"Oh, oh, oh!" she cried impetuously, "if I were only sure it was right! It may be business to you, but it seems like life or death to me. It's more than death--I don't fear that--but I do fear life, I do fear the desperate struggle just to maintain a bare, dreary existence. I do dread going out among strangers and seeing their cold curiosity and their scorn. You can't understand a woman's heart. It isn't right for me to die till God takes me, but life has seemed so horrible, meeting suspicion on one side and cruel, sigbitcoin atm cash depositnificant looks of knowledge on the other. I've been tortured even here by these wretched hags, and I've envied even them, so near to death, yet not ashamed like me. I know, and you should know, that my heart is broken, crushed, trampled into the mire. I had felt that for me even the thought of marriage again would be a mockery, a wicked thing, which I would never have a right to entertain.--I never dreamt that anyone would think of such a thing, knowing what you know. Oh, oh! Why have you tempted me so if it is not right? I must do right. The feeling that I've not meant to do wrong is all that has kept me from despair. But can it be right to let you take me from the street, the poorhouse, with nothing to give but a blighted name, a broken heart and feeble hands! See, I am but the shadow of what I was, and a dark shadow at that. I could be only a dismal shadow at any man's hearth. Oh, oh! I've thought and suffered until my reason seemed going. You don't realize, you don't know the depths into which I've fallen. It can't be right."
"Ah," said Josephine, "you see." Then, after a short silence, shesaid despairingly, "This is my only hope: that poor Raynal will belong absent, and thaeos coin current pricet ere he returns mamma will lie safe from sorrowand shame in the little chapel. Doctor, when a woman of my ageforms such wishes as these, I think you might pity her, and forgiveher ill-treatment of you, for she cannot be very happy. Ah me! ahme! ah me!""Courage, poor soul! All is now in my hands, and I will save you,"said the doctor, his voice trembling in spite of him. "Guilt liesin the intention. A more innocent woman than you does not breathe.Two courses lay open to you: to leave this house with CamilleDujardin, or to dismiss him, and live for your hard duty till itshall please Heaven to make that duty easy (no middle course wastenable for a day); of these two paths you chose the right one, and,having chosen, I really think you are not called on to reveal yourmisfortune, and make those unhappy to whose happiness you havesacrificed your own for years to come.""Forever," said Josephine quietly.
"The young use that word lightly. The old have almost ceased to useit. They have seen how few earthly things can conquer time."He resumed, "You think only of others, Josephine, but I shall thinkof you as well. I shall not allow your life to be wasted in aneedless struggle against nature." Then turning to Rose, who hadglided into the room, and stood amazed, "Her griefs were as manybefore her child was born, yet her health stood firm. Why? becausenature was on her side. Now she is sinking into the grave. Why?because she is defying nature. Nature intended her to be pressingher child to her bosom day and night; instead of that, a peasantwoman at Frejus nurses the child, and the mother pines atBeaurepaire."At this, Josephine leaned her face on her hands on the doctor'sshoulder. In this attitude she murmured to him, "I have never seenhim since I left Frejus." Dr. Aubertin sighed for her. Emboldenedby this, she announced her intention of going to Frejus the verynext day to see her little Henri. But to this Dr. Aubertindemurred. "What, another journey to Frejus?" said he, "when thefirst has already roused Edouard's suspicions; I can never consentto that."Then Josephine surprised them both. She dropped her coaxing voiceand pecked the doctor like an irritated pigeon. "Take care," saidshe, "don't be too cruel to me. You see I am obedient, resigned. Ihave given up all I lived for: but if I am never to have my littleboy's arms round me to console me, then--why torment me any longer?Why not say to me, 'Josephine, you have offended Heaven; pray forpardon, and die'?"Then the doctor was angry in his turn. "Oh, go then," said he, "goto Frejus; you will have Edouard Riviere for a companion this time.Your first visit roused his suspicions. So before you go tell yourmother all; for since she is sure to find it out, she had betterhear it from you than from another.""Doctor, have pity on me," said Josephine."You have no heart," said Rose. "She shall see him though, in spiteof you.""Oh, yes! he has a heart," said Josephine: "he is my best friend.
