Part 2 out of 6
"A husband can show his consideration without blarneying," remarked Mrs.
Watterly coldly. "When a man takes on in that way, you may be sure he wants
something extra to pay for it."
After a little thought Holcroft said, "I guess it's a good way to pay for it
between husband and wife."
"Look here, Jim, since you're so well up on the matrimonial question, why in
thunder don't you marry again? That would settle all your difficulties," and
Tom looked at his friend with a sort of wonder that he should hesitate to take
this practical, sensible course.
"It's very easy for you to say, 'Why don't you marry again?' If you were in
my place you'd see that there are things in the way of marrying for the sake
of having a good butter maker and all that kind of thing."
"Mr. Watterly wouldn't be long in comforting himself," remarked his
wife.--"His advice to you makes the course he'd take mighty clear."
"Now, Angy!" said Tom reproachfully. "Well," he added with a grin, "you're
forewarned. So you've only to take care of yourself and not give me a
"The trouble is," Holcroft resumed, "I don't see how an honest man is going to
comfort himself unless it all comes about in some natural sort of way. I
suppose there are people who can marry over and over again, just as easy as
they'd roll off a log. It aint for me to judge 'em, and I don't understand
how they do it. You are a very practical man, Tom, but just you put yourself
in my shoes and see what you'd do. In the first place, I don't know of a
woman in the world that I'd think of marrying. That's saying nothing against
the women,--there's lots too good for me,--but I don't know 'em and I can't go
around and hunt 'em up. Even if I could, with my shy, awkward ways, I
wouldn't feel half so nervous starting out on a bear hunt. Here's difficulty
right at the beginning. Supposing I found a nice, sensible woman, such as I'd
be willing to marry, there isn't one chance in a hundred she'd look at an old
fellow like me. Another difficulty: Supposing she would; suppose she looked
me square in the eyes and said, 'So you truly want a wife?' what in thunder
would I say then?--I don't want a wife, I want a housekeeper, a butter maker,
one that would look after my interests as if they were her own; and if I could
hire a woman that would do what I wish, I'd never think of marrying. I can't
tell a woman that I love her when I don't. If I went to a minister with a
woman I'd be deceiving him, and deceiving her, and perjuring myself
promiscuously. I married once according to law and gospel and I was married
through and through, and I can't do the thing over again in any way that would
seem to me like marrying at all. The idea of me sitting by the fire and
wishing that the woman who sat on the t'other side of the stove was my first
wife! Yet I couldn't help doing this any more than breathing. Even if there
was any chance of my succeeding I can't see anything square or honest in my
going out and hunting up a wife as a mere matter of business. I know other
people do it and I've thought a good deal about it myself, but when it comes
to the point of acting I find I can't do it."
The two men now withdrew from the table to the fireside and lighted their
pipes. Mrs. Watterly stepped out for a moment and Tom, looking over his
shoulder to make sure she was out of ear shot, said under his breath, "But
suppose you found a woman that you could love and obey, and all that?"
"Oh, of course, that would make everything different. I wouldn't begin with a
lie then, and I know enough of my wife to feel sure that she wouldn't be a
sort of dog in the manger after she was dead. She was one of those good souls
that if she could speak her mind this minute she would say, 'James, what's
best and right for you is best and right.' But it's just because she was such
a good wife that I know there's no use of trying to put anyone in her place.
Where on earth could I find anybody, and how could we get acquainted so that
we'd know anything about each other? No, I must just scratch along for a
short time as things are and be on the lookout to sell or rent."
Tom smoked meditatively for a few moments, and then remarked, "I guess that's
your best way out."
"It aint an easy way, either," said Holcroft. "Finding a purchaser or tenant
for a farm like mine is almost as hard as finding a wife. Then, as I feel,
leaving my place is next to leaving the world."
Tom shook his head ruefully and admitted,, "I declare, Jim, when a feller
comes to think it all over, you ARE in a bad fix, especially as you feel. I
thought I could talk you over into practical common sense in no time. It's
easy enough when one don't know all the bearin's of a case, to think
carelessly, 'Oh, he aint as bad off as he thinks he is. He can do this and
that and the t'other thing.' But when you come to look it all over, you find
he can't, except at a big loss. Of course, you can give away your farm on
which you were doing well and getting ahead, though how you did it, I can't
see. You'd have to about give it away if you forced a sale, and where on
earth you'll find a tenant who'll pay anything worth considering--But there's
no use of croaking. I wish I could help you, old feller. By jocks! I believe
I can. There's an old woman here who's right smart and handy when she can't
get her bottle filled. I believe she'd be glad to go with you, for she don't
like our board and lodging over much."
"Do you think she'd go tonight?"
"Oh, yes! Guess so. A little cold water'll be a good change for her."
Mrs. Wiggins was seen, and feeling that any change would be for the better,
readily agreed to go for very moderate wages. Holcroft looked dubiously at
the woman's heavy form and heavier face, but felt that it was the best he
could do. Squeezing Mrs. Watterly's cold, limp hand in a way that would have
thawed a lump of ice, he said "goodby;" and then declaring that he would
rather do his own harnessing for a night ride, he went out into the storm.
Tom put on his rubber coat and went to the barn with his friend, toward whom
he cherished honest good will.
"By jocks!" he ejaculated sympathetically, "but you have hard lines, Jim.
What in thunder would I do with two such widdy women to look after my house!"
Chapter IX. Mrs. Mumpson Accepts Her Mission
As Holcroft drove through the town, Mrs. Wiggins, who, as matters were
explained to her, had expressed her views chiefly by affirmative nods, now
began to use her tongue with much fluency.
"Hi 'ave a friend 'herhabouts," she said, "an' she's been a-keepin' some of my
things. Hi'll be 'olden to ye, master, hif ye'll jes stop a bit hat the door
whiles hi gets 'em. Hif ye'll hadvance me a dollar or so on me wages hit'll
be a long time hafore I trouble ye hagain."
The farmer had received too broad a hint not to know that Mrs. Wiggins was
intent on renewing her acquaintance with her worst enemy. He briefly replied,
therefore, "It's too late to stop now. I'll be coming down soon again and
will get your things."
In vain Mrs. Wiggins expostulated, for he drove steadily on. With a sort of
grim humor, he thought of the meeting of the two "widdy women," as Tom had
characterized them, and of Mrs. Mumpson's dismay at finding in the "cheap
girl" a dame of sixty, weighing not far from two hundred. "If it wasn't such
awfully serious business for me," he thought, "it would be better'n going to a
theater to see the two go on. If I haven't got three 'peculiar females' on my
hands now, I'd like to hear of the man that has."
When Mrs. Wiggins found that she could not gain her point, she subsided into
utter silence. It soon became evident in the cloudy light of the moon that
she was going to sleep, for she so nodded and swayed about that the farmer
feared she would tumble out of the wagon. She occupied a seat just back of
his and filled it, too. The idea of stepping over, sitting beside her, and
holding her in, was inexpressibly repugnant to him. So he began talking to
her, and finally shouting at her, to keep her awake.
His efforts were useless. He glanced with rueful dismay over his shoulder as
he thought, "If she falls out, I don't see how on earth I'll ever get her back
Fortunately the seat slipped back a little, and she soon slid down into a sort
of mountainous heap on the bottom of the wagon, as unmindful of the rain as if
it were a lullaby. Now that his mind was at rest about her falling out, and
knowing that he had a heavy load, Holcroft let the horses take their own time
along the miry highway.
Left to her own devices by Holcroft's absence, Mrs. Mumpson had passed what
she regarded as a very eventful afternoon and evening. Not that anything
unusual had happened, unless everything she said and did may be looked upon as
unusual; but Mrs. Mumpson justly felt that the critical periods of life are
those upon which definite courses of action are decided upon. In the secret
recess of her heart--supposing her to possess such an organ--she had partially
admitted to herself, even before she had entered Holcroft's door, that she
might be persuaded into marrying him; but the inspection of his room, much
deliberate thought, and prolonged soliloquy, had convinced her that she ought
to "enter into nuptial relations," as her thought formulated itself. It was a
trait of Mrs. Mumpson's active mind, that when it once entered upon a line of
thought, it was hurried along from conclusion to conclusion with wonderful
While Jane made up Mr. Holcroft's bed, her mother began to inspect, and soon
suffered keenly from every painful discovery. The farmer's meager wardrobe
and other belongings were soon rummaged over, but one large closet and several
bureau drawers were locked. "These are the receptercles of the deceased Mrs.
Holcroft's affects," she said with compressed lips. "They are moldering
useless away. Moth and rust will enter, while I, the caretaker, am debarred.
I should not be debarred. All the things in that closet should be shaken out,
aired, and carefully put back. Who knows how useful they may be in the
future! Waste is wicked. Indeed, there are few things more wicked than
waste. Now I think of it, I have some keys in my trunk."
"He won't like it," interposed Jane.
"In the responserble persition I have assumed," replied Mrs. Mumpson with
dignity, "I must consider not what he wants, but what is best for him and what
may be best for others."
Jane had too much curiosity herself to make further objection, and the keys
were brought. It was astonishing what a number of keys Mrs. Mumpson
possessed, and she was not long in finding those which would open the ordinary
locks thought by Holcroft to be ample protection.
"I was right," said Mrs. Mumpson complacently. "A musty odor exudes from these
closed receptercles,. Men have no comprehension of the need of such
caretakers as I am."
Everything that had ever belonged to poor Mrs. Holcroft was pulled out, taken
to the window, and examined, Jane following, as usual, in the wake of her
mother and putting everything to the same tests which her parent applied.
Mrs. Holcroft had been a careful woman, and the extent and substantial
character of her wardrobe proved that her husband had not been close in his
allowances to her. Mrs. Mumpson's watery blue eyes grew positively animated
as she felt of and held up to the light one thing after another. "Mrs.
Holcroft was evidently unnaturally large," she reflected aloud, "but then
these things could be made over, and much material be left to repair them,
from time to time. The dresses are of somber colors, becoming to a lady
somewhat advanced in years and of subdued taste."
By the time that the bed and all the chairs in the room were littered with
wearing apparel, Mrs. Mumpson said, "Jane, I desire you to bring the rocking
chair. So many thoughts are crowding upon me that I must sit down and think."
Jane did as requested, but remarked, "The sun is gettin' low, and all these
things'll have to be put back just as they was or he'll be awful mad."
"Yes, Jane," replied Mrs. Mumpson abstractedly and rocking gently, "you can
put them back. Your mind is not burdened like mine, and you haven't offspring
and the future to provide for," and, for a wonder, she relapsed into silence.
