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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSummer - Chapter XVI
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Summer - Chapter XVI Post by :senaia Category :Long Stories Author :Edith Wharton Date :June 2011 Read :1084

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Summer - Chapter XVI

CHAPTER XVI


THE rain held off, and an hour later, when she started,
wild gleams of sunlight were blowing across the fields.

After Harney's departure she had returned her bicycle
to its owner at Creston, and she was not sure of being
able to walk all the way to the Mountain. The deserted
house was on the road; but the idea of spending the
night there was unendurable, and she meant to try to
push on to Hamblin, where she could sleep under a wood-
shed if her strength should fail her. Her preparations
had been made with quiet forethought. Before starting
she had forced herself to swallow a glass of milk and
eat a piece of bread; and she had put in her canvas
satchel a little packet of the chocolate that Harney
always carried in his bicycle bag. She wanted above
all to keep up her strength, and reach her destination
without attracting notice....

Mile by mile she retraced the road over which she had
so often flown to her lover. When she reached the
turn where the wood-road branched off from the Creston
highway she remembered the Gospel tent--long since
folded up and transplanted--and her start of
involuntary terror when the fat evangelist had said:
"Your Saviour knows everything. Come and confess your
guilt." There was no sense of guilt in her now, but
only a desperate desire to defend her secret from
irreverent eyes, and begin life again among people to
whom the harsh code of the village was unknown. The
impulse did not shape itself in thought: she only knew
she must save her baby, and hide herself with it
somewhere where no one would ever come to trouble them.

She walked on and on, growing more heavy-footed as the
day advanced. It seemed a cruel chance that compelled
her to retrace every step of the way to the deserted
house; and when she came in sight of the orchard, and
the silver-gray roof slanting crookedly through the
laden branches, her strength failed her and she sat
down by the road-side. She sat there a long time,
trying to gather the courage to start again, and walk
past the broken gate and the untrimmed rose-bushes
strung with scarlet hips. A few drops of rain were
falling, and she thought of the warm evenings when
she and Harney had sat embraced in the shadowy room,
and the noise of summer showers on the roof had rustled
through their kisses. At length she understood that if
she stayed any longer the rain might compel her to take
shelter in the house overnight, and she got up and
walked on, averting her eyes as she came abreast of the
white gate and the tangled garden.

The hours wore on, and she walked more and more slowly,
pausing now and then to rest, and to eat a little bread
and an apple picked up from the roadside. Her body
seemed to grow heavier with every yard of the way, and
she wondered how she would be able to carry her child
later, if already he laid such a burden on her....A
fresh wind had sprung up, scattering the rain and
blowing down keenly from the mountain. Presently the
clouds lowered again, and a few white darts struck her
in the face: it was the first snow falling over
Hamblin. The roofs of the lonely village were only
half a mile ahead, and she was resolved to push beyond
it, and try to reach the Mountain that night. She had
no clear plan of action, except that, once in the
settlement, she meant to look for Liff Hyatt, and get
him to take her to her mother. She herself had
been born as her own baby was going to be born; and
whatever her mother's subsequent life had been, she
could hardly help remembering the past, and receiving a
daughter who was facing the trouble she had known.

Suddenly the deadly faintness came over her once more
and she sat down on the bank and leaned her head
against a tree-trunk. The long road and the cloudy
landscape vanished from her eyes, and for a time she
seemed to be circling about in some terrible wheeling
darkness. Then that too faded.

She opened her eyes, and saw a buggy drawn up beside
her, and a man who had jumped down from it and was
gazing at her with a puzzled face. Slowly
consciousness came back, and she saw that the man was
Liff Hyatt.

She was dimly aware that he was asking her something,
and she looked at him in silence, trying to find
strength to speak. At length her voice stirred in her
throat, and she said in a whisper: "I'm going up the
Mountain."

"Up the Mountain?" he repeated, drawing aside a little;
and as he moved she saw behind him, in the buggy, a
heavily coated figure with a familiar pink face
and gold spectacles on the bridge of a Grecian nose.

"Charity! What on earth are you doing here?" Mr. Miles
exclaimed, throwing the reins on the horse's back and
scrambling down from the buggy.

She lifted her heavy eyes to his. "I'm going to see my
mother."

The two men glanced at each other, and for a moment
neither of them spoke.

