Part 5 out of 6
it is HOME. And to think that I, who was a friendless waif, am at home, also!
At home with Eden-like beauty and peace before my eyes. But if it hadn't been
for him, and if he were not brave, kind, and true to all he says--" and she
shuddered at a contrast that rose before her fancy.
She could now scarcely satisfy herself that it was only gratitude which filled
her heart with a strange, happy tumult. She had never been conscious of such
exaltation before. It is true, she had learned to cherish a strong affection
for the man whom she had believed to be her husband, but chiefly because he
had seemed kind and she had an affectionate disposition. Until within the
last few hours, her nature had never been touched and awakened in its
profoundest depths. She had never known before nor had she idealized the
manhood capable of evoking the feelings which now lighted her eyes and gave to
her face the supreme charm and beauty of womanhood. In truth, it was a
fitting day and time for the birth of a love like hers, simple, all-absorbing,
and grateful. It contained no element not in harmony with that May Sunday
Holcroft came and sat on the steps below her. She kept her eyes on the
landscape, for she was consciously enough on her guard now. "I rather guess
you think, Alida, that you are looking at a better picture than any artist
fellow could paint?" he remarked.
"Yes," she replied hesitatingly, "and the picture seems all the more lovely
and full of light because the background is so very dark. I've been thinking
of what happened here last night and what might have happened, and how I felt
"You feel better--different now, don't you? You certainly look so."
"Yes!--You made me very happy by yielding to Mrs. Weeks."
"Oh! I didn't yield to her at all."
"Very well, have it your own way, then."
"I think you had it your way."
"Are you sorry?"
"Do I look so? How did you know I'd be happier if I gave in?"
"Because, as you say, I'm getting better acquainted with you. YOU couldn't
help being happier for a generous act."
"I wouldn't have done it, though, if it hadn't been for you."
"I'm not so sure about that."
"I am. You're coming to make me feel confoundedly uncomfortable in my
"I wish I could."
"I never had such a sermon in my life as you gave me this morning. A
Christian act like yours is worth a year of religious talk."
She looked at him wistfully for a moment and then asked, a little abruptly,
"Mr. Holcroft, have you truly forgiven that Weeks family?"
"Oh, yes! I suppose so. I've forgiven the old lady, anyhow. I've shaken
hands with her."
"If her husband and son should come and apologize and say they were sorry,
would you truly and honestly forgive them?"
"Certainly! I couldn't hold a grudge after that. What are you aiming at?"
and he turned and looked inquiringly into her face.
It was flushed and tearful in its eager, earnest interest. "Don't you see?"
He shook his head, but was suddenly and strangely moved by her expression.
"Why, Mr. Holcroft, if you can honestly forgive those who have wronged you,
you ought to see how ready God is to forgive."
He fairly started to his feet so vividly the truth came home to him,
illumined, as it was, by a recent and personal experience. After a moment, he
slowly sat down again and said, with a long breath, "That was a close shot,
"I only wish you to have the trust and comfort which this truth should bring
you," she said. "It seems a pity you should do yourself needless injustice
when you are willing to do what is right and kind by others."
"It's all a terrible muddle, Alida. If God is so ready to forgive, how do you
account for all the evil and suffering in the world?"
"I don't account for it and can't. I'm only one of his little children; often
an erring one, too. You've been able to forgive grown people, your equals,
and strangers in a sense. Suppose you had a little boy that had done wrong,
but said he was sorry, would you hold a grudge against him?"
"The idea! I'd be a brute."
She laughed softly as she asked again, "don't you see?"
He sat looking thoughtfully away across the fields for a long time, and
finally asked, "Is your idea of becoming a Christian just being forgiven like
a child and then trying to do right?"
"Yes. Why not?"
"Well," he remarked, with a grim laugh. "I didn't expect to be cornered in
"You who are truthful should face the truth. It would make you happier. A
good deal that was unexpected has happened. When I look out on a scene like
this and think that I am safe and at home, I feel that God has been very good
to me and that you have, too. I can't bear to think that you have that old
trouble on your mind--the feeling that you had been a Christian once, but was
not one now. Being sure that there is no need of your continuing to feel so,
what sort of return would I be making for all your kindness if I did not try
to show you what is as clear to me as this sunshine?"
"You are a good woman, Alida. Believing as you do, you have done right to
speak to me, and I never believed mortal lips could speak so to the purpose.
I shall think of what you have said, for you have put things in a new light.
But say, Alida, what on earth possesses you to call me 'Mr.'? You don't need
to be scared half to death every time to call me by my first name, do you?"
"Scared? Oh, no!" She was a trifle confused, he thought, but then her tone
was completely reassuring.
The day was one long remembered by both. As in nature about them, the
conditions of development and rapid change now existed.
She did not read aloud very much, and long silences fell between them. They
were reaching a higher plane of companionship, in which words are not always
essential. Both had much to think about, and their thoughts were like roots
which prepare for blossom and fruit.
With Monday, busy life was resumed. The farmer began planting his corn and
Alida her flower seeds. Almost every day now added to the brood of little
chicks under her care. The cows went out to pasture. Holcroft brought in an
increasing number of overflowing pails of milk, and if the labors of the dairy
grew more exacting, they also grew more profitable. The tide had turned;
income was larger than outgo, and it truly seemed to the long-harassed man
that an era of peace and prosperity had set in.
To a superficial observer things might have appeared to be going on much as
before, but there were influences at work which Holcroft did not clearly
As Alida had promised herself, she spent all the money which the eggs brought
in, but Holcroft found pretty muslin curtains at the parlor windows, and
shades which excluded the glare from the kitchen. Better china took the place
of that which was cracked and unsightly. In brief, a subtle and refining
touch was apparent all over the house.
"How fine we are getting!" he remarked one evening at supper.
"I've only made a beginning," she replied, nodding defiantly at him. "The
chickens will paint the house before the year is over."
"Phew! When do the silk dresses come in?"
"When your broadcloth does."
"Well, if this goes on, I shall certainly have to wear purple and fine linen
to keep pace."
"Fine linen, certainly. When you take the next lot of eggs to town I shall
tell you just the number of yards I need to make half a dozen extra fine
shirts. Those you have are getting past mending."
"Do you think I'll let you spend your money in that way?"
"You'll let me spend MY money just as I please--in the way that will do me the
"What a saucy little woman you are becoming!" he said, looking at her so
fondly that she quickly averted her eyes. "It's a way people fall into when
humored," she answered.
"See here, Alida, you're up to some magic. It seems but the other day I
brought you here, a pale ghost of a woman. As old Jonathan Johnson said, you
were 'enj'yin' poor health.' Do you know what he said when I took him off so
he wouldn't put you through the catechism?"
"No," she replied, with a deprecating smile and rising color.
"He said he was 'afeared I'd been taken in, you were such a sickly lookin'
critter.' Ha! Ha! Wish he might see you now, with that flushed face of
yours. I never believed in magic, but I'll have to come to it. You are
bewitched, and are being transformed into a pretty young girl right under my
eyes; the house is bewitched, and is growing pretty, too, and pleasanter all
the time. The cherry and apple trees are bewitched, for they never blossomed
so before; the hens are bewitched, they lay as if possessed; the--"
"Oh, stop! Or I shall think that you're bewitched yourself."
"I truly begin to think I am."
"Oh, well! Since we all and everything are affected in the same way, it don't
"But it does. It's unaccountable. I'm beginning to rub my eyes and pinch
myself to wake up."
"If you like it, I wouldn't wake up."
"Suppose I did, and saw Mrs. Mumpson sitting where you do, Jane here, and Mrs.
Wiggins smoking her pipe in the corner. The very thought makes me shiver. My
first words would be, 'Please pass the cold p'ison.'"
"What nonsense you are talking tonight!" she tried to say severely, but the
pleased, happy look in her eyes betrayed her. He regarded her with the open
admiration of a boy, and she sought to divert his attention by asking, "What
do you think has become of Jane?"
"I don't know--stealing around like a strange cat in some relation's house, I
"You once said you would like to do something for her."
"Well, I would. If I could afford it, I'd like to send her to school."
"Would you like her to come here and study lessons part of the time?"
He shivered visibly. "No, Alida, and you wouldn't either. She'd make you more
nervous than she would me, and that's saying a good deal. I do feel very
sorry for her, and if Mrs. Weeks comes to see you, we'll find out if something
can't be done, but her presence would spoil all our cozy comfort. The fact
is, I wouldn't enjoy having anyone here. You and I are just about company
enough. Still, if you feel that you'd like to have some help--"
"Oh, no! I haven't enough to do."
"But you're always a-doing. Well, if you're content, I haven't Christian
fortitude enough to make any changes."
She smiled and thought that she was more than content. She had begun to
detect symptoms in her husband which her own heart enabled her to interpret.
In brief, it looked as if he were drifting on a smooth, swift tide to the same
haven in which she was anchored.
One unusually warm morning for the season, rain set in after breakfast.
Holcroft did not fret in the least that he could not go to the fields, nor did
he, as had been his custom at first, find rainy-day work at the barn. The
cows, in cropping the lush grass, had so increased their yield of milk that it
was necessary to churn every other day, and Alida was busy in the dairy. This
place had become inviting by reason of its coolness, and she had rendered it
more so by making it perfectly clean and sweet. Strange to say, it contained
another chair besides the one she usually occupied. The apartment was large
and stone-flagged. Along one side were shelves filled with rows of shining
milk-pans. In one corner stood the simple machinery which the old dog put in
motion when tied upon his movable walk, and the churn was near. An iron pipe,
buried deep in the ground, brought cool spring water from the brook above.
This pipe emptied its contents with a low gurgle into a shallow, oblong
receptacle sunk in the floor, and was wide and deep enough for two stone
crocks of ample size to stand abreast up to their rims in the water. The
cream was skimmed into these stone jars until they were full, then Holcroft
emptied them into the churn. He had charged Alida never to attempt this part
of the work, and indeed it was beyond her strength. After breakfast on
churning days, he prepared everything and set the dog at work. Then he
emptied the churn of the buttermilk when he came in to dinner.
All the associations of the place were pleasant to Alida. It was here that
her husband had shown patience as well as kindness in teaching her how to
supplement his work until her own experience and judgment gave her a better
skill than he possessed. Many pleasant, laughing words had passed between
them in this cool, shadowy place, and on a former rainy morning he had brought
a chair down that he might keep her company. She had not carried it back, nor
was she very greatly surprised to see him saunter in and occupy it on the
present occasion. She stood by the churn, her figure outlined clearly in the
light from the open door, as she poured in cold water from time to time to
hasten and harden the gathering butter. Her right sleeve was rolled well
back, revealing a white arm that was becoming beautifully plump and round. An
artist would have said that her attitude and action were unconsciously natural
and graceful. Holcroft had scarcely the remotest idea of artistic effect, but
he had a sensible man's perception of a charming woman when she is charming.