Possibly she possessed barely enough of womanhood to feel that her present
train of thought had better be kept to herself. She gradually rocked faster
and faster, thus indicating that she was rapidly approaching a conclusion.
Meanwhile, Jane was endeavoring to put things back as they were before and
found it no easy task. As the light declined she was overcome by a sort of
panic, and, huddling the things into the drawers as fast as possible, she
locked them up. Then, seizing her mother's hand and pulling the abstracted
woman to her feet, she cried, "If he comes and finds us here and no supper
ready, he'll turn us right out into the rain!"
Even Mrs. Mumpson felt that she was perhaps reaching conclusions too fast and
that some diplomacy might be necessary to consummate her plans. Her views,
however, appeared to her so reasonable that she scarcely thought of failure,
having the happy faculty of realizing everything in advance, whether it ever
took place or not.
As she slowly descended the stairs with the rocking chair, she thought,
"Nothing could be more suiterble. We are both about the same age; I am most
respecterbly connected--in fact, I regard myself as somewhat his superior in
this respect; he is painfully undeveloped and irreligious and thus is in sore
need of female influence; he is lonely and down-hearted, and in woman's voice
there is a spell to banish care; worst of all, things are going to waste. I
must delib'rately face the great duty with which Providence has brought me
face to face. At first, he may be a little blind to this great oppertunity of
his life--that I must expect, remembering the influence he was under so many
years--but I will be patient and, by the proper use of language, place
everything eventually before him in a way that will cause him to yield in glad
submission to my views of the duties, the privileges, and the
responserbilities of life."
So active was Mrs. Mumpson's mind that this train of thought was complete by
the time she had ensconced herself in the rocking chair by the fireless
kitchen stove. Once more Jane seized her hand and dragged her up. "You must
help," said the child. "I 'spect him every minnit and I'm scart half to death
to think what he'll do, 'specially if he finds out we've been rummagin'."
"Jane," said Mrs. Mumpson severely, "that is not a proper way of expressing
yourself. I am housekeeper here, and I've been inspecting."
"Shall I tell him you've been inspectin'?" asked the girl keenly.
"Children of your age should speak when they are spoken to," replied her
mother, still more severely. "You cannot comprehend my motives and duties, and
I should have to punish you if you passed any remarks upon my actions."
"Well," said Jane apprehensively, "I only hope we'll soon have a chance to fix
up them drawers, for if he should open 'em we'd have to tramp again, and we
will anyway if you don't help me get supper."
"You are mistaken, Jane," responded Mrs. Mumpson with dignity. "We shall not
leave this roof for three months, and that will give me ample time to open his
eyes to his true interests. I will condescend to these menial tasks until he
brings a girl who will yield the deference due to my years and station in
Between them, after filling the room with smoke, they kindled the kitchen
fire. Jane insisted on making the coffee and then helped her mother to
prepare the rest of the supper, doing, in fact, the greater part of the work.
Then they sat down to wait, and they waited so long that Mrs. Mumpson began to
express her disapproval by rocking violently. At last, she said severely,
"Jane, we will partake of supper alone."
"I'd ruther wait till he comes."
"It's not proper that we should wait. He is not showing me due respect.
Come, do as I command."
Mrs. Mumpson indulged in lofty and aggrieved remarks throughout the meal and
then returned to her rocker. At last, her indignant sense of wrong reached
such a point that she commanded Jane to clear the table and put away the
"I won't," said the child.
"What! Will you compel me to chastise you?"
"Well, then, I'll tell him it was all your doin's."
"I shall tell him so myself. I shall remonstrate with him. The idea of his
coming home alone at this time of night with an unknown female!"
"One would think you was his aunt, to hear you talk," remarked the girl
"I am a respecterble woman and most respecterbly connected. My character and
antercedents render me irrerproachful.--This could not be said of a hussy, and
a hussy he'll probably bring--some flighty, immerture female that will tax
even MY patience to train."
Another hour passed, and the frown on Mrs. Mumpson's brow grew positively
awful. "To think," she muttered, "that a man whom I have deemed it my duty to
marry should stay out so and under such peculiar circumstances. He must have
a lesson which he can never forget." Then aloud, to Jane, "Kindle a fire on
the parlor hearth and let this fire go out. He must find us in the most
respecterble room in the house--a room befitting my station."
"I declare, mother, you aint got no sense at all!" exclaimed the child,
exasperated beyond measure.
"I'll teach you to use such unrerspectful language!" cried Mrs. Mumpson,
darting from her chair like a hawk and pouncing upon the unhappy child.
With ears tingling from a cuffing she could not soon forget, Jane lighted the
parlor fire and sat down sniffling in the farthest corner.
"There shall be only one mistress in this house," said Mrs. Mumpson, who had
now reached the loftiest plane of virtuous indignation, "and its master shall
learn that his practices reflect upon even me as well as himself."
At last the sound of horses' feet were heard on the wet, oozy ground without.
The irate widow did not rise, but merely indicated her knowledge of Holcroft's
arrival by rocking more rapidly.
"Hello, there, Jane!" he shouted, "bring a light to the kitchen."
"Jane, remain!" said Mrs. Mumpson, with an awful look.
Holcroft stumbled through the dark kitchen to the parlor door and looked with
surprise at the group before him,--Mrs. Mumpson apparently oblivious and
rocking as if the chair was possessed, and the child crying in a corner.
"Jane, didn't you hear me call for a light?" he asked a little sharply.
Mrs. Mumpson rose with great dignity and began, "Mr. Holcroft, I wish to
"Oh, bother! I've brought a woman to help you, and we're both wet through
from this driving rain."
"You've brought a strange female at this time of--"
Holcroft's patience gave say, but he only said quietly, "You had better have a
light in the kitchen within two minutes. I warn you both. I also wish some
Mrs. Mumpson had no comprehension of a man who could be so quiet when he was
angry, and she believed that she might impress him with a due sense of the
enormity of his offense. "Mr. Holcroft, I scarcely feel that I can meet a girl
who has no more sense of decorum than to--" But Jane, striking a match,
revealed the fact that she was speaking to empty air.
Mrs. Wiggins was at last so far aroused that she was helped from the wagon and
came shivering and dripping toward the kitchen. She stood a moment in the
doorway and filled it, blinking confusedly at the light. There was an absence
of celerity in all Mrs. Wiggins' movements, and she was therefore slow in the
matter of waking up. Her aspect and proportions almost took away Mrs.
Mumpson's breath. Here certainly was much to superintend, much more than had
been anticipated. Mrs. Wiggins was undoubtedly a "peculiar female," as had
been expected, but she was so elderly and monstrous that Mrs. Mumpson felt
some embarrassment in her purpose to overwhelm Holcroft with a sense of the
impropriety of his conduct.
Mrs. Wiggins took uncertain steps toward the rocking chair, and almost crushed
it as she sat down. "Ye gives a body a cold velcome," she remarked, rubbing
Mrs. Mumpson had got out of her way as a minnow would shun a leviathan. "May I
ask your name?" she gasped.
"Viggins, Mrs. Viggins."
"Oh, indeed! You are a married woman?"
"No, hi'm a vidder. What's more, hi'm cold, and drippin', an' 'ungry. Hi
might 'a' better stayed at the poor-us than come to a place like this."
"What!" almost screamed Mrs. Mumpson, "are you a pauper?"
"Hi tell ye hi'm a vidder, an' good as you be, for hall he said," was the
"To think that a respecterbly connected woman like me--" But for once Mrs.
Mumpson found language inadequate. Since Mrs. Wiggins occupied the rocking
chair, she hardly knew what to do and plaintively declared, "I feel as if my
whole nervous system was giving way."
"No 'arm 'll be done hif hit does," remarked Mrs. Wiggins, who was not in an
"This from the female I'm to superintend!" gasped the bewildered woman.
Her equanimity was still further disturbed by the entrance of the farmer, who
looked at the stove with a heavy frown.
"Why in the name of common sense isn't there a fire?" he asked, "and supper on
the table? Couldn't you hear that it was raining and know we'd want some
supper after a long, cold ride?"
"Mr. Holcroft," began the widow, in some trepidation, "I don't approve--such
"Madam," interrupted Holcroft sternly, "did I agree to do what you approved
of? Your course is so peculiar that I scarcely believe you are in your right
mind. You had better go to your room and try to recover your senses. If I
can't have things in this house to suit me, I'll have no one in it. Here,
Jane, you can help."
Mrs. Mumpson put her handkerchief to her eyes and departed. She felt that
this display of emotion would touch Holcroft's feelings when he came to think
the scene all over.
Having kindled the fire, he said to Jane, "You and Mrs. Wiggins get some
coffee and supper in short order, and have it ready when I come in," and he
hastened out to care for his horses. If the old woman was slow, she knew just
how to make every motion effective, and a good supper was soon ready.
"Why didn't you keep up a fire, Jane?" Holcroft asked.
"She wouldn't let me. She said how you must be taught a lesson," replied the
girl, feeling that she must choose between two potentates, and deciding
quickly in favor of the farmer. She had been losing faith in her mother's
wisdom a long time, and this night's experience had banished the last shred of
Some rather bitter words rose to Holcroft's lips, but he restrained them. He
felt that he ought not to disparage the mother to the child. As Mrs. Wiggins
grew warm, and imbibed the generous coffee, her demeanor thawed perceptibly
and she graciously vouchsafed the remark, "Ven you're hout late hag'in hi'll
look hafter ye."
Mrs. Mumpson had not been so far off as not to hear Jane's explanation, as the
poor child found to her cost when she went up to bed.
Chapter X. A Night of Terror
As poor, dazed, homeless Alida passed out into the street after the revelation
that she was not a wife and never had been, she heard a voice say, "Well,
Hanner wasn't long in bouncing the woman. I guess we'd better go up now.
Ferguson will need a lesson that he won't soon forget."
The speaker of these words was Mrs. Ferguson's brother, William Hackman, and
his companion was a detective. The wife had laid her still sleeping child
down on the lounge and was coolly completing Alida's preparations for dinner.
Her husband had sunk back into a chair and again buried his face in his hands.
He looked up with startled, bloodshot eyes as his brother-in-law and the
stranger entered, and then resumed his former attitude.
Mrs. Ferguson briefly related what had happened, and then said, "Take chairs
and draw up."
"I don't want any dinner," muttered the husband.
