At last Holcroft partially shook off his stupor, and began the experiment of keeping house and maintaining his dairy with hired help. For a long year he had struggled on through all kinds of domestic vicissitude, conscious all the time that things were going from bad to worse. His house was isolated, the region sparsely settled, and good help difficult to be obtained under favoring auspices. The few respectable women theta coin telegramin the neighborhood who occasionally "lent a hand" in other homes than their own would not compromise themselves, as they expressed it, by "keepin' house for a widower." Servants obtained from the neighboring town either could not endure the loneliness, or else were so wasteful and ignorant that the farmer, in sheer desperation, discharged them. The silent, grief-stricken, rugged-featured man was no company for anyone. The year was but a record of changes, waste, and small pilferings. Although he knew he could not afford it, he tried the device of obtaining two women instead of one, so that they might have society in each other; but either they would not stay or else he found that he had two thieves to deal with instead of one--brazen, incompetent creatures who knew more about whisky than milk, and who made his home a terror to him.
Chapter 18bitcoin exchange gdaxEdouard, the moment his temper cooled, became very sad. He longedto be friends again with Rose, but did not know how. His own prideheld him back, and so did his fear that he had gone too far, andthat his offended mistress would not listen to an offer ofreconciliation from him. He sat down alone now to all his littlemeals. No sweet, mellow voices in his ear after the fatigues of theday. It was a dismal change in his life.
At last, one day, he received three lines from Josephine, requestinghim to come and speak to her. He went over directly, full of vaguehopes. He found her seated pale and languid in a small room on theground floor."What has she been doing to you, dear?" began she kindly."Has she not told you, Madame Raynal?""No; she is refractory. She will tell me nothing, and that makes mefear she is the one in fault.""Oh! if she does not accuse me, I am sure I will not accuse her. Idare say I am to blame; it is not her fault that I cannot make herlove me.""But you can. She does.""Yes; but she loves others better, and she holds me out no hope itwill ever be otherwise. On this one point how can I hope for yoursympathy; unfortunately for me you are one of my rivals. She toldme plainly she never could love me as she loves you.""And you believed her?""I had good reason to believe her."Josephine smiled sadly. "Dear Edouard," said she, "you must notattach so much importance to every word we say. Does Rose at herage know everything? Is she a prophet? Perhaps she really fanciesshe will always love her sister as she does now; but you are a manof sense; you ought to smile and let her talk. When you marry heryou will take her to your own house; she will only see me now andthen; she will have you and your affection always present. Each daysome new tie between you and her. You two will share every joy,every sorrow. Your children playing at your feet, and reflectingthe features of both parents, will make you one. Your hearts willmelt together in that blessed union which raises earth so near toheaven; and then you will wonder you could ever be jealous of poorJosephine, who must never hope--ah, me!"Edouard, wrapped up in himself, mistook Josephine's emotion at thepicture she had drawn of conjugal love. He soothed her, and vowedupon his honor he never would separate Rose from her."Madame Raynal," said he, "you are an angel, and I am a fiend.Jealousy must be the meanest of all sentiments. I never will bejealous again, above all, of you, sweet angel. Why, you are mysister as well as hers, and she has a right to love you, for I loveyou myself.""You make me very happy when you talk so," sighed Josephine. "Peaceis made?""Never again to be broken. I will go and ask her pardon. What isthe matter now?"For Jacintha was cackling very loud, and dismissing with ignominytwo beggars, male and female.
She was industry personified, and had no sympathy with mendicity.In vain the couple protested, Heaven knows with what truth, thatthey were not beggars, but mechanics out of work. "March! tramp!"was Jacintha's least word. She added, giving the rein to herimagination, "I'll loose the dog." The man moved away, the womanturned appealingly to Edouard. He and Josephine came towards thegroup. She had got a sort of large hood, and in that hood shecarried an infant on her shoulders. Josephine inspected it. "Itlooks sickly, poor little thing," said she."Well, shall I go and say to this woman--Alida Armstrong is her name now, I suppose--that you wish to see her again?"