"Mr. Holcroft," she asked very gravely, "will you do something for me?"
"Yes, half a dozen things."
"Certainly! What's the trouble?"
"I don't mean there shall be any if I can help it," she answered with a light
ripple of laughter. "Please go and put on your coat."
"How you've humbugged me! It's too hot."
"Oh, you've got to do it; you promised. You can't stay here unless you do."
"So you are going to take care of me as if I were a small boy?"
"You need care--sometimes."
He soon came back and asked, "Now may I stay?"
"Yes. Please untie the dog. Butter's come."
"I should think it would, or anything else at your coaxing."
"Oh-h, what a speech! Hasn't that a pretty golden hue?" she asked, holding up
a mass of the butter she was ladling from the churn into a wooden tray.
"Yes, you are making the gilt-edge article now. I don't have to sell it to
Tom Watterly any more."
"I'd like to give him some, though."
He was silent, and something like sudden rage burned in his heart that Mrs.
Watterly would not permit the gift. That anyone should frown on his having
such a helper as Alida was proving herself to be, made him vindictive.
Fortunately her face was turned away, and she did not see his heavy frown.
Then, to shield her from a disagreeable fact, he said quickly, "do you know
that for over a year I steadily went behind my expenses . And that your butter
making has turned the tide already? I'm beginning to get ahead again."
"I'm SO glad," and her face was radiant.
"Yes, I should know that from your looks. It's clearer every day that I got
the best of our bargain. I never dreamed, though, that I should enjoy your
society as I do--that we should become such very good friends. That wasn't in
the bargain, was it?"
"Bargain!" The spirited way with which she echoed the word, as if thereby
repudiating anything like a sordid side to their mutual relations, was not
lost on her wondering and admiring partner. She checked herself suddenly.
"Now let me teach YOU how to make butter," and with the tray in her lap, she
began washing the golden product and pressing out the milk.
He laughed in a confused delighted way at her piquant, half saucy manner as he
watched her deft round arm and shapely hand.
"The farmers' wives in Oakville would say your hands were too little to do
"They would?" and she raised her blue eyes indignantly to his. "No matter, you
are the one to say about that."
"I say they do too much. I shall have to get Jane to help you."
"By all means! Then you'll have more society."
"That was a home shot. You know how I dote on everybody's absence, even
"You dote on butter. See how firm and yellow it's getting. You wouldn't
think it was milk-white cream a little while ago, would you? Now I'll put in
the salt and you must taste it, for you're a connoisseur."
"You know a sight more than I do, Alida."
"I'm learning all the time."
"So am I--to appreciate you."
"Listen to the sound of the rain and the water as it runs into the
milk-cooler. It's like low music, isn't it?"
Poor Holcroft could make no better answer than a sneeze.
"Oh-h," she exclaimed, "you're catching cold? Come, you must go right
upstairs. You can't stay here another minute. I'm nearly through."
"I was never more contented in my life."
"You've no right to worry me. What would I do if you got sick? Come, I'll
stop work till you go."
"Well then, little boss, goodbye."
With a half suppressed smile at his obedience Alida watched his reluctant
departure. She kept on diligently at work, but one might have fancied that
her thoughts rather than her exertions were flushing her cheeks.
It seemed to her that but a few moments elapsed before she followed him, but
he had gone. Then she saw that the rain had ceased and that the clouds were
breaking. His cheerful whistle sounded reassuringly from the barn, and a
little later he drove up the lane with a cart.
She sat down in the kitchen and began sewing on the fine linen they had jested
about. Before long she heard a light step. Glancing up, she saw the most
peculiar and uncanny-looking child that had ever crossed her vision, and with
dismal presentiment knew it was Jane.
Chapter XXVIII. Another Waif
It was indeed poor, forlorn little Jane that had appeared like a specter in
the kitchen door. She was as wet and bedraggled as a chicken caught in a
shower. A little felt hat hung limp over her ears; her pigtail braid had lost
its string and was unraveling at the end, and her torn, sodden shoes were
ready to drop from her feet. She looked both curiously and apprehensively at
Alida with her little blinking eyes, and then asked in a sort of breathless
voice, "Where's him?"
"He's gone out to the fields. You are Jane, aren't you?"
"Oh, DEAR!" groaned Alida mentally; "I wish she hadn't come." Then with a
flush of shame the thought crossed her mind, "She perhaps is a friendless and
homeless as I was, and , and 'him' is also her only hope. "Come in, Jane,"
she said kindly, "and tell me everything."
"Be you his new girl?"
"I'm his wife," said Alida, smiling.
Jane stopped; her mouth opened and her eyes twinkled with dismay. "Then he is
married, after all?" she gasped.
"Yes, why not?"
"Mother said he'd never get anyone to take him."
"Well, you see she was mistaken."
"She's wrong about everything. Well, it's no use then," and the child turned
and sat down on the doorstep.
Alida was perplexed. From the way Jane wiped her eyes with her wet sleeve,
she was evidently crying. Coming to her, Alida said, "What is no use, Jane?
Why are you crying?"
"I thought--he--might--p'raps--let me stay and work for him."
Alida was still more perplexed. What could be said by way of comfort, feeling
sure as she did that Holcroft would be bitterly hostile to the idea of keeping
the child? The best she could do was to draw the little waif out and obtain
some explanation of her unexpected appearance. But first she asked, "Have you
had any breakfast?"
Jane shook her head.
"Oh, then you must have some right away."
"Don't want any. I want to die. I oughtn' ter been born."
"Tell me your troubles, Jane. Perhaps I can help you."
"No, you'd be like the rest. They all hate me and make me feel I'm in the
way. He's the only one that didn't make me feel like a stray cat, and now
he's gone and got married," and the child sobbed aloud.
Her grief was pitiful to see, for it was overwhelming. Alida stooped down,
and gently lifting the child up, brought her in. Then she took off the wet
hat and wiped the tear-stained face with her handkerchief. "Wait a minute,
Jane, till I bring you something," and she ran to the dairy for a glass of
milk. "You must drink it, she said, kindly but firmly.
The child gulped it down, and with it much of her grief, for this was
unprecedented treatment and was winning her attention.
"Say," she faltered, "will you ask him to let me stay?"
"Yes, I'll ask him, but I can't promise that he will."
"You won't ask him 'fore my face and then tell him not to behind my back?" and
there was a sly, keen look in her eyes which tears could not conceal.
"No," said Alida gravely, "that's not my way. How did you get here, Jane?"
Alida drew a quick breath and was silent a few moments. "Is--is your mother
there?" she asked at length.
"Yes. They wouldn't let us visit round any longer."
"Didn't your mother or anyone know you were coming?"
Jane shook her head.
Alida felt that it would be useless to burden the unhappy child with
misgivings as to the result, and her heart softened toward her as one who in
her limited way had known the bitterness and dread which in that same
almshouse had overwhelmed her own spirit. She could only say gently, "Well,
wait till Mr. Holcroft comes, and then we'll see what he says." She herself
was both curious and anxious as to his course. "It will be a heavy cross," she
thought, "but I should little deserve God's goodness to me if I did not
befriend this child."
Every moment added weight to this unexpected burden of duty. Apart from all
consideration of Jane's peculiarities, the isolation with Holcroft had been a
delight in itself. Their mutual enjoyment of each other's society had been
growing from day to day, and she, more truly than he, had shrunk from the
presence of another as an unwelcome intrusion. Conscious of her secret,
Jane's prying eyes were already beginning to irritate her nerves. Never had
she seen a human face that so completely embodied her idea of inquisitiveness
as the uncanny visage of this child. She saw that she would be watched with a
tireless vigilance. Her recoil, however, was not so much a matter of
conscious reasoning and perception as it was an instinctive feeling of
repulsion caused by the unfortunate child. It was the same old story. Jane
always put the women of a household on pins and needles just as her mother
exasperated the men. Alida had to struggle hard during a comparatively silent
hour to fight down the hope that Holcroft would not listen to Jane's and her
As she stepped quickly and lightly about in her preparations for dinner, the
girl watched her intently. At last she gave voice to her thoughts and said,
"If mother'd only worked round smart as you, p'raps she'd hooked him 'stid er
Alida's only reply was a slight frown, for the remark suggested disagreeable
images and fancies. "Oh, how can I endure it?" she sighed. She determined to
let Jane plead her own cause at first, thinking that perhaps this would be the
safest way. If necessary, she would use her influence against a hostile
decision, let it cost in discomfort what it might.
At a few moments before twelve the farmer came briskly toward the house, and
was evidently in the best of spirits. When he entered and saw Jane, his
countenance indicated so much dismay that Alida could scarcely repress a
smile. The child rose and stood before him like a culprit awaiting sentence.
She winked hard to keep the tears back, for there was no welcome in his
manner. She could not know how intensely distasteful was her presence at this
time, nor had Holcroft himself imagined how unwelcome a third person in his
house could be until he saw the intruder before him. He had only felt that he
was wonderfully contented and happy in his home, and that Jane would be a
constant source of annoyance and restraint. Moreover, it might lead to
visitation from Mrs. Mumpson, and that was the summing up of earthly ills.
But the child's appearance and manner were so forlorn and deprecating that
words of irritation died upon his lips. He gravely shook hands with her and
then drew out the story which Alida had learned.
"Why, Jane," he exclaimed, frowning, "Mr. Watterly will be scouring the
country for you. I shall have to take you back right after dinner."
"I kinder hoped," she sobbed, "that you'd let me stay. I'd stay in the barn
if I couldn't be in the house. I'd just as soon work outdoors, too."
"I don't think you'd be allowed to stay," said the farmer, with a sinking
heart; "and then--perhaps your mother would be coming here."
"I can't stand mother no more'n you can" said the girl, through her set teeth.
"I oughtn'ter been born, for there's no place for me in the world."
Holcroft looked at his wife, his face expressive of the utmost annoyance,
worry, and irresolution. Her glance was sympathetic, but she said nothing,
feeling that if he could make the sacrifice from his own will he should have
the chance. "You can't begin to know how much trouble this may lead to, Jane,"
he resumed. "You remember how your other threatened to take the law upon me,
and it wouldn't be possible for you to stay here without her consent."
"She oughter consent; I'll make her consent!" cried the child, speaking as if
driven to desperation. "What's she ever done for me but teach me mean ways?
Keep me or kill me, for I must be in some place where I've a right to be away
from mother. I've found that there's no sense in her talk, and it drives me
Although Jane's words and utterance were strangely uncouth, they contained a
despairing echo which the farmer could not resist. Turning his troubled face
to his wife, he began, ""If this is possible, Alida, it will be a great deal
harder on you than it will on me. I don't feel that I would be doing right by
you unless you gave your consent with full knowledge of--"
"Then please let her stay, if it is possible. She seems to need a friend and
home as much as another that you heard about."
