Edith Wharton.

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A GIRL came out of lawyer Royall s house,
at the end of the one street of North Dor
mer, and stood on the doorstep.

It was the beginning of a June afternoon. The
springlike transparent sky shed a rain of silver sun
shine on the roofs of the village, and on the pastures
and larchwoods surrounding it. A little wind
moved among the round white clouds on the shoul
ders of the hills, driving their shadows across the
fields and down the grassy road that takes the name
of street when it passes through North Dormer.
The place lies high and in the open, and lacks the
lavish shade of the more protected New England
villages. The clump of weeping-willows about the
duck pond, and the Norway spruces in front of the
Hatchard gate, cast almost the only roadside
shadow between lawyer Royall s house and the
point where, at the other end of the village, the road

rises above the ctiurch and skirts the black hemlock
wall enclosing the cemetery.

The little June wind, frisking down the street,
shook the doleful fringes of the Hatchard spruces,
caught the straw hat of a young man just passing
under them, and spun it clean across the road into
the duck -pond.

As he ran to fish it out the girl on lawyer
Royall s doorstep noticed that he was a stranger,
that he wore city clothes, and that he was laughing
with all his teeth, as the young and careless laugh
at such mishaps.

Her heart contracted a little, and the shrinking
that sometimes came over her when she saw people
with holiday faces made her draw back into the
house and pretend to look for the key that she knew
she had already put into her pocket. A narrow
greenish mirror with a gilt eagle over it hung on
the passage wall, and she looked critically at her
reflection, wished for the thousandth time that she
had blue eyes like Annabel Balch, the girl who
sometimes came from Springfield to spend a weel
with old Miss Hatchard, straightened the sunburnt
hat over her small swarthy face, and turned out
again into the sunshine.



"How I hate everything!" she murmured.

The young man had passed through the Hatchard
gate, and she had the street to herself. North
Dormer is at all times an empty place, and at three
o clock on a June afternoon its few able-bodied men
are off in the fields or woods, and the women in
doors, engaged in languid household drudgery.

The girl walked along, swinging her key on a fin
ger, and looking about her with the heightened at
tention produced by the presence of a stranger in a
familiar place. What, she wondered, did North
Dormer look like to people from other parts of the
world? She herself had lived there since the age
of five, and had long supposed it to be a place of
some importance. But about a year before, Mr.
Miles, the new Episcopal clergyman at Hepburn, who
drove over every other Sunday when the roads
were not ploughed up by hauling to hold a service
in the North Dormer church, had proposed, in a
fit of missionary zeal, to take the young people down
to Nettleton to hear an illustrated lecture on the
Holy Land ; and the dozen girls and boys who rep
resented the future of North Dormer had been piled
into a farm-waggon, driven over the hills to Hep
burn, put into a way-train and carried to Nettleton.



In the course of that incredible day Charity Roy all
had, for the first and only time, experienced railway-
travel, looked into shops with plate-glass fronts,
tasted cocoanut pie, sat in a theatre, and listened to
a gentleman saying unintelligible things before pic
tures that she would have enjoyed looking at if his
explanations had not prevented her from under
standing them. This initiation had shown her that
North Dormer was a small place, and developed in
her a thirst for information that her position as cus
todian of the village library had previously failed
to excite. For a month or two she dipped fever
ishly and disconnectedly into the dusty volumes of
the Hatchard Memorial Library; then the impres
sion of Nettleton began to fade, and she found it
easier to take North Dormer as the norm of the uni
verse than to go on reading.

The sight of the stranger once more revived
memories of Nettleton, and North Dormer shrank
to its real size. As she looked up and down it, from
lawyer Royall s faded red house at one end to the
white church at the other, she pitilessly took its
measure. {There it lay, a weather-beaten sunburnt
village of the hills, abandoned of men, left apart by
railway, trolley, telegraph, and all the forces that



link life to life in modern communities. It had no
shops, no theatres, no lectures, no "business block" ;
only a church that was opened every other Sunday
if the state of the roads permitted, and a library for
which no new books had been bought for twenty
years, and where the old ones mouldered undis
turbed on the damp shelves// Yet Charity Royall
had always been told that she ought to consider it
a privilege that her lot had been cast in North Dor
mer. She knew that, compared to the place she had
come from, North Dormer represented all the bless- i
ings of the most refined civilization. Everyone in
the village had told her so ever since she had been
brought there as a child. Even old Miss Hatchard
had said to her, on a terrible occasion in her life :
"My child, you must never cease to remember that
it was Mr. Royall who brought you down from the

