They now lighted lanterns, and searched all over and round thebastion for the poor colonel, in the rear of the bastion they foundmany French soldiers, most of whom had died by the bayonet. ThePrussian dead had all been carried off.
"Now I'll reward you," she said, handing him his pipe, well filled. "You go in the parlor and have a quiet smoke. I won't be long in clearing up the kitchen.""What! Smoke in the parlor?"
"Yes, why not? I assure you I don't mind it.""Ha! Ha! Why didn't I think of it before--I might have kept the parlor and smoked Mrs. Mumpson out.""It won't be smoke that will keep me out.""I should hope not, or anything else. I must tell you how I DID have to smoke Mrs. Mumpson out at last," and he did so with so much drollery that she again yielded to irrepressible laughter."Poor thing! I'm sorry for her," she said.
"I'm sorry for Jane--poor little stray cat of a child! I hope we can do something for her some day," and having lighted his pipe, he took up the county paper, left weekly in a hollow tree by the stage driver, and went into the parlor.After freshening up the fire he sat down to read, but by the time she joined him the tired man was nodding. He tried to brighten up, but his eyes were heavy.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 admitted."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 him."
Chapter 29 Husband and Wife in TroubleLike 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 again.""'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."