Then Mr. Miles said: "You look ill, my dear, and it's a
long way. Do you think it's wise?"

Charity stood up. "I've got to go to her."

A vague mirthless grin contracted Liff Hyatt's face,
and Mr. Miles again spoke uncertainly. "You know,
then--you'd been told?"

She stared at him. "I don't know what you mean. I
want to go to her."

Mr. Miles was examining her thoughtfully. She fancied
she saw a change in his expression, and the blood
rushed to her forehead. "I just want to go to her,"
she repeated.

He laid his hand on her arm. "My child, your mother is
dying. Liff Hyatt came down to fetch me....Get in and
come with us."

He helped her up to the seat at his side, Liff
Hyatt clambered in at the back, and they drove off
toward Hamblin. At first Charity had hardly grasped
what Mr. Miles was saying; the physical relief of
finding herself seated in the buggy, and securely on
her road to the Mountain, effaced the impression of his
words. But as her head cleared she began to
understand. She knew the Mountain had but the most
infrequent intercourse with the valleys; she had often
enough heard it said that no one ever went up there
except the minister, when someone was dying. And now
it was her mother who was dying...and she would find
herself as much alone on the Mountain as anywhere else
in the world. The sense of unescapable isolation was
all she could feel for the moment; then she began to
wonder at the strangeness of its being Mr. Miles who
had undertaken to perform this grim errand. He did not
seem in the least like the kind of man who would care
to go up the Mountain. But here he was at her side,
guiding the horse with a firm hand, and bending on her
the kindly gleam of his spectacles, as if there were
nothing unusual in their being together in such
circumstances.

For a while she found it impossible to speak, and he
seemed to understand this, and made no attempt to
question her. But presently she felt her tears rise
and flow down over her drawn cheeks; and he must have
seen them too, for he laid his hand on hers, and said
in a low voice: "Won't you tell me what is troubling
you?"

She shook her head, and he did not insist: but after a
while he said, in the same low tone, so that they
should not be overheard: "Charity, what do you know of
your childhood, before you came down to North Dormer?"

She controlled herself, and answered: "Nothing only
what I heard Mr. Royall say one day. He said he
brought me down because my father went to prison."

"And you've never been up there since?"

"Never."

Mr. Miles was silent again, then he said: "I'm glad
you're coming with me now. Perhaps we may find your
mother alive, and she may know that you have come."

They had reached Hamblin, where the snow-flurry had
left white patches in the rough grass on the roadside,
and in the angles of the roofs facing north. It was a
poor bleak village under the granite flank of the
Mountain, and as soon as they left it they began
to climb. The road was steep and full of ruts, and
the horse settled down to a walk while they mounted and
mounted, the world dropping away below them in great
mottled stretches of forest and field, and stormy dark
blue distances.

Charity had often had visions of this ascent of the
Mountain but she had not known it would reveal so wide
a country, and the sight of those strange lands
reaching away on every side gave her a new sense of
Harney's remoteness. She knew he must be miles and
miles beyond the last range of hills that seemed to be
the outmost verge of things, and she wondered how she
had ever dreamed of going to New York to find him....

As the road mounted the country grew bleaker, and they
drove across fields of faded mountain grass bleached by
long months beneath the snow. In the hollows a few
white birches trembled, or a mountain ash lit its
scarlet clusters; but only a scant growth of pines
darkened the granite ledges. The wind was blowing
fiercely across the open slopes; the horse faced it
with bent head and straining flanks, and now and then
the buggy swayed so that Charity had to clutch its
side.

Mr. Miles had not spoken again; he seemed to
understand that she wanted to be left alone.
After a while the track they were following forked, and
he pulled up the horse, as if uncertain of the way.
Liff Hyatt craned his head around from the back, and
shouted against the wind: "Left----" and they turned
into a stunted pine-wood and began to drive down the
other side of the Mountain.

A mile or two farther on they came out on a clearing
where two or three low houses lay in stony fields,
crouching among the rocks as if to brace themselves
against the wind. They were hardly more than sheds,
built of logs and rough boards, with tin stove-pipes
sticking out of their roofs. The sun was setting, and
dusk had already fallen on the lower world, but a
yellow glare still lay on the lonely hillside and the
crouching houses. The next moment it faded and left
the landscape in dark autumn twilight.

