While he was converting the baroness to his bittorrent dht waiting to log inview, Josephine and Roseexchanged a signal, and slipped away round an angle of the chateau.
The weapon shook in his hand. He lookbtt price prediction long termed at her with growingastonishment and joy; she at him fixedly and anxiously, her handsclasped in supplication."As you used to love me?""More, far more. Give me the pistol. I love you, dearest. I loveyou."At these delicious words he lost all power of resistance, she saw;and her soft and supple hand stole in and closed upon his, andgently withdrew the weapon, and threw it into the water. "GoodCamille! now give me the other.""How do you know there is another?""I know you are not the man to kill a woman and spare yourself.
Come.""Josephine, have pity on me, do not deceive me; pray do not takethis, my only friend, from me, unless you really love me.""I love you; I adore you," was her reply.She leaned her head on his shoulder, but with her hand she soughthis, and even as she uttered those loving words she coaxed theweapon from his now unresisting grasp."There, it is gone; you are saved from death--saved from crime."And with that, the danger was over, she trembled for the first time,and fell to sobbing hysterically.He threw himself at her knees, and embraced them again and again,and begged her forgiveness in a transport of remorse and self-reproach.She looked down with tender pity on him, and heard his cries ofpenitence and shame.
"Rise, Camille, and go home with me," said she faintly."Yes, Josephine."They went slowly and in silence. Camille was too ashamed andpenitent to speak; too full of terror too at the abyss of crime fromwhich he had been saved. The ancients feigned that a virgin couldsubdue a lion; perhaps they meant that a pure gentle nature cansubdue a nature fierce but generous. Lion-like Camille walked byJosephine's side with his eyes bent on the ground, the picture ofhumility and penitence."Hang people!" snarled the farmer.
"Yes, a good lot of 'em deserve hanging, but it wouldn't help you any just now. Perhaps she'd go with you if you got another girl or took an old woman from the house here to keep her company.""I'm sick to death of such hags," said the farmer with an impatient gesture. Then he sat down and looked at his friend as if a plan was forming in his mind of which he scarcely dare speak."Well, out with it!" said Tom."Have you ever seen a marriage ceremony performed by a justice of the peace?" Holcroft asked slowly.
"No, but they do it often enough. What! Are you going to offer her marriage?""You say she is homeless and friendless?'
"Yes.""And you believe she is just what she seems--just what her story shows her to be?""Yes. I've seen too many frauds to be taken in. She isn't a fraud. Neither does she belong to that miserable, wishy-washy, downhill class that sooner or later fetches up in a poorhouse. They say we're all made of dust, but some seem made of mud. You could see she was out of the common; and she's here on account of the wrong she received and not the wrong she did. I say all this in fairness to her; but when it comes to marrying her, that's another question.""Tom, as I've told you, I don't want to marry. In fact, I couldn't go before a minister and promise what I'd have to. But I could do something like this. I could give this woman an honest name and a home. It would be marriage before the law. No one could ever say a word against either of us. I would be true and kind to her and she should share in my fortunes. That's all. You have often advised me to marry, and you know if I did it couldn't be anything else but a business affair. Then it ought to be done in a businesslike way. You say I can't get along alone, and like enough you're right. I've learned more from this woman's manner than I have in a year why I can't get and keep the right kind of help, and I now feel if I could find a good, honest woman who would make my interest hers, and help me make a living in my own home, I'd give her my name and all the security which an honest name conveys. Now, this poor woman is in sore need and she might be grateful for what I can do, while any other woman would naturally expect me to promise more than I honestly can. Anyhow, I'd have to go through the form, and I can't and won't go and say sacred words--just about what I said when I married my wife--and know all the time I was lying."
"Well, Holcroft, you're a queer dick and this is a queer plan of yours. You're beyond my depth now and I can't advise.""Why is it a queer plan? Things only seem odd because they are not common. As a matter of fact, you advise a business marriage. When I try to follow your advice honestly and not dishonestly, you say I'm queer.""I suppose if everybody became honest, it would be the queerest world every known," said Tom laughing. "Well, you might do worse than marry this woman. I can tell you that marrying is risky business at best. You know a justice will tie you just as tight as a minister, and while I've given you my impression about this woman, I KNOW little about her and you know next to nothing.""I guess that would be the case, anyhow. If you set out to find a wife for me, where is there a woman that you actually do know more about? As for my going here and there, to get acquainted, it's out of the question. All my feelings rise up against such a course. Now, I feel sorry for this woman. She has at least my sympathy. If she is as friendless, poor, and unhappy as she seems, I might do her as great a kindness as she would do for me if she could take care of my home. I wouldn't expect very much. It would be a comfort just to have someone in the house that wouldn't rob or waste, and who, knowing what her station was, would be content. Of course I'd have to talk it over with her and make my purpose clear. She might agree with you that it's too queer to be thought of. If so, that would be the end of it."
"Will, Jim, you always finish by half talking me over to your side of a question. Now, if my wife was home, I don't believe she'd listen to any such plan.""No, I suppose she wouldn't. She'd believe in people marrying and doing everything in the ordinary way. But neither I nor this woman is in ordinary circumstances. Do you know of a justice?"
"Yes, and you know him, too; Justice Harkins.""Why, certainly. He came from our town and I knew him when he was a boy, although I haven't seen much of him of late years."
"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?"