"Yes, I shall tell her the truth. Then she can decide."Chapter 18 Holcroft Gives His HandAlida was seated by a window with some of the mending in which she assisted, and, as usual, was apart by herself. Watterly entered the large apartment quietly, and at first she did not observe him. He had time to note that she was greatly dejected, and when she saw him she hastily wiped tears from her eyes."You are a good deal cast down, Alida," he said, watching her closely.
"I've reason to be. I don't see any light ahead at all.""Well, you know the old saying, 'It's darkest before day.' I want you to come with me again. I think I've found a chance for you."
She rose with alacrity and followed. As soon as they were alone, he turned and looked her squarely in the face as he said gravely, "You have good common sense, haven't you?""I don't know, sir," she faltered, perplexed and troubled by the question."Well, you can understand this much, I suppose. As superintendent of this house I have a responsible position, which I could easily lose if I allowed myself to be mixed up with anything wrong or improper. To come right to the point, you don't know much about me and next to nothing of my friend Holcroft, but can't you see that even if I was a heartless, good-for-nothing fellow, it wouldn't be wise or safe for me to permit anything that wouldn't bear the light?""I think you are an honest man, sir. It would be strange if I did not have confidence when you have judged me and treated me so kindly. But, Mr. Watterly, although helpless and friendless, I must try to do what I think is best. If I accepted Mr. Holcroft's position it might do him harm. You know how quick the world is to misjudge. It would seem to confirm everything that has been said against me," and the same painful flush again overspread her features.
"Well, Alida, all that you have to do is to listen patiently to my friend. Whether you agree with his views or not, you will see that he is a good-hearted, honest man. I want to prepare you for this talk by assuring you that I've known him since he was a boy, that he has lived all his life in this region and is known by many others, and that I wouldn't dare let him ask you to do anything wrong, even if I was bad enough.""I'm sure, sir, you don't wish me any harm," she again faltered in deep perplexity."Indeed I don't. I don't advise my friend's course; neither do I oppose it. He's certainly old enough to act for himself. I suppose I'm a rough counselor for a young woman, but since you appear to have so few friends I'm inclined to act as one. Just you stand on the question of right and wrong, and dismiss from your mind all foolish notions of what people will say. As a rule, all the people in the world can't do as much for us as somebody in particular. Now you go in the parlor and listen like a sensible woman. I'll be reading the paper, and the girl will be clearing off the table in the next room here."Puzzled and trembling, Alida entered the apartment where Holcroft was seated. She was so embarrassed that she could not lift her eyes to him.
"Please sit down," he said gravely, "and don't be troubled, much less frightened. You are just as free to act as ever you were in your life."She sat down near the door and compelled herself to look at him, for she felt instinctively that she might gather more from the expression of his face than from his words.
"Alida Armstrong is your name, Mr. Watterly tells me?""Yes, sir."
