From A New England Nun and Other Stories (Harper & Brothers Publishers; New York: 1891)
The tall, thin figure on the other side of the street pushed vigorously past. It held it's black-bonneted head back stiffly, and strained its green-and-black woollen shawl tighter across its slim shoulders.
The figure stopped with a jerk. “Oh, it's you, Marthy. Pleasant afternoon, ain't it?”
“Ain't you comin' in?”
“Well, I don't jest see how I can this afternoon. I was goin' up to Ellen's.”
“Can't you jest come over a minute and see my calla-lilies?”
“Well, I don't see how I can. I can see 'em up to the window. Beautiful, ain't they?”
“You can't see nuthin' of 'em out there. Why can't you come in jest a minute? There ain't a soul been in to see 'em this week, and 'tain't often they blow out this way.”
“Who's in there? — anybody?”
“No; there ain't a soul but me to home. Hannah's gone over to Wayne. Can't you come in?”
“Well, I dunno but I'll come over jest a minute; but I can't stay. I hadn't ought to stop at all.”
Martha Wing waited for her in the door; she was quivering with impatience to show her the lilies. “Come right in,” she cried, when the visitor came up the walk.
When she turned to follow her in she limped painfully; one whole side seemed to succumb so nearly that it was barely rescued by a quick spring from the other.
“How's your lameness?” asked Mrs. Newhall.
Martha's soft withered face flushed. “Here air the lilies,” she said, shortly.
“My! ain't they beautiful!”
“'Tain't often you see seven lilies and two buds together.”
“Well, 'tain't, that's a fact. Ellen thought hers was pretty handsome, but it can't shake a stick at this. Hers ain't got but three on it. I'd like to know what you do to it, Marthy?”
“I don't do nuthin'. Flowers 'll grow for some folks, and that's all there is about it. I allers had jest sech luck.” Martha stood staring at the lilies. A self-gratulation that had something noble about it was in her smiling old face.
“I tell Hannah,” she went on, “if I be miser'ble in health, an' poor, flowers 'll blow for me, and that's more than they'll do for some folks, no matter how hard they try. Look at Mis' Walker over there. I can't help thinkin' of it sometimes when I see her go nippin' past with her ruffles and gimcracks. She's young an' good-lookin', but she's had her calla-lily five year, an' she ain't had but one bud, and that blasted.”
“Well, flowers is a good deal of company.”
“I guess they air. They're most as good as folks. Mis' Newhall, why don't Jenny come in an' see Hannah sometimes?”
All the lines in Mrs. Newhall's face lengthened. She looked harder at the callas. “Well, I dunno, Marthy; Jenny don't go much of anywhere. Those lilies are beautiful. You'd ought to have 'em carried into the meetin'-house next Sunday, an' set in front of the pulpit.”
Martha turned white. Her voice quavered up shrilly. “There's one lily I could mention 's been took out of that meetin'-house, Maria Newhall, an' there ain't no more of mine goin' to be took in, not if I know it.”
“Now, Marthy, you know I didn't mean a thing. I no more dreamed of hurtin' your feelin's than the dead.”
“No, I don't s'pose you did; an' I don't s'pose your Jenny an' the other girls mean anything by stayin' away an' never comin' near Hannah. They act as if they was afraid of her; but I guess she wouldn't hurt 'em none. She's as good as any of 'em, an' they'll find it out some day.”
“Now, Marthy —”
“You needn't talk. I know all about it. I've heerd a good deal of palaver, but I kin see through it. I —”
“Well, I guess I'll have to be goin', Marthy. Good-afternoon.”
Martha suddenly recovered her dignity. “Good-afternoon, Mis' Newhall,” said she, and relapsed into silence.
After the door had closed behind her guest, she sat down at the window with her knitting. She had an old shawl over her shoulders; the room was very chilly. She pursed up her lips and knitted very fast, a lean, homely figure in the clean, bare room, with its bulging old satin-papered walls. A square of pale sunlight lay on the thin, dull carpet, and the pot of calla-lilies stood in the window.
Before long Hannah came. She entered without a word, and stood silently taking off her wraps.
