Kindell hesitated. He looked at Superintendent Allenby. But that gentleman nodded silent asseethereum 4 hour chartnt. He had no authority to stop Mr. Thurlow, if he were determined to attempt the rescue of his daughter by his own method, and Kindell's company might be advantageous in several ways.
The notary heldnft crypto omi the republican creed in all its branches."Providence, madame, does not interfere--in matters of business,"said he. "Nothing but money can save the estate. Let us then bepractical. Has any means occurred to you of raising money to payoff these incumbrances?""No. What means can there be? The estate is mortgaged to its fullvalue: so they say, at least.""And they say true," put in the notary quickly. "But do notdistress yourself, madame: confide in me.""Ah, my good friend, may Heaven reward you.""Madame, up to the present time I have no complaint to make ofHeaven. I am on the rise: here, mademoiselle, is a gimcrack theyhave given me;" and he unbuttoned his overcoat, and showed them apiece of tricolored ribbon and a clasp. "As for me, I look to 'thesolid;' I care little for these things," said he, swelling visibly,"but the world is dazzled by them. However, I can show yousomething better." He took out a letter. "This is from theMinister of the Interior to a client of mine: a promise I shall bethe next prefect; and the present prefect--I am happy to say--is onhis death-bed. Thus, madame, your humble servant in a few shortmonths will be notary no longer, but prefect; I shall then sell myoffice of notary: and I flatter myself when I am a prefect you willnot blush to own me.""Then, as now, monsieur," said the baroness politely, "we shallrecognize your merit. But"--"I understand, madame: like me you look to 'the solid.' Thus thenit is; I have money.""Ah! all the better for you.""I have a good deal of money. But it is dispersed in a great manysmall but profitable investments: to call it in suddenly wouldentail some loss. Nevertheless, if you and my young lady there haveever so little of that friendly feeling towards me of which I haveso much towards you, all my investments shall be called in, and two-thirds of your creditors shall be paid off at once. A single clientof mine, no less a man than the Commandant Raynal, will, I am sure,advance me the remaining third at an hour's notice; and soBeaurepaire chateau, park, estate, and grounds, down to the old oak-tree, shall be saved; and no power shall alienate them from you,mademoiselle, and from the heirs of your body."The baroness clasped her hands in ecstasy.
"But what are we to do for this?" inquired Josephine calmly, "for itseems to me that it can only be effected by a sacrifice on yourpart.""I thank you, mademoiselle, for your penetration in seeing that Imust make sacrifices. I would never have told you, but you haveseen it; and I do not regret that you have seen it. Madame--mademoiselle--those sacrifices appear little to me; will seemnothing; will never be mentioned, or even alluded to after this day,if you, on your part, will lay me under a far heavier obligation, ifin short"--here the contemner of things unsubstantial reopened hiscoat, and brought his ribbon to light again--"if you, madame, willaccept me for your son-in-law--if you, mademoiselle, will take mefor your husband."The baroness and her daughter looked at one another in silence."Is it a jest?" inquired the former of the latter."Can you think so? Answer Monsieur Perrin. He has just done us akind office, mother.""I shall remember it. Monsieur, permit me to regret that havinglately won our gratitude and esteem, you have taken this way ofmodifying those feelings. But after all," she added with gentlecourtesy, "we may well put your good deeds against this--this errorin judgment. The balance is in your favor still, provided you neverreturn to this topic. Come, is it agreed?" The baroness's mannerwas full of tact, and the latter sentences were said with an openkindliness of manner. There was nothing to prevent Perrin fromdropping the subject, and remaining good friends. A gentleman or alover would have so done. Monsieur Perrin was neither. He saidbitterly, "You refuse me, then."The tone and the words were each singly too much for the baroness'spride. She answered coldly but civilly,--"I do not refuse you. I do not take an affront into consideration.""Be calm, mamma; no affront whatever was intended.""Ah! here is one that is more reasonable," cried Perrin."There are men," continued Josephine without noticing him, "who lookto but one thing--interest. It was an offer made politely in theway of business: decline it in the same spirit; that is what youhave to do.""Monsieur, you hear what mademoiselle says? She carries politenessa long way. After all it is a good fault. Well, monsieur, I neednot answer you, since Mademoiselle de Beaurepaire has answered you;but I detain you no longer."Strictly a weasel has no business with the temper of a tiger, butthis one had, and the long vindictiveness of a Corsican. "Ah! mylittle lady, you turn me out of the house, do you?" cried he,grinding his teeth."Turn him out of the house? what a phrase! where has this manlived?""A man!" snarled Perrin, "whom none ever yet insulted withoutrepenting it, and repenting in vain. You are under obligations tome, and you think to turn me out! You are at my mercy, and youthink I will let you turn me to your door! In less than a mouth Iwill stand here, and say to you, Beaurepaire is mine. Begone fromit!"When he uttered these terrible words, each of which was like asword-stroke to the baroness, the old lady, whose courage was notequal to her strength, shrank over the side of her arm-chair, andcried piteously--"He threatens me! he threatens me! I amfrightened;" and put up her trembling hands, for the notary'seloquence, being accompanied with abundance of gesture, borderedupon physical violence. His brutality received an unexpected check.