] She had been "brought down from the Moun
tain"; from the scarred cliff that lifted its sullen
wall above the lesser slopes of Eagle Range, mak
ing a perpetual background of gloom to the lonely
valley. The Mountain was a good fifteen miles-
away, but it rose so abruptly from the lower hills
that it seemed almost to cast its shadow over North v


Dormer. And it was like a great magnet drawing
the clouds and scattering them in storm across the
valley. If ever, in the purest summer sky, there
trailed a thread of vapour over North Dormer, it
drifted to the Mountain as a ship drifts to a whirl
pool, and was caught among the rocks, torn up and
multiplied, to sweep back over the village in rain
and darkness.7

Charity was not very clear about the Mountain;
but she knew it was a bad place, and a shame to
have come from, and that, whatever befell her in
North Dormer, she ought, as Miss Hatchard had
once reminded her, to remember that she had been
brought down from there, and hold her tongue and
be thankful. She looked up at the Mountain, think
ing of these things, and tried as usual to be thank
ful. But the sight of the young man turning in at
Miss Hatchard s gate had brought back the vision
of the glittering streets of Nettleton, and she felt
ashamed of her old sun-hat, and sick of North Dor
mer, and jealously aware of Annabel Balch of
Springfield, opening her blue eyes somewhere far
off on glories greater than the glories of Nettleton.

"How I hate everything!" she said again.

Half way down the street she stopped at a weak-



hinged gate. Passing through it, she walked down
a brick path to a queer little brick temple with white
wooden columns supporting a pediment on which
was inscribed in tarnished gold letters : "The Hon-
orius Hatchard Memorial Library, 1832."

Honorius Hatchard had been old Miss Hatch
ard s great-uncle; though she would undoubtedly
have reversed the phrase, and put forward, as her
only claim to distinction, the fact that she was his
great-niece. For Honorius Hatchard, in the early
years of the nineteenth century, had enjoyed a mod
est celebrity. As the marble tablet in the interior
of the library informed its infrequent visitors, he
had possessed marked literary gifts, written a series
of papers called "The Recluse of Eagle Range,"
enjoyed the acquaintance of Washington Irving
and Fitz-Greene Halleck, and been cut off in his
flower by a fever contracted in Italy. Such had
been the sole link between North Dormer and lit
erature, a link piously commemorated by the erec
tion of the monument where Charity Royall, every
Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, sat at her desk
under a freckled steel engraving of the deceased
author, and wondered if he felt any deader in his
grave than she did in his library.



Entering her prison-house with a listless step she
took off her hat, hung it on a plaster bust of Mi
nerva, opened the shutters, leaned out to see if
there were any eggs in the swallow s nest above one
of the windows, and finally, seating herself behind
the desk, drew out a roll of cotton lace and a steel
crochet hook. She was not an expert workwoman,
and it had taken her many weeks to make the half-
yard of narrow lace which she kept wound about
the buckram back of a disintegrated copy of "The
Lamplighter." But there was no other way of get
ting any lace to trim her summer blouse, and since
Ally Hawes, the poorest girl in the village, had
shown herself in church with enviable transparen
cies about the shoulders, Charity s hook had trav
elled faster. She unrolled the lace, dug the hook
into a loop, and bent to the task with furrowed

Suddenly the door opened, and before she had
raised her eyes she knew that the young man she
had seen going in at the Hatchard gate had en
tered the library.

Without taking any notice of her he began to
move slowly about the long vault-like rocm, his
hands behind his back, his short-sighted eyes oeer-



ing up and down the rows of rusty bindings. At
length he reached the desk and stood before her.

"Have you a card-catalogue?" he asked in a
pleasant abrupt voice ; and the oddness of the ques
tion caused her to drop her work.

"A what?"

"Why, you know " He broke off, and she be
came conscious that he was looking at her for the
first time, having apparently, on his entrance, in
cluded her in his general short-sighted survey as
part of the furniture of the library.

