Part 4 out of 6
table all set and at the inviting breakfast on the stove.
Seeing Alida's half-smiling, half-questioning face, seeking his approval, he
exclaimed, "Well, you HAVE stolen a march on me! I supposed you were asleep
"I felt so much stronger and better when I awoke that I thought you wouldn't
mind if I came down and made a beginning."
"You call this a beginning do you? Such a breakfast as this before seven in
the morning? I hope you haven't overtaxed yourself."
"No, only a little of just the right kind of tired feeling."
"Haven't you left anything for me to do?"
"Perhaps. You will know when I've put all on the table. What I've prepared
"Well, this is famous. I'll go and wash and fix up a little and be right
When Holcroft returned, he looked at her curiously, for he felt that he, too,
was getting acquainted. Her thin face was made more youthful by color; a
pleased look was in her blue eyes, and a certain neatness and trimness about
her dress to which he had not been accustomed. He scanned the table
wonderingly, for things were not put upon it at haphazard; the light biscuits
turned their brown cheeks invitingly toward him,--she had arranged that they
should do that,--the ham was crisp, not sodden, and the omelet as russet as a
November leaf. "This is a new dish," he said, looking at it closely. "What do
you call it?"
"Omelet. Perhaps you won't like it, but mother used to be very fond of it."
"No matter. We'll have it if you like it and it brings you pleasant thoughts
of your mother." Then he took a good sip of coffee and set the cup down again
as he had before under the Mumpson regime, but with a very different
expression. She looked anxiously at him, but was quickly reassured. "I
thought I knew how to make coffee, but I find I don't. I never tasted
anything so good as that. How DO you make it?"
"Just as mother taught me."
"Well, well! And you call this making a beginning? I just wish I could give
Tom Watterly a cup of this coffee. It would set his mind at rest. 'By
jocks!' he would say, 'isn't this better than going it alone?'"
She looked positively happy under this sweet incense to a housewifely heart.
She was being paid in the coin that women love best, and it was all the more
precious to her because she had never expected to receive it again.
He did like the omelet; he liked everything, and, after helping her liberally,
cleared the table, then said he felt equal to doing two men's work. Before
going out to his work, he lighted a fire on the parlor hearth and left a good
supply of fuel beside it. "Now, Alida," he remarked humorously, "I've already
found out that you have one fault that you and I will have to watch against.
You are too willing. I fear you've gone beyond your strength this morning. I
don't want you to do a thing today except to get the meals, and remember, I
can help in this if you don't feel well. There is a fire in the parlor, and
I've wheeled the lounge up by it. Take it quietly today, and perhaps tomorrow
I can begin to show you about butter-making."
"I will do as you wish," she replied, "but please show me a little more where
things are before you go out."
This he did and added, "You'll find the beef and some other things on a
swing-shelf in the cellar. The potato bins are down there, too. But don't
try to get up much dinner. What comes quickest and easiest will suit me. I'm
a little backward with my work and must plow all day for oats. It's time they
were in. After such a breakfast, I feel as if I had eaten a bushel myself."
A few moments later she saw him going up the lane, that continued on past the
house, with his stout team and the plow, and she smiled as she heard him
whistling "Coronation" with levity, as some good people would have thought.
Plowing and planting time had come and under happier auspices, apparently,
than he had ever imagined possible again. With the lines about his neck, he
began with a sidehill plow at the bottom of a large, sloping field which had
been in corn the previous year, and the long, straight furrows increased from
a narrow strip to a wide, oblong area. "Ah," said he in tones of strong
satisfaction, "the ground crumbles freely; it's just in the right condition.
I'll quit plowing this afternoon in time to harrow and sow all the ground
that's ready. Then, so much'll be all done and well done. It's curious how
seed, if it goes into the ground at the right time and in the right way, comes
right along and never gets discouraged. I aint much on scientific farming,
but I've always observed that when I sow or plant as soon as the ground is
ready, I have better luck."
The horses seemed infected by his own brisk spirit, stepping along without
urging, and the farmer was swept speedily into the full, strong current of his
One might have supposed the recent events would have the uppermost place in
his thoughts, but this was not true. He rather dwelt upon them as the
unexpectedly fortunate means to the end now attained. This was his life, and
he was happy in the thought that his marriage promised to make this life not
merely possible, but prosperous and full of quiet content.
The calling of the born agriculturist, like that of the fisherman, has in it
the element of chance and is therefore full of moderate yet lasting
excitement. Holcroft knew that, although he did his best, much would depend
on the weather and other causes. He had met with disappointments in his
crops, and had also achieved what he regarded as fine successes, although they
would have seemed meager on a Western prairie. Every spring kindled anew his
hopefulness and anticipation. He watched the weather with the interested and
careful scrutiny of a sailor, and it must be admitted that his labor and its
results depended more on natural causes than upon his skill and the careful
use of the fertilizers. He was a farmer of the old school, the traditions
received from his father controlled him in the main. Still, his good common
sense and long experience stood him fairly well in the place of science and
knowledge of improved methods, and he was better equipped than the man who has
in his brain all that the books can teach, yet is without experience. Best of
all, he had inherited and acquired an abiding love of the soil; he never could
have been content except in its cultivation; he was therefore in the right
condition to assimilate fuller knowledge and make the most of it.
He knew well enough when it was about noon. From long habit he would have
known had the sky been overcast, but now his glance at the sun was like
looking at a watch. Dusty and begrimed he followed his team to the barn,
slipped from them their headstalls and left them to amuse themselves with a
little hay while they cooled sufficiently for heartier food. "Well now," he
mused, "I wonder what that little woman has for dinner? Another new dish,
like enough. Hanged if I'm fit to go in the house, and she looking so trim
and neat. I think I'll first take a souse in the brook," and he went up
behind the house where an unfailing stream gurgled swiftly down from the
hills. At the nearest point a small basin had been hollowed out, and as he
approached he saw two or three speckled trout darting away through the limpid
"Aha!" he muttered, "glad you reminded me. When SHE'S stronger, she may enjoy
catching our supper some afternoon. I must think of all the little things I
can to liven her up so she won't get dull. It's curious how interested I am
to know how she's got along and what she has for dinner. And to think that,
less than a week ago, I used to hate to go near the house!"
As he entered the hall on his way to his room, that he might make himself more
presentable, an appetizing odor greeted him and Alida smiled from the kitchen
door as she said, "Dinner's ready."
Apparently she had taken him at his word, as she had prepared little else than
an Irish stew, yet when he had partaken of it, he thought he would prefer
Irish stews from that time onward indefinitely. "Where did you learn to cook,
Alida?" he asked.
"Mother wasn't very strong and her appetite often failed her. Then, too, we
hadn't much to spend on our table so we tried to make simple things taste
nice. Do you like my way of preparing that old-fashioned dish?"
"I'm going to show you how I like it," he replied, nodding approvingly. "Well,
what have you been doing besides tempting me to eat too much?"
"What you said, resting. You told me not to get up much of a dinner, so I
very lazily prepared what you see. I've been lying on the lounge most of the
"Famous, and you feel better?"
"Yes, I think I shall soon get well and strong," she replied, looking at him
"Well, well! My luck's turned at last. I once thought it never would, but if
this goes on--well, you can't know what a change it is for the better. I can
now put my mind on my work."
"You've been plowing all the morning, haven't you?" she ventured, and there
was the pleased look in her eyes that he already liked to see.
"Yes," he replied, "and I must keep at it several days to get in all the oats
I mean to sow. If this weather holds, I shall be through next week."
"I looked in the milk-room a while ago. Isn't there anything I could do there
"No. I'll attend to everything there. It's too damp for you yet. Keep on
resting. Why, bless me! I didn't think you'd be well enough to do anything
for a week."
"Indeed," she admitted, "I'm surprised at myself. It seems as if a crushing
weight had been lifted off my mind and that I was coming right up. I'm so
glad, for I feared I might be feeble and useless a long time."
"Well, Alida, if you had been, or if you ever are, don't think I'll be
impatient. The people I can't stand are those who try to take advantage of
me, and I tell you I've had to contend with that disposition so long that I
feel as if I could do almost anything for one who is simply honest and tries
to keep her part of an agreement. But this won't do. I've enjoyed my own
dinner so much that I've half forgotten that the horses haven't had theirs
yet. Now will you scold if I light my pipe before I go out?"
"Oh, no! I don't mind that."
"No good-natured fibs! Isn't smoke disagreeable?"
She shook her head. "I don't mind it at all," she said, but her sudden
paleness puzzled him. He could not know that he had involuntarily recalled
the many times that she had filled the evening pipe for a man who now haunted
her memory like a specter.
"I guess you don't like it very much," he said, as he passed out. "Well, no
matter! It's getting so mild that I can smoke out of doors."
With the exception of the episode of dinner the day was chiefly passed by
Alida in a health-restoring languor, the natural reaction from the distress
and strong excitements of the past. The rest that had been enjoined upon her
was a blessed privilege, and still more happy was the truth that she could
rest. Reclining on the lounge in the parlor, with a wood fire on one side and
the April sun on the other, both creating warmth and good cheer, she felt like
those who have just escaped from a wreck and engulfing waves. Her mind was
too weary to question either the past or the future, and sometimes a
consciousness of safety is happiness in itself. In the afternoon, the
crackling of the fire and the calling and singing of the birds without formed
a soothing lullaby and she fell asleep.
At last, in a dream, she heard exquisite music which appeared to grow so loud,
strong, and triumphant that she started up and looked around bewildered. A
moment later, she saw that a robin was singing in a lilac bush by the window
and that near the bird was a nest partially constructed. She recalled her
hopeless grief when she had last seen the building of one of their little
homes; and she fell upon her knees with a gratitude too deep for words, and
far more grateful to Heaven than words.
Stepping out on the porch, she saw by the shadows that the sun was low in the
west and that Holcroft was coming down the lane with his horses. He nodded
pleasantly as he passed on to the barn. Her eyes followed him lingeringly
till he disappeared, and then they ranged over the wide valley and the wooded
hills in the distance. Not a breath of air was stirring; the lowing of cattle
and other rural sounds softened by distance came from other farmhouses; the
birds were at vespers, and their songs, to her fancy, were imbued with a
softer, sweeter melody than in the morning. From the adjacent fields came
clear, mellow notes that made her nerves tingle, so ethereal yet penetrating
were they. She was sure she had never heard such bird music before. When
Holcroft came in to supper she asked, "What birds are those that sing in the
"Meadow larks. Do you like them?"
"I never heard a hymn sung that did me more good."
"Well, I own up, I'd rather hear 'em than much of the singing we used to have
down at the meeting house."
