Part 6 out of 6
"About my wife?"
The girl nodded.
"Good God! Speak then. Is she sick?" and he sprung out and caught her arm
with a grip that hurt her.
"Please, sir, I'm doin' all I kin for yer and--and you hurt me."
Holcroft saw the tears coming to her eyes and he released his hold as he said,
"Forgive me, Jane, I didn't mean to; but for mercy's sake, tell your story."
"It's a long 'un."
"Well, well, give me the gist of it in a word."
"I guess she's goin' to run away."
Holcroft groaned and almost staggered to his horses' heads, then led them to
the roadside and tied them to a tree. Sitting down, as if too weak to stand,
he buried his face in his hands. He could not bear to have Jane see his
distress. "Tell your story," he said hoarsely, "quick, for I may have to act
"Guess yer will. Did yer know she was married?"
"No, to another man--married by a minister. He's been there with her." She
little foresaw the effect of her words, for the farmer bounded to his feet
with an oath and sprang to his horses.
"Stop!" cried Jane, tugging at his arm. "If you go rushin' home now, you'll
show you've got no more sense than mother. You'll spoil everything. She aint
goin' to run away with HIM--she said she wouldn't, though he coaxed and
threatened to kill yer if she didn't. 'Fi's a man I wouldn't act like a mad
bull. I'd find out how to get ahead of t'other man."
"Well," said Holcroft, in a voice that frightened the child, "she said she
wouldn't run away with this scoundrel--of course not--but you say she's going
to leave. She'll meet him somewhere--good God! But how should you
understand? Come, let me get home!"
"I understand a sight more'n you do, and you go on so that I can't tell you
anything. If you showed sense, you'd be glad I was lookin' out for you so I
could tell you everything. What's the good of goin' rampaigin' home when, if
you'd only listen, you could get even with that scoundrel, as yer call 'im,
and make all right," and Jane began to cry.
"Oh, thunder!" exclaimed the chafing man, "tell me your story at once, or
you'll drive me mad. You don't half know what you're talking about or how
much your words mean--how should you? The thing to do is to get home as soon
"You aint no reason to be so mad and glum all the while," cried Jane, smarting
under a sense of injustice. "Here I'm a-tryin' to do for you, and you'll be
sorry ernuff if you don't stop and listen. And she's been a-tryin' to do for
you all along, and she's been standin' up for you this afternoon, and is goin'
to run away to save your life."
"Run away to save my life? Are you crazy?"
"No, but you be," cried the girl, excited and exasperated beyond restraint.
"If she IS your wife I'd stand up for her and take care of her, since she
stands up for you so. 'Stead of that, you go round as glum as a thundercloud
and now want to go ragin' home to her. Dunno whether she's your wife or not,
but I DO know she said she loved you and 'ud die for you, and she wouldn't do
a thing that man asked but go away to save your life."
Holcroft looked at the girl as if dazed. "Said she LOVED me?" he repeated
"Of course! You knowed that all 'long--anybody could see it--an' you don't
treat her much better'n you did mother." Then, with an impatient gesture, she
asked, "Will you sit down and listen?"
"No, I won't!" he cried, springing toward his horses. "I'll find out if your
words are true."
"Oh, yes!" said Jane contemptuously; "run right to her to find out somethin'
as plain as the nose on her face, and run right by the man that was
threatenin' her and you too."
Wheeling round, he asked, "Where is he?"
"I know, but I won't say 'nuther word till you stop goin' on. 'Fi's a man I'd
find out what to do 'fore I did anythin'."
Jane had little comprehension of the tempest she had raised in Holcroft's soul
or its causes, and so was in no mood to make allowances for him. By this
time, the first gust of his passion was passing and reason resuming its sway.
He paced up and down in the road a moment or two, and then sat down as he
said, "I don't half understand what you've been talking about and I fear you
don't. You've evidently been listening and watching and have got hold of
something. Now, I'll be as patient as I can if you'll tell me the whole story
quickly," and he turned his flushed, quivering face toward her.
"Then I s'pose you'll scold me for listenin' and watchin' that scamp," said
the girl sullenly.
"No, Jane, not in this case. Unless your impressions are all mistaken I may
have to thank you all my life. I'm not one to forget those who are true to
me. Now, begin at the beginning and go right through to the end; then I may
understand better than you can."