"Well, Alida, I want to have a plain business talk with you. That's nothing to be nervous and worried about, you know. As I told you, I've heard your story. It has made me sorry for you instead of setting me against you. It has made me respect you as a right-minded woman, and I shall give you good proof that my words are true. At the same time, I shan't make any false pretenses to what isn't true and couldn't be true. Since I've heard your story, it's only fair you should hear mine, and I ought to tell it first."He went over the past very briefly until he came to the death of his wife. There was simple and homely pathos in the few sentences with which he referred to this event. Then more fully he enlarged upon his efforts and failure to keep house with hired help. Unconsciously, he had taken the best method to enlist her sympathy. The secluded cottage and hillside farm became realities to her fancy. She saw how the man's heart clung to his home, and his effort to keep it touched her deeply."Oh!" she thought, "I do wish there was some way for me to go there. The loneliness of the place which drove others away is the chief attraction for me. Then it would be pleasant to work for such a man and make his home comfortable for him. It's plain from his words and looks that he's as honest and straightforward as the day is long. He only wants to keep his home and make his living in peace."As he had talked her nervous embarrassment passed away, and the deep sense of her own need was pressing upon her again. She saw that he also was in great need. His business talk was revealing deep trouble and perplexity. With the quick intuitions of a woman, her mind went far beyond his brief sentences and saw all the difficulties of his lot. His feeling reference to the loss of his wife proved that he was not a coarse-natured man. As he spoke so plainly of his life during the past year, her mind was insensibly abstracted from everything but his want and hers, and she thought his farmhouse afforded just the secluded refuge she craved. As he drew near the end of his story and hesitated in visible embarrassment, she mustered courage to say timidly, "Would you permit a suggestion from me?""Why, certainly.""You have said, sir, that your business and means would not allow you to keep two in help, and as you have been speaking I have tried to think of some way. The fact that your house is so lonely is just the reason why I should like to work in it. As you can understand, I have no wish to meet strangers. Now, sir, I am willing to work for very little; I should be glad to find such a quiet refuge for simply my board and clothes, and I would do my very best and try to learn what I did not know. It seems to me that if I worked for so little you might think you could afford to hire some elderly woman also?" and she looked at him in the eager hope that he would accept her proposition.
He shook his head as he replied, "I don't know of any such person. I took the best one in this house, and you know how she turned out.""Perhaps Mr. Watterly may know of someone else," she faltered. She was now deeply troubled and perplexed again, supposing that he was about to renew his first proposition that she should be his only help.
"If Mr. Watterly did know of anyone I would make the trial, but he does not. Your offer is very considerate and reasonable, but--" and he hesitated again, scarcely knowing how to go on."I am sorry, sir," she said, rising, as if to end the interview.
"Stay," he said, "you do not understand me yet. Of course I should not make you the same offer that I did at first, after seeing your feeling about it, and I respect you all the more because you so respect yourself. What I had in mind was to give you my name, and it's an honest name. If we were married it would be perfectly proper for you to go with me, and no one could say a word against either of us.""Oh!" she gasped, in strong agitation and surprise.
"Now don't be so taken aback. It's just as easy for you to refuse as it is to speak, but listen first. What seems strange and unexpected may be the most sensible thing for us both. You have your side of the case to think of just as truly as I have mine; and I'm not forgetting, and I don't ask you to forget, that I'm still talking business. You and I have both been through too much trouble and loss to say any silly nonsense to each other. You've heard my story, yet I'm almost a stranger to you as you are to me. We'd both have to take considerable on trust. Yet I know I'm honest and well-meaning, and I believe you are. Now look at it. Here we are, both much alone in the world--both wishing to live a retired, quiet life. I don't care a rap for what people say as long as I'm doing right, and in this case they'd have nothing to say. It's our own business. I don't see as people will ever do much for you, and a good many would impose on you and expect you to work beyond your strength. They might not be very kind or considerate, either. I suppose you've thought of this?""Yes," she replied with bowed head. "I should meet coldness, probably harshness and scorn.""Well, you'd never meet anything of the kind in my house. I would treat you with respect and kindness. At the same time, I'm not going to mislead you by a word. You shall have a chance to decide in view of the whole truth. My friend, Mr. Watterly, has asked me more'n once, 'Why don't you marry again?' I told him I had been married once, and that I couldn't go before a minister and promise the same things over again when they wasn't true. I can't make to you any promises or say any words that are not true, and I don't ask or expect you to do what I can't do. But it has seemed to me that our condition was out of the common lot--that we could take each other for just what we might be to each other and no more. You would be my wife in name, and I do not ask you to be my wife in more than name. You would thus secure a good home and the care and protection of one who would be kind to you, and I would secure a housekeeper--one that would stay with me and make my interests hers. It would be a fair, square arrangement between ourselves, and nobody else's business. By taking this course, we don't do any wrong to our feelings or have to say or promise anything that isn't true.""Yet I can't help saying, sir," she replied, in strong, yet repressed agitation, "that your words sound very strange; and it seems stranger still that you can offer marriage of any kind to a woman situated as I am. You know my story, sir," she added, crimsoning, "and all may soon know it. You would suffer wrong and injury."
