Part 3 out of 6
she went upstairs as if to execution.
"Have I failed?" gasped Mrs. Mumpson, and retreating to the chair, she rocked
"Jane," said Holcroft in hot anger, "my wife's things have been pulled out of
her bureau and stuffed back again as if they were no better than dishcloths.
Who did it?"
The child now began to cry aloud.
"There, there!" he said, with intense irritation, "I can't trust you either."
"I haint--touched 'em--since you told me--told me--not to do things on the
sly," the girl sobbed brokenly; but he had closed the door upon her and did
He could have forgiven her almost anything but this. Since she only had been
permitted to take care of his room, he naturally thought that she had
committed the sacrilege, and her manner had confirmed this impression. Of
course, the mother had been present and probably had assisted; but he had
expected nothing better of her.
He took the things out, folded and smoothed them as carefully as he could with
his heavy hands and clumsy fingers. His gentle, almost reverent touch was in
strange contrast with his flushed, angry face and gleaming eyes. "This is the
worst that's happened yet," he muttered. "Oh, Lemuel Weeks! It's well you are
not here now, or we might both have cause to be sorry. It was you who put
these prying, and for all I know, thieving creatures into my house, and it was
as mean a trick as ever one man played another. You and this precious cousin
of yours thought you could bring about a marriage; you put her up to her
ridiculous antics. Faugh! The very thought of it all makes me sick."
"Oh, mother, what shall I do?" Jane cried, rushing into the parlor and
throwing herself on the floor, "he's goin' to put us right out."
"He can't put me out before the three months are up," quavered the widow.
"Yes, he can. We've been a-rummagin' where we'd no bizniss to be. He's mad
enough to do anything; he jes' looks awful; I'm afraid of him."
"Jane," said her mother plaintively, "I feel indisposed. I think I'll
"Yes, that's the way with YOU," sobbed the child. "You get me into the scrape
and now you retire."
Mrs. Mumpson's confidence in herself and her schemes was terribly shaken. "I
must act very discreetly. I must be alone that I may think over these
untoward events. Mr. Holcroft has been so warped by the past female
influences of his life that there's no counting on his action. He taxes me
sorely," she explained, and then ascended the stairs.
"Oh! Oh!" moaned the child as she writhed on the floor, "mother aint got no
sense at all. What IS goin' to become of me? I'd ruther hang about his barn
than go back to Cousin Lemuel's or any other cousin's."
Spurred by one hope, she at last sprung up and went to the kitchen. It was
already growing dark, and she lighted the lamp, kindled the fire, and began
getting supper with breathless energy.
As far as he could discover, Holcroft was satisfied that nothing had been
taken. In this respect he was right. Mrs. Mumpson's curiosity and
covetousness were boundless, but she would not steal. There are few who do
not draw the line somewhere.
Having tried to put the articles back as they were before, he locked them up,
and went hastily down and out, feeling that he must regain his self-control
and decide upon his future action at once. "I will then carry out my purposes
in a way that will give the Weeks tribe no chance to make trouble."
As he passed the kitchen windows he saw Jane rushing about as if possessed,
and he stopped to watch her. It soon became evident that she was trying to
get his supper. His heart relented at once in spite of himself. "The poor,
wronged child!" he muttered. "Why should I be so hard on her for doing what
she's been brought up to do? Well, well, it's too bad to send her away, but I
can't help it. I'd lose my own reason if the mother were here much longer,
and if I kept Jane, her idiotic mother would stay in spite of me. If she
didn't, there'd be endless talk and lawsuits, too, like enough, about
separating parent and child. Jane's too young and little, anyway, to be here
alone and do the work. But I'm sorry for her, I declare I am, and I wish I
could do something to give her a chance in the world. If my wife was only
living, we'd take and bring her up, disagreeable and homely as she is; but
there's no use of my trying to do anything alone. I fear, after all, that I
shall have to give up the old place and go--I don't know where. What is to
become of her?"
Chapter XVI. Mrs. Mumpson's Vicissitudes
Having completed her preparations for supper, Jane stole timidly up to
Holcroft's room to summon him. Her first rap on his door was scarcely
audible, then she ventured to knock louder and finally to call him, but there
was no response. Full of vague dread she went to her mother's room and said,
"He won't answer me. He's so awful mad that I don't know what he'll do."
"I think he has left his apartment," her mother moaned from the bed.
"Why couldn't yer tell me so before?" cried Jane. "What yer gone to bed for?
If you'd only show some sense and try to do what he brought you here for, like
enough he'd keep us yet."
"My heart's too crushed, Jane--"
"Oh, bother, bother!" and the child rushed away. She looked into the dark
parlor and called, "Mr. Holcroft!" Then she appeared in the kitchen again,
the picture of uncouth distress and perplexity. A moment later she opened the
door and darted toward the barn.
"What do you wish, Jane?" said Holcroft, emerging from a shadowy corner and
"Sup--supper's--ready," sobbed the child.
He came in and sat down at the table, considerately appearing not to notice
her until she had a chance to recover composure. She vigorously used the
sleeve of both arms in drying her eyes, then stole in and found a seat in a
"Why don't you come to supper?" he asked quietly.
"Don't want any."
"You had better take some up to your mother."
"She oughtn't to have any."
"That doesn't make any difference. I want you to take up something to her,
and then come down and eat your supper like a sensible girl."
"I aint been sensible, nor mother nuther."
"Do as I say, Jane." The child obeyed, but she couldn't swallow anything but
a little coffee.
Holcroft was in a quandary. He had not the gift of speaking soothing yet
meaningless words, and was too honest to raise false hopes. He was therefore
almost as silent and embarrassed as Jane herself. To the girl's furtive
scrutiny he did not seem hardened against her, and she at last ventured, "Say,
I didn't touch them drawers after you told me not to do anything on the sly."
"When were they opened? Tell me the truth, Jane."
"Mother opened them the first day you left us alone. I told her you wouldn't
like it, but she said she was housekeeper; she said how it was her duty to
inspect everything. I wanted to inspect, too. We was jes' rummagin'--that's
what it was. After the things were all pulled out, mother got the rocker and
wouldn't do anything. It was gettin' late, and I was frightened and poked 'em
back in a hurry. Mother wanted to rummage ag'in the other day and I wouldn't
let her; then, she wouldn't let me have the keys so I could fix 'em up."
"But the keys were in my pocket, Jane."
"Mother has a lot of keys. I've told you jes' how it all was."
"Nothing was taken away?"
"No. Mother aint got sense, but she never takes things. I nuther 'cept when
I'm hungry. Never took anything here. Say, are you goin' to send us away?'
"I fear I shall have to, Jane. I'm sorry for you, for I believe you would try
to do the best you could if given a chance, and I can see you never had a
"No," said the child, blinking hard to keep the tears out of her eyes. "I aint
had no teachin'. I've jes' kinder growed along with the farm hands and rough
boys. Them that didn't hate me teased me. Say, couldn't I stay in your barn
and sleep in the hay?"
Holcroft was sorely perplexed and pushed away his half-eaten supper. He knew
himself what it was to be friendless and lonely, and his heart softened toward
this worse than motherless child.
"Jane," he said kindly, "I'm just as sorry for you as I can be, but you don't
know the difficulties in the way of what you wish, and I fear I can't make you
understand them. Indeed, it would not be best to tell you all of them. If I
could keep you at all, you should stay in the house, and I'd be kind to you,
but it can't be. I may not stay here myself. My future course is very
uncertain. There's no use of my trying to go on as I have. Perhaps some day
I can do something for you, and if I can, I will. I will pay your mother her
three months' wages in full in the morning, and then I want you both to get
your things into your trunk, and I'll take you to your Cousin Lemuel's."
Driven almost to desperation, Jane suggested the only scheme she could think
of. "If you stayed here and I run away and came back, wouldn't you keep me?
I'd work all day and all night jes' for the sake of stayin'."
"No, Jane," said Holcroft firmly, "you'd make me no end of trouble if you did
that. If you'll be a good girl and learn how to do things, I'll try to find
you a place among kind people some day when you're older and can act for
"You're afraid 'fi's here mother'd come a-visitin," said the girl keenly.
"You're too young to understand half the trouble that might follow. My plans
are too uncertain for me to tangle myself up. You and your mother must go
away at once, so I can do what I must do before it's too late in the season.
Here's a couple of dollars which you can keep for yourself," and he went up to
his room, feeling that he could not witness the child's distress any longer.
He fought hard against despondency and tried to face the actual condition of
his affairs. "I might have known," he thought, "that things would have turned
out somewhat as they have, with such women in the house, and I don't see much
chance of getting better ones. I've been so bent on staying and going on as I
used to that I've just shut my eyes to the facts." He got out an old account
book and pored over it a long time. The entries therein were blind enough,
but at last he concluded, "It's plain that I've lost money on the dairy ever
since my wife died, and the prospects now are worse than ever. That Weeks
tribe will set the whole town talking against me and it will be just about
impossible to get a decent woman to come here. I might as well have an
auction and sell all the cows but one at once. After that, if I find I can't
make out living alone, I'll put the place in better order and sell or rent. I
can get my own meals after a fashion, and old Jonathan Johnson's wife will do
my washing and mending. It's time it was done better than it has been, for
some of my clothes make me look like a scarecrow. I believe Jonathan will
come with his cross dog and stay here too, when I must be away. Well, well,
it's a hard lot for a man; but I'd be about as bad off, and a hundred-fold
more lonely, if I went anywhere else.
"I can only feel my way along and live a day at a time. I'll learn what can
be done and what can't be. One thing is clear: I can't go on with this Mrs.
Mumpson in the house a day longer. She makes me creep and crawl all over, and
the first thing I know I shall be swearing like a bloody pirate unless I get
rid of her.
"If she wasn't such a hopeless idiot I'd let her stay for the sake of Jane,
but I won't pay her good wages to make my life a burden a day longer," and
with like self-communings he spent the evening until the habit of early
drowsiness overcame him.
The morning found Jane dispirited and a little sullen, as older and wiser
people are apt to be when disappointed. She employed herself in getting
breakfast carelessly and languidly, and the result was not satisfactory.
"Where's your mother?" Holcroft asked when he came in.
"She told me to tell you she was indisposed."
"Indisposed to go to Lemuel Weeks'?"
"I 'spect she means she's sick."
He frowned and looked suspiciously at the girl. Here was a new complication,
and very possibly a trick.
"What's the matter with her?"
"Well, she had better get well enough to go by this afternoon," he remarked,
controlling his irritation with difficulty, and nothing more was said.
Full of his new plans he spent a busy forenoon and then came to dinner. It
was the same old story. He went up and knocked at Mrs. Mumpson's door, saying
that he wished to speak with her.
"I'm too indisposed to transact business," she replied feebly.
"You must be ready tomorrow morning," he called. "I have business plans which
can't be delayed," and he turned away muttering rather sulphurous words.
"He will relent; his hard heart will soften at last--" But we shall not weary
the reader with the long soliloquies with which she beguiled her politic
seclusion, as she regarded it. Poor, unsophisticated Jane made matters worse.
The condition of life among her much-visited relatives now existed again. She
was not wanted, and her old sly, sullen, and furtive manner reasserted itself.
Much of Holcroft's sympathy was thus alienated, yet he partially understood
and pitied her. It became, however, all the more clear that he must get rid
of both mother and child, and that further relations with either of them could
only lead to trouble.