"Over there," Liff called out, stretching his long arm
over Mr. Miles's shoulder. The clergyman turned to the
left, across a bit of bare ground overgrown with docks
and nettles, and stopped before the most ruinous of the
sheds. A stove-pipe reached its crooked arm out of one
window, and the broken panes of the other were stuffed
with rags and paper.

In contrast to such a dwelling the brown house in
the swamp might have stood for the home of plenty.

As the buggy drew up two or three mongrel dogs jumped
out of the twilight with a great barking, and a young
man slouched to the door and stood there staring. In
the twilight Charity saw that his face had the same
sodden look as Bash Hyatt's, the day she had seen him
sleeping by the stove. He made no effort to silence
the dogs, but leaned in the door, as if roused from a
drunken lethargy, while Mr. Miles got out of the buggy.

"Is it here?" the clergyman asked Liff in a low voice;
and Liff nodded.

Mr. Miles turned to Charity. "Just hold the horse a
minute, my dear: I'll go in first," he said, putting
the reins in her hands. She took them passively, and
sat staring straight ahead of her at the darkening
scene while Mr. Miles and Liff Hyatt went up to the
house. They stood a few minutes talking with the man
in the door, and then Mr. Miles came back. As he came
close, Charity saw that his smooth pink face wore a
frightened solemn look.

"Your mother is dead, Charity; you'd better come with
me," he said.

She got down and followed him while Liff led the
horse away. As she approached the door she said
to herself: "This is where I was born...this is where I
belong...." She had said it to herself often enough as
she looked across the sunlit valleys at the Mountain;
but it had meant nothing then, and now it had become a
reality. Mr. Miles took her gently by the arm, and
they entered what appeared to be the only room in the
house. It was so dark that she could just discern a
group of a dozen people sitting or sprawling about a
table made of boards laid across two barrels. They
looked up listlessly as Mr. Miles and Charity came in,
and a woman's thick voice said: "Here's the preacher."
But no one moved.

Mr. Miles paused and looked about him; then he turned
to the young man who had met them at the door.

"Is the body here?" he asked.

The young man, instead of answering, turned his head
toward the group. "Where's the candle? I tole yer to
bring a candle," he said with sudden harshness to a
girl who was lolling against the table. She did not
answer, but another man got up and took from some
corner a candle stuck into a bottle.

"How'll I light it? The stove's out," the girl
grumbled.

Mr. Miles fumbled under his heavy wrappings and drew
out a match-box. He held a match to the candle, and in
a moment or two a faint circle of light fell on the
pale aguish heads that started out of the shadow like
the heads of nocturnal animals.

"Mary's over there," someone said; and Mr. Miles,
taking the bottle in his hand, passed behind the table.
Charity followed him, and they stood before a mattress
on the floor in a corner of the room. A woman lay on
it, but she did not look like a dead woman; she seemed
to have fallen across her squalid bed in a drunken
sleep, and to have been left lying where she fell, in
her ragged disordered clothes. One arm was flung above
her head, one leg drawn up under a torn skirt that left
the other bare to the knee: a swollen glistening leg
with a ragged stocking rolled down about the ankle. The
woman lay on her back, her eyes staring up unblinkingly
at the candle that trembled in Mr. Miles's hand.

"She jus' dropped off," a woman said, over the shoulder
of the others; and the young man added: "I jus' come in
and found her."

An elderly man with lank hair and a feeble grin
pushed between them. "It was like this: I says to her
on'y the night before: if you don't take and quit, I
says to her..."

Someone pulled him back and sent him reeling against a
bench along the wall, where he dropped down muttering
his unheeded narrative.

There was a silence; then the young woman who had been
lolling against the table suddenly parted the group,
and stood in front of Charity. She was healthier and
robuster looking than the others, and her weather-
beaten face had a certain sullen beauty.

"Who's the girl? Who brought her here?" she said,
fixing her eyes mistrustfully on the young man who had
rebuked her for not having a candle ready.

Mr. Miles spoke. "I brought her; she is Mary Hyatt's
daughter."

"What? Her too?" the girl sneered; and the young man
turned on her with an oath. "Shut your mouth, damn
you, or get out of here," he said; then he relapsed
into his former apathy, and dropped down on the bench,
leaning his head against the wall.

Mr. Miles had set the candle on the floor and taken off
his heavy coat. He turned to Charity. "Come and help
me," he said.