"I offer you open and honorable marriage before the world, and no other kind. Mr. Watterly and others--as many as you pleased--would witness it, and I'd have you given a certificate at once. As for your story, it has only awakened my sympathy. You have not meant to do any wrong. Your troubles are only another reason in my mind for not taking any advantage of you or deceiving you in the least. Look the truth squarely in the face. I'm bent on keeping my house and getting my living as I have done, and I need a housekeeper that will be true to all my interests. Think how I've been robbed and wronged, and what a dog's life I've lived in my own home. You need a home, a support, and a protector. I couldn't come to you or go to any other woman and say honestly more than this. Isn't it better for people to be united on the ground of truth than to begin by telling a pack of lies?""But--but can people be married with such an understanding by a minister? Wouldn't it be deceiving him?"
"I shall not ask you to deceive anyone. Any marriage that either you or I could now make would be practically a business marriage. I should therefore take you, if you were willing, to a justice and have a legal or civil marriage performed, and this would be just as binding as any other in the eye of the law. It is often done. This would be much better to my mind than if people, situated as we are, went to a church or a minister.""Yes, yes, I couldn't do that."
"Well, now, Alida," he said, with a smile that wonderfully softened his rugged features, "you are free to decide. It may seem to you a strange sort of courtship, but we are both too old for much foolishness. I never was sentimental, and it would be ridiculous to begin now. I'm full of trouble and perplexity, and so are you. Are you willing to be my wife so far as an honest name goes, and help me make a living for us both? That's all I ask. I, in my turn, would promise to treat you with kindness and respect, and give you a home as long as I lived and to leave you all I have in the world if I died. That's all I could promise. I'm a lonely, quiet man, and like to be by myself. I wouldn't be much society for you. I've said more today than I might in a month, for I felt that it was due to you to know just what you were doing.""Oh, sir," said Alida, trembling, and with tears in her eyes, "you do not ask much and you offer a great deal. If you, a strong man, dread to leave your home and go out into the world you know not where, think how terrible it is for a weak, friendless woman to be worse than homeless. I have lost everything, even my good name."
"No, no! Not in my eyes.""Oh, I know, I know!" she cried, wringing her hands. "Even these miserable paupers like myself have made me feel it. They have burned the truth into my brain and heart. Indeed, sir, you do not realize what you are doing or asking. It is not fit or meet that I should bear your name. You might be sorry, indeed.""Alida," said Holcroft gravely, "I've not forgotten your story, and you shouldn't forget mine. Be sensible now. Don't I look old enough to know what I'm about?""Oh, oh, oh!" she cried impetuously, "if I were only sure it was right! It may be business to you, but it seems like life or death to me. It's more than death--I don't fear that--but I do fear life, I do fear the desperate struggle just to maintain a bare, dreary existence. I do dread going out among strangers and seeing their cold curiosity and their scorn. You can't understand a woman's heart. It isn't right for me to die till God takes me, but life has seemed so horrible, meeting suspicion on one side and cruel, significant looks of knowledge on the other. I've been tortured even here by these wretched hags, and I've envied even them, so near to death, yet not ashamed like me. I know, and you should know, that my heart is broken, crushed, trampled into the mire. I had felt that for me even the thought of marriage again would be a mockery, a wicked thing, which I would never have a right to entertain.--I never dreamt that anyone would think of such a thing, knowing what you know. Oh, oh! Why have you tempted me so if it is not right? I must do right. The feeling that I've not meant to do wrong is all that has kept me from despair. But can it be right to let you take me from the street, the poorhouse, with nothing to give but a blighted name, a broken heart and feeble hands! See, I am but the shadow of what I was, and a dark shadow at that. I could be only a dismal shadow at any man's hearth. Oh, oh! I've thought and suffered until my reason seemed going. You don't realize, you don't know the depths into which I've fallen. It can't be right."