He will let me see my boy."All this, and the tearful eyes and coaxing yet trembling voice, washard to resist. But Aubertin saw clearly, and stood firm. He puthis handkerchief to his eyes a moment: then took the pining youngmother's hand. "And, do you think," said he, "I do not pity you andlove your boy? Ah! he will never want a father whilst I live; andfrom this moment he is under my care. I will go to see him; I willbring you news, and all in good time; I will place him where youshall visit him without imprudence; but, for the present, trust awiser head than yours or Rose's; and give me your sacred promise notto go to Frejus."Weighed down by his good-sense and kindness, Josephine resisted nolonger in words. She just lifted her hands in despair and began tocry. It was so piteous, Aubertin was ready to yield in turn, andconsent to any imprudence, when he met with an unexpected ally."Promise," said Rose, doggedly.It was flushed and tearful in its eager, earnest interest. "Don't you see?" she faltered.
He shook his head, but was suddenly and strangely moved by her expression."Why, Mr. Holcroft, if you can honestly forgive those who have wronged you, you ought to see how ready God is to forgive."He fairly started to his feet so vividly the truth came home to him, illumined, as it was, by a recent and personal experience. After a moment, he slowly sat down again and said, with a long breath, "That was a close shot, Alida.""I only wish you to have the trust and comfort which this truth should bring you," she said. "It seems a pity you should do yourself needless injustice when you are willing to do what is right and kind by others."
"It's all a terrible muddle, Alida. If God is so ready to forgive, how do you account for all the evil and suffering in the world?""I don't account for it and can't. I'm only one of his little children; often an erring one, too. You've been able to forgive grown people, your equals, and strangers in a sense. Suppose you had a little boy that had done wrong, but said he was sorry, would you hold a grudge against him?"
"The idea! I'd be a brute."She laughed softly as she asked again, "don't you see?"He sat looking thoughtfully away across the fields for a long time, and finally asked, "Is your idea of becoming a Christian just being forgiven like a child and then trying to do right?""Yes. Why not?"
"Well," he remarked, with a grim laugh. "I didn't expect to be cornered in this way.""You who are truthful should face the truth. It would make you happier. A good deal that was unexpected has happened. When I look out on a scene like this and think that I am safe and at home, I feel that God has been very good to me and that you have, too. I can't bear to think that you have that old trouble on your mind--the feeling that you had been a Christian once, but was not one now. Being sure that there is no need of your continuing to feel so, what sort of return would I be making for all your kindness if I did not try to show you what is as clear to me as this sunshine?""You are a good woman, Alida. Believing as you do, you have done right to speak to me, and I never believed mortal lips could speak so to the purpose. I shall think of what you have said, for you have put things in a new light. But say, Alida, what on earth possesses you to call me 'Mr.'? You don't need to be scared half to death every time to call me by my first name, do you?""Scared? Oh, no!" She was a trifle confused, he thought, but then her tone was completely reassuring.
The day was one long remembered by both. As in nature about them, the conditions of development and rapid change now existed.She did not read aloud very much, and long silences fell between them. They were reaching a higher plane of companionship, in which words are not always essential. Both had much to think about, and their thoughts were like roots which prepare for blossom and fruit.
With Monday, busy life was resumed. The farmer began planting his corn and Alida her flower seeds. Almost every day now added to the brood of little chicks under her care. The cows went out to pasture. Holcroft brought in an increasing number of overflowing pails of milk, and if the labors of the dairy grew more exacting, they also grew more profitable. The tide had turned; income was larger than outgo, and it truly seemed to the long-harassed man that an era of peace and prosperity had set in.To a superficial observer things might have appeared to be going on much as before, but there were influences at work which Holcroft did not clearly comprehend.
As Alida had promised herself, she spent all the money which the eggs brought in, but Holcroft found pretty muslin curtains at the parlor windows, and shades which excluded the glare from the kitchen. Better china took the place of that which was cracked and unsightly. In brief, a subtle and refining touch was apparent all over the house."How fine we are getting!" he remarked one evening at supper."I've only made a beginning," she replied, nodding defiantly at him. "The chickens will paint the house before the year is over.""Phew! When do the silk dresses come in?""When your broadcloth does.""Well, if this goes on, I shall certainly have to wear purple and fine linen to keep pace."
"Fine linen, certainly. When you take the next lot of eggs to town I shall tell you just the number of yards I need to make half a dozen extra fine shirts. Those you have are getting past mending.""Do you think I'll let you spend your money in that way?"
"You'll let me spend MY money just as I please--in the way that will do me the most good!""What a saucy little woman you are becoming!" he said, looking at her so fondly that she quickly averted her eyes. "It's a way people fall into when humored," she answered.