“Did you git your pay, Hannah?”
When Hannah laid aside her thick, faded shawl, she showed a tall young figure in a clinging old woollen gown of a drab color. She stooped a little, although the stoop did not seem anything but the natural result of her tallness, and was thus graceful rather than awkward. It was as if her whole slender body bent from her feet, lily fashion. She got a brush out of a little chimney cupboard and began smoothing her light hair, which her hood had rumpled a little. She had a full, small face; there was a lovely delicate pink on her cheeks. People said of Hannah, “She is delicate-looking.” They said “delicate” in the place of pretty; it suited her better.
“Why don't you say somethin'?” Martha asked, querulously.
“What do you want me to say?”
“Where's your bundle of boots?”
“I haven't got any.”
“Ain't got no boots?”
“Didn't Mr. Allen give you any?”
“Ain't he going to?”
Hannah went on brushing her hair, and made no answer.
“Has — he heard of — that?”
“I suppose so.”
“What did he say?”
“Said he couldn't trust me to take any more boots home.” One soft flush spread over Hannah's face as she said that, then it receded. She knelt down by the air-tight stove and began poking the fire.
“Course he'd heerd, then. What air you goin' to do, Hannah?”
“I don't know.”
“You take it easy 'nough, I hope. Ef you don't hev work, I don't see what's goin' to keep a roof over us.”
Hannah, going out into the kitchen, half turned in the doorway. “Don't worry, I'll get some work somewhere, I guess,” she said.
But Martha kept on calling out her complaint in a shriller voice, so Hannah could hear as she stepped about in the other room. “I don't see what you're goin' to do; I'm 'bout discouraged. Mis' Newhall, she's been in here, pretended she wanted to see my caller, but she give me no end of digs, the way she allers does. This kind of work is killin' me. Here's this calla-lily's been blowed out the way it has lately, an' not a soul comin' in to see it. Hannah Redman, I don't see what possessed you to do such a thing.”
No answering voice came from the kitchen.
“You did do it, didn't you, Hannah? You wouldn't let folks go on in this way if you hadn't.”
Hannah said nothing. Martha broke into a fit of loud weeping. She held her hands over her face, and rocked herself back and forth in her chair. “Oh me! Oh me!” she wailed, shrilly.
Hannah paid no attention. She went about getting tea ready. It was a frugal meal, bread and butter and weak tea, but she fried a bit of ham and put it on Martha's plate. The old woman liked something hearty for supper.
“Come,” she said at length — “come, Martha, tea's ready.”
“I don't want nothin',” wailed the old woman. But she sat sniffing down at the table, and ate heartily.
After tea Hannah got her hood and shawl and went out again. It was a chilly March night; the clouds were flying wildly, there was an uncertain moon, the ground was covered with melting snow. Hannah held up her skirts and stepped along through the slush. The snow-water penetrated her old shoes; she had no rubbers.
Presently she stopped and rang a door-bell. The woman who answered it stood eying her amazedly a minute before she spoke. “Good-evenin', Hannah,” she said, stiffly, at length.
“Good-evening, Mrs. Ward. Are your boarders in?”
“Can I see them?”
“Well — I guess so. Mis' Mellen, she's been pretty busy all day. Come in, won't you?”
Hannah followed her into the lighted sitting-room. A young, smooth-faced man and a woman who looked older and stronger were in there. Mrs. Ward introduced them in an embarrassed way to Hannah. “Mis' Mellen, this is Miss Redman,” said she, “an' Mr. Mellen.”
Hannah opened at once upon the subject of her errand. She had heard that the Mellens wished to begin house-keeping, and were anxious to hire a tenement. She proposed that they should hire her house; she and Martha would reserve only two rooms for themselves. The rent which she suggested was very low. The husband and wife looked at each other.
“We might — go and look at it — to-morrow,” he said, hesitatingly, with his eyes on his wife.
“We'll come in some time to-morrow and see how it suits,” said she, in a crisp voice. “Perhaps —” She stopped suddenly. Mrs. Ward had given her a violent nudge. But she looked wonderingly at her and kept on. “We should want —” said she.
