It is a June afternoon in the early part of the twentieth century as Summer begins, and nineteenyear- old Charity Royall stands on the doorstep of her home, about to set off for her job at the library. As she looks over the small New England town of North Dormer, she notices a stranger, a young man clearly from the city. Something about him captures her imagination, and she feels, not for the first time, that her small-town life is unsatisfying. She is flustered when he enters the library to ask for books about the local architecture, and he appears flustered as well, struck by Charity’s beauty. His questions about the library’s holdings remind Charity how little she knows about books, and she is both disappointed and relieved when he leaves.
To clear her head, Charity heads for a hillside, where she lies among the wild flowers and observes the many signs of summer. She often comes here when she has thinking to do, and the scented breezes on her skin always cheer her. On this day she reflects on her life since she came to live in North Dormer. She is the legal ward, though not the adopted daughter, of Lawyer Royall, whose wife died seven or eight years after they took Charity in. Charity has given little thought to the man who provides for her. Once, when she was seventeen, he approached her bedroom at night and made a feeble attempt to seduce her, but she rebuffed him and has had no fear that he will repeat his actions. However, she has taken the library position hoping that eventually she can earn enough money to get away from North Dormer.
Over the next few weeks, Charity and the stranger, Lucius Harney, become friends. Harney lives alone down the street and has arranged to take his meals at the Royalls’ home. The young architect is sketching and measuring the old houses in the area, and with the horse-drawn buggy he rents from Royall he has visited several remote areas of the region with Charity as his guide. Charity has kept the amount of time she spends alone with Harney a secret, though she is not sure why. She tells herself that she does not care what the neighbors think and that she does not care that Harney has never spoken of love. When she takes him to a house in which some of the poor Mountain folk live, she is ashamed to be reminded again of how different her background is from his.
Now hopelessly infatuated with Harney, Charity looks forward eagerly to their meetings. One evening, he does not appear for supper, and Lawyer Royall tells Charity that he will not be coming again. Impetuously, Charity storms out and walks to Harney’s house. Noticing a light, she goes to the back of the house and sees through a window that Harney is packing his bags and preparing to leave. Realizing that if she makes her presence known he will invite her in and their chaste relationship will become a physical one, she remains silent until Harney falls asleep and then returns home. The next day she learns that she was seen leaving the house after midnight, and the town gossips assume that she has had sexual relations. To protect her reputation, Lawyer Royall asks Charity to marry him and leave town, but she refuses. Harney comes to say goodbye to Charity and then sends a note asking her to meet him secretly in the next town.
It is the Fourth of July, and Harney takes Charity to Nettleton for the celebrations. Everything is a wonder to Charity: the train ride, the shops and restaurants, the hotels full of glamorous and confident people, the doctor’s office where an unfortunate acquaintance is said to have had an abortion. Harney shows her around the city, introduces her to the taste of wine, and even buys her a pin with blue stones—her first piece of jewelry. Later, they go to the lake where they watch a spectacular fireworks display and Harney gives Charity her first kiss. Flushed with excitement, Charity is stunned to run into Lawyer Royall, drunk and angry. He loudly...
(The entire section is 1,261 words.)