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in his hand made this ordinarily simple operation a difficult one. Without a word, she mechanically put her umbrella into his outstretched hand, took the fluttering handkerchief, folded it compactly, and tied it firmly, in accordance with his direction, “ Round both eyes, if you please, - not too tight," then stood as if in a dream, awaiting further orders from this unknown and extraordinary individual. Recovering herself, she ventured to say, —
“ Are you much hurt, sir? I am very sorry."
“Not seriously, I hope, although I am in some pain,” he replied. “However, it is my own fault. With such mean and miserable eyes, I ought not to have come out to-night," he continued, addressing himself rather than the supposed young rustic.
Singular coincidence! Neither ought I,” she thought.
“ My good girl,” – an indefinable something had told him that it was a young girl whose gentle, dexterous hands had touched
you could —” He paused, then with some reluctance said : “ The fact is, I hardly know what I'd better do. Your umbrella has nearly put out my eye, - has injured it enough to make it exceedingly painful, at all events, - which is not in the slightest degree your fault, of course," he added, courteously. "I am sorry to ask so much of any woman, particularly of a stranger; but could you be my guide home? Would you object to walking to my boarding-place with me?”
No untutored peasant-maidep could have faltered, in reply to this somewhat astounding proposal, a more bashful “ I d-o-n't k-n-o-w” than came faintly from the lips of the self-possessed and elegant Miss Doane.
“ These country girls are always shy,” he thought, “and no wonder she is afraid of me under the circumstances. Poor little thing!”
Then, very gently, as if encouraging a frightened child, he explained: “Indeed, I would not trouble you if I could help it. My eyes have been almost powerless of late, and I hardly dare strain them by trying to grope my way back when one eye is so inflamed and irritated by that hostile weapon of yours that the other is suffering in sympathy. Perhaps some man might be induced to go. The difficulty would be in finding anybody. The shops must be closed at this hour.” Then, with the utmost courtesy: “ You need not be afraid. My name is Ogden. I am staying out at the Holbrook Farm. Pardon me if I ask you once more if you will be good enough to walk there with me. It is possible for me to go alone, of course ; but difficult, and likely to be worse for me in the end .” And he drew a long breath as if the bruise pained him, and as if it wearied him to make so careful an explanation for the benefit of this extremely taciturn young country woman.
She started when he gave his name. She was seized with a violent impulse to seek safety in flight. “Such an incredible state of things !” she thought; then bravely accepted the situation, and said quietly, –
“I will go with you, sir.”
“ I thank you. Will you take my arm? I hope the extra walk will not fatigue you; yet, if you dare venture out at all to-night – ” He stopped abruptly, fearing his remark might seem rude.
In her interpretation, his unspoken thought gained tenfold severity.
“ A common, coarse country girl like me, who dares venture out at all to-night, cannot be injured by walking an additional mile,” she thought, in much vexation. “ Does he need to be formally presented to one by Mrs. Grundy, before he recognizes one as a lady? Ought I to be labelled, “This is a gentlewoman,' that the stupid man may know me when he sees me ?” Then, repenting, “ But the poor man has not seen me, and I have hardly opened my lips. How should he know?” After a moment she waxed indignant again. “But he ought to know. He ought to know without hearing or seeing me. I never will excuse it in him, never!”
Thus, her heart full of conflicting emotions, pity for her silent companion as a fellow-creature in pain alternating with unreasoning wrath against him as Mr. Philip Ogden, who had presumed to adopt towards her a tone of calm and dignified superiority, and who had not had the superhuman discernment to recognize her, in spite of the obstacles, as his social equal, Miss Doane walked by Mr. Ogden's side, inwardly rebellious, outwardly guiding his steps with praiseworthy meekness.
And he with that sickening pain in the eyes which sends a throbbing to the brain and intense nervous irritability over the whole system, and makes it difficult for the gentlest nature to be patient, thought but little of her after the brief conver sation recorded. She was the means; the speediest possible arrival at Farmer Holbroook's, the end he had in view. So through the storm these two, whom Fate had so curiously thrown together, pursued their way.
She knew perfectly where the farm was. She had seen it on the main road as she entered the village. From her lofty pinnacle on top of the stage, she had looked admiringly upon its soft undulating fields, thrifty orchards, snug cottage, and great barns; and Tom had inquired the owner's name of the stage-driver, who had responded with the eager loquacity peculiar to the genus. The place was nearly a mile from Miss Phipps's mansion, for whose friendly shelter she now sighed, deeming even that much-derided parlor an unattainable bower of bliss.
Once the idea of announcing herself to this cool and selfsufficient gentleman, of witnessing his inevitable embarrassment should she mention her naine and Tom's, and of so revenging herself, occurred to her. But she recalled the shade of authority which she had observed in his manner, in spite of the extreme gentleness of his tone, and also the wonder he had implied, that any decent country girl should brave the severity of so stormy a night, and unseen in the darkness she blushed crimson with mortification, and bitterly lamented her senseless whim and its consequences.
