"Haven't you a fbadger dao ethereumriend or acquaintance in town?"
When Josephine heard he was come her eye flashed, and she saidquickly, "I will come down to welcome him--dear Edouard!"The sisters looked at one another. Josephine blushed. Rose smiledand kissed her. She colored higher still, and said, "No, she wasashamed to go down.""Why?""Look atquandl bitcoin api my face.""I see nothing wrong with it, except that it eclipses otherpeople's, and I have long forgiven you that.""Oh, yes, dear Rose: look what a color it has, and a fortnight agoit was pale as ashes.""Never mind; do you expect me to regret that?""Rose, I am a very bad woman.""Are you, dear? then hook this for me.""Yes, love. But I sometimes think you would forgive me if you knewhow hard I pray to be better. Rose, I do try so to be as unhappy asI ought; but I can't, I can't. My cold heart seems as dead tounhappiness as once it was to happiness. Am I a heartless womanafter all?""Not altogether," said Rose dryly. "Fasten my collar, dear, anddon't torment yourself. You have suffered much and nobly. It wasHeaven's will: you bowed to it. It was not Heaven's will that youshould be blighted altogether. Bow in this, too, to Heaven's will:take things as they come, and do cease to try and reconcile feelingsthat are too opposite to live together.""Ah! these are such comfortable words, Rose; but mamma will see thisdreadful color in my cheek, and what can I say to her?""Ten to one it will not be observed; and if it should, I will say itis the excitement of seeing Edouard. Leave all to me."Josephine greeted Edouard most affectionately, drew from him hiswhole history, and petted him and sympathized with him deliciously,and made him the hero of the evening. Camille, who was notnaturally of a jealous temper, bore this very well at first, but atlast he looked so bitter at her neglect of him, that Rose took himaside to soothe him. Edouard, missing the auditor he most valued,and seeing her in secret conference with the brilliant colonel, felta return of the jealous pangs that had seized him at first sight ofthe man; and so they played at cross purposes.
At another period of the evening the conversation became moregeneral; and Edouard took a dislike to Colonel Dujardin. A youngman of twenty-eight nearly always looks on a boy of twenty-one withthe air of a superior, and this assumption, not being an ill-naturedone, is apt to be so easy and so undefined that the younger hardlyknows how to resent or to resist it. But Edouard was a little vainas we know; and the Colonel jarred him terribly. His quick haughtyeye jarred him. His regimentals jarred him: they fitted like aglove. His mustache and his manner jarred him, and, worst of all,his cool familiarity with Rose, who seemed to court him rather thanbe courted by him. He put this act of Rose's to the colonel'saccount, according to the custom of lovers, and revenged himself ina small way by telling Josephine in her ear "that the colonelproduced on his mind the effect of an intolerable puppy."Josephine colored up and looked at him with a momentary surprise.She said quietly, "Military men do give themselves some airs, but heis very amiable at bottom. You must make a better acquaintance withhim, and then he will reveal to you his nobler qualities."--"Oh! Ihave no particular desire," sneered unlucky Edouard. Sweet asJosephine was, this was too much for her: she said nothing; but shequietly turned Edouard over to Aubertin, and joined Rose, and undercover of her had a sweet timid chat with her falsely accused.This occupied the two so entirely that Edouard was neglected. Thishurt his foible, and seemed to be so unkind on the very first day ofhis return that he made his adieus to the baroness, and marched offin dudgeon unobserved.Rose missed him first, but said nothing.When Josephine saw he was gone, she uttered a little exclamation,and looked at Rose. Rose put on a mien of haughty indifference, butthe water was in her eyes.
Josephine looked sorrowful.When they talked over everything together at night, she reproachedherself. "We behaved ill to poor Edouard: we neglected him.""He is a little cross, ill-tempered fellow," said Rose pettishly."Well, I think many country people are as stupid and blind as oxen, and I was one of 'em. I've seen more cherry and apple blossoms this year than in all my life before, and I haven't thought only of cherries and apples either."
"The habit of seeing what is pretty grows on one," she resumed. "It seems to me that flowers and such things feed mind and heart. So if one HAS mind and heart, flowers become one of the most useful crops. Isn't that practical common sense?""Not very common in Oakville. I'm glad you think I'm in a hopeful frame of mind, as they used to say down at the meeting house. Anyhow, since you wish it, we will have a flower crop as well as a potato crop."Thus they continued chatting while Alida cleared up the table, and Holcroft, having lighted his pipe, busied himself with peeling a long, slim hickory sapling intended for a whipstock.Having finished her tasks, Alida was finally drying her hands on a towel that hung near a window. Suddenly, she caught sight of a dark face peering in. Her startled cry brought Holcroft hastily to his feet. "What's the matter?" he asked.