The following morning only Jane appeared. "Is your mother really sick?" he
"S'pose so," was the laconic reply.
"You haven't taken much pains with the breakfast, Jane."
"'Taint no use."
With knitted brows he thought deeply, and silently ate the wretched meal which
had been prepared. Then, remarking that he might do some writing, he went up
to a small attic room which had been used occasionally by a hired man. It
contained a covered pipe-hole leading into the chimney flue. Removing the
cover, he stopped up the flue with an old woolen coat. "I suppose I'll have to
meet tricks with tricks," he muttered.
Returning to his own apartment, he lighted a fire in the stove and laid upon
the kindling blaze some dampened wood, then went out and quietly hitched his
horses to the wagon.
The pungent odor of smoke soon filled the house. The cover over the pipe-hole
in Mrs. Mumpson's room was not very secure, and thick volumes began to pour in
upon the startled widow. "Jane!" she shrieked.
If Jane was sullen toward Holcroft, she was furious at her mother, and paid no
heed at first to her cry.
"Jane, Jane, the house is on fire!"
Then the child did fly up the stairway. The smoke seemed to confirm the words
of her mother, who was dressing in hot haste. "Run and tell Mr. Holcroft!" she
"I won't," said the girl. "If he won't keep us in the house, I don't care if
he don't have any house."
"No, no, tell him!" screamed Mrs. Mumpson. "If we save his house he will
relent. Gratitude will overwhelm him. So far from turning us away, he will
sue, he will plead for forgiveness for his former harshness; his home saved
will be our home won. Just put our things in the trunk first. Perhaps the
house can't be saved, and you know we must save OUR things. Help me, quick!
There, there; now, now"--both were sneezing and choking in a half-strangled
manner. "Now let me lock it; my hand trembles so; take hold and draw it out;
drag it downstairs; no matter how it scratches things!"
Having reached the hall below, she opened the door and shrieked for Holcroft;
Jane also began running toward the barn. The farmer came hastily out, and
shouted, "What's the matter?"
"The house is on fire!" they screamed in chorus.
To carry out his ruse, he ran swiftly to the house. Mrs. Mumpson stood before
him wringing her hands and crying, "Oh, dear Mr. Holcroft, can't I do anything
to help you? I would so like to help you and--"
"Yes, my good woman, let me get in the door and see what's the matter. Oh,
here's your trunk. That's sensible. Better get it outside," and he went up
the stairs two steps at a time and rushed into his room.
"Jane, Jane," ejaculated Mrs. Mumpson, sinking on a seat in the porch, "he
called me his good woman!" But Jane was busy dragging the trunk out of doors.
Having secured her own and her mother's worldly possessions, she called,
"Shall I bring water and carry things out?"
"No," he replied, "not yet. There's something the matter with the chimney,"
and he hastened up to the attic room, removed the clog from the flue, put on
the cover again, and threw open the window. Returning, he locked the door of
the room which Mrs. Mumpson had occupied and came downstairs. "I must get a
ladder and examine the chimney," he said as he passed.
"Oh, my dear Mr. Holcroft!" the widow began.
"Can't talk with you yet," and he hastened on.
"As soon as he's sure the house is safe, Jane, all will be well."
But the girl had grown hopeless and cynical. She had not penetrated his
scheme to restore her mother to health, but understood the man well enough to
be sure that her mother's hopes would end as they had in the past. She sat
down apathetically on the trunk to see what would happen next.
After a brief inspection Holcroft came down from the roof and said, "The
chimney will have to be repaired," which was true enough and equally so of
other parts of the dwelling. The fortunes of the owner were reflected in the
appearance of the building.
If it were a possible thing Holcroft wished to carry out his ruse undetected,
and he hastened upstairs again, ostensibly to see that all danger had passed,
but in reality to prepare his mind for an intensely disagreeable interview.
"I'd rather face a mob of men than that one idiotic woman," he muttered. "I
could calculate the actions of a setting hen with her head cut off better than
I can this widow's. But there's no help for it," and he came down looking
very resolute. "I've let the fire in my stove go out, and there's no more
danger," he said quietly, as he sat down on the porch opposite Mrs. Mumpson.
"Oh-h," she exclaimed, with a long breath of relief, "we've saved the
dwelling. What would we have done if it had burned down! We would have been
"That may be my condition soon, as it is," he said coldly. "I am very glad,
Mrs. Mumpson, that you are so much better. As Jane told you, I suppose, I
will pay you the sum I agreed to give you for three months' service--"
"My dear Mr. Holcroft, my nerves have been too shaken to talk business this
morning," and the widow leaned back and looked as if she were going to faint.
"I'm only a poor lone woman," she added feebly, "and you cannot be so lacking
in the milk of human kindness as to take advantage of me."
"No, madam, nor shall I allow you and Lemuel Weeks to take advantage of me.
This is my house and I have a right to make my own arrangements."
"It might all be arranged so easily in another way," sighed the widow.
"It cannot be arranged in any other way--" he began.
"Mr. Holcroft," she cried, leaning suddenly forward with clasped hands and
speaking effusively, "you but now called me your good woman. Think how much
those words mean. Make them true, now that you've spoken them. Then you
won't be homeless and will never need a caretaker."
"Are you making me an offer of marriage?" he asked with lowering brow.
"Oh, no, indeed!" she simpered. "That wouldn't be becoming in me. I'm only
responding to your own words."
Rising, he said sternly, "No power on earth could induce me to marry you, and
that would be plain enough if you were in your right mind. I shall not stand
this foolishness another moment. You must go with me at once to Lemuel
Weeks'. If you will not, I'll have you taken to an insane asylum."
"To an insane asylum! What for?" she half shrieked, springing to her feet.
"You'll see," he replied, going down the steps. "Jump up, Jane! I shall take
the trunk to your cousin's. If you are so crazy as to stay in a man's house
when he don't want you and won't have you, you are fit only for an asylum."
Mrs. Mumpson was sane enough to perceive that she was at the end of her
adhesive resources. In his possession of her trunk, the farmer also had a
strategic advantage which made it necessary for her to yield. She did so,
however, with very bad grace. When he drove up, she bounced into the wagon as
if made of India rubber, while Jane followed slowly, with a look of sullen
apathy. He touched his horses with the whip into a smart trot, scarcely
daring to believe in his good fortune. The lane was rather steep and rough,
and he soon had to pull up lest the object of his unhappy solicitude should be
jolted out of the vehicle. This gave the widow her chance to open fire. "The
end has not come yet, Mr. Holcroft," she said vindictively. "You may think you
are going to have an easy triumph over a poor, friendless, unfortunate,
sensitive, afflicted woman and a fatherless child, but you shall soon learn
that there's a law in the land. You have addressed improper words to me, you
have threatened me, you have broken your agreement. I have writings, I have a
memory, I have language to plead the cause of the widow and the fatherless. I
have been wronged, outraged, trampled upon, and then turned out of doors. The
indignant world shall hear my story, the finger of scorn will be pointed at
you. Your name will become a byword and a hissing. Respecterble women,
respecterbly connected, will stand aloof and shudder."
The torrent of words was unchecked except when the wheels struck a stone,
jolting her so severely that her jaws came together with a click as if she
were snapping at him.
He made no reply whatever, but longed to get his hands upon Lemuel Weeks.
Pushing his horses to a high rate of speed, he soon reached that interested
neighbor's door, intercepting him just as he was starting to town.
He looked very sour as he saw his wife's relatives, and demanded harshly,
"What does this mean?"
"It means," cried Mrs. Mumpson in her high, cackling tones, "that he's said
things and done things too awful to speak of; that he's broken his agreement
and turned us out of doors."
"Jim Holcroft," said Mr. Weeks, blustering up to the wagon, "you can't carry
on with this high hand. Take these people back to your house where they
belong, or you'll be sorry."
Holcroft sprang out, whirled Mr. Weeks out of his way, took out the trunk,
then with equal expedition and no more ceremony lifted down Mrs. Mumpson and
"Do you know what you're about?" shouted Mr. Weeks in a rage. "I'll have the
law on you this very day."
Holcroft maintained his ominous silence as he hitched his horses securely.
Then he strode toward Weeks, who backed away from him. "Oh, don't be afraid,
you sneaking, cowardly fox!" said the farmer bitterly. "If I gave you your
desserts, I'd take my horsewhip to you. You're going to law me, are you?
Well, begin today, and I'll be ready for you. I won't demean myself by
answering that woman, but I'm ready for you in any way you've a mind to come.
I'll put you and your wife on the witness stand. I'll summon Cousin Abram, as
you call him, and his wife, and compel you all under oath to give Mrs. Mumpson
a few testimonials. I'll prove the trick you played on me and the lies you
told. I'll prove that this woman, in my absence, invaded my room, and with
keys of her own opened my dead wife's bureau and pulled out her things. I'll
prove that she hasn't earned her salt and can't, and may prove something more.
Now, if you want to go to law, begin. Nothing would please me better than to
show up you and your tribe. I've offered to pay this woman her three months'
wages in full, and so have kept my agreement. She has not kept hers, for
she's only sat in a rocking chair and made trouble. Now, do as you please.
I'll give you all the law you want. I'd like to add a horsewhipping, but that
would give you a case and now you haven't any."
As Holcroft uttered these words sternly and slowly, like a man angry indeed
but under perfect self-control, the perspiration broke out on Weeks' face. He
was aware that Mrs. Mumpson was too well known to play the role of a wronged
woman, and remembered what his testimony and that of many others would be
under oath. Therefore, he began, "Oh, well, Mr. Holcroft! There's no need of
your getting in such a rage and threatening so; I'm willing to talk the matter
over and only want to do the square thing."
The farmer made a gesture of disgust as he said, "I understand you, Lemuel
Weeks. There's no talking needed and I'm in no mood for it. Here's the money
I agreed to pay. I'll give it to Mrs. Mumpson when she has signed this paper,
and you've signed as witness of her signature. Otherwise, it's law. Now
decide quick, I'm in a hurry."
Objections were interposed, and Holcroft, returning the money to his pocket,
started for his team, without a word. "Oh, well!" said Weeks in strong
irritation, "I haven't time for a lawsuit at this season of the year. You
are both cranks, and I suppose it would be best for me and my folks to be rid
of you both. It's a pity, though, you couldn't be married and left to fight
Holcroft took the whip from his wagon and said quietly, "If you speak another
insulting word, I'll horsewhip you and take my chances."
Something in the man's look prevented Weeks from uttering another unnecessary
remark. The business was soon transacted, accompanied with Mrs. Mumpson's
venomous words, for she had discovered that she could stigmatize Holcroft with
impunity. He went to Jane and shook her hand as he said goodby. "I am sorry
for you, and I won't forget my promise;" then drove rapidly away.
"Cousin Lemuel," said Mrs. Mumpson plaintively, "won't you have Timothy take
my trunk to our room?"
"No, I won't," he snapped. "You've had your chance and have fooled it away. I
was just going to town, and you and Jane will go along with me," and he put
the widow's trunk into his wagon.
Mrs. Weeks came out and wiped her eyes ostentatiously with her apron as she
whispered, "I can't help it, Cynthy. When Lemuel goes off the handle in this
way, it's no use for me to say anything."
