"I do not go to him for my pleasure, but for his life," she said;ethereum account structure "Imust deceive him and save him; and then let me lie down and die.""Oh, that the wretch had never been born!" cried Rose, in despair.
Paying no heed to her, Alida's eyes rested on the man whom she had believeqbittorrent enhanced versiond to be her husband. She took an irresolute step toward him. "Speak, Wilson!" she cried. "I gave you my whole faith and no one shall destroy it but yourself. Speak, explain! Show me that there's some horrible mistake.""Lida," said the man, lifting his bloodless face, "if you knew all the circumstances--"
"She shall know them!" half shrieked the woman, as if at last stung to fury. "I see that you both hope to get through this affair with a little high tragedy, then escape and come together again in some other hiding place. As for this creature, she can go where she pleases, after hearing the truth; but you, Henry Ferguson, have got to do your duty by me and your child or go to prison. Let me tell you, miss, that this man was also married to me by a minister. I have my certificate and can produce witnesses. There's one little point you'll do well to consider," she continued, in bitter sarcasm, "he married me first. I suppose you are not so young and innocent as not to know where this fact places YOU. He courted and won me as other girls are courted and married. He promised me all that he ever promised you. Then, when I lost my rosy cheeks--when I became sick and feeble from child-bearing--he deserted and left me almost penniless. You needn't think you will have to take my word for this. I have proof enough. And now, Henry Ferguson, I've a few words for you, and then you must take your choice. You can't escape. I and my brother have tracked you here. You can't leave these rooms without going to prison. You'd be taken at the very door. But I give you one more chance. If you will promise before God to do your duty by me and your child, I'll forgive as far as a wronged woman can forgive. Neither I nor my brother will take proceedings against you. What this woman will do I don't know. If she prosecutes you, and you are true to me, I'll stand by you, but I won't stand another false step or a false word from you."Ferguson had again sunk into his chair, buried his face in his hands, and sat trembling and speechless. Never for an instant had Alida taken her eyes from him; and now, with a long, wailing cry, she exclaimed, "Thank God, thank God! Mother's dead."This was now her best consolation. She rushed into her bedchamber, and a moment later came out, wearing her hat and cloak. Ferguson started up and was about to speak, but she silenced him by a gesture, and her tones were sad and stern as she said, "Mr. Ferguson, from your manner more truly than from this woman, I learn the truth. You took advantage of my misfortunes, my sorrow and friendlessness, to deceive me. You know how false are your wife's words about my eagerness to be deceived and married. But you have nothing to fear from me. I shall not prosecute you as she suggests, and I charge you before God to do your duty by your wife and child and never to speak to me again." Turning, she hastened toward the door."Where are you going?" Ferguson exclaimed, seeking to intercept her.She waved him off. "I don't know," she replied. "I've no right to be here," and she fled down the stairway and out into the darkness.
The child had not wakened. It was well that it had not looked upon such a scene, even in utter ignorance of its meaning.Chapter 8 Holcroft's View of Matrimony"I mean I'm a desperate man whom the world has wronged too much already. You know the old saying, 'Beware of the quiet man!' You know how quiet, contented, and happy I was with you, and so I would be again to the end of my days. You are the only one who can save me from becoming a criminal, a vagabond, for with you only have I known happiness. Why should I live or care to live? If this farmer clod keeps you from me, woe betide him! My one object in living will be his destruction. I shall hate him only as a man robbed as I am can hate."
"What would you do?" she could only ask in a horrified whisper."I can only tell you that he'd never be safe a moment. I'm not afraid of him. You see I'm armed," and he showed her a revolver. "He can't quietly keep from me what I feel is my own.""Merciful Heaven! This is terrible," she gasped."Of course it's terrible--I mean it to be so. You can't order me off as if I were a tramp. Your best course for his safety is to go quietly with me at once. I have a carriage waiting near at hand."
"No, no! I'd rather die than do that, and though he cannot feel as I do, I believe he'd rather die than have me do it.""Oh, well! If you think he's so ready to die--"
"No, I don't mean that! Kill me! I want to die.""Why should I kill you?" he asked with a contemptuous laugh. "That wouldn't do me a particle of good. It will be your own fault if anyone is hurt.""Was ever a woman put in such a cruel position?""Oh, yes! Many and many a time. As a rule, though, they are too sensible and kind-hearted to make so much trouble."
"If you have legal rights, why don't you quietly enforce them instead of threatening?"For a moment he was confused and then said recklessly, "It would come to the same thing in the end. Holcroft would never give you up.""He'd have to. I wouldn't stay here a moment if I had no right.""But you said you would not live with me again?"
"Nor would I. I'd go back to the poorhouse and die there, for do you think I could live after another such experience? But my mind has grown clearer. You are deceiving me again, and Mr. Holcroft is incapable of deceiving me. He would never have called me his wife unless I was his wife before God and man.""I'm not deceiving you in regard to one thing!" he said tragically.
"O God, what shall I do?""If you won't go with me you must leave him," he replied, believing that, if this step were taken, others would follow.
"If I leave him--if I go away and live alone, will you promise to do him no harm?""I'd have no motive to harm him then, which will be better security than a promise. At the same time I do promise.""And you will also promise to leave me utterly alone?""If I can.""You must promise never even to tempt me to think of going away. I'd rather you'd shot me than ask it. I'm not a weak, timid girl. I'm a broken-hearted woman who fears some things far more than death.""If you have any fears for Holcroft, they are very rational ones."
