"What debts can there be between husband and wife? Come now, let us look at the matter sensibly. I don't want to frighten you. Things will go on much the same. We can take quiet rooms, I will bchainlink crypto reviewring work to you instead of your having to go after it. It's nobody's business but our own. We've not a circle of relations to consult or invite. We can go to some parsonage, the minister's family will be the witnesses; then I'll leave you at your room as usual, and no one will be any the wiser till I've found a place where we can go to housekeeping. That won't be long, I can tell you."
She insisted on having hebitcoin news optionsr way, and then tore up her handkerchief to supply a soft linen bandage."You're extravagant, Alida," but she only shook her head.
"Famous! That feels better. What a touch you have! Now, if you had a broken head, my fingers would be like a pair of tongs."She only shook her head and smiled."You're as bad as Jane used to be. She never said a word when she could shake or nod her meaning.""I should think you would be glad, after having been half talked to death by her mother.""As I said before, take your own way of doing things. It seems the right way after it is done."
A faint color came into her face, and she looked positively happy as she sat down to breakfast. "Are you sure your head feels better?" she asked."Yes, and you look a hundred per cent better. Well, I AM glad you had such a good sleep after all the hubbub.""But do you think it's right yourself?"
"Dunno. 'Taint best if you get caught.""Well, Jane," said Holcroft, with something like a smile lurking in his deep-set eyes. "I don't think it's right at all. I don't want you to watch me any more, no matter who tells you to. Will you promise not to?"The child nodded. She seemed averse to speaking when a sign would answer."Can I go now?" she asked after a moment.
"Not yet. I want to ask you some questions. Was anyone ever kind to you?""I dunno. I suppose so."
"What would you call being kind to you?""Not scoldin' or cuffin' me.""If I didn't scold or strike you, would you think I was kind, then?"She nodded; but after a moment's thought, said, "and if you didn't look as if you hated to see me round."
"Do you think I've been kind to you?""Kinder'n anybody else. You sorter look at me sometimes as if I was a rat. I don't s'pose you can help it, and I don't mind. I'd ruther stay here and work than go a-visitin' again. Why can't I work outdoors when there's nothin' for me to do in the house?""Are you willing to work--to do anything you can?"Jane was not sufficiently politic to enlarge on her desire for honest toil and honest bread; she merely nodded. Holcroft smiled as he asked, "Why are you so anxious to work?"
"'Cause I won't feel like a stray cat in the house then. I want to be some'ers where I've a right to be.""Wouldn't they let you work down at Lemuel Weeks'?" She shook her head.
"Why not?" he asked."They said I wasn't honest; they said they couldn't trust me with things, 'cause when I was hungry I took things to eat."
"Was that the way you were treated at other places?""Mostly.""Jane," asked Holcroft very kindly, "did anyone ever kiss you?""Mother used to 'fore people. It allus made me kinder sick."Holcroft shook his head as if this child was a problem beyond him, and for a time they sat together in silence. At last he arose and said, "It's time to go home. Now, Jane, don't follow me; walk openly at my side, and when you come to call me at any time, come openly, make a noise, whistle or sing as a child ought. As long as you are with me, never do anything on the sly, and we'll get along well enough."She nodded and walked beside him. At last, as if emboldened by his words, she broke out, "Say, if mother married you, you couldn't send us away, could you?"
"Why do you ask such a question?" said Holcroft, frowning."I was a-thinkin'--"
"Well," he interrupted sternly, "never think or speak of such things again."The child had a miserable sense that she had angered him; she was also satisfied that her mother's schemes would be futile, and she scarcely spoke again that day.
Holcroft was more than angry; he was disgusted. That Mrs. Mumpson's design upon him was so offensively open that even this ignorant child understood it, and was expected to further it, caused such a strong revulsion in his mind that he half resolved to put them both in his market wagon on the morrow and take them back to their relatives. His newly awakened sympathy for Jane quickly vanished. If the girl and her mother had been repulsive from the first, they were now hideous, in view of their efforts to fasten themselves upon him permanently. Fancy, then, the climax in his feelings when, as they passed the house, the front door suddenly opened and Mrs. Mumpson emerged with clasped hands and the exclamation, "Oh, how touching! Just like father and child!"Without noticing the remark he said coldly as he passed, "Jane, go help Mrs. Wiggins get supper."
His anger and disgust grew so strong as he hastily did his evening work that he resolved not to endanger his self-control by sitting down within earshot of Mrs. Mumpson. As soon as possible, therefore, he carried the new stove to his room and put it up. The widow tried to address him as he passed in and out, but he paid no heed to her. At last, he only paused long enough at the kitchen door to say, "Jane, bring me some supper to my room. Remember, you only are to bring it."Bewildered and abashed, Mrs. Mumpson rocked nervously. "I had looked for relentings this evening, a general softening," she murmured, "and I don't understand his bearing toward me." Then a happy thought struck her. "I see, I see," she cried softly and ecstatically: "He is struggling with himself; he finds that he must either deny himself my society or yield at once. The end is near."A little later she, too, appeared at the kitchen door and said, with serious sweetness, "Jane, you can also bring me MY supper to the parlor."Mrs. Wiggins shook with mirth in all her vast proportions as she remarked, "Jane, ye can bring me MY supper from the stove to the table 'ere, and then vait hon yeself."