"It seems to me," she remarked, as she sat down at the table, "that I've never
heard birds sing as they have today."
"Now I think of it, they have been tuning up wonderfully. Perhaps they've an
idea of my good luck," he added smilingly.
"I had thought of that about myself," she ventured. "I took a nap this
afternoon, and a robin sang so near the window that he woke me up. It was a
pleasant way to be waked."
"Took a nap, did you? That's famous! Well, well! This day's gone just to
suit me, and I haven't had many such in a good while, I can tell you. I've
got in a big strip of oats, and now, when I come in tired, here's a good
supper. I certainly shall have to be on the watch to do Tom Watterly good
turns for talking me into this business. That taking a nap was a first-rate
idea. You ought to keep it up for a month."
"No, indeed! There's no reason why you should work hard and I be idle. I've
rested today, as you wished, and I feel better than I ever expected to again;
but tomorrow I must begin in earnest. What use is there of your keeping your
cows if good butter is not made? Then I must be busy with my needle."
"Yes, that's true enough. See how thoughtless I am! I forgot you hadn't any
clothes to speak of. I ought to take you to town to a dressmaker."
"I think you had better get your oats in," she replied, smiling shyly.
"Besides, I have a dressmaker that just suits me--one that's made my dresses a
good many years."
"If she don't suit you, you're hard to be suited," said he, laughing. "Well,
some day, after you are fixed up, I shall have to let you know how dilapidated
"Won't you do me a little favor?"
"Oh, yes! A dozen of 'em, big or little."
"Please bring down this evening something that needs mending. I am so much
"No, no! I wasn't hinting for you to do anything tonight."
"But you've promised me," she urged. "Remember I've been resting nearly all
day. I'm used to sewing, and earned my living at it. Somehow, it don't seem
natural for me to sit with idle hands."
"If I hadn't promised--"
"But you have."
"I suppose I'm fairly caught," and he brought down a little of the most
pressing of the mending.
"Now I'll reward you," she said, handing him his pipe, well filled. "You go in
the parlor and have a quiet smoke. I won't be long in clearing up the
"What! Smoke in the parlor?"
"Yes, why not? I assure you I don't mind it."
"Ha! Ha! Why didn't I think of it before--I might have kept the parlor and
smoked Mrs. Mumpson out."
"It won't be smoke that will keep me out."
"I should hope not, or anything else. I must tell you how I DID have to smoke
Mrs. Mumpson out at last," and he did so with so much drollery that she again
yielded to irrepressible laughter.
"Poor thing! I'm sorry for her," she said.
"I'm sorry for Jane--poor little stray cat of a child! I hope we can do
something for her some day," and having lighted his pipe, he took up the
county paper, left weekly in a hollow tree by the stage driver, and went into
After freshening up the fire he sat down to read, but by the time she joined
him the tired man was nodding. He tried to brighten up, but his eyes were
"You've worked hard today," she said sympathetically.
"Well, I have," he answered. "I've not done such a good day's work in a year."
"Then why don't you go to sleep at once?"
"It don't seem polite--"
"Please don't talk that way," she interrupted. "I don't mind being alone at
all. I shall feel a great deal more at home if you forget all about
"Well, Alida, I guess we had both better begin on that basis. If I give up
when I'm tired, you must. You mustn't think I'm always such a sleepyhead.
The fact is I've been more tired out with worry of late than with work. I can
laugh about it now, but I've been so desperate over it that I've felt more
like swearing. You'll find out I've become a good deal of a heathen."
"Very well; I'll wait till I find out."
"I think we are getting acquainted famously, don't you?"
"Yes," she nodded, with a smile that meant more than a long speech. "Good
Chapter XXIII. Between the Past and Future
Human nature, in common with Mother Nature, has its immutable laws. The
people who existed before the flood were, in their primal motives, like those
of today. The conventionality of highly civilized society does not change the
heart, but it puts so much restraint upon it that not a few appear heartless.
They march through life and fight its battles like uniformed men, trained in a
certain school of tactics. The monotony of character and action is
superficial, in most cases, rather than real, and he who fathoms the eyes of
others, who catches the subtle quality of tones and interprets the flexible
mouth that utters them, will discover that the whole gamut of human nature
exists in those that appear only like certain musical instruments, made by
machinery to play a few well-known tunes. Conventional restraint often, no
doubt, produces dwarfed and defective human nature. I suppose that if souls
could be put under a microscope, the undeveloped rudiments of almost
everything would be discovered. It is more satisfactory to study the things
themselves than their suggestions; this we are usually better able to do among
people of simple and untrammeled modes of life, who are not practiced in
disguises. Their peculiar traits and their general and dominant laws and
impulses are exhibited with less reserve than by those who have learned to be
always on their guard. Of course there are commonplace yeomen as truly as
commonplace aristocrats, and simple life abounds in simpletons.
When a man in Holcroft's position has decided traits, they are apt to have a
somewhat full expression; his rugged nature beside a tamer one outlines itself
more vividly, just as a mountain peak is silhouetted against the horizon
better than a rounded hill. It probably has been observed that his character
possessed much simplicity and directness. He had neither the force nor the
ambition to raise him above his circumstances; he was merely decided within
the lines of his environment. Perhaps the current of his life was all the
stronger for being narrow. His motives were neither complex nor vacillating.
He had married to keep his home and to continue in the conditions of life dear
from association and the strongest preference, and his heart overflowed with
good will and kindness toward Alida because she promised to solve the hard
problem of the future satisfactorily. Apart from the sympathy which her
misfortune had evoked, he probably could have felt much the same toward any
other good, sensible woman, had she rendered him a similar service. It is
true, now that Alida was in his home, that she was manifesting agreeable
traits which gave him pleasant little surprises. He had not expected that he
would have had half so much to say to her, yet felt it his duty to be sociable
in order to cheer up and mark the line between even a business marriage and
the employment of a domestic. Both his interest and his duty required that he
should establish the bonds of strong friendly regard on the basis of perfect
equality, and he would have made efforts, similar to those he put forth, in
behalf of any woman, if she had consented to marry him with Alida's
understanding. Now, however, that his suddenly adopted project of securing a
housekeeper and helper had been consummated, he would find that he was not
dealing with a business partner in the abstract, but a definite woman, who had
already begun to exert over him her natural influence. He had expected more
or less constraint and that some time must elapse before his wife would cease
to be in a sense company whom he, with conscious and deliberate effort, must
entertain. On the contrary she entertained and interested him, although she
said so little, and by some subtle power she unloosed his tongue and made it
easy for him to talk to her. In the most quiet and unobtrusive way, she was
not only making herself at home, but him also; she was very subservient to his
wishes, but not servilely so; she did not assert, but only revealed her
superiority, and after even so brief an acquaintance he was ready to indorse
Tom Watterly's view, "She's out of the common run."
While all this was true, the farmer's heart was as untouched as that of a
child who simply and instinctively likes a person. He was still quietly and
unhesitatingly loyal to his former wife. Apart from his involuntary favor,
his shrewd, practical reason was definite enough in its grounds of approval.
Reason assured him that she promised to do and to be just what he had married
her for, but this might have been true of a capable, yet disagreeable woman
whom he could not like, to save himself.
Both in regard to himself and Alida, Holcroft accepted the actual facts with
the gladness and much of the unquestioning simplicity of a child. This rather
risky experiment was turning out well, and for a time he daily became more and
more absorbed in his farm and its interests. Alida quietly performed her
household tasks and proved that she would not need very much instruction to
become a good butter maker. The short spring of the North required that he
should be busy early and late to keep pace with the quickly passing seedtime.
His hopefulness, his freedom from household worries, prompted him to sow and
plant increased areas of land. In brief, he entered on just the business-like
honeymoon he had hoped for.
Alida was more than content with the conditions of her life. She saw that
Holcroft was not only satisfied, but also pleased with her, and that was all
she had expected and indeed all that thus far she had wished or hoped. She
had many sad hours; wounds like hers cannot heal readily in a true, sensitive
woman's heart. While she gained in cheerfulness and confidence, the terrible
and unexpected disaster which had overtaken her rendered impossible the
serenity of those with whom all has gone well. Dread of something, she knew
not what, haunted her painfully, and memory at times seemed malignantly
perverse in recalling one whom she prayed to forget.
Next to her faith and Holcroft's kindness her work was her best solace, and
she thanked God for the strength to keep busy.
On the first Sunday morning after their marriage the farmer overslept, and
breakfast had been ready some time when he came down. He looked with a little
dismay at the clock over the kitchen mantel and asked, "Aren't you going to
scold a little?"
She shook her head, nor did she look the chiding which often might as well be
"How long have I kept breakfast waiting, or you rather?"
"What difference does it make? You needed the rest. The breakfast may not be
so nice," was her smiling answer.
"No matter. You are nice to let a man off in that way." Observing the book
in her lap, he continued, "So you were reading the old family Bible to learn
lessons of patience and forbearance?"
Again she shook her head. She often oddly reminded him of Jane in her
employment of signs instead of speech, but in her case there was a grace, a
suggestiveness, and even a piquancy about them which made them like a new
language. He understood and interpreted her frankly. "I know, Alida," he said
kindly; "you are a good woman. You believe in the Bible and love to read it."
"I was taught to read and love it," she replied simply. Then her eyes dropped
and she faltered, "I've reproached myself bitterly that I rushed away so
hastily that I forgot the Bible my mother gave me."
"No, no," he said heartily, "don't reproach yourself for that. It was the
Bible in your heart that made you act as you did."
She shot him a swift, grateful glance through her tears, but made no other
Having returned the Bible to the parlor, she put the breakfast on the table
and said quietly, "It looks as if we would have a rainy day."
"Well," said he, laughing, "I'm as bad as the old woman--it seems that women
can run farms alone if men can't. Well, this old dame had a big farm and
employed several men, and she was always wishing it would rain nights and
Sundays. I'm inclined to chuckle over the good this rain will do my oats,
instead of being sorry to think how many sinners it'll keep from church.
Except in protracted-meeting times, most people of this town would a great
deal rather risk their souls than be caught in the rain on Sunday. We don't
mind it much week days, but Sunday rain is very dangerous to health."
"I'm afraid I'm as bad as the rest," she said, smiling. "Mother and I usually
stayed home when it rained hard."
"Oh, we don't need a hard storm in the country. People say, 'It looks
threatening,' and that settles it; but we often drive to town rainy days to
"Do you usually go to church at the meeting house I see off in the valley?"
"I don't go anywhere," and he watched keenly to see how she would take this
blunt statement of his practical heathenism.
She only looked at him kindly and accepted the fact.
"Why don't you pitch into me?" he asked.