Imagine that a sparrow-hawk had seized a trembling pigeon, and thata royal falcon swooped, and with one lightning-like stroke of bodyand wing, buffeted him away, and sent him gaping and glaring andgrasping at pigeonless air with his claws. So swift and majestic,Josephine de Beaurepaire came from her chair with one gesture of herbody between her mother and the notary, who was advancing with armsfolded in a brutal, menacing way--not the Josephine we have seenher, the calm languid beauty, but the demoiselle de Beaurepaire--hergreat heart on fire--her blood up--not her own only, but all theblood of all the De Beaurepaires--pale as ashes with great wrath,her purple eyes on fire, and her whole panther-like body full ofspring. "Wretch! you dare to insult her, and before me! Arrieremiserable! or I soil my hand with your face." And her hand was upwith the word, up, up, higher it seemed than ever a hand was raisedbefore. And if he had hesitated one moment, I really believe itwould have come down; not heavily, perhaps--the lightning is notheavy. But there was no need. The towering threat and the flamingeye and the swift rush buffeted the caitiff away: he recoiled. Shefollowed him as he went, strong, FOR A MOMENT OR TWO, as Hercules,beautiful and terrible as Michael driving Satan. He dared not, orcould not stand before her: he writhed and cowered and recoiled alldown the room, while she marched upon him. But the driven serpenthissed horribly as it wriggled away."You shall both be turned out of Beaurepaire by me, and forever; Iswear it, parole de Perrin."He had not been gone a minute when Josephine's courage oozed away,and she ran, or rather tottered, into the Pleasaunce, and clung likea drowning thing to Rose, and, when Edouard took her hand, she clungto him. They had to gather what had happened how they could: theaccount was constantly interrupted with her sobs and self-reproaches. She said she had ruined all she loved: ruined hersister, ruined her mother, ruined the house of Beaurepaire. Why wasshe ever born? Why had she not died three years ago? (Query, whatwas the date at which Camille's letters suddenly stopped?) "Thatcoward," said she, "has the heart of a fiend. He told us he neverforgave an affront; and he holds our fate in his hands. He willdrive our mother from her home, and she will die: murdered by herown daughter. After all, why did I refuse him? What should I havesacrificed by marrying him? Rose, write to him, and say--say--I wastaken by surprise, I--I"--a violent flood of tears interrupted thesentence.She was a commonplace, narrow, selfish woman, whose character is not worth sketching. Tom stood a little in fear of her, and was usually careful not to impose extra tasks, but since she helped him to save and get ahead, he regarded her as a model wife.
Holcroft shared in his opinion and sighed deeply as he sat down to supper. "Ah, Tom!" he said, "you're a lucky man. You've got a wife that keeps everything indoors up to the mark, and gives you a chance to attend to your own proper business. That's the way it was with mine. I never knew what a lopsided, helpless creature a man was until I was left alone. You and I were lucky in getting the women we did, but when my partner left me, she took all the luck with her. That aint the worst. She took what's more than luck and money and everything. I seemed to lose with her my grit and interest in most things. It'll seem foolishness to you, but I can't take comfort in anything much except working that old farm that I've worked and played on ever since I can remember anything. You're not one of those fools, Tom, that have to learn from their own experience. Take a bit from mine, and be good to your wife while you can. I'd give all I'm worth--I know that aint much--if I could say some things to my wife and do some things for her that I didn't do."Holcroft spoke in the simplicity of a full and remorseful heart, but he unconsciously propitiated Mrs. Watterly in no small degree. Indeed, she felt that he had quite repaid her for his entertainment, and the usually taciturn woman seconded his remarks with much emphasis."Well now, Angy," said Tom, "if you averaged up husbands in these parts I guess you'd find you were faring rather better than most women folks. I let you take the bit in your teeth and go your own jog mostly. Now, own up, don't I?""That wasn't my meaning, exactly, Tom," resumed Holcroft. "You and I could well afford to let our wives take their own jog, for they always jogged steady and faithful and didn't need any urging and guiding. But even a dumb critter likes a good word now and then and a little patting on the back. It doesn't cost us anything and does them a sight of good. But we kind of let the chances slip by and forget about it until like enough it's too late."
