The Rector of St. Marks (Chapter 6, page 1 of 6)


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Chapter 6

There was a heavy shower the night succeeding the picnic and the
morning following was as balmy and bright as June mornings are wont to
be after a fall of rain. They were always early risers at the
farmhouse, but this morning Anna, who had slept but little, arose
earlier than usual and, leaning from the window to inhale the bracing
air and gather a bunch of roses fresh with the glittering raindrops,
she felt her spirits grow lighter and wondered at her discomposure of
the previous day. Particularly was she grieved that she should have
harbored a feeling of bitterness toward Lucy Harcourt, who was not to
blame for having won the love she had been foolish enough to covet.

"He knew her first," she said, "and if he has since been pleased with
me, the sight of her has won him back to his allegiance, and it is
right. She is a pretty creature, but strangely unsuited, I fear, to be
his wife," and then, as she remembered Lucy's wish to go with her when
next she visited the poor, she said: "I will take her to see the Widow Hobbs. That will give her some idea
of the duties which will devolve upon her as a rector's wife. I can go
directly there from Prospect Hill, where, I suppose, I must call with
Aunt Meredith."

Anna made herself believe that in doing this she was acting only from
a magnanimous desire to fit Lucy for her work, if, indeed, she was to
be Arthur's wife--that in taking the mantle from her own shoulders,
and wrapping it around her rival, she was doing a most amiable deed,
when down in her inmost heart, where the tempter had put it, there was
an unrecognized wish to see how the little dainty girl would shrink
from the miserable abode, and recoil from the touch of the little,
dirty hands which were sure to be laid upon her dress if the children
were at home, and she waited a little impatiently to start on her
errand of mercy.

It was four o'clock when, with her aunt, she arrived at Colonel
Hetherton's and found the family assembled upon the broad piazza, the
doctor dutifully holding the skein of worsted from which Miss Fanny
was crocheting, and Lucy playing with a kitten, whose movements were
scarcely more graceful than her own, as she sprang up and ran to
welcome Anna.

"Oh, yes, I am delighted to go with you. Pray let us start at once,"
she exclaimed, when, after a few moments of conversation, Anna told
where she was going.

Lucy was very gayly dressed, enough so for a party, Anna thought,
smiling to herself as she imagined the startling effect the white
muslin and bright plaid ribbons would have upon the inmates of the
shanty where they were going. There was a remonstrance from Mrs.
Hetherton against her niece's walking so far, and Mrs. Meredith
suggested that they should ride, but to this Lucy objected. She meant
to take Anna's place among the poor when she was gone, she said, and
how was she ever to do it if she could not walk such a little way as
that? Anna, too, was averse to riding and she felt a kind of grim
satisfaction when, after a time, the little figure, which at first had
skipped along ahead with all the airiness of a bird, began to lag, and
even pant for breath, as the way grew steeper and the path more stony
and rough. Anna's evil spirit was in the ascendant that afternoon,
steeling her heart against Lucy's doleful exclamations, as one after
another her delicate slippers were torn, and the sharp thistles, of
which the path was full, penetrated to her soft flesh. Straight and
unbending as a young Indian, Anna walked on, shutting her ears against
the sighs of weariness which reached them from time to time. But when
there came a half sobbing cry of actual pain, she stopped suddenly and
turned towards Lucy, whose breath came gaspingly, and whose cheeks
were almost purple with the exertion she had made.

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