At last it was levelled to his mind, and then his movements were asquick as they had hitherto been slow. In a moment he stood erect inthe half-fencing attitubitcoin address nicehashde of a gunner, and his linstock at thetouch-hole: a huge tongue of flame, a volume of smoke, a roar, andthe iron thunderbolt was on its way, and the colonel walkedhaughtily but rapidly back to the trenches; for in all this nobravado. He was there to make a shot; not to throw a chance of lifeaway watching the effect.
He went to the barn and looked with envy at the placid cows and quiet horses. At last, having lingered as long as he could, he returned to the kitchen. Jane had washed and put away the supper dishes after a fashion, and was now sitting on the edge of a chair in the farthest corner of the room.solana coin creator"Take this candle and go to your mother," he said curtly. Then he fastened the doors and put out the lamp. Standing for an instant at the parlor entrance, he added, "Please rake up the fire and put out the light before you come up. Good night."
"Oh, certainly, certainly! We'll look after everything just as if it was our own. The sense of strangeness will soon pass--" But his steps were halfway up the stairs.Mother and daughter listened until they heard him overhead, then, taking the candle, they began a most minute examination of everything in the room.Poor Holcroft listened also; too worried, anxious, and nervous to sleep until they came up and all sounds ceased in the adjoining apartment.Chapter 5 Mrs. Mumpson Takes Up Her BurdensThe next morning Holcroft awoke early. The rising sun flooded his plain little room with mellow light. It was impossible to give way to dejection in that radiance, and hope, he scarcely knew why, sprung up in his heart. He was soon dressed, and having kindled the kitchen fire, went out on the porch. There had been a change in the wind during the night, and now it blew softly from the south. The air was sweet with the indefinable fragrance of spring. The ethereal notes of bluebirds were heard on every side. Migratory robins were feeding in the orchard, whistling and calling their noisy congratulations on arriving at old haunts. The frost was already oozing from the ground, but the farmer welcomed the mud, knowing that it indicated a long advance toward plowing and planting time.
He bared his head to the sweet, warm air and took long, deep breaths. "If this weather holds," he muttered, "I can soon put in some early potatoes on that warm hillside yonder. Yes, I can stand even her for the sake of being on the old place in mornings like this. The weather'll be getting better every day and I can be out of doors more. I'll have a stove in my room tonight; I would last night if the old air-tight hadn't given out completely. I'll take it to town this afternoon and sell it for old iron. Then I'll get a bran'-new one and put it up in my room. They can't follow me there and they can't follow me outdoors, and so perhaps I can live in peace and work most of the time."Thus he was muttering to himself, as lonely people so often do, when he felt that someone was near. Turning suddenly, he saw Jane half-hidden by the kitchen door. Finding herself observed, the girl came forward and said in her brief monotonous way:He made no reply whatever, but longed to get his hands upon Lemuel Weeks. Pushing his horses to a high rate of speed, he soon reached that interested neighbor's door, intercepting him just as he was starting to town.
He looked very sour as he saw his wife's relatives, and demanded harshly, "What does this mean?""It means," cried Mrs. Mumpson in her high, cackling tones, "that he's said things and done things too awful to speak of; that he's broken his agreement and turned us out of doors.""Jim Holcroft," said Mr. Weeks, blustering up to the wagon, "you can't carry on with this high hand. Take these people back to your house where they belong, or you'll be sorry."Holcroft sprang out, whirled Mr. Weeks out of his way, took out the trunk, then with equal expedition and no more ceremony lifted down Mrs. Mumpson and Jane.