Mr. William Hackman now gave way to his irritation. Turning to his brother,
he relieved his mind as follows: "See here, Hank Ferguson, if you hadn't the
best wife in the land, this gentleman would now be giving you a promenade to
jail. I've left my work for weeks, and spent a sight of money to see that my
sister got her rights, and, by thunder! she's going to have 'em. We've
agreed to give you a chance to brace up and be a man. If we find out there
isn't any man in you, then you go to prison and hard labor to the full extent
of the law. We've fixed things so you can't play any more tricks. This man
is a private detective. As long as you do the square thing by your wife and
child, you'll be let alone. If you try to sneak off, you'll be nabbed. Now,
if you aint a scamp down to your heel-taps, get up out of that chair like a
man, treat your wife as she deserves for letting you off so easy, and don't
make her change her mind by acting as if you, and not her, was the wronged
At heart Ferguson was a weak, cowardly, selfish creature, whose chief aim in
life was to have things to suit himself. When they ceased to be agreeable, he
was ready for a change, without much regard for the means to his ends. He had
always foreseen the possibility of the event which had now taken place, but,
like all self-indulgent natures, had hoped that he might escape detection.
Alida, moreover, had won a far stronger hold upon him than he had once
imagined possible. He was terribly mortified and cast down by the result of
his experiment, as he regarded it. But the thought of a prison and hard labor
speedily drew his mind away from this aspect of the affair. He had been
fairly caught, his lark was over, and he soon resolved that the easiest and
safest way out of the scrape was the best way. He therefore raised his head
and came forward with a penitent air as he said: "It's natural I should be
overwhelmed with shame at the position in which I find myself. But I see the
truth of your words, and I'll try to make it all right as far as I can. I'll
go back with you and Hannah to my old home. I've got money in the bank, I'll
sell out everything here, and I'll pay you, William, as far as I can, what
you've spent. Hannah is mighty good to let me off so easy, and she won't be
sorry. This man is witness to what I say," and the detective nodded.
"Why, Ferguson," said Mr. Hackman effusively, "now you're talking like a man.
Come and kiss him, Hannah, and make it all up."
"That's the way with you men," said the woman bitterly. "These things count
for little. Henry Ferguson must prove he's honest in what he says by deeds,
not words. I'll do as I've said if he acts square, and that's enough to start
"All right," said Ferguson, glad enough to escape the caress. "I'll do as I
He did do all he promised, and very promptly, too. He was not capable of
believing that a woman wronged as Alida had been would not prosecute him, and
he was eager to escape to another state, and, in a certain measure, again to
hide his identity under his own actual name.
Meanwhile, how fared the poor creature who had fled, driven forth by her first
wild impulse to escape from a false and terrible position? With every step
she took down the dimly lighted street, the abyss into which she had fallen
seemed to grow deeper and darker. She was overwhelmed with the magnitude of
her misfortune. She shunned the illumined thoroughfares with a half-crazed
sense that every finger would be pointed at her. Her final words, spoken to
Ferguson, were the last clear promptings of her womanly nature. After that,
everything grew confused, except the impression of remediless disaster and
shame. She was incapable of forming any correct judgment concerning her
position. The thought of her pastor filled her with horror. He, she thought,
would take the same view which the woman had so brutally expressed--that in
her eagerness to be married, she had brought to the parsonage an unknown man
and had involved a clergyman in her own scandalous record.--It would all be in
the papers, and her pastor's name mixed up in the affair. She would rather
die than subject him to such an ordeal. Long after, when he learned the facts
in the case, he looked at her very sadly as he asked: "Didn't you know me
better than that? Had I so failed in my preaching that you couldn't come
straight to me?"
She wondered afterward that she had not done this, but she was too morbid, too
close upon absolute insanity, to do what was wise and safe. She simply
yielded to the wild impulse to escape, to cower, to hide from every human eye,
hastening through the darkest, obscurest streets, not caring where. In the
confusion of her mind she would retrace her steps, and soon was utterly lost,
wandering she knew not whither. As it grew late, casual passers-by looked
after her curiously, rough men spoke to her, and others jeered. She only
hastened on, driven by her desperate trouble like the wild, ragged clouds that
were flying across the stormy March sky.
At last a policeman said gruffly, "You've passed me twice. You can't be
roaming the streets at this time of night. Why don't you go home?"
Standing before him and wringing her hands, she moaned, "I have no home."
"Where did you come from?"
"Oh, I can't tell you! Take me to any place where a woman will be safe."
"I can't take you to any place now but the station house."
"But can I be alone there? I won't be put with anybody?"
"No, no; of course not! You'll be better off there. Come along. 'Taint far."
She walked beside him without a word.
"You'd better tell me something of your story. Perhaps I can do more for you
in the morning."
"I can't. I'm a stranger. I haven't any friends in town."
"Well, well, the sergeant will see what can be done in the morning. You've
been up to some foolishness, I suppose, and you'd better tell the whole story
to the sergeant."
She soon entered the station house and was locked up in a narrow cell. She
heard the grating of the key in the lock with a sense of relief, feeling that
she had at least found a temporary place of refuge and security. A hard board
was the only couch it possessed, but the thought of sleep did not enter her
mind. Sitting down, she buried her face in her hands and rocked back and
forth in agony and distraction until day dawned. At last, someone--she felt
she could not raise her eyes to his face--brought her some breakfast and
coffee. She drank the latter, but left the food untasted. Finally, she was
led to the sergeant's private room and told that she must give an account of
herself. "If you can't or won't tell a clear story," the officer threatened,
"you'll have to go before the justice in open court, and he may commit you to
prison. If you'll tell the truth now, it may be that I can discharge you.
You had no business to be wandering about the streets like a vagrant or worse;
but if you were a stranger or lost and hadn't sense enough to go where you'd
be cared for, I can let you go."
"Oh!" said Alida, again wringing her hands and looking at the officer with
eyes so full of misery and fear that he began to soften, "I don't know where
"Haven't you a friend or acquaintance in town?"
"Not one that I can go to!"
"Why don't you tell me your story? Then I'll know what to do, and perhaps can
help you. You don't look like a depraved woman."
"I'm not. God knows I'm not!"
"Well, my poor woman, I've got to act in view of what I know, not what God
"If I tell my story, will I have to give names?"
"No, not necessarily. It would be best, though."
"I can't do that, but I'll tell you the truth. I will swear it on the Bible
I married someone. A good minister married us. The man deceived me. He was
already married, and last night his wife came to my happy home and proved
before the man whom I thought my husband that I was no wife at all. He
couldn't, didn't deny it. Oh! Oh! Oh!" And she again rocked back and forth
in uncontrollable anguish. "That's all," she added brokenly. "I had no right
to be near him or her any longer, and I rushed out. I don't remember much
more. My brain seemed on fire. I just walked and walked till I was brought
"Well, well!" said the sergeant sympathetically, "you have been treated badly,
outrageously; but you are not to blame unless you married the man hastily and
"That's what everyone will think, but it don't seem to me that I did. It's a
long story, and I can't tell it."
"But you ought to tell it, my poor woman. You ought to sue the man for
damages and send him to State prison."
"No, no!" cried Alida passionately. "I don't want to see him again, and I
won't go to a court before people unless I am dragged there."
The sergeant looked up at the policeman who had arrested her and said, "This
story is not contrary to anything you saw?"
"No, sir; she was wandering about and seemed half out of her mind."
"Well, then, I can let you go."
"But I don't know where to go," she replied, looking at him with hunted,
hollow eyes. "I feel as if I were going to be sick. Please don't turn me into
the streets. I'd rather go back to the cell--"
"That won't answer. There's no place that I can send you to except the
poorhouse. Haven't you any money?"
"No, sir. I just rushed away and left everything when I learned the truth."
"Tom Watterly's hotel is the only place for her," said the policeman with a
"Oh, I can't go to a hotel."
"He means the almshouse," explained the sergeant. "What is your name?"
"Alida--that's all now. Yes, I'm a pauper and I can't work just yet. I'll be
safe there, won't I?"
"Certainly, safe as in your mother's house."
"Oh, mother, mother; thank God, you are dead!"
"Well, I AM sorry for you," said the sergeant kindly. "'Taint often we have so
sad a case as yours. If you say so, I'll send for Tom Watterly, and he and
his wife will take charge of you. After a few days, your mind will get
quieter and clearer, and then you'll prosecute the man who wronged you."
"I'll go to the poorhouse until I can do better," she replied wearily. "Now,
if you please, I'll return to my cell where I can be alone."
"Oh, we can give you a better room than that," said the sergeant. "Show her
into the waiting room, Tim. If you prosecute, we can help you with our
testimony. Goodbye, and may you have better days!"
Watterly was telegraphed to come down with a conveyance for the almshouse was
in a suburb. In due time he appeared, and was briefly told Alida's story. He
swore a little at the "mean cuss," the author of all the trouble, and then
took the stricken woman to what all his acquaintances facetiously termed his
Chapter XI. Baffled
In the general consciousness Nature is regarded as feminine, and even those
who love her most will have to adopt Mrs. Mumpson's oft-expressed opinion of
the sex and admit that she is sometimes a "peculiar female." During the month
of March, in which our story opens, there was scarcely any limit to her
varying moods. It would almost appear that she was taking a mysterious
interest in Holcroft's affairs; but whether it was a kindly interest or not,
one might be at a loss to decide. When she caught him away from home, she
pelted him with the coldest of rain and made his house, with even Mrs. Mumpson
and Jane abiding there, seem a refuge. In the morning after the day on which
he had brought, or in a sense had carted, Mrs. Wiggins to his domicile, Nature
was evidently bent on instituting contrasts between herself and the rival
phases of femininity with which the farmer was compelled to associate. It may
have been that she had another motive and was determined to keep her humble
worshiper at her feet, and to render it impossible for him to make the changes
toward which he had felt himself driven.
Being an early riser he was up with the sun, and the sun rose so serenely and
smiled so benignly that Holcroft's clouded brow cleared in spite of all that
had happened or could take place. The rain, which had brought such discomfort
the night before, had settled the ground and made it comparatively firm to his
tread. The southern breeze which fanned his cheek was as soft as the air of
May. He remembered that it was Sunday, and that beyond feeding his stock and
milking, he would have nothing to do. He exulted in the unusual mildness and
thought, with an immense sense of relief, "I can stay outdoors nearly all
day." He resolved to let his help kindle the fire and get breakfast as they
could, and to keep out of their way. Whatever changes the future might bring,
he would have one more long day in rambling about his fields and in thinking
over the past. Feeling that there need be no haste about anything, he
leisurely inhaled the air, fragrant from springing grass, and listened with a
vague, undefined pleasure to the ecstatic music of the bluebirds,
song-sparrows, and robins. If anyone had asked him why he liked to hear them,
he would have replied, "I'm used to 'em. When they come, I know that plowing
and planting time is near."
