The baroness was about to follow him without taking any notice ofJosephine. But Reos coin yahoo financeose caught her by the gown. "O mother, speak topoor Josephine: bid her live."The baroness only made a gesture of horror and disgust, and turnedher back on them both.
"Well, but," said Rose, "not from me. Edouard and I have nosecrets.""Come, that's good," said Raynal. "Why, you are the very one hewarned me against the most; said you were as curious as Mother Eve,and as sharp as her needle.""Then he is a little scurrilous traitor," cried Rose, turning veryred. "So that is how he talks of me behind my back, and calls me anangel to my face; I'll pay him for this. Do tell me, commandant;never mind what HE says.""What! disobey orders?""Orders? to you from that boy!""Oh!" said Raynal, "for that matter, we soldiers are used to commandone moment, and obey the next."In a word, this military pedant was impracticable, and Rose gave himup in disgust, and began to call up a sulky look when the other twosang his praises. For the old lady pronounced him charming, andJosephine said he was a man of crystal; never said a word he did notmean, and she wished she was like him. But the baroness thoughtthis was going a little too far.polygon crypto in hindi"No, thank you," said she hastily; "he is a man, a thorough man. Hewould make an intolerable woman. A fine life if one had a parcel ofwomen about, all blurting out their real minds every moment, andnever smoothing matters.""Mamma, what a horrid picture!" chuckled Rose.
She then proposed that at his next visit they should all three makean earnest appeal to him to let them know what Edouard had decided.But Josephine begged to be excused, feared it would be hardlydelicate; and said languidly that for her part she felt they were ingood hands, and prescribed patience. The baroness acquiesced, andpoor Rose and her curiosity were baffled on every side.At last, one fine day, her torments were relieved without anyfurther exertion on her part. Jacintha bounced into the drawing-room with a notice that the commandant wanted to speak to Josephinea minute out in the Pleasaunce."How droll he is," said Rose; "fancy sending in for a young ladylike that. Don't go, Josephine; how, he would stare.""My dear, I no more dare disobey him than if I was one of hissoldiers." And she laid down her work, and rose quietly to do whatshe was bid."Well," said Rose, superciliously, "go to your commanding officer.
And, O Josephine, if you are worth anything at all, do get out ofhim what that Edouard has settled."Josephine kissed her, and promised to try. After the firstsalutation, there was a certain hesitation about Raynal whichJosephine had never seen a trace of in him before; so, to put him athis ease, and at the same time keep her promise to Rose, she askedtimidly if their mutual friend had been able to suggest anything."What! don't you know that I have been acting all along upon hisinstructions?" answered Raynal.In fact, he had reached the limit of endurance; he could not look upon her another moment as she appeared that evening and feel that she associated him chiefly with crops and business, and that all her grateful good will could not prevent his personality from being disagreeable. He must carry his bitterness whither no eye could see him, and as he turned, his self-disgust led him to whirl away his pipe. It struck a tree and fell shattered at its foot. Alida had never seen him do anything of the kind before, and it indicated that he was passing beyond the limits of patience. "Oh, oh," she sobbed, "I fear we are going to drift apart! If he can't endure to talk with me about such things, what chance have I at all? I hoped that the hour, the beauty of the evening, and the evidence that I had been trying so hard to please him would make him more like what he used to be before he seemed to take a dislike. There's only one way to account for it all--he sees how I feel and he doesn't like it. My very love sets him against me. My heart was overflowing tonight. How could I help it, as I remembered how he stood up for me? He was brave and kind; he meant well by me, he means well now; but he can't help his feelings. He has gone away now to think of the woman that he did love and loves still, and it angers him that I should think of taking her place. He loved her as a child and girl and woman--he told me so; he warned me and said he could not help thinking of her. If I had not learned to love him so deeply and passionately and show it in spite of myself, time would gradually have softened the past and all might have gone well. Yet how could I help it when he saved me from so much? I feel tonight, though, that I only escaped one kind of trouble to meet another almost as bad and which may become worse."
She strolled to the farther end of the garden that she might become calm before meeting Jane's scrutiny. Useless precaution! For the girl had been watching them both. Her motive had not been unmixed curiosity, since, having taken some part in the garden work, she had wished to witness Holcroft's pleasure and hear his praises. Since the actors in the scene so misunderstood each other, she certainly would not rightly interpret them. "She's losin' her hold on 'im," she thought, "He acted just as if she was mother."When Jane saw Alida coming toward the house she whisked from the concealing shrubbery to the kitchen again and was stolidly washing the dishes when her mistress entered. "You are slow tonight," said Alida, looking at the child keenly, but the impassive face revealed nothing. She set about helping the girl, feeling it would be a relief to keep her hands busy.Jane's efforts to comfort were always maladroit, yet the apparent situation so interested her that she yielded to her inclination to talk. "Say," she began, and Alida was too dejected and weary to correct the child's vernacular, "Mr. Holcroft's got somethin' on his mind.""Well, that's not strange."