“It ain't anything you want, Mis' Mellen,” spoke up Mrs. Ward.
“Why, what's the trouble?”
“You don't want it; 'twon't suit you.” Mrs. Ward nodded significantly.
Hannah looked at one and the other. The delicate color in her cheeks deepened a little, but she spoke softly. “There are locks and keys on the doors,” said she.
Mrs. Ward colored furiously. “I didn't mean —” she began. Then she stopped.
Hannah arose. “If you want to come and look at the rooms, I'll be glad to show them,” said she. She stood waiting with a dignity which had something appealing about it.
“Well, I'll see,” said Mrs. Mellen.
After Hannah had gone she turned eagerly to Mrs. Ward. “What is the matter?” said she.
“'Tain't safe for you to go there, unless — you want all your things — stole.”
“Why, does she —”
“She stole some money from John Arnold up here a year ago. That's a fact.”
“You don't mean it!”
“Yes. She was sewin' up there. He left it on the sittin'-room table a minute, an' when he came back it was gone. There hadn't been anybody but her in the room, so of course she took it.”
“Did he get the money back?”
“That was the queer part of it. Nobody could ever find out what she did with the money.”
“Didn't they take her up?”
“No; they made a good deal of fuss about it at first, but Mr. Arnold didn't prosecute her. I s'pose he thought they couldn't really prove anything, not findin' the money. And then he's a deacon of the church; he'd hate to do such a thing, anyway. But everybody in town thinks she took it, fast enough. Nobody has anything to do with her. She used to go out sewin' for folks, but they say she stole lots of pieces. I heard she took enough black silk here and there to make a dress. Nobody has her now, that I know of. You don't want anybody in your house that you can't trust.”
“Of course you don't.”
“She was a church member, an' it came up before the church, an' they dismissed her. They asked her if it was so, an' she wouldn't answer one word, yes or no. They couldn't get a thing out of her.”
“Well, of course if she hadn't taken it she'd said so.”
“It's likely she would.”
“I'm real glad you told me. I'd hated awfully to have gone in there with anybody like that.”
“I thought you would. I felt as if I ought to tell you, seein' as you was strangers here. I kind of pity her. I s'pose she thought she could raise a little money that way. I guess she's havin' a pretty hard time. She can't get no work anywhere. She's been sewin' boots for Allen over in Wayne, but I heard the other day he was goin' to shut down on her. She's gettin' some of her punishment in this world. Folks said Arnold's son George had a notion of goin' with her once, but I guess it put a stop to that pretty quick. He's down East somewhere.”
Hannah, plodding along out in the windy, moonlit night, knew as well what they were saying as if she had been at their elbows. The wind sung in her ears, the light clouds drove overhead; those nearest the moon had yellow edges. Hannah kept looking up at them.
She had five dollars and fifty cents in her pocket, and no prospect of more. She had herself and a helpless old relative to support. All the village, every friend and acquaintance she had ever had, were crying out against her. That was the case of Hannah Redman when she entered her silent house that night; but she followed her old relative to bed, and went to sleep like a child.
The next morning she got out an old blue cashmere of hers and began ripping it.
“What are you goin' to do?” asked Martha, who had been eying her furtively all the morning.
“I'm going to make over this dress. I haven't got a thing fit to wear.”
“I shouldn't think you'd feel much like fixin' over dresses. I don't see what's goin' to become of us. I don't s'pose a soul will be in to see my calla-lily to-day. It's killin' me.”
Hannah said nothing, but she worked steadily on the dress all day. She turned it, and it looked like new.
The next day was Sunday. Hannah, going to church in her remodelled dress, heard distinctly some one behind her say, “See, Hannah Redman's got a new dress, I do believe. I shouldn't think she'd feel much like it, should you?”
Hannah sat alone in the pew, where her father and mother had sat before her. They had all been church-going people. Hannah herself had been a member ever since her childhood. Not one Sunday had she missed of stepping modestly up the aisle in her humble Sunday best, and seating herself with gentle gravity. The pew was a conspicuous one beside the pulpit, at right angles with the others. Hannah was in full view of the whole congregation. She sat erect and composed in her pretty dress. The delicate color in her cheeks was the same as ever; her soft eyes were as steady. She found the hymns and sang; she listened to the preaching.