It must be admitted that Holcroft's enjoyment of spring was not very far
removed from that of the stock in his barnyard. All the animal creation
rejoices in the returning sun and warmth. A subtle, powerful influence sets
the blood in more rapid motion, kindles new desires, and awakens a glad
expectancy. All that is alive becomes more thoroughly alive and existence in
itself is a pleasure. Spring had always brought to the farmer quickened
pulses, renewed activity and hopefulness, and he was pleased to find that he
was not so old and cast down that its former influence had spent itself.
Indeed, it seemed that never before had his fields, his stock, and outdoor
work--and these comprised Nature to him--been so attractive. They remained
unchanged amid the sad changes which had clouded his life, and his heart clung
more tenaciously than ever to old scenes and occupations. They might not
bring him happiness again, but he instinctively felt that they might insure a
comfort and peace with which he could be content.
At last he went to the barn and began his work, doing everything slowly, and
getting all the solace he could from the tasks. The horses whinnied their
welcome and he rubbed their noses caressingly as he fed them. The cows came
briskly to the rack in which he foddered them in pleasant weather, and when he
scratched them between the horns they turned their mild, Juno-like eyes upon
him with undisguised affection. The chickens, clamoring for their breakfast,
followed so closely that he had to be careful where he stepped. Although he
knew that all this good will was based chiefly on the hope of food and the
remembrance of it in the past, nevertheless it soothed and pleased him. He
was in sympathy with this homely life; it belonged to him and was dependent on
him; it made him honest returns for his care. Moreover, it was agreeably
linked with the past. There were quiet cows which his wife had milked,
clucking biddies which she had lifted from nests with their downy broods. He
looked at them wistfully, and was wondering if they ever missed the presence
that he regretted so deeply, when he became conscious that Jane's eyes were
upon him. How long she had been watching him he did not know, but she merely
said, "Breakfast's ready," and disappeared.
With a sigh he went to his room to perform his ablutions, remembering with a
slight pang how his wife always had a basin and towel ready for him in the
kitchen. In the breaking up of just such homely customs, he was continually
reminded of his loss.
On awakening to the light of this Sabbath morning, Mrs. Mumpson had thought
deeply and reasoned everything out again. She felt that it must be an
eventful day and that there was much to be accomplished. In the first place
there was Mrs. Wiggins. She disapproved of her decidedly. "She isn't the sort
of person that I would prefer to superintend," she remarked to Jane while
making a toilet which she deemed befitting the day, "and the hour will
assuredly come when Mr. Holcroft will look upon her in the light that I do.
He will eventually realize that I cannot be brought in such close relationship
with a pauper. Not that the relationship is exactly close, but then I shall
have to speak to her--in brief, to superintend her. My eyes will be offended
by her vast proportions and uncouth appearance. The floor creaks beneath her
tread and affects my nerves seriously. Of course, while she is here, I shall
zealously, as befits one in my responserble position, try to render useful
such service as she can perform. But then, the fact that I disapprove of her
must soon become evident. When it is discovered that I only tolerate her,
there will be a change. I cannot show my disapproval very strongly today for
this is a day set apart for sacred things, and Mrs. Viggins, as she called
herself,--I cannot imagine a Mr. Viggins for no man in his senses could have
married such a creature,--as I was saying, Mrs. Viggins is not at all sacred,
and I must endeavor to abstract my mind from her till tomorrow, as far as
posserble. My first duty today is to induce Mr. Holcroft to take us to
church. It will give the people of Oakville such a pleasing impression to see
us driving to church. Of course, I may fail, Mr. Holcroft is evidently a
hardened man. All the influences of his life have been adverse to spiritual
development, and it may require some weeks of my influence to soften him and
awaken yearnings for what he has not yet known."
"He may be yearnin' for breakfast," Jane remarked, completing her toilet by
tying her little pigtail braid with something that had once been a bit of
black ribbon, but was now a string. "You'd better come down soon and help."
"If Mrs. Viggins cannot get breakfast, I would like to know what she is here
for" continued Mrs. Mumpson loftily, and regardless of Jane's departure. "I
shall decline to do menial work any longer, especially on this sacred day, and
after I have made my toilet for church. Mr. Holcroft has had time to think.
My disapproval was manifest last night and it has undoubtedly occurred to him
that he has not conformed to the proprieties of life. Indeed, I almost fear I
shall have to teach him what the proprieties of life are. He witnessed my
emotions when he spoke as he should not have spoken to ME. But I must make
allowances for his unregenerate state. He was cold, and wet, and hungry last
night, and men are unreasonerble at such times. I shall now heap coals of
fire upon his head. I shall show that I am a meek, forgiving Christian woman,
and he will relent, soften, and become penitent. Then will be my
opportunity," and she descended to the arena which should witness her efforts.
During the period in which Mrs. Mumpson had indulged in these lofty
reflections and self-communings, Mrs. Wiggins had also arisen. I am not sure
whether she had thought of anything in particular or not. She may have had
some spiritual longings which were not becoming to any day of the week. Being
a woman of deeds, rather than of thought, probably not much else occurred to
her beyond the duty of kindling the fire and getting breakfast. Jane came
down, and offered to assist, but was cleared out with no more scruple than if
Mrs. Wiggins had been one of the much-visited relatives.
"The hidee," she grumbled, "of 'avin' sich a little trollop round hunder my
Jane, therefore, solaced herself by watching the "cheap girl" till her mother
Mrs. Mumpson sailed majestically in and took the rocking chair, mentally
thankful that it had survived the crushing weight imposed upon it the evening
before. Mrs. Wiggins did not drop a courtesy. Indeed, not a sign of
recognition passed over her vast, immobile face. Mrs. Mumpson was a little
embarrassed. "I hardly know how to comport myself toward that female," she
thought. "She is utterly uncouth. Her manners are unmistakerbly those of a
pauper. I think I will ignore her today. I do not wish my feelings ruffled
or put out of harmony with the sacred duties and motives which actuate me."
Mrs. Mumpson therefore rocked gently, solemnly, and strange to say, silently,
and Mrs. Wiggins also proceeded with her duties, but not in silence, for
everything in the room trembled and clattered at her tread. Suddenly she
turned on Jane and said, "'Ere, you little baggage, go and tell the master
Mrs. Mumpson sprang from her chair, and with a voice choked with indignation,
gasped, "Do you dare address my offspring thus?"
"My child, my daughter, who is not a pauper, but the offspring of a most
respecterble woman and respecterbly connected. I'm amazed, I'm dumfoundered,
"Ye're a bit daft, hi'm a-thinkin'." Then to Jane, "Vy don't ye go an' hearn
"Jane, I forbid--" But it had not taken Jane half a minute to decide between
the now jarring domestic powers, and henceforth she would be at Mrs. Wiggins'
beck and call. "She can do somethin'," the child muttered, as she stole upon
Mrs. Mumpson sank back in her chair, but her mode of rocking betokened a
perturbed spirit. "I will restrain myself till tomorrow, and then--" She
shook her head portentously and waited till the farmer appeared, feeling
assured that Mrs. Wiggins would soon be taught to recognize her station. When
breakfast was on the table, she darted to her place behind the coffeepot, for
she felt that there was no telling what this awful Mrs. Wiggins might not
assume during this day of sacred restraint. But the ex-pauper had no thought
of presumption in her master's presence, and the rocking chair again
distracted Mrs. Mumpson's nerves as it creaked under an unwonted weight.
Holcroft took his seat in silence. The widow again bowed her head devoutly,
and sighed deeply when observing that the farmer ignored her suggestion.
"I trust that you feel refreshed after your repose," she said benignly.
"It is a lovely morning--a morning, I may add, befitting the sacred day.
Nature is at peace and suggests that we and all should be at peace."
"There's nothing I like more, Mrs. Mumpson, unless it is quiet."
"I feel that way, myself. You don't know what restraint I have put upon
myself that the sacred quiet of this day might not be disturbed. I have had
strong provercation since I entered this apartment. I will forbear to speak
of it till tomorrow in order that there may be quietness and that our minds
may be prepared for worship. I feel that it would be unseemly for us to enter
a house of worship with thoughts of strife in our souls. At precisely what
moment do you wish me to be ready for church?"
"I am not going to church, Mrs. Mumpson."
"Not going to church! I--I--scarcely understand. Worship is such a sacred
"You and Jane certainly have a right to go to church, and since it is your
wish, I'll take you down to Lemuel Weeks' and you can go with them."
"I don't want to go to Cousin Lemuel's, nor to church, nuther," Jane
"Why, Mr. Holcroft," began the widow sweetly, "after you've once harnessed up
it will take but a little longer to keep on to the meeting house. It would
appear so seemly for us to drive thither, as a matter of course. It would be
what the communerty expects of us. This is not our day, that we should spend
it carnally. We should be spiritually-minded. We should put away things of
earth. Thoughts of business and any unnecessary toil should be abhorrent. I
have often thought that there was too much milking done on Sunday among
farmers. I know they say it is essential, but they all seem so prone to
forget that but one thing is needful. I feel it borne in upon my mind, Mr.
Holcroft, that I should plead with you to attend divine worship and seek an
uplifting of your thoughts. You have no idea how differently the day may end,
or what emotions may be aroused if you place yourself under the droppings of
"I'm like Jane, I don't wish to go," said Mr. Holcroft nervously.
"But my dear Mr. Holcroft,"--the farmer fidgeted under this address,--"the
very essence of true religion is to do what we don't wish to do. We are to
mortify the flesh and thwart the carnal mind. The more thorny the path of
self-denial is, the more certain it's the right path. "I've already entered
upon it," she continued, turning a momentary glare upon Mrs. Wiggins. "Never
before was a respecterble woman so harrowed and outraged; but I am calm; I am
endeavoring to maintain a frame of mind suiterble to worship, and I feel it my
bounden duty to impress upon you that worship is a necessity to every human
being. My conscience would not acquit me if I did not use all my influence--"
"Very well, Mrs. Mumpson, you and your conscience are quits. You have used
all your influence. I will do as I said--take you to Lemuel Weeks'--and you
can go to church with his family," and he rose from the table.
"But Cousin Lemuel is also painfully blind to his spiritual interests--"
Holcroft did not stay to listen and was soon engaged in the morning milking.
