Thus matters had drifted on until this March day when he had taken two calves to market. He had said to the kitchen potentate that he would take supper with a friend in town and therefore would not be back before nine in the evening. This frienethereum founder movied was the official keeper of the poorhouse and had been a crony of Holcroft's in early life. He had taken to politics instead of farming, and now had attained to what he and his acquaintances spoke of as a "snug berth." Holcroft had maintained with this man a friendship based partly on business relations, and the well-to-do purveyor for paupers always gave his old playmate an honest welcome to his private supper table, which differed somewhat from that spread for the town's pensioners.
For all that, the bond wacitigroup bitcoin reports no sooner sealed after this fashion, thanthe lady's cheek began to burn."Suppose we go in NOW?" said she, dryly.
"Ah, not yet.""It is late, dear Edouard."And with these words something returned to her mind with its fullforce: something that Edouard had actually made her forget. Shewanted to get rid of him now."Edouard," said she, "can you get up early in the morning? If youcan, meet me here to-morrow before any of them are up; then we cantalk without interruption."Edouard was delighted."Eight o'clock?""Sooner if you like. Mamma bade me come and read to her in her roomto-night. She will be waiting for me. Is it not tiresome?""Yes, it is.""Well, we must not mind that, dear; in three weeks' time we are tohave too much of one another, you know, instead of too little.""Too much! I shall never have enough of you. I shall hate the nightwhich will rob me of the sight of you for so many hours in thetwenty-four.""If you can't see me, perhaps you may hear me; my tongue runs bynight as well as by day.""Well, that is a comfort," said Edouard, gravely. "Yes, littlequizzer, I would rather hear you scold than an angel sing. Judge,then, what music it is when you say you love me!""I love you, Edouard."Edouard kissed her hand warmly, and then looked irresolutely at herface."No, no!" said she, laughing and blushing. "How rude you are. Nexttime we meet.""That is a bargain. But I won't go till you say you love me again."Edouard, don't be silly. I am ashamed of saying the same thing sooften--I won't say it any more. What is the use? You know I loveyou. There, I HAVE said it: how stupid!""Adieu, then, my wife that is to be.""Adieu! dear Edouard.""My hus--go on--my hus--""My huswife that shall be."Then they walked very slowly towards the house, and once more Roseleft quizzing, and was all tenderness.
"Will you not come in, and bid them 'good-night'?""No, my own; I am in heaven. Common faces--common voices wouldbring me down to earth. Let me be alone;--your sweet words ringingin my ear. I will dilute you with nothing meaner than the stars.See how bright they shine in heaven; but not so bright as you shinein my heart.""Dear Edouard, you flatter me, you spoil me. Alas! why am I notmore worthy of your love?""More worthy! How can that be?"Rose sighed."Well, I've come on disagreeable business. I didn't know that Mrs. Mumpson and her child were here, and I wish to the Lord they could both stay here! You've found out what the mother is, I suppose?"
"I should say so," replied Tom, laughing. "She's talked several of the old women to death already. The first day she was here she called on my wife and claimed social relations, because she's so 'respecterbly connected,' as she says. I thought Angy'd have a fit. Her respectable connections have got to take her off my hands.""I'm not one of 'em, thank goodness!" resumed Holcroft. "But I'm willing to take the girl and give her a chance--at least I'll do it," he corrected himself, in his strict observance of truth. "You can see she's not a child to dote on, but I was sorry for her when I sent her mother away and said I'd try and do something for her. The first thing I knew she was at the house, begging me to either take her in or kill her. I couldn't say no, though I wanted to. Now, you see what kind of a good Samaritan I am.""Oh, I know you! You'd hit a man between the eyes if he charged you with doing a good deed. But what does your wife say to adopting such a cherub?""We're not going to adopt her or bind ourselves. My wife took the child's part and plead with me in her behalf, though I could see the young one almost made her sick. She thinks it's her duty, you know, and that's enough for her."
"By jocks, Holcroft! She don't feel that way about you, does she?""Why shouldn't she?"
