Like many others with simple, strong natures, Holcroft could not be wrong-headed moderately, and his thoughts, once started in a direction were apt to carry him much farther than the cause warranted. Engrossed in painful and rather bitter musings, he paid no heed to Jane and almost forgot his errand to town. "I was a fool to ask that question," he thought. "I was getting silly and sentimental with my talk about the picture and all that. She laughed at me and reminded me I was wasting time. Of course she can't like an old, hard-featured man like me. I'm beginning to understand her now. She made a business marriage with me and means to live up to her agreement. She's honest; she feels I've done her a real kindness in giving her a home, and she's willing to be as self-sacrificing as the day is long to make it up to me. Iethereum token balance api wish she wasn't so grateful; there's no occasion for it. I don't want her to feel that every pleasant word and every nice act is so much toward paying a debt. If there was any balance in my favor it was squared up long ago, and I was willing to call it even from the start. She's made me like her for her own sake and not on account of what she does for me, and that's what I had in mind. But she's my superior in every way; she's growing to be a pretty as a picture, and I suppose I appear like a rather rough customer. Well, I can't help if, but it rather goes against me to have her think, 'I've married him and I'm going to do my duty by him, just as I agreed.' She'll do her duty by this Jane in the same self-sacrificing spirit, and will try to make it pleasant for the child just because it's right and because she herself was taken out of trouble. That's the shape her religion takes. 'Tisn't a common form, I know--this returning good for good with compound interest. But her conscience won't let her rest unless she does everything she can for me, and now she'll begin to do everything for Jane because she feels that self-sacrifice is a duty. Anybody can be self-sacrificing. If I made up my mind, I could ask Mrs. Mumpson to visit us all summer, but I couldn't like her to save my life, and I don't suppose Alida can like me, beyond a certain point, to save her life. But she'll do her duty. She'll be pleasant and self-sacrificing and do all the work she can lay her hands on for my sake; but when it comes to feeling toward me as I can't help feeling toward her--that wasn't in the bargain," and he startled Jane with a sudden bitter laugh.
Dr. Aubertin was the last to succumb to the deep depression, but histime came: and he had been for a day or two as grave and as sad asthe rest, when one day that Rose was absent, spying on Camille, hetook the baroness and Josephine into his confidence; andcondescended finally to ask their advice.litecoin kurz"It is humiliating," said he, "after all my experience, to beobliged to consult unprofessional persons. Forty years ago I shouldhave been TOO WISE to do so. But since then I have often seenscience baffled and untrained intelligences throw light upon hardquestions: and your sex in particular has luminous instincts andreads things by flashes that we men miss with a microscope. Ourdear Madame Raynal suspected that plausible notary, and to this dayI believe she could not tell us why."Josephine admitted as much very frankly.
"There you see," said the doctor. "Well, then, you must help me inthis case. And this time I promise to treat your art with morerespect.""And pray who is it she is to read now?" asked the baroness."Who should it be but my poor patient? He puzzles me. I never knewa patient so faint-hearted.""A soldier faint-hearted!" exclaimed the baroness. "To be surethese men that storm cities, and fire cannon, and cut and hack oneanother with so much spirit, are poor creatures compared with uswhen they have to lie quiet and suffer."The doctor walked the room in great excitement. "It is not hiswound that is killing him, there's something on his mind. You,Josephine, with your instincts do help me: do pray, for pity's sake,throw off that sublime indifference you have manifested all along tothis man's fate.""She has not," cried the baroness, firing up. "Did I not see herlining his dressing-gown for him? and she inspects everything thathe eats: do you not?""Yes, mother." She then suggested in a faltering voice that timewould cure the patient, and time alone."Time! you speak as if time was a quality: time is only a measure ofevents, favorable or unfavorable; it kills as many as it cures.""Why, you surely would not imply his life is in any danger?" Thiswas the baroness."Madame, if the case was not grave, should I take this unusual step?I tell you if some change does not take place soon, he will be adead man in another fortnight. That is all TIME will do for him."The baroness uttered an exclamation of pity and distress. Josephineput her hand to her bosom, and a creeping horror came over her, andthen a faintness. She sat working mechanically, and turning likeice within. After a few minutes of this, she rose with everyappearance of external composure and left the room. In the passageshe met Rose coming hastily towards the salon laughing: the firsttime she had laughed this many a day. Oh, what a contrast betweenthe two faces that met there--the one pale and horror stricken, theother rosy and laughing!