"Do you know what you're about?" shouted Mr. Weeks in a rage. "I'll have the law on you this very day."Holcroft maintained his ominous silence as he hitched his horses securely. Then he strode toward Weeks, who backed away from him. "Oh, don't be afraid, you sneaking, cowardly fox!" said the farmer bitterly. "If I gave you your desserts, I'd take my horsewhip to you. You're going to law me, are you? Well, begin today, and I'll be ready for you. I won't demean myself by answering that woman, but I'm ready for you in any way you've a mind to come. I'll put you and your wife on the witness stand. I'll summon Cousin Abram, as you call him, and his wife, and compel you all under oath to give Mrs. Mumpson a few testimonials. I'll prove the trick you played on me and the lies you told. I'll prove that this woman, in my absence, invaded my room, and with keys of her own opened my dead wife's bureau and pulled out her things. I'll prove that she hasn't earned her salt and can't, and may prove something more. Now, if you want to go to law, begin. Nothing would please me better than to show up you and your tribe. I've offered to pay this woman her three months' wages in full, and so have kept my agreement. She has not kept hers, for she's only sat in a rocking chair and made trouble. Now, do as you please. I'll give you all the law you want. I'd like to add a horsewhipping, but that would give you a case and now you haven't any."
As Holcroft uttered these words sternly and slowly, like a man angry indeed but under perfect self-control, the perspiration broke out on Weeks' face. He was aware that Mrs. Mumpson was too well known to play the role of a wronged woman, and remembered what his testimony and that of many others would be under oath. Therefore, he began, "Oh, well, Mr. Holcroft! There's no need of your getting in such a rage and threatening so; I'm willing to talk the matter over and only want to do the square thing."The farmer made a gesture of disgust as he said, "I understand you, Lemuel Weeks. There's no talking needed and I'm in no mood for it. Here's the money I agreed to pay. I'll give it to Mrs. Mumpson when she has signed this paper, and you've signed as witness of her signature. Otherwise, it's law. Now decide quick, I'm in a hurry."Objections were interposed, and Holcroft, returning the money to his pocket, started for his team, without a word. "Oh, well!" said Weeks in strong irritation, "I haven't time for a lawsuit at this season of the year. You are both cranks, and I suppose it would be best for me and my folks to be rid of you both. It's a pity, though, you couldn't be married and left to fight it out."Holcroft took the whip from his wagon and said quietly, "If you speak another insulting word, I'll horsewhip you and take my chances."
Something in the man's look prevented Weeks from uttering another unnecessary remark. The business was soon transacted, accompanied with Mrs. Mumpson's venomous words, for she had discovered that she could stigmatize Holcroft with impunity. He went to Jane and shook her hand as he said goodby. "I am sorry for you, and I won't forget my promise;" then drove rapidly away."Cousin Lemuel," said Mrs. Mumpson plaintively, "won't you have Timothy take my trunk to our room?""No, I won't," he snapped. "You've had your chance and have fooled it away. I was just going to town, and you and Jane will go along with me," and he put the widow's trunk into his wagon.Mrs. Weeks came out and wiped her eyes ostentatiously with her apron as she whispered, "I can't help it, Cynthy. When Lemuel goes off the handle in this way, it's no use for me to say anything."
Mrs. Mumpson wept hysterically as she was driven away. Jane's sullen and apathetic aspect had passed away in part for Holcroft's words had kindled something like hope.Chapter 17 A Momentous Decision
It must be admitted that Holcroft enjoyed his triumph over Lemuel Weeks very much after the fashion of the aboriginal man. Indeed, he was almost sorry he had not been given a little more provocation, knowing well that, had this been true, his neighbor would have received a fuller return for his interested efforts. As he saw his farmhouse in the shimmering April sunlight, as the old churning dog came forward, wagging his tail, the farmer said, "This is the only place which can ever be home to me. Well, well! It's queer about people. Some, when they go, leave you desolate; others make you happy by their absence. I never dreamed that silly Mumpson could make me happy, but she has. Blessed if I don't feel happy! The first time in a year or more!" And he began to whistle old "Coronation" in the most lively fashion as he unharnessed his horses.A little later, he prepared himself a good dinner and ate it in leisurely enjoyment, sharing a morsel now and then with the old dog. "You're a plaguey sight better company than she was," he mused. "That poor little stray cat of a Jane! What will become of her? Well, well! Soon as she's old enough to cut loose from her mother, I'll try to give her a chance, if it's a possible thing."