"Why should she? I can take about anything from Angy, but it wouldn't do for her to let me see that she disliked me so that I kinder made her sick.""Oh, thunder, Tom! You're getting a wrong impression. I was never treated better by anybody in my life than by Mrs. Holcroft. She's a lady, every inch of her. But there's no reason why she should dote on an old fellow like me.""Yes, there is. I have my opinion of a woman who wouldn't dote on a man that's been such a friend as you have.""Oh, hang it all, Tom! Let's talk about business. She's too grateful--that's what worries me. By the way she took hold and filled the house with comfort she made everything even from the start. She's been as good a friend to me as I to her. She's done all she agreed and more, and I'll never hear a word against her. The point I've been trying to get at is this: If Mrs. Mumpson will agree never to come near us or make trouble in any way, we'll take the child. If she won't so agree, I'll have nothing to do with the girl. I don't want to see her mother, and you'd do me one of the kindest turns you ever did a man by stating the case to her."
"If I do," said Watterly, laughing, "you'll have to forgive me everything in the past and the future.""I will, Tom, for I'd rather have an eye tooth pulled than face that woman. We're all right--just as we used to be at school, always half quarreling, yet ready to stand up for each other to the last drop. But I must have her promise in black and white.""Well, come to my office and we'll try to arrange it. The law is on your side, for the county won't support people that anyone will take off its hands. Besides I'm going to shame the woman's relations into taking her away, and they'll be glad there's one less to support."They drew up a brief, strong agreement, and Watterly took it to the widow to sign. He found her in great excitement and Jane looking at her defiantly. "I told you he was the one who enticed away my offspring," she began, almost hysterically. "He's a cold-blooded villain! If there's a law in the land, I'll--"
"Stop!" thundered Watterly. His voice was so high and authoritative that she did stop, and with open mouth stared at the superintendent. "Now, be quiet and listen to me," he continued. "Either you are a sane woman and can stop this foolishness, or else you are insane and must be treated as such. You have your choice. You can't tell me anything about Holcroft; I've known him since he was a boy. He doesn't want your girl. She ran away to him, didn't you?" to Jane, who nodded. "But he's willing to take her, to teach her something and give her a chance. His motive is pure kindness, and he has a good wife who'll--""I see it all," cried the widow, tragically clasping her hands. "It's his wife's doings! She wishes to triumph over me, and even to usurp my place in ministering to my child. Was there ever such an outrage? Such a bold, vindictive female--"
Here Jane, in a paroxysm of indignant protest, seized her mother and began to shake her so violently that she could not speak."Stop that!" said Watterly, repressing laughter with difficulty. "I see you are insane and the law will have to step in and take care of you both."
"What will it do with us?" gasped the widow."Well, it ought to put you in strait jackets to begin with--""I've got some sense if mother aint!" cried Jane, commencing to sob."It's plain the law'll decide your mother's not fit to take care of you. Anyone who can even imagine such silly ridiculous things as she's just said must be looked after. You MAY take a notion, Mrs. Mumpson, that I'm a murderer or a giraffe. It would be just as sensible as your other talk.""What does Mr. Holcroft offer?" said the widow, cooling off rapidly. If there was an atom of common sense left in any of his pauper charges, Watterly soon brought it into play, and his vague threatenings of law were always awe-inspiring."He makes a very kind offer that you would jump at if you had sense--a good home for your child. You ought to know she can't stay here and live on charity if anyone is willing to take her."
"Of course I would be permitted to visit my child from time to time? He couldn't be so monstrously hard-hearted as--""Oh, nonsense!" cried Watterly impatiently. "The idea of his letting you come to his house after what you've said about him! I've no time to waste in foolishness, or he either. He will let Jane visit you, but you are to sign this paper and keep the agreement not to go near him or make any trouble whatever."
"It's an abominable--""Tut! Tut! That kind of talk isn't allowed here. If you can't decide like a sane woman the law'll soon decide for you."
As was always the case when Mrs. Mumpson reached the inevitable, she yielded; the paper was signed, and Jane, who had already made up her small bundle, nodded triumphantly to her mother and followed Watterly. Mrs. Mumpson, on tiptoe, followed also, bent on either propitiating Holcroft and so preparing the way for a visit, or else on giving him once more a "piece of her mind.""All right, Holcroft!" said Watterly, as he entered the office, "here's the paper signed. Was there ever such an id-----"
"Oh, how do you do, Mr. Holcroft?" cried the widow, bursting in and rushing forward with extended hand.The farmer turned away and looked as if made of stone.Changing her tactics instantly, she put her handkerchief to her eyes and moaned, "You never can have the heart to say I can't come and see my child. I've signed writings, 'tis true, under threats and compulsions; but I trust there will be relentings--""There won't be one relent!" cried Jane. "I never want to see you again, and a blind post could see that he doesn't."