"That wouldn't do any good."
"You'd like to go, I suppose?"
"No, not under the circumstances, unless you wished to. I'm cowardly enough
to dread being stared at."
He gave a deep sign of relief. "This thing has been troubling me," he said. "I
feared you would want to go, and if you did, I should feel that you ought to
"I fear I'm very weak about it, but I shrink so from meeting strangers. I do
thank God for his goodness many times a day and ask for help. I'm not brave
enough to do any more, yet."
His rugged features became very somber as he said, "I wish I had as much
courage as you have."
"You don't understand me--" she began gently.
"No, I suppose not. It's all become a muddle to me. I mean this church and
She looked at him wistfully, as if she wished to say something, but did not
venture to do so. He promptly gave a different turn to the conversation by
quoting Mrs. Mumpson's tirade on churchgoing the first Sunday after her
arrival. Alida laughed, but not in a wholly mirthful and satisfied way.
"There!" he concluded, "I'm touching on things a little too sacred for you. I
respect your feelings and beliefs, for they are honest and I wish I shared in
'em." Then he suddenly laughed again as he added, "Mrs. Mumpson said there
was too much milking done on Sunday, and it's time I was breaking the Fourth
Commandment, after her notion."
Alida now laughed outright, without reservation.
"'By jocks!' as Watterly says, what a difference there is in women!" he
soliloquized on his way to the barn. "Well, the church question is settled for
the present, but if Alida should ask me to go, after her manner this morning,
I'd face the whole creation with her."
When at last he came in and threw off his waterproof coat, the kitchen was in
order and his wife was sitting by the parlor fire with Thomson's "Land and the
Book" in her hand.
"Are you fond of reading?" he asked.
"Well, I am, too, sort of; but I've let the years slip by without doing half
as much as I ought."
"Light your pipe and I'll read to you, if you wish me to."
"Oh, come now! I at least believe in Sunday as a day of rest, and you need
it. Reading aloud is about as hard work as I can do."
"But I'm used to it. I read aloud to mother a great deal," and then there
passed over her face an expression of deep pain.
"What is it, Alida? Don't you feel well?"
"Yes, oh, yes!" she replied hastily, and her pale face became crimson.
It was another stab of memory recalling the many Sundays she had read to the
man who had deceived her. "Shall I read?" she asked.
"Alida," he said very kindly, "it wasn't the thought of your mother that
brought that look of pain into your face."
She shook her head sadly, with downcast eyes. After a moment or two, she
raised them appealingly to him as she said simply, "There is so much that I
wish I could forget."
"Poor child! Yes, I think I know. Be patient with yourself, and remember
that you were never to blame."
Again came that quick, grateful glance by which some women express more than
others can ever put in words. Her thought was, "I didn't think that even he
was capable of that. What a way of assuring me that he'll be patient with
me!" Then she quietly read for an hour descriptions of the Holy Land that
were not too religious for Holcroft's mind and which satisfied her conscience
better than much she had read in former days to satisfy a taste more alien to
hers than that of her husband.
Holcroft listened to her correct pronunciation and sweet, natural tones with a
sort of pleased wonder. At last he said, "You must stop now."
"Are you tired?" she asked.
"No, but you are, or ought to be. Why, Alida, I didn't know you were so well
educated. I'm quite a barbarous old fellow compared with you."
"I hadn't thought of that before," she said with a laugh.
"What a fool I was, then, to put it into your head!"
"You must be more careful. I'd never have such thoughts if you didn't suggest
"How did you come to get such a good education?"
"I wish I had a better one. Well, I did have good advantages up to the time I
was seventeen. After I was old enough I went to school quite steadily, but it
seems to me that I learned a little of everything and not much of anything.
When father died and we lost our property, we had to take to our needles. I
suppose I might have obtained work in a store, or some such place, but I
couldn't bear to leave mother alone and I disliked being in public. I
certainly didn't know enough to teach, and besides, I was afraid to try."
"Well, well! You've stumbled into a quiet enough place at last."
"That's what I like most about it, but I don't think I stumbled into it. I
think I've been led and helped. That's what I meant when I said you didn't
understand me," she added hesitatingly. "It doesn't take courage for me to go
to God. I get courage by believing that he cares for me like a father, as the
bible says. How could I ever have found so kind a friend and good a home
"I've been half inclined to believe there's a Providence in it myself--more
and more so as I get acquainted with you. Your troubles have made you better,
Alida; mine made me worse. I used to be a Christian; I aint any more."
She looked at him smilingly as she asked, "How do you know?"
"Oh! I know well enough," he replied gloomily. "Don't let's talk about it any
more," and then he led her on to speak simply and naturally about her
childhood home and her father and mother.
"Well," he said heartily, "I wish your mother was living for nothing would
please me better than to have such a good old lady in the house."
She averted her face as she said huskily, "I think it was better she died
before--" But she did not finish the sentence.
By the time dinner was over the sun was shining brightly, and he asked her if
she would not like to go up the lane to his woodland to see the view. Her
pleased look was sufficient answer. "But are you sure you are strong enough?"
"Yes, it will do me good to go out, and I may find some wild flowers."
"I guess you can, a million or two."
By the time he was through at the barn she was ready and they started up the
lane, now green with late April grass and enlivened with dandelions in which
bumblebees were wallowing. The sun had dried the moisture sufficiently for
them to pass on dry-shod, but everything had the fresh, vernal aspect that
follows a warm rain. Spring had advanced with a great bound since the day
before. The glazed and glutinous cherry buds had expanded with aromatic odors
and the white of the blossoms was beginning to show.
"By tomorrow," said Holcroft, "the trees will look as if covered with snow.
Let me help you," and he put his hand under her arm, supporting and aiding her
steps up the steep places.
Her lips were parted, the pleased look was in her eyes as they rested on trees
and shrubs which lined the half ruinous stone walls on either side.
"Everything seems so alive and glad this afternoon," she remarked.
"Yes," replied the matter-of-fact farmer. "A rain such as we had this morning
is like turning the water on a big mill-wheel. It starts all the machinery
right up. Now the sun's out, and that's the greatest motor power of all. Sun
and moisture make the farm go."
"Mustn't the ground be enriched, too?"
"Yes, yes indeed; I suppose that's where we all fail. But it's no easy matter
to keep a farm in good heart. That's another reason why I'm so glad I won't
have to sell my stock. A farm run without stock is sure to grow poor, and if
the farm grows poor, the owner does as a matter of course. But what put
enriching the ground into your head? Do you know anything about farming?"
"No, but I want to learn. When I was a girl, father had a garden. He used to
take papers about it, and I often read them aloud to him evenings. Now I
remember there used to be much in them about enriching the ground. Do you
take any such paper?"
"No, I haven't much faith in book-farming."
"I don't know," she ventured. "Seems to me you might get some good ideas out
of papers, and your experience would teach you whether they were useful ideas
or not. If you'll take one, I'll read it to you."
"I will, then, for the pleasure of hearing you read, if nothing else. That's
something I hadn't bargained for," he added, laughing.
She answered in the same spirit by saying, "I'll throw that in and not call it
"I think I've got the best of you," he chuckled; "and you know nothing makes a
Yankee farmer happier than to get the best of a bargain."
"I hope you'll continue to think so. Can I sit down a few moments?"
"Why, certainly! How forgetful I am! Your talk is too interesting for me to
think of anything else," and he placed her on a flat rock by the side of the
lane while he leaned against the wall.
Bees and other insects were humming around them; a butterfly fluttered over
the fence and alighted on a dandelion almost at her feet; meadow larks were
whistling their limpid notes in the adjoining fields, while from the trees
about the house beneath them came the songs of many birds, blending with the
babble of the brook which ran not far away.
"Oh, how beautiful, how strangely beautiful it all is!"
"Yes, when you come to think of it, it is real pretty," he replied. "It's a
pity we get so used to such things that we don't notice 'em much. I should
feel miserable enough, though, if I couldn't live in just such a place. I
shouldn't wonder if I was a good deal like that robin yonder. I like to be
free and enjoy the spring weather, but I suppose neither he nor I think or
know how fine it all is."
"Well, both you and the robin seem a part of it," she said, laughing.
"Oh, no, no!" he replied with a guffaw which sent the robin off in alarm. "I
aint beautiful and never was."
She joined his laugh, but said with a positive little nod, "I'm right, though.
The robin isn't a pretty bird, yet everybody likes him."
"Except in cherry time. Then he has an appetite equal to mine. But everybody
don't like me. In fact, I think I'm generally disliked in this town."
"If you went among them more they wouldn't dislike you."
"I don't want to go among them."
"They know it, and that's the reason they dislike you."
"Would you like to go out to tea-drinkings, and all that?"
"No, indeed; and I don't suppose I'd be received," she added sadly.
"So much the worse for them, then, blast 'em!" said Holcroft wrathfully.
"Oh no! I don't feel that way and you shouldn't. When they can, people ought
to be sociable and kind."
"Of course I'd do any of my neighbors, except Lemuel Weeks, a good turn if it
came in my way, but the less I have to do with them the better I'm satisfied."
"I'm rested enough to go on now," said Alida quietly.
They were not long in reaching the edge of the woodland, from which there was
an extended prospect. For some little time they looked at the wide landscape
in silence. Alida gave to it only partial attention for her mind was very
busy with thoughts suggested by her husband's alienation from his neighbors.
It would make it easier for her, but the troubled query would arise, "Is it
right or best for him? His marrying me will separate him still more."
Holcroft's face grew sad rather than troubled as he looked at the old meeting
house and not at the landscape. He was sitting near the spot where he spent
that long forenoon a few Sundays before, and the train of thought came back
again. In his deep abstraction, he almost forgot the woman near him in
memories of the past.
His old love and lost faith were inseparable from that little white spire in
Alida stole a glance at him and thought, "He's thinking of her," and she
quietly strolled away to look for wild flowers.
"Yes," muttered Holcroft, at last. "I hope Bessie knows. She'd be the first
one to say it was right and best for me, and she'd be glad to know that in
securing my own home and comfort I had given a home to the homeless and
sorrowful--a quiet, good woman, who worships God as she did."
He rose and joined his wife, who held toward him a handful of trailing
arbutus, rue anemones, bloodroot, and dicentras. "I didn't know they were so
pretty before," he said with a smile.
His smile reassured her for it seemed kinder than any she had yet received,
and his tone was very gentle. "His dead wife will never be my enemy," she
murmured. "He has made it right with her in his own thoughts."