"There's no chance of such a blessed reward in this case," he replied, with a
grim laugh. Then, perplexed indeed, he continued to Jane, "I'm just as sorry
for you as I can be, but there's no use of getting my wife and self in trouble
which in the end will do you no good. You are too young to understand all
that your staying may lead to."
"It won't lead to mother's comin' here, and that's the worst that could
happen. Since she can't do anything for me she's got to let me do for
"Alida, please come with me in the parlor a moment. You stay here, Jane."
When they were alone, he resumed, "Somehow, I feel strangely unwilling to have
that child live with us. We were enjoying our quiet life so much. Then you
don't realize how uncomfortable she will make you, Alida."
"Yes, I do."
"I don't think you can yet. Your sympathies are touched now, but she'll watch
you and irritate you in a hundred ways. Don't her very presence make you
"Well, then, she can't stay," he began decidedly. "This is your home, and no
one shall make you uncomfortable--"
"But I should be a great deal more uncomfortable if she didn't stay," Alida
interrupted. "I should feel that I did not deserve my home. Not long ago my
heart was breaking because I was friendless and in trouble. What could I
think of myself if I did not entreat you in behalf of this poor child?"
"Thunder!" ejaculated Holcroft. "I guess I was rather friendless and troubled
myself, and I didn't know the world had in it such a good friend as you've
become, Alida. Well, well! You've put it in such a light that I'd be almost
tempted to take the mother, also."
"No," she replied, laughing; "we'll draw the line at the mother."
"Well, I'll take Jane to town this afternoon, and if her mother will sign an
agreement to leave us all in peace, we'll give up our old cozy comfort of
being alone. I suppose it must be a good deed, since it's so mighty hard to
do it," he concluded with a wry face, leading the way to the kitchen again.
She smiled as if his words were already rewarding her self denial.
"Well, Jane," he resumed, "Mrs. Holcroft has spoken in your behalf, and if we
can arrange matters so that you can stay, you will have her to thank chiefly.
I'll take you back to the poorhouse after dinner, so it may be known what's
become of you. Then, if your mother'll sign an agreement to make no trouble
and not come here, we'll give you a home until we can find a better place for
There was no outburst of gratitude. The repressed, dwarfed nature of the
child was incapable of this, yet there was an unwonted little thrill of hope
in her heart. Possibly it was like the beginning of life in a seed under the
first spring rays of the sun. She merely nodded to Holcroft as if the matter
had been settled as far as it could be, and ignored Alida.
"Why don't you thank Mrs. Holcroft?" he asked.
Then Jane turned and nodded at Alida. Her vocabulary of thanks was
"She's glad," said Alida. "You'll see. Now that it's settled, we hope you're
hungry, Jane, aren't you?"
"Yes, I be. Can't I help you put things on the table?"
Holcroft looked at the two for a moment, and then shook his head as he went up
to his room. "I thought my wife was nice and pleasant looking before," he
thought, "but she's like a picture beside that child. Well, she has behaved
handsomely. Tom Watterly didn't tell half the truth when he said she was not
of the common run. She's a Christian in deeds, not talk. What's that in
Scripture about 'I was hungry'? Well, well! She makes religion kind of
natural and plain like, whether it's easy or not. Thunder! What a joke it is
to see her so grateful because I've given her a chance to help me out of the
worst scrape a man could be in! As if she hadn't changed everything for the
better! Here I am sure of my home and getting ahead in the world again, and
it's all her doing."
In admiration of his wife Holcroft quite forgot that there had been any
self-sacrifice on his part, and he concluded that he could endure Jane and
almost anything else as long as Alida continued to look after his comfort and
Now that the worst stress of Jane's anxiety was over, she proved that she was
half starved. Indeed she had few misgivings now, for her confidence that
Holcroft would accomplish what he attempted was almost unbounded. It was a
rather silent meal at first, for the farmer and his wife had much to think
about and Jane much to do in making up for many limited meals. At last
Holcroft smiled so broadly that Alida said, "Something seems to please you."
"Yes, more than one thing. It might be a great deal worse, and was, not long
ago. I was thinking of old times."
"How pleasant they must have been to make you look so happy!"
"They had their uses, and make me think of a picture I saw in a store window
in town. It was a picture of a woman, and she took my fancy amazingly. But
the point uppermost in my mind was a trick of the fellow who painted her. He
had made the background as dark as night and so she stood out as if alive; and
she looked so sweet and good that I felt like shaking hands with her. I now
see why the painter made the background so dark"
Alida smiled mischievously as she replied, "That was his art. He knew that
almost anyone would appear well against such a background."
But Holcroft was much too direct to be diverted from his thought or its
expression. "The man knew the mighty nice-looking woman he had painted would
look well," he said, "and I know of another woman who appears better against a
darker background. That's enough to make a man smile who has been through
what I have."
She could not help a flush of pleasure or disguise the happy light in her
eyes, but she looked significantly at Jane, who, mystified and curious, was
glancing from one to the other.
"Confound it!" thought the farmer. "That'll be the way of it now. Here's a
little pitcher that's nearly all ears. Well, we're in for it and must do our
Going to town that day involved no slight inconvenience, but Holcroft dropped
everything and rapidly made his preparations.
When Alida was left alone with Jane, the latter began clearing the table with
alacrity, and after a few furtive glances at Mrs. Holcroft, yielded to the
feeling that she should make some acknowledgment of the intercession in her
behalf. "Say," she began, "I thought you wasn't goin; to stand up for me,
after all. Women folks are liars, mostly."
"You are mistaken, Jane. If you wish to stay with us, you must tell the truth
and drop all sly ways."
"That's what he said when I first come."
"I say it too. You see a good deal, Jane. Try to see what will please people
instead of what you can find out about them. It's a much better plan. Now,
as a friend, I tell you of one thing you had better not do. You shouldn't
watch and listen to Mr. Holcroft unless he speaks to you. He doesn't like to
be watched--no one does. It isn't nice; and if you come to us, I think you
will try to do what is nice. Am I not right?"
"I dunno how," said Jane.
"It will be part of my business to teach you. You ought to understand all
about your coming. Mr. Holcroft doesn't take you because he needs your work,
but because he's sorry for you, and wishes to give you a chance to do better
and learn something. You must make up your mind to lessons, and learning to
talk and act nicely, as well as to do such work as is given you. Are you
willing to do what I say and mind me pleasantly and promptly?"
Jane looked askance at the speaker and was vaguely suspicious of some trick.
In her previous sojourn at the farmhouse she had concluded that it was her
best policy to keep in Holcroft's good graces, even though she had to defy her
mother and Mrs. Wiggins, and she was now by no means ready to commit herself
to this new domestic power. She had received the impression that the
authority and continued residence of females in this household was involved in
much uncertainty, and although Alida was in favor now and the farmer's wife,
she didn't know what "vicissitudes" (as her mother would denominate them)
might occur. Holcroft was the only fixed and certain quantity in her troubled
thoughts, and after a little hesitation she replied, "I'll do what he says;
I'm goin' to mind him."
"Suppose he tells you to mind me?"
"Then I will. That ud be mindin' him. I'm goin' to stick to him, for I made
out by it better before than by mindin' mother and Mrs. Wiggins."
Alida now understood the child and laughed aloud. "You are right," she said.
"I won't ask you to do anything contrary to his wishes. Now tell me, Jane,
what other clothes have you besides those you are wearing?"
It did not take the girl long to inventory her scanty wardrobe, and then Alida
rapidly made out a list of what was needed immediately. "Wait here," she said,
and putting on a pretty straw hat, one of her recent purchases, she started
for the barn.
Holcroft had his wagon and team almost ready when Alida joined him, and led
the way to the floor between the sweet-smelling hay-mows.
"One thing leads to another," she began, looking at him a little
deprecatingly. "You must have noticed the condition of Jane's clothes."
"She does look like a little scarecrow, now I come to think of it," he
"Yes, she's not much better off than I was," Alida returned, with downcast
eyes and rising color.
Her flushing face was so pretty under the straw hat, and the dark mow as a
background brought out her figure so finely that he thought of the picture
again and laughed aloud for pleasure. She looked up in questioning surprise,
thus adding a new grace.
"I wish that artist fellow was here now," he exclaimed. "He could make another
picture that would suit me better than the one I saw in town."
"What nonsense!" she cried, quickly averting her face from his admiring
scrutiny. "Come, I'm here to talk business and you've no time to waste. I've
made out a list of what the child actually must have to be respectable."
"You're right, Alida," said the farmer, becoming grave at once over a question
of dollars and cents. "As you say, one thing leads to another, and if we take
the girl we must clothe her decently. But then, I guess she'll earn enough to
pay her way. It isn't that I worry about so much," he broke out
discontentedly, "but the interference with our quiet, cozy life. Things are
going so smoothly and pleasantly that I hate a change of any kind."
"We mustn't be selfish, you know," she replied. "You are doing a kind,
generous act, and I respect you all the more for it."
"That settles everything. You'll like me a little better for it, too, won't
you?" he asked hesitatingly.
She laughed outright at this question and answered, "It won't do to take too
much self-sacrifice out of your act. There's something which does us all
good. She ought to have a spelling and a writing book also."
Holcroft was assuredly falling under the sway of the little blind god, for he
began at once to misunderstand Alida. "You are very fond of self-sacrifice,"
he said, rather stiffly. "Yes, I'll get everything on your list," and he took
it from her hand. "Now I must be off," he added, "for I wish to get back
before night, and it's so warm I can't drive fast. Sorry I have to go, for I
can't say I dote on self-sacrifice."
Alida but partially understood his sudden change of mood, nor was the farmer
much better enlightened himself in regard to his irritation. He had received
an unexpected impression and it seemed to fit in with other things and explain
them. She returned slowly and dejectedly to the house, leaving unsaid the
words she meant to speak about Jane's relations to her. Now she wished that
she had imitated Jane, and merely nodded to the farmer's questions. "If he
knew how far I am beyond the point of liking, I don't know what he'd do or
say," she thought, "and I suppose that's the reason I couldn't answer him
frankly, in a way that would have satisfied him. It's a pity I couldn't begin
to just LIKE a little at first, as he does and have everything grow as
gradually and quietly as one of his cornstalks. That's the way I meant it
should be; but when he stood up for me and defended me from those men, my
heart just melted, and in spite of myself, I felt I could die for him. It
can't be such an awful thing for a woman to fall in love with her husband, and
yet--yet I'd rather put my hand in the fire than let him know how I feel. Oh,
dear! I wish Jane hadn't been born, as she says. Trouble is beginning
already, and it was all so nice before she came."
In a few moments Holcroft drove up. Alida stood in the door and looked
timidly at him. He thought she appeared a little pale and troubled, but his
bad mood prevailed and he only asked briefly, "Can't I get something for you?"
She shook her head.
"Well, goodbye, then," and he drove away with Jane, who was confirmed in her
line of policy. "She's afraid of 'im too," thought the child. "Mind her!