She could not declare herself. She had been guilty of an act, indiscreet, according to this man's code, in the ignorant village girl for whom he had mistaken her. Should she then stop by the roadside, withdraw her hand from his arm, make a profound courtesy before his bandaged, unseeing eyes, and, after the fashion of the sultan in the Arabian Nights, throw off her disguise, and exclaim in a melodramatic manner, “ Pause, vain man! Behold in me, Miss Laura Doane, a person not entirely unknown in the polite circles in which you move, and of whom, doubtless, you have frequently heard ?”
No! she was in a false position, but she had placed herself there by her own folly, and there must she remain till that fatal promenade was over.
After leaving the village, sidewalks ceased and their path lay through the muddy road. No sound was heard but the voice of the storm, until Mr. Ogden, who had apparently been forgetting his companion's very existence, said kindly,
“ I hope I am not taking you too far out of your way. This road is hard travelling in wet weather.”
“ It is not too far,” she answered in a low voice, and with a twofold meaning of which he was unconscious.
She was actually taking grim delight in her penance. She felt that the tiresome walk was no more than she deserved to endure. To his mild conversational effort she responded by a brief inquiry as to the condition of his eyes.
“Eyes are obstinate things when hurt,” he said pleasantly. "Probably I suffer more from this evening's accident on account of their previous weakness. There's a wretched fatality about sensitive eyes. Everything is certain to get into them, - cinders in the cars and umbrellas dark nights, for instance. But I assure you they are infinitely less painful than they would have been had I been forced to expose them to the wind and rain and grope my way alone. It was the strain of trying to keep this invalid fellow on the alert which I dreaded, and so I ventured to trouble you. I am very grateful to you for the relief your presence affords me.”
She knew that he must be still suffering. Evidently he would not permit the rude girl who had caused the injury to perceive how much harm she had done. That was generous in him; yet he spoiled it all by that indefinable tone in his voice. It was not condescension, - nothing so disagreeable as that. It was more like the over-punctiliousness with which one remembers to thank an inferior who does one a service. It was too careful, too formal for equality, and it piqued her. She did not therefore feel amiable, and she made no reply to his acknowledgment.
They walked on in silence, and soon she saw a light in a house which they were approaching. It was the Holbrook cottage. All the lights were out except this one at a chamber window. His room, she thought, as she noticed a porcelain shade softening the glare.
They reached the door of the cottage. She stopped. He quickly pushed up the bandage. “Are we here at last ?” Then as he glanced up to his window, he gave a slight exclamation of pain. “I beg your pardon,” he said, “ the lid seems quite helpless, and an acute pain took me unawares as I looked up.” She turned to go. There was a slight awkward silence; then her warm heart conquered her pride and pique.
“I am very sorry. I hope it will be better soon.” She spoke in a low, constrained voice. He said,
“ Thank you. I imagine it will amount to very little." Then rapidly, as if fearing interruption, “ You bave done me a great service. Do not think I offer this in payment, only perhaps you know of a book or” – apparently doubting the intellectual aspirations of his guide — “a little ribbon you may fancy, and if you will buy it in remembrance of my gratitude, you will make me still more indebted to you.” Putting her umbrella in her hand and with it a bank-note, with a hasty good-night, he opened the door, passed in, and closed it again before the girl had recovered from the overpowering amazed indignation into which the last and most unexpected turn of affairs had plunged her.
Money! Had he dared give her money? Insulting! Incredible! She could have screamed with rage and humiliation. She never once thought of dropping it where she stood. After the first paroxysm of hurt and angry pride had passed, she held it crushed feverishly in her hand, and accepting it as the most cruel discipline she had yet undergone, the crowning torture of this wretched evening, but in no way to be escaped from, she turned from the hateful spot and started towards the village.
Her walk was sadly fatiguing. The excitement which had before sustained her and enabled her to struggle gayly with the storm was succeeded by extreme depression. The reaction had come. The rumbling of distant thunder warned her to hasten. The condition of the road, her weary feet and drenched clothing, made her progress slow. At last, as a vivid flash of lightning, accompanied by an ominous peal, illumined her path, she reached the house. The door was unfastened. The lamp still stood upon the parlor mantel. Cold, almost exhausted, enraged with herself, and bitterly denouncing the obtuseness of Mr. Philip Ogden, she wearily ascended the stairs and shut herself in her room.
She removed her wet clothing, put on a warm wrapper and slippers, let down her hair, and seated herself in a low rockingchair for a résumé of the evening's woes. Her present physical comfort began to influence her views. Things did not look so utterly disgraceful as when she was wandering, forlorn and fatigued, out in the black night. Ah, but the money! How it had burned her hand all the way back! She rose and took the crumpled bill from her dressing-table. She smoothed it out with scrupulous care. She examined it with cynical interest on