Chapter XXIV. Given Her Own Way
On Monday the absorbing work of the farm was renewed, and every day brought to
Holcroft long and exhausting hours of labor. While he was often taciturn, he
evidently progressed in cheerfulness and hope. Alida confirmed his good
impressions. His meals were prompt and inviting; the house was taking on an
aspect of neatness and order long absent, and his wardrobe was put in as good
condition as its rather meager character permitted. He had positively refused
to permit his wife to do any washing and ironing. "We will see about it next
fall," he said. "If then you are perfectly well and strong, perhaps, but not
in the warm weather now coming on." Then he added, with a little nod, "I'm
finding out how valuable you are, and I'd rather save you than the small sum I
have to pay old Mrs. Johnson."
In this and in other ways he showed kindly consideration, but his mind
continually reverted to his work and outdoor plans with the preoccupation of
one who finds that he can again give his thoughts to something from which they
had been most reluctantly withdrawn. Thus Alida was left alone most of the
time. When the dusk of evening came he was too tired to say much, and he
retired early that he might be fresh for work again when the sun appeared.
She had no regrets, for although she kept busy she was resting and her wounds
were healing through the long, quiet days.
It was the essential calm after the storm. Caring for the dairy and working
the butter into firm, sweet, tempting yellow rolls were the only tasks that
troubled her a little, but Holcroft assured her that she was learning these
important duties faster than he had expected her to. She had several hours a
day in which to ply her needle, and thus was soon enabled to replenish her
One morning at breakfast she appeared in another gown, and although its
material was calico, she had the appearance to Holcroft of being unusually
well dressed. He looked pleased, but made no comment. When the cherry
blossoms were fully out, an old cracked flower vase--the only one in the
house--was filled with them, and they were placed in the center of the dinner
table. He looked at them and her, then smilingly remarked, "I shouldn't
wonder if you enjoyed those cherry blows more than anything else we have for
"I want something else, though. My appetite almost frightens me."
"That's famous! I needn't be ashamed of mine, then."
One evening, before the week was over, he saw her busy with a rake about the
door. Last year's leaves were still scattered about, with twigs and even
small boughs wrested by the winds from the trees. He was provoked with
himself that he had neglected the usual spring clearing away of litter, and a
little irritated that she should have tried to do the work herself. He left
the horses at the barn and came forward directly. "Alida," he said gravely,
"there's no need of your doing such work; I don't like to see you do it."
"Why," she replied, "I've heard that women in the country often milk and take
care of the chickens."
"Yes, but that's very different from this work. I wouldn't like people to
think I expected such things of you."
"It's very easy work," she said smilingly, "easier than sweeping a room,
though something like it. I used to do it at home when I was a girl. I think
it does me good to do something in the open air."
She was persisting, but not in a way that chafed him. Indeed, as he looked
into her appealing eyes and face flushed with exercise, he felt that it would
be churlish to say another word.
"Well," he said, laughing, "it makes you look so young and rosy I guess it
does you good. I suppose you'll have to have your own way."
"You know I wouldn't do this or anything else if you really didn't want me
"You are keen," he replied, with his good nature entirely restored. "You can
see that you get me right under your thumb when you talk that way. But we
must both be on our guard against your fault, you know, or pretty soon you'll
be taking the whole work of the farm off my hands."
"To be serious," she resumed, accompanying him to the barn for the first time,
"I think YOU are working too hard. I'm not. Our meals are so simple that it
doesn't take me long to get them. I'm through with the hurry in my sewing,
the old dog does the churning, and you give me so much help in the dairy that
I shall soon have time on my hands. Now it seems to me that I might soon
learn to take entire care of the chickens, big and little, and that would be
so much less for you to look after. I'm sure I would enjoy it very much,
especially the looking after the little chickens."
"So you really think you'd like to do that?" he asked, as he turned to her
from unharnessing the horses.
"Yes, indeed, if you think I'm competent."
"You are more so than I am. Somehow, little chickens don't thrive under a
busy man's care. The mother hens mean well, but they are so confoundedly
silly. I declare to you that last year I lost half the little chicks that
were hatched out."
"Well, then," she replied, laughing, "I won't be afraid to try, for I think I
can beat you in raising chickens. Now, show me how much you feed them at
night and how much I'm to give them in the morning, and let me take the whole
care of them for a month, get the eggs, and all. If they don't do so well,
then I'll resign. I can't break you in a month."
"It looks more as if you'd make me. You have a good big bump of order, and I
haven't any at all in little things. Tom Watterly was right. If I had tried
to live here alone, things would have got into an awful mess. I feel ashamed
of myself that I didn't clear up the yard before, but my whole mind's been on
the main crops."
"As it should be. Don't you worry about the little things. They belong to
me. Now show me about the chickens, or they'll go to roost while we're
"But I, as well as the chickens, shall want some supper."
"I won't let either of you starve. You'll see."
"Well, you see this little measure? You fill it from this bin with this
mixture of corn and wheat screenings. That's the allowance, morning and
evening. Then you go out to the barnyard there, and call 'kip, kip, kip.'
That's the way my wife used--" He stopped in a little embarrassment.
"I'd be glad if I could do everything as she did," said Alida gently. "It has
grown clearer every day how hard her loss was to you. If you'll tell me what
she did and how she did things--" and she hesitated.
"That's good of you, Alida," he replied gratefully. Then, with his directness
of speech, he added, "I believe some women are inclined to be jealous even of
"You need never fear to speak of your wife to me. I respect and honor your
feelings--the way you remember her. There's no reason why it should be
otherwise. I did not agree to one thing and expect another," and she looked
him straight in the eyes.
He dropped them, as he stood leaning against the bin in the shadowy old barn,
and said, "I didn't think you or anyone would be so sensible. Of course, one
can't forget quickly--"
"You oughtn't to forget," was the firm reply. "Why should you? I should be
sorry to think you could forget."
"I fear I'm not like to make you sorry," he replied, sighing. "To tell you the
truth--" he added, looking at her almost commiseratingly, and then he
"Well, the truth is usually best," she said quietly.
"Well, I'll tell you my thought. We married in haste, we were almost
strangers, and your mind was so distracted at the time that I couldn't blame
you if you forgot what--what I said. I feared--well, you are carrying out our
agreement so sensibly that I want to thank you. It's a relief to find that
you're not opposed, even in your heart, that I should remember one that I knew
as a little child and married when I was young."
"I remember all you said and what I said," she replied, with the same direct,
honest gaze. "Don't let such thoughts trouble you any more. You've been
kinder and more considerate than I ever expected. You have only to tell me
how she did--"
"No, Alida," he said quietly, obeying a subtle impulse. "I'd rather you would
do everything your own way--as it's natural for you. There, we've talked so
long that it's too late to feed the chickens tonight. You can begin in the
"Oh!" she cried, "and you have all your other work to do. I've hindered
rather than helped you by coming out."
"No," he replied decidedly, "you've helped me. I'll be in before very long."
She returned to the house and busied herself in preparations for supper. She
was very thoughtful, and at last concluded: "Yes, he is right. I understand.
Although I may do WHAT his wife did, he don't wish me to do it AS she did.
There could only be a partial and painful resemblance to his eyes. Both he
and I would suffer in comparisons, and he be continually reminded of his loss.
She was his wife in reality, and all relating to her is something sacred and
past to him. The less I am like her, the better. He married me for the sake
of his farm, and I can best satisfy him by carrying out his purpose in my own
way. He's through with sentiment and has taken the kindest way he could to
tell me that I've nothing to do with his past. He feared, yes, he FEARED, I
should forget our businesslike agreement! I didn't know I had given him cause
to fear; I certainly won't hereafter!" and the wife felt, with a trace of
bitterness and shame, that she had been put on her guard; that her husband had
wished to remind her that she must not forget his motive in marrying her, or
expect anything not in consonance with that motive. Perhaps she had been too
wifelike in her manner, and therefore he had feared. She was as sensitive to
such a reproach as she would have been in her girlhood.
For once her intuition was at fault, and she misjudged Holcroft in some
respects. He did think he was through with sentiment; he could not have
talked deliberately to Alida or to any other about his old life and love, and
he truly felt that she had no part in that life. It had become a sad and
sacred memory, yet he wished to feel that he had the right to dwell upon it as
he chose. In his downright sincerity he wished her to know that he could not
help dwelling on it; that for him some things were over, and that he was not
to blame. He was profoundly grateful to her that she had so clearly accepted
the facts of his past, and of their own present relations. He HAD feared, it
is true, but she had not realized his fears, and he felt that it was her due
that he should acknowledge her straightforward carrying out of the compact
made under circumstances which might well excuse her from realizing everything
Moreover, direct and matter of fact as he was, he had felt vaguely the
inevitable difficulties of their relationship. The very word "wife" might
suggest to her mind an affection which he believed it was not in his power to
bestow. They had agreed to give an arbitrary and unusual meaning to their
marriage, and, while thinking it could have no other meaning for him, his mind
was haunted, and he feared that hers might be, by the natural significance of
the rite. So far from meaning to hint that she had been too wifelike, he had
meant to acknowledge her simple and natural fulfillment of his wishes in a
position far more difficult to fill than even he imagined. That she succeeded
so well was due to the fact that she entertained for him all the kind feelings
possible except the one supreme regard which, under ordinary circumstances,
would have accounted for the marriage. The reason that all promised to go so
well in their relationship of mere mutual help was the truth that this basis
of union had satisfied their mutual need. As the farmer had hoped, they had
become excellent friends, supplementing each other's work in a way that
Without the least intention on the part of either, chance words had been
spoken which would not be without effect. He had told her to do everything in
her own way because the moment he thought of it he knew he liked her ways.
They possessed a novelty and natural grace which interested him. There are
both a natural and a conventional grace, and the true lady learns to blend the
one with the other so as to make a charming manner essentially her own--a
manner which makes a woman a lady the world over. Alida had little more than
natural grace and refinement, unmodified by society. This the plain farmer
could understand, and he was already awakening to an appreciation of it. It
impressed him agreeably that Alida should be trim and neat while about her
work, and that all her actions were entirely free from the coarse, slovenly
manner, the limp carriage, and slatternly aspect of the whole tribe which had
come and gone during the past year. They had all been so much alike in
possessing disagreeable traits that he felt that Alida was the only peculiar
one among them. He never thought of instituting comparisons between her and
his former wife, yet he did so unconsciously. Mrs. Holcroft had been too much
like himself, matter of fact, materialistic, kind, and good. Devoid of
imagination, uneducated in mind, her thoughts had not ranged far from what she
touched and saw. She touched them with something of their own heaviness, she
saw them as objects--just what they were--and was incapable of obtaining from
them much suggestion or enjoyment. She knew when the cherry and plum trees
were in blossom just as she knew it was April. The beautiful sounds and
changes in nature reminded her that it was time to do certain kinds of work,
and with her, work was alpha and omega. As her mother had before her, she was
inclined to be a house drudge rather than a housewife. Thrift, neatness,
order, marked the limits of her endeavor, and she accomplished her tasks with
the awkward, brisk directness learned in her mother's kitchen. Only mind,
imagination, and refinement can embroider the homely details of life. Alida
would learn to do all that she had done, but the woman with a finer nature
would do it in a different way. Holcroft already knew he liked this way
although he could not define it to himself. Tired as he was when he came home
in the evening, his eyes would often kindle with pleasure at some action or
remark that interested him from its novelty. In spite of his weariness and
preoccupation, , in spite of a still greater obstacle--the inertia of a mind
dulled by material life--he had begun to consider Alida's personality for its
own sake. He liked to watch her, not to see what she did to his advantage,
but how she did it. She was awakening an agreeable expectancy, and he
sometimes smilingly said to himself, "What's next?"
