The latter half of the road to the Green River station lay through an unsettled district. There were acres of low birch woods and lusty meadow-lands. This morning they were covered with a gold-green dazzle of leaves. To one looking across them, they almost seemed played over by little green flames; now and then a young birch tree stood away from the others, and shone by itself like a very torch of spring. Mrs. Field walked steadily through it. She had never paused to take much thought of the beauty of nature; to-day a tree all alive and twinkling with leaves might, for all her notice, have been naked and stiff with frost.
She did not seem to walk fast, but her long steps carried her over the ground well. It was long before train-time when she came in sight of the little station with its projecting piazza roofs. She entered the ladies’ room and bought her ticket, then she sat down and waited. There were two other women there—middle-aged countrywomen in awkward wool gowns and flat straw bonnets, with a certain repressed excitement in their homely faces. They were setting their large, faithful, cloth-gaitered feet a little outside their daily ruts, and going to visit some relatives in a neighboring town; they were almost overcome by the unusualness of it.
Jane Field was a woman after their kind, and the look on their faces had its grand multiple in the look on hers. She had not only stepped out of her rut, but she was going out of sight of it forever.
She sat there stiff and silent, her two feet braced against the floor, ready to lift her at the signal of the train, her black leather bag grasped firmly in her right hand.
The two women eyed her furtively. One nudged the other. “Know who that is?” she whispered. But neither of them knew. They were from the adjoining town, which this railroad served as well as Green River.
Sometimes Mrs. Field looked at them, but with no speculation; the next moment she looked in the same way upon the belongings of the little country depot—the battered yellow settees, the time-tables, the long stove in its tract of littered sawdust, the man’s face in the window of the ticket-office.
“Dreadful cross-lookin’, ain’t she?” one of the women whispered in the other’s ear.
Jane heard the whisper, and looked at them. The women gave each other violent pokes, they reddened and tittered nervously, then they tried to look out of the window with an innocent and absent air. But they need not have been troubled. Jane, although she heard the whisper perfectly, did not connect it with herself at all. She never thought much about her own appearance; this morning she had as little vanity as though she were dead.
When the whistle of the train sounded, the women all pushed anxiously out on the platform.
“Is this the train that goes to Boston?” Mrs. Field asked one of the other two.
“I s’pose so,” she replied, with a reciprocative flutter. “I’m goin’ to ask so’s to be sure. I’m goin’ to Dale.”