"The men principally concerned - Snacklit and Burfoot - arlatest news for bitcoine accused, with Wilkes, of the more serious crime of the murder of the taxi-driver; and Snacklit has disappeared."
Holcroft, with the simple tact which genuine kindness usually suggests, was attentive to his bride, but managed, by no slight effort for him, to engage the two men in general conversation, so that Alida might habitcoin depot sell bitcoinve time to recover her composure. His quiet, matter-of-fact bearing was reassuring in itself. A cup of strong tea and a little old currant wine, which Watterly insisted on her taking, brightened her up not a little. Indeed her weakness was now largely due to the want of nourishment suited to her feeble condition. Moreover, both nerves and mind found relief and rest in the consciousness that the decisive step had been taken. She was no longer shuddering and recoiling from a past in which each day had revealed more disheartening elements. Her face was now toward a future that promised a refuge, security, and even hope.The quiet meal was soon over. Holcroft put a five-dollar bill in the hands of the justice, who filled in a certificate and departed, feeling that the afternoon had not been spent in vain.
"Jim," said Watterly, drawing his friend aside, "you'll want to make some purchases. You know she's only what she wears. How are you off for money?""Well, Tom, you know I didn't expect anything of this kind when--""Of course I know it. Will fifty answer?""Yes. You're a good friend. I'll return it in a day or two.""Return it when you're a mind to. I say, Alida, I want you to take this. Jim Holcroft can't get married and his bride not receive a present from me," and he put ten dollars in her hand.
Tears rushed to her eyes as she turned them inquiringly to Holcroft to know what she should do."Now see here, Tom, you've done too much for us already.""Well, now," pursued Mr. Weeks, "she's a good soul. She has her little peculiarities; so have you and me, a lot of 'em; but she's thoroughly respectable, and there isn't a man or woman in the town that would think of saying a word against her. She has only one child, a nice, quiet little girl who'd be company for her mother and make everything look right, you know."
"I don't see what there's been to look wrong," growled the farmer."Nothing to me and my folks, of course, or I wouldn't suggest the idea of a relation of my wife coming to live with you. But you see people will talk unless you stop their mouths so they'll feel like fools in doing it. I know yours has been a mighty awkward case, and here's a plain way out of it. You can set yourself right and have everything looked after as it ought to be, in twenty-four hours. We've talked to Cynthy--that's Mrs. Mumpson--and she takes a sight of interest. She'd do well by you and straighten things out, and you might do a plaguey sight worse than give her the right to take care of your indoor affairs for life.""I don't expect to marry again," said Holcroft curtly."Oh, well! Many a man and woman has said that and believed it, too, at the time. I'm not saying that my wife's cousin is inclined that way herself. Like enough, she isn't at all, but then, the right kind of persuading does change women's minds sometimes, eh? Mrs. Mumpson is kinder alone in the world, like yourself, and if she was sure of a good home and a kind husband there's no telling what good luck might happen to you. But there'll be plenty of time for considering all that on both sides. You can't live like a hermit."
"I was thinking of selling out and leaving these parts," Holcroft interrupted."Now look here, neighbor, you know as well as I do that in these times you couldn't give away the place. What's the use of such foolishness? The thing to do is to keep the farm and get a good living out of it. You've got down in the dumps and can't see what's sensible and to your own advantage."
Holcroft was thinking deeply, and he turned his eyes wistfully to the upland slopes of his farm. Mr. Weeks had talked plausibly, and if all had been as he represented, the plan would not have been a bad one. But the widower did not yearn for the widow. He did not know much about her, but had very unfavorable impressions. Mrs. Holcroft had not been given to speaking ill of anyone, but she had always shaken her head with a peculiar significance when Mrs. Mumpson's name was mentioned.The widow had felt it her duty to call and counsel against the sin of seclusion and being too much absorbed in the affairs of this world."You should take an interest in everyone," this self-appointed evangelist had declared, and in one sense she lived up to her creed. She permitted no scrap of information about people to escape her, and was not only versed in all the gossip of Oakville, but also of several other localities in which she visited.But Holcroft had little else to deter him from employing her services beyond an unfavorable impression. She could not be so bad as Bridget Malony, and he was almost willing to employ her again for the privilege of remaining on his paternal acres. As to marrying the widow--a slight shudder passed through his frame at the thought.
Slowly he began, as if almost thinking aloud, "I suppose you are right, Lemuel Weeks, in what you say about selling the place. The Lord knows I don't want to leave it. I was born and brought up here, and that counts with some people. If your wife's cousin is willing to come and help me make a living, for such wages as I can pay, the arrangement might be made. But I want to look on it as a business arrangement. I have quiet ways of my own, and things belonging to the past to think about, and I've got a right to think about 'em. I aint one of the marrying kind, and I don't want people to be a-considering such notions when I don't. I'd be kind and all that to her and her little girl, but I should want to be left to myself as far as I could be.""Oh, certainly," said Mr. Weeks, mentally chuckling over the slight prospect of such immunity, "but you must remember that Mrs. Mumpson isn't like common help--""That's where the trouble will come in," ejaculated the perplexed farmer, "but there's been trouble enough with the other sort.""I should say so," Mr. Weeks remarked emphatically. "It would be a pity if you couldn't get along with such a respectable, conscientious woman as Mrs. Mumpson, who comes from one of the best families in the country."
