"First I must trouble you to stand out there near the tree.""Me? what for?""Because art loves contrasts. The tree is a free bittorrent app for pcpicture of age andgradual decay; by its side then I must place a personification ofyouth and growing loveliness."She did not answer, but made a sort of defiant pirouette, and wentwhere she was bid, and stood there with her back to the artist.
"Jane," said Mrs. Mumpson, in her most severe and dignified manner, "you are not only disrespecripple coin volumetful to your parent, but you're a time server. What Mr. Holcroft wants is a very secondary matter; what is BEST for him is the chief consideration. But I have touched on things far above your comprehension. Come, you can make up the bed, and I shall inspect as becomes my station."Chapter 6 A Marriage!
In a quiet side street of the market town in which Mr. Holcroft was accustomed to dispose of his farm produce was a three-story tenement house. A family occupied each floor, those dwelling in the first two stories being plain, respectable people of the mechanic class. The rooms in the third story were, of course, the cheapest, but even from the street might be seen evidences that more money had been spent upon them than could have been saved in rent. Lace curtains were looped aside from the windows, through which were caught glimpses of flowers that must have come from a greenhouse. We have only to enter these apartments to find that the suggestion of refined taste is amply fulfilled. While nothing is costly, there is a touch of grace, a hint of beauty in everything permitting simple adornment. The mistress of these rooms is not satisfied with neatness and order merely; it is her instinct to add something to please the eye--a need essential to her, yet too often conspicuously absent in rented quarters of a similar character.It is remarkable to what a degree people's abodes are a reflex of themselves. Mrs. Alida Ostrom had been brought to these rooms a happy bride but a few months since. They were then bare and not very clean. Her husband had seemed bent on indulging her so far as his limited means permitted. He had declared that his income was so modest that he could afford nothing better than these cheap rooms in an obscure street, but she had been abundantly content, for she had known even the extremity of poverty.Alida Ostrom had passed beyond the period of girlhood, with its superficial desires and ambitions. When her husband first met her, she was a woman of thirty, and had been chastened by deep sorrows and some bitter experiences. Years before, she and her mother had come to this town from a New England city in the hope of bettering their circumstances. They had no weapons other than their needles with which to fight life's battle, but they were industrious and frugal--characteristic traits which won the confidence of the shopkeepers for whom they worked. All went as well, perhaps, as they could expect, for two or three years, their secluded lives passing uneventfully and, to a certain extent, happily. They had time to read some good books obtained at a public library; they enjoyed an occasional holiday in the country; and they went to church twice every Sunday when it was not stormy. The mother usually dozed in the obscure seat near the door which they occupied, for she was getting old, and the toil of the long week wearied her.--Alida, on the contrary, was closely attentive. Her mind seemed to crave all the sustenance it could get from every source, and her reverential manner indicated that the hopes inspired by her faith were dear and cherished. Although they lived such quiet lives and kept themselves apart from their neighbors, there was no mystery about them which awakened surmises. "They've seen better days," was the common remark when they were spoken of; and this was true. While they had no desire to be social with the people among whom they lived, they did not awaken prejudices by the assertion of superiority. Indeed, it was seen that the two women had all they could do to earn their livelihood, and they were left to do this in peace.When Alida Armstrong--for that was her maiden name--carried her own and her mother's work to and from the shops, she often encountered admiring glances. She was not exactly pretty, but she had the good, refined face which is often more attractive than the merely pretty one, and she possessed a trim, rounded figure which she knew how to clothe with taste from the simplest and most inexpensive materials. Nor did she seek to dress above her station. When passing along the street, any discerning person would recognize that she was a working girl; only the superficial would look upon her as a common-place girl. There was something in her modest air and graceful, elastic carriage which suggested the thought to many observers, "She has seen better days."The memory of these days, which had promised immunity from wearing toil, anxiety, and poverty, was a barrier between the two women and their present world. Death had bereft them of husband, father, and such property as he had left had been lost in a bad investment. Learning that they were almost penniless, they had patiently set about earning honest bread. This they had succeeded in doing as long as the mother kept her usual health. But the infirmities of age were creeping upon her. One winter she took a heavy cold and was very ill. She rallied only temporarily in the milder days of spring. In the summer's heat her strength failed, and she died.
During her mother's long illness Alida was devotion itself. The strain upon her was severe indeed, for she not only had to earn food for both, but there were also doctor's bills, medicines, and delicacies to pay for. The poor girl grew thin from work by day, watching by night, and from fear and anxiety at all times. Their scanty savings were exhausted; articles were sold from their rooms; the few precious heirlooms of silver and china were disposed of; Alida even denied herself the food she needed rather than ask for help or permit her mother to want for anything which ministered to their vain hopes of renewed health.What she should have done she scarcely knew, had not an unexpected friend interested himself in her behalf. In one of the men's clothing stores was a cutter from whom she obtained work. Soon after he appeared in this shop he began to manifest signs of interest in her He was about her own age, he had a good trade, and she often wondered why he appeared so reticent and moody, as compared with others in similar positions. But he always spoke kindly to her, and when her mother's illness first developed, he showed all the leniency permitted to him in regard to her work. His apparent sympathy, and the need of explaining why she was not able to finish her tasks as promptly as usual, led her gradually to reveal to him the sad struggle in which she was engaged. He promised to intercede in her behalf with their mutual employers, and asked if he might come to see her mother."Tush, tush, Alida! Of course I'll get what you wish. But I really am going to put a notion into your head, and it's stupid and scarcely fair in me that I hadn't thought of some such plan before. You want to take care of the chickens. Well, I put them wholly in your care and you shall have all you can make off them--eggs, young chickens, and everything."