Mrs. Mumpson wept hysterically as she was driven away. Jane's sullen and
apathetic aspect had passed away in part for Holcroft's words had kindled
something like hope.
Chapter XVII. A Momentous Decision
It must be admitted that Holcroft enjoyed his triumph over Lemuel Weeks very
much after the fashion of the aboriginal man. Indeed, he was almost sorry he
had not been given a little more provocation, knowing well that, had this been
true, his neighbor would have received a fuller return for his interested
efforts. As he saw his farmhouse in the shimmering April sunlight, as the old
churning dog came forward, wagging his tail, the farmer said, "This is the
only place which can ever be home to me. Well, well! It's queer about
people. Some, when they go, leave you desolate; others make you happy by
their absence. I never dreamed that silly Mumpson could make me happy, but
she has. Blessed if I don't feel happy! The first time in a year or more!"
And he began to whistle old "Coronation" in the most lively fashion as he
unharnessed his horses.
A little later, he prepared himself a good dinner and ate it in leisurely
enjoyment, sharing a morsel now and then with the old dog. "You're a plaguey
sight better company than she was," he mused. "That poor little stray cat of a
Jane! What will become of her? Well, well! Soon as she's old enough to cut
loose from her mother, I'll try to give her a chance, if it's a possible
After dinner, he made a rough draught of an auction bill, offering his cows
for sale, muttering as he did so, "Tom Watterly'll help me put it in better
shape." Then he drove a mile away to see old Mr. And Mrs. Johnson. The
former agreed for a small sum to mount guard with his dog during the farmer's
occasional absences, and the latter readily consented to do the washing and
"What do I want of any more 'peculiar females,' as that daft widow called
'em?" he chuckled on his return. "Blames if she wasn't the most peculiar of
the lot. Think of me marrying her!" and the hillside echoed to his derisive
laugh. "As I feel today, there's a better chance of my being struck by
lightning than marrying, and I don't think any woman could do it in spite of
me. I'll run the ranch alone."
That evening he smoked his pipe cheerfully beside the kitchen fire, the dog
sleeping at his feet. "I declare," he said smilingly, "I feel quite at home."
In the morning, after attending to his work, he went for old Jonathan Johnson
and installed him in charge of the premises; then drove to the almshouse with
all the surplus butter and eggs on hand. Tom Watterly arrived at the door
with his fast-trotting horse at the same time, and cried, "Hello, Jim! Just
in time. I'm a sort of grass widower today--been taking my wife out to see
her sister. Come in and take pot luck with me and keep up my spirits."
"Well, now, Tom," said Holcroft, shaking hands, "I'm glad, not that your
wife's away, although it does make me downhearted to contrast your lot and
mine, but I'm glad you can give me a little time, for I want to use that
practical head of yours--some advice, you know."
"All right. Nothing to do for an hour or two but eat dinner and smoke my pipe
with you. Here, Bill! Take this team and feed 'em."
"Hold on," said Holcroft, "I'm not going to sponge on you. I've got some
favors to ask, and I want you to take in return some butter half spoiled in
the making and this basket of eggs. They're all right."
"Go to thunder, Holcroft! What do you take me for? When you've filled your
pipe after dinner will you pull an egg out of your pocket and say, 'That's for
a smoke?' No, no, I don't sell any advice to old friends like you. I'll buy
your butter and eggs at what they're worth and have done with 'em. Business
is one thing, and sitting down and talking over an old crony's troubles is
another. I'm not a saint, Jim, as you know--a man in politics can't be--but I
remember when we were boys together, and somehow thinking of those old days
always fetches me. Come in, for dinner is a-waiting, I guess."
"Well, Tom, saint or no saint, I'd like to vote for you for gov'nor."
"This aint an electioneering trick, as you know. I can play them off as well
as the next feller when there's need, kiss the babies and all that."
Dinner was placed on the table immediately, and in a few moments the friends
were left alone. Then Holcroft related in a half comic, half serious manner
his tribulations with the help. Tom sat back in his chair and roared at the
account of the pitched battle between the two widows and the final smoking out
of Mrs. Mumpson, but he reproached his friend for not having horsewhipped
Lemuel Weeks. "Don't you remember, Jim, he was a sneaking, tricky chap when we
were at school together? I licked him once, and it always does me good to
think of it."
"I own it takes considerable to rile me to the point of striking a man,
especially on his own land. His wife was looking out the window, too. If
we'd been out in the road or anywhere else--but what's the use? I'm glad now
it turned out as it has for I've too much on my mind for lawsuits, and the
less one has to do with such cattle as Weeks the better. Well, you see I'm
alone again, and I'm going to go it alone. I'm going to sell my cows and give
up the dairy, and the thing I wanted help in most is the putting this auction
bill in shape; also advice as to whether I had better try to sell here in town
or up at the farm."
Tom shook his head dubiously and scarcely glanced at the paper. "Your scheme
don't look practical to me," he said. "I don't believe you can run that farm
alone without losing money. You'll just keep on going behind till the first
thing you know you'll clap a mortgage on it. Then you'll soon be done for.
What's more, you'll break down if you try to do both outdoor and indoor work.
Busy times will soon come, and you won't get your meals regularly; you'll be
living on coffee and anything that comes handiest; your house will grow untidy
and not fit to live in. If you should be taken sick, there'd be no one to do
for you. Lumbermen, hunters, and such fellows can rough it alone awhile, but
I never heard of a farm being run by man-power alone. Now as to selling out
your stock, look at it. Grazing is what your farm's good for mostly. It's a
pity you're so bent on staying there. Even if you didn't get very much for
the place, from sale or rent, you'd have something that was sure. A strong,
capable man like you could find something to turn your hand to. Then you
could board in some respectable family, and not have to live like Robinson
Crusoe. I've thought it over since we talked last, and if I was you I'd sell
"It's too late in the season to do either," said Holcroft dejectedly. "What's
more, I don't want to, at least not this year. I've settled that, Tom. I'm
going to have one more summer on the old place, anyway, if I have to live on
bread and milk."
"You can't make bread."
"I'll have it brought from town on the stage."
"Well, it's a pity some good, decent woman--There, how should I come to forget
all about HER till this minute? I don't know whether it would work. Perhaps
it would. There's a woman here out of the common run. She has quite a story,
which I'll tell you in confidence. Then you can say whether you'd like to
employ her or not. If you WILL stay on the farm, my advice is that you have a
woman to do the housework, and me and Angy must try to find you one, if the
one I have in mind won't answer. The trouble is, Holcroft, to get the right
kind of a woman to live there alone with you, unless you married her. Nice
women don't like to be talked about, and I don't blame 'em. The one that's
here, though, is so friendless and alone in the world that she might be glad
enough to get a home almost anywheres."
"Well, well! Tell me about her," said Holcroft gloomily. "But I'm about
discouraged in the line of women help."
Watterly told Alida's story with a certain rude pathos which touched the
farmer's naturally kind heart, and he quite forgot his own need in indignation
at the poor woman's wrongs. "It's a **** shame!" he said excitedly, pacing the
room. "I say, Tom, all the law in the land wouldn't keep me from giving that
fellow a whipping or worse."
"Well, she won't prosecute; she won't face the public; she just wants to go to
some quiet place and work for her bread. She don't seem to have any friends,
or else she's too ashamed to let them know."
"Why, of course I'd give such a woman a refuge till she could do better. What
"A good many wouldn't. What's more, if she went with you her story might get
out, and you'd both be talked about."
"I don't care that for gossip," with a snap of his fingers. "You know I'd
treat her with respect."
"What I know, and what other people would say, are two very different things.
Neither you nor anyone else can go too strongly against public opinion.
Still, it's nobody's business," added Tom thoughtfully. "Perhaps it's worth
the trial. If she went I think she'd stay and do the best by you she could.
Would you like to see her?"
Alida was summoned and stood with downcast eyes in the door. "Come in and take
a chair," said Tom kindly. "You know I promised to be on the lookout for a
good place for you. Well, my friend here, Mr. Holcroft, whom I've known ever
since I was a boy, wants a woman to do general housework and take care of the
She gave the farmer one of those swift, comprehensive glances by which women
take in a personality, and said in a tone of regret, "But I don't understand
"Oh, you'd soon learn. It's just the kind of a place you said you wanted, a
lonely, out-of-the-way farm and no other help kept. What's more, my friend
Holcroft is a kind, honest man. He'd treat you right. He knows all about
your trouble and is sorry for you."
If Holcroft had been an ogre in appearance, he would have received the
grateful glance which she now gave him as she said, "I'd be only too glad to
work for you, sir, if you think I can do, or learn to do, what is required."
Holcroft, while his friend was speaking, had studied closely Alida's thin,
pale face, and he saw nothing in it not in harmony with the story he had
heard. "I am sorry for you," he said kindly. "I believe you never meant to do
wrong and have tried to do right. I will be perfectly honest with you. My
wife is dead, the help I had has left me, and I live alone in the house. The
truth is, too, that I could not afford to keep two in help, and there would
not be work for them both."
Alida had learned much in her terrible adversity, and had, moreover the
instincts of a class superior to the position she was asked to take. She
bowed low to hide the burning flush that crimsoned her pale cheeks as she
faltered, "It may seem strange to you, sirs, that one situated as I am should
hesitate, but I have never knowingly done anything which gave people the right
to speak against me. I do not fear work, I would humbly try to do my best,
but--" She hesitated and rose as if to retire.
"I understand you," said Holcroft kindly, "and I don't blame you for doing
what you think is right."
"I'm very sorry, sir," she replied, tears coming into her eyes as she went out
of the room.
"There it is, Holcroft," said Tom. "I believe she's just the one for you, but
you can see she isn't of the common kind. She knows as well as you and me how
people would talk, especially if her story came out, as like enough it will."
"Hang people!" snarled the farmer.
"Yes, a good lot of 'em deserve hanging, but it wouldn't help you any just
now. Perhaps she'd go with you if you got another girl or took an old woman
from the house here to keep her company."
"I'm sick to death of such hags," said the farmer with an impatient gesture.
Then he sat down and looked at his friend as if a plan was forming in his mind
of which he scarcely dare speak.
"Well, out with it!" said Tom.
"Have you ever seen a marriage ceremony performed by a justice of the peace?"
Holcroft asked slowly.
"No, but they do it often enough. What! Are you going to offer her
"You say she is homeless and friendless?'
"And you believe she is just what she seems--just what her story shows her to
"Yes. I've seen too many frauds to be taken in. She isn't a fraud. Neither
does she belong to that miserable, wishy-washy, downhill class that sooner or
later fetches up in a poorhouse. They say we're all made of dust, but some
seem made of mud. You could see she was out of the common; and she's here on
account of the wrong she received and not the wrong she did. I say all this
in fairness to her; but when it comes to marrying her, that's another
"Tom, as I've told you, I don't want to marry. In fact, I couldn't go before
a minister and promise what I'd have to. But I could do something like this.
I could give this woman an honest name and a home. It would be marriage
before the law. No one could ever say a word against either of us. I would
be true and kind to her and she should share in my fortunes. That's all. You
have often advised me to marry, and you know if I did it couldn't be anything
else but a business affair. Then it ought to be done in a businesslike way.