Jane did as she was told, and many "says he's" and "says she's" followed in
her literal narrative. Holroft again dropped his face into his hands, and
before she was through, tears of joy trickled through his fingers. When she
finished, he arose, turned away, and hastily wiped his eyes, then gave the
girl his hand as he said, "Thank you, Jane. You've tried to be a true friend
to me today. I'll show you that I don't forget. I was a fool to get in such
a rage, but you can't understand and must forgive me. Come, you see I'm quiet
now," and he untied the horses and lifted her into his wagon.
"What yer doin' to do?" she asked, as they drove away.
"I'm going to reward you for watching and listening to that scoundrel, but you
must not watch me or Mrs. Holcroft, or listen to what we say unless we speak
before you. If you do, I shall be very angry. Now, you've only one thing
more to do and that is, show me where this man is hiding."
"But you won't go near him alone?" inquired Jane in much alarm.
"You must do as I bid you," he replied sternly. "Show me where he's hiding,
then stay by the wagon and horses."
"But he same as said he'd kill you."
"You have your orders," was his quiet reply.
She looked scared enough, but remained silent until they reached a shaded spot
on the road, then said, "If you don't want him to see you too soon, better tie
here. He's around yonder, in a grove up on the hill."
Holcroft drove to a tree by the side of the highway and again tied his horses,
then took the whip from the wagon. "Are you afraid to go with me a little way
and show me just where he is?" he asked.
"No, but you oughtn' ter go."
"Come on, then! You must mind me if you wish to keep my good will. I know
what I'm about." As in his former encounter, his weapon was again a long,
tough whipstock with a leather thong attached. This he cut off and put in his
pocket, then followed Jane's rapid lead up the hill. Very soon she said,
"There's the place I saw 'im in. If you will go, I'd steal up on him."
"Yes. You stay here." She made no reply, but the moment he disappeared she
was upon his trail. Her curiosity was much greater than her timidity, and she
justly reasoned that she had little to fear.
Holcroft approached from a point whence Ferguson was expecting no danger. The
latter was lying on the ground, gnawing his nails in vexation, when he first
heard the farmer's step. Then he saw a dark-visaged man rushing upon him. In
the impulse of his terror, he drew his revolver and fired. The ball hissed
near, but did no harm, and before Ferguson could use the weapon again, a blow
from the whipstock paralyzed his arm and the pistol dropped to the ground. So
also did its owner a moment later, under a vindictive rain of blows, until he
shrieked for mercy.
"Don't move!" said Holcroft sternly, and he picked up the revolver. "So you
meant to kill me, eh?"
"No, no! I didn't. I wouldn't have fired if it hadn't been in self-defense
and because I hadn't time to think." He spoke with difficulty, for his mouth
was bleeding and he was terribly bruised.
"A liar, too!" said the farmer, glowering down upon him. "But I knew that
before. What did you mean by your threats to my wife?"
"See here, Mr. Holcroft; I'm down and at your mercy. If you'll let me off
I'll go away and never trouble you or your wife again."
"Oh, no!" said Holcroft with a bitter laugh. "You'll never, never trouble us
"What, do you mean to murder me?" Ferguson half shrieked.
"Would killing such a thing as you be murder? Any jury in the land would
acquit me. You ought to be roasted over a slow fire."
The fellow tried to scramble on his knees, but Holcroft hit him another savage
blow, and said, "Lie still!"
Ferguson began to wring his hands and beg for mercy. His captor stood over
him a moment or two irresolutely in his white-heated anger; then thoughts of
his wife began to soften him. He could not go to her with blood on his
hands--she who had taught him such lessons of forbearance and forgiveness. He
put the pistol in his pocket and giving his enemy a kick, said, "Get up!"
The man rose with difficulty.
"I won't waste time in asking any promises from YOU, but if you ever trouble
my wife or me again, I'll break every bone in your body. Go, quick, before my
mood changes, and don't say a word."
As the man tremblingly untied his horse, Jane stepped out before him and said,
"I'm a little idiotic girl, am I?"
He was too thoroughly cowed to make any reply and drove as rapidly away as the
ground permitted, guiding his horse with difficulty in his maimed condition.
Jane, in the exuberance of her pleasure, began something like a jig on the
scene of conflict, and her antics were so ridiculous that Holcroft had to turn
away to repress a smile. "You didn't mind me, Jane," he said gravely.
