Babcock and Selma White were among the last of the wedding guests to take their departure. It was a brilliant September night with a touch of autumn vigor in the atmosphere, which had not been without its effect on the company, who had driven off in gay spirits, most of them in hay-carts or other vehicles capable of carrying a party. Their songs and laughter floated back along the winding country road. Selma, comfortable in her wraps and well tucked about with a rug, leaned back contentedly in the chaise, after the goodbyes had been said, to enjoy the glamour of the full moon. They were seven miles from home and she was in no hurry to get there. Neither festivities nor the undisguised devotion of a city young man were common in her life. Consideration she had been used to from a child, and she knew herself to be tacitly acknowledged the smartest girl in Westfield, but perhaps for that very reason she had held aloof from manhood until now. At least no youth in her neighborhood had ever impressed her as her equal. Neither did Babcock so impress her; but he was different from the rest. He was not shy and unexpressive; he was buoyant and self-reliant, and yet he seemed to appreciate her quality none the less.
They had met about a dozen times, and on the last six of these occasions he had come from Benham, ten miles to her uncle’s farm, obviously to visit her. The last two times her Aunt Farley had made him spend the night, and it had been arranged that he would drive her in the Farley chaise to Clara Morse’s wedding. A seven-mile drive is apt to promote or kill the germs of intimacy, and on the way over she had been conscious of enjoying herself. Scrutiny of Clara’s choice had been to the advantage of her own cavalier. The bridegroom had seemed to her what her Aunt Farley would call a mouse-in-the-cheese young man. Whereas Babcock had been the life of the affair.
She had been teaching now in Wilton for more than a year. When, shortly after her father’s death, she had obtained the position of school teacher, it seemed to her that at last the opportunity had come to display her capabilities, and at the same time to fulfil her aspirations. But the task of grounding a class of small children in the rudiments of simple knowledge had already begun to pall and to seem unsatisfying. Was she to spend her life in this? And if not, the next step, unless it were marriage, was not obvious. Not that she mistrusted her ability to shine in any educational capacity, but neither Wilton nor the neighboring Westfield offered better, and she was conscious of a lack of influential friends in the greater world, which was embodied for her in Benham. Benham was a western city of these United States, with an eastern exposure; a growing, bustling city according to rumor, with an eager population restless with new