Women looked at her, then at one another. Hannah knew it. Still it had never been as bad since that first Sunday after her dismissal from the church.
There had been a tangible breeze then that had whistled in her ears. Nobody had dreamed that she would come to meeting, but she came.
There was no question but that Hannah's unshaken demeanor brought somewhat harder judgment upon herself. A smile in an object of pity is a grievance. The one claim which Hannah now had upon her friends she did not extort, consequently she got nothing. She showed no need of pity, and was, if anything, more condemned for that than for her actual fault.
“If she wasn't so dreadful bold,” they said. “If she acted as if she felt bad about it.”
In one of the foremost body-pews sat John Arnold, a large, fair-faced old man, who wore his white hair like a tonsure. He never looked at Hannah. He had a gold-headed cane. He clasped both hands around it, and leaned heavily forward upon it as he listened. It was a habit of his. He settled himself solemnly into this attitude at his entrance. People watched him respectfully. John Arnold was the one wealthy man in this poor country church. Over across the aisle a shattered, threadbare old grandfather leaned impressively upon his poor pine stick in the same way that John Arnold did. He stole frequent, studious glances at him. He was an artist who made himself into a caricature.
There was a communion-service to-day. After the sermon Hannah arose quietly and went down the aisle with the non-communicants. She felt people looking at her, but when she turned, their eyes were somewhere else. No one spoke to her.
“Did anybody speak to you?” old Martha asked when she got home.
“No,” said Hannah.
“I don't see how you stand it. I should think it would kill you, an' you don't look as if it wore on you a bit. Hannah, what made you do sech a thing?”
Hannah said nothing.
“I should think, after the way your father an' mother brought you up — Well, it's killin' me. I've been most crazy the whole forenoon thinkin' on't. What air you goin' to do if you can't git no work, Hannah?”
“I guess I can get some, perhaps.”
“I don't see where.”
The next morning Hannah went over to East Wayne, a town about four miles away. There was a new boot-and-shoe manufactory there, and she thought she might get some employment. The overseer was a pleasant young fellow, who treated her courteously. They had no work just then, but trade was improving. He told her to come again in a month.
“I rather guess I can get some work over at the new shop in East Wayne,” she said to Martha when she got home.
“They'll hear on't, an' then you'll lose it, jest the way you've done before,” was Martha's reply.
But Hannah lived on the hope of it for a month. She literally lived on little else. They had some potatoes and a few apples in the cellar. Hannah ate them. With her little stock of money she bought food for Martha.
At the end of the month she walked over to East Wayne again. The overseer remembered her. He greeted her very pleasantly, but his honest young face flushed.
“I'm real sorry,” he stammered, “but — I'm afraid we can't give you any work.”
Hannah turned white. He had heard.
“As far as I am concerned,” he went on, “ I would; but it don't depend on me, you know.” He stood staring irresolutely at Hannah.
“See here, wait a minute,” said he, “I'll speak to the boss.”
Pretty soon he returned with a troubled look. “It's no use,” said he; “he says he hasn't got any work.”
“Will he have any by-and-by?” asked Hannah, feebly.
“I'm afraid not,” replied the young man, pitifully. He opened the door for her. “Good-by,” he said; “don't get down-hearted.”
Hannah looked at him, then the tears sprang to her eyes. “Thank you,” she said.
When she got past the shop she sat down on a stone beside the road and cried. “I wish he hadn't spoken kind to me,” she whispered, sobbingly, to herself — “I wish he hadn't.”
The road was bordered with willow bushes; they were just beginning to bud. The new grass was springing, and there was a smell of it in the air. Presently Hannah rose and walked on. She had ten cents in her pocket. She stopped at a store on her way home and bought with it a herring and a couple of fresh biscuit for Martha's supper. She ate nothing herself. She said she was not hungry.
“I knew they'd hear on't,” Martha said, when she told her of her disappointment.