Guess not, unless he says so." She watched the farmer furtively and concluded
that she had never known him to look more grim or be more silent even under
her mother's blandishments. "He's married this one, I s'pose, to keep house
for 'im, but he don't like her follerin' 'im up or bein' for'ard any more'n he
did mother. Shouldn't wonder if he didn't keep her, either, if she don't suit
better. She needn't 'a' put on such airs with me, for I'm goin' to stick to
Chapter XXIX. Husband and Wife in Trouble
Like many others with simple, strong natures, Holcroft could not be
wrong-headed moderately, and his thoughts, once started in a direction were
apt to carry him much farther than the cause warranted. Engrossed in painful
and rather bitter musings, he paid no heed to Jane and almost forgot his
errand to town. "I was a fool to ask that question," he thought. "I was
getting silly and sentimental with my talk about the picture and all that.
She laughed at me and reminded me I was wasting time. Of course she can't
like an old, hard-featured man like me. I'm beginning to understand her now.
She made a business marriage with me and means to live up to her agreement.
She's honest; she feels I've done her a real kindness in giving her a home,
and she's willing to be as self-sacrificing as the day is long to make it up
to me. I wish she wasn't so grateful; there's no occasion for it. I don't
want her to feel that every pleasant word and every nice act is so much toward
paying a debt. If there was any balance in my favor it was squared up long
ago, and I was willing to call it even from the start. She's made me like her
for her own sake and not on account of what she does for me, and that's what I
had in mind. But she's my superior in every way; she's growing to be a pretty
as a picture, and I suppose I appear like a rather rough customer. Well, I
can't help if, but it rather goes against me to have her think, 'I've married
him and I'm going to do my duty by him, just as I agreed.' She'll do her duty
by this Jane in the same self-sacrificing spirit, and will try to make it
pleasant for the child just because it's right and because she herself was
taken out of trouble. That's the shape her religion takes. 'Tisn't a common
form, I know--this returning good for good with compound interest. But her
conscience won't let her rest unless she does everything she can for me, and
now she'll begin to do everything for Jane because she feels that
self-sacrifice is a duty. Anybody can be self-sacrificing. If I made up my
mind, I could ask Mrs. Mumpson to visit us all summer, but I couldn't like her
to save my life, and I don't suppose Alida can like me, beyond a certain
point, to save her life. But she'll do her duty. She'll be pleasant and
self-sacrificing and do all the work she can lay her hands on for my sake; but
when it comes to feeling toward me as I can't help feeling toward her--that
wasn't in the bargain," and he startled Jane with a sudden bitter laugh.
"Say," said the child, as if bent on adding another poignant reflection, "if
you hadn't married her, I could 'a' come and cooked for you."
"You think I'd been better off if I'd waited for you, eh?"
"You kinder looked as if yer thought so."
He now made the hills echo with a laugh, excited both by his bitter fancies
and the preposterous idea. She looked at him inquiringly and was much
perplexed by his unwonted behavior. Indeed, he was slightly astonished at his
own strange mood, but he yielded to it almost recklessly. "I say, Jane," he
began, "I'm not a very good-looking man, am I?"
She shook her head in emphatic agreement.
"I'm old and rough and hard-featured?"
Again she nodded approvingly.
"Children and some others speak the truth," he growled.
"I never had no teachin', but I'm not a fool," remarked Jane keenly.
"I guess I'm the fool in this case," he added.
"It don't make no difference to me," she said sympathetically. "I'm goin' to
mind you and not her. If you ever send her away I'll cook for you."
"Send her away!" exclaimed the farmer, with a shiver. "God forbid! There,
don't talk any more!"
For the next half mile he drove in silence, with a heavy frown on his face;
then he broke out sternly, "If you don't promise to mind Mrs. Holcroft and
please her in everything, I'll leave you at the poorhouse door and drive home
"'Course I will, if you tells me to," said the child in trepidation.
"Well, I DO. People will find that making her trouble is the surest way of
making themselves trouble."
"She's got some hold on 'im," concluded Jane, who, in listening to much
gossip, had often heard this expression, and now made a practical application
of the idea.
Watterly was greatly relieved when he saw Holcroft drive up with the fugitive.
"I was just going out to your place," he said, "for the girl's mother insisted
that you had enticed the child away," and the man laughed, as if the idea
tickled him immensely.
Holcroft frowned, for he was in no mood for his friend's rough jests. "Go to
your mother till I send for you," he said to Jane.
"The fact that you had taken two other females from the house gave some color
to Mrs. Mumpson's views," pursued Watterly, who could take only the broadest
hint as to his social conduct.
He received one now. "Tom Watterly," said the farmer sternly, "did I ever
insult your wife?"
"By jocks! No, you nor no other man. I should say not."
"Well, then, don't you insult mine. Before I'd seen Mrs. Holcroft, you told
me she was out of the common run,--how much out, you little know,--and I don't
want her mixed up with the common run, even in your thoughts."
"Well, now, I like that," said Watterly, giving Holcroft his hand. "You know I
didn't mean any offense, Jim. It was only one of my foolish jokes. You were
mighty slow to promise to love, honor, and obey, but hanged if you aint more
on that line than any man in town. I can see she's turning out well and
keeping her agreement."
"Yes, that's just what she's doing," said the farmer gloomily. "She's a good,
capable woman that'll sacrifice herself to her duty any day. But it wasn't to
talk about her I came. She's a sight better than I am, but she's probably not
good enough for anybody in this town to speak to."
"Oh, pshaw; now, Jim!"
"Well, I've come on disagreeable business. I didn't know that Mrs. Mumpson
and her child were here, and I wish to the Lord they could both stay here!
You've found out what the mother is, I suppose?"
"I should say so," replied Tom, laughing. "She's talked several of the old
women to death already. The first day she was here she called on my wife and
claimed social relations, because she's so 'respecterbly connected,' as she
says. I thought Angy'd have a fit. Her respectable connections have got to
take her off my hands."
"I'm not one of 'em, thank goodness!" resumed Holcroft. "But I'm willing to
take the girl and give her a chance--at least I'll do it," he corrected
himself, in his strict observance of truth. "You can see she's not a child to
dote on, but I was sorry for her when I sent her mother away and said I'd try
and do something for her. The first thing I knew she was at the house,
begging me to either take her in or kill her. I couldn't say no, though I
wanted to. Now, you see what kind of a good Samaritan I am."
"Oh, I know you! You'd hit a man between the eyes if he charged you with
doing a good deed. But what does your wife say to adopting such a cherub?"
"We're not going to adopt her or bind ourselves. My wife took the child's
part and plead with me in her behalf, though I could see the young one almost
made her sick. She thinks it's her duty, you know, and that's enough for
"By jocks, Holcroft! She don't feel that way about you, does she?"
"Why shouldn't she?"
"Why should she? I can take about anything from Angy, but it wouldn't do for
her to let me see that she disliked me so that I kinder made her sick."
"Oh, thunder, Tom! You're getting a wrong impression. I was never treated
better by anybody in my life than by Mrs. Holcroft. She's a lady, every inch
of her. But there's no reason why she should dote on an old fellow like me."
"Yes, there is. I have my opinion of a woman who wouldn't dote on a man
that's been such a friend as you have."
"Oh, hang it all, Tom! Let's talk about business. She's too grateful--that's
what worries me. By the way she took hold and filled the house with comfort
she made everything even from the start. She's been as good a friend to me as
I to her. She's done all she agreed and more, and I'll never hear a word
against her. The point I've been trying to get at is this: If Mrs. Mumpson
will agree never to come near us or make trouble in any way, we'll take the
child. If she won't so agree, I'll have nothing to do with the girl. I don't
want to see her mother, and you'd do me one of the kindest turns you ever did
a man by stating the case to her."
"If I do," said Watterly, laughing, "you'll have to forgive me everything in
the past and the future."
"I will, Tom, for I'd rather have an eye tooth pulled than face that woman.
We're all right--just as we used to be at school, always half quarreling, yet
ready to stand up for each other to the last drop. But I must have her
promise in black and white."
"Well, come to my office and we'll try to arrange it. The law is on your
side, for the county won't support people that anyone will take off its hands.
Besides I'm going to shame the woman's relations into taking her away, and
they'll be glad there's one less to support."
They drew up a brief, strong agreement, and Watterly took it to the widow to
sign. He found her in great excitement and Jane looking at her defiantly. "I
told you he was the one who enticed away my offspring," she began, almost
hysterically. "He's a cold-blooded villain! If there's a law in the land,
"Stop!" thundered Watterly. His voice was so high and authoritative that she
did stop, and with open mouth stared at the superintendent. "Now, be quiet and
listen to me," he continued. "Either you are a sane woman and can stop this
foolishness, or else you are insane and must be treated as such. You have
your choice. You can't tell me anything about Holcroft; I've known him since
he was a boy. He doesn't want your girl. She ran away to him, didn't you?"
to Jane, who nodded. "But he's willing to take her, to teach her something and
give her a chance. His motive is pure kindness, and he has a good wife
"I see it all," cried the widow, tragically clasping her hands. "It's his
wife's doings! She wishes to triumph over me, and even to usurp my place in
ministering to my child. Was there ever such an outrage? Such a bold,
Here Jane, in a paroxysm of indignant protest, seized her mother and began to
shake her so violently that she could not speak.
"Stop that!" said Watterly, repressing laughter with difficulty. "I see you
are insane and the law will have to step in and take care of you both."
"What will it do with us?" gasped the widow.
"Well, it ought to put you in strait jackets to begin with--"
"I've got some sense if mother aint!" cried Jane, commencing to sob.
"It's plain the law'll decide your mother's not fit to take care of you.
Anyone who can even imagine such silly ridiculous things as she's just said
must be looked after. You MAY take a notion, Mrs. Mumpson, that I'm a
murderer or a giraffe. It would be just as sensible as your other talk."
"What does Mr. Holcroft offer?" said the widow, cooling off rapidly. If there
was an atom of common sense left in any of his pauper charges, Watterly soon
brought it into play, and his vague threatenings of law were always
"He makes a very kind offer that you would jump at if you had sense--a good
home for your child. You ought to know she can't stay here and live on
charity if anyone is willing to take her."
"Of course I would be permitted to visit my child from time to time? He
couldn't be so monstrously hard-hearted as--"
"Oh, nonsense!" cried Watterly impatiently. "The idea of his letting you come
to his house after what you've said about him! I've no time to waste in
foolishness, or he either. He will let Jane visit you, but you are to sign
this paper and keep the agreement not to go near him or make any trouble
"It's an abominable--"
"Tut! Tut! That kind of talk isn't allowed here. If you can't decide like a
sane woman the law'll soon decide for you."