"It is for his sake that I would act. I would rather suffer anything and lose everything than have harm come to him.""All I can say is that, if you will leave him completely and finally, I will let him alone. But you must do it promptly. Everything depends upon this. I'm in too reckless and bitter a mood to be trifled with. Besides, I've plenty of money and could escape from the country in twenty-four hours. You needn't think you can tell this story to Holcroft and that he can protect you and himself. I'm here under an assumed name and have seen no one who knows me. I may have to disappear for a time and be disguised when I come again, but I pledge you my word he'll never be safe as long as you are under his roof."
"Then I will sacrifice myself for him," she said, pallid even to her lips. "I will go away. But never dream that you can come near me again--you who deceived and wronged me, and now, far worse, threaten the man I love.""We'll see about that," he replied cynically. "At any rate, you will have left him."
"Go!" she said imperiously."I'll take a kiss first, sweetheart," he said, advancing with a sardonic smile.
"Jane!" she shrieked. He paused, and she saw evidences of alarm.The girl ran lightly out of the dairy room, where she had been a greedy listener to all that had been said, and a moment later appeared in the yard before the house. "Yes'm," she answered."Be careful now, sir," said Alida sternly. "There's a witness.""Only a little idiotic-looking girl."
"She's not idiotic, and if you touch me the compact's broken.""Very well, my time will come. Remember, you've been warned," and he pulled his hat over his eyes and strode away.
"Bah!" said Jane with a snicker, "as if I hadn't seen his ugly mug so I'd know it 'mong a thousand."With a face full of loathing and dread, Alida watched her enemy disappear down the lane, and then, half fainting, sank on the lounge.
"Jane!" she called feebly, but there was no answer.Chapter 32 Jane Plays Mouse to the Lion
It can well be understood that Jane had no disposition to return to Mrs. Holcroft and the humdrum duties of the house. There opened before her an exciting line of action which fully accorded with her nature, and she entered upon it at once. Her first impulse was to follow the man of whom she had learned so much. Not only was she spurred to this course by her curiosity, but also by her instinctive loyalty to Holcroft, and, it must be admitted, by her own interests. Poor little Jane had been nurtured in a hard school, and had by this time learned the necessity of looking out for herself. This truth, united with her shrewd, matter-of-fact mind, led her to do the most sensible thing under the circumstances. "I know a lot now that he'll be glad to know, and if I tell him everything he'll keep me always. The first thing he'll want to know is what's become of that threatenin' scamp," and she followed Ferguson with the stealth of an Indian.Ferguson was not only a scamp, but, like most of his class, a coward. He had been bitterly disappointed in his interview with Alida. As far as his selfish nature permitted, he had a genuine affection for her, and he had thought of little else besides her evident fondness for him. He was so devoid of moral principle that he could not comprehend a nature like hers, and had scarcely believed it possible that she would repulse him so inflexibly. She had always been so gentle, yielding, and subservient to his wishes that he had thought that, having been assured of his wife's death, a little persuasion and perhaps a few threats would induce her to follow him, for he could not imagine her becoming attached to such a man as Holcroft had been described to be. Her uncompromising principle had entered but slightly into his calculations, and so, under the spur of anger and selfishness, he had easily entered upon a game of bluff He knew well enough that he had no claim upon Alida, yet it was in harmony with his false heart to try to make her think so. He had no serious intention of harming Holcroft--he would be afraid to attempt this--but if he could so work on Alida's fears as to induce her to leave her husband, he believed that the future would be full of possibilities. At any rate, he would find his revenge in making Alida and Holcroft all the trouble possible. Even in the excitement of the interview, however, he realized that he was playing a dangerous game, and when Jane answered so readily to Alida's call he was not a little disturbed. Satisfied that he had accomplished all that he could hope for at present, his purpose now was to get back to town unobserved and await developments. He therefore walked rapidly down the lane and pursued the road for a short distance until he came to an old, disused lane, leading up the hillside into a grove where he had concealed a horse and buggy. Unless there should be necessity, it was his intention to remain in his hiding place until after nightfall.Jane had merely to skirt the bushy hillside higher up, in order to keep Ferguson in view and discover the spot in which he was lurking. Instead of returning to the house she kept right on, maintaining a sharp eye on the road beneath to make sure that Holcroft did not pass unobserved. By an extended detour, she reached the highway and continued toward town in the hope of meeting the farmer. At last she saw him driving rapidly homeward. He was consumed with anxiety to be at least near to Alida, even if, as he believed, he was no longer welcome in her presence. When Jane stepped out into the road he pulled up his horses and stared at her. She, almost bursting with her great secrets, put her finger on her lips and nodded portentously."Well, what is it?" he asked, his heart beating quickly.
"I've got a lot to tell yer, but don't want no one to see us.""About my wife?"
The girl nodded."Good God! Speak then. Is she sick?" and he sprung out and caught her arm with a grip that hurt her.
"Please, sir, I'm doin' all I kin for yer and--and you hurt me."Holcroft saw the tears coming to her eyes and he released his hold as he said, "Forgive me, Jane, I didn't mean to; but for mercy's sake, tell your story."