"Well," replied Tom, with a deprecatory look at his wife, "Angy don't take to pettin' very much. She thinks it's a kind of foolishness for such middle-aged people as we're getting to be.""A husband can show his consideration without blarneying," remarked Mrs. Watterly coldly. "When a man takes on in that way, you may be sure he wants something extra to pay for it."
After a little thought Holcroft said, "I guess it's a good way to pay for it between husband and wife.""Look here, Jim, since you're so well up on the matrimonial question, why in thunder don't you marry again? That would settle all your difficulties," and Tom looked at his friend with a sort of wonder that he should hesitate to take this practical, sensible course."It's very easy for you to say, 'Why don't you marry again?' If you were in my place you'd see that there are things in the way of marrying for the sake of having a good butter maker and all that kind of thing.""Mr. Watterly wouldn't be long in comforting himself," remarked his wife.--"His advice to you makes the course he'd take mighty clear."
"Now, Angy!" said Tom reproachfully. "Well," he added with a grin, "you're forewarned. So you've only to take care of yourself and not give me a chance.""The trouble is," Holcroft resumed, "I don't see how an honest man is going to comfort himself unless it all comes about in some natural sort of way. I suppose there are people who can marry over and over again, just as easy as they'd roll off a log. It aint for me to judge 'em, and I don't understand how they do it. You are a very practical man, Tom, but just you put yourself in my shoes and see what you'd do. In the first place, I don't know of a woman in the world that I'd think of marrying. That's saying nothing against the women,--there's lots too good for me,--but I don't know 'em and I can't go around and hunt 'em up. Even if I could, with my shy, awkward ways, I wouldn't feel half so nervous starting out on a bear hunt. Here's difficulty right at the beginning. Supposing I found a nice, sensible woman, such as I'd be willing to marry, there isn't one chance in a hundred she'd look at an old fellow like me. Another difficulty: Supposing she would; suppose she looked me square in the eyes and said, 'So you truly want a wife?' what in thunder would I say then?--I don't want a wife, I want a housekeeper, a butter maker, one that would look after my interests as if they were her own; and if I could hire a woman that would do what I wish, I'd never think of marrying. I can't tell a woman that I love her when I don't. If I went to a minister with a woman I'd be deceiving him, and deceiving her, and perjuring myself promiscuously. I married once according to law and gospel and I was married through and through, and I can't do the thing over again in any way that would seem to me like marrying at all. The idea of me sitting by the fire and wishing that the woman who sat on the t'other side of the stove was my first wife! Yet I couldn't help doing this any more than breathing. Even if there was any chance of my succeeding I can't see anything square or honest in my going out and hunting up a wife as a mere matter of business. I know other people do it and I've thought a good deal about it myself, but when it comes to the point of acting I find I can't do it."The two men now withdrew from the table to the fireside and lighted their pipes. Mrs. Watterly stepped out for a moment and Tom, looking over his shoulder to make sure she was out of ear shot, said under his breath, "But suppose you found a woman that you could love and obey, and all that?""Oh, of course, that would make everything different. I wouldn't begin with a lie then, and I know enough of my wife to feel sure that she wouldn't be a sort of dog in the manger after she was dead. She was one of those good souls that if she could speak her mind this minute she would say, 'James, what's best and right for you is best and right.' But it's just because she was such a good wife that I know there's no use of trying to put anyone in her place. Where on earth could I find anybody, and how could we get acquainted so that we'd know anything about each other? No, I must just scratch along for a short time as things are and be on the lookout to sell or rent."
Tom smoked meditatively for a few moments, and then remarked, "I guess that's your best way out.""It aint an easy way, either," said Holcroft. "Finding a purchaser or tenant for a farm like mine is almost as hard as finding a wife. Then, as I feel, leaving my place is next to leaving the world."
Tom shook his head ruefully and admitted,, "I declare, Jim, when a feller comes to think it all over, you ARE in a bad fix, especially as you feel. I thought I could talk you over into practical common sense in no time. It's easy enough when one don't know all the bearin's of a case, to think carelessly, 'Oh, he aint as bad off as he thinks he is. He can do this and that and the t'other thing.' But when you come to look it all over, you find he can't, except at a big loss. Of course, you can give away your farm on which you were doing well and getting ahead, though how you did it, I can't see. You'd have to about give it away if you forced a sale, and where on earth you'll find a tenant who'll pay anything worth considering--But there's no use of croaking. I wish I could help you, old feller. By jocks! I believe I can. There's an old woman here who's right smart and handy when she can't get her bottle filled. I believe she'd be glad to go with you, for she don't like our board and lodging over much.""Do you think she'd go tonight?"