"Oh, no!" he thought as he was milking the last cow, "I'd much rather she'd
take her own natural way in doing things. It would be easier for her and it's
her right and--and somehow I like her way just as I used to like Bessie's
ways. She isn't Bessie and never can be, and for some reason I'd like her to
be as different as possible."
Unconsciously and unintentionally, however, he had given Alida's sensitive
nature a slight wound. She felt that she had been told in effect, "You can
help me all you please, and I would rather you would do this in a way that
will not awaken associations, but you must not think of me or expect me to
think of you in any light that was not agreed upon." That he had feared the
possibility of this, that he might have fancied he saw indications of this,
hurt her pride--that pride and delicacy of feeling which most women shield so
instinctively. She was now consciously on her guard, and so was not so secure
against the thoughts she deprecated as before. In spite of herself, a
restraint would tinge her manner which he would eventually feel in a vague,
But he came in at last, very tired and thoroughly good-natured. "I'm going to
town tomorrow," he said, "and I thought of taking a very early start so as to
save time. Would you like to go?"
"There's no need of my going."
"I thought perhaps you'd enjoy the drive."
"I would have to meet strangers and I'm so entirely content in being alone--I
won't go this time unless you wish it."
"Well, if you don't care about it, I'll carry out my first plan and take a
very early start. I want to sell the butter and eggs on hand, repay Tom
Watterly, and get some seeds. We need some things from the store, too, I
"Yes, you are such a coffee drinker--" she began, smiling.
"Oh, I know!" he interrupted. "Make out your list. You shall say what we
want. Isn't there something you want for yourself?"
"No, not for myself, but I do want something that perhaps you would enjoy,
too. You may think it a waste of money, though."
"Well, you've a right to waste some in your way as well as I have over my
"That's good. I hadn't thought of that. You are the one that puts notions
into my head. I would like three or four geraniums and a few flower seeds."
He looked as if he was thinking deeply and she felt a little hurt that he
should not comply at once with her request, knowing that the outlay suggested
was very slight.
At last he looked up, smiling as he said, "So I put notions into your head, do
"Oh, well," she replied, flushing in the consciousness of her thoughts, "if
you think it's foolish to spend money for such things--"
"Tush, tush, Alida! Of course I'll get what you wish. But I really am going
to put a notion into your head, and it's stupid and scarcely fair in me that I
hadn't thought of some such plan before. You want to take care of the
chickens. Well, I put them wholly in your care and you shall have all you can
make off them--eggs, young chickens, and everything."
"That IS a new notion," she replied, laughing. "I hadn't thought of such a
thing and it's more than fair. What would I do with so much money?"
"What you please. Buy yourself silk dresses if you want to."
"But I couldn't use a quarter of the money."
"No matter, use what you like and I'll put the rest in the bank for you and in
your name. I was a nice kind of a business partner, wasn't I? Expecting you
to do nearly half the work and then have you say, 'Will you please get me a
few plants and seeds?' and then, 'Oh! If you think it's foolish to spend money
for such things.' Why, you have as good a right to spend some of the money
you help earn as I have. You've shown you'll be sensible in spending it. I
don't believe you'll use enough of it. Anyway, it will be yours, as it ought
"Very well," she replied, nodding at him with piquant significance, "I'll
always have some to lend you."
"Yes, shouldn't wonder if you were the richest some day. Everything you touch
seems to turn out well. I shall be wholly dependent on you hereafter for eggs
and an occasional fricassee."
"You shall have your share. Yes, I like this notion. It grows on me. I'd
like to earn some money to do what I please with. You'll be surprised to see
what strange and extravagant tastes I'll develop!"
"I expect to be perfectly dumfoundered, as Mrs. Mumpson used to say. Since
you are so willing to lend, I'll lend you enough to get all you want tomorrow.
Make out your list. You can get a good start tomorrow for I was too tired and
it was too late for me to gather the eggs tonight. I know, too, that a good
many of the hens have stolen their nests of late, and I've been too busy to
look for 'em. You may find perfect mines of eggs, but, for mercy's sake!
don't climb around in dangerous places. I had such bad luck with chicks last
year that I've only set a few hens. You can set few or many now, just as you
Even as he talked and leisurely finished his supper, his eyes grew heavy with
sleep. "What time will you start tomorrow?" she asked.
"Oh, no matter; long before you are up or ought to be. I'll get myself a cup
of coffee. I expect to do my morning work and be back by nine or ten o'clock
for I wish to get in some potatoes and other vegetables before Sunday."
"Very well, I'll make out my list and lay it on the table here. Now, why
don't you go and sleep at once? You ought, with such an early start in
"Ought I? Well, I never felt more inclined to do my duty. You must own up I
have put one good notion into your head?"
"I have said nothing against any of them. Come, you ought to go at once."
"Can't I smoke my pipe first please?"
"You'll find it quieter in the parlor."
"But it's pleasanter here where I can watch you."
"Do you think I need watching?"
"Yes, a little, since you don't look after your own interests very sharply."
"It isn't my way to look after anything very sharply."
"No, Alida, thank the Lord! There's nothing sharp about you, not even your
tongue. You won't mind being left alone a few hours tomorrow?"
"No, indeed, I like to be alone."
"I thought I did. Most everyone has seemed a crowd to me. I'm glad you've
never given me that feeling. Well, goodbye till you see me driving up with
Chapter XXV. A Charivari
The eastern horizon was aglow with rosy tints the following morning when
Holcroft awoke; the stars were but just fading from the sky and the birds were
still silent. He knew by these signs that it was very early and that he could
carry out his plan of a timely start to town. Dressing very quietly, he stole
downstairs, shoes in hand, lest his tread should awaken Alida. The kitchen
door leading into the hall was closed. Lifting the latch carefully, he found
the lamp burning, the breakfast table set, and the kettle humming over a good
fire. "This is her work, but where is she?" he queried in much surprise.
The outer door was ajar; he noiselessly crossed the room, and looking out, he
saw her. She had been to the well for a pail of water, but had set it down
and was watching the swiftly brightening east. She was so still and her face
so white in the faint radiance that he had an odd, uncanny impression. No
woman that he had ever known would stop that way to look at the dawn. He
could see nothing so peculiar in it as to attract such fixed attention.
"Alida," he asked, "what do you see?"
She started slightly and turned to take up the pail; but he had already sprung
down the steps and relieved her of the burden.
"Could anything be more lovely than those changing tints? It seems to me I
could have stood there an hour," she said quietly.
"You are not walking or doing all this in your sleep, are you?" he asked,
laughing, yet regarding her curiously. "You looked as you stood there like
what people call a--what's that big word?"
"I'm not a somnambulist and never was, to my knowledge. You'll find I'm wide
enough awake to have a good breakfast soon."
"But I didn't expect you to get up so early. I didn't wish it."
"It's too late now," she said pleasantly, "so I hope you won't find fault with
me for doing what I wanted to do."
"Did you mean to be up and have breakfast when I told you last night?"
"Yes. Of course I didn't let you know for you would have said I mustn't, and
then I couldn't. It isn't good for people to get up so early and do as much
as you had on your mind without eating. Now you won't be any the worse for
"I certainly ought to be the better for so much kindly consideration; but it
will cure me of such unearthly hours if you feel that you must conform to
them. You look pale this morning, Alida; you're not strong enough to do such
things, and there's no need of it when I'm so used to waiting on myself."
"I shall have to remind you," she replied with a bright look at him over her
shoulder, "that you said I could do things my own way."
"Well, it seems odd after a year when everyone who came here appeared to
grudge doing a thing for a man's comfort."
"I should hope I was different from them."
"Well, you are. I thought you were different from anyone I ever knew as I saw
you there looking at the east. You seem wonderfully fond of pretty things."
"I'll own to that. But if you don't hurry you won't do as much as you hoped
by getting up early."
The morning was very mild, and she left the outer door open as she went
quickly to and fro with elasticity of spirit as well as step. It was pleasant
to have her efforts appreciated and almost as grateful to hear the swelling
harmony of song from the awakening birds. The slight cloud that had fallen on
her thoughts the evening before had lifted. She felt that she understood
Holcroft better, and saw that his feeling was only that of honest friendliness
and satisfaction. She had merely to recognize and respond to so much only and
all would be well. Meantime, she desired nothing more, and he should be
thoroughly convinced of this fact. She grew positively light-hearted over the
fuller assurance of the truth that although a wife, she was not expected to
love--only to be faithful to all his interests. This, and this only, she
believed to be within her power.
Holcroft departed in the serenity characteristic of one's mood when the
present is so agreeable that neither memories of the past nor misgivings as to
the future are obtrusive. He met Watterly in town, and remarked, "This is
another piece of good luck. I hadn't time to go out to your place, although I
meant to take time."
"A piece of good luck indeed!" Tom mentally echoed, for he would have been
greatly embarrassed if Holcroft had called. Mrs. Watterly felt that she had
been scandalized by the marriage which had taken place in her absence, and was
all the more resentful for the reason that she had spoken to a cousin of
uncertain age and still more uncertain temper in behalf of the farmer. In
Mrs. Watterly's estimate of action, it was either right, that is, in
accordance with her views, or else it was intolerably wrong and without
excuse. Poor Tom had been made to feel that he had not only committed an
almost unpardonable sin against his wife and her cousin, but also against all
the proprieties of life. "The idea of such a wedding taking place in my rooms
and with my husband's sanction!" she had said with concentrated bitterness.
Then had followed what he was accustomed to characterize as a spell of "zero
weather." He discreetly said nothing. "It didn't seem such a bad idea to me,"
he thought, "but then I suppose women folks know best about such things."