"I saw--" Then she hesitated from a fear that he would rush into some unknown danger.The rough crew without perceived that their presence was known, and Tim Weeks cried, "Now, all together!"
A frightful overture began at once, the hooting and yelling almost drowning the instrumental part and sending to Alida's heart that awful chill of fear produced by human voices in any mob-like assemblage. Holcroft understood the affair at once, for he was familiar with the custom, but she did not. He threw open the door with the purpose of sternly expostulating with the disturbers of the peace and of threatening them with the law unless they retired. With an instinct to share his danger she stepped to his side, and this brought a yell of derision. Lurid thoughts swept through her mind. She had brought this danger. Her story had become known. What might they not do to Holcroft? Under the impulse of vague terror and complete self-sacrifice, she stepped forward and cried, "I only am to blame. I will go away forever if you will spare--" But again the scornful clamor rose and drowned her voice.Her action and words had been so swift that Holcroft could not interfere, but in an instant he was at her side, his arm around her, his square jaw set, and his eyes blazing with his kindling anger. He was not one of those men who fume early under provocation and in words chiefly. His manner and gesture were so impressive that his tormentors paused to listen."I know," he said quietly, "all about this old, rude custom--that it's often little more than a rough lark. Well, now that you've had it, leave at once. I'm in no mood for such attention from my neighbors. This is my wife, and I'll break any man's head who says a word to hurt her feelings--""Oh yes! Take care of her feelings, now it's your turn. They must 'a' been hurt before," piped up Tim Weeks.
"Good for you, old man, for showin' us your poorhouse bride," said another."We don't fancy such grass-widders, and much married, half-married women in Oakville," yelled a third."Why didn't yer jump over a broomstick for a weddin' ceremony?" someone else bawled.These insults were fired almost in a volley. Alida felt Holcroft's arm grow rigid for a second. "Go in, quick!" he said.
Then she saw him seize the hickory sapling he had leaned against the house, and burst upon the group like a thunderbolt. Cries of pain, yells, and oaths of rage rose above the rain of blows. The older members of the crew sought to close upon him, but he sprung back, and the tough sapling swept about him like a circle of light. It was a terrific weapon in the hands of a strong man, now possessed of almost giant strength in his rage. More than one fellow went down under its stinging cut, and heads and faces were bleeding. The younger portion of the crowd speedily took to their heels, and soon even the most stubborn fled; the farmer vigorously assisting their ignominious retreat with tremendous downward blows on any within reach. Tim Weeks had managed to keep out of the way till they entered the lane; then, taking a small stone from the fence, he hurled it at their pursuer and attempted to jump over the wall. This was old, and gave way under him in such a way that he fell on the other side. Holcroft leaped the fence with a bound, but Tim, lying on his back, shrieked and held up his hands, "You won't hit a feller when he's down!""No," said Holcroft, arresting his hickory. "I'll send you to jail, Tim Weeks. That stone you fired cut my head. Was your father in that crowd?"
"No-o-o!" blubbered Tim."If he was, I'd follow him home and whip him in his own house. Now, clear out, and tell the rest of your rowdy crew that I'll shoot the first one of you that disturbs me again. I'll send the constable for you, and maybe for some of the others."
Dire was the dismay, and dreadful the groaning in Oakville that night. Never before had salves and poultices been in such demand. Not a few would be disfigured for weeks, and wherever Holcroft's blows had fallen welts arose like whipcords. In Lemuel Weeks' dwelling the consternation reached its climax. Tim, bruised from his fall, limped in and told his portentous story. In his spite, he added, "I don't care, I hit him hard. His face was all bloody.""All bloody!" groaned his father. "Lord 'a mercy! He can send you to jail, sure enough!"Then Mrs. Weeks sat down and wailed aloud.Chapter 26 ＂You Don't Know.＂As Timothy Weeks limped hastily away, Holcroft, with a strong revulsion of feeling, thought of Alida. HE had been able to answer insults in a way eminently satisfactory to himself, and every blow had relieved his electrical condition. But how about the poor woman who had received worse blows than he had inflicted? As he hastened toward the house he recalled a dim impression of seeing her sink down on the doorstep. Then he remembered her effort to face the marauders alone. "She said she was to blame, poor child! As if there were any blame at all! She said, 'spare him,' as if I was facing a band of murderers instead of a lot of neighborhood scamps, and that she'd go away. I'd fight all Oakville--men, women, and children--before I'd permit that," and he started on a run.He found Alida on the step, where she had sunk as if struck down by the rough epithets hurled at her. She was sobbing violently, almost hysterically, and at first could not reply to his soothing words. He lifted her up, and half carried her within to a chair. "Oh, oh," she cried, "why did I not realize it more fully before? Selfish woman that I was, to marry you and bring on you all this shame and danger. I should have thought of it all, I ought to have died rather than do you such a wrong."