"Well, sir," she replied, "after showin' you the way to 'im, you oughter not
grudge me seein' the fun."
"But it isn't nice for little girls to see such things."
"Never saw anything nicer in my life. You're the kind of man I believe in,
you are. Golly! Only wished SHE'D seen you. I've seen many a rough and
tumble 'mong farm hands, but never anything like this. It was only his pistol
I was 'fraid of."
"Will you do exactly what I say now?"
"Well, go home across the fields and don't by word or manner let Mrs. Holcroft
know what you've seen or heard, and say nothing about meeting me. Just make
her think you know nothing at all and that you only watched the man out of
sight. Do this and I'll give you a new dress."
"I'd like somethin' else 'sides that."
"I'd like to be sure I could stay right on with you."
"Yes, Jane, after today, as long as you're a good girl. Now go, for I must
get back to my team before this scamp goes by."
She darted homeward as the farmer returned to his wagon. Ferguson soon
appeared and seemed much startled as he saw his Nemesis again. "I'll keep my
word," he said, as he drove by.
"You'd better!" called the farmer. "You know what to expect now."
Alida was so prostrated by the shock of the interview that she rallied slowly.
At last she saw that it was getting late and that she soon might expect the
return of her husband. She dragged herself to the door and again called Jane,
but the place was evidently deserted. Evening was coming on tranquilly, with
all its sweet June sounds, but now every bird song was like a knell. She sunk
on the porch seat and looked at the landscape, already so dear and familiar,
as if she were taking a final farewell of a friend. Then she turned to the
homely kitchen to which she had first been brought. "I can do a little more
for him," she thought, "before I make the last sacrifice which will soon bring
the end. I think I could have lived--lived, perhaps, till I was old, if I had
gone among strangers from the almshouse, but I can't now. My heart is broken.
Now that I've seen that man again I understand why my husband cannot love me.
Even the thought of touching me must make him shudder. But I can't bear up
under such a load much longer, and that's my comfort. It's best I should go
away now; I couldn't do otherwise," and the tragedy went on in her soul as she
feebly prepared her husband's meal.
At last Jane came in with her basket of peas. Her face was so impassive as to
suggest that she had no knowledge of anything except that there had been a
visitor, and Alida had sunk into such depths of despairing sorrow that she
scarcely noticed the child.
Chapter XXXIII. "Shrink from YOU?"
Holcroft soon came driving slowly up the lane as if nothing unusual was on his
mind. Having tied his horses, he brought in an armful of bundles and said
kindly, "Well, Alida, here I am again, and I guess I've brought enough to last
well through haying time."
"Yes," she replied with averted face. This did not trouble him any now, but
her extreme pallor did and he added, "You don't look well. I wouldn't mind
getting much supper tonight. Let Jane do the work."
"I'd rather do it," she replied.
"Oh, well!" laughing pleasantly, "you shall have your own way. Who has a
better right than you, I'd like to know?"
"Don't speak that way," she said, almost harshly, under the tension of her
feelings. "I--I can't stand it. Speak and look as you did before you went
"Jane," said the farmer, "go and gather the eggs."
As soon as they were alone, he began gently, "Alida--"
"Please don't speak so to me today. I've endured all I can. I can't keep up
another minute unless you let things go on as they were. Tomorrow I'll try to
tell you all. It's your right."
"I didn't mean to say anything myself till after supper, and perhaps not till
tomorrow, but I think I'd better. It will be better for us both, and our
minds will be more at rest. Come with me into the parlor, Alida."
"Well, perhaps the sooner it's over the better," she said faintly and huskily.
She sunk on the lounge and looked at him with such despairing eyes that tears
came into his own.
"Alida," he began hesitatingly, "after I left you this noon I felt I must
speak with and be frank with you."
"No, no!!" she cried, with an imploring gesture, "if it must be said, let me
say it. I couldn't endure to hear it from you. Before you went away I
understood it all, and this afternoon the truth has been burned into my soul.
That horrible man has been here--the man I thought my husband--and he has made
it clearer, if possible. I don't blame you that you shrink from me as if I
were a leper. I feel as if I were one."
"I shrink from YOU!" he exclaimed.
"Yes. Can you think I haven't seen the repugnance growing in spite of
yourself? When I thought of that man--especially when he came today--I
understood WHY too well. I cannot stay here any longer. You'd try to be kind
and considerate, but I'd know how you felt all the time. It would not be safe
for you and it would not be right for me to stay, either, and that settles it.