He was too frank in his nature to conceal from Holcroft his misgivings or his
wife's scornful and indignant disapproval. "Sorry Angy feels so bad about it,
Jim," he said ruefully, "but she says I mustn't buy anything more of you."
"Or have anything more to do with me, I suppose?"
"Oh, come now! You know a man's got to let his women-folks have their say
about household matters, but that don't make any difference in my feelings
"Well, well, Tom! If it did, I should be slow to quarrel with a man who had
done me as good a turn as you have. Thank the Lord! I've got a wife that'll
let me have some say about household and all other matters. You, too, are
inclined to think that I'm in an awful scrape. I feel less like getting out
of it every day. My wife is as respectable as I am and a good sight better
than I am. If I'm no longer respectable for having married her, I certainly
am better contented than I ever expected to be again. I want it understood,
though, that the man who says anything against my wife may have to get me
arrested for assault and battery."
"When it comes to that, Jim," replied Watterly, who was meek only in the
presence of his wife, "I'd just as lief speak against her as wink if there was
anything to say. But I say now, as I said to you at first, she aint one of
the common sort. I thought well of her at first, and I think better of her
now since she's doing so well by you. But I suppose marrying a woman situated
as she was isn't according to regulation. We men are apt to act like the boys
we used to be and go for what we want without thinking of the consequences."
"It's the consequences that please me most. If you had been dependent on
Mumpson, Malonys, and Wigginses for your home comfort you wouldn't worry about
the talk of people who'd never raise a finger for you. Well, goodbye, I'm in
a hurry. Your heart's in the right place, Tom, and some day you'll come out
and take dinner with me. One dinner, such as she'll give you, will bring you
round. One of our steady dishes is a bunch of flowers and I enjoy 'em, too.
What do you think of that for a hard-headed old fellow like me?"
Some men are chilled by public disapproval and waver under it, but Holcroft
was thereby only the more strongly confirmed in his course. Alida had won his
esteem as well as his good will, and it was the instinct of his manhood to
protect and champion her. He bought twice as many flowers and seeds as she
had asked for, and also selected two simple flower vases; then started on his
return with the feeling that he had a home.
Alida entered upon her duties to the poultry with almost the pleasure of a
child. She first fed them, then explored every accessible nook and hiding
place in the barn and outbuildings. It was evident that many of the biddies
had stolen their nests, and some were brooding upon them with no disposition
to be disturbed. Out of the hundred or more fowls on the place, a good many
were clucking their maternal instincts, and their new keeper resolved to put
eggs under all except the flighty ones that left their nests within two or
three days' trial. As the result of her search, the empty egg basket was in a
fair way to be full again very soon. She gloated over her spoils as she
smilingly assured herself, "I shall take him at his word. I shall spend
nearly all I make this year in fixing up the old house within and without, so
he'll scarcely know it."
It was eleven o'clock before Holcroft drove to the door with the flowers, and
he was amply repaid by her pleasure in receiving them. "Why, I only expected
geraniums," she said, "and you've bought half a dozen other kinds."
"And I expected to get my own coffee this morning and a good breakfast was
given me instead, so we are quits."
"You're probably ready for your dinner now, if it is an hour earlier than
usual. It will be ready in ten minutes."
"Famous! That will give me a good long afternoon. I say, Alida, when do you
want the flower beds made?"
"No hurry about them. I shall keep the plants in the window for a week or
two. It isn't safe to put them outdoors before the last of May. I'll have
some slips ready by that time."
"Yes, I know. You'll soon have enough to set out an acre."
The days of another week passed quietly and rapidly away, Alida becoming
almost as much absorbed in her interests as he in his. Every hour added to
the beauty of the season without. The unplowed fields were taking on a vivid
green, and Holcroft said that on the following Monday the cows should go out
to pasture. Wholesome, agreeable occupation enabled Alida to put away sad
thoughts and memories. Nature and pleasant work are two potent healers, and
she was rallying fast under their ministry. Holcroft would have been blind
indeed had he not observed changes for the better. Her thin cheeks were
becoming fuller, and her exertions, with the increasing warmth of the season,
often flushed her face with a charming color. The old sad and troubled
expression was passing away from her blue eyes. Every day it seemed easier
for her to laugh, and her step grew more elastic. It was all so gradual that
he never questioned it, but his eyes followed her with increasing pleasure and
he listened, when she spoke, with deepening interest. Sundays had been long
and rather dreary days, but now he positively welcomed their coming and looked
forward to the hours when, instead of brooding over the past, he should listen
to her pleasant voice reading his few and neglected books. There was a new
atmosphere in his home--a new influence, under which his mind was awakening in
spite of his weariness and absorption in the interests of the farm. Alida was
always ready to talk about these, and her questions would soon enable her to
talk understandingly. She displayed ignorance enough, and this amused him,
but her queries evinced no stupidity. In reading to her father and in the
cultivation of flowers, she had obtained hints of vital horticultural
principles, and Holcroft said to her laughingly one evening at supper, "You'll
soon learn all I know and begin to teach me."
Her manner of deprecating such remarks was to exaggerate them and she replied,
"Yes, next week you will sell my eggs and I shall subscribe for the
agricultural paper my father used to take. Then will begin all the
improvements of book-farming. I shall advise you to sow oats in June, plant
corn in March, and show you generally that all your experience counts for
This kind of badinage was new to the farmer, and it amused him immensely. He
did not grow sleepy so early in the evening, and as he was driving his work
prosperously he shortened his hours of labor slightly. She also found time to
read the county paper and gossip a little about the news, thus making a
beginning in putting him and herself en rapport with other interests than
those which centered in the farm. In brief, she had an active, intelligent
mind and a companionable nature. Her boundless gratitude for her home, which
daily grew more homelike, led her to employ all her tact in adding to his
enjoyment. Yet so fine was her tact that her manner was a simple embodiment
of good will, and he was made to feel that it was nothing more.
While all was passing so genially and satisfactorily to Holcroft, it may well
be supposed that his conduct was not at all to the mind of his neighbors.
News, especially during the busy spring season, permeates a country
neighborhood slowly. The fact of his marriage had soon become known, and
eventually, through Justice Harkins, the circumstances relating to it and
something of Alida's previous history, in a garbled form, came to be discussed
at rural firesides. The majority of the men laughed and shrugged their
shoulders, implying it was none of their business, but not a few, among whom
was Lemuel Weeks, held up their hands and spoke of the event in terms of the
severest reprehension. Many of the farmers' wives and their maiden sisters
were quite as much scandalized as Mrs. Watterly had been that an unknown
woman, of whom strange stories were told, should have been brought into the
community from the poorhouse, "and after such a heathenish marriage, too,"
they said. It was irregular, unprecedented, and therefore utterly wrong and
subversive of the morals of the town.
They longed to ostracize poor Alida, yet saw no chance of doing so. They
could only talk, and talk they did, in a way that would have made her ears
tingle had she heard.
The young men and older boys, however, believed that they could do more than
talk. Timothy Weeks had said to a group of his familiars, "Let's give old
Holcroft and his poorhouse bride a skimelton that will let 'em know what folks
think of 'em."
The scheme found favor at once, and Tim Weeks was soon recognized as organizer
and leader of the peculiar style of serenade contemplated. After his day's
work was over, he rode here and there summoning congenial spirits. The
project soon became pretty well known in several families, but the elder
members remained discreetly blind and deaf, proposing to wink at what was
going on, yet take no compromising part themselves. Lemuel Weeks winked very
knowingly and suggestively. He kept within such bounds, however, as would
enable him to swear that he knew nothing and had said nothing, but his son had
never felt more assured of his father's sympathy. When at last the motley
gathering rendezvoused at Tim's house, Weeks, senior, was conveniently making
a call on a near neighbor.
It was Saturday evening, and the young May moon would furnish sufficient light
without revealing identity too clearly. About a score of young fellows and
hired farm-hands of the ruder sort came riding and trudging to Weeks' barn,
where there was a barrel of cider on tap. Here they blackened their faces
with charcoal and stimulated their courage, for it was well known that
Holcroft was anything but lamblike when angered.
"He'll be like a bull in a china shop," remarked Tim, "but then there's enough
of us to handle him if he gets too obstrep'rous."
Armed with tin pans and horns which were to furnish the accompaniment to their
discordant voices, they started about eight in the evening. As they moved up
the road there was a good deal of coarse jesting and bravado, but when they
approached the farmhouse silence was enjoined. After passing up the lane they
looked rather nervously at the quiet dwelling softly outlined in the
moonlight. A lamp illumined the kitchen window, and Tim Weeks whispered
excitedly, "He's there. Let's first peek in the window and then give 'em a
Knowing that they should have the coming day in which to rest, Holcroft and
Alida had busied themselves with outdoor matters until late. She had been
planning her flower beds, cutting out the dead wood from some neglected
rosebushes and shrubbery, and had also helped her husband by sowing seed in
the kitchen garden back of the house. Then, weary, yet pleased with the labor
accomplished, they made a very leisurely supper, talking over garden matters
and farm prospects in general. Alida had all her flower seeds on the table
beside her, and she gloated over them and expatiated on the kind of blossoms
they would produce with so much zest that Holcroft laughingly remarked, "I
never thought that flowers would be one of the most important crops on the
"You will think so some day. I can see, from the expression of your eyes,
that the cherry blossoms and now the apple blows which I put on the table
please you almost as much as the fruit would."
"Well, it's because I notice 'em. I never seemed to notice 'em much before."
"Oh, no! It's more than that," she replied, shaking her head. "Some people
would notice them, yet never see how pretty they were."
"Then they'd be blind as moles."
"The worst kind of blindness is that of the mind."
"Well, I think many country people are as stupid and blind as oxen, and I was
one of 'em. I've seen more cherry and apple blossoms this year than in all my
life before, and I haven't thought only of cherries and apples either."
"The habit of seeing what is pretty grows on one," she resumed. "It seems to
me that flowers and such things feed mind and heart. So if one HAS mind and
heart, flowers become one of the most useful crops. Isn't that practical
"Not very common in Oakville. I'm glad you think I'm in a hopeful frame of
mind, as they used to say down at the meeting house. Anyhow, since you wish
it, we will have a flower crop as well as a potato crop."
Thus they continued chatting while Alida cleared up the table, and Holcroft,
having lighted his pipe, busied himself with peeling a long, slim hickory
sapling intended for a whipstock.
Having finished her tasks, Alida was finally drying her hands on a towel that
hung near a window. Suddenly, she caught sight of a dark face peering in.
Her startled cry brought Holcroft hastily to his feet. "What's the matter?" he
"I saw--" Then she hesitated from a fear that he would rush into some unknown
The rough crew without perceived that their presence was known, and Tim Weeks
cried, "Now, all together!"