"Oh, yes! Guess so. A little cold water'll be a good change for her."Mrs. Wiggins was seen, and feeling that any change would be for the better, readily agreed to go for very moderate wages. Holcroft looked dubiously at the woman's heavy form and heavier face, but felt that it was the best he could do. Squeezing Mrs. Watterly's cold, limp hand in a way that would have thawed a lump of ice, he said "goodby;" and then declaring that he would rather do his own harnessing for a night ride, he went out into the storm. Tom put on his rubber coat and went to the barn with his friend, toward whom he cherished honest good will."By jocks!" he ejaculated sympathetically, "but you have hard lines, Jim. What in thunder would I do with two such widdy women to look after my house!"Chapter 9 Mrs. Mumpson Accepts Her MissionAs Holcroft drove through the town, Mrs. Wiggins, who, as matters were explained to her, had expressed her views chiefly by affirmative nods, now began to use her tongue with much fluency."Hi 'ave a friend 'herhabouts," she said, "an' she's been a-keepin' some of my things. Hi'll be 'olden to ye, master, hif ye'll jes stop a bit hat the door whiles hi gets 'em. Hif ye'll hadvance me a dollar or so on me wages hit'll be a long time hafore I trouble ye hagain."
The farmer had received too broad a hint not to know that Mrs. Wiggins was intent on renewing her acquaintance with her worst enemy. He briefly replied, therefore, "It's too late to stop now. I'll be coming down soon again and will get your things."In vain Mrs. Wiggins expostulated, for he drove steadily on. With a sort of grim humor, he thought of the meeting of the two "widdy women," as Tom had characterized them, and of Mrs. Mumpson's dismay at finding in the "cheap girl" a dame of sixty, weighing not far from two hundred. "If it wasn't such awfully serious business for me," he thought, "it would be better'n going to a theater to see the two go on. If I haven't got three 'peculiar females' on my hands now, I'd like to hear of the man that has."
When Mrs. Wiggins found that she could not gain her point, she subsided into utter silence. It soon became evident in the cloudy light of the moon that she was going to sleep, for she so nodded and swayed about that the farmer feared she would tumble out of the wagon. She occupied a seat just back of his and filled it, too. The idea of stepping over, sitting beside her, and holding her in, was inexpressibly repugnant to him. So he began talking to her, and finally shouting at her, to keep her awake.His efforts were useless. He glanced with rueful dismay over his shoulder as he thought, "If she falls out, I don't see how on earth I'll ever get her back again."
Fortunately the seat slipped back a little, and she soon slid down into a sort of mountainous heap on the bottom of the wagon, as unmindful of the rain as if it were a lullaby. Now that his mind was at rest about her falling out, and knowing that he had a heavy load, Holcroft let the horses take their own time along the miry highway.Left to her own devices by Holcroft's absence, Mrs. Mumpson had passed what she regarded as a very eventful afternoon and evening. Not that anything unusual had happened, unless everything she said and did may be looked upon as unusual; but Mrs. Mumpson justly felt that the critical periods of life are those upon which definite courses of action are decided upon. In the secret recess of her heart--supposing her to possess such an organ--she had partially admitted to herself, even before she had entered Holcroft's door, that she might be persuaded into marrying him; but the inspection of his room, much deliberate thought, and prolonged soliloquy, had convinced her that she ought to "enter into nuptial relations," as her thought formulated itself. It was a trait of Mrs. Mumpson's active mind, that when it once entered upon a line of thought, it was hurried along from conclusion to conclusion with wonderful rapidity.
While Jane made up Mr. Holcroft's bed, her mother began to inspect, and soon suffered keenly from every painful discovery. The farmer's meager wardrobe and other belongings were soon rummaged over, but one large closet and several bureau drawers were locked. "These are the receptercles of the deceased Mrs. Holcroft's affects," she said with compressed lips. "They are moldering useless away. Moth and rust will enter, while I, the caretaker, am debarred. I should not be debarred. All the things in that closet should be shaken out, aired, and carefully put back. Who knows how useful they may be in the future! Waste is wicked. Indeed, there are few things more wicked than waste. Now I think of it, I have some keys in my trunk.""He won't like it," interposed Jane."In the responserble persition I have assumed," replied Mrs. Mumpson with dignity, "I must consider not what he wants, but what is best for him and what may be best for others."Jane had too much curiosity herself to make further objection, and the keys were brought. It was astonishing what a number of keys Mrs. Mumpson possessed, and she was not long in finding those which would open the ordinary locks thought by Holcroft to be ample protection.