The next day Hannah tried to raise some money on her house. It was a large cottage, somewhat out of repair; it was worth some twenty-five hundred dollars.
Hannah could not obtain a loan of a cent upon it. There was no bank in the village, and only one wealthy man, John Arnold. She would not apply to him, and the others, close-fisted, narrow-minded farmers, were afraid of some trap, they knew not what, in the transaction.
“How do I know you'll pay me the interest regular?” asked one man.
“If I don't, you can take the house,” said Hannah.
“How do I know I can?” The man looked after her with an air of dull triumph as she went away, drooping more than ever. She was faint from want of food. Still, the look of delicate resolution had not gone from her face. She went home, got out a heavy gold watch-chain which had belonged to her father, took it over to Wayne, and offered it to a jeweller. He looked at her and it curiously. The chain was an old one, but heavy and solid.
“What's your name!” asked the jeweller.
He pushed it towards her. “No, I guess I can't take it. We have to be pretty careful about these things, you know. If any question should come up —”
Hannah put the chain in her pocket and went home. Old Martha greeted her fretfully.
“I've been dretful lonesome,” said she. “There's another lily blowed out, an' there ain't a soul been in to see it.”
Hannah sat looking at her moodily. If it were not for this old woman she would lock her house and leave the village this very night. It must be that she would find toleration somewhere in the great world. Some of her kind would be willing to let her live. But here was Martha, whom she would not leave; Martha and her calla-lily, which to a fanciful mind might well seem a very part of her; maybe the grace and beauty which her querulous old age lacked came to her in this form. At all events it recompensed her for them in a measure. Martha plus her calla-lily might equal something almost beautiful — who knew?
Looking at this helpless old creature, something stronger than love took possession of Hannah — a spirit of fierce protection and faithfulness.
“Why don't you take your things off?” Martha groaned.
“I'm going out again.”
When Hannah gathered herself up and went out she had a fixed purpose; she was going to get some supper for Martha. There was not a morsel in the house. Martha must have something to eat. There was nothing desperate in her mind, only that fixed intention — the food she would have, she did not know how, but she would have it.
She was so weak from fasting that she could scarcely step herself, but she did not think of that. “It's awful for an old woman to go hungry,” she muttered, going down the street.
There was some kindly women in the village; they would give her food if they knew of her terrible need, she was sure of it; she had only to ask. She paused at several gates; once she laid her hand on a latch, then she moved on. She could not beg with this stigma upon her. Suddenly in her weakness a half delirious fancy took possession of her. She seemed to be thinking other people's thoughts of herself instead of her own. “There's that Hannah Redman,” she thought; “the girl that stole. Now she's gone to begging. Who wants to give to a girl like that? What's the sense of her begging? She's down as low as she can be; if she wants anything, why doesn't she steal? It's all over with her. People can't think any worse of her than they do now.”
Hannah came to the post-office, and entered mechanically. The post-office merely occupied a corner of the large country store. The postmaster dealt out postage-stamps or cheeses to demand. When Hannah entered there was no one in the great rank room. The proprietor had gone to tea; the two clerks were out in the back yard unloading a team. It was not the hour for customers.
Hannah glanced about. A great heap of fresh loaves was on the counter near the door. She leaned over and smelled of them hungrily, then — she snatched one, hid it under her shawl, and went out.
“Hannah Redman has been stealing again,” she thought, with those thoughts of others, as she went down the street.
She made the bread into some toast for Martha, and the old woman ate it complainingly. “I'd ha' relished a leetle bit of bacon,” she muttered.
“Hannah Redman might just as well have stolen some bacon while she was about it,” she thought. She could not touch the bread herself. She looked badly to-night; her soft eyes glittered, the delicate fineness of her color had deepened. Even Martha noticed it.
“What makes you look so queer, Hannah?” she asked.
“Don't you feel well? You ain't eatin' a thing. I guess you'd relish a leetle bit of meat.”
“I'm all right,” said Hannah.
After the supper was cleared away, and old Martha had gone to bed, Hannah sat down by one of the front windows. It was dusk; she could just discern the dark figures passing in the street, but could not identify them. Presently one paused at her gate, unfastened it, and entered. Hannah heard steps on the gravel walk. Then there was a knock on the door.
