She owes him everything; the house you are all living in among therest. She ought to be proud of her brief connecthuobi token avision with that pure,heroic spirit, and, when she is so little noble as to disown him,then say that gratitude and justice have no longer a place amongmankind.""Come into the chapel," said Camille, with a voice that showed hewas hurt.
As Jacintha was tron out of energyretiring Edouard called to her to stop a minute.Then, turning to Rose, he begged her very ceremoniously toreconsider that determination.
"What determination?""To sacrifice me to this Colonel Dujardin." Still politely, only alittle grimly.Rose opened her eyes. "Are you mad?" inquired she with quiethauteur."Neither mad nor a fool," was the reply. "I love you too well toshare your regard with any one, upon any terms; least of all uponthese, that there is to be a man in the world at whose beck and callyou are to be, and at whose orders you are to break off an interviewwith me. Perdition!""Dear Edouard, what folly! Can you suspect me of discourtesy, aswell as of--I know not what. Colonel Dujardin will join us, that isall, and we shall take a little walk with him.""Not I. I decline the intrusion; you are engaged with me, and Ihave things to say to you that are not fit for that puppy to hear.So choose between me and him, and choose forever."Rose colored. "I should be very sorry to choose either of youforever; but for this afternoon I choose you.""Oh, thank you--my whole life shall prove my gratitude for thispreference."Rose beckoned Jacintha, and sent her with an excuse to ColonelDujardin. She then turned with an air of mock submission toEdouard. "I am at monsieur's ORDERS."Then this unhappy novice, being naturally good-natured, thanked heragain and again for her condescension in setting his heart at rest.He proposed a walk, since his interference had lost her one. Sheyielded a cold assent. This vexed him, but he took it for grantedit would wear off before the end of the walk. Edouard's heartbounded, but he loved her too sincerely to be happy unless he couldsee her happy too; the malicious thing saw this, or perhaps knew itby instinct, and by means of this good feeling of his she revengedherself for his tyranny. She tortured him as only a woman cantorture, and as even she can torture only a worthy man, and one wholoves her. In the course of that short walk this inexperiencedgirl, strong in the instincts and inborn arts of her sex, drove pinsand needles, needles and pins, of all sorts and sizes, through herlover's heart.
She was everything by turns, except kind, and nothing for longtogether. She was peevish, she was ostentatiously patient andsubmissive, she was inattentive to her companion and seeminglywrapped up in contemplation of absent things and persons, thecolonel to wit; she was dogged, repulsive, and cold; and she neverwas herself a single moment. They returned to the gate of thePleasaunce. "Well, mademoiselle," said Riviere very sadly, "thatinterloper might as well have been with us.""Of course he might, and you would have lost nothing by permittingme to be courteous to a guest and an invalid. If you had not playedthe tyrant, and taken the matter into your own hands, I should havefound means to soothe your jeal--I mean your vanity; but youpreferred to have your own way. Well, you have had it.""Yes, mademoiselle, you have given me a lesson; you have shown mehow idle it is to attempt to force a young lady's inclinations inanything."He bade her good-day, and went away sorrowful.She cut Camille dead for the rest of the day.Poor Holcroft could make no better answer than a sneeze.
"Oh-h," she exclaimed, "you're catching cold? Come, you must go right upstairs. You can't stay here another minute. I'm nearly through.""I was never more contented in my life.""You've no right to worry me. What would I do if you got sick? Come, I'll stop work till you go.""Well then, little boss, goodbye."
With a half suppressed smile at his obedience Alida watched his reluctant departure. She kept on diligently at work, but one might have fancied that her thoughts rather than her exertions were flushing her cheeks.It seemed to her that but a few moments elapsed before she followed him, but he had gone. Then she saw that the rain had ceased and that the clouds were breaking. His cheerful whistle sounded reassuringly from the barn, and a little later he drove up the lane with a cart.
She sat down in the kitchen and began sewing on the fine linen they had jested about. Before long she heard a light step. Glancing up, she saw the most peculiar and uncanny-looking child that had ever crossed her vision, and with dismal presentiment knew it was Jane.Chapter 28 Another WaifIt was indeed poor, forlorn little Jane that had appeared like a specter in the kitchen door. She was as wet and bedraggled as a chicken caught in a shower. A little felt hat hung limp over her ears; her pigtail braid had lost its string and was unraveling at the end, and her torn, sodden shoes were ready to drop from her feet. She looked both curiously and apprehensively at Alida with her little blinking eyes, and then asked in a sort of breathless voice, "Where's him?""Mr. Holcroft?"
Jane nodded."He's gone out to the fields. You are Jane, aren't you?"Another nod."Oh, DEAR!" groaned Alida mentally; "I wish she hadn't come." Then with a flush of shame the thought crossed her mind, "She perhaps is a friendless and homeless as I was, and , and 'him' is also her only hope. "Come in, Jane," she said kindly, "and tell me everything."
"Be you his new girl?""I'm his wife," said Alida, smiling.
