thank you, I
am very well, thank you, I am very well," over and over.
Annie kissed her fondly, and was aware of a sense of comfort and of love
for this poor little Effie. Still, after being nearly two months with the
child, she was relieved when Felicia Hempstead came, the first of
September, and wished to take Effie home with her. She had not gone to
Europe, after all, but to the mountains, and upon her return had missed
the little girl.
Effie went willingly enough, but Annie discovered that she too missed her.
Now loneliness had her fairly in its grip. She had a telephone installed,
and gave her orders over that. Sometimes the sound of a human voice made
her emotional to tears. Besides the voices over the telephone, Annie had
nobody, for Benny returned to college soon after Effie left. Benny had
been in the habit of coming in to see Annie, and she had not had the heart
to check him. She talked to him very little, and knew that he was no
telltale as far as she was concerned, although he waxed most communicative
with regard to the others. A few days before he left he came over and
begged her to return.
"I know the girls have nagged you till you are fairly worn out," he said.
"I know they don't tell things straight, but I don't believe they know it,
and I don't see why you can't come home, and insist upon your rights, and
not work so hard."
"If I come home now it will be as it was before," said Annie.
"Can't you stand up for yourself and not have it the same?"
Annie shook her head.
"Seems as if you could," said Benny. "I always thought a girl knew how to
manage other girls. It is rather awful the way things go now over there.
Father must be uncomfortable enough trying to eat the stuff they set
before him and living in such a dirty house."
Annie winced. "Is it so very dirty?"
"Is the food so bad?"
Benny whistled again.
"You advised me—or it amounted to the same thing—to take this
stand," said Annie.
"I know I did, but I didn't know how bad it would be. Guess I didn't half
appreciate you myself, Annie. Well, you must do as you think best, but if
you could look in over there your heart would ache."
"My heart aches as it is," said Annie, sadly.
Benny put an arm around her. "Poor girl!" he said. "It is a shame, but you
are going to marry Tom. You ought not to have the heartache."
"Marriage isn't everything," said Annie, "and my heart does ache, but—I
can't go back there, unless—I can't make it clear to you, Benny, but
it seems to me as if I couldn't go back there until the year is up, or I
shouldn't be myself, and it seems, too, as if I should not be doing right
by the girls. There are things more important even than doing work for
others. I have got it through my head that I can be dreadfully selfish
"Well, I suppose you are right," admitted Benny with a sigh.
Then he kissed Annie and went away, and the blackness of loneliness
settled down upon her. She had wondered at first that none of the village
people came to see her, although she did not wish to talk to them; then
she no longer wondered. She heard, without hearing, just what her sisters
had said about her.
That was a long winter for Annie Hempstead. Letters did not come very
regularly from Tom Reed, for it was a season of heavy snowfalls and the
mails were often delayed. The letters were all that she had for comfort
and company. She had bought a canary-bird, adopted a stray kitten, and
filled her sunny windows with plants. She sat beside them and sewed, and
tried to be happy and content, but all the time there was a frightful
uncertainty deep down within her heart as to whether or not she was doing
right. She knew that her sisters were unworthy, and yet her love and
longing for them waxed greater and greater. As for her father, she loved
him as she had never loved him before. The struggle grew terrible. Many a
time she dressed herself in outdoor array and started to go home, but
something always held her back. It was a strange conflict that endured
through the winter months, the conflict of a loving, self-effacing heart
with its own instincts.
Toward the last of February her father came over at dusk. Annie ran to the
door, and he entered. He looked unkempt and dejected. He did not say much,
but sat down and looked about him with a half-angry, half-discouraged air.
Annie went out into the kitchen and broiled some beefsteak, and creamed
some potatoes, and made tea and toast. Then she called him into the
sitting-room, and he ate like one famished.
"Your sister Susan does the best she can," he said, when he had finished,
"and lately Jane has been trying, but they don't seem to have the knack. I
don't want to urge you, Annie, but—"
"You know when I am married you will have to get on without me," Annie
said, in a low voice.
"Yes, but in the mean time you might, if you were home, show Susan and
"Father," said Annie, "you know if I came home now it would be just the
same as it was before. You know if I give in and break my word with myself
to stay away a year what they will think and do."
"I suppose they might take advantage," admitted Silas, heavily. "I fear
you have always given in to them too much for their own good."
"Then I shall not give in now," said Annie, and she shut her mouth
There came a peal of the cracked door-bell, and Silas started with a
curious, guilty look. Annie regarded him sharply. "Who is it, father?"
"Well, I heard Imogen say to Eliza that she thought it was very foolish
for them all to stay over there and have the extra care and expense, when
you were here."
"You mean that the girls—?"
"I think they did have a little idea that they might come here and make
you a little visit—"
Annie was at the front door with a bound. The key turned in the lock and a
bolt shot into place. Then she returned to her father, and her face was
"You did not lock your door against your own sisters?" he gasped.