"Well, dear, at last I am paid for all my trouble, and yours, by adiscovery; he never drinks a drop of his medicine; he pours it intothe ashes under the grate; I caught him in the fact.""Then this is too much: I can resist no longer. Come with me," saidJosephine doggedly."Where?""To him.""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 Burdens
The 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:"Mother'll be down soon. If you'll show me how you want the coffee and things, I guess I can learn.""I guess you'll have to, Jane. There'll be more chance of your teaching your mother than of her teaching you, I fear. But we'll see, we'll see; it's strange people can't see what's sensible and best for 'em when they see so much."The child made no reply, but watched him intently as he measured out and then ground half a cup of coffee.
"The firs thing to do," he began kindly, "is to fill the kettle with water fresh drawn from the well. Never make coffee or tea with water that's been boiled two or three times. Now, I'll give the kettle a good rinsing, so as to make sure you start with it clean."Having accomplished this, he filled the vessel at the well and placed it on the fire, remarking as he did so, "Your mother can cook a little, can't she?""I s'pose so," Jane replied. "When father was livin' mother said she kept a girl. Since then, we've visited round. But she'll learn, and if she can't, I can.""What on earth--but there's no use of talking. When the water boils--bubbles up and down, you know--call me. I suppose you and your mother can get the rest of the breakfast? Oh, good morning, Mrs. Mumpson! I was just showing Jane about the coffee. You two can go on and do all the rest, but don't touch the coffee till the kettle boils, and then I'll come in and show you my way, and, if you please, I don't wish it any other way."
"Oh, certainly, certainly!" began Mrs. Mumpson, but Holcroft waited to hear no more."She's a woman," he muttered, "and I'll say nothing rude or ugly to her, but I shan't listen to her talk half a minute when I can help myself; and if she won't do any thing but talk--well, we'll see, we'll see! A few hours in the dairy will show whether she can use anything besides her tongue."
As soon as they were alone Jane turned sharply on her mother and said, "Now you've got to do something to help. At Cousin Lemuel's and other places they wouldn't let us help. Anyhow, they wouldn't let me. He 'spects us both to work, and pays you for it. I tell you agin, he won't let us stay here unless we do. I won't go visitin' round any more, feelin' like a stray cat in every house I go to. You've got to work, and talk less.""Why, Jane! How YOU talk!"
"I talk sense. Come, help me get breakfast.""Do you think that's a proper way for a child to address a parent?""No matter what I think. Come and help. You'll soon know what he thinks if we keep breakfast waitin'.""Well, I'll do such menial work until he gets a girl, and then he shall learn that he can't expect one with such respecterble connections--""Hope I may never see any of 'em agin," interrupted Jane shortly, and then she relapsed into silence while her mother rambled on in her characteristic way, making singularly inapt efforts to assist in the task before them.As Holcroft rose from milking a cow he found Jane beside him. A ghost could not have come more silently, and again her stealthy ways gave him an unpleasant sensation. "Kettle is boilin'," she said, and was gone.
He shook his head and muttered, "Queer tribe, these Mumpsons! I've only to get an odd fish of a girl to help, and I'll have something like a menagerie in the house." He carried his pails of foaming milk to the dairy, and then entered the kitchen."I've only a minute," he began hastily, seeking to forestall the widow. "Yes, the kettle's boiling all right. First scald out the coffeepot--put three-quarters of a cup of ground coffee into the pot, break an egg into it, so; pour on the egg and coffee half a cup of cold water and stir it all up well, this way. Next pour in about a pint of boiling water from the kettle, set the pot on the stove and let it--the coffee, I mean--cook twenty minutes, remember, not less than twenty minutes. I'll be back to breakfast by that time. Now you know just how I want my coffee, don't you?" looking at Jane.