He knelt down by the mattress, and pressed the
lids over the dead woman's eyes. Charity, trembling
and sick, knelt beside him, and tried to compose her
mother's body. She drew the stocking over the dreadful
glistening leg, and pulled the skirt down to the
battered upturned boots. As she did so, she looked at
her mother's face, thin yet swollen, with lips parted
in a frozen gasp above the broken teeth. There was no
sign in it of anything human: she lay there like a
dead dog in a ditch Charity's hands grew cold as they
touched her.

Mr. Miles drew the woman's arms across her breast and
laid his coat over her. Then he covered her face with
his handkerchief, and placed the bottle with the candle
in it at her head. Having done this he stood up.

"Is there no coffin?" he asked, turning to the group
behind him.

There was a moment of bewildered silence; then the
fierce girl spoke up. "You'd oughter brought it with
you. Where'd we get one here, I'd like ter know?"

Mr. Miles, looking at the others, repeated: "Is it
possible you have no coffin ready?"

"That's what I say: them that has it sleeps
better," an old woman murmured. "But then she
never had no bed...."

"And the stove warn't hers," said the lank-haired man,
on the defensive.

Mr. Miles turned away from them and moved a few steps
apart. He had drawn a book from his pocket, and after
a pause he opened it and began to read, holding the
book at arm's length and low down, so that the pages
caught the feeble light. Charity had remained on her
knees by the mattress: now that her mother's face was
covered it was easier to stay near her, and avoid the
sight of the living faces which too horribly showed by
what stages hers had lapsed into death.

"I am the Resurrection and the Life," Mr. Miles began;
"he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet
shall he live....Though after my skin worms destroy my
body, yet in my flesh shall I see God...."

IN MY FLESH SHALL I SEE GOD! Charity thought of the
gaping mouth and stony eyes under the handkerchief, and
of the glistening leg over which she had drawn the
stocking....

"We brought nothing into this world and we shall take
nothing out of it----"

There was a sudden muttering and a scuffle at the
back of the group. "I brought the stove," said the
elderly man with lank hair, pushing his way between the
others. "I wen' down to Creston'n bought it...n' I got
a right to take it outer here...n' I'll lick any feller
says I ain't...."

"Sit down, damn you!" shouted the tall youth who had
been drowsing on the bench against the wall.

"For man walketh in a vain shadow, and disquieteth
himself in vain; he heapeth up riches and cannot tell
who shall gather them...."

"Well, it ARE his," a woman in the background
interjected in a frightened whine.

The tall youth staggered to his feet. "If you don't
hold your mouths I'll turn you all out o' here, the
whole lot of you," he cried with many oaths. "G'wan,
minister...don't let 'em faze you...."

"Now is Christ risen from the dead and become the
first-fruits of them that slept....Behold, I show you a
mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be
changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at
the last trump....For this corruptible must put on
incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality.
So when this corruption shall have put on
incorruption, and when this mortal shall have put on
immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying
that is written, Death is swallowed up in Victory...."

One by one the mighty words fell on Charity's bowed
head, soothing the horror, subduing the tumult,
mastering her as they mastered the drink-dazed
creatures at her back. Mr. Miles read to the last
word, and then closed the book.

"Is the grave ready?" he asked.

Liff Hyatt, who had come in while he was reading,
nodded a "Yes," and pushed forward to the side of the
mattress. The young man on the bench who seemed to
assert some sort of right of kinship with the dead
woman, got to his feet again, and the proprietor of the
stove joined him. Between them they raised up the
mattress; but their movements were unsteady, and the
coat slipped to the floor, revealing the poor body in
its helpless misery. Charity, picking up the coat,
covered her mother once more. Liff had brought a
lantern, and the old woman who had already spoken took
it up, and opened the door to let the little procession
pass out. The wind had dropped, and the night was very
dark and bitterly cold. The old woman walked
ahead, the lantern shaking in her hand and
spreading out before her a pale patch of dead grass and
coarse-leaved weeds enclosed in an immensity of
blackness.

Mr. Miles took Charity by the arm, and side by side
they walked behind the mattress. At length the old
woman with the lantern stopped, and Charity saw the
light fall on the stooping shoulders of the bearers and
on a ridge of upheaved earth over which they were
bending. Mr. Miles released her arm and approached the
hollow on the other side of the ridge; and while the
men stooped down, lowering the mattress into the grave,
he began to speak again.