As was always the case when Mrs. Mumpson reached the inevitable, she yielded;
the paper was signed, and Jane, who had already made up her small bundle,
nodded triumphantly to her mother and followed Watterly. Mrs. Mumpson, on
tiptoe, followed also, bent on either propitiating Holcroft and so preparing
the way for a visit, or else on giving him once more a "piece of her mind."
"All right, Holcroft!" said Watterly, as he entered the office, "here's the
paper signed. Was there ever such an id-----"
"Oh, how do you do, Mr. Holcroft?" cried the widow, bursting in and rushing
forward with extended hand.
The farmer turned away and looked as if made of stone.
Changing her tactics instantly, she put her handkerchief to her eyes and
moaned, "You never can have the heart to say I can't come and see my child.
I've signed writings, 'tis true, under threats and compulsions; but I trust
there will be relentings--"
"There won't be one relent!" cried Jane. "I never want to see you again, and a
blind post could see that he doesn't."
"Jane," said Holcroft sternly, "don't speak so again. If strangers can be
kind and patient with you, you can be so with your mother. She has no claims
on me and has said things which make it impossible for me to speak to her
again, but I shall insist on your visiting and treating her kindly. Goodbye,
Watterly. You've proved yourself a friend again," and he went rapidly away,
followed by Jane.
Mrs. Mumpson was so taken aback by Holcroft's final words and Watterly's stern
manner as he said, "This is my office," that for once in her life she
Holcroft soon purchased the articles on his list, meanwhile racking his brains
to think of something that he could buy for Alida, but the fear of being
thought sentimental and of appearing to seek a personal regard for himself,
not "nominated in the bond," restrained him.
On his way home he was again sunk in deep abstraction, but the bitterness of
his feeling had passed away. Although as mistaken as before in his
apprehension of Alida, his thoughts were kinder and juster. "I've no right to
find fault or complain," he said to himself. "She's done all I asked and
better than she agreed, and there's no one to blame if she can't do more. It
must have been plain enough to her at first that I didn't want anything but a
housekeeper--a quiet, friendly body that would look after the house and dairy,
and she's done better than I even hoped. That's just the trouble; she's
turned out so different from what I expected, and looks so different from what
she did, that I'm just sort of carried away. I'd give half the farm if she
was sitting by my side this June evening and I could tell her all I feel and
know she was glad. I must be just and fair to her. I asked her to agree to
one thing and now I'm beginning to want a tremendous sight more--I want her to
like not only her home and work and the quiet life she so longed for, but I
want her to like me, to enjoy my society, not only in a friendly, businesslike
way, but in another way--yes, confound my slow wits! Somewhat as if she was
my wife in reality and not merely in name, as I insisted. It's mighty mean
business in me, who have been so proud of standing up to my agreements and so
exacting of others to do the same. I went away cold and stiff this afternoon
because she wasn't silly and sentimental when I was. I'm to her an
unpolished, homely, middle-aged man, and yet I sort of scoffed at the
self-sacrifice which has led her to be pleasant and companionable in every way
that her feelings allowed. I wish I were younger and better looking, so it
wouldn't all be a sense of duty and gratitude. Gratitude be hanged! I don't
want any more of it. Well, now, James Holcroft, if you're the square man you
supposed yourself to be, you'll be just as kind and considerate as you know
how, and then you'll leave Alida to the quiet, peaceful life to which she
looked forward when she married you. The thing for you to do is to go back to
your first ways after you were married and attend to the farm. She doesn't
want you hanging around and looking at her as if she was one of her own
posies. That's something she wasn't led to expect and it would be mean enough
to force it upon her before she shows that she wishes it, and I couldn't
complain if she NEVER wished it."
During the first hour after Holcroft's departure Alida had been perplexed and
worried, but her intuitions soon led to hopefulness, and the beauty and peace
of nature without aided in restoring her serenity. The more minutely she
dwelt on Holcroft's words and manner, the more true it seemed that he was
learning to take an interest in her that was personal and apart from every
other consideration. "If I am gentle, patient, and faithful," she thought,
"all will come out right. He is so true and straightforward that I need have
When he returned and greeted her with what seemed his old, friendly, natural
manner, and, during a temporary absence of Jane, told her laughingly of the
Mumpson episode, she was almost completely reassured. "Suppose the widow
breaks through all restraint and appears as did Jane, what would you do?" he
"Whatever you wished," she replied, smiling.
"In other words, what you thought your duty?"
"I suppose that is what one should try to do."
"I guess you are the one that would succeed in doing it, even to Mrs.
Mumpson," he said, turning hastily away and going to his room.
She was puzzled again. "I'm sure I don't dote on self-sacrifice and hard duty
any more than he does, but I can't tell him that duty is not hard when it's to
Jane was given the room over the kitchen which Mrs. Wiggins had occupied, and
the farmhouse soon adopted her into its quiet routine. Holcroft's course
continued to cause Alida a dissatisfaction which she could scarcely define.
He was as kind as ever he had been and even more considerate; he not only
gratified her wishes, but tried to anticipate them, while Jane's complete
subserviency proved that she had been spoken to very plainly.
One day she missed her spelling lesson for the third time, and Alida told her
that she must learn it thoroughly before going out. The child took the book
reluctantly, yet without a word. "That's a good girl!" said Alida, wishing to
encourage her. "I was afraid at first you wouldn't mind me so readily."
"He told me to. He'd fire me out the window if I didn't mind you."
"Oh, no! I think he's very kind to you."
"Well, he's kind to you, too."
"Yes, he has always been kind to me," said Alida gently and lingeringly, as if
the thought were pleasant to dwell upon.
"Say," said Jane, yielding to her curiosity, "how did you make him so afraid
of you when he don't like you? He didn't like mother, but he wasn't afraid of
"Why do you think he doesn't like me?" Alida faltered, turning very pale.
"Oh! 'Cause he looked once jest as he did after mother'd been goin' for--"
"There, be still! You mustn't speak of such things, or talk to me about Mr.
Holcroft in such a way," and she hastily left the kitchen. When in the
solitude of her own room, she gave way to bitter tears. "Is it so plain," she
thought, "that even this ignorant child sees it? And the unhappy change began
the day she came, too. I can't understand it. We were so happy before; and
he seemed to enjoy being near me and talking to me when his work permitted.
He used to look into my eyes in a way that made me hope and, indeed, feel
almost sure. I receive no more such looks; he seems only trying to do his
duty by me as he promised at first, and acts as if it were all duty, a mere
matter of conscience. Could he have discovered how I felt, and so is taking
this way to remind me that nothing of the kind was in our agreement? Well,
I've no reason to complain; I accepted the relation of my own free will, but
it's hard, hard indeed for a woman who loves a man with her whole heart and
soul--and he her husband--to go on meeting him day after day, yet act as if
she were his mere business partner. But I can't help myself; my very nature,
as well as a sense of his rights, prevents me from asking more or even showing
that I wish for more. That WOULD be asking for it. But can it be true that
he is positively learning to dislike me? To shrink from me with that strong
repulsion which women feel toward some men? Oh! If that is true, the case is
hopeless; it would kill me. Every effort to win him, even the most delicate
and unobtrusive, would only drive him farther away; the deepest instincts of
his soul would lead him to withdraw--to shun me. If this is true, the time
may come when, so far from my filling his house with comfort, I shall make him
dread to enter it. Oh, oh! My only course is to remember just what I
promised and he expected when he married me, and live up to that."
Thus husband and wife reached the same, conclusion and were rendered equally
Chapter XXX. Holcroft's Best Hope
When Holcroft came in to dinner that day the view he had adopted was
confirmed, yet Alida's manner and appearance began to trouble him. Even to
his rather slow perception, she did not seem so happy as she had been. She
did not meet his eye with her old frank, friendly, and as he had almost hoped,
affectionate, expression; she seemed merely feverishly anxious to do
everything and have all as he wished. Instead of acting with natural ease and
saying what was in her mind without premeditation, a conscious effort was
visible and an apparent solicitude that he should be satisfied. The
inevitable result was that he was more dissatisfied. "She's doing her best for
me," he growled, as he went back to his work, "and it begins to look as if it
might wear her out in time. Confound it! Having everything just so isn't of
much account when a man's heart-hungry. I'd rather have had one of her old
smiles and gone without my dinner. Well, well; how little a man understands
himself or knows the future! The day I married her I was in mortal dread lest
she should care for me too much and want to be affectionate and all that; and
here I am, discontented and moping because everything has turned out as I then
wished. Don't see as I'm to blame, either. She had no business to grow so
pretty. Then she looked like a ghost, but now when the color comes into her
cheeks, and her blue eyes sparkle, a man would be a stupid clod if he didn't
look with all his eyes and feel his heart a-thumping. That she should change
so wasn't in the bargain; neither was it that she should read aloud in such
sweet tones that a fellow'd like to listen to the dictionary; nor that she
should make the house and yard look as they never did before, and, strangest
of all, open my eyes to the fact that apple trees bear flowers as well as
pippins. I can't even go by a wild posy in the lane without thinking she'd
like it and see in it a sight more than I once could. I've been taken in, as
old Jonathan feared," he muttered, following out his fancy with a sort of grim
humor. "She isn't the woman I thought I was marrying at all, and I aint bound
by my agreement--not in my thoughts, anyhow. I'd have been in a nice scrape
if I'd taken my little affidavit not to think of her or look upon her in any
other light than that of housekeeper and butter maker. It's a scary thing,
this getting married with a single eye to business. See where I am now!
Hanged if I don't believe I'm in love with my wife, and, like a thundering
fool, I had to warn her against falling in love with me! Little need of that,
though. She hasn't been taken in, for I'm the same old chap she married, and
I'd be a mighty mean cuss if I went to her and said, 'Here, I want you to do
twice as much, a hundred-fold as much as you agreed to.' I'd be a fool, too,
for she couldn't do it unless something drew her toward me just as I'm drawn
Late in the afternoon he leaned on the handle of his corn plow, and, in the
consciousness of solitude, said aloud: "Things grow clear if you think of them
enough, and the Lord knows I don't think of much else any more. It isn't her
good qualities which I say over to myself a hundred times a day, or her
education, or anything of the kind, that draws me; it's she herself. I like
her. Why don't I say love her, and be honest? Well, it's a fact, and I've
got to face it. Here I am, plowing out my corn, and it looks splendid for its
age. I thought if I could stay on the old place, and plant and cultivate and
reap, I'd be more than content, and now I don't seem to care a rap for the
corn or the farm either, compared with Alida; and I care for her just because
she is Alida and no one else. But the other side of this fact has an ugly
look. Suppose I'm disagreeable to her! When she married me she felt like a
woman drowning; she was ready to take hold of the first hand reached to her
without knowing much about whose hand it was. Well, she's had time to find
out. She isn't drawn. Perhaps she feels toward me somewhat as I did toward
Mrs. Mumpson, and she can't help herself either. Well, well, the bare thought
of it makes my heart lead. What's a man to do? What can I do but live up to
my agreement and not torment her any more than I can help with my company?
