“Have you just lost a boy?” asked the woman at the counter.
“Twenty years ago,” replied the clerk.
“Land!” said the woman. She looked at him, then she turned and looked after Eddy, who was visible on the sidewalk talking with Madame Griggs, and her face showed her mind. Madame Griggs had waited on the sidewalk until Eddy came out of the store. Now she seized him by the arm, which he promptly jerked away from her.
“When will your folks be home? That’s what I want to know!” said she, sharply.
“They’ll be home to-night, I guess,” replied Eddy.
“Then I’ll be up after supper,” said Madame Griggs.
“All right,” said Eddy.
“You tell ’em I’m comin’. I’ve got to see your ma and your pa.”
“Yes, ma’am,” replied Eddy. He raised his little cap as the dressmaker flirted away, then he started on a run down the street, sucking a molasses-ball, which is a staying sweet, and soon he left the travelled road and was hastening far afield.
It was September, but a very warm day. Charlotte had walked along the highway for some distance; then when she came to a considerable grove of oak-trees, she hesitated a moment, and finally left the road, entered the grove, and sat down on a rock at only a little distance from the road, yet out of sight of it. She was quite effectually screened by the trees and some undergrowth. Here and there the oaks showed shades of russet-and-gold and deep crimson; the leaves had not fallen. In the sunlit spaces between the trees grew clumps of blue asters. She saw a squirrel sitting quite motionless on a bough over her head, with bright eyes of inquisitive fear upon her. She felt a sense of delight, and withal a slight tinge of loneliness and risk. There was no doubt that it was not altogether wise, perhaps not safe, for a girl to leave the highway, or even to walk upon it if it were not thickly bordered by dwellings, in this state. Charlotte was fearless, yet her imagination was a lively one. She looked about her with keen enjoyment, yet there was a sharp wariness in her glance akin to that of the squirrel. When she heard on the road the rattle of wheels, and caught the flash of revolving spokes in the sun, she had a sensation of relief. There was not a house in sight, except far to the left, where she could just discern the slant of a barn roof through the trees. Everything was very still. While there was no wind, it was cool in the shade, though hot in the sunlight. She pulled her jacket over her shoulders. She leaned against a tree and remained perfectly quiet. She had on a muslin gown of an indeterminate green color, and it shaded perfectly into the coloring of the tree-trunk, which was slightly mossy. Her dark head, too, was almost indistinguishable against the tree, which at that height was nearly black. In fact, she became almost invisible from that most curious system of concealment in the world, that of assimilation with nature. She was gathered so closely into the arms of the great mother that she seemed one with her. And she was not alone in the shelter of those mighty arms; there was the squirrel, as indistinguishable as she. And there was another.