"That IS a new notion," she replied, laughing. "I hadn't thought of such a thing and it's more than fair. What would I do with so much money?""What you please. Buy yourself silk dresses if you want to.""But I couldn't use a quarter of the money.""No matter, use what you like and I'll put the rest in the bank for you and in your name. I was a nice kind of a business partner, wasn't I? Expecting you to do nearly half the work and then have you say, 'Will you please get me a few plants and seeds?' and then, 'Oh! If you think it's foolish to spend money for such things.' Why, you have as good a right to spend some of the money you help earn as I have. You've shown you'll be sensible in spending it. I don't believe you'll use enough of it. Anyway, it will be yours, as it ought to be."
"Very well," she replied, nodding at him with piquant significance, "I'll always have some to lend you.""Yes, shouldn't wonder if you were the richest some day. Everything you touch seems to turn out well. I shall be wholly dependent on you hereafter for eggs and an occasional fricassee."
"You shall have your share. Yes, I like this notion. It grows on me. I'd like to earn some money to do what I please with. You'll be surprised to see what strange and extravagant tastes I'll develop!""I expect to be perfectly dumfoundered, as Mrs. Mumpson used to say. Since you are so willing to lend, I'll lend you enough to get all you want tomorrow. Make out your list. You can get a good start tomorrow for I was too tired and it was too late for me to gather the eggs tonight. I know, too, that a good many of the hens have stolen their nests of late, and I've been too busy to look for 'em. You may find perfect mines of eggs, but, for mercy's sake! don't climb around in dangerous places. I had such bad luck with chicks last year that I've only set a few hens. You can set few or many now, just as you please."Even as he talked and leisurely finished his supper, his eyes grew heavy with sleep. "What time will you start tomorrow?" she asked."Oh, no matter; long before you are up or ought to be. I'll get myself a cup of coffee. I expect to do my morning work and be back by nine or ten o'clock for I wish to get in some potatoes and other vegetables before Sunday."
"Very well, I'll make out my list and lay it on the table here. Now, why don't you go and sleep at once? You ought, with such an early start in prospect.""Ought I? Well, I never felt more inclined to do my duty. You must own up I have put one good notion into your head?""I have said nothing against any of them. Come, you ought to go at once.""Can't I smoke my pipe first please?"
"You'll find it quieter in the parlor.""But it's pleasanter here where I can watch you."
"Do you think I need watching?""Yes, a little, since you don't look after your own interests very sharply."
"It isn't my way to look after anything very sharply.""No, Alida, thank the Lord! There's nothing sharp about you, not even your tongue. You won't mind being left alone a few hours tomorrow?""No, indeed, I like to be alone.""I thought I did. Most everyone has seemed a crowd to me. I'm glad you've never given me that feeling. Well, goodbye till you see me driving up with the geraniums."Chapter 25 A CharivariThe eastern horizon was aglow with rosy tints the following morning when Holcroft awoke; the stars were but just fading from the sky and the birds were still silent. He knew by these signs that it was very early and that he could carry out his plan of a timely start to town. Dressing very quietly, he stole downstairs, shoes in hand, lest his tread should awaken Alida. The kitchen door leading into the hall was closed. Lifting the latch carefully, he found the lamp burning, the breakfast table set, and the kettle humming over a good fire. "This is her work, but where is she?" he queried in much surprise.
The outer door was ajar; he noiselessly crossed the room, and looking out, he saw her. She had been to the well for a pail of water, but had set it down and was watching the swiftly brightening east. She was so still and her face so white in the faint radiance that he had an odd, uncanny impression. No woman that he had ever known would stop that way to look at the dawn. He could see nothing so peculiar in it as to attract such fixed attention. "Alida," he asked, "what do you see?"She started slightly and turned to take up the pail; but he had already sprung down the steps and relieved her of the burden.
"Could anything be more lovely than those changing tints? It seems to me I could have stood there an hour," she said quietly."You are not walking or doing all this in your sleep, are you?" he asked, laughing, yet regarding her curiously. "You looked as you stood there like what people call a--what's that big word?"
"I'm not a somnambulist and never was, to my knowledge. You'll find I'm wide enough awake to have a good breakfast soon.""But I didn't expect you to get up so early. I didn't wish it."
"It's too late now," she said pleasantly, "so I hope you won't find fault with me for doing what I wanted to do.""Did you mean to be up and have breakfast when I told you last night?""Yes. Of course I didn't let you know for you would have said I mustn't, and then I couldn't. It isn't good for people to get up so early and do as much as you had on your mind without eating. Now you won't be any the worse for it.""I certainly ought to be the better for so much kindly consideration; but it will cure me of such unearthly hours if you feel that you must conform to them. You look pale this morning, Alida; you're not strong enough to do such things, and there's no need of it when I'm so used to waiting on myself."