You say I can't get along alone, and like enough you're right. I've learned
more from this woman's manner than I have in a year why I can't get and keep
the right kind of help, and I now feel if I could find a good, honest woman
who would make my interest hers, and help me make a living in my own home, I'd
give her my name and all the security which an honest name conveys. Now, this
poor woman is in sore need and she might be grateful for what I can do, while
any other woman would naturally expect me to promise more than I honestly can.
Anyhow, I'd have to go through the form, and I can't and won't go and say
sacred words--just about what I said when I married my wife--and know all the
time I was lying."
"Well, Holcroft, you're a queer dick and this is a queer plan of yours.
You're beyond my depth now and I can't advise."
"Why is it a queer plan? Things only seem odd because they are not common. As
a matter of fact, you advise a business marriage. When I try to follow your
advice honestly and not dishonestly, you say I'm queer."
"I suppose if everybody became honest, it would be the queerest world every
known," said Tom laughing. "Well, you might do worse than marry this woman. I
can tell you that marrying is risky business at best. You know a justice will
tie you just as tight as a minister, and while I've given you my impression
about this woman, I KNOW little about her and you know next to nothing."
"I guess that would be the case, anyhow. If you set out to find a wife for
me, where is there a woman that you actually do know more about? As for my
going here and there, to get acquainted, it's out of the question. All my
feelings rise up against such a course. Now, I feel sorry for this woman.
She has at least my sympathy. If she is as friendless, poor, and unhappy as
she seems, I might do her as great a kindness as she would do for me if she
could take care of my home. I wouldn't expect very much. It would be a
comfort just to have someone in the house that wouldn't rob or waste, and who,
knowing what her station was, would be content. Of course I'd have to talk it
over with her and make my purpose clear. She might agree with you that it's
too queer to be thought of. If so, that would be the end of it."
"Will, Jim, you always finish by half talking me over to your side of a
question. Now, if my wife was home, I don't believe she'd listen to any such
"No, I suppose she wouldn't. She'd believe in people marrying and doing
everything in the ordinary way. But neither I nor this woman is in ordinary
circumstances. Do you know of a justice?"
"Yes, and you know him, too; Justice Harkins."
"Why, certainly. He came from our town and I knew him when he was a boy,
although I haven't seen much of him of late years."
"Well, shall I go and say to this woman--Alida Armstrong is her name now, I
suppose--that you wish to see her again?"
"Yes, I shall tell her the truth. Then she can decide."
Chapter XVIII. Holcroft Gives His Hand
Alida was seated by a window with some of the mending in which she assisted,
and, as usual, was apart by herself. Watterly entered the large apartment
quietly, and at first she did not observe him. He had time to note that she
was greatly dejected, and when she saw him she hastily wiped tears from her
"You are a good deal cast down, Alida," he said, watching her closely.
"I've reason to be. I don't see any light ahead at all."
"Well, you know the old saying, 'It's darkest before day.' I want you to come
with me again. I think I've found a chance for you."
She rose with alacrity and followed. As soon as they were alone, he turned
and looked her squarely in the face as he said gravely, "You have good common
sense, haven't you?"
"I don't know, sir," she faltered, perplexed and troubled by the question.
"Well, you can understand this much, I suppose. As superintendent of this
house I have a responsible position, which I could easily lose if I allowed
myself to be mixed up with anything wrong or improper. To come right to the
point, you don't know much about me and next to nothing of my friend Holcroft,
but can't you see that even if I was a heartless, good-for-nothing fellow, it
wouldn't be wise or safe for me to permit anything that wouldn't bear the
"I think you are an honest man, sir. It would be strange if I did not have
confidence when you have judged me and treated me so kindly. But, Mr.
Watterly, although helpless and friendless, I must try to do what I think is
best. If I accepted Mr. Holcroft's position it might do him harm. You know
how quick the world is to misjudge. It would seem to confirm everything that
has been said against me," and the same painful flush again overspread her
"Well, Alida, all that you have to do is to listen patiently to my friend.
Whether you agree with his views or not, you will see that he is a
good-hearted, honest man. I want to prepare you for this talk by assuring you
that I've known him since he was a boy, that he has lived all his life in this
region and is known by many others, and that I wouldn't dare let him ask you
to do anything wrong, even if I was bad enough."
"I'm sure, sir, you don't wish me any harm," she again faltered in deep
"Indeed I don't. I don't advise my friend's course; neither do I oppose it.
He's certainly old enough to act for himself. I suppose I'm a rough counselor
for a young woman, but since you appear to have so few friends I'm inclined to
act as one. Just you stand on the question of right and wrong, and dismiss
from your mind all foolish notions of what people will say. As a rule, all
the people in the world can't do as much for us as somebody in particular.
Now you go in the parlor and listen like a sensible woman. I'll be reading
the paper, and the girl will be clearing off the table in the next room here."
Puzzled and trembling, Alida entered the apartment where Holcroft was seated.
She was so embarrassed that she could not lift her eyes to him.
"Please sit down," he said gravely, "and don't be troubled, much less
frightened. You are just as free to act as ever you were in your life."
She sat down near the door and compelled herself to look at him, for she felt
instinctively that she might gather more from the expression of his face than
from his words.
"Alida Armstrong is your name, Mr. Watterly tells me?"
"Well, Alida, I want to have a plain business talk with you. That's nothing
to be nervous and worried about, you know. As I told you, I've heard your
story. It has made me sorry for you instead of setting me against you. It
has made me respect you as a right-minded woman, and I shall give you good
proof that my words are true. At the same time, I shan't make any false
pretenses to what isn't true and couldn't be true. Since I've heard your
story, it's only fair you should hear mine, and I ought to tell it first."
He went over the past very briefly until he came to the death of his wife.
There was simple and homely pathos in the few sentences with which he referred
to this event. Then more fully he enlarged upon his efforts and failure to
keep house with hired help. Unconsciously, he had taken the best method to
enlist her sympathy. The secluded cottage and hillside farm became realities
to her fancy. She saw how the man's heart clung to his home, and his effort
to keep it touched her deeply.
"Oh!" she thought, "I do wish there was some way for me to go there. The
loneliness of the place which drove others away is the chief attraction for
me. Then it would be pleasant to work for such a man and make his home
comfortable for him. It's plain from his words and looks that he's as honest
and straightforward as the day is long. He only wants to keep his home and
make his living in peace."
As he had talked her nervous embarrassment passed away, and the deep sense of
her own need was pressing upon her again. She saw that he also was in great
need. His business talk was revealing deep trouble and perplexity. With the
quick intuitions of a woman, her mind went far beyond his brief sentences and
saw all the difficulties of his lot. His feeling reference to the loss of his
wife proved that he was not a coarse-natured man. As he spoke so plainly of
his life during the past year, her mind was insensibly abstracted from
everything but his want and hers, and she thought his farmhouse afforded just
the secluded refuge she craved. As he drew near the end of his story and
hesitated in visible embarrassment, she mustered courage to say timidly,
"Would you permit a suggestion from me?"
"You have said, sir, that your business and means would not allow you to keep
two in help, and as you have been speaking I have tried to think of some way.
The fact that your house is so lonely is just the reason why I should like to
work in it. As you can understand, I have no wish to meet strangers. Now,
sir, I am willing to work for very little; I should be glad to find such a
quiet refuge for simply my board and clothes, and I would do my very best and
try to learn what I did not know. It seems to me that if I worked for so
little you might think you could afford to hire some elderly woman also?" and
she looked at him in the eager hope that he would accept her proposition.
He shook his head as he replied, "I don't know of any such person. I took the
best one in this house, and you know how she turned out."
"Perhaps Mr. Watterly may know of someone else," she faltered. She was now
deeply troubled and perplexed again, supposing that he was about to renew his
first proposition that she should be his only help.
"If Mr. Watterly did know of anyone I would make the trial, but he does not.
Your offer is very considerate and reasonable, but--" and he hesitated again,
scarcely knowing how to go on.
"I am sorry, sir," she said, rising, as if to end the interview.
"Stay," he said, "you do not understand me yet. Of course I should not make
you the same offer that I did at first, after seeing your feeling about it,
and I respect you all the more because you so respect yourself. What I had in
mind was to give you my name, and it's an honest name. If we were married it
would be perfectly proper for you to go with me, and no one could say a word
against either of us."
"Oh!" she gasped, in strong agitation and surprise.
"Now don't be so taken aback. It's just as easy for you to refuse as it is to
speak, but listen first. What seems strange and unexpected may be the most
sensible thing for us both. You have your side of the case to think of just
as truly as I have mine; and I'm not forgetting, and I don't ask you to
forget, that I'm still talking business. You and I have both been through too
much trouble and loss to say any silly nonsense to each other. You've heard
my story, yet I'm almost a stranger to you as you are to me. We'd both have
to take considerable on trust. Yet I know I'm honest and well-meaning, and I
believe you are. Now look at it. Here we are, both much alone in the
world--both wishing to live a retired, quiet life. I don't care a rap for
what people say as long as I'm doing right, and in this case they'd have
nothing to say. It's our own business. I don't see as people will ever do
much for you, and a good many would impose on you and expect you to work
beyond your strength. They might not be very kind or considerate, either. I
suppose you've thought of this?"
"Yes," she replied with bowed head. "I should meet coldness, probably
harshness and scorn."
"Well, you'd never meet anything of the kind in my house. I would treat you
with respect and kindness. At the same time, I'm not going to mislead you by
a word. You shall have a chance to decide in view of the whole truth. My
friend, Mr. Watterly, has asked me more'n once, 'Why don't you marry again?'
I told him I had been married once, and that I couldn't go before a minister
and promise the same things over again when they wasn't true. I can't make to
you any promises or say any words that are not true, and I don't ask or expect
you to do what I can't do. But it has seemed to me that our condition was out
of the common lot--that we could take each other for just what we might be to
each other and no more. You would be my wife in name, and I do not ask you to
be my wife in more than name. You would thus secure a good home and the care
and protection of one who would be kind to you, and I would secure a
housekeeper--one that would stay with me and make my interests hers. It would
be a fair, square arrangement between ourselves, and nobody else's business.
By taking this course, we don't do any wrong to our feelings or have to say or
promise anything that isn't true."
"Yet I can't help saying, sir," she replied, in strong, yet repressed
agitation, "that your words sound very strange; and it seems stranger still
that you can offer marriage of any kind to a woman situated as I am. You know
my story, sir," she added, crimsoning, "and all may soon know it. You would
suffer wrong and injury."
"I offer you open and honorable marriage before the world, and no other kind.
Mr. Watterly and others--as many as you pleased--would witness it, and I'd
have you given a certificate at once. As for your story, it has only awakened
my sympathy. You have not meant to do any wrong. Your troubles are only
another reason in my mind for not taking any advantage of you or deceiving you
in the least. Look the truth squarely in the face. I'm bent on keeping my
house and getting my living as I have done, and I need a housekeeper that will
be true to all my interests. Think how I've been robbed and wronged, and what
a dog's life I've lived in my own home. You need a home, a support, and a
protector. I couldn't come to you or go to any other woman and say honestly
more than this. Isn't it better for people to be united on the ground of
truth than to begin by telling a pack of lies?"
"But--but can people be married with such an understanding by a minister?
Wouldn't it be deceiving him?"
"I shall not ask you to deceive anyone. Any marriage that either you or I
could now make would be practically a business marriage. I should therefore
take you, if you were willing, to a justice and have a legal or civil marriage
performed, and this would be just as binding as any other in the eye of the
law. It is often done. This would be much better to my mind than if people,
situated as we are, went to a church or a minister."