"Man that is born of woman hath but a short time to
live and is full of misery....He cometh up and is cut
down...he fleeth as it were a shadow....Yet, O Lord God
most holy, O Lord most mighty, O holy and merciful
Saviour, deliver us not into the bitter pains of
eternal death...."

"Easy there...is she down?" piped the claimant to the
stove; and the young man called over his shoulder:
"Lift the light there, can't you?"

There was a pause, during which the light floated
uncertainly over the open grave. Someone bent
over and pulled out Mr. Miles's coat----("No, no--
leave the handkerchief," he interposed)--and then Liff
Hyatt, coming forward with a spade, began to shovel in
the earth.

"Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of His great
mercy to take unto Himself the soul of our dear sister
here departed, we therefore commit her body to the
ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to
dust..." Liff's gaunt shoulders rose and bent in the
lantern light as he dashed the clods of earth into the
grave. "God--it's froze a'ready," he muttered,
spitting into his palm and passing his ragged shirt-
sleeve across his perspiring face.

"Through our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our
vile body that it may be like unto His glorious body,
according to the mighty working, whereby He is able to
subdue all things unto Himself..." The last spadeful of
earth fell on the vile body of Mary Hyatt, and Liff
rested on his spade, his shoulder blades still heaving
with the effort.

"Lord, have mercy upon us, Christ have mercy upon us,
Lord have mercy upon us..."

Mr. Miles took the lantern from the old woman's
hand and swept its light across the circle of
bleared faces. "Now kneel down, all of you," he
commanded, in a voice of authority that Charity had
never heard. She knelt down at the edge of the grave,
and the others, stiffly and hesitatingly, got to their
knees beside her. Mr. Miles knelt, too. "And now pray
with me--you know this prayer," he said, and he began:
"Our Father which art in Heaven..." One or two of the
women falteringly took the words up, and when he ended,
the lank-haired man flung himself on the neck of the
tall youth. "It was this way," he said. "I tole her
the night before, I says to her..." The reminiscence
ended in a sob.

Mr. Miles had been getting into his coat again. He
came up to Charity, who had remained passively kneeling
by the rough mound of earth.

"My child, you must come. It's very late."

She lifted her eyes to his face: he seemed to speak out
of another world.

"I ain't coming: I'm going to stay here."

"Here? Where? What do you mean?"

"These are my folks. I'm going to stay with them."

Mr. Miles lowered his voice. "But it's not
possible--you don't know what you are doing. You
can't stay among these people: you must come with me."

She shook her head and rose from her knees. The group
about the grave had scattered in the darkness, but the
old woman with the lantern stood waiting. Her mournful
withered face was not unkind, and Charity went up to
her.

"Have you got a place where I can lie down for the
night?" she asked. Liff came up, leading the buggy out
of the night. He looked from one to the other with his
feeble smile. "She's my mother. She'll take you
home," he said; and he added, raising his voice to
speak to the old woman: "It's the girl from lawyer
Royall's--Mary's girl...you remember...."

The woman nodded and raised her sad old eyes to
Charity's. When Mr. Miles and Liff clambered into the
buggy she went ahead with the lantern to show them the
track they were to follow; then she turned back, and in
silence she and Charity walked away together through
the night.

Content of CHAPTER XVI (Edith Wharton's novel: Summer)

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CHAPTER XVIICHARITY lay on the floor on a mattress, as her dead mother's body had lain. The room in which she lay was cold and dark and low-ceilinged, and even poorer and barer than the scene of Mary Hyatt's earthly pilgrimage. On the other side of the fireless stove Liff Hyatt's mother slept on a blanket, with two children--her grandchildren, she said--rolled up against her like sleeping puppies. They had their thin clothes spread over them, having given the only other blanket to their guest.Through the small square of glass in the opposite wall Charity saw a deep
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CHAPTER XVThat night, as usual, they said good-bye at the wood's edge.Harney was to leave the next morning early. He asked Charity to say nothing of their plans till his return, and, strangely even to herself, she was glad of the postponement. A leaden weight of shame hung on her, benumbing every other sensation, and she bade him good-bye with hardly a sign of emotion. His reiterated promises to return seemed almost wounding. She had no doubt that he intended to come back; her doubts were far deeper and less definable.Since the fanciful vision of the future
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