Be--be as kind to me--as you can a few--a few hours longer, and then let me go
quietly." Her self-control gave way, and burying her face in her hands, she
In a moment he was on his knees beside her, with his arm about her waist.
"Alida, dear Alida!" he cried, "we've both been in the dark about each other.
What I resolved to do, when I started for town, was to tell you that I had
learned to love you and to throw myself on your mercy. I thought you saw I
was loving you and that you couldn't bear to think of such a thing in an old,
homely fellow like me. That was all that was in my mind, so help me God!"
"But--but HE'S been here," she faltered; "you don't realize--"
"I don't believe I do or can, yet, Alida, dear, but that blessed Jane's spying
trait has served me the best turn in the world. She heard every brave word
you said and I shed tears of joy when she told me; and tears are slow coming
to my eyes. You think I shrink from you, do you?" and he kissed her hands
passionately. "See," he cried, "I kneel to you in gratitude for all you've
been to me and are to me."
"Oh, James! Please rise. It's too much."
"No, not till you promise to go with me to a minister and hear me promise to
love, cherish--yes, in your case I'll promise to obey."
She bowed her head upon his shoulder in answer. Springing up, he clasped her
close and kissed away her tears as he exclaimed, "No more business marriage
for me, if you please. There never was a man so in love with his wife."
Suddenly she looked up and said fearfully, "James, he threatened you. He said
you'd never be safe a moment as long as I stayed here."
His answer was a peal of laughter. "I've done more than threaten him. I've
whipped him within an inch of his life, and it was the thought of you that led
me, in my rage, to spare his life. I'll tell you all--I'm going to tell you
everything now. How much trouble I might have saved if I had told you my
thoughts! What was there, Alida, in an old fellow like me that led you to
Looking up shyly, she replied, "I think it was the MAN in you--and--then you
stood up for me so."
"Well, love is blind, I suppose, but it don't seem to me that mine is. There
never was a man so taken in at his marriage. You were so different from what
I expected that I began loving you before I knew it, but I thought you were
good to me just as you were to Jane--from a sense of duty--and that you
couldn't abide me personally. So I tried to keep out of your way. And,
Alida, dear, I thought at first that I was taken by your good traits and your
education and all that, but I found out at last that I had fallen in love with
YOU. Now you know all. You feel better now, don't you?"
"Yes," she breathed softly.
"You've had enough to wear a saint out," he continued kindly. "Lie down on the
lounge and I'll bring your supper to you."
"No, please! It will do me more good to go on and act as if nothing had
"Well, have your own way, little wife. You're boss now, sure enough."
She drew him to the porch, and together they looked upon the June landscape
which she had regarded with such despairing eyes an hour before.
"Happiness never kills, after all," she said.
"Shouldn't be alive if it did," he replied. "The birds seem to sing as if they
Jane emerged from the barn door with a basket of eggs, and Alida sped away to
meet her. The first thing the child knew the arms of her mistress were about
her neck and she was kissed again and again.
"What did you do that for?" she asked.
"You'll understand some day."
"Say," said Jane in an impulse of good will, "if you're only half married to
Mr. Holcroft, I'd go the whole figure, 'fi's you. If you'd 'a' seen him
a-thrashin' that scamp you'd know he's the man to take care of you."
"Yes, Jane, I know. He'll take care of me always."
The next morning Holcroft and Alida drove to town and went to the church which
she and her mother used to attend. After the service they followed the
clergyman home, where Alida again told him her story, though not without much
help from the farmer. After some kindly reproach that she had not brought her
troubles to him at first, the minister performed a ceremony which found deep
echoes in both their hearts.
Time and right, sensible living soon remove prejudice from the hearts of the
good and stop the mouths of the cynical and scandal-loving. Alida's
influence, and the farmer's broadening and more unselfish views gradually
bought him into a better understanding of his faith, and into a kinder
sympathy and charity for his neighbors than he had ever known. His relations
to the society of which he was a part became natural and friendly, and his
house a pretty and a hospitable home. Even Mrs. Watterly eventually entered
its portals. She and others were compelled to agree with Watterly that Alida
was not of the "common sort," and that the happiest good fortune which could
befall any man had come to Holcroft when he fell in love with his wife.