"Alida, Alida," protested Holcroft, "if it were all to do over again, I'd be a thousand times more--""Oh, I know, I know! You are brave and generous and honest. I saw that much when you first spoke to me. I yielded to the temptation to secure such a friend. I was too cowardly to face the world alone. And now see what's happened! You're in danger and disgrace on my account. I must go away--I must do what I should have done at first," and with her face buried in her hands she rocked back and forth, overwhelmed by the bitterness and reproach of her thoughts.
"Alida," he urged, "please be calm and sensible. Let me reason with you and tell you the truth. All that's happened is that the Oakville cubs have received a well-deserved whipping. When you get calm, I can explain everything so it won't seem half so bad. Neither you nor I are in any danger, and, as for your going away, look me in the eyes and listen."His words were almost stern in their earnestness. She raised her streaming eyes to his face, then sprung up, exclaiming, "Oh! You're wounded!"
"What's that, compared with your talk of going away?"All explanations and reassurances would have been trivial in effect, compared with the truth that he had been hurt in her defense. She dashed her tears right and left, ran for a basin of water, and making him take her chair, began washing away the blood stains.
"Thunder!" he said, laughing, "How quickly we've changed places!""Oh, oh!" she moaned, "It's a terrible wound; it might have killed you, and they WILL kill you yet."He took her hands and held them firmly. "Alida," he said, gravely yet kindly, "be still and listen to me."For a moment or two longer her bosom heaved with convulsive sobs, and then she grew quiet. "Don't you know you can't go away?" he asked, still retaining her hands and looking in her face.
"I could for your sake," she began."No, it wouldn't be for my sake. I don't wish you to go, and wouldn't let you. If you should let the Oakville rabble drive you away, I WOULD be in danger, and so would others, for I'd be worse on 'em than an earthquake. After the lesson they've had tonight, they'll let us alone, and I'll let them alone. You know I've tried to be honest with you from the first. Believe me, then, the trouble's over unless we make more for ourselves. Now, promise you'll do as I say and let me manage."
"I'll try," she breathed softly."No, no! That won't do. I'm beginning to find you out. You may get some foolish, self-sacrificing notion in your head that it would be best for me, when it would be my ruination. Will you promise?"
"Yes.""Famous! Now you can bathe my head all you please for it feels a little queer."
"It's an awful wound," she said in tones of the deepest sympathy. "Oh, I'm so sorry!""Pshaw! My head is too hard for that little scamp of a Weeks to break. His turn'll come next."She cut away the blood-clotted hair and bound up the rather severe scalp wound with a tenderness and sympathy that expressed itself even in her touch. She was too confused and excited to be conscious of herself, but she had received some tremendously strong impressions. Chief among them was the truth that nothing which had happened made any difference in him--that he was still the same loyal friend, standing between her and the world she dreaded--yes, between her and her own impulses toward self-sacrifice. Sweetest of all was the assurance that he did this for his own sake as well as hers. These facts seemed like a foothold in the mad torrent of feeling and shame which had been sweeping her away. She could think of little more than that she was safe--safe because he was brave and loyal--and yes, safe because he wanted her and would not give her up. The heart of a woman must be callous indeed, and her nature not only trivial but stony if she is not deeply touched under circumstances like these.In spite of his laughing contempt of danger, she trembled as she saw him ready to go out again; she wished to accompany him on his round of observation, but he scouted the idea, although it pleased him. Standing in the door, she strained her eyes and listened breathlessly. He soon returned and said, "They've all had enough. We won't be disturbed again."
He saw that her nerves needed quieting, and he set about the task with such simple tact as he possessed. His first step was to light his pipe in the most nonchalant manner, and then he burst out laughing. "I'll hang that hickory up. It has done too good service to be put to common use again. Probably you never heard of a skimelton, Alida. Well, they are not so uncommon in this region. I suppose I'll have to own up to taking part in one myself when I was a young chap. They usually are only rough larks and are taken good-naturedly. I'm not on jesting terms with my neighbors, and they had no business to come here, but I wouldn't have made any row if they hadn't insulted you."Her head bowed very low as she faltered, "They've heard everything."
He came right to her and took her hand. "Didn't I hear everything before they did?""Yes."
"Well, Alida, I'm not only satisfied with you, but I'm very grateful to you. Why shouldn't I be when you are a good Christian woman? I guess I'm the one to be suited, not Oakville. I should be as reckless as the devil if you should go away from me. Don't I act like a man who's ready to stand up for and protect you?""Yes, too ready. It would kill me if anything happened to you on my account."