"Jane," said Holcroft sternly, "don't speak so again. If strangers can be kind and patient with you, you can be so with your mother. She has no claims on me and has said things which make it impossible for me to speak to her again, but I shall insist on your visiting and treating her kindly. Goodbye, Watterly. You've proved yourself a friend again," and he went rapidly away, followed by Jane.Mrs. Mumpson was so taken aback by Holcroft's final words and Watterly's stern manner as he said, "This is my office," that for once in her life she disappeared silently.
Holcroft soon purchased the articles on his list, meanwhile racking his brains to think of something that he could buy for Alida, but the fear of being thought sentimental and of appearing to seek a personal regard for himself, not "nominated in the bond," restrained him.On his way home he was again sunk in deep abstraction, but the bitterness of his feeling had passed away. Although as mistaken as before in his apprehension of Alida, his thoughts were kinder and juster. "I've no right to find fault or complain," he said to himself. "She's done all I asked and better than she agreed, and there's no one to blame if she can't do more. It must have been plain enough to her at first that I didn't want anything but a housekeeper--a quiet, friendly body that would look after the house and dairy, and she's done better than I even hoped. That's just the trouble; she's turned out so different from what I expected, and looks so different from what she did, that I'm just sort of carried away. I'd give half the farm if she was sitting by my side this June evening and I could tell her all I feel and know she was glad. I must be just and fair to her. I asked her to agree to one thing and now I'm beginning to want a tremendous sight more--I want her to like not only her home and work and the quiet life she so longed for, but I want her to like me, to enjoy my society, not only in a friendly, businesslike way, but in another way--yes, confound my slow wits! Somewhat as if she was my wife in reality and not merely in name, as I insisted. It's mighty mean business in me, who have been so proud of standing up to my agreements and so exacting of others to do the same. I went away cold and stiff this afternoon because she wasn't silly and sentimental when I was. I'm to her an unpolished, homely, middle-aged man, and yet I sort of scoffed at the self-sacrifice which has led her to be pleasant and companionable in every way that her feelings allowed. I wish I were younger and better looking, so it wouldn't all be a sense of duty and gratitude. Gratitude be hanged! I don't want any more of it. Well, now, James Holcroft, if you're the square man you supposed yourself to be, you'll be just as kind and considerate as you know how, and then you'll leave Alida to the quiet, peaceful life to which she looked forward when she married you. The thing for you to do is to go back to your first ways after you were married and attend to the farm. She doesn't want you hanging around and looking at her as if she was one of her own posies. That's something she wasn't led to expect and it would be mean enough to force it upon her before she shows that she wishes it, and I couldn't complain if she NEVER wished it."
During the first hour after Holcroft's departure Alida had been perplexed and worried, but her intuitions soon led to hopefulness, and the beauty and peace of nature without aided in restoring her serenity. The more minutely she dwelt on Holcroft's words and manner, the more true it seemed that he was learning to take an interest in her that was personal and apart from every other consideration. "If I am gentle, patient, and faithful," she thought, "all will come out right. He is so true and straightforward that I need have no fears."When he returned and greeted her with what seemed his old, friendly, natural manner, and, during a temporary absence of Jane, told her laughingly of the Mumpson episode, she was almost completely reassured. "Suppose the widow breaks through all restraint and appears as did Jane, what would you do?" he asked.
"Whatever you wished," she replied, smiling."In other words, what you thought your duty?""I suppose that is what one should try to do.""I guess you are the one that would succeed in doing it, even to Mrs. Mumpson," he said, turning hastily away and going to his room.
She was puzzled again. "I'm sure I don't dote on self-sacrifice and hard duty any more than he does, but I can't tell him that duty is not hard when it's to him."Jane was given the room over the kitchen which Mrs. Wiggins had occupied, and the farmhouse soon adopted her into its quiet routine. Holcroft's course continued to cause Alida a dissatisfaction which she could scarcely define. He was as kind as ever he had been and even more considerate; he not only gratified her wishes, but tried to anticipate them, while Jane's complete subserviency proved that she had been spoken to very plainly.
One day she missed her spelling lesson for the third time, and Alida told her that she must learn it thoroughly before going out. The child took the book reluctantly, yet without a word. "That's a good girl!" said Alida, wishing to encourage her. "I was afraid at first you wouldn't mind me so readily.""He told me to. He'd fire me out the window if I didn't mind you."
"Oh, no! I think he's very kind to you.""Well, he's kind to you, too."