“They've missed it,” Hannah thought. She wondered that she did not care more. “Martha's had her supper, anyhow,” she chuckled, fiercely.
She opened the door. “Hannah,” said a man's voice.
“Oh!” she gasped. “George Arnold! Go away! go away!”
“Hannah, what's the matter? Oh, you poor girl, have I frightened you to death, after all the rest? Hannah — there; lean against me, dear. You feel better now, don't you? Don't shake so. Come, let's go in and light a lamp, and I'll get you some water.”
“Oh, go away!”
“I guess I sha'n't go away till — O Lord! Hannah, I never knew what you'd been through till five minutes ago. I've just heard. Hannah, I'd lie down and die at your feet if it would do any good. Oh, you poor girl!”
The man's voice was all rough and husky. Hannah leaned against the door, gasping faintly, while he struck a match and lit a lamp. She never offered to help him. He went out in the kitchen and brought her a glass of water. She pushed it away.
“No,” she motioned with silent lips.
“Do take it, dear; you look dreadfully. You frighten me. Take it just to please me.”
She took it then, and drank.
“There, that's a good girl. Now sit down here while I talk to you.”
She sat down in the chair he placed for her, and he drew another beside her. He sat for a minute looking at her, then suddenly he reached forward and seized her hands. He held them tightly while he talked. “Hannah, look here; you knew I took that money, didn't you?”
“And you let everybody think you did it; you never said a word to clear yourself. Hannah Redman, there never was a woman like you in the whole world! To think of everybody's being down on you, and — your being turned out of the church! Oh, Lord! Hannah, I can't bear it.”
The poor fellow fairly sobbed for a minute. Hannah sat still, looking straight ahead.
“See here,” he went on, “I want to tell you the whole story, how I came to do it. It wasn't quite so bad as it looked. It was my money, really; it came from the sale of some woodland that one of my uncles gave me when I was a child, before my mother died. Father sold the land when I was about ten, and put the money in the bank. I knew about it, and I'd ask father a good many times to let me have it, but he never would. You know what father is about money matters. He'd put it in under his name. Well, I wanted a little money dreadfully. There was a good chance — I've made it pay since, too — but father wouldn't give me any. Hannah, father never gave me a dollar to help me in business, and he's a rich man too. Well, I don't know what possessed him, but the day I was going away he drew that money out of the bank; he wanted to invest it somewhere. I saw it; he was counting it over, and he had the bank-book. I asked him for it again, but he wouldn't let me have a dollar of it. Then — I never knew him to be so careless before; I don't see how it happened — but he laid that money in a roll on the sitting-room table. I saw it when I came in to say good-by to you, and I took it, and crammed it into my pocket. All of a sudden I thought to myself, ‘It's my own money, and I'll have it.’ You were looking right at me when I took it, but I knew you'd think it was mine, I was so cool about it. You did, didn't you?”
“I went down to the depot, expecting every minute I'd hear father behind me, but I got off. I wrote to father after a while and owned up, though I thought he'd know I took it anyway. I never dreamed of his making any fuss about it. I didn't think he'd mention it to a soul; and as for suspecting you —
“Father wrote me an awful letter, but he didn't say a word about that. He told me I needn't come home again. I ain't stopping there now. He must have known after they accused you, but he never said a word. He knew I liked you, too. Well, I'll clear you, I'll clear you, dear. Every soul in town shall know just what you are, and just what you've done, and then I'm going to take you away from the whole of them, out of the reach of their tongues. I'll do all I can to make it up to you, Hannah.”
“Oh, go away, George, please go!”
“Hannah, what do you mean?”
“It's all over.”
“I wish you'd go away; I can't bear any more.”
His face turned pale and rigid as he sat watching her. “Look here,” he said, slowly, “I ought to have thought — Of course I'll go right away and never come near you again. I might have known you wouldn't want a fellow that stole. I'll go, Hannah, and I won't say another word.”
He rose, and was half-way to the door when he turned. “Good-by,” he said.