Jane nodded, but Mrs. Mumpson began, "Oh certainly, certainly! Boil an egg twenty minutes, add half a cup of cold water, and--""I know," interrupted Jane, "I can always do as you did."
Holcroft again escaped to the barn, and eventually returned with a deep sigh. "I'll have to face a good deal of her music this morning," he thought, "but I shall have at least a good cup of coffee to brace me."Mrs. Mumpson did not abandon the suggestion that grace should be said,--she never abandoned anything,--but the farmer, in accordance with his purpose to be civil, yet pay no attention to her obtrusive ways, gave no heed to her hint. He thought Jane looked apprehensive, and soon learned the reason. His coffee was at least hot, but seemed exceedingly weak.
"I hope now that it's just right," said Mrs. Mumpson complacently, "and feeling sure that it was made just to suit you, I filled the coffeepot full from the kettle. We can drink what we desire for breakfast and then the rest can be set aside until dinner time and warmed over. Then you'll have it just to suit you for the next meal, and we, at the same time, will be practicing econermy. It shall now be my great aim to help you econermize. Any coarse, menial hands can work, but the great thing to be considered is a caretaker; one who, by thoughtfulness and the employment of her mind, will make the labor of others affective."During this speech, Holcroft could only stare at the woman. The rapid motion of her thin jaw seemed to fascinate him, and he was in perplexity over not merely her rapid utterance, but also the queries. Had she maliciously spoiled the coffee? Or didn't she know any better? "I can't make her out," he thought, "but she shall learn that I have a will of my own," and he quietly rose, took the coffeepot, and poured its contents out of doors; then went through the whole process of making his favorite beverage again, saying coldly, "Jane, you had better watch close this time. I don't wish anyone to touch the coffeepot but you."Even Mrs. Mumpson was a little abashed by his manner, but when he resumed his breakfast she speedily recovered her complacency and volubility. "I've always heard," she said, with her little cackling laugh, "that men would be extravergant, especially in some things. There are some things they're fidgety about and will have just so. Well, well, who has a better right than a well-to-do, fore-handed man? Woman is to complement the man, and it should be her aim to study the great--the great--shall we say reason, for her being? Which is adaptation," and she uttered the word with feeling, assured that Holcroft could not fail of being impressed by it. The poor man was bolting such food as had been prepared in his haste to get away."Yes," continued the widow, "adaptation is woman's mission and--"
"Really, Mrs. Mumpson, your and Jane's mission this morning will be to get as much butter as possible out of the cream and milk on hand. I'll set the old dog on the wheel, and start the churn within half an hour," and he rose with the thought, "I'd rather finish my breakfast on milk and coffee by and by than stand this." And he said, "Please let the coffee be until I come in to show you about taking out and working the butter."The scenes in the dairy need not be dwelt upon. He saw that Jane might be taught, and that she would probably try to do all that her strength permitted. It was perfectly clear that Mrs. Mumpson was not only ignorant of the duties which he had employed her to perform, but that she was also too preoccupied with her talk and notions of gentility ever to learn. He was already satisfied that in inducing him to engage her, Lemuel Weeks had played him a trick, but there seemed no other resource than to fulfill his agreement. With Mrs. Mumpson in the house, there might be less difficulty in securing and keeping a hired girl who, with Jane, might do the essential work. But the future looked so unpromising that even the strong coffee could not sustain his spirits. The hopefulness of the early morning departed, leaving nothing but dreary uncertainty.
Mrs. Mumpson was bent upon accompanying him to town and engaging the girl herself. "There would be great propriety in my doing so," she argued at dinner, "and propriety is something that adorns all the human race. There would be no danger of my getting any of the peculiar females such as you have been afflicted with. As I am to superintend her labors, she will look up to me with respect and humility if she learns from the first to recognize in me a superior on whom she will be dependent for her daily bread. No shiftless hussy would impose upon ME. I would bring home--how sweet the word sounds!--a model of industry and patient endurance. She would be deferential, she would know her place, too. Everything would go like clockwork in our home. I'll put on my things at once and--""Excuse me, Mrs. Mumpson. It would not be right to leave Jane here alone. Moreover, I'd rather engage my own help."
