"No, not till you promise to go with me to ageçen sene bitcoin kaç tl minister and hear me promise to love, cherish--yes, in your case I'll promise to obey."
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."solana beach explorerAlida 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 stranger.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 says."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 Ferguson!"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."The widow Mumpson wished to talk over this first point between the high contracting powers indefinitely, but Mr. Weeks remarked cynically, "It's double what I thought he'd offer, and you're lucky to have it in black and white. Now that everything's settled, Timothy will hitch up and take you and Jane up there at once.
But Mrs. Mumpson now began to insist upon writing another letter in regard to her domestic status and that of her child. They could not think of being looked upon as servants. She also wished to be assured that a girl would be hired to help her, that she should have all the church privileges to which she had been accustomed and the right to visit and entertain her friends, which meant every farmer's wife and all the maiden sisters in Oakville. "And then," she continued, "there are always little perquisites which a housekeeper has a right to look for--" Mr. Weeks irritably put a period to this phase of diplomacy by saying, "Well, well, Cynthy, the stage will be along in a couple of hours. We'll put you and your things aboard, and you can go on with what you call your negotiations at Cousin Abiram's. I can tell you one thing though--if you write any such letter to Holcroft, you'll never hear from him again."Compelled to give up all these preliminaries, but inwardly resolving to gain each point by a nagging persistence of which she was a mistress, she finally declared that she "must have writings about one thing which couldn't be left to any man's changeful mind. He must agree to give me the monthly salary he names for at least a year."Weeks thought a moment, and then, with a shrewd twinkle in his eyes, admitted, "It would be a good thing to have Holcroft's name to such an agreement. Yes, you might try that on, but you're taking a risk. If you were not so penny-wise and pound-foolish, you'd go at once and manage to get him to take you for 'better or worse.'""You--misjudge me, Cousin Lemuel," replied the widow, bridling and rocking violently. If there's any such taking to be done, he must get me to take him."
"Well, well, write your letter about a year's engagement. That'll settle you for a twelvemonth, at least."Mrs. Mumpson again began the slow, laborious construction of a letter in which she dwelt upon the uncertainties of life, her "duty to her offspring," and the evils of "vicissitude." "A stable home is woman's chief desire," she concluded, "and you will surely agree to pay me the salary you have said for a year."
When Holcroft read this second epistle he so far yielded to his first impulse that he half tore the sheet, then paused irresolutely. After a few moments he went to the door and looked out upon his acres. "It'll soon be plowing and planting time," he thought. "I guess I can stand her---at least I can try it for three months. I'd like to turn a few more furrows on the old place," and his face softened and grew wistful as he looked at the bare, frost-bound fields. Suddenly it darkened and grew stern as he muttered, "But I'll put my hand to no more paper with that Weeks tribe."He strode to the stable, saying to Timothy Weeks, as he passed, "I'll answer this letter in person."Away cantered Timothy, and soon caused a flutter of expectancy in the Weeks household, by announcing that "Old Holcroft looked black as a thundercloud and was comin' himself.""I tell you what 'tis, Cynthy, it's the turn of a hair with you now," growled Weeks. "Unless you agree to whatever Holcroft says, you haven't the ghost of a chance."
The widow felt that a crisis had indeed come. Cousin Abiram's was the next place in the order of visitation, but her last experience there left her in painful doubt as to a future reception. Therefore she tied on a new cap, smoothed her apron, and rocked with unwonted rapidity. "It'll be according to the ordering of Providence--""Oh, pshaw!" interrupted Cousin Lemuel, "it'll be according to whether you've got any sense or not."Mrs. Weeks had been in a pitiable state of mind all day. She saw that her husband had reached the limit of his endurance--that he had virtually already "flown off the handle." But to have her own kin actually bundled out of the house--what would people say?Acceptance of Holcroft's terms, whatever they might be, was the only way out of the awkward predicament, and so she began in a wheedling tone, "Now, Cousin Cynthy, as Lemuel says, you've got a first-rate chance. Holcroft's had an awful time with women, and he'll be glad enough to do well by anyone who does fairly well by him. Everybody says he's well off, and once you're fairly there and get things in your own hands, there's no telling what may happen. He'll get a girl to help you, and Jane's big enough now to do a good deal. Why, you'll be the same as keeping house like the rest of us."
Further discussion was cut short by the arrival of the victim. He stood awkwardly in the door of the Weeks sitting room for a moment, seemingly at a loss how to state his case.Mr. And Mrs. Weeks now resolved to appear neutral and allow the farmer to make his terms. Then, like other superior powers in the background, they proposed to exert a pressure on their relative and do a little coercing. But the widow's course promised at first to relieve them of all further effort. She suddenly seemed to become aware of Holcroft's presence, sprang up, and gave him her hand very cordially.
"I'm glad to see you, sir," she began. "It's very considerate of you to come for me. I can get ready in short order, and as for Jane, she's never a bit of trouble. Sit down, sir, and make yourself to home while I get our things together and put on my bonnet;" and she was about to hasten from the room.She, too, had been compelled to see that Holcroft's farmhouse was the only certain refuge left, and while she had rocked and waited the thought had come into her scheming mind, "I've stipulated to stay a year, and if he says nothing against it, it's a bargain which I can manage to keep him to in spite of himself, even if I don't marry him."