The fact that, in discovering her, he lost the
thread of his remark, did not escape her attention,
and she looked down and smiled. He smiled also.

"No, I don t suppose you do know," he corrected
himself. "In fact, it would be almost a pity "

She thought she detected a slight condescension
in his tone, and asked sharply: "Why?"

"Because it s so much pleasanter, in a small li
brary like this, to poke about by one s self with
the help of the librarian."

He added the last phrase so respectfully that she
was mollified, and rejoined with a sigh: "I m
afraid I can t help you much."

"Why?" he questioned in his turn; and she re-



plied that there weren t many books anyhow, and
that she d hardly read any of them. "The worms
are getting at them," she added gloomily.

"Are they? That s a pity, for I see there are
some good ones." He seemed to have lost interest
in their conversation, and strolled away again, ap
parently forgetting her. His indifference nettled
her, and she picked up her work, resolved not to
offer him the least assistance. Apparently he did
not need it, for he spent a long time with his back
to her, lifting down, one after another, the tall cob
webby volumes from a distant shelf.

"Oh, I say!" he exclaimed; and looking up she
saw that he had drawn out his handkerchief and
was carefully wiping the edges of the book in his
hand. The action struck her as an unwarranted
criticism on her care of the books, and she said ir
ritably : "It s not my fault if they re dirty."

He turned around and looked at her with reviv
ing interest. "Ah then you re not the librarian?"

"Of course I am; but I can t dust all these books.
Besides, nobody ever looks at them, now Miss
Hatchard s too lame to come round."

"No, I suppose not." He laid down the book he
had been wiping, and stood considering her in si-



lence. She wondered if Miss Hatchard had sent
him round to pry into the way the library was
looked after, and the suspicion increased her resent
ment. "I saw you going into her house just now,
didn t I?" she asked, with the New England avoid
ance of the proper name. She was determined to
find out why he was poking about among her books.

"Miss Hatchard s house? Yes she s my cousin
and I m staying there," the young man answered;
adding, as if to disarm a visible distrust: "My
name is Harney Lucius Harney. She may have
spoken of me."

"No, she hasn t," said Charity, wishing she could
have said : "Yes, she has."

"Oh, well " said Miss Hatchard s cousin with

a laugh; and after another pause, during which it
occurred to Charity that her answer had not been
encouraging, he remarked : "You don t seem
strong on architecture."

Her bewilderment was complete: the more she
wished to appear to understand him the more un
intelligible his remarks became. He reminded her
of the gentleman who had "explained" the pictures
at Nettleton, and the weight of her ignorance set
tled down on her again like a pall.


"I mean, I can t see that you have any books
on the old houses about here. I suppose, for that
matter, this part of the country hasn t been much
explored. They all go on doing Plymouth and Salem.
So stupid. My cousin s house, now, is remarkable.
This place must have had a past it must have been
more of a place once." He stopped short, with the
blush of a shy man who overhears himself, and fears
he has been voluble. "I m an architect, you see, and
I m hunting up old houses in these parts."

She stared. "Old houses? Everything s old in
North Dormer, isn t it? The folks are, anyhow."

He laughed, and wandered away again.

"Haven t you any kind of a history of the place ?
I think there was one written about 1840: a book
or pamphlet about its first settlement," he presently
said from the farther end of the room.

She pressed her crochet hook against her lip
and pondered. There was such a work, she knew :
"North Dormer and the Early Townships of Eagle
County." She had a special grudge against it be
cause it was a limp weakly book that was always
either falling off the shelf or slipping back and dis
appearing if one squeezed it in between sustaining
volumes. She remembered, the last time she had



picked it up, wondering how anyone could have
taken the trouble to write a book about North Dor
mer and its neighbours : Dormer, Hamblin, Creston
and Creston River. She knew them all, mere lost
clusters of houses in the folds of the desolate ridges :
Dormer, where North Dormer went for its ap
ples ; Creston River, where there used to be a paper-
mill, and its grey walls stood decaying by the
stream; and Hamblin, where the first snow always
fell. Such were their titles to fame.