"But my dear Mr. Holcroft, you don't realize--men never do realize--that you will have a long, lonely ride with a female of unknown--unknown antercedents. It will be scarcely respecterble, and respecterbility should be man and woman's chief aim. Jane is not a timid child, and in an emergency like this, even if she was, she would gladly sacrifice herself to sustain the proprieties of life. Now that your life has begun under new and better auspices, I feel that I ought to plead with you not to cloud your brightening prospects by a thoughtless unregard of what society looks upon as proper. The eyes of the community will now be upon us--""You must excuse me, Mrs. Mumpson. All I ask of the community is to keep their eyes on their own business, while I attend to mine in my own way. The probabilities are that the girl will come out on the stage Monday," and he rose from the dinner table and hastily made his preparations for departure. He was soon driving rapidly away, having a sort of nervous apprehension lest Jane, or the widow, should suddenly appear on the seat beside him. A basket of eggs and some inferior butter, with the burnt-out stove, were in his wagon and his bank book was in his pocket. It was with sinking heart that he thought of making further inroads on his small accumulations.
Before he was out of sight Mrs. Mumpson betook herself to the rocking chair and began to expatiate on the blindness and obduracy of men in general and of Mr. Holcroft in particular. "They are all much alike," she complained, "and are strangely neglectful of the proprieties of life. My dear, deceased husband, your father, was becoming gradually senserble of my value in guiding him in this respect, and indeed, I may add in all respects, when, in the very prime of his expanding manhood, he was laid low. Of course, my happiness was buried then and my heart can never throb again, but I have a mission in the world--I feel it--and here is a desolate home bereft of female influence and consolation and hitherto painfully devoid of respecterbility."I once called on the late Mrs. Holcroft, and--I must say it--I went away depressed by a sense of her lack of ability to develop in her husband those qualities which would make him an ornament to society. She was a silent woman, she lacked mind and ideas. She had seen little of the world and knew not what was swaying people. Therefore, her husband, having nothing else to think of, became absorbed in the accumulation of dollars. Not that I object to dollars--they have their proper place,--but minds should be fixed on all things. We should take a deep personal interest in our fellow beings, and thus we grow broad. As I was saying, Mr. Holcroft was not developed by his late spouse. He needs awakening, arousing, stimulating, drawing out, and such I feel to be my mission. I must be patient; I cannot expect the habits of years to pass away under a different kind of female influence, at once."Jane had been stolidly washing and putting away dishes during this partial address to herself and partial soliloquy, but now remarked, "You and me will pass away in a week if you go on as you've begun. I can see it comin'. Then, where'll we go to?""Your words, Jane, only show that you are an ignorant, short-sighted child. Do you suppose that a woman of my years and experience would make no better provision for the future than a man's changeful mind--a warped and undeveloped mind, at that? No; I have an agreement with Mr. Holcroft. I shall be a member of his household for three months at least, and long before that he will begin to see everything in a new light. It will gradually dawn upon him that he has been defrauded of proper female influence and society. Now, he is crude, he thinks only of work and accumulating; but when the work is done by a menial female's hands and his mind is more at rest, there will begin to steal in upon him the cravings of his mind. He will see that material things are not all in all."
"P'raps he will. I don't half know that you're talkin' about. 'Fi's you, I'd learn to work and do things as he wants 'em. That's what I'm going to do. Shall I go now and make up his bed and tidy his room?""I think I will accompany you, Jane, and see that your task is properly performed."
"Of course you want to see everythin' in the room, just as I do.""As housekeeper, I should see everything that is under my care. That is the right way to look at the matter."
"Well, come and look then.""You are becoming strangely disrespectful, Jane."