But the straightforward farmer was not to be caught in such a trap. He had come himself to say certain words and he would say them. He quietly, therefore, stood in the door and said, "Wait a moment, Mrs. Mumpson. It's best to have a plain understanding in all matters of business. When I've done, you may conclude not to go with me, for I want to say to you what I said this morning to your cousin, Lemuel Weeks. I'm glad he and his wife are now present, as witnesses. I'm a plain man, and all I want is to make a livin' off the farm I've been brought up on. I'll get a girl to help you with the work. Between you, I'll expect it to be done in a way that the dairy will yield a fair profit. We'll try and see how we get on for three months and not a year. I'll not bind myself longer than three months. Of course, if you manage well, I'll be glad to have this plain business arrangement go on as long as possible, but it's all a matter of business. If I can't make my farm pay, I'm going to sell or rent and leave these parts.""Oh, certainly, certainly, Mr. Holcroft! You take a very senserble view of affairs. I hope you will find that I will do all that I agree to and a great deal more. I'm a little afraid of the night air and the inclement season, and so will hasten to get myself and my child ready," and she passed quickly out.Weeks put his hand to his mouth to conceal a grin as he thought, "She hasn't agreed to do anything that I know on. Still, she's right; she'll do a sight more than he expects, but it won't be just what he expects."Mrs. Weeks followed her relative to expedite matters, and it must be confessed that the gathering of Mrs. Mumpson's belongings was no heavy task. A small hair trunk, that had come down from the remote past, held her own and her child's wardrobe and represented all their worldly possessions.Mr. Weeks, much pleased at the turn of affairs, became very affable, but confined his remarks chiefly to the weather, while Holcroft, who had an uneasy sense of being overreached in some undetected way, was abstracted and laconic. He was soon on the road home, however, with Mrs. Mumpson and Jane. Cousin Lemuel's last whispered charge was, "Now, for mercy's sake, do keep your tongue still and your hands busy."Whatever possibilities there may be for the Ethiopian or the leopard, there was no hope that Mrs. Mumpson would materially change any of her characteristics. The chief reason was that she had no desire to change. A more self-complacent person did not exist in Oakville. Good traits in other people did not interest her. They were insipid, they lacked a certain pungency which a dash of evil imparts; and in the course of her minute investigations she had discerned or surmised so much that was reprehensible that she had come to regard herself as singularly free from sins of omission and commission. "What have I ever done?" she would ask in her self-communings. The question implied so much truth of a certain kind that all her relatives were in gall and bitterness as they remembered the weary months during which she had rocked idly at their firesides. With her, talking was as much of a necessity as breathing; but during the ride to the hillside farm she, in a sense, held her breath, for a keen March wind was blowing.
She was so quiet that Holcroft grew hopeful, not realizing that the checked flow of words must have freer course later on. A cloudy twilight was deepening fast when they reached the dwelling. Holcroft's market wagon served for the general purposes of conveyance, and he drove as near as possible to the kitchen door. Descending from the front seat, which he had occupied alone, he turned and offered his hand to assist the widow to alight, but she nervously poised herself on the edge of the vehicle and seemed to be afraid to venture. The wind fluttered her scanty draperies, causing her to appear like a bird of prey about to swoop down upon the unprotected man. "I'm afraid to jump so far--" she began."There's the step, Mrs. Mumpson."
"But I can't see it. Would you mind lifting me down?"He impatiently took her by the arms, which seemed in his grasp like the rounds of a chair, and put her on the ground.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, in gushing tones, "there's nothing to equal the strong arms of a man."He hastily lifted out her daughter, and said, "You had getter hurry in to the fire. I'll be back in a few minutes," and he led his horses down to the barn, blanketed and tied them. When he returned, he saw two dusky figures standing by the front door which led to the little hall separating the kitchen from the parlor.
"Bless me!" he exclaimed. "You haven't been standing here all this time?""It's merely due to a little oversight. The door is locked, you see, and--""But the kitchen door is not locked.""Well, it didn't seem quite natural for us to enter the dwelling, on the occasion of our first arrival, by the kitchen entrance, and--"
Holcroft, with a grim look, strode through the kitchen and unlocked the door."Ah!" exclaimed the widow. "I feel as if I was coming home. Enter, Jane, my dear. I'm sure the place will soon cease to be strange to you, for the home feeling is rapidly acquired when--"
"Just wait a minute, please," said Holcroft, "and I'll light the lamp and a candle." This he did with the deftness of a man accustomed to help himself, then led the way to the upper room which was to be her sleeping apartment. Placing the candle on the bureau, he forestalled Mrs. Mumpson by saying, "I'll freshen up the fire in the kitchen and lay out the ham, eggs, coffee, and other materials for supper. Then I must go out and unharness and do my night work. Make yourselves to home. You'll soon be able to find everything," and he hastened away.It would not be their fault if they were not soon able to find everything. Mrs. Mumpson's first act was to take the candle and survey the room in every nook and corner. She sighed when she found the closet and bureau drawers empty. Then she examined the quantity and texture of the bedding of the "couch on which she was to repose," as she would express herself. Jane followed her around on tiptoe, doing just what her mother did, but was silent.