After dinner, he made a rough draught of an auction bill, offering his cows for sale, muttering as he did so, "Tom Watterly'll help me put it in better shape." Then he drove a mile away to see old Mr. And Mrs. Johnson. The former agreed for a small sum to mount guard with his dog during the farmer's occasional absences, and the latter readily consented to do the washing and mending."What do I want of any more 'peculiar females,' as that daft widow called 'em?" he chuckled on his return. "Blames if she wasn't the most peculiar of the lot. Think of me marrying her!" and the hillside echoed to his derisive laugh. "As I feel today, there's a better chance of my being struck by lightning than marrying, and I don't think any woman could do it in spite of me. I'll run the ranch alone."That evening he smoked his pipe cheerfully beside the kitchen fire, the dog sleeping at his feet. "I declare," he said smilingly, "I feel quite at home."In the morning, after attending to his work, he went for old Jonathan Johnson and installed him in charge of the premises; then drove to the almshouse with all the surplus butter and eggs on hand. Tom Watterly arrived at the door with his fast-trotting horse at the same time, and cried, "Hello, Jim! Just in time. I'm a sort of grass widower today--been taking my wife out to see her sister. Come in and take pot luck with me and keep up my spirits.""Well, now, Tom," said Holcroft, shaking hands, "I'm glad, not that your wife's away, although it does make me downhearted to contrast your lot and mine, but I'm glad you can give me a little time, for I want to use that practical head of yours--some advice, you know.""All right. Nothing to do for an hour or two but eat dinner and smoke my pipe with you. Here, Bill! Take this team and feed 'em."
"Hold on," said Holcroft, "I'm not going to sponge on you. I've got some favors to ask, and I want you to take in return some butter half spoiled in the making and this basket of eggs. They're all right.""Go to thunder, Holcroft! What do you take me for? When you've filled your pipe after dinner will you pull an egg out of your pocket and say, 'That's for a smoke?' No, no, I don't sell any advice to old friends like you. I'll buy your butter and eggs at what they're worth and have done with 'em. Business is one thing, and sitting down and talking over an old crony's troubles is another. I'm not a saint, Jim, as you know--a man in politics can't be--but I remember when we were boys together, and somehow thinking of those old days always fetches me. Come in, for dinner is a-waiting, I guess."
"Well, Tom, saint or no saint, I'd like to vote for you for gov'nor.""This aint an electioneering trick, as you know. I can play them off as well as the next feller when there's need, kiss the babies and all that."
Dinner was placed on the table immediately, and in a few moments the friends were left alone. Then Holcroft related in a half comic, half serious manner his tribulations with the help. Tom sat back in his chair and roared at the account of the pitched battle between the two widows and the final smoking out of Mrs. Mumpson, but he reproached his friend for not having horsewhipped Lemuel Weeks. "Don't you remember, Jim, he was a sneaking, tricky chap when we were at school together? I licked him once, and it always does me good to think of it.""I own it takes considerable to rile me to the point of striking a man, especially on his own land. His wife was looking out the window, too. If we'd been out in the road or anywhere else--but what's the use? I'm glad now it turned out as it has for I've too much on my mind for lawsuits, and the less one has to do with such cattle as Weeks the better. Well, you see I'm alone again, and I'm going to go it alone. I'm going to sell my cows and give up the dairy, and the thing I wanted help in most is the putting this auction bill in shape; also advice as to whether I had better try to sell here in town or up at the farm."
Tom shook his head dubiously and scarcely glanced at the paper. "Your scheme don't look practical to me," he said. "I don't believe you can run that farm alone without losing money. You'll just keep on going behind till the first thing you know you'll clap a mortgage on it. Then you'll soon be done for. What's more, you'll break down if you try to do both outdoor and indoor work. Busy times will soon come, and you won't get your meals regularly; you'll be living on coffee and anything that comes handiest; your house will grow untidy and not fit to live in. If you should be taken sick, there'd be no one to do for you. Lumbermen, hunters, and such fellows can rough it alone awhile, but I never heard of a farm being run by man-power alone. Now as to selling out your stock, look at it. Grazing is what your farm's good for mostly. It's a pity you're so bent on staying there. Even if you didn't get very much for the place, from sale or rent, you'd have something that was sure. A strong, capable man like you could find something to turn your hand to. Then you could board in some respectable family, and not have to live like Robinson Crusoe. I've thought it over since we talked last, and if I was you I'd sell or rent.""It's too late in the season to do either," said Holcroft dejectedly. "What's more, I don't want to, at least not this year. I've settled that, Tom. I'm going to have one more summer on the old place, anyway, if I have to live on bread and milk.""You can't make bread.""I'll have it brought from town on the stage."
