There was to be no old age for her. She took a heavy cold, and almost before her husband was aware of her danger, she had left his side. He was more than grief-stricken, he was appalled. No children had blessed their union, and they had become more and more to each other in their simple home life. To many it would have seemed a narrow and even a sordid life. It could not have been the latter, for all their hard work, their petty economies and plans to increase the hoard in the savings bank were robbed of sordidness by an honest, quiet affection for each other, by mutual sympathy and a common purpose. It undoubtedly was a meager life, which grew narrower with time and habit. There had never been much romance to begin with, but something that often wears better--mutual respect and affection. From the first, James Holcroft had entertained the sensible hope that she was just the girl to help him make a living from his hillside farm, and he had not hoped feos crypto full formor or even thought of very much else except the harmony and good comradeship which bless people who are suited to each other. He had been disappointed in no respect; they had toiled and gathered like ants; they were confidential partners in the homely business and details of the farm; nothing was wasted, not even time. The little farmhouse abounded in comfort, and was a model of neatness and order. If it and its surroundings were devoid of grace and ornament, they were not missed, for neither of its occupants had ever been accustomed to such things. The years which passed so uneventfully only cemented the union and increased the sense of mutual dependence. They would have been regarded as exceedingly matter-of-fact and undemonstrative, but they were kind to each other and understood each other. Feeling that they were slowly yet surely getting ahead, they looked forward to an old age of rest and a sufficiency for their simple needs. Then, before he could realize the truth, he was left alone at her wintry grave; neighbors dispersed after the brief service, and he plodded back to his desolate home. There was no relative to step in and partially make good his loss. Some of the nearest residents sent a few cooked provisions until he could get help, but these attentions soon ceased. It was believed that he was abundantly able to take care of himself, and he was left to do so. He was not exactly unpopular, but had been much too reticent and had lived too secluded a life to find uninvited sympathy now. He was the last man, however, to ask for sympathy or help; and this was not due to misanthropy, but simply to temperament and habits of life. He and his wife had been sufficient for each other, and the outside world was excluded chiefly because they had not time or taste for social interchanges. As a result, he suffered serious disadvantages; he was misunderstood and virtually left to meet his calamity alone.
Edouard came no more to Beaurepaire.theta coin updateThere is an old French proverb, and a wise one, "Rien n'est certainque l'imprevu;" it means you can make sure of nothing but this, thatmatters will not turn as you feel sure they will. And, even forthis reason, you, who are thinking of suicide because trade isdeclining, speculation failing, bankruptcy impending, or your lifegoing to be blighted forever by unrequited love--DON'T DO IT.
Whether you are English, American, French, or German, listen to aman that knows what is what, and DON'T DO IT. I tell you none ofthose horrors, when they really come, will affect you as you fancythey will. The joys we expect are not a quarter so bright, nor thetroubles half so dark as we think they will be. Bankruptcy comingis one thing, come is quite another: and no heart or life was everreally blighted at twenty years of age. The love-sick girls thatare picked out of the canal alive, all, without exception, marryanother man, have brats, and get to screech with laughter when theythink of sweetheart No. 1, generally a blockhead, or else ablackguard, whom they were fools enough to wet their clothes for,let alone kill their souls. This happens INVARIABLY. The love-sickgirls that are picked out of the canal dead have fled from a year'smisery to eternal pain, from grief that time never failed to cure,to anguish incurable. In this world "Rien n'est certain quel'imprevu."Edouard and Rose were tender lovers, at a distance. How muchhappier and more loving they thought they should be beneath the sameroof. They came together: their prominent faults of characterrubbed: the secret that was in the house did its work: andaltogether, they quarrelled. L'imprevu.Dard had been saying to Jacintha for ever so long, "When grannydies, I will marry you."Granny died. Dard took possession of her little property. Up camea glittering official, and turned him out; he was not her heir.Perrin, the notary, was. He had bought the inheritance of her twosons, long since dead.Dard had not only looked on the cottage and cow, as his, but hadspoken of them as such for years. The disappointment and the ironyof comrades ate into him."I will leave this cursed place," said he.