"See here, Alida, you're up to some magic. It seems but the other day I brought you here, a pale ghost of a woman. As old Jonathan Johnson said, you were 'enj'yin' poor health.' Do you know what he said when I took him off so he wouldn't put you through the catechism?""No," she replied, with a deprecating smile and rising color.
"He said he was 'afeared I'd been taken in, you were such a sickly lookin' critter.' Ha! Ha! Wish he might see you now, with that flushed face of yours. I never believed in magic, but I'll have to come to it. You are bewitched, and are being transformed into a pretty young girl right under my eyes; the house is bewitched, and is growing pretty, too, and pleasanter all the time. The cherry and apple trees are bewitched, for they never blossomed so before; the hens are bewitched, they lay as if possessed; the--""Oh, stop! Or I shall think that you're bewitched yourself.""I truly begin to think I am.""Oh, well! Since we all and everything are affected in the same way, it don't matter."
"But it does. It's unaccountable. I'm beginning to rub my eyes and pinch myself to wake up.""If you like it, I wouldn't wake up."
"Suppose I did, and saw Mrs. Mumpson sitting where you do, Jane here, and Mrs. Wiggins smoking her pipe in the corner. The very thought makes me shiver. My first words would be, 'Please pass the cold p'ison.'""What nonsense you are talking tonight!" she tried to say severely, but the pleased, happy look in her eyes betrayed her. He regarded her with the open admiration of a boy, and she sought to divert his attention by asking, "What do you think has become of Jane?"
"I don't know--stealing around like a strange cat in some relation's house, I suppose.""You once said you would like to do something for her."
"Well, I would. If I could afford it, I'd like to send her to school.""Would you like her to come here and study lessons part of the time?"He shivered visibly. "No, Alida, and you wouldn't either. She'd make you more nervous than she would me, and that's saying a good deal. I do feel very sorry for her, and if Mrs. Weeks comes to see you, we'll find out if something can't be done, but her presence would spoil all our cozy comfort. The fact is, I wouldn't enjoy having anyone here. You and I are just about company enough. Still, if you feel that you'd like to have some help--""Oh, no! I haven't enough to do."
"But you're always a-doing. Well, if you're content, I haven't Christian fortitude enough to make any changes."She smiled and thought that she was more than content. She had begun to detect symptoms in her husband which her own heart enabled her to interpret. In brief, it looked as if he were drifting on a smooth, swift tide to the same haven in which she was anchored.
One unusually warm morning for the season, rain set in after breakfast. Holcroft did not fret in the least that he could not go to the fields, nor did he, as had been his custom at first, find rainy-day work at the barn. The cows, in cropping the lush grass, had so increased their yield of milk that it was necessary to churn every other day, and Alida was busy in the dairy. This place had become inviting by reason of its coolness, and she had rendered it more so by making it perfectly clean and sweet. Strange to say, it contained another chair besides the one she usually occupied. The apartment was large and stone-flagged. Along one side were shelves filled with rows of shining milk-pans. In one corner stood the simple machinery which the old dog put in motion when tied upon his movable walk, and the churn was near. An iron pipe, buried deep in the ground, brought cool spring water from the brook above. This pipe emptied its contents with a low gurgle into a shallow, oblong receptacle sunk in the floor, and was wide and deep enough for two stone crocks of ample size to stand abreast up to their rims in the water. The cream was skimmed into these stone jars until they were full, then Holcroft emptied them into the churn. He had charged Alida never to attempt this part of the work, and indeed it was beyond her strength. After breakfast on churning days, he prepared everything and set the dog at work. Then he emptied the churn of the buttermilk when he came in to dinner.All the associations of the place were pleasant to Alida. It was here that her husband had shown patience as well as kindness in teaching her how to supplement his work until her own experience and judgment gave her a better skill than he possessed. Many pleasant, laughing words had passed between them in this cool, shadowy place, and on a former rainy morning he had brought a chair down that he might keep her company. She had not carried it back, nor was she very greatly surprised to see him saunter in and occupy it on the present occasion. She stood by the churn, her figure outlined clearly in the light from the open door, as she poured in cold water from time to time to hasten and harden the gathering butter. Her right sleeve was rolled well back, revealing a white arm that was becoming beautifully plump and round. An artist would have said that her attitude and action were unconsciously natural and graceful. Holcroft had scarcely the remotest idea of artistic effect, but he had a sensible man's perception of a charming woman when she is charming.
"Mr. Holcroft," she asked very gravely, "will you do something for me?""Yes, half a dozen things."