Jane flatly declared that she would not go to Cousin Lemuel's or to church.
"It don't do me no good, nor you, nuther," she sullenly declared to her
Mrs. Mumpson now resolved upon a different line of tactics. Assuming a lofty,
spiritual air, she commanded Jane to light a fire in the parlor, and retired
thither with the rocking chair. The elder widow looked after her and
ejaculated, "Vell, hif she haint the craziest loon hi hever 'eard talk. Hif
she vas blind she might 'a' seen that the master didn't vant hany sich
Having kindled the fire, the child was about to leave the room when her mother
interposed and said solemnly, "Jane, sit down and keep Sunday."
"I'm going to help Mrs. Wiggins if she'll let me."
"You will not so demean yourself. I wish you to have no relations whatever
with that female in the kitchen. If you had proper self-respect, you would
never speak to her again."
"We aint visitin' here. If I can't work indoors, I'll tell him I'll work
"It's not proper for you to work today. I want you to sit there in the corner
and learn the Fifth Commandment."
"Aint you goin' to Cousin Lemuel's?"
"On mature reflection, I have decided to remain at home."
"I thought you would if you had any sense left. You know well enough we aint
wanted down there. I'll go tell him not to hitch up."
"Well, I will permit you to do so. Then return to your Sunday task."
"I'm goin' to mind him," responded the child. She passed rapidly and
apprehensively through the kitchen, but paused on the doorstep to make some
overtures to Mrs. Wiggins. If that austere dame was not to be propitiated, a
line of retreat was open to the barn. "Say," she began, to attract attention.
"Vell, young-un," replied Mrs. Wiggins, rendered more pacific by her
"Don't you want me to wash up the dishes and put 'em away? I know how."
"Hi'll try ye. Hif ye breaks hanythink--" and the old woman nodded volumes at
"I'll be back in a minute," said Jane. A moment later she met Holcroft
carrying two pails of milk from the barnyard. He was about to pass without
noticing her, but she again secured attention by her usual preface, "Say,"
when she had a somewhat extended communication to make.
"Come to the dairy room, Jane, and say your say there," said Holcroft not
"She aint goin' to Cousin Lemuel's," said the girl, from the door.
"What is she going to do."
"Rock in the parlor. Say, can't I help Mrs. Wiggins wash up the dishes and do
"Certainly, why not?"
"Mother says I must sit in the parlor 'n' learn Commandments 'n' keep Sunday."
"Well, Jane, which do you think you ought to do?"
"I think I oughter work, and if you and Mrs. Wiggins will let me, I will work
in spite of mother."
"I think that you and your mother both should help do the necessary work
today. There won't be much."
"If I try and help Mrs. Wiggins, mother'll bounce out at me. She shook me
last night after I went upstairs, and she boxed my ears 'cause I wanted to
keep the kitchen fire up last night."
"I'll go with you to the kitchen and tell Mrs. Wiggins to let you help, and I
won't let your mother punish you again unless you do wrong."
Mrs. Wiggins, relying on Jane's promise of help, had sat down to the solace of
her pipe for a few minutes, but was about to thrust it hastily away on seeing
Holcroft. He reassured her by saying good-naturedly, "No need of that, my
good woman. Sit still and enjoy your pipe. I like to smoke myself. Jane
will help clear away things and I wish her to. You'll find she's quite handy.
By the way, have you all the tobacco you want?"
"Vell, now, master, p'raps ye know the 'lowance down hat the poor-us vasn't
sich as ud keep a body in vat ye'd call satisfyin' smokin'. Hi never 'ad
henough ter keep down the 'ankerin'."
"I suppose that's so. You shall have half of my stock, and when I go to town
again, I'll get you a good supply. I guess I'll light my pipe, too, before
starting for a walk."
"Bless yer 'art, master, ye makes a body comf'terble. Ven hi smokes, hi feels
more hat 'ome and kind o'contented like. An hold 'ooman like me haint got
much left to comfort 'er but 'er pipe."
"Jane!" called Mrs. Mumpson sharply from the parlor. As there was no answer,
the widow soon appeared in the kitchen door. Smoking was one of the
unpardonable sins in Mrs. Mumpson's eyes; and when she saw Mrs. Wiggins
puffing comfortably away and Holcroft lighting his pipe, while Jane cleared
the table, language almost failed her. She managed to articulate, "Jane, this
atmosphere is not fit for you to breathe on this sacred day. I wish you to
share my seclusion."
"Mrs. Mumpson, I have told her to help Mrs. Wiggins in the necessary work,"
"Mr. Holcroft, you don't realize--men never do--Jane is my offspring, and--"
"Oh, if you put it that way, I shan't interfere between mother and child. But
I suppose you and Jane came here to work."
"If you will enter the parlor, I will explain to you fully my views, and--"
"Oh, please excuse me!" said Holcroft, hastily passing out. "I was just
starting for a walk--I'm bound to have one more day to myself on the old
place," he muttered as he bent his steps toward an upland pasture.
Jane, seeing that her mother was about to pounce upon her, ran behind Mrs.
Wiggins, who slowly rose and began a progress toward the irate widow,
remarking as she did so, "Hi'll just shut the door 'twixt ye and yer
hoffspring, and then ye kin say yer prayers hon the t'other side."
Mrs. Mumpson was so overcome at the turn affairs had taken on this day, which
was to witness such progress in her plans and hopes, as to feel the absolute
necessity of a prolonged season of thought and soliloquy, and she relapsed,
without further protest, into the rocking chair.
Chapter XII. Jane
Holcroft was not long in climbing to a sunny nook whence he could see not only
his farm and dwelling, but also the Oakville valley, and the little white
spire of the distant meeting house. He looked at this last-named object
wistfully and very sadly. Mrs. Mumpson's tirade about worship had been
without effect, but the memories suggested by the church were bitter-sweet
indeed. It belonged to the Methodist denomination, and Holcroft had been
taken, or had gone thither, from the time of his earliest recollection. He
saw himself sitting between his father and mother, a round-faced urchin to
whom the sermon was unintelligible, but to whom little Bessie Jones in the
next pew was a fact, not only intelligible, but very interesting. She would
turn around and stare at him until he smiled, then she would giggle until her
mother brought her right-about-face with considerable emphasis. After this,
he saw the little boy--could it have been himself?--nodding, swaying, and
finally slumbering peacefully, with his head on his mother's lap, until shaken
into sufficient consciousness to be half dragged, half led, to the door. Once
in the big, springless farm wagon he was himself again, looking eagerly around
to catch another glimpse of Bessie Jones. Then he was a big, irreverent boy,
shyly and awkwardly bent on mischief in the same old meeting house. Bessie
Jones no longer turned and stared at him, but he exultingly discovered that he
could still make her giggle on the sly. Years passed, and Bessie was his
occasional choice for a sleigh-ride when the long body of some farm wagon was
placed on runners, and boys and girls--young men and women, they almost
thought themselves--were packed in like sardines. Something like
self-reproach smote Holcroft even now, remembering how he had allowed his
fancy much latitude at this period, paying attention to more than one girl
besides Bessie, and painfully undecided which he liked best.
Then had come the memorable year which had opened with a protracted meeting.
He and Bessie Jones had passed under conviction at the same time, and on the
same evening had gone forward to the anxious seat. From the way in which she
sobbed, one might have supposed that the good, simple-hearted girl had
terrible burdens on her conscience; but she soon found hope, and her tears
gave place to smiles. Holcroft, on the contrary, was terribly cast down and
unable to find relief. He felt that he had much more to answer for than
Bessie; he accused himself of having been a rather coarse, vulgar boy; he had
made fun of sacred things in that very meeting house more times than he liked
to think of, and now for some reason could think of nothing else.
He could not shed tears or get up much emotion; neither could he rid himself
of the dull weight at heart. The minister, the brethren and sisters, prayed
for him and over him, but nothing removed his terrible inertia. He became a
familiar form on the anxious seat for there was a dogged persistence in his
nature which prevented him from giving up; but at the close of each meeting he
went home in a state of deeper dejection. Sometimes, in returning, he was
Bessie Jones' escort, and her happiness added to his gall and bitterness. One
moonlight night they stopped under the shadow of a pine near her father's
door, and talked over the matter a few moments before parting. Bessie was
full of sympathy which she hardly knew how to express. Unconsciously, in her
earnestness--how well he remembered the act!--she laid her hand on his arm as
she said, "James, I guess I know what's the matter with you. In all your
seeking you are thinking only of yourself--how bad you've been and all that.
I wouldn't think of myself and what I was any more, if I was you. You aint so
awful bad, James, that I'd turn a cold shoulder to you; but you might think I
was doing just that if ye stayed away from me and kept saying to yourself, 'I
aint fit to speak to Bessie Jones.'"
Her face had looked sweet and compassionate, and her touch upon his arm had
conveyed the subtle magic of sympathy. Under her homely logic, the truth had
burst upon him like sunshine. In brief, he had turned from his own shadow and
was in the light. He remembered how in his deep feeling he had bowed his head
on her shoulder and murmured, "Oh, Bessie, Heaven bless you! I see it all."
He no longer went to the anxious seat. With this young girl, and many others,
he was taken into the church on probation. Thereafter, his fancy never
wandered again, and there was no other girl in Oakville for him but Bessie.
In due time, he had gone with her to yonder meeting house to be married. It
had all seemed to come about as a matter of course. He scarcely knew when he
became formally engaged. They "kept company" together steadfastly for a
suitable period, and that seemed to settle it in their own and everybody
There had been no change in Bessie's quiet, constant soul. After her words
under the shadow of the pine tree she seemed to find it difficult to speak of
religious subjects, even to her husband; but her simple faith had been
unwavering, and she had entered into rest without fear or misgiving.
Not so her husband. He had his spiritual ups and downs, but, like herself,
was reticent. While she lived, only a heavy storm kept them from "going to
meeting," but with Holcroft worship was often little more than a form, his
mind being on the farm and its interests. Parents and relatives had died, and
the habit of seclusion from neighborhood and church life had grown upon them
gradually and almost unconsciously.
For a long time after his wife's death Holcroft had felt that he did not wish
to see anyone who would make references to his loss.
He shrank from formal condolences as he would from the touch of a diseased
nerve. When the minister called, he listened politely but silently to a
general exhortation; then muttered, when left alone, "It's all as he says, I
suppose; but somehow his words are like the medicines Bessie took--they don't
do any good."