"No, s'pose not. Hate to see 'im look so, though. He always used to look so when mother went for 'im and hung around 'im. At last he cleared mother out, and just before he looked as black as he did when he passed the house while ago. You're good to me, an' I'd like you to stay. 'Fi's you I'd leave 'im alone.""Jane," said Alida coldly, "I don't wish you ever to speak to me of such things again," and she hastily left the room.
"Oh, well!" muttered Jane, "I've got eyes in my head. If you're goin' to be foolish, like mother, and keep a-goin' for 'im, it's your lookout. I kin get along with him and he with me, and I'M goin' to stay."Holcroft strode rapidly up the lane to the deep solitude at the edge of his woodland. Beneath him lay the farm and the home that he had married to keep, yet now, without a second's hesitation, he would part with all to call his wife WIFE. How little the name now satisfied him, without the sweet realities of which the word is significant! The term and relation had become a mocking mirage. He almost cursed himself that he had exulted over his increasing bank account and general prosperity, and had complacently assured himself that she was doing just what he had asked, without any sentimental nonsense. "How could I expect it to turn out otherwise?" he thought. "From the first I made her think I hadn't a soul for anything but crops and money. Now that she's getting over her trouble and away from it, she's more able to see just what I am, or at least what she naturally thinks I am. But she doesn't understand me--I scarcely understand myself. I long to be a different man in every way, and not to work and live like an ox. Here are some of my crops almost ready to gather and they never were better, yet I've no heart for the work. Seems to me it'll wear me out if I have to carry this load of trouble all the time. I thought my old burdens hard to bear; I thought I was lonely before, but it was nothing compared with living near one you love, but from whom you are cut off by something you can't see, yet must feel to the bottom of your heart."His distraught eyes rested on the church spire, fading in the twilight, and the little adjoining graveyard. "Oh, Bessie," he groaned, "why did you die? I was good enough for YOU. Oh! That all had gone on as it was and I had never known--"He stopped, shook his head, and was silent. At last he signed, "I DID love Bessie. I love and respect her memory as much as ever. But somehow I never felt as I do now. All was quiet and matter-of-fact in those days, yet it was real and satisfying. I was content to live on, one day like another, to the end of my days. If I hadn't been so content it would be better for me now.
I'd have a better chance if I had read more, thought more, and fitted myself to be more of a companion for a woman like Alida. If I knew a great deal and could talk well, she might forget I'm old and homely. Bessie was so true a friend that she would wish, if she knows, what I wish. I thought I needed a housekeeper; I find I need more than all else such a wife as Alida could be--one that could help me to be a man instead of a drudge, a Christian instead of a discontented and uneasy unbeliever. At one time, it seemed that she was leading me along so naturally and pleasantly that I never was so happy; then all at once it came to me that she was doing it from gratitude and a sense of duty, and the duty grows harder for her every day. Well, there seems nothing for it now but to go on as we began and hope that the future will bring us more in sympathy."Chapter 31 ＂Never!＂For the next two or three days Jane had no occasion to observe that Alida was in the least degree obtrusive in her attention to the farmer. She was assiduous in her work and more diligent than ever in her conscious efforts to do what she thought he wished; but she was growing pale, constrained, and silent. She struggled heroically to appear as at first, but without much success, for she could not rally from the wound he had given her so unintentionally and which Jane's words had deepened. She almost loathed herself under her association with Mrs. Mumpson, and her morbid thoughts had hit upon a worse reason for Holcroft's apparent repulsion. As she questioned everything in the sleepless hours that followed the interview in the garden, she came to the miserable conclusion that he had discovered her love, and that by suggestion, natural to his mind, it reminded him of her pitiful story. He could be sorry for her and be kind; he could even be her honest friend and protector as a wronged and unhappy woman, but he could not love one with a history like hers and did not wish her to love him. This seemed an adequate explanation of the change in their relations, but she felt that it was one under which her life would wither and her heart break.This promised to be worse than what she had dreaded at the almshouse--the facing the world alone and working till she died among strangers. The fact that they were strangers would enable her to see their averted faces with comparative indifference, but that the man to whom she had yielded her whole heart should turn away was intolerable. She felt that he could not do this willingly but only under the imperious instincts of his nature--that he was virtually helpless in the matter. There was an element in these thoughts which stung her woman's soul, and, as we have said, she could not rally.