“Don't, don't! oh, don't! George, you don't know! It's dreadful! I've got to tell you!”
Hannah was beside him, clinging to his arm. All her composure was gone. Her voice rose into a shrill clamor.
“George, George! Oh, what shall I do! what shall I do!”
“Hannah, you'll kill yourself! You mustn't!”
“I can't help it! It isn't you! it isn't you! It was right for you to take it. But it's me! it's me! Oh, what shall I do?”
“Hannah, are you crazy?”
“No; but it's all over. It wasn't true before, but it is now.”
“What do you mean?”
“I stole. I did, George, I did!”
“When? You didn't either. You've been dwelling on this till you don't know what you have done.”
“Yes, I do. I stole. I did!”
“What did you steal?”
“A loaf of bread.”
“Martha didn't have anything for supper. Oh, what shall I do?”
“Hannah Redman, you don't mean it's come to this?”
“They wouldn't give me any work; they couldn't trust me, you know, because I'd stole. I never have given up, but now I've got to.”
“When — did you have anything to — eat?”
“Yesterday. I didn't eat any of that — bread.”
The young man looked at her a moment, then he led her back to her seat.
“See here, Hannah, you sit here a minute till I come back. I won't be gone long.”
She sat down weakly. She suddenly felt too exhausted to speak, and leaned her head back and closed her eyes. She hardly knew when George returned.
Presently he came to her with a glass of milk. “Here, drink this, dear,” he said.
He held the glass while she drank. In the midst of it she stopped and looked at him piteously.
“What is it, dear?”
“Have you been down to the store?”
“Do they know? Have they found it out yet?”
His tender face grew stern. “No, they hadn't. Don't you think of that again. I've paid them for the bread.”
“But they ought to know I — stole it.”
“No, you didn't. Hannah, never think of this again. They're paid.”
“Did you tell them — I took it?”
“Yes, I told them — all that was necessary. Hannah, dear, don't ever speak of this again, or think of it. Finish your milk now; then I want you to eat some cakes I've got for you. Oh, you poor girl; it seems to me I can't live through this myself. Here I've had plenty to eat, and you —”
A week from the next Sunday Hannah wore a white dress to the meeting. It was an old muslin, but she had washed and ironed it nicely, and sewed some lace in the neck and sleeves. She had trimmed her straw bonnet with white ribbons. Everybody stared when she came up the aisle. George Arnold entered at the same time and seated himself beside her in her pew. The women rustled and whispered. John Arnold was not present to-day. The old grandfather looked across at his empty pew uneasily.
After the service, the minister, an itinerant one — this poor parish had no settled preacher — in a solemn voice requested the congregation to be seated. Then he added — he was an old man, with a certain dull impressiveness of manner — “You are requested to remain a moment. One of your number, a young man whom I this morning joined in the bands of holy wedlock, has something which he wishes to communicate to you.”
There was a deathly calm. George Arnold arose. He was a tall, fair man, like his father. His yellow, curled head towered up bravely; the light from the pulpit window settled on it. He was very pale. “I wish to make a statement in the presence of this congregation,” he said, in a loud, clear voice. “The lady beside me, who is now my wife, has been accused of theft from my father. The accusation was a false one. I stole the money myself. She has borne what she has had to bear from you all to shield me.”
Before he had quite finished Hannah rose; she caught hold of his arm and leaned her cheek against it before them all. They sat down side by side, and waited while the congregation went out. A carriage stood before the church. The bridal couple were to leave town that day. A few stood staring at a distance as George Arnold assisted his bride into the carriage after the crowd had dispersed.
They drove straight to Hannah's house. There was an old figure waiting at the gate. Beside her stood a great pot of calla-lilies.
“You jest lift in them lilies first, afore I git in,” said she, “an' be real keerful you don't break 'em. The stalks is tender.”
p. 100 changed [ “Martha's soft withered face flushed. ] to [ Martha's soft withered face flushed. ]
p. 100 changed [ Mis' Newhall, why don't Jennie come in an' see Hannah sometimes? ] to [ Jenny ] to match further occurances.