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Summer Edith Wharton

Chapter XV

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Dr. Merkle, still smiling, also rose. "Why do you run off in such a hurry? You can stretch out right here on my sofa...." She paused, and her smile grew more motherly. "Afterwards--if there's been any talk at home, and you want to get away for a while...I have a lady friend in Boston who's looking for a're the very one to suit her, my dear...."

Charity had reached the door. "I don't want to stay. I don't want to come back here," she stammered, her hand on the knob; but with a swift movement, Dr. Merkle edged her from the threshold.

"Oh, very well. Five dollars, please."

Charity looked helplessly at the doctor's tight lips and rigid face. Her last savings had gone in repaying Ally for the cost of Miss Balch's ruined blouse, and she had had to borrow four dollars from her friend to pay for her railway ticket and cover the doctor's fee. It had never occurred to her that medical advice could cost more than two dollars.

"I didn't know...I haven't got that much..." she faltered, bursting into tears.

Dr. Merkle gave a short laugh which did not show her teeth, and inquired with concision if Charity supposed she ran the establishment for her own amusement? She leaned her firm shoulders against the door as she spoke, like a grim gaoler making terms with her captive.

"You say you'll come round and settle later? I've heard that pretty often too. Give me your address, and if you can't pay me I'll send the bill to your folks....What? I can't understand what you say....That don't suit you either? My, you're pretty particular for a girl that ain't got enough to settle her own bills...." She paused, and fixed her eyes on the brooch with a blue stone that Charity had pinned to her blouse.

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"Ain't you ashamed to talk that way to a lady that's got to earn her living, when you go about with jewellery like that on you?...It ain't in my line, and I do it only as a favour...but if you're a mind to leave that brooch as a pledge, I don't say no....Yes, of course, you can get it back when you bring me my money...."

On the way home, she felt an immense and unexpected quietude. It had been horrible to have to leave Harney's gift in the woman's hands, but even at that price the news she brought away had not been too dearly bought. She sat with half-closed eyes as the train rushed through the familiar landscape; and now the memories of her former journey, instead of flying before her like dead leaves, seemed to be ripening in her blood like sleeping grain. She would never again know what it was to feel herself alone. Everything seemed to have grown suddenly clear and simple. She no longer had any difficulty in picturing herself as Harney's wife now that she was the mother of his child; and compared to her sovereign right Annabel Balch's claim seemed no more than a girl's sentimental fancy.

That evening, at the gate of the red house, she found Ally waiting in the dusk. "I was down at the post-office just as they were closing up, and Will Targatt said there was a letter for you, so I brought it."

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Edith Wharton

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