Chapter 13 Not Wife, But WaifTom Watterly's horse was the pride of his heart. It was a bobtailed, rawboned animal, but, as Tom complacently remarked to Alida, "He can pass about anything on the road"--a boast that he let no chance escape of verifying. It was a terrible ordeal to the poor woman to go dashing through the streets in an open wagon, feeling that every eye was upon her. With head bowed down, she employed her failing strength in holding herself from falling out, yet almost wishing that she might be dashed against some object that would end her wretched life. It finally occurred to Tom that the woman at his side might not, after her recent experience, share in his enthusiasm, and he pulled up remarking, with a rough effort at sympathy, "It's a cussed shame you've been treated so, and as soon as you're ready, I'll help you get even with the scamp."
"I'm not well, sir," said Alida humbly. "I only ask for a quiet place where I can rest till strong enough to do some kind of work.""Well, well," said Tom kindly, "don't lose heart. We'll do the best by you we can. That aint saying very much, though, for we're full and running over."
He soon drew rein at the poorhouse door and sprang out. "I--I--feel strange," Alida gasped.Tom caught the fainting woman in his arms and shouted, "Here, Bill, Joe! You lazy loons, where are you?"
Three or four half wrecks of men shuffled to his assistance, and together they bore the unconscious woman to the room which was used as a sort of hospital. Some old crones gathered around with such restoratives as they had at command. Gradually the stricken woman revived, but as the whole miserable truth came back, she turned her face to the wall with a sinking of heart akin to despair. At last, from sheer exhaustion, feverish sleep ensued, from which she often started with moans and low cries. One impression haunted her--she was falling, ever falling into a dark, bottomless abyss.Hours passed in the same partial stupor, filled with phantoms and horrible dreams. Toward evening, she aroused herself mechanically to take the broth Mrs. Watterly ordered her to swallow, then relapsed into the same lethargy. Late in the night, she became conscious that someone was kneeling at her bedside and fondling her. She started up with a slight cry."Don't be afraid; it's only me, dear," said a quavering voice.In the dim rays of a night lamp, Alida saw an old woman with gray hair falling about her face and on her night robe. At first, in her confused, feverish impressions, the poor waif was dumb with superstitious awe, and trembled between joy and fear. Could her mother have come to comfort her in her sore extremity?
"Put yer head on me ould withered breast," said the apparition, "an' ye'll know a mither's heart niver changes. I"ve been a-lookin' for ye and expectin' ye these long, weary years, They said ye wouldn't come back--that I'd niver find ye ag'in; but I knowed I wud, and here ye are in me arms, me darlint. Don't draw away from yer ould mither. Don't ye be afeard or 'shamed loike. No matter what ye've done or where ye've been or who ye've been with, a mither's heart welcomes ye back jist the same as when yes were a babby an' slept on me breast. A mither's heart ud quench the fires o' hell. I'd go inter the burnin' flames o' the pit an' bear ye out in me arms. So niver fear. Now that I've found ye, ye're safe. Ye'll not run away from me ag'in. I'll hould ye--I'll hould ye back," and the poor creature clasped Alida with such conclusive energy that she screamed from pain and terror."Ye shall not get away from me, ye shall not go back to evil ways. Whist, whist! Be aisy and let me plead wid ye. Think how many long, weary years I've looked for ye and waited for ye. Niver have I slept night or day in me watchin'. Ye may be so stained an' lost an' ruined that the whole wourld will scorn ye, yet not yer mither, not yer ould mither. Oh, Nora, Nora, why did ye rin away from me? Wasn't I koind? No, no; ye cannot lave me ag'in," and she threw herself on Alida, whose disordered mind was tortured by what she heard. Whether or not it was a more terrible dream than had yet oppressed her, she scarcely knew, but in the excess of her nervous horror she sent out a cry that echoed in every part of the large building. Two old women rushed in and dragged Alida's persecutor screaming away.
"That's allus the way o' it," she shrieked. "As soon as I find me Nora they snatches me and carries me off, and I have to begin me watchin' and waitin' and lookin' ag'in."Alida continued sobbing and trembling violently. One of the awakened patients sought to assure her by saying, "Don't mind it so, miss. It's only old crazy Kate. Her daughter ran away from her years and years ago--how many no one knows--and when a young woman's brought here she thinks it's her lost Nora. They oughtn't 'a' let her get out, knowin' you was here."
For several days Alida's reason wavered. The nervous shock of her sad experiences had been so great that it did not seem at all improbable that she, like the insane mother, might be haunted for the rest of her life by an overwhelming impression of something lost. In her morbid, shaken mind she confounded the wrong she had received with guilt on her own part. Eventually, she grew calmer and more sensible. Although her conscience acquitted her of intentional evil, nothing could remove the deep-rooted conviction that she was shamed beyond hope of remedy. For a time she was unable to rally from nervous prostration; meanwhile, her mind was preternaturally active, presenting every detail of the past until she was often ready to cry aloud in her despair.Tom Watterly took an unusual interest in her case and exhorted the visiting physician to do his best for her. She finally began to improve, and with the first return of strength sought to do something with her feeble hands. The bread of charity was not sweet.