“I am not angry, but I encourage no woman to be false to her betrothal vows,” he said, and strove to make his voice hard; but Dorothy bent her head, and the sobs came, and he took her in his arms.
“Are you angry with me?” Dorothy sobbed, piteously, against his breast.
“No, not with you, but myself,” said Eugene. “It is all with myself. I will take the blame of it all, sweet,” and he smoothed her hair and kissed her and held her close and tried to comfort her; and it seemed to him that he could indeed take all the blame of her inconstancy and distrust, and could even bear his self-reproach for her sake, so much he loved her.
“I would not have married Burr—even if—he had told me—he was innocent,” Dorothy said, after a while. She was hushing her sobs, and her very soul was smiling within her for joy as Eugene’s fond whispers reached her ears.
“Why?” said Eugene.
“Because—you came first—when you looked at me in the meeting-house,” Dorothy whispered back. Then she suddenly lifted her face a little, and looked up at him, with one soft flushed cheek crushed against his breast, and Eugene bent his face down to hers. They stood so, and for a minute had, indeed, the whole world to their two selves, for love as well as death has the power of annihilation; and then there was a stir in the lane, a crisp rustle of petticoats and a hiss of whispering voices; and they started and fell apart. There in the lane before them, their eyes as keen as foxes, with the scent of curiosity and gossip, their cheeks red with the shame of it, and their lips forming into apologetic and terrified smiles, stood Margaret Bean and two others—the tavern-keeper’s wife and the wife of the man who kept the village store.
For a second the three women fairly cowered beneath Eugene Hautville’s eyes, and Margaret Bean began to stammer as if her old tongue were palsied. Then Eugene collected himself, made them one of his courtly bows, turned to Dorothy with another, offered her his arm, and walked away with her out of the lane, before the eyes of the prying gossips.
It was four o’clock that summer afternoon when the three women—Margaret Bean, the tavern-keeper’s wife, and the storekeeper’s wife—who had followed Dorothy and Eugene into the lane to pry upon them set forth to communicate by word of mouth the scandalous proceedings they had witnessed; and long before midnight all the village knew. The women crept cautiously at a good distance behind Dorothy and Eugene out of the lane, and watched, with incredulous eyes turning to each other for confirmation, the pair walk into Parson Fair’s house together. Then they could do no more, since their ears were not long enough, and each went her way to tell what she had seen.
All the neighbors knew when Eugene Hautville left Parson Fair’s house that afternoon, but their knowledge stopped there. Nobody ever discovered just what was said within those four walls when Dorothy—who, soft plumaged though she was, had flown in the faces of all her decorous feminine antecedents and her goodly teaching—confronted her father with her new lover at her side.