“It isn’t your place to buy dresses for me as things are,” said Charlotte. She extended the package, and he took it, as if by force. She heard him sob.
“You must never try to do anything like this again,” she said. “I want you to understand it, Barney.”
Then she went away, and left him standing there holding his discarded gift.
After a while the village people ceased to have the affairs of Barney Thayer and Charlotte Barnard particularly upon their minds. As time went on, and nothing new developed in the case, they no longer dwelt upon it. Circumstances, like people, soon show familiar faces, and are no longer stared after and remarked. The people all became accustomed to Barney living alone in his half-furnished house season after season, and to Charlotte walking her solitary maiden path. They seldom spoke of it among themselves; sometimes, when a stranger came to town, they pointed out Barney and Charlotte as they would have any point of local interest.
“Do you see that house?” a woman bent on hospitable entertainment said as she drove a matronly cousin from another village down the street; “the one with the front windows boarded up, without any step to the front door? Well, Barney Thayer lives there all alone. He’s old Caleb Thayer’s son, all the son that’s left; the other one died. There was some talk of his mother’s whippin’ him to death. She died right after, but they said afterwards that she didn’t, that he run away one night, an’ went slidin’ downhill, an’ that was what killed him; he’d always had heart trouble. I dunno; I always thought Deborah Thayer was a pretty good woman, but she was pretty set. I guess Barney takes after her. He was goin’ with Charlotte Barnard years ago—I guess ‘twas as much as nine or ten years ago, now—an’ they were goin’ to be married. She was all ready—weddin’-dress an’ bonnet an’ everything—an’ this house was ‘most done an’ ready for them to move into; but one Sunday night Barney he went up to see Charlotte, an’ he got into a dispute with her father about the ‘lection, an’ the old man he ordered Barney out of the house, an’ Barney he went out, an’ he never went in again—couldn’t nobody make him. His mother she talked; it ‘most killed her; an’ I guess Charlotte said all she could, but he wouldn’t stir a peg.
“He went right to livin’ in his new house, an’ he lives there now; he ain’t married, an’ Charlotte ain’t. She’s had chances, too. Squire Payne’s son, he wanted her bad.”
The visiting cousin’s mild, interrogative face peered out around the black panel of the covered wagon at Barney’s poor house; her spectacles glittered at it in the sun. “I want to know!” said she, with the expression of strained, entertained amiability which she wore through her visit.
When they passed the Barnard house the Pembroke woman partly drew rein again; the old horse meandered in a zigzag curve, with his head lopping. “That’s where Charlotte Barnard lives,” she said. Suddenly she lowered her voice. “There she is now, out in the yard,” she whispered.