That's the only honest course. Perhaps she'll get more used to me in time.
She might get sick, and then I'd be so kind and watchful that she'd think the
old fellow wasn't so bad, after all, But I shan't give her the comfort of no
end of self-sacrifice in trying to be pleasant and sociable. If she's foolish
enough to think she's in my debt she can't pay it in that way. No, sir! I've
got to make the most of it now--I'm bound to--but this business marriage will
never suit me until the white arm I saw in the dairy room is around my neck,
and she looks in my eyes and says, 'James, I guess I'm ready for a longer
It was a pity that Alida could not have been among the hazelnut bushes near
and heard him.
He resumed his toil, working late and doggedly. At supper he was very
attentive to Alida, but taciturn and preoccupied; and when the meal was over
he lighted his pipe and strolled out into the moonlight. She longed to follow
him, yet felt it to be more impossible than if she were chained to the floor.
And so the days passed; Holcroft striving with the whole force of his will to
appear absorbed in the farm, and she, with equal effort, to seem occupied and
contented with her household and dairy duties. They did everything for each
other that they could, and yet each thought that the other was acting from a
sense of obligation, and so all the more sedulously veiled their actual
thoughts and feelings from each other. Or course, such mistaken effort only
led to a more complete misunderstanding.
With people of their simplicity and habit of reticence, little of what was in
their hearts appeared on the surface. Neither had time to mope, and their
mutual duties were in a large measure a support and refuge. Of these they
could still speak freely for they pertained to business. Alida's devotion to
her work was unfeigned for it seemed now her only avenue of approach to her
husband. She watched over the many broods of little chickens with tireless
vigilance. If it were yellow gold, she could not have gathered the butter
from the churn with greater greed. She kept the house immaculate and sought
to develop her cooking into a fine art. She was scrupulous in giving Jane her
lessons and trying to correct her vernacular and manners, but the presence of
the child grew to be a heavier cross every day. She could not blame the girl,
whose misfortune it was to lead incidentally to the change in Holcroft's
manner, yet it was impossible not to associate her with the beginning of that
change. Jane was making decided improvement, and had Alida been happy and at
rest this fact would have given much satisfaction in spite of the instinctive
repugnance which the girl seemed to inspire universally. Holcroft recognized
this repugnance and the patient effort to disguise it and be kind.
"Like enough she feels in the same way toward me," he thought, "and is trying
a sight harder not to show it. But she seems willing enough to talk business
and to keep up her interest in the partnership line. Well, blamed if I
wouldn't rather talk business to her than love to any other woman!"
So it gradually came about that they had more and more to say to each other on
matters relating to the farm. Holcroft showed her the receipts from the
dairy, and her eyes sparkled as if he had brought jewels home to her. Then
she in turn would expatiate on the poultry interests and assure him that there
were already nearly two hundred little chicks on the place. One afternoon,
during a shower, she ventured to beguile him into listening to the greater
part of one of the agricultural journals, and with much deference made two or
three suggestions about the farm, which he saw were excellent. She little
dreamed that if she were willing to talk of turning the farm upside down and
inside out, he would have listened with pleasure.
They both began to acquire more serenity and hopefulness, for even this sordid
business partnership was growing strangely interesting. The meals grew less
and less silent, and the farmer would smoke his pipe invitingly near in the
evening so that she could resume their talk on bucolic subjects without much
conscious effort, while at the same time, if she did not wish his society, she
could shun it without discourtesy. He soon perceived that she needed some
encouragement to talk even of farm matters; but, having received it, that she
showed no further reluctance. He naturally began to console himself with
business as unstintedly as he dared. "As long as I keep on this tack all seems
well," he muttered. "She don't act as if I was disagreeable to her, but then
how can a man tell? If she thinks it her duty, she'll talk and smile, yet
shiver at the very thought of my touching her. Well, well, time will show.
We seem to be getting more sociable, anyhow."
They both recognized this fact and tried to disguise it and to relieve
themselves from the appearance of making any undue advances by greater
formality of address. In Jane's presence he had formed the habit of speaking
to his wife as Mrs. Holcroft, and now he was invariably "Mr."
One evening in the latter part of June, he remarked at supper, "I must give
half a day to hoeing the garden tomorrow. I've been so busy working out the
corn and potatoes that it seems an age since I've been in the garden."
"She and me," began Jane, "I mean Mrs. Holcroft and I, have been in the
"That's right, Jane, You're coming on. I think your improved talk and manners
do Mrs. Holcroft much credit. I'd like to take some lessons myself." Then,
as if a little alarmed at his words, he hastened to ask, "What have you been
doing in the garden?"
"You'll see when you go there," replied Jane, her small eyes twinkling with
the rudiments of fun.
Holcroft looked at the child as if he had not seen her for some time either.
Her hair was neatly combed, braided, and tied with a blue ribbon instead of a
string, her gown was as becoming as any dress could be to her, her little
brown hands were clean, and they no longer managed the knife and fork in an
ill-bred manner. The very expression of the child's face was changing, and
now that it was lighted up with mirth at the little surprise awaiting him, it
had at least attained the negative grace of being no longer repulsive. He
sighed involuntarily as he turned away. "Just see what she's doing for that
child that I once thought hideous! How much she might do for me if she cared
as I do!"
He rose from the table, lighted his pipe, and went out to the doorstep. Alida
looked at him wistfully. "He stood there with me once and faced a mob of men,"
she thought. "Then he put his arm around me. I would face almost any danger
for even such a caress again." The memory of that hour lent her unwonted
courage, and she approached him timidly and said, "Perhaps you would like to
go and look at the garden? Jane and I may not have done everything right."
"Why, certainly. I forgot about the garden; but then you'll have to go with
me if I'm to tell you."
"I don't mind," she said, leading the way.
The June sun was low in the west and the air had become deliciously cool and
fragrant. The old rosebushes were in bloom, and as she passed she picked a
bud and fastened it on her bosom. Wood thrushes, orioles, and the whole
chorus of birds were in full song: limpid rills of melody from the meadow
larks flowed from the fields, and the whistling of the quails added to the
Holcroft was in a mood of which he had never been conscious before. These
familiar sounds, which had been unheeded so much of his life, now affected him
strangely, creating an immeasurable sadness and longing. It seemed as if
perceptions which were like new senses were awakening in his mind. The world
was full of wonderful beauty before unrecognized, and the woman who walked
lightly and gracefully at his side was the crown of it all. He himself was so
old, plain, and unworthy in contrast. His heart ached with a positive,
definite pain that he was not younger, handsomer, and better equipped to win
the love of his wife. As she stood in the garden, wearing the rose, her neat
dress outlining her graceful form, the level rays of the sun lighting up her
face and turning her hair to gold, he felt that he had never seen or imagined
such a woman before. She was in harmony with the June evening and a part of
it, while he, in his working clothes, his rugged, sun-browned features and
hair tinged with gray, was a blot upon the scene. She who was so lovely, must
be conscious of his rude, clownish appearance. He would have faced any man
living and held his own on the simple basis of his manhood. Anything like
scorn, although veiled, on Alida's part, would have touched his pride and
steeled his will, but the words and manner of this gentle woman who tried to
act as if blind to all that he was in contrast with herself, to show him
deference, kindness, and good will when perhaps she felt toward him somewhat
as she did toward Jane, overwhelmed him with humility and grief. It is the
essence of deep, unselfish love to depreciate itself and exalt its object.
There was a superiority in Alida which Holcroft was learning to recognize more
clearly every day, and he had not a trace of vanity to sustain him. Now he
was in a mood to wrong and undervalue himself without limit.
She showed him how much she and Jane had accomplished, how neat and clean they
had kept the rows of growing vegetables, and how good the promise was for an
indefinite number of dinners, but she only added to the farmer's depression.
He was in no mood for onions, parsnips, and their vegetable kin, yet thought,
"She thinks I'm only capable of being interested in such things, and I've been
at much pains to give that impression. She picked that rose for HERSELF, and
now she's showing ME how soon we may hope to have summer cabbage and squash.
She thus shows that she knows the difference between us and that always must
be between us, I fear. She is so near in our daily life, yet how can I ever
get any nearer? As I feel now, it seems impossible."
She had quickly observed his depressed, abstracted manner, but misinterpreted
the causes. Her own face clouded and grew troubled. Perhaps she was
revealing too much of her heart, although seeking to disguise it so
sedulously, and he was penetrating her motives for doing so much in the garden
and in luring him thither now. He was not showing much practical interest in
beans and beets, and was evidently oppressed and ill at ease.
"I hope we have done things right?" she ventured, turning away to hide tears
"Her self-sacrifice is giving out," he thought bitterly. "She finds she can
scarcely look at me as I now appear in contrast with this June evening. Well,
I don't blame her. It makes me almost sick when I think of myself and I won't
be brute enough to say a harsh word to her. "You have done it all far better
than I could," he said emphatically. "I would not have believed it if you
hadn't shown me. The trouble is, you are trying to do too much. I--I think
I'll take a walk."
In fact, he had reached the limit of endurance; he could not look upon her
another moment as she appeared that evening and feel that she associated him
chiefly with crops and business, and that all her grateful good will could not
prevent his personality from being disagreeable. He must carry his bitterness
whither no eye could see him, and as he turned, his self-disgust led him to
whirl away his pipe. It struck a tree and fell shattered at its foot. Alida
had never seen him do anything of the kind before, and it indicated that he
was passing beyond the limits of patience. "Oh, oh," she sobbed, "I fear we
are going to drift apart! If he can't endure to talk with me about such
things, what chance have I at all? I hoped that the hour, the beauty of the
evening, and the evidence that I had been trying so hard to please him would
make him more like what he used to be before he seemed to take a dislike.
There's only one way to account for it all--he sees how I feel and he doesn't
like it. My very love sets him against me. My heart was overflowing tonight.
How could I help it, as I remembered how he stood up for me? He was brave and
kind; he meant well by me, he means well now; but he can't help his feelings.
He has gone away now to think of the woman that he did love and loves still,
and it angers him that I should think of taking her place. He loved her as a
child and girl and woman--he told me so; he warned me and said he could not
help thinking of her. If I had not learned to love him so deeply and
passionately and show it in spite of myself, time would gradually have
softened the past and all might have gone well. Yet how could I help it when
he saved me from so much? I feel tonight, though, that I only escaped one
kind of trouble to meet another almost as bad and which may become worse."
She strolled to the farther end of the garden that she might become calm
before meeting Jane's scrutiny. Useless precaution! For the girl had been
watching them both. Her motive had not been unmixed curiosity, since, having
taken some part in the garden work, she had wished to witness Holcroft's
pleasure and hear his praises. Since the actors in the scene so misunderstood
each other, she certainly would not rightly interpret them. "She's losin' her
hold on 'im," she thought, "He acted just as if she was mother."