Holcroft was almost appalled at this passionate outburst in one who thus far had been sad, indeed, yet self-controlled. He looked at her in mingled pity and consternation. His own troubles had seemed heavy enough, but he now caught glimpses of something far beyond trouble--of agony, of mortal dread that bordered on despair. He could scarcely comprehend how terrible to a woman like Alida were the recent events of her life, and how circumstances, with illness, had all tended to create a morbid horror of her situation. Like himself she was naturally reticent in regard to her deeper feelings, patient and undemonstrative. Had not his words evoked this outburst she might have suffered and died in silence, but in this final conflict between conscience and hope, the hot lava of her heart had broken forth. So little was he then able to understand her, that suspicions crossed his mind. Perhaps his friend Watterly had not heard the true story or else not the whole story. But his straightforward simplicity stood him in good stead, and he said gently, "Alida, you say I don't know, I don't realize. I believe you will tell me the truth. You went to a minister and were married to a man that you thought you had a right to marry--""You shall know it all from my own lips," she said, interrupting him; "you have a right to know; and then you will see that it cannot be," and with bowed head, and low, rapid, passionate utterance, she poured out her story. "That woman, his wife," she concluded, "made me feel that I was of the scum and offscouring of the earth, and they've made me feel so here, too--even these wretched paupers. So the world will look on me till God takes me to my mother. O, thank God! She don't know. Don' you see, now?" she asked, raising her despairing eyes from which agony had dried all tears.
"Yes, I see you do," she added desperately, "for even you have turned from me.""Confound it!" cried Holcroft, standing up and searching his pockets for a handkerchief. "I--I--I'd like--like to choke that fellow. If I could get my hands on him, there'd be trouble. Turn away from you, you poor wronged creature! Don't you see I'm so sorry for you that I'm making a fool of myself? I, who couldn't shed a tear over my own troubles--there, there,--come now, let us be sensible. Let's get back to business, for I can't stand this kind of thing at all. I'm so confused betwixt rage at him and pity for you--Let me see; this is where we were: I want someone to take care of my home, and you want a home. That's all there is about it now. If you say so, I'll make you Mrs. Holcroft in an hour."
"I did not mean to work upon your sympathies, only to tell you the truth. God bless you! That the impulses of your heart are so kind and merciful. But let me be true to you as well as to myself. Go away and think it all over calmly and quietly. Even for the sake of being rescued from a life that I dread far more than death, I cannot let you do that which you may regret unspeakably. Do not think I misunderstand your offer. It's the only one I could think of, and I would not have thought of it if you had not spoke. I have no heart to give. I could be a wife only in name, but I could work like a slave for protection from a cruel, jeering world; I could hope for something like peace and respite from suffering if I only had a safe refuge. But I must not have these if it is not right and best. Good to me must not come through wrong to you.""Tush, tush! You mustn't talk so. I can't stand it at all. I've heard your story. It's just as I supposed at first, only a great deal more so. Why, of course it's all right. It makes me believe in Providence, it all turns out so entirely for our mutual good. I can do as much to help you as you to help me. Now let's get back on the sensible, solid ground from which we started. The idea of my wanting you to work like a slave! Like enough some people would, and then you'd soon break down and be brought back here again. No, no; I've explained just what I wish and just what I mean. You must get over the notion that I'm a sentimental fool, carried away by my feelings. How Tom Watterly would laugh at the idea! My mind is made up now just as much as it would be a week hence. This is no place for you, and I don't like to think of your being here. My spring work is pressing, too. Don't you see that by doing what I ask you can set me right on my feet and start me uphill again after a year of miserable downhill work? You have only to agree to what I've said, and you will be at home tonight and I'll be quietly at my work tomorrow. Mr. Watterly will go with us to the justice, who has known me all my life. Then, if anyone ever says a word against you, he'll have me to settle with. Come, Alida! Here's a strong hand that's able to take care of you."