Josephine instantly sent for him to Beaurepaire. He came, and wasfactotum with the novelty of a fixed salary. Jacintha accommodatedhim with a new little odd job or two. She set him to dance on theoak floors with a brush fastened to his right foot; and, after arehearsal or two, she made him wait at table. Didn't he bang thethings about: and when he brought a lady a dish, and she did notinstantly attend, he gave her elbow a poke to attract attention:then she squeaked; and he grinned at her double absurdity in mindinga touch, and not minding the real business of the table."Not yet. I want to ask you some questions. Was anyone ever kind to you?"
"I dunno. I suppose so.""What would you call being kind to you?""Not scoldin' or cuffin' me.""If I didn't scold or strike you, would you think I was kind, then?"
She nodded; but after a moment's thought, said, "and if you didn't look as if you hated to see me round.""Do you think I've been kind to you?"
"Kinder'n anybody else. You sorter look at me sometimes as if I was a rat. I don't s'pose you can help it, and I don't mind. I'd ruther stay here and work than go a-visitin' again. Why can't I work outdoors when there's nothin' for me to do in the house?""Are you willing to work--to do anything you can?"Jane was not sufficiently politic to enlarge on her desire for honest toil and honest bread; she merely nodded. Holcroft smiled as he asked, "Why are you so anxious to work?""'Cause I won't feel like a stray cat in the house then. I want to be some'ers where I've a right to be."
"Wouldn't they let you work down at Lemuel Weeks'?" She shook her head."Why not?" he asked."They said I wasn't honest; they said they couldn't trust me with things, 'cause when I was hungry I took things to eat.""Was that the way you were treated at other places?"
"Mostly.""Jane," asked Holcroft very kindly, "did anyone ever kiss you?"
"Mother used to 'fore people. It allus made me kinder sick."Holcroft shook his head as if this child was a problem beyond him, and for a time they sat together in silence. At last he arose and said, "It's time to go home. Now, Jane, don't follow me; walk openly at my side, and when you come to call me at any time, come openly, make a noise, whistle or sing as a child ought. As long as you are with me, never do anything on the sly, and we'll get along well enough."
She nodded and walked beside him. At last, as if emboldened by his words, she broke out, "Say, if mother married you, you couldn't send us away, could you?""Why do you ask such a question?" said Holcroft, frowning."I was a-thinkin'--""Well," he interrupted sternly, "never think or speak of such things again."The child had a miserable sense that she had angered him; she was also satisfied that her mother's schemes would be futile, and she scarcely spoke again that day.Holcroft was more than angry; he was disgusted. That Mrs. Mumpson's design upon him was so offensively open that even this ignorant child understood it, and was expected to further it, caused such a strong revulsion in his mind that he half resolved to put them both in his market wagon on the morrow and take them back to their relatives. His newly awakened sympathy for Jane quickly vanished. If the girl and her mother had been repulsive from the first, they were now hideous, in view of their efforts to fasten themselves upon him permanently. Fancy, then, the climax in his feelings when, as they passed the house, the front door suddenly opened and Mrs. Mumpson emerged with clasped hands and the exclamation, "Oh, how touching! Just like father and child!"
Without noticing the remark he said coldly as he passed, "Jane, go help Mrs. Wiggins get supper."His anger and disgust grew so strong as he hastily did his evening work that he resolved not to endanger his self-control by sitting down within earshot of Mrs. Mumpson. As soon as possible, therefore, he carried the new stove to his room and put it up. The widow tried to address him as he passed in and out, but he paid no heed to her. At last, he only paused long enough at the kitchen door to say, "Jane, bring me some supper to my room. Remember, you only are to bring it."