Holcroft never suspected her morbid thoughts, and his loyal, loving heart was incapable of dreaming of them. He only grew more unhappy as he saw the changes in her, for he regarded himself as the cause. Yet he was perplexed and unable to account for her rapidly increasing pallor while he continued so kind, considerate, and especially so unobtrusive. He assuredly thought he was showing a disposition to give her all the time she wished to become reconciled to her lot. "Thunder!" he said to himself, "we can't grow old together without getting used to each other."On Saturday noon, at dinner, he remarked, "I shall have to begin haying on Monday and so I'll take everything to town this afternoon, for I won't be able to go again for some days. Is there anything you'd like me to get, Mrs. Holcroft?"
She shook her head. "I don't need anything," she replied. He looked at her downcast face with troubled eyes and shivered. "She looks as if she were going to be sick," he thought. "Good Lord! I feel as if there was nothing but trouble ahead. Every mouthful I take seems to choke me."A little later he pushed away almost untasted a piece of delicious cherry pie, the first of the season. Alida could scarcely keep the tears back as she thought, "There was a time when he would have praised it without stint. I took so much pains with it in the hope he'd notice, for he once said he was very fond of it." Such were the straws that were indicating the deep, dark currents.
As he rose, she said almost apathetically in her dejection, "Mr. Holcroft, Jane and I picked a basket of the early cherries. You may as well sell them, for there are plenty left on the tree for us.""That was too much for you to do in the hot sun. Well, I'll sell 'em and add what they bring to your egg money in the bank. You'll get rich," he continued, trying to smile, "if you don't spend more.""I don't wish to spend anything," she said, turning away with the thought, "How can he think I want finery when my heart is breaking?"Holcroft drove away, looking and feeling as if he were going to a funeral. At last he broke out, "I can't stand this another day. Tomorrow's Sunday, and I'll manage to send Jane somewhere or take Alida out to walk and tell her the whole truth. She shall be made to see that I can't help myself and that I'm willing to do anything she wishes. She's married to me and has got to make the best of it, and I'm sure I'm willing to make it as easy as I can."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."Alida 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.""No, I won't sit down, and I tell you to leave me instantly. You've no right here and I no right to listen to you.""I can soon prove that you have a better right to listen to me than to anyone else. Were we not married by a minister?""Yes, but that made no difference. You deceived both him and me."
"It made no difference, perhaps, in the eye of the law, while that woman you saw was living, but she's dead, as I can easily prove. How were you married to this man Holcroft?"Alida grew dizzy; everything whirled and grew black before her eyes as she sank into a chair. He came to her and took her hand, but his touch was a most effectual restorative. She threw his hand away and said hoarsely, "Do you--do you mean that you have any claim on me?"
"Who has a better claim?" he asked cunningly. "I loved you when I married you and I love you now. Do you think I rested a moment after I was free from the woman I detested? No, indeed; nor did I rest till I found out who took you from the almshouse to be his household drudge, not wife. I've seen the justice who aided in the wedding farce, and learned how this man Holcroft made him cut down even the ceremony of a civil marriage to one sentence. It was positively heathenish, and he only took you because he couldn't get a decent servant to live with him.""O God!" murmured the stricken woman. "Can such a horrible thing be?"
"So it seems," he resumed, misinterpreting her. "Come now!" he said confidently, and sitting down, "Don't look so broken up about it. Even while that woman was living I felt that I was married to you and you only; now that I'm free--""But I'm not free and don't wish to be."
"Don't be foolish, Alida. You know this farmer don't care a rap for you. Own up now, does he?"The answer was a low, half-despairing cry."There, I knew it was so. What else could you expect? Don't you see I'm your true refuge and not this hard-hearted, money-grasping farmer?""Stop speaking against him!" she cried. "O God!" she wailed, "can the law give this man any claim on me, now his wife is dead?"
"Yes, and one I mean to enforce," he replied doggedly."I don't believe she's dead, I don't believe anything you say! You deceived me once.
"I'm not deceiving you now, Alida," he said with much solemnity. "She IS dead. If you were calmer, I have proofs to convince you in these papers. Here's the newspaper, too, containing the notice of her death," and he handed it to her.She read it with her frightened eyes, and then the paper dropped from her half-paralyzed hands to the floor. She was so unsophisticated, and her brain was in such a whirl of confusion and terror, that she was led to believe at the moment that he had a legal claim upon her which he could enforce.
"Oh, that Mr. Holcroft were here!" she cried desperately. "He wouldn't deceive me; he never deceived me.""It is well for him that he isn't here," said Ferguson, assuming a dark look.