Holcroft removed his hat and passed his hand over his brow wearily as he said, "Oh, I could get along with anyone who would do the work in a way that would give me a chance to make a little, and then leave me to myself.""Well, well," said Mr. Weeks, laughing, "you needn't think that because I've hinted at a good match for you I'm making one for my wife's cousin. You may see the day when you'll be more hot for it than she is. All I'm, trying to do is to help you keep your place, and live like a man ought and stop people's mouths."
"If I could only fill my own and live in peace, it's all I ask. When I get to plowing and planting again I'll begin to take some comfort."These words were quoted against Holcroft, far and near. "Filling his own mouth and making a little money are all he cares for," was the general verdict. And thus people are misunderstood. The farmer had never turned anyone hungry from his door, and he would have gone to the poorhouse rather than have acted the part of the man who misrepresented him. He had only meant to express the hope that he might be able to fill his mouth--earn his bread, and get it from his native soil. "Plowing and planting"--working where he had toiled since a child---would be a solace in itself, and not a grudged means to a sordid end.
Mr. Weeks was a thrifty man also, and in nothing was he more economical than in charitable views of his neighbors' motives and conduct. He drove homeward with the complacent feeling that he had done a shrewd, good thing for himself and "his folks" at least. His wife's cousin was not exactly embraced in the latter category, although he had been so active in her behalf. The fact was, he would be at much greater pains could he attach her to Holcroft or anyone else and so prevent further periodical visits.He regarded her and her child as barnacles with such appalling adhesive powers that even his ingenuity at "crowding out" had been baffled. In justice to him, it must be admitted that Mrs. Mumpson was a type of the poor relation that would tax the long suffering of charity itself. Her husband had left her scarcely his blessing, and if he had fled to ills he knew not of, he believed that he was escaping from some of which he had a painfully distinct consciousness. His widow was one of the people who regard the "world as their oyster," and her scheme of life was to get as much as possible for nothing. Arrayed in mourning weeds, she had begun a system of periodical descents upon his relatives and her own. She might have made such visitations endurable and even welcome, but she was not shrewd enough to be sensible. She appeared to have developed only the capacity to talk, to pry, and to worry people. She was unable to rest or to permit others to rest, yet her aversion to any useful form of activity was her chief characteristic. Wherever she went she took the ground that she was "company," and with a shawl hanging over her sharp, angular shoulders, she would seize upon the most comfortable rocking chair in the house, and mouse for bits of news about everyone of whom she had ever heard. She was quite as ready to tell all she knew also, and for the sake of her budget of gossip and small scandal, her female relatives tolerated her after a fashion for a time; but she had been around so often, and her scheme of obtaining subsistence for herself and child had become so offensively apparent, that she had about exhausted the patience of all the kith and kin on whom she had the remotest claim. Her presence was all the more unwelcome by reason of the faculty for irritating the men of the various households which she invaded. Even the most phlegmatic or the best-natured lost their self-control, and as their wives declared, "felt like flying all to pieces" at her incessant rocking, gossiping, questioning, and, what was worse still, lecturing. Not the least endurable thing about Mrs. Mumpson was her peculiar phase of piety. She saw the delinquencies and duties of others with such painful distinctness that she felt compelled to speak of them; and her zeal was sure to be instant out of season.When Mr. Weeks had started on his ominous mission to Holcroft his wife remarked to her daughter confidentially, "I declare, sis, if we don't get rid of Cynthy soon, I believe Lemuel will fly off the handle."To avoid any such dire catastrophe, it was hoped and almost prayed in the Weeks household that the lonely occupant of the hill farm would take the widow for good and all.Chapter 3 Mrs. Mumpson Negotiates and YieldsMr. Weeks, on his return home, dropped all diplomacy in dealing with the question at issue. "Cynthy," he said in his own vernacular, "the end has come, so far as me and my folks are concerned--I never expect to visit you, and while I'm master of the house, no more visits will be received. But I haint taken any such stand onconsiderately," he concluded. "I've given up the whole forenoon to secure you a better chance of living than visiting around. If you go to Holcroft's you'll have to do some work, and so will your girl. But he'll hire someone to help you, and so you won't have to hurt yourself. Your trump card will be to hook him and marry him before he finds you out. To do this, you'll have to see to the house and dairy, and bestir yourself for a time at least. He's pretty desperate off for lack of women folks to look after indoor matters, but he'll sell out and clear out before he'll keep a woman, much less marry her, if she does nothing but talk. Now remember, you've got a chance which you won't get again, for Holcroft not only owns his farm, but has a snug sum in the bank. So you had better get your things together, and go right over while he's in the mood."
When Mrs. Mumpson reached the blank wall of the inevitable, she yielded, and not before. She saw that the Weeks mine was worked out completely, and she knew that this exhaustion was about equally true of all similar mines, which had been bored until they would yield no further returns.But Mr. Weeks soon found that he could not carry out his summary measures. The widow was bent on negotiations and binding agreements. In a stiff, cramped hand, she wrote to Holcroft in regard to the amount of "salary" he would be willing to pay, intimating that one burdened with such responsibilities as she was expected to assume "ort to be compensiated proposhundly."
Weeks groaned as he dispatched his son on horseback with this first epistle, and Holcroft groaned as he read it, not on account of its marvelous spelling and construction, but by reason of the vista of perplexities and trouble it opened to his boding mind. But he named on half a sheet of paper as large a sum as he felt it possible to pay and leave any chance for himself, then affixed his signature and sent it back by the messenger.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.