Bewildered and abashed, Mrs. Mumpson rocked nervously. "I had looked for relentings this evening, a general softening," she murmured, "and I don't understand his bearing toward me." Then a happy thought struck her. "I see, I see," she cried softly and ecstatically: "He is struggling with himself; he finds that he must either deny himself my society or yield at once. The end is near."A little later she, too, appeared at the kitchen door and said, with serious sweetness, "Jane, you can also bring me MY supper to the parlor."
Mrs. Wiggins shook with mirth in all her vast proportions as she remarked, "Jane, ye can bring me MY supper from the stove to the table 'ere, and then vait hon yeself."Chapter 13 Not Wife, But Waif
Tom Watterly's horse was the pride of his heart. It was a bobtailed, rawboned animal, but, as Tom complacently remarked to Alida, "He can pass about anything on the road"--a boast that he let no chance escape of verifying. It was a terrible ordeal to the poor woman to go dashing through the streets in an open wagon, feeling that every eye was upon her. With head bowed down, she employed her failing strength in holding herself from falling out, yet almost wishing that she might be dashed against some object that would end her wretched life. It finally occurred to Tom that the woman at his side might not, after her recent experience, share in his enthusiasm, and he pulled up remarking, with a rough effort at sympathy, "It's a cussed shame you've been treated so, and as soon as you're ready, I'll help you get even with the scamp.""I'm not well, sir," said Alida humbly. "I only ask for a quiet place where I can rest till strong enough to do some kind of work.""Well, well," said Tom kindly, "don't lose heart. We'll do the best by you we can. That aint saying very much, though, for we're full and running over."He soon drew rein at the poorhouse door and sprang out. "I--I--feel strange," Alida gasped.
Tom caught the fainting woman in his arms and shouted, "Here, Bill, Joe! You lazy loons, where are you?"Three or four half wrecks of men shuffled to his assistance, and together they bore the unconscious woman to the room which was used as a sort of hospital. Some old crones gathered around with such restoratives as they had at command. Gradually the stricken woman revived, but as the whole miserable truth came back, she turned her face to the wall with a sinking of heart akin to despair. At last, from sheer exhaustion, feverish sleep ensued, from which she often started with moans and low cries. One impression haunted her--she was falling, ever falling into a dark, bottomless abyss.
Hours passed in the same partial stupor, filled with phantoms and horrible dreams. Toward evening, she aroused herself mechanically to take the broth Mrs. Watterly ordered her to swallow, then relapsed into the same lethargy. Late in the night, she became conscious that someone was kneeling at her bedside and fondling her. She started up with a slight cry."Don't be afraid; it's only me, dear," said a quavering voice.
In the dim rays of a night lamp, Alida saw an old woman with gray hair falling about her face and on her night robe. At first, in her confused, feverish impressions, the poor waif was dumb with superstitious awe, and trembled between joy and fear. Could her mother have come to comfort her in her sore extremity?"Put yer head on me ould withered breast," said the apparition, "an' ye'll know a mither's heart niver changes. I"ve been a-lookin' for ye and expectin' ye these long, weary years, They said ye wouldn't come back--that I'd niver find ye ag'in; but I knowed I wud, and here ye are in me arms, me darlint. Don't draw away from yer ould mither. Don't ye be afeard or 'shamed loike. No matter what ye've done or where ye've been or who ye've been with, a mither's heart welcomes ye back jist the same as when yes were a babby an' slept on me breast. A mither's heart ud quench the fires o' hell. I'd go inter the burnin' flames o' the pit an' bear ye out in me arms. So niver fear. Now that I've found ye, ye're safe. Ye'll not run away from me ag'in. I'll hould ye--I'll hould ye back," and the poor creature clasped Alida with such conclusive energy that she screamed from pain and terror.