He kept up the form of his faith and a certain vague hope until the night on
which he drove forth the Irish revelers from his home. In remembrance of his
rage and profanity on that occasion, he silently and in dreary misgiving
concluded that he should not, even to himself, keep up the pretense of
religion any longer. "I've fallen from grace--that is, if I ever had any"--was
a thought which did much to rob him of courage to meet his other trials.
Whenever he dwelt on these subjects, doubts, perplexities, and resentment at
his misfortunes so thronged his mind that he was appalled; so he strove to
occupy himself with the immediate present.
Today, however, in recalling the past, his thoughts would question the future
and the outcome of his experiences. In accordance with his simple, downright
nature, he muttered, "I might as well face the truth and have done with it. I
don't know whether I'll ever see my wife again or not; I don't know whether
God is for me or against me. Sometimes, I half think there isn't any God. I
don't know what will become of me when I die. I'm sure of only one
thing--while I do live I could take comfort in working the old place."
In brief, without ever having heard of the term, he was an agnostic, but not
one of the self-complacent, superior type who fancy that they have developed
themselves beyond the trammels of faith and are ever ready to make the world
aware of their progress.
At last he recognized that his long reverie was leading to despondency and
weakness; he rose, shook himself half angrily, and strode toward the house.
"I'm here, and here I'm going to stay," he growled. "As long as I'm on my own
land, it's nobody's business what I am or how I feel. If I can't get decent,
sensible women help, I'll close up my dairy and live here alone. I certainly
can make enough to support myself."
Jane met him with a summons to dinner, looking apprehensively at his stern,
gloomy face. Mrs. Mumpson did not appear. "Call her," he said curtly.
The literal Jane returned from the parlor and said unsympathetically, "She's
got a hank'chif to her eyes and says she don't want no dinner."
"Very well," he replied, much relieved.
Apparently he did not want much dinner, either, for he soon started out again.
Mrs. Wiggins was not utterly wanting in the intuitions of her sex, and said
nothing to break in upon her master's abstraction.
In the afternoon Holcroft visited every nook and corner of his farm, laying
out, he hoped, so much occupation for both hands and thoughts as to render him
proof against domestic tribulations.
He had not been gone long before Mrs. Mumpson called in a plaintive voice,
The child entered the parlor warily, keeping open a line of retreat to the
door. "You need not fear me," said her mother, rocking pathetically. "My
feelings are so hurt and crushed that I can only bemoan the wrongs from which
I suffer. You little know, Jane, you little know a mother's heart."
"No," assented Jane. "I dunno nothin' about it."
"What wonder, then that I weep, when even my child is so unnatural!"
"I dunno how to be anything else but what I be," replied the girl in
"If you would only yield more to my guidance and influence, Jane, the future
might be brighter for us both. If you had but stored up the Fifth Commandment
in memory--but I forbear. You cannot so far forget your duty as not to tell
me how HE behaved at dinner."
"He looked awful glum, and hardly said a word."
"Ah-h!" exclaimed the widow, "the spell is working."
"If you aint a-workin' tomorrow, there'll be a worse spell," the girl
"That will do, Jane, that will do. You little understand--how should you?
Please keep an eye on him, and let me know how he looks and what he is doing,
and whether his face still wears a gloomy or a penitent aspect. Do as I bid
you, Jane, and you may unconsciously secure your own well-being by obedience."
Watching anyone was a far more congenial task to the child than learning the
Commandments, and she hastened to comply. Moreover, she had the strongest
curiosity in regard to Holcroft herself. She felt that he was the arbiter of
her fate. So untaught was she that delicacy and tact were unknown qualities.
Her one hope of pleasing was in work. She had no power of guessing that sly
espionage would counterbalance such service. Another round of visiting was
dreaded above all things; she was, therefore, exceedingly anxious about the
future. "Mother may be right," she thought. "P'raps she can make him marry
her, so we needn't go away any more. P'raps she's taken the right way to
bring a man around and get him hooked, as Cousin Lemuel said. If I was goin'
to hook a man though, I'd try another plan than mother's. I'd keep my mouth
shut and my eyes open. I'd see what he wanted and do it, even 'fore he spoke.
'Fi's big anuf I bet I could hook a man quicker'n she can by usin' her tongue
'stead of her hands."
Jane's scheme was not so bad a one but that it might be tried to advantage by
those so disposed. Her matrimonial prospects, however, being still far in the
future, it behooved her to make her present existence as tolerable as
possible. She knew how much depended on Holcroft, and was unaware of any
other method of learning his purposes except that of watching him. Both
fearing and fascinated, she dogged his steps most of the afternoon, but saw
nothing to confirm her mother's view that any spell was working. She scarcely
understood why he looked so long at field, thicket, and woods, as if he saw
something invisible to her.
In planning future work and improvements, the farmer had attained a quieter
and more genial frame of mind. "When, therefore, he sat down and in glancing
about saw Jane crouching behind a low hemlock, he was more amused than
irritated. He had dwelt on his own interests so long that he was ready to
consider even Jane's for a while. "Poor child!" he thought, "she doesn't know
any better and perhaps has even been taught to do such things. I think I'll
surprise her and draw her out a little. Jane, come here," he called.
The girl sprang to her feet, and hesitated whether to fly or obey. "Don't be
afraid," added Holcroft. "I won't scold you. Come!"
She stole toward him like some small, wild, fearful animal in doubt of its
reception. "Sit down there on that rock," he said.
She obeyed with a sly, sidelong look, and he saw that she kept her feet
gathered under her so as to spring away if he made the slightest hostile
"Jane, do you think it's right to watch people so?" he asked gravely.
"She told me to."
The girl nodded.
"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?"
"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
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
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 XIII. Not Wife, But Waif
Tom 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
"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,"
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
"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.
Although the place in which she lodged was clean, and the coarse, unvarying
fare abundant, she shrank shuddering, with each day's clearer consciousness,
from the majority of those about her. Phases of life of which she had
scarcely dreamed were the common topics of conversation. In her mother she
had learned to venerate gray hairs, and it was an awful shock to learn that so
many of the feeble creatures about her were coarse, wicked, and evil-disposed.
How could their withered lips frame the words they spoke? How could they
dwell on subjects that were profanation, even to such wrecks of womanhood as
Moreover, they persecuted her by their curiosity. The good material in her
apparel had been examined and commented on; her wedding ring had been seen and
its absence soon noted, for Alida, after gaining the power to recall the past
fully, had thrown away the metal lie, feeling that it was the last link in a
chain binding her to a loathed and hated relationship. Learning from their
questions that the inmates of the almshouse did not know her history, she
refused to reveal it, thus awakening endless surmises. Many histories were
made for her, the beldams vying with each other in constructing the worst one.
Poor Alida soon learned that there was public opinion even in an almshouse,
and that she was under its ban. In dreary despondency she thought, "They've
found out about me. If such creatures as these think I'm hardly fit to speak
to, how can I ever find work among good, respectable people?"
Her extreme depression, the coarse, vulgar, and uncharitable natures by which
she was surrounded, retarded her recovery. By her efforts to do anything in
her power for others she disarmed the hostility of some of the women, and
those that were more or less demented became fond of her; but the majority
probed her wound by every look and word. She was a saint compared with any of
these, yet they made her envy their respectability. She often thought, "Would
to God that I was as old and ready to die as the feeblest woman here, if I
could only hold up my head like her!"
One day a woman who had a child left it sleeping in its rude wooden cradle and
went downstairs. The babe wakened and began to cry. Alida took it up and
found a strange solace in rocking it to sleep again upon her breast. At last
the mother returned, glared a moment into Alida's appealing eyes, then
snatched the child away with the cruel words, "Don't ye touch my baby ag'in!
To think it ud been in the arms o' the loikes o'ye!"
Alida went away and sobbed until her strength was gone. She found that there
were some others ostracized like herself, but they accepted their position as
a matter of course--as if it belonged to them and was the least of their
Her strength was returning, yet she was still feeble when she sent for Mrs.
Watterly and asked, "Do you think I'm strong enough to take a place
"You ought to know that better than me," was the chilly reply.
"Do you--do you think I could get a place? I would be willing to do any kind
of honest work not beyond my strength."
"You hardly look able to sit up straight. Better wait till you're stronger.
I'll tell my husband. If applications come, he'll see about it," and she
turned coldly away.
A day or two later Tom came and said brusquely, but not unkindly, "Don't like
my hotel, hey? What can you do?"
"I'm used to sewing, but I'd try to do almost anything by which I could earn
"Best thing to do is to prosecute that scamp and make him pay you a good round
She shook her head decidedly. "I don't wish to see him again. I don't wish to
go before people and have the--the--past talked about. I'd like a place with
some kind, quiet people who keep no other help. Perhaps they wouldn't take me
if they knew; but I would be so faithful to them, and try so heard to learn
what they wanted--"
"That's all nonsense, their not taking you. I'll find you a place some day,
but you're not strong enough yet. You'd be brought right back here. You're
as pale as a ghost--almost look like one. So don't be impatient, but give me
a chance to find you a good place. I feel sorry for you, and don't want you
to get among folks that have no feelings. Don't you worry now; chirk up, and
you'll come out all right."
"I--I think that if--if I'm employed, the people who take me ought to know,"
said Alida with bowed head.
"They'll be blamed fools if they don't think more of you when they do know,"
was his response. "Still, that shall be as you please. I've told only my
wife, and they've kept mum at the police station, so the thing hasn't got into
Alida's head bowed lower still as she replied, "I thank you. My only wish now
is to find some quiet place in which I can work and be left to myself."
"Very well," said Tom good-naturedly. "Cheer up! I'll be on the lookout for
She turned to the window near which she was sitting to hide the tears which
his rough kindness evoked. "He don't seem to shrink from me as if I wasn't fit
to be spoken to," she thought; "but his wife did. I'm afraid people won't
take me when they know."
The April sunshine poured in at the window; the grass was becoming green; a
robin alighted on a tree nearby and poured out a jubilant song. For a few
moments hope, that had been almost dead in her heart, revived. As she looked
gratefully at the bird, thanking it in her heart for the song, it darted upon
a string hanging on an adjacent spray and bore it to a crotch between two
boughs. Then Alida saw it was building a nest. Her woman's heart gave way.
"Oh," she moaned, "I shall never have a home again! No place shared by one
who cares for me. To work, and to be tolerated for the sake of my work, is
all that's left."