"Yes, yes, I couldn't do that."
"Well, now, Alida," he said, with a smile that wonderfully softened his rugged
features, "you are free to decide. It may seem to you a strange sort of
courtship, but we are both too old for much foolishness. I never was
sentimental, and it would be ridiculous to begin now. I'm full of trouble and
perplexity, and so are you. Are you willing to be my wife so far as an honest
name goes, and help me make a living for us both? That's all I ask. I, in my
turn, would promise to treat you with kindness and respect, and give you a
home as long as I lived and to leave you all I have in the world if I died.
That's all I could promise. I'm a lonely, quiet man, and like to be by
myself. I wouldn't be much society for you. I've said more today than I
might in a month, for I felt that it was due to you to know just what you were
"Oh, sir," said Alida, trembling, and with tears in her eyes, "you do not ask
much and you offer a great deal. If you, a strong man, dread to leave your
home and go out into the world you know not where, think how terrible it is
for a weak, friendless woman to be worse than homeless. I have lost
everything, even my good name."
"No, no! Not in my eyes."
"Oh, I know, I know!" she cried, wringing her hands. "Even these miserable
paupers like myself have made me feel it. They have burned the truth into my
brain and heart. Indeed, sir, you do not realize what you are doing or
asking. It is not fit or meet that I should bear your name. You might be
"Alida," said Holcroft gravely, "I've not forgotten your story, and you
shouldn't forget mine. Be sensible now. Don't I look old enough to know what
"Oh, oh, oh!" she cried impetuously, "if I were only sure it was right! It
may be business to you, but it seems like life or death to me. It's more than
death--I don't fear that--but I do fear life, I do fear the desperate struggle
just to maintain a bare, dreary existence. I do dread going out among
strangers and seeing their cold curiosity and their scorn. You can't
understand a woman's heart. It isn't right for me to die till God takes me,
but life has seemed so horrible, meeting suspicion on one side and cruel,
significant looks of knowledge on the other. I've been tortured even here by
these wretched hags, and I've envied even them, so near to death, yet not
ashamed like me. I know, and you should know, that my heart is broken,
crushed, trampled into the mire. I had felt that for me even the thought of
marriage again would be a mockery, a wicked thing, which I would never have a
right to entertain.--I never dreamt that anyone would think of such a thing,
knowing what you know. Oh, oh! Why have you tempted me so if it is not
right? I must do right. The feeling that I've not meant to do wrong is all
that has kept me from despair. But can it be right to let you take me from
the street, the poorhouse, with nothing to give but a blighted name, a broken
heart and feeble hands! See, I am but the shadow of what I was, and a dark
shadow at that. I could be only a dismal shadow at any man's hearth. Oh, oh!
I've thought and suffered until my reason seemed going. You don't realize,
you don't know the depths into which I've fallen. It can't be right."
Holcroft was almost appalled at this passionate outburst in one who thus far
had been sad, indeed, yet self-controlled. He looked at her in mingled pity
and consternation. His own troubles had seemed heavy enough, but he now
caught glimpses of something far beyond trouble--of agony, of mortal dread
that bordered on despair. He could scarcely comprehend how terrible to a
woman like Alida were the recent events of her life, and how circumstances,
with illness, had all tended to create a morbid horror of her situation. Like
himself she was naturally reticent in regard to her deeper feelings, patient
and undemonstrative. Had not his words evoked this outburst she might have
suffered and died in silence, but in this final conflict between conscience
and hope, the hot lava of her heart had broken forth. So little was he then
able to understand her, that suspicions crossed his mind. Perhaps his friend
Watterly had not heard the true story or else not the whole story. But his
straightforward simplicity stood him in good stead, and he said gently,
"Alida, you say I don't know, I don't realize. I believe you will tell me the
truth. You went to a minister and were married to a man that you thought you
had a right to marry--"
"You shall know it all from my own lips," she said, interrupting him; "you
have a right to know; and then you will see that it cannot be," and with bowed
head, and low, rapid, passionate utterance, she poured out her story. "That
woman, his wife," she concluded, "made me feel that I was of the scum and
offscouring of the earth, and they've made me feel so here, too--even these
wretched paupers. So the world will look on me till God takes me to my
mother. O, thank God! She don't know. Don' you see, now?" she asked, raising
her despairing eyes from which agony had dried all tears.
"Yes, I see you do," she added desperately, "for even you have turned from
"Confound it!" cried Holcroft, standing up and searching his pockets for a
handkerchief. "I--I--I'd like--like to choke that fellow. If I could get my
hands on him, there'd be trouble. Turn away from you, you poor wronged
creature! Don't you see I'm so sorry for you that I'm making a fool of
myself? I, who couldn't shed a tear over my own troubles--there, there,--come
now, let us be sensible. Let's get back to business, for I can't stand this
kind of thing at all. I'm so confused betwixt rage at him and pity for
you--Let me see; this is where we were: I want someone to take care of my
home, and you want a home. That's all there is about it now. If you say so,
I'll make you Mrs. Holcroft in an hour."
"I did not mean to work upon your sympathies, only to tell you the truth. God
bless you! That the impulses of your heart are so kind and merciful. But let
me be true to you as well as to myself. Go away and think it all over calmly
and quietly. Even for the sake of being rescued from a life that I dread far
more than death, I cannot let you do that which you may regret unspeakably.
Do not think I misunderstand your offer. It's the only one I could think of,
and I would not have thought of it if you had not spoke. I have no heart to
give. I could be a wife only in name, but I could work like a slave for
protection from a cruel, jeering world; I could hope for something like peace
and respite from suffering if I only had a safe refuge. But I must not have
these if it is not right and best. Good to me must not come through wrong to
"Tush, tush! You mustn't talk so. I can't stand it at all. I've heard your
story. It's just as I supposed at first, only a great deal more so. Why, of
course it's all right. It makes me believe in Providence, it all turns out so
entirely for our mutual good. I can do as much to help you as you to help me.
Now let's get back on the sensible, solid ground from which we started. The
idea of my wanting you to work like a slave! Like enough some people would,
and then you'd soon break down and be brought back here again. No, no; I've
explained just what I wish and just what I mean. You must get over the notion
that I'm a sentimental fool, carried away by my feelings. How Tom Watterly
would laugh at the idea! My mind is made up now just as much as it would be a
week hence. This is no place for you, and I don't like to think of your being
here. My spring work is pressing, too. Don't you see that by doing what I
ask you can set me right on my feet and start me uphill again after a year of
miserable downhill work? You have only to agree to what I've said, and you
will be at home tonight and I'll be quietly at my work tomorrow. Mr. Watterly
will go with us to the justice, who has known me all my life. Then, if anyone
ever says a word against you, he'll have me to settle with. Come, Alida!
Here's a strong hand that's able to take care of you."
She hesitated a moment, then clasped it like one who is sinking, and before he
divined her purpose, she kissed and bedewed it with tears.
Chapter XIX. A Business Marriage
While Holcroft's sympathies had been deeply touched by the intense emotion of
gratitude which had overpowered Alida, he had also been disturbed and rendered
somewhat anxious. He was actually troubled lest the woman he was about to
marry should speedily begin to love him, and develop a tendency to manifest
her affection in a manner that would seem to him extravagant and certainly
disagreeable. Accustomed all his life to repress his feelings, he wondered at
himself and could not understand how he had given way so unexpectedly. He was
not sufficiently versed in human nature to know that the depth of Alida's
distress was the adequate cause. If there had been a false or an affected
word, he would have remained cool enough. In his inability to gauge his own
nature as well as hers, he feared lest this businesslike marriage was verging
toward sentiment on her part. He did not like her kissing his hand. He was
profoundly sorry for her, but so he would have been for any other woman
suffering under the burden of a great wrong. He felt that it would be
embarrassing if she entertained sentiments toward him which he could not
reciprocate, and open manifestations of regard would remind him of that horror
of his life, Mrs. Mumpson. He was not incapable of quick, strong sympathy in
any instance of genuine trouble, but he was one of those men who would shrink
in natural recoil from any marked evidence of a woman's preference unless the
counterpart of her regard existed in his own breast.
To a woman of Alida's intuition the way in which he withdrew his hand and the
expression of his face had a world of meaning. She would not need a second
hint. Yet she did not misjudge him; she knew that he meant what he had said
and had said all that he meant. She was also aware that he had not and never
could understand the depths of fear and suffering from which his hand was
lifting her. Her gratitude was akin to that of a lost soul saved, and that
was all she had involuntarily expressed. She sat down again and quietly dried
her eyes, while in her heart she purposed to show her gratitude by patient
assiduity in learning to do what he required.
Holcroft was now bent upon carrying out his plan as quickly as possible and
returning home. He therefore asked, "Can you go with me at once, Alida?"
She simply bowed her acquiescence.
"That's sensible. Perhaps you had better get your things ready while I and
Mr. Watterly go and arrange with Justice Harkins."
Alida averted her face with a sort of shame which a woman feels who admits
such a truth. "I haven't anything, sir, but a hat and cloak to put on. I came
away and left everything."
"And I'm glad of it," said Holcroft heartily. "I wouldn't want you to bring
anything which that scoundrel gave you." He paced the room thoughtfully a
moment or two and then he called Watterly in. "It's settled, Tom. Alida will
be Mrs. Holcroft as soon as we can see the justice. Do you think we could
persuade him to come here?"
"One thing at a time. Mrs. Holcroft,--I may as well call you so, for when my
friend says he'll do a thing he does it,--I congratulate you. I think you are
well out of your troubles. Since you are to marry my old friend, we must be
friends, too," and he shook her heartily by the hand.
His words and manner were another ray of light--a welcome rift in the black
pall that had gathered round her.
"You were the first friend I found, sir, after--what happened," she said
"Well, you've found another and a better one; and he'll always be just the
same. Any woman might be glad--"
"Come, Tom, no more of that. I'm a plain old farmer that does what he agrees,
and that's all there is about it. I've told Alida just what I wished and
"I should hope so," interrupted Watterly, laughing. "You've taken time enough,
certainly, and I guess you've talked more than you have before in a year."
"Yes, I know I'm almost as bad as an oyster about talking except when I'm with
you. Somehow we've always had a good deal to say to each other. In this
case, I felt that it was due to Alida that she should know all about me and
understand fully just how I felt concerning this marriage. The very fact that
she hasn't friends to advise her made it all the more needful that I should be
plain and not mislead her in any respect.--She has just as good a right to
judge and act for herself as any woman in the land, and she takes me, and I
take her, with no sentimental lies to start with. Now let's get back to
business. I rather think, since Harkins was an old acquaintance of mine,
he'll come up here and marry us, don't you? Alida, wouldn't you rather be
married here quietly than face a lot of strangers? You can have your own way,
I don't care now if half the town was present."
"Oh, yes, indeed, sir! I don't want to meet strangers--and--and--I'm not very
strong yet. I thank you for considering my feelings so kindly."
"Why, that's my duty," replied the farmer. "Come, Watterly, the sun is getting
low, and we've considerable to do yet before we start home."
"I'm with you. Now, Alida, you go back quietly and act as if nothing had
happened till I send for you. Of course this impatient young groom will hurry
back with the justice as fast as possible. Still, we may not find him, or he
may be so busy that we shall have to come back for you and take you to his
As she turned to leave the room, Holcroft gave her his hand and said kindly,
"Now don't you be nervous or worried. I see you are not strong, and you shall
not be taxed any more than I can help. Goodby for a little while."