"Ye shall not get away from me, ye shall not go back to evil ways. Whist, whist! Be aisy and let me plead wid ye. Think how many long, weary years I've looked for ye and waited for ye. Niver have I slept night or day in me watchin'. Ye may be so stained an' lost an' ruined that the whole wourld will scorn ye, yet not yer mither, not yer ould mither. Oh, Nora, Nora, why did ye rin away from me? Wasn't I koind? No, no; ye cannot lave me ag'in," and she threw herself on Alida, whose disordered mind was tortured by what she heard. Whether or not it was a more terrible dream than had yet oppressed her, she scarcely knew, but in the excess of her nervous horror she sent out a cry that echoed in every part of the large building. Two old women rushed in and dragged Alida's persecutor screaming away."That's allus the way o' it," she shrieked. "As soon as I find me Nora they snatches me and carries me off, and I have to begin me watchin' and waitin' and lookin' ag'in."Alida continued sobbing and trembling violently. One of the awakened patients sought to assure her by saying, "Don't mind it so, miss. It's only old crazy Kate. Her daughter ran away from her years and years ago--how many no one knows--and when a young woman's brought here she thinks it's her lost Nora. They oughtn't 'a' let her get out, knowin' you was here."For several days Alida's reason wavered. The nervous shock of her sad experiences had been so great that it did not seem at all improbable that she, like the insane mother, might be haunted for the rest of her life by an overwhelming impression of something lost. In her morbid, shaken mind she confounded the wrong she had received with guilt on her own part. Eventually, she grew calmer and more sensible. Although her conscience acquitted her of intentional evil, nothing could remove the deep-rooted conviction that she was shamed beyond hope of remedy. For a time she was unable to rally from nervous prostration; meanwhile, her mind was preternaturally active, presenting every detail of the past until she was often ready to cry aloud in her despair.
Tom Watterly took an unusual interest in her case and exhorted the visiting physician to do his best for her. She finally began to improve, and with the first return of strength sought to do something with her feeble hands. The bread of charity was not sweet.Although the place in which she lodged was clean, and the coarse, unvarying fare abundant, she shrank shuddering, with each day's clearer consciousness, from the majority of those about her. Phases of life of which she had scarcely dreamed were the common topics of conversation. In her mother she had learned to venerate gray hairs, and it was an awful shock to learn that so many of the feeble creatures about her were coarse, wicked, and evil-disposed. How could their withered lips frame the words they spoke? How could they dwell on subjects that were profanation, even to such wrecks of womanhood as themselves?
Moreover, they persecuted her by their curiosity. The good material in her apparel had been examined and commented on; her wedding ring had been seen and its absence soon noted, for Alida, after gaining the power to recall the past fully, had thrown away the metal lie, feeling that it was the last link in a chain binding her to a loathed and hated relationship. Learning from their questions that the inmates of the almshouse did not know her history, she refused to reveal it, thus awakening endless surmises. Many histories were made for her, the beldams vying with each other in constructing the worst one. Poor Alida soon learned that there was public opinion even in an almshouse, and that she was under its ban. In dreary despondency she thought, "They've found out about me. If such creatures as these think I'm hardly fit to speak to, how can I ever find work among good, respectable people?"Her extreme depression, the coarse, vulgar, and uncharitable natures by which she was surrounded, retarded her recovery. By her efforts to do anything in her power for others she disarmed the hostility of some of the women, and those that were more or less demented became fond of her; but the majority probed her wound by every look and word. She was a saint compared with any of these, yet they made her envy their respectability. She often thought, "Would to God that I was as old and ready to die as the feeblest woman here, if I could only hold up my head like her!"
One day a woman who had a child left it sleeping in its rude wooden cradle and went downstairs. The babe wakened and began to cry. Alida took it up and found a strange solace in rocking it to sleep again upon her breast. At last the mother returned, glared a moment into Alida's appealing eyes, then snatched the child away with the cruel words, "Don't ye touch my baby ag'in! To think it ud been in the arms o' the loikes o'ye!"Alida went away and sobbed until her strength was gone. She found that there were some others ostracized like herself, but they accepted their position as a matter of course--as if it belonged to them and was the least of their troubles.