Chapter XIV. A Pitched Battle
It was an odd household under Holcroft's roof on the evening of the Sunday we
have described. The farmer, in a sense, had "taken sanctuary" in his own
room, that he might escape the maneuvering wiles of his tormenting
housekeeper. If she would content herself with general topics he would try to
endure her foolish, high-flown talk until the three months expired; but that
she should speedily and openly take the initiative in matrimonial designs was
proof of such an unbalanced mind that he was filled with nervous dread.
"Hanged if one can tell what such a silly, hairbrained woman will do next!" he
thought, as he brooded by the fire. "Sunday or no Sunday, I feel as if I'd
like to take my horsewhip and give Lemuel Weeks a piece of my mind."
Such musings did not promise well for Mrs. Mumpson, scheming in the parlor
below; but, as we have seen, she had the faculty of arranging all future
events to her mind. That matters had not turned out in the past as she had
expected, counted for nothing. She was one who could not be taught, even by
experience. The most insignificant thing in Holcroft's dwelling had not
escaped her scrutiny and pretty accurate guess as to value, yet she could not
see or understand the intolerable disgust and irritation which her ridiculous
conduct excited. In a weak mind egotism and selfishness, beyond a certain
point, pass into practical insanity. All sense of delicacy, of the fitness of
things, is lost; even the power to consider the rights and feelings of others
is wanting. Unlike poor Holcroft, Mrs. Mumpson had few misgivings in regard
to coming years. As she rocked unceasingly before the parlor fire, she
arranged everything in regard to his future as well as her own.
Jane, quite forgotten, was oppressed with a miserable presentiment of evil.
Her pinched but intense little mind was concentrated on two facts--Holcroft's
anger and her mother's lack of sense. From such premises it did not take her
long to reason out but one conclusion--"visitin' again;" and this was the
summing up of all evils. Now and then a tear would force its way out of one
of her little eyes, but otherwise she kept her troubles to herself.
Mrs. Wiggins was the only complacent personage in the house, and she unbent
with a garrulous affability to Jane, which could be accounted for in but one
way--Holcroft had forgotten about his cider barrel, thereby unconsciously
giving her the chance to sample its contents freely. She was now smoking her
pipe with much content, and indulging in pleasing reminiscences which the
facts of her life scarcely warranted.
"Ven hi vas as leetle a gal as ye are," she began, and then she related
experiences quite devoid of the simplicity and innocence of childhood. The
girl soon forgot her fears and listened with avidity until the old dame's face
grew heavier, if possible, with sleep, and she stumbled off to bed.
Having no wish to see or speak to her mother again, the child blew out the
candle and stole silently up the stairway. At last Mrs. Mumpson took her
light and went noisily around, seeing to the fastenings of doors and windows.
"I know he is listening to every sound from me, and he shall learn what a
caretaker I am," she murmured softly.
Once out of doors in the morning, with his foot on the native heath of his
farm, Holcroft's hopefulness and courage always returned. He was half angry
with himself at his nervous irritation of the evening before. "If she becomes
so cranky that I can't stand her, I'll pay the three months' wages and clear
her out," he had concluded, and he went about his morning work with a grim
purpose to submit to very little nonsense.
Cider is akin to vinegar, and Mrs. Wiggins' liberal potations of the evening
before had evidently imparted a marked acidity to her temper. She laid hold
of the kitchen utensils as if she had a spite against them, and when Jane,
confiding in her friendliness shown so recently, came down to assist, she was
chased out of doors with language we forbear to repeat. Mrs. Mumpson,
therefore, had no intimation of the low state of the barometer in the region
of the kitchen. "I have taken time to think deeply and calmly," she murmured.
"The proper course has been made clear to me. He is somewhat uncouth; he is
silent and unable to express his thoughts and emotions--in brief, undeveloped;
he is awfully irreligious. Moth and rust are busy in this house; much that
would be so useful is going to waste. He must learn to look upon me as the
developer, the caretaker, a patient and healthful embodiment of female
influence. I will now begin actively my mission of making him an ornerment to
society. That mountainous Mrs. Viggins must be replaced by a deferential girl
who will naturally look up to me. How can I be a true caretaker--how can I
bring repose and refinement to this dwelling with two hundred pounds of female
impudence in my way? Mr. Holcroft shall see that Mrs. Viggins is an unseemly
and jarring discord in our home," and she brought the rocking chair from the
parlor to the kitchen, with a serene and lofty air. Jane hovered near the
At first, there was an ominous silence in respect to words. Portentous sounds
increased, however, for Mrs. Wiggins strode about with martial tread, making
the boards creak and the dishes clatter, while her red eyes shot lurid and
sanguinary gleams. She would seize a dipper as if it were a foe, slamming it
upon the table again as if striking an enemy. Under her vigorous
manipulation, kettles and pans resounded with reports like firearms.
Mrs. Mumpson was evidently perturbed; her calm superiority was forsaking her;
every moment she rocked faster--a sure indication that she was not at peace.
At last she said, with great dignity: "Mrs. Viggins, I must request you to
perform your tasks with less clamor. My nerves are not equal to this peculiar
way of taking up and laying down things."
"Vell, jes' ye vait a minute, han hi'll show ye 'ow hi kin take hup things han
put 'em down hag'in hout o' my vay," and before Mrs. Mumpson could interfere,
she found herself lifted, chair and all bodily, and carried to the parlor.
Between trepidation and anger, she could only gasp during the transit, and
when left in the middle of the parlor floor she looked around in utter
It so happened that Holcroft, on his way from the barn, had seen Jane looking
in at the window, and, suspecting something amiss, had arrived just in time
for the spectacle. Convulsed with laughter, he returned hastily to the barn;
while Jane expressed her feelings, whatever they were, by executing something
like a hornpipe before the window.
Mrs. Mumpson, however, was not vanquished. She had only made a compulsory
retreat from the scene of hostilities; and, after rallying her shattered
faculties, advanced again with the chair. "How dared you, you disreputerble
female?" she began.
Mrs. Wiggins turned slowly and ominously upon her. "Ye call me a disrupterbul
female hag'in, han ye vont find hit 'ealthy."
Mrs. Mumpson prudently backed toward the door before delivering her return
"Woman!" she cried, "are you out of your mind? Don't you know I'm housekeeper
here, and that it's my duty to superintend you and your work?"
"Vell, then, hi'll double ye hup hand put ye hon the shelf hof the dresser
han' lock the glass door hon ye. From hup there ye kin see all that's goin'
hon and sup'intend to yer 'eart's content," and she started for her superior
Mrs. Mumpson backed so precipitately with her chair that it struck against the
door case, and she sat down hard. Seeing that Mrs. Wiggins was almost upon
her, she darted back into the parlor, leaving the chair as a trophy in the
hands of her enemy. Mrs. Wiggins was somewhat appeased by this second
triumph, and with the hope of adding gall and bitterness to Mrs. Mumpson's
defeat, she took the chair to her rival's favorite rocking place, lighted her
pipe, and sat down in grim complacency. Mrs. Mumpson warily approached to
recover a support which, from long habit, had become moral as well as
physical, and her indignation knew no bounds when she saw it creaking under
the weight of her foe. It must be admitted, however, that her ire was not so
great that she did not retain the "better part of valor," for she stepped
back, unlocked the front door, and set it ajar. On returning, she opened with
a volubility that awed even Mrs. Wiggins for a moment. "You miserable,
mountainous pauper; you interloper; you unrefined, irresponserble,
unregenerate female, do you know what you have done in thus outraging ME? I'm
a respecterble woman, respecterbly connected. I'm here in a responserble
station. When Mr. Holcroft appears he'll drive you from the dwelling which
you vulgarize. Your presence makes this apartment a den. You are a wild
"Hi'm a vile beastes, ham hi?" cried Mrs. Wiggins, at last stung into action,
and she threw her lighted pipe at the open mouth that was discharging
high-sounding epithets by the score.
It struck the lintel over the widow's head, was shattered, and sent down upon
her a shower of villainously smelling sparks. Mrs. Mumpson shrieked and
sought frantically to keep her calico wrapper from taking fire. Meanwhile,
Mrs. Wiggins rose and took a step or two that she might assist should there be
any positive danger, for she had not yet reached a point of malignity which
would lead her to witness calmly an auto-da-fe. This was Jane's opportunity.
Mrs. Wiggins had alienated this small and hitherto friendly power, and now,
with a returning impulse of loyalty, it took sides with the weaker party. The
kitchen door was on a crack; the child pushed it noiselessly open, darted
around behind the stove, and withdrew the rocking chair.
Mrs. Wiggins' brief anxiety and preoccupation passed, and she stepped backward
again to sit down. She did sit down, but with such terrific force that the
stove and nearly everything else in the room threatened to fall with her. She
sat helplessly for a bewildered moment, while Jane, with the chair, danced
before her exclaiming, tauntingly, "That's for chasing me out as if I was a
"Noo hi'll chase ye both hout," cried the ireful Wiggins, scrambling to her
feet. She made good her threat, for Holcroft, a moment later, saw mother and
daughter, the latter carrying the chair, rushing from the front door, and Mrs.
Wiggins, armed with a great wooden spoon, waddling after them, her
objurgations mingling with Mrs. Mumpson's shrieks and Jane's shrill laughter.
The widow caught a glimpse of him standing in the barn door, and, as if borne
by the wind, she flew toward him, crying, "He shall be my protector!"
He barely had time to whisk through a side door and close it after him. The
widow's impetuous desire to pant out the story of her wrongs carried her into
the midst of the barnyard, where she was speedily confronted by an unruly
young heifer that could scarcely be blamed for hostility to such a
The animal shook its head threateningly as it advanced. Again the widow's
shrieks resounded. This time Holcroft was about to come to the rescue, when
the beleaguered woman made a dash for the top of the nearest fence, reminding
her amused looker-on of the night of her arrival when she had perched like
some strange sort of bird on the wagon wheel.
Seeing that she was abundantly able to escape alone, the farmer remained in
concealment. Although disgusted and angry at the scenes taking place, he was
scarcely able to restrain roars of laughter. Perched upon the fence, the
widow called piteously for him to lift her down, but he was not to be caught
by any such device. At last, giving up hope and still threatened by the
heifer, she went over on the other side. Knowing that she must make a detour
before reaching the dwelling, Holcroft went thither rapidly with the purpose
of restoring order at once. "Jane," he said sternly, "take that chair to the
parlor and leave it there. Let there be no more such nonsense."
At his approach, Mrs. Wiggins had retreated sullenly to the kitchen. "Come,"
he ordered good-naturedly, "hasten breakfast and let there be no more
"Hif hi vas left to do me work hin peace--" she began.
