“Yes; it wouldn’t have made any difference,” Charlotte said. There were tears in her eyes.
Thomas Payne arose. “Then that is all,” said he. “I never had any chance, if I had only known. I’ve got nothing more to say. I want to thank you for asking me to come here to-night and telling me. It was a good deal kinder than to let me keep on coming. That would have been rather hard on a fellow.” Thomas Payne fairly laughed, although his handsome face was white. “I hope it will all come right betwixt you and Barney, Charlotte,” he said, “and don’t you worry about me, I shall get on. I’ll own this seems a little harder than it was before, but I shall get on.” Thomas brushed his bell hat carefully with his cambric handkerchief, and stowed it under his arm. “Good-bye, Charlotte,” said he, in his old gay voice; “when you ask me, I’ll come and dance at your wedding.”
Charlotte got up, trembling. Thomas reached out his hand and touched her smooth fair head softly. “I never touched you nor kissed you, except in games like that Copenhagen to-day,” said he; “but I’ve thought of it a good many times.”
Charlotte drew back. “I can’t, Thomas,” she faltered. She could not herself have defined her reason for refusing her cast-off lover this one comfort, but it was not so much loyalty as the fear of disloyalty which led her to do so. In spite of herself, she saw Barney for an instant beside Thomas to his disadvantage, and her love could not cover him, extend it as she would. The conviction was strong upon her that Thomas was the better man of the two, although she did not love him.
“All right,” said Thomas, “I ought not to have asked it of you, Charlotte. Good-bye.”
As soon as Thomas Payne got out in the dark night air, and the door had shut behind him, he set up his merry whistle. Charlotte stood at the front window, and heard it from far down the hill.
One Sunday evening, about four months after the cherry party, Barnabas Thayer came out of his house and strolled slowly across the road. Then he paused, and leaned up against some pasture bars and looked around him. There was nobody in sight on the road in either direction, and everything was very still, except for the vibrating calls of the hidden insects that come to their flood-tide of life in early autumn.
Barnabas listened to those calls, which had in them a certain element of mystery, as have all things which reach only one sense. They were in their humble way the voices of the unseen, and as he listened they seemed to take on a rhythmic cadence. Presently the drone of multifold vibrations sounded in his ears with even rise and fall, like the mighty breathing of Nature herself. The sun was low, and the sky was full of violet clouds. Barney could see outlined faintly against them the gray sweep of the roof that covered Charlotte’s daily life.