"God forgive me, I did."
The bell pealed again. Annie stood still, her mouth quivering in a
strange, rigid fashion. The curtains in the dining-room windows were not
drawn. Suddenly one window showed full of her sisters' faces. It was Susan
"Annie, you can't mean to lock us out?" Susan's face looked strange and
wild, peering in out of the dark. Imogen's handsome face towered over her
"We think it advisable to close our house and make you a visit," she said,
quite distinctly through the glass.
Then Jane said, with an inaudible sob, "Dear Annie, you can't mean to keep
Annie looked at them and said not a word. Their half-commanding,
half-imploring voices continued a while. Then the faces disappeared.
Annie turned to her father. "God knows if I have done right," she said,
"but I am doing what you have taken me to account for not doing."
"Yes, I know," said Silas. He sat for a while silent. Then he rose, kissed
Annie—something he had seldom done—and went home. After he had
gone Annie sat down and cried. She did not go to bed that night. The cat
jumped up in her lap, and she was glad of that soft, purring comfort. It
seemed to her as if she had committed a great crime, and as if she had
suffered martyrdom. She loved her father and her sisters with such
intensity that her heart groaned with the weight of pure love. For the
time it seemed to her that she loved them more than the man whom she was
to marry. She sat there and held herself, as with chains of agony, from
rushing out into the night, home to them all, and breaking her vow.
It was never quite so bad after that night, for Annie compromised. She
baked bread and cake and pies, and carried them over after nightfall and
left them at her father's door. She even, later on, made a pot of coffee,
and hurried over with it in the dawn-light, always watching behind a
corner of a curtain until she saw an arm reached out for it. All this
comforted Annie, and, moreover, the time was drawing near when she could
Tom Reed had been delayed much longer than he expected. He would not be
home before early fall. They would not be married until November, and she
would have several months at home first.
At last the day came. Out in Silas Hempstead's front yard the grass waved
tall, dotted with disks of clover. Benny was home, and he had been over to
see Annie every day since his return. That morning when Annie looked out
of her window the first thing she saw was Benny waving a scythe in awkward
sweep among the grass and clover. An immense pity seized her at the sight.
She realized that he was doing this for her, conquering his indolence. She
"Dear, dear boy, he will cut himself," she thought. Then she conquered her
own love and pity, even as her brother was conquering his sloth. She
understood clearly that it was better for Benny to go on with his task
even if he did cut himself.
The grass was laid low when she went home, and Benny stood, a conqueror in
a battle-field of summer, leaning on his scythe.
"Only look, Annie," he cried out, like a child. "I have cut all the
Annie wanted to hug him. Instead she laughed. "It was time to cut it," she
said. Her tone was cool, but her eyes were adoring.
Benny laid down his scythe, took her by the arm, and led her into the
house. Silas and his other daughters were in the sitting-room, and the
room was so orderly it was painful. The ornaments on the mantel-shelf
stood as regularly as soldiers on parade, and it was the same with the
chairs. Even the cushions on the sofa were arranged with one corner
overlapping another. The curtains were drawn at exactly the same height
from the sill. The carpet looked as if swept threadbare.
Annie's first feeling was of worried astonishment; then her eye caught a
glimpse of Susan's kitchen apron tucked under a sofa pillow, and of layers
of dust on the table, and she felt relieved. After all, what she had done
had not completely changed the sisters, whom she loved, faults and all.
Annie realized how horrible it would have been to find her loved ones
completely changed, even for the better. They would have seemed like
strange, aloof angels to her.
They all welcomed her with a slight stiffness, yet with cordiality. Then
Silas made a little speech.
"Your father and your sisters are glad to welcome you home, dear Annie,"
he said, "and your sisters wish me to say for them that they realize that
possibly they may have underestimated your tasks and overestimated their
own. In short, they may not have been—"
Silas hesitated, and Benny finished. "What the girls want you to know,
Annie, is that they have found out they have been a parcel of pigs."
"We fear we have been selfish without realizing it," said Jane, and she
kissed Annie, as did Susan and Eliza. Imogen, looking very handsome in her
blue linen, with her embroidery in her hands, did not kiss her sister. She
was not given to demonstrations, but she smiled complacently at her.
"We are all very glad to have dear Annie back, I am sure," said she, "and
now that it is all over, we all feel that it has been for the best,
although it has seemed very singular, and made, I fear, considerable talk.
But, of course, when one person in a family insists upon taking everything
upon herself, it must result in making the others selfish."
Annie did not hear one word that Imogen said. She was crying on Susan's
"Oh, I am so glad to be home," she sobbed.
And they all stood gathered about her, rejoicing and fond of her, but she
was the one lover among them all who had been capable of hurting them and
hurting herself for love's sake.