Meantime Watterly stepped out a moment and gave his domestic a few orders;
then he accompanied Holcroft to the barn, and the horses were soon attached to
the market wagon. "You're in for it now, Jim, sure enough," he said laughing.
"What will Angy say to it all?"
"Tell her that I say you've been a mighty good friend to me, yet I hope I may
never return any favors of the same kind."
"By jocks! I hope not. I guess it's just as well she was away. She'll think
we've acted just like two harum-scarum men, and will be awfully scandalized
over your marrying this woman. Don't you feel a little nervous about it?"
"No! When my mind's made up, I don't worry. Nobody else need lie awake for
it's my affair."
"Well, Jim, you know how I feel about it, but I've got to say something and I
might as well say it plain."
"That's the only way you ought to say it."
"Well, you talked long enough to give me plenty of time to think. One thing is
clear, Angy won't take to this marriage. You know I'd like to have you both
come in and take a meal as you always have done, but then a man must keep
peace with his wife, and--"
"I understand, Tom. We won't come till Mrs. Watterly asks us."
"But you won't have hard feelings?"
"No, indeed. Aint you doing your level best as a friend?"
"Well, you know women are so set about these things, and Angy is rather hard
on people who don't come up to her mark of respectability. What's more, I
suppose you'll find that others will think and act as she does. If you cared
about people's opinions I should have been dead against it, but as you feel
and are situated, I'm hanged if I don't think she's just the one."
"If it hadn't been this one, I don't believe it would have been anyone. Here
we are," and he tied his horses before the office of the justice.
Mr. Harkins greeted Holcroft with a sort of patronizing cordiality, and was
good enough to remember that they had been at the little country schoolhouse
together. In Watterly he heartily recognized a brother politician who
controlled a goodly number of votes.
When Holcroft briefly made known his errand, the justice gave a great guffaw
of laughter and said, "Oh, bring her here! And I'll invite in some of the
boys as witnesses."
"I'm not afraid of all the witnesses that you could crowd into a ten-acre
lot," said Holcroft somewhat sternly, "but there is no occasion to invite the
boys, whoever they are, or anyone else. She doesn't want to be stared at. I
was in hopes, Mr. Harkins, that you'd ride up to the almshouse with us and
quietly marry us there."
"Well, I guess you'd better bring her here. I'm pretty busy this afternoon,
"See here, Ben," said Watterly, taking the justice aside, "Holcroft is my
friend, and you know I'm mighty thick with my friends. They count more with
me than my wife's relations. Now I want you to do what Holcroft wishes, as a
personal favor to me, and the time will come when I can make it up to you."
"Oh, certainly, Watterly! I didn't understand," replied Harkins, who looked
upon Holcroft as a close and, as he would phrase it, no-account farmer, from
whom he could never expect even a vote. "I'll go with you at once. It's but a
"Well," said Holcroft, "how short can you make it?"
"Let me get my book," and he took from a shelf the "Justice's Assistant."
"You can't want anything shorter than this?" and he read, "'By this act of
joining hands you do take each other as husband and wife and solemnly engage
in the presence of these witnesses to love and honor and comfort and cherish
each other as such so long as you both shall live. Therefore, in accordance
with the law of the state of New York I do hereby pronounce you husband and
wife.' A sailor couldn't tie a knot quicker than that."
"I guess you can, justice," said Holcroft, taking the book. "Suppose you only
read this much: 'By this act of joining hands you do take each other as
husband and wife. Therefore, in accordance with the law, etc.' Would that be
a legal marriage?"
"Certainly. You'd have to go to a divorce court to get out of that."
"It's my purpose to keep out of courts of all kinds. I'll thank you to read
just that much and no more. I don't want to say anything that isn't exactly
"You see how it is, Ben. Holcroft hasn't known the woman long, and she's a
nice woman, too, if she is boarding at my hotel. Holcroft needs a wife--must
have one, in fact, to help run his house and dairy. It wasn't exactly a love
match, you know; and he's that kind of a man that a yoke of oxen couldn't draw
a word out of him that he didn't mean."
"Yes, yes, I see now," said Harkins. "I'll read just what you say and no
"And I'll have a little spread that we can be longer at than the ceremony,"
added Watterly, who was inclined to be a little hilarious over the affair.
Holcroft, however, maintained his grave manner, and when they reached the
almshouse he took Watterly aside and said, "See here, Tom, you've been a good
friend today and seconded me in everything. Now let the affair pass off just
as quietly and seriously as possible. She's too cast down for a gay wedding.
Suppose we had a daughter who'd been through such an experience--a nice, good,
modest girl. Her heart's too sore for fun and jokes. My marrying her is much
the same as pulling her out of deep water in which she was sinking."
"You're right, Jim. I didn't think, and one doesn't have much cause to be so
sparing of the feelings of such creatures as come here. But she's out of the
common run, and I ought to have remembered it. By jocks! You're mighty
careful about promising to love, cherish, and obey, and all that, but I guess
you'll do a sight more than many who do promise."
"Of course I'm going to be kind. That's my duty. Give Harkins a hint. Tell
him that she's lost her mother. He needn't know when the old lady died, but
it will kind of solemnize him."
Watterly did as requested, and Harkins, now convinced that his political
interests could be furthered by careful compliance with all requirements, put
on a grave, official air and was ready for business.
Alida was sent for. She was too agitated to say farewell to any of the poor
creatures with whom she had been compelled to associate--even to the few who,
though scarcely sane, had manifested tenderness and affection. She had felt
that she must reserve all her strength for the coming ordeal, which she both
welcomed and feared inexpressibly. She knew how critical was the step she was
taking and how much depended on it, yet the more she thought, the more it
seemed to her as if Providence had, as by a miracle, given her a refuge.
Holcroft's businesslike view of the marriage comforted her greatly, and she
asked God to give her health and strength to work faithfully for him many
But she had sad misgivings as she followed the messenger, for she felt so weak
that she could scarcely walk. It was indeed a pallid, sorrowful, trembling
bride that entered Mr.Watterly's parlor. Holcroft met her and taking her
hand, said kindly, "Courage! It will be over in a minute."
She was so pale and agitated that the justice asked, "do you enter into this
marriage freely and without compulsion of any kind?"
"Please let me sit down a moment," she faltered, and Watterly hastened to give
her a chair. She fixed her eyes on Holcroft, and said anxiously, "You see,
sir, how weak I am. I have been sick and--and I fear I am far from being well
now. I fear you will be disappointed--that it is not right to you, and that I
may not be able--"
"Alida," interrupted Holcroft gravely, "I'm not one to break my word. Home
and quiet will soon restore you. Answer the justice and tell him the exact
No elixir could have brought hope and courage like that word "home." She rose
at once and said to Harkins, "I have consented to Mr. Holcroft's wishes with
feelings of the deepest gratitude."
"Very well. Join hands."
She hesitated and looked for a moment at Holcroft with strange intensity.
"It's all right, Alida," he said with a smile. "Come!"
His perfect honesty and steadfastness of purpose stood him in good stead then,
for she came at once to his side and took his hand.
Justice Harkins solemnly opened his big book and read, "'By this act of
joining hands you do take each other as husband and wife. Therefore, in
accordance with the law of the State of New York, I do hereby pronounce you
husband and wife.' That's all."
"I don't think you'll ever be sorry, Alida," said Holcroft, pressing her hand
as he led her to a chair. Watterly again bustled up with congratulations, and
then said, "you must all come out now to a little supper, and also remember
that it was gotten up in a hurry."
The domestic stared at Alida and Holcroft, and then surmising what had taken
place, was so excited that she could scarcely wait on the guests.
Holcroft, with the simple tact which genuine kindness usually suggests, was
attentive to his bride, but managed, by no slight effort for him, to engage
the two men in general conversation, so that Alida might have time to recover
her composure. His quiet, matter-of-fact bearing was reassuring in itself. A
cup of strong tea and a little old currant wine, which Watterly insisted on
her taking, brightened her up not a little. Indeed her weakness was now
largely due to the want of nourishment suited to her feeble condition.
Moreover, both nerves and mind found relief and rest in the consciousness that
the decisive step had been taken. She was no longer shuddering and recoiling
from a past in which each day had revealed more disheartening elements. Her
face was now toward a future that promised a refuge, security, and even hope.
The quiet meal was soon over. Holcroft put a five-dollar bill in the hands of
the justice, who filled in a certificate and departed, feeling that the
afternoon had not been spent in vain.
"Jim," said Watterly, drawing his friend aside, "you'll want to make some
purchases. You know she's only what she wears. How are you off for money?"
"Well, Tom, you know I didn't expect anything of this kind when--"
"Of course I know it. Will fifty answer?"
"Yes. You're a good friend. I'll return it in a day or two."
"Return it when you're a mind to. I say, Alida, I want you to take this. Jim
Holcroft can't get married and his bride not receive a present from me," and
he put ten dollars in her hand.
Tears rushed to her eyes as she turned them inquiringly to Holcroft to know
what she should do.
"Now see here, Tom, you've done too much for us already."
"Shut up, Jim Holcroft! Don't you end the day by hurting my feelings! It's
perfectly right and proper for me to do this. Goodby, Alida. I don't believe
you'll ever be sorry you found your way to my hotel."
Alida took his proffered hand, but could only falter, "I--I can never forget."
Chapter XX. Uncle Jonathan's Impression of the Bride
"Now, Alida," said Holcroft, as they drove away, "remember that we are two
middle-aged, sensible people. At least I'm middle-aged, and fairly sensible,
too, I hope. You'll need to buy some things, and I want you to get all you
need. Don't stint yourself, and you needn't hurry so as to get tired, for we
shall have moonlight and there's no use trying to get home before dark. Is
there any particular store which you'd like to go to?"
"No, sir; only I'd rather go over on the east side of the town where I'm not
"That suits me, for it's the side nearest home and I AM known there."
"Perhaps--perhaps you also would rather go this evening where you are not
known," she said hesitatingly.
"It makes no difference to me. In fact I know of a place where you'll have a
good choice at reasonable rates."
"I'll go where you wish," she said quietly.
They soon entered a large shop together, and the proprietor said pleasantly,
"Good evening, Mr. Holcroft."
"Good evening, Mr. Jasper. My wife wants to get some things. If you'll be
good enough to wait on her, I'll step out to do two or three errands."
The merchant looked curiously at Alida, but was too polite to ask questions or
make comments on her very simple purchases. Her old skill and training were
of service now. She knew just what she absolutely needed, and bought no more.
Holcroft laid in a good stock of groceries and some juicy beef and then
returned. When Mr. Jasper gave him his bill, he went to Alida, who was
resting, and said in a low voice, "This won't do at all. You can't have
bought half enough."
For the first time something like a smile flitted across her face as she
replied, "It's enough to begin with. I know."
"Really, Mr. Holcroft, I didn't know you were married," said the merchant. "I
must congratulate you."
"Well, I am. Thank you. Good night."
A few moments later he and his wife were bowling out of town toward the hills.
Reaching one of these, the horses came down to a walk and Holcroft turned and
said, "Are you very tired, Alida? I'm troubled about you taking this long
ride. You have been so sick."