When Jane saw Alida coming toward the house she whisked from the concealing
shrubbery to the kitchen again and was stolidly washing the dishes when her
mistress entered. "You are slow tonight," said Alida, looking at the child
keenly, but the impassive face revealed nothing. She set about helping the
girl, feeling it would be a relief to keep her hands busy.
Jane's efforts to comfort were always maladroit, yet the apparent situation so
interested her that she yielded to her inclination to talk. "Say," she began,
and Alida was too dejected and weary to correct the child's vernacular, "Mr.
Holcroft's got somethin' on his mind."
"Well, that's not strange."
"No, s'pose not. Hate to see 'im look so, though. He always used to look so
when mother went for 'im and hung around 'im. At last he cleared mother out,
and just before he looked as black as he did when he passed the house while
ago. You're good to me, an' I'd like you to stay. 'Fi's you I'd leave 'im
"Jane," said Alida coldly, "I don't wish you ever to speak to me of such
things again," and she hastily left the room.
"Oh, well!" muttered Jane, "I've got eyes in my head. If you're goin' to be
foolish, like mother, and keep a-goin' for 'im, it's your lookout. I kin get
along with him and he with me, and I'M goin' to stay."
Holcroft strode rapidly up the lane to the deep solitude at the edge of his
woodland. Beneath him lay the farm and the home that he had married to keep,
yet now, without a second's hesitation, he would part with all to call his
wife WIFE. How little the name now satisfied him, without the sweet realities
of which the word is significant! The term and relation had become a mocking
mirage. He almost cursed himself that he had exulted over his increasing bank
account and general prosperity, and had complacently assured himself that she
was doing just what he had asked, without any sentimental nonsense. "How could
I expect it to turn out otherwise?" he thought. "From the first I made her
think I hadn't a soul for anything but crops and money. Now that she's
getting over her trouble and away from it, she's more able to see just what I
am, or at least what she naturally thinks I am. But she doesn't understand
me--I scarcely understand myself. I long to be a different man in every way,
and not to work and live like an ox. Here are some of my crops almost ready
to gather and they never were better, yet I've no heart for the work. Seems
to me it'll wear me out if I have to carry this load of trouble all the time.
I thought my old burdens hard to bear; I thought I was lonely before, but it
was nothing compared with living near one you love, but from whom you are cut
off by something you can't see, yet must feel to the bottom of your heart."
His distraught eyes rested on the church spire, fading in the twilight, and
the little adjoining graveyard. "Oh, Bessie," he groaned, "why did you die? I
was good enough for YOU. Oh! That all had gone on as it was and I had never
He stopped, shook his head, and was silent. At last he signed, "I DID love
Bessie. I love and respect her memory as much as ever. But somehow I never
felt as I do now. All was quiet and matter-of-fact in those days, yet it was
real and satisfying. I was content to live on, one day like another, to the
end of my days. If I hadn't been so content it would be better for me now.
I'd have a better chance if I had read more, thought more, and fitted myself
to be more of a companion for a woman like Alida. If I knew a great deal and
could talk well, she might forget I'm old and homely. Bessie was so true a
friend that she would wish, if she knows, what I wish. I thought I needed a
housekeeper; I find I need more than all else such a wife as Alida could
be--one that could help me to be a man instead of a drudge, a Christian
instead of a discontented and uneasy unbeliever. At one time, it seemed that
she was leading me along so naturally and pleasantly that I never was so
happy; then all at once it came to me that she was doing it from gratitude and
a sense of duty, and the duty grows harder for her every day. Well, there
seems nothing for it now but to go on as we began and hope that the future
will bring us more in sympathy."
Chapter XXXI. "Never!"
For the next two or three days Jane had no occasion to observe that Alida was
in the least degree obtrusive in her attention to the farmer. She was
assiduous in her work and more diligent than ever in her conscious efforts to
do what she thought he wished; but she was growing pale, constrained, and
silent. She struggled heroically to appear as at first, but without much
success, for she could not rally from the wound he had given her so
unintentionally and which Jane's words had deepened. She almost loathed
herself under her association with Mrs. Mumpson, and her morbid thoughts had
hit upon a worse reason for Holcroft's apparent repulsion. As she questioned
everything in the sleepless hours that followed the interview in the garden,
she came to the miserable conclusion that he had discovered her love, and that
by suggestion, natural to his mind, it reminded him of her pitiful story. He
could be sorry for her and be kind; he could even be her honest friend and
protector as a wronged and unhappy woman, but he could not love one with a
history like hers and did not wish her to love him. This seemed an adequate
explanation of the change in their relations, but she felt that it was one
under which her life would wither and her heart break.
This promised to be worse than what she had dreaded at the almshouse--the
facing the world alone and working till she died among strangers. The fact
that they were strangers would enable her to see their averted faces with
comparative indifference, but that the man to whom she had yielded her whole
heart should turn away was intolerable. She felt that he could not do this
willingly but only under the imperious instincts of his nature--that he was
virtually helpless in the matter. There was an element in these thoughts
which stung her woman's soul, and, as we have said, she could not rally.
Holcroft never suspected her morbid thoughts, and his loyal, loving heart was
incapable of dreaming of them. He only grew more unhappy as he saw the
changes in her, for he regarded himself as the cause. Yet he was perplexed
and unable to account for her rapidly increasing pallor while he continued so
kind, considerate, and especially so unobtrusive. He assuredly thought he was
showing a disposition to give her all the time she wished to become reconciled
to her lot. "Thunder!" he said to himself, "we can't grow old together without
getting used to each other."
On Saturday noon, at dinner, he remarked, "I shall have to begin haying on
Monday and so I'll take everything to town this afternoon, for I won't be able
to go again for some days. Is there anything you'd like me to get, Mrs.
She shook her head. "I don't need anything," she replied. He looked at her
downcast face with troubled eyes and shivered. "She looks as if she were going
to be sick," he thought. "Good Lord! I feel as if there was nothing but
trouble ahead. Every mouthful I take seems to choke me."
A little later he pushed away almost untasted a piece of delicious cherry pie,
the first of the season. Alida could scarcely keep the tears back as she
thought, "There was a time when he would have praised it without stint. I
took so much pains with it in the hope he'd notice, for he once said he was
very fond of it." Such were the straws that were indicating the deep, dark
As he rose, she said almost apathetically in her dejection, "Mr. Holcroft,
Jane and I picked a basket of the early cherries. You may as well sell them,
for there are plenty left on the tree for us."
"That was too much for you to do in the hot sun. Well, I'll sell 'em and add
what they bring to your egg money in the bank. You'll get rich," he
continued, trying to smile, "if you don't spend more."
"I don't wish to spend anything," she said, turning away with the thought,
"How can he think I want finery when my heart is breaking?"
Holcroft drove away, looking and feeling as if he were going to a funeral. At
last he broke out, "I can't stand this another day. Tomorrow's Sunday, and
I'll manage to send Jane somewhere or take Alida out to walk and tell her the
whole truth. She shall be made to see that I can't help myself and that I'm
willing to do anything she wishes. She's married to me and has got to make
the best of it, and I'm sure I'm willing to make it as easy as I can."
Jane was a little perplexed at the condition of affairs. Mrs. Holcroft had
left her husband alone as far as possible, as she had advised, but apparently
it had not helped matters much. But she believed that the trouble she had
witnessed bode her no ill and so was inclined to regard it philosophically.
"He looks almost as glum, when he's goin' round alone, as if he'd married
mother. She talked too much, and that didn't please him; this one talks less
and less, and he don't seem pleased, nuther, but it seems to me he's very
foolish to be so fault-findin' when she does everything for him top-notch. I
never lived so well in my life, nor he, nuther, I believe. He must be in a
bad way when he couldn't eat that cherry pie."
Alida was so weary and felt so ill that she went to the parlor and lay down
upon the lounge. "My heart feels as if it were bleeding slowly away," she
murmured. "If I'm going to be sick the best thing I can do is to die and end
it all," and she gave way to that deep dejection in which there seems no
remedy for trouble.
The hours dragged slowly by; Jane finished her household tasks very leisurely,
then taking a basket, went out to the garden to pick some early peas. While
thus engaged, she saw a man coming up the lane. His manner instantly riveted
her attention and awakened her curiosity, and she crouched lower behind the
pea vines for concealment. All her furtive, watchful instincts were awake,
and her conscience was clear, too, for certainly she had a right to spy upon a
The man seemed almost as furtive as herself; his eyes were everywhere and his
step slow and hesitating. Instead of going directly to the house he
cautiously entered the barn, and she heard him a little later call Mr.
Holcroft. Of course there was no answer, and as if reassured, he approached
the house, looking here and there on every side, seemingly to see if anyone
was about. Jane had associated with men and boys too long to have any
childlike timidity, and she also had just confidence in her skulking and
running powers. "After all, he don't want nothin' of me and won't hurt me,"
she reasoned. "He acts mighty queer though and I'm goin' to hear what he
The moment he passed the angle of the house she dodged around to its rear and
stole into the dairy room, being well aware that from this position she could
overhear words spoken in ordinary conversational tones in the apartment above.
She had barely gained her ambush when she heard Alida half shriek, "Henry
It was indeed the man who had deceived her that had stolen upon her solitude.
His somewhat stealthy approach had been due to the wish and expectation of
finding her alone, and he had about convinced himself that she was so by
exploring the barn and observing the absence of the horses and wagon. Cunning
and unscrupulous, it was his plan to appear before the woman who had thought
herself his wife, without any warning whatever, believing that in the tumult
of her surprise and shock she would be off her guard and that her old
affection would reassert itself. He passed through the kitchen to the parlor
door. Alida, in her deep, painful abstraction, did not hear him until he
stood in the doorway, and, with outstretched arms, breathed her name. Then,
as if struck a blow, she had sprung to her feet, half shrieked his name and
stood panting, regarding him as if he were a specter.
"Your surprise is natural, Alida, dear," he said gently, "but I've a right to
come to you, for my wife is dead," and he advanced toward her.
"Stand back!" she cried sternly. "You've no right, and never can have."
"Oh, yes, I have!" he replied in a wheedling tone. "Come, come! Your nerves
are shaken. Sit down, for I've much to tell you."
"No, I won't sit down, and I tell you to leave me instantly. You've no right
here and I no right to listen to you."
"I can soon prove that you have a better right to listen to me than to anyone
else. Were we not married by a minister?"
"Yes, but that made no difference. You deceived both him and me."
"It made no difference, perhaps, in the eye of the law, while that woman you
saw was living, but she's dead, as I can easily prove. How were you married
to this man Holcroft?"
Alida grew dizzy; everything whirled and grew black before her eyes as she
sank into a chair. He came to her and took her hand, but his touch was a most
effectual restorative. She threw his hand away and said hoarsely, "Do you--do
you mean that you have any claim on me?"