At last they shivered in the fireless apartment, threw off their scanty wraps, and went down to the kitchen. Mrs. Mumpson instinctively looked around for a rocking chair, and as none was visible she hastened to the parlor, and, holding the candle aloft, surveyed this apartment. Jane followed in her wake as before, but at last ventured to suggest, "Mother, Mr. Holcroft'll be in soon and want his supper.""I suppose he'll want a great many things," replied Mrs. Mumpson with dignity, "but he can't expect a lady of my connections to fly around like a common servant. It is but natural, in coming to a new abode, that I should wish to know something of that abode. There should have been a hired girl here ready to receive and get supper for us. Since there is not one to receive us, bring that rocking chair, my dear, and I will direct you how to proceed."
The child did as she was told, and her mother was soon rocking on the snuggest side of the kitchen stove, interspersing her rather bewildering orders with various reflections and surmises.Sketching the child Jane is a sad task, and pity would lead us to soften every touch if this could be done in truthfulness. She was but twelve years of age, yet there was scarcely a trace of childhood left in her colorless face. Stealthy and catlike in all her movements, she gave the impression that she could not do the commonest thing except in a sly, cowering manner. Her small greenish-gray eyes appeared to be growing nearer together with the lease of time, and their indirect, furtive glances suggested that they had hardly, if ever, seen looks of frank affection bent upon her. She had early learned, on the round of visits with her mother, that so far from being welcome she was scarcely tolerated, and she reminded one of a stray cat that comes to a dwelling and seeks to maintain existence there in a lurking, deprecatory manner. Her kindred recognized this feline trait, for they were accustomed to remark, "She's always snoopin' around."She could scarcely do otherwise, poor child! There had seemed no place for her at any of the firesides. She haunted halls and passage-ways, sat in dusky corners, and kept her meager little form out of sight as much as possible. She was the last one helped at table when she was permitted to come at all, and so had early learned to watch, like a cat, and when people's backs were turned, to snatch something, carry it off, and devour it in secret. Detected in these little pilferings, to which she was almost driven, she was regarded as even a greater nuisance than her mother.The latter was much too preoccupied to give her child attention. Ensconced in a rocking chair in the best room, and always in full tide of talk if there was anyone present, she rarely seemed to think where Jane was or what she was doing. The rounds of visitation gave the child no chance to go to school, so her developing mind had little other pabulum than what her mother supplied so freely. She was acquiring the same consuming curiosity, with the redeeming feature that she did not talk. Listening in unsuspected places, she heard much that was said about her mother and herself, and the pathetic part of this experience was that she had never known enough of kindness to be wounded. She was only made to feel more fully how precarious was her foothold in her transient abiding place, and therefore was rendered more furtive, sly, and distant in order to secure toleration by keeping out of everyone's way. In her prowlings, however, she managed to learn and understand all that was going on even better than her mother, who, becoming aware of this fact, was acquiring the habit of putting her through a whispered cross-questioning when they retired for the night. It would be hard to imagine a child beginning life under more unfavorable auspices and still harder to predict the outcome.
In the course of her close watchfulness she had observed how many of the domestic labors had been performed, and she would have helped more in the various households if she had been given a chance; but the housewives had not regarded her as sufficiently honest to be trusted in the pantries, and also found that, if there was a semblance of return for such hospitality as they extended, Mrs. Mumpson would remain indefinitely. Moreover, the homely, silent child made the women nervous, just as her mother irritated the men, and they did not want her around. Thus she had come to be but the specter of a child, knowing little of the good in the world and as much of the evil as she could understand.She now displayed, however, more sense than her mother. The habit of close scrutiny had made it clear that Holcroft would not long endure genteel airs and inefficiency, and that something must be done to keep this shelter. She did her best to get supper, with the aid given from the rocking chair, and at last broke out sharply, "You must get up and help me. He'll turn us out of doors if we don't have supper ready when he comes in."
Spurred by fear of such a dire possibility, Mrs. Mumpson was bustling around when Holcroft entered. "We'll soon be ready," she gushed, "we'll soon place our evening repast upon the table.""Very well," was the brief reply, as he passed up the stairs with the small hair trunk on his shoulder.
Chapter 4 Domestic BlissHolcroft had been given a foretaste of the phase of torment which he was destined to endure in his domestic relations, and was planning to secure a refuge into which he could not be pursued. He had made himself a little more presentable for supper, instinctively aware that nothing would escape the lynx-eyed widow, and was taking some measurements from the floor to a stovepipe hole leading into the chimney flue, when he became aware that someone was in the doorway. Turning, he saw Jane with her small catlike eyes fixed intently upon him. Instantly he had the feeling that he was being watched and would be watched.