Audrey was sixteen and the daughter of Hiram Kettle, a widower and country lawyer. Nearly every weekday Hiram sent Audrey northward to the village to deliver or retrieve legal documents. Wearing fine ankle boots and carrying a tooled-leather portfolio, she strode with purpose along the towpath on the east side of the Perryville canal. With the War of the Rebellion ended, the canal was seldom used now except by ducks and the occasional muskrat.
One day in late summer, as Audrey neared the halfway point of her hike, a girl about her age approached from the north, on the other side of the canal. Audrey recognized the simple wooden vegetable cart the girl pushed. It was the one a solemn-looking boy around ten years of age had pushed earlier in the year, when spring produce was in season. Her brown hair hung in a thick side braid down the front of her calico dress, frayed at the hem. Audrey mused that she might tell of a fight at the market over the last ear of sweet corn.
The girl’s sober gaze, however, remained forward, leaving Audrey without the spark she needed to start a conversation. She watched the girl pass by, assuming she lived on a farm south of the village.
Audrey saw her again the next day. This time the girl glanced as they passed, her face suddenly enlivened. Was that a smile? Audrey marveled at how the girl’s countenance had changed. She thought of nothing but her until she reached the village, where business matters demanded her attention.
With romantic fantasies filling her mind the next morning, Audrey was determined that she and the girl would speak. When Audrey reached their usual place of passing, she stopped and sat on a broad oak stump. Soon the girl came by and also stopped. With the canal a mere fourteen feet across, Audrey thought conversation would be easy.
“How was the market today?” asked Audrey, rising to her feet. The portfolio, which she had held so nonchalantly while walking, now seemed an awkward prop. She passed it from one hand to the other and back again.
“It was fine. As you can see,” said the girl, waving her hand across her empty cart, “I sold everything.”