A frightful overture began at once, the hooting and yelling almost drowning
the instrumental part and sending to Alida's heart that awful chill of fear
produced by human voices in any mob-like assemblage. Holcroft understood the
affair at once, for he was familiar with the custom, but she did not. He
threw open the door with the purpose of sternly expostulating with the
disturbers of the peace and of threatening them with the law unless they
retired. With an instinct to share his danger she stepped to his side, and
this brought a yell of derision. Lurid thoughts swept through her mind. She
had brought this danger. Her story had become known. What might they not do
to Holcroft? Under the impulse of vague terror and complete self-sacrifice,
she stepped forward and cried, "I only am to blame. I will go away forever if
you will spare--" But again the scornful clamor rose and drowned her voice.
Her action and words had been so swift that Holcroft could not interfere, but
in an instant he was at her side, his arm around her, his square jaw set, and
his eyes blazing with his kindling anger. He was not one of those men who
fume early under provocation and in words chiefly. His manner and gesture
were so impressive that his tormentors paused to listen.
"I know," he said quietly, "all about this old, rude custom--that it's often
little more than a rough lark. Well, now that you've had it, leave at once.
I'm in no mood for such attention from my neighbors. This is my wife, and
I'll break any man's head who says a word to hurt her feelings--"
"Oh yes! Take care of her feelings, now it's your turn. They must 'a' been
hurt before," piped up Tim Weeks.
"Good for you, old man, for showin' us your poorhouse bride," said another.
"We don't fancy such grass-widders, and much married, half-married women in
Oakville," yelled a third.
"Why didn't yer jump over a broomstick for a weddin' ceremony?" someone else
These insults were fired almost in a volley. Alida felt Holcroft's arm grow
rigid for a second. "Go in, quick!" he said.
Then she saw him seize the hickory sapling he had leaned against the house,
and burst upon the group like a thunderbolt. Cries of pain, yells, and oaths
of rage rose above the rain of blows. The older members of the crew sought to
close upon him, but he sprung back, and the tough sapling swept about him like
a circle of light. It was a terrific weapon in the hands of a strong man, now
possessed of almost giant strength in his rage. More than one fellow went
down under its stinging cut, and heads and faces were bleeding. The younger
portion of the crowd speedily took to their heels, and soon even the most
stubborn fled; the farmer vigorously assisting their ignominious retreat with
tremendous downward blows on any within reach. Tim Weeks had managed to keep
out of the way till they entered the lane; then, taking a small stone from the
fence, he hurled it at their pursuer and attempted to jump over the wall.
This was old, and gave way under him in such a way that he fell on the other
side. Holcroft leaped the fence with a bound, but Tim, lying on his back,
shrieked and held up his hands, "You won't hit a feller when he's down!"
"No," said Holcroft, arresting his hickory. "I'll send you to jail, Tim Weeks.
That stone you fired cut my head. Was your father in that crowd?"
"No-o-o!" blubbered Tim.
"If he was, I'd follow him home and whip him in his own house. Now, clear
out, and tell the rest of your rowdy crew that I'll shoot the first one of you
that disturbs me again. I'll send the constable for you, and maybe for some
of the others."
Dire was the dismay, and dreadful the groaning in Oakville that night. Never
before had salves and poultices been in such demand. Not a few would be
disfigured for weeks, and wherever Holcroft's blows had fallen welts arose
like whipcords. In Lemuel Weeks' dwelling the consternation reached its
climax. Tim, bruised from his fall, limped in and told his portentous story.
In his spite, he added, "I don't care, I hit him hard. His face was all
"All bloody!" groaned his father. "Lord 'a mercy! He can send you to jail,
Then Mrs. Weeks sat down and wailed aloud.
Chapter XXVI. "You Don't Know."
As Timothy Weeks limped hastily away, Holcroft, with a strong revulsion of
feeling, thought of Alida. HE had been able to answer insults in a way
eminently satisfactory to himself, and every blow had relieved his electrical
condition. But how about the poor woman who had received worse blows than he
had inflicted? As he hastened toward the house he recalled a dim impression
of seeing her sink down on the doorstep. Then he remembered her effort to
face the marauders alone. "She said she was to blame, poor child! As if there
were any blame at all! She said, 'spare him,' as if I was facing a band of
murderers instead of a lot of neighborhood scamps, and that she'd go away.
I'd fight all Oakville--men, women, and children--before I'd permit that," and
he started on a run.
He found Alida on the step, where she had sunk as if struck down by the rough
epithets hurled at her. She was sobbing violently, almost hysterically, and
at first could not reply to his soothing words. He lifted her up, and half
carried her within to a chair. "Oh, oh," she cried, "why did I not realize it
more fully before? Selfish woman that I was, to marry you and bring on you all
this shame and danger. I should have thought of it all, I ought to have died
rather than do you such a wrong."
"Alida, Alida," protested Holcroft, "if it were all to do over again, I'd be a
thousand times more--"
"Oh, I know, I know! You are brave and generous and honest. I saw that much
when you first spoke to me. I yielded to the temptation to secure such a
friend. I was too cowardly to face the world alone. And now see what's
happened! You're in danger and disgrace on my account. I must go away--I
must do what I should have done at first," and with her face buried in her
hands she rocked back and forth, overwhelmed by the bitterness and reproach of
"Alida," he urged, "please be calm and sensible. Let me reason with you and
tell you the truth. All that's happened is that the Oakville cubs have
received a well-deserved whipping. When you get calm, I can explain
everything so it won't seem half so bad. Neither you nor I are in any danger,
and, as for your going away, look me in the eyes and listen."
His words were almost stern in their earnestness. She raised her streaming
eyes to his face, then sprung up, exclaiming, "Oh! You're wounded!"
"What's that, compared with your talk of going away?"
All explanations and reassurances would have been trivial in effect, compared
with the truth that he had been hurt in her defense. She dashed her tears
right and left, ran for a basin of water, and making him take her chair, began
washing away the blood stains.
"Thunder!" he said, laughing, "How quickly we've changed places!"
"Oh, oh!" she moaned, "It's a terrible wound; it might have killed you, and
they WILL kill you yet."
He took her hands and held them firmly. "Alida," he said, gravely yet kindly,
"be still and listen to me."
For a moment or two longer her bosom heaved with convulsive sobs, and then she
grew quiet. "Don't you know you can't go away?" he asked, still retaining her
hands and looking in her face.
"I could for your sake," she began.
"No, it wouldn't be for my sake. I don't wish you to go, and wouldn't let
you. If you should let the Oakville rabble drive you away, I WOULD be in
danger, and so would others, for I'd be worse on 'em than an earthquake.
After the lesson they've had tonight, they'll let us alone, and I'll let them
alone. You know I've tried to be honest with you from the first. Believe me,
then, the trouble's over unless we make more for ourselves. Now, promise
you'll do as I say and let me manage."
"I'll try," she breathed softly.
"No, no! That won't do. I'm beginning to find you out. You may get some
foolish, self-sacrificing notion in your head that it would be best for me,
when it would be my ruination. Will you promise?"
"Famous! Now you can bathe my head all you please for it feels a little
"It's an awful wound," she said in tones of the deepest sympathy. "Oh, I'm so
"Pshaw! My head is too hard for that little scamp of a Weeks to break. His
turn'll come next."
She cut away the blood-clotted hair and bound up the rather severe scalp wound
with a tenderness and sympathy that expressed itself even in her touch. She
was too confused and excited to be conscious of herself, but she had received
some tremendously strong impressions. Chief among them was the truth that
nothing which had happened made any difference in him--that he was still the
same loyal friend, standing between her and the world she dreaded--yes,
between her and her own impulses toward self-sacrifice. Sweetest of all was
the assurance that he did this for his own sake as well as hers. These facts
seemed like a foothold in the mad torrent of feeling and shame which had been
sweeping her away. She could think of little more than that she was
safe--safe because he was brave and loyal--and yes, safe because he wanted her
and would not give her up. The heart of a woman must be callous indeed, and
her nature not only trivial but stony if she is not deeply touched under
circumstances like these.
In spite of his laughing contempt of danger, she trembled as she saw him ready
to go out again; she wished to accompany him on his round of observation, but
he scouted the idea, although it pleased him. Standing in the door, she
strained her eyes and listened breathlessly. He soon returned and said,
"They've all had enough. We won't be disturbed again."
He saw that her nerves needed quieting, and he set about the task with such
simple tact as he possessed. His first step was to light his pipe in the most
nonchalant manner, and then he burst out laughing. "I'll hang that hickory up.
It has done too good service to be put to common use again. Probably you
never heard of a skimelton, Alida. Well, they are not so uncommon in this
region. I suppose I'll have to own up to taking part in one myself when I was
a young chap. They usually are only rough larks and are taken good-naturedly.
I'm not on jesting terms with my neighbors, and they had no business to come
here, but I wouldn't have made any row if they hadn't insulted you."
Her head bowed very low as she faltered, "They've heard everything."
He came right to her and took her hand. "Didn't I hear everything before they
"Well, Alida, I'm not only satisfied with you, but I'm very grateful to you.
Why shouldn't I be when you are a good Christian woman? I guess I'm the one
to be suited, not Oakville. I should be as reckless as the devil if you should
go away from me. Don't I act like a man who's ready to stand up for and
"Yes, too ready. It would kill me if anything happened to you on my account."
"Well, the worst would happen," he said firmly, "if we don't go right on as
we've begun. If we go quietly on about our own affairs, we'll soon be let
alone and that's all we ask."
"Yes, yes indeed! Don't worry, James. I'll do as you wish."
"Famous! You never said 'James' to me before. Why haven't you?"
"I don't know," she faltered, with a sudden rush of color to her pale face.
"Well, that's my name," he resumed, laughing. "I guess it's because we are
getting better acquainted.
She looked up and said impetuously, "You don't know how a woman feels when a
man stands up for her as you did tonight."
"Well, I know how a man feels when there is a woman so well worth standing up
for. It was a lucky thing that I had nothing heavier in my hand than that
hickory." All the while he was looking at her curiously; then he spoke his
thought. "You're a quiet little woman, Alida, most times, but you're capable
of a thunder gust now and then."
"I'll try to be quiet at all times," she replied, with drooping eyes.
"Oh, I'm not complaining!" he said, laughing. "I like the trait."
He took a small pitcher and went to the dairy. Returning, he poured out two
glasses of milk and said, "Here's to your health and happiness, Alida; and
when I don't stand up for the woman who started out to save me from a mob of
murderers, may the next thing I eat or drink choke me. You didn't know they
were merely a lot of Oakville boys, did you?"