"Well, it's a pity some good, decent woman--There, how should I come to forget all about HER till this minute? I don't know whether it would work. Perhaps it would. There's a woman here out of the common run. She has quite a story, which I'll tell you in confidence. Then you can say whether you'd like to employ her or not. If you WILL stay on the farm, my advice is that you have a woman to do the housework, and me and Angy must try to find you one, if the one I have in mind won't answer. The trouble is, Holcroft, to get the right kind of a woman to live there alone with you, unless you married her. Nice women don't like to be talked about, and I don't blame 'em. The one that's here, though, is so friendless and alone in the world that she might be glad enough to get a home almost anywheres.""Well, well! Tell me about her," said Holcroft gloomily. "But I'm about discouraged in the line of women help."
Watterly told Alida's story with a certain rude pathos which touched the farmer's naturally kind heart, and he quite forgot his own need in indignation at the poor woman's wrongs. "It's a **** shame!" he said excitedly, pacing the room. "I say, Tom, all the law in the land wouldn't keep me from giving that fellow a whipping or worse.""Well, she won't prosecute; she won't face the public; she just wants to go to some quiet place and work for her bread. She don't seem to have any friends, or else she's too ashamed to let them know."
"Why, of course I'd give such a woman a refuge till she could do better. What man wouldn't?""A good many wouldn't. What's more, if she went with you her story might get out, and you'd both be talked about."
"I don't care that for gossip," with a snap of his fingers. "You know I'd treat her with respect.""What I know, and what other people would say, are two very different things. Neither you nor anyone else can go too strongly against public opinion. Still, it's nobody's business," added Tom thoughtfully. "Perhaps it's worth the trial. If she went I think she'd stay and do the best by you she could. Would you like to see her?""Yes."Alida was summoned and stood with downcast eyes in the door. "Come in and take a chair," said Tom kindly. "You know I promised to be on the lookout for a good place for you. Well, my friend here, Mr. Holcroft, whom I've known ever since I was a boy, wants a woman to do general housework and take care of the dairy."
She gave the farmer one of those swift, comprehensive glances by which women take in a personality, and said in a tone of regret, "But I don't understand dairy work.""Oh, you'd soon learn. It's just the kind of a place you said you wanted, a lonely, out-of-the-way farm and no other help kept. What's more, my friend Holcroft is a kind, honest man. He'd treat you right. He knows all about your trouble and is sorry for you."
If Holcroft had been an ogre in appearance, he would have received the grateful glance which she now gave him as she said, "I'd be only too glad to work for you, sir, if you think I can do, or learn to do, what is required."Holcroft, while his friend was speaking, had studied closely Alida's thin, pale face, and he saw nothing in it not in harmony with the story he had heard. "I am sorry for you," he said kindly. "I believe you never meant to do wrong and have tried to do right. I will be perfectly honest with you. My wife is dead, the help I had has left me, and I live alone in the house. The truth is, too, that I could not afford to keep two in help, and there would not be work for them both."
Alida had learned much in her terrible adversity, and had, moreover the instincts of a class superior to the position she was asked to take. She bowed low to hide the burning flush that crimsoned her pale cheeks as she faltered, "It may seem strange to you, sirs, that one situated as I am should hesitate, but I have never knowingly done anything which gave people the right to speak against me. I do not fear work, I would humbly try to do my best, but--" She hesitated and rose as if to retire."I understand you," said Holcroft kindly, "and I don't blame you for doing what you think is right."