Jane stopped; her mouth opened and her eyes twinkled with dismay. "Then he is married, after all?" she gasped."Yes, why not?"
"Mother said he'd never get anyone to take him.""Well, you see she was mistaken.""She's wrong about everything. Well, it's no use then," and the child turned and sat down on the doorstep.Alida was perplexed. From the way Jane wiped her eyes with her wet sleeve, she was evidently crying. Coming to her, Alida said, "What is no use, Jane? Why are you crying?""I thought--he--might--p'raps--let me stay and work for him."Alida was still more perplexed. What could be said by way of comfort, feeling sure as she did that Holcroft would be bitterly hostile to the idea of keeping the child? The best she could do was to draw the little waif out and obtain some explanation of her unexpected appearance. But first she asked, "Have you had any breakfast?"
Jane shook her head."Oh, then you must have some right away."
"Don't want any. I want to die. I oughtn' ter been born.""Tell me your troubles, Jane. Perhaps I can help you."
"No, you'd be like the rest. They all hate me and make me feel I'm in the way. He's the only one that didn't make me feel like a stray cat, and now he's gone and got married," and the child sobbed aloud.Her grief was pitiful to see, for it was overwhelming. Alida stooped down, and gently lifting the child up, brought her in. Then she took off the wet hat and wiped the tear-stained face with her handkerchief. "Wait a minute, Jane, till I bring you something," and she ran to the dairy for a glass of milk. "You must drink it, she said, kindly but firmly.
The child gulped it down, and with it much of her grief, for this was unprecedented treatment and was winning her attention."Say," she faltered, "will you ask him to let me stay?""Yes, I'll ask him, but I can't promise that he will.""You won't ask him 'fore my face and then tell him not to behind my back?" and there was a sly, keen look in her eyes which tears could not conceal.
"No," said Alida gravely, "that's not my way. How did you get here, Jane?""Run away."
Alida drew a quick breath and was silent a few moments. "Is--is your mother there?" she asked at length."Yes. They wouldn't let us visit round any longer."
"Didn't your mother or anyone know you were coming?"Jane shook her head.Alida felt that it would be useless to burden the unhappy child with misgivings as to the result, and her heart softened toward her as one who in her limited way had known the bitterness and dread which in that same almshouse had overwhelmed her own spirit. She could only say gently, "Well, wait till Mr. Holcroft comes, and then we'll see what he says." She herself was both curious and anxious as to his course. "It will be a heavy cross," she thought, "but I should little deserve God's goodness to me if I did not befriend this child."Every moment added weight to this unexpected burden of duty. Apart from all consideration of Jane's peculiarities, the isolation with Holcroft had been a delight in itself. Their mutual enjoyment of each other's society had been growing from day to day, and she, more truly than he, had shrunk from the presence of another as an unwelcome intrusion. Conscious of her secret, Jane's prying eyes were already beginning to irritate her nerves. Never had she seen a human face that so completely embodied her idea of inquisitiveness as the uncanny visage of this child. She saw that she would be watched with a tireless vigilance. Her recoil, however, was not so much a matter of conscious reasoning and perception as it was an instinctive feeling of repulsion caused by the unfortunate child. It was the same old story. Jane always put the women of a household on pins and needles just as her mother exasperated the men. Alida had to struggle hard during a comparatively silent hour to fight down the hope that Holcroft would not listen to Jane's and her own request.
As she stepped quickly and lightly about in her preparations for dinner, the girl watched her intently. At last she gave voice to her thoughts and said, "If mother'd only worked round smart as you, p'raps she'd hooked him 'stid er you."Alida's only reply was a slight frown, for the remark suggested disagreeable images and fancies. "Oh, how can I endure it?" she sighed. She determined to let Jane plead her own cause at first, thinking that perhaps this would be the safest way. If necessary, she would use her influence against a hostile decision, let it cost in discomfort what it might.
At a few moments before twelve the farmer came briskly toward the house, and was evidently in the best of spirits. When he entered and saw Jane, his countenance indicated so much dismay that Alida could scarcely repress a smile. The child rose and stood before him like a culprit awaiting sentence. She winked hard to keep the tears back, for there was no welcome in his manner. She could not know how intensely distasteful was her presence at this time, nor had Holcroft himself imagined how unwelcome a third person in his house could be until he saw the intruder before him. He had only felt that he was wonderfully contented and happy in his home, and that Jane would be a constant source of annoyance and restraint. Moreover, it might lead to visitation from Mrs. Mumpson, and that was the summing up of earthly ills. But the child's appearance and manner were so forlorn and deprecating that words of irritation died upon his lips. He gravely shook hands with her and then drew out the story which Alida had learned."Why, Jane," he exclaimed, frowning, "Mr. Watterly will be scouring the country for you. I shall have to take you back right after dinner."
"I kinder hoped," she sobbed, "that you'd let me stay. I'd stay in the barn if I couldn't be in the house. I'd just as soon work outdoors, too.""I don't think you'd be allowed to stay," said the farmer, with a sinking heart; "and then--perhaps your mother would be coming here."