"Well, you shall do it in peace."
At this moment Mrs. Mumpson came tearing in, quite oblivious of the fact that
she had left a goodly part of her calico skirt on a nail of the fence. She
was rushing toward Holcroft, when he said sternly, and with a repellent
gesture, "Stop and listen to me. If there's any more of this quarreling like
cats and dogs in my house, I'll send for the constable and have you all
arrested. If you are not all utterly demented and hopeless fools, you will
know that you came here to do my work, and nothing else." Then catching a
glimpse of Mrs. Mumpson's dress, and fearing he should laugh outright, he
turned abruptly on his heel and went to his room, where he was in a divided
state between irrepressible mirth and vexation.
Mrs. Mumpson also fled to her room. She felt that the proper course for her
at this juncture was a fit of violent hysterics; but a prompt douche from the
water pitcher, administered by the unsympathetic Jane, effectually checked the
first symptoms. "Was ever a respecterble woman--"
"You aint respectable," interrupted the girl, as she departed. "You look like
a scarecrow. 'Fi's you I'd begin to show some sense now."
Chapter XV. "What is to Become of Me?"
Holcroft's reference to a constable and arrest, though scarcely intended to be
more than a vague threat, had the effect of clearing the air like a clap of
thunder. Jane had never lost her senses, such as she possessed, and Mrs.
Wiggins recovered hers sufficiently to apologize to the farmer when he came
down to breakfast. "But that Mumpson's hawfully haggravatin', master, as ye
know yeself, hi'm a-thinkin'. Vud ye jis tell a body vat she is 'here, han
'ow hi'm to get hon vith 'er. Hif hi'm to take me horders from 'er, hi'd
ruther go back to the poor-'us."
"You are to take your orders from me and no one else. All I ask is that you
go on quietly with your work and pay no attention to her. You know well
enough that I can't have such goings on. I want you to let Jane help you and
learn her to do everything as far as she can. Mrs. Mumpson can do the mending
and ironing, I suppose. At any rate, I won't have any more quarreling and
uproar. I'm a quiet man and intend to have a quiet house. You and Jane can
get along very well in the kitchen, and you say you understand the dairy
"Vell hi does, han noo hi've got me horders hi'll go right along."
Mrs. Mumpson was like one who had been rudely shaken out of a dream, and she
appeared to have sense enough to realize that she couldn't assume so much at
first as she anticipated. She received from Jane a cup of coffee, and said
feebly, "I can partake of no more after the recent trying events."
For some hours she was a little dazed, but her mind was of too light weight to
be long cast down. Jane rehearsed Holcroft's words, described his manner, and
sought with much insistence to show her mother that she must drop her nonsense
at once. "I can see it in his eye," said the girl, "that he won't stand much
more. If yer don't come down and keep yer hands busy and yer tongue still,
we'll tramp. As to his marrying you, bah! He'd jes' as soon marry Mrs.
This was awful prose, but Mrs. Mumpson was too bewildered and discouraged for
a time to dispute it, and the household fell into a somewhat regular routine.
The widow appeared at her meals with the air of a meek and suffering martyr;
Holcroft was exceedingly brief in his replies to her questions, and paid no
heed to her remarks. After supper and his evening work, he went directly to
his room. Every day, however, he secretly chafed with ever-increasing
discontent, over this tormenting presence in his house. The mending and such
work as she attempted was so wretchedly performed that it would better have
been left undone. She was also recovering her garrulousness, and mistook his
toleration and her immunity in the parlor for proof of a growing
consideration. "He knows that my hands were never made for such coarse, menial
tasks as that Viggins does," she thought, as she darned one of his stockings
in a way that would render it almost impossible for him to put his foot into
it again. "The events of last Monday morning were unfortunate, unforeseen,
unprecedented. I was unprepared for such vulgar, barbarous, unheard-of
proceedings--taken off my feet, as it were; but now that he's had time to
think it all over, he sees that I am not a common woman like Viggins,"--Mrs.
Mumpson would have suffered rather than have accorded her enemy the prefix of
Mrs.,--"who is only fit to be among pots and kettles. He leaves me in the
parlor as if a refined apartment became me and I became it. Time and my
influence will mellow, soften, elevate, develop, and at last awaken a desire
for my society, then yearnings. My first error was in not giving myself time
to make a proper impression. He will soon begin to yield like the earth
without. First it is hard and frosty, then it is cold and muddy, if I may
permit myself so disagreeable an illustration. Now he is becoming mellow, and
soon every word I utter will be like good seed in good ground. How aptly it
all fits! I have only to be patient."
She was finally left almost to utter idleness, for Jane and Mrs. Wiggins
gradually took from the incompetent hands even the light tasks which she had
attempted. She made no protest, regarding all as another proof that Holcroft
was beginning to recognize her superiority and unfitness for menial tasks.
She would maintain, however, her character as the caretaker and ostentatiously
inspected everything; she also tried to make as much noise in fastening up the
dwelling at night as if she were barricading a castle. Holcroft would listen
grimly, well aware that no house had been entered in Oakville during his
memory. He had taken an early occasion to say at the table that he wished no
one to enter his room except Jane, and that he would not permit any
infringement of this rule. Mrs. Mumpson's feelings had been hurt at first by
this order, but she soon satisfied herself that it had been meant for Mrs.
Wiggins' benefit and not her own. She found, however, that Jane interpreted
it literally. "If either of you set foot in that room, I'll tell him," she
said flatly. "I've had my orders and I'm a-goin' to obey. There's to be no
more rummagin'. If you'll give me the keys I'll put things back in order
"Well, I won't give you the keys. I'm the proper person to put things in
order if you did not replace them properly. You are just making an excuse to
rummage yourself. My motive for inspecting is very different from yours."
"Shouldn't wonder if you was sorry some day," the girl had remarked, and so
the matter had dropped and been forgotten.
Holcroft solaced himself with the fact that Jane and Mrs. Wiggins served his
meals regularly and looked after the dairy with better care than it had
received since his wife died. "If I had only those two in the house, I could
get along first-rate," he thought. "After the three months are up, I'll try to
make such an arrangement. I'd pay the mother and send her off now, but if I
did, Lemuel Weeks would put her up to a lawsuit."
April days brought the longed-for plowing and planting, and the farmer was so
busy and absorbed in his work that Mrs. Mumpson had less and less place in his
thoughts, even as a thorn in the flesh. One bright afternoon, however, chaos
came again unexpectedly. Mrs. Wiggins did not suggest a volatile creature,
yet such, alas! she was. She apparently exhaled and was lost, leaving no
trace. The circumstances of her disappearance permit of a very matter-of-fact
and not very creditable explanation. On the day in question she prepared an
unusually good dinner, and the farmer had enjoyed it in spite of Mrs.
Mumpson's presence and desultory remarks. The morning had been fine and he
had made progress in his early spring work. Mrs. Wiggins felt that her hour
and opportunity had come. Following him to the door, she said in a low tone
and yet with a decisive accent, as if she was claiming a right, "Master, hi'd
thank ye for me two weeks' wages."
He unsuspectingly and unhesitatingly gave it to her, thinking, "That's the way
with such people. They want to be paid often and be sure of their money.
She'll work all the better for having it."
Mrs. Wiggins knew the hour when the stage passed the house; she had made up a
bundle without a very close regard to meum or tuum, and was ready to flit.
The chance speedily came.
The "caretaker" was rocking in the parlor and would disdain to look, while
Jane had gone out to help plant some early potatoes on a warm hillside. The
coast was clear. Seeing the stage coming, the old woman waddled down the lane
at a remarkable pace, paid her fare to town, and the Holcroft kitchen knew her
That she found the "friend" she had wished to see on her way out to the farm,
and that this friend brought her quickly under Tom Watterly's care again, goes
As the shadows lengthened and the robins became tuneful, Holcroft said,
"You've done well, Jane. Thank you. Now you can go back to the house."
The child soon returned in breathless haste to the field where the farmer was
covering the potato pieces she had dropped, and cried, "Mrs. Wiggins's gone!"
Like a flash the woman's motive in asking for her wages occurred to him, but
he started for the house to assure himself of the truth. "Perhaps she's in the
cellar," he said, remembering the cider barrel, "or else she's out for a
"No, she aint," persisted Jane. "I've looked everywhere and all over the barn,
and she aint nowhere. Mother haint seen her, nuther."
With dreary misgivings, Holcroft remembered that he no longer had a practical
ally in the old Englishwoman, and he felt that a new breaking up was coming.
He looked wistfully at Jane, and thought, "I COULD get along with that child
if the other was away. But that can't be; SHE'D visit here indefinitely if
When Mrs. Mumpson learned from Jane of Mrs. Wiggins' disappearance, she was
thrown into a state of strong excitement. She felt that her hour and
opportunity might be near also, and she began to rock very fast. "What else
could he expect of such a female?" she soliloquized. "I've no doubt but she's
taken things, too. He'll now learn my value and what it is to have a
caretaker who will never desert him."
Spirits and courage rose with the emergency; her thoughts hurried her along
like a dry leaf caught in a March gale. "Yes," she murmured, "the time has
come for me to act, to dare, to show him in his desperate need and hour of
desertion what might be, may be, must be. He will now see clearly the
difference between these peculiar females who come and go, and a respecterble
woman and a mother who can be depended upon--one who will never steal away
like a thief in the night."
She saw Holcroft approaching the house with Jane; she heard him ascend to Mrs.
Wiggins' room, then return to the kitchen and ejaculate, "Yes, she's gone,
"Now, ACT!" murmured the widow, and she rushed toward the farmer with clasped
hands, and cried with emotion, "Yes, she's gone; but I'm not gone. You are
not deserted. Jane will minister to you; I will be the caretaker, and our
home will be all the happier because that monstrous creature is absent. Dear
Mr. Holcroft, don't be so blind to your own interests and happiness, don't
remain undeveloped! Everything is wrong here if you would but see it. You
are lonely and desolate. Moth and rust have entered, things in unopened
drawers and closets are molding and going to waste. Yield to true female
Holcroft had been rendered speechless at first by this onslaught, but the
reference to unopened drawers and closets awakened a sudden suspicion. Had
she dared to touch what had belonged to his wife? "What!" he exclaimed
sharply, interrupting her; then with an expression of disgust and anger, he
passed her swiftly and went to his room. A moment later came the stern
summons, "Jane, come here!"
"Now you'll see what'll come of that rummagin'," whimpered Jane. "You aint got
no sense at all to go at him so. He's jes' goin' to put us right out," and