"You can't make so light of it," said she. "They tried to close on you, and if
that stone had struck you on the temple, it might have killed you. They swore
like pirates, and looked like ruffians with their blackened faces. They
certainly were not boys in appearance."
"I'm afraid I swore too," he said sadly.
"You had some excuse, but I'm sorry. They would have hurt you if you hadn't
kept them off."
"Yes, they'd probably have given me a beating. People do things in hot blood
they wish they hadn't afterward. I know this Oakville rough-scuff. Since
we've had it out, and they know what to expect, they'll give me a wide berth.
Now go and sleep. You were never safer in your life."
She did not trust herself to reply, but the glance she gave him from her
tearful eyes was so eloquent with grateful feeling that he was suddenly
conscious of some unwonted sensations. He again patrolled the place and tied
the dog near the barn.
"It's barely possible that some of these mean cusses might venture to kindle a
fire, but a bark from Towser will warn 'em off. She IS a spirited little
woman," he added, with a sharp change in soliloquy. "There's nothing
milk-and-water about her. Thunder! I felt like kissing her when she looked
at me so. I guess that crack on my skull has made me a little light-headed."
He lay down in his clothes so that he might rush out in case of any alarm, and
he intended to keep awake. Then, the first thing he knew, the sun was shining
in the windows.
It was long before Alida slept, and the burden of her thoughts confirmed the
words that she had spoken so involuntarily. "You don't know how a woman feels
when a man stands up for her as you did." It is the nature of her sex to
adore hardy, courageous manhood. Beyond all power of expression, Alida felt
her need of a champion and protector. She was capable of going away for his
sake, but she would go in terror and despair. The words that had smitten her
confirmed all her old fears of facing the world alone. Then came the
overpowering thought of his loyalty and kindness, of his utter and almost
fierce repugnance to the idea of her leaving him. In contrast with the man
who had deceived and wronged her, Holcroft's course overwhelmed her very soul
with a passion of grateful affection. A new emotion, unlike anything she had
ever known, thrilled her heart and covered her face with blushes. "I could die
for him!" she murmured.
She awoke late in the morning. When at last she entered the kitchen she
stopped in deep chagrin, for Holcroft had almost completed preparations for
breakfast. "Ha, ha!" he laughed, "turn about is fair play."
"Well," she sighed, "there's no use of making excuses now."
"There's no occasion for any. Did you ever see such a looking case as I am
with this bandage around my head?"
"Does it pain you?" she asked sympathetically.
"Well, it does. It pains like thunder."
"The wound needs dressing again. Let me cleanse and bind it up."
"Yes, after breakfast."
"No, indeed; now. I couldn't eat my breakfast while you were suffering so."
"I'm more unfeeling then than you are, for I could."
She insisted on having her way, and then tore up her handkerchief to supply a
soft linen bandage.
"You're extravagant, Alida," but she only shook her head.
"Famous! That feels better. What a touch you have! Now, if you had a broken
head, my fingers would be like a pair of tongs."
She only shook her head and smiled.
"You're as bad as Jane used to be. She never said a word when she could shake
or nod her meaning."
"I should think you would be glad, after having been half talked to death by
"As I said before, take your own way of doing things. It seems the right way
after it is done."
A faint color came into her face, and she looked positively happy as she sat
down to breakfast. "Are you sure your head feels better?" she asked.
"Yes, and you look a hundred per cent better. Well, I AM glad you had such a
good sleep after all the hubbub."
"I didn't sleep till toward morning," she said, with downcast eyes.
"Pshaw! That's too bad. Well, no matter, you look like a different person
from what you did when I first saw you. You've been growing younger every
Her face flushed like a girl's under his direct, admiring gaze, making her all
the more pretty. She hastened to divert direct attention from herself by
asking, "You haven't heard from anyone this morning?"
"No, but I guess the doctor has. Some of those fellows will have to keep
shady for a while."
As they were finishing breakfast, Holcroft looked out of the open kitchen door
and exclaimed, "By thunder! We're going to hear from some of them now. Here
comes Mrs. Weeks, the mother of the fellow who hit me."
"Won't you please receive her in the parlor?"
"Yes, she won't stay long, you may be sure. I'm going to give that Weeks
tribe one lesson and pay off the whole score."
He merely bowed coldly to Mrs. Weeks' salutation and offered her a chair. The
poor woman took out her handkerchief and began to mop her eyes, but Holcroft
was steeled against her, not so much on account of the wound inflicted by her
son as for the reason that he saw in her an accomplice with her husband in the
fraud of Mrs. Mumpson.
"I hope you're not badly hurt," she began.
"It might be worse."
"Oh, Mr. Holcroft!" she broke out sobbingly, "spare my son. It would kill me
if you sent him to prison."
"He took the chance of killing me last night," was the cold reply. "What's far
worse, he insulted my wife."
"Oh, Mr. Holcroft! He was young and foolish; he didn't realize--"
"Were you and your husband young and foolish," he interrupted bitterly, "when
you gulled me into employing that crazy cousin of yours?"
This retort was so overwhelming that Mrs. Weeks sobbed speechlessly.
Alida could not help overhearing the conversation, and she now glided into the
room and stood by her husband's side.
"James," she said, "won't you do me a favor, a great kindness?"
Mrs. Weeks raised her eyes and looked wonderingly at this dreadful woman,
against whom all Oakville was talking.
"I know what you wish, Alida," he replied sternly, "but I can't do it. This
is a case for justice. This woman's son was the leader of that vile crowd
that insulted you last night. I can forgive his injuring me, but not the
words he used about you. Moreover, when I was alone and struggling to keep my
home, Mrs. Weeks took part with her husband in imposing on me their fraud of a
cousin and in tricking me out of honest money. Any woman with a heart in her
breast would have tried to help a man situated as I was. No, it's a clear
case of justice, and her son shall go to jail."
Mrs. Weeks wailed afresh at this final sentence. Holcroft was amazed to see
his wife drop on her knees beside his chair. He raised her instantly. "Don't
do such a thing as that," he said huskily.
Without removing her pleading eyes from his face she asked gently, "Who told
us to forgive as we would be forgiven? James, I shall be very unhappy if you
don't grant this mother's prayer."
He tried to turn away, but she caught his hand and held his eyes with hers.
"Alida," he said in strong agitation, "you heard the vile, false words that
Timothy Weeks said last night. They struck you down like a blow. Can you
"Yes, and I plead with you to forgive him. Grant me my wish, James; I shall
be so much happier, and so will you."
"Well, Mrs. Weeks, now you know what kind of a woman your son came to insult.
You may tell your neighbors that there's one Christian in Oakville. I yield
to Mrs. Holcroft, and will take no further action in the affair if we are let
Mrs. Weeks was not a bad woman at heart, and she had received a wholesome
lesson. She came and took Alida's hand as she said, "Yes, you are a
Christian--a better woman than I've been, but I aint so mean and bad but what,
when I see my fault, I am sorry and can ask forgiveness. I do ask your
forgiveness, Mr. Holcroft. I've been ashamed of myself ever since you brought
my cousin back. I thought she would try, when she had the chance you gave
her, but she seems to have no sense."
"There, there! Let bygones be bygones," said the farmer in embarrassment.
"I've surrendered. Please don't say anything more."
"You've got a kind heart, in spite--"
"Oh, come now! Please quit, or I'll begin to swear a little to keep up the
reputation my neighbors have given me. Go home and tell Tim to brace up and
try to be a man. When I say I'm done with a grudge, I AM done. You and Mrs.
Holcroft can talk all you like, but please excuse me," and with more than most
men's horror of a scene, he escaped precipitately.
"Sit down, Mrs. Weeks," said Alida kindly.
"Well, I will. I can't say much to excuse myself or my folks--"
"You've already said everything, Mrs. Weeks," interrupted Alida gently;
"you've said you are sorry."
Mrs. Weeks stared a moment, and then resumed sententiously, "Well, I've heard
more gospel in that remark than if I'd gone to church. And I couldn't go to
church, I could never have gone there again or held my head up anywhere
"That's all past and gone," said Alida, smiling. "When Mr. Holcroft says
anything, you may depend on it."
"Well, God bless you for intercedin'--you had so much to forgive. Nobody shall
ever speak a word against you again while I've got breath to answer. I wish
you'd let me come and see you sometimes."
"Whenever you wish, if you care to visit one who has had so much--so much
"I see now that's all the more reason I should come, for if it hadn't been for
you, I'd have been in bitter trouble myself. We've been worse than heathen,
standin' off and talking against you. Oh, I've had a lesson I won't forget!
Well, I must hurry home, for I left Timothy and Lemuel in a dreadful state."
Seeing the farmer in the barn as she was passing, she rushed to him. "You've
got to shake hands with me, Mr. Holcroft. Your wife IS a good woman, and
she's a lady, too. Anyone with half an eye can see she's not one of the
The farmer shook the poor woman's hand good-naturedly and said heartily,
"That's so! All right, meeting's over. Goodbye." Then he turned to his work
and chuckled, "That's what Tom Watterly said. Thank the Lord! She ISN'T of
the common sort. I've got to brace up and be more of a man as well as Tim
In spite of the pain in his head, Alida's words proved true. He was happier
than he had been in many a long day. He had the glow which follows a generous
act, and the thought that he had pleased a sweet little woman who somehow
seemed very attractive to him that May morning; at the same time the old Adam
in his nature led to a sneaking satisfaction that he had laid on the hickory
so unsparingly the evening before.
Alida uttered a low, happy laugh as she heard him whistling "Coronation" in
jig time, and she hustled away the breakfast things with the eagerness of a
girl, that she might be ready to read to him when he came in.
Chapter XXVII. Farm and Farmer Bewitched
The day grew warm, and having finished her tasks indoors and cared for the
poultry, Alida brought a chair out in the porch. Her eyes were dreamy with a
vague, undefined happiness. The landscape in itself was cause for exquisite
pleasure, for it was an ideal day of the apple-blossoming period. The old
orchard back of the barn looked as if pink-and-white clouds had settled upon
it, and scattered trees near and far were exhaling their fragrance. The light
breeze which fanned her cheek and bent the growing rye in an adjacent field
was perfumed beyond the skill of art. Not only were her favorite meadow larks
calling to each other, but the thrushes had come and she felt that she had
never heard such hymns as they were singing. A burst of song from the lilac
bush under the parlor window drew her eyes thither, and there was the paternal
redbreast pouring out the very soul of ecstasy. From the nest beneath him
rose the black head and yellow beak of his brooding mate. "How contented and
happy she looks!" Alida murmured, "how happy they both are! And the secret of