She got up and began to move about vaguely be
fore the shelves. But she had no idea where she
had last put the book, and something told her that
it was going to play her its usual trick and remain
invisible. It was not one of her lucky days.

"I guess it s somewhere/ she said, to prove her
zeal; but she spoke without conviction, and felt
that her words conveyed none.

"Oh, well " he said again. She knew he was

going, and wished more than ever to find the book.

"It will be for next time," he added ; and picking
up the volume he had laid on the desk he handed
it to her. "By the way, a little air and sun would
do this good; it s rather valuable."

He gave her a nod and smile, and passed out.



THE hours of the Hatchard Memorial libra
rian were from three to five; and Charity
RoyalFs sense of duty usually kept her at her desk
until nearly half-past four.

But she had never perceived that any practical
advantage thereby accrued either to North Dormer
or to herself; and she had no scruple in decreeing,
when it suited her, that -the library should close an
hour earlier. A few minutes after Mr. Harney s
departure she formed this decision, put away her
lace, fastened the shutters, and turned the key in
the door of the temple of knowledge.

The street upon which she emerged was still
empty; and after glancing up and down it she be
gan to walk toward her house. But instead of en
tering she passed on, turned into a field-path and
mounted to a pasture on the hillside. She let down
the bars of the gate, followed a trail along the
crumbling wall of the pasture, and walked on till
she reached a knoll where a clump of larches shook



out their fresh tassels to the wind. There she lay
down on the slope, tossed off her hat and hid her
face in the grass.

She was blind and insensible to many things, and
dimly knew it; but to all that was light and air,
perfume and colour, every drop of blood in her
responded. She loved the roughness of the dry
mountain grass under her palms, the smell of the
thyme into which she crushed her face, the finger
ing of the wind in her hair and through her cot
ton blouse, and the creak of the larches as they
swayed to it.

She often climbed up the hill and lay there alone
for the mere pleasure of feeling the wind and of
rubbing her cheeks in the grass. Generally at such
times she did not think of anything, but lay im
mersed in jin jnarticulate jwell-being. Today the
sense of well-being was intensified by her joy at
escaping from the library. She liked well enough
to have a friend drop in and talk to her when she
was on duty, but she hated to be bothered about
books. How could she remember where they were,
when they were so seldom asked for? Orma Fry
occasionally took out a novel, and her brother Ben
was fond of what he called "jography," and of



books relating to trade and bookkeeping; but no
one else asked for anything except, at intervals,
"Uncle Tom s Cabin," or "Opening of a Chestnut
Burr," or Longfellow. She had these under her
hand, and could have found them in the dark; but
unexpected demands came so rarely that they exas
perated her like an injustice. . . .

She had liked the young man s looks, and his
short-sighted eyes, and his odd way of speaking,
that was abrupt yet soft, just as his hands were sun
burnt and sinewy, yet with smooth nails like a
woman s. His hair was sunburnt-looking too, or
rather the colour of bracken after frost; his eyes
grey, with the appealing look of the shortsighted,
his smile shy yet confident, as if he knew lots of
things she had never dreamed of, and yet wouldn t
for the world have had her feel his superiority. But
she did feel it, and liked the feeling; for it was new
to her. Poor and ignorant as she was, and knew
herself to be humblest of the humble even in
North Dormer, where to come from the Mountain
was the worst disgrace yet in her narrow world
she had always ruled. It was partly, of course,
owing to the fact that lawyer Roy all was "the
biggest man in North Dormer"; so much too big



for it, in fact, that outsiders, who didn t know, al
ways wondered how it held him. In spite of every
thing and in spite even of Miss Hatchard law
yer Royall ruled in North Dormer; and Charity
ruled in lawyer Royall s house. She had never
put it to herself in those terms; but she knew her
power, knew what it was made of, and hated it.
Confusedly, the young man in the library had made
her feel for the first time what might be the sweet- \/
ness of dependence.

She sat up, brushed the bits of grass from her
hair, and looked down on the house where she held
sway. It stood just below her, cheerless and un-
tended, its faded red front divided from the road
by a "yard" with a path bordered by gooseberry
bushes, a stone well overgrown with traveller s joy,
and a sickly Crimson Rambler tied to a fan-shaped
support, which Mr. Royall had once brought up
from Hepburn to please her. Behind the house a
bit of uneven ground with clothes-lines strung
across it stretched up to a dry wall, and beyond the
wall a patch of corn and a few rows of potatoes
strayed vaguely into the adjoining wilderness of
rock and fern.