"I shall have to remind you," she replied with a bright look at him over her shoulder, "that you said I could do things my own way.""Well, it seems odd after a year when everyone who came here appeared to grudge doing a thing for a man's comfort."
"I should hope I was different from them.""Well, you are. I thought you were different from anyone I ever knew as I saw you there looking at the east. You seem wonderfully fond of pretty things."
"I'll own to that. But if you don't hurry you won't do as much as you hoped by getting up early."The morning was very mild, and she left the outer door open as she went quickly to and fro with elasticity of spirit as well as step. It was pleasant to have her efforts appreciated and almost as grateful to hear the swelling harmony of song from the awakening birds. The slight cloud that had fallen on her thoughts the evening before had lifted. She felt that she understood Holcroft better, and saw that his feeling was only that of honest friendliness and satisfaction. She had merely to recognize and respond to so much only and all would be well. Meantime, she desired nothing more, and he should be thoroughly convinced of this fact. She grew positively light-hearted over the fuller assurance of the truth that although a wife, she was not expected to love--only to be faithful to all his interests. This, and this only, she believed to be within her power.
Holcroft departed in the serenity characteristic of one's mood when the present is so agreeable that neither memories of the past nor misgivings as to the future are obtrusive. He met Watterly in town, and remarked, "This is another piece of good luck. I hadn't time to go out to your place, although I meant to take time.""A piece of good luck indeed!" Tom mentally echoed, for he would have been greatly embarrassed if Holcroft had called. Mrs. Watterly felt that she had been scandalized by the marriage which had taken place in her absence, and was all the more resentful for the reason that she had spoken to a cousin of uncertain age and still more uncertain temper in behalf of the farmer. In Mrs. Watterly's estimate of action, it was either right, that is, in accordance with her views, or else it was intolerably wrong and without excuse. Poor Tom had been made to feel that he had not only committed an almost unpardonable sin against his wife and her cousin, but also against all the proprieties of life. "The idea of such a wedding taking place in my rooms and with my husband's sanction!" she had said with concentrated bitterness. Then had followed what he was accustomed to characterize as a spell of "zero weather." He discreetly said nothing. "It didn't seem such a bad idea to me," he thought, "but then I suppose women folks know best about such things."He was too frank in his nature to conceal from Holcroft his misgivings or his wife's scornful and indignant disapproval. "Sorry Angy feels so bad about it, Jim," he said ruefully, "but she says I mustn't buy anything more of you.""Or have anything more to do with me, I suppose?"
"Oh, come now! You know a man's got to let his women-folks have their say about household matters, but that don't make any difference in my feelings toward you.""Well, well, Tom! If it did, I should be slow to quarrel with a man who had done me as good a turn as you have. Thank the Lord! I've got a wife that'll let me have some say about household and all other matters. You, too, are inclined to think that I'm in an awful scrape. I feel less like getting out of it every day. My wife is as respectable as I am and a good sight better than I am. If I'm no longer respectable for having married her, I certainly am better contented than I ever expected to be again. I want it understood, though, that the man who says anything against my wife may have to get me arrested for assault and battery."
"When it comes to that, Jim," replied Watterly, who was meek only in the presence of his wife, "I'd just as lief speak against her as wink if there was anything to say. But I say now, as I said to you at first, she aint one of the common sort. I thought well of her at first, and I think better of her now since she's doing so well by you. But I suppose marrying a woman situated as she was isn't according to regulation. We men are apt to act like the boys we used to be and go for what we want without thinking of the consequences.""It's the consequences that please me most. If you had been dependent on Mumpson, Malonys, and Wigginses for your home comfort you wouldn't worry about the talk of people who'd never raise a finger for you. Well, goodbye, I'm in a hurry. Your heart's in the right place, Tom, and some day you'll come out and take dinner with me. One dinner, such as she'll give you, will bring you round. One of our steady dishes is a bunch of flowers and I enjoy 'em, too. What do you think of that for a hard-headed old fellow like me?"
Some men are chilled by public disapproval and waver under it, but Holcroft was thereby only the more strongly confirmed in his course. Alida had won his esteem as well as his good will, and it was the instinct of his manhood to protect and champion her. He bought twice as many flowers and seeds as she had asked for, and also selected two simple flower vases; then started on his return with the feeling that he had a home.Alida entered upon her duties to the poultry with almost the pleasure of a child. She first fed them, then explored every accessible nook and hiding place in the barn and outbuildings. It was evident that many of the biddies had stolen their nests, and some were brooding upon them with no disposition to be disturbed. Out of the hundred or more fowls on the place, a good many were clucking their maternal instincts, and their new keeper resolved to put eggs under all except the flighty ones that left their nests within two or three days' trial. As the result of her search, the empty egg basket was in a fair way to be full again very soon. She gloated over her spoils as she smilingly assured herself, "I shall take him at his word. I shall spend nearly all I make this year in fixing up the old house within and without, so he'll scarcely know it."