"I'm sorry I'm not stronger, sir, but the fresh air seems to do me good and I
think I can stand it."
"You didn't promise to obey me, did you?" with a rather nervous little laugh.
"No, sir, but I will."
"That's a good beginning. Now see what an old tyrant I am. In the first
place, I don't want you to say 'sir' to me any more. My name is James. In
the second place, you must work only as I let you. Your first business is to
get strong and well, and you know we agreed to marry on strictly business
"I understand it well, but I think you are very kind for a business man."
"Oh, as to that, if I do say it of myself, I don't think it's my nature to be
hard on those who treat me square. I think we shall be very good friends in
our quiet way, and that's more than can be said of a good many who promise
more than they seem to remember afterward."
"I will try to do all you wish for I am very grateful."
"If you do, you may find I'm as grateful as you are."
"That can never be. Your need and mine were very different.--But I shall try
to show my gratitude by learning your ways and wishes and not by many words of
"Thank the Lord!" mentally ejaculated the farmer, "there's no Mrs. Mumpson in
this case;" but he only said kindly, "I think we understand each other now,
Alida. I'm not a man of words either, and I had better show by actions also
what I am. The fact is, although we are married, we are scarcely acquainted,
and people can't get acquainted in a day."
The first long hill was surmounted and away they bowled again, past cottage
and farmhouse, through strips of woodland and between fields from which came
the fragrance of the springing grass and the peepings of the hylas. The moon
soon rose, full-orbed, above the higher eastern hills, and the mild April
evening became luminous and full of beauty.
A healing sense of quiet and security already began to steal into Alida's
bruised heart. In turning her back upon the town in which she had suffered so
greatly, she felt like one escaping from prison and torture. An increasing
assurance of safety came with every mile; the cool, still radiance of the
night appeared typical of her new and most unexpected experience. Light had
risen on her shadowed path, but it was not warm, vivifying sunlight, which
stimulates and develops. A few hours before she was in darkness which might
be felt--yet it was a gloom shot through and through with lurid threatening
gleams. It had seemed to her that she had fallen from home, happiness, and
honor to unfathomed depths, and yet there had appeared to be deeper and darker
abysses on every side. She had shuddered at the thought of going out into the
world, feeling that her misfortune would awaken suspicion rather than
sympathy, scorn instead of kindness; that she must toil on until death, to
sustain a life to which death would come as God's welcome messenger. Then had
come this man at her side, with his comparatively trivial troubles and
perplexities, and he had asked her help--she who was so helpless. He had
banished despair from her earthly future, he had lifted her up and was bearing
her away from all which she had so dreaded; nothing had been asked which her
crushed spirit was unable to bestow; she was simply expected to aid him in his
natural wish to keep his home and to live where he had always dwelt. His very
inability to understand her, to see her broken, trampled life and immeasurable
need as she saw it, brought quietness of mind. The concentration of his
thoughts on a few homely and simple hopes gave her immunity. With quick
intuition, she divined that she had not a whimsical, jealous, exacting nature
to deal with. He was the plain, matter-of-fact man he seemed; so literal and
absolutely truthful that he would appear odd to most people. To her mind, his
were the traits which she could now most welcome and value. He knew all about
her, she had merely to be herself, to do what she had promised, in order to
rest securely on his rock-like truth. He had again touched a deep, grateful
chord in speaking of her to the shopkeeper as his wife; he showed no
disposition whatever to shrink from the relation before the world; it was
evident that he meant to treat her with respect and kindness, and to exact
respect from others. For all this, while sitting quietly and silently at his
side, she thanked him almost passionately in her heart; but far more than for
all this she was glad and grateful that he would not expect what she now felt
it would be impossible for her to give--the love and personal devotion which
had been inseparable from marriage in her girlhood thoughts. He would make
good his words--she should be his wife in name and be respected as such. He
was too simple and true to himself and his buried love, too considerate of
her, to expect more. She might hope, therefore, as he had said, that they
might be helpful, loyal friends and he would have been surprised indeed had he
known how the pale, silent woman beside him was longing and hoping to fill
his home with comfort.
Thoughts like these had inspired and sustained her while at the same time
ministering the balm of hope. The quiet face of nature, lovely in the
moonlight, seemed to welcome and reassure her. Happy are those who, when
sorely wounded in life, can turn to the natural world and find in every tree,
shrub, and flower a comforting friend that will not turn from them. Such are
not far from God and peace.
The range of Holcroft's thoughts was far simpler and narrower than Alida's.
He turned rather deliberately from the past, preferring to dwell on the
probable consummation of his hope. His home, his farm, were far more to him
than the woman he had married. He had wedded her for their sake, and his
thoughts followed his heart, which was in his hillside acres. It is said that
women often marry for a home; he truly had done so to keep his home. The
question which now most occupied him was the prospect of doing this through
quiet, prosperous years. He dwelt minutely on Alida's manner, as well as her
words, and found nothing to shake his belief that she had been as truthful as
himself. Nevertheless, he queried in regard to the future with not a little
anxiety. In her present distress and poverty she might naturally be glad of
the refuge he had offered; but as time passed and the poignancy of bitter
memories was allayed, might not her life on the farm seem monotonous and dull,
might not weariness and discontent come into her eyes in place of gratitude?
"Well, well!" he concluded, "this marrying is a risky experiment at best, but
Tom Watterly's talk and her manner seemed to shut me up to it. I was made to
feel that I couldn't go on in any other way; and I haven't done anything
underhanded or wrong, as I see, for the chance of going on. If I hadn't
become such a heathen I should say there was a Providence in it, but I don't
know what to think about such things any more. Time'll show, and the prospect
is better than it has been yet. She'll never be sorry if she carries out the
agreement made today, if kindness and good will can repay her."
Thus it may be seen that, although two life currents had become parallel, they
were still very distinct.
By the time Holcroft approached the lane leading to his dwelling, Alida was
growing very weary, and felt that her endurance had almost reached its limit.
Her face was so white in the moonlight that he asked solicitously, "You can
stand it a little longer, can't you?"
"I'll try. I'm very sorry I'm not stronger."
"Don't you worry about that! You won't know yourself in a week. Here we are
at the lane and there's the house yonder. A moment or two more and you'll be
by the fire."
A loud barking startled old Jonathan Johnson out of his doze, and he hastened
to replenish the fire and to call off his rather savage dog. He was a little
surprised to see Holcroft drive toward the kitchen door with a woman by his
side. "He's tried his luck with another of them town gals," he muttered, "but,
Jerusalem! She won't stay a week, an' my old woman'll have the washin' an'
mendin' all the same."
He could scarcely believe his ears and eyes when he heard the farmer say,
"Alida, you must let me lift you out," and then saw the "town gal" set gently
on the ground, her hand placed on Holcroft's arm as she was supported slowly
and carefully to the rocking chair beside the fire. "Jonathan," was the quiet
announcement, "this is Mrs. Holcroft, my wife."
"Jeru--beg a pardon. Wasn't 'spectin; jis' sich a turn o' things. Respects,
missus! Sorry to see yer enj'yin' poor health."
"Yes, Jonathan, Mrs. Holcroft has been sick, but she's much better and will
soon be well. She's very tired now from the long drive, but quiet life and
country air will soon make her strong. I'll just step out and care for the
horses, Alida, and soon be back again. You come and help me, Jonathan, and
keep your dog off, too."
The old man complied with rather poor grace for he would have preferred to
interview the bride, at whom he was staring with all his weak, watery eyes.
Holcroft understood his neighbor's peculiarities too well to subject his wife
to this ordeal, and was bent on dispatching Jonathan homeward as soon as
"I say, Jim," said the old guardsman, who felt that he was speaking to the boy
he had known for thirty odd years, "where on airth did you pick up sich a
sickly lookin' critter?"
"I didn't pick her up," replied the farmer laughingly. "I married her fair and
square just as you did your wife a hundred years ago, more or less. Haven't I
as good a right to get married as you had?"
"Oh, I aint a-disputin' yer right, but it seems so kind o' suddint that it's
taken what little breath I've left."
"How do you know it's sudden? Did you go around telling everyone how you were
getting on when you were a-courting?"
"Well, I swan! Yer got me. 'Taint so long ago that I disremember we did it
on the sly."
"Well, now, Uncle Jonathan, you've got nothing to say against me for I didn't
marry on the sly, although I've gone on the principle that my business wasn't
everybody's business. When I saw your wife about my washing and mending I
didn't know I was going to be lucky so soon. You know you can't marry a woman
in this country till she's willing. But tell your wife she shan't lose
anything, and the next time I go to town I'll leave that settin' of eggs she
wanted. Now, Jonathan, honor bright, do you feel able to walk home if I give
you fifty cents extra?"
"Why, sartinly! S'pose I'd take yer away on sich a 'casion? My wife wouldn't
let me in if she knowed it."
"Well, you and your wife are good neighbors, and that's more'n I can say for
most people in these parts. Here's the money. Mrs. Holcroft isn't strong or
well enough to talk any tonight. You got yourself a good supper, didn't you?"
"Yes, yes! Helped myself bount'fully. Good night, and good luck ter yer. I
can't help thinkin' it was kind o' suddint though, and then she's sich a
sickly lookin' critter. Hope yer haven't been taken in, but then, as you say,
the marryin' business, like other kinds o' business, is a man's own business."
"I hope everyone will take your sensible view, Uncle Jonathan. Good night."
Chapter XXI. At Home
Alida was not so cold, weary, and almost faint but that she looked around the
old kitchen with the strongest interest. This interest was as unlike Mrs.
Mumpson's curiosity as she was unlike the widow. It is true the thought of
self was prominent, yet hers were not selfish thoughts. There are some
blessed natures in the world that in doing the best for themselves do the best
that is possible for others.
The genial warmth of the fire was grateful to her chilled and enfeebled frame;
the homely kitchen, with its dresser of china ware, its tin closet and pantry,
the doors of which old Jonathan had left open, manlike, after helping himself
"bount'fully," all suggested more comfort to this pallid bride, sitting there
alone, than wealth of ornament in elegant apartments has brought to many
others. She saw her chief domain, not in its coarse and common aspect, but as
her vantage ground, from which she could minister to the comforts of the one
who had rescued her. Few brides would care to enter the kitchen first, but
she was pleased; she who had scarcely hoped to smile again looked smilingly
around on the quaint, homelike room.
"And this is to be my home!" she murmured. "How strange, unexpected, yet
natural it all is! Just what he led me to expect. The little lonely
farmhouse, where I can be safe from staring eyes and unwounded by cruel
questionings. Yet that old man had a dozen questions on his tongue. I
believe HE took him away to save my feelings. It's strange that so plain and
simple a man in most respects can be so considerate. Oh, pray God that all
goes on as it promises! I couldn't have dreamt it this morning, but I have an
odd, homelike feeling already. Well, since I AM at home I may as well take
off my hat and cloak."
And she did so. Holcroft entered and said heartily, "That's right, Alida!
You are here to stay, you know. You mustn't think it amiss that I left you a
few moments alone for I had to get that talkative old man off home. He's
getting a little childish and would fire questions at you point-blank."
"But shouldn't you have taken him home in the wagon? I don't mind being
"Oh, no! He's spry enough to walk twice the distance and often does. It's
light as day outside, and I made it right with him. You can leave your things
upstairs in your room, and I'll carry up your bundles also if you are rested
enough for the journey."