"Who has a better claim?" he asked cunningly. "I loved you when I married you
and I love you now. Do you think I rested a moment after I was free from the
woman I detested? No, indeed; nor did I rest till I found out who took you
from the almshouse to be his household drudge, not wife. I've seen the
justice who aided in the wedding farce, and learned how this man Holcroft made
him cut down even the ceremony of a civil marriage to one sentence. It was
positively heathenish, and he only took you because he couldn't get a decent
servant to live with him."
"O God!" murmured the stricken woman. "Can such a horrible thing be?"
"So it seems," he resumed, misinterpreting her. "Come now!" he said
confidently, and sitting down, "Don't look so broken up about it. Even while
that woman was living I felt that I was married to you and you only; now that
"But I'm not free and don't wish to be."
"Don't be foolish, Alida. You know this farmer don't care a rap for you. Own
up now, does he?"
The answer was a low, half-despairing cry.
"There, I knew it was so. What else could you expect? Don't you see I'm your
true refuge and not this hard-hearted, money-grasping farmer?"
"Stop speaking against him!" she cried. "O God!" she wailed, "can the law give
this man any claim on me, now his wife is dead?"
"Yes, and one I mean to enforce," he replied doggedly.
"I don't believe she's dead, I don't believe anything you say! You deceived
"I'm not deceiving you now, Alida," he said with much solemnity. "She IS dead.
If you were calmer, I have proofs to convince you in these papers. Here's the
newspaper, too, containing the notice of her death," and he handed it to her.
She read it with her frightened eyes, and then the paper dropped from her
half-paralyzed hands to the floor. She was so unsophisticated, and her brain
was in such a whirl of confusion and terror, that she was led to believe at
the moment that he had a legal claim upon her which he could enforce.
"Oh, that Mr. Holcroft were here!" she cried desperately. "He wouldn't deceive
me; he never deceived me."
"It is well for him that he isn't here," said Ferguson, assuming a dark look.
"What do you mean?" she gasped.
"Come, come, Alida!" he said, smiling reassuringly. "You are frightened and
nervous, and I don't wish to make you any more so. You know how I would
naturally regard the man who I feel has my wife; but let us forget about him.
Listen to my plan. All I ask of you is to go with me to some distant place
where neither of us are known, and--"
"Never!" she interrupted.
"Don't say that," he replied coolly. "Do you think I'm a man to be trifled
with after what I've been through?"
"You can't compel me to go against my will," and there was an accent of terror
in her words which made them a question.
He saw his vantage more clearly and said quietly, "I don't want to compel you
if it can be helped. You know how true I was to you--"
"No, no! You deceived me. I won't believe you now."
"You may have to. At any rate, you know how fond I was of you, and I tell you
plainly, I won't give you up now. This man doesn't love you, nor do you love
"I DO love him, I'd die for him! There now, you know the truth. You wouldn't
compel a woman to follow you who shrinks from you in horror, even if you had
the right. Although the ceremony was brief it WAS a ceremony; and he was not
married then, as you were when you deceived me. He has ever been truth
itself, and I won't believe you have any rights till he tells me so himself."
"So you shrink from me with horror, do you?" asked Ferguson, rising, his face
growing black with passion.
"Yes, I do. Now leave me and let me never see you again."
"And you are going to ask this stupid old farmer about my rights?"
"Yes. I'll take proof of them from no other, and even if he confirmed your
words I'd never live with you again. I would live alone till I died!"
"That's all very foolish high tragedy, but if you're not careful there may be
some real tragedy. If you care for this Holcroft, as you say, you had better
go quietly away with me."
"What do you mean?" she faltered tremblingly.
"I mean I'm a desperate man whom the world has wronged too much already. You
know the old saying, 'Beware of the quiet man!' You know how quiet,
contented, and happy I was with you, and so I would be again to the end of my
days. You are the only one who can save me from becoming a criminal, a
vagabond, for with you only have I known happiness. Why should I live or care
to live? If this farmer clod keeps you from me, woe betide him! My one
object in living will be his destruction. I shall hate him only as a man
robbed as I am can hate."
"What would you do?" she could only ask in a horrified whisper.
"I can only tell you that he'd never be safe a moment. I'm not afraid of him.
You see I'm armed," and he showed her a revolver. "He can't quietly keep from
me what I feel is my own."
"Merciful Heaven! This is terrible," she gasped.
"Of course it's terrible--I mean it to be so. You can't order me off as if I
were a tramp. Your best course for his safety is to go quietly with me at
once. I have a carriage waiting near at hand."
"No, no! I'd rather die than do that, and though he cannot feel as I do, I
believe he'd rather die than have me do it."
"Oh, well! If you think he's so ready to die--"
"No, I don't mean that! Kill me! I want to die."
"Why should I kill you?" he asked with a contemptuous laugh. "That wouldn't do
me a particle of good. It will be your own fault if anyone is hurt."
"Was ever a woman put in such a cruel position?"
"Oh, yes! Many and many a time. As a rule, though, they are too sensible and
kind-hearted to make so much trouble."
"If you have legal rights, why don't you quietly enforce them instead of
For a moment he was confused and then said recklessly, "It would come to the
same thing in the end. Holcroft would never give you up."
"He'd have to. I wouldn't stay here a moment if I had no right."
"But you said you would not live with me again?"
"Nor would I. I'd go back to the poorhouse and die there, for do you think I
could live after another such experience? But my mind has grown clearer. You
are deceiving me again, and Mr. Holcroft is incapable of deceiving me. He
would never have called me his wife unless I was his wife before God and man."
"I'm not deceiving you in regard to one thing!" he said tragically.
"O God, what shall I do?"
"If you won't go with me you must leave him," he replied, believing that, if
this step were taken, others would follow.
"If I leave him--if I go away and live alone, will you promise to do him no
"I'd have no motive to harm him then, which will be better security than a
promise. At the same time I do promise."
"And you will also promise to leave me utterly alone?"
"If I can."
"You must promise never even to tempt me to think of going away. I'd rather
you'd shot me than ask it. I'm not a weak, timid girl. I'm a broken-hearted
woman who fears some things far more than death."
"If you have any fears for Holcroft, they are very rational ones."
"It is for his sake that I would act. I would rather suffer anything and lose
everything than have harm come to him."
"All I can say is that, if you will leave him completely and finally, I will
let him alone. But you must do it promptly. Everything depends upon this.
I'm in too reckless and bitter a mood to be trifled with. Besides, I've
plenty of money and could escape from the country in twenty-four hours. You
needn't think you can tell this story to Holcroft and that he can protect you
and himself. I'm here under an assumed name and have seen no one who knows
me. I may have to disappear for a time and be disguised when I come again,
but I pledge you my word he'll never be safe as long as you are under his
"Then I will sacrifice myself for him," she said, pallid even to her lips. "I
will go away. But never dream that you can come near me again--you who
deceived and wronged me, and now, far worse, threaten the man I love."
"We'll see about that," he replied cynically. "At any rate, you will have left
"Go!" she said imperiously.
"I'll take a kiss first, sweetheart," he said, advancing with a sardonic
"Jane!" she shrieked. He paused, and she saw evidences of alarm.
The girl ran lightly out of the dairy room, where she had been a greedy
listener to all that had been said, and a moment later appeared in the yard
before the house. "Yes'm," she answered.
"Be careful now, sir," said Alida sternly. "There's a witness."
"Only a little idiotic-looking girl."
"She's not idiotic, and if you touch me the compact's broken."
"Very well, my time will come. Remember, you've been warned," and he pulled
his hat over his eyes and strode away.
"Bah!" said Jane with a snicker, "as if I hadn't seen his ugly mug so I'd know
it 'mong a thousand."
With a face full of loathing and dread, Alida watched her enemy disappear down
the lane, and then, half fainting, sank on the lounge.
"Jane!" she called feebly, but there was no answer.
Chapter XXXII. Jane Plays Mouse to the Lion
It can well be understood that Jane had no disposition to return to Mrs.
Holcroft and the humdrum duties of the house. There opened before her an
exciting line of action which fully accorded with her nature, and she entered
upon it at once. Her first impulse was to follow the man of whom she had
learned so much. Not only was she spurred to this course by her curiosity,
but also by her instinctive loyalty to Holcroft, and, it must be admitted, by
her own interests. Poor little Jane had been nurtured in a hard school, and
had by this time learned the necessity of looking out for herself. This
truth, united with her shrewd, matter-of-fact mind, led her to do the most
sensible thing under the circumstances. "I know a lot now that he'll be glad
to know, and if I tell him everything he'll keep me always. The first thing
he'll want to know is what's become of that threatenin' scamp," and she
followed Ferguson with the stealth of an Indian.
Ferguson was not only a scamp, but, like most of his class, a coward. He had
been bitterly disappointed in his interview with Alida. As far as his selfish
nature permitted, he had a genuine affection for her, and he had thought of
little else besides her evident fondness for him. He was so devoid of moral
principle that he could not comprehend a nature like hers, and had scarcely
believed it possible that she would repulse him so inflexibly. She had always
been so gentle, yielding, and subservient to his wishes that he had thought
that, having been assured of his wife's death, a little persuasion and perhaps
a few threats would induce her to follow him, for he could not imagine her
becoming attached to such a man as Holcroft had been described to be. Her
uncompromising principle had entered but slightly into his calculations, and
so, under the spur of anger and selfishness, he had easily entered upon a game
of bluff He knew well enough that he had no claim upon Alida, yet it was in
harmony with his false heart to try to make her think so. He had no serious
intention of harming Holcroft--he would be afraid to attempt this--but if he
could so work on Alida's fears as to induce her to leave her husband, he
believed that the future would be full of possibilities. At any rate, he
would find his revenge in making Alida and Holcroft all the trouble possible.
Even in the excitement of the interview, however, he realized that he was
playing a dangerous game, and when Jane answered so readily to Alida's call he
was not a little disturbed. Satisfied that he had accomplished all that he
could hope for at present, his purpose now was to get back to town unobserved
and await developments. He therefore walked rapidly down the lane and pursued
the road for a short distance until he came to an old, disused lane, leading
up the hillside into a grove where he had concealed a horse and buggy. Unless
there should be necessity, it was his intention to remain in his hiding place
until after nightfall.
Jane had merely to skirt the bushy hillside higher up, in order to keep
Ferguson in view and discover the spot in which he was lurking. Instead of
returning to the house she kept right on, maintaining a sharp eye on the road
beneath to make sure that Holcroft did not pass unobserved. By an extended
detour, she reached the highway and continued toward town in the hope of
meeting the farmer. At last she saw him driving rapidly homeward. He was
consumed with anxiety to be at least near to Alida, even if, as he believed,
he was no longer welcome in her presence. When Jane stepped out into the road
he pulled up his horses and stared at her. She, almost bursting with her
great secrets, put her finger on her lips and nodded portentously.
"Well, what is it?" he asked, his heart beating quickly.
"I've got a lot to tell yer, but don't want no one to see us."