"I was right," said Mrs. Mumpson complacently. "A musty odor exudes from these closed receptercles,. Men have no comprehension of the need of such caretakers as I am."Everything that had ever belonged to poor Mrs. Holcroft was pulled out, taken to the window, and examined, Jane following, as usual, in the wake of her mother and putting everything to the same tests which her parent applied. Mrs. Holcroft had been a careful woman, and the extent and substantial character of her wardrobe proved that her husband had not been close in his allowances to her. Mrs. Mumpson's watery blue eyes grew positively animated as she felt of and held up to the light one thing after another. "Mrs. Holcroft was evidently unnaturally large," she reflected aloud, "but then these things could be made over, and much material be left to repair them, from time to time. The dresses are of somber colors, becoming to a lady somewhat advanced in years and of subdued taste."
By the time that the bed and all the chairs in the room were littered with wearing apparel, Mrs. Mumpson said, "Jane, I desire you to bring the rocking chair. So many thoughts are crowding upon me that I must sit down and think."Jane did as requested, but remarked, "The sun is gettin' low, and all these things'll have to be put back just as they was or he'll be awful mad."
"Yes, Jane," replied Mrs. Mumpson abstractedly and rocking gently, "you can put them back. Your mind is not burdened like mine, and you haven't offspring and the future to provide for," and, for a wonder, she relapsed into silence. Possibly she possessed barely enough of womanhood to feel that her present train of thought had better be kept to herself. She gradually rocked faster and faster, thus indicating that she was rapidly approaching a conclusion.Meanwhile, Jane was endeavoring to put things back as they were before and found it no easy task. As the light declined she was overcome by a sort of panic, and, huddling the things into the drawers as fast as possible, she locked them up. Then, seizing her mother's hand and pulling the abstracted woman to her feet, she cried, "If he comes and finds us here and no supper ready, he'll turn us right out into the rain!"
Even Mrs. Mumpson felt that she was perhaps reaching conclusions too fast and that some diplomacy might be necessary to consummate her plans. Her views, however, appeared to her so reasonable that she scarcely thought of failure, having the happy faculty of realizing everything in advance, whether it ever took place or not.As she slowly descended the stairs with the rocking chair, she thought, "Nothing could be more suiterble. We are both about the same age; I am most respecterbly connected--in fact, I regard myself as somewhat his superior in this respect; he is painfully undeveloped and irreligious and thus is in sore need of female influence; he is lonely and down-hearted, and in woman's voice there is a spell to banish care; worst of all, things are going to waste. I must delib'rately face the great duty with which Providence has brought me face to face. At first, he may be a little blind to this great oppertunity of his life--that I must expect, remembering the influence he was under so many years--but I will be patient and, by the proper use of language, place everything eventually before him in a way that will cause him to yield in glad submission to my views of the duties, the privileges, and the responserbilities of life."So active was Mrs. Mumpson's mind that this train of thought was complete by the time she had ensconced herself in the rocking chair by the fireless kitchen stove. Once more Jane seized her hand and dragged her up. "You must help," said the child. "I 'spect him every minnit and I'm scart half to death to think what he'll do, 'specially if he finds out we've been rummagin'.""Jane," said Mrs. Mumpson severely, "that is not a proper way of expressing yourself. I am housekeeper here, and I've been inspecting."
"Shall I tell him you've been inspectin'?" asked the girl keenly."Children of your age should speak when they are spoken to," replied her mother, still more severely. "You cannot comprehend my motives and duties, and I should have to punish you if you passed any remarks upon my actions."
"Well," said Jane apprehensively, "I only hope we'll soon have a chance to fix up them drawers, for if he should open 'em we'd have to tramp again, and we will anyway if you don't help me get supper.""You are mistaken, Jane," responded Mrs. Mumpson with dignity. "We shall not leave this roof for three months, and that will give me ample time to open his eyes to his true interests. I will condescend to these menial tasks until he brings a girl who will yield the deference due to my years and station in life."
Between them, after filling the room with smoke, they kindled the kitchen fire. Jane insisted on making the coffee and then helped her mother to prepare the rest of the supper, doing, in fact, the greater part of the work. Then they sat down to wait, and they waited so long that Mrs. Mumpson began to express her disapproval by rocking violently. At last, she said severely, "Jane, we will partake of supper alone.""I'd ruther wait till he comes."