Charity could not recall her first sight of the


house. She had been told that she was ill of a fever
when she was brought down %-om the Mountain;
and she could only remember waking one day in
a cot at the foot of Mrs. Royall s bed, and open
ing her eyes on the cold neatness of the room that
was afterward to be hers.

Mrs. Royall died seven or eight years later ; and
by that time Charity had taken the measure of most
things about her. She knew that Mrs. Royall was
sad and timid and weak; she knew that lawyer
Royall was harsh and violent, and still weaker. She
knew that she had been christened Charity (in the
white church at the other end of the village) to
commemorate Mr. Royall s disinterestedness in
"bringing her down," and to keep alive in her a be
coming sense of her dependence ; she knew that Mr.
Royall was her guardian, but that he had not legally
adopted her, though everybody spoke of her as
Charity Royall ; and she knew why he had come
back to live at North Dormer, instead of practising
at Nettleton, where he had begun his legal career.

After Mrs. Royall s death there was some talk
of sending her to a boarding-school. Miss Hatch-
ard suggested it, and had a long conference with
Mr. Royall, who, in pursuance of her plan, departed



one day for Starkfield to visit the institution she
recommended. He came back the next night with
a black face ; worse, Charity observed, than she had
ever seen him ; and by that time she had had some

When she asked him how soon she was to start
he answered shortly, "You ain t going," and shut
himself up in the room he called his office; and
the next day the lady who kept the school at Stark-
field wrote that "under the circumstances" she was
afraid she could not make room just then for an
other pupil.

Charity was disappointed; but she understood.
It wasn t the temptations of Starkfield that had
been Mr. Royall s undoing; it was the thought of
losing her. He was a dreadfully "lonesome" man.;
she had made that out because she was so "lone
some" herself. He and she, face to face in that
sad house, had sounded the depths of isolation ; and
though she felt no particular affection for him,
and not the slightest gratitude, she pitied him be
cause, she was conscious that he was superior to
the people about him, and that she was the only
being between him and solitude. Therefore, when
Miss Hatchard sent for her a day or two later, to



talk of a school at Nettlcton, and to say that this
time a friend of hers would "make the necessary
arrangements," Charity cut her short with the an
nouncement that she had decided not to leave North

Miss Hatchard reasoned with her kindly, but to
no purpose; she simply repeated: "I guess Mr.
Royall s too lonesome."

Miss Hatchard blinked perplexedly behind her
eye-glasses. Her long frail face was full of puzzled
wrinkles, and she leant forward, resting her hands
on the arms of her mahogany armchair, with the
evident desire to say something that ought to be

"The feeling does you credit, my dear."

She looked about the pale walls of her sitting-
room, seeking counsel of ancestral ^daguerreotypes
and didactic samplers; but they seemed to make ut
terance more difficult.

"The fact is, it s not only not only because of
the advantages. There are other reasons. You re
too young to understand "

"Oh, no, I ain t," said Charity harshly ; and Miss
Hatchard blushed to the roots of her blonde cap.
But she must have felt a vague relief at having



her explanation cut short, for she concluded, again
invoking the daguerreotypes: "Of course I shall
always do what I can for you ; and in case ... in
case . . . you know you can always come to
me. . . ."

Lawyer Royall was waiting for Charity in the
porch when she returned from this visit. He had
shaved, and brushed his black coat, and looked a
magnificent monument of a man; at such moments
she really admired him.

"Well," he said, "is it settled?"

"Yes, it s settled. I ain t going."

"Not to the Nettleton school?"

"Not anywhere."

He cleared his throat and asked sternly: "Why?"

"I d rather not," she said, swinging past him on
her way to her room. It was the following week
that he brought her up the Crimson Rambler and
its fan from Hepburn. He had never given her
anything before.

The next outstanding incident of her life had
happened two years later, when she was seventeen.
Lawyer Royall, who hated to go to Nettleton, had

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Online LibraryEdith WhartonSummer; a novel → online text (page 1 of 14)