"Oh, yes!" she replied, "I'm feeling better already."
He led the way to the apartment that Mrs. Mumpson had occupied and said
regretfully, "I'm sorry the room looks so bare and comfortless, but that will
all be mended in time. When you come down, we'll have some coffee and
She soon reappeared in the kitchen, and he continued, "Now I'll show you that
I'm not such a very helpless sort of man, after all; so if you're sick you
needn't worry. I'm going to get you a good cup of coffee and broil you a
piece of steak."
"Oh! Please let me--" she began.
"No, can't allow you to do anything tonight but sit in that chair. You
promised to mind, you know," and he smiled so genially that she smiled back at
him although tears came into her eyes.
"I can't realize it all," she said in a low voice. "To think how this day
began and how it is ending!"
"It's ending in a poor man's kitchen, Alida. It was rather rough to bring you
in here first, but the parlor is cold and comfortless.
"I would rather be brought here. It seems to me that it must be a light and
"Yes, the sun shines in these east windows, and there's another window facing
the south, so it's light all day long."
She watched him curiously and with not a little self-reproach as he deftly
prepared supper. "It's too bad for me to sit idle while you do such things,
yet you do everything so well that I fear I shall seem awkward. Still, I
think I do at least know how to cook a little."
"If you knew what I've had to put up with for a year or more, you wouldn't
worry about satisfying me in this respect. Except when old Mrs. Wiggins was
here, I had few decent meals that I didn't get myself," and then, to cheer her
up, he laughingly told her of Mrs. Mumpson's essay at making coffee. He had a
certain dry humor, and his unwonted effort at mimicry was so droll in itself
that Alida was startled to hear her own voice in laughter, and she looked
almost frightened, so deeply had she been impressed that it would never be
possible or even right for her to laugh again.
The farmer was secretly much pleased at his success. If she would laugh, be
cheerful and not brood, he felt sure she would get well and be more contented.
The desperate view she had taken of her misfortunes troubled him, and he had
thought it possible that she might sink into despondency and something like
invalidism; but that involuntary bubble of laughter reassured him. "Quiet,
wholesome, cheerful life will restore her to health," he thought, as he put
his favorite beverage and the sputtering steak on the table. "Now," he said,
placing a chair at the table, "you can pour me a cup of coffee."
"I'm glad I can do something," she answered, "for I can't get over the
strangeness of being so waited on. Indeed, everything that was unexpected or
undreamt of has happened," and there was just the faintest bit of color on her
cheeks as she sat down opposite him.
Few men are insensible to simple, natural, womanly grace, and poor Holcroft,
who so long had been compelled to see at his table "perfect terrors," as he
called them, was agreeably impressed by the contrast she made with the Mumpson
and Malony species. Alida unconsciously had a subtle charm of carriage and
action, learned in her long past and happy girlhood when all her associations
were good and refined. Still, in its truest explanation, this grace is native
and not acquired; it is a personal trait. Incapable of nice analysis or fine
definitions, he only thought, "How much pleasanter it is to see at the table a
quiet, sensible woman instead of a 'peculiar female!'" and it was not long
before he supplemented her remark by saying, "Perhaps things are turning out
for both of us better than we expected. I had made up my mind this morning to
live here like a hermit, get my own meals, and all that. I actually had the
rough draught of an auction bill in my pocket,--yes, here it is now,--and was
going to sell my cows, give up my dairy, and try to make my living in a way
that wouldn't require any woman help. That's what took me up to Tom
Watterly's; I wanted him to help me put the bill in shape. He wouldn't look
at it, and talked me right out of trying to live like Robinson Crusoe, as he
expressed it. I had been quite cheerful over my prospects; indeed, I was
almost happy in being alone again after having such terrors in the house.
But, as I said, Watterly talked all the courage and hope right out of me, and
made it clear that I couldn't go it alone. You see, Tom and I have been
friends since we were boys together, and that's the reason he talks so plain
"He has a good, kind heart," said Alida. "I don't think I could have kept up
at all had it not been for his kindness."
"Yes, Tom's a rough diamond. He don't make any pretenses, and looks upon
himself as a rather hard case, but I fancy he's doing kind things in his rough
way half the time. Well, as we were talking, he remembered you, and he spoke
of you so feelingly and told your story with so much honest sympathy that he
awoke my sympathy. Now you know how it has all come about. You see it's all
natural enough and simple enough, and probably it's the best thing that could
have happened for us both. All you have to do is to get strong and well, and
then it won't be any one-sided affair, as you've been too much inclined to
think. I can go on and keep my farm and home just as my heart is bent on
doing. I want you to understand everything for then your mind will be more
satisfied and at rest, and that's half the battle in getting over sickness and
trouble like yours."
"I can only thank God and you for the great change in my prospects. This
quiet and escape from strangers are just what I most craved, and I am already
beginning to hope that if I can learn to do all you wish, I shall find a
content that I never hoped for," and the tears that stood in her eyes were
witnesses of her sincerity.
"Well, don't expect to learn everything at once. Let me have my way for a
while, and then you'll find, as you get strong, and the busy season comes on,
that I'll be so taken up with the farm that you'll have your own way. Won't
you have some more steak? No? Well, you've enjoyed your supper a little,
"Yes," she replied, smiling. "I actually felt hungry when I sat down, and the
coffee has taken away the tired, faint feeling."
"I hope you'll soon be good and hungry three times a day," he said, laughing
"You'll at least let me clear the table?" she asked. "I feel so much better."
"Yes, if you are sure you're strong enough. It may make you feel more at
home. But drop everything till tomorrow when tired. I must go out and do my
night work, and it's night work now, sure enough--"
"It's too bad!" she said sympathetically.
"What! To go out and feed my stock this clear, bright night? And after a
hearty supper too? Such farming is fun. I feel, too, as if I wanted to go
and pat the cows all around in my gladness that I'm not going to sell them.
Now remember, let everything go till morning as soon as you feel tired."
She nodded smilingly and set to work. Standing in the shadow of a hemlock, he
watched her for a few moments. Her movements were slow, as would be natural
to one who had been so reduced by illness, but this every evidence of
feebleness touched his feelings. "She is eager to begin--too eager. No
nonsense there about 'menial tasks.' Well, it does give one hope to see such
a woman as that in the old kitchen," and then the hungry cattle welcomed him.
The traveler feels safe after the fierce Arab of the desert has broken bread
with him. It would seem that a deep principle of human nature is involved in
this act. More than the restoring power of the nourishment itself was the
moral effect for Alida of that first meal in her husband's home. It was
another step in what he had said was essential--the forming of his
acquaintance. She had seen from the first that he was plain and
unpolished--that he had not the veneer of gentility of the man she had so
mistakenly married; yet, in his simple truth, he was inspiring a respect which
she had never felt for any man before. "What element of real courtesy has been
wanting?" she asked herself. "If this is an earnest of the future, thank God
for the real. I've found to my cost what a clever imitation of a man means."
It was as sweet as it was strange to think that she, who had trembled at the
necessity of becoming almost a slave to unfeeling strangers, had been
compelled to rest while a husband performed tasks naturally hers. It was all
very homely, yet the significance of the act was chivalrous consideration for
her weakness; the place, the nature of the ministry could not degrade the
meaning of his action. Then, too, during the meal he had spoken natural,
kindly words which gave to their breaking of bread together the true
interpretation. Although so feeble and wary, she found a deep satisfaction in
beginning her household work. "It does make me feel more at home," she said.
"Strange that he should have thought of it!"
She had finished her task and sat down again when he entered with a pail of
milk. Taking a dipper with a strainer on one side of it, he poured out a
tumblerful. "Now, take this," he said, "I've always heard that milk fresh from
the cow was very strengthening. Then go and sleep till you are thoroughly
rested, and don't think of coming down in the morning till you feel like it.
I'll make the fire and get breakfast. You have seen how easily I can do it.
I have several more cows to milk, and so will say 'Goodnight.'"
For the first time since chaos had come into her life Alida slept soundly and
refreshingly, unpursued by the fears which had haunted even her dreams. When
she awoke she expected to see the gray locks and repulsive features of the
woman who had occupied the apartment with her at the almshouse, but she was
alone in a small, strange room. Then memory gathered up the threads of the
past; but so strange, so blessed did the truth seem that she hastened to dress
and go down to the old kitchen and assure herself that her mind had not become
shattered by her troubles and was mocking her with unreal fancies. The scene
she looked upon would have soothed and reassured her even had her mind been as
disordered as she, for the moment, had been tempted to believe. There was the
same homely room which had pictured itself so deeply in her memory the evening
before. Now it was more attractive for the morning sun was shining into it,
lighting up its homely details with a wholesome, cheerful reality which made
it difficult to believe that there were tragic experiences in the world. The
wood fire in the stove crackled merrily, and the lid of the kettle was already
bobbing up and down from internal commotion.
As she opened the door a burst of song entered, securing her attention. She
had heard the birds before without recognizing consciousness, as is so often
true of our own condition in regard to the familiar sounds of nature. It was
now almost as if she had received another sense, so strong, sweet, and
cheering was the symphony. Robins, song-sparrows, blackbirds, seemed to have
gathered in the trees nearby, to give her a jubilant welcome; but she soon
found that the music shaded off to distant, dreamlike notes, and remembered
that it was a morning chorus of a hemisphere. This universality did not
render the melody less personally grateful. We can appreciate all that is
lovely in Nature, yet leave all for others. As she stood listening, and
inhaling the soft air, full of the delicious perfume of the grass and
expanding buds, and looking through the misty sunshine on the half-veiled
landscape, she heard Holcroft's voice, chiding some unruly animal in the
This recalled her, and with the elasticity of returning health and hope she
set about getting breakfast.
"It seems to me that I never heard birds sing before," she thought, "and their
songs this morning are almost like the music of heaven. They seem as happy
and unconscious of fear and trouble as if they were angels. Mother and I used
to talk about the Garden of Eden, but could the air have been sweeter, or the
sunshine more tempered to just the right degree of warmth and brightness than
here about my home? Oh, thank God again, again and forever, for a home like
this!" and for a few moments something of the ecstasy of one delivered from
the black thraldom of evil filled her soul. She paused now and then to listen
to the birds for only their songs seemed capable of expressing her emotion.
It was but another proof that heavenly thoughts and homely work may go on
Chapter XXII. Getting Acquainted
It was still early, and Holcroft was under the impression that Alida would
sleep late after the severe fatigues of the preceding day. He therefore
continued his work at the barn sufficiently long to give his wife time for her
little surprise. She was not long in finding and laying her hands on the
simple materials for breakfast. A ham hung in the pantry and beneath it was a
great basket of eggs, while the flour barrel stood in the corner. Biscuits
were soon in the oven, eggs conjured into an omelet, and the ham cut into
delicate slices, instead of great coarse steaks.
Remembering Mrs. Mumpson's failure with the coffee, she made it a trifle
strong and boiled the milk that should temper without cooling it. The
biscuits rose like her own spirits, the omelet speedily began to take on color
like her own flushed face as she busied herself about the stove.
Everything was nearly ready when she saw Holcroft coming toward the house with
two pails of milk. He took them to the large dairy room under the parlor and
then came briskly to the kitchen.
She stood, screened by the door as he entered, then stopped and stared at the